Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thank you, cheesy workout DVDs

A couple of years ago, I probably would have just laughed if you asked me to do a workout DVD. I pretty much just thought they were all ridiculous. But...I'm just a teensy bit obsessed with them now.

It started during my pregnancy with Luke. I wanted to be healthy and happy. That was pretty easy during my first trimester, since I was lucky enough not to be sick at all. But as my expanding belly started transforming my slim frame during the second trimester, I started to get uncomfortable. I didn't have any idea how to exercise with this new body shape. I like running, but that didn't seem right. And I certainly didn't want to be out in the heat. So I ordered a prenatal workout DVD from Gaiam.

The very first time I did the second trimester workout I felt sooo great. When you're pregnant, you get all kinds of random stiff, achy, or tight spots all over your body. You might get leg cramps. You might get restless legs. Or any number of other discomforts. In my experience, pretty much any possible pregnancy soreness can be alleviated, eliminated, or entirely prevented with a well-designed prenatal workout. Not to mention this Gaiam DVD features Summer Saunders, an Olympic swimmer, and her sister in law. They have this really laid-back, natural banter, and Summer herself is so cute and chipper. It has a great mood to it.

I did the Gaiam DVD my whole second trimester, and then a girl from church loaned me Denise Austin Fit and Firm Pregnancy. (True confession: this girl moved away and I forgot to give the DVD back to her, and I have found no way of contacting her, not even through facebook! It doesn't help that her name is Ashley Smith. So I still have her DVD. And I still love it. And I wish I could thank her and get her address and Amazon a new one to her. Maybe one day!)

Regardless of how kooky Denise Austin seems with her non-stop chatter and troop of pregnant ladies, all of the workouts are fabulous. I recommend every one, from the all-trimester cardio to the post-natal ab workout. I probably would have lost my mind from restless legs if it weren't for this DVD. Oh my gosh, doing the cardio workout was literally my favorite part of the day during my 3rd trimester. I could just feel the tension and pressure in my back, hips, legs, and chest ninja vanish like the Foot Clan. I had more energy during the day and I slept better at night. I did Denise Austin's cardio every single day, even the day before I went into labor.

I am confident that my regular exercise is a huge part of the reason my labor went so well, and I know that it helped me get back to my normal clothing size afterward. To be honest, I have always been slim without trying too hard, though I do eat healthy and try to run a few times a week. But still, I had never actively needed to lose weight before, and I am definitely not an intense exerciser. I do not like to feel stressed out when I'm exercising. Utah was cold for so many months after I had Luke that again, running wasn't really a choice. Something had to be done, because I had neither the money nor the inclination to buy myself a bunch of new clothes in a bigger size. My clothes were great, I just needed to fit in them! I was overjoyed to make the discovery of streaming workouts on Netflix.

Netflix has a good variety of workout DVDs, and I started with some slightly easier ones from the irresistably cheesy Dance Off the Inches series. My BFF in the exercising world quickly became Ellen Barrett, however. She had two different workouts from Self Magazine on Netflix at the time, Slim and Sleek and Bikini Ready Fast (not that I would ever wear a bikini...). I switched back and forth between them for several months, and not only did I feel those same energizing benefits as from my pregnancy, but I did get back to wearing my regular clothes without doing dieting (which sounds HORRIBLE) or going crazy working out.

And being home with a baby, it was easy to find half an hour a day to do a workout. Luke doesn't mind having some chill time, and he has always watched my workouts with fascination, hahaha.

Now that I'm pregnant again, I'm getting reacquainted with cute Summer and crazy Denise. No matter what you think about workout DVDs, they're cheap, effective, and you can do them in the comfort of your own home, whenever you have time. Your health and happiness abounds with good exercise. So if you're pregnant, pre-pregnant, or post-partum, take some samples from the tasty cheese tray of workout DVDs. And maybe you'll become just as obsessed as I am.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thank you, Kmart Donors

This story has been jingling its way around the internet, and I have to say, it's really, really sweet. Christmas time always brings with it tender stories of need and generosity. I'm so grateful to Margery A. Beck for writing up the Associated Press article and bringing attention to this beautiful blizzard of giving.

But I have to offer one important clarification. Beck says, "At Kmart stores around the country, Santa seems to be getting some help." It's not Santa who's getting help through the selflessness of these donors--it's Jesus Christ. Santa is not the driving force behind powerful goodness in the world. Jesus Christ is.

In the Book of Mormon, we are taught, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God."  In the New Testament book of Matthew, we are taught, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

The Light of Christ draws people closer to each other and closer to God. Jesus Christ is our elder brother, our Savior and Redeemer. We are about to celebrate his birth, and as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I think it's vastly important to remember that he is the reason for the kindness at Kmart. And for the following event, shared by my friend Chelsea Slade on Facebook today. And countless other stories of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

"Observed the following at 7/11: A homeless woman standing outside asking customers for spare change as they went in. One girl shook her head, holding up a credit card, indicating she didn't have cash, then raised a hand as if to ask a question. The homeless lady shook her head, and the girl went inside. After a few seconds, the homeless lady went into 7/11 and started talking to the girl, who smiled and nodded. The homeless lady gathered up a big armful of groceries, and the two went to the counter together, where the girl paid for her slurpee and for the groceries. The homeless lady came out with her arms full of food, singing praises to Jesus, and the girl smiled and slipped back into her car and drove away."

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Please, Pakistan contraceptive pushers

It is not wrong to have a big family. It is something that many responsible and intelligent people plan to do. There are seven kids in my family, and five in Nick's. Nick and I would love to have a big family ourselves.

However, there is a big difference between marrying at a biologically mature age and choosing to have many children at a healthy rate for you and your babies, and being married as a teenager and being forced to have 12 children in 12 consecutive years.

What is the answer to the repression of women's biological autonomy? What solves the problem of women having zero respect from their husbands or in-laws? What saves a woman from being forced to have children year after year, a practice which is tragically unhealthy and dangerous for mother and children?

According to apparently many, the answer to all those questions is contraceptives. Magical, hormone adjusting or sperm-blocking contraceptives.

This is an absolutely infuriating prospect to me. Let's invest time, money, resources, and media efforts to drugging women up! Instead of helping them get more respect in society, let's just get permission from their husbands and mother-in-laws to insert an IUD!

I understand the population growth without sufficient resources and the danger to women's lives are immediate problems, and I understand the desire for a quick "solution." But here's what I'm afraid of. This campaign will succeed, the "problem" that people actually care enough about to get involved with (population) will be solved, and that's where the advocacy will end. All women will end up with is possibly fewer or better-spaced children. Not more rights, respect, options, or education.

To me, this is not the most sinister part of the article:
"Today, just one in five Pakistani women ages 15 to 49 uses modern birth control. Contraception is shunned under traditional social mores that are fiercely defended as fundamentalist Islam gains strength."

This is:
"...Rural Pakistan, which is home to two-thirds of the about 180 million people in the nation. In this area of Sindh province, literacy rates are dismal, teenage marriage rates are high, and 10-children families are not uncommon."

And the answer to young girls being pregnant year after dangerous year is not "a government committed to slowing population growth." How about a government committed to educating girls and getting respect for women? That is what would make a lasting difference. 

Believe it or not, contraception is not the silver bullet for women's liberation. It's also not the only option. Natural family planning does indeed work. But any family planning is meaningless if it's not something a husband and wife choose together, with mutual respect for each other's well-being and desires. That can't happen in a society where men say "Our wife? What does she know?" 

The way I see it, the same time, money, resources and media efforts being used to drug women up could be used to lift women up through education and opportunity. 

Please, American comedy

I've really debated about writing this entry at all, because I don't know if it will make sense to anyone. But after another sad and frustrating experience with American comedy yesterday and a sleepless night trying to sort out my complicated feelings, I want to express my perspective. I am pregnant, nursing a toddler, and I've been very sick the past couple days. I can't afford to lose sleep at night.

Nick and I don't have real TV. We don't even know how to set up our TV to receive any local channels, much less cable. We have an XBOX 360 and Netflix, and lots of movies of our own. We really love screen media. I take great pleasure in a good TV show or movie, and watching something good is one of our favorite ways to spend time together, as I've expressed before.

Part of the reason we don't care about having real TV is that American shows in general don't really interest us. There are two main reasons: one, because of the extreme, sensational and violent nature of many non-comedies, and the inevitably crass nature of comedies. I won't talk about extremity today.

Every time we start to watch a live-action American comedy, we end up stopping. This has happened to us with The OfficeArrested Development, ScrubsHow I Met Your Mother, Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, and probably others I can't think of. The latest is Parks and Recreation. It has been a long time since I watched the other shows, so I will primarily draw examples from PR. What troubles us and what makes it very difficult to watch American shows is the flippant, ugly, casual way sex is dealt with.

In the three episodes of PR we watched, this is what we saw about sex and marriage:
--Sex matters so little that you can have sex with somebody and completely forget about it (even though it's someone you know well and see every day)
--Being young and married is stifling to your sexual identity, and you should reach outside of marriage for satisfaction
--If you meet somebody attractive, find a way to have sex with them. If someone disapproves of this, they are "a huge dork."
--Numerous crass phrases and references to the act of having sex
--If you do get married, you'll probably end up realizing your wife is a *itch and get divorced
--Quote from a career woman about her slightly kooky, inept daughter: "I want my daughter to be successful. That's why I've always told her there's nothing wrong with being a wife and a mother." (Every time I think about this I have to stifle a scream of rage.)

It's not like we go into comedies with a fault-finding attitude. We want to like them. We want to laugh and quote things with our friends. But our attempt to break into PR was the same as with other comedies. A couple of things happened in the first episode. We tried to ignore them. A couple more in the second. We tried to ignore them, and just focus on the genuinely funny things. But by the third episode with the distasteful one-night-stand that didn't phase any of the characters, that familiar feeling of disappointment and disgust had settled in.

The persistent jokes about incest and other weird sexual goings-on turned us off to Arrested Development. The sexist, body-part focused dialogue of Michael Scott pushed us away from The Office. I think the last episode we watched of How I Met Your Mother was one in which they realized Ted hadn't had sex for a year or something and they spent the whole time trying to find some random person for him to have sex with.

Of course we know people have sex outside of marriage. But it's just really hard to see sex divorced not just from marriage, but from any kind of meaningful relationship at all. We could accept Lily and Marshall's relationship in How I Met Your Mother, and we mostly tried to laugh off Barney's extreme, comic sleaziness. But eventually, the superficial sexuality present in pretty much every American comedy wears us down.

Lest you think me stiff or prude, let me clarify that I don't think sex is a dead serious subject that's completely untouchable in humor. Just ask me about some of the hilariously bawdy things that have come out of my own mother's mouth. To me, sex is sacred, but it is also a part of life that can be happily joked about just like anything else. Intelligent or satirical sexual jokes are really great. One of the reasons we love Futurama so much is that while there is occasional racy humor, I'd say 90% of the sexual jokes are funneled through Bender, who of course is a robot devoid of any and all morals. Because he's not even human, his exploits take on a very witty, satirical cast.

And that's the beauty of Futurama in general. It's a mix of both intelligent and completely wacky humor, and the writers are boundless in finding comic material. They are not reliant on throwing in lowbrow, lewd references. So many shows seem to have vulgar sex jokes as life's blood. But even with Futurama, there are a couple of episodes we've skipped and a couple of scenes we've fast-forwarded through. It's wonderful though, that out of 4 seasons of a show, we've probably had to do this less than five times.

I will note another thing that I personally struggle with (not so much Nick). If you know me, you know that I have an excellent memory for words and quotes from shows and movies. Quotes regularly run around my brain in my day-to-day life. I wish that I could watch these shows and really ignore the crass sexual jibes, but even when I'm not trying to remember them, words stick in my head. It takes me a long time and a lot of willpower to stop these disagreeable phrases from taking laps around my mind.

In closing, I will say that I am not trying to come off as holier-than-thou by saying all of these things. Nick and I fully realize that these are our particular opinions, and we don't really expect anyone to share them, and we of course don't look down on anyone for not being phased by the sexual aspect of American comedy. There are some things that don't bother me that bother other people--swearing in media, for instance. By and large, I could care less about swearing. But everyone has something that's important to them that they don't want to see denigrated or made light of. To me, crass sexual references are just as troubling as racial/ethnic slurs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Please, food stamp haters

So, one very unpleasant surprise when we were getting ready to come to law school is that according to UVA, I apparently don't exist. Luke does, and of course Nick, but not me.

To get through law school, you have to take out federal loans. You are not supposed to work during law school, and so this loan money is supposed to pay for your life, and not just your school expenses. The amount of loan money you get is determined by a budget that the school makes and submits. UVA does not have a married student budget. They only have a single student budget. It is presumed that if you are married, your spouse will be working and can thus pay for their own living expenses. There is no allowance for a spouse that stays home with children. We were told this is a "lifestyle choice." You cannot get a loan extension. You can get loan extensions for children, but not for a spouse. To UVA and other law schools, staying home with your children is just not even a viable option, and it is not something they will make a budget to support.

Basically, this comes out to: Nick, Luke and I as a family are supposed to live for 12 months (if Nick isn't able to find a paying job this summer) on an 8 month single person budget.

We could potentially barely squeak by on this budget. And I really mean barely. Come next August, our bank account would be completely empty. As it is, we are eligible for programs like Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps (SNAP--Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). I cannot tell you how grateful I am for these programs, because at this point in our life we really need them. When we finally finished the process of getting food stamps on Monday, I felt like crying. I am so grateful that this assistance is available.

And then last night, I was reminded of something--apparently Nick and I are lazy hippies taking advantage of hardworking people's tax dollars. Oh, and we're also probably alcoholics.

In a social setting, a man felt comfortable expressing his extreme irritation that his tax dollars are wasted on "lazy hippies who won't get a job and use food stamps to get drunk."

Hearing this remark reminded me of another. I heard a man at Sam's Club say to the cashier in a very angry tone, "You know what's wrong with food stamps? They can buy lobster."

Let me clarify one thing, to get started. I checked the food stamps rules of every single state, and you are not allowed to buy alcohol anywhere.

I don't know these men personally. I don't know what their life experiences have been, or why they feel the way they do. But I can tell you that I am offended by their assumption that anyone who needs assistance with food is a lazy, undeserving freeloader. I'm offended by how they implicitly begrudge me and my husband, who is working his brains out, help that we desperately need.

I'm sorry, sir, but have you ever even known someone on food stamps? Because most likely, they were elderly, a child, or a working age woman, since only 17% of food stamps users are working age men. A good number of people on food stamps (41%) live in a household with earnings, and yet still only 15% of food stamps households are above the poverty line. So where are these hippies who are taking advantage of your tax dollars? Maybe there's some definition of hippies that means "young families and elderly in poverty" that I'm unaware of.

I'm sorry sir, but who are you to say that my little family doesn't deserve to buy lobster, if that's what we choose to do with our food stamps? That isn't what we choose to do, because that would be a waste of money. (Although yesterday when shopping with our EBT card for the first time I was sorely tempted to buy lobster just to spite you). Food stamps does not give you an extravagant amount. The amount we've been allotted is just slightly more than what we had already budgeted for ourselves with our meager resources. In other words, I see it as the perfect amount to provide for our family. We will continue to be frugal and wise with our grocery decisions. The difference is that now we won't be destitute by next summer.

Could we potentially have made different decisions that would make us ineligible for food stamps now? Sure. We could have delayed Nick going to school until he had worked for a few years and saved up money, but in this economy, that path just as easily could have ended up with us on food stamps. I could work while Nick was in school, but again, I don't know if that would put us out of the food stamp boat either, because if I was working we'd have to pay for daycare, which is not cheap. As it is, we have chosen for Nick to go to school now, and I have chosen to be at home and raise my own child. Judge me if you wish, but don't begrudge my family food.

Thank you, EMD Serono

The biopharmaceutical company EMD Serono recently conducted a survey about fertility knowledge among women ages 25-35. I heard about it through this NPR piece, which is worth listening to as well as reading.

I think that EMD Serono's survey report is really important, and I think it's something that young women and young men should be aware of. If you are interested in having children, I highly recommend reading it and thinking about your own assumptions and preconceptions (haha) about fertility. I certainly had some incorrect notions.

Overall, it seems like many women have molded their assumptions about fertility to fit the current cultural norm of getting married late in your 20s and then waiting even longer to have kids. Here are some bits I found surprising or interesting from the survey report:

--For having a first child, women expect to be about 7 years older than their mother was when she first gave birth; about 31, instead of 24.
--Despite expecting to wait till past 30 to have children, 3 out of 4 women said they had no concerns about trying to conceive, and 3 out of 4 women believed they would have an easier time than other women when trying to conceive.
--Women who know a 40+ woman who has had a baby are more likely to believe that women peak fertility at 30-34, when actually women are most fertile at 20-24
--The general overestimation of women's fertility at all ages and underestimation of how long it actually takes to get pregnant on average, which was the biggest finding over the study.
--Only 2% of the women in the study were using natural family planning as opposed to manufactured contraceptives.
--64% said they discuss contraception/birth control/familiy planning at every OB/GYN visit, whereas 78% said they have never discussed age as a factor in fertility with their OB/GYN, and 78% also said they've never discussed the average length of time it takes to get pregnant.

The unfortunate truth is that the current cultural norm does not really align with our evolutionary development. I was struck by the comment of Kate Nail in the NPR article, who said, "It seemed so fashionable to have kids in your 40s these days." It may be fashionable, but that doesn't mean that it makes biological sense, or that it is easy or even necessarily wise.

In our youth-worshiping culture, it seems nothing ought to interfere with partying, prosperity, and self-promotion in your 20s. Some people see marriage as interfering with those things, and delay it. Some people see children as a huge interference. Rachel Jankovic, a non-LDS Christian mother, was recently quoted by an LDS church leader on this topic:
"[Growing] up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood. … Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get... Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for."

Whether or not you believe in God, it is so heart-breakingly true that people often do prioritize working and world travel over creating a family. 

But ahh, here's the thing, the thing that I want to say to Barbara Collura, who was quoted in the NPR piece. Fun+adventure+career+education and family are not mutually exclusive. Truly, they are not! I look at Nick's own mother, who had two rambunctious sons while going through law school and starting her successful law career. She has taken her family to Spain, Ecuador, Uganda, the UK, and more. And check out the blogs of these educated, world travelling, working mamas, who have done it all with less than year-old children:

Look at what is possible! And this just happens to be women I know. Are these all crazy rich, overachieving women? No. They just find a way to make it work. There are thousands of young LDS women at BYU alone who manage to have children and get a bachelor's or master's at the same time. Is it easy? No, it's pretty busy. But being married and having babies does not forbid frivolity and fun. 

And the other side of this issue is that your 20s are not your entire life. People live for a long time. There is so much time for education and enlightening experiences. I deeply admire Nick's Grandpa Peterson and his lady friend Sharon, who constantly take classes at the University of Utah, are incredibly involved in their community, and take so many adventurous trips all over the place. They are in their 70s and their lives are rich and full. It's amazing, and Nick and I hope to emulate them one day. 

I don't say any of these things in a prescriptive way, as in "Well, everyone should have an identical life path and should get married young and have kids young." Certainly, that is not right for everyone, and some people may have desired that but it didn't end up that way. But at least from the survey, it seems like many women and men may be making choices based on incorrect assumptions about fertility. And I know from living in this culture that those thoughts about fertility blend together with notions about your life being "over" once you get married and have kids. I think it's important for women and men to know the truth, both about fertility and about the potential for grand adventures with a young family. I think it's important for women to know the truth even if it does make them feel guilty. 

I say many of these things because I know that marriage and children are nothing to be afraid of, and they are certainly not restricting. As another blogger I love said, "Be careful not to buy into the idea that the only good we can do and the only difference we can make and the most fun we can have is outside of the role of motherhood. It is a lie. It is also one of the blackest forms of misogyny. It is hatred not just for women, but for their special gifts."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thank you, Rhode Island

What a relief! An entire state has FINALLY overcome the formula lobbyists and stopped giving out free formula samples to newly delivered mothers. Hallelujah!

Granted, cute lil Rhode Island only has 7 birthing hospitals, so this is a very small start. And I have to wonder if the small number of birthing hospitals is the reason formula companies didn't put up a more voracious fight. I'm sure if California or Texas tried to do something like this, (and maybe they have before?) that formula companies would be squirting bottles of fury and money all over their state governments.

One thing I noticed in the article (that I've seen in many other online discussions about nursing vs. formula) is the woman who supported free formula, saying, "Women are smart enough to figure it out on their own."

This is a frustratingly narrow mindset. Don't you see that this has nothing to do with mother's intelligence or decision-making capability? It has to do with what hospitals ought to be promoting or not.

When hospitals give out free formula, they are promoting formula. They are saying, "Hey, this is a healthy and great way to feed your child." The act of handing over a formula packet undermines breastfeeding. It says myriad things from, "You'll have problems with nursing and you'll need this," to "This is equivalent to breastfeeding." Introducing doubt about breastfeeding and mixing up thoughts about the "just-in-case" necessity of formula is not what hospitals ought to be doing.

Formula is pretty much the only thing I can think of that has managed to almost completely defeat a biological norm. Respirators have not infringed on the territory of breathing. Catheters have not replaced people peeing normally. Feeding tubes have not ousted people eating. Sex toys have not superseded people making love. Artificial insemination is not the most common way people get pregnant.

Currently, all those other things are used pretty much only by necessity, when things have truly gone wrong. (With the exception being sex toys, of course, which are not a medical issue. I include them because you could say breastfeeding isn't a medical issue either. But that's kind of a whole different subject...) It's possible all these other biological interlopers could become something people frequently use by their own choice. With clever enough marketing, people could become convinced that they're not capable of peeing. They need help. They could be tricked into believing that making love just won't be satisfying or just has no chance of helping them conceive, so they need costly, manufactured help on a regular basis. Heck, I can even imagine scare campaigns involving asthma and pollution that make people certain they have to have a respirator to breathe at all. Maybe this all sounds kind of sci-fi, but I think a highly processed substance almost entirely replacing the normal, biological substance is pretty freaking sci-fi as it is.

Women who say, "Hey, mothers are smart enough to figure it out, we don't need regulation on formula advertisements and we don't need hospitals to stop giving out free formula," just seem really ignorant of the vast power of marketing. In a country where only 14.8% of babies are exclusively breastfed at 6 months old, something must be done about formula. Clearly, formula has extended its reach too far. If formula didn't have such a powerful grip, women wouldn't get kicked out of stores, restaurants, courtrooms, parks, museums and more for breastfeeding. If formula wasn't so ridiculously ubiquitous, women wouldn't have to fight so freaking hard to nurse their babies or pump in the workplace.

It's not about women being smart enough. It's about hospitals and health care providers needing to stop promoting formula and start helping mothers breastfeed. Truly helping them. Doctors have a lot of influence and money. They could help mothers in the fight for better breastfeeding access in the workplace, which is a huge barrier. But that's not the only barrier, because it's not like all stay-at-home moms are exclusively breastfeeding. The mindset that women just "dry up" and are frequently incapable of making enough milk for their baby is everywhere. Doctors must help dispel that myth, because it is a myth and self-fulfilling prophecy. They could help introduce doubts about formula instead of doubts about breastfeeding. In fact, I think the most important thing doctors (especially ob/gyns and pediatricians) could do is to get a broader education about breastfeeding, because currently most spend maybe 1/2 a day in medical school learning the benefits and basic mechanics. Any breastfeeding mom can tell you that there is so much more to know that it's not even funny. If doctors and politicians spent more time getting a deep education about breastfeeding and less time pandering to formula companies, a whole lot more babies would be breastfed in this country.

So, Rhode Island, you are my hero, truly. Thank you for actually thinking about the impact of what hospitals do, about the message that it sends. Thank you for trying to send a more positive message about our endangered, beautiful, biological norm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Please, Niger Innis

I have gone back and forth about whether to believe the sexual harassment allegations about Herman Cain. Currently, I do tend to believe them, for a variety of reasons. But that's not really what I want to talk about right now.

Now that a woman has come out and said she and Cain had a 13-year affair, Cain is considering whether to continue his bid for presidency. Speculation is being passed around in the media like a joint. Is it true? Are any of the allegations true? What will he do? How will that impact the Republican race overall?

Reading about this, I ran across an ugly little piece of opinion in The Washington Post:

“What if it is true?” said Niger Innis, a civil rights activist who said he has advised Cain’s campaign, speaking of the alleged affair. “This isn’t sexual harassment. If Herman Cain needs to apologize to anybody, it’s his wife — not anybody else.”

So. As long as the other woman consented, it doesn't matter at all if Herman Cain strayed beyond the bounds of his marriage. As long as his sexual advances weren't rebuffed, it doesn't matter at all if Cain systematically deceived his wife, the person he is supposed to be closest to in the world, for over a decade. Niger Innis, I don't know if it's possible to say anything more stupid.

The brand of selfish dishonesty it takes to have a long-term affair is definitely not a characteristic that someone in any leadership position should have. Especially someone that wants to run our country. How could you trust anything he ever said if he was capable of lying day in and day out to his entire family? How could you think that he would act with integrity and selflessness as a leader when he's proven that his own jollies are more important to him than basic values or respect for his loved ones? 

I just find it disgusting that someone could so casually brush off the potential of Cain being a liar and an oath-breaker because he has "good ideas." Good ideas don't mean a whole lot if you don't have the strength of character to implement them. But I guess we have good ole Bill Clinton to thank for establishing the precedent that even if a man is a total rat to his wife, he's still "capable" of being a "good" president. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thank you, home I was born into

Over the weekend, I turned 25. Pretty cool! I wanted to write this entry on my birthday, but I was too busy having an awesome day with my sweet husband and sweet little Luke. But still, I have been thinking a lot about the home I was born into--literally, since I was born at home, and not in a hospital.

My very existence as the 5th child of a family (of 7 children total) defies a typical Western home. And there is so much more about my family, particularly my parents, that I am grateful for.

I was born into a home with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I was born into a home where my father faithfully and willingly served in the United States Army. His wisdom and leadership as a father are the prime reasons that I have such high standards for people in any leadership position, be it parents, politicians, teachers, church leaders, or anything else. Any time I write a blog entry about people in the public eye or in a position of power, my dad's influence shines through.

And I was born into a home where my mother believed that bearing, teaching, and raising her children was the most amazing, fulfilling, and meaningful thing she could do with her life. My word, I don't know that there is any way possible to describe how grateful I am for her investment in me as her child. She homeschooled me and all of my siblings. It is not easy to be at home with small children. Hours and days and months and years spent orchestrating the joyful chaos that is a family.

This article, published the day before my birthday, made me reflect a lot on my mother, and if I may generalize, countless other LDS mothers and women. Emily Matchar (the author) mentions several times how her mother was absolutely not interested in domestic endeavors, and how she has had to delve into domesticity via books and blogs. I do not believe I have an overabundance of domestic hobbies--I can't even sew. But my mother is an excellent seamstress, and I know that should I desire to sew, I can go to her. My mom has taught me numerous other physical skills that are part of a home. Those are important, to be sure, but most of all, she taught me that being home with your children is fabulously worthwhile, for you and for them. It isn't a sacrifice, because you're not giving anything up. You're gaining the most intensive quality time you could ever have with your family and yourself.

Women have the potential to do anything, and I am so excited for my female friends who are becoming teachers, lawyers, doctors, and more. To me, women's liberation and feminism means that women have options, all the options in the world--whereas historically and in some parts of the world today, they couldn't even attend school. Personally, I have always wanted to be a writer, and since I was young it has been my plan to homeschool my children and author books, and so that is the option I chose. Was this choice impacted by the home I grew up in, and the example of a mother I had? Absolutely. Other women choose different life paths for all the reasons under the sun. And I really hope that the more women there are in the workplace, the more flexible various careers will become to accommodating family time.

As it is, women have had to enter a work structure based on men and what they are biologically capable of--not bearing children, and leaving their children for long periods of time even when they're young. You could say formula and daycare have given women those same capabilities, but both of those things are far from ideal for mothers and children. And I maintain that if formula had never been invented, women's lib and equal opportunity battles would have included breastfeeding from the get-go, instead of women now getting to pump in dank utility closets if they're lucky.  Adjustments to the workplace have been painfully slow in America. Though corporate Facebook's 4-month maternity/paternity leave and nursing rooms are amazing and impressive here in the US, Scandinavia is still far more practical for mothers and fathers alike.

In her article, Ms. Matchar speculates whether the growing return to domesticity will end up cycling back, and whether her grand-daughter will end up feeling trapped, resentful, and obligated--like many women felt in the 19th and 20th centuries. But I don't think that will happen. I really believe that the internet is going to continue transforming the meaning of work and workplace, and  that flexibility for men and women to be at home with their families will only grow. The women who are currently re-learning the value of do-it-yourself already have vast amounts of opportunity and freedom compared to their predecessors, and the daughters of today's knitters and beekeepers will have even more options. That will be the true women's lib--when the things that women have done for centuries, by biology and by tradition, are truly respected by everyone, but when it is just as normal for a woman to be a Mayo Clinic doctor or a CEO or the President of the United States of America.

For my part, I am grateful that in my home, there was never any question of the value or capacity of a woman, whether she's changing diapers or changing laws.

Thank you, Emma Sullivan

I absolutely love the way social media democratizes fame.

Does an 18-year-old girl high school senior from Kansas deserve 9,000 followers on Twitter? Maybe, maybe not. But apparently 9,000 people want to follow Emma Sullivan after her rad refusal to apologize for a governor-bashing tweet.

Seriously, what a cool girl. Way to stick to your guns! I love how her family supports her as well. I would not be happy if somebody told me I had to apologize to Rick Perry for saying he's a rat, or Sarah Palin because I readily say she's an embarrassment to women. And though I don't know much about the the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, I will say that any governor who decides to veto the entire budget for a state arts commission definitely sucks. So yeah, Emma was spot on.

At least the governor had the wisdom to say his staff was out of line. But sadly for him, after one weekend Miss Sullivan still has more Twitter followers than he does after being governor for 11 months. Booya!

(And what I'm really interested to see is, what will Emma do with 9,000 followers? How will this change the way she tweets? Will her following grow? Will she get more involved in politics because of this? Or will it all eventually peter out? Fascinating stuff.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thank you, Alexander Tsiaras

With the personhood movement in Mississippi aiming to say human life begins at the moment of fertilization, I have been thinking off and on about this topic--in the long period of growth in the womb, when does a spirit enter a human body?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have an official stance on this. In other words, we believe that God has not yet revealed that information to a prophet at this point in time. So, using knowledge that has been revealed about the journey of spirits, I feel it acceptable to speculate. I think a lot of LDS people speculate on spiritual mysteries, and I feel that pondering and trying to come to your own personal resolution is great--as long as you keep it foremost in your mind that your thoughts are not official church doctrine, and could very likely be not quite right. Throughout this entry, please keep in mind that I do not promote these thoughts of mine as truth, but as possibilities.

Previously, when I've thought about a spirit entering a human body, I've thought of it as a single moment. Does it happen at fertilization? At implantation? When the first neurons develop? When the heart starts beating? At birth? There are so many possibilities, and people believe different things all over the world.

Even before I went through pregnancy and felt the immense spiritual impact of another life growing inside me, I felt like...doesn't the spirit have to enter the body early on? It just makes sense.

But then...what about miscarriage? What about the millions of fertilized eggs that never get implanted? What about stillborn babies? Why would a spirit enter a body only to be ejected when the pregnancy doesn't work out, or never even really begins? Why would God organize it that way? Not satisfying.

It seems like the spirit must enter at some monumental point. But other than moments like fertilization, conception, and birth, any other potential times for spiritual engagement seem kind of arbitrary. Not satisfying.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that before life on earth, all spirits dwell with our Heavenly Father and that spirits continue after this life, eventually being embodied again. Coming to earth and receiving a body is critically important to our eternal development--we believe physical bodies are divine, not corrupt, (though are earthly bodies are imperfect), and we do believe that God has a body.

So when is this moment? When do spirits first unite with their physical form?

It occurred to me recently that maybe, just maybe, it's not a moment. Maybe it's more fluid than that.

We're all familiar with near-death experiences--stories where people seem to partially cross into the afterlife in a spiritual way. Maybe their heart has even stopped, and they were technically dead, and had to be revived. There seems to be some flexibility of spirit at these times; like a spirit almost passed entirely into a different realm, but ended up staying where it was, perhaps even inhabiting both the mortal and post-mortal spheres for a time.

Perhaps there is that same fluidity between the pre-mortal and mortal realms. Maybe at the moment of fertilization or implantation, a small portion of spirit enters the cells. Maybe as the body develops more in complexity, more of the spirit gradually inhabits the physical self, until eventually, perhaps at birth, the spirit has fully entered the body.

When an early miscarriage happens, or when a fertilized egg doesn't implant, or a baby doesn't develop correctly and doesn't live to be born, perhaps it's similar to a near-death experience, but it's a near-birth experience. People cross partially into this life in a spiritual way. Maybe their body had started to develop, maybe they were technically alive. There's flexibility; a spirit almost passed entirely into a different realm, but ended up staying where it was, perhaps even inhabiting both the mortal and pre-mortal spheres for a time.

This entry is titled for the man giving this beautiful TED talk. After thinking about these things for the past few weeks, I loved watching this video, and I will probably watch it again and again. I loved the reverence with which Alexander spoke of the development of a baby; it really touched me. I am so grateful for the work he and others have done to give us this knowledge about life in the womb. The visualization spoke to me; it resonated with the idea of a baby's spirit and body developing on the earth together. This idea makes sense to me because I feel intuitively that no human body is without spirit at any given time--but I also don't feel that a fertilized egg is sufficient to house the full spiritual intelligence of a child of God.

These ideas again are, just speculation. Maybe sometime a prophet will indeed receive revelation about the details of spirits coming to earth--how beautiful and exciting would that be, to know for certain? For now, this is probably the way I will conceptualize the sweet spirits of babies coming into this world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thank you, Emma

This is a continuation of my thoughts on co-sleeping from my previous entry. I was going to leave it where it was, but a friend of mine engaged me in a quality conversation via Facebook message. I'd like to share portions of the conversation we had, because when topics are so sensitive, it's hard to really "talk" to people, especially online. I am really grateful to Emma Wirkus for sharing her thoughts and experiences.

Emma: I totally don't want to be difficult or play devil's advocate or anything. I work in a pediatric office and I see a lot of moms and babies and talk to a lot of doctors. We have ten pediatricians in our office and you really get a wide variety of opinions from them on how to raise your kids. Anyway, your post just struck a chord with me because we had one of our families that we just love call us the other day to cancel their baby's two week appointment because the mom accidentally suffocated him while they were co-sleeping. She wasn't drunk or heavily medicated--just exhausted from lack of sleep from a new baby. She was just devastated and it made me so sad. I do think co-sleeping is a really lovely thing... but maybe not worth the risk? I'm really not trying to pick a fight or anything, I just am really interested in what people think about these types of things. I know that at least most of our doctors do not recommend co-sleeping because they've seen too many incidents like this. They really love their patients a lot and just want the best for them. A lot of times it feels like everyone there is just one big family. Anyway, I'd love to hear more on what you think about all this.

Linda: thank you so much for what you shared with me. i have to say, i really appreciate how kind and conversational your tone is. i know i write about things really strongly on my blog, and i'm grateful that you still addressed me as me--someone you know. sometimes when people are replying, they address the ideas they feel strongly about instead of the person writing the blog, and that can be difficult. i have no idea if that made any sense, but the point is, even though i blog like "ARRRGH I'M MAD" i still really want to have quality conversations about these topics. so thank you for starting one.

i'm so sorry for the mama who lost her baby. i cannot imagine the pain of losing a child, i truly cannot. in terms of "is co-sleeping worth the risk?" i believe that all baby sleeping situations pose risk. you could say that by not co-sleeping, you eliminate the risk of suffocation, and so why not get rid of a risk you can control? but what if when a baby is sleeping alone, they don't regulate their breathing correctly and that causes them to die? you could say that by co-sleeping, you eliminate that risk. so many studies have found that SIDS is lowest in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. 

i feel like this is a similar issue to home birth. people who are anti-home birth think "that's an unnecessary risk--what if your baby dies and the hospital could have saved it?" but they seem to forget that hospitals are not perfect. babies die in hospitals too. and so then if your baby dies because of a hospital danger you could say "what if i had a home birth? would my baby have lived if they hadn't been exposed to that risk in the hospital?" home birth is neither unsafe nor safe--there are risks you have to weigh, knowing your own situation. the hospital is neither unsafe nor safe--there are risks you have to weigh. 

while yes, sometimes there are genuine co-sleeping accidents (not false ones induced by drugs or alcohol) that cause the death of a baby, babies die in cribs too--in some studies, significantly more than they do while co-sleeping. a baby sleeping alone in a crib poses some dangers, and co-sleeping poses some dangers. my biggest thing is that mothers need to know the truth about their options, and not just be scared to death of one option (co-sleeping) and be convinced that the other option is 100% safe, because it isn't. if mothers know the truth, then they can take every necessary precaution. and whatever a mother's choice, if a tragic accident occurs, she must know it is just that--an accident. if a mother has done everything she can to protect and care for her child, then neither she nor anyone else should blame her for a tragic accident.
co-sleeping mothers and home birth mothers who suffer tragedy are often the recipient of cruel comments--people easily sling out "well it's your fault." but if a baby dies following AAP standards or in a hospital, then no one ever blames the mother. and conveniently, no one tends to blame the doctors, either, since people usually think doctors must know what they're talking about.

but sometimes they don't. sometimes there are other forces at work. as i mentioned in the blog, sometimes i do think about the financial side of this--co-sleeping doesn't make money for anyone, and so there's no one to finance a truth campaign about co-sleeping to help mothers do it as safely and successfully as possible. however, crib manufacturers directly benefit from people being terrified to sleep with their children. the same is true with home birth--midwives don't have the money or political clout to make people aware about home birth, but doctors have the money, power, and the incentive to convince women that ONLY the hospital is a safe place to have a baby.

Emma: Linda, I just love you. That response was perfect. I have to admit, I grew up in a physician, hospital loving family. My dad is actually a pediatrician and so I grew up loving and trusting the institution. I know everything he does for his patients is out of love and concern for their well being. But on the other hand, I studied nutrition at BYU and now I'm in a public health program at the University of Utah and I am finding a love for the other side too.  Although I love and trust the science, there's a lot to say in that some other countries that have much less sophisticated systems also have lower infant mortality rates. I think there isn't one right way to do things... I just want to make sure that when I have kids, I can make informed decisions, like you said. I want to know what really is a risk and what will benefit my baby the most. And I want to make the decision knowing my options. So I really appreciate what you said about co-sleeping- there was a lot there I didn't know! It's great to hear both sides.

I have truly never heard of a mother doing her best to co-sleep safely who suffered such a terrible loss. Again, I am so sorry for what happened. I am grateful that Emma was willing to share that with me, because when you are making a choice as a mother, it's important to know all potential risks. But as I said, risks are everywhere, and you have to choose what risks to take. 

In Emma's final message, I appreciate how she talks about her background and education. Her different perspectives are really interesting, and it's so cool how she is taking the best from a variety of life experiences and educational opportunities. What she said made me think about the background I come from. In my family, I feel like there's kind of a duality. On the one hand, my mom instilled in us a great admiration for the potential good that modern medicine can do. My oldest sister had cancer when she was young, (late elementary school to middle school) and we would have lost her if it weren't for medical advances. On the other hand, my mom gave us an active wariness about the institution of medicine and the people who practice it. When my sister had cancer, my mom was told by three different doctors to ignore the walnut-sized lump on her neck. If my mom was a more timid or doctor-trusting person, she might have done just that. And my sister's cancer might have advanced too far to successfully treat. 

(And side note: this is just an illustration. I could tell you many frustrating stories about my mother's experiences with doctors over the lives of her 7 children). 

So, I guess that's where I'm coming from when I tend to see many doctors as "the man." I don't hate doctors; I highly value a quality doctor who has respect for his/her patients. One day, I will write about my pediatrician from Utah, Dr. Robinson, because I have so many reasons to be grateful to that man. I just don't think doctors are infallible, and I am very aware of the bureaucracy that twists medicine in America. 

Emma, you have raised my awareness and made me think, all while exhibiting gentleness and love unfeigned. You are a true friend! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Please, anti-history doctors

I am really tired of doctors fear-mongering and promoting the idea that before modern times, every mother and baby was just dying left and right. It's not true.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists condemns homebirth as completely dangerous.
The American Academy of Pediatrics basically tells mothers that they'll kill their babies if they co-sleep.

I'll have to save ACOG's treatment of homebirth for another time. For now, let's tackle this ad campaign by the city of Milwaukee.

The AAP's current "safe sleep" standard is that a baby has to be absolutely isolated in their own crib or bassinet--no blankets. And absolutely no co-sleeping.

And yet, the AAP and the city of MIlwaukee say that breastfeeding is great! It's the the best way to feed your baby! They say they're doing everything possible to help women breastfeed, that they are top advocates of breastfeeding.

It is so ridiculously illogical to say you promote breastfeeding and then in the same breath say you'll kill your baby if you co-sleep. Show me a woman who successfully breastfeeds (I'm talking exclusively for 6 months, continuing way over a year) without ever co-sleeping. Maybe they exist, if they have some kind of miraculous milk supply. But if they do exist, I bet they don't get much sleep at night. Or maybe they forced their babies to cry it out. Maybe they feed their baby tons of solids at an early age before their little systems are really ready.

Babies are meant to be by their mothers nursing at night. Human evolution has driven women to produce the most milk at night--that's when babies get a lot of their nutrition. Breastmilk digests fast and babies need more at night, especially 6 months and under. For all of human history, babies have been safely sleeping with their mothers.

Does this matter to the AAP? No. Do the studies validating the safety of sleep sharing matter? No. So what matters to them if neither mothers' instincts nor scientific proof does?

I really don't know. I think their stance on co-sleeping is completely insane and baffling. Co-sleeping is not only safe, it is good for babies.

Why can't the AAP and other health officials talk about how to co-sleep safely? All of the stories about co-sleeping deaths in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Empty Cradles series (about the tragic infant mortality in the city) include the fact that whoever was sleeping with the baby had been drinking or was on regular heavy medications. The one exception to that was a baby who had been left alone on an adult bed. So why in these cases is co-sleeping given as the cause of the baby's death? Why is the city of Milwaukee pushing these horrible, violent anti-co-sleeping ads instead of talking about the dangers of alcohol?

Or trying to reduce the number of pre-mature births, or the number of pregnant women using drugs, or the number of obese pregnant women? These all contribute to way more of the infant deaths in Milwaukee.

I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere, crib manufacturers are quietly slipping money to "experts" who make these crazy, counter-intuitive and counter-science sleep rules.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Please, fans of Bishop Kloosterman

A lot of my friends have been linking on Facebook to Bishop Kloosterman's address at the recent Circling the Wagons conference.

I too am concerned about the welfare of homosexual members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Being in Utah really forced me to clarify my thoughts on these matters. However, that has nothing to do with why I'm writing.

I know God is a god of order. This is reflected in the organization and strict hierarchy of his church on the earth. This organization is really, really important. If you are a father or mother, you receive revelation for your whole family. If you are a zone leader in a mission, you can receive revelation for your zone. If you are a bishop, you receive revelation for your congregation, of course within the standards set by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who have the authority from God to lead this church. As a bishop, you can call your congregation to repentance. You cannot receive revelation for the whole church, you cannot speak for/to the whole church, and you shouldn't make public, official-seeming statements about the church as a whole.

It is the responsibility of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to determine if something going on in the membership of the church is "an atrocity." It is their responsibility to call the membership of the church to repentance. It is their responsibility to encourage the membership to be compassionate and patient and help others in their repentance process.

I have felt really uncomfortable because it seems like people are treating this address of Bishop Kloosterman's like it comes from General Conference (where official church business/statements occur), not from a conference organized unofficially by church members. I feel uncomfortable with my LDS friends treating this man like a general authority, and I feel uncomfortable that so many non-LDS people will watch this video and think that he speaks for the church as a whole. They may even confuse the "mormonstories" Youtube channel with the "MormonMessages" channel that actually carries official church videos. Even though Bishop Kloosterman says at the beginning that he's speaking for himself and he can't speak for the church, he still delivers his address like a church talk and like he has authority to be making judgments and giving admonition to the general membership.

I'm not saying Bishop Kloosterman's concern is without reason, and I admire his compassion. But when you as a bishop start telling the church as a whole in a public setting that they need to repent, you have crossed the line into priestcraft.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thank you, Jon 2012 Girls

What do you do when a political rival makes a mysterious, "edgy" campaign ad that gets a ton of press?

You make it look as ridiculous as it really is.

Thank you, Jon 2012 Girls, for bringing some tangy Mormon spoof humor into the crazy Republican race. You really made me laugh.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Please, baseless child takers

Nothing in this world fills me with more horror and rage than hearing about a child being taken from good parents because of a misunderstanding or a petty disagreement with someone in authority. When I hear stories with an outcome like that, I feel like I will literally suffocate with anger.

Yes, there are dangerous parents in the world and some organization needs to exist to care for children who have dangerous homes. But sometimes, social services has too much authority. Sometimes, they can take a child without any real justification.

Your child might be taken...

because you co-sleep and breastfeed on demand.

because you don't comply with hospital staff while in labor and refuse an unecessary c-section.

because you're "suspected" to possess illegal drugs (but never charged or even contacted by police)--but really because you're a Native American and the placement of your child in foster care makes big money for the state.

because you accidentally forget to ring up the wrapper of a chicken sandwich you ate while grocery shopping because you're 30 weeks pregnant and very hungry.

Reading any of these stories is enough to make me go rigid with compassionate anxiety, and then subsequently break down into heaving sobs. Purely as a biologist, I despise occurrences like this because when you are a caring parent, handing your child over to strangers goes against every evolutionary instinct. And because we're human and we're supposed to be "civilized," you can't even fight them or manifest your panic and pain because anything you do to protest just gives them more power, more things to hold against you and more "reason" to take your child.

Anyone who is capable of taking a child from parents who have done absolutely nothing abusive or wrong is a monster.

And let's not forget: a huge reason these stories are so upsetting to me is that with the exception of being (baselessly!) accused of drug possession, I have or would do everything that those mothers have done. I can see myself so clearly in their places. It's only a trick of chance that I am not the one weeping through the night for my stolen child.

Personally, I have had one semi-brush with social services. I won't tell the whole story right now, but when I was learning to breastfeed, things were really hard. I had to try a lot of different things to make it work and to help Luke gain weight. I ended up block nursing, which was perfect and amazing. While I was getting things figured out, I had a really insulting and maddening encounter with a WIC lactation consultant. She did not know anything about me or my baby or my mothering or my breastfeeding habits, she knew nothing except that Luke hadn't really been gaining well for a couple weeks. And she also knew that I called her out when she was rude and insensitive to me. She didn't like being called out. And because she had the power to, she contacted my pediatrician and threatened to call social services on me. She literally knew nothing about me. I don't even know what she would have said to social services--probably some made-up garbage about me neglecting my baby and refusing help.

If I had a different pediatrician, one who was more about the "system" and less about trusting parents and their instincts, I am positive that Ms. WIC would have gotten her way. And who knows what could have happened? Maybe I would still be trying to heal from a cruel seizure of my child, instead of still trying to heal from the thoughtless things she said to me and her self-indulgent threats.

Even the vague possibility of social services trying to take my child fills me with violence. I have literally no idea what I would do if I had to confront an actual official trying to strap my child into a car-seat stained with the horror of hundreds of families.

The long and short of it: I don't think these stories should be possible. I think social services should have to prove that there is an active danger to a child before removing them.

I don't think parents having to go to a police station and pay a paltry bail for "shop-lifting" is reason to take a child for 18 hours overnight. I don't think some uneducated home worker's opinion on breastfeeding should justify three weeks of trauma. I don't think an unsubstantiated drug accusation is enough reason to steal children for 2 1/2 years. And I certainly don't think refusing a c-section should enable self-righteous doctors to destroy your family.

Social services--please make some provision for compassion.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thank you, Halloween

So, one reason I like Halloween is that it gives Nick and I free rein (reign?) to let out the darker side of our humor without anybody judging us. Well, maybe people still judge us, but I like to think they don't around this ghoulish holiday.

Intestine cookies. I first invented them Halloween 2006. The first batches were made with my friend Emily Jacobson, and all subsequent batches have been made with Nick. I have to say, Nick was my original reason for making intestine cookies. That first batch was sent to him as a missionary, along with an intestine shaped letter. Definitely the most...unique baked goods I sent him.

A little more back story: We entered a gory treats contest in 2005 and made some really gross looking eyeball cupcakes. I didn't have any illusions about the cupcakes being particularly original, but I still have an inner hiss of  irrational hatred when I think of the other people that brought eyeball cupcakes to the contest. I felt extremely dissatisfied that someone else had made the same thing. That night, Nick and I vowed to make a tradition of gory treats, but I also vowed that our treats would be more original. NO ONE would ever have the same gory treats as us AGAIN.

Now that's it's been a few years, I feel I can finally share the recipe for intestine cookies. A small shout out to Pilsbury, since I some technical sugar cookie advice from a few of your recipes when trying to figure out intestine cookies. If you ever want to know the full story behind Nick and I's sincere love for intestines, I can tell you a tale that winds from the Magic School Bus all the way to a grotesquely long BYU Folk Ensemble Concert.

Intestine Cookies (with Sweet Orange Bile Glaze)
Yields: Approximately 5 dozen intestinal units

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 oz strawberry cream cheese, softened (FULL FAT CREAM CHEESE).
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
neon pink food coloring
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 1/2  medium to large orange (or all juice from a smaller orange or tangerine, tangelo, whatever floats your citrus boat!)
neon pink food coloring

1. Combine sugar, butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and egg yolk in a large bowl. Beat until pleasantly light and fluffy. Add food coloring to desired pinkness--remember it will be slightly diluted with flour. Place flour and salt in a sifter, and sift into wet mixture. Beat until well combined.
2. Divide dough into three portions. Shape each portion into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour until firm for easier handling.
3. Place 1 disk cold dough on a floured surface. With rolling pin, roll out into an 7-9 inch circle-ish shape (don't roll too thin).
4. Loosely roll the circle of dough as if making a tortilla wrap. Slice the rolled dough into approximately 1/2-inch sections (can be slightly smaller).
5. Each little section of dough can unroll into a short string and be formed into an intestine shape on a lightly greased* cookie sheet. Here's where you get artistic! Depending on the softness of your dough, you may need to just squish your dough section together then spin it out into a long string. Essentially, do whatever you need to do to make your dough look like lovely intestines.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 with the remaining dough disks.
7. Bake 6-10 minutes at 375. Make sure they are firm enough but not too dry. Cool on sheet for a couple minutes, then remove to a flat surface for glazing.
8. Mix orange juice and powdered sugar. The combination should be super saturated, as in the powdered sugar will just barely all dissolve, and there may be some very small clumps of sugar that keep appearing whenever you're not actively stirring the glaze. Add food coloring to desired pinkness. Spoon glaze over cookies.
9. Let glaze set on cookies. If you need the cookies sooner, put less glaze. If you have time, put more glaze and let the cookies sit overnight.
10. Gobble up the intestines and feel like a zombie!!!

*Spray a couple sprays of cooking spray then rub all over the sheet with your fingers so it's a very thin layer over the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Please, naysayers

Alright, so I really like Will Smith. I think he's a fun actor, his music makes me laugh, and I love his little family. While Nick was on his mission, I read an interview with Will Smith in Parade where he talked about how when he was young and would explain his plan to be big and successful in the media, people would express doubt and ask him what his Plan B was. He said he didn't have a Plan B, because that would mean that he didn't really believe in Plan A.

This video is a little long, but the bit starting around 5:02 is great, where he derides the idea of a Plan B.

Naysaying is pretty ingrained in our culture. Maybe it's ingrained in every culture, I don't know. But whether it's a problem of America or all humanity, it sucks. It's like you're in the middle of cooking a great big meal, a new recipe that looks amazing to you, and someone comes in and says, "You know, maybe you should cook a different meal at the same time, because that new recipe might taste disgusting. Or it might get burned. Who knows? You want to make sure you have a dinner, so better to just make another dinner at the same time." Well guess what? If you're trying to cook two meals at once, the likelihood of ruining the new recipe with inattention (overcooking, under/over spicing, burning, etc) is incredibly high. Devoting energy to the back up meal destroys the meal of your dreams.

Here are a couple fictional takes on doubt and naysaying:

1. In The Belgariad by David Eddings, the magic system is based primarily on will. As a sorcerer, you will things to be as you desire. I actually believe quite strongly in the power of will and desire, so I like this magic system. At one point, the sorcerer Belgarath suffers a major breakdown, sort of like a stroke. His daughter and grandson are terrified that Belgarath has lost his power, his potency of will, as a result. It is crucial that they not say anything to him about the potential of his loss, because by doing so they could introduce doubt and thereby sabotage Belgarath's abilities. If he were to doubt himself at all, he would have no power.

2. The Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart follows a middle-school age girl named Shizuku who longs to be a writer. Shizuku does have genuine talent for writing, and her friends and family are all very encouraging to her, urging her to pursue her dreams. All except her sister, Shiho, who constantly nags Shizuku about her school performance and insists that only doing well in school provides a future and everything else is a waste of time. As the only doubter and pusher of convention, Shiho is the villain of the film.

I have been guilty of naysaying before. Whisper of the Heart really harrowed me up when I first saw it, because I saw myself in Shiho. I could hear my own voice addressing my own sweet younger sister in uncomfortably similar ways. I have since tried really hard to be aware of how I talk to Rachel. I try really hard not to nag her or push my own beliefs on her.

I have also been on Shizuku's side of things, where I have a high aspiration and it seems people only want to doubt me. This happened frequently while Nick was on his mission, and it drove me crazy. I never pursued friendship with someone who told me I couldn't make it. I am acquainted with a girl who really wanted to wait for a missionary. She asked me lots of questions, and we communicated extensively. I was excited for her because I thought that she was the real deal, and that she was really going to stick it out with waiting for this guy. But then she started writing me about how people at church, particularly guys (go figure), were telling her that waiting was stupid, unrealistic, and emotionally dangerous. What if things didn't work out? I did my best to buoy her up, but soon she stopped writing to me. And her relationship status soon read "Single." This girl allowed the naysayers to get to her.

A lot of women encounter naysayers when they want to birth naturally. During your pregnancy, family, friends, and strangers sing arias about the epidural. During your labor, "compassionate"  nurses ask again and again if you don't want drugs to numb the pain and speed things along so you can be with your baby sooner. Of course a woman is impacted by people constantly expressing doubt in her. Of course she might start to doubt her own convictions. It's a tragedy to me when that happens. Birthing in an environment where people constantly doubt you is 100% different than birthing in an environment where people constantly encourage you. And of course, how you start off labor changes things as well. If you have a secret Plan B in your heart of hearts, it will be very difficult to realize Plan A. Like in The Belgariad, if you doubt yourself at all, you will have no power.

When people naysay, they think they're doing you a favor by reminding you of "reality." But what they're really doing is saying, "I don't think highly enough of you to assume you've thought through your decision, and I also don't think highly enough of you to believe that you can achieve your dream." So they're not doing you a favor, they're giving you a heaping helping of disrespect. Naysaying is nothing but an insult.

I love this quote about the destructive power of doubt:

"Doubt is not a principle of the gospel. It does not come from the Light of Christ or the influence of the Holy Ghost. Doubt is a negative emotion related to fear. It comes from a lack of confidence in one’s self or abilities. It is inconsistent with our divine identity as children of God."

Sometimes naysaying can have the helpful effect of making you outraged and even more determined to achieve your goal. That was true for me with Nick's mission, but maybe I'm just contrary and sassy. Most of the time, though, naysaying is the slow knife penetrating someone's shield of confidence, stabbing a dream until it bleeds itself out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thank you, Clara

I have always known that I have absolutely awesome in-laws. This is the first in an individualized series about how much I love Nick's side of our family.

One thing Nick loves to say about his younger sister, Clara, is that she is like a cooler version of him. He is so proud of his sister, and I feel super lucky that this girl is my in-law. She turns 15 on Sunday, though another running commentary is, "Clara, aren't you like 21?" because she is beyond her years in myriad ways. There are so many good things to say about Clara that it's hard to know where to begin! But let's start with high standards.

For years, I have admired her careful attention to matters of the spirit. So much younger than Nick or I did, Clara established an excellent scripture reading habit. Her daily obedience in studying the scriptures has helped strengthen her resolve to be careful and conscientious with other standards of the church. At her age, both Nick and I had already stupidly disregarded the church's standard about waiting to date until age sixteen. Clara, however, has had the wisdom, confidence, and spiritual capacity to obey and delay dating. Clara is so much fun and is absolutely charming, and so there's not even a question that probably thousands of boys are in love with her. But she knows that by waiting, she will be more prepared to have quality relationships and make smart choices--which I desperately wish I had known at her age.

Clara's high standards are already extending into her future. We have had a number of conversations where she has expressed her yearning to grow up and make her own life. She actively desires righteous things for her future family. She is already laying down track to travel exactly where she wants to, because she has studied the map and determined her spiritual course.

Next, let's go with chill attitude. With a big family, lots of pets, frequent visitors, and two working parents, things naturally get pretty busy and sometimes hectic at the Peterson's. Clara is consistently relaxed. While playing a game of Bang! the other night, we suspected Clara was the renegade, and she was so calm during the entire crazy game that we dubbed her the Zenegade (it turns out Abby was actually the renegade, which was really funny, but that's beside the point).

But Clara is not only chill in her old age. She has been this way as long as I can remember. When Nick was having his Eagle Court of Honor, I made a peach cobbler. I had never made one before, and I was obsessively fretting over the thing, spraying my worries on whoever was closest. Finally, 9-year-old Clara looked me in the face and said, "Linda, your cobbler is going to be great." And after that, I stopped worrying.

I could expound on Clara's fashion and how much I covet various clothes and shoes of hers, how I wish I had hair like hers. I could talk about how hardcore she is and her numerous softball wounds. I could go on and on about her easy laughter, her open media mind, and her intelligence and talents. But I have a feeling Clara knows the value of all these things already. I will end with her unquestioning helpfulness.

Whenever something needs doing, you can ask Clara and it will get done. She never complains, delays, or gives excuses. She is ultimately reliable, and pretty dang happy to be that way. This is something Nick and I have both internalized for a long time, and we usually turn to Clara when we need something during a visit. We always appreciate her assistance. What really sticks out to me, though, is that twice since we've been back in VA Clara has cheerfully sacrificed a Friday night to come up to the temple and be with Luke so that Nick and I can spend some time there. She has not balked at the time involved, or at watching our little wiggle worm in the confines of the Visitor's Center. I don't really like leaving Luke, and there is always a degree of stress about it for me. But both times we've made a temple trip with Clara, I have been uplifted and soothed by her peaceful spirit while we drove up. I have been able to do work in the temple without worrying about Luke. And on the drive home, I have marveled at this magnificent girl, who though ten years my junior, serves and comforts me like a mother.

Thank you for everything, sweet, sweet Clara.