Month: December 2013

motherhood and the myth of the american bootstrap

lifestyle, parenting, Uncategorized December 25, 2013

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How our country treats pregnancy and motherhood is social issue, it is a public health issue, it is a moral issue. Yet our public policy on these matters lags behind many if not most other countries. The statistics are horrifying. At a time when insurance is a national discussion, maternity leave should be a bigger part of that. (I did see a headliner at Fox News asking whether it was unfair that men had to pay for insurance that covered prenatal/maternity costs. Are you kidding me? Who here came into this world but through birth. It is infuriating). At a time when minimum wage and social aid are at issue, let’s remember what those things pay for: our families. At a time when abortion is a hot topic, the rights of the mother and child unit should equally be at issue. If you try to separate mother and child, as we are doing legally, things get crazy. There is no meaningful physical separation until weaning, and there is no emotional separation for long after. This is insanity, and it is the core of everyone’s life and should be the core of our society. I have so much regard, respect, and gratitude for this country. This makes me angry though, this monumental aspect of every life, not even just human life, is relegated to the sidelines. It is not just women who suffer, but children and families and ultimately society.

I was completely taken by surprise by how hard it is to be a mother. I’m not even talking about the late nights, the diapers, and the child that needs you endlessly. I am talking about the ridiculous choice you are faced with if you are a professional or working woman in this country. The choice I initially faced was: 1) continue on as if you are not having a baby, work until your due date take 6-12 weeks off un-paid, then put your very young baby in (expensive) daycare and see them on evenings and weekends; or 2) quit your job and be poor, potentially uninsured, and isolated (partly because of the long hours my husband needs to work, and partly because I can’t make enough at a part time job to justify child care). I chose the latter.

I pretty much had to work up until my due date. I was exhausted and in pain, but I had to hoard my sick days and administrative leave days in order to eek out as much as I could during my ‘maternity leave’. In some countries, Germany I believe, women get time off BEFORE they give birth. It makes so much sense to not be exhausted before you go through this incredible physical feat, followed immediately by what will most likely be the most exhausting year of your life. I believe it also leads to more successful vaginal births and higher birth weights. (How much money do we spend in this country on c-sections whose rates are constantly on the rise?) Ok, fine, so I had to work until my due date. I might have done that anyway because of my personality. What about after the child is born?

My boss came into my office and counted off six weeks on the calendar to work out my return date. (My boss, who was a female and. a mother.). When is the last time you held a six week old infant? That we expect children to go into day care as a matter of course at that age, or a little older is insane. Our education system is in decline, the party of family values is fighting aid to poor families, and the choice many mothers face is financial doom or placing their tiny child in the hand of strangers. Do we really think this is the best thing for the next generation? Children need their mothers. In most instances, their mothers and fathers are the best, most capable caregivers. Babies that age require an incredible amount of patience, nature allows for that with the intensely strong parental bond. Hired caregivers just cannot provide the same and patience. Much like the studies that seemingly endlessly show that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you, it is obvious and yet we are still discovering reasons why it is important. I realized that above all, me being the one to care for my child was the most important thing I could be doing. I agonized over quitting my job. I liked my job. We needed insurance, we needed money. I was terrified about letting that bottom drop out from under us, but every time I thought about returning to work and leaving my son, I sobbed.

I am angry because I followed all the rules and have worked hard, and here I am writing a blog on how to live off very little so that I can be a parent to my child. I started working as soon as I could drive. I got good grades in highschool, went to a decent college and got good grades there. I worked throughout most of college, and did my obligatory time as a waitress through grad school, tolerating all the condescension that comes with it. Got married, went to law school, graduated and took a low paying job as a public servant because that is why I went to law school, to serve. Imagine my surprise when it was time for me to start a family and all my diligence in laying this solid groundwork for a career and way of contributing to the community was rewarded with nothing. My super expensive state insurance wasn’t even covering enough of my pre-natal costs, my husband and I were both working full time jobs and we had to ask family for help. Thank god we had that option. (Which is by the way, the ONLY reason we are able to get by on just my husband’s pay as it is).

There has to be a better way to raise the next generation. I don’t know what it is. All I know is that I spend a great amount of time trying to think myself out of a box I put myself in by doing what I thought was right, and working hard. It is scary that at this point in our country, you can work very hard, make the right moves, get the education and bootstrap yourself all the way to poverty by having a child. Maybe if my husband and I had different degrees (though I have three to choose from), maybe if we stayed in the city, it would be different. I hate feeling powerless. I have always said that if you don’t like where you are, change it. I honestly feel that I have done what society asked of me, and now it is asking more. I will not give up my child. We as a country need to think this through as a policy matter, as a political issue, and as a moral one. The premise and promise of America is that if you work hard, you will succeed and get your piece of the pie. A corollary to that is that if you have not succeeded, you must not have worked hard. This may have been true once, but it is no longer the case. The notion that the poor are lazy and intent on voting in representatives who will give them a free ride is crazy and out of touch, and yet it is very popular. I will offer that it is popular, because in order to justify having so much more than others, it is better for those at the top to believe that they deserve it and are morally entitled to it because of all the hard work they have put in, where the have nots have just not tried.

There is a very old debate in philosophy as to whether altruism really exists. One arm of that debate is that it doesn’t because, often, what is good for others is really good for you as well. So this Christmas, in the interests of self service, I implore you to consider what is really good for our families and our children and our society. We need economic and social policies that at the very least, feed hungry bellies and at the best enable families to exist and thrive. This hits all arenas from national budget decisions, to tax codes, to the federal minimum wage, and health insurance. Let us make decisions about these issues based on the good of our people, and not on the notion that the growing lower class is poor because of laziness and moral deficiencies. Merry Christmas to all!

christian nation

Uncategorized December 19, 2013

Fair forewarning: I’m in a mood. This whole Duck Dynasty business has raised my ire. Apparently, this main Duck Dynasty star said some stuff about homosexuals being sinners, and how he doesn’t get the appeal of an anus. (Among other things, some pretty astounding racial comments as well). A friend on Facebook, posted her support of Phil whoever he is for being honest and sincere with his beliefs. I pointed out that being honest isn’t the end all be all of virtue when what you are being honest about is asshattery. I said it in nicer, more diplomatic terms. We have been going back and forth now for quite sometime about the whole thing. Me saying, don’t be assholes and judge other people. Her saying, don’t judge me because I am a Christian. Oi Veh. This drives me nuts. God is love. Jesus is all about forgiveness and NOT about you getting to sit in judgment of your fellow man. I read it. In the bible. So live and let live, love and let love. Let the gays do what they want, it’s not up to you. If you are right and homosexuality is an abomination, then God will take care of business for you. Aren’t you supposed to have faith in Him? I have no problem with Christianity, or Jesus. He was great. I have a problem with you, and what you are saying in the name of Christianity. Give to the poor. Turn the other cheek. Judge not, lest you be judged by your own standards. Remember the bit about stoning the harlot and throwing the first stone, only if you yourself have not sinned? Don’t make me say these things. Don’t sit back and tell me you are being persecuted for you beliefs when your beliefs are to persecute others. The motes and beams are in your eyes and mine, I am calling out the beam in yours without claiming to be a follower of Christ, only a great admirer.

PS: I am not speaking to all of Christianity, that would be crazy talk, to condemn a group so large based one uniting characteristic. I am speaking to my a few friends. I am speaking to certain right wing conservative loud mouths in the media. I am speaking to the madness that has this country divided in half. Go be a christian nation then! One that does not take care of it’s poor. One that doesn’t welcome it’s Mexican christian brothers and sisters. One that condemns love unless it fits a certain standard. One that allows the powerful to climb to greater heights of power on the backs of the weak and calls that virtue. One that doesn’t have a black president. One in which women get to be incubators for the God fearing state. Fear and greed and hate have no business speaking in God’s name. God doesn’t need my help, but this is just starting to make me crazy! Oh, and don’t assume that I don’t believe in God because I believe you are a dick. You are not God and you do not speak for him.

One more minor thing, A&E is not a government entity and therefore not infringing on free speech. So say whatever you want, and with some exceptions you will not be prosecuted. By law. By the government. Do not expect the first amendment to protect you from any and all consequences of saying small minded and bigoted things. It won’t. People may get angry with you, you may be fired. Neither Christianity nor the constitution will shield you from the fact that you are an asshat. Sing your beliefs at the top of your lungs, but when they are cruel and prejudiced, expect reactions.

Here is a kinder, gentler, more christian blog post of some of the hypocrisy I was ranting against above:

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/literalist-gluttony

screen time: beautiful apps for children

parenting, Uncategorized December 14, 2013

When I was pregnant with my son I was resolute about the role I wanted technology to play in his early life. Wood blocks, books, dirt and the great outdoors. No smartphones decked out in baby proof cases, no TVs in the car, no tablets at the table. Now that’s he is 15 months old, I am beginning to question my earlier convictions. We are still strictly a no TV house and I am not running to the apple store for a jr. iPad, but I have indulged in some app purchases for the younger set.

I understand that ‘screen time’ detracts from the never ending experiment that toddlers are engaged in, that repeatedly transferring a spoon from the countertop to a bowl is a vital activity. I have come to believe that our family at least, cannot pretend that iPhones and tablets and laptops are not hopelessly ubiquitous in today’s world, and that like it or not, the kid is going to take interest. My hope is that I can guide my son’s engagement and keep it contained so that it doesn’t overwhelm and prevent him from engaging with the ‘real’ world.

Here are a few apps that I have found, I have searched for apps that are beautiful and educational. I found that some are elevating applications to art and am happy to expose my son (carefully and in small doses) to what will likely be a great area of creative effort in the coming years (as well as a great opportunity to waste time).

1. Christoph Niemann’s ‘Petting Zoo’
This app is amazing, artfully done and very amusing.

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2. Eric Carle’s ‘My Vert First App’
This one is very simple and showcases Eric Carle’s well loved children’s art.

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3. Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’
This is as close to TV as my son gets. It’s a sweet musical trip around the world and he loves it.

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4. Charley Harper’s ‘Peekaboo Forest’. This is a simple app with an attractive design that teaches the names of various woodland creatures.

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5. Moonbots ‘The Numberlys’. This is basically an animated short with interactive abilities. It is too mature for my son, but my husband loves it. It has very cool graphics and is quietly witty. I look forward to when I can share it with my son.

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crunchy

green living, lifestyle, parenting December 13, 2013

After a big batch of homemade sourdough pancakes and spending the weekend planning a greenhouse food garden while folding a load of cloth diapers and lamenting my 15 month old’s constant desire to nurse, this blog post was just what I needed.

Here’s what I would say about it all if I were funnier:

http://crappypictures.com/crappy-mohs-scale-crunchy-mamas/

We clearly fall somewhere in the ‘only eat local organic food blessed by vegan unicorns.’ Live and let live, toss your disposable diapers in the landfill and enjoy boxed Mac and cheese! (Both of which I also did this weekend). That is all the news that’s fit to print from me today. I also realize it is Friday, but my husband’s days off are Tuesday and Wednesday, everything is relative.

sea ice

photography, travel December 7, 2013

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I saw the ship grow rust and sink into the cold waters. I saw the sun rise and set and rise over melted ice and melted white. My limbs froze in the night to the melted snow between my body at the ridge. As the sun rose it found that my skin was cold and blue and my eyes still focused in only one direction because still blood won’t allow eyes to move. Still the sun moved and as it did snow grew around me until it covered me whole. I was waiting and will forever because waiting doesn’t exist in Antarctica.

beauty is skin deep

green living December 4, 2013

In my quest to reduce both my dependance on the commercial world and my family’s exposure to the plethora of chemicals out there whose effects are still unknown, I have run into mostly dead end in the area of beauty products. Most just don’t seem to work as well without all those wonderful parabens and sulfates and what have you. There are books and blogs and articles a plenty who beg to differ, but they get my hopes up only to be crushed by empirical observation.

I have found two exceptions. Facial cleansers/moisterizers and deoderant. I can’t believe it either. These seemed like the least likely candidates to me for a simple cheap solution. I have been using anti wrinkle creams since I was in my early twenties- an ounce of prevention? Astringents, exfoliators, pore reducers, acne clearers etc. The amount of money that I have pent on hope in this area has to be gargantuan. Some time ago, I ran out of my preferred, expensive, Le Occitane facial cleanser as well as my favorite Aveda tourmaline lotion. I may be a stay at home mother in a small town, but I still want to maintain some sort of attention to my appearance. (The bar is low, trust). I had some sweet almond oil in my medicine cabinet, and out of desperation, decided to try out oil cleansing. Much to my surprise, it works. Well. My skin looks and feels better than it has in ages. I still use an exfoliator once a week, but guess what works well for that? Baking soda! Necessity is the mother of trying something new that you previously disregarded as hairy armpit hippy bull. I have since tried out other oils (castor and grapeseed) as recommended on various websites, but for my skin, sweet almond oil is the only one that seems to adequately replace the look and feel of my old favorites. All you do is wet your face with warm water, rub in the oil, let it sit for a while, then rinse it off. Bango, you are cleansed and moisterized. I use a little witch hazel now and then as a refreshing astringent, and as I said baking soda to exfoliate. Skin care regime complete.

Now for deoderant. What a disaster. I live in a town populated with not a few hippy types, my parents moved here as said types. It gives the town a careless, alternative vibe (and a vocabulary replete with words like ‘vibe’ and references to astrology as if discussing the weather). This is great and I love it, but I still don’t want to smell. Ever since I was pregnant with my son, I have been trying to find an aluminum free deoderant that works. He is over a year old and I was failing miserably until Thanksgiving, when I was desperate once again. We were going to my father’s house where the guests included some folks not from our hippy haven, and others who probably just wanted to smell the food cooking rather than me. In the midst of bundling up the toddler, and grabbing pumpkin pies, I also grabbed some baking soda and water and rubbed it under my arm. Bango. Smell gone. For hours. Amazing. I have an expensive deoderant waiting for me at the post office that I ordered after reading a review swearing that it was finally the answer. I’ll use it, but when I’m done I will be using one of the baking soda, coconut oil recipes that google coughs up in great numbers.

Now for shampoo and conditioner, the search continues.

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tightening the belt: living with less by cutting grocery costs

green living, lifestyle December 1, 2013

Part of this whole lifestyle overhaul involves a serious effort to make our lives more budget friendly. Only one income means earning less, a lot less. Further, if we are going to start our own business in the near-ish future, we are going to need to be able to get by on even less. Finally part of my whole plan involves figuring out a way to prevent numbers in accounts and pieces of paper from dictating how we spend our time. We are trying refute the mightiness of the all mighty dollar.

As discussed in my previous post, we are going to be building a greenhouse in order to grow our own food year round. It is December, so that is going to have to wait. We used to have chickens, our flock was decimated by coyotes when we moved. We plan on raising them again because once established, they are cheap and easy to maintain. Once again, it will have to wait until the spring. In the meantime, we are figuring out how to cut down on grocery costs without compromising the quality that we have become accustomed to and we feel necessary in raising a child. The food situation in the U.S. has become alarming. Short of growing your own food, it is very difficult and expensive to be sure that it is not actually dangerous to your health. I wish I had more trust in government regulations, but the bottom line seems to be driving most of large scale agriculture. Local and organic farmers are fighting an uphill battle, and we do our best to participate by spending our money at the local health food grocery store, but it is getting pricey.

1. No more dining out
Probably the biggest thing we are doing to cut down on food costs is to stop eating out. This has the dual effect of being cheaper and healthier. It can become a bit tiresome, so we are not above the occasional burrito or pizza. We are also allowing ourselves the occasional happy hour pint. By and large though, it has to stop.

2. Meat is an accessory, not the main event
This is hard. It is easy to rely on meat as the focal point of your meal. It is easy to rely on it as a filling protein source. It is also delicious. However, when you are living close to the poverty line in (in either direction), and refuse to eat anything but local hormone free grassfed beef, it is not a reality. Our plan is to only have meat a couple of dinners a week, and when we do, it should be used to enhance rather than as the center of the dish. This is also important because it forces us to get creative using vegetables to create variety and make satisfying meals. We already do pretty well, but relying primarily on vegetables is a g good way to get started on relying on the garden we are planning. Finally, it is better for our health. If you are thinking about cutting down on your meat consumption, a great way to inspire“sa yourself is checking out the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” When I say inspire, I may mean scare. On the other hand if you are going veggie for the sake of all god’s creatures, check out “Food Inc.” There are a plethora of food documentaries out there, and though obviously not unbiased, it is always important to keep a critical eye. See the trailer for “Forks Over Knives” below.

forks over knives trailer

3. Make what we can
We like good bread. Good bread costs $4.79 a loaf where we live. My husband eats two sandwiches a day for lunch. That adds up fast. So, we have started making our own bread. Where we used to spend almost $10 a week on bread alone, we are now just paying for the flower basically. We have a good french bread recipe so far, and use half whole wheat. We are working on the sourdough now. Luckily I inherited a bread machine, so it is nearly effortless. Making your own means just buying ingredients and cooking with whole foods. It is cheaper because you pay for the convenience of partially prepared foods. It is also better for you, less sodium, less preservatives, less ingredients whose names you can’t pronounce. A slow cooker helps. Planning helps. It is a little more effort in both preparation and planning, but cooking food is enjoyable if you allow it to be.

4. Grow/ produce what we can
This was mentioned above. We are only going so far as gardens and chickens. Someday perhaps more, though I don’t mind buying meat and dairy at all. Some conveniences are worth the cost.

We made a chicken coop last time of my husbands design, but are thinking of taking advantage of the efforts/knowledge of others this time. Here is a link to one set of plans I am thinking of using.

Garden Coop