Friday, November 30, 2012

Relinquishing control during pregnancy

Pregnancy is fascinating. And heading into my 18th week of my pregnancy, I'm constantly reminded how much control you have to relinquish while you grow a little person inside you. It's no secret that I have a strong Type A personality, and those of you that know me well, know that I am always trying to assert control over things in my life. It's a challenge for my obsessive and controlling personality to step aside and let things do what they need to do.

It might be a girl thing, or maybe it's just the pressures we get nowadays from the social media and each other, but I grew up with an image in my mind of what it would be like to be pregnant. Always an athlete and constantly working on making myself stronger, I wanted one of those fit pregnancies. The pregnancies you see in magazines and swear you hear your friends talk about. Those pregnancies are real and do exist, but I am not that woman and I'm thinking it's far from the norm for most people. Whether we want to face the reality or not, every woman's body handles pregnancy differently, and we just need to take care of ourselves as best we are able and accept what our bodies need to do to grow a healthy baby.

My pregnancy with little r was anything but easy. It was also void of many things I had always envisioned my pregnancy would be like and full of crazy things I swore I would never have to deal with. Because of the high risk of my pregnancy and the hypertension issues, I wasn't permitted to exercise other than walking. No yoga, no running, no gym. My job was intense and exciting, and my personal life kept things interesting as I lived in DC on the weekdays and went home to Richmond to Big R on the weekends. This time around I'm healthier, more fit, the pregnancy is going much more smoothly, and I do not have the stresses that come with working a full time job as an attorney. Things are different this time around, definitely, but my body is still keeping me in check and I'm not able to do all those things I had hoped or envisioned. The bottom line is, we really don't know, do we?

I'm reminded of all of this now as my belly bump is showing proudly and the weight is piling on far quicker than I want it to. You talk to friends that had the easiest time with their pregnancies, stay fit as a button, and recovered right away after they had their kids. Some don't show until well after their 20th week, and others never had to wear maternity pants. And our most common, yet horrible, question to each other as we're expectant mom's is always, how much weight have you gained? Why we do this to ourselves is a mystery to me. I suppose the competition is too tough to pass up or maybe we are worried we aren't in that "normal" range that you read about in all the "what to expect" books and guides.

What I realize I need to do is focus on myself. My friend, K, has something she preaches in her yoga class where she says to "keep your eyes on your own mat," or in other words, "mind your own business." Yoga is one of those practices that you can benefit from no matter your level, flexibility, or ability. Everyone and every body is different, so keep your eyes focused on your own goals and do not compete with others in the room. I think this is an excellent mantra for expectant mom's, especially those like me that obsess over numbers and how well I'm fitting into a norm. The truth is, you have no idea what it's going to be like until you are pregnant. And that's just the bottom line. Period.

I wanted to run my entire pregnancy, but my body had other ideas. Eating right is a common goal for most of us growing a baby inside, yet fighting those food aversions and cravings is like no other. And doing an hour of yoga with a migraine or eating healthy when all you want is bread and starches to curb the nausea is something that gets easily put aside. Pregnancy is also not the time to push yourself. It is important to listen to you body. If you are tiring easily, you need to slow down. (This is something else I find incredibly hard to do being that I push myself constantly otherwise.)

So, as my belly grows, I plan to embrace the changes and keep my eyes on my own mat. I'll try to stop obsessing about the weight gain and just focus more on keeping myself healthy. The daily yoga practice I've been keeping is helping me feel strong despite what the scale says. I also never anticipated the headaches would be so fierce or the anemia issues I'm fighting requiring god-awful iron supplements that make you feel utterly fantastic, let me tell you. I'm excited about maternity clothes and showing off my belly to the world even if I swell up like a hippo the way I did last time.

What was your pregnancy like? Did you have similar thoughts or struggles trying to relinquish control over your body? Why do we let ourselves obsess over such strange things?



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Istanbul:Turkey for Thanksgiving

Istanbul is exotic, positively energetic, friendly in every possible way, and full of excitement.  Our family trip to Istanbul was absolutely fantastic.  We planned this trip after talking to several of our friends that had recently done the excursion to this city that spans two continents.  Everyone was overflowing with incredible things to say about Istanbul.  I think though, despite having talked with so many people about it, we really had no idea what to expect from this trip, but we were extremely excited nonetheless.

I have to say, this was probably one of our easier family trips.  Big R was able to find cheap airfare on Turkish Airlines direct into Istanbul from Nuremberg.  Except for the handful of trips we've traveled to by car, all of our air and train travel has required us to drive to Munich or Frankfurt.  It seems the departure times have always been at an ungodly hour requiring an overnight stay or a ridiculously early waking hour.  Not this time.  Nuremberg is a simple and easy 45 minute drive from our house.  It was pure heaven for a family well-accustomed to the unneeded stresses that often comes with the "travel" part of our trips.  (Parking at the airport is a tad more expensive than we had anticipated, but overall it was worth it.)

So, after an easy commute to the airport and a positively exceptional flight on Turkish Airlines (we were served a gourmet meal for a 2.5 hour flight!), we landed in Istanbul.  We did relatively little planning for this trip in comparison to others.  Big R secured the flight and he found us a perfect hotel right in the center of everything with an off-season rate that can't be beat (only 40 EUR/night!).  Because we saved so much on the hotel, we decided to splurge for the car service offered by our hotel and not fight with the metro from Istanbul.  We had heard stories that it was an adventure to be had - we just were not in the mood for it to be had by us.  Aside from a minor glitch in us somehow missing the sign with our name on it, everything worked out fairly perfect.

We stayed in Sultanahmet, which is the Old City of Istanbul.  One of the things we absolutely loved about Istanbul was that despite it's enormity, many of the "sights" that draw visitors were all located within a short walking distance of each other.  I have no doubt there is so much more to see and experience in Istanbul than what we fit into our short stay there, but we never felt shorted.  Our hotel was a five minute walk from the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Bascilla Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar.  We didn't take long to settle in, and immediately went for a walk after sundown to take in the city.  As soon as we heard the muezzins voicing the call to prayer, we knew we were in a different place than we had ever been before. 

Minaret - a distinctive feature of a mosque - sends the call to prayer from the top of its tower

Here are some photographs to give you a flavor of the sites to see around the Old City in Istanbul:

My favorite picture of the Blue Mosque - just breathtaking!
Inside the Blue Mosque
Intricate details of the ceiling inside the Blue Mosque
All of the mosques had hanging lanterns as lighting - beautiful!
Little r and me inside the Blue Mosque
One of the entrances into Hagia Sophia  - built in 537 A.D.
Ornate details inside this 2,000 year old structure
Taking in the incredible details of Hagia Sophia
Ceiling of Hagia Sophia
View of Hagia Sophia
Entrance to Topaki Palance - we were welcomed by a rainbow
We were excited to visit this Palace used until very recently by the Sultans
They spared no detail on the walls, ceilings, floors...

View of the Bosphorous River and the Asia side of Istanbul from the Palace

Inside the Grand Bazaar - we were early and beat the crowds
A vendor selling lanterns that are common throughout Istanbul
Inside the Bascilla Cistern
The underground structure was ancient and wondrous...
The Cistern had a romantic yet spooky feel
The sites are most definitely something to see in Istanbul, but what we loved most about this city was experiencing the entirety of it.  It was easily one of the most friendly places we have ever visited. The Turkish people are so friendly it's almost overwhelming. Children can do no wrong, and little r was constantly the center of attention.  It did not matter where we were or what we were doing, little r was noticed and daunted over.  He loved it, and it put Big R and I at ease because we were not constantly concerned about whether he was behaving.  This child could do no wrong in the eyes of Turks.  You think I'm kidding.  We had no fewer than two complete sets of strangers ask to have our pictures taken with them, and he was practically adopted at every restaurant. At Hagia Sophia, a swarm of young girls just about attacked Big R while he was carrying little r just so they could see his sweet little face.  I had to get a picture.  The best part is, you can't see little r in the picture, so it looks like Big R has a young Harem!

Big R and his Harem - little r is in there somewhere - promise
We also LOVED the food in Istanbul.  Our usual approach of seeking out a place to eat based on atmosphere, feel, and affordability never led us astray.  We had the most incredible meals on this trip.  I'm still dreaming about them.  It was the end of November, and the weather was not exactly warm, however, we sat outside for most of our dinners because the patio seating was heated and cozy.  We never did take the time to chill with a hooka and a cocktail (for probably obvious reasons - haha), but that's something that looked like an experience I'd recommend to others that do not have a toddler in tow and are not expecting :) 

Freshly squeezed pomegranate and other juices were available at stands all throughout the Old City
Lighting at one of the restaurants
Common street scene full of cafes and restaurants 

My absolute favorite meal and eating experience we had in Istanbul was an impromptu stop at a very local, amazingly authentic cafe near the Spice Market along the river.  It looked amazing, so I grabbed Big R by the arm and pulled him inside.  It was crowded with metal plates as tables and small stools as chairs.  Everyone was cozy and enjoying their food.  It was clearly a locals favorite.

The food was cooked right before you on a large grill - this picture does not capture the small size of this cafe
It was absolutely delicious!
Heading into the Spice Market on a busy Saturday afternoon!
It was an overwhelming sensation for the senses!
Our Thanksgiving holiday in Istanbul was primarily unplanned and we had no idea what to expect.  We were happily surprised by how much we fell in love with the people, the culture, and the experience.  We visited the sights, ate as much of the delicious food as we could find, made friends with dozens of people including other Americans, Turkish families and restauranteers, and even folks from Montenegro.  We adopted at least half a dozen stray cats, and got cozy on the metro during a rainstorm that left everyone soaked.  I can't recommend this city enough, especially if you have children.  The weather was wet and cold (because that's how it always works out for us), but I think that visiting this city in an off-season is the best way to take it all in without the smoldering heat and crowds. 

Here are a few more photographs of our fantastic experience in Istanbul...

We bought little r a flute, and he played it the entire weekend
Outside the Blue Mosque (baby bump alert!)
A perfect place for a cat nap
Shopping was an experience unto itself in Istanbul
We made many furry friends on this visit - strays in Istanbul are as friendly as the people!
Delicious Turkish pastries near the Spice Market
We took a boat cruise down the Bosphorous - little r made many friends!
View from our hotel roof terrace during breakfast each morning
Our last morning in Istanbul - the sun finally came out
Family portrait in front of the Blue Mosque


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

It has been so fun reading about everyone's preparations for what is usually my favorite holiday. We are setting aside traditions today to take the family on another adventure. It's been six weeks, we're due, don't you think?

We're heading to exotic Istanbul. Spending Turkey Day in Turkey. I can't tell you how excited we are about this trip. It's going to be amazing on so many levels.

It always weighs on our hearts that we are so far away from our families on holidays. We wish you all a safe and wonderful day with beautiful food and wonderful conversation. Our family has so many things to be thankful for this year, none of the least are all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving! We love you all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kochen mit Peter - "cooking with Peter"

So, who is Peter, you ask?  Peter is the master chef at Sonne, our town's local gasthaus and brewery, which also happens to be our favorite German restaurant in the area.  Peter has two children that go to school with little r, so we have become familiar acquaintances over the past year or so.  We pride ourselves in the fact that we are considered somewhat "regulars" at Sonne.  It was super intimidating to eat there when we first moved to Bischberg.  The staff speaks barely a lick of English (a common theme in this small little town), and they are accustomed to tourists.  We have found that they have grown appreciative of our business and even moreso of our attempts at learning German.

All that aside, why was I cooking with Peter?  My friend Nina brought my attention to an invitation from Peter to all the parents at the kindergarten to spend an evening learning how to cook his specialties.  Primarily, his stuffed schnitzel.  Sound amazing? That's because it truly is.  Well, for us meat-eaters anyway...  Nina had gone last year to this cooking event with Peter last year and said it was a good time, so I figured, "why not?".

My original hope was that both Big R and I could go together.  The stuffed schnitzel at Sonne is one of his favorites, and I thought he would get a kick out of learning how it's made.  But, my ability to find a babysitter at the last minute and his insane trial schedule this month, made it easy for me to go on my own.

I was glad to have Nina there to help me interpret all that was going on.  Although I found that I was doing ok with my German, she definitely made certain things much more beneficial because I got a deeper understanding of what all we were doing.

Peter had us actually helping him prepare the food. That was comical being that there were 8 women in his tiny kitchen.  Seriously, I had no idea how small the kitchen was in that place until last night. I'm perplexed how they operate so efficiently when they have a packed house, and that is a common occurrence! We were all over each other, and honestly, pretty clueless.  Nina and I were put on soup duty, so we were peeling and cutting vegetables.  My hands still smell like onions.  When it came time for doing the schnitzel filling, Peter had us step out of the way and he took over.  It was a crazy show to watch how it all came together.  Nothing fancy, actually. In fact, I was more caught off guard by how simple the operation was for something that tastes so fantastic!

The best part was getting to eat all the food.  We started with the tomato soup, which begins with a "squirt" of cream in the center of the bowl, and the soup is gently poured around the outside and garnished with basil and croutons. It was amazing!!! (and vegetarian to boot)  Peter made 10 different styles of schnitzel with different cuts of meat and filling.  I felt as though I hardly tried any of them, but I was so incredibly full I thought I would bust.

The food was incredible, but my favorite part of the evening was sitting down at the table to eat and listening to everyone discuss German.  They talked politics, food, children, kindergarten, school, difficult life choices... it was a crazy evening of discussion.  Crazy only for me because I was trying intently to follow it all.  I spoke very little throughout the entire night, but my brain was on overload taking it all in and trying to interpret all that was being said. It was somewhat exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time.

This evening is definitely up there as one of the best, most authentic German moments, and I think it will stay embedded in my memory for quite awhile.  I'm hoping that by writing this post I won't forget all of the details or that it happened.  Hopefully we'll be able to stay in Bamberg for another year and I'll be able to bring Big R to the event this time next year.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Having a fit pregnancy

Crow pose
Staying healthy, keeping fit, and enjoying my ever growing body is what I truly desire out of this pregnancy. We have very little control over these things, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. When I was pregnant with little r, I had to completely succumb control and let my body focus on the challenging task of creating a child. I was working too much, commuting long hours in the car, and dealing with a high risk pregnancy. My OB had me on strict "only walking for exercise" rules, which was the opposite of what I had always invisioned for my pregnancy. I also had a reality check on how much several miscarriages can put your body through.

All that aside, I couldn't be in a different place for my pregnancy this time. My current job requires very little commuting in a car, I'm rarely at the computer or sitting in a chair, and I have maybe a wee bit more free time to take care of myself. This year I have also worked incredibly hard to focus on my fitness, and for the first time in years, I feel strong and physically happy.

Regardless of how much I enjoy running, I seem to consistently forget how much my body loathes it. I wish we could get on the same page about this, but I keep losing the battle. I also mentioned earlier that we rarely have any control over our bodies during our pregnancies, and that factor most likely didn't help me in this situation either. My dream of running a 10k in my third trimester will just need to be replaced with something else. Don't worry, I'll find something... I somehow gave myself bursitis in my hip, and although my physical therapist encouraged me to keep running, she was explicit about stopping if it caused pain. Yeah, there was pain, so I stopped. Something is telling me that I'll need these hips to be strong over the several months, what do you think?

Missing out on the amazing therapy that trail running provides me, I needed to turn my attention to my other meditative addiction: yoga. Yoga. Even the word itself pulls me in. All of the literature on prenatal yoga was informing me to avoid having a yoga practice during the first trimester. For the first 12 weeks, I kept any yoga to a minimum, but jumped right back in as soon as the risky months were behind me.

Camel pose - can you see that baby tummy?
You know me though, I needed more than a "promise" to myself to keep up a yoga practice during my pregnancy. Still battling with nausea, fatigue, and all those other fun pregnancy goodies makes it very easy to talk myself out of any motivation. That just means I needed to create motivation. So, I decided to do a yoga challenge. It's a challenge that ensures I'll keep a daily practice so I continue to feel strong. A friend of mine is doing the challenge with me, so I designed a schedule for us to keep each other honest and to push us forward. I figured 12-weeks would be a good goal. That takes me to the end of my second trimester where I can see how my body is feeling and growing. I'm hoping to continue with my regular yoga practice as far into the pregnancy as I'm able and my OB allows.

I've been practicing yoga on and off for over a decade now. It wasn't until this past year that I really feel like I was able to take my practice to a new level. My body was ready, I just needed to find the right teacher or partner to push me to try new poses. When I went into a headstand for the first time, I was so emotional I actually thought I might cry. Sounds ridiculous, but if we are being honest here, I just really never thought my inflexible and weak body could ever do any of these challenging yoga poses. It's amazing what you can do when you put your mind (and body) to something and practice.

Headstand - you never know what you can do once you set your mind to it
I really enjoy doing inversions now. In addition to my headstand, which I try to do every day if I can, I've also been working on handstand and forearm balance. These poses take arm and abdominal strength but more than that it's a workout for the mind. No matter how many times I go up in to headstand, I still have to walk my mind through the fear to prepare myself.

It turns out, inversions are also incredibly good for pregnancy (when you were already doing them before becoming pregnant). I'm curious to see how "good" they continue to keep feeling as I grow. My good friend said I had to take pictures of this through the pregnancy - that was a must. So I kept my promise. I can guarantee you there is no other way you'd get me to show you pictures of myself in these crazy poses.

Forearm balance - one of the most challenging poses I have ever accomplished
I have no idea if my pregnancy will be fit or if another injury will slow me down along the way. I'm almost anticipating these things. But hopefully I'll be able to continue this practice, even if I have to stop the inversions or go to elementary prenatal yoga. I think it's important to find something to keep your mind and your body strong, whatever that might be. It's different for all of us. Some find solace in running or yoga, others in knitting, crafts, wood work or simply reading. Remember to find something that brings your mind peace, and let yourself go there as much as possible. I guarantee your mind will thank you for it.

This past year or so of being at home has taught me how important it is to take care of yourself. You will be surprised that no matter how busy you are, you can almost always find 10-20 minutes in a day to give to yourself. And often, that little bit of time is all you need to recharge.