The White Picket Fence Paradox

They often say that things happen for a reason, and while there may be some truth to it, I have come to believe that things happen not because of kismet, but because we make certain choices in our daily life that have direct and indirect consequences.

My life has gone in a direction I would never have expected it to go. Some people would call it luck, some an act of grace or divine intervention, but to me, it is but the direct and indirect result of my hard work, patience and taking the leap when every cell in my body was screaming to hide away.

And while some things have unfolded in ways that I can only describe as fast and furious, the journey to that point took years, maybe even decades. There were many happy days, and not-so happy days. Some bad days in between. Terrible days every now and then. Even unspeakable days. Each deciding moment eventually leading to where I am today.

Five years ago, I would have laughed if someone told me I’d be living in Norway at some point in my life. It was a country I knew little about — well, maybe except for its Vikings and pricey salmon exports — and the fact that I despise the cold, helped to build my case against what would have been an incredulous idea.

Fast forward to 2017, and here I am, unable to imagine a different life. Despite the challenges that a transplant like myself is expected to go through, like adjusting to a different culture, landing a job and ultimately learning how to speak the language, which I haven’t yet mastered after 3 years of night school! (for those who aren’t in the know, the Norwegian language has many, many, many dialects, so much so that if you drive for a good ten minutes in the countryside, people could be speaking a different variant of Norwegian), I can’t complain. I am where I am today because every little thing I’ve done so far has led me to this moment of contentment and yes — gobsmacked disbelief.

Because after all the doubt, anxiety, confusion, pain of loss, and the sheer stress that comes with having to deal with the upheavel of one’s life, I have a loving and devoted husband, who drives me crazy sometimes (not in the good way!) and at other times splendidly scrubs clean the entire apartment inside and out when all I did was hint that the floors could do with a quick mopping; I have a job that is finally permanent and rewarding; a new house we are looking forward to moving into in a year’s time; and a baby on the way, whom we cannot wait to finally meet in a few weeks.

Sometimes, I have to pinch myself because I think I’ve stumbled into a dream; that perhaps, I’m actually lying somewhere else, in a deep deep transe of some kind, and unwilling to wake up. Or I find myself in a panic, thinking that only the worst can possibly happen now, because no one is supposed to have it this good.

Then again, when I really think about it. Think long and hard, it hasn’t been all pixiedust and unicorns. Because my husband and I work hard at our relationship every single day. We have our honeymoon days and days when I just want to bust his butt for one reason or another. Our first year as husband and wife was rocky and eventually led to ultimatums, but we got passed it and although we laugh at it now, it was a tough period in my life.

My job may be rewarding, but everyday, I have to work hard for it. Like really, really hard, because this is probably the only job I’ve had where there is absolutely no room for downtime. You’re up and at it from the moment you clock in, to the moment you clock out.

A new house may be exciting (what with all the possibilities!), but with it, comes a heftier mortgage that my husband and I have to pay for for a good 25 years of our life. So we have to be extra smart with our money just in case  the world goes into a nosedive and we find ourselves jobless and with skyrocketing interest rates.

Finally, a baby. It may perhaps be the singular most fantastic dream of mine, but now that its reality, comes my many founded fears and doubts. Will I be a good parent? First and foremost, is he healthy? What if there are complications? Women have died during childbirth. Babies too. Will I end up drawing the short end of the stick? I may not dwell on these harrowing thoughts, but they have passed my mind and I can only really hope for the best when the day finally arrives.

So, as timely as everything may seem from the outside, it is but a consequence of a series of fortunate and unfortunate opportunities, both seized and unseized, that have led to this very moment. Of choices made and brave leaps taken. I may owe a bit of it to fate and luck, and blessings from above, but ultimately, I’d like to think that I had a hand in making it happen, and for doing a job well done (so far).

via Daily Prompt: Timely

It Takes a Village

When you find yourself fully pregnant and without a mother to dote on you and help you through this life-bringing journey, you find ways to cope.

Ever since I found out I was pregnant, I’ve always wondered how it would have been like had my mum been alive and around to hear the news. She adored babies more than any other woman I’ve known. Every single one of them, down to the snotty, poopy, weepy and whiny ones. And she always went for the feet first; nibbled their tiny toes like they were freshly spun caramel candy.

Her face would have lit up at the thought of becoming a grandmother, probably would have cried even. Like that happy squealing grandma-to-be cry you see on YouTube pregnancy announcement videos.

Then all this would have been an entirely different experience.

Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for my mother, and as strange and sad it is to say, had it not been for her passing I probably would have never found myself pregnant to begin with. It was because she passed away that I moved to the other side of the planet to start anew — and I wouldn’t have met my then would-be-husband at our postgraduate Christmas party on that fateful Saturday night.

Sometimes, I’m actually convinced that my mom had a hand in our meeting since she always had a thing for the blonde and blue-eyed loyal boys-next-door, whilst I, up to that point, went for the dark-haired devilish heartbreaking charmers. She played cupid from her heavenly home, sat back with some her staple bowl of chips and homemade salsa, then watched her magical handiwork unfold and bloom.

So when things get persistently rough and I am reminded of this special mother-daughter experience that I seem to be missing out on, I tell myself that I am not alone. Not alone in the sense that there are other women out there in a similar situation, but that I have a whole legion of strong women — friends, best friends, cousins, aunts, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, and my mother’s own best friends whom I have come to call my adopted mothers — who in their own little way have made this life-affirming adventure just as special. Instead of having just one dote on me, I have a dozen — each one taking on a unique role and helping to fill in the gaps. They say that it takes a village a raise a baby, but it also takes a village of other mothers to support a mother.

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Their much welcomed (un)solicited advice, practical day-to-day tips, and the wisdom they have so generously passed on — I have never felt more supported, more comforted in my single-minded pursuit to becoming the best possible mother I can be. After all, there are no take-backs and as soon as our little jelly bean is born, so will I be too.

I’ve been keeping to heart everything my Village of Mothers has imparted to me and have even started writing them down on the Little Blue Book of Unsolicited Advice that I received at my baby shower. Their insights into birth, motherhood and marriage, all based on their own experiences — of their triumphs and even their regrets — I have listened to and read over and over again with wholehearted intent. Their collective tenacity is something to be greatly admired and yet goes rarely acknowledged, and despite what feels like mammoth fails and mere micro victories, these mothers push on repeatedly with each passing day, fueled solely by their seemingly never-ending supply of unconditional love.

Who could ask for a better substitute?

via Daily Prompt: Tenacious

My Birthing Plan, with No Foam, No Sugar, Soy Milk and Cream on Top

I have always thought that giving birth was a black and white situation. You walk into the hospital and barring any complications, come out with a baby bundled in a soft blanket. Apparently, that’s not the case.

Childbirth has come a long, long way since my grandmothers’ time and much like how people order their coffee these days — single/double/triple shot, nonfat milk, soy, almond, half-and-half, latte, cappuccino, machiatto — there are a lot more different options to choose from: Natural. C-Section. Water Birth. At the hospital. At home. By a doctor. By a midwife. With a doula, and without. Even pain relief comes in a variety of forms these days. Acupressure. Acupuncture. Breathing techniques. Hypnosis. Massage. Meditation. Epidural. Gas. Demerol. Or nothing at all. And did I mention that you can even choose the position in which you would want to deliver? Semi-recline. Squatting. Lying on one’s side. Standing. Leaning on your partner. On your hands and knees.

Has it always been this complicated? This confusing? (If only they offered just as many options when it comes to buying baby stuff — because it’s in this department, where Norway needs greater variety and options).

And the pressure women feel these days to opt for as naturally a birth as possible, foregoing the comfort of anaesthesia, makes planning for our little jelly bean’s birth all the more challenging, more frightening.

Maybe I’m strong enough to go through labor without any medical intervention. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter after all, the Amazonia who directed, choreographed and arranged the birth of her first child whilst in the middle of labor because my grandfather was still attending to his patients (they owned a small hospital and clinic back in the day).

Then again, what if I’m not?

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Ultimately, it’s going to be my decision and people can judge me all they want — but as with everything in life, we have all been given the right and liberty to choose (of course, within certain legal, ethical and moral limits!). So, go jump in the lake if it bothers you when I decide to get pumped up with drugs (they’re there for a reason, otherwise, it wouldn’t be on offer in the first place).

We attended the state-sponsored birthing course a few days ago, hoping that it would help me decide on a birthing plan. I had this image of a Lamaze-type class where everyone would be sitting on the floor and throughout the course of the afternoon, be taught a couple of breathing exercises we could use, on top of the usual “what to expect” information, and maybe the cliche video of a woman giving birth. Instead, we were sat around a conference table and given slide handouts. Then for nearly three hours, we listened to a PowerPoint lecture on things I had already read about at some point, and learned from somewhere or someone about the stages of labor, what to do in each stage, who to call, where to go, etc.

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Scandinavian baby staples. Wooly onesies. Sophie the Giraffe. And free reading goodies from the Health Center.

It didn’t prepare me at all for what’s to come and I was nowhere closer to completing my birth plan — other than the fact that I now know which ward/s I could potentially request to be checked-in to at the Women’s Clinic downtown.

Nevertheless, like all things, the silver lining was that — while I may not have learned anything new, my husband learned a great lot. He knows what to expect now and while he’s terrified out of his mind about what’s going to happen and what could potentially happen during childbirth, he has come to appreciate this epic challenge that we (moreso, I) will have to undergo in six weeks’ time. He has found ways to support me even more than he already has to make the home stretch feel a little less overwhelming, like giving me a 2-hour back massage and head cuddle in the middle of the night, for example, after what can only be desrcibed as an emotionally and psychologically draining day for him at work (he quit his job yesterday for what he hopes is going to be a better one!) — just so that I can sleep better at night. Bless him.

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Whichever the case may be and whatever I do decide to do or what not to do, or what the circumstances ends up dictating (a birthing plan is never bullet-proof!), I am going to try and take this whole childbirth challenge like I would whenever I order a cup of coffee:

Simple and to the point, with perhaps a little frill and just a tad bit of sweetness on top…

…then enjoying every moment of it, when it’s finally handed over to me, all wrapped up in a pretty and delicious little package.

That Sinking Feeling

The rush of preparation and work deadlines have made the last couple of weeks fly by far too quickly for my sleepless brain to handle. In a month’s time, I’m going on my near 1-year-long maternity leave, which means I would have (by then) a little over 3 weeks before the Final Big Push.

And while I’m still terrified of the prospect, a calming feeling is starting to sprout its golden rays of sunshine.

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Surprise! Surprise! Tomato soup, wine (for the guests!), cupcakes and rice cakes are served!

Seeing my friends last night, surprising me at home with a beautiful baby shower (which my husband apparently initiated!), and hearing their stories or the lack of it, about birth and diaper changing and explosive poops in an airport without an extra change of clothes — it was reassuring to know that it’s OK to be unprepared, to feel unaccomplished and still know nothing about babies even when you’re just weeks away from bringing this little creature you made, out into the world.

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Gifts for the jelly bean and a free luxury spa treatment for mama after she’s done pushing jelly bean out.

“Because everything you need to learn will come to you when it finally has to,” is what one of my friends said during the baby shower, and it’s quite possibly the one truth that I am able to process and accept without making me hyperventilate.

It’s learning by doing, and no amount of fact-finding can replace the knowledge I will gain when I’m finally on that hospital bed and then off it with a baby in my hands. The learning curve will be steep but I will get through it, like every other woman that’s had a child over the last several thousand years has — and hopefully, with a little bit of grace and decorum while I’m at it.

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Filipino rice cakes topped with colored coconut flakes, made with love from a Norwegian. It doesn’t get any sweeter and stranger than that.

The love and effort my friends put into my surprise baby shower was overwhelming and it makes me feel proud to know all these amazing women — some with children, some without, and some who are trying. It’s a support system I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have, being so far away from family. They made me feel less unsure about myself, less alone in what I sometimes consider to be my doomsday plight, and just overall happy to be surrounded by a larger community of accomplished women, young and younger alike, who have gone through their own life experiences and have become the better for it.

Their sweet messages, kind and reassuring words, comical commentaries and ignorant quips have helped to fuel the calming fire I will need to get me through the next few weeks. Because labor isn’t going to be like the movies. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be icky. It’s going to be painful. It’s all going to be very new.

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Baby books all the way from Singapore and Manila, and a future piggy bank for the little jelly bean (papa was very happy to see this!).

But my body was built for this, as my friends told me. I just have to trust it, wholeheartedly, even though I’ve never really put much faith in its capacity to do remarkable things before (yes, I sometimes doubt if my legs are able to get me down a flight of stairs without falling — which is why you can’t make me go hiking without me grumbling about it). I just have to let things take its course and not try to control the situation, like I always do. It would be counterintuitive and in no way help an already difficult situation.

And now that the banner is down and the cupcakes all lapped up down to their last scrumptious morsel, its business as usual. The last stretch is here and the final pages of this chapter in my life is coming to an end… and we’re on to a whole epic new one.

The Case of the Vanishing Feet

Ever since I found myself growing a human being inside me, I’ve had to cut down on some pampering luxuries in an attempt to keep myself as toxic-free as possible. And while most of what I thought I should avoid are in fact quite safe to do — manis, pedis, hair coloring and your occassional massage — now that I think about it, are things I shockingly haven’t done in years.

I’ve always found the bit of pampering therapeutic. Before I moved to Bergen, I had a rather luxurious routine of hair blowouts (when I was too lazy to wash my hair) and hair treatments, and the monthly visit to the nail salon and face spas, on top of my weekly massages — all of which would cost me no more than $100. It was my elixir and it helped to perk me up whenever the stresses of big city life — long work hours, manic commute, bills, expensive and private healthcare, etc — began to feel like I was being dragged  into an ever-expanding bubbling tar pit with no means of escape.

And now that I’m living in what has recently been declared the happiest place on Earth where the stresses of life are perhaps not really stresses at all in comparison to the world’s many problems; where education, healthcare and potable water are free, and new mothers get paid to stay home with their newborn for nearly a year; and workers have the right to take 5 weeks of paid vacation; I find myself wanting even just a modicum of pampering but am unable to do so because I can’t for the life of me justify spending $100 on one simple mani/pedi. So for the last 3 years, I’ve gone without any of it and while I’ve survived so far, the call for a good lacquer and highlight is finally ringing loud in my ears.

I mean, I haven’t been paying too much attention to my feet these days (what with it being winter and all, and the fact that I can no longer see them unless I’m propped up on the couch) but the sight of them (at 2.30am as I am writing this piece, mind you) all swollen and neglected from being pregnant has prompted me to do something unthinkable — almost akin to me getting more than 2 haircuts a year, and done with a lot of hesitation! — I booked myself a mani/pedi at a professional spa.

It took a lot of convincing on my part as I am not so easily swayed to part with $100 unless I’m getting something of equal value from it. I mean, I can’t even be persuaded to buy my child a $30 onesie if I know I can get it for a fraction of the price somewhere else with just the same quality and using the same organic fabric. What more a mani/pedi that would probably last me a good 3 weeks? A baby onesie would last a fast-growing baby longer than that.

Then again, I have to remind myself that I am no longer without a job and I finally have comfortable savings set aside, (not to mention that I can no longer touch my toes without having to do some ill-composed yoga pose) so perhaps a one-off spend wouldn’t be so bad?

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It makes one rethink one’s needs and desires, and what it really takes to keep a sound mind in a world (and by world, I mean, societal pressures) that just won’t let you stop. What would be a simple cup of tea for some may be a 3-week holiday in an exclusive resort in Seychelles for others. It’s all about perspective and what we’re used to, I suppose. What our view on reality is, and how open we are to wanting to see beyond our own looking glasses — because really, there is a much wider world out there for us to truly see, and many more realities to consider.

In the case of my vanishing feet, however, it’s making myself feel just a tad bit pretty (even for just a short while) at a time when, despite this mythical “glow” that only others seem to see, I feel like a seacow out of the water.

via Daily Prompt: Elixir

Of Errands, Brunch and My Love for Organic Hipster Cake

Like most people, our weekends are spent running errands and completing chores we had postponed during the week. Gone were the days when I would wake up early and head out for brunch with my besties in the newest cafe in town or our usual old haunt. Such was the life in my twenties.

These days, I can count the number of times I’ve had brunch — in my one little hand — with friends. Perhaps, Norwegians just aren’t brunch people? I still haven’t quite figured that out, even after 3 years of living here.

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My favorite deli shop, Colonialen Fetevare, serves some of the most delicious sandwiches fresh off the shelf (photo courtesy of Bergen Sentrum)

I tried dragging my husband out to brunch today (despite the grey and gloomy weather), hoping to have a hearty sandwich and hot chocolate at my favorite deli — Colonialen Fetevare — but was merely met with sleepy grunts. So, we ended up doing 2 batches of laundry instead and running baby shopping errands. Foldable baby tub and free diaper genie. Check. Check. And the first 10 episodes of Grace & Frankie Season 3. Check.

And while our Saturdays are normally spent attempting some level of productivity, our Sundays are usually geared up for the new week ahead. It used to be a frustrating and meaningless routine until my husband and I started a new tradition of taking short walks around the marina, ending at our local neighborhood cafe. Part grungy roastery and beanerie, part coffeeshop, Bergen Kaffebrenneri is my husband’s way of rewarding me for getting my ass out of the house for a bit of fresh air. And it’s worked great so far because I love cake and coffee, and did I mention they have a flea market out on the parking lot?

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My favorite local neighborhood cafe and beanery in the hipster part of town, Bergen Kaffebrenneri (photo courtesy of JM Norge AS).

Despite the seemingly mundaneness of our weekend lives, I am relishing our passive routine because things are about to change in 8 weeks’ time — and no doubt, we would be wishing for things to be simpler again. Because brunches in the future would mean having to prepare one other person other than myself (and I already take a long time to get ready, as it is!) and our walks around the marina will now include a pram, a diaper bag, a changing pad and whatever else is needed for a baby’s day out. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

But whatever happens, we will still have cake. So that’s nice.

via Daily Prompt: Meaningless

Thoughtfully Ordinary

I’ve always been partial to things with a history; creations made with love and careful thought. The very act of applying prudence and fortitude to a piece of handiwork is what makes something mundane and everyday, exceptional. Extraordinary.

Which is why I’m drawn to antique shops and artisan stores. Not the pretentious hipster trendy pop-ups, but the ones that have been around for years, generations even; where the craft lives and breathes and has been lovingly and proudly passed on from parent to child.

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This baby tag blanket by Olena Raditsa from the SweetSwaddle online shop in Ukraine is absolute love. At some point, this darling is going to make it into my shopping basket.

Of course these kinds of stores aren’t as easy to come by in Bergen (and when I do, their products sadly tend to cost way more than I am able to spend, which is why you’ll find me supporting local thrift shops and flea markets instead).

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How adorable is this organic wood teether and rattle? Russian-based handmade baby woodworks shop TinyFoxHole integrates aspects of the Montessory and Waldorf education into their charming products.

So when I’m not spending my weekends looking for a pre-loved item at the local market, I’m online searching for its new but handmade equivalent. And while online stores simply cannot compare, there are some really good new ones — teeny-tiny ones — that promise the same storyline. From start-ups founded upon a worthy cause to your simple concept stores plying their quality trade. They’re soulful and refreshing, and knowing they were made by hand makes the purchase feel all the more special. It’s like starting a new chapter on behalf of its creator, and helping to keep the story alive for someone else to value and behold in another time (so if you think about it, rather than being the receiving end of the story, you’re starting a new one!).

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I have a couple of these 100% cotton swaddled blankets by Asta&Birute’s Turkish online store CottonWood. I can’t wait to wrap our little jelly bean in these!

Etsy and Folksy are perhaps good examples of these (though, I confess, you’ll need to dig deep and invest some time to find the really good and quality ones because a lot of them tend to copy off of each other!). Here, artists roll-in on their online caravans and pitch their digital tents to proudly ply their wares. Entrepreneurs who have found their voice in this vast void of fast and cheap consumerism. Perpetrators of the slow goods movement aimed at simplicity and minimalism, and are often a dear friend and staunch protector of the environment. When I find such a store, amongst the sea of options, its often love at first sight (especially when they don’t break the bank!).

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WoodenCaterpillar’s toys are an absolute delight! And I am looking forward to watching our jelly bean grow up with a collection of their simple and educational toys.

Moscow-based woodworks shop WoodenCaterpillar, for example, has tugged at my soon-to-be-mama heartstrings for their beautifully handcrafted baby toys. In an effort to reduce our plastic consumption (and overall consumption, really), we have decided to support small wood and cloth toymakers instead of the big, big toy corporations (except for Lego of course, because we’re Lego kids and will always be Lego kids even though they  require step-by-step assembly nowadays instead of the free-for-all-create-what-you-want pedagogy). These fun wooden creations may be a little bit more expensive, but knowing that we’ve opted to buy something that wouldn’t take 400 years to decompose if it somehow found itself in the world’s water sources, is comforting.

For those who are interested in the items featured in this article, you need only hop over to Etsy. I haven’t been paid by these little businesses to write this post, but I simply adore their thoughtfully ordinary creations, so I thought I’d share their stories with you.

via Daily Prompt: Ordinary