Friday, October 23, 2009

Cat birthday party

We adopted our cat, Ginger, on Grace's 5th birthday in the middle of February 1999. She was a small kitten then, estimated to be about four months old. So let's do the math. A kitten that is roughly four months old in the middle of February was born sometime in October. But we don't know the day. We've always said her birthday was Halloween.

So this Halloween our cat Ginger will be 11 years old.

We've never done anything for her birthday in the past. It's kind of a corny thing to do, right? Besides, what are you going to do that's not going to freak the cat out? Invite the neighbor cats over? Or maybe the strays? Better yet, let's invite the neighborhood dogs over! Or maybe just a bunch of our loud, raucous human friends who happen to like cats!

She'd be hiding in the closet throwing up within 15 minutes. Some birthday party.

We did think of inviting all the creatures in our backyard over for a party. The stray who comes around every afternoon and starts a hissing match with her, some squirrels and a few chipmunks, three birds, one of the deer, a rabbit and a mole. I told my husband it sounded like a Disney movie. Or rather, a mash up of Disney movies.

I have a better idea. Let's throw her a party here at my blog. Here's how it'll go:
  1. Create a jpg a picture of your pet. You can make it a simple photo and send text along in an email. Or you can jazz it up to the max in photoshop. It can look anyway you like. Just make sure it's a jpg file.
  2. Send it to me, along with your name as you would like it to appear and the address of your blog or other website you'd like to link to.
  3. Get it to me by midnight, Oct 29th. (Meaning, the END of the day of the 29th, not the start.)
  4. I'll post all the submissions here on Halloween and we'll have a birthday party for our family's cat, Ginger, that day here.
Very good? Very good. Help an old cat out and give her the party she's always deserved and never gotten.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The trouble with psychiatric evaluation

I think I have hit a wall and I'm not sure I can ever get around it. I had to be linguist so that I wouldn't be able to answer simple questions...

Every so often, before I see my therapist, I have to fill out a battery of questions about how I feel, how my sleep is, do I feel sad or anxious, and a bunch of other stuff she would care about while treating me. The answers required are always on some sort of a Likert scale, like this:
In the past 2 weeks, have you been able to see the funny side of things?
  • As much as I ever could
  • Not quite so much now
  • Definitely not so much now
  • Not at all
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, here's where I hit a wall:
Try to characterize your mood in the last two weeks:
"I was always worrying about something."
  • never
  • very rarely
  • rarely
  • sometimes
  • often
  • very often
  • almost constantly
How am I supposed to answer that if I was worried a couple times on a few days? What does it mean to say "I was always worrying about something sometimes" ?!?!???!!!?


And just for kicks, here's my favorite question that I get to answer:
Have you felt peaceful and calm?
  • all of the time
  • most of the time
  • a good bit of the time
  • some of the time
  • a little of the time
  • none of the time
Have YOU felt peaceful and calm during the last two weeks? I feel like if I answer "all of the time" that I should walk into my therapist's office and say, "I'm cured! I'm outta here!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And yet another cake fiasco

I think I mentioned last week that I made a cake for Children's Day. It was quite an experience, that cake-making event. I didn't think it would be since I tend to be good at making desserts and baked goods. I mean, how hard could it be to make two round layers of cake out of a box and then whip up some frosting and ice it? I've done tons of cakes before that were way more complicated. Yet, this experience takes a special place in my heart. Sort of like the scar tissue resulting from a heart attack has a special place.

It started out easy enough. It being fall and all, I decided to make a butter cake. Out of the box. No problem. Sunday night, two 8" round cake pans, about 55 minutes, voila, they came out perfectly. I put them on the cooling rack overnight. The next morning they still looked perfect and I was ready to frost the sucker and call it a successful Children's Day.

I whipped a cookbook off the shelf, the Southern Heritage Cake Cookbook, published by Southern Living in 1970. I received it secondhand from a friend whose mother had purged it from her massive gourmet kitchen when she divorced and left Texarkana for Australia for good. If anyone knows how to do a good cake, it's Southern Living. (Be careful, though. Those Southerners do Coca-Cola Cake too, and we all know that don't come out so well.) In the last chapter, "Finishing touches," dozens of frosting and icing recipes come to life on the pages. There, on the first page of text, I saw it. The answer to my autumn cake dilemma. What kind of frosting should I put on a butter cake? Why, Caramelized Frosting.

Not only did the recipe call for only three ingredients, the recipe included step by step directions, complete with photographs. Yippee! What could be easier? And it sounded luscious. A caramelized frosting over butter cake. Perfect for fall. After reading through the recipe to make sure I felt confident, I dug in.

Mix together butter and sugar until a syrup. Slowly add milk. Yep, uh-huh, I'm with you entirely. Now, keep stirring and simmer the mixture until it reaches the soft ball stage, about 240 degrees F. I don't have a candy thermometer, but I know how to test when a mixture reaches the soft ball stage. Got it. The recipe read that it would take 20 minutes, but after only 10, that syrup was definitely at soft ball stage.

That's when the fun began. The recipe said I should remove the pan from the heat and mix in the pan with a hand mixer until the frosting reached the desired consistency for frosting.

Well, I did my cooking in a teflon pan, not an iron skillet, so I'll be damned if I'm going to risk ruining my pan with a mixer. Then there's the matter of a hand mixer. I don't have one. I have a super duper 600 hp KitchenAid mixer, made to handle any mixing needs you might have. So I lifted that skillet up off the burner, poured the mixture into the mixing bowl and immediately started mixing.

Perfect. It looked perfect. I was starting to imagine how good this was going to taste.

For those of you who cook, you may be thinking something here. Something like this: "Heather, it sounds like you just made caramel candy, not a frosting. Are you sure that this stuff is actually going to spread onto the cake?"

The picture in the recipe of the finished cake looked so easy to obtain.

And yet...

Oh, if you are one of those people who realized my mistake as reading this, I wish you had been there to tell me that before I began this adventure. Indeed, I had made a huge mixer bowlful of caramel candy. It was only at the point I began trying to apply said candy to the cake in a frosting-like manner that I realized just what a mistake I had made. It probably was the difference of 30 or 45 seconds too long heating in the skillet. Or maybe it was taking the mixture cooling down while it was mixing. No matter what the tiny mistake was, I was now in quite a pickle, my great grandmother would have said.

The "frosting" was turning solid within seconds. I realized I'd better move fast, like ice this whole cake in 3 minutes or less, otherwise I'd REALLY have a mixing bowl full of solid caramel candy. I slapped it on the first layer then threw the second layer on top as fast as I could. I continued feverishly frosting the top layer and the sides, little by little. It got to solid to do anything with. Undeterred, I put all remaining "frosting" in a pyrex measuring cup and microwaved it for 15 seconds. Voila! I got soft frosting again. But it only would stay that way for a minute tops. I tried it once more and managed to finish the job. Here is what it looked like:

Not bad. I mean, not exactly professional quality, but not bad given what I just explained as to the cake's origins.


Or so I thought. We gathered as a family that night to celebrate. A good dinner, gifts for the girls, and then...cake! We lifted the dome off of the cake plate and everyone smelled the cake. And then, we got out our sharpest knife, ran it under hot water, and tried to slice through the frosting. No way. That frosting, unsurprisingly, had hardened into a toffee shell, encasing the cake. After five minutes or so, we realized we should put aside good manners and try to get the cake out at all costs. We all had a piece, but I can't say it was pretty.

It was very tasty, though. And very sugary and chewy. We all brushed our teeth very well that night.

People, after this fiasco, I'm over my sugar fix. That was just a bit too much. It's sort of like making your kid smoke 200 cigarettes after you catch them with the first, right? You make them feel so sick that they can't associate a cigarette with anything but nausea? I wasn't nauseous, but I sure haven't been craving as much sugar since then.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Defying ethnic boundaries

Back when Stella was three weeks old, we had a photography session with a local photographer, Lorissa Farr. She posted a couple of the best ones to her blog. We ordered some too. One of our favorites is this:

In this image, Lorissa perfectly captured one of our favorite of Stella's features that make her unique: the birthmark on her lower back. It's not unusual, a patch of skin on her lower back that appears darker than the rest of her skin. When she was born, we thought it was a bruise and asked the pediatrician about it. She assured us it was perfectly normal. It's called a mongolian spot and it is most commonly found in children of black or latin descent. Check, Stella is both of those via her father's heritage. Perfectly normal.

At the same time, we asked the pediatrician about another mark on the back of her neck that we had noticed and were concerned about. Here's a picture of that:

The pediatrician explained, it's another birthmark, called a stork bite. Nothing to worry about. It is most common in babies of caucasian descent. Check, Stella is of caucasian decent via me. Nothing to worry about.

Stella's diverse ethnic heritage is nothing unusual; I'd guess from all the families and children I've interacted with since Grace was born that most kids in this younger generation have the benefit of a rich genetic background. Yet, apparently there are still people in our society who don't understand it, don't accept it, and don't want to see it at all.

A few weeks ago we watched Rabbit-Proof Fence together as a family. It is the true story of three girls in Australia in the 1930s. You can watch the trailer here. The three girls are forcibly removed from their mothers, Aborigine, because they are biracial -- their fathers are white. Though it's rated PG, it's not exactly a movie for children unless they are mature enough to deal with difficult topics. For instance, until 1970, Australia still had a law on the books that "half-caste" children, the children who are biracially white and aborigine, are substandard. For that matter, aborigines are substandard humans. At one point in the film, I was so appalled I spit out, "what the fuck!" I was glad that Grace was old enough to understand my righteous anger. How could a government do something so awful, so unthinkable, so hateful and evil? I believe Kenneth Branagh's character in Rabbit-Proof Fence puts it most succinctly: "Are we to allow the creation of an unwanted race?" An industrialized, 20th century government did it because those in power believed children of interracial couples were substandard and should not exist.

Lest we think for a moment that this is barbarian and behind those of us in the US and in our distant past, the gross and despicable reality of the present hits us right between the eyes. Enter Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. On Friday, the story hit national news media outlets: Judge Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. He explained his action by saying that such marriages do not stand the test of time and that children of such a couple would suffer due to not fitting into either culture. He maintains that he is not a racist for making such a decision, that he issues marriage licenses to black couples all the time. And he said, "It's kind of hard to apologize for something that you really and truly feel down in your heart you haven't done wrong." WHAT??!?!?!?!?? I react to this with the same righteous outrage that I did to the content of Rabbit-Proof Fence. But I must be explicitly clear about how outrageous this situation is. The judge does not approve of the marriage because he feels that the children of such a marriage would suffer due to their very existence and lack of identity with the culture of either parent. In short, multiethnic children are a problem. We as a society should do everything we can to prevent their existence in the first place. If they come to exist, we'll have a horrible problem on our hands.

I'm getting to the point where I believe that people in the world who suffer the worst racial discrimination are those who are multiethnic. Contrary to this, I have a rather different viewpoint. Rather than being a hindrance, I believe having a diverse heritage actually gives one an advantage in understanding the world and coping with its various social problems. Having the benefit of more than one vantage points enables a person to realize that the world is not black and white (no pun intended).

I guess these ideas of mine shouldn't come as a surprise since I am part of a multiethnic, bi-national family. But I'd be dishonest if I led you to believe that I came to this perspective without any influence. I heard a piece on NPR's Talk of the Nation a few weeks ago about a new production of Shakespeare's Othello, produced for stage in Washington, DC. and directed by Peter Sellars (no, not the one who died more than 20 years ago, a different one by the same name). In his interview with Neal Conan, Sellars addresses the obvious talking point of Othello, that being the ethnic identity of the title character. He's a Moor, traditionally portrayed by an actor of African or Arabic descent. "Moor" does not refer to any specific ethnic group, but rather someone who is dark-skinned and from the Iberian Peninsula. In other words, someone who is likely of mixed race. He is a successful and liked military leader. The poignancy of putting on this production to Washington, DC now is directly connected to Barack Obama and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Whatever you think of the president's work so far, it is worth considering in what ways his heritage enables him to be a good leader, or at least, in what ways he is able to lead differently than all of his predecessors. Sellars addresses this point directly in the interview, at about 10:22:
We live in the age of Barack Obama and Tiger Woods. You know, what box are you gonna check? You know, the fact is, we're all more than one box. None of us fit into those boxes anymore.
It's that last line that got me. None of us fit into those boxes anymore. How many of us can neatly fit ourselves into a racial demographic? How about our children? I remember that when Grace was a little girl we went to American Girl Place in Chicago. We both looked to see if we could find a Just Like You girl that looked like each of us. Neither of us succeeded. Apparently American Girl still thought that blue eyes only go with blond hair and green eyes only go with light skin. We had difficulty fitting into an American Girl "box" despite the fact that both of us check off the box "caucasian, not hispanic." Stella doesn't check off one box on those surveys, so what luck does she have finding an American Girl that is Just Like Her?

If you find yourself recoiling at the suggestion that the "boxes" in demographic surveys are going the way of the buffalo, why is that? Is it the idea that our comfort zones are dissolving? If we can't presuppose things about people based on their appearance, maybe that makes us feel unsure and a little nervous. We might have to let go of our assumptions, the ones that make us feel knowledgeable and informed. Not all Spanish speakers are immigrants. Not all immigrants are poor and/or stupid. Not all blacks like rap. Nor do they all speak the same dialect of English. Not all whites like camping and corn bread. Nor Eddie Bauer. Need I go on?

As I have been thinking about Grace's friends throughout her childhood, I am struck by how few of them can clearly identify with one and only one ethnic group. This generation of children is, by their very DNA, more ethnically diverse. In a world that is quickly shrinking, a world in which it is an advantage to be not just tolerant of differences, but appreciative and enthusiastic, it seems that these kids undoubtedly are able to understand that world better.

Instead of focusing our energies of making lines and dividing up people into discrete groups that supposedly matter, wouldn't it be more fruitful to think of ourselves as citizens of the earth? Members of the human race? We have more in common with people once we stop and focus on the similarities rather than the differences. I, for one, am tired of the labels.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Guns and racism and censorship and drama and education. What's that? You think I'm being controversial?

Some of you may remember that about a month back I wrote about the selection of the annual musical at Grace's high school, Annie Get Your Gun, and whether the arts should be censored for teenagers. I argued that the arts should not be censored for teenagers and that parents alone should be held responsible for addressing their own values surrounding controversial issues at home. There were no dissenters in the comments. I was surprised. I expected at least one of you out there to say I was off my rocker. You really all agree with me? You believe that the public schools shouldn't limit access to the arts?

I bring this up now because one person who read the post emailed me directly and told me I was wrong. Dead wrong. On Monday, after we finished our family celebration of Children's Day, I read my email and received a message from a parent at Grace's school who had been forwarded the URL of the post. And it wasn't just any parent; it was the parent who had raised the objection to the choice of the musical in the first place. She corrected some errors I had made in the original post (there is an amendment to that post now). She also revisited the issue of how the school should be responding to Native Americans and women being marginalized in Annie Get Your Gun, as well as firearms being glorified. Since she presented her points in an email, unfortunately those of you reading the post wouldn't have the benefit of her comments. I thought it would be fruitful to revisit the issue again in order to give voice to an opposing view.

The concerned parent and I agree on the core issues, like the problems stemming from children having access to firearms and the desensitization to racial and gender-based discrimination when it arrives in subtle forms (or in any form, for that matter). Despite this common agreement, from reading what she has written to me, we disagree on how minors should be educated about these issues. I take it to be my role as a parent to educate my child at home as to what values I hope for her to take as her own. The other parent believes that some collective body should make those decisions for all students and all of them should be taught those values at school. For instance, this parent wrote to me in her email that fake firearms, such as those used as props in a play, are a public health risk, plain and simple. Since this is fact, we should never allow guns to be used as props in a school building since the presence of firearms anywhere constitutes a public health risk to all exposed (most importantly, minor students). Further, if arts containing firearms are present in the school, it is the responsibility of the school to educate students about gun control. In order for these actions to be made, some appointed authority would need to endorse these decisions as fact. If individuals hold a different opinion from that which the authoritative group decides, too bad. Now, while it is true that the majority of voting adults in our community support gun control, I'd say that the issue is a far cry from a closed-book issue. I mean, if we were suggesting that high school students in a public school located somewhere differently, like, say, in Oklahoma or Texas, should be taught that gun control is the only policy that will do, I can imagine that there would be some vehement vocal disagreement. So rather than bring controversial two-sided arguments to the school system to render a verdict on, I prefer that the educational system educate students about the issues and leave the verdicts up to parents.

So that's gun control. For me, I err on the side of protecting individual rights. I may not exercise my right to have a firearm at home, but I want to be very careful about limiting the right altogether. Maybe it's the American in me. Maybe it's the southerner in me. Maybe it's my experience in rural parts of the country that makes me feel this way, you know, places where it's useful to have a firearm because if someone untoward drives into your farm up to no good, you can meet them at the door with your rifle aimed just in case law enforcement doesn't show up before the ruffians do.

But on a broader scale, what about other topics? No one who commented on my original post indicated that they thought the educational system or some other authority should have the right to limit students' access to the arts, no matter what the content. Really? You guys think that sex and rock 'n' roll and rap and all the rest should be available to teens?

Do you think we should have rating systems on movies and television and music, keeping minors from their consumption, or do you think that kind of censorship is ok?

Birth control? Abortion?

What about argumentation that the sex industry is liberating?

What about expressions of disgust for the government?
What about expressions of disgust for opposition to the government?

War? War protests?

Gang warfare? Legalizing all mind-altering substances?

All of it? You all think that all of this information should be openly available to teens to digest for themselves, hoping that their parents or guardians will help guide their thinking in order to prevent societal chaos?

In all fairness, in the comments of my original post, Angelawd qualified her support for my position by writing "I do believe all ideas and materials should be appropriate for the age, and for the individual. Some kids are able to handle more reality than others." That sounds sensible. But now we have to ask, what is appropriate for teenagers? And what if some of those teenagers are able to handle more reality than others? How do we teach them all in the same school? I'm sure there are things that some of you think the schools should not allow students to access, aside from those things that are illegal. As you can see from my laundry list of questions above, Annie Get Your Gun is nowhere near as controversial as we could get.

I'll give you the behind the scenes to why I think parents should be the ones making these decisions at home and teaching their children those values at home. I've lived in four very different regions of the US: South Florida, Central Texas, Southeast Michigan and Washington, DC. You can imagine that the mainstream values in each of these locales differed considerably. But whether or not I shared those mainstream values, that was what my community would endorse in the educational system. Along the way, through my own education and in taking part in my daughter's, I realized that it was not the values that were taught in the schools that were important. What was most important was that no matter what the majority of concerned citizens around us valued, my daughter would learn from me the things I believed were correct. For myself, I wish I had gotten the benefit of other viewpoints and opinions than the ones I was taught at school. For my daughter, I've realized that my involvement in her life as a parent is far more important than my involvement as a mover and shaker in her community. But once someone else has taught your child a value, sometimes it is difficult to teach your child something very different.

Now, that's a more lengthy version of my stance and I'm still sticking to it. But I really want to hear from the rest of you. Think about it. Are you willing to have your children hear information that you vehemently disagree with in order for them to hear a balanced view? Or would you rather they be educated in line with your own values? Are the arts (literature, drama, music, visual) any different from social sciences or physical sciences? How does religion play into this, if at all? What do you think of the education at the college level?

~~~ For those of you out there who want more controversial discussion, stay tuned. Monday I will finally publish a post that has been rattling around inside my head and in various drafts for over a month. Annie Get Your Gun raises issues of racial discrimination; I have been wrestling with the marginalizing of biracial couples and mixed race children. ~~~

Thursday, October 15, 2009

About that toxic letter to my ex-mother-in-law

Last month, I wrote about Grace's grandmother and why I allowed my toxic feelings towards her stemming from events in the past continue to haunt me. I had written a letter to her spewing my frustration, only to throw it away.

That sounded very dramatic, didn't it? Like I penned a letter on expensive stationary in a Jane Austen-esque fashion and then, in a fit of frustration, crumpled the sheets together and threw them violently into the trash. Or perhaps I threw them directly in the fire to burn away forever.

Come on, it's the 21st century.

I wrote it in plain text, saved it while pondering whether I should send it by email or snail mail, then when I decided to scrap the idea, I threw the file in my trash bin. Where I could retrieve it later.

I got so many comments and emails about the posting that I put up a four-day poll on whether you all thought I should post the contents of the discarded letter here for you all to read.

7 ayes, 4 nays. I'm going with the nays. Sorry, y'all, no toxic letter will be posted here.

Here's why:

This past week, out of the clear blue, two people from my real life found my blog. One didn't recognize me and the other recognized and was offended. (Big surprise, I know. What blogger hasn't been misunderstood when someone from their real life found their blog?) But neither of these people are part of my daily life. And neither are people that I care deeply for. They are just people that I know. But other people in my life will read this stuff too, I presume.

Enter Grace and how my blog affects her.

I have been blogging for almost two years, always keeping in the back of my mind that I would let Grace see the blog at some point. It's only fair. I'm writing a lot about her and I want her to read it. Now, imagine for a second that you are Grace. You are reading along and suddenly you find a completely toxic missive directed to your dying grandmother by your mother. Words that your mother wouldn't actually deliver to your grandmother, but words that she was willing to put up on public display for anyone to read and comment on.

Yeah, I have a feeling you are coming to the same conclusion I did. There is no way I can put that up here. It would be really, really bad.

But it's not all disappointment for you 7 aye-voters and those who didn't vote but also wish you could read that letter. I will give you the biggest realization I had out of writing that letter and rereading it and then digesting it. I wrote one paragraph with an imagined tone of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm in my head, only to discover later that what I had written was absolutely true. Here it is:

"When your son and I separated and filed for divorce, I spoke to you and your husband on the telephone twice. What I understood through those phone calls was that you both knew everything that was going on and were praying. Your son also communicated to me during that time that you and your husband were entirely supportive of him and his decisions at that time. Nothing I saw then or since has contradicted these facts. So I trust by this that you and your husband stood solidly behind your son and I in ending our marriage immediately. Further, it should be clear to anyone by now that your son and I should have never married. After searching for so many years, he finally found his soulmate in his current wife, and I am more than blessed in my marriage to my husband. Your son and I were a mistake, two people who should have never been together."

A mistake. Two people who should have never been together.

It's true. After I wrote that and pondered the thought, I realized that one and only one good thing came out of that relationship: my daughter, Grace. I wouldn't give her up for the anything. Just the other night I was feeling sick and the thought crossed my mind (as it does all mothers once and awhile), 'what if I get sick and die?' The tears immediately came to my eyes as I thought of leaving Grace without me, as I thought of her going through life without me anymore.

It's difficult when two people are so wrong for each other and they have a child. Though I don't have the experience, I'm guessing it is most difficult for the child themselves. But as one member of the relationship, I can say that I have struggled with how to separate the child I love from the relationship I hated. I can reflect on my whole experience as a mother with Grace and realize that I have fallen short of being the best mother I could be simply because she was her father's daughter. It grieves me. Worse, it grieves me and I have no idea how to make it right.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Update on simple sugars

I just opened my laptop for the morning to check email and facebook. Within five minutes, two glaringly obvious news stories came across the screen and seemed to be screaming at me. Since I'm working away from the simple carbs and sugars, get a load of this:

Found at Yahoo, The Tragedy of Krispy Kreme - all about how the popular doughnut chain rose in financial success and then crashed just as quickly.

Published at NPR's website and broadcast this morning on Morning Edition, Soda Tax Could Shake Up Industry - all about how sugary sodas create havoc for a person's health because of the huge doses of sugar and contributing to obesity.

Now I feel really guilty and lazy just giving in to this weakness. I'm going to have to break this fix. Today, wheat toast with a side of strawberries and bananas instead of cinnamon toast.

I thank you in advance for your support in this trying time.

***UPDATE AS OF 11:15 AM***

And then the first lady gives this address about eating more vegetables and limiting the take out fast food:

What is it, a mass healthy-lifestyle conspiracy against me?

*****UPDATE AS OF 12:45 PM*****

My husband kindly left an article in my path for me to peruse today:

That's right. "20 Things You Didn't Know About Sugar." Found on the last page of this month's Discover magazine.

When I first looked at the article, #7 jumped out at me: "Can you imagine eating 16 sugar cubes at one sitting? You probably have. That's a little less than what is contained in a 20-ounce bottle of cola." The irony of the rhetorical question at the start is that I think it's intended to evoke to immediate answer "no," followed by the revelation that drinking a bottle of cola is the equivalent of doing so; in my case, I probably have literally eaten 16 sugar cubes at one sitting. And it sounded really tempting as I read it.

My husband has no idea about any of my postings on the topic of my diet. So much for my belief that no one else is noticing my lack of propriety in my dining selections.

Some things have got to change around here

Resolutions for my life as a blogger
  1. I will figure out what is the best way to respond to comments...and actually start doing it reliably.
  2. I will take the time to figure out how to make a blog template with more than one sidebar.
  3. Speaking of sidebars, I will clean up the stuff I have on the one sidebar I have already. Like, I'll actually put some work into composing an accurate list of blogs I read and link them.
  4. I will design and create a banner for the top of the page that teases readers with more than grey-on-green-typewriter-script.
  5. And I'll figure out how to put said banner on the page.
  6. I will figure out how to create a favicon AND how to put it into the code for my site so that it shows up on the address line.
  7. I will figure out what I would like said favicon to look like.
  8. And what color.
  9. Like I didn't put up weekly pictures of my pregnant belly, I will not put up regular updates on Stella's growth and other details of her developmental progress. I'm sure there are more interesting things you friends out there in bloggy world want to read about.
  10. I'm going to tell Grace about the blog and send her a link.
...which leads me to the big question of the day. Which post do you think I should send to Grace first? I mean, which one do you think sums up my feelings about her and about being her mom the best? If you were fifteen, which one would you like to have heard your mother write about you? Here's some I have been considering:

Letting it all out
I have confidence in confidence alone

If there's another one that you remember, one that you think is better, let me know. Even if you don't know when I posted it, if you remind me of the content, I can probably find it fast.

Action items for you readers out there:
  1. If you have a blog, lemme know what it is and include the URL.
  2. Tell me how to comment on comments (is that recursive?)
  3. Give me your vote on which post I should send to Grace first. If we're all lucky, her extroverted, adventuresome, gregarious, confident side will show up and she'll make an appearance here for real.
Thanks in advance for all your help ;-)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ADD in our lives

It's been quite awhile since I said anything about ADD. Would you all believe me if I told you that's because it's not something that we deal with anymore? I didn't think so.

Grey at Second Verse has posted some entries lately that have hit so close to my heart. Her son has ADHD and they are struggling with finding a medication that will help him deal with the behavioral symptoms of the disorder. What's really hitting me about her writing is the raw emotions, the frustration and the helplessness, that she expresses as a mother. Like me, she writes that she feels as if educators don't understand that the behavior problems her son is having in school are a direct result of his ADHD and something he cannot just will into changing. The links to two of her most poignant posts are here and here.

As I have read Grey's words these last couple weeks, I felt as if I was reading my own words.

My journey as the parent of a child with ADD has been a difficult one. Not especially difficult, just difficult. In other words, being the parent of a child with AD(H)D is difficult. The disorder is not physically visible for all to see so that the child's challenges are understood. Rather, the symptoms of AD(H)D look like a typical bad kid. In my deepest moments of despair, I have wished that my daughter had a different disability, one that evoked more compassion and understanding from her educators, teachers, girl scout troop leaders, ballet instructors, babysitters, music teachers, family and friends, and on and on the list goes. With AD(H)D, I as a parent have heard a lifetime's worth of pejorative adjectives describing my daughter and more patronizing pep talks from others than I can count. If this is how I as the parent feels, imagine what the child hears and how she feels.

Serial Mommy published an essay by Emily Pearl Kingsley this past June, an essay about what it feels like to parent a child with a disability. When I read it, I felt like my feelings had been captured perfectly. Check out the link when you have time.

This school year is going well. Yes, Grace still deals with ADD. It's with her every day. Her friends comment all the time that she is the energetic and hyper one. But she's doing much better with her studies (all As and Bs since last March) and she's much better at coping with symptoms and advocating for herself now. By conversing with her teachers and guidance counselors, her pediatrician and other professionals, she has become much more aware of who she is and how she can accomplish everything she wants to -- with ADD. In the last six months, I discovered that two of Grace's closest childhood friends also have been diagnosed and that their respective mothers have gone through the same roller coaster ride I have. By no coincidence, the mothers are two of my closest friends. One of the things I wanted to accomplish by starting this blog was to find people who could support me and advise me on the struggle I had in parenting Grace. Thank goodness I found some.

Monday, October 12, 2009

O Dia das Crianças, or Children's Day

One time when I was a kid, my mother had my sisters and I working hard on something for Father's Day. I can't remember what, I can't remember how old I was, I just remember that it seemed like a lot of work. I remembering asking my mother something like, "there's Mother's Day, there's Father's Day, when is Children's Day?"

My mother quickly retorted, "every day is children's day, we don't need to set aside a special day for that." I felt badly that I had asked such a dumb question. And I was disappointed.

It turns out, my mother's answer was a reflection of her culture, her American, WASPy, puritanical culture. Children should be seen and not heard, children should mind their elders, children don't really count until they are more like adults.

In Brazil, children are not menaces, people who are a bother until they mature and become "real people." Children are part of every day life. They are kissed and hugged a lot. They are part of dinner time conversation and are included in banquets and dinners out of all kinds. Nothing is too formal for children to be included in. It's not just parents who are like this; family is a social unit that is important in Latin America, and family includes children of all ages. Everyone gets to be a kid and, as an adult, you get to revisit your childhood every time there is a child around. Perhaps it's not a coincidence then that every year on October 12th, in the middle of spring in Brazil, everyone stops to celebrate "O Dia das Crianças," or "Children's Day."

O Dia das Crianças is everything you'd think the holiday would entail. A day off of school (and a day off of work for grown ups!), presents, celebration, music, games. It's like one big birthday party for all the kids in the country. Since we are a bi-national household, it's O Dia das Crianças at our house today too.

I made a cake for the girls. We're also having pizza for dinner since Grace likes that a lot. For gifts, Stella is getting a mirror for her crib, a tummy time play rug, and a laminated collage of photos of our family members. Grace is getting a cover for her iPod, the book "Half the Sky," and a new stationary set.

If you have children in your house, give them a big hug and wish them Happy Children's Day!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A dietary consideration

I don't have the greatest sense of nutrition. I know what I should eat and what's good for me, but I have the worst cravings around. Fried food, fatty desserts, cheese sausage (love the cheese and sausage), and sweet treats. I really can't resist it. If I go out to eat, the only chance that veggies will show up on my plate is if I'm at a vegetarian restaurant.

But there's a catch. If my intake is being directly passed on to someone, I tend to be a little more careful. When I'm pregnant, I make sure to get enough calcium and eat 5-6 fruits and vegetables a day. I eat fish, not too much and not too little (you need to Omega-3, but can't overdo it on the mercury). Fat is ok, because little people in utero need fat. Sugar is ok too, as long as you don't make it your whole meal and aren't hungry for foods with essential nutrients.

Some of you astute readers out there are remembering something important. See, pregnancy isn't the only time when what I eat is passed directly on to someone else. One of you is bound to bring it up, so I'll just get it out there in the open: Heather, didn't you mention way back when you were pregnant that you were going to nurse Stella exclusively for a year?

Why, yes. Yes, I did say that.

Indeed, Stella's had nothing but mommy milk since she came out of my womb.

Well then, it's relevant to consider my diet, yes. What exactly am I putting into my body to help Stella grow strong? Er, um, well. I've got a slight problem, ladies and gentlemen.

Lately I've noticed something odd going on with my appetite. At first I thought it was just my old friend, my addiction to Coca-Cola, rearing its ugly head. No matter, passing caffeine to a baby is no big deal. But then I started craving coke all the time. Like, right after I finish one can, I start longing for another. Then it occurred to me, this isn't just a caffeine addiction. This is something worse. I'll wake up and for breakfast I make a piece of cinnamon toast on white bread and a second piece of plain toast with grape jelly. (I've never eaten white bread before.) Feeling guilty, I might make some cooked apples, doused in sugar and cinnamon. The tiny powdered doughnuts that my husband leaves out for Grace to eat after swim practice? They look irresistible. I down the whole lot of them before noon. The candy bowl full of Skittles was emptied in a day or two. A pack of Juicy Fruit with 15 pieces would be gone in one day.

Notice the trend? Simple carbs. Sugars. I can't get enough of them.

If I stopped and ate a deep fried something with some protein, it actually would be good. At least I'd be getting protein with my fat. But as it is, I stare into the fridge, I see the ham and cheese, and then I close the door and eat a pound of pretzels.

I've never had this happen before. What's going on? Do any of you have any ideas? I can't imagine this is filling my milk with the right nutrients, even when I'm taking a prenatal vitamin every day. And of course, it's ok for me and I don't gain weight as long as I'm making the milk, but sooner or later I'm going to stop. And then what happens? It can't be good.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More about me than you ever wanted to know

Right after Stella was born, Heather of Cool Zebras sent me and some other bloggers in the Midwest an email. She was curious to find out if the collective blog Midwest Parents (which Heather created) could be reinvented, rebooted, revived in a sense. She wanted to know who was in.

I thought about it long and hard. If I committed, I was really committing. How much extra time did I have? And there was a new baby...

She sent out details on how the blog was going to be reorganized. I'll admit, I was intimidated. Each contributor would have a week of their own, five straight days of blogging. And not just blogging anything, there were daily themes. Like, I'd have to come up with something for "Foodie Friday" and I'd have to write up something about my personal reading.

But I'll also admit, it looked pretty cool. The stuff Heather* wanted to include in the new and improved Midwest Parents was stuff I don't do here. I don't do Wordless Wednesday or give parenting tips. Here...well, here I mostly lament. More importantly, I was not only intrigued by how this would stretch myself as a blogger, I was interested to see what the other contributors would dish up for me to chew on. Eager to be part of a renewed project, I decided to jump in.

The re-launch of Midwest Parents officially began last Friday when Heather introduced herself to the readers of Midwest Parents. Since then, the contributors have been posting their own introduction each day. And today? Who posted their introduction today? Why, me, of course! So check it out, ok? And check back every single weekday for something new at Midwest Parents!

* When I was a kid, there were always a ton of other girls with my name. Now? Now we're all bloggers, apparently. Evidence? The ones I can think of off the the top of my head are this woman, this woman, Heather at Cool Zebras and me. Lemme know if you know of others (or if you're a Heather too!). I think I'm gonna have to do a genuine Heathers post one of these days. Because despite being Heather, I was so much of a Veronica.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I trust my doctors now

Last Friday morning Stella had her two month old appointment with her pediatrician. Both my husband and I attended the appointment. We're obsessive parents of a newborn like that. She hasn't had to see her doctor since she was two weeks old and satisfied the medical team that she was gaining weight like a proper baby should. Well, then. On to being a typical baby.

Two months includes such highlights as a weight and growth check, discussion over feeding, pooping, sleeping, and crying, and scheduled vaccinations. Here are the highlights.

  • 'Member my tiny little newborn, the one that was 4 weeks early and not even 6 pounds when she left the hospital? She's a chunky and chubby one now, well above average weight and height for her actual age (not adjusted for premature birth). That's good.
  • She got three shots and an oral vaccination (for rotavirus). She did very well, crying for a few seconds, being easily comforted, and then settling down for the rest of the day. As far as my opinion on vaccination schedules in the United States, I am a strong proponent. Why? Because my kids are international gals, traveling the globe several times over. If you live in a small town in America and you believe that you will never leave the country and your kids will never come in contact with someone else from another country, then you're probably safe with them not getting vaccines. However, the diseases that children are vaccinated against do still exist in the world, many of them still here in the United States. I want to make sure my child doesn't get them or spread them.
  • She appears to be a typical two month old baby with respect to sleep schedule. Great. I'll keep my addiction to caffeine up, thank you very much. Because no more than 3 straight hours of sleep since she was born is really taking a toll on me and my migraines.
The pediatrician asked what position she sleeps in. On her back? On her side? On her stomach? And where? In her crib? In a bassinet? In bed with us? For those of you who have had a newborn, you know where this is going. SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Babies who sleep on their stomachs and/or in bed with their parents, for reasons that are still unknown, are are a much higher risk of being victims of SIDS.

We swaddled Stella like mad from the moment she came out of my belly until she was about six weeks old. Two blankets, in fact. We called her our little burrito. Once she was swaddled, we laid her square on her back until she stirred and awoke, either from hunger or from the need of a diaper change. It worked pretty well. But all that changed when she was six weeks old. She would have no more of it, screaming until she was free from the blankets. So we'd lay her on her back in the crib without the blanket, her limbs flying about. As you can imagine, she didn't sleep very well. Neither did we. Within 48 hours, I decided to start laying her to rest on her stomach.

I told my husband all the info about SIDS. Despite this, we concurred on the decision. We also said we'd check with the doctor when Stella had her two month check up.

So, we told the pediatrician. We told her that Stella is sleeping on her belly. And she told us, stop doing it. You're putting your child at risk for SIDS.

She wasn't all doom and gloom; she's actually a really good doctor who listens well. She's sympathetic and encouraging towards the sleep-deprived parents of a newborn trying to get the baby to sleep. But really, she was pretty clear about not letting Stella sleep on her stomach until she's at least six months old.

I came home and my mind started running. How much at risk is Stella, really? I mean, these sorts of tragedies are surely the result of something more than just putting your baby on their stomach. We're far too attentive to our baby to possibly be at real risk for SIDS. Right? And doesn't SIDS affect newborn babies a lot more rampantly than babies who are "out of the woods"? Even if no one's ever showed that result, I'm sure there's something to it. I thought, as soon as I get Stella down for her next nap, I'll go online and find out some more facts.

And then...I stopped myself. What the heck? My baby's PEDIATRICIAN tells me something about how to take care of my baby, and I second guess her? What is the point of taking the baby to the doctor if I'm not going to trust what she tells me? I DID, after all, choose this pediatrician for BOTH of my daughters after MUCH THOUGHT AND CONSIDERATION. Why did I bother going to all that trouble if I don't trust the doctor in the end?

Stella was falling asleep on my shoulder. I carefully brought her to her crib and laid her on her back. Then I put a blanket over her belly and legs and firmly tucked it under her body to make sure it wouldn't get tangled up over her face. And then I resolved not to second guess people when they are telling me what's best for me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I wish Ken Burns had gotten my attention when I was in high school

If you haven't seen it yet, there's a new documentary debuting on PBS this week, The National Parks. It's the finished project resulting from almost a decade of work by Ken Burns, one of the most recognized documentary film makers of our day. Since everything I know about this documentary is from interviews with Ken Burns that I watched last week, I'll save you all the trouble of reading and simply embed two of the videos here.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Ken Burns
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Twelve hours long, divided into 6 2-hour segments. Tonight the final installment is airing. At the start of the week, we scheduled the DVR to record all 6 segments so that we could watch them as we had time. (Yes, I figured out how to use the DVR, that wonder of modern technology that lets you watch a television show whenever you like and pause it in the middle too.)

I've gotten the chance to watch the first two hours so far, about the beginnings of the National Parks at Yosemite and Yellowstone. As I watched it, I started remembering my high school lessons from US History. Vaguely. John Muir, that name sounded familiar. Wasn't I supposed to know who that was once upon a time? It seems like I was supposed to have read something about him that I didn't and then there was a question on a test that I didn't know. Nez Perce sounded familiar too. I knew it referred to an indigenous language of the Americas, but I seemed to remember that there was some other important thing about the people group that I should know. But I couldn't call it up.

As a junior in high school, I took US History as an AP course. It was what you were supposed to do if you were headed to college. I took it and I never cracked higher than a C in the class. Worse, I didn't learn much about American history. It wasn't until long after I finished my BA that I started wanting to understand the history of the country I grew up in. I realized that it affected my daily life. I needed to know what had happened in the tract of land and to the people who lived there, regardless of their citizenship and ancestry.

As I watched the first installment of The National Parks, I started wishing I could have seen it as a high school student. Maybe I would have had a chance at understanding why history mattered. Maybe I would have paid attention long enough to realize it was an interesting story.

I really found myself having a lot of regrets about how I approached my education.

And then it occurred to me: I can't go back and change my own high school experience, but I can influence Grace's experience. Grace is taking AP US History this year. I could suggest to Grace that she watch the series on the National Parks. She could enjoy learning about the history of the United States instead of trying to reconstruct the stories from the dry text in a thick, heavy coursebook.

I must say, so far she's taking the course a lot more seriously than I did. She seems to understand the ideas more fully than I did, too. When I suggested that she watch the series, she responded well. The next day she watched about an hour of the first show and took notes.

Once again, I'm realizing that Grace is a far more mature person than I give her credit for. And she's a far more mature person than I was when I was her same age.

Homecoming is here again.

Tonight. Tonight's the night.

It's Homecoming at Grace's high school.

Last year I had no idea what Homecoming meant, what the event entailed. This year, I was prepared.

There's a football game, yes, but who really cares about that? Grace especially doesn't care given that she's on the swim team and they had a meet scheduled at exactly the same time as the Homecoming football game.

The most important event, of course, is a dance. A semi-formal. Grace, unlike most girls, goes to a dance and wants to dance. She wants to be wild, be goofy, take pictures, eat, and have A LOT OF FUN. BOOOOOOOO, she says to the girls who go to these events and look and act like princesses, not daring to do anything to muss themselves. A dance is for letting down your hair and HAVING FUN.

Now that you get the picture, here are the essential points I have learned since last year.

#1 - It is very important that you pick out a dress that makes you look spectacular. It is also very important that no one else pick out your spectacular dress.

Grace and I set out a day, a Saturday three weeks ago, to go shopping together for a dress. The two of us with baby Stella in tow went to the mall on a mission. Once we had located the motherload of dresses at our favorite department store, we grabbed as many dresses as we could find and Grace tried on at least thirty. We narrowed it down to eight, and then two. Finally, she decided on a purply-blue satin dress with silver accents. Low cut in the front, yes, but not in a way that looks slutty. It's technically a halter top, but the back has this fantastic look where two straps come from her nape down to the sides of the dress. Like backless with some flair. She said it didn't look like a typical Homecoming dress, the kind that people would expect you to buy (ergo, no one else is likely to pick out the same dress). She also bought $16 silver ballet flats with a big sequined flower at the toes that make the dress stand out and look fun. And that you actually dance in, as opposed to just look dressy in.

Stella behaved perfectly through the whole process.

#2 - You have to weigh the pros and cons of going with a date.

Grace mentioned to me this Tuesday that she might be going to the dance with a date. Now you must realize, Grace has never actually been on a date before. I asked her for more details. Well, she said, it was a friend of hers, someone who has a girlfriend who goes to another high school, but they may be breaking up, but that doesn't matter because Grace and this boy are just friends, and in the end, who really would think much of it anyway? By Wednesday she told me there was no date because she decided that the whole situation was just too complicated. Last night, she told me that several boys had asked her to the dance, but she turned them all down because she didn't want to have to spend all night with one guy when what she really wanted to do was party with her girlfriends. OK, then.

#3 - Corsages are not obligatory.

Last year, at the last minute only hours before the dance, I remembered that Grace would need a corsage for the dance. I called four florists from my office before one would agree that they could get it ready in the space of three hours. I agreed, paid through the nose for it, and it was beautiful. It matched her dress perfectly. I brought it home, my husband gave it to her, and she smiled for pictures with the lovely attached to her wrist. Then she quietly slipped it off before we left for the dance, leaving it on her desk at home. She put it up on display after the weekend as a souvenir. My husband was hurt. She explained to us that it's really weird to wear a corsage if you don't have a date. And though it might be nice to have a corsage and a date, see the discussion under #2.

So, my life is easy. No corsage to worry about this year. Or ever, for that matter, since I only have daughters.

#4 - When you get ready for the dance, it is way more fun to do this with friends.

I have this old-fashioned, idealized notion that every time my daughter has a formal event to attend, she will be close by so that I can relish in her getting ready process and can take an endless number of photos before she actually attends. In the sitting room, by the front door, in a scenic location both in the front yard and the back yard, a beautiful pose, a silly pose, posed with my husband, posed with me, and on and on and on the list goes.

Well, Grace doesn't really have all this as part of her idealized night of Homecoming. She wants to get ready with her friends and go to the dance with them too. The only way for both me and her to have our way is for me to host her friends and let them all get ready at my house. So two of her friends are coming over this afternoon and they are spending two hours getting ready together. Grace wants pizza and other refreshments on hand. I am surprising her by providing Izze, a beverage far too expensive for every day consumption.

I'll take pictures of all three girls in the sitting room, by the front door,...

#5 - Parents should be cool and trust teenagers who have never dreamed of doing anything dangerous in the first place.

'Nuff said.

Happy Homecoming, all you sophomores at Grace's high school.

One more time, because it's a message that matters

This is the third time I've posted this video to my blog. The first two times were in December 2008 and in January of this year. The video is put out by The Girl Effect. Indeed, I put it up now, for a third time, because it really is that good.

Yesterday I got a notice on my Facebook newsfeed that Oprah Winfrey was going to mention The Girl Effect on her show that afternoon. I tuned in and, sure enough, her whole show was dedicated to real ways that each one of us can change a woman's life in a developing country. She even included a page on her site that gives direct links to numerous organizations and specific ways you can help another woman. There's also a newly released book, Half The Sky, that inspired the show Oprah put on yesterday. I'm ordering a copy today for our home and making sure Grace gets to read it.

I haven't been contacted my anyone to endorse this cause in any way. For all I know, none of these organizations even knows I exist. I am so persistent in mentioning this cause because I'm being hit smack on the head by something so important, so obvious, that I have to pay attention to. Our world is plagued by so many ills that could be solved. None of them can be solved until women around the world are no longer marginalized. How can I as a woman ignore that? I am among the most privileged group of women to have ever walked the earth; how can I ignore that most of the women on the planet do not have this measure of privilege?

There is a woman in Brazil who I think of every day. Take that back, she's not a woman, she's a girl. She is fifteen years old, the same age as my older daughter. I've never met her; I don't even know her name. But I hear about her a lot and I worry about her. She has lived in poverty her entire life. Years ago, her two older brothers stopped their education in order to work and try to make money for their family. This girl has also stopped going to school; she gave birth to her first child, a girl, the same week that Stella was born. The baby's father is in his twenties and long since gone. This fifteen year old girl is raising her baby alone. One girl the same age as my oldest daughter giving birth to another daughter the same age as my younger daughter. I wish I could take both of the girls in my arms and hold them. I wish I could make their life as good as the one my two girls have had. Instead, I think of them. Each month their family gets $100 from more fortunate people, generous people; it doesn't go far, but it gives them some of the necessities that they would otherwise do without. In the absence of anything else I can do for them, I hope that the money helps their situation get better.

That's my touchstone, the one I use to remember that every girl matters. A lot. I need to remember that I am rich, I experience the most lavish life that this planet can offer. Here in the industrialized world, the first world, we've spent the last two years navel gazing and believing that the sky is falling because we are experiencing economic downturn. Imagine a different world though, one where all the luxuries we have let go of never existed in the first place. They are impossible dreams. Just the privilege of going to school is not something you as a woman are allowing to do.

Today, today let's make a difference.
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