FIND YOUR CENTER

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I’m sitting in a circle with my husband and six other couples, in a softly lit room with hummus and lentil chips perched invitingly in the corner. At the head of the circle sits our leader, an earthy woman in jeans and two loose pigtails rolled into buns. We’re going around the circle introducing ourselves, sharing how far along we are and at least one interesting fact about ourselves.

“This is our first child,” says one of the expectant mothers. “And we’re having a boy!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,”  says our leader. “So you’ve already done your anatomy check with the ultrasound, then?”

“Well, no,” says the husband, he and his wife exchanging a knowing glance, ”but we met his soul already. It was in a tantric spiritual ceremony.”

Welcome to my birthing class.

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Ever since before Ross and I got pregnant, we knew it was going to be either birthing center or home birth. In this way, we are card-carrying Austinites: one screening of The Business of Being Born, and boom, done – no hospital for us. Not that Hollywood depictions of birth in the hospital looked all that appealing anyway, but The Business of Being Born viewers are a self-selecting group, so in many ways it preaches to the choir. I am a member of that choir, as well as – when it comes to the pain associated with all-natural, drug-free birth – hugely naive.

But am I hardcore enough to birth at home? Nope. I liked the idea of being whisked away to another location, where a whole staff was on-hand to take care of me. Plus, I am easily seduced by interiors, and between our house and the birthing center, the birthing center — with its chiffon curtains, satin throw pillows and general atmosphere of Enya — totally wins.

“It is like a spa,” says Fabiana, a Brazilian beauty friend of mine who also gave birth there. “Bed, shower, huge whirlpool. I am almost positive -” she leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper – “they keep champagne in the refrigerator.”

Which sounded like my kind of place. After my first visit, I broke up with my old obstetrician with all the sensitivity of a cheerleader dumping her original prom date for the quarterback, and threw myself at the birthing center’s mercy.

“Records release form? No problem!” I sang to the birthing center receptionist. “Where do I sign? Can you get me in for a visit next week? Does that mean you have room for me to give birth here in May? Yes? You need a deposit? How much? Here’s a check!”

It was all very whirlwind, but fortunately, I think this is going to be a good fit. This was all the more affirmed at our first birthing class last week, which at the birthing center is called “centering class.” It’s where you meet other couples giving birth around the same time as you, and talk about things with the midwives like nutrition, financial planning, etc. But this is not just any centering class – this is a centering class in Austin, as the following conversation attests.

“Does anyone have any recommendations for allergies?” one of the expectant mothers, a bubbly engineer in glasses and a bob, piped up.

“You could try honey? From local bees?” suggested one of the husbands.

“There’s a natural serum at People’s Pharmacy that is soooo helpful,” added a mom, seated in lotus.

“Often, allergies are a reaction to a larger toxic issue in your body,” someone said. We all nodded in solemn agreement.

What was not suggested, however, was Zyrtec. Not once did anyone say, “just get yourself a steroid shot, yo.” Ross leaned down and whispered, “heh — only in Austin would the very first recommendation be the local honey thing,” then immediately raised his head back up to share a special gut-healing dietary method with the group.

I looked around at all the local honey acolytes and beamed. Hello, my people.

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Next time in centering class, I’m going to ask about the phenomenon of “baby brain,” which at first I regarded as an infantilizing insult, and am now convinced is scientific fact. Science is also convinced it’s scientific fact. It’s been coming up lately because my own brain is basically divided into two creative halves, the movement part and the writing part, and as aerial gets f-g impossible slightly challenging, writing has taken over. I’ve been pitching story ideas right and left, wrote a cover story here, am starting a podcast here – but not without herculean effort. It’s like the words aren’t blocked, exactly, but chugging along like a wheezing, beat-up Pinto. Rather than fingers flying lithely across the keyboard, it’s more like fists clubbing the keyboard, me banging away at various keys until logical sentences start to appear.

But the one arena in which I don’t feel like Lennie and the rabbits? The kitchen.

Everybody is shocked: my husband, my friends, even myself. Once a champion of reheated veggie burgers rolled into a tortilla (“it’s a tofu taco, you guys”), I now research actual recipes online, and buy things like lamb and cooking sherry. At times, my efforts are punctuated by brief moments of panic, as the Pregnancy Industrial Complex would like to convince you that even common household comestibles are fraught with peril. “Sure, go ahead and enjoy that coffee!” they seem to say, “IF YOU WANT A HORRIBLE AND TRAGIC MISCARRIAGE.”

The funny thing is though, right from the very beginning, I’ve always had this fundamental belief that our girl was going to be alright. Which didn’t stop me from crying at the anatomy ultrasound, when we checked for all her fingers and toes and happily discovered that all parts were in working order. But way before the kicks, which happen all day long now, I sensed she was going to be a badass. A tougher cookie than I ever was.

We meet her in May.

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THE WORST JOB EVER

Full disclosure: This post title is a sarcastic one.

Recently, I got contracted to write a travel guide about Austin via this publishing company, and while wary – my insider’s knowledge of Austin is truly a flimsy guise – these past couple of weeks writing/shooting it have been pretty (burp) darn enjoyable.

Since I’ve bragged about this assignment on just about every social media channel I am registered on, I figured it was time to have a proper blog post about it, too.

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As you can see, writing this guide involves a lot of eating. Which is convenient, because guess who’s eating for two? (PREGNANT LADY HUNGRY.)

I’m just kidding: as my friend Sissel recently pointed out, there’s a tiny organism in my stomach, not – unless my ultrasounds have been seriously erroneous – a full-grown man. So really you’re eating for 1.1, which isn’t nearly as cool as eating for two.

Nevertheless! Pregnant or no, duty calls. And though I’m in a professional place now where I’m seeking out more news writing, more issues work, assignments like this are admittedly super fun.

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Baby’s first Uchi!

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This is a REAL sandwich.

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Please don’t get diabetes, baby! But here, enjoy these garlic-smothered meatballs. 

Working on this guide has brought to mind two distinct things: Match.com, and Frank Bruni’s Born Round – one of my favorite food memoirs of all time.

I say Match.com because in many ways, trying all this food is a bit like I imagine speed-dating to be. Traditionally, I suppose it’s the food critic (don’t really think of myself that way, but you get the idea) who is the one with all the power. But, I still get incredibly intimidated each time I walk into, say, Jeffrey’s, and have to pretend I know what sous-vide is (thanks Wikipedia) when the chef is explaining his or her dish. “Mm hmm, right,” I say, looking down at said sous-wide dish, nodding in mock understanding. Like dating, it’s a situation where both of us are hoping to impress: one with actual ability, the other with faux knowledge.

So I’m not really a food expert. At all. But, I went through a phase where I voraciously read food memoirs – all of Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential of course, Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life – but one of my top reads was Frank Bruni’s Born Round. Frank Burni is an imposing journalist anyway, and got a post as The New York Times‘ restaurant critic after dedicating years of his life to covering the Catholic papacy and George W. Bush’s presidential bid for the paper. But, he also entered into the restaurant critic position – a dream job for just about anyone – with a degree of trepidation. And this is where I relate to him.

Bruni grew up with a weight problem, which later evolved into bulimia in college, then obesity as a journalist. And the moment he finally turns his health around, hiring a trainer, losing all the weight, and healing his compulsive eating…that, THAT is when he gets the call from the Times about the restaurant critic position.

So he must learn to not only wrangle his food demons, but to be a professional with his new job. At the Times, this means visiting a restaurant multiple times for multiple tastings. As someone who has a handful of food issues herself, I 100% get both the giddiness and simultaneous fear this must inspire.

To be honest with you, I’m grappling with the reality of having a changing body during pregnancy. Many pregnant women contend with this I suppose, but when I’m out doing all these tastings, I at once feel, “OH MY GOD I’m eating at Uchi and not paying for it!” mixed with, “fuck, fuck, fuck – I need to limit my bites here.”

Does this sound obnoxious? Probably. To get an opportunity like this, and then be a bit whiny about it. But like Frank Bruni, it’s a situation where the sheer, animal joy of your assignment hits frequent walls of self-conscious, self-imposed restraint. Like Bruni, it was college where I learned all the tricks for controlling weight, but it was never throwing up. More like a strict regimen of protein shakes and working out. I lost my period for a little while, and of course lots of pounds. Interestingly though, I don’t really look back on this as a dark time: as anyone with eating neuroses can tell you, exerting that kind of control is extremely gratifying.

Pregnancy, however, is a period that forces you to cede control, because like it or not: you gon’ grow. And when faced with the most delicious food in the city, that growth is augmented by enormous sensory pleasure. So I never refuse to try a dish – I mean, c’mon. But, I’m trying to get to a place where I regard each bite as somewhat magical. Not because I’m attempting to be preggorexic (a term I learned the other day) and survive off five bites daily, but to be a bit Buddhist about it, and to think about all the hands and effort that went into my perfect little bite, and now I get to eat it. I get to replace my faux knowledge with the real thing. I get to expose the tiny organism to braised octopus, roasted beets, and the occasional deep-fried peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich, and I get to not freak out about it.

And, slowly, I get to accept some change.

Photo locations: The Goodnight, Winflo Osteria, Arro, Swift’s Attic, Second Bar + Kitchen, Salty Sow, Uchi, Haymaker, Patrizi’s. 

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SO THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

You may have noticed that I’ve put this blog out to pasture lately. That words were not forthcoming, that I assiduously avoided the Internet, that Austin Eavesdropper was quickly becoming a twinkle in your memory if not in your eye.

Well, I am here today to report that there is a reason for all of that.

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It may appear as though I’m currently showing you a picture of a lung blockage or perhaps a tumor; what I’m showing you however is a baby. That’s right, a baby.

I’m about three and a half months into things, but have avoided telling you all until now because:

A) I don’t know how to be cute about these things on the Internet. Some women create these adorable photos with empty baby shoes or their pets holding signs or whatever, but internal soul searching has finally revealed that I am not one of these women. I applaud them though, because…

B) Pregnancy turns you into an insufferable moaner. I mean it REALLY DOES. You guys: no one warned me about first trimester! I whine, I complain, nothing tastes good, and I can smell for miles. I am like a she-wolf who can pick up your gym socks from Marfa. The fact that all these pregnant ladies of the Internet post cheery pictures of their bumps while they are nauseous and headachey and heart burny and overheated and snapping irrationally at their partners and have probably just thrown up is nothing short of heroic in my eyes. Happy, pastel-hued pregnancy blogs: I salute you!

C) We’ve been waiting for first trimester to pass. Not only so that I can wipe the permanent frown off my face and bask in the glow of second trimester, but because Ross and I were pregnant before last summer and it didn’t work out during the first trimester. That’s a tale for another day, but the proverbial silver lining to that whole ordeal was that it affirmed that yes, we wanted this thing, and were lucky enough to get pregnant again soon. HOWEVER:

D) Uh…we don’t know what we’re doing. I know, nobody does. You’ll figure it out! our friends with kids reassure us. Your maternal instincts will kick in! And while I believe them, and have dutifully read Bringing Up Bebe for pointers, sometimes I’m not so sure.

Vanity, for instance. Did you know that is is possible to still be very vain while you are pregnant? My little May birthing cohort on BabyCenter.com and I are firmly divided into two camps: those who plan to girdle postpartum, and those who do not.

LIZZY61NYC: So are you guys going to wrap your belly after birth?

MOONMAMA912: Honey, you won’t care about any of that after you give birth!!! So your body will be squishy after but you’ll be holding your brand new bundle!! JUST ENJOY IT! :-D :-D :-D

TOLLYAUSTIN: I’d like to hear more about this “wrap.”

SUSHIGIRL124: SECOND. Didn’t Jessica Alba do that???

2STARFAERIES: omg u guys, post preg bodies are gorg/luvly no matter the SIZE or the STRETCH MARKS or the WHAT HAVE U so just ACCEPT CHANGES and GIT OVER IT. And LOVE UR BABY that is what MATTERS—-!!!

TOLLYAUSTIN: Sound points all, 2StarFaeries, but seriously if anyone has a link to order an online belly band I’d love to have it.

LIZZY661NYC: I will private message it to you!!

SUSHIGIRL124: Me too!!!! Oh please!

MOONMAMA912: I’m telling you ladies, YOU WON’T CARE! :-O :-O That extra belly flub is just going to be the very last thing on your minds!!!! Forget the girdle and let nature take its course, bigger feet & wider hips & all of that is part of *being a mom* ;-) and your sweet little baby won’t care a bit what you look like!!!!

TOLLYAUSTIN: I’ll look for your message, Lizzy661NYC.

LIZZY661NYC: Totes!

2STARFAERIES: wutever.

BabyCenter.com conversations like these don’t just illustrate my (admittedly irrational) body anxieties; they get at something deeper that I now think about all the time.

“Shouldn’t I be a little more selfless?” I’ll think. “Will I care more about my waist than my baby? Will I be one of those narcissistic, cold mothers? Shouldn’t I be over all that stuff by now?”

Anyway.

The good news is: I physically feel much better now. Also, I’m still happily shocked every time I see an ultrasound image of our baby on the screen – like, are you serious? We did that? We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet; it could be a banana for all I know. I’m trying to follow all the little pregnancy rules, but I cheat here and there. Just a bit of raw fish at breakfast sometimes. Kidding! I’m kidding. What I really mean is crack. I enjoy crack on my cereal.

I’m sure I’ll keep writing about pregnancy on this blog, under one condition: please, PLEASE do tell me if I get boring. Ok? I realize that feeling kicks and early contractions and yada yada might be fascinating to me, but about as compelling as a lecture on vermiculture to you. (Unless you’re a vermiculturist. I don’t know.)

What else to tell you? My friend Omar Gallaga and I started a podcast! An Austin culture podcast for the Statesman/Austin 360 called “Statesman Shots.” That link right there is our first test show. We don’t know yet if it’s going to become a real thing or not come 2014, but are super hopeful. Each week, we’ll discuss a handful of topics salient to Austin, and have a guest on our show to discuss them with us. I think the tone is: Sardonic? Maybe I’m flattering us. Chatty? It’s the kind of stuff Omar and I get together and talk about anyway, things we adore about Austin and things that annoy us about it too. We’re annoyed because we care! Our first topics were: festival overload in Austin, can Austin stay affordable for artists, and techbros.

If you listen and have feedback for the show (“I loved it! It was just right!” or “I hated it! It was too long!”), OR have topic suggestions for future episodes, we’d be delighted to hear both.

Whew. I better stop running my mouth and let you get back to your day. But, in summary: Baby! Podcast! Vanity! Life!

It’s been good to catch up, y’all. Let’s do more of this.

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WHERE DO AUSTINITES COME FROM?

Austin

Source.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about Austin this way: that living here is like being married to a celebrity who got famous while you were married.

In this analogy, you and your spouse (Austin) meet, you fall ludicrously in love with their (Austin’s) quirks and charm, and you – but only you! – know intimately how special this soul (Austin) is.

That is, until your beloved (Austin) suddenly gets scouted by oh, say, Quentin Tarantino. And seemingly overnight, they (Austin) are a celebrity. Now everybody knows how beautiful, quirky, and special your spouse (Austin) is!

You’re happy to share their attention with adoring fans – at first. Because after a while, those at-home, two-spoons-in-one-spaghetti-bowl dinners are interrupted by their (Austin’s) cell phone constantly dinging with crazed fan tweets, calls from their agent, and Facebook push notifications that their millionth like just went through.

And it’s cool, you’re happy for them (Austin). They’re making more money after all.

Only, you’re worried that soon they (Austin) will be a little too fabulous for you, that their (Austin’s) tastes will change, and soon, this adorable little ragamuffin will be transformed into a slick, tanned, bleached-teeth copy of any other successful celebrity (wealthy city).

Also, they have less sex (water) to offer you. Their sex appeal (water reserves) is (are) being depleted by a ravenous public, and sometimes they’re just so tired (water levels so low) that they’re like, “not now baby, I’m just in a low energy (Stage 2 drought) place right now.”

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I think that’s the visceral fear, anyway. Austinites old and new looooovvvee to get riled up about our city’s increasing popularity, becase like the non-famous spouse above they are worried, some with reasons completely valid, some less so.

Here is what Austinites are worried about:

1. Rising cost of living. (Valid.)

2. Diminishing water. (Valid.)

3. Sudden glut of condos. (Valid, but if the alternative is sprawl, I think I’ll take vertical growth. Condensed cities = walkable cities.)

4. Nefarious Californians eradicating our local culture. That Angelenos or other outsiders are moving here simply because it’s a scene, and as the theory goes, they’ll move on when they’ve sucked all the cultural life out of us. (BS. Let’s have a talk.)

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That #4 link above is from this past week, when Reddit users jumped all over Lauren (Hipstercrite’s) post about living in Austin. Which to my mind, was a refreshingly balanced and non-cynical post, so the reaction surprised me. The whole thing got me thinking, what is my favorite thing about Austin? The easygoing people.

And I wondered [Carrie Bradshaw voiceover]: Where did my favorite, big-hearted Austinites came from?

From here:

Willie Nelson: Abbott, Texas.

Ann Richards: McLennan County, Texas.

Richard Linklater: Houston, Texas.

Leslie: Miami, Florida.

Molly Ivins: Monterey, California.

Mike Judge: Guayaquil, Ecuador. (Cool!)

Evan Smith: New York.

Kinky Friedman: Chicago.

Sarah Bird: Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So, if you were born and raised in Austin and are mad about new people coming to live here…I’m sorry.

This idea however that new people (particularly the LA boogiemen) are all opportunistic douchebags is just not accurate. You can move here from a different locale, and be invested in Austin. You can contribute enormously to the local culture.

But whining on Reddit does not further our local culture. Whenever I hear an Austinite mock newcomers just for not being from here, it makes me want to tweak their ear like an east Texas grandma and threaten to get the switch out. Didn’t your mama teach you any manners?

Population growth scares me too, but what scares me more is Austin’s spirit – that of a sweet island of misfits – evaporating. That, like the non-famous spouse above, our fear morphs into resent, leaving a bunch of cynical ass people walking around. Because who would be the douchebags then?

Us.

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OUR NIGHTLY VISITOR

Late at night and sometimes during the day, we face an intruder in our home.

He stares at us through the windows with hungry eyes and a cloudy visage, waiting until we’re gone so he can sneak in. And once inside, he steals things. Things whose absence is readily missed, things we paid good money for. Usually this happens while we’re asleep, but he’s even gone so far as to break in while Ross was minding his own business, sitting in the living room. He just strode on by, acting like he didn’t even see him.

We call this intruder Gray Cat.

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Gray Cat, as you might imagine, is no friend of Claudia’s. Here is Claudia, being an adorably cuddly kitty, the way she acts with most humans:

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And here is Claudia when she encounters Gray Cat.

When we moved into our current home, it came with a doggie door that leads from the kitchen to the outside, or as Gray Cat has learned, the other way around.

This is perfect! we thought, because Claudia, always an indoor/outdoor cat, never really learned how to use a litter box. When we first moved in we kept her inside for two weeks, against her door scratching and yowls of protest, to get her used to the idea that we were in a new place now and she couldn’t just go wandering off. During this period we hauled out a cat box, which Claudia regarded with a bathroom instinct of zero. We’d see her prepare to go poo somewhere, then have to pick her up and physically place her inside the box, where she’d stand, confused, until she eventually did her business. When it was finished, instead of burying it, she’d just kind of paw around it, like…is this right? After I go poo I just move some dirt around, right? Sort of like a human going poo, then wiping the toilet paper on their arm. She had all the right steps, but didn’t ascertain what the end goal was.

So it was a great relief for everyone when we un-barricaded the doggie door, and Claudia could go outside to wander, explore, and go to the bathroom in a less mysterious environment. I’m free! she thought. Until, that is, Gray Cat came around.

You have to understand that on our street, there’s a hierarchy of animals. On top is a black German Shepherd mix a few houses down that any small child could ride as a horse. But even though he’s enormous, he’s also on a leash, so he almost doesn’t count. Next is Orange Cat, who prompts the sad meow in Claudia: that low, throat-resonant sound that sounds like a concerned kitty cry. Orange Cat is like a big, fat mafioso who could certainly take Claudia, and likes to wander into our backyard from time to time just to show her what’s up.

And finally there is Gray Cat, who doesn’t scare Claudia, BUT PISSES HER THE EF OFF.

Why? Because he constantly comes into the house and eats her food. Poor Gray Cat is skinny, probably wild, and a total scavenger. Claudia gets the mad, high-pitched screech going whenever she sees him, as if to say, “bitch!!!! Get outta my yard!”

This phases Gray Cat not at all.

We’ve started feeding Gray Cat, leaving out bowls of dry food, so as to discourage it from coming inside. We’re not sure if it’s the right approach or not. We also have been barricading Claudia’s doggie door at night, which is fine until she starts frantically pawing at doors and windows like, “hello? Have to pee! And there’s no weird box of dirt around for me!”

It’s a classic Mexican standoff between us, Claudia, and Gray Cat. Mostly, we and Claudia are a united front. But sometimes we have to limit her independence to salvage her food bowl.

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No one is sure what to do. Some have suggested we take Gray Cat to a shelter, so that if he and Claudia ever did get in an actual scrape, at least he’d be clean and have his shots. That seems reasonable.

What Claudia’s dream scenario would be, however, would be to live in a world where there are no other cats but her. Which is the bizarre thing about cats: their supreme lack of camaraderie with their own species. Can you imagine what a weird existence that would be? To actively hate your own kind?

Fortunately, Claudia likes people. She may never understand that other cats are her, that she is in fact what she despises. But until that day comes, we’ll barricade the doggie door, chase Orange Cat away, and generally be her human protectors, because we love her. And also because she’s trained us well.

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