Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Frustration

Over two weeks into the new month - and only a couple away from an entirely new year - and I have only two posts to boast (one of which is this one). It's a pretty downright sad way of going, and I know it. But depression and current events are pretty rough on us, and have kept my mind in a billion and two other places.

I have posts, mind you - half finished drafts hanging out in my folders, mocking me from afar. They have that little italicized word - draft - pasted on there so proudly, as if they're all pointing their curvy little fingers at me and giggling wildly about the woman who couldn't finish anything she started. About the woman who was a failure to herself, her kids, and her family. The woman who yelled at her kids behind the scenes while outwardly trying to impress upon others the idea of peaceful, gentle parenting. The woman who couldn't keep a house clean for five people, who couldn't balance a budget or find a job fast enough that could provide for all of them. The woman who, secretly, deep down, didn't want to go back to work again because despite her frustrations and depression and short temper, absolutely loved spending time with her kids and watching them grow.

I'm probably being over dramatic when I say that I feel as if everything's falling apart around me more often than not, but that's the feeling I typically have. It's a sensation that sometimes makes me feel like I can't do anything right, something that keeps me up some nights and drives me to the point of exhaustion where I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow on other nights. It's an endless cycle of confusion that involves insomnia and oversleeping, and massive headaches that make me want to claw off my own face. Some of it is stress, some of it is attitude, and the rest of it is general bad energy that surrounds this house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's incredibly overwhelming and anymore it leaves me living life in the moment, but not in a good way. I keep muddling my way through each day, knowing that if I can just make it through today that tomorrow might by some miracle be a little bit better. It rarely is, but luckily the days pass fast enough that I end up feeling completely unable to accomplish anything, so that feeling of dread and the sensation that I never finish anything gets to come with me to the next day and hover over my shoulder all over again.

Naturally, of course, food has been my personal savior during this trying time. The arrival of winter - at least via the first snowfall and the plummeting temperatures - probably really set me back, because the sensation of desperately needing to hibernate has left me with highly fatty cravings and the need to eat as many carbs as I can stomach. I've done fairly well most days of resisting the temptation, but I'm not perfect and I've slipped up about as many times as I've behaved. I'd like to think that semblance of neutrality has somehow afforded me at least the ability to not GAIN weight, even if I'm not losing it now, but I know how my metabolism works and unfortunately for me, any small setback usually comes back to taunt me later on. I've been trying to make better dietary decisions, but this is probably the worst time of year (followed shortly by Halloween and Valentine's Day) for trying to avoid overdosing on sweets, dyes, and unnecessary goodies.

Ah, well. We all survive it somehow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Regrets

Have you ever been on YouTube, watching shows or clips or whatever, and you end up somewhere that confuses you? I do rather often; I'll start off on a favorite music video or something and end up watching someone lance an abscess on a cow. A rather far-fetched example, but it has happened, and in a way to me it reminds me of the seven steps to Kevin Bacon - one way or another if you're online you'll end up someplace weird if you hang out long enough.

The other day I ended up watching videos of happy couples announcing their pregnancies to family members, who more often than not ended the piece jumping for joy, screaming, and generally being super-excited. After a few, I was in tears. It was hard to watch those things, because while I felt an intense sense of appreciation for the situation, I was honestly really, really jealous. Watching their families be so, so happy for them made me long for the same reaction, and unfortunately, it's something that will never happen.

When we found out we were pregnant, regardless of the time in question, we weren't in a good place. With G we were living with six other people in a three bedroom, two bathroom house that was a bedroom short and had a dysfunctional couple sleeping on the living room floor. I was unemployed and Hubby was barely making minimum wage, working part-time at a grocery store. We had no health insurance, no savings, no place of our own and absolutely nothing to show for ourselves - in fact, we were both still in college. With A, we were in a small, leaking one bedroom apartment that we soon found out was to be torn down. We weren't much better off financially; we were both working part-time and I had to leave my job sooner than anticipated because of problems with the nerves in my right leg. Naturally, neither of our jobs offered any benefits and we were on every form of assistance we could qualify for. They weren't good situations in the least.

My mother was probably the least supportive. G was her first grandchild and A her second (fitting, as I'm her only child), but there was no celebration to be had for us. She portrayed herself as a betrayed woman whose child had let her down, and it's a feeling she's put me through more than once - something I won't forget. For Hubby's parents, G was their fourth biological grandchild, and while they were happy, they understandably weren't overjoyed (never mind the fact that we're some 1600 miles away). The fact of the matter remains that no matter what situation we're in, no matter where we live or how we're doing, no matter what we say or do, the kinds of reactions in those videos aren't something we'll ever experience.

I should be happy, by all means, that at least I have a mother to share these things with even if she isn't necessarily happy, and in laws who are supportive and helpful. I should be thankful for a lot of things but sometimes it's hard to remember that, and instead I end up observing the good fortunes of other people in areas where I can't possibly affect my life, and wonder where I went wrong.

It's nothing against anybody, when it comes right down to it; I can't possibly expect people to react to something like that in ways they aren't apt to. I can't force anybody to be more emotional about a situation or a comment or whatnot than they're going to be naturally. It is what it is.

But sometimes that's hard to remember.

Meanwhile, A has started diving into his sleep problems again. Today he woke up at 1:30 AM; I coerced him into staying in bed until about 2 AM but he was being so noisy and violent toward me (lots of scratching and yelling) that I wasn't really willing to stay in bed with him. I didn't want him to wake up G and Hubby. So out we came to the living room, and he has since dumped out two boxes of blocks, nearly woken up Hubby and G again, demanded chocolate milk, and generally tried to suck up to me. It's now nearly 4 AM. He went to bed around 9 PM, when I also passed out, so he's functioning on about 4 1/2 hours of sleep and still managing to be rather chipper. Unlike him, I'm actually in a pretty grouchy mood right now.

I can't explain his sleep disturbances. They aren't night terrors or even nightmares, as there's no waking up screaming - he just wakes up out of a dead sleep and is incredibly violent toward me until I give in. He tends to claw my face and arms, and today he actually drew blood for the first time. Usually the only other time I see this kind of reaction is right before naptime, when we're laying in bed and I'm trying to get him to actually calm down and get ready for sleep, at which point the scratching starts again. I began changing my reaction, and have been trying NOT to react to his scratching, with the positive effect being that he scratches me less and doesn't fight as long every time. He doesn't scratch Hubby at all. I don't understand why, although I can't complain; obviously I'd rather he not scratch anybody, but if he's going to scratch someone I think it's better that it's me. All the same, it's still 4 AM, I've still been up for 2 1/2 hours, and that is honestly long enough in my book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Regretsy and PayPal

UPDATE: PayPal made nice with Regretsy and not only refunded all of the donation money, but also made a $100 donation themselves to each and every family Regretsy was helping. Unfortunately it took a LOT of media attention, a lot of lost users, and some pretty serious ragging on PayPal to get them to acquiesce.

I don't often post about social justice and such; I've done so a couple of times in the past but unless it involves natural parenting or attachment parenting, I try to avoid making mention of mainstream things and news. It doesn't seem worth it to me; you can turn on a TV or head to one of the many news sites and find out everything you need to know. But today I am changing that for something that, to me, is a VERY big deal.

Maybe you haven't heard, but PayPal just fucked Regretsy pretty hard.

No, really, go read that and come back here, then think on it for a bit.

To summarize: April Winchell, the Queen of Awesome over at Regretsy, and her team have set up a donation system every year during the winter holidays to help out the less fortunate. This year, their goal was to help out low income children, and so they accepted donations via the "Donate" button on PayPal. They ended up getting enough money to not only buy a gift for EVERY SINGLE ONE of over 200 children, but to also send a monetary donation along with said gift for every family to use however they pleased. They used a pretty intensive vetting process, took applications, and generally ensured that the people they were helping genuinely needed their help.

Then PayPal stepped in and said this was against their ToS, and shut down the donations (and froze the account, which also contained unrelated funds).

(In case you aren't aware, there are a LOT of "shady" things you can donate to via PayPal; just last year you could donate to a woman who had a shopping addiction and of course those donations helped her buy more useless shit, and there's also a site where you can donate to a woman to help her get a breast augmentation. Among others.)

They claimed that Regretsy wasn't a legitimate non-profit charity (because the lady who needs bigger boobs obviously is), and therefore had no right to use the donate button. So Ms. Winchell decided that since she had already actually purchased all the toys she was going to give away anyway, that she would offer them up for "sale" on the site, consider the money a donation, and then ship the toys to the intended families anyway. An ingenious idea, if I do say so myself; kids would still get gifts, families would still get the money they'd been promised, and Regretsy would have completed another year of making life a little brighter for those in need.

Guess what?


They basically ripped Winchell a new one, and while on the phone with a representative, "When I asked how to close my account, he said I had to 'refund everything, write a letter saying you understood what you did WAS WRONG AND YOU WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN, and then request permission to close your account.'" (Via Regretsy, emphasis their's)


The problem is that this isn't the first time PayPal has screwed over businesses that were accepting donations for legitimate reasons. There's a list here of just a few of the times they knowingly took over something that they had no business taking over. It's eye-opening, to say the least.

So what can YOU do to help Regretsy out?

First, if you're able, close your PayPal account. There are a number of (admittedly less well known and thus less often accepted) options to pay online, with a huge list (complete with reviews) available for different countries from Screw PayPal, and a list from WebDistortions that has 17 different suggestions.

Second, go flood PayPal's Facebook page with information on what you're doing, and let them know that you're aware of what they've been up to and you don't approve (but make sure you click the option to see everyone's posts, and not just PayPal's; also keep in mind that you don't need to "like" them to post on their wall).

Third, go sign this petition, created by one Kevin Malone of Chicago, IL to tell PayPal to get their heads out of their asses and stop freezing the accounts of any large group that asks for donations without having a non-profit status.

Fourth, contact PayPal's president (Scott Thompson). Keep it short and to the point, and most of all, keep it polite. (EDIT: I have been informed that the emails I provided earlier for several other individuals at PayPal came back as undelivered. With that in mind, here are a couple of phone numbers to use! In the US, call 1-888-221-1161. Outside the US, call 1-402-935-2050 but be aware that fees may apply. I will post accurate emails as soon as I have them.)

If you're still with me, fifth, contact MSN/The Today Show, CNN, and as many local news networks as you can to let them know what PayPal is doing and what they've been up to while we've been casually looking away. Then, contact your local state representatives and Congresspeople to ask them to start pushing for regulations for companies like PayPal, and to force them to keep their hands off of other people's money as long as it's being used for legal purposes. Their ToS doesn't state that only IRS registered 501(c)(3) charities can use the Donate button, so how Regretsy (or any other organization or individual) chooses to use it is irrelevant.

The only way to stop PayPal from continuing to be as destructive as it is is to call them out and show them that we're paying attention. If you get a response from PayPal, PLEASE share it here!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Baring It All

I try to very rarely bring up our family's problems. I had a blog several years ago that I used for that purpose, and while it was admittedly cathartic, at the same time I realized that I didn't share anything I was particularly proud of. I shared a lot of good times, but I also shared innumerable personal failures that were nobody's fault but my own. I bared my soul to a very small number of readers, and in late 2009 shortly after A was born, I made the conscious decision to abandon "Believe In The Flowers" to move on to something that felt more realistic, more like me, and less like a dumping grounds for whatever personal struggles we faced. I last posted there on December 17, 2009.

Of course, things have fluctuated since then. We have had our share of good times and bad in the last two years, with the latter often outnumbering the former simply due to a new financial crisis every other week. I have on occasion shared what we've been going through, but have tried fairly hard to avoid sharing too much, or going into excessive detail.

The one thing I haven't spoken about at all is my mother's health.

My mom is 53, and a product of eras where rampant smoking and drug usage were not only expected but encouraged. She told me once that in the 70s she did so many drugs that she wasn't even sure how many she did or when - no doubt, in my opinion, a way to lash out at her uber-conservative parents who favored her more successful older brother over her, and who ruled their house with an iron fist at all times. She was the kind of person I honestly thought, for a while, that I would become. Not out of choice, mind you, but out of necessity, to deal with everything that caused me such trauma and agony in high school.

Now, she's paying for all of that (and for her lifelong weight problems, which I have inherited) with a host of health issues that keep her in pain and struggling most of the time. In the fall of 2007, she had her left knee replaced at the age of 50, during which time I moved in with her with six month old G to help care for her and take care of her house and dogs while she was recovering for weeks on end. Her right knee needs to be done also, but she just finished paying off her left, so I'm not entirely sure when this will occur. She has plentiful back problems, though I'm not sure if they stem from old injuries or her osteoarthritis, which plagues the rest of her joints. Repetitive motion at work has given her tennis elbow and carpal tunnel, which both affect both arms. Her blood pressure is horribly high, her blood sugar puts her just above borderline as a diabetic, and her weight has caused problems in the remainder of her body, including some pretty serious varicose veins in her legs that often ache without provocation. Her eyes haven't been checked in years, she needs to visit a dentist but is afraid of them, and to top it all off, she has struggled since childhood with asthma, which has coupled with the rest of her problems to give her a positive diagnosis for the dreaded COPD, and leaves her using an inhaler almost daily and a nebulizer at least once a week, if not more often, in addition to an enlarged heart that they also think is related to her asthma.  Top it all off with severe seasonal allergies and at least two mental disorders that I'm aware of that she no longer takes medication or seeks therapy for, and a nasty battle with an MSRA infection in her foot caused by (her podiatrist thinks) an open wound on her foot and her tendency to come into contact with bacteria and viruses in the hospital she works at, and I'm sure you can see how she probably needs much more medical care than she seeks out on a regular basis.

She is also where I got my stubbornness from.

However, recently she has been struggling with even more. Her feet, especially her right, have begun to swell and hurt at night, to the point where she often can almost not stand or walk, and today her blood pressure spiked enough that she actually went in to see the employee health nurse. She didn't divulge much about the visit, but she mentioned that they aren't sure it's "just" GERD (which was originally suggested given her pre-diabetic state and the swelling in her feet), that it could be more and could be related to her blood pressure, and that she will be having more blood tests done tomorrow. I should note, at this point, that my grandfather (her father) died in his late 70s from lung cancer and my grandmother (her mother) passed away at just 65 years old from a heart attack she had in the same bedroom my mother now calls her own. Our family doesn't have a history of excessively long life, much less of pleasant ways of passing. So of course, you can probably imagine that I am freaking out.

I don't often ask for prayers, but I am doing so now, and am requesting that if you have a prayer circle, or any process or ritual in which you ask for a deity to watch over someone, that you ask them to watch over my mother. I fear the worst for her, and have in truth been trying to no avail to prepare myself for something awful, just in case. Of course, the potential severe illness and/or death of someone you love - much less the only parent you have ever known - is something that you cannot possibly prepare yourself for when you don't know what's going on and lack the amount of information that I do. I still ask, however, that you at least consider keeping her and us in your thoughts as we continue to traverse this slippery medical slope and investigate the underlying causes of her debilitating problems.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Why We Fear

I was hanging out on my new absolute most favorite blog, The Feminist Breeder (hi, Gina!), and read her most recent post, Things I Would Say to the Hospital Staff if I Saw Them Today... It was a pretty moving post, because it reminds me of some of the things I experienced while I was in the hospital, and my varying but overall moderately unpleasant experiences. While I know that what I went through was nothing compared to some moms, and while I wouldn't go as far as calling it "birth rape" (which by the way is a very real and incredibly harmful experience for a mom), I know that the things I was put through will stick with me through the end of time. There are things that were said and done that I will never, never forget.

That being said, she opened up the post to encourage others to vent their frustrations and bad experiences, in hopes of helping to relieve some of the tensions and pressure that many moms who have had negative births carry with them for years. Everyone was sharing and very supportive, until one user, "landdrn", popped in and had this gem to share:

"To every mother who has their child alive and in their arms: Stop being so negative towards hospital births. Yes, while many C-Sections are preformed in hospitals, doctors and nurses are making decisions only with the best interest of the patient and the baby. Not one patient I have cared for has wanted a csection, including myself, but sometimes it is the only way a baby can come safely and healthy. Unfortunately there is no way to see into the future and tell if a baby will be born vaginally or not. People do give natural child birth every last effort, including pushing for many many hours not making any progress, but at the end of the day the goal is healthy baby and healthy mom. Its easy to look back and say that your CSection was unnecessary, but you have no way of knowing that it wasn't. You dont KNOW that if you had not had a c section the baby would have been born vaginally, or ALIVE. Each and everyone of you may have had a "horrible" experience, but it is what you make of it. You should all just be thankful that you have happy and healthy children in your arms, and stop harping on the fact that it didnt go your way. Welcome to parenthood. Nothing goes as planned."

I have to admit I felt a few different things when I first read her (I assume female) response. The first thing I felt was, well.. Stupid. I mean, in a way, at least to me, she's right - my experiences, while unfortunately "typical" for a hospital birth, weren't necessarily horrible. Sure, I felt off and was upset by some of the things that were said and how I was treated, but I DID end up with two otherwise healthy, awesome kids. I didn't even have to have a c-section! I'm lucky in that regard. It at least never got THAT bad. Who am I to be complaining, to be upset about what happened, to have any ill will toward ANYONE who attended my birth?

The second thing I felt was pretty much unadulterated fury. How DARE she?! How could she possibly belittle and invalidate the feelings and experiences of hundreds, even thousands of women in one fell swoop? How on earth could someone actually think that way, someone who was part of the "big medical conspiracy" to ruin the birth experiences of women by forcing them through inductions and "unnecessarians" just to avoid lawsuits saying that more could have been done?

And then it hit me.

Because, well, that's what she has been taught to do.

It's incredibly difficult for me to back off for a moment and look at her position without the judgment of someone who has "been there", especially when my feelings are so very muted compared to others who have been through hell during birth and who are actually afraid of having more children, or who suffer from PTSD episodes by just walking into a hospital or doctor's office. While I think I have a healthy bunch of salt with me at all times to toss over my shoulder when a medical professional tells me something, I know too why they do what they do. Yes, some of it is money - but some of it is also the unfortunate and very legitimate point that we are a sue-happy society. Hell, there are people here who have sued fast food joints for serving hot coffee - it doesn't get much worse than that, does it? We jump to the conclusion that even when it's fairly obvious things were done "properly" that something was missed somewhere, or was overlooked. A single lawsuit can change how an entire profession functions, permanently. That has to be a pretty terrifying thought, especially for someone whose occupation and the laws surrounding it allow them to more or less do as they please, as long as what they do follows the hospital's rules, and still be home for dinner or head out on vacation while not missing a single high-paying birth. Losing a position at a hospital can take an individual's income from $100k+ a year down to basically nil in a matter of a few seconds, and when your lifestyle reflects your income, losing a position like that just isn't an option.

In protecting ourselves, our bodies, and our children, we have inadvertently made it nearly impossible to defend ourselves and ensure our rights to a safe, healthy birth. It's a terrifying realization, but it's true.

Cesarean sections used to be relatively rare. Back when most of our country was rural, doctors rarely attended birth - instead, family members or local midwives would attend. Unfortunately, because these midwives often didn't have the experience, tools, or ability to perform c-sections when they were needed, more moms and babies DID pass away because the surgical option simply wasn't present. When cities became the norm during the Industrial Revolution, and more people had access to a hospital instead of a rural doctor, things began to change and women gave birth in hospitals. Cue the 1940s - 1960s, when it became the norm for women to be completely knocked out or given medications that left them virtually unable to participate in or remember their births. It was a time when women stayed in the hospital for upwards of two weeks, where breastfeeding became a nuisance and formula became the socially accepted norm. Thanks to modern medicine at the time, there was also a positive aspect: more women who would have died or lost their babies without access to a c-section not only survived, but had healthy kids. It was considered a huge medical revolution.

Then things went to hell.

Lawsuits started when doctors hesitated to perform c-sections. I'm sure you can see where it went from there, but this situation goes hand-in-hand with the current tendencies of parents and moms wanting to return to our "roots" and birth children without the interventions of medicine if they aren't necessary. Obviously, because of the difficulty of staying within insurable guidelines and because of the need to avoid lawsuits that could cost a professional their job, they often lean toward the more predictable birth process: a c-section scheduled long before birth is expected.

But women deserve better. Knowing that birth is a pretty predictable state in and of itself, with changes here and there, should be enough - and with today's technology available, it's easy to foresee a number of potential complications ahead of time. Complications that would necessitate the care of a high risk OB, or birthing at a hospital, or even a scheduled c-section. There will always be that measure of unpredictable situations, but when it comes down to it, a trained professional - be it an OB, a doula, a nurse, or a midwife - should have an idea of how to handle those situations, even if it means transferring to a hospital for further assistance. Birthing in any situation should not automatically guarantee that a mom has given up all rights to her baby, her body, and her own ability to make decisions. It shouldn't mean that a mom has scrapped autonomy for the sake of what other people think is right, unless it is truly an emergency.

Childbirth is the one thing that we women have all to ourselves, and even then it's something that not all of us are blessed to ever experience should we choose to. It should be a memorable experience because it was positive and because it made us feel empowered, because we were making our own choices and informed decisions - not because we mourn the experience.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On Cheating With Food (Pumpkin Muffins)

Ohmygod PUMPKIN.

I love this time of year because it's the one time when pumpkin is in plentiful supply. Or at least would be if we hadn't had such a dry (or alternatively wet, depending on where you are) fall, that led to a *gasp* decrease in pumpkin!

That aside, I am completely addicted to the flavor of pumpkin. In pies, breads, muffins, Blizzards (thanks for THAT, Dairy Queen), or practically any application. I've never tried pumpkin soup but I'm pretty sure I would love it, even though it lacks the traditional spice that we're used to. Pumpkin is the one squash that I'd take under my wing as my best friend if I thought such a relationship wouldn't be questioned in public.

But most of the options involving pumpkin also involve baking, and, well.. Um.. I don't like to bake.

You might've noticed it from my post about artisan bread the other day, but I'm kinda lazy. I don't like having to pull out 10 different ingredients and then sift them and PS measuring and processing and mixing liquids with just liquids and solids with just solids and SHOOT ME NOW. I am a disturbingly lazy person when it comes to all this effort, although Hubby tends to do all of these things to make amazing cakes, cookies, and brownies when he feels the whim (and I am so jealous, let me tell you). I know that there is a distinct difference in flavor and texture between homemade and mixes. I KNOW. SERIOUSLY. I've tasted it first hand and I agree 100% that it's DIFFERENT. In a good way.


Yes, these two points do come together, so stick with me.

Anyway, I like pumpkin but I don't like to bake. Obviously these two points had to intersect and they did so this morning when I realized that I wanted Pumpkin. Muffins. NOW.

The down side to this is that it required baking and Hubby has been busy making characters for the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game he's running this Sunday with the remainders of our game group that haven't fled town for the holiday, and has honestly been kind of grumpy about ANY interruptions. I wasn't about to ask him to make me some fucking pumpkin muffins RIGHT THIS SECOND when I already had plans on tossing a loaf of bread in the oven. I was already going to bake. What was keeping me from making muffins if I wanted them so badly?

Oh, yeah. Effort.

But like all things, I was determined to find an easier but just as tasty way to get what I wanted. And I found that way with a box of white cake mix and a can of pureed pumpkin. And some spices.

Yeah, I went there.

1 "regular" can pureed pumpkin (is it like 6 or 8 oz? I have no idea...)
1 box any brand white or yellow cake mix (I can't imagine the two really being any different; if you wanted to, I could see a spice cake mix working equally well. You rebels out there might go with chocolate. I commend you.)
1 muffin tray (maybe two depending on size?)
Ground nutmeg (like 1/2 tbsp?)
Ground cinnamon (about 1 tbsp?)
Ground cloves (uh, 1/4 tbsp?)

1) Turn oven to 350 or whatever you traditionally bake at. You know your oven, I don't.
2) Open cake mix. Put into bowl.
3) Open can of pumpkin. Put into bowl.
4) Add spices until you're pretty sure you have the flavor you're looking for.
5) Mix.

This is the point at which I have to stop and make a statement: You are going to want SO BADLY to add liquids. Maybe you're thinking eggs, or oil, or even just water. Maybe it's lemon juice (because you're a rebel like that). Whatever it is, DON'T DO IT. It's gloppy looking and thick at first but HAVE FAITH! (The only exception is if you have a can of pumpkin from a SERIOUSLY dry batch. In which case, add water one tablespoon at a time until you can actually incorporate the pumpkin into the cake mix, or vice versa.)

Do not fall victim to the ploy of the muffins. Excess liquid of any sort (other than the exception listed above) is NOT NECESSARY.

6) Put into muffin tin. Use paper or foil cups if you want, even silicone, I don't really care - it won't matter, no matter what you're going to get some serious awesome. I sprayed the tin first even though it was non stick and they came out easily right after baking.
7) Bake for 20-30 minutes or until they look "done". At the point of "done" they will still have a faint spot of "moist" looking batter in the middle of them; ignore this. If the sides have browned well and they stay together, don't risk burning. This spot is apparently completely normal and will not affect the texture or "doneness" of the muffins. THEY'RE DONE. Take 'em out and let them sit.

Or don't. Take them out of the pan right away if you want to; I did, and they're still completely intact and happy-looking.

My batter and the size of my muffin tin (admittedly large) yielded me seven muffins. I used way too much in some of the muffins (see that huge honkin' muffin back there in the back right?) and I think if I had been more careful with my batter, I could have made an even number like eight without difficulty. I think these would make adorable mini muffins in a smaller muffin tin with an even shorter cook time.

Add on a homemade (or, you know, NOT homemade) cream cheese icing of your choice and these would be even better. They're heavy without being too thick, and I think they would make an awesome quick breakfast if you're hurrying out the door.

Go. Make them now. DO IT.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Cheating With Food (Bread)

I love me some homemade bread.

Correction: My entire family loves it. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than the smell of fresh bread filling the house. It reminds me of cool fall evenings and comfort, although admittedly I have no real memories of being comforted by bread. But I will make up my own comforting memories involving bread just for that smell. It makes me feel good, and it's enough to insight anybody's appetite to get up and head itself into the kitchen to partake of this fluffy wonder.

But it's also a pain in the ass.

It's a moment of honesty I hate to admit, but it's true. Making fresh bread is a total pain in the ass, and I think that's why there's such a huge market for companies that make frozen loaves that you just let rise, then bake. All the difficult stuff - the mixing, the buying of specific bread flours, the finding of a "perfect" recipe that makes bread exactly how you want it - is done for you. You toss the bread out in a pan, let it rise and thaw, and then bake it. You get the smell, the taste, but really none of the same satisfaction from actually making your own bread.

Yet there are few people I know that genuinely enjoy whipping up a new batch of bread every couple of days. Who would? That's a lot of crap to keep around and measure and I've seen people go to some pretty impressive lengths for good-tasting bread. It's an amount of effort that I admittedly go to maybe once a month, and even then, I still haven't mastered the art of bread making.

I knew there had to be a better way.

Naturally, there IS!

Via The Italian Dish, I present to you: $.40 Artisan bread. (Recipe at link!)

It's an easy, four ingredient recipe that honestly kind of shocked me. This is crap everybody keeps around. It didn't require me to buy bread flour, didn't necessitate hours and hours of rising in different locations and a massive amount of cleanup - in fact, I got to store and keep the remainder of the dough in the container I mixed it in!

Check it:

Yep, that's it. That's my beautiful homemade bread dough (after taking out about half of it for two loaves). It's sticky as crap, and looks kind of like something I wouldn't expect to successfully bake and make into something that looks or tastes good.

But oh my god, it really does.

The thing that continues to shock me is how ultimately simple it is. Sure, you could spruce it up - add in some fruit, or dried veggies, or herbs, and make it into anything. Hell, Hubby used some of the dough yesterday morning to make cinnamon rolls, and it actually worked out pretty well (he said it was crispier than he expected, but I really liked it). But as a quickie bread option, it's easy. Despite having made a first batch yesterday, I tossed in another batch today and found it frighteningly simple. I already have the ingredients and amounts memorized, although I will admit that I'm not using instant yeast - I'm using active dry. With my first batch, I didn't proof it beforehand; today I proofed it first. The loaves I made yesterday still turned out awesome. Thanks to this method, I can make bread every other day if I want to, remaking the dough takes about five minutes, and there are no real limitations on size or ingredients - I'm free to add whatever I please. The downside is that I'm going through flour and yeast like nobody's business.

Now, some of it - like storing the dough in the fridge with the lid either propped open or punctured, and not washing the container before making a new batch of dough - goes against everything I've been taught about food storage. Yes, yes, I know the dough will ferment and add flavor as time goes on. I know that I have to leave the lid propped open or the gasses from the working yeast won't be able to escape and I'll end up with flat bread (speaking of which, Hubby shut the container yesterday and it sat in the fridge all day and all night that way, so we'll see what happens). I know, logically, that all these things mean that as time goes on my bread will continue to become even more amazing time and time again. 

But I was taught that not shutting lids and not washing containers leads to mold, to food taking on the flavors of the fridge! I was taught that these are HUGE no no's, so recalibrating my thinking has been somewhat difficult. But oh man, it is SO worth it. 

(As a note, I have no pictures of the loaves after cooking because - alas - they were pretty much instantly devoured!)

To me, this is totally cheating on making bread. And I am completely okay with that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Cheating With Food (Mashed Potatoes)

Despite the post title, I don't mean I'm cheating on Hubby with food - I mean I'm cheating on the more difficult, traditional methods of making some foods. Why? Because, despite my innate love for cooking and my respect for the Traditions of Old (and my love for fresh mashed potatoes, oh man), I also have two small kids. I don't always have enough whole potatoes sitting around to make enough mashed for the lot of us. I don't always (okay, I rarely) have the desire to pack everybody up so I can go to the store just to get a bag of potatoes (and if we're going to the store, we WON'T come home with just potatoes). However, we almost always have potato flakes around for a variety of reasons: they're easier, and they can be tossed into a bread mix to make a dense potato bread. Okay, two reasons. But they're still very valid reasons.

Mostly the first one. Ease has a LOT to do with my choices for food.

So for Thanksgiving, as I was cooking, I made a last minute decision to toss some mashed potatoes into the mix. The problem was that I had all of two potatoes left and the only stores in town that would have sold potatoes were, naturally, closed. This left me with an interesting conundrum: I wanted homestyle mashed that had the texture and flavor of "real" mashed but didn't require me to mess with only two potatoes. 

Hello, potato flakes!

So I prepared 12 servings of mashed potatoes via the directions on the box of flakes. If it matters, they're not Idahoan brand or anything, and I'm not of the impression that brand makes a lot of difference when it comes to flavor or texture. But hey, if you're super-picky and you really do prefer a certain brand of potato flakes, by all means, use them.

I prepped them on the store, as the 12 serving mixture had a "NOT RECOMMENDED" note on the microwave directions, and I didn't feel like slaughtering a massive amount of mashed potatoes in the microwave. I used 2% milk, actual butter, and kosher salt because I'm just badass like that. The results were some super-creamy, thick mashed - but they still lacked the right TEXTURE. What's that texture, you ask?

The actual pieces of potato.

And that, my dear friends, is where the magical Can 'O' New Potatoes came in.

Yes, that's right! One can of Del'Monte cubed new potatoes (not whole, yikes) got added to the mixture after being drained. Because they're already different sizes and fully cooked, they only needed to heat and soften a bit more in the mixture before serving. They didn't require anything more than the 15 seconds or so necessary to open and drain the can, and the extra maybe five minutes of warming on the store. Maybe a little extra butter, for those of us who regularly channel Paula Deen.

It was totally worth every moment. They turned out phenomenal, with the thickness of real mashed potatoes and the "potato chunk" texture that I look for in homemade mashed. Hubby told me, point-blank, "If you hadn't told me what you did, I would've thought you made this from actual whole potatoes." 

I highly recommend taking this easier, tasty route to homestyle mashed goodness, without the extra time and effort (especially if neither is an option)!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Vices

I'd say that I suffer from an addiction to food, but in all honesty, at first glance I don't suffer. Looking at me, all you see is an overweight woman. You don't see the mental turmoil, the physical problems I deal with daily because of the strain my weight has put on my frame. I have a sort of affection for food, because on a bad night, chocolate is going to comfort me in a way that is deeply emotional and even spiritual. There are, of course, physical aspects of the relationship I have with food - some foods release endorphins into our bodies, helping to make us feel better about life and ourselves. Sometimes, it's just that sensation of actually being full, because it's more fulfilling than being exhausted. When you eat, you feel full almost immediately afterwards; when you're exercising, you might feel tired, but you don't see or feel the benefits of what you've done for weeks or even months. There is no way to easily judge what you've done for yourself through exercise, and at the end of it, I've always felt empty and kind of lost.

Chocolate, though? Chocolate will wrap an arm around me and tell me that I'm not a bad person, I just make mistakes sometimes. It'll reassure me that we all screw up once or twice or maybe ten times in a month and that doesn't make me bad, just maybe in need of some guidance, and chocolate can TOTALLY offer that to me, and it'll do so without me having to pay a therapist or a personal trainer to tell me that I can feel good inside maybe in a month or so when I finally decide that all this work is paying off. Chocolate will assure me that the woman who just called me something nasty two cars over only did so because she's misguided and probably late for work.

And tacos? I almost can't discuss what wonderful things tacos do. They give me a warm, sorta greasy feeling. That sensation of having your arteries clog up is disgusting to some, but for me, it's another way of feeling full inside. It's a sensation of love and affection that sort of disappears otherwise, because that guy I married and I rarely see each other anymore, and when we do, there's always at least one child between us, keeping us from touching each other or even really having a conversation. G's hyperactive tendencies feed this problem; he has difficulty staying quiet for more than a second or two (I'm being literal here), and he often simply can't stop talking. I'm not going to sit here and say, "My sons are the reason I'm fat and nobody loves me," but I think we've all been in that position before in our relationships where we just kind of stare at ourselves and get so fed up with how things are that we let ourselves make any and every excuse in the book.


Because who honestly LIKES taking responsibility for what they've become if it isn't what they wanted to be? Nobody heads off to their 10 or 20 year high school reunion to tell everybody they're a twice-divorced college dropout with four kids, two part-time minimum wage jobs, who can't manage to collect child support from either dad. I'd rather go and tell everybody I'm a famous cowboy astronaut actor who won the Nobel Prize. I don't want to be 200 pounds overweight and with nothing to show for my life. Yet for some reason that's part of what I'm allowing myself.

You may have noticed the lovely little addition to the right side of my blog: it's a weight loss ticker and goddammit I'm going to keep going. I'm going to start it with my heaviest weight and the weight I am today, and end it with my eventual goal.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Using Your Imagination

Imagine, if you will, the following.

It was 1850 in America. Victorian morals and ideals rule politics, religion, and the home. So when a well-respected doctor stepped forward, claiming that he could cleanse the nation of its ills quickly and easily, would it make sense for the country to respond with indifference? Of course not. People flocked in droves to read his pamphlets, to hear him speak, and to find out more about the things that Dr. Henry Kellogg advised to get the nation back on track.

What did he suggest?

The best way to deal with the country's problems, said Dr. Kellogg, was to remove the ultra-sensitive fingernails and fingertip skin from every male baby - called a "tipectomy". Boys, after all, were often delinquents of the mind and body. They thought impure thoughts, they lusted after women, and they stole and cheated. Young boys were impressionable, Dr. Kellogg claimed, and they needed to be started off right. A boy whose fingertips and fingernails had been removed would lack the tactile sensation he would get from handling a stolen good, from touching a woman. Those experiences would not give him the same feeling, and he would be less likely to wish to experience them without true commitment. He would be less likely to have idle hands and a wandering mind. He would not, essentially, connect with his environment on the same level because he simply could not experience the world around him in the same way. Best of all, the procedure had actually existed in a religious form for hundreds, even thousands of years, elsewhere in the world. And it could be adapted for use on females as well.

In truth, the measure made no real difference in the number of thefts or rapes or of any other negative event, but the idea spread like wildfire. Doctors nationwide claimed great success; alternative methods of performing the procedure were created. Each one was supposedly quicker and cleaner than the last. Parents were told that they have this choice to make - and after a few decades, it had become so mainstream that parents were no longer asked if they want the procedure performed. This is the time before informed consent, after all, and it's said that "doctor knows best." So off come the nails, the fingertips, and with them each child loses tactile sensation, protective skin and keratin, and a bit of their body that they can never get back.

As the years passed, and the procedure became more mainstream, there were groups that began to speak up, wondering if the procedure really carried the same benefits as had been reported for so many years. The medical community, aware that this procedure had added hundreds of thousands of dollars to their yearly coffers, jumped in, offering up all sorts of extras: the trimmed fingers, they insisted, look better. Nails must be cleaned and trimmed regularly, forcing a parent to put more upkeep and care into their child than they already did. And of course, there were potential complications: nails can be ripped or torn off, or hangnails can form, opening the child up to unpleasant infection. Although antibiotics would have been prescribed for any other infection, doctors insisted that it was simply easier to avoid future infection and the undeniable pain of a potential hangnail or torn finger nail by removal. Removal means no cuts, no burns, no scrapes. No splinters, no hangnails, no infections. Even though the chances of all of these things are relatively low anyway, it is still said that removal is the best option.

By the mid 20th century, the bygone era of natural nails and fingertips is gone. Boys (and sometimes even girls) were routinely put through the painful procedure days after birth. Although no real anesthetic option existed (as most anesthesia choices were actually too dangerous to give at full strength considering the procedure being performed), doctors insisted to parents that babies could not feel pain - and, once that argument died off, the point became that they of course give enough anesthetic to ensure that no baby truly felt pain. There was a silent choice to ignore the idea that after whatever little anesthesia is given wears off that a baby will again be in extreme pain.

Yet in the 1980s a new idea arose: in Africa, and in select areas of the Middle East, the procedure was being performed on girls. Although this had been an option for parents, it wasn't prevalent in America. Pictures and video streamed in of young girls being held down on cold concrete floors, their arms spread wide open, while older women with dirty hands and rusty, re-used razor blades sliced off their fingertips and nails. Although it was more common to perform a procedure nearly identical to what was being done to baby boys in the US, most of the footage that found its way back was that of girls whose entire fingers were being skinned, just short of the muscle. It was ignored that the barbaric procedure being streamed back to America was not the norm, and that while it of course should not have been performed under such awful conditions, that it was otherwise identical to what Americans did to their sons. It was different, the medical community screamed (with the human rights folks on their coattails), because the skin of girls was more sensitive. Because there were procedures performed in which more skin was removed. Because the procedures were performed with no anesthesia, in unsanitary conditions with improper staff and backup. The uproar led to girls gaining protection from tipectomy in the late 1990s, via court order, and the nation patted itself on the back for ensuring that the rights of girls were sealed and that any parent who tried to have a tipectomy performed on their minor daughter would be prosecuted for child abuse and endangerment.

Yet boys were still having their fingertips and nails removed on a daily basis, by the thousands.

It was at that point that the medical community began to take tipectomies in an entirely new direction. Aware of the epidemic of skin-borne illnesses in developing nations, the idea that tipectomies could prevent the spread of these diseases was suggested. Studies were ordered, and men in African countries were offered incentives for having their fingers effectively destroyed. Life after having the sensitive skin and nails removed was totally different, and it appeared that the studies had worked: men whose fingers and nails had been "trimmed" off were less likely to touch potentially infected people or objects. Without considering the idea that, after healing, men would likely return to their old habits (as there had been no guidance in proper hygiene and handwashing techniques) and end up contracting the same illnesses anyway, the studies were claimed a success - but this critical flaw was noticed by the scientific community and the studies were cut completely before a final decision could be made on the effectiveness of the procedure. In the meantime, the medical community touted a few more ideas: that "studies" had shown that men who had undergone a tipectomy tended to develop less skin cancer, that they did not experience the same late-in-life struggles of needing their fingers constantly cleaned and cared for as men who were left intact, and that men who had undergone tipectomies at birth reported no difference in their tactile sensation or pleasure sensations than a man who had been left intact (given, that was a rather silly argument; two people who had never known anything different could not possibly compare their experiences to one another). It was said that men who never knew any different didn't complain, and although instances of keratinization of skin, the development of extreme callouses that could make touching things uncomfortable, and of finger dysfunction had been steadily increasing, it was claimed that a parent who had chosen tipectomy had done the right thing.

Never mind that these boys had never been given the chance to decide if they had wanted to have their fingertips removed. Never mind that it removed an amount of skin and a protective layer of sensation that could never be restored or returned. Never mind that the procedure itself carried with it inherent flaws and dangers, such as bleeding out, removal of too much skin, or removal of too little (that often resulted in numerous secondary procedures having to be performed to "finish" the job). Never mind that other nations, where tipectomies weren't performed without reason, carried lower rates of finger dysfunction, of touch-transmitted diseases, and of the touch-specific skin cancers claimed by American doctors to be a direct result of boys still having their fingertips and nails.

Silly as all this may seem, this is exactly how routine infant circumcision is handled in America. The flippant attitude is the same, the dangers are the same, and the loss is the same. This is the line that circumcision in this country has taken. This is how we treat our sons; we protect our daughters fiercely but we allow a portion of our sons' bodies to be removed without entirely knowing what we commit them to losing. The long-term psychological effects - ignored by many - are only now being realized and acknowledged by the scientific community. Only now are people truly beginning to realize the pointlessness of routine circumcision, and of what a boy will lose through having it done.

But most of all, even if none of this strikes home with you, even if you roll your eyes and shake your head and ask who let this crazy intactivist out into the world without an escort, at least consider this: If you accept, for even a moment, that this is not YOUR choice, but your son's, he can choose later to have it done. If he feels it is necessary, then he can be circumcised and he can live with his own choice. If you strip him of that decision, and let him be strapped down on that cold plastic board, then he can NEVER GET THAT BACK. You have taken that from him permanently; you have insisted that your choices, and your knowledge, are somehow more important than his body and his right to someday make choices for himself. You have chosen to go beyond "knowing best". Please, at least consider letting HIM choose.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Naturally Disciplining an "Aggressive" Child

A is just over 27 months old. He is fiercely independent, even with things that surpass his technical abilities, proud of his knowledge, and incredibly funny when he wants to be. He is very hands-on, and, like his older brother, has a rapidly expanding vocabulary of words he manages to use properly (even if they aren't the most appropriate words for a child his age).

He is also very, very aggressive.

In this respect, he is nothing like G. G was a relatively quiet, laid-back baby who grew up a lover, not a fighter. He never particularly hit, bit, kicked, or scratched. He never did anything worse than head butt Hubby in the groin on more than one occasion, but even then it was always on accident. We always wondered how we would handle these far more physically painful expressions of emotion when they came about, but they just.. Didn't. He never acted out in that way, so when A came along and almost immediately began expressing frustration and anger via violence and aggression, we were at a loss. Of course, we were in a difficult situation; G had reacted to time out and even spankings by modifying his behavior. In retrospect, forcing our child through isolation and physical punishment wasn't a good idea, nor was it probably very helpful for his long term development, but it had WORKED. A doesn't respond to those things. Time out causes him to scream and cry crocodile tears until he's out again, and spanking doesn't do anything but hurt him. We attempt to model the idea of behavior modification we'd like to see; that is, when G does something we don't approve of or that isn't okay, we talk to him about it: what he did, why it isn't all right, what the consequences of doing it again are. That typically does it for him. But he's four, in school, and deals with challenges like this all the time. He's used to reasoning through his responses to things, even though he still has the emotional response of a preschooler on most occasions. He throws his fits, he overreacts, he becomes overstimulated and needs to be taken aside and allowed to calm down. But he never, never did this.

So now, months and months into dealing with this reaction from A, we are stumped. Where do we go from here? What's the appropriate thing to do? Natural parenting guides, magazines, and blogs all seem to recommend the same thing: taking a "time in" with our children in a quiet, comfy corner where they can have our presence if they choose, where they can cuddle with lovies and read and play quietly until they feel calm and more ready to be a part of the larger group or activity again. The point, of course, being not to isolate them but to offer the OPTION of stepping aside and collecting themselves again, providing comfort and guidance while not necessarily punishing them for bad behavior - just allowing them to calm down after we have done the same. They say we ought to laugh off the situation, make our children laugh too so they feel as though we're reconnecting to them - the general premise of the entire situation being that the child is acting out because they feel emotionally disconnected from their parents or caregivers - and that once they are calmer, we can try to talk to them about the problem.

But none of these sites seem to recommend what to do with physically inappropriate behavior such as aggression, that's actually causing harm to someone else. There seem to be no real recommendations for what to do with an aggressive child, how to react, how to deal with when they hurt you, or another child (like a sibling). It's as if it's assumed that a "naturally" raised child won't be aggressive. I have seen over and over again the idea of "bringing them in close" or "holding" - that is to say, taking them and putting them on your lap, and not allowing them to get down until they are calmer. I know my sister in law, the beautiful and wonderful K does this, and it has worked for her kids, but when we tried it with G it never seemed to work. I made the attempt a few times more recently when he was not necessarily violent, but was being frustrated (like right before dinner, when he was incredibly hungry) and after some time he finally did calm down. A, on the other hand, seems to have no concept of this activity, and I have to wonder if this is an appropriate measure to take with a toddler instead of a preschooler. A preschooler, after all, will hear and understand what's being said, and fully comprehend the concept, thus enabling him or her to calm down faster. I've found a barrier that exists between a parent and a toddler, one that (to me) makes the "holding" technique less than functional.

The problem, of course, is that I can't imagine what my two year old is thinking. I can judge, to some degree, his reactions - but if this is something that ends up being physically traumatizing for him, can I continue to justify using it? How many times after using it should he begin to react in what I consider to be a more appropriate manner? How many times using it is "too many" to believe that it wasn't effective? These are questions that I'm not finding answers to. But I think that something has to change, because nothing else is working!

(By the way, a big "congrats" to me for passing 100 posts!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Slow Cooking

Technically, the name "Crock Pot" is a registered trademark from Sunbeam. It's the name of an actual product, one of many in a line of slow cookers and tabletop roasters that developed in the early 20th century when electricity became a household concept for even those out in rural areas. In the mid-1930s, a company called NESCO teamed up with local electric companies in the Milwaukee area to offer a combination of electric services, slow roasters, and light bulbs to rural families that had been using wood stoves up until that point. The original concept of the slow cooker was very simple: somebody had the bright idea of wrapping a wire around a double-boiler and plugged it in. It got hot - and so the concept was born.

The actual Crock Pot didn't appear until the summer of 1970, when its original design showed up. The eventual redesigns of the Crock Pot significantly changed the slow cooking and roasting world, and eventually the features that the Crock Pot offered became the standard for the industry. Numerous companies, including Kalorik, and store brands, came along throughout the years. Metal inner cookpots were replaced with porcelain, and eventually stainless steel took the place of glass fixtures and lids. Colors and decorations, of course, changed according to the era, but in general, pretty much every slow cooker was the same, they just offered different options.

Meet the NESCO 6 Roast Ryte Oven.

This bad boy jumped right out of the 1970s, and was my grandfather's slow cooker/roaster. It has multiple temperature settings and is all-metal, including the inner cookpot. I believe it's called the "NESCO 6" because it's a six quart pot - but I have no idea. I have no other information with it - except for these gems:

Oh yeah. Although the recipe/instruction book doesn't offer any specific dates, guessing by the model's hairstyle I'm thinking 1978 or so. It comes complete with the cord (obviously), this lovely booklet, and a small wire rack to use for baking - that's right, BAKING. Hubby's been talking about trying to bake in a slow cooker; our's is too small to really do much with. But I think this might be his answer.

I have no idea if this bad boy still works, but there it is. I'm probably going to be testing it at some point in the future.

Here's my mom's:

This is a vintage mid-1980s K-Mart brand "Spice of Life" style "Automatic Sim-R-Pot". It has three settings - off, auto-sim-r, and auto-hi. (Oh, yeah, those are AWESOME settings!) The lid is clear glass and the inner cookpot is white porcelain; it has a small crack/defect in the cookpot but it doesn't seem to go all the way through and I doubt it seriously affected cook time and quality. I think this is a five quart; it isn't much smaller than the roaster but is decidedly round instead of being an obvious oval shape. It's honestly hard to tell.

So the K-Mart slow cooker is the one I'm using. I've slaughtered a few baby carrots, half a yellow onion, and the remainders of about two hearts of celery (I had to peel off the first layer of stalks of each of them thanks to some serious freezer burn from sitting too far back in the fridge). Yes, leaves and all! Celery leaves have FLAVOR! Add in a one-pound bag of great northern beans, and what ended up being two large ham steaks with small marrow bones in the middle of both.

(Sidenote: Lesson learned. When you soak the beans, rinse them halfway through, drain the water, then return to soaking them. Dump in the second batch of "bean water" instead of using regular water - then you get the starch from the beans and the flavor, without the dirt and potential rocks you might have missed while sorting them. Oops.)

In other news, G seems to be getting sick (again) with a weird-sounding cough and a half-missing voice. Sigh - always something, eh?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Deja Vu

This time of year always gives me deja vu.

It's something intrinsically a part of our psyche, to fear the darkness that comes with the changing of the seasons. We are made to dislike the cold, to shun the wintertime and plead and beg with whatever powers there are above us that spring comes quickly and that the winter is relatively mild. We spend fall enveloping ourselves in a distinct inability to think about winter, instead enjoying the familiar comforts of cider, orchards, and family holidays.

It all seems to end when that first snow hits and we can't ignore that winter is here again.

The darkness, too, is difficult to contend with. Daylight Saving Time ends this Sunday at 2 AM, meaning that it will be darker an hour earlier (although it will be blissfully light at 7 AM, finally). Those of us who find ourselves struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, are no doubt hit heaviest, and begin relying more and more on material distractions to keep ourselves afloat while the season meanders its way along.

Of course, there are positives - Thanksgiving and Yule (or Christmas if it serves you better) are coming up, and both present the opportunity to stuff ourselves silly on good food and share our lives and love with those we care most about. It lets people like me try out new recipes (crock pot stuffing, anyone?) and to share new experiences with my family. The biggest bummer for us this year, I think, is that we won't be able to host a holiday get together at our house, so I'm wondering if we'll end up getting to see anybody this year, but my brother-in-law and his wife's family tend to have something. I'm hoping. I know at the very least my old friend Melissa will likely try to get us to come over at some point, and that's always a blast.

On today's menu: via my mom's request, ham and bean soup! Today I'll be soaking the beans and I'll start on the soup in the slow cooker tomorrow. Love having a good slow cooker - I wish I used it more often. Hopefully once we get our LINK card benefits back (seriously, any day now - we haven't bought a decent amount of groceries in over a month and are down to some VERY basic basics) I can go on a spending spree, restock our meat supply, buy some decent fresh veggies, and generally make good use of the money. I'm super excited.

Pictures once I've got things worked out. I know, I know, I'm awesome. For now, though, I have an entire house to clean. Hopefully A doesn't interfere with that plan any more than he usually does. :P

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Remembering

Sometimes I get really angry at myself for not loving high school more.

It's mostly because of the comparably fewer responsibilities I had; while cleaning my mother's house day in and day out was hardly exciting, and was a huge point of contention for us, it's nothing compared to having to do that while caring for, feeding, and entertaining two children. As I had no car and no real bills to speak of, it was next to impossible for me to worry about money beyond what concerns I knew my mother had. What did I worry about? Getting online next, and of course seeing my long-distance boyfriend. I didn't consider how relatively lucky I was to only have to worry about homework for classes and an occasional paper. Maybe if I had listened when older friends told me that things really did get harder, got worse, I would have taken advantage of that time. Maybe I would have made more of an effort to do things with friends, to go places, to get a job and earn some money. Maybe I would have thought more about my future and less about what I was doing right that second.

Then again, for some reason, I always had it in the back of my head that I wouldn't live through high school. Not necessarily out of a suicidal urge (I was as depressed, I think, as most overweight high school kids without close friends in similar situations), but because I had (and still have) trouble imagining something that was supposed to happen in the future. 

As I sit here, I can hear the band at the high school rehearsing. All I can really hear is the drums, an occasional but low beat that thumps itself out in memorable fashion. They're preparing for the last few home football games, working on their field show. I remember it all too well, how much I hated it and dreaded going outside as an overweight girl who had trouble with her knees and with breathing. Now, some 100 pounds later, I inwardly laugh at myself for being so awkward and for not taking better care of myself. I know I would have been able to lose weight, feel better, and generally like myself more physically if I had made some kind of genuine attempt - but I chose not to. If I had known what I would physically look like nearly a decade later, maybe I would have pushed myself more to work on my body, to adjust my attitude, to try to establish some kind of spirituality and concern for my own well being. Maybe if I had known then just how much MORE I would hate myself now, I would have made an effort.

Hindsight, as always, is such a bitch.

Of course, psychological studies have been done that prove that teenagers have a different mental capacity for events and situations. Their minds are built differently, the chemicals and hormones present make their reactions to things seem unreasonable or irrational to adults. We ask ourselves, "Why didn't I?" or "Why do they?" when in truth the answer is that we are all made to act this way. Some of us are blessed with the capability to suppress the desire to act out and actually achieve some pretty impressive things; the rest of us are stuck on the back burner, wondering why we never tried to aspire to such things, never made those choices. 

So what do we do when the past is gone and we feel as though we've totally lost control of the present thanks to our choices way back when? What do we do when the future seems so uncertain because we didn't consider today yesterday? How do we deal with the stress of tomorrow when we aren't adequately prepared today?

Friday, October 21, 2011

On A Walk

It's cold.

I have the window down anyway, because I'm pretty much stupid like that, but also because there's just something so, so refreshing about a breeze, about real air, no matter how chilly outside it is. It isn't so cold out yet that it takes my breath away, so I enjoy the season while I can - winter's coming, after all.

I'm driving. Specifically, I'm heading across a rickety old bridge just out of All American Park by the muddy Mississippi River, wandering with no real aim to Quinsippi Island. It's a place that has an odd, almost colonial feel to it, a place that screams to me in a way I can't begin to imagine. I hate bridges, but I'll cross this old piece of crap - what amounts to a VERY old rail bridge with wood slats placed over the tracks, with just enough room for a car to pass through with maybe five inches of clearance on either side - to get there.

I didn't dress right for this excursion. I'm at least wearing shoes, but no socks, and jeans with a t-shirt. Hardly appropriate for the kind of wandering I intend on doing, but I've thrown caution to the wind as it is. I want to be there; I need to be there. And once I'm across the bridge I head down that tiny road, made somehow into two lanes by a bit of yellow paint, and park next to some playground equipment. That isn't why I'm here, though; the boys are gone, one at daycare and the other at school. My being here is purely personal.

And almost right away, as I step out of the car and look around, taking in the sights (not much) and the sounds (animals), the place starts to scream.

It's not in a way I think most other people would hear. Admittedly, there isn't any real SOUND - it's feelings. It's thoughts, emotions, sounds that SHOULD be there, that were there thirty or forty years ago. The sounds of mechanical equipment, of the skyride that used to run from the island to the main part of Quincy. It's the noise of the rides and the smell of food and the sounds of families getting in one last visit on a nice afternoon before the island shuts down for the winter and the place goes silent. It's the distinct LACK of these noises that throws me off, even though they're things I've never heard before in this place. I wasn't alive when my mother worked over here, when there were concession stands and kids riding on things and people enjoying themselves. When it was more than a badly-upkept log cabin "village" and a marina. It's the exact lack of presence of things that I know existed here at one time that just DON'T now.

And it's admittedly very, very weird. I can hear these things, see them in my head, even though I can't even begin to imagine where they once were. It's unsettling in a way, because my mind insists they were here, and that I should be seeing, smelling, and hearing things that I can't and don't. Things that haven't been here since before I was born, things that won't be here again. Maybe it's better that way; it's hard to say.

There used to be more here. Even more than that, I know, it sounds weird - but it's true. There was a mini train depot, a ferris wheel, a round house, an auto museum, a souvenir shop, a carousel, and parking lots galore. There used to be SO MUCH. Now? Not really. Now it's a lot of silence.

And there's one part where if you walk toward a couple of restrooms - primitive things, with two stalls each and a small sink outside each - and then past them, you hit a plat of concrete. And it looks so damn out of place, sitting there, covered in leaves and dirt and dust, but when you look forward, you see.. Trees. Leaves, branches, grass, bushes. And one odd, out of place path that sticks out like a sore thumb.

That's where I'm heading.

Walking down that cleared out path is like heading back in time. It's a little muddy, but things have been cleared out well. At first, it's just me and the trees, which thanks to flooding off and on over the years and now thanks to drought are sparse enough that I can peek through them and see for some ways in whatever direction I please. I walk, and walk, and as I go down a small hill the trees clear out even more, becoming thinner and thinner. Occasionally one - giant in comparison to its kin - peers out, big enough that I might not be able to wrap my hands around it and have the tips of my fingers touch, but those are few and far between. Otherwise it's just mud and a bunch of trees that are so skinny they'd pass for bamboo.

Without warning, the land sinks in some.

It's sand, now, I realize as I glance down with concern. Though I have on sneakers, I can tell the difference in the terrain; it's vaguely slippery, and it's soft enough that it sort of feels like wearing cushy gel insoles. The sand here on the island is rather unique to riverbeds: gray, almost clay-like, and very fine. It catches me off guard enough the first time my foot comes down in it that I almost slide and fall, and boy, would I have felt like an idiot then. Now that I know what I'm walking on, though, it's easier. Besides, I can hear the water now, lapping furiously at the rather odd banks of the Muddy Mississippi.

As I continue forward, I can see the obvious signs of previous partying and potential gang activity, and silently thank my luck that I'm here during daylight. There are blue pieces of plastic tied to trees, guiding a wanderer off through the trees to another small clearing. No doubt if I followed them, I'd find myself half-lost among broken bottles, beer cans, and who knows what else - as it is, just by following the trail I'm seeing random bottles and other such signs of less-than-kosher human entertainment (including a thong used to tie a branch back; talk about creativity). Onward I go, and there, without warning, is the shore.

The shore itself varies considerably. In places it simply falls off from sand and some soil into the river; in others, it's moderately sandy. Still other places are nothing but rock, old limestone and contrasting huge slabs of square concrete that simply drag off into the water rather ungracefully. Everywhere there is wood of some kind; some piled up, obviously by human hands, and charred remains of campfires put out perhaps last night, or perhaps a week ago. There are huge trees and logs, felled by storms or floods, one of which I recognize as a log I sat on years and years ago with my then-boyfriend the last time I came out here. Then there's the driftwood, a term loosely used for the varying bits and pieces of wood that find their way back ashore from who knows where. 

The water is almost painfully loud. The river's moving fast today, and the waves even moreso. It seems to fit the cold breeze, the atmosphere of the whole visit. It's pushing at my head, poking my brain, shoving me as though to say, "Time's moving. Time's moving. Faster, faster, faster." 

Last time I was here was over a decade ago. Yet little has changed.

Last time all the things I see in my head were here was over three decades ago. Yet so, so much has changed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On Winter

It's mid-October here, and with it are coming shorter days, earlier sunsets, and cooler weather. The freeze watches and warnings are slowly creeping our way, and we've gone from t-shirt weather to jacket weather - almost coat weather - in the span of a couple short, short days. Tonight or tomorrow we're going to have to bring in the plants we plan to keep this winter (there isn't space for all of them indoors), and for now the furnace has even been turned on. The days are more often cloudy and dark than they are bright and sunny, and shoes have gone from optional to required, no questions asked.

These days are harder and harder to tolerate. As an individual with a number of equally difficult to regulate problems, and as someone who relies on Medicaid to actually provide the medication I used that actually worked for me (which they stopped doing, leading to a call from my doctor's office to inform me of the situation and that they had instead sent a script for "something else" and I should "try it for a month, see what happens" before pushing forward to another medication), the shorter days and longer nights make it increasingly more difficult to try to keep myself mentally stable. Situations going on at home don't help; needless to say, life with my mother is really tough for us, and although it's a million times better than living on the streets or otherwise being homeless, I wonder some days about the choice to move in with her (even if it wasn't really a choice). Money is tight and the ongoing lawsuit with the bank we rented our second-to-last house from hasn't helped things any; unfortunately at some point we got off-track with payments and money was tight. Because we were no longer able to pay them, and because the house we lived in still hasn't sold (to the best of my knowledge) some two years after we moved out, they're taking us back to small claims. I've been trying to negotiate with their lawyer (funny how that works) via email and phone but she refuses to respond to my phone calls and claims by email that the bank will not be able to accommodate my request to work out a different payment schedule. They sent a certified letter to Mom and to each of us (since she's also a plaintiff) and I signed for her letter, but we weren't home to get our's, and was going to appear but tried to contact them that day since I couldn't find someone to watch the boys and both Mom and Hubby had to work. I couldn't get a hold of anybody, and now, since Mom's letter was the only one signed for and thus certified as received, they want HER to appear in court to show why SHE shouldn't be held in contempt, etc.. It's a long, very painful situation that I don't know how to fix. I'm still trying to figure out how to bring it up with Mom and Hubby and haven't come up with anything yet. I know it'll end in wage garnishment, which is going to suck because as it is we already are only barely paying off our bills and Mom needs help paying all of her's, since she's still paying people off from getting help with her taxes for the house so she could, you know, keep her home. If it weren't for that, we would be homeless, too. We have cut down as much as I think we can, but it's always something anymore.

And I'm still waiting to hear from the state about whether or not we're going to get back on LINK or not. So right now we don't have groceries beyond WIC, either. It's a real party.

So right now, things suck a lot. I keep trying to remind myself that no matter what happens we have two beautiful, brilliant kids and at least we aren't homeless but there are too many mornings when that just doesn't help. I keep telling myself we're lucky we have so much, but at the same time when I take a step back and look at all of the things hovering over our heads it seems like it'll never end. I never originally intended for this blog to be a place for me to spread my pessimism and anger all over the Internet but this is one of those times when it just seems necessary. I'm sorry to those who still read; I know this isn't what you're here to hear. You want something funny, or informative, or thoughtful, or useful, and all I have is this depressing drivel. I understand, trust me. I'm sick and tired of feeling like my life is nothing but one disappointment after another, like it's "always something". I just don't feel like I have anywhere else to go, or anybody else to talk to, who actually can offer up useful advice. So I complain here to mostly strangers who have probably stopped reading by now anyway.

I've lost a lot of energy over this. Energy and sleep and probably sanity too but I lacked that in the first place and there wasn't much left to lose.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Birth Plans #1

Here's what SHOULD be on your birth plan from day one:

"I do not consent to any vaginal exams, either during pregnancy or at any point during labor, up to and including delivery. This includes checking for dilation/effacement during labor. I understand that unless I have shown signs of a potential cervical problems during pregnancy, have been diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, or have some other medical condition OTHER THAN PREGNANCY necessitating vaginal exams that they are not necessary and will not speed up my pregnancy. I understand that especially after my water has broken, vaginal exams can introduce foreign bacteria and matter into my vagina, which is otherwise a pH balanced and sterile environment with the exact right amount of good bacteria. I understand that, while gauging dilation and effacement can be useful, it can also be completely meaningless. I will not have my labor and delivery experience overwhelmed by a 'ticking clock' that insists that I must dilate a specific amount within a specific time period, lest my body has somehow decided it suddenly does not understand how to birth a child that it has otherwise created and grown without significant problems. I understand that if, at any point in time, I have changed my mind, I will inform the staff appropriately. I understand that any violation of my expectations for non-life threatening reasons will be a gross infraction of my rights as a patient and as a person." (See: Mama Birth: Obstetric Lie #93)

Monday, September 12, 2011

On No Poo

So although I didn't mention it at all before, a couple of weeks ago I made a rather random and drastic change in my life: I stopped using shampoo. I do mean entirely; I had been only using it sporadically as it was because using it less often made showering easier and faster, and once we moved here, it became more normal for me because a lack of water pressure means that rinsing shampoo from my hair can take a good five or six minutes all on its own - precious time a mom of two rambunctious boys often doesn't have. So I already wasn't using it daily, as was my previous routine, but it has been about two weeks since I completely cut shampoo out of my lifestyle.

I had some idea of what it was to go "no poo" before this; I've heard the term slung around in various granola groups I'm a part of online, but the whole concept always seemed so disgusting and difficult. People washed their hair with baking soda combinations one day and vinegar the next and complained of going through weeks of adjustment where their hair was so greasy they left stains on their pillowcases. It seemed like the rule for "no poo" was "anything goes," and it reflected in the variety of homebrew products used to keep hair smelling fresh and scrubbed of dirt while maintaining its natural level of healthy oils. But let's face it: I'm not a "let's make a bunch of complicated things and try to store them in someone else's house" kind of person, and I'm probably not about to change that. I wasn't going to follow the No Poo movement if doing so meant still routinely using random products on my hair, especially when it seemed like there was no clear, concise agreement on what of those random products were best, and what actually worked without causing further damage to hair.

Then, about two weeks ago (maybe more like two and a half now), it just sort of struck me, and I stopped using shampoo. It wasn't entirely purposeful, as at first I just went my typical two or three days without - but the next day I didn't have time. And the day after that I didn't feel like it. The excuses to not shampoo my hair snowballed until I was so thrilled that my showers were short that I opted to avoid it completely. I made the mistake, one day, of putting in store-bought name brand conditioner but will not do that again - it upped the grease level tenfold and didn't really help my hair feel any better or softer afterwards.

I will be painfully honest: My hair is INCREDIBLY greasy. I've seen it said that sometimes the greasiness remains for between two and five weeks, and since I'm past two and naturally have slightly greasy skin and difficult to manage hair, I'm going to guess that my "grease period" is going to last closer to five weeks than two. After I've hit a point where my hair is beginning to regulate itself, I'm going to try a baking soda scrub (I may do this sooner, to help release some of the excess sebum naturally and to get rid of any excess dirt). I do rinse my hair fully every day, including parting and sectioning it, and massaging my scalp with my fingers every shower. Afterwards, I give my head a good scratch (not because it itches, but man, doesn't it feel good sometimes to just have your head scratched all over?) and then comb out all of my hair with a relatively fine-toothed comb. I can't use a traditional fine-tooth comb because my hair is simply too thick and too unruly still, and it tends to knot up. If I touch my hair, my hands do become noticeably more greasy, but it isn't a disgusting "stick with you for the rest of eternity" grease; it's natural and my body reacts accordingly and reabsorbs whatever gets on my hands without any irritation or lingering icky feeling. I am already seeing fewer flyaways and it is slowly beginning to behave better. It doesn't smell and doesn't look gross in the least, nor does it really "look" greasy.

All in all, I'm actually pretty happy with my experience so far. I'm not bothered by the effects of going without shampoo, and I'm looking forward to the benefits and positive sides of not using traditional shampoos anymore. We'll see how this keeps up - for now, though, I think I might be a convert.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On 9/11

They don't teach you how to cope with tragedy in school.

On September 11, 2001 I was sitting in my Spanish class, learning how to conjugate some verb that has been long since forgotten. I had just begun high school, I was a sophomore, and quite frankly, I could not have cared less at the moment about the rest of the world - my world was high school, that classroom, and my individual life.

Then the phone call came.

It was a little after 8AM Central Time, and though she said nothing to us, she silently turned on the TV in the room to one of the local news stations. And we sat, quietly, and watched in confusion as a grainy picture of a burning tower in New York City came up on the screen.

We didn't understand what was happening. The room sort of went silent and we stared blankly at the TV, unable to understand how, or why, this affected us personally. A tower was burning in a city in a state half a country away. What did that mean? But as we watched, events unfolded, and the whole thing began to make a bit more sense. Another plane hit. The other tower seemed to explode. We watched the whole thing from the point we started, to the point, half an hour later, when the principal finally put an announcement over the PA system that all of the TVs in the building were to be shut off.

And that was the rest of our day. Nobody knew what was going on, our communication to the outside world was limited, and we honestly knew little from that short half-hour snippet of news. We understood that something awful had happened, but we had no more information. During the day, occasionally a student would disappear - pulled out of classes by a terrified parent, taken home to likely understand more about the event than the rest of us. We sat and waited and went about our day otherwise quite normally, because we didn't know any differently. It wasn't until most of us went home that afternoon that we saw the rest of the reports, heard the rumors and the facts, and got to see the full footage of what had unfolded that day.

It was sobering, but to be honest, I didn't understand.

In my defense, I was 15 - too young, I think, to get my head out of my own rear long enough to sit back and really look at what happened. It took years for me to become at all interested or concerned about what had occurred; I was 20 or so by the time I looked everything back up and looked at the footage again. And again. And again.

It wasn't until I grew up and had kids that I watched it and CRIED, really sat back and realized that this is the kind of place I was raising my children in, a world where people could take over airplanes and fly them into huge buildings and into government buildings and be overcome by passengers and driven into the ground, where thousands could die in an instant, all in the name of God. It disgusted me, it terrified me, and most of all it made me question my beliefs. What kind of loving god would allow this to happen? What sort of deity could kill off thousands without a second glance?

Now, ten years later, I have two beautiful children. And once a year I go back and I look at the footage and pictures and watch the videos and remind myself of what happened. I mourn and I understand a little better every single year.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? What were you doing? Who were you with? How old were you? How have you changed the world in the 3,652 days that have passed since then?