Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How I prepare my garden beds

The first time I had to dig a garden bed, it took awhile. That is to say, it took me about half an hour to do 10% of it, and then John took over because I was beat. And that was in a relatively bare patch of the yard, in April when the grass isn't growing much yet.

The next time, I did it in the middle of July in a thickly-sodded part of the yard. It. Was. Awful. We have this really matted kind of grass with runners connecting it all together, so you have to sort of chop at it to get through it at all. And then you've got all this sod that you don't know what to do with: either you chop it up and bury it (in which case that nasty invasive grass comes right up a week later), or you remove it and find that your garden bed is two inches lower than the rest of the yard.

I got maybe six square feet done a day, and that was working hard. I spent maybe a week on it, got enough for the beans, and gave up.

Awhile later I had the idea that I might have an easier time if I tried to kill the grass first. So I prepared the next patch by spreading newspapers over the grass, weighing the newspapers down with bark mulch, and waiting. The hot sun on the smothered grass did the job really quickly. (It did the same underneath the kiddie pool, sigh.) Two weeks later, the grass was still there, but it was yellowed and beginning to rot. I started to hack through it, and it was WAY easier. The stems, roots, and runners had all softened and were easy to cut with the side of my shovel. I did toss the dead grass, but much less soil clung to it than to the live grass in the other bed.

I prepped the next patch, and then got too pregnant to do any more. So I let the sun beat on that patch all through September and October, let it get rained on all through November, and let it get frozen in December. Today, it was another of those delightful unseasonably warm winter days (you know, the kind that drives you crazy because you feel like you need to plant tomatoes even though there is nothing alive in the whole yard) and I just had to dig that bed. (My motivation consisted of one part second-trimester energy burst, one part frustrated gardening urge, and one part conviction that there is no way I'm going to want to do this in March or April.)

Turns out "dig" was too strong a word, though. I cleared away the various sticks and leaves I'd used to mulch it, dug up a few clumps of onion grass that had poked through -- and I was done! The sod mat had completely decayed. Not only that, but the soil beneath was much softer than usual and the worm action was amazing. I usually don't find many earthworms in my yard, but this time there was at least one in every shovelful. Afraid to chop up all my lovely worms, I just raked through the top layer and covered it back over with mulch!

Next time I want to build a new bed, I'll remember to start in the fall. The effort is greatly reduced, and the result is much better -- with less soil compaction, too, I'm sure. I've also covered the grass in my last two beds in the past month, and we'll see how they do. The process seems to be working much more slowly on the dormant winter grass than it did in the summer, but hopefully it will make the last bit of digging at least a little easier. (Though let's be honest: I will not be digging those beds. They're for tomatoes and pumpkins, which go in right around the baby's due date. Either my husband, my siblings, or my in-laws are probably going to have to do the honors.)

Here's my technique, honed on several different beds:

1. Start, if possible, in late summer or fall -- but even a week or two before planting can still have good effects. Pick a day that isn't windy, with rain forecast for the next day if you can. If there's wind before your covering gets a chance to get wet, it may all blow away. It may even do this several days in a row before you get smart, if you're me.

2. Spread newspaper, if you have it, thickly over the bed. I use about three thicknesses, and I'm careful to overlap. If there is the slightest gap, the grass will grow through it. It likes to do this at the edges of the bed, too. (You can skip this step if you don't have newspaper. We just happened to have The Washington Post delivered to us in error all summer long. It helps block out weeds.)

3. Over the top of the newspaper, put some kind of mulch. Grass clippings and dead leaves are both excellent. Put as much as you have. Raid the neighbors' leaf piles if you have to, or the edges of the street where the drains are getting clogged with leaves. (This is why fall is ideal. I only wish I had gathered more leaves.)

4. Newspaper and leaves both tend to blow away at the slightest breath of wind. Add something heavy to keep it all down. Wood chips or sticks are good. If you used grass clippings, and plenty of them, those shouldn't budge. I've been using fallen tree branches, the twiggy part that's no good for firewood. You can just throw the branches back in the brush pile when you go to dig the bed, since they won't decay in just one winter.

5. If you're not expecting rain, water the whole bed thoroughly so it doesn't blow away.

In the spring, clear away the mulch and see how much digging -- if any -- there is left for you to do! The newspapers may even be completely broken down. Whatever mulch is left can be dug in or used to cover the bare ground between your rows.

Besides the new beds, I covered all of my already-broken beds from last summer with leaves and garden scraps as well. Erosion is a real problem here, plus I wanted to keep the onion grass and other winter weeds down. The soil beneath seems to be retaining its good tilth and getting some good worm action as well.

Is anyone else getting any garden work done at this time of year? That gardening bug just pays no heed to the calendar!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

No belly pictures this time

When I was pregnant with Marko, friends and family kept hassling me for pictures of my pregnant belly. I let them talk me into it, and posted a few. This time, they've started to do it again ... and I've decided to say no.

The reason I went along last time is because I'm at such a distance from my family. I knew it must be hard for them to get their heads around the idea that I was becoming a mother. So I posted a few pictures in the hopes that it would help.

But I've never really been comfortable posting belly pictures. I don't like putting up a picture of myself so that people ignore all the features I consider important about myself (like my face) and just stare at my belly. I feel objectified when they do that. In person, people might comment on my belly but they also interact with me individually. Online, when there's just a picture, only the belly gets any attention. I guess I feel like a container instead of a person. People say they "want to see the baby," but they can't see the baby. All they can see is my big ol' gut. Then they all talk about how big it is. Where else is it appropriate to exclaim over the size of a woman's belly?

It just makes me uncomfortable. I don't mind posting pictures of myself when I'm pregnant, and if my belly happens to be visible, so be it. That is what I look like. But it's frustrating to post a picture of me with my husband, or me with my son, or me doing something fun, and all the comments are "oh, it looks like you're showing!" (Especially when I'm not. That's the way my belly always is, thank you very much.) I wish they would comment on how happy I look, or the fun thing I'm doing, or the people I'm with, like they would if I weren't pregnant.

I guess sometimes, when you're hugely and obviously pregnant, you would like people to treat you as just a regular person, instead of always noticing and commenting on the fact that you're pregnant. I imagine disabled people would get tired of people always commenting on their wheelchairs, too. I'm not ashamed, but at the same time, I'm not just a pregnant woman. I'm still the same person I was before.

And when it comes down to it, it is my body and my image. I do not have to post pictures for everyone else to see if I'm not comfortable with it. I came to this conclusion after writing the post about bodily autonomy. If a woman can post a picture of herself nursing her baby, simply because she wants to do so, then I can not post a picture of myself showing off my pregnant belly ... simply because I do not want to do so.

I'm sure lots of people I know will be disappointed by this decision. But in the end, they can't help but respect it. No one can make me display what I don't choose to. And no one can make me feel guilty for respecting my own personal boundaries -- because I don't believe there is anything for me to feel guilty about.

Am I the only one who feels this way? I know it seems the norm to post belly shots ... but surely there are other people who choose not to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Should toddlers say please?

I read this article about making children say please and thank you the other day, and I think I mostly agree with it.

I mean, there's this huge fuss about teaching children to say "please" and "thank you" as early as possible ... but why? What exactly is the purpose of a child who can barely put two words together being able to follow norms of politeness that he doesn't even remotely understand? Is it just to impress the neighbors?

A week or two ago, I read a dad's status on Facebook saying he had been engaged in a battle of wills with his son (a month older than mine) that morning. The kid wanted to get down from his highchair, but the dad wouldn't take him out until he said please. The result was an hour of shrieking and wailing from the child before he "finally realized I meant what I said" and said please.

I found that so exasperating I didn't bother to comment. What a waste of an hour, was my main thought. Is it really that big a deal? (Answer: no, but the parent always feels the need to win every battle, and everything so easily becomes a battle, doesn't it?)

My second thought was, "How do you know the child understands what you are asking?" I'll explain. Two or three months ago, John was sitting and eating ice cream when Marko came up and started begging for some. John kept telling him "say please," but he just wouldn't do it. For reasons that weren't clear at the time, he just kept saying "some that, some that" but wouldn't say please. After several repeats of this performance on different nights, finally something clicked and Marko said please!

At least, we thought something had clicked. But I never could get him to say please about anything else. When I told him to say please, he would run toward the freezer and point. Yep, our kid thought "please" was ice cream!

Awhile after that, I noticed that instead of just naming the thing he wanted, Marko would say "want banana," or "want apple." I realized this was because, when he said banana, I would say "do you want a banana?" He'd repeat, "Want banana." So I modified what I said, and started saying "Do you want a banana, please?" He parroted, "Banana please," and that became his way of asking. He had realized please meant asking, so he started to do it. He still isn't exactly consistent -- probably because I'm not exactly consistent -- but he does sometimes say please, and you know, it's not a big deal to me that it's not 100% of the time.

Meanwhile, Marko has recently forgotten how to say "yes" and "no." He started trying to answer all questions in complete sentences, but because his pronunciation is so atrocious, we never know what he said. So John's been prompting him to "say yes" or "say no." So now can you guess what he says? "Would you like a banana?" "Marko say yes." "Do you want to go to bed?" "Say no." He still doesn't know what it means when we ask him to say something specific. So I can pretty much guarantee any effort to teach him to say please would fall just as flat now as it did a few months ago. The toddler brain is growing so fast that it seems they should be able to understand just about anything -- but it has the weirdest blind spots, so I no longer assume my son is able to understand anything unless I actually have proof of some kind.

Meanwhile this kid has "thank you" down. Unfortunately he doesn't know when to say it. See, when he hands me something, I say "thank you." So now when he wants to give me something, he runs up with it and says "thank you." I figure he'll work out this skill around the time he stops calling himself "you" and starts saying "me." (Which, as a matter of fact, he has done on several occasions this week! He's still really, really confused about pronouns, but he has occasionally gotten them right.)

I also am very good about always saying "excuse me" when Marko's in my way and I need him to move. Recently he figured out what I meant and actually started getting out of my way when I said it. And just today, he was balancing on the edge of my vegetable beds and I was in his way ... and he politely said "excuse me"!

I guess I'm just learning from experience that toddlers learn "etiquette words" the same way they learn all the rest of the words they know -- by hearing adults use them, both when talking to them and when talking to each other.

This explains why manners threw me for such a loop as a kid. I knew how to say "please," definitely. I knew that the appropriate way to ask for something was "Please may I have a sandwich?" and that the way to accept an offer was "Yes, please." This is what we had been taught, and when talking to my parents I used them reliably. (Though it was more like "Please m'ave a sandwich" ... since we didn't understand the words, we didn't tend to say them very distinctly.) But as I got older, I noticed that adults didn't talk like that. I didn't want to say the wrong thing, the wrong thing being whatever other people didn't say. We would all be at a party, and the hostess would ask, "Can I get you a Pepsi?" My dad would say, "Sure, thanks!" Then she'd turn to me and ask if I wanted a glass of milk ... and I was completely thrown! Should I say "yes, please" or "sure, thanks"? Maybe "yes please" was something only our family did! Maybe I would sound like a little kid if I said that, and like a grownup if I said "sure"! The result was that I hesitated a lot and felt really awkward before going with either one, or sometimes just said "no thank you" to things I wanted because I was afraid I'd be rude if I said yes.

Kids want to talk the way adults do. That's how they are wired to learn to talk. So if you always say please when asking a child to do something, or when asking someone else to do something in the child's presence, the child will grow up saying please naturally -- not because he is afraid of getting into trouble if he doesn't, but just because that is what you say when you ask for something. Seems kind of a waste of effort, then, to try to push kids to say please before they've grasped the mechanics of complete sentences, or to have battles with them over whether they said them or not. And ultimately, if you don't say please, I don't know if you can get the habit of saying it to stick.

Do you think kids should say please and thank you from a very young age? How do you teach your kids to do it?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Keeping my cool during tantrums

I'm not 100% sure, but I think that Wednesday may have been the worst day of Marko's life. There was that one day when he was a week old and had a stuffy nose and John had just gone to work and wouldn't be back till Friday ... and that one day when he'd been sick for a week and I exploded a Pyrex dish in the kitchen ... but those would be the only two competitors. I have never seen him throw a fit like this in his life.

I see now what other parents are talking about when they say "tantrums." They don't mean, "five minutes of protest." That was Marko's old norm. This was an hour and a half of ridiculous screaming mayhem. It looked like he was auditioning for The Exorcist. And there was no particular thing that set it off, or anything he wanted, or anything that would cheer him up again.

It started with him being a bit tired and cranky. No wonder, he hasn't slept through the night in about a week. So I was thinking it might be time to try for a nap. I picked him up and carried him into the bedroom. That made him a bit crabbier. I sat down in the rocking chair -- again, bad news. There was wiggling and squirming and protestations of "not tired." But I knew that he was, and was pretty confident he'd be out in ten like he usually is in that mood.

Only he wasn't. First he wouldn't let me sing any lullabies (but screamed if I stopped trying new ones). Then he got really, really, avidly into pulling my hair ... not his usual fiddling but full-on yanking. Between that and the thrashing around, I figured he needed more room to move, so I laid down in his bed with him. That made him more angry and the fussy yells increased. He yanked my hair more fiercely. Then he started trying to kick me in the stomach.

Since I have no intention of letting him kick his baby brother or sister, I said calmly, "I don't like being kicked," and moved off the bed. That's when he went from "crabby protests" to "violent screams." He was truly livid, thrashing and screaming incomprehensibly. I quickly realized that I couldn't even get in range of him without getting hurt, so I left the room. Sometimes that helps him calm down when he's upset. This time, not so much.

I could give you the play-by-play, but it isn't a pleasant tale. I tried everything physically possible, and a few that weren't really (the stroller walk in 30-degree weather actually calmed him down a bit, but we couldn't keep that up). In the end I think he calmed down because he was ready to, rather than from anything I did. Even then, the rest of the day was pretty shaky.

What made it worse for me is that I was coming into the whole thing already not feeling so hot. I'd slept poorly and not enough, just like he had. And I had a splitting headache. And I was having way more braxton-hicks contractions than I like. So the whole time he was throwing his fit, I was thinking, "I can't deal with this! I already feel bad! The only thing that will make me feel better is to relax, and he won't let me!" I started out fairly calm, but after the first 20 minutes I was stewing with my own batch of rage.

It just felt unfair that I have to take kicks, pushes, and hair-pulling from him, and I can't do any of that stuff back. And I'll confess, I wasn't exactly gentle with him each time I hoisted him into his crib, or moved him off of my lap when he was hurting me. I felt like he didn't deserve to be treated nicely because he didn't treat me nicely. Childish much?

So I've been reflecting on how to handle stuff like that better. If, as I think, it's a "terrible two" thing, or just a symptom of his age, it's going to keep happening and I really, really want to handle it better in the future.

Here are a few of the things I came up with, which I think will help me keep a peaceful attitude during an awful day:

1. Occasionally it helps to try to do something else (like read a book) during a stressful patch. Almost all of the time, it's really better not to. When the kid is melting down, it's time to put down my book, end my chat conversation, pull the plug on the sink of dishes, and just accept that it won't happen right now. Trying to accomplish something else while Marko is crabby usually leads to me getting pulled in two directions and feeling angry at him for not letting me get the other thing done.

2. It is not my job to MAKE him stop crying. It's hard for me to accept this because usually I can. But sometimes, I won't be able to, and that doesn't mean I'm a failure. It just means he's not open to being comforted. The time he spends throwing a fit depends on him, not me, and it will not be the end of the world if it goes on all day. It isn't personal. It isn't about me.

3. Conversely, it WILL be the end of the world if I give into my feelings of rage and punch my kid in the face. So that's my goal: not to fix the tantrum in him, but to fix the rage in me. If I maintain calm and do not hurt him, I win. I'm a success. His feelings aren't a reflection on my parenting, but my treatment of him is.

4. I have to focus on being gentle with him at all times. Yelling and yanking him around are somehow what seem to come naturally at times like this. But have you ever known a kid to suddenly dry his tears and give a big smile just because you yelled at him? Or seen a kid who was jerked by one arm out of the grocery store, who suddenly calmed down and said, "Thanks for hurting my arm, Mom -- I feel better now"? Of course not. It usually just escalates the situation.

It feels so unfair to have to absorb his rage and give none back. But isn't that what Jesus did for us? When we were still sinners, he died for us. We never could have learned how to be like him unless he had shown us first, when we didn't deserve it. If I'm mean to Marko till he learns to be nice to me, he'll never learn because he has no example to go on. I don't want to teach him that yelling and harshness are okay.

Of course that sounds like a really high goal. No yelling and no angry, rough touching. And, in fact, given my temperament, it might be impossible. Except that NO words and NO touches are also an acceptable option. I can't give back a gentle answer 100 times out of 100. But I can walk away if I have to. I prefer to keep myself available, and for short tantrums I always do. However, walking away when I'm being screamed at or lashed out at is perfectly reasonable. All it teaches my son is that I have respect for my own boundaries, that he can't hit at me and expect me to stick around and get hit.

On Wednesday, after the first hour, I realized that I absolutely could not continue to be a good mother. I wanted to scream, to kick, to cry, just like he was doing. (Have I mentioned before I'm empathetic to a fault? I can't be around angry people and not feel angry, or sad people and not feel sad. Normally it helps me be a sympathetic mom ... today it was really causing me problems.) So I put his crib mattress back into his crib (it's usually on the floor), put him inside, and left the room. I figured he would at least be safe in there, and I could get the distance I needed.

He just stood in the crib and screamed incomprehensibly for about five or ten minutes till I got back. But just knowing that he was safe and I was not near him was a huge relief. In less than ten minutes, I was up to facing him again.

Some people will say you have to be always ON when a child is unhappy, trying to console him. And if he'd been wanting and accepting my comfort, I probably would have been. But there comes a point when you realize what you're doing is doing the child no good and you a lot of harm, and when you reach it, there's nothing wrong with walking away for a bit.

Well, Wednesday did eventually end, thanks to Daddy rocking him to sleep (I don't think he would have accepted me, so thank goodness John was there). And he hasn't thrown a fit like that since. On Friday, he took a nap and woke up screaming. He wasn't flailing or raging, just plain, simple screaming, which he often does when he wakes up. (Nightmare? Night terror? Teething? Who knows!) I tried to put my ideas into practice. First, I reminded myself that it wasn't my fault he was screaming, that it wasn't my job to stop him from screaming, but just to hold him and rock him while he either calmed down or had a good cry. Second, I relaxed as much as I could and thought about growing tomatoes. I didn't try a million things, because I knew he was sleepy and would probably react badly to being talked to or jostled around. I didn't try to puzzle out the causes too much. I just worked out tomato-staking methods and rocked.

After awhile, he started to pause a bit in his screaming and close his eyes. Would he go back to sleep? No, but he slowly calmed down a lot. So I quietly asked him if he wanted something to eat, and he managed to say yes. I went into the kitchen and got him a cookie (because it was what I had readily available, and because I wanted to give him something he wouldn't argue about ... I am not in the habit of randomly giving him cookies, but it seemed more important to help him pull himself together, so sue me) and sat down with him on the couch. He looked at me, smiled through his tears, ate his cookie, and eventually let himself be coaxed onto the potty, which I'm sure helped him feel better.

The rest of the afternoon was great. It wasn't ruined by 20 minutes of screaming. Maybe it just wasn't as big a deal as Wednesday's fit. Or maybe my calm helped keep his upset feelings from escalating. I have no idea. I do know that I felt a lot more peaceful about this time than the previous time. And that's the goal!

Any other tips for not completely going loony while dealing with an angry child? I need all I can get, because I have no guarantee that this won't happen again!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cooking with cast iron

One of my Christmas presents this year was a set of three cast iron skillets of different sizes. I've been wanting to try cooking with cast iron for awhile, so I was particularly excited to get Christmas dinner started on one of those.

Mine came preseasoned, thank goodness. You see, I'm pretty intimidated by cast iron. There are so many instructions! So many things you're supposed to do! So many things you're not supposed to do!

For instance, you're supposed to preheat them slowly, starting on low heat before moving up to the temperature you want. Because they're heavy, they take longer to preheat than my old teflon pan does. You're also supposed to heat them on a burner before putting them away, to make sure they're completely dry. If you have a glass-top stove, which I do, you can't scootch them across the stove - you have to lift them and set them down carefully.

You can't use any metal implements on them. You can't pour cold water on them when they're hot. You can't soak 'em. You can't scour 'em. You can't use soap on 'em. In fact, pretty much everything that actually works to get gunk off, you can't use.

After a few battles to get off gravy with nothing but lukewarm water and a soft rag, I made a new rule: they are only for dry things. Sauces are just too dang much trouble and I can do them in a pot.

What does work well in my cast iron? Steak. Pancakes. Corn pone and cornbread. Crepes. And no greasing is required. As someone who used to have to add more butter before each pancake to keep them from sticking, I do appreciate that. Though I don't like to test fate, either, so I oil them lightly before most uses.

My major fail, though, was eggs. John made me fried eggs in the big skillet that turned out perfectly. So I got daring and tried scrambled the next week. And you know how every time you try to scramble an egg, you look away for one second and when you look back, the eggs are cooked to the pan? Yeah. That happened.

So I tried all of the approved methods. Immediate cold water is called for with cooked-on eggs, but that's not allowed with cast-iron. So I let it cool down on its own and then tried to wash it with a soft rag and no soap. No luck. Another tip was to scour with salt. That got some off, but left a lot. I had heard to boil water in the pan to loosen cooked-on food, but that of course made it worse. I scraped a lot off with my fingernails. And then I said "What the heck" and soaked it for awhile.

When I came back, there was a bit of rust forming. What?! So I dumped the water out, scoured the egg, seasoning, AND rust off the pan and set to reseason it. I rubbed it with oil (olive, because that's what I had) and put it in the oven for an hour at 350. It made the whole house smell, like melting plastic, but it seemed to have worked. Until I touched it later and found it was now sticky. Apparently I had used too much oil. So I heated up the pan and wiped it down with a paper towel. Now it's only a little bit sticky. Sigh.

I'll admit it: those pans are high-maintanence. They're fussy. But I don't think I care to go back to making cornbread any other way. The brown crust it forms is just too good. Crepes that don't stick are another plus, one I've never achieved with another pan. And it is nice to be able to cook a steak just right without it sticking or being drowned in oil. I like the way they can go from the stovetop to the oven, and the way they keep the food warm while you're setting the table.

So, they're worth the trouble. But for eggs and anything sticky or saucy, I'm keeping my old pan. There may be a way my cast-iron could handle those, but I think I would get grey hair trying to find out the secret.

Do you use cast iron? How do you like it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

10 things that make me go nuts

I was telling John about my last post, and happened to say, "Deadbeat dads are definitely on my list of the top ten things that make me angry." He thought that was funny, because I have rather a long list of things that make me angry. All on his own, he came up with about twenty. So I thought I'd go ahead and pick out my top ten: ten things that make me frustrated, angry, riled up, blogging, and ranting to people while their eyes glaze over. I don't think any of these will be a surprise!
Italic
10. The massive food industry, which so controls those organizations intended to control it than food freedom is getting more elusive every day. We are not allowed to know if GMO's or hormones are being used in our food. We are not allowed to buy foods that haven't been pasteurized, processed, or inspected, and yet there are food recalls ALL THE TIME because our pasteurized, processed, inspected food harbors deadly disease. We are told it is utterly unreasonable to expect no petroleum byproducts in our food, like dyes.

9. Mommy wars of any kind. From the working moms who want me to admit that they do everything I do plus more (which is probably true, because I'm lazy and have one kid, but wait a few years, okay?) to the moms who are offended if you praise breastfeeding ("because I couldn't so I gave formula and my kid turned out fine, and you're just trying to make me feel GUILTY!") to the moms who call out other moms the second they disapprove of anything they do ... can't we just focus on raising our kids and telling our story and assume others are doing the same?

8. Doctors who, when you ask them about some nagging, chronic symptom, offer you a medication to mask that symptom but never consider that it might be a symptom of something. If you have an idea what it might be a symptom of, they will write you off with, "Very few people actually have food sensitivities/vaccine reactions/etc."

7. People who point out random strangers' actions and label them "bad parenting." Especially if the speaker doesn't have any kids. 99 times out of 100, that "bad parenting decision" is actually the only practical option ... you just didn't bother to find out the person's situation. Oh, and included here are people who say, "I love kids ... it's just the poorly-behaved kids I don't like. I blame the parents." The upside to all of this is that I can laugh my head off at them when they have kids, and those kids do exactly the same stuff they criticized. (Oh, I have been there! John and I used to comment to each other when we saw kids acting up, "Our kids will never do that." Hahahahahaha. Right.)

6. Routine infant circumcision. Bonus points if the only reason for it is "so he'll look like his daddy." That means we have to perform surgery on all future generations of this family, just out of fear that someday, someone will notice the difference.

5. Chauvinism of any kind, but particularly the kind that claims to be "grounded in tradition" and "just simple chivalry." I hate those smarmy jerks who tell me that they have the deepest respect for me as a woman and then ignore what I say, or who talk about how women "in the good old days" were placed on a pedestal and never, ever had opinions. Even telling you about that makes me angry!

4. Children's toys covered in buttons, lights, and noises, which claim to be educational. Especially if it looks like a miniature laptop and promises to help kids learn to read. Sure they're only four -- start them on a baby laptop and they'll be Facebooking by six! Who needs blocks, swingsets, or playmates? I always look past the labeling and see "Mega-toy that will make a child entertained and quiet while the parents ignore them ... but since it's 'educational' it's okay if they do it eight hours a day." Can you say Baby Einstein?

3. Low-fat imitation food. I think the winner here is Smart Balance. But then, anything labeled for kids gets bonus points ... kids are trying to grow their brains, and brains are made out of fat and cholesterol! Give them the whole milk already!

2. Episiotomies. Seriously folks, this one should be obvious. There's [almost?] no good reason to do them. And consent is hardly ever even asked. Where else do we chop up people's private parts without asking them first? (Oh, right, see #6.)

1. Mind control. Any kind of policing of people's thoughts, demanding that they not think or question. Which is why, I guess, I enjoyed 1984 and Brave New World ... they expose that sort of thing. And why I absolutely cannot watch FOX News, presidential debates, or any kind of show where party-line cliches are likely to be spouted. And why I repeat, over and over, to anyone who will listen to me, "Question everything. Have faith that those things worthy of belief will stand up to questioning." Seriously, if you can't question your religious beliefs, for instance, how can you claim to believe them? If they're really true, don't you think they will hold up to you reading up on what they are and pondering whether they make sense or not? (Extra bonus to this practice: you will discover all kinds of new things about your faith that are worth knowing ... and you won't have to rely on the latest televangelist/celebrity priest to tell you what your faith teaches.)

There you go: ten things to drop into any conversation with me to guarantee that I will go on a three-hour rant ... and that's IF no one tries to argue with me!

What gets you going?

Monday, January 16, 2012

We need Daddy around


Now that John is home safe and sound, I feel okay telling you guys that he was gone all last week. Yes, he's now traveling with his job, and they started him off with a seven-day trip to Canada. Let me tell you, it was kind of a rough seven days.

Part of this was my fault. I had the car all week, so I figured it would be a good time to Do Stuff. Plus I thought it would help both Marko and me not to miss John too much if we were always on the go. But this backfired in making me extremely stressed out (I'm a homebody and really prefer to stay completely at home on an average day) and Marko overstimulated and not sleeping on his usual schedule. Some days he would nap unexpectedly in the car and ruin bedtime. Other times I was out too late to start our bedtime routine at the usual time, and he'd be overtired when I finally put him to bed. I should have paced myself a bit more -- maybe one day at a friend's house, one shopping trip, and one library day.

I made plans for what I was going to do in those long, bored, lonely evenings, seeing as Marko usually goes to bed by 7:30 and I usually stay up till 9:30 or 10. Ha! One night he stayed up till eleven at night! Other nights we spent rocking and rocking in the bedroom while he just flailed around restlessly. John has always been able to cope with him when he's overtired, but his technique appears to be pure Daddy magic -- I can't duplicate it. At least one night ended in him screaming himself to sleep in my arms. I felt like the world's worst mother.

And the one or two nights when he did go to bed at a reasonable hour, I was so stressed that it took me the whole evening to unwind ... AND to do all the housework I couldn't do during the day. The days where we were out, I couldn't do any housework, so I ended up doing double on the days I was there. I didn't realize this, but somehow all the work still needs to be done whether we're there or not! Especially when we're only there for little bits of time when I madly cook food for us to eat, scarf it down, and then leave the dishes in the sink while we jet off again. They had to be done eventually, obviously! One evening after bedtime I actually scrubbed the whole floor on my hands and knees. It was my only chance to do it without Marko tracking all over it, so I did ... but between that, and the extra housework I did the next morning, I threw out my back and gave myself a ton of Braxton-Hicks contractions. (Note: Lots of toning contractions seem to be normal for me. But I still don't care for them and am, at 24 weeks, trying not to bring them on.)

I would not make a very good single mom. In fact, it is a marvel to me that anyone does.

One thing I noticed about Marko was that he was getting very rough with me: climbing all over me, pulling my hair, and never, ever, being still in my arms. Now that John's back, I can see the problem: I wasn't roughhousing with him. I wasn't even tickling him. He didn't know that was what he needed, but he did know he had all this physical energy and needed to let it out. Daddy does that like a charm and really fills his need for rough physical attention.

The worst thing about the whole week was the feeling of being always on. That I could never just step back and let someone else handle something. I tried to let several friends help carry him around when I was with them, but he was having none of it. When he's uncertain, he needs one of us -- and that was me. Despite my virtual inability to lift him at all.

I just could feel my stress level rising the whole time. I was a less patient mother. I said "no" a lot more, and "yes" a lot less. One time I was scrubbing the floor on my knees with Marko hanging on my back, yelling "No get off my back! No I'm really serious! No it's not funny!" and giggling fit to bust ... and I thought, "I canNOT do this." Of course, I could, because I had to, and I did. But it was far, far from the ideal.

It just got me thinking of how necessary dads are. First off, just for the mom. How is she supposed to be a good, patient mother if she never even gets a shower? How is she supposed to get her teeth drilled, her hair cut, or her doctor visits in if there is no one else really close to her child to leave him with? What is she supposed to do when she gets the flu? (Grandmas are good for this job ... if your mom happens to live close by and isn't otherwise engaged. That's how people managed "in the old days," that is, in time periods where it was considered acceptable for dads never to lift a finger to help with the child-raising.) And sometimes you just snap in the middle of the night and NEED to be able to hand the baby off to someone who isn't off their rocker. A kid doesn't need two parents to be there at every moment -- but a kid takes so much out of one person that there need to be two to switch off or someone's going to go crazy.

And then for the kids. I have heard from at least three people lately that kids don't really need their dads around until they're older. Apparently teens need a close relationship with their dads. But how is that relationship supposed to spring up out of nothing? It starts out in infancy, grows through middle childhood with lots of roughhousing, ticklefights, ball games, and so forth. Any dad who thinks he can ignore his kids until they're ten, and then leap in and be a trusted authority to them, is kidding himself.

Besides, dads can care for young children in ways moms can't. John, for instance, is a star at tickling and other physical games. I don't normally throw my kid into hysterical fits of giggling, but John does. I think Marko really needs that. When he was a baby, it was really important for him to have someone to rock him to sleep without nursing -- especially when we were having trouble with nursing anyway. Marko found it really comforting to snuggle up with Daddy and know that no one was going to be expecting him to eat. I often relied on John to calm him down after a failed attempt at feeding him so that I could try again when he had settled down. Dads have a different approach that kids need just as much as the mom's.

I was really upset recently when I was at a friend's house and the friend was rocking her youngest to sleep. While she was at it, her next youngest needed help in the bathroom -- the kind of conundrum that parents of more than one have all the time. Luckily, her husband was conveniently available. So she asked him to take care of the other child. Simple enough. But he asked, "Do I have to?"

I was simply boggled. I guess most dads say this at least sometimes. I'm not accustomed to it because my husband does not. Sometimes I get annoyed that I have to ask him to do things that I think should be obvious. But he never, ever drags his feet to do something for his own kid when asked to do it. I think it's ridiculous that any dad would. I mean, they are every bit as much parents as the moms are. They were presumably happy enough to help conceive the kid. But still, after all that feminism was supposed to have done for us, there are still lots and lots of guys who go to work from 9-5 and think that they have done everything they have to do to be good dads. Eight hours of work, while their wives do 24, and they still think that they deserve to be waited on when they come home.

That just ticks me off. I now, for the first time since I got married, realize what it is like to try to do the whole job of parenting all by myself. And it sucks. I can understand putting up with it of necessity, like we are, or like single moms do. But I cannot understand, at all, putting up with it because the dad isn't willing to step up to the plate. We need dads. We need them present, involved, and equal. Anything less is unfair to moms and kids.

So that's my rant.

John got home Saturday night. He'd been working all week and had been traveling all day. And on Sunday, he sent me off, first thing, to take a nap.

I needed it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Toddler challenges


Today, Marko was a little crabby, so I took him over to the computer and let him watch old videos of himself. This is always a hit, especially if Daddy or the dog is in the video too.

Watching him crawling around, climbing up things, made me feel all sniffly. He was SO little! And cute! And ... let's face it ... a lot less trouble. I remember feeling terrified back then of how much trouble he'd be in a few short months. Nowadays, I tend to take for granted that he needs a lot. But now I look back and think, "I could just dump him on the floor with a few toys and he'd be contented for hours! Life was so easy back then!"

Because toddlerhood is a bit more challenging. And it's always something new. Sometimes, he just wants books, books, books, and nothing else. The moment I pause, it's "More keep reading? More keep reading?" And other days he wants to run madly around the house shrieking. Some days I have my work cut out for me just trying to keep him from taking a nap at 4 pm. (If I fail at this, I WILL be sorry. He always wants to nap at the worst possible times, and even at the best time, any nap will mess with night sleep so I have to fend off nap attacks wherever they appear.)

For awhile, all he wanted at bedtime was a lullaby. Now -- and by now I mean "this past week, and who knows how long he'll be like this" -- he never likes the songs I pick. He wants "different song, different song, what song you want, say yes." (In other words, I'm supposed to ask what song he wants, and he'll say yes when I pick the right one.) After a dozen attempts, each met with wailing because it was the wrong song, he'll decide on one. And then he'll argue with it. Like this:

Marko: Fish song!

Me: The fish in the sea is happy --

Marko: No the fish in the sea is happy!

Me: As off through the waves they roll.

Marko: No as off through the waves they roll!

Me: ....

Marko: Fish song! Fish song! Fish song!

So, sleep has been a little elusive. I think I'm not catching him at the exact right moment for bedtime. This is my lesson every time we have sleep issues: when it's the right moment, sleep comes easily. When it's the least bit too early or too late, it's a struggle.

His amazing language development has suddenly become more of a hindrance than a help lately. His enunciation just hasn't kept up with his vocabulary. When all he knew was "more" and "all done," it was pretty simple. I could tell which was which. But now he has to answer in a complete sentence, and those sentences all sound alike! Like this:

Me: Do you want a tomato?

Marko: N'want a tomato.

Me: Was that "want a tomato" or "no want a tomato"?

Marko: N'want a tomato.

Me: No?

Marko: Yes!

Me (scratching head ... was that "yes, I meant no" or "yes, I want a tomato"?): Ummmm... well, here's the tomato if you want it.

Marko (sudden fit of shrieking): Nooooo tomaaaaaaato!

Me: I'm going to scream.

Marko: No I'm going to scream!

I can't remember if I've mentioned here before his annoying but occasionally hilarious habit of contradicting everything I say when he's grumpy. He just says whatever I said, plus "no." So, "No I have to go potty! No I really do have to Marko! No you're driving me crazy!" gets said kind of a lot.

After a long spell of seeming to mostly get over his obsession with my hair, except for some gentle holding of it when falling asleep, he has fallen for it again. He MUST. HAVE. HAIR. When he's going to sleep, he won't be happy unless he has two fistfuls of it, which he pulls on, twists together, and gets tangled in his fingers. This keeps him awake, of course, but if I try to take it away there are anguished howls, flopping around, and even less sleepiness. During the day, too, he's always climbing onto my lap, looking all innocent, and then one hand goes questing around for hair. Once he gets it, he starts to fidget and then really tug, first with one hand and then with two, until I go crazy and pull it away from him. Then he gives the howl of a lost soul, like I have just burned his teddy bear (if he had one he cared about) before his eyes and flops around like a fish.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic. I am. But ... sometimes it just is not possible to make this kid happy. As a mother to a happy child who is usually cheered up by very simple things, it's a very frustrating feeling. And sometimes the thing that will make him happy is more than I'm willing to give. I've had to wrench toys away from him when we're leaving a friend's house, to set him down when he wanted to be carried because my back won't take anymore, to deny him my hair because it really hurts, or to stop offering him every food in the refrigerator because he has already turned them all down already. I hate being the one to set off the scream-fest. I feel like I must be a bad mother if I can't come up with a solution he will be happy with, like I used to.

On the other hand, though, I'm realizing more and more that it is normal for him to scream and cry when he's frustrated. It doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong, and it doesn't mean he's doing something wrong. He is a little person in a big person's world, and he wants to have control over things he can't actually control. His attention span is long enough that a different toy or a new game is not going to distract him from the tragedy he's experiencing. That tragedy is the same one we all experience sometimes: I wanted something really bad and I can't have it. He feels, with his immature and uncontrollable emotions, the same way a high schooler feels on getting dumped by a boyfriend or rejected to a first-choice college, or the same way an adult feels when the job they really wanted went to someone else. He doesn't know his problems are small, or that he'll feel better in five minutes. All he knows is that he is unhappy.

This knowledge has not given me the miracle tantrum cure. My "tantrum method" is the same as always: offer hugs and comfort, but don't force them. Usually, lately, he doesn't want them. So I have had to just sit by and let him scream for awhile. Once he's subsided a bit, I usually will sit with him and read a book, which helps calm him down. (Incidentally, I can see why moms who nurse longer report that the "terrible twos" aren't so terrible. I bet a quick nurse would perk him up better than anything, if we were still doing that. I don't regret weaning him, because it's really what I needed to do, but I can sure see the benefits of going longer.)

I have noticed that some days, I rave to everyone about how smart he is, and how much fun he is, and how awesome 21 months is, and then other days I moan that things used to be so easy, and I'm so tired, and I have had it up to here with the whining. And I've also noticed that there's a direct correlation between my descriptions of him and how much sleep he's gotten. He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to sleep. But I'm not in total control of how much or how well he sleeps, unfortunately. He still does sometimes wake up at night screaming, sometimes because he rolled out of bed but mostly for mysterious reasons known only to himself. And then the next morning, he's a crab, and wants to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, and doesn't want to sleep the next night. So we have "readjusting" days very often, which means a crabby day where he would like to nap and isn't being allowed to. I try to remember where he's coming from with the crabbiness. It isn't that he's a grouchy kid as a rule, but he does have a shorter fuse when he's tired (as do I).

Perhaps you can tell from what I've said so far that it's been a pretty rough week. But there are plenty of nice things to report lately, too. He still astounds me with his amazing brain. We can read a book TWICE, and have him remember a few words from every page. He can identify tunes that we whistle, even songs he hasn't heard in weeks. Just today, he recognized Are You My Mother in a picture, even though the dog peed on our copy in October and we threw it away. And he totally cracks me up when he parrots what everyone says. When I'm on the phone, or talking with friends, he will seem not to be listening, but he quietly repeats the tail end of each sentence. I always laugh when I see him sitting, playing with his blocks, whispering, "A really big deal," or "that's hilarious" or "oh gee whiz." It's all getting filed away in there somewhere. We have to watch what we say!

Another sweet thing lately is his desire to be a part of whatever I'm doing. He wants to HELP. I've given him a sponge to clean the cupboards, and he will spend an hour scrubbing away (as long as I do it too). He likes to put away items in drawers, to fetch rags (this is a skill I let him practice all the time, because it'll be SO helpful when the new baby comes), and to put specific things in specific places I tell him about. And he never gets tired of sitting on the counter with his feet in the sink, turning the water on and off for me while I wash the dishes. (It kind of freaks me out to have him up there -- but I stand close so he can't fall, and wash and put away all the knives before I let him come up.) I figured I might as well teach him a love for dishes early. The sooner he can take over that job from me, the happier I'll be!

Potty training is going well, though not perfectly. He has an accident or two a day, but that's usually it. Plus, I'm not running him to the potty constantly. Sometimes he actually walks over there all by himself and goes without saying a word. (For this to work, obviously, I have to leave him all day with no pants because he can't take care of those by himself. But that is not a big deal to me.) And when I do put him on the potty myself, I don't have to camp there all day. He either goes pretty quick, or he wants to get up again. He knows what to do when he sits down. This is such a big deal. The third achievement is that he stays dry for quite a long time when we're out and about, so I don't usually have to worry much at the store or at church so long as he went before we left. On longer trips, I stuff the potty in the diaper bag and whisk it out when we get where we're going. He's happily gone at the library (in the family bathroom, of course), at friends' houses, and at the midwife's office (where he impressed everyone). When he's feeling cranky, we have more misses because he just doesn't feel like sitting on the potty, but even so, we're making gradual progress and I'm happy with it. If he stays for months at this level, I think I'd be okay with it.

So, there's life with a 21-month-old for you. I'd be lying if I said I don't heave a sigh of relief every time I walk out of his room at bedtime, SO HAPPY to have the rest of the evening to spend apart from him. But I'd also be lying if I said I'm anything but crazy about him. Every day we get lots of snuggles in, and I think I enjoy them more than he does. He's a sweet, sweet boy who shows me something new to love about him every day. I don't want to be anywhere else but here with him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why I support Ron Paul

Half of you are probably saying, "Oh, of course she's into Ron Paul!" (Especially if you've been reading this blog faithfully, and know that I'm terrified of increasing government power, and that I will only support someone who wants to decrease it. Or, you know, if you saw where I said so in the comments.) And the other half are saying, "Ron Paul? Are you kidding? The guy's a nut!"

Obviously I don't think he's a nut. On the contrary, when you listen to him instead of only to his critics, you may be shocked to find out how much sense the guy makes. I reserved judgment until I saw this video in which he came out supporting exactly my beliefs on everything that really counts to me.

I'll start with his foreign policy, which is the most unpopular part of his platform, but my personal favorite. He's a non-interventionist -- believing that we should not, for instance, bomb Iran, or give millions of dollars to Israel (or anywhere else), or try to manage the whole world's affairs. I like that a lot. Every single other Republican candidate promises to be "tough" on Iran, which translates in most cases to bombing the heck out of civilian installations. Since this is against church teaching, I don't really understand how the candidate who claims to be "Catholic" and "pro-life" has promised to bomb civilian nuclear research facilities. My definition of "pro-life" includes pro-Iranian-life.

Of course I do care about our own nation's security. But I am not convinced that the Iranians would all kill us in our beds if we left them alone. We have been involved in their country since the 50's, and they really, really hate us for it. I do believe that our interference (setting up and supporting the Shah as their dictator, for instance) has played a big role in radicalizing that nation. I learned a lot about our history with Iran from this video, which I heartily recommend.

I just see that we have two options, as far as our foreign policy goes. We can attempt to police the entire world, making sure that no one who dislikes us ever becomes powerful enough to do us harm. As we do this, more and more people will come to hate us because of the "inevitable" civilian deaths that keep occurring. Meanwhile, we will become overextended in terms of money and manpower. Already we spend more on defense than all the other countries in the world put together. We can't sustain that forever, as our economy will tell you.

The other option is to stay as far away from the Middle East as we can, because it's a sticky mess, and leave other nations alone as well. We will recognize that we can't do everything, ensure democracy in every nation, prevent every oppressive regime in the world -- much as we would like to. Instead we will focus on defense, having a strong defensive force that will stop attacks on our soil. We have the manpower to secure our borders and defend our skies, while we don't have the manpower to police the whole world. Our relationships with other nations will be based on trade and diplomacy, not on drones and airstrikes. That's Ron Paul's plan, and I like it.

The second major issue on my mind coming into this election is abortion. I keep being told by my friends that Ron Paul isn't really pro-life. All I can say is, have you listened to him? He can't stand abortion. As an Ob/Gyn, he was definitely in a position to learn all about it, and he hates it. He doesn't want anyone to do them. And he doesn't want them to be legal anywhere, because he, like me, realizes the personhood of unborn babies and that no one has the right to kill another person.

However, his path to achieving this isn't primarily through the federal government. He realizes, as I do, that all our efforts to ban abortion nationwide have failed. The federal government has so much inertia and is so far removed from the people that little ever changes there. In order to ban abortion, we would first have to overturn Roe v. Wade, which requires appointing new justices to the Supreme Court, which requires congressional approval. No president has been able to do this in over thirty years they've been trying. Other tactics, like amending the Constitution, are just as difficult to do.

Ron Paul would overturn Roe v. Wade if he could. His main plan, though, involves working in the individual states. If the states were allowed to regulate abortion on their own, many of them would ban it right away, and others would add more regulation. After awhile, when the other states saw that the world didn't go completely crazy when abortion was banned, more might join in. It's allowing democracy to work -- if the people in an area really want to ban abortion, they will do so. And if they don't really want to ban abortion? Well, that's our job. We need to work, on a local level, to convince people that choosing life is better for moms and babies. All I want is the opportunity to work within my own state to get laws that support life. I don't need the federal government to handle everything while I sit and vote once every four years. I'm willing to put in the hours myself.

Most conservatives I read agree that Ron Paul's economics are sound. He subscribes to the Austrian school of economics (watch this rap battle to learn what that is, and who F. E. Hayek is). In short, he wants less regulation, less protection of big business, less spending, and lower taxes. He wants to cut the budget by a lot. That's going to hurt, but it's what we have to do to keep our economy from getting even worse.

His "crazy" ideas about the Federal Reserve do get a lot of flak, mostly from people who don't know what the Federal Reserve is. They think it's the same as the US Treasury. (I thought that, too, until I saw this cartoon, which you simply must watch if you want to understand why the Fed is a problem.) It's actually a private bank that has almost no government oversight and a ton of special privileges. And it's responsible for a lot of our current economic problems, which concentrate wealth in the hands of the 1% at the cost of the 99%, thanks to special deals for banks and other sneaky tactics most people don't know about. I simply cannot understand why the folks at Occupy Wall Street aren't waving signs that read "End the Fed."

Everything else Ron Paul stands for is a question of individual liberty. That is to say, he's the one guy who believes liberty is a good thing. He's opposed to the NDAA (the indefinite detention bill), the TSA strip searches, the Patriot Act, national ID cards, and anything else that treats American citizens as terrorism suspects.

For me to have the freedoms that are important to me, I do have to allow others to have the freedoms that are important to them. I believe that I have the right to put in my body whatever food or medicine I desire, even if the government believes that it will be harmful to me. So I have the right to drink raw milk ... and my neighbor has the right to take drugs. I don't see how you could sensibly say I have the right to one and not the other. If someone's drug use is harming someone else, though, it should be banned.

Ron Paul wants to leave drug laws and raw milk laws in the hands of the states. So if we feel strongly about them, we can campaign for them on our local level instead of nationally.

The same, by the way, goes for same-sex marriage, which is why many Catholics hate him. They would like to see marriage legally defined as exactly what we say it is. It seems to me that's a much bigger issue than banning same-sex marriage -- we would also have to make the state honor our consanguinity laws, ban divorce and remarriage, and so forth. (I feel, by the way, that divorce and adultery are WAY bigger issues, when it comes to harming society at large, than same-sex marriage is. And, from a Catholic perspective, adultery at least is just as sinful -- mortally, which is as sinful as you can get.)

Secular marriage, in my opinion, is already a joke. It bears very little resemblance to Catholic marriage. I don't see why we should cede to the government the right to decide what is a marriage and what isn't. Instead, why don't we let people have their own religious and social ceremonies and call themselves married whenever they consider themselves to be so ... and for Linkall civil needs, have a civil union that any two people can get? That's what many other countries with large Catholic populations have, and it works fine. I've been saying this for years, but it turns out Ron Paul agrees with me on this.

Overall, Ron Paul is the only top-tier candidate that wants to increase liberty, rather than chip away at it. He's the only candidate who would like to reduce the number of wars we're in, rather than increase it. He's the only candidate who has a concrete plan for how to cut our budget by a trillion dollars the first year. He's also, incidentally, the only one who seems to actually be an honest man. He has never once flip-flopped in his entire 30-year career in the House. I can't really trust any of the other guys to even try to put forward the platform they're running on. (I know I can't trust Obama, who promised to get us out of Iraq within, what was it? Six months?)

With Ron Paul, you know what you're getting. You're getting a guy who seems incredibly extreme when compared to the other guys (who all look alike), and who actually is going to try to do what he says he is. He'll have an uphill climb trying to convince Congress of all this, but the one thing he won't do is personally sign away our liberties -- whether by authorizing drone attacks of untried American citizens, or by wiretapping our homes, or by any of the scary stuff that both Bush and Obama got in the habit of doing.

And people are getting excited that this might be the year that we actually see a change. 18- to 25-year-olds, independents, disaffected Democrats, and fringe activists of all stripes are coming out of the woodwork to participate in the political process for the first time. Even I, who hate politics as a general rule and have only ever bothered to vote once, am planning to vote in the primary and maybe even try to be a delegate. Mark Shea has written some awesome things about Ron Paul which definitely show why Catholics can and should vote for him (even if, as Shea believes, he hasn't got a chance). Ron Paul is raising ridiculous amount of money for his campaign, and almost all of it is from private individuals rather than corporations. He gets more from active military servicemen than anyone else put together. This might be our only chance in a long time to cast a vote for liberty and common sense.

What do you think about Ron Paul? I'm happy to discuss this topic all day long, especially when my interlocutors aren't foaming at the mouth and calling me a heretic or a nutjob or a racist while totally ignoring everything I say. This blog is a great place for the nicer kind of conversation, I think.

Do we get to eat gluten today?


Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living


This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener and gentler. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


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For the past month and a half, I've been obsessing about gluten. As a relatively healthy person who can eat pretty much anything without noticeable ill effects, I never thought this would be me. And yet, when you've got a kid who isn't feeling good -- you obsess about everything.

It started around October, I think. Marko had some diarrhea and was really crabby. For awhile I assumed it was all the fruit we were eating. So I cut down on the fruit and even eliminated it for awhile, but the diarrhea remained. Then it brought a rash, a nasty, bleeding one. To avoid irritation, we went diaper-free for awhile. Yes, I did say "diaper-free" and "diarrhea" in the same paragraph. That was not a particularly fun phase. And it lasted a solid month.

Sleep suffered. He went from sleeping through the night to waking up once, then twice, then three times a night. A few odd marks appeared on his body, some looking like blisters and some more like burns.

I know my kid is prone to food sensitivities. So of course that's what I thought of. But we hadn't introduced anything new, except grapes, and I'd long since stopped giving him any. I was weaning him, but not quickly, and he was still nursing twice a day.

That meant we had to go back on the elimination-diet wagon. I really hate elimination diets. But they always seem to bring us results!

First we tried dairy. That was the obvious choice, because he had gone from one cup of milk a day to more like three, and I figured that might just be too much for him. After days of almond and coconut milk -- and rejected sippy cups -- and none of his favorite foods (cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese), I had to admit it wasn't working worth a darn.

So I gave him back his beloved "happy cow milk" (the carton has a picture of a happy cow; Marko LOVES cows) and set to cutting out gluten. Since it's pretty much in everything, that meant I had to make everything from scratch, pretty much. And that's what I did. No more PBJ's, no more noodles with tomato sauce, no more crackers.

In 24 hours, the diarrhea was gone. Within days the rash was healing beautifully. Within a week, the blisters and burns had vanished. Best of all, he was suddenly sleeping through the night again. And I said to myself -- uh oh. This is going to mean we have to stick with it.

And we have. Like glue. It hasn't been fun. Marko sees a picture of bread in a book he's reading, or glimpses bread in the fridge, or sees me sneaking a bite of pasta when I thought he wasn't looking, and he instantly demands a sandwich. He loves sandwiches; they were always the surefire option if he was feeling picky.

But a few odd things did happen. Like when I gave him hot dogs and ketchup, both labeled gluten-free, and he had some diarrhea awhile later. Or when he grabbed a bit of pie crust off the counter and scarfed it down, only to suffer no ill-effects. Could I have been wrong about the gluten?

I very easily could. The problem with elimination diets is that it's hard to eliminate just one thing without making other changes. Especially when it something big like gluten, it usually leads you to buy less processed stuff in the first place. I was making everything from scratch. So there were dozens of additives we weren't eating. Every time I gave him something I didn't make -- the hot dogs, the ranch dressing he dipped his chicken wings in, or the hot sauce I used to convince him he was eating Taco Bell like the rest of us -- we had issues. A rash on his face, a midnight scream-fest, an unexpected bout of crabbiness. Nothing you could really be sure about, but there did seem to be a pattern.

So I decided to test it, once and for all. We would just test gluten, not yeast and not store-bought bread. I made homemade biscuits and let him eat all he wanted. And he was fine.

And then a day later he went back to waking at night. I cut the gluten back out, but he's continued doing it. Yesterday and the day before, I gave in and gave him gluten because he has been fine in every other respect -- no diarrhea, no rash -- and because the night waking seemed to be unrelated. And you know what? Last night he slept through the night.

I think it's time to conclude I have no idea what caused that diarrhea. He's eaten all kinds of crazy things since Christmas, and hasn't had a recurrence of either the diarrhea, the blisters, or the rash. Just the nightwaking which is probably unrelated in the first place.

I am convinced to avoid food additives whenever possible. When he doesn't eat them, things definitely are better. But I don't think gluten is actually a problem. I'm still keeping my eye on yeast and tomato sauce, both of which seem correlated with problems (though fresh tomatoes have always been fine), and yet I'll have to wait for things to stabilize out a bit before I can test either of those and be sure.

It's an awful feeling of powerlessness, watching symptoms take hold of your child and then leave, and not being able to figure out what caused them to show up or what caused them to go away. I love to find answers, but I'm realizing more and more that I know very little about what's going on in my son's insides. I suppose I should be happy that he's feeling a lot better than he was -- and I am. I just ... wish I knew why.



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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

There is only one issue, and it's power

All through the Republican primaries, and through the general election too, we're going to continue hearing what we have been hearing: What do the candidates think about the issues? What is this one's opinion of gay marriage? What does that one want to do about immigration?

But the way I see it, there is only one real issue: how much power do we want the federal government to have?

Almost from my mother's knee, I have been warned about the dangers of an over-powerful government. "A government that can give everything to you can take everything from you." "It's easy to give power to the government, but it's almost impossible to get it back."

Does the federal government get to decide what you are allowed to put into your body? Your average conservative is thrilled when a candidate wants harsh drug laws on the federal level, overriding any of those bad states where they are legalizing medical marijuana. But I hope they realize that in four or eight years, some other guy is going to use that exact precedent to ban raw milk on a federal level.

Does the government legislate whom you are allowed to marry? At this point, the answer is actually yes, though at the state level. Clergy of any kind are considered agents of the state when they perform marriages, and they are forbidden to do so without government approval (a state-issued marriage license). Most conservatives want their candidate to work to ban same-sex marriage nationwide. Do they realize that in four to eight years, some other guy is not only going to allow same-sex marriages nationwide, but also will be able to force priests and ministers of every religion to perform them? My dream is to get the government, state, federal, or local, out of the marriage business altogether. Let them perform civil unions if they want. I'd get one. But I want my religious leaders to be able to perform whatever ceremonies they want without asking the government first.

Does the government have a right to listen to everything you say? More and more, we don't have the right to privacy that we used to, but it's all in the name of fighting terrorism, so it's okay. Rick Santorum has been advocating the wiretapping of all churches, synagogues, and mosques -- to make sure no terrorism-provoking rhetoric is being used. And I have no doubt that's just how he would use it. But four or eight years from now, the precedent will be set, and the next guy will be looking for "intolerant" rhetoric or some such thing. And you won't be able to fight it, because you will no longer have the right or expectation not to be wiretapped in church.

And who gets to decide when our nation goes to war? The Constitution leaves that power to Congress. However, in recent years it's been the sole prerogative of the President. He can embroil our troops first in a foreign conflict, and then, when they're in too deep to back out, can go ask Congress for approval to keep doing it.

In high school, I did a term project on the Vietnam War. I came to the conclusion that a nation cannot win unless its people want to win at least as bad as the enemy nation's people want to win. And since the enemy saw themselves as fighting for their nation's freedom, and we saw ourselves as sending our boys over to get killed for no good reason, it is natural that we couldn't win that one. I blamed, at the time, the media and the selfishness of the American people.

Now I'm realizing the problem may have been that we went at it hind-end foremost. First we got embroiled in a war. Then we were asked what we thought about it. Without the support of the populace, all the government succeeded in doing was wasting something in the order of 50,000 American lives. Lives of American boys who didn't want to die in the first place.

This is going to keep happening as long as the government starts an armed conflict without the consent of the populace: we'll fight for awhile, but as it drags on ... and on ... and on, the outcry from back home will be too great and we'll have to pull out. This is what happened in Iraq. You can blame the media, Wikileaks, or the selfishness of the American people, but very simply, no one wanted to be there that much, and no one at all wanted to be there for ten years. Few people want to get involved in Iran. But that doesn't matter, because no matter what we, the people, want, our government -- and particularly the executive branch -- reserves the right to attack other nations without even telling us first. So we're very likely to get involved in many more wars as time goes on.

The future looks grim in terms of increasing government power. Almost every candidate on the roster intends to increase government in at least a few big ways, and most of them in many Linkways. And I refuse to vote for anyone who has one of these on his platform: if they are for bigger government, they have lost my vote. Even if that means I don't get to vote at all.
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