good advice

January 20, 2005

I'm sleepy. It's the baby, it's too much work. It's the cold. And I haven't been getting my naps.

I subscribe to the English school of naps:

"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people with no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one--well, at least one and a half." - Winston Churchill


January 16, 2005

A photo from the archives. I don't know why, but I was thinking about this man the other day. He patiently led me around his village, through his apple orchards, and up for some tea.


January 14, 2005

I was forwarded this image today (don't know the photographer, but it's dated this morning). The photo evoked that time in my life when I worked on the 54th floor of the Citicorp building. Many mornings up there New York looked like this...a city of of a few tower peeking out above the low clouds. We were closer to the Chrysler building so the view was even more spectacular. Sadly I never thought to snap a picture.

From the angle (facing east from midtown) I think this shot must have been taken from the Empire State Building about 3/4 of the way up.

. . .

And speaking of nice photography check out Eliot Shepard's online portfolio.


January 13, 2005

A year ago today we were in Venice. Venice in the summer with it's tourist hordes and expensive food is intolerable, but in the winter, the place feels a bit more manageable and well.... it's Venice.

These are two shots from 1/13/04. Gosh it seems light years away.

. . .
For now travel is just via the armchair... but soon.

Some inspiration.
. . .
Quotes generally don't do much for me, but this sentence by Katherine Anne Porter seemed worthy of repeat:

"I am always surprised by people who cannot understand range and change, variety and contradiction, tragic feeling, a saving dash of frivolity, and the deep sense of comedy, the salt of life that makes our daily bread bearable."


January 12, 2005

I've recieved several emails from friends and family for more up to date baby pictures, so enclosed are 2 from about 4 hours ago.

I actually feel bad about not having taken more pictures, but the skies have been grey and the light dim which always leaves me photographically challenged. Also I think the digital camera makes me flabby. It's just too darned easy. Tomorrow I'm going to pull some real cameras.

dreams before words

January 10, 2005

My wife went out today to make a quick appearance at a good friend's birthday party leaving me alone with the baby for a bit. This might not seem like a big thing, but most new dads of breastfed kids will empathize because ultimately there is not much we can do if the kid wakes up hungry. A timer is set when the mom leaves... could be an hour, could be three hours, could five minutes. I found myself not wanting to move for fear of waking him so I watched him dream. He was in deep REM sleep and full of activity.

What do they dream about at this age? Sometimes the dreams are good with smiles and even the beginnings of a laugh, sometimes they seem to be very very bad with startles and pained yelps of panic. At this age they are generally in REM about 5-6 hours a day. In the womb it was 10 hours. Some people suggest the dreams are the babies way of forming connections, making sense of the day, and learning, but new studies suggest deep low wave sleep is more important for development and REM is just random firings of neurons that allow the brain circuitry time to recharge. Still,some part of me doesn't accept the scientific explanation and believes the his dreams take him far outside the confines of our small house to the places he visited while still in the womb in the manner of the blind experiencing the world in sounds and movements. Perhaps he's even inherited a few of our dreams. I know some of my own dreams do not always seem to be my own and would more likely belong to my grandfather or one of my many uncles. Sometimes it would make more sense if the logical world did not apply.

He of course did wake up hungry and inconsolable, but a few minutes later mom appeared and the sound of her voice alone calmed him.

. . . . . . .

Thinking about these things brought to mind this story.

Once when I when was in Rajasthan on a desert road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer I came upon a group of children being prepared as fire eaters for a circus. It was twilight and the kids would stand by the road blowing fire from their mouths at the passing cars hoping for a few rupees. Over and over they would shoot out flames into the air projecting a circle of yellow light around them and onto the desert floor. While there were few cars on this deserted road , almost all who passed threw out some small token. Occasionally a truck would stop, the driver would negotiate a price, and the kids would gather round with their limca soda bottles full of gasoline for a show. An older boy collected the money and gave it to their boss, a Fagin-like character named Hrishikesh. The younger boys would compete for the longest brightest flame. One played a flute. The scene was terrible and beautiful and it comes back to me in my own dreams sometime--the darkness of the desert, the indigo sky, the boys many irreparably dulled by the constant breathing of gas and kerosene with their burned mouths and odd laughter, and of course the flames lighting the dark. I wanted to leave that place quickly, but Hrishikesh invited me to tea and some part of me was fascinated. We sat outside his hut in front of a burning oil drum and talked of many things. I asked him about his dreams meaning what did he dream of doing, but he took my question literally. "I have only one dream. All my life one dream. I dream of ice and a world without fire." After the tea I excused myself feeling I was about to be robbed, he protested but let me hitch a ride to Shaitrawa with a trucker. Before I left he looked me in the eyes and said, "You will not forget this amazing thing" he said, "You will dream this night."

attic lair

January 8, 2005

Today I had 2 email requests for a picture of my home office (actually one was a geek asking for a "shot of my computer rig"). I don't know what these people are imagining, but it's a rather dreary attic space, stuffed with books and computer equipment, in a 160 year old brownstone. I'm a Mac guy and run things off of a G5, a G4 and an iBook. I've been trying to organize the place since we moved in back in September but life being what it is, I'm sure I won't be done until it is time to move.

Day of Kings

January 6, 2005

Today was my birthday. While I enjoy celebrating other people's birthdays my own have never had much meaning for me. I have never quite understood all the anticipation and fuss (Nor do I understand people who get gloomy talking darkly being another step closer to the grave--Hey buddy, you are one step closer every day, why single out your birthday). Perhaps it's simply timing. Falling twelve days after Christmas and only 6 days after New Years, I tire of being jolly. The weather is often miserable. People are out of town. So my birthdays tend to pass quietly or at least they have since my big roller skating party in the 7th grade.

My 20th was spent in the library (someone had actually planned a surprise party but couldn't find me). My 25th was spent locked out of the house with a vomiting dog. The only reminder of my 30th was a card from my dentist who sent me a limerick incorporating a birthday message with notice of an upcoming appointment. "There was once a man named Raul..."

These days people have reminders in email and calendar programs so you get those automated electronic postcards. I got 6 today. One with a dancing pig.

My wife will have none of my indifference. Year by year she's been wearing me down with carefully selected gifts, nice meals and general thoughtfulness. So while I still don't completely understand why birthdays should be such a big deal, and I make mistakes (like blowing out my candles on the first 2 bars of the song and accidentally opening my gifts early), I've come to enjoy the day and even sort of look forward to it.

This is us, a bit out of focus, on my birthday last year.

Those yellow wristbands

January 5, 2005

I know Lance Armstrong has raised lots of money for cancer with his wristbands, but why is it that everyone who wears one is kind of a jackass?

one month and growing fast

January 5, 2005

Our boy is now 12 pounds 10 ounces. That's exactly 2 pounds in one month. So he's growing rapidly. He's also developing a a bit of a personality. Some changes have been gradual such as his demands to be fed expressed with ever more expressive and finely tuned emotion (and lung capacity). Some changes take place overnight. Yesterday he woke up and you could almost hear the synapses crackling as he started smiling for the first time in response to our smiles. It was as if he couldn't stop himself. The sight of him smiling made us chuckle which made him smile all the more... Of course the energy he expended in the effort left him exhausted and he was positively narcoleptic the rest of the day. I would have taken a picture but I was too busy enjoying the show.

Brooklyn Bridge

January 4, 2005

My grandfather (on the left) on the Brooklyn Bridge with friends (circa 1929), and me on the bridge with friends (circa 1989 I think, also on the left). Next time I have to do a better job of recreating the original.

old trees

January 3, 2005

The streets were littered with Christmas Trees today. January 2nd is a fair date to throw out a tree. Last week I was horrified to see people hauling trees out on the 26th. Geez. I gave them the benefit of the doubt though. Perhaps they were going on vacation. Our tree is still up... I always lobby to have it around until my birthday on the 6th.
Many people look at Raul Andres and think he favors his uncle Paul so I dug around and found a picture of young Paul Yun from 25 or so years ago. Baby to baby there isn't much of a resemblance. This picture is either Paul's first birthday or his 100 days party depending on whether you believe the cake or the lore: This is around 1981...

New Year's Day

January 1, 2005

There was a time after the shock of the unnatural deaths of my mother and brother when I thought I would always dread January firsts. The date and even the year- 1990- are cruelly easy to remember so that at any time without a moments calculation I could say, "it has been 2 years, 3 months and 2 days since..." or something like that. But the crucible of loss is fickle and I was not left with the albatross of hating the specific day more or less than any other. Of course I have always recognized this sad anniversary and am careful to put aside time for some private ritual of remembrance, but I do the same on other days for other people I have lost. Strange too is my appreciation for what the deaths have done to me as a person, allowing me, I hope, to be a husband and now a father who, aware of what can be taken away, tries his best to love with an open heart.

That event fourteen years ago was one of those which divide time into "before" and "after", but what I could not foresee then were the other events that similarly divide time. Those events, whether they be something as large as the birth of a child or as small as some quiet realization, lift us past the burden of memory and into the realm of undiscovered country.

So I think what I'm trying to say is, it's a new year, let's try to make the best of it.

New Year's Eve

January 1, 2005

Being new parents our New Year's Eve was quiet. In fact the last time I remember a year's end so quiet was probably in high school. But we were tired (and quite frankly hadn't been invited anywhere) so we stayed in and at the hour climbed up on the roof with the other Brooklynites and watched the fireworks behind the rooftops both over Manhattan and beyond (somewhere above New Jersey probably). At midnight, cheers went up from all around. I heard several corks pop and fall to the street below followed by clinking glasses. Ships in the river blew their horns. Bells rang from churches and there were silhouettes of people kissing. A neighbor fired off an illegal bottle rocket and a few kids on the next roof over ran around with sparklers. Jenn got cold and left me up there where I watched a few bands of revelers on the street below head into the night singing their way towards Atlantic Avenue. And then in a few short minutes all was quiet but for the distant sirens and the people of Brooklyn Heights descended from their roofs through their attic doors and down to bed.

other kids

December 31, 2004

In the past I think I passed stranger's children without notice. But that casual indifference has been replaced with a strange curiosity. I watch parenting styles to see if I can learn anything. Study the kids for annoying or admirable traits and try to discern how much of is nurture over nature. All this feels very odd as if my persona has been bodysnatched.
I've also found myself studying photos of kids from my travels. Children are a frequent subjects as they follow foreigners entranced by our strangeness, calling us names, and laughing. And parents, always proud, display their children for you. Anyway, I've been looking at my pictures with new eyes, now, I often wonder simply how the kids survived in such harsh places.

I've finally gotten around to posting the nitty gritty details of the labor.

crying babies

December 30, 2004

Several of my friends had babies within a month of us... and it seems that right now we are all dealing with a period of newborn development that happens between 2 and 6 weeks called the adaptive stage in which they fuss often, cry loudly, and are hard to put to sleep. The only thing that soothes the child is his mom. So what to do. In our case we have been going through a small library of books and asking friends with older kids for advice. But frustratingly the books (and our friends) have a range of suggestions often contrary to one another. On one end of the spectrum you have those who say that you should stop jumping ever time the baby cries, establish a routine stick to it, and let the baby cry it out; at the other end you have those who say the baby wants what it wants and for now your job is to fulfill those needs as much as possible. Particularly troublesome for us and most of our friends is the child's tendency to snack... ie to have small feeds and fall asleep at the boob only to wake and appear to be hungry 45 minutes later only to have another tiny snack. The snacking seems to leave the baby more gassy than when he has a big spaced out feeds (and of course the gas leads to more crying). This is particularly hard on the wives who barely have a moment for themselves.

These are the general solutions suggested both by friends and in the books:

Method 1: Don't "reward" the baby for crying by running to him each time he gets hysterical. Establish a fairly strict routine of sleep and feeding with at least 3 hours between feeds. Hold and comfort the baby only when he is not crying, and otherwise let him cry it out. Train the baby, don't let him train you.

Method 2: Map your babies habits fairly rigorously and establish a flexible routine based on his needs. Try to space out feedings as much as possible but don't let the boy get to the shrieking level. The baby is probably using the boob for comfort because he is over-stimulated. A good portion of his crying is not because he's hungry, but because he's tired. Try to get him to sleep much more than you are doing by limiting stimuli, putting him in a darkened room with some white noise. Also limit visitors and trips out. Try wrapping him tightly and allowing him to calm down before the crying gets into the crazy phase. Try having him sleep in a bassinet. Also make sure to put him down before he starts fussing and try soothing him to sleep in the crib (as opposed to in your arms rocking and stimulating him). The more he sleeps the less he will cry and more time you will have between feedings.

Method 3. The baby is in the 4th trimester. It's not even really human yet and in survival mode. It's brain is only 20% functional and what you need to do is simulate the womb environment where he is rocked, fed, warm and comfortable all the time. If he wants the boob, give him the boob. If he wants to feed for 10 minutes let him feed for 10 minutes. The child doesn't understand cause and effect yet. Comfort him by simulating the womb with gentle rocking, by swaddling tightly, and by using white noise. Just know that this phase will end in about 6 weeks and then you can start establishing routines.

#1 doesn't work for us. Neither of us has the ability to just let the kid cry. Also from what I understand about newborn development they don't understand causality so any Pavlovian training you might achieve might also leave the kid with a sense that world isn't secure... I understand why this technique might work later but for newborns...well, not for ours.

Method #2 makes the most sense to me, and I do believe newborns are generally overstimulated (all those new nerve endings are firing at once). Jenn tends towards Method #3 and that's generally what we've been doing, but we're being flexible in trying to figure things out. Ultimately #3 does work for us. The baby does calm down when he feeds and does sleep in Jenn's arms. But the burden is all on Jenn. Other than taking the baby out for stroller rides (which put him right to sleep), method 3 is very mom-centric.

In the meantime. I've created this handy chart for tracking sleep/wake/diaper. In the sleep column I just X out the blocks where he's asleep and use a A for agitated. C for crying. Q for quiet. L for Alert. G for hysterical. In the Feed column I draw boobs with numbers in them for the number of minutes on each. You can probably figure out the diaper column on your own. The chart really helps you get a sense of what's going on and where you might be able to tweak things. For example yesterday we realized the baby had gone almost 7 hours without a decent sleep. That's bad news for a newborn.

Update on the previous post.

Peter's body was not identified, but might have been one of the ones found and quickly buried on Wednesday (there were few foreigners in Kahawa). Peter's wife Alva is apparently on a flight scheduled for later this week and is staying with friends near Colombo. The house was seriously damaged and later looted. Alva is considering leaving Sri Lanka permanently. I have heard all this 2nd hand, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information. The family will probably set up some sort of of charity based fund in Peter's name. I'll admit I've been thinking about this all day...

I have been sad..

December 29, 2004

since I got bad news late last night via email. My friend and fellow traveller Peter Brel was one of the thousands killed in Sri Lanka on the 26th. He was at his home in Kahawa finishing a leisurely breakfast with his young wife Alva when the wave came. Seeing children out on the beach being swept up in the water he ran out to help, was sucked under, and has not been seen again. Alva, safely on the third floor was unhurt but is obviously distraught. She is pregnant with their first child and is currently trying to get back to Holland to be with her family.

How to describe Peter. He was a rascal. A scoundrel of the first order and good friend. The first time I ever met him, he and a lovely Brazilian girl, both naked, were emerging from a sleeping bag on a freezing cold morning. They were camping illegally behind a Mongolian bus station. Even though they had just met the previous day on a bus he had somehow convinced this girl that skin to skin contact was the only way they would generate enough heat to survive the night. Years later, camping in Tibet, I overheard him whispering this technique to an Israeli girl we had met on the road. As we were preparing to sleep I heard them snuggling up, "What about your friend," she asked worried that I would become a human popsicle. "Don't worry about him, I'm trying to save you," he said.

For a few years Peter's base of operations was a horrible Chengdu hotel, The Black Coffee, a renovated 1950's Chinese bomb shelter built to protect against Soviet attack. The door to the street was unmarked and to get in one had to descend many narrow dark stairwells, past solid steel blast doors, and into a maze of low hallways. I would have happily stayed anywhere else but having recently been robbed, it was the cheapest place around and I was holed up waiting for a new passport from the consulate and money from Visa. This was around 1992. Peter cut me a deal on his 50cent per night room. I could have a bed for 20cents per night. Three other down on their luck backpackers had made similar arrangements, but there were no complaints about his profit because the guy was so amusing. Peter was using the hotel as his basecamp taking long trips around Sichuan and knew the area better than any other backpacker. He had bribed officials and had special stamps that gave him virtually unlimited access, unheard of in those days. He could frighten at first sight with his shoulder length hair and wild eyes, but his disheveled appearance masked a European sophisticate-- multilingual (he spoke 9 or 10 languages), incredibly well read, impossibly well travelled, and darned charming. One night he turned the Black Coffee's dark subterranean corridors into makeshift disco and invited 100 of his "good friends from the PSB". He was the guy who always knew the way to get to the place beyond the edge of the map and he always made sure you had a hell of a time getting there. When giving travel advice he would always say something like, "Well you could go that way, but if you want to see something really interesting..." He would never mention that his way might take months and involve several illegal border crossings.

I ran into him several times during my years of backpacking... not only in Mongolia and China but in Vietnam, and in India and we trekked to from Langmusi to Aba on the Tibetan plateau. No matter where I would see him, he would always greet me as if it was not usual to run into someone several thousand miles from where you last departed.

We lost touch as people who meet on the road usually do, but last year another traveller who knew us both gave him my email address and he reappeared in my life In recent years he had put his large family fortune to good use working with a variety of charity organizations around India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. He favored local projects that have real tangible effects--micro-loans, water pumps, etc. His long hair had long been trimmed, and was greyer than mine, but he was otherwise unchanged. I had missed his wedding by four years, but he sent me long emails waxing poetic about Alva, about his collections of Chinese art and Indian illuminated manuscripts, and about the house he had built by the sea. He had given up smoking and drinking and several other bad habits and was, I think, at peace. "Travel and my wife are the only vices I have left" he wrote, "God help me if I lose a taste for either."

After the birth of my son, I sent an email announcing the news. On Christmas he replied, "Jolly good. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear your good news. You must make me a godfather or compadre or some other honorific. I must be more than simply Uncle Peter. I'm sure we can work something out. Let's pray Alva gives birth to a girl child so I can watch her torture your son. The child is due in March, you know, so you must tell me everything to blaze the path. Be well my friend and lets plan a trip together with the kids. I know a few good places."

a year ago today...

December 28, 2004

...we had just landed in Rome...

exhausted and disheveled from the long flight, but happy as pie...

snowy monday

December 27, 2004

Over an inch fell last night. This morning we wake to the sound of snow shovels all across the neighborhood...

first christmas

December 25, 2004

Our friends Michael and Becky came by to check out the kid and share an impromptu Christmas lunch.

I showed them around the neighborhood...

By the time I returned mother and child were tuckered out.

Then Jenn's brother and sister arrived and it was like Christmas morning all over again.

random aside: One strange side effect of having a baby-I now look at people and imagine them as infants. So I'll be listening to a waitress or a butcher or my mother-in-law and mentally I'll find them in my arms reduced to a couple of pounds, quite helpless, and trying to shush them. It keeps happening over and over again. I also keep imagining myself in that state. Maybe I'm trying to hard to get into the mind of the baby... to find out what is so fascinating to him about the shadows on the ceiling... or maybe I haven't been getting enough sleep, but sometimes, I feel like I KNOW, in a visceral way, what it's like to be lying there a bundle of Want, half animal, always on the thin divide between delirious comfort and utter agony.

silent night

December 25, 2004

Just the three of us here on a quiet Christmas Eve. All's well. Merry Christmas everyone.

Little giant

December 23, 2004

At his two week checkup today we found the boy has grown over an inch and is now 11 pounds and a couple of ounces. While the doctors keep reassuring us that his current size will have nothing to do with his eventual height, they always seem to chuckle a bit when telling us the news. Also when we ask how his size compares to other kids the answer is always "off the charts"... and again that chuckle. So our fear has been that we have bred a giant. Anecdotal tales have not been helpful. For example today I was talking to a woman from Minnesota. "All our babies our big up there", she said, "I had an 11 pounder myself... but then again, he's 6 foot 5 now."

gallic woodsman

December 20, 2004

I looked at this picture of the baby on the changing table and realized, "We've become what we hate." We're dressing up the kid in bizarre outfits, just like our parents did to us. Hard to believe the little guy has been on this side of the womb for less than 2 weeks.

Jenn's family is set to descend on our house Christmas day. They will be horrified by our Christmas tree. The older Korean family members are strict artificial tree kind of people. A live tree is considered extravagant, wasteful, perhaps even foolish. Last year I told Jenn's mom I was going to buy a live tree for her house like it or not. The modest tree eventually ended up in grandfather's house. All the aunts came around, took a good look, and concluded that plastic trees were more practical and less messy. This tree was huge they said (it was about 5 feet). They tend to prefer tabletop models. At least their plastic trees are green. My grandparents in Mexico always had a silver tree made of hammered tin. It was lit by a little light in the shape of a fan with a rotating red, green, blue and yellow filter...

It was always hot down in Mexico and we would have to pretend it was cold, wearing sweaters until the sweat made the charade unbearable. My brothers favored Christmas music which they played in agonizing loops not seeming to recognize the dissonance of Johnny Mathis singing about Frosty the Snowman when everyone was in shorts barbecuing carne asada out back. Christmases in Texas were not much better, although at least it was often overcast and rainy (we would turn up the air conditioning and light the fireplace). I always dreamed of Christmases... well, like this. Bracingly cold weather. A nice Vermont pine inside. Warm fire. Perhaps as a consequence of all those Christmases, you will rarely hear me complain about cold weather, and I don't think I've ever said a bad word about snow. I wonder if the boy, who will have "real" winters weaved into his life, will get that small rush when looking out into the night to the sight of snowflakes falling through the pool of a street lamp or if he will grumble about the cold and pass the window without notice.

first snow

December 20, 2004

The first snow of the year just started falling (and is falling hard). All our fireplaces are going. The baby is asleep. Things are good.

two moods

December 15, 2004

The one week mark passed uneventfully...


December 15, 2004

Please note dear friends that our kid is not a Jr. At least in our family Jrs. are uncommon. Mexicans tend to prefer "itos" (as in Raulito). Also we often have different middle names.

We followed that pattern.

My dad is Raul Mario.
I'm Raul Antonio.
The kid is Raul Andres Min.

Some of you have asked me via email for some more info on why we chose Andres. First of all it's pronounced Ahn (as in Ah-ha) + n (as in nose), dress (as in dress, but a bit softer). It was the name of my grandfather's grandfather and was originally suggested to my mom as my middle name by my great grandfather (lost yet?), but there was a mixup and I got another name. There are no known pictures of my great great grandfather Andres, but he is known to have lived in Paras in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico where his ranch, El Violin, thrived for several generations (my grandmother's people come from a nearby ranch named El Cascabel (the rattlenake)). Andres' son, Jose Dolores was my great grandfather and was spitting image of his dad. This is a picture of Jose taken December 5th , 1895 in Agualeguas, Neuvo Leon:

and here is a picture of the man taken December 6th, 1968 with me on his lap.

Old timers who knew both Jose Dolores and his father Andres marveled at how similarly they resembled each other both physically and emotionally. My own grandfather Rodolfo continued this trend and is virtually indistinguishable from his father in pictures. My brother carries the man's strong chin.

We've been studying Raul Andres for little family signposts. He has agile Yun toes, but the Gutierrez gap between his big toe and the rest. His ears are Paek, the mouth Yun, the chin might be Perez, his early ability to raise one eyebrow is definitely a Gutierrez trait. My guess is everyone does this with their newborns. Nice to do it now while they are in a state of grace free from any insecurity and open to our scrutiny.

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