Dear Andria, Jessica, Patricia, Noah, and my mom (aka my only most loyal readers, with the exception of people who find me by googling things like “Medieval baby codpiece pants” and “Beagle dog giant meathead”. Those folks eat me up like, well, a giant baby beagle meathead.):

I wouldn’t want to lose any of my valued readers by changing the name of my little corner of the internet without a little advance notice. I’ve decided to spend the $25 to register my own domain. Since the bulk of my time of late is spent scheming on how to sneak a few minutes away from the small people entrusted to my care in order to practice the ukulele, I hereby dub myself Ukulele Mommy. I’ll miss the Beagle’s Lament but the new me is going to blog more often. I hope you like babies and ukuleles.

I’m getting me a fancy domain name! http://ukulelemommy.com (I’m the next big thing on the internet).

I am writing from my local YMCA, where Bob and I are taking turns working out while the other minds the baby. Silas is blessedly, blessedly occupied in the childcare area. Let’s just say he has been a bit of trial, what with the new sister and the being two years old. The monthly Y fee? Worth every penny.

The pregnant body is a glorious thing, round and taut. After five or six months, it’s apparent to the world that you’re not fat, you’re gestating. I’m proud I managed to exercise regularly until less than 48 hours before Tess was born. I was proud my ass didn’t expand (too much) along with my uterus. I’m proud I just ran 2.3 treadmill miles less than a week after giving birth. An honest sweat! But there is nothing glorious about my postpartum body, It’s soft and flabby and I am sore in places no one should ache. Intellectually, I know I will bounce back easily enough but whenever someone says, “You look great,” I wince inside because I know what they really mean is, “You’re looking rough, but it’s socially unacceptable not to tell someone who just had a baby that they look awesome.”

What can I say? I have issues about my appearance. I realize how very shallow and self absorbed it is to coddle vanity when there are things happening in the world. I realize I should be marveling over my perfect newborn and gazing into her eyes on the rare occasions she opens them. And I am! Oh, I am. And yet…

I am so very, extremely tired. My sweet but demanding toddler has gotten on my last nerve, and I hate myself for being irritated with him. He’s only two! He deserves better. And while we are on the subject of people who are victim to my unwarranted irritation: let’s talk about my husband, who changes diapers and wrangles Silas and brings me water. It isn’t fair to hate him at 3 a.m. when all the baby wants to do is nurse. It’s not his fault he can’t help with the difficult job of breastfeeding. Goddamn breastfeeding. It’s going better this time around, but these early days are so.fucking.hard. It is what I think about when my energy begins to flag on a run. If I can tough out breastfeeding, there is nothing I can’t do.

I can see Silas jumping in the bouncy house from where I’m sitting. Unmitigated joy on his face. We can all get through this, I think.

The Problem Being

I get excited I’ve finally written more than two incoherent sentences and hit publish when a good editing is in order. The internet is a dangerous tool.

I worry that last post was self-congratulatory and judgmental. I tried to fix it but this blog writing is harder than I expected.

I really want one of these maternity running skirts. If only maternity clothes weren't so bloody expensive. I would also like the dark-haired woman's legs and skin tone. Thank you.

A confused and grateful library patron I’ve only met once before took it upon himself to tell me how great I looked the other day. While I honestly prefer if strangers would refrain from commenting on my appearance, I accepted the compliment (smoothly, I like to think) and continued to show him how to find articles in our databases. But then: an unsure, “You’re…pregnant…right?”

Listen, world: if you aren’t certain someone’s gestating, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. This is not news. I’d be hella pissed if someone thought I was pregnant and I wasn’t. For the past few months Bob has insisted I just look like an otherwise fit woman with a beer gut. (There are a lot of them roaming the URI campus, apparently.)

I was so proud of myself on Saturday for running (and finishing!) a 5k while six months pregnant. It’s kind of kick-ass, right? Old Corrie would not have even considered it, pregnant or not. I was afraid a poorly-informed busybody might take it upon themselves to lecture me about “endangering your baby”, but I wore baggy clothes and no one did. That imaginary person can take their sanctimony straight to hell, but still I fretted.

Until very, very recently, I was just not the kind of person who believed myself capable of holding my own in an athletic event. Run a 5k – – – three miles? Impossible. I was afraid people would stare at me if I went jogging on the street, that they would silently judge me if I went to the gym. Besides, I became tired and breathless almost immediately. Perhaps I was an undiagnosed asthmatic? Exercise meant sweating and a red face and a bouncy chest and being ridiculed and NO!

In high school my youthful metabolism preserved me, but things started going downhill during my second year of college. My early twenties were the worst. I drank more, a lot more. I have a clear memory of shoveling spoonfuls of white potato salad into my mouth while standing in front of the refrigerator after an evening of binge drinking. Another time I polished off an entire box of my roommate’s Cheez-Its before passing out. My reputation for having an iron stomach was secured after eating cold, leftover fried clams (again straight from the refrigerator). Drunk dialing is embarrassing, but the effects of drunk eating linger on the hips. I always secretly believed that I could hold my own in a competitive eating situation if I ever decided to wholly let myself go.

I convinced myself that my increasing girth was inevitable, and that it was as least partially the result of being born with an unfortunate body type. Genes. Denial, it ain’t just a river in Egypt. If I looked at myself in the mirror at the right angles, I was just a little zaftig. A Varga girl! And it’s true that I will always be curvy, and never fashionably skinny. It’s harder to find clothes but I’m okay with that. We can only try and be better versions of ourselves.

I guess I’m a late bloomer – college was more awkward for me than high school. I’ve always appreciated that Bob met me when I was chubby, had braces, and was experimenting with the hippie style (which works for some people but au naturel just isn’t my best look) and liked me anyway. We didn’t date until grad school, at which point things had gotten a little better. I even lost weight before our wedding by walking on the treadmill, but I gained it all back within a few months.

My day of reckoning came while scrutinizing my reflection on the mirror. A soft, pudgy belly and buxom chest were about to meet in one blobby middle. My legs weren’t too bad, which was what allowed my denial to progress as long as it had. I looked…matronly. Thick. There was definitely a double chin. Then I got pregnant.

Six months into this pregnancy, and I’ve only just hit the weight I was entering my pregnancy with Silas. I try to never go more than a day without exercising (although it’s common and okay to violate that guideline – I’M DOING IT RIGHT NOW). I don’t want to fall off the wagon: I’ll never be fat again. Sometimes I have to force myself, other times my body is craving vigorous activity. I tell myself it’s a non-negotiable thing: our human bodies were meant to be in motion. It’s a chore – so is flossing. If I’m really not feeling it, I’ll tell myself I can stop at a mile. Then I hit a mile and figure I can go just a tiny bit further…before I know it, I’ve hit a stride.

I set a goal, and I achieved it. It makes me feel like there are many other things I can do if I only try. Motivation is a huge challenge for me.

Now I  look at marathoners and part of me thinks, “I could never do that”. But a bigger part of me knows that’s not true. Progress is slow, but I keep moving forward. It’s all I can do.

Ed. Note: This has been sitting in my draft folder since October. I was waiting to add a picture of a medieval man wearing a codpiece, then decided it was too boring to publish. But damn if I still don’t find medieval cups hilarious. I’m back to blogging, baby, I’m back! The salt cod didn’t work out so well.

Whenever Bob remembers his paternal grandfather, he mentions that Grampa Joe subsisted entirely on goulash after his wife died. He’d make a big pot of it on Monday and dish bowlfuls straight out of the pot for the rest of the week. I always wonder if made the goulash the same way each time, or if he allowed for variation – a red pepper one week, perhaps mushrooms the next, a zucchini after that – or if he adhered to the same list of ingredients each time. Based on what I know of Bob’s nature – Fiber One cereal with chocolate milk for breakfast, no Grape Nuts or Shredded Wheat, ma’am – I’m going to guess it’s the latter.

I would go insane. Food revolts are a major source of prison riots, you know. Don’t test me, internet.

Just the word goulash is unappealing, but what is it, exactly? Paula Deen has a recipe, but she doesn’t say much about it. (sidenote: I really want a Dutch Oven.) It sounds like American Chop Suey, sloppy Joes, In Slovakian, it means “mishmash”. Sounds like peasant food to me – every culture’s got some version of it. The Russians have borscht, because cabbage and beets were the only things they had to eat sometimes. I’m enchanted by the idea of borscht – thick and ruby-jeweled, with chunks of tender beef and a dollop of creamy white Greek yogurt on top. Minimal cabbage, or even leave it off altogether.  Healthy and delicious and not nearly as indulgent as it tastes. I can imagine it now.

But I have trouble cooking beets. I wrap them in foil and put them in a hot oven for an hour, but the skin never seems to slip off the way it’s supposed to no matter how long I cook them, so I try peeling them and my hands are dyed pistachio red for no reason because eventually they start to offend me with their recalcitrance and I have to give up and compost them. Canned taste wrong. Are beets available frozen? I have never seen them.

Once I cooked a perfect beet but left it on the counter. I never thought a dog would eat a beet. We buried Riley a week ago today, but we shall always remember the glory of that mutt’s gut in her prime. A sophisticated palate, truly.

It’s strange not to have a dog in the house. No one to eat the food I drop when I’m cooking, or suck the Cheerios up off the floor. (It’s a theatrical rule that if you give the child Cheerios in Act I, the Cheerios will be mostly uneaten and scattered on the floor by Act III.) The flagrant theft of a child’s snack can be forgiven if the culprit saves me from a bit of housework. How bad would it be if I leave the O’s on the floor in the hope that Silas will snack on them later? This is why we need a new dog, and pronto.

In the interest of frugality, I’ve been eating down the contents of the fridge and pantry more often. Tonight for dinner: Black beans simmered in flat Pabst Blue Ribbon with chopped onions, carrot, potato, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes. Call it “Not Grampa Joe’s Goulash Technically Not Really Goulash At All But Certainly a Mishmash So There” on top of barley with chicken sausages on the side. Maybe I should consider a name change if I want to take this to the big leagues someday.

Tomorrow, I attempt to prepare salt cod for the very first time. (Bob will eat pizza and more chicken sausages.) “Codfish” always makes me think “codpiece” and heh heh, medieval sports cups. Not a harbinger of a successful meal? Time will tell.

Summer in Pictures

…because I have a hard time getting started writing. But look! I have a title and a lede. Already feeling productive, me.

Internet, if you have seen a prettier loaf of bread I don't want to know

Summer of 201o shall go down as my season of bread. Some questioned the wisdom of baking during the unbearable height of an unusually hot summer, but I couldn’t stop. (I still can’t stop – there is dough rising in the oven as I type this.) There is something magic about the way yeast comes alive to turn water and flour into a crusty, airy staff of life. It’s such a basic food item, one that appears in every culture throughout the millennia. Which leads me the Rumi poem I shared at Tomi’s wedding:

May this marriage ever be like milk and sugar, like wine and halvah. May this marriage be blessed with leaves and fruit like the date tree. May this marriage be laughing forever – today, tomorrow – like the hours of paradise.

I thought it was a good choice of words spoken in lieu of a prayer before dinner (a deference to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in attendance, and the fact that Tomi and Rocco aren’t religious anyway). Food – specifically bread/halvah – as celebration: it’s something people have been doing for as long as there have been civilizations. It doesn’t matter what culture you come from: breaking bread together in celebration is part of being alive. (Can you tell I have become quite philisophical about bread? All that kneading gives my mind the chance to wander…) The other wedding guests seemed to feel differently; when I said I was going to share a brief poem there was a collective groan.

This summer’s heat and humidity trapped me inside as surely as a snowstorm would – I wish I was more of a summer beach person but I prefer to take my jaunts to the seashore in more temperate conditions. Not that I don’t enjoy a little bit of warm sunshine on my SPF 30’d shoulders…just not frequently enough to justify the beach pass I bought at the start of summer. Frugality fail! Maybe the beach will be more manageable when Silas is older. For now, we’ll have to settle for simpler entertainments:

Do I need to include a disclaimer that I don’t make a habit of putting my kid in recycling bins, and also that the beer was empty? Last night we went to Track 84 to drink craft beers and that was A BIG NIGHT OUT for me. Working part time = less money to do fun things. Who knew?

That cat was watching me and I didn’t realize it until I looked at the picture. Someone flesh that out and make it into a horror film. My gift to you.

The Riley death watch continues. She has trouble climbing stairs and jumping onto the bed. Yesterday she looked a squirrel dead in the eye and didn’t even growl. She’s old, so very old…but hanging in. Mostly I’m practical about it – none of us get out of this alive and she’s had a fantastic run – but sometimes I’m sad. When I’m sad I think about the shortest Robert Frost poem I know:

The old dog barks backward without getting up. I can remember when he was a pup.

…and that makes me feel even sadder.

(NB: I don’t consider dispatching bread to Riley, or even the local birds and squirrels, to be “wasting” food. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood as the Outlaw Josie Wales when I say, “a mutt’s gotta’ eat, just like everyone else.”) You know what I do, when I want to do a kindness to an dog with one paw in the grave? I feed her bread and water. It all comes back to bread.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said, “is what we chiefly need: Pepper and vinegar besides are very good indeed.” (Lewis Carroll)

ETA: I’ve had a hell of a time trying to fix all the random quote marks in this entry and keep breaking my blog. So I’m leaving them there, but vow to tread more carefully before tangling with the quote button again.

This morning’s trip to Wal-Mart to purchase hair dye and fake eyelashes turned into what my friend Paul would describe as “interbitch aggression”.

Not the actual person, just a representative image

I was innocently browsing dental floss when a 50-ish woman in stretch pants and an oversized T-shirt came around the corner. She was irritated with the smocked salesgirl trying to help her find the brand of electric toothbrush she was looking for. The salesgirl seemed unsure whether they still carried it, so she took her to where it used to be and started to look for it. Seemed like fine service to me. Better than I’d expect from Wal-Mart, honestly. When our new friend spotted her toothbrush before the salesgirl did, she pointed it out in a voice dripping with condescension and an eye roll before turning her back on her and ignoring her politely spoken, “Are you all set?….um, okay, well have a good day then…” I gave her a sympathetic smile as she walked away looking abashed. The instant she was gone, our friend looks at me and blurts, “She’s so STUPID Jesus Christ!”

Maybe this next detail is not relevant to this story, and maybe it is. You decide. The salesgirl was young and brown and had an accent. Our friend was an uneducated Tea Party sympathizer, I’d bet on it. (My ability to sense Tea Partiers is like a cursed kind of gaydar.) I work in town and I know her type.

I could have ignored this woman. If she hadn’t spoken to me first I’d have just walked away. But I needed her to know that I was not on her side.

“You were rude;” I said.

“What?” I’m not sure if she really hadn’t heard me, or if she thought she’d heard wrong, or if she was calling me out.

“YOU WERE RUDE,” I repeated, louder. She just walked away. There were more things I could have said. Shame on you, You’re the one who’s stupid, She was just trying to help you. But confrontation of any sort scares me. My legs go all shaky and my ability to communicate deserts me. I’m afraid of confrontation, but I’d rather deal with momentary fear than with pent-up anger afterward because I didn’t speak up.

A few years ago, I was waiting in line at the deli on Christmas Eve and witnessed a woman become enraged because the deli boy hadn’t sliced the cold cuts to her specifications. “I TOLD YOU TO SLICE IT REAL THIN,” she yelled as she chucked the bag at his chest. Deli Boy, of course, couldn’t react. She was a customer, although I believe violence toward an employee is grounds for ejection from a store. I caught the eye of a few people who witnessed the incident – Our faces all said Can you believe that? And on Christmas Eve, no less – but no one spoke a word to that wretched woman.

I have always regretted that I didn’t defend Deli Boy’s honor on Christmas Eve.

Slice my meat right or you'll be sorry, motherfucker.

There are few things that will cement my low opinion of your morality, intelligence, and decency the way mistreating a service person will. I’m not saying every waiter or checkout girl is above reproach (inferior customer service will be the subject of a blog post all its own someday, I’m sure), but there is a type of person who feels entitled to behave abominably toward service people. It’s because they know they can get away with it – they’re bullies who wouldn’t dare attack someone who could actually react.

You get a bit of this working in libraries, but since everything is free at the library it’s lessened. We are public servants, not public slaves; which I feel requires a certain amount of tongue-biting but never, ever ass-kissing. Generally, I reject the “Kill them with kindness” theory of dealing with rude people because that is enabling their behavior. Sometimes I use the *blink*blink*blink* tactic. You can, too! It’s easy: Grandma turns into a banshee because she didn’t pick her hold up in time and it got sent back? Screechscreechscreech. It’s impossible that perhaps she made a mistake, no, you are incompetent and she’s going to make you pay. First, you turn into an automaton and hurry to finish the interaction – you are neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but a cool, neutral professional. If Grandma recovers enough at the end of the transaction that the banshee recedes and she actually says, “Thank you”,  just *blink*blink*blink*. If you’re lucky, they might look a bit surprised. Good.  They are NOT welcome, why say what is not heartfelt? Get out of their orbit as quickly as you can – you have other things to attend to. This is why I could never work for tips.

The Checkout Girl has loads more tales from the retail trenches.


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