Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Gender Pay Gap

We're in the midst of packing up to leave for the summer, so posts will be less frequent until we're settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a couple of weeks. But I did want to take a moment tonight for these really interesting infographs/information.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In 2010, women earned $0.77 for every $1.00 men earned. The government census for 2010 reported that the median income for a full-time working male was $47.715, compared to the median income of full-time working females, at $36,931 ($10,784 less per year).

Matt Separa (from Center for American Progress) nicely illustrated what these differences in pay mean for men and women in the United States. His first infographic shows the average annual cost for various goods and services in the United States and how they compare with the $10,784 figure.

The second inforgraphic illustrates what 40 years of this income difference looks like (the approximate figure is $431,360).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: A Working Girl Can't Win

A Working Girl Can't Win
A Working Girl Can't Win by Deborah Garrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like Deborah Garrison's poems more than I actually did. Yes, bosses can be arrogant and sexist, some men are terrible, and who hasn't had a day on the job that made them want to jump out of a window? Yet these poems seemed to lack any real depth beyond these themes, which is unfortunate. Her approach to men seemed very Intro to Women's Studies, if that makes sense.

Did I have fun reading them? Yes, especially my angry-feminist inner-self, which smirked most of the way through. But overall, lackluster.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

American Airlines vs. the T-Shirt

WARNING: This posts contains a little language.

Judy McIntryre, an Oklahoma state senator, held up a sign (borrowed from a protestor) at a February rally that read: "IF I WANTED THE GOVERNMENT IN MY WOMB, I'D FUCK A SENATOR." The rally was in favor of women's choices, specifically in reaction aginst the 'personhood' bill that would define life at the moment of conception, which could potentially lead to legal ramifications for a woman if she miscarries her baby, not to mention make all abortion illegal in the state. Fortunately, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled the bill unconstitutional in April, and unanimously at that (thank goodness).

Fast forward almost two months.

Jodi Jacobson, Editor in Chief at RH Reality Check, posted an article yesterday about how a pro-choice colleague of hers was held by American Airlines employees and forced to miss her connecting flight because she was wearing a pro-choice shirt and they demanded that she change. And the shirt? Same message as the sign Senator McIntyre held up a few months ago.

Now, granted, the word "fuck" is offensive to many people. However, Jacobson's colleague, 'O' in her post, was not detained at security, was allowed to board the initial flight, and not seen as a security risk. It wasn't until the end of her flight when a flight attendant noticed the shirt, alerted the captain, who told 'O'  that she shouldn't have been allowed to board the plane at all, and would need to put something else on. The staff did not help hold the flight for her, causing 'O' to miss her connection.

Jacobson writes:
"But protest these laws and the War on Women with a t-shirt that gets right to the point? Let people know the basis of all of it, the people that "want government out of our lives" want to place it directly into our bodies? In a country supposedly founded on freedom of speech and expression, in which protestors can stand outside clinics harassing and threatening women and doctors, and run through every public square with gory doctored photos? A country in which other protestors can stand outside the funerals of gay soldiers killed in duty and scream disgusting insults, and still have their rights protected? 

Oh, no. You can't do that. You can't take that message that your body is your own anywhere. Because in the United States today, that is like taking your burqha off under the Taliban. That is 'offensive,' 'insulting' and 'not for public consumption.'"

And she is spot on.

It's not a shirt I would wear myself (I would be happy to wear a reworded version), but the sentiment is correct. How offensive that women across the country are being told that they don't have control over their own bodies, that they shouldn't have full say over their right to choose whether or not to have children, and when to do so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sleep Training / Heartbreak in 7B

Somehow I thought our baby would be different. At four days old, she was already sleeping 3-4 hours at a stretch. She's been sleeping through the night since she was three months old, and sleeping for 10-11 hour stretches for the past month or so.

But getting this five and half month-old baby to sleep is a whole different matter. Yes it's great she stays asleep, but it is to the point where every nap and bedtime are a struggle, taking 90-120 minutes sometimes. A baby that refuses to nap, even a baby that sleeps well at night, is a cranky, unhappy baby, which makes for a cranky, unhappy mom (that's me!).

So Ian and I sat down today for an hour or two and talked through the various methods of sleep-training. There are so many approaches, most of which seem cruel. Letting your baby cry for hours on end? How terrible, even if you are in the room where they can see you, not comforting them or holding them seems so strict. They're so little, how are they to understand?

We made a detailed plan, with contingencies for excessively long crying jags and napping. While we cannot call ourselves attachment-style parents completely, we nurse on demand, hold the baby as much as possible, and co-slept with her for her first three months (now she just gets the late morning). Her primary transportation is the baby carrier, usually strapped onto Ian's chest. Our version of sleep training is the most 'relaxed' it can get - picking her up and soothing her whenever she starts to actually cry (more than a fuss or short protest), staying in the room with her, and keeping a hand or two on her chest and/or head if she's at all distressed.

We have been doing... whatever works. Usually this means over an hour of fussing and crying, me hoping she'll nurse to sleep, but most likely ending in a long walk down Broadway in the stroller, or Ian rocking her in the stroller, back and forth over the lip in our kitchen doorway. As I said, it was time consuming and frustrating, and our bedtime routine didn't seem to make any difference - if she knew it was time to sleep, tears, tears, tears. Poor thing.

Everything we read said to try to have the baby to sleep approximately twelve hours before they naturally wake up. Her normal wake-up time is between 5:30-6:30 AM, so we decided on a goal of getting her to sleep around 6:00 PM, which means starting her bedtime routine (bath, baby massage, last nurse/bottle, story, and bedtime song) around 5:15-5:30 PM. It seems insanely early. It is insanely early. Don't let the baby fall asleep while you're doing these things! Put her down drowsy!

As I was nursing her this evening and she started to drift off, I started to cry. I nudged her back awake, whispering, "Not yet, Felicity, stay awake for me please." I cried because my little baby is now a surprisingly large baby, who is expressive and opinionated, and I don't get to rock her to sleep anymore. I love rocking her to sleep, nursing her into oblivion. Granted these methods haven't been working that well, but they are still such rewarding moments. Everyone said how quickly these first months would go, and how right they were. I did my best to stay present in each day and treasure all of the small moments, but they still go by so fast, and I want my newborn back. I want to hold her, and have her fall asleep on my chest with her sweet little pre-vocal sigh,

It took about an hour tonight. Ian stayed in the bedroom with her the whole time, and when she would start to cry, one of us would pick her up, calm her down, and hold her. Then she would lay back in crib. She would give us looks of deep betrayal, whimper a little (we would put a hand on her chest, or on her head, give her kisses), and then the crying would start again. Eventually she was exhausted, and fell asleep.

I think about how I get when I don't feel well. I am a cuddly person, probably annoyingly so. Ian probably wishes I would peel myself off of him sometimes, and occasionally has to express this wish on particularly warm nights. When I'm not feeling well, I just want to be held. Migraine? Hold me now, rub my head. Bad day? Hold me, rub my back, glass of white wine please. Allergies? Hold me, please kiss my forehead. And, as Ian likes to remind me, I'm not a perfect picture of health; something always seems to be wrong with me. I strained my upper arm casing a pillow last night. All of this to say, it feels wrong to not soothe her until she's in a blissful, deep sleep.

This has been the most difficult emotional milestone of motherhood yet. But we're just starting, aren't we? This is the first step of her independence and separation from me, and I suppose I need to get used to the idea that she can't always fall asleep cuddled in my arms, wonderful as that may be.

I find it heartbreaking.


In response to the Time's piece last week on attachment parenting, and the outcry afterwards:
"Yes, the tenets of attachment parenting are regressive, and even potentially anti-feminist. But it’s unlikely that the individual women who practice them are going to be feminism’s downfall. What might actually kill feminism is our preference for shaming and tearing down individual women rather than advocating overdue policy changes around child-rearing: Pushing for mandatory long-term maternity or paternity leave, or high-quality childcare for all children, or a new ethos of work that doesn’t penalize parents (usually mothers) for trying to maintain a healthy and flexible work-life balance."
From Attachment Parenting: Beyond the Backslash by  Sady Doyle

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Changing Demographics in the United States

Well, it's official: there are now more minority births compared to white births in the United States, or so says a recent Pew Research Center article. Their research predicts that by 2050, whites will be a minority.

The study shows that non-Hispanic whites have the oldest median age (42.3), in comparison with Hispanics (27.6), non-Hispanic blacks (32.9), and non-Hispanic Asians (35.9). It would've been nice to see the age means as well as medians, but this exemplifies how demographics are changing in the United States. The younger the population, the more women will be in child-bearing years, and the more children will be born.

This isn't really big news; these numbers have been predicted for some time. But this isn't really what I want to think about. What I want to think about is this: how long will it take before white is no longer the standard of beauty? As "minority" races become increasingly mainstream in our country, the media isn't catching on very quickly. Do we have non-white celebrities? Sure we do.

This video, created by Kiri Davis in 2006 (when she was still in high school), shows how harmful the white beauty standards can be for non-whites:

While focusing on black culture specifically, this video clearly shows that young children are socialized to see that white is desirable, even "good" (the white=good is another extremely problematic issue that I will address at a later time).

Lindsay Kite wrote an interesting piece for the Beauty Whitewashed blog that looks at the impossibly white beauty standards. She writes:

"In a country where a full one-third of the population is black, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latina, the serious underrepresentation of women of color in media is really disturbing. Further, when you only account for the women of color shown in positive roles or depictions – especially those depicted as beautiful or desirable – the number is almost negligible... Images of white women dominate all media – especially roles or depictions featuring “beautiful” or desirable women, not funny sidekicks, the chunky best friend, the hired help or other stereotypes. To think this doesn’t have a negative effect on females who rarely see images of their own races depicted in a positive manner is insane. To think it doesn’t have an effect on the way white people (and all people) view women of color is equally insane."

So what do we think - 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? It has to happen eventually, right?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Finding Joy [Part Eight]

Again, taking a prompt from Shelley Seale's article Finding Joy: Tips for creating your own 30-day Happiness Project:

Act the way you want to feel. Doing this often helps propel us in that direction. Try a smile, even if you don’t feel like it; try helping someone else, even if you don’t feel like it. You might be surprised how those feelings change.

Acting the way you want to feel seems to always have nice repercussions, doesn't it? Even if it's just feeling... good inside. Nothing wrong with that.

If you've been reading along, you've probably noticed there has been a whole lot of walking and adventuring lately. This is because I was actually embarrassed at how little we were doing in New York City. People would ask what our plans were for the weekend, and we would mumble something about making brunch, and possibly taking the baby to the park (the park is literally half a block away). Granted, Ian and I make a mean brunch, and Riverside park is lovely, but sometimes we get stuck in our routines. It can get a little sad. So, staying active every day (walking over a mile), and trying to explore the city - these were things I want to do so I can feel like I'm taking advantage of living here. I want to feel like a New Yorker, thus I act like a New Yorker (but am perceived as a tourist when the camera comes out).

Many of these prompts (and the general idea of a happiness project, in general) seem to focus around the being present, at least that is my interpretation. Sometimes it's hard to be present - to be in the moment and appreciate where you are, now.

How else do I want to feel?

I want to feel organized:
  1. I need to have at least one room "cleaned" before bed each night. We're getting better at tidying throughout the day. My mom's "Only touch something once" rule is, once again, the best way to keep things neat. My mother, national treasure!
  2. I need to get to the Container Store (or an equivalent) and purchase a few organization bins.
  3. We need to go through all of the paper in our apartment and file or shred. 
I want to feel more at peace:
  1. I need to not be on the defensive all the time. Sometimes I catch myself disagreeing with Ian because I feel what he said is a fraction off from what my perceived "truth" is. This is petty, and it really bugs me when he does it. (Ian, argumentative, philosopher, what?)
  2. I want to read a book on meditation and peace. I think The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama is in order. I need to request this from the library.
 The smiling more couldn't hurt either. I definitely see a strong correlation of smiling at the baby (it's impossible not to smile at her!) and finding my mood improving. Not to say that I'm a crabby-cakes, but gosh, we all have our days, don't we?

Question: How do you want to feel? What is one thing you can change in your behavior to alter how you feel?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Bechdel Test: New Rule

The Bechdel Test has three rules to test movies for gender bias:
  1. Does the movie have more than two named, female characters?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about anything other than their relationships with men?
If all three are true, then the movie passes.While this is by no means a comprehensive test for what is feminist or not, or if a movie portrays women in a positive or realistic light, it is one tool that exposes Hollywood's extreme sexism.

Anita Sarkeesian, creator Feminist Frequency, posted a video in February 2012 proposing a fourth rule:

    4.  Do they talk to each other for more than one minute?

Sarkeesian's analysis is informative and so relevant. Yes, the 2012 Oscars have passed, but this discussion of the portrayal of women in the media is necessary.

(The original video by Sarkeesian on the Bechedel Test can be found here).

Question: What are some of your all-time favorite movies, and do they pass?

I had to think about this.Some of my favorite films are (in no particular order):

SPOILER ALERT: You're about to see that my all-time, favorite, watch-on-a-bad-day movies are girly and cuddly, and will probably make you think less of me. I want to assure you, I'm aware, and I'm sorry I'm such a romantic sap.
I also love BBC productions of Jane Austen movies and have been watching these things for 15+ years, but I'm pretty sure they don't pass - maybe Sense and Sensibility does when they talk about money matters. But again, the whole point of the book is who ends up with who.

Why is it that all of my favorite comfort-media is so shallow and so god-damned heteronormative

The Big, Bad World

This is what I am thinking tonight:
How do I raise this little girl to be fearless, when I am so often afraid of what people will think?
How do I raise this little girl to conquer, when I so often can't get started?
How do I raise this little girl to be confident, when I'm stuck second guessing myself?

Little Felicity, it won't be easy to be strong. Being a woman is hard work, the world around you makes it hard. People expect you to be whole and to be every stereotypical woman at once, but you can't. You can't be a whole human being and have all of these conflicting identities.

There is strength in saying "No." There is strength in choosing for yourself who you are and how you show the world who that person is. There is strength in abandoning what is expected of you, and even more strength in not caring.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a really beautiful book. I will admit to googling diving bell to understand Bauby's reference (and it makes complete sense).

Jean-Dominique Bauby dictated this book in his final year of life, through blinks, a truly amazing feat. Bauby experienced a serious stroke that left him unable to speak or move any part of his body, save his left eyelid, a condition known as locked-in syndrome.

While this type of serious tragedy would defeat almost anyone, Bauby used his time to think and reflect on his life. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a memoir of sorts, written with grace, a keen eye for detail, and lots of wry whit. Though Bauby communicates how frustrating it is to be so completely immobile, he does not spend any time pitying himself. Rather, he reflects on how it was before the stroke - how it was to spend time with his girlfriend, small moments with his children and friends. He relates how these memories shape his time after the stroke, how he thinks differently.

This book awakens a sort of gratitude for life as it is. It can be so easy to take our lives for granted, especially in The United States, where a large majority of the population lives so comfortably, complaining about wireless services or a longer than normal line at the store. Although this is in no way comparable to Bauby's experience, I remember how it felt when my left hip went out during the last few weeks I was pregnant. While it was uncomfortable to walk before this happened, just taking a step was excruciating. I thought, "How lucky I was to be able to walk normally, and how I wish I could now."

It is that sort of thought that you leave with. Not only how blessed (dare I use such a loaded term?) to have our working bodies, but more aware of the small details and wonders that surround us. A favorite meal. A sip of tea. The pleasure of holding a book. A long kiss. The ability to say, "I love you." The feel of grass beneath your feet in the summer.

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Adventuring in New York City

A facebook friend posted something about eating chicken wings in Koreatown last night. I didn't know such a thing existed! I got online, I found a place, and shoved our small family out the door early in the afternoon to find said wings. (They were amazing, by the way).

A very long walk in Riverside Park on Thursday, picnic on The High Line yesterday, K-Town today...

I was hungry for more adventure, suddenly regretting my immobility towards the end of the pregnancy, and our propensity to stay close to home, or not leave the apartment at all. "Want to keep exploring?" I pensively asked my husband (my handsome creature-of-habit), knowing he was most interested in returning home and playing Dragon Age, and is sometimes resistant to unplanned activities. He looked at me, unsure. "We could walk to Milk & Cookies," I ventured further, hoping to entice him. That did the trick. We started to walk.

We ventured south, happening upon Madison Square Park. We found a bench and I nursed Felicity. (It's amazing how comfortable I am nursing Felicity in public now, and I give all credit to my weekly moms group that meets in the park). We continued on Fifth Avenue and encountered a street fair that stretched blocks and blocks. Grilled corn on the cob with butter, salt, and chile powder? Why yes, I believe I will! Once we reached the West Village, we happened on a crafts fair with some really lovely paintings and jewelry, and a live Jazz band.

We finally made it to our destination. If you live in New York City, or are traveling through, please do stop in at Milk & Cookies. I am fussy about my baked goods, and they (by a far stretch) have the absolute best cookies I've ever had. Seriously. They are thick, crispy on the outside but so chewy on the inside. The flavor combinations are fantastic as well. Through several visits (I never get more than one at a time, although I am always tempted), I've tried Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut, S'mores (thanks to Ian sharing a bite today), Caramel and Chocolate, and Bacon Smack. What is Bacon Smack, you might ask. You should - it's wonderful. This lovely cookie has bacon, as you might expect, as well as cranberries, toffee, and dark chocolate chunks.

As we were eating our cookies, I saw they had a cookbook (aptly named, Milk & Cookies). "Ian, they have a cookbook, I really want that cookbook." He glanced up from his s'mores cookie, mid-dunk. "Rachel, we need a new cookbook like we need a hole in the head." I sighed. "Really, more than a hole in the head? I think a cookbook is slightly more useful than that." He chewed thoughtfully, but did not respond.

Usually when I want things but walk away from them (as we should with all possible impulse purchases, even if it's on clearance), I promptly forget about whatever it is that I saw. This is an incredible money-saving technique that has kept me in budget many-a-time, saving hundreds of dollars. Maybe more. But sometimes a cookbook will sing to you. It was the same way when I saw Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts.

I waited until we'd been home for a few hours. I uploaded some pictures on facebook, nursed the baby, read for awhile, put the baby to bed... and then I tentatively went on Amazon, just to see how unaffordable Milk & Cookies was: $13.13, egad! Not $40, as I'd anticipated.

"Hey Ian..." I said slowly from the couch, looking at him from across the room.

He looked up. "Yeah, babe?"

"Remember that one time that you said we needed a cookbook like we need a hole in the head?" His brow furrowed slightly, he turned back to his game. I whisperd, "This cookbook is only thirteen dollars. More loudly, "And I really want it."

"You really want it?"

"Yes. I really want it." He nodded. I enthusiastically clicked on Amazon's "Buy Now with 1-Click!" button (also known as the Demon button).

I'll let you know how the cookbook is, I promise.

This is how decisions are made in the house. It's why I have twenty cookbooks and why Ian has has  as many video games. But it's also why we don't have three hundred cookbooks, and why Ian only plays video games for a few hours a week.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Three hours later...

"Beware the easy bedtime."
Truer words ne'er were spake.

Excellent Article by The Nation

This is an excellent article on the high cost of motherhood by Bryce Covert for The Nation. It's definitely worth reading. In relation, Moms In Maine posted a piece on their blog this week that is well worth your time called "Wake Up Moms: You're Fighting the Wrong Fight!" (in response to the Time article I'm sure you're familiar with).

Babyproofing: Are we saving the apartment from her, or her from the apartment?

We're leaving for Ann Arbor, Michigan in a few weeks, and our subletters will move in. Their daughter is a few days older than Felicity. Felicity, we realize, will start crawling, probably a whole lot sooner than we're ready for. Sitting? Check. Scooting backwards while on tummy? Check. Tummy time and neck pro? Check.

Where has the time gone. No, seriously, someone place tell me where the time has gone!

While Felicity certainly won't be crawling before we're gone for the summer, her small friend will be here all summer, and will most likely start crawling while living in our apartment. So it's been a day to think about childproofing. You find me $150 poorer (just take my soul now,, with no less than fifteen items being delivered so we can protect Felicity from our dangerous ways, and protect our dangerous ways from Felicity.

And there are so many interesting childproofing things to be had! I think we're all familiar with the soft edges for the coffee table, and the snappy thing-a-ma-bobbers (why yes, that is certainly their technical term) to make it more difficult to open cabinets and drawers, but now there are all of these other things I'll be a Bad Mother if I don't spend our hard earned money on:
  • Toilet seat lock
  • Foam padding to prevent doors from shutting
  • Furniture locks for refrigerators and ovens
  • Knob covers for the stove (this one really does make a lot of sense)
  • A lock you put at the top of the door, presumably to lock a child in a room. 
  • Door knob handle locks
  • A rubber duck that turns red if the bathwater is too hot
Electrical outlet covers I can get down with, and we did invest in two security gates to keep our child corralled for peace of mind, but some of this is a bit much. Did I buy the blue whale that covers the bathtup faucet? Yes, but mostly because it's adorable. I think of what my parents had when I was a child, and then how my sister is raising her toddler (and the much-anticipated Baby #2) in Honduras, and I think we're all going to be okay.

Will I put safety snaps on the drawers to prevent Felicity from accessing knives and cutting off a finger? Yes, no doubt. Will I put foam pads on our doors so I can never have a moment of privacy again? Absolutely not. Child, I will pee in peace, knowing you are safely confined to one room with no hard edges or exposed outlets.

Where is the line between protecting a child from danger and being overly-protective and not allowing her to learn for herself?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The post on "The Motherhood Penalty" raised questions about hormones in mothers and fathers. I started thinking about the hormones released after pregnancy, especially in a breastfeeding mother such as myself. I feel like I'm a different person after Felicity's birth five months ago. Why? And will I return to my formerly fabulous self, or is this new, kind of high-strung, super-sensitive 'me' here to stay?

It seems that the moms in my support group (who also mother infants) are a bit confused as well. We're told we have all of these hormones floating around, and that they cause any number of symptoms, but we seem to be reading different materials and hear different things. You heard breastfeeding made you lose weight faster? My doctor said that I'll hold on to an additional 10 pounds until I wean... etc.

I have to say, after spending a forty-five googling, I'm having difficulty finding any useful information that discusses the hormones present and what they do to the body.

Does anyone else feel uncomfortable just looking at this cow?

Kelly Mom (great website, by the by) cites scientific studies to show how prolactin peaks in a woman when she is full-term, then gradually declines after pregnancy. Prolactin is the hormone that tells a women's body to produce milk. Wikipedia (great scholarly resources, right everyone, right?) says that high estrogen and progesterone levels keep the body from lactating during pregnancy, and the sharp drops in these hormones after birth allows the body to go ahead and make milk. I hate even talking about what Wikipedia says, but I'm honestly having a hard time finding any good data that is informed by cited scientific backing.

But the internet is full of lots of uncited, where-the-hell-did-this-come-from information about the "hormones" that women produce following pregnancy. And according to the all-wise internet, these hormones do the following to a person:
  • make you moody
  • make you angry
  • make you weepy (I would like to see a scientific study on weepiness, wouldn't you?)
  • make you anxious
  • make you an insomniac
  • make you depressed
  • make you hold on to weight
  • make you have night sweats
  • make you have hot flashes
  • make you angry at your partner
  • make you angry at your baby
It feels really unfeminist and somewhat dishonest to blame behavior on hormones, but sometimes I seriously feel like a crazy person. And, speaking as someone with / recovering from postpartum depression, these emotions which I'm told are a product of the hormones raging in my post-pregnancy body, can be incredibly difficult to control.

Questions: What symptoms (both on and off the list above) did you experience during pregnancy and after childbirth? Did you find that you 'stabilized' back to your former self after a time?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


We've had cloudy and rainy weather for days in New York City, and the weather is starting to get to me. I've been in an unholy funk all day, accentuated by a really bad haircut I got on Sunday.

The haircut I wanted.
I feel a little foolish getting so worked up about a haircut, and was hoping to keep my vanity from seeping into my blogging, but it cannot be avoided.

Ian, mystified at my bitching about it to my sister tonight, asked me why it was such a big deal. I said, "Imagine you paid someone $65 plus tip* to draw a black line down your face in permanent marker. Yes, it will go away eventually, but it sure is a bummer until it fades, and every time you step outside, everyone sees it."

A woman named Kate chopped my short hair really short, so short that the sides are actually buzzed with a razor, and I'm considering just taking a clipper to the rest. If I haven't gotten used to the cut in a week, I probably will. I've done it before.

I hate to think about what a vain person I am, and how much having a good haircut means to me. But this is bumming me out, and my neighbors are avoiding eye contact, so I know it's not just me.
The haircut I got.

But here are the nice things that happened today:
  • I'm drinking a lovely cup of Tazo Rest tea. (When I googled Tazo Rest tea is quickly became apparent that Starbucks owns Tazo. This is seriously disappointing.) It's a nice blend of rose, chamomile, and other relaxing things. I'm hoping it will calm me down.
  • Felicity went to bed so easily tonight! Only five or so minutes of active fussing and crying. Awesome.
  • Ian and I worked on a couple of crosswords together. This makes my heart happy.
  • A seriously delicious dinner of open-faced turkey burgers on Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Sesame bread (our very favorite bread, not owned by Starbucks), with local cheddar cheese and a simple guacamole made with avocado and salsa verde. We roasted a few golden beets in the oven for the side. So healthy, so yummy.
  • Ian cleaned the entire apartment today. Seriously. He's taking a couple of days off of work after finishing teaching and grading for the semester and (I must brag) finishing an article and sending it off for publication (we hope). And he cleaned the whole apartment. 
  • We read several books with Felicity before putting her to bed. She is becoming such an engaging little person, and we really have a nice time together when we read. 
Our current favorite book (by our, I mean Ian and I really like it, Felicity doesn't seem to care what we read to her as long as she is allowed to stroke the pages on a comfortable lap) is Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Jen Corace. 

Mathilda, as you make expect from the cover, is an enthusiastic and curious sheep. This book encourages independence and creativity, and is very sweet and funny. It's also very pro-orange, as a color. So are we.

*I don't normally pay this much for a haircut (it's unreasonable); I didn't realized I'd inadvertently scheduled with a "senior stylist" when my usual, cheaper, and oh-so-amazing stylist was unavailable.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The "Motherhood Penalty"

Shelley Correll, an associate professor at Cornell University, is researching something she's calling the "motherhood penalty," that is, the professional disadvantage that women experience because of their status as mothers. Not only is there (still) a large gap between what men and women earn, but Correll's research is showing that women who are mothers earn substantially less than women who do not have children.

Something that I immediately thought about was how differently mothers and fathers are perceived. I was pleased to see that Correll addresses this in her article regarding the "motherhood penalty." writing that "Being a good father and a good employee are part of the 'package deal' defining what it means to be a man. Therefore, since the 'good father' and 'ideal worker' are not perceived to be in tension, being a good parent is not predicated to lead to lower workplace evaluations for fathers."

Not so for women. Though Correll is careful to note in her conclusions that while there is a definite wage disadvantage women experience for every child they have, her research does not show (at this time) that discrimination against mothers causes a decrease in this wage disadvantage.

From The Clayman Institute for Gender Research's article: 

"In one test, Correll and her colleagues found that evaluators consistently ranked mothers as less competent and less committed workers than childless women but ranked fathers as more competent and committed than non-fathers. In a follow-up study, the researchers responded to more than 600 newspaper ads for high-level business positions by sending out fake resumes for two equally qualified candidates that varied only in very subtle references to parenting activities. They found that the childless female candidate was twice as likely to be called in for an interview as the mother. Fathers experienced no call-back penalty."

In fact, according to Correll's article, fathers were offered higher salaries over childless men as they were seen as "more committed to paid work."

Questions: Has anyone experienced any discrimination in your job because of pregnancy or your status as a mother? If you don't have children, is this something that you worry about if you plan to start a family? And for those mommas currently at home, do you have concerns about what getting back into the workplace will be like for you?

[Thanks to Adventures in Boogieville, who also linked to this video]

Trader Joe's Adventure & The Weekly Menu

Usually I spend a few hours over the weekend constructing a menu from various websites and cookbooks. This typically takes hours, as I mentioned, because I'm of the fuss-variety and want a perfect menu every week that suits my unreasonable need for variety, my desire to eat everything on Pinterest, incorporates what food we have on hand into the menu, and fulfills whatever yen I have that week, which I will most likely be over by the time that menu item makes it to the table that week. But as we know, making a menu before time usually saves money, and helps eliminate the "what should eat tonight" syndrome that is so prominent amongst the middle class.

Then we order our groceries online (I use FreshDirect and am usually satisfied with their services), and wait for them to come the next day.

What our TJ's usually looks like (found on
As we had a house guest this weekend and it was Mother's Day, I didn't take the time to plan our menu like usual. Ian is taking a week off of work now that his semester is finished (yay!), so we slept in this morning with Felicity, showered, and dragged our lovely selves to a nearly almost empty Trader Joe's. Let me emphasize how odd this is; our Trader Joe's is usually so crowded that one person has to plant themselves with the cart and baby, while the other person is the designated runner. If we're moving through the store and realize we've forgotten an item, sometimes it's not worth going against traffic to turn around and get it. Keep moving, soldiers! No time for regrets! The line to check out, while fast-moving, often wraps around almost the entire second floor. This is some serious, no-nonsense grocery shopping.

We entered today with no list. We were nervous, not knowing what we encounter and how we would get our food for the week. Uncharacteristically, we conquered: only $5 over-budget for the week. I can live with that.

Weekly Menu (composed on the spot, so no hotlinks this week Mom, sorry!)

Pepperoni Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust
Salmon with Honey-Mustard Sauce, served with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Sauteed Kale
Turkey Burgers with avocado and cheddar, on Whole Wheat Toast, served with oven-roasted Golden Beets
Open-Face Broccolini and Cheddar Melts
Sandwiches with Roasted Eggplant and Baby Tomatoes, and fresh Basil
Cauliflower and Pea Curry, served with Brown Basamati Rice
Rigatoni with a Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce and Italian Sausage

And for breakfasts, Kale Shakes, English Muffins, and Cereal with Yogurt and Fruit

Finding Joy [Part Seven]

Taking my daily prompt from Shelley Seale's article Finding Joy: Tips for creating your own 30-day Happiness Project, today's topic is Quality Time.

Choose carefully the people and activities you spend your time with. Make enough time for those which really matter to you, and make it focused time—be present with it, not planning all the other things on your to-do list.

This is good advice, whether one is embarking on a happiness project or not.

My initial reaction to the prompt was I hardly have any friends in New York, so this doesn't even apply to me. Of course, our first reactions are sometimes... stupid. Not only do I have two blossoming friendships with moms I've met in a local moms group, but one of my college roommates living Brooklyn, and I'm able to see her once or twice a month.

But for us, in New York with no family and missing our best friends, this means making time to stay in touch with our long-distance loved ones. Sometimes I feel lazy for spending an hour or so on Skype each day instead of doing "productive" things, like cleaning or laundry or reading for my thesis. Yet talking to my mom, my sister (who lives in Honduras with small family), and my mother-in-law on Skype is fantastic. I've never been closer to any of these wonderful women, they get to witness the growth of my small, resistant-to-bedtime offspring (who is shrieking in the other room as Ian tries to lull her into a blissful slumber), and their companionship and encouragement help keep me sane.

This also means spending more time corresponding with friends - letters! I never thought I would enjoy sending letters and cards, but popping a card into the mail is bliss! We even added a small weekly budget category for correspondence. This makes me happy.

Ian and I are usually good at spending time together. We have a goal of an hour of 'Us' time (computers off) after Felicity is down for the night, whether this is playing a game together, working on a crossword, reading together, cooking or baking, or just cuddling and chatting. Realistically this doesn't always happen (mostly because Felicity hates to sleep and sometimes getting her down can take hours), but the thought is there. Even if we don't have time to take our 'Us' time after Flick falls asleep, we're good at talking a little as we drift off to sleep, probably the reason I'm such a strong proponent of couples going to bed at the same time.

It took Ian a bit to get used to me asking, "What was the best part about your day, honey?" as a snuggle up next to him in bed, followed by, "And what as the worst part about your day?" Even if it's the briefest of chats before falling asleep, this really grounds us, helps us check in with each other and stay on the same page.

How do you stay in touch with your loved ones? Do you intentionally carve out time for close friends, write letters, chat on the phone with your family or friends?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day for a New Mom

Ian, at my gentle urging a month or two ago, scheduled a massage for me today, my first official Mother's Day. Really, I would've loved to celebrate Mother's Day last year as well, but someone, who shall go unnamed, said that I wasn't a real mom yet because I wasn't carrying a real baby yet. I suppose this is a result of the women's movement.

When I walked in the dimly lit room with candles and soft music, the masseuse asked me what I'd like to to focus on in my time. "Well," I said, I had a baby a few months ago. I nurse, so my posture is deplorable and my back is sore, and I'm still having occasional pain from my cesarean five months ago."

Did I want her to work on my abs. I thought about it, I thought about what my stomach looked like. And I said, "Sure."

She left the room, and I stripped down and laid on the massage table. She came back in and started on my neck and back, moved to my arms. Then she lifted up the towel that was covering my backside, and asked me softly to slowly roll over. I paused for a second, and inhaled.

I don't think I've shown my stomach to anyone besides Ian, my mom, and my doctor since I gave birth five months ago. It is, shall we say, a bit flabby, and not what I thought my stomach would ever look like, especially when I consider my bikini-clad self on my honeymoon two years ago. The pregnancy left me with hundreds of stretch marks (this is not an exaggeration, I literally cannot count them all), not just on my stomach but on my hips, butt, and upper thighs. I even have a few rogue stretch marks in my armpits (this perplexes me to no end), on my calves, and on my breasts (at least these make sense!). The skin on my lower stomach is loose and somewhat resembles cottage cheese, even though the my skin is tightening and my stretch marks are lightening.

I had to muster up a little bravery, but really, it's Mother's Day, and I have to accept what comes with being a Mom. So I rolled over and exposed my big, momma belly, flaws and all. It was perhaps the first time I've accepted being Mom versus just being Felicity's mom. Maybe I'm not explaining the difference well, but Ian and I sometimes sit around with Felicity and think how funny it is that we have a tiny human that lives with us that we happen to take care of. We more see ourselves as her caretakers than as Parents (Parents with a capital P, that is). My parents are Parents. My mom is a Mom. How can I take on these roles?

I don't really have an answer, and am a little of unsure of how to end this post, except to link to The Shape of a Mother, a really beautiful website that I found almost a year ago.

Here I am, a real Woman, a real Mom.

Finding Joy [Part Six]

Again, taking a prompt from Shelley Seale's article Finding Joy: Tips for creating your own 30-day Happiness Project, today's topic is short-term pleasure versus long-term happiness:

View happiness in the long-term. Immediate/temporary pleasures are often harmful to us in the long run; for example, it might be more pleasurable to sit and eat ice cream in the moment, rather than work out. But ultimately, you will be happier if you’re active and healthy.

Self control. What is that again? Oh yeah, it's when I make a decision that I don't necessarily like now to have a greater

Ian and I are reading Brain Rules: 12 Rules for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. The first chapter covers the enormous positive impact of exercise on brain power (thinking, memory, learning, etc.) and, of course, health. Some surprising facts* include:
  • Humans are designed to walk approximately twelve miles a day (I walked about a mile and a half today).
  • Aerobic exercise practiced two or three times a week for at least 30 minutes "at a clip" will improve brain functioning, and such exercise reduces the odds of getting Alzheimer's by 60%.
  • Exercise releases serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, "the three neurotransmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of mental health." Regular exercise helps with depression and anxiety. 
  • Walking at least 20 minutes daily decreases your chance of having a stroke by 57%.
These are some really interesting statistics. And they make me question why I'm so adverse to... moving around.

It is difficult to have the self-control to always make good decisions, especially if you have multiple habits and projects you are working on at the same time. I feel like I remember reading somewhere (I cannot remember where, maybe someone knows? Malcolm Gladwell, perhaps?) that one can only use so much self-control during the day before breaking down. So, for example, if I'm really concentrating on using all of my spare minutes when Felicity is sleeping or otherwise occupied to straighten the house or write, and I'm making a really good effort to not swear, even in my mind, and to turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk, then I might not have enough self-control left to avoid having a piece of cake when offered one (that is, if the cake fairies exist, as I hope they do, and brought me a piece of cake, specifically German-chocolate cake with a nice, thick coconut and walnut frosting, I would not have the self-control to turn it down. I would take two. Thank you, cake fairies!).

Exercise is really one of those things that pays off in so many positive ways. If you're doing it right (not overworking yourself, doing what is within your physical limitations yet stretching yourself), it literally cannot harm you. So why is it so hard to commit to? Why is this single activity, that can make you healthier, help you live a longer, more vibrant life, can you make you healthier and smarter, so hard to commit to, especially when it requires so little time during the day?

Because I'm lazy, and I'm definitely not alone. It's true that my knee is currently injured, so cardio workouts and even a lot yoga is just out, but I do try to walk. I could do more. At this point it isn't so much about weight, but being healthy for me, being healthy so I can live a long and fulfilling life with Ian (who runs 4-5 times a week, that no good show-off), and being healthy for Felicity, so I can do everything I want to with her, be a good parent, and be a good example.

Of course, there are so many more areas of my life that I am working to have more self-control in. Something I keep repeating over and over to myself is think of how I will feel after this is done. Today, despite having a house guest (and, it turns out, a baby that will not go to sleep and stay asleep, no matter what I do!), I washed and dried three loads of laundry, folded the clothes, and put them away. I kept thinking, imagine how it will feel to have no dirty clothes, to have everything neatly put away and no clothes getting wrinkled in hampers for days (an perpetual problem in our household). And, I can say, it feels amazing.

I also had two scoops of chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream for dessert. Small steps.

Daily goals I'm currently working on:
  • Walking for at least 30 minutes every day (until I get cleared for exercise again).
  • The "touch it once" rule (courtesy of my mother): If I have it in my hand, put it away or do what needs to be done with it. This eliminates mail floating around, mugs moving from room to room, clothes on the floor, and a general chaos of things floating from room to room, without a home of their own. 
  • Writing for 30+ minutes a day.
  • Envisioning the end product of a chore or task, and how I will feel when I've finished it.
  • No more than one sweet thing a day.
 Goals I've been working on that I've successfully implemented (and are now habits):
  • Snacking on fruit or yogurt if I get hungry before meals.
  • Responding to Felicity with empathy instead of frustration .
  • Getting 1-2 servings of veggies with every meal, and one serving of fruit.
  • Cooking and eating all of the meals on our menu each week, as to not waste groceries and save money avoiding eating out.
QUESTIONS: What goals are you currently working on? For you, what short-term things are hard to give up for long-term gains? What does long-term happiness mean for you?

*John Medina explicitly states (and I love this!) that he doesn't reference studies unless they're both 1) in a peer-reviewed journal; and 2) the results have been duplicated in at least one other study.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Morningside Heights: A Novel

Morningside Heights: A Novel
Morningside Heights: A Novel by Cheryl Mendelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading Morningside Heights during my last week of pregnancy. I remember starting the book on the subway, and immediately turning to Ian and saying, "Here, read these first three pages! It's a little history of our neighborhood!" Cheryl Medelson's writing immediately hooked me, from her description of the neighborhood of Morningside Heights in New York City (the area around Columbia University which divides the Upper West Side and Harlem), to the introduction of her interesting, yet flawed characters, written with such feeling and depth.

This book came to the hospital with me for Felicity's birth and was what I picked up when I had a spare five minutes to read during that first month with the baby. Morningside Heights reads very much like a Jane Austen novel in that the focus of the book is on the characters and their interactions with each other, and the question of who will marry who is prominent in your mind as you read.

Mendelson is a lovely writer, and I'm looking forward to the third installment in this series (this is the first).

View all my reviews

Friday, May 11, 2012

Feminist Mothering: What Does a Feminist Mother Look Like?

Do you know about Blue Milk? You don't? You should.

Several years ago, we're talking 2007, Blue Milk posted a list of questions for feminist moms to answer (What Does a Feminist Mother Look Like?). As I've been starting work on my masters thesis on heteronormativity and heterosexuality, I've been struggling a great deal to intellectually understand the ways in which I mother; I always feel like I have to defend my actions, even the choice to have a child, and then, with even greater vigor, the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom. A feminist? At home?

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother? 

Feminism is my religion; in the same way that Christianity will shape an individual's worldview, thoughts, and choices, so feminism is the core of how I interpret reality.

I became a feminist in high school. I won't say that the particular brand of feminism had much merit, but I became aware of the real differences in how men and women were treated, and became very interested in gender and its relation to sex.

37 Weeks Pregnant
What has surprised you most about motherhood?

Of course you know that you will love your child, so the fierce, tiger-mama love I have for my baby was anticipated. For me, all of the small moments surprised me and give me so much joy. Here is this beautiful little life, and I am witness to every new sound, every new movement. It is a pleasure to see her develop, and to know that my body, up to this point, has sustained hers 100%. I didn't expect to be so enraptured with everything she does.

How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My feminism has become much less political over time; I believe we need actual social reform. While certainly our government can implement helpful changes, these actions will not resolve the underlying sexism.

Now that I'm a mother, I'm much more sympathetic to stay at home moms (especially as I am one, currently). I used to think that staying at home was a sign of weakness and that these women always adhered to traditional (read harmful) feminine ideals. While I think it's wrong to assume that women should stay home (or should be the ones to give up their careers or be the ones to always sacrifice their desires and needs), there is something fantastic about spending so much time with my baby and knowing she's getting the very best I can give.

I'm also more sympathetic to moms in general; being a parent is hard, and I think that women are often unfairly burdened with a majority of the childcare and responsibilities around the house. I'm much more aware of all of the time and effort goes into raising a child. What can look very easy from the outside is incredibly difficult. The work is often unrecognized and unrewarded. Our society places little to no value on parents that choose to be stay at home parents.

Five Days Old
What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

Felicity does wear a lot of pink. Most of it was given to us, but I will confess to purchasing a pair of neon-pink shorts with ruffles on the ass a few weeks ago when I found them on clearance  (we call her "Lord Rufflebottom" when she wears them). I do try to stay with gender-neutral colors and baby items.

We are careful to not put any feminine stereotypes on her when singing, talking, and playing with her. We read books about girls and boys (our very favorite series are the "How Does a Dinosaur..." books by Jane Yolen, and we interchange "he" with "she"). We tell her she is both beautiful and strong.

But feminist parenting is so much more than avoiding pink and blue, girl and boy. I come to mothering very aware that gender and sex aren't the same thing, and I don't assume that my child will be straight. We are raising her to be intelligent, questioning, loving, caring, and confident in herself and her abilities, both as a person and as a woman (if that's how she chooses to identify). Feminism is as much about knowing and loving the self as it is about fighting against inequality for those that have been marginalized because of their sex, sexuality, gender-identification, nationality, skin color, economic status, or beliefs. I want her to be aware that every action has a consequence, even the simple actions and non-actions.

8 Weeks Old
Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

Sometimes I feel like I don't do enough to be a conscientious parent. For example, we use disposable diapers because we couldn't afford the start-up cost of cloth diapering, and we have to pay too much per load of laundry to justify the long-term financial savings. That and I absolutely hate doing laundry and we can barely keep up with what we have already! We also can't afford to eat in an environmentally healthy way, not on one income in New York City.

Sometimes I think that I could do more to raise her less identified as "girl," but I'm not sure how to go about this.

Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

I actually had a really difficult time justifying my desire to have a child with my feminism. We laugh about it now, but I was reading books on why not to have children when we decided to get pregnant. Although my friends in my Women's and Gender Studies were happy for me, my professors were significantly less so (one actually encouraged me to wait to have children until I had my PhD and a secure job when I discussed the possibility of it with her before I got pregnant).

I felt like I constantly had to defend my decision to be a mom, and now have to defend my status as a stay at home mom, which many feminists believe to be a fate worse than death! I may be a stay at home mom, but I'm no housewife!

3 Months Old
Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

I do struggle with the juxtaposition between the independence and strength that a feminist identity encourages, and the ultimate selflessness and sacrifice that motherhood is. It is really hard to see a large portion of my identity so strongly tied to another.

I think, above all, feminism is about love, love through equality and justice. When I step back from the daily grind of mommy-hood, I recognize that we are raising her with as much love as we can muster. We love her enough to question ourselves constantly, which, more often than not, leads me to spend way too much time reading parenting books and blogs. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put down the book and pick up the baby - she's only this little once! 

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

Oh, thank the good lord that Ian (husband) is a feminist! He is a fantastic partner in every sense of the word. Really, he would make a better stay at home parent than I do. He is a considerate and thoughtful man and does so much to help me realize my dreams. Even though he's working full time, he does over half of the housework and steps into the primary-parent role several times a week so I can get out of the house to work on my thesis (and maintain my sanity). He changes diapers, he rocks to sleep, he would feed her if he could, he would've carried her for at least half of the pregnancy if biology would've allowed it.

We moved to New York City because we both decided that we wanted to, as a couple, as a family. Although my previous employer transferred me to a position in the city, the new position was underpaid and much more stressful. When we looked at childcare options, my whole paycheck would have covered a nanny or reputable day care, and the job was making me feel like a crazy person, and I didn't have time work on my thesis. So we decided together that it made more sense for me to stay at home. And, when Ian's two or three years are done at Columbia, we're going to find a place to move where I can pursue my doctorate and he can teach. (See what I mean though? I constantly feel like I have to justify what I do, because of these negative stereotypes about what it means to be a stay at home parent.)

First night not in her co-sleeper - seems healthy enough!
If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

Attachment parenting is interesting in that it really divides feminists into two camps. On one hand, there is something really beautiful about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and the environmental, physical aspects of attachment parenting that mirrors the relationship humans have with the earth (and some would argue, that great female spirit that is a life source).

On the other hand, it is seriously hard to have a baby attached to your boobs all the time! The first several months I joked that I was within a six-block radius of our apartment, even when it was "Rachel Out" time. (I think I only ventured beyond this radius to attend counseling, to complain about my six-block radius).You have to be completely accessible and available for your baby, and this can be really difficult when you're trying to remember who you were before you had a baby. Oh, you were an independent woman who didn't break down in tears five times a week and didn't have spit up on all of her (very dirty because there isn't time to do laundry) clothes! Oh, you had other things besides baby poop to think about and talk about!

In the end, I do whatever I can to make Felicity as happy as possible,  but I also do what I need to do so that I am a functioning, happy adult that can raise her as best as I can, which sometimes means doing what is second-best for her (but not at all damaging), like having her sleep in her crib so I can spoon with my husband, or leaving her with a sitter if a night-out is needed. It's all about balance. I need to be healthy and happy so I can raise a healthy and happy child.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

This is a difficult question. I think there are certain strains of feminism that are more anti-mothering or pro-mothering than others. Feminism can create additional challenges for women when it seriously questions putting children first over the self  (like my old stereotype that stay at home moms were unthinking women - not necessarily so!).

On the flip side, how wonderful that feminism has given mothers choices about how to raise their children and go about their lives, like the freedom to work, if that is what a woman wants, or the freedom to not work, if that is what a woman wants. Choice is a wonderful, beautiful thing.

A Note for Readers

Although it wasn't necessarily my intent when I first responded to a prompt on the article "Finding Joy: Tips for Creating Your Own 30-Day Happiness Project," it's now clear to me that it will be important for me to work through the whole list compiled by Shelley Steale. I've been thinking more about starting a happiness project, but want to read a few books first before I jump into anything, so no specific plans at this time!

I also wanted to throw out a link for Shelley Seale's 30-Days at a Time blog. During the month of 2011, she focused on specific projects each month to live more conscientiously throughout the year, such as a Six Items or Less (only 6 or fewer clothing items for a month; although this initially made me shiver, I realized my post-baby wardrobe pretty much consists of this), a Locavore challenge, and of course a 30-Day Happiness Challenge.

She has a running blog called Trading Places: Experiencing How People Live Around the World, and you can find her website (with links to a few books she's written) here.

Happy reading, and thanks Shelley for a little inspiration!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my all-time favorite parenting book (to date, at least), and I'm astonished I didn't actually write a review when we finished reading it in January.

John Medina writes clearly and succinctly about how to raise happy, healthy, and moral children. Citing peer-reviewed, current research, Medina intelligently discusses what science knows about "nature," the "soil" (as he calls it) that is biology and genetics, and then reviews how parents can maximize their time with their children, from pregnancy and on.

Some of the best advice I gleaned from this book is to always validate a child's feelings. Sometimes it's so easy to go into auto-pilot with a baby, especially when they're fussy or crying for hours. Instead of telling my five-month old lady that "You're okay, it's all going to be okay," I now softly tell her that I know it's hard to be a baby, and try to guess at the possible discomforts an infant may have (and have you thought about these? there must be so many!). He gives the example of a toddler's fish dying in the book. It may be no big deal to you as an adult, but it may be a huge for a little kid, they might grieve for days!

Another gem: always praise effort instead of smarts/beauty/talent/etc. Apparently many parents in Asia do this (I learned this in a college psych course long ago). Essentially, praising a child for a trait, such as intelligence ("Good job, you're so smart!", encourages them to believe they have the natural talents to always do well in school (and life), and when they fail, they are more likely to assume the problem is with them ("I must not actually be smart because I got a 'C' on this exam."). Instead, praising their efforts ("Good job, you studied so hard and your work is really paying off.") lets a child know that success is often correlated with effort and doesn't tie so closely to self-esteem ("I got a 'C' on this exam but usually get an 'A', I must not have studied enough this time and will make more of an effort next time"). Of course this advice is good for children beyond five years of age.

I specifically appreciate the Medina takes the time to write that all of the research he cites is reputable, and that he refers to studies and scholars throughout the whole book. I haven't found another decent parenting book that does this, so it really pleased me.

View all my reviews

Review: The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging
The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging by Huffington Post

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Admittedly, I skimmed this how-to on blogging all in one day, but I took notes to help develop my own blog, so I don't feel so terrible. The book does have good advice for starting a blog, including the pros and cons of several servers you set up with (I'm on myself), for choosing content, and how to get yourself out there and hopefully, become a success.

The main suggestions that, in retrospect seem really simple, but are actually helpful are as follows:
- Have a central theme for your blog, something you're passionate about
- Have a simple and memorable name, same with posts
- Post often and respond to your readers' comments
- Get involved in the blogging community and get involved in conversations with like-minded blogs.

If you're interested in the Huffington Post, this lovely primer has lots of fun history and facts, and quotes from major celebrities in the blogging sphere. What's not to love?

Personally, I'm still trying to find my niche, but I'm trying to develop it a little and hope to have readers besides my husband and the occasional visit from my mom. We all can dream...

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Review: What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings

What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings
What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings by Paul Holinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Babies Say Before They Can Talk is a fantastic book about communicating with your baby. Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. While Paul Holinger does spent the last third of the book reviewing nine facial cues that babies give to communicate - interest, enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell (a reaction to bad smells)- , the majority of this book is filled with excellent parenting advice, not only for babies, but for toddlers and even small children.

The general theme is this: try to interpret and listen to what your child is thinking or feeling, and respond with care. Simple, right? Not so; I think this takes some real discipline on the part of parents, especially when babies get a little older and are into everything. Holinger gives an example of a baby playing with the ribbon on a wrapped box, potentially ruining what an adult would value - it's looking pretty on a box. Most parents would chide a child for playing with the ribbon, and some would discipline the child for touching it. Holinger asks the parent to step back and ask why the child is touching the ribbon. The baby is probably interested because it feels nice and the mechanics of the ribbon are interesting and confusing - the baby wants to figure out how it works! In this example, by disciplining the child or scolding her, a parent may not be disciplining the baby's playing with the ribbon, but actually discouraging playfulness and creativity. Holinger suggests that a more appropriate response is to try to validate the child's curiosity ("Look at that interesting ribbon you found! It sure is soft, and look how pulling on one end makes it longer!"), and then, if needed, distracting them, or re-directing their attention, always letting them know why something is inappropriate instead of just saying "No!" ("I see that you're very interested in that riboon, but it's part of a present for your grandma, so we shouldn't play with it. But look at the bow on my shoe laces and the way these strings do the same thing, let's play with this instead.")

Holinger, using the backing of many scientific studies,* argues that parents should encourage children when they're interested, verbally affirm what they think a child is feeling or thinking, and be careful to always offer explanations when a "no" is given.

Holinger is a clear writer and the book was a fast and informative read. I really enjoyed reading What Babies Say Before They Can Talk after finishing Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. Medina has a chapter on always validating a child's feelings and making sure they feel heard and respected, and I feel that Holinger's book was a more in-depth exploration of this topic. Holinger was also more liberal with actual parenting advice, whereas Medina more lays out what scientific studies show, and makes suggestions for parents.

Also, while the book says it is aimed at parents of babies from birth to speaking, I think it will be most useful for parents of babies from 12-30 months.

*A note on the studies - I would assume that they are all peer-reviewed studies and Holinger has an extensive list at the back of the book, but I would have appreciated the explicit statement that they are peer-reviewed studies that are sound, as well as consistent citations and references to the studies throughout the book, which are not given.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finding Joy [Part Five] / Bathtime with Felicity!

Topic of the Day (from Shelley Sealle's article on Finding Joy, as usual):

 Learn to deal with anger and conflict better. When conflicts with others arise, our outlook may become narrow until we’re focused only on the problem, leading to a self-absorption that can not only make the problem seem much more intense, but limits our ability to see the other person’s viewpoint or have compassion toward their suffering. Research shows that venting anger in a way out of proportion to the circumstance that created it physiologically arouses us and makes us even more prone to rage. A cooling-off period, which can give distance and perspective, helps address the problem without such high emotions.

This is sticky. I have never been an angry person, but since the baby, I have certainly been angrier, feeling even rageful at times (which, when I confessed this on a post on babycenter.,com, another mom suggested I might have postpartum depression, which lead me to seek counseling. Isn't the internet fun?)

While my emotions have stabilized quite a bit in the past two months, I'm definitely pricklier than I used to be, and sometimes have a difficult time not getting upset when my mind is telling me that it's no big deal, and I can almost always try to understand what prompted Ian to do something or say something (or not do or say). But sometimes, instead of speaking up when I'm annoyed or upset about something causes me to fester about it. Of course this never lasts long; I'm terrible at hiding when I'm upset, and Ian is really good at making me talk. So there you go.

The "cooling-off" period mentioned above really doesn't work for me, I usually get even more upset. Maybe that's for a real fight with shouting and what not. Ian and I have yet to engage in one of those; our disagreements tend to be more discussion-orientated, and if one of us gets upset, we are usually careful to repair really quickly and try to approach the matter in a different way. This is what $200 of premarital counseling on how to argue will get you (we figured it was a useful topic to go over with someone in advance). Or just read Fighting for your Marriage by Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg and save yourself $185.01 - great book!

 On a cheerier note, Ian gave Felicity a (much-needed) bath this evening, and I took pictures. Because that's what moms do. And then they post them on Facebook, email them to relatives, save them as sceen-savers, and post them on their blogs. (I am guilty of the first, and now the last).

The light in the bathroom made everything look red, but you can see why I get absolutely nothing done during the day!

A Tuesday / Finding Joy [Part Four]

As I sit reflecting over this day, I am quite pleased. I say this eying piles of clothes that are either folded or waiting to be folded, knowing that the kitchen should be sanctioned off with police tape and a sign that reads: "Danger, leave for your own safety." We won't discuss the bedroom or the layer of grime you only find in New York City accumulating on a bathroom that was thoroughly scrubbed through on Friday morning. Actually, the entire apartment was lovely and clean on Friday.

But the cleanliness (or lack of) is not the point; I am happy and satisfied and feel peaceful despite the current war-zone-esque appearance of our four rooms on the seventh floor of a lovely apartment building in the Upper West Side.

This day was filled with beautiful moments. Hugs from Felicity when I picked her up and held her, kisses from my husband and small moments of joy with him, a fantastic dinner consisting of a really lovely fish chowder*, time reading on the bed with Felicity, going to the French book reading at Book Culture, and now baking cookies while listening to Satie. I mean, really, chocolate chip cookies and Erik Satie, while Ian sits at the table and grades final papers. This is bliss.

I'm making cookies for Ian's epistemology class as their final is tomorrow. I like surprising his class with cookies each semester for their final. It seems the decent thing to do; I believe Ian writes a difficult exam!

*In regards to my fish chowder: "This is some restaurant-grade shit!" Ian McCready-Flora, PhD.

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The prompts (more than one!) of the day from Shelley Sealle's article on Finding Joy are :

Learn to accept the past and move on from it. We can perpetuate our own pain and keep it alive, and stronger, by replaying old hurts over and over. Dwelling in the past will never change it, but only keeps you stuck there emotionally.

Adjust our attitude toward suffering. Hurt, pain and grief are part of life—but our attitude toward these hard times is critical because it affects how we cope with suffering when it comes. What we give the majority of our focus to becomes stronger and more present in our lives; when the temptation comes to wallow in past hurts or even current bad feelings, consciously choose to give mental energy and attention to the positive as well.

These two topics seem to overlap in many ways. The central theme seems to be: be present in the moment, learn from the past, and don't let the negative bog you down. Yes, it is important to recognize and feel bad things, for certainly glossing over them doesn't allow reflection or growth, but there is a distinct difference between recognizing and dealing with hurt or grief, and continuing to live in it for an extended amount of time.

So, full disclosure and all, I feel like I've been festering lately about past relationships. Not relationships as in romantic entanglements, though there was one that really did a number on me, but friendships, or the lack of friendships. Relationships can be so complex, so messy. I was thinking about one in particular today, someone that just friended me on facebook a couple of weeks ago, someone that I have all of these hurtful, messy associations with. I accepted the request (I've been ignoring her friending attempts for years), and then, after thinking way too much about her and the damage that she did, even having stressful dreams about her family, I unfriended her today, even blocked her so she couldn't contact me again. I hope I'm not the one in the wrong, but sometimes it's best not to allow someone like that back in, especially as we are in very different places with our lives.

So I've been thinking about her, was writing about a couple of girls that were mean to me in elementary school, and, even though I don't consciously think about him during the day, and am still having dreams about an emotionally-abusive guy I was involved with for several years. All of this baggage and hurt. I've invested too much time thinking about what would have happened if Ian and I had decided to in Michigan, or what if the University of Michigan would've accepted me into their doctoral program in 2009, or what if I had stayed at Calvin College instead of transferring to Bethel University, or what if I would have stayed in Minnesota after graduation instead of moving to Ann Arbor with Katherine? How does one let it just... go?

What I keep coming back to is embracing the now and what I have in front of me. Gretchen Rubin writes about her "Personal Commandments" in The Happiness Project, and I think this might be one for me: Embrace the now, live in the present (although I firmly reject the title of "Personal Commandments," as well as "Splendid Truths,"  I choose to not dwell in the would've/should've/could've, which means learn from error and move on to avoid festering.

Something else I've been working on is trying to imagine how I'll feel after a particular chore or activity is completed. For example, starting the laundry today. I've been avoiding it for... five days. I literally couldn't/wouldn't shower this morning because the only towel not in the hamper was damp from my husband's shower (I was actually planning on taking a shower and just using it, but when the shower water wouldn't warm up after two minutes, the gods seemed to be against basic cleanliness, so I just wet my hair and did a quick manual wash of my lady pits and bits). While I only started half of the laundry, and folded even less of that, I still feel somewhat accomplished - I actually started it.* And you'd better believe that I have a stack of white (bleached!) towels all ready to go! That and Ian has underwear, apparently this is all we need to keep our household functioning with any sort of order (?). I envisioned myself having clean towels, told Felicity, "Let's do laundry! We'll really enjoy having clean laundry," and did it.

And the same with the cookies. After making dinner and spending almost two hours getting Felicity to bed, making cookies seemed like quite an effort, especially all of the in-and-out of the cookie sheets. But I thought about how good I feel when I make Ian's class cookies, and how good I feel giving Ian a warm cookie from the oven (especially when he's frantically grading papers or working on a project), and then I thought about how much I love to bake, so I did it. And, assuming you read the first section of this insanely long post, you know that I had a blast making cookies.

Highlight of the Day: Today held so many beautiful moments and no clear highlight emerges (!). I had such a nice time baking cookies and just being with Ian, so I'll choose that.

*I don't know what it is about having a baby, it's probably the lingering postpartum depression, but I have an insanely difficult time starting anything that seems daunting. So chores can go awhile without being completed simply because it's hard for me to muster up the get-go. I swear I'm not lazy, I just get overwhelmed really easily, and I sometimes it feels easier to avoid something all-together than feel overwhelmed in the middle of it. Of course, we all know that things that are just waiting to be done haunt you and make you feel terrible. The ghosts of bathroom-to-be-cleaned are wretched, thesis-to-be-written are just terrible!