newsletter: month four

May 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

Happy four months, baby! Let’s talk about health. It’s possibly the most important thing we have, you and I. So your Mother’s Day gift to me of a bad sinus cold, though astonishingly thoughtful given your young age, might have been… a little misguided.

Getting rid of a cold when you can’t sleep it off is HARD. For the first time ever, I lamented not having a full-time co-parent, someone who had signed on for the germs in advance. Both of us being sick, I couldn’t bring myself to ask any of our friends and loved ones to come and be with you while I slept; I wouldn’t have wished this cold on anyone, and nothing was dire, just hard and sleepy and discontent.

We did it, though. We got rid of it. It took a sick day (note to self: next time, take two) and a lot of early bedtime, but we’re healthy once again. Let’s try to stay that way, please.

Somerville Open Studios

Taken by Molly Tomlinson at Somerville Open Studios, May 5

It’s WARM! It’s SPRING! You are sleeping longer stretches. Oh, the incomparable joy of it! I credit a combination of warm weather and the breastmilk-in-the-nose trick I remembered to try. Worked like a charm to relieve your congestion. This stuff is magic. Let’s hope I don’t forget it when you get your first pinkeye.

Enough about illness, let’s talk about the adorable. There’s plenty of that. Take the sounds of you sucking on your entire fist in the back seat of the car. Or your extra-fuzzy, velvety head with a lot more hair than last month. Or the way you’re discovering toys—just yesterday Michel reported that you have learned to crinkle the wings of the little stuffed bee.

Speaking of Michel, you have the best caretakers. Three of them, over the four days a week that you’re in “daycare.” You love going to Vanessa’s and hanging out with her and tiny Alex, who is only a month older than you. (I can’t wait until you two start entertaining each other, hopefully in a few months.) You love going to Carolyn’s, who has been packing and unpacking moving boxes and has all the smiles in the world for you. And Michel’s, well. There’s a grownup AND a six-year-old AND a teenager AND a huuuuuge dog who are all fond of you. Pici the great dane, easily seven times your size, likes to lick your hands.


I haven’t even mentioned all our other friends besides the weekday caretakers. I hope that hanging out with all these different people will mean no separation anxiety. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just avoid that altogether?

Your hand-eye coordination is improving. Fingers are tricky to get control of, but darned if you’re not tryin’. A favorite exercise is holding on to my shirt as I put you in the carrier: you’ve discovered that you can keep yourself from falling over to the side. The power! The control! It’s heady.

You’ve definitively found your toes, and are studiously working on holding on to them. Watching you do this, it occurred to me that it’s quite an advanced skill: you have to control your arm and your leg at the same time. I imagine this can get frustrating. But you’re pretty chill about it, and we’ve been talking about practicing.

You’re definitely practicing. Given your increasing love for mouthing everything, most especially your own fingers and my forearm when I’m changing your diapers, it’s only a matter of time until you bring those feet all the way up to your mouth.

Most of your exploration is accompanied these days by a sort of aaaaaohhhhhh. Sounds are fun, even if they’re all vowels so far. An accidental consonant here and there doesn’t count for syllables, but it is cute to practically hear your brain gears turning.

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

Some of the most entertaining things in the world are: practicing your standing, supported, on top of a grownup’s belly; Baby in the Mirror; the doorway bouncer (you can hang out in that thing for half an hour); having your belly, feet, hands or head nibbled; having me sing to you. Gosh, baby, I hope you continue to be as appreciative an audience as you’re being these days. It may be the best ego trip I’ve ever had.

Speaking of feelings, yours might be growing even faster than your body, which is damn impressive given that during the days when I’m at work you’re eating all the milk I can pump and then some. Thank goodness we had a reserve; it’s depleted enough that I’ve brought the pump home so that hopefully we can build it back up a little. You feel huge to me, though the internet tells me that your weight is average for your age. So when you have FEELINGS, well. It’s a good thing we have a fierce cuddling relationship.

Today, on your four-month birthday, we went out to lunch at a Chinese buffet with babushka, Vlad, and a bunch of their friends—mostly to celebrate my mom’s and a friend’s birthdays now that everyone’s back in town from various travels. You charmed everyone, men and women. I’m told you do this about a hundred percent of the time, no matter where you go. Hang on to your gregariousness, my love. It alone won’t get you many places, but it sure helps to genuinely like other people, and have them like you back.

I like you so much that sometimes, when I have to choose a quiet bedtime for you over an evening with friends, I feel that the consolation prize is way worth it.

Is this how you crawl?



don’t just do something, sit there.

May 16th, 2012 by vika

The Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, MA, where I sat and/or served two ten-day courses, is turning 30 and having an open house to celebrate. If you have ever thought that maybe you’d like to check this stuff out, I can’t recommend this place enough. The tradition has its issues as regards rather outdated social mores, but it’s also been around for 2600 years. It’s only fair.

The center is a couple of hours west of Boston along Route 2, north of Northampton. It’s beautiful there. And by the way: your first course, should you choose to devote the ten days, is necessarily free: they only accept money from old students as donations. (The point of donating is not to repay for resources you consumed, but to enable someone else to have this experience.) So don’t let lack of funds stop you.

newsletter: month three

April 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

You are three months old, and I don’t even know where to begin. This is a bigger problem than might seem, because I have about four and a half functioning brain cells. Welcome to the new world order! This week I’m back to work from maternity leave.

gettin' around

Ask me sometime for my thoughts on how much paid time women get with their infants in this country. Since the answer is none (there’s unpaid time, and even then twelve weeks is WAY too little), I’d prefer that you ask me when you and I can have this conversation over big-girl drinks.

But actually, although I’ve got righteous feminist rage on the topic, you and I are just fine with this. You’re thriving and getting some social time away from me, and I get to exercise my big brain and later regale you with stories of digital librarianship. Everybody wins. (As long as you start eating more from the bottle. Pretty please?)

Your social skillz are MAD. You smile at everyone who engages with you. You look at everything in looking range, and some things beyond it. You do this trembly-chin thing that older people sometimes do when they’re cold, but for you it’s a precursor to speech. Or so I imagine—because you only do it when babbling at your many fans.

No syllables yet; any day now. In the meantime you say a whole lot by using only vowels with the occasional (and I think accidental) consonant thrown in. That said, you do this adorable mirror neuron thing that closely approximates saying “hi,” only you say hhhhaaaaoooiiii, usually accompanied by a gummy grin.

You started sleeping longer stretches of three, sometimes even four hours at night… and then got congested again. So we’re back to waking up every two hours, sometimes even more. It might be allergies, it might be the weather doing its crazy New England thing, it might be a bona fide cold. Who knows? Not I, but I DO want you to sleep more, please.

Then again, maybe if I weren’t spending precious nighttime minutes staring at you while you sleep with little smiles playing on your cherubic face, I might also be spending less time running on fumes.

I’ve been reading to you. I hear that your brain is particularly spongy where languages are concerned, right now, so we’ve drawn on Pushkin and Rodari in addition to anglophone fare. The cultcha doesn’t stop there, oh no: baby’s first trip to the ICA was… well, actually, you slept through that. But don’t worry. We’ll go again. I think you’ll like it: there’s a lot of bold color there, and you’ve already shown art appreciation by staring at the pictures on our walls. You particularly like Sherdeb Akadan’s dolphins and Rachel Mello’s Learning to Let Go. Good choices, if I do say so myself.

the lower-lip dance of intense concentration

Your tiny body is so radiantly, so desperately alive. When you wake up, your head turns back and forth, and your legs fly out straight at 45-degree angles, it’s the cutest thing. You’re wasting no time dialing all your worldly activities up to eleven: for example, you’re distract-o-baby when you nurse, looking everywhichway and wasting not a second and clearly thinking deep thoughts about the world. You sleep just as passionately. The utter trust as you slump in my hands, letting me burp you as you sink into dreamland, almost gives me hope in a month when Wisconsin repeals the Equal Pay Act and election-year spite gains power again.

Meanwhile, you visit farm chickens and smell Arboretum lilacs. You’re loved and cuddled by your extensive fan club. You have a proto-giggle that turns your eyes into sparkling upturned half-moons. And I take occasional breaks from writing this to stare at you snoozing nearby. Life’s all right, baby.



P.S. more photos

like kale chips, but different

April 6th, 2012 by vika

I’ve loved kale chips ever since I found out how ridiculously easy they are to make. You take a bunch of kale, wash it, tear it up leaving aside the stems, dry it really really well, pour a bit of olive oil and some salt on it, mash it up with your hands such that it’s thoroughly coated in oil, put it on cookie sheets in a single layer, and throw it into a 350°F oven for ten minutes. Stir halfway through and watch it so it doesn’t burn. What comes out are lovely, crispy chips made of kale. Easiest way by far to make leafy greens disappear in children’s and grown-ups’ mouths.

Commercially available kale chips are also delicious, and different, in that they have flavors. I like the “vegan cheese” ones, not because I’m a vegan OR because they in any way resemble cheesy chips. Just because they’re tasty. But they’re also really expensive, so I took a look at the ingredients lists and tried to replicate them. SUCCESS!

The catch: I did this with my food dehydrator. I love this thing, and think it was well worth the investment. Mostly I’ve used it for drying farm share vegetables when overwhelmed with the quantities, and making jerky. But there are other uses too. Anyway, I set it at 125°F, and most household ovens only go down to 170, so I don’t know whether this would work in an oven. But it might, if you leave it open a crack and/or check frequently to make sure the kale is not burning. Here’s the recipe (note that I roasted the red bell peppers the previous evening, so it didn’t feel like it took much time):

5 red bell peppers, roasted, cleaned
3T lemon juice
0.5c nutritional yeast
1.5c cashews
1t salt
1 big bunch kale

Put everything but the kale into a food processor, wet ingredients first. Process until smooth, scraping down with a spatula a few times. Wash and tear up the kale, and dry it but don’t go nuts — it’s not as crucial to get all the water out as it is for the regular oiled/baked chips.

I took handfuls of kale and mashed them up right in my hands with the cashew stuff, spreading them single-layer on dehydrator sheets. I suspect one can also do it all at once in a big bowl, but do use your hands; that’s the only way to get the kale well coated. Stick in dehydrator for 5-6 hours at 125°F. Try not to eat all of it at once.

If you succeed at making these in the oven, please comment and let me knowhow you did it, and how long it took!

newsletter: month two

March 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

You’re two months old today, and we celebrated this morning by sticking you with needles. You’re well on the recommended schedule for vaccinations, and have been filled with appropriate disgruntlement for several hours now. Which one couldn’t tell from observing you at this moment, as you lie there alternating between dopey staring and snoozing in your swing. But the intermittent misery is real. I’m sorry, baby. It’ll pass. In the meantime, I’ll snuggle you as much as you want, and listen to your little mammal sounds.

You’ve grown a lot. You’re thirteen and a half pounds now, well on your way toward double your birth weight. But it’s more than the weight: there’s somebody home behind those eyes. I love this.

Despite today’s vaccinations-related drama, the word of the month is copacetic. And it’s been an eventful month! You’ve been having trouble with, well, snot. The pediatrician (our mutual doctor, whom I love to no end) thought it might be a deviated septum, and sent us to an otolaryngologist—that’s a fancy name for an ear-nose-throat doctor. The ENT was a patronizing jerk. He didn’t pat me on the head and call me little lady, but only just. He did give us the crucial bit of information on the septum (not deviated), but also didn’t take my concerns seriously, dismissing them as new-parent jitters.

I didn’t tell him off, but only just.

I haven’t been able to reliably put you to sleep on your back for weeks, you see. You would start snorting and whipping your head back and forth, and wake yourself up in the process. At first, this was only when you were on your back; the hack for that was to put you in your car seat, on the bed. I was pretty pleased with that, until you started getting congested in the car seat as well—and let me tell you, hearing an infant’s head thump against the sides of a car seat is not my idea of fun. So then we had you lying on top of me, tummy down. That worked, until it didn’t.

Now, if you’re congested, it’s in every position. But hey, things are changing. Maybe you’ll outgrow this thing. Or maybe it’s cat allergies. We’re about to ban the cats from the bedroom and gather more data. For now, you sleep through more of the snorting. Watching your sleep patterns change is fascinating, and I encourage you to continue working toward three-hour stretches before I go totally loopy with sleep deprivation.

Our medical adventures did not end there. We went to the emergency room this month, but your presence there was mostly incidental: it was for me. Norovirus is nobody’s friend; I caught it, couldn’t keep down fluids, got dehydrated, and got two liters of fluids drip-dripped back into me at the ER. Our friend R. was a trooper, went with us at ungodly-in-the-morning, and helped with baby care while I shivered under heated blankets. The room was so cold that later, when R. left, I snuggled you for warmth. Through all of that, you managed to escape the norovirus with your breastmilk-enabled immunity superpowers.

You’d think this would be enough excitement for one month, but that leaves us with a lot of time to fill. Movies and TV shows have provided entertainment; thank you, online streaming video. Elizabethtown wasn’t bad, and brought back all kinds of memories of my dad, whom you’ll never meet. (A pity; you’d have liked each other.) Soundtrack for a Revolution was gripping and thinky for me—and while I watched it in bits and pieces, you were in my lap, eating, snoozing. We’ll have to talk later about history, personal and otherwise.

We’ve been playing more, too. Sometimes I put you in your bouncy seat and introduce you to scents to see how you react. You love garam masala and rosemary and cardamom. You’re not so keen on citrus, so tea laced with bergamot is right out. And harissa seems to have been downright personally offensive.

You’re showing increasing signs of being a social animal. You’ve been smiling at faces, and not just mine. (They’re all charmed.) You had an entire day without mama, when I went to a workshop, and that all worked out just fine. Three or four different people have now offered you a bottle, and you’re working hard on figuring out why that might be a good idea. But those few times when you’ve cried really hard, because something in your world just wasn’t right at all, I’ve held you and rocked you and sang to you and said, “It’s okay, baby. It’s just you and me.” Seems more manageable that way.

We went on your first outing to the movies, with the M&N dynamic duo. Somerville Theatre, where… we… saw The Secret World of Arrietty, had a packed house for it, so we stayed standing in the back of the theatre. The ushers said it was against the rules, but let us do it anyway in a fit of kindness. This was good: you fussed just a bit, I held you and rocked with you and fed you. I only missed about five minutes of the movie. Nicely done, baby.

(The movie wasn’t bad. There was one weird noble-savage moment, which, remind me to tell you later why that’s problematic.)

Now you’ve woken up, we’ve played a bit and changed you and snuggled dancing around for a bit, and you’re back in your swing completely rapt with fascination at the three small stuffed birds spinning overhead. You’re watching the world with increasing intensity… except when you’re drunk on milk and staring out with the dopiest expression I’ve ever seen on a baby.

Those puckered pouty milky lips you have after feeding slay me. But the complete downfall of all my parenting will be brought about by your tiny lower lip, stuck out when your feelings have been so hurt and you’re having a fit of perfectly innocent petulance mixed with despair of the world ever being right again. I am certain that you will learn to manipulate that deftly in time.

Most of the time you’re pretty happy, though. Sometimes when you’re eating and I can’t see your mouth, I know you’re smiling because your eyes turn into little crescent moons.

This is getting long. Soon I’ll have to become a lot more selective about what goes into these newsletters: there’s just so much. You’ve seen the ocean now. You have many fans. We’re both still figuring out your sleep patterns, and when your bedtime should be.

I’ve been fretting about how things are going to change when I go back to work, which tells me that things are basically okay now. This is a big deal, only two months into this whole new-life thing.


P.S. This post took most of the day to write. There you are, asleep again.

P.P.S. I’ve put up more photos of you here. Instead of putting some of them into this post, I’ll take a little nap instead. Because sleep-when-the-baby-sleeps is a Really Good Idea.


March 16th, 2012 by vika

I’ve chosen a hard path with this parenting thing, but you know what? It’s fascinating, too. And sometimes it’s just plain wonderful.

Today I’m thirty-five. I’ve already gotten well over half a dozen well wishes on Twitter, in email, via SMS, and in person. Soon my mom and her partner will come over, and tonight other friends and loved ones will drop in for snacks and company. I am rich beyond compare.

Nico is in his crib—we’re experimenting with putting him to sleep there. I won’t be giving up co-sleeping for a long while yet, but it’ll be nice if there’s another place he can snooze without being rocked (as he is in the awesome hand-me-down swing we have, where he can sleep for hours). Exploring, exploring.

He was all smiles today. All in all, worries and hurdles aside, I lead a pretty charmed life. If you’re part of it and reading this: thank you.


newsletter: month one

February 26th, 2012 by vika

Dear Nico,

You turn one month old today. I’ve always loved reading dooce‘s used-to-be-monthly newsletters to her children, so I’m kidnapping the idea (get it? kid… never mind) for my own.

A month and a day ago, I went on a road trip to Portland. I was restless at 41++ weeks, impatient for labor to start, so why not dinner in Maine with Molly, one of my favorite road trip companions? As you have discovered in this first month, road trips make me happy. So you won’t be surprised to hear that my water broke while driving up to Portland. We went right on to have dinner at Duckfat.

Tomato-fennel-basil, cream of onion, PS Vika's water broke

Then we came back to Boston, and twenty-two hours after my water broke, after some additional drama, you were here. You came out all skinny. 7lbs 10oz and 21.5 inches, or as Mark put it, a tall drink of water. You had long, looong skinny fingers and toes. Now, they’re looong and fat. You’ve filled out, babe, gaining somewhere in the vicinity of three pounds in your first month (we’ll find out exactly how much tomorrow, at the doctor’s). You have the round baby-fat cheeks and the double chin, and the insane number of dirty diapers to support my rapid-growth observation.

hello world: eleven days in

Not only is all that baby fat adorable, it’s also a good idea. You’ll be needing these reserves and then some, as you become more mobile. As it stands, you’re already holding up your head and getting your back to go all rigid for seconds at a time. Your kicking is pretty strong, too, but the head and back mobility means that you can look at more of OMG EVERYTHING—to the extent, anyway, that you can make out the shape of anything further than ten inches away. Some of the things that keep your attention for minutes at a time are lit lamps, the television screen when it’s off (large, dark object against the wall’s light background), the dark curtains at home, and the dried roses hanging upside down off the bookshelf near the chest freezer, where your bouncy seat often gets planted.

You’re pretty copacetic about the bouncy seat, most of the time. You even let me take showers, and sometimes make breakfast and/or wash dishes. There’s a limit to your patience, of course, but given your extreme n00b status, the time you do spend in the bouncy seat is impressive, and I’m thankful for that. Single mamahood has been a big adjustment, and so far you’ve been astonishingly cooperative.

Not that you don’t prefer to be held. You do, sometimes emphatically so. Good thing there’s the Moby wrap. You like that thing, even if sometimes you get mad when I put you in it. You settle down and burrow a bit, and often fall asleep. I’ve done laundry, dishes, cooking, therapy sessions, and walking to the doctor’s, all with you in the wrap.

I do wish I could nurse you in it. You’re voracious, and growing accordingly. You’ve started to recognize the breasts: yesterday morning, you reflexively but repeatedly grinned when you saw me offering you one.

That grin, oh. Your entire face lights up. I can hardly wait until it’s conscious. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the myriad expressions that can appear on your face one after another in the span of a minute. One of them in particular I haven’t been able to capture, because both my hands tend to be busy with your floppy little body. When I help you to get rid of the air you gulp in your eager nursing, you lift your eyebrows and half of your head scrunches up, and you look for all the world like Wallace Shawn. Mark calls this your “what fresh hell is this?” face.

one face among many

Other things about your first month:

  • You’re liking the music I play, and sing along with sometimes, for you. I love it too. Lately I’ve been grooving on Barenaked Ladies’ “Pollywog in a Bog,” which is totally a song about life, the universe and everything, and in my new-mama haze sometimes makes me choke up.
  • You’ve found faces—first mine, then others’. You are starting to track objects… sorta.
  • You make mammal sounds when you nurse, and also as you fall asleep and wake. You snort, you snuffle, you grunt. In particularly cold weather and/or wind, you make these little gasping sounds. Naturally, I think it’s all adorable.
  • My favorite pair of your pants has me calling you Monkeybutt.
  • You’re totally going to be a road warrior. Our trip to see family in New York was a total success, complete with epic poops in the car but only at rest stops. Further, like 98% of all babies, you fall asleep almost instantly in a moving car seat. I can only hope for that to continue as you grow.
  • You survived my first screw-up! The very first time we went out with the wheeled frame that turns your car seat into a stroller, you were only a few days old, and I couldn’t get the car seat to snap in. No idea what I was doing wrong, since after that time it’s always worked. Maybe I was trying to put it in backwards? In any case, I ended up just sort of resting it on top of the frame. SO VERY UNSAFE. And you know what? We both survived.
  • You’re excellent at snoozing.
  • You don’t know this yet, but you have the best, most supportive community of friends that a little human and his mama could hope for.
  • You seem to be a morning person. Hey, neat! Me too!

I love sleeping with you, and nursing you in the night. I love cuddling you for hours and watching (feeling!) you gain strength and coordination in your legs, back, neck. I love watching you watching the cats watching you. I love hurtling headlong into the unknown with you.


P.S. Pics or it didn’t happen.


February 26th, 2012 by vika

It’s not that I haven’t been blogging, it’s that I haven’t been doing it here. I feel ok about this, but thought I’d let you know about one project I’ve been working on.

Nico Alexander Zafrin. January 26, 2012. 7lb 9.9oz. 21.5 inches. A tall, skinny newborn who has been gaining weight like nobody’s business. But more about that in the first-month summary that I’m almost done writing. In the meantime: been busy.

baby NAZ

SEASR for Digital Humanities

June 9th, 2011 by vika

This week I’m at my second Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria. Last year, I took the large project management course, and it was tremendously useful in managing several projects, including ESTHR. This year I decided to try my hand at SEASR (pron. “Caesar”), or Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research.

The complex toolkit has great potential. The course has been frustrating, in part (though not wholly) because SEASR’s documentation is not at all geared toward your average digital humanist, or what I know of my diverse kind, anyway. I thought that the best thing I can do with my class time today was to write some documentation. Here it is. It’s in no way complete; just the beginning of an overview of SEASR for digital humanists. Please feel free to repost, augment, comment here with your augmentations and have me edit this post to reflect them, what have you.

At the end of this post, I propose the beginning of a list of categories into which all components and flows might be subdivided, each component/flow probably listed in more than one category. This would help humanities scholars with no prior experience with SEASR, or even some of the functionality it affords, get oriented in using it.

I also propose that we need a lot more detailed information for each component and flow. The SEASR team has already begun this process, but given the project’s maturity and the fact that it’s in its third year of being taught at DHSI, such (again, humanities-scholar-oriented) documentation is sorely lacking.

I should say that, unless ESTHR or another one of my projects decides to pursue use and development of SEASR, I am unlikely to add to its documentation after the end of this week.  I ardently encourage SEASR’s developers and managers to devote significant resources to documenting this great project, such that it may be usable by the wide diversity of researchers who stand to benefit by it.

OK, here we go with the overview.Continue Reading SEASR for Digital Humanities

Say, what’s your number?

January 13th, 2011 by vika

The astute readers will notice that #reverb10 pretty much ended for me when the new job began. So it goes these days, but I can’t complain: exciting stuff is afoot. Since I last wrote, I started the job, got some things done, took a road trip with Julie and got more things done, and went back to that Vipassana center for another ten-day stay, this time serving (sitting a bit, mostly cooking and cleaning).

So much to say about all that. But right now, there’s a more pressing matter. Somehow, in transferring my iPhone to sync with another computer’s library, I lost all my contact records. Did I have your info? Would you like me to? If yes to either or both, please email me to let me know what I should have for you. Thanks!