Monday, April 7, 2014

Whales, royal visits and much, much more

I'm determined not to turn this blog into a mommy/baby blog completely so today I am writing with a few bits of news from New Zealand.  Of course, I can't promise the posts won't be sprinkled with a couple of photos of Morgan but I will try to keep them relevant to the subject matter!  

Last week there was a major global conservation victory.  As you may have heard, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan must halt its Antarctic whaling "activities".  Over the years, Japan has claimed that its hunting of whales in the Southern Ocean was for scientific purposes but everyone knows they were actually eating the whale meat.  Honestly Japan... did you really think we would all fall for that?  

In celebration, Morgy donned one of his whale onesies (he has at least four outfits with whales on them, not including two pairs of whale socks) and did a small victory dance.  

But I'm sure he wasn't the only one partying.  Sea Shepherd, an international organisation which goes to all lengths to protect various marine species, would have also been claiming a massive victory.  While I sometimes find their tactics in the Southern Ocean a bit reckless from a pure maritime perspective, I applaud their determination and perseverance.  In this case, it's really paid off for the largest mammals on the planet and we should all be thanking them for their efforts.  Sea Shepherd's ship, the Bob Barker, was docked in Wellington for the last couple of weeks in March but I didn't get down to the harbour to see it.

Meanwhile the weather in Wellington has been ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC this autumn!  It's been so good we've been down the beach several times now since d-day.  Of course we've got a little bit more... "baggage" to bring down but it's well worth the schlepping.  We get quicker and quicker each time out of the house -- by now it probably takes us less than 20 minutes!  (Naturally we'll work on reducing that cycle time even further.)  Here we are at Island Bay beach, keeping an eye on a crazy Welshman who enjoys swimming out to (and climbing up!) the island.

Sadly the spell of good weather has come to an abrupt halt today, just in time for the Royal Visit to New Zealand.  As you may have heard, Kate, Wills and the baby touched down in Wellington today and were welcomed at Government House in a lovely southerly.  I must admit I love it when overseas heads of state land in Wellington and they come out of their planes and their hair gets blown everywhere!  Welcome to my world.

The arrival sparks debate about whether New Zealand will ever abandon its current status as a constitutional monarchy and become a republic.  With the Royals in town, all the pro-monarchy types are out and about and John Key has played down his opinion on when New Zealand might consider becoming a republic.  

This isn't the only possible change afoot when it comes to New Zealand's national identity.  You may have heard rumours that the country is even considering changing its flag.  This is the current flag:

 There's a whole bunch of new suggestions but I think this one is my favorite suggestion:

Anyways there will be a referendum after the election which has been scheduled for 20 September 2014.  Looks like John Key will be a shoo in again this time around with the Labour Party in complete and total shambles.  Sad.  

So that's the news from New Zealand.  Someone little is calling for me so I will leave you to ponder your feelings on the power running out of the black box for Malaysia flight 370 today.  Who would have thought you could lose a whole plane this day and age?


Friday, March 28, 2014

Morgan Cook Evans

Introducing our son, Morgan Cook Evans!  He arrived at Wellington Hospital at 1:30pm on 14 March 2014, weighing in at 3.96 kilograms or 8 pounds 12 ounces.

Now onto this mysterious middle name...!  Some of you have made the connection immediately which means you get an A+ for your knowledge of DNA history.  For those of you who are still scratching your heads, you should re-read this blog post I wrote in 2010 for the full story.

So there's actually a lot more to Morgan's name than just a combination of both of our surnames.  The name "Morgan" in Welsh means "sea chief" or "dwells by the sea".  We both love the ocean and live by the sea so it's apt.  As for Cook (I trust you read that link above!),  Aled and I met in the Cook Islands (Rarotonga) in 2003 and we love that his middle name captures the story of how this all came about.

Not to mention that Captain James Cook happens to be one of the most notable navigators and explorers of all time.  As a captain in the British navy in the 1700's, he led a number of expeditions to the Pacific.  On his first major voyage (1768-71), he circumnavigated New Zealand and mapped the whole coast line.  We just have to make sure Little Morgan doesn't get eaten by cannibalistic Hawaiians in the end like his namesake!

As for me, I am known as "Mommy" not "Mummy".  Why?  Well to American ears, Mummy means this:


So far, Aled and I are absolutely loving being parents.  It's a completely surreal and wonderful experience and I am still looking at Morgan in shock and awe.  I can't believe that cute little guy was in my body just two weeks ago!


Monday, March 3, 2014

Massive life changes -- coming soon!

Hello and welcome to the last official weeks of pregnancy.  I won't tell you the due date because I think it's a silly concept but I will tell you that the official due date is sometime in the next two weeks.  And -- much to my agitation -- there's no sign of the Little Dragon making an appearance on the outside.

As I have inherited the famous Morgan impatience gene, I am doing my best to distract myself and prepare for the big day.  My daily routine consists of showering and moisturising (this takes longer than expected as my surface area has doubled!), tidying up the house, practicing my "birth skills" (including meditating), having a nap, and then cooking a really big dinner -- half of which ends up in the freezer for "the aftermath".  I also try and go for at least one outing a day just to ensure I get out of the house.  The weather has been pretty awesome for the past few weeks so Aled and I can often be found down at Island Bay beach in the evenings for a little stroll or a sit in the fresh air.  (Please ignore any reports of whale strandings at Island Bay -- it's just me!).    

I think I intended to blog more during my maternity leave but I am already learning that the life of a stay at home mom is characterised by a much different pace than the one kept by those in the paid workforce.  During the first week at home, not much seemed to get crossed off the To Do List.  This isn't because I didn't do much -- it's because the list itself was unrealistic after you factor in nap time!  Now, in week 3 of maternity leave, I have learned to make lists that are actually achievable and also not to get stressed if the list doesn't get finished.  Resting is far more important than vacuuming.  

I must admit this is a strange state of affairs for someone who has been running around offices improving processes for the past five or so years!  And not something that comes naturally or easily to me.  In fact it occurred to me last week that it would take actual work on my part to adjust my mindset to come to terms with this new pace of life.  After all, it's easy to measure daily achievement by crossing off "do laundry" or "get bassinet sheets".  It's far harder to demonstrate the value of sitting in the sun with my ipod for an hour sniffing organic lavender oil to prepare my mind for labour!

That it takes work and effort to prepare oneself for the transition from working professional to mother should come as no surprise to someone who has "change management" listed under the "key skills" section of her CV.  But I'm not sure how many of us expectant mothers actually take the time (or have the time!) to mentally prepare ourselves for the raft of crazy life changes that lie ahead.

The more that I think about it though, the more I'm starting to get the feeling that the mental shift is going to just as challenging (if not more so) than the physical.  

Easy to understand: the first stage of labour

From Juju Sundin's Birth Skills

Not so easy to understand: existential questions regarding one's identity/value

Change can be scary as well as exhilarating.  I am trying to take the time to reflect on what becoming a mother means to me and asking myself some difficult questions.  How am I going to measure success and personal achievement?  What do I think makes a good parent?  What are my top priorities for my new family?  (FYI I have no idea what the answers to these questions are.  Maybe tomorrow.)

While there's no way to fully anticipate how many dimensions of my life will change in the next month, I think it will make the transition easier if I've had a good think about it now before the whirlwind of diaper changes and exhaustion sets in.  In the words of Louis Pasteur, the famous French microbiologist, "Chance favors the prepared mind".  I also hope that reflecting on it now helps me to maintain perspective and focus when the going gets tough.      

So those are my random thoughts today.  Good luck to all expectant mothers -- we're in for such an interesting time.  Be brave and kia kaha.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Joys of Pregnancy

Oh the joys, the joys!  Some women love being pregnant but I ain't one of them.  Sorry to report but I've found the whole thing pretty intolerable.  So before the stork comes and the Men In Black turn up to wipe my memory clean, I'm writing this stuff down.

The top secret fourth stage of labour

I also think it's important to talk about these sorts of things because I'm not a fan of people keeping feelings bottled up inside when they're actually really suffering.  And I hate the idea that women might be seen to be complaining about "the choice they've made" when in fact they're really having a terrible time of it.  Meanwhile, plenty of previously pregnant women (aka "mothers") don't seem to talk about it much after they've been through it.  I've heard that this is related to some super powerful hormones released after birth which help women forget how yucky some of the pregnancy side effects can be.

As it turns out, very few women actually told me how unpleasant pregnancy could be until I was actually pregnant.  Then suddenly, it all came gushing out... "Oh yeah, I was puking for 5 months straight...!"  Um hello...!?  Non-pregnant people -- can you imagine what it's like to puke every day for 5 months?

Now obviously not every female has a negative pregnancy experience.  Some feel wonderful from the beginning until they're in labor -- and that's great!  But I'm going to write about my pregnancy experience because more energy needs to be put into improving the situation for expectant females.  Doesn't anyone else think pregnancy is an outdated institution?  This is the twenty-first century.  Why are we still enduring this medieval torture?  (Yes, I am trying to use my business improvement skills on evolutionary matters!)

So without further ado, my list of Pregnancy Joys (in order of delightful-ness).    

1. Pelvic joint pain.  Now this isn't your simple lower back pain which most women will experience at some point or the other in their pregnancy.  This is a condition scientifically known as "pelvic girdle pain" or "symphysis pubis disfunction" which causes pain and instability in any or all of the three pelvic joints.  I've been enjoying this one since week 2 of my pregnancy and have put it down to the lovely hormone relaxin which has agitated my pelvic joint in the front and the back.  But now in my final weeks there's a tremendous weight on top of my pelvis so it's getting worse.

I was referred to the physiotherapist back in week 18 or so because it's prevented me from doing nearly all the activities I enjoy such as ballet, bike riding, and hiking.  It hurts no matter what I do -- and particularly hurts getting in and out of bed and in and out of cars. Short of levitating myself in mid-air, there are only two things that temporarily allay the pain: going in the pool or putting on this brace which I got from the physiotherapist.

But last week I put on the brace and the Little Dragon started kicking me violently (which I assumed meant I was strangling him or something) so I took it off real fast and haven't put it on since.

Anyways it's very easy to get down about this condition but I simply refuse to let my mind believe that this is anything more than a temporary situation.  If you're typically an active person and experience this joy, do whatever it takes to stay sane.  I tried to go to ballet once a week even though I could barely manage a back tendu -- forget an arabesque -- otherwise I would have thrown myself off a cliff out of despair!

Back tendu -- not exactly a big movement

2. Eating issues.  I love to eat!  But pregnancy has really put a damper on my relationship with food.  There's a few dimensions to this.  First is the morning sickness/nausea type stuff.  In the grand scheme of things, I think I got off easy in the morning sickness department.  I've never been a puker so didn't vomit but I felt generally sick from about weeks 5 through 14.  And not just in the morning.  During those weeks, Aled would cook me dinner and I just couldn't stand the sight of something on the plate -- which of course varied unpredictably by day.  One day it was the leeks.  The next it was the carrots!

Then there's the list of banned items which could cause food poisoning (listeria, etc).  Check out the NZ Food and Safety brochure for safe eating guidelines.  The list of foods to avoid basically consists of all my favourite things in the whole wide world including deli cold cuts, soft cheeses, sushi, hummus and cold salads.  Not to mention the obvious "no alcohol" policy.  While it's probably healthier in the long run to drink less alcohol, I've found it a real bugger drinking juice at the pub while everyone else is enjoying a beer.  If I see another glass of cranberry juice I'll die!

And finally on the topic of eating -- as if you thought getting a bigger and bigger belly meant you could eat as much as you wanted...!  Dagnabbit, another pregnancy myth.  As my uterus has expanded, my stomach and intestines have been completely squashed.  So I've been getting indigestion every single day regardless of what food I eat since early December.  It's worst in the evening after dinner when the Little Dragon wakes up and kicks any organ involved in the digestive process.  I can't go to sleep unless I have a sip of Gaviscon, a highly effective (yet gaggingly gloppy) peppermint antacid.  

My new best friend

3. Sleeping challenges.  Add pelvic joint pain to indigestion and I find myself sleeping in situations like these:

Two pillows at the top to help with indigestion; one below to hold up the bump; one elephant trunk-like pillow for in between the legs to keep the pelvis in a neutral position.  This configuration gets me into a relatively comfortable position but I have to get up at least twice a night to pee so I swap sides every time I get up.  I also sometimes wake up very hungry so have found it handy to keep a stash of snacks right near the bed so I don't have to waddle to the kitchen to satisfy the hunger.

Who knew sleeping could become so... complicated?  Everyone says all this getting up and down is preparing me for nursing and changing a newborn.  But frankly I think this is silly -- surely the best way to prepare someone for months of sleep deprivation is to LET THEM SLEEP NOW?

4. General appearance/shape.  Many will tell you you're "blossoming" and that the pregnant female body is "the most natural, beautiful thing in the world".  To each their own but my personal opinion is that I look like a small hippopotamus (and I feel like one too!).  For someone who has had a pretty small body for most of her life, I just don't like the gigantic pimple that separates my torso from my thighs!  I don't like that none of my old clothes fit.  I hate it that whenever I go out of the house I have to make sure that part of my belly isn't hanging out the bottom of a shirt or the top of some pants.  Even my maternity trousers have recently given up trying to cover my gigantic belly.  They just think "that's far too steep an incline" and turn right back down the mountain.

I smile because I am American -- don't be fooled.

And everyone stares at this bump!  I don't blame them.  I too would stare if I saw someone with a belly like mine.  Most small children in stores stop, stare and point.  Yesterday one turned to her mother and said, "That lady has a baby in her belly".  Clearly a child genius.  Last weekend, a Chinese woman in a second hand shop in Newtown grinned and gave me the two-fingered peace sign (well I hope it was the peace sign).  I shook my head and said "One".  Last week, a truck-load of construction workers were actually pointing and laughing at me out the window when they saw me at the cross-walk.  I joined in -- this bump is completely ludicrous!!

5. Other minor joys.  This weird metallic taste in my mouth.  Nasal congestion but I still have the ability to smell some gross smells very vividly.  Breathlessness due to squashed lungs.  Occasional constipation.  I'll stop there, I think you get the picture.  

So are there any positives?  Aside from the amazing idea that I am creating a human inside my very own body, the best part about pregnancy is knowing that it can only last for a finite length of time.  As you can tell, I will be skipping to the delivery room!!


Warning!  My experience is a sample size of one -- that means it's insignificant in statistical terms.  So if you're newly pregnant or thinking about it, don't get scared.  Just feel informed and glad if none of these things happen to you.  I wouldn't wish these things on my worst enemy!  And if you have been experiencing any of these things and you think they're absolutely terrible, I'm with you sister!  I'm sorry you have to go through them too.

Many thanks to all of those kind people who have tried to make pregnancy more tolerable for me -- first and foremost my husband.  And to those nice people who get up to give me their seat on the bus when there's no empty ones.  I really appreciate your sympathy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Que haces??

A few years ago, we had some fantastic housemates named Feli and Tomas.  They were from Argentina and Tomas would frequently greet me in the kitchen with "What are you doing?".  It's a literal translation from the Spanish "Que haces?" but the way he said it in English always made me feel like I was up to something very suspicious or ridiculous -- rather than Tomas just trying to determine in a very general, Argentinean way what was going on.  It became quite the joke between us and soon, whenever either of us walked into the house, the other would shout in a very accusatory tone, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?".

As there have been many changes in DNA-land of late, I thought it was appropriate to title this post in honor of Tomas and his famous "Que haces?" question.  It's a fair question and we've been getting it a lot via email, phone, skype and Facebook from various corners of the earth.  So let me bring you all up to speed on what, indeed, we are doing...  and maybe, if you're lucky, I'll even let you know some of the why.

So as you know, we sold our house in Houghton Bay in late November.  The buyers, a kiwi couple who had recently returned back to Wellington from overseas, were so keen to move in that their initial offer included a settlement date of December 13th, just two weeks from when the offer was submitted!  As this was a bit too, um, ambitious, we negotiated for the 20th, the last Friday before Christmas.  You know, a really quiet time of year.

Last BBQ at Houghton Bay

With the relief of open homes and the actual sale behind us, we quickly turned our minds and energies to moving out.  The plan had always been to move into a friend's town house in Newtown, a little suburb of Wellington which is located about halfway between Houghton Bay and the CBD.  She had made the decision to leave Wellington and was looking for someone to rent her house to in 2014.  See the map below to get your bearings -- I've labeled Houghton Bay Road (A) and Newtown (B).  As you can see, we haven't moved very far at all.

Now because we were moving at very high speeds, there was some organisation needed on the other side -- after all, my friend was living with two other housemates in this town house and they all needed to find new places.  In the meantime, we took up a very kind offer to house-sit at another friend's house in Paparangi, a suburb north of the city, while they were on holiday in the South Island.  Their house proved an excellent jumping off point to explore regions north of Wellington (adventures which I hope to write about soon) - and also had an excellent DVD collection to get us through those lovely, howling Christmas gales.  

As our friends from Paparangi returned from the South Island yesterday, we moved into the Newtown flat and began the fun task of unpacking.  Even though we sold a number of large items before we left Houghton Bay, we were still shocked at how much stuff we have remaining.

And you're thinking -- all this while pregnant!?  Hence we refer to the initial question of "what are you doing??".  Does this make any sense whatsoever?  

So let's get down to basics -- the major reason we have sold our house is because we will most likely leave New Zealand in the next year or two and we wanted to reduce the amount of "stuff" we have in the country.  I'm not sure how many of you have ever moved hemispheres, but let me tell you, it's a big pain in the butt!  It's not like moving from one apartment to another in the same city... or even country.  It's far, far worse.  Not only do you have to figure out how to economically and safely ship all your worldly belongings to the other side of the planet, you may also have to deal with some minor details called "immigration".  

Again, for people who have never lived outside their original country of birth, immigration may not seem like such a big deal.  If, however, you want to frustrate yourself to the point of screaming, visit the UK Border Agency visa site and try and figure out how you would get yourself a UK visa.  (Please do not visit this site if you suffer from high blood pressure or are prone to strokes.)    

In short, there's a lot of hassle involved in moving hemispheres which is why we decided to take one hassle at a time.  Believe me -- we've seen expats try to sell up and go home in short periods of time and it ain't pretty.  So we've sold the house first, and will now turn our attention to delivering babies, immigration administration, and other small life changes.    

So that's what's happening.  But I feel you may have some other questions so I am creating a FAQs sheet:

1. Why would you ever want to leave New Zealand, the most beautiful country on the planet, home to hobbits and other delightful creatures like kiwi birds, tuatara and pineapple lumps?
  • This is a good question and there's really only one good answer: New Zealand is too far away from family and friends.  All other common expat gripes about NZ (the low standard of housing, the hole in the ozone layer giving us skin cancer, the high cost of living, the limited shopping selections, etc) are all totally surmountable.  But the distance (and the cost of the distance) is not.  Flights home (round the world tickets) cost minimum $7,000 NZD for the two of us -- and that's about 5-7 different plane rides.  It takes a minimum of three planes (and twenty-six hours!) to get home to New Jersey.  Let us also not overlook the environmental repercussions.  One trip home basically equates to an entire year's worth of carbon output!  (If you care about that sort of thing -- which we do.)
2. Where are you going?/Are you coming back to America?
  • The tentative plan is to move to Cardiff, Wales.  Aled misses the green, green grass of home and I really love rain, as you know.  It's a win win situation.  Re: America -- until you guys sort out your healthcare situation, I'm not coming home.  It's very simple.  I want affordable healthcare which is not linked to a permanent job/employer.  By affordable, I mean less than $7 zillion/month -- preferably free as a result of the taxes I pay.  Otherwise I can't lead an unconventional lifestyle.  Your system is all very... un-freedom-like (I'm sorry to say!).  
3. Where will the baby be born?
  • What baby?  I've just been eating a lot this Christmas.  Just kidding.  The "Little (Welsh) Dragon" will be born right here in Wellington, New Zealand, the coolest little capital in the world.  There's a number of reasons for this -- first being that I am familiar and comfortable with how life and the medical system works here in New Zealand.  I couldn't possibly imagine moving countries and giving birth in a place where I have no idea how the medical system functions (or dysfunctions as the case may be!).  In fact, the thought of figuring out health insurance in another country while having to acquire bassinets, strollers, baby carriers, breast pumps, and other ridiculous contraptions almost puts me into early labour (which I'm frankly starting to view as a positive thing).  Oh yes -- we also want to ensure that our child has access to as many passports as is humanly possible.  God knows what the planet will be like when the poor thing has to get a job so we wanted to give him options.    
4. When is this all happening?
  • Currently the plan is to live in New Zealand for the next year or year and a half.  There's no set departure date because we will have to see how the Little Dragon is doing and what jobs we have this year.  We both contract so we have to factor work and income into the equation (boring, I know!).  Ideally though, we would go from New Zealand summer into Northern Hemisphere summer to avoid winter.  After all, I have to get as much Vitamin D in my system before moving to the "Land of the Long Grey Cloud".         
5. What are you naming the Little Dragon?
  • That question is not relevant to leaving NZ.  Nice try.

So that's that friends -- hope this makes more sense now.  Sorry we've been a bit out of touch -- there's been a lot going on.  And as this is my first post of the year, let me wish you all a happy new year -- all the best for 2014!

This is what happens if you eat too much cake - I knew my day would come