Sunday, April 22, 2012

Committee Meeting

Those of you who have had to "work" at getting pregnant (or Tried To Conceive: TTC for short) will know all about the Two Week Wait (TWW: another acronym).  For those of you who have been lucky enough to be incredibly fertile your whole lives, let me explain.  It's the (approximately) two week period after ovulation until the time when you can take a pregnancy test, and receive a reliable answer.

For those of us in the TTC world, entering the TWW is entering a Land of Crazy.  Every pang means something.  A lack of a pang means something.  Was that a cramp?  Does that mean I'm pregnant?  I'm super tired today.  Does that mean I'm pregnant?  Oh My God, I'm so hungry.  I bet that means I'm pregnant.  Sheesh, I was so nauseous on that drive today.  That must mean I'm pregnant.  

If you're really far gone you do things like:
- start your Birth Music Playlist on Spotify.
- start picking out baby names.
- insist that your hubby does the cat litter.  Just in case.
- justify the eating all sorts of weird food on a possible pregnancy.

These actions might be harmless if it wasn't for the letdown that comes after two weeks when you realize that you're not pregnant.  After two weeks of being sure that this cycle is going to be the one, after seeing signs everywhere, saving your positive ovulation sticks for the future baby's all a bit of a nasty letdown.  So it's really best to not let yourself get too excited during the TWW.  Try to forget it's even happening.

There are a bunch of websites with tips on how to get through the TWW. has lots of forums and other time-wasting features.  Basically, the goal is to distract yourself as much as possible.  I love playing Skyrim during the TWW because five hours can go by during which I think about nothing except how to kill dragons, increase my enchanting skill, and how to make my invisibility spell stronger.  Lots of places suggest things like taking bubblebaths, painting your toenails, etc.  But this list from of 14 things to do when 14 days seems like forever has one of my favorites in: call a committee meeting of all the players going on inside of you, and make an appeal to them.

Make an appeal to the committee meeting going on inside you. Sperm, egg, uterus, corpus luteum, progesterone…they are in there either making a baby or not. Treat them like any other unruly committee you've ever addressed. 

So that's what I did today.  Below is a transcript of how the meeting went.  I should add that my Egg speaks with an English accent.  And for some reason, maybe because I'm listening to Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country about Australia, or maybe because I'm watching a lot of cricket right now, the Sperm sounded like an Ozzie.

Egg: Order!  Order!  Calm down everyone!  Ok.  We need to take minutes.  Who will take minutes this month?
Follicle: Well, my part is already over for this cycle, right?  So I can.
Egg: Thank you.  Yes, Follicle will take minutes.  Now, did everyone receive a copy of the agenda I sent out?
Sperm: Um, I'm kind of new here.  I didn't see an agenda.  Can I share with someone?
Egg: Oh, hello Sperm.  Good of you to join us.  Yes, here, share mine.  You will need to get very close, though.  Very close indeed.
Sperm: Are you coming on to me?
Egg: Oh, you!  (bats eyelashes).
Progesterone: Ok, while you guys are busy flirting, ahem, I need some instructions here.  
Corpus Luteum: Me too!
Egg:  Oh, for pete's sake.  Have we not been through this before?
Sperm: I haven't.  Is it complicated?
Egg: Fortunately, because you clearly have a brain the size of a microscopic peanut, your part is easy.  
Sperm: I'm bored.  How long is this meeting going to last?

Egg: Well, that's what we're trying to get to.  We need to decide what to do this month.  We have a guest speaker today.  The human we inhabit wants to make an appeal.  Should we all listen to her first?  Then we can decide?

Muffled Charlie Brown sounds coming from outside the uterine area:
Wwahh Mwah wah waaaaah Baby waaah Mwaaah Good Parents Waaaah Mwaaah MUST BREED SO FUCKING WELL GET IT TOGETHER YOU LOT.

Egg: Ok, I think we'll end it there.  She's clearly excitable.
Corpus Luteum: She sounds highly unstable.
Progesterone: Oh, nobody cares about your opinion.  Will you just keep up your end of the bargain, please?  I'm depending on you to keep me alive, not make judgments on the human.
Corpus Luteum: Well, then you should be nicer to me.
Egg: I think she's nice.  I've been hanging out with her for the past 35 years.  She's really ok.  A little odd, but she's harmless.
Sperm: Well, I can tell you that the guy I've been with is kind of weird himself.  I don't know about those two.
Egg:  Well. Mine reads Dickens.
Sperm: Mine watches Nascar and UFC.
Egg:  Oh. Well.  That could make a child well-rounded, no?
Sperm: I don't really know what that means.  Is there any food here?  Do you all have Nachos and Monster Energy drinks here?  That's my favorite.
Egg: Erm, no.  We have hummus and pita.  And salad.
Sperm: What's salad?

Progesterone: Look, should we lay out the cases for and against, and just take a vote?
Sperm: Say, there's like a million of me.  How many votes do I get?

....and so it goes.  On and on, for two weeks.  How it ends, nobody knows...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Open Letter To Tesco

Dear Tesco,

Before we get started here, let me just say, I have very fond feelings towards you.  I would almost say that I love you, but wearing my heart on my sleeve in such a way would be terribly un-British of me; and even though I'm not British, I do try to avoid wearing my American-ness like a neon sign when I'm in London.  For example, I avoid asking people where Lie-ches-ter Square is.  

When I was 23 I went to London for the first time.  I fell in love with the UK (as well as an Inappropriate Boy), and three months later I was living in London on a BUNAC visa, working off the Strand, on John Adam Street, near the Embankment Gardens.  My office was also close to Covent Garden, and one of my favorite things to do was spend my lunch hour watching performers in the marketplace.  Being a broke student-type, I couldn't afford lunch in any of the pubs or restaurants there, but what I could do was pop in to the Tesco Metro on Bedford Street, a block away from the market, grab a sandwich and drink, and eat my lunch, either in the St. Paul's churchyard, or sitting on the steps facing the performers at the market.  

Several years later I met my now-husband online, and the first time I called him, I got his voicemail which said, "Hi, you've reached Jonathan Teysko..."  and his name was pronounced "Tesco."  I left a long, rambling message about various things, but I started off with, "hey, your name sounds like a British grocery store.  I know that because I used to go to that British grocery store.  And I have a club card to prove it."  On our first date I gave him my Tesco Club Card.  

On my last trip to the UK, at the Tesco near High Street Kensington, I bought one of your reusable bags with ladybugs, and it says, "Tesco: every little helps."  I use it like a purse sometimes.

So the point is, I love you, Tesco.  I admit it.  I really do.

Which is why I'm so disappointed at your current level of stupidity.  Yes, I said it.  You're being stupid.  

Given my affections for you, when I heard that you were opening up stores in California, my current home, under the moniker Fresh and Easy, I squealed with delight.  I would have my wonderful feeling of being in Tesco's without the hassle of going through airport security.  My husband and I immediately sought out a store that was open, about 40 miles from us.  We went in and marveled at how British it felt.  There was a lovely area with prepared entrees we could cook that night.  There was a gorgeous bakery.  The prepared sandwiches were almost like what they sell in the UK.  We were giddy.  

From that point on, I was a convert.  Before you opened stores up closer to me, I literally drove 40 miles to shop with you.  Each way.  And I told everyone what a great place you were.  I was happy that you made fresh food available in lower-income neighborhoods.  Sometimes when I would go in, I would hear families talk about how inexpensive your food was; how it enabled them to eat better.  I was there for the Britishness of it, but these people needed you.  They really needed you to be there.  You anchoring the mixed-use space at Adams and Central, in South Los Angeles, made fresh food available to huge swaths of neighborhood previously only served by fast food outlets. 

In 2011 Fresh and Easy opened a second South LA store, serving even more people.  While I was driving, I heard an interview on NPR with a local woman sitting at a bus stop, who was so excited that you were open.  She didn't get paid for a few more days, she said, so she wasn't going to go in yet.  But she was so happy you were there, because she was sick of spending money eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken.  She was so excited that there was a grocery store near her home where she could shop.

In short, Fresh and Easy became more than a grocery store.  It was almost a movement.  And I was right there, evangelically cheering it along.

Then last week I heard on the Marketplace Morning Report that you want to pull the plug on the Fresh and Easy experiment because it's not making enough money.


Here's where you get stupid.

First things first.  Have you noticed how fat Americans are?  We're fat because we eat a lot.  We eat a lot, in part, because we have giant refrigerators that hold enough food to feed half of Sussex and most of Kent.  Have you seen the size of American refrigerators?  Have you?  Please compare typical American and British refrigerators...

Have you thought about what we do with those refrigerators?  Well, speaking for the average American, once a week we go to the grocery store.  Or Costco.  We drive there in our giant gas-guzzling SUV's.  We load those huge cars up with bags and bags of groceries, generally huge bulk-sized groceries because it works out to be cheaper to buy 68 sticks of butter at once.  And we take them home and fill up our giant refrigerators.  From thence, we proceed to cook each day, only venturing out to procure more food a week or ten days later.

You come along with your small stores filled with food that is fresh and doesn't last that long (I've always had issues with that - a 6 pack of bagels, according to your use-by dates, lasts, on average, 4 days.  That leaves 2 extra bagels.  Good thing I toast my hubby's, so he doesn't notice).  You operate out of the mindset that we will shop like urban British people, or hunter/gatherers, stopping at the store on the way home from work to pick up dinner, and then perhaps going once or twice a week for a bigger shop, but still, only enough that you can physically carry home. (You mostly carry your groceries on public transport, right?  Do you know that I live in a huge metropolitan area - Greater Los Angeles - and I know many people who are completely unaware that this city even has public transport?)  

You also can't shop like us because you have smaller refrigerators.  And smaller kitchens in general, I might add.

So you come along with this entirely new way of looking at shopping - ie going to the store more often, getting things fresher, stopping for dinner on the way home and cooking it that's all very much of a small-refrigerator view of the world.  And, you know, it's cool.  We can learn that.  It's the way things are moving anyway,   People want more local food, fresher food, food that's not loaded with chemicals and preservatives.  We're hip with that. 

But you opened the bulk of your stores during and after 2008.  

Do you happen to remember what was going on in 2008?  Like, a giant economic meltdown?  Remember that?  

So along you come, with your new-fangdangled small-refrigerator way of doing things, in the middle of the worst economic crisis in living memory, when people are in a hunkering down sort of mindset, and you expect us to change enough to have completely embraced your way of doing things in only four years?   And when we don't change the entire way we've been doing things since the invention of the freeway, you want to pull the plug - you want to pull the plug on South LA, for example - without even giving us that much time to learn?  Four years is not a lot of time, my friend.  It's really not.  And here you are, getting all high-and-mighty about yourself, and how British grocery stores never succeed in the US, and how it's been a huge failure.

It's been less than four-freaking-years.

I mean, seriously.  

And I thought the US was obsessed with instantaneous results.

I mean, I know you have shareholders and all that.  But can you please just hold your freaking horses, for just a bit?  

Like, seriously.  

There are a lot of people who have come to depend on you.  Much of South Central, for one.  Tons of British ex-pats who love that they can get McVities and HP Sauce without going to a specialty grocer for another.  If everyone hasn't caught on yet, that's not a reason to completely pull out.  That's a reason to spend some time educating and marketing to your potential customers.

Can you have a little bit of patience, please?  

I mean, can I repeat, it's been less than four years.

Just get your knickers out of the twist that they're apparently in, and chill out.  Go do some yoga or something.  Spend some time educating us about why shopping fresher, more often, is the better way to do it.  I notice your youtube channel hasn't been updated in 8 months.  That might be a place to start.  There is enough goodwill towards you that I'm positive you could find an army of people to go out and preach the Fresh and Easy movement.  Maybe do some "refer a friend" vouchers.  I've been telling people about Fresh and Easy for years, but I've never once received an email from you asking me to.

Ooh, here's an idea straight out of that TV show where Gordon Ramsay tries to save struggling restaurants: why not, during the mid-afternoon lull, have people go around to the businesses that are close by with samples of the freshly prepared dinner options you have available?  Just show up at reception with steaming hot entree samples on paper plates, leave some discount vouchers or something, and I bet you'll have a stampede of office workers coming in after 5pm.  Do it often enough, and it will become a habit for them.

No charge for that, by the way.

Seriously, Tesco.  You need to tell your shareholders to quit whining and be a bit more patient.  This is a huge venture for you.  And I think you've done amazingly well considering the period during which you started.  This is the time to become even more evangelical; not throw in the towel completely.  


Thank you for listening.

Yours sincerely,

PS:  I just saw this article saying you're still going to expand this year, and  you're rejecting calls to pull out all together.  Well that's encouraging.  But I'm still worried...  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hadly Richardson, and the joy of simplicity

Hadley Richardson with Ernest and Bumby

I just finished The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, told from her point of view.   For a long time, Hemingway has had all the attention, with his novels on all the required-reading lists, but his first wife (of four), who supported him when he was but a lowly reporter for the Toronto Star, is finally getting some celebrity of her own.

I wasn't sure I was going to like the book when I first started.  I had no idea what a novelist could do with a story about a famous writer's first marriage, especially when he had three subsequent ones.  But since Hemingway divorced Hadley just as he was becoming famous (The Sun Also Rises was written as their marriage was falling apart in 1925), leaving her for someone much flashier and suitable for his own rising star, the book is more of a story about love, and love falling apart.  Hadley loved Ernest before he was the huge figure he became, before he was famous, before he shot himself in the head.  She lived quietly until 1979, finding peaceful happy love with a journalist after her stormy divorce.

Hadley moved to Paris to support Ernest, put her own goals on hold so that he could write.  She loved the piano, but stopped playing when they couldn't afford to rent one for her (even though Ernest rented his own office where he could write, of course).  The one time she put her foot down was to insist that their son be born in Canada, where the hospitals were better, and she would feel safer.  Some of Ernest's glittering friends thought that Hadley had no personality.  Some even encouraged the divorce, thinking he needed more of a gorgeous, chic, Gibson Girl to match him.

But Hadley is far from a weak obedient wife.  She tolerated his affairs, and tried to give his bizarre bigamy idea a try (we think the 60's invented Free Love, but they had nothing on Paris in the 20's), but finally she decided that she had to stay true to herself, and she divorced him, leaving behind the celebrity and the fame.  She was the strongest one of their group, the only one who had the nerve to stand up to Ernest.  And in some respects, she spoke the truth when she said that she got the best Ernest Hemingway there was.  Because she knew him before he was the Ernest Hemingway we know now, because she loved him before there was any fame or money to love, she got the true Ernest Hemingway, one that none of the later wives were able to see.

In a rare interview in the late 70's, Hadley was asked whether she ever thought about going back to Paris and rekindling the relationships she had with celebrities when she was Mrs. Hemingway.  She answered, "No, I think I wanted something real."  When you look at the crowd she could have gone back to - the Fitzgeralds, for example, you can see why she chose a quiet life with her journalist-husband (to whom she was married for almost 40 years).

Hadley was also featured in a new song by Mary Chapin Carpenter called, appropriately, Mrs. Hemingway.  It's a melancholy little waltz about the move to Paris, and the happy times she had with Ernest.  Reading about her has inspired me to check out the biography's of her, and reread Hemingway from the period he was married to her.  She was such an influence on him, and it seems so unfair to simply refer to her as Hemingway's First Wife.  Maybe with this bit of fame she's seeing, people will know her name for who she was, and not just who she married.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Happy Easter, season of rebirth, etc etc to everyone.  In the spirit of rebirth and renewal, on Easter Sunday we went to the Gentle Barn.  If you've never heard of the Gentle Barn, and if you even so much as like animals, you must visit their site.  And if you're anywhere in Southern California, you must visit them in person.  The Gentle Barn is an animal rescue organization that saves abused animals - mostly farm animals - and then during the week they bring in at-risk and special needs kids who are able to see themselves in the stories of the animals, and thus are able to learn compassion and unconditional love from the animals.  It's a beautiful place.  They're open on Sundays for the public to drop in, so drop in we did.  

Our first stop was the Cow Barn where they gave us brushes so we could groom the cows.  This is me with Buttercup.  Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia helped The Gentle Barn rescue some cows last year, which they subsequently adopted, and hearing the stories of the horrific conditions of dairy cows is largely what turned me completely vegetarian, and largely non-dairy.  Cows only lactate when they're pregnant, so in order to keep their milk going, they have to stay pregnant.  All those baby cows that are born are killed, or slaughtered for veal.  And honestly, soy milk really doesn't taste that different than dairy milk, plus it's got more calcium and less calories.  Bargain!  Anyway, I had a good time petting Buttercup, who was, in fact, incredibly gentle.

J loves horses, so we had fun feeding them carrots and loving on them.  This guy, and his twin sister, were born to a mother who was being used to make Premarin.  I had no idea that this hormone replacement therapy drug was made with pregnant mare's urine (hence the name: PreMarIn) and there's a huge controversy over it.  Either way, this guy and his sister would have been slaughtered, but The Gentle Barn took them in, and so now they get to commune with visitors, like J.

This is my favorite scene - a whole barnyard full of animals and people, bonding with each other.  I love the lady loving the turkey.  They just sat like that for about 20 minutes, the entire time we were in that barnyard, just loving each other.  The turkey rested his head in her lap, and became a lap-turkey.  J was bonding with the sheep here, too.  You know, I don't mean to be some kind of animal-rights-nutjob, but you can't spend time with animals without realizing that they all have personalities, and they all have souls.  They are all God's creation.  I sometimes wonder how it was that I could have been so devoted to our cats, but still eaten cow. I think part of the problem is that we are so far removed from the food chain, and the slaughter and packaging of meat is something we never see.  When people knew that lamb chops came from a sheep, maybe even their own sheep, I think there was more respect for the animals, more gratitude for what they gave us.  I'm not inherently against eating meat.  But the process has become so sterilized, so sanitized, that we don't appreciate it anymore.  We grab a burger from McDonald's and we don't even think about the cow who was bred and died for that burger.  What kind of life did he have?  I think about our kittens when they were first learning to play and jump around, and then I think about the baby cows who are taken away from their mothers and siblings, and housed in terrible conditions, slaughtered as soon as possible, so that we can have cheap fast food and corporations can make more money.

That is not farming.  That isn't natural.  It's not right.  People can eat meat, but, in my opinion, they should do it humbly, recognizing that the meat we're eating was a living breathing animal not too long ago, and being grateful for that.  A few years ago the UK journalist Janet Street-Porter did a segment on Gordon Ramsay's F-Word show where she raised calves herself, knowing they were going to be slaughtered.  I can respect that; raising an animal purely for food consumption, but caring for it and making sure that while it is alive, it's happy.  And when the time comes to slaughter the animal, doing it with the respect that it deserves, for in many ways, it is a sacred act.  Many people think that God gave humans dominion over the animals (at my church we call it "stewardship", which I much prefer), but that only makes the bond that we have with them that much more sacred and holy, and if we are going to exercise that dominion, we should do it thoughtfully and respectfully.  None of that is present in modern "farming" with it's genetic engineering and mass slaughterhouses, which is why I am meat free.

This is Zeus, a perfect example of modern farming gone wrong.  He is a product of genetic engineering, and weighs almost 1000 pounds.  "That's crazy," I said, when they told us.  "Yes, it really is crazy," they responded.  Pigs are not supposed to weigh that much.  They do this to get more meat from them - bigger, better, faster, more, right?  That can't be healthy to eat, can it?  Poor Zeus has a hard time standing for too long because of all the weight; but in a perfect example of forgiveness and redemption, Zeus, who was rescued from a country fair where he was going to be slaughtered after being a feature in the fair, now trusts humans enough to lay sleeping and bask in belly rubs from strangers.  Forgiveness, putting the past in the past, and living in the present: yet another lesson we can learn from these animals.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Sacrifices I make for Fertility

So we're back on the TTC train again (hard work, but somebody's gotta do it) and I've been reading up on natural/alternative sorts of things you can take to help fertility.  Vitamin B6 can apparently work wonders for a short luteal phase (the second part of your cycle, after you ovulate.  It should be about 14 days.  Mine has been hovering around 10. Not short enough to warrant medicine yet, but still a little short for what I'd like) and raspberry leaf tea has been recommended by midwives for centuries to make your uterus strong.  It has to be raspberry leaf tea, though, not just normal Celestial Seasonings raspberry tea from the tea aisle at Ralphs.  Nope, it's special. It demands a trip to Whole Foods.

Have you ever looked at the people in Whole Foods?  Maybe it's just Southern California, but there seems to be some type of looks/athletic requirement that people need to meet before they are allowed to shop at Whole Foods.  I swear, it has the highest concentrated amount of gorgeous people on this side of the Atlantic.  Only grocery stores in Sweden have a higher concentration. 

So I have a bunch of boxes of tea in my basket because I don't go to Whole Foods all that often, and I want to have enough to last me for a while.  I'm checking out, and the gorgeous male specimen in front of me casually checks out my basket of stuff as I'm emptying it on the cart, as people tend to do at grocery stores.  It's a natural human condition to be curious about what kinds of chocolate other people are buying. 

I feel very adult that I didn't run and hide when I realized that this Adonis took one look at the contents of my basket - frozen organic soft pretzels stuffed with cheese...nomnomnomnom, oranges, shower gel, some flowers, and...wait for it...not just one, but several boxes of tea labeled "Female Toner Tea...for a strong uterus!" - made a curious "hurg" noise, and turned back around, concentrating intently on his own arugala - and I didn't run and hide from embarrassment. 

I just held my head up high and thought, "yep, I'm getting myself a strong uterus."  Hey, somebody's gotta buy the stuff, right?  Or else they wouldn't sell it, right?  Just, maybe not cases of it at once, but that's neither here nor there...right?