Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lion in Lamb's Clothing

I'm always surprised when I find out that a friend is anti-gay marriage.

I think I just move through the world thinking that people believe the way I do.

Regarding gay marriage, I'm not naive. I'm not a "marriage-only" type of lesbian. I'd be fine with it simply being my civil right. I'm a strong advocate of dividing church and state, and I think that we should have civil and religious aspects to marriage anyway. Furthermore, I'm libertarian enough to let someone with strong religious beliefs that tell them that gay marriage is immoral be.

Live and let live, I say.

So in the past couple of weeks, I've been sort of blind-sighted by first a student and then a friend who told me that they are anti-gay marriage.

Well, the friend said it more respectfully than the student: "That is a conversation that you and I shouldn't have. . . "

And then she went on to tell me that she puts me in a different camp.

Which I didn't understand at all, and then didn't follow up with a question.

It's funny. As liberal and libertarian as I am, I can't really let this one go. Do they really think that I don't deserve the same rights as every other citizen?

How does one get beyond this particular difference?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How To Make The Winter Bearable, Part 1

Build a backyard skating rink!
Why you ask?
Check out Jack Falla's explanation:
The question of why to build a rink has less to do with a career in hockey than with the pure joy of skating and playing. Or, as my daughter Tracey, then eight years old, said one morning when Barbara asked her if she wanted to sign up for figure skating lessons at the town rink: "No. I want to have my own fun. Not somebody else's fun." In the matter of personal recreation and casual sport, we find it more enjoyable to descend the evolutionary ladder, moving away from organization and mass participation toward individuality and spontaneity. A backyard rink is for pick-up hockey games wherein fairness and justice are built-in by the players, not tacked on by striped-shirted authority. It's a safe place for a child to take those first shuffling and hesitant learn-to-skate strides (as a generation of family and neighborhood children have on our rink). It's a place for my solitary early morning skates and for our occasional Saturday night skating parties for family and friends where shinny with a frozen tennis ball is followed by a hot chocolate or a cold beer. We build our rink for the best reason of all. For the fun of it.

Monday, November 16, 2009


So, the other day, Cousin and I were hanging out and listening to 89.3, The Current.

For those of you not in our listening area, I encourage you to tune in to this gem online. The music is just great. A nice mix of old and new, encouraging you, subtly, to listen to stuff that is out of your comfort range.

I was spacing out when Cousin noted the song they were playing (2541) by reminding me that the band (Husker Du) was local to Minneapolis and that the two lead singers, Grant Hart and Bob Mould, were openly gay, and that the song must be referring to some Minneapolis address, and where was it?

We both became a bit obsessed with both its location and the history of the band. I drove up and down the streets near The Wedge looking for twenty-five-forty-one's.

There are at least three in the near-Uptown area.

Only one that I saw was a rental.

Neither Hart nor Mould admit that they were ever together, but the song is romantic and naive and haunting and both happy and sad and it insinuates that they did not part amicably. An online biography claims that "Hart and Mould were also developing a debilitating rivalry. At the end of 1987, the group imploded; according to different sources, Hart either quit or was fired because of his heroin addiction."

Interestingly, a little Cousin-history fits in well here. Their last show was in Kansas City and they were scheduled to play in Omaha the next night. They broke up and, POOF! no show.

Cousin had tickets.

I was SO not as much of a rock star as her in high school.

Blogger Moms: Shills for Swag

I wonder if I talk about how much Big likes beer in this blog, will Surly invite me to their brewery. . .

November 15, 2009 los angeles times
Blogging moms wooed by food firms
As food makers lavish trips and goodies on parenting bloggers, critics see a shrewd marketing ploy.
By P.J. Huffstutter and Jerry Hirsch

'Mommy blogger'
Andrea Deckard, a stay-at-home mom in Monroe, Ohio, points to a post on her Mommy Snacks blog. Both Frito-Lay and Nestle have brought her to Los Angeles this year to be entertained and learn about their products. (Samantha Grier / Dayton (Ohio) Daily News / September 12, 2008)

Reporting from Los Angeles and Fort Wayne, Ind. - On most days, Andrea Deckard can be found in her home office, digging through stacks of coupons and grocery receipts for money saving tips and recipes that she can share with readers of her Mommy Snacks blog.

That is, when the stay-at-home mom isn't being wined and dined by giant food companies.

Earlier this year, Frito-Lay flew her to Los Angeles to meet celebrities such as model Brooke Burke and the Spice Girls' Mel B, while pitching her on its latest snack ad campaign.

More recently, Nestle paid to put her and 16 other so-called "mommy bloggers" -- and one daddy blogger -- up at the posh Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, treated them to a private show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and sent packages of frozen Omaha Steaks to their families to tide them over while the women were away learning all about the company's latest product lines.

In return, Deckard and her virtual sisterhood filed Twitter posts raving about Nestle's canned pumpkin, Wonka candy and Juicy Juice drinks.

"People have accused us of being corporate shills," said Deckard, a Monroe, Ohio, mother of three whose junkets have also included a free trip to Frito-Lay's Texas headquarters. Deckard, noting that she is up front with her readers about such trips, said they are educational for her and her fans, and "just fun."

Besides, she added, "it's not like I sold my soul for a chocolate bar."

Others aren't so sure. As food companies big and small scramble to woo parents-turned-bloggers, nutrition activists worry that the food industry is funding an advertising campaign for its products without consumers realizing it.

"This is very shrewd marketing," said Barbara Moore, chief executive of Shape Up America, an obesity-fighting nonprofit group. "The expectation that the industry players have is that people they are wining and dining will write about their products positively."

Free-flowing wine and buffet tables laden with crudites are now common features of a company-sponsored function for bloggers. Some companies are even offering free kitchen appliances, vacations, groceries and enough fruity snacks to feed a neighborhood's worth of kids.

The growing trend is fueling legal and social debate over how bloggers disclose what goodies they get. New guidelines unveiled last month by the Federal Trade Commission say bloggers must divulge financial or product compensation they get in exchange for writing about a company's products. The regulations are set to go into effect Dec. 1.

But critics worry that the guidelines are too vague and will hold bloggers to a different, or more stringent, standard than traditional media outlets. They say the FTC isn't being clear about what material needs to be disclosed and doesn't specify how these disclosures must be made.

"They're treating blogging like it's pornography," said Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of the online community group BlogHer. "They think you'll know unethical blogging when you see it."

Whatever one may think of mommy bloggers, there has never been a better time to be a parent with Internet access. An estimated 42 million women in the U.S. take part in social media services each week, and 55% of them are regularly reading, writing or responding to blogs, according to a 2009 survey by BlogHer.

In some ways, this marketing push has been happening for years: Companies hawking a variety of goods, from diamonds to digital cameras, have been eager to get parent bloggers to write posts that tout their products.

But recently, these bloggers say, food companies have upped the ante, bombarding them with free trips to corporate kitchens and mountains of edible swag.

Starbucks, eager to get working parents drinking its Via instant coffee, sent limousines to shuttle bloggers in New York City for a private lunch with executives. They left with bags stuffed with coffee and offers of bottomless future refills.

Fast-food purveyor Taco Bell flew a group of bloggers from Maryland, Michigan and Missouri to California for a retreat this spring, paid for their lodging and let them spend the day creating new taco and burrito concoctions.

Kraft Foods curried favor with mommy bloggers by bringing some to Los Angeles for the Grilled Cheese Invitational, in an effort to get online parents hungry for cheese.

The rationale is pure economics. The food industry -- from restaurants to supermarkets and manufacturers -- has seen sales slide during the recession and is looking for new ways to reach customers. And the people online they want are parents.

It's a strategy that recalls post-World War II ad campaigns, in which women touted the benefits of certain laundry soaps and the household brands that would make them a domestic goddess.

"They handle the family budget," said Amanda Vega, an industry consultant who specializes in social media and public relations. "People read them and believe them, because they're easy to identify with."

They also rarely are critical. Christine Young, owner of the From Dates to Diapers blog, has a closet full of free baby products she never liked. She hasn't mentioned them in her blog.

They're still there, sitting on the shelves, waiting to be donated.

"My business is not to bash companies," said Young, 32, who lives in the Sacramento area. "My business is to create buzz for the products and services we enjoy."

That philosophy has created a rift in the parental blogosphere, between those who take freebies and those who don't. And companies have learned that backlash over corporate pampering can quickly turn explosive.

The recent Nestle trip was designed to let the bloggers "get a better feel for Nestle" in exchange for consumer input, said organizer Becky Chao, director of the company's Moms With Kids Insights program.

Nestle set up a Twitter tag and created a website with pictures of the invited mom and dad bloggers to encourage them to talk to their readers.

And the company intentionally made its recent event a lavish one "to make the bloggers feel comfortable while they were here, away from their families," Chao said.

But critics of the company countered that the event was a public relations ploy in reaction to an ongoing boycott of Nestle for marketing baby milk formula as a substitute for breast feeding in developing countries.

In fact, before the trip, critics reached out to the bloggers invited to California and urged them to not go.

No one canceled.

As the event got underway, the online conversation quickly turned into an online battlefield. The company's Twitter channel was so inundated with anti-Nestle messages, and nasty accusations aimed at the attendees, that it was essentially shut down. The company, caught off guard, let the parents field questions aimed at executives until finally stepping into the fray.

Afterward, thousands of people joined Facebook groups dedicated to boycotting the company, according to critics of the company.

"I do think they should have done a bit of due diligence in researching the company before choosing to be associated with them and to accept a free trip from them," said Annie Urban, author of the PhD in Parenting blog and the person credited with kicking off the Nestle brouhaha.

"It is one thing to cluelessly pick up a Nestle chocolate bar in the store, but it is another thing altogether to accept an all-expenses-paid trip and agree to have your face and name on a Nestle Family Bloggers page."

As for those who just say no, they fret about their credibility being tainted. Tales of unreported luxury suites and cross-country trips made Liz Gumbinner cringe so much that she helped launch Blog With Integrity. The goal is to rally support for demarcating the line between personal observations and paid posts.

"It's easy to paint everyone as product whores," said Gumbinner, 41, who lives in Brooklyn and has run her Mom101 blog since 2006. "They're not. I think sometimes they're just naive."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sleep Issues

So I've talked about food issues here, but I haven't discussed (publicly in this manner) much about sleep.

We are sleep-freaks at our house.

So much so, that the neighbors gossip, tease and make fun of us in all sorts of ways.

We don't mind.

A few years ago, for her seventh birthday or so, Nine (then Seven) got an American Girl Doll for her birthday. It was Kit, the depression-era girl who also came with a lovely set of books that introduced at all that cool econ-nerd depression-Era ideas and terms like Keynes, FDR, WPA and the CCC.

At least that's how they sold a $100 doll to me anyway.

We noticed within the first week that her mood, by the end of the day, was deteriorating at an incredibly rapid rate. She was getting crankier and shorter with us by the day.

Then BioMom noticed a correlation between her moods and the rapidity through which she was moving through the book set, despite the fact that we hadn't seen her reading much during the day between school and activities.

Then we figured it out.

She was getting up at 4 a.m. to read the darn things!

And that didn't go away. Overtime we had to give in to the horrible fact that we had a (gasp!) morning person on our hands!

Both BioMom and I mourn this difference. We are both late nighters, relishing the spoils of life that occur after sundown, and preferring to sleep later into the day, avoiding the early hours if possible.
She always gets up early, but we can predict with frightening accuracy how good or bad the day will be relative to a reported wake-time that is greater or less-than 6 a.m.

And we know that after a special occasion that warrants a late bedtime (anything after 7:30 or 8) that there will be several days of a 4-5 a.m. wake time: the later she stays up, the earlier she gets up.

This has changed our behavior dramatically over the years. All summer long her friends would be out running through the neighborhood at hours that approached and exceeded double-digits while she was snoozing away in her bed.

We turn down play-date requests after 6 p.m.

We don't usually share babysitters and go out with a couple, unless we can separate the kids at bedtime.

Nine has evened out (getting up between 6:30 and 7:00) recently -- perhaps in her tween years she is preparing for the hibernation that we are hoping for in her teens -- until recently.

What changed?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Who can blame her?

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Dad Question (Revisited)

On Mondays I usually pick up Big and Sidekick's little sister from preschool. We are lucky that the younger two go together to the same school and the older two go together to the same K-8 school, so we can share rides.

When I went to pick up Big and Sidekick's little sister today at the end of their preschool day, one of the teachers came up to me to tell me about something that had happened that day.

They had been discussing family origin that day and had paid some attention to Sidekick's little sister who is adopted from China, noting that her parents, her "mom" and "dad" were from China.

The teacher then said that Big had asked where his "dad" came from.

The discussion was awkward and quite poorly planned.

The end of the day at that school is pure chaos, and picking up two little ones only compounds the issue. They are thrilled to be showing me the things they did that day, while simultaneously needing to get a drink, needing to pee, or gathering their things or saying their long and loving goodbyes to their friends while I am focusing on getting the (FOUR!) lunchboxes between the two of them, their backpacks, coats and extraneous (yet incredibly important-to-them as I have learned--the hard way--in the past as in "did you remember to bring home the crown I made in school today?" while I thought to myself "was that thing I threw away on the way to the car a CROWN?!?!?!") daily materials to found in each of their boxes.

I'm trying to focus on what the teacher is telling me while hearing "Baba. Baba. Baba. BABA!!! BABA!!!!! BABA!!!!!" at my ankles and Sidekick's sister reminding me that she needs her lunchbox.

"He asked where his DAD came from."

She repeated as if I hadn't heard.

I stopped and pushed back all of my incredulity at this woman, who I know to be loving and caring and sensitive, for not having the understanding to deal with this in a more nuanced way. We had been at this school before, five years ago now, and many of our lesbian-familied friends had gone there as well, so it is not as though it was the first time they'd dealt with families of our ilk.

I paused with her for a moment and as she was being swept away by the children demanding her attention, I pulled her back to the conversation:

"Please avoid using the term 'Dad'. He doesn't have one. And we will be using the term 'donor' to him. . . "

"When he is ready?" she interrupted.

"Yes. . . . "

She was swept away then and I noted, a little louder to be heard over the end-of-day din "Or just say Irish-German and let it go with that."

It was awkward and strange and, even now that I am thinking about it, they shouldn't really refer to Sidekick's sister's biological parents as her "mom" and "dad". But I was not composed enough to have said all of that at that moment.

All of this made me realize again that we can't just move through the world in an unthinking way. Big hadn't started asking questions yet, so we hadn't really thought about it much. Although he does still, often, insist that I am a boy which, I think is sort of truish, but may be just denial on his part. It made me realize that even in the most liberal, accepting and loving setting that we may have to do some education around this topic.

So I turned to Lesbian Dad and her posts and her lists of resources for some help on this. You'll note that I've added some resources to this blog (to the right of this post) and links to some of her stuff. She also links to Mombian and a particularly well-crafted posts related to kids and schools. Lesbian Dad is truly a great resource for all of us out there and I hope that you look to her when you need some help like I have. I'll be putting together a list for our preschool in the hopes that they'll be better able to accommodate families like ours in the future and better able to address our kids' natural curiosities.

Check out THIS Perspective: Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage

Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage

As young queer people raised in queer families and communities, we reject the liberal gay agenda that gives top priority to the fight for marriage equality. The queer families and communities we are proud to have been raised in are nothing like the ones transformed by marriage equality. This agenda fractures our communities, pits us against natural allies, supports unequal power structures, obscures urgent queer concerns, abandons struggle for mutual sustainability inside queer communities and disregards our awesomely fabulous queer history.

Cousin's Mom as Guest Blogger

Your Mom and Aunt Betty read those Little House books aloud to their kids. Did you know that? It may even have been before [your sister] was born. My Mom used to buy the books - one for each - and they'd trade them around between the two of them. I never read any of them. I think [two of Cousin's brothers] glommed on to them through school or maybe the library and read them on their own.

I guess genes must be awfully strong. There are so many times in your blog it reminds me of your Mother. She had a very strong interest in plants, trees, flowers, etc like you do. She knew every bird's song when she'd hear it and could imitate a lot of them, so they'd whistle back and forth and have a conversation.

She and Betty did a lot together with their kids - a lot like you and [Cousin] are doing. How lucky can you get?!?

I loved your thoughts about winter. Even here in Nebraska, I have feelings like that in November and then it's never as bad as I thought it would be.

Love you lots,

Cousin's Mom

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Long Winter

So Nine and I are reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder together.

I've had to get a little proprietary with books with her. A year or so ago, we had started Chasing Vermeer, the first book of the series by Blue Balliet (which Cousin pointed us to -- thank you!) one evening. BioMom and I usually take turns, one putting Nine to bed while the other puts Big to bed.

As an aside, Big is usually slightly more difficult to put to bed and, well, let's just say that the reading material is somewhat less interesting. That is not to say that the one who gets Nine has won the lottery or anything, Big is a hoot to put to bed, it's just different, that's all.

So anyway, it was at least a day or so until I got back to her and Chasing Vermeer, only to find that she had bolted ahead without me and eighty or so pages later, the plot was now beyond my comprehension.

Now I make her piggy-swear that our books are OUR books.

So, we're reading The Long Winter together now.

I have only read parts of these books both in my own experience as a kid, and now, as Nine has dabbled in them (not consecutively) both in her own personal pursuit and through school requirements. So I had definitely not spent any real time with Ingalls Wilder as an author, nor had I really watched the show more than a little bit here and there as a kid.

Grandma and Grandpa had bought us tickets to see the Little House on the Prairie the musical a few weeks ago (their daughter -BioMom's eldest sister- was involved with a charity that linked a silent auction/dinner with the show, so we were a few intended beneficiaries of their generosity). Melissa Gilbert was playing Ma, so it was extra special for us.

And got me thinking, as I was watching the show and sort of beginning to nod off: What the hell is this about?

Then BioMom whispered into my ear: I bet if you haven't read these stories, that this wouldn't make much sense.

Not being from Minnesota, I tend to spend a bit more time hunkering down for what I perceive as the impending seven months that are about to descend on us. I have been known to put the lawn chairs in in September, purchase too many pairs of gloves, sweaters and snow pants, and tune up the snow blower a bit too eagerly.

There is something about the winter here that you have to wrap your head around.

Particularly among those who have just moved from Washington DC (I still perceive myself to have JUST moved from there despite the fact that it is coming on ten years that I have now resided in this hearty country).

Growing up in Nebraska, too, is a far cry from this. Even my own experiences in Willa Cather country, and seeing the Louis and Clark trail could not prepare me to spell prairie correctly on the first try or know the difference in the temperature based on the sound of snow cracking under my feet as BioMom does.

So, I thought, why not read A Long Winter?

So we started.

And I read this about Laura and Carrie tramping through the prairie to town:

At first it was fun. It was rather like going into the jungle-picture in Pa's big green book. Laura pushed ahead between the thick clumps of grass-stems that gave way rustling and closed again behind Carrie. The millions of coarse grass-stems and their slender long leaves were greeny-gold and golden-green in their own shade. The earth was crackled with dryness underfoot, but a faint smell of damp lay under the hot smell of the grass. Just above Laura's head the grass-tops swished int eh wind, but down at their roots was a stillness, broken only where Laura and Carrie went wading through it.

And then this:

Laura looked at Pa and she knew he was listening too. The silence was as terrible as cold is. It was stronger than any sound. It could stop the water's lapping and the thin, faint ringing in Laura's ears. The silence was no sound, no movement, no thing; that was its terror. Laura's heart jumped and jumped, trying to get away from it.

And fell in love with its brilliance.

When I announced, however, my desire to work my way through the books consecutively, Nine sighed audibly.

I did not know I was on my own until she handed me a new "our book": So B. It by Sarah Weeks that she got from the library.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

And the Batfamily

Captured on film in the height of their domesticity.

Fighting Crime in Gotham City

Batman, captured on film, seen speeding through the streets of Gotham City, 31 October, 2009.