Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pride and Prejudice?

I had lunch with a friend recently. Not surpisingly, the presidential election came up. Now, I was surprised to hear that she's voting for Obama. She's a staunch, Christian conservative, goes to an evangelical church and believes in a strict, if not literal, interpretation of the bible. Despite the wide difference in our beliefs, we have remained friends. Naturally, I'm happy she's voting for Obama, but I was unprepared for what she said next.

"Of course, if he wins, the blacks are going to be impossible."

"What do you mean?" I ask. "Shouldn't they be excited by the first black president?"

"Well, yeah. But you should see how they're acting downstairs." By "they", she means the predominantly minority work force that makes up what the hospital calls "ancillary personel": the housekeepers, transporters, kitchen staff, etc. I try to pin her down but she's evasive. She didn't come right out and use the "uppity" word, but she might as well have. Let's be clear. We haven't had an African-American president in 232 years, the entire history, of our country. Recently, some news program interviewed people in Montana on why they were voting for McCain/Palin. Their response, "Because Sarah Palin looks like us." The not-so-subtle subtext: Senator Obama doesn't look like us. He doesn't look like the people in our family, in our town, in our schools and in our churches. What is going on here? It's almost 143 years since the 13th amendment was ratified and stiil we have people doing the electoral equivalent of locking their doors when they drive through a black neighborhood.

So what's wrong with African-Americans being undeniably proud of Obama? Our friendship has withstood a difference in age and religious beliefs, but I don't think it can survive her prejudice.

All the other slurs, against liberals in general and Obama in particular, start with the "they're not like us" argument. Sarah Palin visited North Carolina and said how she likes being in such a Pro-American part of the country. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann (nee McCarthy) wants Congress to be scrutinized for those who may hold "un-American views." A Republican women's group sent out a mailing with a picture of Obama, along with watermellon and fried chicken, on a food stamp. Then were surprised when people thought that was racist. You can go online and find Obama sock monkey dolls. Us versus Them. Brown eyes versus Blue. Liberal versus Conservative. Gay versus Straight. Black versus White. Make "those people" sound scary enough and soon people will be believing that "they" sacrifice babies in the moonlight. That analogy isn't as farfetched as you may think-there are those who remain obstinant in their belief that Mr. Obama is a closet muslim because his middle name is Hussein and that he "pals around" with terrorists because he once served on a board with William Ayers. I could write whole articles on those myths alone.

When you start dividing people up into categories, it's hard to stop. It reminds me of the joke that there are two kinds of people: those who think that there are two kinds of people and those who know better. More important than the fact that judging people is intrinsically wrong, it stops dialogue dead in its tracks. How can you have a meaningful discussion on race, abortion, the environment or anything when one side is villifying the other? Furthermore, when you segregate off a section of society as being bad, scary and different, it then becomes easy to not only stop caring about them, but it becomes justifiable to hurt them. Political opponents will continue to sling mud at each other, but when you try and drum up your camp to actively hate the "other", you risk putting their lives in danger. John McCain tried to say that Obama was still a good person and he was boo'd by his own supporters. Yes, I know that not all Republicans are prejudiced, but some are wound up with hatred and that's frightening.

There is always someone who is going to be not like you. Remove all the people of color, people with religious differences, ideological differences, folks who don't talk and dress like you do, your neighbor down the street who acts weird and your son who is gay and who do have left? Nobody. You're alone. It's one thing to to be with people you have things in common with, but when it comes to compassion, forgiveness and kindness (all Christian values, I think?), you either have it for everyone or the reality is that you have it for no one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Little Trash Compactor That Could

or: Why I love being Liberal

I never thought I'd write in defense of a Disney movie. I'm not vehemently anti-Disney, like some people I know(Big Business is Big Business, even if it has big doe eyes and a cute little tail). I just, well, you know, it's just cartoons to me. Anyhoo, our little one finally discovered the Pixar movieography. Her Daddy, in a fit of fatigue, let her watch Finding Nemo on the TV and since then she's pondered the cinematic stylings of Cars, Toy Story 1 & 2, and most recently, Wall-E.

Wall-E was a big occasion in our house. It was the first REAL movie, by which I mean we got dressed and went out TO THE MOVIES with (mostly) real popcorn and snacks and a big screen and big, comfy chairs. We weren't sure if she'd even sit through it, but we figured we were willing to take a chance with the matinee prices. To say it was a big hit is an understatement. The other night she gave her new Wall-E robot a bottle and laid it to bed on her pillow. It's a plastic robot. Not a cuddly, orange stuffed fish or even a red-haired Jesse doll. It's a plastic, yellow box with eyes. They sit in the rocking chair together and rock.

Now, I figured I'd like it. I laughed at Toy Story. I thought it'd be cute. I just never imagined it to be so affirming of my liberal, family values. Naturally, the conservatives hate it.

Sean O'Neill's, Your Guide to the Wall-E Controversy, breaks it down for you. Don't think for a minute that this is the same as the Southern Baptist's boycotting Disney for it's thinly-veiled gay characters and gay friendly employees benefits. According to some on the right, this movie represents the downfall of Moral America as we know it. I didn't think people still called other people pinko, radical commies anymore. I was wrong. In a nutshell, the criticism falls into three categories: 1) If you're an environmentalist, or even if you just recycle, you're anti-modernism and want the human race to go back to living in caves. 2) It's anti-fat people, because all the humans left in space are fat and lazy and 3) it's hypocritical, because Disney is marketing lots of Wall-E stuff, cheaply made in China and destined to fill landfills forever.

Possibly #3 is true, although in my experience, I've seen far more Cars merchandise recently than I have for Wall-E, even though Cars is two years old, already. Certainly, Disney/Pixar is far from dominating the market on "Cheap Crap from China". As for #1 and #2, well, humans are, overwhelmingly, destroying the planet and we are becoming more and more fat and lazy. Childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate. There's a scene in Wall-E that shows the spaceship's nursery and all of the babies are suspended in walkers, watching TV. If you consider today's baby carriers, that go from home to car to store to home again, without the baby ever being touched and 90 percent of toddlers watching TV "regularly", it's not so farfetched.

Some on the other end of the spectrum say, "It's just a simple love story," but I don't buy that either. Even without the Otto the Autopilot's obvious line of "stay the course," it's a movie with a message. A message that what we're doing to our planet is awful and very, very sad. A message that love is stronger than ignorance. But most of all, the message that you should never, ever underestimate the power of one person to change the course of history. As Margaret Meade said,

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Summer smorgesbord

I just cooked up some butter sage pasta, a recipe that I got from this blog-The Inadvertent Gardner. It was amazingly simple and good. Then I fried yellow squash rings from this huge squash we got at the organic farm coop we belong to. I just dipped them in egg and then flour with salt and pepper mixed in. I fried them up in crisco with a little bit of olive oil. Then, because I was inspired by her squash blossom story, I went and "harvested" 2 pumpkin blossoms from the front yard.

The pumpkin is a mystery. Yesterday, we just suddenly noticed it was growing in the corner of the front yard, behind a box shrub. Possibly, it's from last year's pumpkin which was in an advanced state of decay when we finally threw it out.

Anyway, the blossoms were delicious. I hope the farmer's market has some. I can't wait to try stuffing them.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dental Care for the little ones

My little one has turned 2 ½ years old and is still nursing, with no signs of stopping. I’ve been weaning little by little using the La Leche League, “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” method. Sometimes I’ve been known to try a little distraction to see if she really feels like nursing. That’s led to some interesting mommy-toddler conversations like,
“Not now. Do you want some (cow’s) milk?”
“No. Nummies.”
“You want some foods?”
“NO! Nummies! Nummies in rockin’ chair NOW!”

The problem we have is that she loves to nurse herself to sleep. Another is that she has many caries, aka cavities, aka bottle mouth. Of all the “I nevers” I’ve had as a mom-I’ll never co-sleep, I’ll never nurse a toddler, I’ll never give in to a temper tantrum-I would probably say my most emphatic was, I’ll never have a child with bottle rot. And she’s never really had a bottle, so why the cavities?

From what I’ve read and from my own earlier experiences with breastfeeding, breast milk is supposed to be protective of teeth. Indeed, when I first breastfed 17 years ago, I didn’t think it was possible for breastfed babies to get cavities. The July/August 2002 issue of Mothering magazine notes that only recently have studies of ECC(early childhood caries) distinguish between breastfed and bottle fed infants. Of note in the article is that some studies indicate that a strain of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, may be responsible for tooth decay in infants. The bacteria are colonized and benign in adult mouths and passed to the baby by sharing food, cups, etc.

Other studies have shown that while breast milk alone offers protection from cavities, combining breast milk and sugary substances can actually hasten tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry put out a press release in 1999 saying this:
Researchers concluded that breast milk prohibits acid and bacterial growth in the mouth. However, breast milk has a "low buffering capacity" and does not buffer the addition of acid. When breast milk is alternated with sugar, the rate of caries development is faster than that of sugar alone.

According to Burton L. Edelstein, DDS, MPH of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, ECC is an especially rapid form of tooth decay. It usually starts behind the teeth, so it can be hard to spot. So what can a breastfeeding mom do to reduce the chance of ECC? Some suggestions from Dr. Edelstein:

You can take steps to protect your child's teeth through proper care:
Clean your baby's teeth and gums with a damp cloth or a soft toothbrush after each feeding.
Take your baby for his or her first visit to the dentist as soon as the first tooth erupts.
Teach your baby to drink from a cup by his or her first birthday.
Make sure your baby is getting the right amount of fluoride. If your town does not have fluoride in its drinking water, ask your pediatric dentist or pediatrician about fluoride supplements.

You can give your child the benefits of breast milk and help avoid tooth decay if you follow these guidelines:
-Breastfeed your baby for at least a year, as recommended by the AAP.
-As your child begins to have other liquids and solids, limit how often he or she consumes foods that contain sugar. This is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of cavities for your child.
-Establish sleep routines early in your baby's life. According to the AAP, by age 6 to 8 weeks babies should learn how to get to sleep on their own without being rocked or fed. By age 6 months, most babies should be able to sleep through the night.
-Avoid long periods of breastfeeding, particularly when your child is very sleepy or falling asleep at the breast.

More links, if you're interested:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Burfday Earth!

Pooter & I were looking on the computer for some local Earth Day activities. We came to one website and she saw the globe, so I said-That's for Earth Day.

Burf Day. We already know what birthdays are.

No, Earth day.

Burf Day!

Well, it's like a birthday for the earth.

Burfday for the earth! Burfday for the earth!

Sure, why not?

Anyway, I celebrated Earth Day in a totally granola way-I rode my $5 bike to the food coop, with my canvas grocery bag, bought some bulk goods and biked home. On the way home, I bought a 50 cent lemonade from some kids who were raising money for the people of Darfur. I love my hippy town. And I bought my husband an ED present-the biggest beet I have ever seen. That's right, I said beet. It's the size of a baby's head. A Mangel-Wurzel, to be sure. Read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins if you want to understand. It definitely was an Alobar of a beet. A tale that begins with a beet, ends with the devil. So they say.

I never sent out Christmas cards because I never got pictures taken of the girls. Then I was going to send them out as valentines. Then Easter. So maybe I'll finally send out cards for Earth Day. Could happen.

Monday, April 07, 2008

So, I went to see Dr. Robert Sears Saturday night at the NJ La Leche League's annual convention. The best (and funniest) thing about it was the atmosphere. I'm used to being out in public and having the only high-spirited child. For instance, on the rare occassion that we try to bring a toddler out dining, we'll usually start off with trying to distract her with the books and toys we've bought. Then we take turns doing laps of the restaurant because she wants to "go runnin'". "Let's go runnin'! Come on, daddy, come on!" Then there's 5 minutes of eating and she's back to doing laps. Now, multiply that by 75 families and you get the idea of the ruckus involved at the annual La Leche League dinner. Only a pediatrician could have spoken to that crowd without a break in his speech.

It wasn't too cacophonous while he was talking, everyone quieted down a bit. It was really nice to see no strollers. Every one was holding their baby-in slings or on hips. At least the ones who weren't runnin' around the buffet table. I personally hate those baby carriers that turn into car seats, meaning that your baby doesn't ever have to feel human touch, except for diaper changes, I guess. The human touch factor remains important in our family now that we're smack in the middle of the toddler experience. Not unlike our teenager, one minute she's proclaiming her independance and the next minute she's whiny and clinging. The breastfeeding works great with calming her temper tantrums, as does the co-sleeping. Although both get to be a grind at times, there's nothing like having a warm little one curl up next to you.

Anyway, Dr. Sears' talk was pretty good. I'm not sure if it was $30 (plus $15 for the book)good, especially when it constitutes my "night out" allotment for several months, but I did learn some stuff. Namely I learned that we won't be vaccinating the Poot for several more years. He is definitely NOT anti-vaccine, but since we've gotten through the infant years without illness or vaccines, her risk is pretty low until she hits older childhood. The best thing about it is that here's a renowned pediatrician saying that there really is something to the vaccine debate. I'm tired of medical people who think that if you don't vaccinate, your some kind of heal-me-with-your-magic-crystal nut. Like most issues today, the debate gets polarized into the two extreme camps; those who say vaccines are completely safe and that Big Pharma is only here to help us and those that think vaccines are a huge conspiracy to steal our souls, like an X-Files episode.

I don't know what's a worse way to get news and learn about issues-the internet, where you can some eye opening information, but also the most ignorant viewpoints ever to take up cyberspace, or the regular media which dumbs down everything into 5 minute sound bites interspersed with car accidents and school shootings. It's hard to be a "see both sides of the issue" girl in today's society. Anyway, look forward to a coming post on vaccines soon.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

**Late Notice**

I just found out, but the NJ La Leche League is having their annual conference this weekend in Edison, NJ.

Dr Sears (see link on the sidebar) will be speaking Sat afternoon on parenting and Sat night on vaccinating children. If you're in the area, check it out. Onsite registration is available and tickets are also available just to see Dr. Sears Sat night.

More gentle than dulcolax!

We take the Pooter to the "Choo Choo store" (aka Barnes & Nobles) about once a week, especially in the cold and wet weather. If you don't know, almost every children's section of B&N has a Thomas the Train setup on a table with trains and stuff for the kids to play with. We like to go there, grab a cup of coffee and sit and read while Pooter plays with the other little kids. Except that lately it's fallen out of favor with us because she doesn't understand why we can't open all the shiny packages and play with them. As long as she sticks with the trains, though, we're fine. The odd thing, and probably gross, too, but I have no shame, is that EVERY time we go to B&N, she has a poop.

That's not the oddest thing, although perhaps they could work it into their advertising: Not regular! Try Barnes & Nobles! (and no, she doesn't drink their coffee).

No, the oddest thing is that no matter how many times we take her there, her parents always seem to forget extra diapers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where else would I share this?

You are either going to love these videos or hate them, but you won't be indifferent to them. I love them, that's why I just had to share them with SOMEONE. (My family already knows I'm nuts, so they're not interested.)

Well, if that's not enough to scare you away, there's this...

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

A long time ago, when I was young, poor and very pregnant, I got a flat tire while driving on Route 287. Needless to say, I didn't have Triple A and I didn't have a cell phone. Actually, most people at the time didn't have cell phones. Reaching over my big belly, I started unpacking the trunk to get out the spare. A young man pulled over, asked if I needed help and proceeded to change my tire. He got in his car and drove away. I never saw him again.

I suppose I could have been afraid. I could have sat in my locked car and just rolled the window down a crack and asked him to call for help, but it didn't enter my mind. That's not always the case-I have been in circumstances where I've avoided a stranger, or not asked for help. What's the difference? Perhaps my sixth sense told me he was ok. It's a risk, to be sure. Recently, I was speaking with a group of women about this subject. One told me how as a child, her mother would invite all kinds of people, people she met places, over to dinner. They lived out in the country and sometimes these folks would do some work around the house and then sit down to the dinner table with them. To me it conjures up another time, not just a time when one person could trust another, but also a time when a person could trust their own ability to discern the good from the bad.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost this ability. Who among us today would meet a person on the street and invite them in for dinner? From childhood on, we are taught to fear strangers. This is despite the fact that federal statistics do not show an increase of in child abductions or murders. On an internet advice column a mom asked "My son is very outgoing and friendly. How do I keep him from approaching strangers?" Could you imagine seeking advice on how to quell your child's enthusiastic and outgoing nature? The columnist wrote back what I already know-most children, and people in general, are hurt by people they know. It's not the stranger in the trench coat you need to fear, no matter how many lurid news stories you may see on the subject. The danger is out there, to be sure, but is exaggerated by a media hungry for sensation. Taken to an extreme, this fear of strangers can work against a child. In 2005, a Utah boy went missing in the mountains. The 11 year old boy, Brennan Hawkins, avoided rescue workers for several days because he had been told to stay away from strangers.

Security consultant Gavin de Becker wrote a book about all this, called Protecting the Gift. In addition to advice for parents on how to keep kids safe, it offers valuable insight into teaching your child how to discern who's safe and who's not. He encourages parents to have kids deliberately talk to strangers, in the store, on the street. With parents safely near by, have your school age child ask for directions or for help with a purchase. Afterward, talk together about the person they spoke with: what were they like, did they help, etc. This should be mandatory parenting, like teaching your child their address and how to answer the phone properly. It not only teaches your child social interaction but gets them thinking about who they can trust, why and under what circumstances.

Another important point, raised by de Becker and others, is teaching a child (or anyone, really) to heed their inner voice. You've probably all heard stories of the trusted scout leader, teacher or other authority figure who abused children. Inevitably, someone is quoted saying how nice the person is. We need to get away from the notion that bad people who hurt children are slobbering perverts in trench coats. Instead, we're taught to be nice, especially if we're girls, even when a little voice inside our head is going, "Hmmm, I don't know about this person. Something's not right." What the experts say is that if the siren is going off in your head-listen to it, even to the point of being rude. It can mean the difference between getting to safety or not.

Sometimes we need to rely on the kindness of strangers and sometimes we need to be wary of people. It's not foolproof, but teaching your children to listen to their inner voice and discern who they can trust will go a long way in boosting their confidence and in the end make for safer kids.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Littlest Epicure

It's strange how your thoughts can wander when you're making a sandwich. Well, my thoughts, anyway. The sandwich was straightforward and one of my favorites:hummus and avocado. Plain 'ole avocado, no guacamole, although gauc' is good too. For interest I applied a few grape tomatoes and oil-cured olives. Sometimes I'll do cheese instead, like hummus, avocado and brie with tomato. All on a nice, rough textured oat bread from the bakery in town. Ymmm.

Anyhoo, as I was planning on sharing the sandwich with the wee one, I started thinking about nursing. Actually, it stemmed from an incident at work earlier this week about nursing, but more on that some other time. There's a great benefit of breastfeeding, especially extended breastfeeding, that no one talks about: developing baby's palate. There's a reason why Indian babies develope a taste for spicy chili dishes and Japanese babies love fish and Jamaican babies love meat pies and jerk chicken. It's because by the time they are ready to eat "adult" food, they have already tasted it through their mother's milk. Big deal, you might say, so my kid will never appreciate baba ghanoush. So what? But it's more than just enjoying the taste of things. Think about it, by 1970, the breastfeeding rate in the US was in the low teens. Every baby drank formula that tasted pretty much the same all the time no matter who the manufacturer is. Now think about what American adults eat. McDonald's. Outback. Bennigan's. God-help-me, Taco Bell. In a word, crap. Food that tastes exactly the same whether you eat it in Bangor, Maine or San Diego, California. Food that is loaded with fat, salt and high fructose corn syrup. Food, that despite what the commercials tell you, comes from a can or a freezer.

I'd like to see a study that shows the effects of breastfeeding in obesity. Oh, wait, here's one: from the CDC no less, I thank you. I'll bet you my last drop of breastmilk it's because breastfed babies develope a taste for better, wholesome food than bottle-fed babies. And breast fed infants are less likely to develop asthma, diabetes and heart disease later in life. The original super food.

I was breastfed for six weeks, pretty good for 1968. And my mom used cloth diapers, but that's another post. We ate a LOT of processed food. Cheese Wizz in a can, spaghetti-O's, instant mashed potatoes, Hydrox cookies, Tang, Hi-C, Rice-A-Roni. And God knows we never ate a vegetable that didn't come out of a can. My mother, God bless her, worked four nights a week, so we ate a lot of warmed up leftovers. No nibble of food was too small for my mom to wrap up in tinfoil. Wasting food is a sin, ya know. In the time before microwaves, she'd save little bits of whatever in tins that she saved from, I don't know, food that came in tins-chicken pot pie, for example. At least once a week, Dad would place a dozen or so tins of various leftover stuff on a cookie tray and heat it up in the oven. I think it reminded him of C-rations. All of that may explain why I tend to keep leftovers in the fridge until they are absolutely, without a doubt, beyond consuming. "Is this still good?" "I don't know, but wait a week and we'll know for sure."

None of this explains my love of good food today, though. I have my Italian grandmother to thank. We ate over their just about every Sunday and holiday. I was so amazed by real butter as a child I ate it by the pat-full. And sauce that didn't come in a can. So my childhood wasn't totally devoid of flavor; it had garlic and oregano, onions and fresh grown basil from my grandfather's garden. On very special occasions I was even allowed to drink a little watered down wine.

When Pooter was starting on solids she was crazy for pureed fruit and veggies for, like, 3 weeks. Then, suddenly, she didn't seem interested. One night my husband made a kickin' penne with vodka sauce. The baby crawled over and stuck her entire face in the bowl. Is it in the genes or the breastmilk? She's not saying, she's too busy eating.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Happened to Walking?

The first real snow storm of the winter happened this week while I was at work. Looking down onto Route 27, I could see traffic already at a standstill. Now, normally my husband will pick me up but this evening I called him and told him I’d walk home. This decision caused shock and dismay among my co-workers. “You’re going to walk? In the snow? At night?” You think I had said I was going by way of a tightrope across the Raritan. My logic was simple: traffic is at a standstill and it’ll be quicker to walk. And it was-it took me 30 minutes to walk the 2 miles, a trip that took my husband over an hour to do earlier in the day.

I will and I have walked in all kinds of weather. I’ve walked across open prairie in the heat of summer and I’ve walked in pouring rain. About the only weather I despise walking in is a high wind, because there’s just no escaping it. Possibly a sandstorm would be worse. If I’m ever caught out in the desert, I’ll let you know.

No one walks anymore, at least not in the middle class. I’m sure that many of those horrified by the thought of my walking home pay good money for a gym membership. I’m further sure that when they get to the gym they vie for the closest parking spot. You know where I’m going with this. I’ve seen people drive to a strip mall, go in and out of a store and then get back in their car and drive a few feet down to the next store. How many people do you know whose only walking is from the house to the car to work to the car back to the house? There are places in NJ where it is not only inconvenient but dangerous to walk from one store to the next because there are no sidewalks or intersections to cross at.

I could get into all the environmental reasons for using people power instead of fossil fuels. Then there are the health benefits and the savings of having one car, one insurance policy, one gas bill. But really, is there any better reason than just getting off your butt and feeling alive. I used to arrive at work snarling over who cut me off and how long I had sat in traffic. Now, I arrive feeling full of energy and ready to start the day.

Funny thing is, most days I ride the bike to work. Now, if walking two miles is nice, biking two miles is a piece of cake, even with the hills. This truly amazes people. They’re not sure if I’m crazy or just lost my license. The truth is that it’s convenient. Driving from my house to New Brunswick takes 5-10 minutes depending on traffic and lights. Then I have to park about a mile from work in a parking deck and take a shuttle. Waiting for the shuttle to fill up takes another 10 minutes and then it’s a 10 minute drive to the hospital. 30 minutes to go two miles. Biking: 8 minutes, 13 if I stop at Starbuck’s. On a bike I bought at a yard sale for five bucks. When I hit that downhill and fly over the Albany St. Bridge for a few minutes I feel like I’m 10 again and that is good enough reason for me.