Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mothering Magazine's Having a Baby, Naturally

The Mothering Magazine's Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

Peggy O'Mara

Finished Reading: 05.2010

There are a lot of parenting and pregnancy books out there, but I have found this one to be the most useful so far. The information is presented in an easy to follow way, straight and unfiltered. The things you need to know - it's all in here (with a lean towards natural birth, but the hospital setting is well described as well). All the considerations and options are brought up, starting in the first trimester and working all the way through birth and afterwards. The book deals with how a woman feels emotionally and physically, what she needs nutritionally, and what is actually happening with her body at each stage of development. Although dads can benefit from the whole book by understanding what their wife is going through, there is a special section for men that gives advice on ways to help women most effectively.

I was particularly interested to know what I should expect during the actual birth and how a home birth differs from a hospital birth - in detail. While every birth is different of course, everything is well explained and diagrammed. The various stages of labor, the medications some women take or do not take, the surgical procedures that one could have or not have done and plenty of other interesting stuff. Clearly, giving birth in a hospital is nothing like giving birth at home. It's like comparing a microwavable dinner which comes packaged in a compartmentalized plastic tray to the experience of roasting meat over an open fire that you have hunted and caught yourself. Both methods give you a meal but that is where the similarities end.

Overly mystical and spiritual books on pregnancy and parenting don't interest me, so I skip over the sidebars in this one that recommend birth shrines, soul days, and introspective list making, but luckily these things and excerpts of short poetry are relegated to the sidebars and so you can easily choose whether or not to pay attention. If you're into that sort of thing its here, but you won't be inundated with it like with some books. However, the sidebars do contain some useful herbal remedies for various maladies as well as stretching and yoga exercises.

Whether a couple is still considering whether or not to have a natural birth or if they have already committed to that path, this book is a fantastic guide to the seemingly unknown path that lies ahead.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis

Finished Reading: 05.2010

This is written in a very creative format as a series of letters from one high ranking demon to a younger demon who is in training as a tormentor. (Or is the first lower ranked since Lewis describes Hell as using an upside-down system of lowerarchy rather than a hierarchy?) However organized, Screwtape is an experienced demon writing to Wormwood his inexperienced inflicter-in-training, imparting important knowledge to guide his young nephew at his task.

In the Screwtape Letters we see a human life from a demon's point of view, but don't get to know the particulars in any real detail, as we only read the responses to Wormwood's submitted progress reports to headquarters and so see a life lived third hand. This Hell-centric view of humanity reveals that there is a lot more going on than what we see, hear and think. Beyond each individual man, Lewis reveals a demon assigned to meticulous spiritual harassment, and beyond that is the whole realm of organized demon bureaucracy - each with assignments, reports and even celebratory banquet feasts to consume their conquests. The whole system is very muddy and dreary.

These demons attempt to draw man away from God (their Enemy) and their instructions and intentions are meant as the opposite to the Gospel, as Lewis shows us the other side of things. There is however, confusion as to the best way to achieve the intended results, as Wormwood is interested in tempting his man towards incredible evil, and the elder Screwtape is only interested in his pupil's success in turning his man away from their Enemy. Temptations come in many shapes.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pride and Predjudice

Jane Austen

Finished Reading: 05.2010

This most ancient of texts (1813!) is rather enjoyable for its captivating character development and as a compelling study of human behavior. Jane Austen escorts us through the life of an English country family with five daughters. Each member of the household is remarkably different from the others and it is a wonder they get on at all.

The times were very different two centuries years ago, when gentlemen of a certain social standing owned large estates and held honorable titles. Their days were passed visiting acquaintances, playing cards and sitting with the women, who knitted or sang and talked. Awkward silences were the norm. Every once and awhile a man of particular initiative might ask an eligible young woman, with whom he had spent the afternoon in the aforementioned awkward silence, to walk with him in the garden and, taking her hand, would ask for that very hand in marriage. Beautiful, well manicured gardens were made for moments such as these - it would seem.

Mr. Bennett, a country gentleman unlucky to have no male heir, lives in a comfortable house with the six women who are his wife and daughters, avoiding his cousins and neighbors who would someday inherit his estate. He finds comfort in observing the constant silliness of his family. His wife is absolutely ridiculous and frivolous in every way, and their youngest daughter Lydia is much the same. The oldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth are the only sensible female creatures around, as the other two, Mary and Kitty are caught up in too many books and too many parties, respectively. The Bennett's ineffectual parenting has developed a troop of daughters ranging from too sensible to senseless and all unmarried.

I enjoy Mr. Bennett's subtle observation and the amusement he finds with his family and the visitors to Hertfordshire. He quietly recognizes the ridiculousness in most of them, which brings him a chuckle, and does not find serious people to be all too useful. He has a few witty lines for his wife and daughters, and after his youngest, Lydia, finds herself in some romantic trouble, tells his other daughters that they are now under a stricter watch. "And you are never to stir out of doors, till you can prove, that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner."

Elizabeth, much like her father and admittedly his favorite, shares his propensity for witty, thoughtful remarks. While dancing solemnly with Mr. Darcy she says, "We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."

Pride and Prejudice finds its structure in the socialization pattern outlined above, and its substance in the relationship that blossoms between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy; he being a very rich, very eligible, and seemingly very disagreeable and prideful man. I don't understand Elizabeth's change of heart from hating Mr. Darcy to loving him. Their actions towards one another change from hateful resentment and prejudice to affectionate desire, but why? The change occurs over time, as Elizabeth gets to know Darcy's character more realistically, but I don't know how she ever gave him the chance in the first place.

Secondary to the major plot line is the dynamic duo of pompous Mr. Collins and his benefactress: the spectacle that is Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I could watch their condescending, haughty banter for many more chapters than we are given. These two co-exist nicely and share a common desire to be heard, respected and talk over anyone else who has an opinion. Very much the opposite are the characters of Mr. Bennett and his daughter Elizabeth, and I can only imagine the chuckle Mr. Bennett would have upon receiving the glory of Lady Catherine's presence should she come to visit, which he seemed always to avoid.

Being an old European story, I can't help comparing Austen's work to another old story or two. Though written later in the same century, which is quite enough time to separate any two things, the works of Leo Tolstoy allow for an interesting comparison between an English female author and a male Russian. Though Tolstoy was born about a decade after Austen died, I want to think some comparisons can be made between these giants of 19th Century literature, as War and Peace is to have taken place about the same time.

This being the only work of Austen I have read thus far, but being passingly familiar with her other works, I notice Pride and Prejudice lacks a the certain male-vision of the world evident in War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The setting is entirely domestic and from the female perspective (which is to be expected from a female author of this time). Soldiers are seen only at balls and parties, gardens and large tracts of green land are kept up by an army of unseen laborers, and gentlemen in general appear out of nowhere in carriages, drive up the front lane to call for supper, and disappear as quickly as they came to places unnamed and with business unknown. What do men do all day when they are not with the ladies?

While Austen's world is interesting in itself, and allows for a great deal of character and behavioral development within a very tight circle of habits oblivious to the outside world, Tolstoy presents a much more detailed and broader view of life and of course takes four or five times more pages to accomplish it. Politics, important cultural issues of the day, and a proper description of war are all missing from Austen's idyllic tale, but it is all appropriate as told from the point of view of the beautiful Elizabeth Bennett, and so we can turn to Tolstoy for the other side of things and enjoy Austen for what it is - just one important piece to the full understanding of 19th Century Britain.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Eco-Nomical Baby Guide

Down-to-Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet

Joy Hatch
Rebecca Kelley

Finished Reading: 05.2010

Besides the cute owl on the cover, this book contains some great ideas and methods for raising a child in an environmentally friendly way. Greener living doesn't always mean more expensive - even with a baby. With a little effort in doing things a little differently, parents can be satisfied with some level of a greener beginning for their child's life. Options are presented for the significant purchases of baby furniture, diapers, food and more. The pros and cons are detailed to promote informed choice and hopefully convince the parents that they don't need all the baby gear that is marketed to the American consumer. Some things can be found second-hand, more earth-friendly options are available, and with many things - we can do without. The parents are at liberty to decide which things work best for their family, as even the two authors diverge on what works best for them. This book is important for all adults who think of themselves as some sort of green parent, and maybe those who don't should check it out to see why. You may simply change your light bulbs to compact fluorescent and separate the recycling, you might live in a car-free urban situation, or possibly you believe in a one-child, no meat-eating lifestyle or find yourself somewhere in between.

Mixing humor with practicality, the authors have put together an extensive and easy to read guide to prepare you for the new baby. It was easy to skip over some sections which were completely non-applicable to my anticipated situation - such as bottle feeding tips and the best childcare options for working parents. Helpful diagrams are included, such as how to change a diaper and the cost comparison of various types of cloth diapers to disposables, alongside the environmental impacts.

The authors stress the first, and often forgotten of the Three R's - Reduce. Parents can save a lot of money by purchasing less stuff, and they do a good job of explaining why all that extra baby stuff isn't necessary. Far from an dictatorial Eco-manifesto on the best way to raise children, the Eco-nomical Baby Guide describes a range of options available for both the Extraordinarily Green and the Jaded Green parent. The book ends with Ten Simple Things You Can Do for the Planet Right Now (and Four Difficult Ones), challenging readers to see where their commitment to green parenting lies and to set goals for the future and their children's future.