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