Hello, my name is Steffani and I’m a recovering English student.

English Class BooksCurling up with a book is more discomfortable during Week 28 of pregnancy than it was during Week 27.

But I’ve spent several long nights lately curled up with a book and a cup of tea anyway, squirming to get comfortable and getting lost in stories.

I’m still recovering from the trauma that my English degree inflicted on my reading life. It’s much harder now than it was in high school to sit down and instantly get lost in another world.

Literature classes (and even journalism classes) forced me to read everything critically, on a deadline, and with an eye for analysis.

I still think of books as “texts” more than stories half the time.

I read the full manuscripts of The Iliad and The Odyssey over the course of about 10 days during senior year–along with the rest of my homework and a part-time job. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of clashing bronze, Greek deities, and dysfunctional families. I read those epics so quickly because they were assigned. I wasn’t lost in the world. I just wanted a good grade.

The experience was traumatic.

Worth it, but traumatic.

I’ll reread some of those stories one day soon, because Homer deserves far more of my time than a week and a half of one rushed semester.

I loved those classes, and I’ll never regret taking them, though they changed the way I read. Lit classes also taught me that the written word is far more than a source of entertainment or information. At risk of sounding all mystic and literary-snobbish–it’s more transcendental than that.

Literature is evidence of a mind that cares to tell stories in a meaningful way. Unlike most (all?) more modern media, it requires the sustained attention and mental participation of its audience (insert Neil Postman quote here. No, seriously).

You get to know the characters. Maybe even you get to know the author. You see their faces even more vividly than if they were on a big screen. No one does the imagining or interpreting for you; you have to do it yourself.

The very best books are written by authors who have a story to tell, not authors out to write the next bestseller.

In any case, it’s been a year and a half since I took my last literature class, and I’m still recovering. But over the past few weeks, I’ve rediscovered some of the wonder of literary fiction–from wizards and elves to Holocaust survivors to gladiators in ancient Rome. And I’m remembering why I love to read.

A few weeks ago, I read a Wall Street Journal article about the value of reading slowly. Like a good human-interest story, it opens with a snapshot of a very human environment–a book club meeting in a coffee shop–and then turns our notions of what a book club normally is into something radically new (or old?) and different.

The idea is that people get together to sip their lattes or earl grey teas, disconnect from everything for an hour, and read. The group was started by Meg Williams, a marketing manager with a degree in English literature. She felt the pull of words and the need to unplug, relax, and simply read in a world that’s learned to skim everything a mile a minute.

If I could talk to Ms. Williams, I’d ask if she was as traumatized by her English degree as I was by mine.

6 Particularly Irritating Baby Trends

I’m easily irritated lately.  And I’m learning that I, ah, just don’t understand some baby trends.

I had no idea most of these were even things until I became pregnant and started getting bombarded by the cutting-edge baby-ness that is the motherhood culture of 2014. And I must say, a lot of what I found made me want to move to a less-civilized country where stuff like this is still considered weird, wacky, and inappropriate.

Disclaimer: My six-month-pregnant brain’s filter is not containing its opinions very well right now. Don’t expect me to be unbiased.

Irritating Baby Thing #1: Stupid/Inappropriate Onesies. 

Please. No.

A simple Etsy search for “newborn onesies” results in various screen-printed onesies featuring inaccurate, painfully tacky, and wildly inappropriate wording–and bad clip art. Some of my favorites:

1. Started from the belly. Now I’m here. 

Stating the obvious much?

2. I had boobies for breakfast. 

Because breastfeeding isn’t cool unless you (and your baby) flaunt it, apparently.

3. Lock up your daughters. 

Yes, let’s make Little Tim into a cutesy-fied sex object before he’s even six months old. In the same vein:

4. I drink until I pass out. 

Aaand my personal favorite that makes me want to buy every single one and donate them to the dog as chew toys:

5. I totally wrecked a vagina. 

Again, because advertising the “adorable” sexual prowess of an infant has become trendy. (And we wonder what’s wrong with middle-schoolers.)

Irritating Baby Thing #2: Social Media Oversharing. 

I don’t understand some people’s need to document every week of pregnancy for the world. Not saying it’s wrong. Just that I don’t get it. The whole “Look! I’m 7.8 weeks along and here’s a picture of my baby bump! …and here’s another at 8.2 weeks! …and another at 9! OMG I feel like a whale already!” thing takes social media over-sharing to a whole new level.

Not to mention those who feel compelled to share every ache and pain with the world. Yeah, I have them, too. I just limit myself to complaining to people I think might actually care (I’m not delusional enough to believe that everyone I’m friends with on Facebook wants this information).

Not that I don’t want to rejoice with the other pregnant mamas out there. Because I do. Really. Maybe the fact that I tend to keep most of my life on the fairly personal, un-documented side of things is just negatively influencing me here when I see others going to different extremes.

Irritating Baby Thing #3: Risqué Maternity Photos. 

So I don’t understand the weekly bump photo updates coupled with sharing everything on social media. But what I *despise* are the professional maternity photos in which pregnant mamas seem to think they must take off (almost) all their clothes in order to fully capture the, er, sensual, primal, whatever nature of pregnancy.

Again, a quick Etsy search for “maternity” yields a plethora of results–from risqué maternity photography services to maternity “gowns” that look more like wedding night lingerie (or just an artful arrangement arms and legs and lace covering up key parts) than anything I’d want to have my picture taken in. I mean, seriously, what do you do with the resulting photos? Is this a picture you’re going to want on your mantle for generations? So one day your kid can ooh and ahh over how good you looked in clingy lace while you were 8 months pregnant?

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of these photo shoots are spawned by women who want to make themselves feel attractive and desirable despite their pregnant state, and that the only way they can come to terms with the way they look is to paint on the makeup, swath key spots with gauzy lace, and trust the editing skills of the photog to airbrush over the all the cellulite, stretch marks, and varicose veins.

I’d argue that finding the beauty in pregnancy has little (nothing?) to do with lace or lipstick, and that there’s nothing empowering about Photoshop’s airbrush feature.

Irritating Baby Thing #4: Dressing infants like adults.

How old is this kid? 18? Or 4?

If Baby Jacoby ends up being a girl, I won’t be getting her ears pierced before she can walk any more than I’ll be getting a butterfly tattooed on her shoulder blade. Since when does a baby need earrings to make her cuter? Moreover, what if she’s a nonconformist and doesn’t WANT extra holes in her body later on? If she does, getting her ears pierced as a teenager or adult is her choice–if she can’t handle needles at that point, perhaps she should rethink piercings.

I also don’t understand ultra-frilly, gauzy, tulle-y, flowered headbands for girls. Or dressing boys like Tommy Hilfiger models when they’re just a few weeks old. What newborn needs a tuxedo? Or a prom dress? Or lacy fishnet tights? Let them be kids for awhile. They’ll have to grow up fast enough anyway.

Irritating Baby Thing #5: Brand-consciousness. 

From the Calvin Klein graphic tees made for toddlers to the baby slings available in every color and luxury fabric under the sun for a couple hundred dollars each, the market loves catering to new parents who want the very best for their child. Don’t get me wrong–I want a baby sling that works well, and I don’t mind paying for it. But I don’t need one in a color to match each outfit. And I don’t want my kid to be a walking billboard for various clothing companies. And if I choose a Graco bassinet over a BabyBjorn one, so be it.

Irritating Baby Thing #6: Maternity clothes. 

I’m sick of uber-tight baby-bump-hugging maternity clothes. Not that I’m ashamed of my bump. I’m not so Victorian-esque that I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m pregnant for as long as possible. And I acknowledge the cuteness of some form-fitting maternity clothes.

Besides, it’s not like I hate tailored tops across the board.

BUT I don’t always want to walk waddle around in uber-form-fitting tops that cradle my blob-like abdomen. Could I get some positive ease, please? Just a little? For the days when I feel like a panda or when I don’t feel like wearing any clothes at all, let alone the most tailored ones in the closet?

Also, horizontal stripes. Just because I’m preggo doesn’t mean I want all parts of me emphasized in the horizontal. Just saying.

Typhooning

Post-typhoon Tanguisson Beach Typhoon Vongfong came and went. Before the storm hit, reports indicated we could expect 100-mph gusts. But the only tangible results that I’ve seen so far have been downed trees here and there, and showers of little shredded palm fronds, an unnatural fall of leaves for October on Guam.

My house feels like a cave with all the storm shutters closed. The consistently gray, soggy haze marking the rainy season on Guam doesn’t help. The partial ocean view from the patio is exponentially more impressive if you can actually see the horizon. It’s excellent reading weather.

It also makes me want to curl up on the sofa and sleep–for hours and hours and hours on end.

Volunteering at an Operation Christmas Drop golf tournament fundraiser thing on Saturday forced me to switch from night shift back to days. I went to bed around 9 p.m. last night, woke up a few times to peek out the door and listen to the wind, and otherwise slept until 11:30 this morning. Pretty sure I could sleep 14+ hours each night without a problem. Such is month 6 of pregnancy… and island-induced laziness.

When we finally crawled out of bed this morning, the husband and I drove around to see what kind of damage Vongfong inflicted. We walked up and down Tanguisson Beach in search of waves and stopped at Two Lover’s Point.

The panoramic view from the clifftop was hazy and gray (go figure) and the beach down below at Tanguisson was decorated with washed-up seaweed and shells, but other than that all remained peaceful and surprisingly blue beneath a post-typhoon sky. Hard to believe we’re leaving in just about six months! I’ll miss these lazy, rainy days and nights and the power of the nearby ocean.

Making autumn

Handknit pumpkinsIt’s hard to complain about Guam’s failure to be fall-like when the sunsets over the ocean are so colorfully surreal, even on the rainiest days.

This evening as the sun was setting, it was windy and relatively cool. The rain had let up, and those moisture-laden clouds created a breathtaking sunset. And I almost forgot to wish there were changing leaves.

Almost. Not completely. In the last week, I’ve been doing my best to engineer a personal autumn while still loving these balmy, thundery, rainy Guam days.

I’m knitting and crocheting pumpkins.

I’m sewing things with autumn-colored fabric (and remembering why I typically avoid sewing. So many pieces. Eesh).

I’m burning my Kitchen Spice and Crisp Apple Strudel Yankee Candles.

IMG_2110 (1)I’m baking homemade bread and slow-cooking cozy homemade soup and propping my feet up while my puppy curls up beside me.

I’m feeling my baby kick surprisingly hard and thinking that I’m becoming ridiculously lazy–and that I miss doing the kind of real work that leaves you tired, messy, sweaty, and rewarded.

I’m reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in Spanish, mostly to make sure I still can.

Maybe it feels a little more like fall now than it did last week, even though the weather hasn’t changed.

Craving Autumn

This is what autumn on Guam looks like.

Autumn on Guam.

I love Guam. I don’t  love that when seasons are supposed to change, they don’t.

Everybody on Facebook is like, “Finally! It’s jacket weather!”

Everybody on Instagram is like, “Look how delectable this pumpkin spice latte is!”

And, of course, everyone on Pinterest is pinning harvest-inspired recipes, fall-weather styles, and autumn decor advice.

Here in Guam, the rainy season is weathering its way across the island. Today, a 7.1 earthquake interrupted the otherwise consistently drippy weather with a rumble that woke me from a dead sleep and made the house shake for over a minute. But that’s a rare variation. Temperatures are still in the mid 80’s (surprise!), and they will be through October, November, December, and ever, ever after.

Local coffee shops have pumpkin spice stuff, but it seems pointless to try to enjoy one in light of the atmospheric conditions. As I write this, I’m nursing a virgin strawberry tropical mojito (featuring calamansi, mint, strawberry syrup, and club soda), and fanning myself because even the air conditioning at Infusion isn’t quite cutting through my pregnancy-induced hot flashes.

Ah, well, maybe next year the good ol’ Air Force will send us somewhere that’s home to the seasons I’ve missed.

Not everything is beneficial.

Do not squander timeThe hubster is on night shift again, which means I’ve become nocturnal as well, by default. The worst part of having one’s circadian rhythms reversed is trying to live like nighttime is more than just free leisure time to waste away.

Normally, nights are for kicking back and putting off household chores, work, and other ordinary-life things until the daylight hours. I’m trying to reprogram myself, because that mentality doesn’t work so well when you’re asleep for most of the day.

Something from church a couple of weeks ago stuck with me in an almost eerily resounding way. The idea that sparked it is in 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Not everything is beneficial. 

I can think of a long list of things I can do with my time that aren’t beneficial to anyone in any way.

Doing something for relaxation isn’t relaxing at all if you have nothing to recover from.

In that passage, Paul was talking about sexual immorality more specifically than time management. But the implications of that verse just keep slapping me upside the head when it’s 11:30 p.m. and I don’t want to do anything but kick back on the sofa. The truth is, our time doesn’t lose value when we’re no longer at work or fulfilling those “normal” responsibilities. Spare time counts, too–it’s precious.

PickTheBrain.com put it really well in this article. The idea is that we should grow up and realize that the life in front of us is a gift. And is Netflix or Pinterest or the XBox really worth it? Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. I know that I’m happiest when I don’t spend all my leisure time on pure leisure.

Maybe I have the free time right now to do anything my little heart desires, but that doesn’t mean I should squander it.

Maybe I don’t have any pressing responsibilities tonight, but I can find beneficial things to do.

Much to the annoyance of my inner lazy bum, the question keeps bannering through my mind: What can I do that’s beneficial right now?

While my husband is away at work, the paid writing assignments are done, the world is asleep, and I have every reason to kick back and enjoy this luxury, what can I do that’s not worthless? Anything that will give me a sense of accomplishment, rather than futility, so I know when I go to bed in the morning that I didn’t waste these precious hours of time.

Or so that, when I do kick back to watch Season 3 of Lost, it’s rewarding and enjoyable because I know I’ve done other beneficial stuff with my time, as well.

Making things–with a nod to the past and the future

Small ShoesSometimes I write compulsively. Writing is my job, but I rarely feel compelled to write about car insurance or the rising trends in online education, which is the type of stuff I get paid for. When I write compulsively, I get out my trusty old spiralbound notebook (anything fancier would set the standard too high) and document things–anything that’ll help me remember, later on, the rapidly-changing life that I lived.

Now, for instance, I can look back over some of those spiralbound journal-y things and get a (rather biased and sometimes overwhelmingly emotional) snapshot of what my life was like in 2010. Or 2006. Lots of things were once earth-shatteringly important, when I was 19. Or 15. Or 12. I’d forget them entirely if I hadn’t written something about them. No one will ever read them except me. I mean, they’re not top-secret, but they’re not all that interesting, either.

And sometimes I knit compulsively, which is harder to explain. But in some weird way almost parallel to writing, it’s another instance of making sense of life and creating something tangible to remember it by. I can knit or crochet with an eye to the future and to the past, with a nod to the person who’ll use whatever it is that I’ve made, the child I once was who learned those skills, and the person I am now who’s investing time in working yarn and needles between my fingers.

I’m guessing the sentiment is similar for anyone who creates, whether it’s sketching, sewing, creating stained glass windows, or working with wood.

It’s meditative. It forces me to pay attention, to sit still and focus on one thing (like twenty-three rows of a crazy lace pattern) while letting my mind wander, in a way that the crazy Internet-distracted tendency of modern life often obliviates. Like my writing, I don’t necessarily expect anyone to think that what I’ve made is the best thing ever. It’s enough for me to know that I challenged myself, made something work, and that every inch of yarn in a finished thingy has been touched and crafted by my hands.

Lately, I’ve been knitting compulsively. Impulsively.  Maybe one day I’ll look at the little green sweater I just made for my future child, and I’ll think of the hours sitting in my little Guam home. Puppy curled up next to me. Wondering what corner of the world I’ll be living in next year. Ripping out rows when I make a mistake, then painstakingly putting it back together again.

I don’t have a name for it, but I feel like everyone needs that sort of thing.