Sunday, December 23, 2012

Whoa, buddy...

So I've kind of taken a while to digest the events of the last week.  Frankly, they needed time to be digested.  Last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, was not the first mass shooting, not even the first of 2012.  But it did involve some of the youngest victims of a mass shooting to date, and it has brought up a plethora of concerns from violent video games to guns to mental health.  There has been a lot of talk about guns and gun violence in the past week, and as much as I would love to see better gun regulations in the US, that's not the only thing to think about, and just regulating guns is not going to prevent the next incident like this. 

Mental illness is horribly stigmatized in the US, and diagnosis and treatment are often difficult to access.  We do not provide adequate support for people afflicted with mental illnesses or developmental disorders, and we then make it difficult for family and friends to help those about whom they are concerned.  We use words like "crazy," "insane," "retarded," and "screw loose" as colloquial and derogatory terms.  We most definitely need changes to our mental health care system, but those changes will take time to implement, as well as funding, infrastructure, and a change is societal attitude.

Entertainment today is filled with and glorifies violence and destruction, and we've talked about desensitization of kids for years now.  They have training uses to practice uncommon situations, and they allow gamers to let off some steam in a harmless fashion.  Music and TV shows depicting violence have won awards and prestigious nominations in spite of or because of their violence.  Again, this issue will take time to address and huge outside pressure, as the entertainment industry profiting from these media have solid lobby groups. 

Guns have a legitimate place in our society, and the right to bear arms is a protected right under the second amendment.  Does that mean assault rifles are a right?  Does that mean owning a small armory is a right?  Can guns and ammunition be taxed similarly to cigarettes and alcohol?  Does that mean high capacity magazines should be anywhere and everywhere?  I don't know, but these are discussions that we need to have.  And frankly, this area is the area that has the greatest potential to have fairly quick pay-back on making our society safer.

School security is another area where improvements can be seen fairly quickly, although this would cost and isn't sure-fire.  Columbine had a guard on the campus, as did Virginia Tech.  "Not sure-fire" is a far cry from "won't work" but it is something to remember when considering various options.

Of course, the option isn't simply to ban or not to ban, it isn't even what things to ban.  There's always the options of taxing, registration, fees, and testing/courses.  None of these solutions should- or could- happen in a vacuum, but instead in concert with one another.  This is not a simple problem that we're facing, this epidemic of mass shootings, and a simple solution will not address the matters at hand.  But this is the US.  We can put a person on the moon, we sure can fix this problem, too.  We just have to find the political will to do so.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Like most of the country, I'm still processing the violence in Connecticut from yesterday.

I realize gun violence is a huge trigger for me.  I lost my sister to suicide committed with a handgun, and I was raised a pacifist, so yeah, guns evoke strong feelings in me, more than is rational.  Music is usually my catharsis, and that's no secret.  But when you loose someone close to you to suicide, reminders of what you've lost are everywhere, especially at the holidays.  With gun violence all over the news, trying to relax with a concert titled the "Sibling Rivalry Tour" in this situation is setting yourself up for a wild ride.  At least you are if you're me.  And that was my day yesterday.  Add in a very young child's succumbing to cancer, and whoa, buddy, analytical circuits go into over-drive from all that emotion.  I might be on edge for a bit.

On the up side, Jessica Lea Mayfield, David Mayfield, and Shivering Timbers were a-may-zing last night.  And in a ball of emotion that big, there's bound to be some good ones that pop up, and they're starting to do so. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Learning Curve

This past Sunday wrapped up our Songs of Hope: Music from Kent to NYC, and boy, howdy, did I learn a lot!  The event was an online fundraiser for victims of superstorm Sandy, posting songs, facts, and links to charities that were doing good work in the clean up, relief, and recovery effort in New York and New Jersey.  We were calling it a "noncert," or concert in digital space, and it appears to have been a success, but not without it's glitches.

First off- there was a decent amount of work on the front end.  Finding charities, songs, data, and figuring out the logistics of the whole thing was not simple, but no where near the work that putting on a benefit concert would have been.  That was definitely a positive aspect of this form of fundraising.  Also on the plus side of the equation was the accessibility of the event.  Being an online (in this case, Facebook) event meant that potentially anyone anywhere in the world could participate.  Of course, the Facebook event aspect also added a ton of unwanted spam for people who have email notifications set to let them know about everything that happens on Facebook.  Nothing I can do to change that, except reconsider possible venues that are better suited to this type of event.  Ning?  Twitter?  A dedicated blog?  I don't know, but it's something to think about.

Another issue in my mind was the reporting issue.  I couldn't figure out a better way than self-reporting to do what we wanted (not have to handle/process money, allow freedom of choice in charities, and try to keep track).  I recognize the limitations of self-report measures, and that makes me a little wary of our numbers.  I like to think that humans are mostly honest, and the fact that most of the reported contributions came from people who were not active in the discussion part consoles me that they were likely not reporting just for recognition. 

All in all, I would call this a tentative success, with 73 people giving $2258 to 12 different charities.  If nothing else, it maybe did a little good, my co-organizers and I learned a lot, and we found some great music.

So how was your Sunday evening?

Edited to add- In other good news, I won the Ear to the Ground music review competition, so it looks like I'll be taking on another semi-regular writing thing.  More exciting- the group I reviewed retweeted and favorited the original tweet with my review.  When all is said and done, I'm still just the teen with a scribbled note from her favorite artist, and totally giddy over this little brush with stars.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Play the Changes...

Unless you stepped out of your TARDIS just yesterday from somewhere else in time and space, or you've been living in a cave, you know that right now in the US we are facing a time of huge changes in the educational system.  Those changes include public school reforms, charter schools, home schooling, huge proliferation of college attendance, declining rates of return on college degrees for many students, and vast tuition rate and fee growth and the commensurate funding changes that go along with that.  In some ways, it would be easier to start building a whole new educational system from the ground up, pre-K through graduate degrees, than face all the changes we are right now.

These have not been fast or easy changes, and will continue to be not fast or easy for the foreseeable future, I would venture to guess.  Even if we consider No Child Left Behind as the beginning of big educational changes- and that's questionable, as NCLB was the legislative result of changes that were already being discussed and attempted- the US has had over a decade facing these educational changes. As old as it makes me feel to admit, I've dealt with students that were raised predominantly in an age of NCLB, and it's definitely changed the way students see classes at the college level.

Financially, the system of the university is also facing drastic changes, as state and federal funds (outside of loans) have been cut drastically, and universities are being forced to run a more business-minded model, which doesn't always fit the goals of university (as I've blogged about previously).  The source of funds that has increased to keep up with tuition is student loans, which currently sit at a national level nearing 1 trillion dollars, a debt level near that of the real estate bubble who's rupture shook the entire US.  As part of these financial changes, many universities are looking to cut and have cut wherever they can, and as in most industries, the place with the most room to cut costs is in compensation.  And like other businesses, many universities are more and more often opting for part-time employees when possible.  Why hire a tenure track assistant professor (~40K annually) when you can hire adjuncts to do the same work of three classes a semester, two semesters a year (~15K annually, for those same class loads). 

Unfortunately, what doesn't get factored into that equation is the loss of teaching quality if teachers are harried, over-worked, under-paid, and stressed about making rent.  Or the loss in high quality researchers, as professors at many universities not only teach but forward their area of expertise by continuing to conduct research.  And there's the loss in the service community, as I have yet to meet an adjunct serving on committees or organizing outreach efforts nearly as much as tenure track professors do.  So students end up paying a premium price for a cut-rate education, and that's a travesty. 

All of this is to say that education in the US at all levels is sorely needing reform, but not in the direction that we're moving, which is taking us back, making education less comprehensive, more cost-prohibitive, and less available, just as we increasingly need an informed and critically thinking electorate.  It's almost enough to make one wonder why one went to grad school in the first place.

Almost, but not quite.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Setting Priorities

Life with an almost-seven-year-old has gotten very interesting this week for some reason.  Kenny likes arts and crafts.  A lot.  Which is great and part of what most people enjoy about the little bugger, except when those arts and crafts have to take place at seven in the morning. 

I understand passion, I appreciate passion, but please- put your pants on and get ready for school, kiddo. 

So we've been having lots of talks about priorities, self control, needs and wants, and responsibility.  Fun times, right?  Oddly, it has been kind of fun (once the tantrum dies down), and it has been a challenge.  I think the challenge might be part of what makes it fun for me.  It has made me reconsider how to express rules as positive things- "do this" instead of "don't that"- and I hear tell that method is supposed to work better in getting people to do as asked. 

Of course, my brain typically thinks in "don't"s.  There are lots of ways to do something right, and I'm OK with most of those ways.  It's not easy to reframe "Don't jump on the couch!" as a positive, my brain ends up spitting out something that sounds like "Feel free to sit, lie, recline, stand (if necessary), or lounge on the couch" and about half way through the sentence, Ken's lost all interest.  I could reframe the request as "Show respect to our belongings" but that requires another hour of discussion on respect.  OK, doesn't really require, but that's what ends up happening with Kenny.  No wonder I'm exhausted by the end of the day.

Abstract concepts are such tough things to teach, with all those shades and nuances and interpretations and connotations.  The job is even more tricky when the person doing the teaching is still figuring out nuance, interpretation, and connotation as well.  But the process- learning with my kid instead of just getting him to follow orders- is so much more rewarding, even if less consistent initially.  Yeah, we have our slip-ups, but we're working on them together. 

At the same time, this is great timing for me to be doing all this reflecting on teaching, learning, and communication, because it lets me rethink and reword my teaching philosophy statement to more accurately reflect my practices.  It also reaffirms that my teaching philosophy isn't just crazy talk or ramblings, it's genuinely what I feel are best-practices and functional models for education.  No, college students aren't very similar to first-graders, at least not most of them, but those big abstract concepts like respect, self-control, priorities, responsibility, and learning styles are useful at any age.

And yes, I think I admitted to using my kid as a guinea pig for my own educational research.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Month of Thanks, Week Five

Sunday, 25 November, 2012- I am thankful for relaxing moments with no plans.  This doesn't happen often around our house, as I'm sure you can guess, so we try to savor them when they do come around.  Today was one of those days.  Ken was pajama-bound all day, and I just worried about staying sane after he had a visit to family (which always makes him crazier than usual).  It was very restive.

Monday, 26 November, 2012- I'm thankful for lists.  They keep me focused and on task, and remind me of all that I've gotten done.  Even when I feel like I'm listing a bit.  (And I'm sure you're thankful that I'm so punny on a Monday)

Tuesday, 27 November, 2012- I'm thankful for getting through lists, and the brief reprieve before more deadlines hit.

Wednesday, 28 November, 2012- I'm thankful for productive times working with a colleague, and the ability to call such a great scientist (and person) my mentor.  

Thursday, 29 November, 2012- I'm thankful for getting a chance to really see who people are and to re-evaluate my interactions with them.

Friday, 30 November, 2012- I'm thankful for being done with holiday shopping.  Now I can sit back, do some baking, keep calm, and carry on.

Saturday, 1 December, 2012- I'm thankful to have made it through the one month of thanks "challenge" and I'm looking forward to making December a "write every day" challenge. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friendship and Facebook

It's a sad-ish day around the house today, mourning the loss of a friendship.  It was a friendship that I had been feeling less well with for a while, but it still hurts.  You know the friend- calls you when they want something done, is too busy to talk when you try to reach out, asks you to censor yourself on their Facebook posts in order to keep the peace, doesn't like to debate on Facebook but frankly that's the only place you interact.

Hmmm...  Writing this out makes it not seem like much of a friendship to begin with...

I tried to respect her wishes, and took my opinion to my own wall, where she followed and proceeded to have the argument that she didn't want on her's.  When I pointed out that she likes to "control the message," she got upset.  I'm sorry that I used the wrong words, but I don't know what else to call it when you request people remove comments in a discussion.  Things escalated, and ended with her stating "...If you don't like the way I operate, unfriend me. It's a simple as that."  

So I did.  

The one way we interacted, gone.  I don't need "friends" who don't value me; I'm not some poor little puppy.

But I still miss her.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Reason Ken's an Only

Reason #3,487- Favoritism

Yep, this actually is one of the many reasons I only wanted one kid if Dwight and I were going to have a family.  It may sound crazy, but there you have it; this is me after all, so crazy is to be expected. 

All the parents that I've ever known try to be impartial and fair with their kids, and many of them do really well at this, but too often I see them fail at not showing favoritism to one child or another.  It's never purposeful, and there's many different reasons for that bias.  And let me be clear- there are no unbiased humans.  Bias on it's own isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, it's just a way that we view the world.  Some people can relate more to children of their same gender, or the one that looks more like them, or a multitude of other reasons, and even purely by chance. 

It's the effects of that bias that gets my goat the most.  Like prejudice and discrimination, I'm not using bias and favoritism interchangeably in this sense, and it is exactly that, a sense, no more.  Where bias or prejudice is the feeling, discrimination and favoritism is the action.  It's the action that hurts people far more.  In both the cases of discrimination and favoritism, the results are real and cause potentially disastrous problems for the subject of the discrimination or favoritism. 

I don't want to risk that for my kid.  I owe it to him to be the best parent I can be to him, and for me that means not running the risk of favoring him over another child, or another child over him.  Especially since he has proven to be such a high-energy and high-demand kid. 

So we stick with what works for us, the same as every other family does.  And that's why every family deserves love and support, without judging.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Month of Thanks, Week Four

Sunday, 18 November, 2012- I'm thankful for being able to work with Dwight.  Especially on home improvement stuff.  All household members surviving the project is an added bonus.

Monday, 19 November, 2012- I'm thankful for technology that, when used well and working correctly, makes life easier and simplifies processes.  Skype for interviews instead of driving, word processing instead of typewriters, internet for TV instead of cable or antenna, and online applications instead of three pound application packets are the little things that save so much time and money regularly for me.  It really is the little things.

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012- I'm thankful to have a chance to have "my day in court" as it were, on the Wells-Sherman house issue and see how this last push goes.  Not a clue on chances.  Not a clue on how this will go down.  But at least this is going on the record and everything is coming out in the open.  Blarg.

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012- I'm thankful to have absolutely gorgeous weather in Ohio, in late November.  Like, take a walk with no coat on nice weather.  This could almost convince me that global warming is a good thing.  Almost.

Thursday, 22 November, 2012- I'm thankful for the time to reflect on how well I have it.

Friday, 23 November, 2012- I'm thankful not to have to go out much today, and to have (once again) no plans to shop on Buy Nothing Day.  I'm standing in solidarity with protesting Wal-Mart workers, and saving spending for Buy Local Saturday, instead.  Vote with your dollars.  

Saturday, 24 November, 2012 (almost)- I'm thankful that my younger sister was able to find her way out of an abusive relationship.  What I'm not thankful for is how much I miss that little girl.  I love you, I always will.  I'm glad that he can't hurt you anymore, but I wonder if you knew how much you would hurt everyone else.   And I'm thankful that I can still hear your laugh when I need to.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanky Happsgiving!

Today, I give thanks for many, many things, and recognize that I am so very blessed.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Family, chosen and born
  • Friends, new and old
  • Loves, present and lost
  • Animals, belly-nourishing and soul-nourishing
  • Shelter, clothing, transportation
  • Food, and there is a lot of it to be thankful for
  • Education and those who educate, in all forms
  • Plant-life, career-related, food-related, and joy-related
  • Beauty of all kinds, both inside and out
  • Time, busy and slow, together and alone
  • Comforts, minor and major
To Dwight, Kenny, J&H&E, the JAMEly, and more- thank you, you bless me tremendously.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

IComLeavWe Intro

Hey, welcome if you're here for IComLeavWe!  Or if you're not.  Whatever.  New or old friends, feel free to jump in and have a look around.  Short story is that I'm a dissertating Ph.D. in biology student (graduation in May), mama to a first grader, surro-mama to two kiddos, egg-mama to three babes, and wife to Dwight.  Long story can be found in the archives, or just ask questions you want the answers for. 

I can't wait to read some of the great blogs visiting here from Stirrup Queens, because your stories are always amazing and inspiring.  Women and men who go through infertility and/or alternative family building are so strong that I can't even believe it.  You are my heroes.  To love a child that much before they're even conceived?  That takes guts.  And the future is better because of the self-confident children that you so thoughtfully raise.  Thank you.  You humble me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lending, not Wringing

Hands, that is.

Since Frankenstorm Sandy hit New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other areas, there's been a lot of talk about how to help out, and I appreciate that.  Sandy did quite a job on heavily populated areas of the US, and areas that have some of the oldest infrastructure in the country as well.  It's going to take a lot of work, a lot of people, and a lot of resources to rebuild the ravaged areas.  This is not going to be a simple task, and the losses will take some grieving.

However hard as it may be, the rebuilding need begin as quickly as possible.  This type of urgency doesn't leave much time for hand wringing.  It's a time to lend a hand instead, so that's what some of us in Kent are doing with a non-cert on December 9th.  Songs of Hope: Music from Kent to NYC is an online event and open to the public, so you can participate from wherever you are.  The goal is to raise funds for victims of Sandy, and to enjoy some good music, and start a conversation.  Lots of them, if we're lucky. That thermometer over on the left is keeping track of what we've done so far, so check back in and see how it changes. 

How can you participate, you may be asking?  Simple.  Check back in to the event page on Facebook on December 9th, where we'll be posting links to songs of struggle, political action, solidarity, and whatever else strikes people's fancy, and a link to vetted, on-the-ground charitable organizations with each song.  You can choose from the linked organizations and contribute, if you feel so compelled.  Heck, post some links to songs that you enjoy, too, and if you're really ambitious, host a house party with some friends to all join together for the event.  Your imagination's the limit on this one, and we'd love to hear what people are doing and thinking about.

As an added bonus, Hanukkah starts at sundown that evening (thus the candle in the logo).  Maybe we can help to start a small miracle for the groups that are doing so much good in areas that desperately need it.  If we all work together, and all try and contribute what we can, then there's no reason we can't make at least a dent.

Sound good?  Let me hear from you.  How are you lending a hand?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Month of Thanks, Week Three

Sunday, 11 November, 2012- It's Veterans Day, and I'm thankful to all who have served in our armed forces and Peace Corps (and Americorps and related groups).  In peace time and in war time.  To all those who have helped to make this nation what it is through their dedication and service, I commend and thank you.

Monday, 12 November, 2012- I'm thankful for my chosen family, who share many of my beliefs, appreciate similar things, have similar priorities, and have still allowed me into their lives.  They had a choice to be a part of mine or not, and they chose to do so, and have stood by me and been supportive on some of the hardest days I've faced.  They love me for who I am, not who they think I should be, or who I was when I was a child.   They could choose to leave when things get too tough, but they don't.

Tuesday, 13 November, 2012- I am thankful for random emails from strangers asking for my help with a "Kent Heroes" photographic story.  Some people still take an interest in our fight to keep a small lot for children, the arts, and the community, even if the odds are getting slimmer and most of Kent has moved on and lost interest.  And I'm thankful for getting the chance to be part of a very grassroots, organic building of community against long odds and deep pockets and close connections.  I have learned so much from this process, it's unbelievable.  Now, if we could just win, that would be gravy.

Wednesday, 14 November, 2012- I'm thankful for my education and the path that this choice has lead me.  So many people don't even consider education an option, or look down on it as irrelevant, and I honestly can't imagine a life like that.  To be clear, I'm not saying degrees=education, I'm saying that I'm thankful for my education, which has occurred in and out of schools, on my own and with others, through success and failure.  Education is no where near the same thing as a degree, and I am far more thankful for my education than my degrees.  It's more important to developing a person, even if it may not have the prestige of a degree.

Thursday, 15 November, 2012- I'm thankful for the years that I've had with Dwight, and the person that he is, flawed human as we both are.  It's been a lot of struggles, but he's been there, and G-D it, I love him.  Which makes both our flaws so much harder to deal with.  Not liking him would be so much easier than this on many days.  He has faith in me when I don't, he makes me not be a hermit, and he reminds me that there's this thing called "reality" that might not match up to my ideals.  No matter where our fate lies, for better or worse, we've helped to make each other who we are.

Friday, 16 November, 2012- I'm thankful for endings.  It's the end of the week, and tomorrow starts another weekend.  Time to try and rest, time to be together, just the three of us, and time to let our hair down and have some fun.  Just one more day of wrap-up and anticipation, and we're there.

Saturday, 17 November, 2012- I'm thankful for seeing friends that I miss.  A chosen sister is coming into town today, and I can't wait.  It's Saturday, so Haymaker Farmers' Market is going on, where I'll get to see more friends than I know what to do with.  They exhaust me, but I love these people.  My tribe.  

Friday, November 16, 2012


Life sucks some days.  Recently, there's been an onslaught of bad news for many of my friends.  I feel bad for them,my heart hurts for them, but I find it hard to reach out beyond sympathizing on Facebook.  Our house is facing our own battles, but there are no doctors appointments, scary diagnoses, pills, treatments, or other obvious signs.  I know plenty of other houses that are also facing difficulties, so I know we're not alone. 

It's funny how social media lets us be so much more connected in some ways, but so much more isolated in others.  Human brains have not evolved for a digital interface, so there's a certain disconnect with this form of communication.  With today's children growing up more and more immersed in technology, I wonder how quickly we'll adjust to what technology has brought into the world. 

At the neurobiology level, our brains just don't react the same way to emails, texts, or online chatting the way they do to the voice, smell, or touch of our loved ones and friends.  Especially for people facing emotional difficulty like grief or depression, new forms of communication just don't have the same psychological benefit.  Do yourself and your loved ones a favor- pick up the phone today.  Stop by their house.  Write a letter and put it under your pillow for a night (sleep on it!). 

Remember tomorrow is International Survivors of Suicide Day.  Reach out and you could save a life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

OK, the little things make the world go 'round some days.  And on a day that Thanksgiving preparations are occurring, and lots of friends are posting about their sister/family, and travel plans are being anticipated, and IJUSTWISHMYSISTERWERESTILLALIVEANDDADWOULDBEAHUGEBONUS, those little things are huge things.  Little things that made my day today, in no particular order:

1.  The little twit that accused Elmo of grossness rescinded.
2.  I was contacted about a "Kent Heroes" thing on Save the Standing Rock by a Kent State photographer.
3.  I signed the original bond for the restraining order against a freaking house.
4.  I submitted my application for a kick-a$$ position that I'm drooling over.  Biology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies not too far from Kent; it's like it was written for me.
5.  Little dude is a rockstar, and thrilled to get a photo book that he and I made on election day.
6.  I have awesome friends. 
7.  I got to Skype with J&H and surro-baby #2.  Even better was seeing little dude and Miss E laughing hysterically at each other. 
8.  Being called "mom" by somebody else' kid.
9.  I got to watch the new Walking Dead again.  Yeah, it's great.
10.  Potential new tutoring students.  And fun stuff like a cloth diaper consult tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thankful Planning

It's less than two weeks from the epic gorge-fest that is a Thanksgiving meal at our house.  My family's German, we say "I love you" with food.  We say "I'm sorry" with food.  "Please could you..." and "Thank you for..." get more food.  Yeah, I should probably try talking more and eating less, right?  It's just the way I was taught, and changing that is hard.  I try, but it's hard.  It's far easier for me to ask about a favorite dish and make sure that it's provided than to hold an awkward conversation, so anytime that I cook a meal there's been as many palates as I can manage to pull together.  There's vegetarian and meat-filled, highly processed and made from scratch organic, traditional and exotic, and everything in between.  Dwight always joked that I "cooked for the Russian and Slobovian armies" when we had family or friends over, and I did (well, do, truth be told).  This is totally ironic because when it's just the three of us, I try to cook just enough since he refuses to eat leftovers.

So this year we get to host the family dinner.  With another of Dwight's siblings having joined us in Kent, the older brother in Los Angeles not coming out, and the sister being gone for the holiday, it made sense that festivities happen in Kent.  I would happily have let the younger brother and his wife host in Kent, but this makes sense.  The important thing- I'm cooking here where I'm comfortable and have good tools instead of driving 4+ hours and cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen.  Yeah, aspie tendencies much?  Ah, well, I try, and can't do much else.

And honestly, I'm looking forward to this for the first time in a long time.  There won't be any chemically-smelly things to drive me mad, there won't be as big a crowd, there won't be hours in a metal box on wheels, I won't feel trapped, and this year I won't be pumping (I might look like this in celebration).  Possibly the nicest thing- a far smaller selection of dietary demands to be dealt with.  I'm actually looking forward to cooking a small meal.  Relatively speaking.

Of course, this poses its own challenges, namely, breaking habits.  I have to pare down the menu, and that's an interesting proposition.  Lack of youngest sibling means no Stove Top stuffing and no bag of egg noodles (YEAH!), home made noodles are a real possibility.  Father in law necessitates mashed potatoes, but can handles real potatoes.  Mother in law is coming in later for dinner, so baked brie, crackers, crudites, and munchies can wait until the evening (or do I serve them twice?  Decisions...).  Still have to have the Can-O-Berries, but I might be able to also swing real cranberry sauce.  Missing older brother in law means far less turkey needed, and I can be more creative with the bird. Local sister in law is Chinese, so do I have some Asian fare as well, add some Asian flare to traditional dishes, or just keep it traditional?

Of course, the big choice is do I go traditional or do I have fun (but make more work)?  Turkey, noodles, and veggies are non-negotiable, but endlessly variable.  My favorites are green bean casserole, creamed corn, sweet potatoes, and roasted root vegetables.  Decisions apparently don't end on election day, let's just hope that these decisions are less contentious and less stressful.

What are you cooking for Thanksgiving?  Any ideas or suggestions?  How do you celebrate?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Month of Thanks, Week Two

Sunday, 4 November, 2012- Today I am thankful for a house to clean, and people I love to make that house a home.  It's not big or fancy, but it keeps the weather out and gives us all something to work together on.  And honestly, I love this house because she just has so dang much character, like the three people who live here, and so many of our friends.

Monday, 5 November, 2012- I am grateful for the start of a new week, a new day, and the new chances it brings.  Time away from my family gives me time to invest in myself, and the work we did together over the weekend gives me the peace of mind to dedicate time to my work.  This chance to be who I am gives me the energy to be who they need me to be.

Tuesday, 6 November, 2012, Election Day- I am thankful for the discussion that this election is bringing about.  It's not an easy discussion, but nothing worth doing is simple.  From Facebook, today:

     Today is the day that (theoretically) we voice our opinion on the leaders of our nation. Those votes area
     cast based on 2 billion dollars of advertising, from various sources besides the candidates, and often
     from unknown donors. There may even be a few hours of actual research that go into the choice. And
     then the electoral college gets to cast their vote, which (again, theoretically) will represent the will of the
     majority of the people in their respective states. And the two major choices are a "liar" who "doesn't
     understand Americans" or someone who's "not as bad as the other choices" (take your pick- those all
     have been used to describe both candidates). If worse comes to worse, there's always the possibility of
     just letting nine life-appointed judges decide for us, a la 2000.

     But at least your local and state elections make a difference!

     Whatever way this whole thing ends up, look at the people you meet today. They are people, they care    
     about our country and our community, they have families whom they love, the work for the benefit of 
     themselves and others, and their DNA is *vastly* similar to your own. You do not know their story, you 
     have no right to judge them- there but for fortune and all that. Then roll up your sleeves, and stiffen your 
     back, because if we're going to be a civilized society, we all have a metric shit-ton of work to do, and 
     open your eyes, because it's hard to work without knowing what's going on.

Wednesday, 7 November, 2012- I am so amazingly grateful for the move toward equality that our country has made in the very recent time.  Last night's win for the first openly LGBTQ person to the Congress, the passage of marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and an all-woman delegation for the first time ever (in New Hampshire) shows that we are moving toward a society of inclusion, not exclusion.  Let's keep up this momentum.

Thursday, 8 November, 2012- I have gratitude for the flexibility that my chosen career has given to me to deal with taking care of my family and myself the way I need to, the flexibility of mind that has allowed me to embrace non-typical ideas, people, processes, and aesthetics in my life, and the returning flexibility of my body after far too long focusing on just staying head-above-water now that I am making the time to be me and love me.

Friday, 9 November, 2012- I am grateful for simplicity in my life.  Call me lazy, but I prefer not to complicate matters with things like beauty routines, gadgets, battles with my kid over clothes, and things that I don't see as necessary for me. This leaves me free to focus on the things that do matter in my life.  I guess this means that I'm also thankful for an ability to ignore marketing.

Saturday, 10 November, 2012- I am thankful for an unusually warm weekend to enjoy and the time to enjoy it.  While getting work done around the house.  Because getting work done is fun for me.  And for that I'm also grateful.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Open Letter to the US Religious Reicht

You lost the election, and by a *wide* electoral margin and the popular vote.  Romney will not be appointing any Supreme Court justices.  You are not one step closer to overturning Roe v. Wade.  You couldn't get a right wing candidate through the primary.  You lost four different ballot measures on marriage equality.  The US elected their first openly gay congressional representative.  All of your candidates that threw around "forcible" and "legitimate" rape and spewed horribly inaccurate ideas on female biology lost to more reasonable candidates. 

You were sent a message on Tuesday night.  Please, will you now realize that the majority of the majority of US citizens do not agree with your priorities and do not want your beliefs running this country.  This is not a Christian nation, no matter how much history you re-interpret to try and make it so.Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, yes, but not their own facts.  To deny as many facts as you do is to act in a delusional manner.  To then demand that others allow you bring to high office others who hold those same beliefs is beyond delusional.  Your right to believe whatever you want ends when you try to force those beliefs on a country through legislative action.  This country was founded on religious freedom, not just for you, but for everyone, and sometimes religious freedom means freedom from your religion.  Separation of church and state is a long-standing tradition here, and when you push too far into the affairs of state, you risk blow-back. 

This is your blow-back.  I suggest you take a while to interpret the results of Tuesday's election.  Then think about how best to move forward, and what actions would best follow in the footsteps of your lord.  There was a brown-skinned community organizer who's mother got pregnant out of wedlock, and talked about tolerance, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and throwing out the money changers long before Obama.  His name was Jesus. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why I'm Not a SAHM

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Today's Election Day, and Ken's school is cancelled as they're a polling place, so what's an over-worked, over-educated, over-achieving, and over-stressed parent to do?  Go to the Zoo!  And plan a party for a stuffed animal's birthday!  And basically home-school for the day... 

As an added part of today's events, he and I are taking a poll- Decision 2012.  Vote for your favorite animal by liking it, and we're going to build a graph of the results. 

The day's wrap-up:
Social Studies- Voting and a lesson in the electoral college and money in politics.
Literacy- Work in activity books to practice writing (he has my writing skills), and do some reading.
Science- Trip to the zoo and animal identification.
Math- Figuring up gift shop and store purchases while running errands and helping measure stuff for cooking.
Art- Build a Halloween diorama (yes, we're late) and put together a book for stuffed animal birthday (the Shutterfly book above).

So I'm beat.  How was your day?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Report Card Reporting

Ken came home with his first report card on Friday, and I dutifully sent back the signed "Yes, I saw this" paper with him today.  I'll be honest, as much as I dislike the standardization of public education, getting his first real report card home felt like something big.  It wasn't what I think of when I think report card, so that definitely helped.  There were no A's or F's or numbers, just simple pluses, check marks, and non-standard letters (E=Excellent, G=Good, and more that I can't remember- we only had to look up those two, thankfully enough).  And comments!  Lots of room for comments (that was used by his teacher).

I may have started out as an early education major in undergrad, and I may have a bachelor's in psychology, but I'll be first to admit that I'm not at all clear on when milestones should occur, and what is "appropriate" developmentally.  Your three year old doesn't utter a word?  OK.  Your four month old isn't crawling?  WHOA!  Are you looking into that?  I have no clue as to when things are "supposed" to happen, or what kids "should" know at a given time.  Because of this, some form of report or feedback is a huge benefit for me.  Also because of this, I tend to expect more of El Shorto than is reasonable.  I'm working on that, but the kid frequently rises to the challenges faced in being my spawn. 

And for once, it was really nice to see that what the teacher saw matched up with what I saw pretty consistently.  Maybe not exactly, but the trends were there.  He does best in Science (me), and Social Studies (Dwight), and pretty well in Math (again, me).  Not so well in social interactions, and is majorly lacking in self-control (guess who?  Me).  He's performing adequately in all the other areas.  No major surprises either way, and I was happy about that.  Have we talked about how much I dislike surprises? 

It's a nice feeling, hearing that he's "on-track" and "progressing" and what have you.  A little bit of reassurance goes a long way.  And it lets mama know where she can stop pushing so hard, and where she should be focusing.  It doesn't make the pushing on subjects like reading any easier, but it's a direction, right?

In other news, Dutch citizen rolls grew by one very important person today.  That makes me happy.  :-)  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Month of Thanks

I saw this going around Facebook, and thought it was a good idea.  It's easy to focus on the negative, especially when the days are getting shorter, it's cold and dreary out, and most of the news seems to be a huge downer with Sandy, the election, the election ads, and no Doctor Who for another two months.  I didn't want to bog down feeds with daily mundane stuff, so I'll just be posting the week's list each Saturday. 

Thursday, 1 November, 2012- I'm grateful for the great programs that Kent State University puts on for our community, specifically the reading tutor program that gives him more personalized attention with his reading twice each week, gives me four additional hours of work time each week, and has really helped spark his interest (and subsequent improvement) in reading.  The fact that his tutoring falls on the days when I have sole responsibility for him is an added bonus.

Friday, 2 November, 2012- I'm grateful for the community school dynamic at our neighborhood elementary.  Ken's school is in walking distance from our house, and many of his friends also live within a very short distance.  We can come together and know the new house construction that someone is talking about, or the garage sale someone else saw.  We really hadn't been too close with much of our neighborhood until now, so this is a huge help in getting to meet other families and learn about our area of town.  Seeing everybody hanging out together at the Halloween Gala on a Friday evening let's me catch up with friends, see new babies, and just have some good cheap fun without going far at all.

Saturday, 3 November, 2012- I'm grateful for days that turn themselves around (doing the hokey-pokey optional).  Typically, if the day starts out bad in our house, it stays bad, and maybe gets worse.  Every once in a while, we manage to work together and change the household dynamic so that the day is salvaged.  Today was one of those days.  It started horribly, and late- which usually equates with terrible in my book.  But after I went off to help with Upward Bound Inspiration Day, I came home to a changed couple of boys.  Admittedly, I came home to a disaster zone and quite the battle, but after that, things improved.  We got the house picked up, cleared out some stuff for donating, and more stuff to give to a Sandy Relief effort I'm trying to make work, and another box of train stuff to send to a friend's little boy.  Yeah, our family has way too much stuff, which I guess is another thing to be grateful for.

What about you?  What are you thankful for?  Are you participating in the month of thanks?  Let me know, and/or link your blog below!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Imperfect Conditions

I've heard lots in my life about unconditional love- how parents love a child, how you love your spouse, how families love each other, etc.- but I can't say I've ever felt it. I have to sound like a cold-hearted wench right about now, huh? Mom, daughter, wife, sister, all those roles, and I don't know that any of them carry unconditional love. I love them all dearly, don't get me wrong, and I don't love them for what they can do for me, but "unconditional" seems like too vast a descriptor. Unconditional is unending.  Unconditional never stops.  Unconditional has no, well, conditions.  I don't know that "unconditional" is even such a great term, as by default, it implies that any other love has conditions associated with it, when that's not really the case. 

It's not that any love other than unconditional love has conditions, or requisites, it's just that is imperfect.  Just like humans are imperfect.  We all reach a point where we can't take any more.  When our love for someone isn't enough to balance against the problems- the problems they cause for us, for themselves, for others that we love.  Each relationship is different, each person is different, and we change through time, so there's no way anyone else can judge another person's relationship. 

The thing is, if a love can't end, there's no reason to improve or change or grow with the other person.  If a partner always says "It's OK," then whatever needed the "It's OK" is never going to change.  If there's the potential for a love to end, then there's a reason to change, an incentive to try, a desire to fix what's broken.  And with humans, there's always something broken, needing fixed, or that has to change. 

Unconditional love gives us an out, a reason not to try.  What's more, it cheapens relationships.  It glosses over all the give and take- the WORK- that relationships take.  It dismisses exactly how much we love the other person, enough to better ourselves for them.  And it belies our respect for ourselves, it says that we're not worth the fight to keep. 

When conditions are right, plants thrive, and when the conditions aren't, they die.  So nurture your relationships as you do your house plants, by striving for the right conditions.  When we know better, we do better. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

All the Wrong Wars

Kenny came home this week proudly sporting a "Drug-Free 24/7/365" ribbon.  Ironically, he's been on drugs all week- amoxycillin for a respiratory infection. 
I understand the desire to indoctrinate kids to the drug-free message, more than most people, but personally, I always hated the whole program.  See, it was a huge conflict for me, because I knew my dad used drugs, as do most people in the US.  Think about it; what is a "drug"?  A drug is your morning coffee, or your evening adult beverage.  A drug is your aspirin, your sleep aid, or your insulin.  A drug is also heroin, cocaine, or crystal meth.  A drug is ritalin, adderall, or others prescribed to kids. Sure, adults might understand the nuance behind anti-drug messages, but kids- especially ones as young as first grade- don't understand those shades of meaning.
What you end up doing is lying to children through anti-drug programs, by lying about what constitutes a drug, and that drugs are universally bad.  While that lie may come from a place of wanting to do what's best for students, it's still lying, and they simply end up losing trust in whoever told them lies originally, usually after a lot of struggle, pain, turmoil, and emotionality.  That doesn't do much to help getting a message across, much less getting a kid to follow your proposed message. 
Similarly, the war on drugs is an ineffective and dishonest proposition.  What have we accomplished with the war on drugs?  Certainly not the eradication of drug use, although we have put many, many people in prison for drug related activities.  Instead, we've lined the pockets of private prison operators, torn apart families, ruined people's lives with mandatory minimum sentencing, and cost the taxpayers billions of dollars.  Mind you, I'm talking most about marijuana here than other drugs, because 1) it's extremely widely used, 2) because of it's wide use, it has the widest implications, 3) it's a drug with questionable reasons for its criminalization, while it does have the potential for health benefits up to and including cancer treatments, 4) the war against pot spills over into a completely safe crop (hemp) that has been cultivated by many cultures for many purposes over human history, including the first US president, who claimed "Sow the hemp seed everywhere."  Really, if we want to show that the US puts people before profits, we need to legalize marijuana, and soon.  Too many have already paid too high a price for such an innocuous substance.

Our war on terror is a whole other bag of worms, that my blood pressure won't let me get into right at the moment, but I'll come back to that soon. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forget Binders- Polls Full of Women!

I'd be lying if I said I didn't commonly get political on this blog, and I'm about to do that again.  Life's political; the way one lives speaks endlessly to who you are and in what you believe.  Every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want companies to behave.  Each activity in which you participate is a vote for what you see as valuable.  The compliments you give show your priorities. 
With that particular world view in mind, it might not be surprising that I'm choosing to weigh in on the whole "binders full of women" issue.  This simple little comment has spawned Twitter and Tumblr feeds, Facebook groups, and a website, not to mention the hundreds of memes and reviews on Amazon products.  There are also people saying that this is all taken out of proportion, and the comment was just a gaffe that meant nothing.  So which is it?  Is this comment a game-changer for the women's vote in the election, or was it simple off-the-cuff misspeak?  While I don't know that it will be a game-changer (I don't have that much confidence in the average US citizen to think critically and analyze at this point), I do think it shows that Mitt Romney has a huge problem with women.
Let's think about the actual phasing of "binders full of women."  If you've served on a search committee or hiring committee, you likely have an idea that Romney meant "binders full of resumes of women," and he may very well have meant just that.  However, by omitting "resumes" he essentially objectified the women represented by those resumes.  A woman- or any person- is not simply the paper that their resume is printed upon, and to use the person and the paper interchangeably is insulting for the person.  Similarly, what Romney implies in this statement is that there were separate pools of candidates- the original (male) candidates, and the new (female) candidates, and that this addition was a good thing.  In arguing this point, what Romney is saying is very much like affirmative action, an idea that the Republican party is staunchly opposed to and wants to roll back.  One could also argue that this was a quota system, which is definitely a bad idea and has been rejected by none other than the Supreme Court of the United States as unconstitutional.  At the best, what Romney is saying that he did was against his party's platform, and at the worst it was unconstitutional. 
On to an analysis of the background of this story.  Romney portrays himself as an extremely capable business person, and much of business is networking.  So we're really supposed to believe that there was not a single female in his circle that he could think of when trying to fill cabinet positions in Massachusetts?  His experience at Bain might back up this fact, as his record for hiring women there was horrible.  The fact that his circle is so insulated as to not include any competent, qualified women is disturbing, quite frankly (and if you want to make the "there are none" comments, then feel free to do that to my face so I can properly refute your idiocy). 
Also of note is the fact that his ENTIRE STORY WAS A LIE!  Romney did not go out in search of female candidates, and he did not instruct his subordinates to do so, either.  The resumes were collected by a non-partisan group MassGAP before Romney was elected.  MassGAP brought these candidates' credentials to Romney.  They fought for women- not Romney.  But this shouldn't be a surprise from a campaign that has stated that they won't let facts get in the way of their election. 
On the context of this whole issue, one has to consider what Romney has done for women, and his stances during the debate.  In response to the same question (which was on the pay gap), he talked about giving women flexibility in the workplace so they could go home and cook dinner.  In his time as governor, the number of women in high office in Massachusetts actually declined.  Romney has repeatedly said that he refers to Ann on women's issues, implying that either he doesn't know other women to ask, or that women's issues aren't important enough to him to learn about them himself. 
Let's be honest, electing Romney would be a travesty for women in the United States, and would take us backwards, not forwards.  If you really want to take women (and the nation) forward, vote for one- Jill Stein of the Green Party.

P.S.  On the disturbing side of this debate are the purported "joy books" of the FLDS. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Am Not My Sister, and My Sister Was Not Me

I miss you, today more than usual.  I don't know why, but I do.  I really want to talk to you, just because it's been one of those days.  I've thought about you, and growing up, and our family.  Not in a bad way, or a sad way; more a matter of fact way.
Sisters have such a complex relationship, filled with love and competition, closeness even when you can hurt each other desperately.  Maybe it's true with all siblings, no matter the gender, and maybe it doesn't happen for all sisters, but I know for us, this was the case.  To complicate matters further, there was that rough patch after Dad's death, and those years of feeling more like mother and less like sister to you that made us even closer (at least I think so- and you can't disagree  :P ).
People always compared us, as they do most siblings and relatives.  Genetically, we are a mix of our various ancestors, and share "parts" with our whole family tree.  I have Dad's build, but Mom's nose, Dad's thick hair, but with Mom's color; you have Mom's build, and more of Dad's hair color, but with his smile and her hair texture.  We're like one of those cooking challenge shows, where everyone starts out with the same ingredients, but end up with wildly different meals.  And that's OK.
For a while after you were gone, I heard comparisons of us everywhere; some where verbalized as comparisons, some were statements that my mind- in its mourning- read more meaning into than was meant.  "She was so pretty/kind/smart/funny/compassionate."  "You two were so similar/different/complementary."  I cherished and hated those conversations so much.  The differences made me feel inferior, as I wondered if people would remember me so kindly some day, but also a little comforting- every difference between us meant one less chance for our paths to end the same.  The traits we shared had just the opposite effect; I sighed with relief that maybe I was just as good as you, but terrified that our fates would be shared, too.  
My rational brain knows that all this is not logical, but I'll be d@mned if my heart would listen to reason.  For some reason, that's been changing lately, and that's a good thing.
I'll never be the same as you, nor better or worse, because we are different people.  Same ingredients, different recipe. You're the chocolate truffle brownies, and I'm the ganache covered cake.  It may have felt like it at the time, but I didn't die that day, and I didn't lose myself; I lost a big piece, but it was still only a piece.  Even an amputation heals after the loss, although there might be phantom pain for quite some time.  I love you, I've lost you, I'll always feel your presence, but I will heal.  I am healing.  I wish you could have found healing, too, but I'm glad you're no longer in pain, and wish you would have sought the help you needed at the time. 
I may be my sister's keeper, but I am not my sister.  Peace and blessings be with you always, Kimmy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Choices and Judgments

Originally published June 29th, 2012, on The Next Family.
I recently had another hair battle with my son, and this one ended in an unexpected way. His long hair gets tangled easily, as mine did when I was a child, and he enjoys dealing with those tangles about as much as I did. Honestly, I had expected the end result of this fight a while back, when he started being teased. After enough of a fight, I finally blurted out “I’m either combing your hair or cutting your hair- PICK ONE!” After a moment of shock while the implications set in, he timidly asked “Will you cut yours, too?” Trying to redeem myself, I agreed, and got out the clippers. He had quite a fun time planning to use the piles of hair to make Halloween wigs.
Unfortunately, changing things take time. Thankfully, the hair cut is going over better than the arguing, although it’s created its own controversies with some people.  Then Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” for the Atlantic.  Talk about things that take a while, and the -isms (sexism, racism, etc.) might just take the cake.  There are some interesting accompanying pieces and critiques on Slate and The Prospect, as well as some great discussion on the Facebook page of  Connie Schultz (award-winning writer and wife to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio).
But the thing that really struck me about the Atlantic article was the assumption that everyone wants to have it all, and I think that’s the major point of feminism that Slaughter misses.  Feminism (to my limited understanding) was never about having it all; it was about having what you wanted.  It was about life choices of both men and women being respected and valued, no matter what they were, and having equal opportunities to live those choices.  Feminism isn’t about getting women out of the kitchen and into the board room; it’s about giving women equal access to be in the boardroom, if that’s what they want to do with their life. There’s so much fighting over life choices, and I’ve never understood it.  To work at home or outside the home, to have children or not, how to create your family, what career one wants to follow- I frankly don’t get how any of these things affect anyone outside of the family making those choices, and yet our culture fights tooth and nail for a particular view of how these decisions should be made.  For a country founded on freedom and talking extensively about liberty, we sure aren’t free from others’ judgment of us and our lifestyles.
Ironically, my husband has had far more gender studies classes and discussions than I have, as he is a historian who writes on definitions of masculinity and the impact that had on the civil rights movement and other revolutions.  He is, however, a staunch supporter of equality and recognizes his own privilege, and tries to do his best to not take advantage of that privilege.  And so long as we limit the issue to outside of our house, he does pretty well at accomplishing his goal.  Inside the house, I attribute the differential in division of labor as interpersonal differences in energy levels more than his or my view of gender roles; he can easily sleep ten hours a day and be happy, while I’m usually good after about six.  It wouldn’t matter what gender either of us were, I don’t think there’s a way to have that and a 50/50 split in household duties, but if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Essentially, the right to choose our own path to follow is a huge gap in the US.  While there are obviously strictures about what is “acceptable” for men to do, those strictures are looser and less often seen as critically as the strictures around women, and there’s rarely negative connotations connected to those dividing lines for men (think of how people used to say “women’s work” and its implications).  Outside of careers, choice in family structure is also contentious.  Again, I realize that it happens to people of both sexes, but how much more is it for a man to say he doesn’t want kids, compared to a woman?  For a woman to be infertile is often seen as a critical blow to her identity, and whether a person becomes a parent through adoption or surrogacy is seen in some circles as a point to judge just easily as their politics or clothing.
The real answer, of course, is to continue the push for equality- equality of opportunity, equality of access.  In the short term, can we simply stop judging everyone with a different opinion or life choice from ours?  As many families as there are, there are that many ways to become a family and make a family work well.  So long as no one is being hurt, what does it matter if dad stays home, or mom only wants one child?  And heck, isn’t it just easier to not worry so much about what other people are doing?  Now go be lazy, and don’t judge decisions that don’t affect you, like a boy with long hair or a dad who wants to stay home.  I think that’s a pretty positive step for equality, don’t you?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Of Plants and Transplants

Originally published in the Kent Patch, on July 3rd, 2012.

In part of my research life, I study Phragmites australis and Typha angustifolia (common reed grass and narrow leaf cattail, respectively), and how they impact native frogs.  These are invasive plants, plants that don’t come from North America and have been introduced here.  Normally, my research isn’t focused on the benefits of plants, but they’re detrimental affects.  In fact, my dissertation could easily be titled “Death, death, deathidy death of frogs, caused by plants.”  Invasive plants aren’t cool, in general; they don’t have diseases or predators here many times, they often use resources that native plants don’t or they out-compete native plants.  Think of kudzu as a prime example of an invasive plant.  
Coming from this background, it’s sometimes easy to forget how absolutely amazing plants can be and how many great traits plants have.  Rationally speaking, plants do so much for our landscape, other animals, and us.  Our atmosphere- the air we breathe- is what it is today because of plants, which take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.  This complements our consumption of oxygen and expelling of carbon dioxide pretty well, if you ask me.  Plants can alter the soil around their roots by exuding various chemicals that inhibit or encourage different plants and microbes; they prevent soil erosion; they can transport materials up or down as needed within their systems; and can alter humidity and temperatures below them through evapotranspiration and shading.  
We use many different plants as our own food crops and as feed for our livestock and pets.  We landscape our yards with plants attractive to us.  We enjoy natural areas filled with plants, bird-watching and feeding around various plants, and picking or buying flowers grown for their beauty after cutting.  Part of the beauty of plants is their diversity, from the minuscule lesser duckweed to the mighty sequoias, and everything in between, plants have covered a huge portion of the earth’s surface.  They’ve provided the whole planet with a vast array of products and performed a multitude of functions.  There may even be as much diversity found in the plants in Kent as there is diversity in people.  If variety is the spice of life, Kent has quite a complex flavor.
On Saturday, at Kent’s annual Heritage Festival, there may not be fireworks that night unless something with the weather drastically gives, but you can come see the spark of life at Kent Environmental Council’s booth.  As last year, we’ll be creating a small oasis on East Main Street, with plants, shade, water, a place to sit, and books and information to peruse.  As always, there will be fresh fruits and vegetables at Haymaker Farmers’ Market and Kent Natural Foods Co-op (even more if the weather breaks), flowers blooming in the hanging baskets and Adopt-A-Spots around town, trees growing alongside the river at Franklin Mills Riveredge park, and lawns and private gardens around town where friends and family will be celebrating our nation’s independence.  
This Saturday, come rain or shine, grab a beverage at one of our downtown spots, check out the local artists and vendors of all sorts, enjoy all the various plants and what they provide us, see a little of Kent’s history all around us, and enjoy the unique culture that Kent has to offer.  Gordon Vars won’t be representing the bog this year, and Bob Wood won’t be selling his prints, but there’s still plenty to see.  Time moves on, the seasons change, but the spirit found in this northeast Ohio town will always be here, and will ever welcome misfits and eccentrics, as well as all the locals.  It’s a small town, but we’ve got huge heart here in Kent, no matter how much we might disagree at times.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It’s a very odd couple of weeks in the news, enough to make me wonder if my long time dream of time travel had come true in a “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way, and I’ve awoken in 1950-something. Talk of “legitimate rape,” “honest rape,” “forcible rape,” forms of conception, and eleven-year -old kids that deserve to have been raped. In case you’ve been living under a rock, all of this is framed in the discourse on abortion, and specifically personhood rights for the unborn (well, except the remark about the eleven-year-old; that’s just cruel and asinine). Now, I wasn’t there in the bad old days of the coat hanger and before Roe vs. Wade, but I’d wager the rhetoric was worse, although I’m not sure by how much.
I can respect a pro-life stance, even if I myself am pro-choice; I have plenty of friends that are pro-life for various reasons and to varying degrees, but we mostly get along. I say “mostly” because saying that any group got along all the time would be a lie now wouldn’t it? Even when we don’t necessarily get along, we’re civil and respectful, and while no one typically persuades anyone else, in the end we’re still friends. I think that’s how most of us are in our day-to-day lives, with people we know, or at least I like to think that’s the case. You’d never know it from the news, though, and I may be delusional in thinking the way I do.
Thing is, while all the talk from the likes of Akin, Ryan, Paul, and Passidomo make it sound like these are just misspoken words or verbal accidents, there’s a certain logic to these unhinged statements. What they effectively do is blame the victim and dehumanize the woman involved, and by extension, all women. As a meme that’s been going around Facebook states, a woman deserves to be raped because she’s scantily clad just as much as a man deserves to be kicked in the balls when he doesn’t put on a cup in the morning. Victim blaming is the easiest of these insidious tactics to dispel because all it requires is a simple respect for others.
The other lines are a bit trickier, in part because they rely on that first step above: respecting others. But once you do that, you have to think about dichotomies. See, any time you categorize something, you imply that not everything fits in that category. For there to be “honest rape,” that implies that some rapes are “dishonest,” or a case of “buyer’s remorse”, and nothing could be further from the truth. Rape is never OK, there is nothing that a person can do that makes them worthy of being raped. To say that they are worthy of rape is to say that they aren’t human, plain and simple.
Finally, using lies and fallacies like women’s bodies “shutting that whole thing down” and pregnancies not resulting from rapes is blatant propaganda and dishonesty, on top of victim-shaming and cruelty. More importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for those who should be held as role models to be spreading this misinformation and mischaracterization, and even worse when this is done by a member of the House Science Committee. There is a place for opinion, if you could even call these opinions, but it is not situated somewhere north of facts, at least not in the real world, which these people have arguably left behind at this point.
On a closing note, what all of these comments have in common is a reflection of the fact that there are plenty of people in the US and the world who still consider women to be second class citizens, and not worthy of the same respect as men and not able to be trusted with decisions regarding their own body. In fact, talking about rape as another form of conception ignores the woman entirely, and focuses simply on “rape->baby” and in thirty-one states, the woman continues to be ignored by laws that allow fathers via rape to have the same rights and access to their progeny as fathers via IVF, intercourse, or adoption (yes, you read that right, rapists can sue for visitation, too). The same goes with personhood amendments which instill legal status on all embryos, including those created via IVF. Many prominent pro-life activists are opposed to personhood statutes, because those statutes go too far in limiting rights, and would effectively bar IVF due to concerns on how to deal with all of the extra embryos created in the process and the need to figure out what to do with them (and a desire to avoid additional Octo-mom situations).
Personally, I will always support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, the same as I respect a man’s right to bodily autonomy in the circumcision debate. If we can’t control our own bodies, what do we have control over? And let’s face it, this discussion is not about protecting the unborn, or caring for children- if it were, we wouldn’t have such a high national child poverty rate. The discussion on different types of rape, abortion (and in part, surrogacy) is about control. Women are not chattel, and any politician- or human, for that matter- would do well to remember that all 7 billion plus humans currently alive are here because of a woman (or two).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Times and Presence

Originally published June 15th, 2012, on The Next Family.
In my little town, we’ve been undergoing lots of renovation, remodeling, and construction.  And by “lots” I mean half of downtown closed off and all of it choking under construction dust.  Some of that impending development has put at risk a historic home that was associated with one of our town founders, Zenas Kent.  The house is over 150 years old, and is also connected to other prominent families, which isn’t surprising considering how small towns start out and how important people tend to group together.  There’s been a lot of work put into figuring out how to save this house, and relocate it.  The problem is that the site for relocation is currently in use by the local cultural arts as a green space next to their gallery, local kids wanting to play, families for community gardens, and neighbors for a place to chill.
I understand and appreciate the need to preserve history; heck, I live in a “century-house” myself and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  But I also see the need for green spaces downtown, and for kids to have their own space.  As it stands now, this little plot houses theater classes, swing sets, solar panels, rain gardens, and veggie gardens.  Possibly the worst part of this is that one of the prominent locals helping to move the house has been active and vocal in the sustainability discourse here, so it feels like a betrayal.  Both sides have passionate arguments and believe that they are the ones in the right.  Full disclosure: I heartily support keeping the green space as it is, and consider that a higher value to the community than this house, which has lately been a student rental, and then vacant.
The two major arguments are “history” versus “green space” but the larger issue in my mind is children’s rights and privilege.  Besides ideology, there’s another major difference between the two groups, and that’s demographics.  The historians tend to be middle to upper-middle class, white, older, and well educated.  The demographics using the green space tend to be lower to lower-middle class, ethnically diverse, and younger, with many minors.  That’s a big problem.  You can always argue about preservation, development, and green spaces, but when you have a distinctly privileged group trying to put out underprivileged populations, I get irate.  When that privileged group won’t even acknowledge their privilege and see the other side- I want to scream.
I’ll admit my bias on this one; I have a kid and he and his friends enjoy that green space; I’m an ecologist and my life revolves around conservation; my favorite historian (other than my husband) is Howard Zinn; I’m an ardent activist and child advocate.  I may not be fond of kids personally (besides my own), but they are our future, and we should treat them as such.  This same town rose up in arms against an apartment complex that refused to renew leases with its senior citizens, instead choosing to target college student populations as renters.
Argument and disagreement are not uncommon in Kent.  It’s hard to be a college town, and that association itself tends to create tension.  Add the identity issues of a town where the National Guard once turned on US students/citizens and killed four, injured nine, and it’s amazing we fight as little as we do, but history always brings this stuff out here.
Really, the way I see it is that this is a matter of priorities.  Do we, as a group, value the history and culture of a fairly homogeneous group and preserve that at all costs, or do we try to be inclusive, celebrate diversity, and create places for those without means?  Do we invest in our past or our future?  Communities are simply bigger families, and we can either accentuate from where we came, or who we are right now.  Do we focus on things we cannot change, or what we actively embrace and foster, in hopes of the best?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Social Safety Nets.

Gah.  Where to start?  I don't know what the beginning is, I'm not even sure that it has a definite start-point.  But somewhere in the last couple of years, this funk began.  If you're a married woman, with a kid, and a career, you probably have met this funk at some point, too.  The funk is that of struggle, specifically with some one close to you.  And yourself.  All at the same time. 
It's been a rough year or so for our house and family.  There was a great beginning with the birth of Miss E and her daddy and papa's delight, but most of the rest has been downhill.  The death of my sister, the shenanigans with my dissertation, the horrible academic job market, the fight over one kind of historic-ish house, and my diagnosis as PDD-NOS have all put a damper on the mood on Cedar Street.  Not that things had been easy before then, mind you, but it's gotten a lot harder lately.
Part of it is my own fault, and I'll admit that I do jump too readily to help out when and where I can.  It's how I was raised.  At the same time, while I've been busy jumping to others' aid, there's been a tremendous lack of support for our household.  We're not in either of our home towns, we don't have family close by, we're not members of a church, we don't have a lot of the social support systems that other people do, and that were common even fifty years ago.  Our extended families have typically come to us for help, not the other way around, and Dwight and I both find it hard to ask for help.
We did seek and find help a few years back with couple's counseling, and that was a huge boost for us.  Lately, however, The Funk has been creeping back, and with a vengeance.  
See, it's tougher than Dwight or I thought to either go to grad school or to parent a small child.  And that makes keeping a relationship stable even harder.  Unfortunately, we were too busy keeping everything else afloat to pay attention to our marriage.  And so, we'll likely do what we've been doing for 11 years now- making our own safety met as best as we can.  If that means being less involved in the community, pulling back on our workloads, whatever.  Of course the absolute *need* for this readjustment of priorities and refocusing of energies (and realization of exactly how bad things had gotten) had to come on the wedding day of two of my best friends.  Gotta love perfect timing, right?
What's the point of all this, besides whining?  To point out the fallacy of the right.  Mr. Romney's made some interesting declarations lately concerning "the 47%" and "borrow money from your parents if you need to."  That idea- that family and/or charity will come to the need of people instead of the government- is great if you have family that's in a position to provide the necessary assistance, let alone family.  These two things are not always available, and in an age when more and more people are moving away from their families to follow a job or education, they're even less likely to have access to familial help. 
Feel free to call me a crazy liberal, but isn't this the point of government?  To provide a safety net when no other safety net is available?  Not every person has the privilege of having outside sources of support when they fall.  Are they worth less than those who do have that privilege, or do they deserve a safety net any less?  Don't all people deserve at least a chance?  Isn't that part of the promise of the US?  I think it is.  Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, September 28, 2012

School's in for Summer

Originally publilshed on the Kent Patch on June 14th, 2012.

It's only mid-June, but I have to say that this summer is shaping up quite nicely.  I've been making progress on my dissertation writing, enjoying the weather, and catching up on quite a bit.  Summer usually brings new experiences and challenges for me, and this year is no different.  Monday, I began teaching science at Kent State's Upward Bound program for underprivileged youth across Northeast Ohio.  I dare say that in three days, they've taught me as much or more than I've taught them (just don't tell my students I said that).  This has been a big change for me, since I've spent the last six years teaching undergraduates at Kent and Hiram, and high school students are a far more different demographic than I had expected them to be.
Not many people know this, but for a brief 3 quarters at Ohio State I was an education major.
Fortunately, a spring break field trip to the Everglades with one of Ohio's best ecologists changed that major, along with a helpful reminder of how loud, chaotic, and smelly a classroom full of kids could be.  I've maintained my interest in education, but aimed at older students, and as little as like actual kids, I still consider them absolutely amazing in theory- they are our future, and just amazing creatures.  If only they weren't so raucous and juvenile.  But I digress.
I don't by any means consider myself to be a person of means.  I grew up in a lower middle income family, lost my father to cancer when I was fourteen, and moved out of the house my senior year due to differences with my step-father.  Especially since my sister's suicide last August, I don't feel particularly lucky.  In the past few days, I've learned exactly how lucky I actually am, thanks to the teachers I've had.
These students can do amazing  things.  They can come up with great questions.  They can get the right answer to anything I ask of them, given the right support.  Are they perfect?  Most definitely no.  But they're kids, and pretty amazing kids, in spite of the lot they've been given.  Foster care, raised by grandparents, one just recently back in housing, parents in jail or rehab; my 22 students represent a side of society that I've had the benefit of never having experienced first hand, and they've come through it intact and still wanting to learn.  And even over the summer, on a college campus away from their community!  Kids really are pretty amazing, when you think of it, and I've gotten to meet some astonishing ones during my time in Kent.
That fact gives me hope, honestly.  For all my complaints about students and the state of education, I am hopeful.  Even when we cut support and funding for education, children's health and nutrition, and other services that benefit kids, they still manage to beat the odds.  Not all of them, of course, but some.  I just have to wonder what those kids who manage to rise above will remember when it's their turn to be a part of society.  Will they remember being a priority, invested in, and valued, or will they remember budget cuts, losses of services, and being pushed aside?
One of my favorite quotes is the saying that "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children."  What kind of tenants will we be today?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inequality in Equality

So, as some of you may have noticed, I was recently visiting New York City for the first time this past weekend.  I was speaking as a part of a "Personal Stories" panel at the eighth annual Men Having Babies seminar.  My part was to discuss the point of view as a traditional surrogate and egg donor.  The whole trip was amazing, and I had a great time, especially in Chelsea and The Village, not to mention the Highline.
One of the things that took me by surprise was the prevalence of gender disparities in alternative reproductive methods. 
I'll be the first to acknowledge that- biologically- there are very good reasons to focus on gay men and their options in family building, as that whole not-having-a-uterus aspect of being a cis-male does make procreation more difficult than it is for a cis-female.  At the same time, there are similar non-biological hurdles to family building for both gay and lesbian couples.  Legally, both have to go through some form of second parent adoption, pre-birth order, or other mechanism in order for both parents to be recognized as parents and given the protections afforded to legal parents.  Medically, both have to obtain donor gametes from a third party.  Psychologically, both have to deal with the emotional reality of having to involve a third party in their family, how and when to disclose information to the resultant child and friends and family, and the potential risks of involving a third party, including the potential for threats to their family autonomy. 
Yet, I have never seen or heard of a conference on these issues geared at women, only men. 
And selling services to the men that need these services is big business for surrogacy and egg donor agencies, lawyers, IVF providers, and more. 
Yet, there's very little spent on addressing women's needs in these areas.
It all feels very lopsided to me; as if the fact that in this particular instance (that of family building) men being at a biological disadvantage to women is a grave injustice that must be corrected.  What about the women who have to face very similar issues in family creation- don't they also deserve help, advocacy, and advice? 
I also lost track of the times people referred to surrogates as "carrier", "vessel", "host", or "uterus", and I can assure you that my eye twitched every time it happened.

But I assure you, for all my kvetching on here, the seminar and trip was actually a very positive experience.  Seeing New York City; seeing such loving, compassionate people wanting to raise children; seeing the difference that love and hard work has made in just a few years- it was all far more than worth the negative thought experiments. 

Mamas, Cycles, and the March of Time

Originally published on June 1, 2012, on The Next Family.
Cycles are important, especially to women. Our cycles mean a lot to us: are we pregnant? (congratulations, again, Lexi and Devon!), are we mature? are we in good health? are we at the end of our child-bearing years? – all of which can be addressed in part by our cycles. As a woman, I’m no different in that, and like all women, I’m so much more than that one dimension.
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, I’m an ecologist, and I study frogs. That makes spring in our house a little different than most houses. Where other mamas start noticing the warmer weather, the spring rains, and the flowers, I see humidity levels, time at sunset, hours of dark, and insect activity levels. I start obsessing over the weather- is it warm enough? Is it wet enough? Is there enough daylight? When will the FROGS START TO CALL?! Summer in our house involves lots of late nights driving around count frog surveys, and days counting and measuring tadpoles.
See, most people think of scientists and professors and imagine serious, disciplined, dare I say it- stodgy. Yeah, we’re really not like that, we ecologists. Well, some are, but most not. Herpetologists (people who study amphibians and reptiles, like me) are a little further on the “not your typical professor” scale, and the furthest I’ve ever seen are the elasmobranchs, who study sharks, skates, and rays. They know how to party. But I digress.
My year’s research can live or die by knowing cycles, and how to predict my study organisms. A single big, unexpected event means an entire year is gone. Believe it or not, even though I was working in Ohio, in 2005 hurricane Katrina destroyed my study site and wiped out a year of breeding for the Northern dusky salamanders of Big Pine Hollow. It behooves me to be anal-retentive about the natural world, know what’s going on, and have a good idea of what’s going to happen.
Cycles help with that burden; they give me an idea of what to expect, a baseline if you will. While our current Gregorian calendar, like all other calendars, is man-made and has all the fallibilities that come along with that, it serves a purpose. Wood frogs around here call in late March, spring peepers early April, green frogs in May, bull frogs in July, and so on. Except for years like this, and years like this have gotten more common; years that are less predictable, further outside the normal cycles and limits that we expect, and that’s bad, although it does have its up-sides as well.
Years like this make us re-examine. Years like this remind us that cycles can be wrong, that stochasticity occurs, that life is not predictable all the time. And sometimes I need that reminder, in both the good ways and the bad. Not all surprises are bad, in fact, some are amazing. Sometimes the surprise is everything falling together perfectly. Sometimes the surprise is a species that isn’t where you had expected it. Sometimes the surprise is an experiment that works out just the way you planned.
Other times, it’s the cycle that gives you a little nugget. Those long cycles, those ultridian cycles, the ones where you know they’ll happen again, but you don’t know when. Or you know when, but it’s a looooooooonnnnng time. Like Transit of Venus or Haley’s comet long. The point to this whole ramble is buried in those little nuggets.
Always remember that sometimes the unexpected is just what you need, and sometimes you have to adore the beauty of things you take for granted, because cycles can change and those spring wildflowers might not make it up next year. Challenge yourself to notice the cycles a little more, and see all the wonder that there is out in the natural world. Appreciate the unexpected twists of fate. Look up at the stars, out at the sky, and down at the flowers. And never forget that in a finite universe, the molecules from those stars that no longer shine had to go somewhere, and nature is the best recycler around.