Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote as if Your Life Depended on It

In June of 2008, an elderly man was struck by a car while crossing the street, sustaining life threatening injuries. The driver did not stop. The other drivers drove around him, but kept going. The pedestrians nearby looked, but kept walking. No one came to his aid until a police officer, responding to another call, happened to come upon him. The man later died. One interviewed bystander explained the lack of action as an unwillingness to commit to involvement in the situation. In other words, no one wanted to take on the inconvenience of stepping in.

In the television show, “What Would You Do?”, scenarios are acted out before a hidden camera to capture how ordinary people will react when confronted with various ethical dilemmas. From witnessing the suspected theft of a car to seeing someone attacked, the program aims to reveal whether or not people are willing to get involved  when they see a need. Many continue to step in and speak up, but a disappointing number will turn away like the pedestrians at the accident. It is simply too uncomfortable, perhaps, to confront a stranger and too easy to believe that someone else will take care of it.

We have gradually, but steadily become a society that abdicates the responsibility for solving problems to the government. We have begun to believe the government should stop people from losing their homes to foreclosure, provide income to those who are out of work, force restaurants to serve healthier food, pay for healthcare, and meet all sorts of other needs that used to be universally considered the obligations of the individual citizens. Our silent acceptance of this system is costing us our freedom. Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. Once we allow the government to become our parent, we cannot avoid becoming children to it. And, just as our children are subject to us to decide what is in their best interest, we will soon be unable to avoid being subject to our so-called elected representatives.

If you think this can’t or won’t happen, simply consider the culture that has arisen around the career politician. The fact is, the very integrity of our governing bodies demands that even the best and most beloved of our elected officials ought not remain in office indefinitely. Your representatives may speak for you, but do they really represent you? Or are they actually trained professional participants in a process that has become more about manipulating the electorate than representing it? Gone are the days of the citizen politician, pressed into service by his or her fellows. They are being replaced with candidates groomed by strategists, playing a game of backroom deals, insider jargon, and a whole host of techniques aimed at keeping themselves in power and perpetually removed from the common folk.

And what do we do? Too often, we mutter under our breath, but ultimately accept our fate, believing the government-endorsed position that one individual cannot make a difference. As angry as I am at the abuse of power I see within our government, I have been vastly more frustrated at the apathetic complacency I find among many of my fellow citizens. Like the witnesses to that shameful hit-and-run accident, we see the wrong doing and walk away, hoping someone else will take care of it.

It is time for us all to wake up out of this self-destructive stupor and realize that, yes, someone else will take care of it. If you do not exercise your power as a citizen, someone else will seize that power. You are free to buy into the program the government is selling, but you must realize that the cost will ultimately be your own freedom.

As election day approaches, I urge you to wake up and take back the power that belongs to you--the power to choose your government. You are not just one individual. You are one of many. Yours may be the one voice that makes the message just loud enough to be heard.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I took a bath with Oliver tonight, which gave me the opportunity to learn three important things:

1. I need to exercise. Let's just say I think the appeal of bubble baths and jacuzzi tubs lies in how much of the human form they conceal. A shallow tub with a 12-month-old is not nearly as forgiving and quickly erases any illusions of sveltness to which one may have been erroneously clinging.

2. I need to utilize a little more creativity in my parenting. As any mother of a young child knows, finding time to bathe/shower oneself is not always easy. It sometimes seems downright impossible. And yet I always manage to bathe the little one. Jumping into the bath with him not only provided him with great amusement, it rescued me from the misery of a showerless day.

3. Babies are heart-wrenchingly cute--especially when they're wet. Alright, I already knew this one, but some lessons are worth repeating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Day of School

I love homeschooling. I never thought this would be my life, but I'm so glad that circumstances have steered me into this course. I love that the first day of school means something totally different to me than many other moms. And I love that I get to participate in that back-to-school fun of tackling new subjects and new books right alongside my children.

Oliver did his part to start us off on the right foot by sleeping through the night--from 9 to 6. He even tacked on a bonus hour after that, just for good measure. For the record, that is the longest stretch he has ever slept in his life. I did my part by rustling up some good farm-girl grub.

Eggs from our own chickens, bacon from our friends' hog, and homemade donuts.
Then it was time for back-to-school presents! I am sad to say that my children have not inherited my innate love for all back-to-school supplies. However, by the time Carter got to the bendable ruler, he started to spark up a little enthusiasm. And Austin was most pleased with his ornithology field journal.

"Oh, cool!"
The wireless mouse was a winner.
Austin with his field journal.
 We had our usual obstacles to overcome. I had to hastily install a few software upgrades to get Biology working for Carter and our internet connection went out at one inopportune moment, but we managed to roll with it all just fine.

Online lessons are the best
Lounging on the couch with an African folktale
 Oliver has been as cooperative as one could expect a 12-month-old to be. He enjoyed flinging dry erase markers and CDs around the room and spying on one of Austin's online lessons. Overall, the day took much longer than it should have, but I am trying not to sweat the schedule thing. I can get overly worked up about time tables and deadlines. Really, as long as the boys are working steadily and staying engaged with their learning, I should not get my stomach in a knot over whether we finish at 2 or 4:30.

Here's to a great year!

One Year Ago

One year ago, I gave birth to a baby boy I hadn't expected to have and who I wasn't sure I was excited about. John and I had gone back and forth for some time over the decision of whether to have one more child, but could never feel really settled on the matter. Then, pondering things one day, I decided I felt like our family was complete and we were done. I felt pretty solid on this decision. Two short weeks later, I found out I was completely wrong and baby number three was on the way.

Throughout my pregnancy I went through many emotions, most of them negative and motivated by selfishness. With my then youngest just turning 9, I felt depressed at the idea of starting over with the demands of an infant. I was convinced the lives of my older children were ruined, because so much of our family's focus was going to have to shift to accommodating the many needs of a little one. Once I worked through that, I began to wrestle with the nagging fear that something would be wrong with the baby. I knew there must be a reason for us to be having a child at this point in our lives. The small part of me that wanted to be optimistic latched on to the belief that we were to be blessed with a daughter--something John and I both hoped for. When the ultrasound proved otherwise (I was so angry with the ultrasound tech for pronouncing the baby a boy that I wanted to punch him--as if it was all his fault) I became increasingly convinced that this baby was being sent as a trial for us. The closer my due date grew, the more I pored over every ultrasound image, looking for some defect, in a panic that something even worse than autism was in the cards for us. There were moments when I was able to set that all aside and allow myself to feel happy anticipation, but I was so afraid to get my hopes up, feeling that I would just be that much more devastated in the end. My midwife actually told me that she thought I was subconsciously blocking my body from going into labor because of my fears.

But then the fateful day arrived. Even then, my body resisted full blown labor; starting and stopping through the day until they threatened pitocin. Less than an hour later, my Oliver was born, dazzling me with his blond-haired, cherubic perfection. I examined him thoroughly; there was simply nothing to cause alarm. All the despair and fears of the previous nine months washed away in an instant and were replaced by the kind of joy only such opposition can create.

The past year has been amazing. There have been huge challenges to be sure, but even more than that there has been a renewal of my faith in God and my faith in myself. Oliver has brought so much more to our family than I ever feared he would take from it. I can't believe I nearly closed the door on the chance to be a new mother again at this point in my life.

Sharing his food
Oliver is definitely a Tigger kind of guy

Which one to throw first?
One year old and already can't wait to drive
Examining his percussion set
It was a race to get them all lit before the letters started to melt
Getting sleepy
The cake was barely put in front of him before he grabbed it and took a big bite
My boys!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Day Is It?

My mother cannot remember Easter Sunday of 2005. She doesn't remember waking up that morning, riding in an ambulance, or spending most of the day in the hospital. She has no idea how scary that day was for my dad and I, as we listened to her repeatedly ask what day it was and where she was. We feared the very worst as doctors ran test after test to determine if she was having a stroke or if there was some other explanation for her bizarre symptoms. She was on vacation, but she didn't remember that either. She had forgotten the past several weeks of her life and couldn't remember anything she was being told. The final diagnosis was transient global amnesia. None of us had ever heard of it. It is a very uncommon condition in which a person temporarily loses the ability to create new memory. Doctors do not know what causes it, though stress seems to be the trigger, especially for women. It is of short duration, harmless, and rarely returns. By that evening, my mother was foggy and tired, but otherwise back to normal. Her memory of the previous days returned, but she is a complete blank with regards to that one day.

So one week ago today, when I found myself driving my sweet husband to the hospital after finding him standing befuddled in our bedroom, unable to remember what day it was or anything he had done that morning, I had to ask myself, "How could something so uncommon happen to two unrelated people in my immediate family?" The unlikeliness of it frightened me to the point of being physically ill. To say it was disconcerting to have my best friend, the man who is my rock of support in every part of life, be so altered and disconnected, is an enormous understatement. As the more likely suspects were gradually ruled out by a string of tests that ran into the following day, I was able to release the death grip I had clamped down on my emotions. Ironically, it wasn't until he was himself again and back home, that I felt the full trauma of it all.

I am thankful that lightning can strike twice and that my husband's episode was indeed transient global amnesia and not a stroke or tumor or any of the other scary things the doctors mentioned to me that day. I am also thankful for the mercifully brief, though painful, reminder to not take his presence in my life for granted. I am not thankful that my request that he retire immediately was denied, but you can't have everything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What I Learned On Vacation

1. There really are sharks at the Jersey shore.
2. Pizza tastes better on the boardwalk, even when you are eating it while holding a wiggly 11-month-old who is trying to pull all the cheese off with one hand and throw your water bottle with the other.
3. Never get into a hotel hot tub with a hairy male stranger.
4. You cannot hear anything at the Crayola Factory, especially not the very nice man giving a demonstration on how crayons are made. If you are into constant screaming, however, this is the place for you.
5. The National Canal Museum--just upstairs from the Crayola Factory--is much calmer and surprisingly fun.
6. Jim Thorpe, PA, is a gorgeous town--so much so that I am willing to overlook their inability to produce an authentic Philly cheesesteak.
7. Trains rock! There should be more of them.
8. Teenagers like to pick fights at midnight when everyone is trying to sleep.
9. I wish I had a motorhome.
10. Sometimes, hanging out in the hotel room is the most fun thing a family can do.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Birds of a Feather

I won't bore everyone with a detailed recap of our family's duck saga. Suffice it to say that we got four ducklings just over 3 years ago (it seems like much longer), have had many, many duck descendants pass through our world, and are left with just one. He is one of the original four, so I'm thinking he must have some type of duck super powers to have survived the deadly elements around here. He has gotten much more people friendly since the demise of his last duck companion. Sometimes I think he has been a little too friendly. I did not enjoy, for instance, the morning I came out on the porch to discover him sitting right outside my door beside a pile of ducky delight. Ugh! Anyway, we worried a little over him--concerned that he would not be happy without companionship within his own species. But he seemed to get by just fine between following us around and visiting the chicken coop.

Then, about a month ago, a juvenile guinea hen wandered up into our yard. We have no idea where she came from. She was too small to put in with the chickens, so we stuck her in the duck pen. We've just started letting her out the past few days. At first, she stayed very close to the pen, but today she decided she was safe enough to venture out and about the place. We're getting a kick out of her funny little sounds and seeing her wander through the trees and bushes. And it looks like our duck got a friend out of the bargain too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

This Vacation's Got Teeth

I'm blogging from Ocean City, New Jersey. My mom would argue that, by mentioning this, I'm alerting the world at large to the fact that I'm not at home, thereby issuing an open invitation to any would-be robbers out there. For all those criminal elements who might be planning a heist, all I ask is that you take some gerbils with you when you go.

Traveling with a baby is always challenging. There are extra packing needs, nap schedules to consider, safety issues, etc. For example, when you take your baby to the beach, be sure to watch out for sharks that may come ashore. Sharks can not tell the difference between a baby and a seal. If you do see a shark, it's a good idea to get a picture--for insurance purposes.

Okay, this one probably wouldn't eat a baby, but I bet it would bite one. This was the second one we saw. They just swam right up onto the beach. And I thought the jellyfish were intimidating! It made walking in the surf a little bit more of an adrenaline rush than usual.

We're heading to the Poconos tomorrow, so maybe it will be bear encounters next.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Handed

Since Oliver was born, I have had the chance to remember just how much hands-on time babies require. Particularly in the beginning of his life, when I was spending about half my time each day nursing, I had to quickly learn how to do as many things as possible with one hand. I just as quickly learned how to appreciate those moments when I could have both hands to myself again. What a relief it was to use two hands to type an email, fold some laundry, prepare a meal, or clean the house! And how wonderful when Oliver started to get to the point of being able to entertain himself more (and nurse less), so that I could have those two hands with greater frequency.

Even now, with Oliver finding more joy in playing with toys and practicing his cruising skills, I often feel that there is so much more to get done than there is time to do it. I still feel the need to one-hand it during the times when he needs to be held or fed. We women, after all, are ever-so-proud of our ability to multitask. So I'll steal my attention away and use my free hand to balance the checkbook, check my email, or tidy up.

But today I found myself sitting on my couch, laptop in tempting reach, with Oliver snuggled up sleeping with his head on my shoulder. I considered snagging some one-handed internet time or, better yet, scooting the napper into his crib for some full-fledged two-handedness. That's when it occurred to me that I ought to spend more time devoting both hands to my baby. And not just for his sake, but for mine. He's speeding so quickly through his babyhood, while all that other stuff will still be there tomorrow, next week, or next year.

I'm happy to say that I stayed put, both arms wrapped around my sweet boy, soaking in the feel and smell of him.

I love my life.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


My little summer baby is 11 months old today. One more month until the heart-tugging one year mark. Having a baby around in the hot summer weather is wonderful. Those little cherubic bodies are not meant to be covered up with so much clothing. There's nothing quite like the sight of roly-poly baby flesh and he enjoys being unencumbered by long sleeves and pants as much as I enjoy having such ready access to his kissable skin.

I was never that much of a summer fan as a child. The heat was too off-putting for me (we didn't have air-conditioning in the house) and I never found much enjoyment at the traditional summer hangouts like the pool and the beach (couldn't--still can't--swim). All the stinging and biting insects were also a big source of anxiety for me.

But circumstances have certainly changed my perspective on the season. I'd have to say it began around the time John got his current job teaching at the community college. Not only did he go from erratic, unpredictable hours where he worked half of all the major holidays, to a fairly regular schedule with all holidays off, but he was suddenly off for two months each summer. Two months off! With pay! I still pinch myself and he's had this job for 12 years. Having our whole family together every day for that kind of a stretch is a powerfully positive thing. And it has achieved the miracle of making me love summer. I love every scorching degree of it. My air conditioner might have something to do with that part.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go kiss a baby.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

May I Have Your Attention Please

As I have been recently applying myself to my blog with a new sense of commitment, I am pleased to see that my readership has increased accordingly. I'd like to take this little moment to say thanks to those of you who visit here.

To those of you who read my blog only on Facebook, I wish to point out all the nice bloggerly features you are missing, as well as give all of you a brief tour of the sidebar. There are a few new buttons over there:
  1. Latter-Day Homeschooling - This is a great site for moms, even if you are not LDS and even if you do not homeschool. It has tons of great resources to help with organization, enrichment, home management, and, of course, education.
  2. Homeschool Buyers Co-op - This is another great site for parents whether they homeschool or not. It's free to join and has great deals on curriculum products all the way from full-blown homeschooling courses down to products that you can use to help your public school child. There's also a great section on field trips that makes for a great go-to guide for outings.
  3. CJane is my new favorite imaginary friend. I love her blog. Her writing style makes you feel like you're having a chat with a friend and her take on things is always refreshing. Check her out.
Elsewhere in the margin are the items that are basically self-explanatory. My top five list is my effort to keep my inner Pollyanna going strong. You can also take a peek at what I'm reading at the moment or visit one of my favorite blogs or links.

Once again, thanks for reading--it's ever so gratifying--and anytime one of you Facebook fiends wants to have the full bells and whistles experience, you can come here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Losing It

I live in a house of boys. My husband, my three children, even my dog is a boy. And for the purpose of this post, I'm going to lump my father in to this group. And you know what? None of them can find anything! Is this a phenomenon unique to my world or is this a universal male flaw? Even when I tell them where to look for something they can't find it. We were getting ready to leave for a road trip and my middle son wanted to bring his Nintendo DS. He asked where his charger was and I told him it was in the storage basket in the car. I should give him credit here that he not only planned ahead by thinking to bring a charger, but he also dashed off to double check that it was in the car before we left. Unfortunately, a few minutes later he was back in the house telling me that the charger was not there. I proceeded to spend precious minutes looking through the house for the charger, to no avail. During the search, my father stopped by our house to use our phone. He does this when he needs to make a long distance call, because we have free long distance on our plan and he doesn't. Mostly I think he likes the excuse to pop in and see his grandsons. I had been out for a walk with the wee one that morning and had taken the phone with me, so when I saw that it was missing from its usual spot I told him I must have left it outside in the stroller. He went out to look and came back, declaring it was not there. I had to trek all the way upstairs (okay, I'm whining here--my house is not really that big) to get him a phone. Then, my husband asks for the baby's jacket, in case we need it in some overly air-conditioned stop on our journey. I told him it was already in the car. Like my son, he diligently goes off to double check (or should I suspect that they're actually doubting me at this point?) with similar results. So it's back upstairs for me to grab a sweater from the baby's room.

At last we are ready to head out. On my way to the car I stopped by the stroller and collected the phone. Ahem! Then, situated in the car, I reach into the aforementioned basket and pull out the DS charger. Ahem! About a mile down the road I look behind my seat in the baby zone and discover the baby's jacket. Ahem! Seriously! Are all men this way? I told my husband the only reason Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit was that Adam probably couldn't find it and needed her to bring it to him.

I don't think he appreciated my theological insight.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mourn With Those That Mourn

In the past week I have felt the impact of the deaths of two people--one I know and one I have never met.

The first is a gentleman who attended my church. He was a kind man who lived a good life. He was diagnosed with cancer and, though he fought a good fight, his illness was too aggressive to be beaten. His wife spoke at his funeral and demonstrated a faith and strength that will serve her well as she moves through her grief to continue with her own life. She and I are not close, though I have known her for some time. In situations like these, it is often hard to know how to be of assistance; how to lessen the burden of the grieving. But, as I sat in attendance at her husband's funeral and played the organ for the service, I felt impressed that all of us there were helping to lift her burden simply by surrounding her in her time of need.

The second death was that of a little girl named Preslee Sullenger. Just 18 months old, her blue eyes, blond hair, and sweet demeanor put me in mind of my own baby the first time I saw her picture. Though I only came to know of her a week ago through a network of internet acquaintances, I feel as devastated by her tragic death as if she were a part of my own family. As word spread through cyberspace of her accident and her fight to survive, a veritable army of support rose up around this family. I found myself one of thousands praying fervently for a miracle, as it became clear that the odds were stacked against Preslee. And now, after her passing yesterday, I can do nothing more than add my tears and anguish to those of so many united strangers, hoping that we can somehow lessen the burden of two broken-hearted parents by our willingness to mourn with them.

Having a heart open to sharing the pain of another deepens our connection to each other and allows us to experience the transformative influence of even total strangers. And perhaps, when there are no right words or gestures, it is ultimately the best gift we can share.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Last night was tough. My hubby was out, and I was holding down the homefront with my 10-year-old and 10-month-old. As the baby was finishing a yummy meal of chicken, sweet potatoes, and rice (baby food style), he decided the time had come to make maximum use of his diaper. I waited politely for him to finish. When it seemed he was going to take a little while, I put him down on the floor to give him a little private moment (okay, it was really so I could check my email). He crawled around busily for a minute or two, then proceed to spew his meal all over hardwood floor and braided rug and himself. I picked him up--naturally--which meant that I was now covered in it, too. So there I was with a baby in need of both a diaper change and a hosing off in addition to a serious mess on the floor. Ugh! I will spare you the details of how I navigated the clean up effort and will simply say that we made it through relatively intact.

So, cleanup accomplished, bath given, I plunked a happy naked baby into his crib, grabbed his diaper, and turned to discover a puddle in the crib. Baby happy, bedding soaked, mommy frustrated. While rushing around to tackle the newly arisen laundry chore, I tripped over some toys and cut my toe. Oh, and I forgot to mention the wasp that started buzzing around my head while I was scrubbing spit up baby food out of the threads of my rug.

As I said, it was a tough evening. But later, as I was wrestling the freshly washed bedding onto the crib mattress, and feeling very tired, I was grateful. Grateful because of the story that has been haunting me all week of little 18-month-old Preslee Sullenger, who fell into an irrigation canal last Friday and drowned, only to be resuscitated by a farmer who pulled her out 2 miles from where she fell in. She's currently fighting for her life. You can follow her story here.

Life is so fragile. Just two days ago, my little baby tumbled down a short flight of stairs and emerged with barely a scratch. But the outcome could have been so different. As Preslee's dad said on their blog, everything can go from fine to a nightmare in an instant. So hug your babies, no matter how old they are, and be grateful they're around to make your life difficult.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Good Baby

Have you noticed how parents of little babies will always say, "He's/she's such a good baby!" What does this mean, exactly? I've never heard a parent describe a baby as "bad". "What a bad baby he is!" "She may be cute, but she's just bad!" So what makes a baby good? Is a baby good if he sleeps through the night, is a good eater, almost never cries? Or is he good if he makes you fall so head over heels in love with him that spotting his big wide awake blue eyes in the painfully wee hours of the morning makes you wish you could give up sleep entirely just so you could stare at him?

He's such a good baby!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Delusions of Vegetation

We did most of our Independence Day celebrating yesterday and made sure to pack a lot into it. My menfolk headed off to the parade in town, while I picked more green beans from the garden (trying to beat the heat wave). I made an apple pie--cutting up five large apples without a single injury to myself--and then we all went swimming. Then I sliced up some potatoes on my mandolin slicer for our family cookout. A slice of potato got stuck on the blade and I had the brilliant idea that I could draw it the rest of the way across the blade with my finger. Yes, the little voice in my head was very clearly pointing out to me that I was very likely to cut myself, but I didn't listen. Sure enough, just seconds later I had cut my finger and was hopping around and bleeding all over my kitchen. Ugh! I informed my husband that I was too stupid to have children, but he just bandaged me up and sent me on my way. The good thing about having a husband who is a nurse is that he has all the necessary skills to take care of all sorts of scary situations. The bad thing is, you can never really impress him with an injury.

Anyway, I finished up in the kitchen, loaded our stuff in the car, and proceeded to dump a container of milk into the van. What a lovely moment that was! I handled it with great poise and maturity, hurling the container into a tree. The cookout was fun, though, and we capped it off by playing glowstick tag, setting off Carter's hydrogen rocket, and enjoying the natural fireworks of the fireflies.

So after all of these festivities and dramas, what image do you think was dancing before my closed eyes when I went to bed last night? That's right--bean picking! There I was, lying in my comfy bed, and all I could see were bean plants. I think I just might be suffering from gardening overload.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Autism Speaks

My normally sullen teen has been very chatty this weekend. Talking to him is so interesting. He is 15 in so many ways--what with all the grunting and eye-rolling and wanting to shut himself up in his room. But in other ways he is such a young boy, learning how to relate to people and approaching life with such an earnest innocence.

We were working in the garden Friday morning. As you can imagine, our children do not usually embrace this activity and can be somewhat reluctant to leave the house when invited to pick vegetables. Being told they get to eat them is not much of a motivator, either. So after some more traditional parental persuasion, Austin and I had the following conversation:

Austin: I'm exaggerated!
Me: I don't think that's the right word.
Austin (very grumpily): Yes it is!
Me: What's exaggerated mean?
Austin: I don't know.
Me: I think you mean exasperated.
Austin: Yes.

This exchange was followed by my husband and I sharing many examples of exaggeration that were so entertaining, my son was actually glad to be picking beans with us. Okay, I'm exaggerating.

What I love most about these conversations is that they are so ordinary. It has taken my son many years to achieve ordinary conversation. The fact that he would now rather make the effort to construct original thought than fall back on his old scripting method of speaking (in which he would recite whatever line from a book or movie seemed most applicable to the moment) makes even his grumpiness music to my ears.

The best one came the next day, though. Austin had taken a bad tumble in our driveway and was covered in nasty cuts and scrapes. I was giving him advice on how to best care for his injuries and he said to me, "I know I can trust you, because you are a righteous mother."

Some days it's just good to be me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Think, Therefore I Am

Paul Simon once sang a song called "Maybe I Think Too Much". I'm quite certain that I do. I tend to over-think and over-analyze things. I don't know if it's just in my nature to do this, or if it is the result of a relatively solitary childhood. Being an only child and growing up amid the seclusion of the rural Delaware woods, I did not evolve a strong sense of community. I was usually on my own, wandering through the trees with my dog and my imagination for company. There is a definite appeal to being left so often to one's own devices, but it does provide an inordinate amount of time for getting lost in thought.

I wasn't exactly a social being anyway. I wouldn't say I was anti-social, just socially inept. I now realize that there are a lot of people who look back on their teen years with that same assessment. I understand that many of us felt socially awkward during that phase of life. But you know those kids you see in teen movies who get degrading messages taped onto their backs; who are so low in the pecking order that even some of the teachers take shots at them? I was one of those. I was an easy target. My attempts at being stylish repeatedly missed the mark. I was insecure and brainy--a combination that could sometimes be spun as a quirky positive for a boy, but was a real killer for a girl. College only improved my lot a few degrees. I was no longer made fun of, but I was already such a hardened outsider that I lacked the confidence to fully embrace many of the friendship opportunities that came my way.

My tendency became to value the thinking side of myself at the expense of the other parts. I still find myself falling into the trap of mistaking being admired with being liked. I have begun to suspect that I am simply hopelessly confused when it comes to the fine art of friendship. I see people coming and going around me, making friends with apparent ease, while I continue to see myself as a floundering misfit. To make matters worse, I see my children falling into similar patterns and I am at a loss as to how to advise them.

So, here is my question to you tolerant readers: What are the elements of successful friendship? Is serendipity the only path to human connection or is there--as I suspect there is--some secret skill set?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stop Blaming the Poor Peanut

You may have heard that peanuts are responsible for more deaths than any other food. Don't believe it. Peanuts are perfectly safe. People eat them all the time and have no problems whatsoever. My husband and I have eaten them our whole lives, and our children eat them, too. Not only have we never once gotten sick from a peanut, we find them to be quite tasty and a healthy source of protein. Why, whenever I have a low blood sugar moment, a spoonful of peanut butter sets me to rights quicker than anything else can. Less than half a percent of people even claim to have this so-called peanut allergy. If you ask me, these individuals were probably sick already and their symptoms have nothing to do with peanuts. The fact that peanut consumption appears to trigger them is most likely coincidental. All this unwarranted negative publicity for the noble peanut could do irreparable harm to the peanut industry, putting farmers out of business and depriving society of a valuable nutritional resource.

If you think I'm completely, er, nuts, then you'll understand my frustration with the reaction of the medical/scientific community to the suggestion that there might be a link between vaccines and some forms of autism. While I don't believe that vaccines caused my son's autism, I can't rule out the possibility that, due to some genetic flaw or predisposition, they may have been a contributing factor. I have a friend, however, with two sons who disappeared into autism immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine. For people like her, there is no need for a scientific study to prove what she has seen with her own eyes. This is no wild coincidence; this is a definite link.

This is Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist who recently lost his medical license due to the fact that he refused to recant the conclusions of a study he conducted that found vaccine strain measles infection in the intestines of children with autism and bowel disease. You may have heard of him. If you have, you will likely have heard that his findings have never been replicated. This is not true. They have never been replicated in a published study, but they have indeed been replicated by doctors here in the US. Dr. Wakefield has never suggested that parents avoid vaccinating their children--quite the contrary--but he has been blamed for the drop in vaccine rates and a subsequent rise in measles infections among children, particularly in the UK.

Vaccines are a relatively new intervention when compared to the entire history of medicine. How arrogant to assume that we have it all figured out already; that we can say with such confidence that we know all of the potential effects they will have on the human body. We continue to heap them upon our little ones in alarming quantities, because the vast majority of children seem to have no trouble whatsoever in tolerating the brief assault on their immune systems. But what if, as with the poor maligned peanut, there is a small percentage--less than half a percent--whose bodies do not respond in the typical way? What if the immune system is already misfiring in these individuals in ways that have not yet been detected? Why is it considered sacrilege to suggest that the current vaccine program might not be the right fit for everyone? After all, it is completely unnecessary for 99.5% of the population to avoid peanuts, but for the rest, they are deadly. The CDC's unwillingness to truly investigate this only keeps the question alive for everyone. Research could help to reveal markers that could be screened for to identify which individuals are most susceptible and should be vaccinated by a different schedule, at older ages, with single instead of combination vaccines. This research is not being done. Instead, money is being put into retrospective surveys aimed at demonstrating the lack of a statistical link between vaccines and autism. This is insulting and I feel like I am back in the days of Galileo with scientists being silenced in an attempt to preserve the status quo.

As I said, I do not believe vaccines caused my son to have autism. However, my husband and I have been a good deal more cautious in approaching the vaccination of his two younger brothers. We are following a different vaccination schedule than the recommended one. I realize this means we are trying to strike a very precarious balance between protecting our children from disease and avoiding potential environmental triggers for developmental delays. However, until the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics get behind some real research to address this issue, I have no confidence in their recommendations. Here are the guidelines we follow, developed by Dr. Stephanie Cave (an amazing mother of a child with autism who got tired of being dismissed by medical professionals who told her, "You're not a doctor," so she became one).

    Vaccine Recommendations

  •    Do not vaccinate child if he/she:
  •    is having fever (even low-grade), or runny nose/ diarrhea/constipation, or any other illness, or still recovering from an infection, or on antibiotics for other reasons. You may postpone vaccination to another day.
  •    had any bad reaction or deterioration in health after previous vaccination.
  •    had any past history of immune system disorder, severe allergies, convulsions or neurological disorders, vaccine reactions.
  •    Always have full information on the vaccine's side effects.
  •    Ask the doctor on how to identify a vaccine reaction.
  •    Know the vaccine manufacturer's name and lot number.
  •    Report any side effect to the doctor, NVIC, and VAERS.
  •    Always ask for single dose, mercury-free (no thimerosal) vaccines.
  •    Ask for separate vials of measles, mumps, and rubella, and give them separately, months apart.

    Recommended vaccine schedule: (By Stephanie Cave, M.D. - DAN! Practitioner and Vaccine Expert)

    Birth - Hepatitis B only if mom is Hepatitis B Positive; otherwise, no vaccine shot.  
    4 months - Hib, IPV  
    5 months - DTaP 
    6 months - Hib, IPV  
    7 months - DTaP  
    8 months - Hib  
    9 months - DTaP  
    15 months - Measles  
    17 months - Hib, IPV  
    18 months - DTaP  
    24 months - Prevnar (1 dose only)  
    27 months - Rubella  
    30 months - Mumps  
    4 years - Varicella (if not immune already)  
    4 - 5 years - Hepatitis B series, DTaP, IPV boosters; test titers for MMR and do not give unless not immune. Immunize only for vaccines found to be negative.

  •    Ask the doctor to check vaccine titers to check for immunity before giving boosters.
  •    If you have to vaccinate, give the following:
         Vitamin A (cod liver oil) 1 tbsp for three days before and on the day of the shot.      
         Vitamin C 100 mg twice daily for infants and 300mg twice daily for toddlers for three days before and on the day of the shot.

    NVIC (National Vaccine Information Center) 
    421-E Church Street  
    Vienna, VA 22180  
    Tel (703)9380342  

    VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System)  
    P.O.Box 1100  
    Rockville, MD 20849-1100  
    24-hr toll free info line (800)822-7967 
    Fax: (877)721-0366

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Sleep Quest, Part 100--The Surrender

I made a distressing realization this past Saturday night: I'm the only one in my house that actually wants to sleep at night. There I was, lying in my bed, exhausted to my bones, at 11pm. My sweet, though sometimes oblivious, husband was downstairs reading. My adorable, though too-curious-about-his-environment-to-ever-sleep, baby was in my arms nursing. My 15-year-old was down the hall, laughing hysterically about who knows what. My 10-year-old was in his room crying because he was so overtired he couldn't fall asleep. I was trying with all my might to communicate with my husband (did I mention he is sometimes oblivious?) via ESP to come intervene with our two oldest while I endeavored to create as boring an atmosphere as possible for the baby. It was all for naught. The baby remained awake, the laughing and crying continued, and my husband was aware of none of it. That was the moment of the aforementioned realization. Sleep did come to our home eventually, but it involved depositing baby with daddy, popping a forgotten melatonin pill into a teenage mouth, and practicing a little guided imagery on the 10-year-old. Watch out family members! I may start spiking your juice with Benadryl!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, I'm a Libertarian!

A friend of mine asked about my political beliefs today. I promised her a blog post to attempt to explain them. Comments and questions are welcome, with bonus points for anyone who can identify the reference in my title.

When I was 18, I registered to vote. I had never been especially politically savvy up to that point, though I believe I had some lofty ideals about how the world should be. My father was registered as a Democrat and my mother as an Independent, so I registered as a Republican to be different from them. I don't remember having any real sense of what that meant, but I was excited to do it.

I would describe my political views during my college years as moderately liberal. I was what my father called a "tree hugger" and I spent some time as an angry, man-hating feminist. By the time I met my husband, I had a pretty good chip on my shoulder. His ability to defuse me was probably the main thing that drew me to him. He and I also shared anti-establishment inclinations. The year we were married we voted for Ross Perot in the presidential election and harbored the hope that a strong third party would arise to really shake up the system.

Around that same time, I had a personal spiritual reformation of sorts. I undertook a good deal of religious study across many belief systems and solidified my core testimony of my LDS faith. It was on the heels of this that I became a mother for the first time. My philosophy as a mom pushed me more into conservative territory and I really felt like I identified myself as a Republican for the first time. Unfortunately, I have never been happy with any Republican presidential nominee. I find it really distressing that I enter the voting booth having to hold my nose and vote for someone based on the fact that I consider them the least repugnant choice. Feeling so disenfranchised has made me reexamine my political views over the years, which brings me to where I am today as a defiant libertarian.

What this means for me is that individual freedom is paramount. Agency is the gold standard. Laws should protect liberty rather than take it away. I do not believe in a paternalistic government that imposes a standard of conduct on my personal behavior. I should have the freedom to fail and to do so spectacularly if I choose. I believe you should have that freedom, too, but that I should not be compelled to subsidize your behavior and protect you from whatever negative consequences may arise from it. I do not believe the government has the right to take my money by compulsory taxation and spend it on other people, no matter how noble the cause. Morally I believe I am obligated to take care of those less fortunate than me and do not feel I should abdicate that obligation to the government. I believe in a free and unfettered market in which big companies are allowed to fail, small companies are free to flourish, and the consumer's wallet is the only regulator. I believe that I have the right to own a gun without having to account for it to the government. I believe in individual responsibility and accountability and that generosity and morality cannot be legislated.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Surveying the Damage

The mountains of snow are steadily retreating, making me long even harder for spring. It's been a very rough winter. I've been reminded just how important my food storage is and just how punishing that pretty white precipitation can be. The roof of my friend's barn collapsed, nearly killing her alpaca herd in the process. My husband and my father worked for hours saving the roofs of both our houses. It took weeks before we were able to reliably navigate our driveway without the aid of heavy farm equipment. The wildlife here has suffered too. I actually had a falcon stake out my bird feeder. And when the bird seed ran out, the birds were desperate enough to empty the cat food dish on my back porch, one piece at a time. One morning I came outside to find a fox standing on top of my duck pen, staring hopefully through the 3-inch vent at the two frightened ducks inside it.

Now, as spring's official beginning is right around the corner, my thoughts are turning to my poor plants. I took a little stroll today to see the condition of things as they emerge from the melting snow.

Our lean-to, hoping to be a shed when it grew up, gave out under the weight of it all

Already damaged by the initial snowfall, my poor abelia took the brunt of the rooftop snow removal

 This was once a massive forsythia--now flattened

This snapped off metal stake used to support a wall of honeysuckle

 I have no idea how much of this azalea hedge will be left when this snow finally melts

One destroyed ivy arbor

This cedar tree was removed from the land my church was built on--transplanted here on the day of the groundbreaking

There is bamboo debris everywhere

 My poor flattened euonymous

My wiegela--the hummingbirds' favorite--half broken off by snow from the roof

So, apologies to all you snow lovers, but I don't want to see any more of the stuff for a very long time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


As I approach the end of the first six months of my new baby's life, I am a bundle of mixed emotions. Each little milestone has been a moment of pure joy, but there is always the tiny voice in the background whispering, "Slow down!" While I long for him to experience new things, to see him grow and develop, I want to cling to the newborn that has already long since vanished. Each new skill acquired and each adorable article of clothing outgrown is a heart-squeezing reminder that another little chapter has ended. Knowing that this will be my last child brings an added dose of melancholy to it all.

Oliver is mostly sitting up unsupported now. The thrill it gives him and the look of radiant pride on his sweet little face remind me that there is still more joy in the journey than there is sadness at the loss of what is past. I have so enjoyed watching my older children grow and evolve as they become more fully the people they are. So I look forward more than back, eager to see who my smallest son will become.

In the midst of all this sleep-deprived emotion, I am approaching my own personal milestone. This is the year I will turn 40. While I believe I have been dreading this ever since I turned 30, I am pleased to say that the dread has lifted. I am no more thrilled than I was before at the sound of the number, but I am much more ready to wear it with pride at what those 40 years mean in my life. I am mostly pleased with how I have spent that time and with where I am as I cross this particular marker. I am pleasantly surprised to report that I still feel very much a young woman and not past my prime or over the hill in any sense. I imagine a good deal of that must be due to this unexpected opportunity to be a new mommy all over again, but the rest I will just credit to good old-fashioned happiness.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Stolen Child

Thanks to Amy for recommending this book. I have never read a book on the changeling myth and I really liked the way it was developed here. As the mother of a child with autism, the idea of having your child stolen away and replaced by an imposter had particular poignancy for me. Having a child who seems healthy and "normal" transformed almost overnight into one who is disconnected and beseiged by bizarre behaviors can make a distraught parent entertain the possibility of the body-snatcher scenario. There is some evidence that indicates a link between the changeling myth and special needs children back in the days before such disorders had been scientifically identified and explained. Apparently, such children who came to be labeled as changelings were often abused, abandoned, or killed.

In "The Stolen Child", however, the parents accept and raise the changeling child despite their suspicions that he is not their true son. The story follows the stolen child and his changeling replacement through the years leading to the attainment of adulthood. One faces the ramifications of living a life he stole from another, while the other deals with the pain of learning to let go of what he has irrevocably lost and to embrace his new reality. Underneath the supernatural trappings lies the fundamental struggle of the misfit. It is a story that is often painful, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately optimistic as the characters succeed, not in eliminating their problems, but in finding ways to take control of their circumstances and move forward with purpose.

Keith Donohue is a great storyteller whose writing is believable and full of subtle insights. I will be interested in reading him again and wholeheartedly recommend this thought-provoking book.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sleep Quest Revisited

So last fall I was distressed over my baby's lack of napping prowess. Little did I know that things could (and would) get worse. On the positive side of things, I am happy to report that Oliver has nearly mastered the fine art of napping and now takes 2 or 3 naps of a respectable length each day. However, my happiness is greatly tempered by the fact that he (at the ripe old age of 5 months) is still not sleeping through the night. In fact, while he only woke once or twice a night as a newborn, he is now regularly up 3 or 4 times every night. A typical night involves him going to bed around 10 p.m., waking around 12:30 or 1, waking around 3, and then waking around 5. He'll then be up by 7 a.m. Some nights he'll add an extra waking around 4. It's downright painful.

We started him on solids today for the first time. He has been showing a lot of interest in food, so we feel he's ready. I don't expect to see any benefit right away, but I'm hopeful that this may fill his little middle enough to keep him sleeping longer at night. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm open to suggestions.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Once upon a time, I went to a Persian restaurant with my friend Kimberly. I had not been before, nor have I gone since (I don't even remember exactly where this particular place was), but it was some of the best food I have ever tasted. One of the dishes we had was these ground meat kebabs served with roasted tomatoes over basmati rice. Thinking about that meal recently, I decided to search out a recipe and try to duplicate it at home.

These were made with 1 pound of ground beef, 1 egg, 2 medium onions (the recipe called for them to be grated, but I minced mine very fine in my food processor), 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. I mixed it all together and let it sit in the refrigerator all day. Then I pressed the mixture around the skewers and broiled it until it was good and browned, about 20 minutes. The tomatoes should have gone under the broiler, too, but I sauteed them in some olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. 

I think it turned out looking pretty nice, but the taste did not come close. They tasted good, but not nearly like what they made in the restaurant. My teenager gave them 5 stars, but that's just because it was meat and he's a raging carnivore. My hubby and I went for 4 stars, and the 10-year-old gave them 3 (3.5 when he added some more salt). If I make these again, it will be with a different recipe. I'll keep hunting.

So, Kimberly, when you are ready to renounce your vegetarian ways and come back to the dark side, perhaps we can hunt down that restaurant again. Call me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

What a lovely, lovely book! Everything I found wanting in the characters of The Lost Symbol, was present in spades in this novel. Every character was purposefully developed and wonderfully unique. The plot was well paced and multi-dimensional. There was a nice balance between the conservation of words and the grace and artistry of the prose.

The novel is set in England at the end of World War II and has the dual focus of a look back at the German occupation of the English Channel island of Guernsey and the personal journey of self-discovery of the central character, Juliet Ashton. Juliet is a young author in London who gets caught up in a correspondence with the members of the title society.

The entire book is told in letters, telegrams, and notes. Shaffer and Barrows execute this style brilliantly, letting each character's narrative style distinguish itself from the others, while still only revealing them bit-by-bit at the same pace at which our heroine gets to know them. Some letters are missing, leaving the reader to guess at their contents from the letters written in reply. The subject matter hops from one topic to another depending on who is writing to whom, simultaneously revealing the story of the past and moving forward the action in the present. The overall effect is that of finding a box of keepsakes in your grandmother's attic and exploring it at your leisure.

It is charming and poignant, touching on difficult topics with the perfect blend of somberness and the lightness of hope. I have read many books on the subject of World War II, but I have never read one that made me smile as much as this one.

(Much thanks to Heidi for the recommendation!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Living Without Dairy

When I was a kid I loved milk. I didn't drink much else. When I was 11-years-old, I developed a scalp condition similar to an infant's cradle cap. My hair was coming out in clumps. The diagnosis? Cow's milk allergy. Our solution? Dairy goats. We raised dairy goats from then until I left for college 7 years later. At that point I gave up drinking milk altogether. I would have regular old cow's milk on a bowl of`cereal, but that was all. I never realized how dairy-dependent my diet was until the past 4 months.

When my little Oliver was born at the end of August, I was determined to breastfeed him as I had done my second son, Carter. My sweet husband hates to see me put any of the responsibility for my oldest's autism on to myself, but I can't help but wonder how things might have been different if I had nursed him as well. I'm not burdened down with guilt over it--I made the best decision for myself at the time--but the fact remains that I had a bottle-fed child with a developmental disability and a breastfed child without one. I had no plans to test out the odds with my third.

Getting started brought the same blood, sweat, and tears as it had the last time, but I was too stubborn to throw in the towel. However, we soon faced an unexpected element to the whole mix. The peeling skin typical of post-term babies seemed unusually persistent and began to intensify around Oliver's face in a way that made us believe it was not typical after all. In addition, he was excessively fussy and gassy and his stool was bright green. Based on my history, Austin's subsequent dairy troubles, and what we turned up with a little research, it seemed we were dealing with an allergy to the cow's milk protein that was passing on to him from what I was consuming.

Removing milk and cheese from my diet brought swift improvement, but there were still some lingering symptoms. It took some serious digging to discover all the many sources of dairy there were in my diet. Did you know that there's only one type of margarine in my grocery store that is totally diary-free? Did you know that English muffins have milk in them? How about breadcrumbs? (I found this out after making a meatloaf and spending a sleepless night with a cranky, miserable baby afterward.) Tastykakes, salad dressing, croutons, fish sticks, crackers, chips, cookies, the list is extensive. Not only that, but I was surprised to discover how many of my favorite meals are made with milk or cheese. As for restaurants? Forget it. Pretty much any roll, biscuit, or breaded item is off limits. It has been truly miserable, though I would have to credit this situation with forcing me to rely less on prepared foods and go the homemade route more.

Formula is out of the question. Our one attempt to supplement with soy resulted in a violently ill baby who kept nothing down for 5 hours. So I continue to breastfeed, dreaming of having a bowl of cereal, and trying very hard to not imagine the summer with no pizza or ice cream ahead of me.