Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go the @$%# To Sleep

I came across the opinion piece "'Go the F*** to Sleep' Not Funny," by Karen Spears Zacharias on CNN's website last night.

I found it...puzzling and contradictory.  On the one hand, she cites experts who say that it's alarming to find "violent" language associated with children, given the fact that child abuse is a very serious issue.  Or that if the subject of this book were members of ethnic or religious minorities that the kind of language would be unacceptable in our society.

Then she notes that the people buying this book are most likely good parents, who do read to their children at night and probably do not speak to their children in the manner depicted in the book.

What she glaringly omits is this: children are effing frustrating sometimes.  Especially when they're being made to do something they don't want to do like, say, go to sleep.

I will be the first to stand up and say that I was blessed with a remarkably easy baby.  He is good natured, easy-going, doesn't cry much, isn't picky about his food, (usually) teethes like a champ, and generally sleeps well.  And he is sometimes effing frustrating as all get-out.

I'm telling you, anyone who tells you that they never got angry or frustrated with their baby is either lying or pathologically deluded.

You see, babies are brand new human beings.  They haven't had the 20+ years of experience with things like eating, drinking, sleeping, or exploring.  They're learning new things every day, like how to roll a ball, how to make loud high pitched noises, how to make you laugh, how to walk forwards and backwards, and how to climb the entertainment center.  They are experiencing new emotions like joy, fear, love, and jealousy.  They are exploring new sensations like soft carpet, and liquid, and how various liquids feel when poured on the carpet.  They're learning how to manipulate things, for example how to make a musical toy play sounds, or how to squirt milk from the nipples of their supposedly hard-bodied bottles.  They're doing things like figuring out "OMG I HAVE A NOSE AND MY FINGER FITS RIGHT INSIDE OF IT!!!!11!!1!one!!!11!!" ...or "WOW OMG if I drop stuff over the side of my high chair it falls down every time!!!

They're doing all of this amazing stuff, and no, they're not born with some innate sense of what is "good behavior" and what is "bad," and "what will make judgmental strangers give Mom the stink-eye in the grocery store."  That's what parenting is for - to teach them how to get along in society.

But you know what?  Sometimes it gets effing frustrating, no matter how much you adore your child.  Sometimes it's harder to deal with a frustrating situation than other times.

That's why I found the book funny.  It's those things that I feel sometimes, or even sometimes say in my head but would never actually verbalize to my child.  It's a relief valve, a way to find humor in a situation where it's easy to get angry.

But you know what?  It's also reassuring that I'm not the only one who feels that way towards my child sometimes.  Go the F*** to Sleep is #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Advice and Misc. bestsellers list, and on Amazon's bestselling books list.  That's a lot of people who can see the humor in the sleep situation.  That's a lot of people who can relate.  It's good to know that it's OK to have these feelings.  These feelings make moms (and dads) human...as long as the story remains what it is intended to be: an adult story to share and laugh about how frustrating it can sometimes be to raise a little human.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cost of Living

My husband and I are looking for a new house (fingers crossed, we may have found one!  Eep!) because we need to cut costs.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a discussion on a board I frequent regarding house sizes.

We're a single earner family now, with a kid, making slightly below the average US worker's salary in a place that is slightly above the average US cost of living.

In the middle of house hunting, I got to thinking about how I've heard that the cost of living these days is so much more than the cost of living in, say, 1950.  How it's necessary now to have two-earner households in order to maintain the same quality of life.  It's something that I'd heard ever since high school and never doubted.

Now I'm not so sure.

I'm going to start some research this week because I'm curious.  Once upon a time I was talking to my mom about how tiny our house on the CA coast was.  She asked when it was built: 1948.  She told me, "Oh, that's a normal size for a home back in those days.  In fact, it probably housed a family with two kids.  Homes were a lot smaller then."  Really?  Something to research...average house size for a middle class family of 4 in 1950.  Incidentally, the house we are looking at renting is 960 square feet, two bedrooms, and is only slightly larger than the home we rented on the coast.  Rent is easily 25% of my net income.

The thought train continues...what are the common expenses of middle class households today, besides rent or mortgage?  Utilities, telephone, cell phone, internet, cable television (or satellite), credit card debt, food, car payment(s), car insurance, gas for the car, savings (ha!), renters or home-owner's insurance, clothing...what am I missing?  Tell me in the comments!

How many of those things did people use in 1950?  Clearly they didn't use cell phones, internet, or cable television.  But what I don't know is this: how much debt people carried around with them (today's credit card debt)?  How many cars did the average family own?  How much did they spend on clothing?  Did more people keep their victory gardens left over from World War II?  More things to research...

I wonder this now, because if I can cut down the rental expenses, get a garden going, cut back a bit on driving, and refuse to use my credit cards, then we can live a pretty comfortable life on my income alone.  We won't be taking any lavish trips, and we can add in internet costs, but we can make a nice little life for ourselves with the same kinds of expenses that I hypothesize the average household in 1950 had.  So do we need double incomes?  I wonder...

...and I'll get back to you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Household Feminism

When I was eight, my older sister was visiting home from college. She made an offhand, positive remark about feminists. My younger sister asked, "Dad, what's a feminist?" The corner of his mouth turned up slightly as he said, "An ugly woman."

Being a family of 5 females versus 2 males, the older women folk exploded. "NO, that is NOT what a feminist is!" "She's too young to understand jokes like that!" After the dust settled a bit, my mother told my oldest sister to define "feminist" for my younger sister and me.

"A feminist is a person who thinks that a woman is just as good as a man, and should have the same rights."

Now that I'm (much) older, this definition holds true for me.  It's broad, simple, and inclusive.  Women are a diverse lot, and being both "just as good as a man," and having the same rights (for example, agency in choices) allows women such a broad range of freedom and lifestyles.  Women aren't quite there, yet, but we're a heck of a lot closer than we were back when, say, we were legal property.

Now hang on, there, Spamifred, you can't be feminist because you like traditionally feminine things.  You teach school; you enjoy needlecrafts; you got married; you clean.

True, true, but I don't think those interests are incompatible with feminism at all.  Yes, I work in a (now) traditionally female occupation.  But even so, I am the breadwinner and was even before my husband lost his job.  I do what I love to do, and I'm taking care of my family at the same time.  Besides, all those hints that feminist women shouldn't do things like teach or become nurses is incredibly degrading to those professions.  Rather than give the side eye to women who choose to enter those professions, why not work to re-establish them as respectable callings?

As for the other things on my list, they are either examples of me having the ability to choose what to do with my body, time, and energy or examples of providing for my family.  I enjoy needlecrafts because it's relaxing and I get to wear the end result.  It's a personal choice.  It's not like I'm sitting there knitting doilies like some angsty Victorian teenager waiting for her beau to propose.  I clean the house because, frankly, my kid needs a clean place to run around.  Having a clean house is more important than who does it.  And you know?  My husband does all the laundry and childcare while I'm at work.  I think that evens things out a bit in the gender division of labor department.  I got married, yes.  There's a tax benefit to it and culturally there's a significance in the ritual - you can swear up and down inside and out to each other that you are committed to each other for life, but standing up in front of friends and family and making that same promise takes on a whole different level of seriousness.  Like, now it's for real because you mom heard you say that!  I did keep my name, though, because I like it.

To me, living in a feminist household is more about working together to accomplish goals than focusing on who does what.  My husband does the child care and he changes the oil in the car.  I'm often in charge of the grill.  Spiders and other bugs (except wasps...:shudder:) we deal with on a Who Sees It First basis.  Same goes with the dishes.  To me, it's feminist because we balance our lives based on our individual strengths, not on our sex chromosomes.  It's feminist because my husband doesn't expect me to do traditionally feminine things, and I don't assume he will do traditionally masculine ones.  Neither one balks at "women's work," or "man stuff."

Of course, none of this really touches on the major issues outside of my own little house.  That is a much bigger topic for another day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Three Days, Sixty Miles

Three days.  Sixty miles.

Yesterday I blogged about the last time I saw my mom (relatively) healthy and just out of surgery where she and the surgeon were optimistic about her recovery from breast cancer.  Two months later she was gone.

It happened the day after Thanksgiving.  By that time we knew it was coming soon.  She had spent most of her last two months in the hospital, and by the Sunday before Thanksgiving rolled around we were discussing options for hospice care.  The shock and disbelief that it was happening and then suddenly had happened was incomprehensible for all of us.

We wandered around my parents' house, the one that they had only bought 3 years earlier with intentions of making it a retirement villa, a mecca for out-of-town children and their families to stay during holidays, a mini farm where they could raise their own produce, where my mom could finally get in shape and walk to the humane society to get her puppy fix - an admittedly impractical house for everyday living.  We wandered through the halls, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, now cleaning and primping for funeral visitors instead of grandchildren coming for Christmas.  Wondering what to do with all those fucking flowers and GOD don't they stink, and I know the next door neighbor is a really nice guy but do I have to run into him at Vons and get the sympathetic shoulder squeeze and doleful condolence face every time?

We were looking for some way to do something with our grief.  Something besides mope and be angry and deal with the I'm So Sorries.  So just before she passed, my sisters decided: the Susan G. Komen 3 Day For the Cure.  The four of us signed up for the November 2011 walk in San Diego.  It's 60 miles over 3 days; twenty miles each day.

If you're interested in donating to the team, you can click on my widget.  $2300 is my goal, and any help would be amazing.

OK, so that's it for today for donation pleas.  Seeya tomorrow!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day for the Cure!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happier posts on the way soon

Just a quick note to let you all know that my recent musings about unhappy events are just part of life as I know it right now.  This is kind of acting as a sounding board for my thoughts.  Contrary to my latest posts, there are a lot of wonderful things going on, too, and I'll be writing about those things soon :)

Mom, Part 3

I went down to visit Mom right after her surgery.  Everything had gone really well from what the surgeon had told us.  She was supposed to have a radical mastectomy, but he found no evidence that the cancer had gone as far as the chest wall muscles, so he left that intact.  He took 23 lymph nodes and sent those off to be biopsied.

She was so upbeat.  And she refused to rest.

After only a few days of defying doctor orders and over-using her arm, Mom developed an infection.  This was bad news, because the day after I was supposed to leave, Mom was supposed to go get her chemo port put in. Since they obliterate your immune system with the chemo, it's really important to not have any known infections. So chemo got delayed and Mom spent a night or two in the hospital on antibiotic infusions.

But hey!  It looked like the cancer was isolated to the tumor!  Yay!

I have videos that I shot of my son that week.  You can hear Mom in the background discussing baseball with my Dad.  All week she was the same Mom that I always knew, albeit a little more tired than normal.  But that's to be expected after major surgery.  Right?

I'm so angry that I didn't get a chance to spend more time one on one with my Mom that week.  I had my son by myself, and at 6 months and mobile he was more than enough to exhaust me with his exploring, playing, basic needs, and all other able adults thoroughly distracted by what was going on with Mom.  I cooked a dinner or 2, we watched some movies, Mom held the boy and cooed over him.  Actually, my most vivid memory of that trip is trying to put my kid down to sleep and him having NONE of it for two hours.  By the end of the visit I was tired and frustrated, but figured that we would get more quality time together at Christmas.

Oh, I do remember one other night there.  My younger sister had put out word on Facebook a few weeks earlier that she wanted to compile letters from people who knew my Mom.  Words of encouragement, favorite memories, etc. to put together in a scrapbook for my mom to read on bad days during chemo.  On my last night there, the family gathered and we presented Mom with the book.  Everyone cried, and Mom said that she was looking forward to reading all of the letters during treatment.

The next morning it was time to go.  Mom wasn't feeling great - said she slept wrong on her neck and had a nasty crick.  We hugged, I told her that I didn't know if I would be down for Thanksgiving, but I definitely would be there for Christmas.  She wished me a safe trip and asked me to say hello and "I love you" to my husband.

And then the boy and I drove away, not knowing that it would be the last time I would ever see my mother lucid.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transplanting the Herbs

At the end of May, I finally got around to planting an herb garden.  For Christmas 2009 I got an herb planting kit that I had always meant to use.  With my new gardening kick it seemed to be the perfect time.

I began them indoors, in a tray full of tiny peat pots: basil, oregano, cilantro, chives, parsley, thyme, and dill.  They all sprouted much earlier than the seed packets indicated.  For a while they had been growing lustily, but in recent days had really slowed down.  So I figured it was time to transplant them to larger containers.  During my kid's afternoon nap I had a date with some hand-me-down containers, potting soil, and some water.

I'll be hardening these off over the next week or so.  The weather forecast is for near triple digits, so I'll need to keep them well watered.  Hopefully transplanting them in the peat pots will help alleviate some of the transplant shock.  In any case I made sure to get at least two of each plant, so even if one dies I'll still have the other.

Here's hoping this goes better than the radish debacle of 2011!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Once upon a time, I was dating a very nice young man who lived near Monterey, CA.  He was renting a downstairs room from a family who was originally from India.  They were pretty friendly with each other; enough so that when the wife took a class that required her to interview someone from another culture, she asked my boyfriend if she could interview him.  The conversation began with her asking him about growing up American, and then turned to her experience moving to the US as a young adult.

One of the things that she mentioned was how much space and how much stuff American's have.  One thing he related to me that she had said was this: "In India, our houses are one tenth as big as houses here, and we have all of our family living with us - parents, grandparents, brothers, children.  It's very crowded, and we don't have privacy.  No one has their own room.  If we lived like this where I come from, we would be looked down on, like we're trying to live above our station.  And we have one-tenth the possessions.  So we have one tenth the space, and one tenth the possessions, but we are ten times happier than any American I have met."

Now, I'm sure she was exaggerating to some extent.  And she and her husband were here alone, away from their families with a plan to move back to India some day.  So maybe she was feeling nostalgic for home.  In any case, that story reminds me of one of the tenets of Buddhism: unhappiness comes from attachments to things, people, desires, etc. (Tanha).  

After my mom passed away, I had this very strong desire to purge my belongings.  We have a large house relative to where my husband and I have lived before, and despite not needing the extra space we filled it up with extra stuff.  It's to the point that the house looks completely cluttered for no reason other than not having a place to put everything.  In the middle of my grief, all of my things disgusted me.  The garage full of boxes of books and papers, outdated electrical cords, bed frame, crib, sleeping bags, Christmas decorations all seemed so useless.  I wanted to go in and take it all to the dump.

After the grief began to fade some, the desire to rid myself of the extraneous stuff did not.  With the loss of my mother, it seems as though a lot of my sentimentality left, too.  All of the things that I thought I had to keep just didn't seem to be so important anymore.  What did it matter that I still had the American Girl doll that I used to love when I was 12?  Why did I need 3 boxes of books in the garage, packed away and useless?

So I've been decluttering.  In the last two days my husband and I have managed to get rid of 5 boxes of things in the garage, several dresser drawers, and some broken electronics.  We still have a long way to go, but it's already making me feel strangely lighter.  With less junk hanging around it's almost as though I can breathe easier.  It's a difficult process, but it does help thinking, "When we move, or if the house burns down, will I really miss this?"  99% of the time if it's something that has been packed away for 2 years, the answer is a definite, "No."

I'm not interested in fully tackling tanha.  But it does feel great to cut loose some of the clutter that has been tying me down.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lesson Learned

One of the things that I am trying to learn how to do is vegetable container gardening.  We don't have a real garden area, and no way to keep the critters out of the veggies if we planted them in the ground.  Instead, I've been using mostly found containers to grow various veggies.

Being a novice, I decided to try radishes.  I figured that they were notoriously easy and fast growing, so I'd get a quick reward for sticking with something.


Today I was supposed to harvest my first "crop."  The radishes didn't develop!  I had beautiful tops, but zero radishes.  I turned to my personal horticulturalist, Google, for answers.

It was too hot.  I misjudged the radish's ability to withstand the blistering temperatures of a foothill spring.  It got all the way up into the 80s.  *sigh*

So no radishes yet.  And nothing else for another couple of months.  So there won't be a quick reward for my efforts.  But now I know better, and I'll make sure to pay closer attention to when I need to plant my crops.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DIY Bread

About two months ago I decided to give that Dukan Diet a whirl.

That. Got. Pricey.

But I felt so much better on it.  

I've since gone off of that diet, but I still want to incorporate some of the elements of it in my regular every day real life diet.

1.  Yogurt.  I really like yogurt.  And cottage cheese.  Does the cottage cheese part make me kind of a freak?  Hmmm....

2.  Whole grains.

The problem is any kind of dairy is pricey, especially the cultured kind, and if you want to save money on the breads and pastas you have to trade in on the fiber and nutrition.  My solution is to try to do it myself.

I've been making my own whole wheat bread for a few months now.  I had bought a bread machine at a thrift store for $10 and it did its job until I inherited my mother's fancier schmancier bread machine (and her flour and gluten).  I gave the other machine to a friend.  Right now my favorite bread to make is a whole grain mix. Here's what I tend to do:

1.  1 1/2 cups water
2.  3 tablespoons applesauce
3.  3 tablespoons honey (or brown sugar, or granulated sugar, depending on what I have on hand - just something to sweeten it a little)
4.  1 teaspoon salt
5.  2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour - if I use all-purpose I add a little gluten)
6.  1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
7.  1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
8.  1/2 cup whole grains
9.  1 packet of yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

I add the ingredients, in that order, and set my machine to the rapid bake cycle.  2 hours and 17 minutes later I have bread.

It's a hit with my husband (who usually prefers the 99 cent cheapo loafs) and with my 15 month old (remember - no honey before 12 months!).  It makes a nice, tall, easily sliceable loaf that's good for sandwiches, french toast, or just eating by itself.  Once the ingredients are bought and I've made several loaves (usually one per week) it comes out to only slightly more expensive than the one-dollar stuff you find on the bottom rack in the bread department.  It's heavier than what you usually see in the store, so I like to make my sandwiches open-faced.

But my favorite part is that I have more control over the ingredients than if I buy from the store.  I can make sure that everything that goes in is single-ingredient (e.g. the ingredient list for the unsweetened applesauce: apples.).

Tonight I tried my hand at making yogurt.  a 16 ounce container in the store usually costs me $3-4 dollars depending on if it's on sale.  A 16 ounce container of milk + 4 ounces of starter would make me...slightly more than 16 ounces of yogurt at less than half the cost.  We'll see tomorrow whether the taste measures up to the cost savings, ingredient control, and labor...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Strange Vibes

Yesterday's post was eerily prescient.

Since starting this thing back up (admittedly a very short time ago), I have been experimenting with composing a number of different posts in one night and scheduling them in advance.  I figure that way I can ensure at least one post per day, or even 3-4 posts per week.  Often I have a lot of different things that I want to write about in the same night; other nights I seem to have writer's block.

So yesterday's post was written on Thursday and scheduled for this morning.

Friday my husband and I felt we were dealt a blow.

My husband has been out of work since May of 2008.  He lost his job under terrible circumstances at a deeply unfortunate time.  I'll save my venomous rant for his former employer for another time - hopefully a time when he is secure in another job.

But I will say this: he was fired.  He was fired for allegedly committing a despicable crime.  He did not do what his employer said he did.  An unemployment judge who heard both sides explicitly stated in his ruling that my husband did not do what he was accused of doing, and ruled in our favor.

But he was still fired.  He was fired in the first few months of the Great Recession.  A recession in which older workers, Hispanic workers,  and men were hit very hard.  To sum up my sources: sure, people over 50 are less likely to lose their jobs, but once lost they have a harder time getting a new one.  Unemployment and underemployment rates for Hispanic men is higher than that of other groups except for African American men.  And this time around the unemployment rate for men is higher than that for women.

Yep, my husband is a 53 year old Hispanic man with no college degree and a big fat stain on his record.

But job listings have been on the rise in our area.  He found one for shift supervisor at a chain drug store.  A chain that my close relative works for in a management position.  Armed with a resume highlighting his decade-plus management experience and customer service skills as well as a recommendation from my relative, he walked in and presented the resume to the store manager.

"I'm sorry, sir, I just hired someone this afternoon."


"Yeah, but that doesn't mean that I won't need someone in the future.  I'll be sure to call you for an interview if anything comes up."


My husband's unemployment benefits seem to have run out.  There was no notice, no reminder, no "Hey, you only have 3 more checks coming to you."  Nothing.  He filled in the form and sent it out as usual, only this time no check came back.  He hasn't been able to get through on the phone to find out for sure if there was just a glitch, or an error, or if he's done.

And what he's been facing in the job search is pretty much what he found today: sorry, sir, that position has been filled.  And that's if he even gets a response to begin with.

We're faced with a sudden deficit of money that we need to make up.  Wanna know what's in our budget?  Rent.  Student loans.  Electricity.  Car loan payment.  Car insurance.  Basic cell phone service.  Water/sewer.  Internet.  Netflix.  Food.  Gas for the car.

That's it.

Since the start of my husband's unemployment we have cut out: Savings.  Car maintenance savings.  Cable.  Land line telephone.  Ever going out at all for any entertainment that costs money.  Credit card payments (yay!).  Smartphones/data plans.  Gifts.

So yesterday's post is something that I need to re-read often now.  We still have areas we can cut.  I can apply the credit card payments toward what unemployment was covering.  We can conserve electricity.  We can still cut internet if we really need to.  I started a vegetable garden, started baking our own bread, started making our own yogurt in order to save money.  We're going to move to a cheaper house.  I can invest in educational units to move over on the salary schedule.  We can play around with the little shards of savings we have left in order to limp through until December when my car is paid off.  We're not so hard-off yet.  We're not looking at eliminating meals yet.  We're not in danger of being homeless yet.  And we'll only have that much more room to breathe when my husband finally does land a job, even if it's minimum wage.  And we still don't need to worry about warfare coming to our neighborhood, or famine, drought, or preventable epidemic.

We can do this.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Excited to Learn

I come from a family of teachers.  Both of my grandmothers were teachers and all three of my sisters are as well.  

Now my oldest and my younger sister are spending three weeks of their summer break to volunteer to teach in Kenya.  I'm not sure what organization they went with, but in essence what they are doing is volunteering their time to try to help provide an education for children who otherwise wouldn't get one.

It's only been two days since they arrived at the airport in Nairobi, but already it seems to have been a bit of culture shock.  

When I talked to Dad earlier today, he said that my sisters had called him this morning after arriving at the school.  They didn't really know what to expect, so when 40 young girls came running to meet them, smiling, and looking for hugs it was a bit overwhelming.  But those kids were excited to meet their temporary teachers.  That kind of enthusiasm is, well, pretty absent in a country with compulsory education.

But imagine where we would be if we didn't get to go to school for free.  Where if we wanted to learn how to read or write we would have to figure it out ourselves or pay for lessons.  Or where girls aren't supposed to go (or aren't allowed to go) to school.  Those kids don't have to imagine it, and they're so enthusiastically grateful for the chance to go to school that they couldn't wait for my sisters to get out of the car before running to meet them.

I wish the middle class here in the States could look around more often at what we have and realize how sweet a deal we have.  Our problems are not like the problems in many other places in the world.  We get to go to school for free K-12.  We get to be insulated from wildly fluctuating food prices.  We have the choice of having one car or two or take a bus or ride a bicycle.  We can choose to grow a vegetable garden in our backyard, or porch, or windowsill.  We are free from having to seriously worry about the supermarket being blown up in the middle of a grocery trip.  Hell, we even have supermarkets to begin with.

When we in the middle class get a pay cut or lose our job, we look at changing our shopping habits, eliminating cable television from the budget, selling a car, downsizing to a smaller house, holding a yard sale, selling things online, eating at restaurants less often, cutting out the data plans on the cell phones, cutting out the land-line telephone, or even God forbid cutting off internet service.  How lucky we are to have been born in a country where those are the "sacrifices" we make in hard times.

We can barely fathom cutting out a meal (or two) from the day.  Or not sending our children to school.  

I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to make things better for ourselves or work hard to take advantage of all the great benefits we get from living in a wealthy country.  Heck, I love my Kindle and wouldn't mind getting a smartphone someday.  But I think a little perspective is good, too.  It keeps us grateful for what we do have.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nice Little Surprise

The other night we took a short family walk around our "downtown."  As a city girl transplant, it's a bit of a stretch for me to call Main Street of a population 2000 mountain villa "downtown," but I guess that's what it is.  What was really encouraging was seeing how many new businesses have opened in the past few months.  Signs of a recovering economy?  We can hope!

Anyway, I wanted to see what was up with a new art gallery and store here called Independent.  It was 5:15 PM, so the store was closed, but I could easily see what was on display through the windows.  A tiny selection of fabric, watercolors, canvas, various tchotchkes, handcrafted jewelry, and adorable toddler dresses.  I couldn't immediately make out what was on the table below the dresses, but soon I realized what they were.  Cloth diapers!

You guys!  Here is an actual brick-and-mortar store in my town (median age 49) selling cloth diapers!  My town in my county, where the board of supervisors recently got into serious discussions over sustainability practices potentially being un-American and subversive!

My family cloth diapers.  It has saved us oodles of money, and at the same time supports work-at-home moms who sew the diaper covers we buy.  IF we have another child, and IF this business is still operating at that time I can be super stoked to support a local business at the same time.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mom, Part 2

So the biopsy came back positive.  It was cancer.  Because there was so much growth over 6 months, the oncologist recommended a radical mastectomy.

But first, Mom needed to move her father from his nursing home to one closer to her.  Grandma had passed away in January and Grandpa wasn't (and still isn't) doing too well.  At the time it seemed to Mom and her brothers that she would be the logical primary go-to person to make decisions regarding Grandpa's care. This meant moving him to a home closer to my parents.

First week of September was move-out time for Grandpa.  I live 500 miles away from where Mom and Dad's house (and the future nursing home) is, but only a 1.5 hour drive from Grandpa's former residence.  So it was easy for my husband, the baby, and me to make our way down to see Mom and Grandpa before they began their trek down to Southern California.

We met up at Starbucks.  Mom's surgery wasn't scheduled until the next week, so this would be the last time I would see her before treatment began.  The weather was warm, but not oppressively so.  My aunt and uncle were there, and they cooed over the baby, watching him stand holding on to the table (at 5 months old!).  My mom made her approving remarks and held him as much as an active, curious baby will let anyone hold him.

We avoided the C word.  Mom mentioned the blanket she was knitting for the baby, asked how work was going, asked how things were between me and my husband.  She and my aunt exchanged reminisces of my siblings and I when we were infants.  But we avoided talking about cancer.

Until Mom decided that she needed to buy me a coffee.

We were standing in line and I was studiously avoiding staring at my own mother's chest.  I didn't even know which breast the lump was in.  I tried not imagining her lopsided.  I made a show of making faces at my son - babies are really useful that way - when Mom brought it up.

I don't remember what exactly she said, but she was talking about her treatment plans.  What to do about losing her hair during chemotherapy, needing to stay occupied when recovering from the mastectomy, and how she didn't plan on mourning the loss of her breast.

I found out after she passed that that last part was a lie.

We visited for a little while longer, and then it was time to go get Grandpa and hit the road.  I gave Mom a hug, she kissed the baby, and I reaffirmed that I would be coming down for a short visit right after surgery.

She was so upbeat, so confident that this would be just a minor setback.  I went home feeling reassured.  She looked the same, talked the same.  She was Mom, but with an unwelcome guest hitching a ride with her; a guest that would soon be evicted so we could all get on with our lives.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jury Duty

I got a summons for jury duty recently.  Well, let's be totally honest here.  I really got a summons for jury duty back in January, but didn't go.  That's not to say that I intentionally failed to appear: my husband is the one who is in charge of picking up the mail at the post office.  He saw the jury summons and put it in a safe place so that he would remember to show it to me.  And then forgot all about it.  Oops.

So after I got the postcard threatening to send me to jail, I called and apologized profusely and the very nice lady at the courthouse rescheduled my service for during my vacation.  Which brings us to now.  My group number was excused, so I didn't have to go in this morning.  Stoked, right?

Not really.

See, I've never been on a jury, or even been in for jury selection.  I want to participate in the judicial system.  I want to participate partly because I think it would be interesting, but also because I know that I'm fair.  I hope that if for some reason I ever needed to face a jury of my peers that they would be equally fair with me.  Pipe dreams, right?  Oh well.

I've seen comments here and there on the interwebs along the lines of, "Innocent people don't tend to get put on trial in the US," or, "I hope this jury is smarter than that other jury and they fry this guy!"  I'm hoping those are mostly people trolling, but it's still a viewpoint that is out there being expressed.  When we get in the habit of assuming someone is guilty from the outset, then we HAVE no justice system.  Or at least not the justice system that we like to pride ourselves on as a free country.

This is why it drives me absolutely nuts that in some cases so much evidence is released to the media ahead of time.  For example, the Casey Anthony case.  All the way across the country I heard about police interviews, the changing stories, the lies, the computer searches, the duct tape, the smell in the trunk, etc. etc. etc.  And all of that was before the jury selection.  How could anyone get a fair trial under those circumstances?

Here's the thing: she's a US citizen.  She might be trashy, she might be a liar, she might be a little slutty, and she might be a child-killer, but she's as much a citizen as anyone else born and raised in the United States.  We have founding principles and a Bill of Rights based upon preserving our basic natural rights.  Those would be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if you listen to Thomas Jefferson; life, liberty, and property if you listen to John Locke.  Now, the whole idea of natural rights is that they are something you have by virtue of being born.  No one - especially not a government - is supposed to be able to deprive another of those rights without due process (that's the 5th amendment right there).  According to the 6th amendment, we're all entitled to be tried in front of an impartial jury in the area the crime occurred.  In Anthony's case, this trial is certainly going to determine whether she loses her right to life as well as liberty.  How was all the public speculation and analysis of evidence before the trial NOT going to taint the jury pool?

It doesn't matter what you think of her, she has the same rights as anyone else.  Once we start picking and choosing who gets full rights and who doesn't, then no one gets full rights.  I mean, what would be the criteria for deciding which citizens get a fair trial and which don't?  And yeah, analyzing whether someone is guilty or not based on partial evidence before the trial gets going is going to bias someone.  That creates a presumption of guilt.  We're instructed to assume everyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty for a reason.  If we need to prove guilt, then we're going to send fewer innocent people to prison, since it'll bias a jury toward innocence.  The prosecutor has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt because of this presumption, not the other way around.

If we presume guilt, then the burden of proof is on the defense - a person accused of a crime would have to prove that they didn't commit the crime in question.  That's way harder to do.  Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you didn't mug an old lady in that dark alley with no witnesses on the way home from work yesterday afternoon?  'Cause I don't think I could.  We move to that system, and we'll see a lot more innocent people go to jail.  And with the love affair our media has with reporting on scandalous, high profile cases before they hit the courtroom, we're getting there.

But I guess that's the choice, huh?  I had a discussion with a younger person a while ago about what system is better - it boiled down to whether it's more important to send more criminals (and innocent people) to jail, or fewer innocents (and thus fewer criminals, too).  She told me that in her opinion it would be better to have more innocent people convicted of crimes they didn't commit in order to get more actual criminals off the streets.

Well, all I know is that I hope if my time comes I get someone who believes the opposite.  And for my part, on any jury I serve on I'll sow the seeds of that karma by trying to reserve judgement until after hearing both sides and weighing the evidence.  I'm just a little bummed that I didn't get to start that today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Let's Get A Hard Post Out of the Way Early

I don't remember what the date was when my mom called me to let me know.  It was night time, late August.  My step-daughter was in town visiting.  The baby was less than 6 months old, and still in that stage where he slept an awful lot.  I was nursing him, getting ready to put him down to sleep when she called.

There was a lump.  No biopsies done yet, but she wanted to let me know right away.  They hadn't found anything suspicious in her mammogram back in February, but now there was a 2 centimeter lump.  I detached the boy from my breast, covered up, and carefully walked downstairs to where my step-daughter was.

"Can you hold your brother for a few minutes?"

"Of course!"

Now in one ear I heard cooing, laughing, gurgles, and tickles.  In other other I was hearing things like, "Surgery," "Biopsy," "Oncologist," "Chemotherapy."

"Well, I should get going to bed.  I don't want you to worry too much.  Cancer has never been part of my plans for the future, so we might just have to take a little detour around this roadblock and then come out the other side and get back on track with what I want to do with my life.  But who knows, it may just be a cyst."

I told Mom that I love her, to call me soon, and we would Skype her so she could see the baby later in the week.  It took forever to get the kid to sleep that night.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Fresh Start

I've been thinking a lot about resuming blogging lately. Clearly, this site died a slow, painful death.

So I decided to try my hand at "theme" blogs: I started a blog on dealing with depression and another one about learning how to be a mom. Both died quicker than this one did.

A lot has happened over the last two years. I lost my job, got a new one, we moved 200 miles away to a completely different environment and culture, I got knocked up and had a beautiful baby, both my husband and I lost a parent (his dad and my mom)...it's been nuts, and it's impossible to go through all of that turbulence and come out the other side the same person.

I had been kicking around the idea of starting a blog on my thoughts on religion in America, and another one documenting my attempts at being a frugal parent, another one about trying to figure out how to feed my family "real" food as a reaction against my mom's cancer, another one about feeling like I was plopped down in the wrong era.

Screw it.

It's all going here. The problem with the baby blog was that there were some days that I just.didn't.feel. like writing about my baby. Likewise with depression. And likewise with every other topic. So I wrote nothing.

Instead, I'm coming back to this place and writing about everything.

So why did I delete everything that I had already written? Because I want a fresh start. The next phase of my life begins NOW. Not when we moved, not when my son was born, not when my mom passed, but NOW. I'm cutting loose the guilt of not writing, the anxiety of seeing 20 entries all with the tag "draft," the gnawing feeling of seeing my old posts written by a completely different person. I know that things will continue to change, and life will continue to throw us into upheaval at various points. But hopefully I can share that change here, and it will document an evolution into the various people I will become over time in the future.