Things to do with a hand blender that aren’t chutney: Vol. I

It takes a special type of self-absorption, that or near-total desperation, to make one reach out to a mother of newborns and demand her help. Immediately.

But that’s where I found myself last weekend. Tired of raking clean forks across my itchy pregnant midsection, I was ready to crowd-source my discomfort and ask some been-there/done-that kind of women for advice on soothing a third-trimester tummy that itches like a verdant private patch of poison ivy.

So I emailed my friend at 3 p.m. central standard time. I didn’t want to bother her. What with her nursing week-old twins and raising a toddler and also trying to bathe, eat and sleep infrequently herself, I was sure she’d be too busy to respond to my third-trimester-with-singleton woes.

Not 30 minutes later, and from the front lines of a post-partum English evening, she responded.

A simple salve for stretchy times

Because this friend is a private sort of person and I have neither requested nor received permission to share her personal writings to me, I post below only the recipe portion of our correspondence:

“I whipped together like 2 cups of coconut oil (the solid kind) with a table spoon of vitamin E oil, and a few drops of lavender oil (or whatever smell you like or none). Literally whip it together with a hand mixer and it will become like a soft body butter and should stay soft if you put it in a jar or back in the container your coconut oil came in. You could try that maybe?”


Call me. I will spare you a few drops of lavender oil. That stuff is not cheap.

Without incident or delay, lavender and Vitamin E oils were procured. I brought out the hand blender, sullen yet shiny after months of neglect. One kid asked, betraying only a hint of “Now-what’s-for-dinner?” anxiety: “Mom, are you making more chutney?”

“No. A belly rub.”

I followed the recipe exactly. After a few seconds on the lowest setting, the mixture slackened and smoothed itself from a lumpy, lard-like consistency into a friendlier, creamier-looking substance. Bedtime was approaching and I was ready to apply the cream and settle in for some peaceful sleep. Peaceful sleeping now means several hours of bizarre pregnancy dreams, interrupted by bathroom breaks and foot cramps that feel like stage three labor in your feet and calves. I have highly arched feet. When that first pinch hits my ballerina-like arch, I am out of bed and flexing like an Olympian in seconds. Cold floors also help.

Please don’t think I am complaining. If I had to choose between 15 minutes of foot labor and this recurring dream wherein I give birth to a balloon baby that deflates before my eyes every time someone walks into the hospital room, I will take the physical torture every time. Balloons are for animals, magic shows and properly supervised kids’ parties. There their charm ends. Also, they are acceptable in science class and at pool parties.

From chutney to coconut oil

Well, the simple salve worked. It just did. Cool but not too greasy, it dulled the itch slowly, though my spider’s web of scratch marks lingered. As the weekend progressed, I resumed the use of silverware for dining purposes. I marveled at the compassion  of a friend who would reach out across continents and from the depths of new milk, slumberless nights and not-so-sleepy newborn twins to soothe my petty discomfort. It felt good to grip my hand-blender once more and fantasize about new recipes, to remember the bite and bliss of chutney-cheese sandwiches and remind myself I can make it all again and again. I just need to get myself together and buy some more green goods. Or as my husband calls it: “$8 of cilantro. Plus the mint!”

‘Secret Fit Belly’ reveals her secrets

Update: In an editorial meeting today I grabbed desperately at a ballpoint pen, retracted its tip and started to scratch. It was a slow build-up from the morning, when the itchy sensation had first returned in fits and jabs – like barely-there grazes from a sharpened, wool-covered needle. Then they lengthened their path across my body, staying longer, reaching deeper. I withdrew my hands from my keyboard every other sentence or so to scratch, rub, pluck a new Brillo pad from the box under my chair.

But in the staff meeting, that was when I realized: “This is not normal.” When I asked myself: “Where did my simple salve go wrong?” I had a flash of common sense. By now, the itchy sensation was more akin to a low-grade fever burning across my midsection. An inflammation or crop fire – not a tickle! Could I be allergic to my pants?

Yes, I can. About two minutes after I pushed down the “Secret Fit Belly” stretch panel on the only pair of pants I wear anymore (because, like, they still fit), the feverish itch began to subside. The staff meeting resumed. When I got back to my desk, I could type whole paragraphs (lucky readers!) between scratch breaks.

I was allergic to my made-in-the U.S.A. maternity jeans. I still haven’t found the exact breakdown of fibers in this coveted and lucrative “Secret Fit Belly” material, but I know something in that patent ends in “ex.” I now wear the pants slung lower, looser, and only with flowing tops that might look Greek-chic on a taller lady, but function more like Colonial-era nightgowns on me.

Oh well. I have a new DIY body butter and a loving and lovely friend abroad. I made two batches of chutney this weekend and served friends a chatty chaat dinner while Nina Davuluri took the crown in a pageant most of us don’t care about, yet found ourselves talking about this week.

America is full of surprises. So is the Secret Fit Belly stretch panel.


No, You Can’t Be Morrissey

Some seven weeks ago I made the decision to forgo exercise, writing, home-cooking and advocating in order to commit to pursuits less pleasant but more pressing. These have included cleaning my basement, dusting crown molding and light fixtures, freelancing, book-packing (a-hem, donating) and the keeping and care of woodland salamanders.

When I’m not overwhelmed by all of the above, I take time to smell the roses, water our parched hydrangeas and think about names for a fourthcoming child. It’s fun and it’s proof that you can never run out of opportunities to disagree with your life partner.

Agatha. Eve. Lakshana. Solomon. Anahad. Nelson. Daphine. Celeste. Orlagh. Charlotte. Rolihlahla. Niall. Savni. Parnali. Charvi. Muriel. Jane. June. Yes, a girl would be grand but I will love whoever comes our way. I just hope this new person comes with a set of eyes, a head of hair or a newborn complexion and constitution that clearly signals: “Yes, I must be named X.”

There is another category of names, all proposed by my second child, that go like this: Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Fred, Legolas, Eowyn, Gimli, Dobby, Aragorn. Tonight I called his bluff and feigned genuine interest in Gimli as a frontrunner. The son’s eyes widened and his senses returned. “No mom, not really Gimli. That was really a joke.”

But for two weeks, one name has been at the top of my mind, yet I’ve hesitated to bring it to the tip of my tongue. It’s an unusual name, more of a surname, really – but not without precedent as an old Gaelic boys’ name. It means “Choice of the Sea,” and isn’t that lovely when you think about a child being raised, watered, biked and sunned along the shores of one of the world’s Great Lakes? Also, that name is Morrissey.

I trotted it out tentatively at first. I knew the judgement would come swiftly and with no reservation from domestic VIPs: My first children.

“You can’t name this baby Morrissey,” said my middle schooler. “It, like, would not work. He’s so old.”

But you can’t take too much parenting advice from someone who thinks black soccer shorts are suitable attire for games and for funerals, in summertime and in winter, and believes Akon to be the world’s greatest R&B performer. Also he found “The Book Thief” boring and barely made it through chapter two before quitting. This troubles me.

The other two kids were similarly dismissive. It’s hard to tell if they found the suggestion genuinely awful, or were just succumbing to sibling-induced peer pressure. Sibling condemnation is a powerful force in the minivan. Whether car chatter is about changing the radio station or casting a vote for where to eat dinner, the oldest too often wins.

I sort of mentioned it to my husband. He sort of thought it had potential, as a middle name. But as a first name? He did not appear game.

I grew quieter in the days that followed. Morrissey Jane, for a girl, would meaningfully combine the name of one of my favourite entertainers with the name of my long-deceased, never-met grandmother. It would be quirky and classic, a reminder of the golden age of popular music – some cynics say the final golden age – meets gorgeous Gaelic. My surname is alliteratively Irish, my freckles are fertile. These traits belong only to me and are nearly all that remains of my watery Midwestern Irish ancestry. Please, please, let me get what I want this time: an Irish baby!

But every deliberation turned to doubt. What if this baby is a boy? What if this baby has a lisp – mild or pronounced? What if she is less of an extrovert like me, more of an introvert like dad? Will she always want to explain “Choice of the Sea! In Gaelic. Also, my mom really likes ‘80s music. Yes, I know Lake Michigan is freshwater, not saline. But, well, Mom?”


1 album, 16 songs, 29 weeks

What if all my kids, fourthcoming included, really do hate the Smiths and Morrissey?

There were other scenarios to consider. Morrissey has said some disparaging things about Asia. This could be problematic for an Asian child named Morrissey. Our family eats more bacon than I am comfortable with. If Morrissey Senior ever met Morrissey Jane, he would probably not be flattered. Say something to her like: “You’re a murderous carnivore named Morrissey? Not my problem.” Also, he makes beautiful music but says things about hyperemeisis gravidarum and immigration that I disagree with. “The Queen is Dead” is a near-perfect album, I believe. But naming a child after someone who publicly wishes the queen dead? Probably not.

“He’s too imperfect,” said my husband a couple nights ago, after we were two of four people attending the local screening of “25 Live,” the Morrissey concert film.

I was already letting go of the name. Pretty much, I already had. Any name is a serious decision. Every name brings with it unintended consequences, which range from the serious to the unexceptional. In the early ‘90s, my new eighth-grade teacher didn’t make it through the Ms on the class roster before looking up: “I am telling you, Angela must have been the name the year you kids were born.” People always mispronounce my son’s lovely, old fashioned Hindi name, but he handles the situation with patience and just repeats his name more slowly. “With a V at the end,” has become a family catchphrase. Unintended but manageable and minor consequences, all these.

Recognizing no name is perfect and dream names die hard, I decided to workshop “Morrissey” one last time. I am friends with another unabashed, deeply opinionated, word-nerdy Moz fan. She shares his birthday! I asked her, kind of casually, what she thought.

“You can’t,” she said, after being briefly, empathetically captivated with ‘Choice of the Sea.’

“I didn’t even know that,” she said of the name’s maritime origins.

But she agreed that Moz sometimes says the darndest things, that even if Morrissey-the-name were 70 percent inspired by how it sounds and what it means and how double consonants are kind of a thing in my family, people who know the musician would only, could only think of that. And their thoughts would vary. Wildly and rightfully so.

Favourite musicians can be guilty pleasures, not unlike eating crispy bacon on a BLT when you know all the words to “Meat is Murder.” We all have them, and they can say so much about where we draw lines in diet, ideology, lifestyle and love. You can love a musician who sings: “America … where the president is never black, female or gay … you’ve got nothing to say to me,” (words which could only be Moz’ own) and hear that refrain in your head as you sweat your way through the D.C. subway four years later, headed to Barack Obama’s inauguration. You might find other aspects of that musician’s politics appalling.

If you feel it’s safer to avoid politics or popular music in favor of less polarizing small-talk possibilities, ask anyone who ever has named a child what they almost named that child(ren). You’ll probably get a gem of a story about why they went with Rowan, not Rohan, or Sophie instead of Isobel. Better still, asks folks what their name means to them. To me, for years, my given first name was an everyday reminder of the name that got away: Crystal. It had been choice no. 2, but my dad says my mom didn’t want anyone calling me “Cryst” as a nickname. The name they gave me worked: no one ever does call me Cryst!

Maybe someday my kids will croon along to Morrissey in the minivan. Middle child loves the common-sense absurdity of “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” “Suedehead” will be by mine forever. I will work on getting us off the cheap pork and onto smaller, pricier packs of low-nitrate bacon. The cost difference alone will force a rationing affect upon us. But I can promise this one thing: My fourthcoming child will not be named Morrissey. My introverted husband, my extroverted friend, my judgmental 12-year-old and me:

We all agree. Right?


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