This is not a bookstore.

This is not what bookstores are supposed to be like. This is wrong. 

The bookstores on Guam are limited to one chain, aptly titled “Bestseller Books.” What it does well:

  • It carries all the newest bestsellers (albeit about three months after they’re released in the States)
  • It boasts a ridiculously wide variety of magazines
  • It has a relatively impressive collection of the latest young adult dystopian novels, vampire books, and Hunger Games lookalikes

What it does poorly:

  • Encourages people to, ahem, actually read

When you walk through the door, one of the first things you’ll notice are the paper signs Scotch-taped to the end of almost every shelf: “No Free Reading.” And, in case those signs didn’t dissuade you from hiding behind a shelf to skim through a book: “No sitting on floor.”

Not that there are chairs. Or empty spaces to lean. Or any other semblance of a way to get comfortable while you’re browsing a Bestseller Books. Because there’s not. It’s like the McDonald’s of bookstores: You go in, buy whatever the latest release is that you’re planning to read because everybody else is reading it, and you get out as fast as they can politely shove you out the door. Preferably without having even peeked into the spine of a book to see if it looks interesting.

When you check out, you’ll be warned that the store doesn’t accept returns, and exchanges must be processed within three days of the book’s purchase. If you ask about a damaged book, they’ll tell you they can’t offer a discount, even though the publisher couldn’t manage to cut the pages straight, or the customer who (illegally) flipped through the book before you broke the spine in half. And if you (heaven forbid) sit on the floor, you’ll be kindly asked to clear the way for other customers.

The classic literature section consists of one narrow set of shelves with mass market paperback versions of, I’m guessing, this year’s required high school reading. There are more magazines than non-fiction books of any kind. You’ll find greeting cards and the latest issues of Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated (or even Architectural Digest!), but you’d be hard pressed to find, say, Dickens. You’ll find The Dummies’ Guide to Korean, but no unabridged dictionaries.

I’m not saying every bookstore has to be like Barnes & Noble. But every bookstore worth the shingle it hangs out front should encourage actual reading. Occasionally. Maybe. Just a thought.

I think for the remainder of my time on Guam, I’m going to stick to Oyster and whatever I can find online. This is one case in which Amazon might be a better choice than buying locally, because I’m not sure I want to support whoever thought Bestseller Books was a good idea.

Sigh.

Why I decided to plan for a natural childbirth

I never thought I’d write a post like this.

Anyway. Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it seems like everyone is having children. I just got an email from a friend I hadn’t talked to in several months, and we caught up a bit. “You’re pregnant??” she said. “So am I!”

My sister-in-law is expecting her first child sometime this month (I’m gonna be an aunt!!! Eep!), a good friend who just left island had her first child–a beautiful little girl–last month, and I’m finding more and more people in my circles who are either expectant or toting very small people around with them everywhere.

Since finding out I’m going to have a child, I’ve read some (okay, a lot of) books, talked to a lot of people, and done my share of research on pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve learned a lot, stressed out a lot, prayed a lot, and come to several conclusions, including the following:

1. Pregnancy and childbirth are normal (albeit huge and life-altering), and almost never need to be treated like an illness or disease.

2. Most (not all) obstetricians are trained surgeons who view pregnancy more as a medical problem that needs to be solved than as a normal event.

3. Even the most innocuous-seeming interventions can have very dramatic effects on the outcome of your labor and delivery.

4. Just because your doctor says something is “standard” does not mean it is beneficial. You have a right to ask questions and to deny any test or procedure.

5. The midwife model of care is much more mother- and baby- friendly than the standard obstetrical method, and there’s a reason midwifery is the standard in countless other Western countries (which also have dramatically lower C-section and maternal mortality rates than the U.S.).

Now, those concerns would have been much easier to address if I didn’t live in Guam. Because I’m blessed with government-provided health insurance, a hospital birth would have been free–complete with every technological advantage and diagnostic test under the sun.

Great, right? Except after one appointment, and a little asking around, I figured out that I wasn’t really interested in that hospital’s model of care and their “standard” treatment of pregnant patients, which involves more intervention than necessary for low-risk pregnancies.

As it is, it took a few months for me to get everything in line to transfer my care from the military hospital to a local birthing center which, though not perfect, embraces a much more normal, natural approach to pregnancy and labor. That means I’ll be able to:

  • Walk around, shower, or bathe while I’m in labor–all techniques which, I’m told, make pain much more bearable and help gravity move the birthing process along (not easy if you’re hooked up to an IV; not possible if you’ve had an epidural)
  • Eat and drink while in labor (many hospitals prohibit this)
  • Maintain privacy (no vaginal “checks” that do more to introduce bacteria than anything else) in a private, home-like room
  • Labor with the attendance of a skilled practitioner who has years of experience with natural, unmedicated childbirth
  • Keep my baby in the room with me from the time he or she is born until we leave the birthing center

I learned a few other things about U.S. maternity care that really, really bother me:

  • In some states, it’s illegal to plan on having your baby at home. In some states, it’s also illegal for even certified nurse midwives to deliver babies.
  • Inductions, epidurals, and constant monitoring reduce (or eliminate) a woman’s ability to labor normally and increase the probability of interventions like C-sections, which now account for around 30% of births in the U.S.
  • Countless women choose to plan a C-section or an induction based on their or their doctor’s convenience, even though inductions and C-sections result in more interventions and more negative outcomes for both the mother and baby than women who go into labor naturally.
  • These interventions often also make it significantly more difficult to get started breastfeeding, which provides countless health benefits that formulas simply cannot match.

So, for all the new mamas out there–I’m begging you to do research on your own and make your decision mindfully, after weighing your options. If your doctor makes it sound like you don’t really have options, don’t be afraid to question what they say, and get a second opinion.

Any practitioner worth your time and money will be thrilled you want to be truly involved in your own pregnancy.

Websites on natural birth: 

Birth Without Fear Blog

What to Reject When You’re Expecting from Consumer Reports

Natural Birth Options from Wellness Mama

Books that helped me: 

Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care. If you’ve ever really wondered how important certain specific interventions are, this book offers a fantastic, in-depth look at common interventions and whether or not they actually result in better outcomes.

Natural Pregnancy: Practical Childbirth Advice and Holistic Wisdom for a Healthy Pregnancy and Childbirth. Lots of great advice for choosing a practitioner, deciding what kind of pregnancy you want, and homeopathic remedies to keep things more comfortable.

I could recommend tons more resources, but I’m going to stop now, before this post gets unwieldy. I guess mostly I just want to encourage you and the new mothers in your life to stay informed and know your options before just going along with the “standard” model of care.

Storms and things

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When you’re on a transpacific flight, you spend a lot of time counting blessings, finding ways to not hate the fact that you’re trapped. With a pregnancy-influenced bladder and a squished middle economy seat. And a young child sitting directly behind, who apparently finds great joy in hitting the seat back energetically and repeatedly.

When I was flying back to Guam last week, I spent some time counting those blessings. These are some I came up with:

1. the plane wasn’t crashing

2. my husband was beside me

3. there were only 12… 9… 6… 4 hours left

4. the food hadn’t been as bad as it could

5. I had every excuse in the world to chillax, set aside responsibilities, and pass the time

One of my favorite things about flying is that when you’re on a plane, all responsibilities kind of come to a stop. I guess there are exceptions to this, but really, during travel there’s generally a suspension of all the day-to-day stuff.

The same thing happens during storms. I remember a few rare snow days during Greenville, SC winters. I relished the opportunity to sit home and not have to do anything (barring the ubiquitous college homework). Knowing you can’t go anywhere can be beautiful.

You know, wearing pyjamas all day and reading whatever and eating homemade soup (if you’ve had the motivation to even make it) and watching Netflix and generally acting like the lazy bum that you know resides somewhere deep down in your heart.

So yesterday, when tropical storm Halong was making its way between Guam and Rota on its angry pilgrimage toward the Orient, that’s mostly what I was doing. While the winds whistled around the windows and rained palm branches and various other debris (including a random snorkel) on my little home, I was embracing my inner lazy bum, propping my feet up, NOT doing the mountain of homework that’s due in two days or the writing assignments that are piling up in my queue.

I think we should schedule storms more often.

Why I feel robbed by Pinterest

DSC00891I don’t feel like I’m old enough to make this kind of statement, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I was an indie crafter before indie crafting was cool. Or maybe I should say, I learned to make things by hand during a time when it wasn’t cool.

Seriously, how many preteens in the ’90’s spent half their time reading and the other half knitting, crocheting, or planning out home decor options with detailed elevations and floorplans on wide-ruled paper?

I’m not delusional enough to think I’m the only one, but I was one of precious few.

I was always good at making things work–and making them work more or less attractively. Now, today I’m not the kitschy blogger who sits at home and figures out new and amazingly cutesy ways to arrange the pictures on the mantle, then posts pictures to Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.

I’d rather go on a hike.

I don’t like cutesy. I’m not cutesy. Or even artsy. But I’ve always loved taking pride in a well-done project, especially one inspired by my own creativity.

For this reason, I feel robbed by Pinterest. Douglas

Let me explain.

Example 1:

Someone walks into my home and spots a Christmas tree built entirely of books, like the one the hubster and I constructed last Christmas season. The first comment out of the esteemed guest’s mouth: 

“Oh my gosh! That looks like something right off of Pinterest!” 

Example 2:

In a moment of horror at one of my husband’s terrifically unattractive floor-lamp purchases, I attack the thing with hemp rope and a glue gun. A few hours later, we’ve got a unique, customized thing that doesn’t look like it came off the reject shelf at Wal-Mart.

One of my best friends (and a certifiable Pinterest addict) walks in and says “Whoa, I saw something Just. Like. That. on Pinterest last week. I actually like yours better. Where did you find instructions?”

I know that coming from her, this is THE highest form of praise.  

On countless other occasions, I’ve heard my peers refer to weddings, baby showers, and even entire homes referred to with the relatively new adjective pinteresty. “You know what I mean by that, right? Artsy and crafty and generally unique and cute?”

*groan*

The phenomenon is enough to make me want to wear one of my afghans as a superhero cape, grab my made-over floor lamp–a random hand-crocheted octopus that I designed–and the recipes that have been passed down to me by my pre-Pinterest forbearers–and hold them to myself–and to proclaim to the world that I DIDN’T EVEN NEED PINTEREST’S HELP.

If pinteresty makes it into the dictionary in the next few years, I’d like to propose a complementary addition: extrapinteresty, the prefix meaning “without; outside of.”

Dealing/ThinkingYeah, see that lamp? It’s MY brainchild. That’s an extrapinteresty project. That required no computer screen–just me, several dozen hot gluesticks, and three hours of time.

Oh, don’t you love my extrapinteresty Christmas tree? So do I. It was MY IDEA.

I haven’t yet been irritated enough to delete my Pinterest account, though the thought has occurred to me.

I would like the world to know that I use Pinterest far more as a collection of useful links and ideas than as an independent source of inspiration.

When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I go to a cookbook, not to a Pinterest board.

Most of the time. And whether you think my living room looks amazing, or like an unorganized eclectic smorgasbord complete with a totally random rope-wrapped floor lamp, you can praise (or blame) me, not a social networking site.

7,000 miles pregnant.

Almost three months since my last post. After about 60 days of non-blogging (and not much writing at all of any kind), I almost forgot that I actually enjoy writing. One side effect of turning a pastime into a job is that once your passion becomes your job, it’s… work. Should be obvious, I guess, but it’s not until it happens.

So when I found out I was pregnant in April, I kind of felt like I had no mental energy to spare for something as mundane as writing another blog post. I all but quit copywriting, and that led to a sabbatical from blogging, which I’m not sure was as much of a break as I thought it would be.

Pregnancy converged with grad school classes (which I’m still woefully behind in) and a six-week trip to the states that turned into a 7,000-mile road trip from Philadelphia to Colorado and back again, lots of detours in between. That trip might have spawned lots of great blog posts.

Instead, that epic 20-state road trip will go down in history as a few Instagram pictures and snatches of memories, as well as a few stories for my yet-to-be-born child: “When I was pregnant with you, your dad and I almost drove off the edge of a mountain just outside of Cripple Creek, Colorado….”

Stories are so much more exciting when there’s no written evidence to water the action down with too much reality.

As I type this, I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting to board a very long flight to Tokyo (which will be made longer, I can tell already, by my 14-week-pregnant body).

I’ll get to Guam sometime, longer from now than I’d like to think about. In the midnight/early morning hours. And then real life will start again, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to pretend anymore that I’m still on vacation or that life isn’t meant to be written down.

A Tabernacle for the Sun

I’ve been collecting a lot of sunrises and sunsets lately. It feels like I’m packing them away like fragile things and adding them to a secret collection. Sometimes nothing makes you slow down and regain perspective like watching a sunrise or sunset, especially reflected in the placid waters of the Pacific.

 

photo 2

Every one I miss is one that I’ll never get to watch as it paints the sky again.

I’m not a fan of Emerson. At all. But something I read in high school stuck:

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

― Ralph Waldo EmersonNature and Selected Essays

A few weeks ago, a good friend went with me to watch a sunset from one of Guam’s clifftops. She gazed at her phone for twenty minutes, rapidly messaging someone on the other end of the Internet, then looked up just before the last drop of honeyed gold dripped below the horizon. “That wasn’t such a great sunset,” she remarked.  “Ready to go? I’m hungry.”

It’s a testament to how good a friend she is that she even went with me to watch the sun set at all. But for her, unless the entire sky is riddled with brilliant golds and oranges that show up well on an Instagram pic, it isn’t really worth her time–or attention.

If we only saw a sunset once every thousand years, how many people would swarm outside and find the best possible spots to watch those colors light up the sky? Yet our smartphones, books, and conversations about the weather seem infinitely more consequential.

Island life (Guam probs)

I don’t take being under the weather well. And something about having a cold on a tropical island seems wildly incongruous in an entirely stupid kind of way.

It makes me want to write told-you-so letters to all the old women who used to warn me that colds and flu bugs resulted from chilly weather and drafts. Pretty sure I haven’t felt temps cooler than 79F since last July, during a 24-hour layover in Japan. Guam isn’t cold, it doesn’t have cold, and the only drafts are warm, humid-air ones. Therefore I should not have a cold.

Alas.

I am sick and miserable. Sick enough that right now I’m as attached to my box of Kleenex as I normally am to my cell phone. Miserable because it’s muggy and Guam-y outside AND inside because my power is out. It’s 11:30 p.m., and I’ve sought refuge in my least favorite fast-food joint to drink bottled water, allow my sweat-soaked shirt to dry out, and wait for the battery on my longsuffering MacBook Air to die before heading back home to see if the Guam Power Authority has managed to work their magic.

Sickness is one thing. Sickness and no aircon is another thing entirely.