February 25, 2012


I've been reliving what this day, and these past few days, meant for me a year ago.  I was waiting, waiting, trying not to be impatient as my baby took his time.  I had no.idea. what was in store for me when Bear was born.  I had no clue if any of "it" would work.  Could I push him out? Would he drink milk?  Would the diapers hold the pee?  Would he pee?  I would fold and reorganize teeny baby clothes, doubting that there would ever be a baby to put in them.  And oh, I held the lowest expectations for any possibility of cuteness.

I pulled out the little blank book I was using last year to take childbirth notes in and pump myself up.  I had written "Now it's mental gymnastics, one day he will be here.  Don't take him for granted," and "I really hope I remember to look at the cord while it is still bright blue," and then a big long list of my cloth diaper stash.  The best pages are the most worn out, water-dotted pages in the whole book, and I remember when Dust gave me back this journal after coming home with my new baby.  He showed me that he and Dana had recorded most all of my contractions until he was born.  I was ecstatic to have that list of contraction times!  I love reading the notes beside them.

8:30 - doozie
8:41 - standing
9:38 - fizzled out
2:59 - you whistled, we laughed
3:35 - you felt a pop
6:15 - puking
8:50 - urge to push
9:40 - born

That little book takes me back in time.  I was so cumbersome and preggo, wearing the same freaking black dress over leggings with a different scarf every day.  I bought two pairs of boots that I promptly blew the hubs out of, because my feet and ankles were so swollen I had to do lots of extra jamming to get them on.  Bending down to put those boots on was a break-a-sweat way to start my workday.  I can still feel the basketball pushing against my ribs pushing against my lungs, and how Dustan was no help to me, in the same way it's easier to put on your own gloves.

Those days were so cold, and filled with roadtrips to the northern side of Milwaukee to visit my CNM's telling me I would shortly get induced.  I'm not going to hash through all of that again.  This is more me remembering how ignorant I was of all the beauty that was in store for me, when I really didn't know to hope for anything more than being able to throw those boots away after my baby was born!  Had I known, I would have been breathless with excitement and obnoxious with obsession my entire pregnancy to get that baby out and spend my days watching his hands go from the desperate-newborn-fist stage to the dimpled, curious paw stage.

If there's anything I've learned through Bear's entrance and first year of life, it's this.  In the world of birth, babies, and parenting, there are countless philosophies.  There is a wrong way and a right way to do practically everything, and everyone - even that one over there, with no children - has some type of opinion.  I can't get exasperated with this, because I have my own strong opinions about many things.  I just think all the angles are a testament to the fact that babies, and how we handle them, is something that matters so, so very much.  They're our little people, our little citizens.  They're us, just at the beginning.  Take care about how you feed us and how we should sleep and how we should hold one toy over another and how a developing mind needs this at this stage and that at that stage.  Someone found a secret key to getting a baby to sleep? That's book-publishing material right there.  It can get crazy, listening to all those voices.  I know from experience that any time someone is a little nutty about something they believe (about anything!) go easy on them (us).  Because the passion up top is usually tied to some heavy place down where big stuff sits.

But here is what I'm most grateful for.  After Bearboy finally showed up on his own watch (and there he was in flesh and blood, wearing the onesie I had been waiting to put him in), I got clobbered by the most unexpected permission to relish this baby.  I didn't see it coming.  It has helped drown out all those voices about how to do or not do everything.  It doesn't mean I haven't had to make choices all along the way.  I have, and I've actually really enjoyed the learning curve as well.  It just means all those choices and philosophies are such a tiny fraction of the baby experience, and I - well, I just didn't see it coming.  While I was pregnant, a lady told me that the best advice given to her was this.  Enjoy your baby. 

Every night he goes to bed and I sit down to plunk around on the internet or stuff some diapers, and I miss that boy.  I didn't expect that.  That being a mama, when stripped down from all the trappings that word implies, means I got a dooders sprouting teeth who tries to eat dogfood every day, and awards me the broadest, most familiar beep-falling-out grins when we're home from a walk.

One day he will be "my oldest," tying knots in Trail's leash and filling his water bottle on his own.  Unbelievable!  But today he is a baby - and however close to one years old he thinks he is, he's still a baby.  I drag him along to everything, and show him how it works to be a person.  That's what it is to be a mama, and it's the best thing I never saw coming.

January 1, 2012

Food on the Trail, Part 4

I've been meaning to finish my little series on trail food for oh, months.  But you know how it goes.  Babies get older and start pushing peas around with their pointer finger and it's so endearing it knocks the wind out of you.  So I've been set back a few times, but I haven't forgotten.  Probably a year ago, I went through all of my pictures from the Appalachian Trail and realized how many I loved and wanted to re-see a million times.  Here is a final sampling of photos like that, including the one thing (besides rain) that made all the difference in a good day of hiking and a bad one.  Food.

The deli hop in New England.  Completely blindsided us with how delicious and accessible subs could really be.  Salami, pastrami, prosciutto, pepperoncini. Yes.

New York City food.  We paid $8 for a tiny glass of orange juice that tasted like it was fresh.  But it probably wasn't... The food was beautiful, and came out on even more beautiful and eclectic plates.

I ate a Reuben here.  It was hard to do because someone once told me corned beef is only possible by dehydrating cows on purpose.  That just sucks all the joy out of eating that cow.  Anyway, good old Seinfeld. 

I think it was this $13 burger in Connecticut where we realized we were spending way too much money on food.  You can see that realization sinking in around Dustan's eyes in this picture.  This was the same state where sodas came bottled - no fountain drinks.  No free refills.  And definitely no more biscuits n' gravy.

Vachon - don't even remember what that was from?  But as we entered the Northern states, hiking became more and more job-like and predictable.  We could look at an elevation map and get a good handle on what the day would hold before lunch, read a description of a shelter and decide to stealth camp, run into a killer view near a good water source and make camp early.  It was so nice to be with friends all along the way, made lunching at a shelter and campfire talk so much fun.  I could never understand the crazy-fast solo hikers for this reason alone.  They'd be all lanky and quiet, pull a tiny energy bar made of seeds from their fanny pack and eat in solitude.  At first I thought they were all elitist, and some were.  But really, they just hiked too freaking fast to make friends and tell stories.  We loved to find ourselves alongside Vachon and his sloping Virginia accent, different than mine which is from the boonies.  His is more like old-school Richmond.

That was the most delicious Caesar salad I ever built at a grocery store in a town I begged to stay in because Dustan was watching thunderheads roll in.  We spent the next two days hiking under pack covers.

Oh, Rutland.  I could say so much about you.  I'll leave it to Blaze, though.  What I will say is this smoothie probably added eight solid months to my life, it was packed with so much goodness, and the people that made it for me were from the Twelve Tribes community.  I think they're some form of Jewish/Christian but really neither.  They kinda loved hikers, and we loved their food.

Everything eats.

 Here's a late-night planning meeting over dinner.  Mac n' cheese (which somehow never gets old) and Brahma's all-time favorite side dish: peanut butter M&M's.  I love that this picture captured my poor, sad thumbnail from a horse bite in Virginia. 

 Salt-encrusted hiking shirt, evidence of the amount of climbs in the sun we just tackled.  Purple-stained lips, evidence of the grape slushies we consumed when rolled into this small New Hampshire town.

Pasta, by firelight and headlamp.

 Ugh, such a miserable hiking day.  We were pansies when it came to rain - big time.  Southbounders passed us like warriors, with so many notches in their hiking-through-rain belt I'm sure they scoffed when we pulled out rain gear before the first drop fell.  They were pelted, soggy messes.  We northbounders just didn't have it as bad.  So on days when we were required to not only walk in the rain, but set up camp and (God forbid) wake up to rain, we felt so sorry for ourselves.  I remember this spot in Maine so well, because I was too cold to sit down and eat lunch.  I was too cold to pee, or sign the shelter journal, or do anything but stand there stamping my feet, inhaling whatever snack I had stuffed into the hood of my pack, which turned out to be a whole bag of Cheetos.

Frito Lay, Kraft, Con Agra, Hershey - they served us well.  Way to get off the beaten path and support The Man all the way to Maine!  I love many things about this picture.  How shredded my thighs were by this point, how my eyebrows were growing together, how I had band-aids on every finger, how I had snacking down to a science (find a warm rock, rip off your sweaty shirt and put your puffy on before the brisk Maine air could make you stiff and chilled).

We forded a river one day to discover this little gem, left for us by Hoot and Sundance, who, apparently carried a Sharpie in their packs?  This was the kind of stuff that made you feel for two seconds like you were on The Amazing Race.  

Here we are at Poor Richard's Pub, days after the summit of our final mountain had come and gone.  Poor Richard's is the bar made infamous by Roy in The Office, when he threw a shot glass at a mirror because he got so mad at Pam.  We couldn't drive through Scranton, Pennsylvania and not stop.

We also couldn't go through Philly without reuniting with the Awesome Amy Miller, our great friend from Williamsburg.  She made us pasta, and the next morning we walked around and drank coffee, and this is the kind of thing you long for when it's 9:47am and you are shouldering a thirty seven-pound backpack before gaining a thousand feet in elevation with half a Milky Way in your tank.  It's also surreal to come back to life and do these normal things, like coffee with friends.  Because there you are, picturing what you would be doing otherwise, summitting a craggy height that splays out grandeur all around you, taking a swig of water that tastes better than life because you pumped it and packed it and earned it, and suddenly you pity the poor people that just drive to work every day and have coffee with friends.  

Last meal worth commemorating - we hit up our family JJ & Don in Manassas when we entered back into Virginia, and they treated us to Viking food.  Charred meat and frothy lager and more butter than bread.

We definitely did our share of card-swiping to make it from Georgia to Maine, but the number of phenomenal meals that were treated to us, prepared for us, laid before us, at all different times of the day and in so many different cities and tiny towns, in states all up and down the coast, from strangers and family and instant-friends alike, was really staggering and over the top.  Whether it was succulent salmon in a restaurant or pancakes at a hostel, under the awning of a hoity-toity grocery store or beneath the eves of a pitter-patter tin roof shelter, with a smattering of dirty hikers or just us in the confines of our tent with our smushed Poptarts, meal times were the best times to relax and laugh and retell our favorite stories and learn about all kinds of different, inspiring, tiring, long-winded, gracious, audacious, benevolent, driven, charming, unlikely and always interesting people.  Besides the hiking, that's the whole of the trail.

October 26, 2011

8 Months Baby

Bearboy.  Has it really been 8 months?  Impossible.  In these months, I have learned what people mean when they say "It goes so fast!" and "Time flies when they're that little."  It means right when I think things are a certain way - your sleep, your favorite songs, what time of day you'll want food - it changes.  And suddenly you are a whole new baby.  It's wild.  I used to plunk you on my chest and you would just lay there for as long as I would hold you, like this.

You don't do that anymore.  Now when I go to get you after a good long sleep, you stiffen up and grin, kick your legs and do your excited gasp-for-air thing. When I pick you up, you turn in every direction and do the Water Spider - the move so frequent we had to give it a name - in which you pump your arms straight out and your legs too, with this manic face.  All kinds of things make you do the Water Spider: my cell phone, the crinkle of a bag, and seeing your Papa at the end of his workday.

I've been looking at pictures of you tiny.

You had a wobbly-shaped ear and a patch of long hair in the back that I cut as soon as I got you home.  Your cheek felt like leather and your little feet and hands were scaly for days.  I thought you were so beautiful.  You were...eventually.

Every time I take your picture and upload it, and survey the little timeline of your life from eight months ago 'til now, I can't ever imagine you being any bigger or stronger or more aware than you are in this moment.  Always I am surprised when I see pictures from just a few weeks ago. Your legs were skinny and you were more bald and your face didn't light up with understanding the way it does now.  Still, I can't fathom that you will keep growing and be a toddler asking for Goldfish.

Sometimes I wish I could start all over.  Not with another baby, with you. You have been so squishy, so sweet, so drowsy, so giddy.  When I see headlines about babies found in dumpsters or stolen from their parents or just left in a bed with no blanket, I have to turn my mind away and put my face in your face.  How could I miss a second of you, on purpose?  I utter sweeping, childlike prayers.  I pray for all the babies, everywhere, to be loved well and treated right.

It has been such a trip watching you figure things out.


Your all-time favorite toy is your pie plate.

You also love to crush water bottles, crinkle the Subway paper, and bury your face in a magazine.  Toys are pretty much wasted on you, so I'm thinking Christmas is gonna be easy.  You're getting a cardboard box and a Sunchips bag made from recycled material.

You would be completely lost without your beep, your backup beep, and your Lambers.

I'm so glad I got you.  That's something your Papa and I say to each other from time to time, and I will always tell you that.  Nursing is one of the best things I've ever done in my life, something I really didn't see coming.  And now that you're sleeping more and more in your crib like an independent boy, I hate it - something else I didn't expect.  Sometimes I come get you and stuff you into bed with us anyway, and watch you throw your hands over your head and find Dustan's face in your sleep.  When you wake up, before your eyes even open, you are smiling.  It killllls me!

You are my favorite thing.  I'm gonna put duct tape over the tooth you're sprouting, and I'm gonna push you down when you start walking.  Don't learn words, or grow anymore.  Okay?


October 14, 2011

Food on the Trail, Part 3 (there will be 4)

The best meal of the day was lunch. We piled Camembert and Brie on bagels and topped it with apples.

Or with mayo, mustard, tomatoes and avocado. 

This is me at my Aunt JJ's house, jamming down on a spring roll.  Next up was probably some kind of cake...

Longshot is eating a Pro Bar, a $14 granola bar that includes something from every food group.  These things will make you skip up mountains.
Ah, town food.

More town food.  I was committed to the most ridiculously fragile foods, as you can see.  Some people liked to pack out six-packs from town for the first night back on the trail, others liked to bring shiraz and dark chocolate.  I went for the foods that hold up horribly under backpacking conditions, stopping just shy of eggs.

Post-half-gallon challenge. :)

Boiling Springs, PA.  We got to town and found this house.  They were this odd mix of people that kinda sorta welcomed us, but also pretty much ignored us. It was like, we're having a folksy jam session on our porch, and serving up angel food cake and peaches with or without you.  So I guess you can have a piece. 

We did, and then we went into town and ate the best pizza of our life.  Then we came back and slept in the Doll House.  It's a tiny house in their backyard that looks just like a doll house.  I know that sounds so made up.

(The pizza I was talking about).

On the trail out of Boiling Springs we walked miles and miles of flat land.  It was incredible.  And I'm talking flat, as in "flat." Not flat as in "not exactly flat, more like only four steep climbs."  This term, flat, was very fluid and debatable on the trail.  We learned - ohdidwelearn - not to ask people walking south what kind of stretch of trail we were about to encounter.  Because it's almost impossible to gauge how bad an uphill will be when you've just come down it.  

Anyway, during that flat walking we picked blackberries.

Brahma made us blackberry pancakes.  I can't remember how we pulled this off, but it must have been planned.  Maybe I did pack out eggs!

Definitely more than sandwiches here!  I can tell from this picture we're further north because Brahma's beard is getting out of control, and because the food got so good.  Delis in the New England area did not disappoint, and we were constantly finding amazing grub every time the trail met a road crossing.

Canolis sold at a nursery.  It was always the unlikely place!  Ice cream at a greenhouse, killer burgers at a gas station hole-in-the-wall, and Italian delicacies in the middle of a bunch of plants.  How did we find these places?  We just looked for the telltale row of backpacks outside any given establishment, the equivalent of 5-star rating.

Parting shot:  Food on the Trail, gone wrong.  Dusty's discount Halloween Reese's Pieces bit the dust somewhere in New Jersey and it took forever to pick them all up.