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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Continuum Concept

     I'd like to say that, having a degree in Antropology that I try to keep up on, or being the vigorous homebirth advocate that I am, or reading as much as I do, I already knew about this book.  But I would be lying. 

      I "heard of it" from an attachment parenting Ryan Gosling meme on Pinterest.

      I find the Ryan Gosling things really amusing even though (*gasp*) don't really know who Ryan Gosling is or why people attach all these grin-worthy feminist and AP taglines to his (admittedly super hot) pictures.

      Anyway, I can't find that particular Gosling pic now, but it was something along the lines of the one above, but involved tea and The Continuum Concept, and I thought, "how have I never heard of an attachment parenting book well known enough to show up here?"  And I immediately Googled it.  And I had ordered the book in the space of an hour (sadly, it was not available in ebook format so I had to wait for it to be delivered).

       As soon as it arrived, I excitedly dug in.  And I was not disappointed.  At first.  Then I was.  Then my faith was restored.  Only to be dashed again - but once again resurrected ...  And so on.

      In short, I'm up and down on this book.

      The basic precept, the concept I totally and completely get behind, is honoring and abiding by the instinctive needs of an infant.  The essentially equates to an "in arms" phase for the first 6 - 8 months of the baby's life during which the child's ancient and inherent need to be carried and touched is respected.  The baby is carried around with the caregiver most of the time and also sleeps next to her/his mother.  Once the child starts becoming mobile, the child is allowed to explore and progress at their own pace - neither restricted nor pressured.

       The overarching focus of this all being trust in the instincts of the child.  This makes perfect sense to me, as I believe that many adults in our culture feel out of touch with their parenting instincts - hence the rampant reliance on parenting books and gurus.  I think a much better answer than the book of the moment is to look to the child who, by virtue of their developmental state and lack of awareness of the pulls of the culture, is much more in tune with their own insticts.

      Babies know what they need.  They need protection (touch) of a caregiver.  They need food when they are hungry (not at arbitrarily scheduled times), they need to be clean and at an acceptable temperature.  They know when they are ready to creep, crawl, and pull up, it it would never occur to them to question the timing of this.  So rather than waste time worrying about what some book or guru says, the wisest place to lay your trust is with ancient and nearly perfect instincts of your child.

      That concept, what I feel to be at the very base of The Continuum Concept, I truly and thoroughly believe.  Indeed, I believed it even before I discovered this book.  If you need convincing, there are some passages in this book that will completely tear at your heart and SHOW you what it feels like to be a child deprived of your basest need for near constant contact.

      That is, if you don't get sidetracked by the other stuff in this book.  The Continuum Concept was first published in the '70's, and that comes through in the book.  The author, Jean Liedloff, references psychology doctrines that have long since been largely abandoned.  She makes some statements about homosexuality that made me reach into the book and shake someone.  Her style of writing can get a little hauty and overthought at times.

      Essentially, at every point where she is talking about babies, I'm pretty much on board, but when she tried to translate those concepts to adults, I think she failed.  As far as I know, Ms. Liedloff was/is not a trained as a psychologist, sociologist, or anthropologist.  That doesn't mean her work isn't still impactful and insightful, but the great flaws in her attempts to translate her revelations about infant care to the pains of adult life bear witness to a certain lack of - roundedness.

       Ms. Liedloff's inspiration for the book came from spending a cumulative 2 1/2 years among the Yaquana tribe in the Amazon river basin.  She was astounded by the difference between the children and babies of these tribes and the behaviour of infants and children in our own culture.  The children in these "primitive" cultures were calm, quiet, content, and had an inherent confidence and happiness that she had never before witnessed. 

     Ms. Liedloff credited, quite rightly, I believe, these peaceful, happy traits in the children to the "primal" methods of care observed by the Yaquana - a complete in-arms phase where babies are in near constant contact with their cargivers, moving around, observing, always safe, but not coddled.  They are protected and touched without being the center of attention.  As they begin to move about on their own, they are given unrestricted and undoting freedom coupled with an unerring availability of the caregiver should the child feel the desire.

      There are points when she took it a little far (in my opinion).  She related stories of watching babies crawl around near deep pits and play with knives and fire as examples of trusting a toddler's inherent instincts toward self protection.  She posits that children hurting themselves is basically a self-fulfilling prophesy put forth by the parents with statement like "you'll cut yourself."

       I am torn on this concept.  On the one hand, I see the benefit in allowing a child a wide lattitude of freedom, avoiding undermining the child's responsibility for self protection with overbearing watchfulness.  Especially that - letting the child feel that the child is resonsible for her/his own safety so as to maximize awareness of risks.  BUT I do not think that justifies allowing small children to enter into inherently dangerous situations like playing with knives or being unwatched.  I also think that Ms. Liedloff failed to take into account some of the differences in culture (like kidnappers and dangers that children never see adults deal with, so do not understand how to avoid).

      The author also took the concept of the "Noble Savage" a little too far, striving to classify any exception to her notion as something caused by encounters with other cultures.  I do feel that there is MUCH to be learned from cultures and individuals who exist in a manner that might be called more in line with our evolutionary path - or something more sensical and eloquent, but basically less distorted by globalization, mass media, self-help books, and a culture of second guessing.  However, I think it is not only misguided and self disparaging, but also very disrespectful of these other cultures to speak of them as if their way of life is primitive or solely creditable to their isolation from our culture.

      For all it's flaws, I think this work - the portions of it dealing with the Continuum and the in-arms phase - gains much from continuing revelations and discoveries about child rearing and the needs of babies.  Ms. Liedloff's understandings of the importance of contact, in-arms involvement, lack of pressure on very young children to develop at a particular pace or in a particular manner, and responsiveness to a baby's cues are all strongly and continually born out by studies in skin-to-skin contact, after birth interaction, breastfeeding, bedsharing (by mothers not using alcohol or drugs), infant development, and a myriad of other topics.

     In that way, this book fit in perfectly with the growing body of wisdom supporting "natural" or "attachment" parenting.

      I could go on at length about many of the concepts and intricicies of this book, both the ones I liked, and the ones I didn't, but I feel I have gone on enough.  I do not recommend this book as highly as I might some others, but I DO recommend it for soon to be parents and anyone interested in child development and natural or attachment parenting.  Take some parts with a grain of salt and the knowledge that this book was written in a different time, but pay very particular attention to the author's skillful and stirring description of the young lives of babies.

     The long and short of it is this:  Trust in the unpolluted instincts of babies.

      For more information, including excerpts from the book and many other articles and interviews by the author, visit the Continuum Concept website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Personality and The Other Boleyn Girl

      Especially lately, but to some degree all my life, when I read a book, my brain is constantly humming in the background with reflections of my own life and lessons to be applied or taken away.  I feel like reading The Other Boleyn Girl gave me an interesting insight into ways my personality has changed over the years.

       First, a little about the book:  SPOILER ALERT!  If you know NOTHING about history and don't know who Anne Boleyn was, or her fate, this might ruin the surprise.  More important than that, this will give away a lot about the character development throughout the book.  You've been warned.

      I wasn't really thrilled with this book in the beginning, but it came highly recommended by a friend with similar tastes to mine, so I stuck with it.  It is told from the perspective of Mary Cary (nee' Boleyn), Anne Boleyn's younger sister.  When the book opens, Mary is 12 years old, and I found her character rather naive and vapid.  I also found the rivalry between the two sisters downright obnoxious.  I'm glad I persisted, though, because Philippa Gregory is a very talented author and as the character aged, her increasing maturity was excellently reflected in the storytelling.

      I think there are many overall themes and takeaways one could get from this story.  There is a conflicted relationship between sisters who are at once rivals and teammates and confidants being used as pawns in a greater game.  There are themes pride, jealousy, greed, and lust for power.  My feminist mind was aflutter through the whole book with the sad situation women found themselves in and also with the strength of women joining together behind the scenes and exploiting what little powers they did have to their maximum potential.

      The historical themes were masterful.  Before I read the book, I found out that Philipa Gregory is well known for doing excellent historical research on her subjects before undertaking a project. That really enriched my experience reading the book - especially after watching the horrifyingly inaccurate Tudors.  I felt like a came away from the book with a little better grasp of the realities of Tudor England.

      Ultimately, though, throughout the whole book, what my mind kept coming back to was the personalities of the two main characters.  I saw them almost as alternatives of my own personality.  There was the ambitious striver (Anne Boleyn) and the mother figure (Mary Carey).

      This is a simplification, but the general categories work.  First, I'll touch on Anne because the thoughts evoked by her character were a little simpler than those evoked by Mary.

      The Anne Boleyn character in this book (and in all likelyhood in real life) was a person who knew what she wanted from a very young age.  She was primed for it, raised for it: power and prestige.  Of course, it was the tempered power of a woman, a power earned by high marriage and not necessarily anything else.  But it was the most power she could ever hope to acheive and she was groomed to see the corresponding prestige as "the goal" in the same way that some women and girls today see other things as "the goal" - getting married and having children, having a particular career, having "it all," or marrying a successful man, depending on the upbringing and environment.

      Anne latched onto this goal and carried forward with it with determination boardering on the manical.  At points in the book, she has driven herself to complete exhaustion keeping up the persona she has chosen to wear.  She sacrificed happiness, love, friendship, even - it could be argued - her own humanity, all in unrelenting pursuit of "the goal." 

      I have been similar to this in my life, though not quite to the extreme.  I have pushed toward certain goals (always career goals, as far as I can tell; I've never seen marriage as much of a goal to pursue so much as something that should happen on it's own) with a passion that other people don't posess.  I've pushed through circumstances that would have easily averted others.  I have even put on the blinders and went straight ahead, ignoring other goings on in life in pursuit of my goal.  And in many cases, I've succeeded.

       But, I have also changed and become a lot less goal oriented - or maybe my goals have just changed, become more amorphous.  Changes that never occured for Anne, that, in some ways couldn't change once she reached a certain point.  Forward was all she had left.

      I have also been known to toy with the emotions of men.  But that was never for prestige.  It was for my own childish amusement and I have since given that up, though I did take a little bit of titillating nostalgic joy in reading some of Anne's exploits in that arena.

      And because I have changed, I felt more akin to the Mary Carey character.  Mary starts out with the same "goal" orientation as Anne.  And she acheives her goal, though more through a series of random events then through sheer determination.  For a while, she is pretty devoted to the goal.  Then she has children.  This brings about a change in her.  The experience of loving her children, and subsequently missing them, leads her to a drastic rethinking of her priorities.  The goal is still there, but she no longer sees it as her goal.  She sees that it is a goal that was chosen for her, and eventually, it is no longer her goal at all.  Mary wants nothing more than to live peacefully in the country with her children.

      Well, I can sure as heck relate to that!  Rarely a week goes by that I don't spend at least a little time fantasizing about running off to a subsistance from out in the woods and playing with my kids all day long. 

      Of course, I also know I would never last in that life.  There is also a little law office attached to our subsistance farm.  The career goal is still there, but it is more focused on helping people than on any sort of prestige.  Obviously.

      Like Mary, my children have completely changed my outlook on my life, my career, society, and myself.  I want different things than I ever thought I would when I first set out toward my goals many years ago.  In a month or two, I will be the MOJO - a powerful, high profile, prestigious position.  A position that, 4 years ago, I really wanted to attain.  Today, I'm not looking forward to filling it.  I appreciate that it is still a good thing for me, that it will still allow me to help people (one of my new goals), but it is mostly a great stepping stone toward the life I now know I really want to live - complete with the farm in the country/woods.

     I am neither Mary Carey nor Anne Boleyn.  As usual, I want the best of both worlds.  But reading this book was a really interesting self insight into the changes I have made as well as fodder for some very interesting thoughts about what might have happened if I had remained more an Anne, pressing forward relentlessly to my goal of power.  I honestly think I may have ended up rather high in politics.  I don't think I really have any desire to do something like that anymore.

      When you read, do you find yourself being lead into self examination?  What books gave you unusual insights into yourself?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Universe is Screaming at Me

. . . or, at the very least, it's nudging me very, very hard.

Note:  I started this post days ago, and have written it in chunks.  It may not be cohesive, but I want to get it published because I have follow-up posts I need to write!

      All Fall, I found myself in a cleansing phase, both literally and spiritually.  I went on a cleaning and organizing bender all over the house (which the holidays have since completely undone, sigh).  At work, I pushed through huge numbers of cases, tying up loose ends that had been plaguing me for months and smoothly transitioned into my new position.  Socially, I vowed to stop wasting my attention on negative and dramatic people in my life.  I even started cleaning out my social networking lists (though sadly I still haven't finished that particular project).  Internally, I tried to reflect these same changes with a promise to myself that I would not allow my thoughts to be turned to negative, judgemental ponderings.  If negative thoughts about a person entered my thoughts, I would push those away and devote my energy to gratitude or growth.

      Sometimes, it was easy.  I am, by nature, a pretty positive person.  Sure, I'm flippant, wry, and even sarcastic at times, but it is all with an air of relative optimism.  Other times, it was more challenging.  Sometimes the emotions would come up and catch me before my thoughts could temper me.  So I still did have negative thoughts.  I still did say hurtful things from time to time.  I still gave in and let the negative people in our lives distract me. 

      MacGvyer and I have a disproportionate number of people from our pasts who are overly interested in us.  I won't go into details, but trust me, it is a very unusually high number of people who show very unusual amounts of interest and interference in our lives.  For my part, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I was a rather strange combination of heartless and optimistic when I was younger.  For MacGvyer's part I can only guess it has to do with his strangely magnetic and encompassing personality combined with his impressive powers to shoot right to the heart of people's thoughts and motivations.  And his hotness.  Of course.

      Either way, with the advent of the internet, a lot of people who would not normally have access to our lives have.  And I have always sort of neutrally welcomed it.  I don't seek people out.  I am not the kind to look up those from the past.  And frankly, even if I were, it's not necessary.  They've all found me.  And I just sort of went with it.  Call it curiosity.  MacGyver has not welcomed it.  He is the kind to completely cut ties to his past.  Once he is done with something, it's gone to  him.  Poof.  Like it never happened. 

      I'm actually rather impressed with this ability of his.  Maybe even jealous to a tiny degree.  I still remember tons of strange and unusual details about former friends, enemies, lovers, and acquiantances.  While I have almost no emotion tied to those facts, the memories remain, peices of information within my brain, building my life. 

      For as long as I have known MacGvyer, I have been shocked by how little he remembers or cares about his past.  Even though he has had more serious relationships than I have, he has far fewer memories.  I still remember most of my exes' and old friends' birthdays.  He remembers only one, and that is soley because she was born on Hitler's birthday (not surprisingly, ahem).  He lives in the moment to a degree few people acheive.  I once stumbled across some pictures from his past buried deep in the bottom of a long forgotten box of trinkets, and when I showed them to him, he was visibly disgusted.  He immediately wanted to burn most of the pictures.

      It's a healthy catharsis.  Letting go of the past.  Never thinking about it.  "Ignore"ing friend requests and casting off old relics.  I am the opposite.  I am a nostalgia addict.  I keep all my pictures from the past (even the ones where I look aweful or those is-that-a-finger-or-the-edge-of-a-table? pics), all my diaries, even old blogs lurking hidden on the internet under old aliases.  Typically, I only ever look at these things when we're moving, otherwise they sit in a box in the back of the closet, undisturbed.  I have no real feeling about them anymore, but I value the memories.  I can't imagine burning them.

       As with so many things, MacGvyer and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Just last night, he was talking about how we are the perfect Yin and Yang ("With the little dots, too!" he exclaimed, laughing).  We pull each other in opposite directions, and so are each drawn to a more balanced center.

      And going into my Fall cleansing stage, I thought perhaps I should take a cue from MacGvyer and cut loose many things and people from the past.  After all, more often then not, people from the past only bring drama - annoyance, at best.  (Remember this?  And this?)  Sure, some people from the past have popped back up and subsequently become good friends.  They are the exception rather than the rule.  Mostly, they become random, unnoticed items in my Facebook feed until one day I get some sort of deranged - probably drunken - instant message poking at long healed (on my end) wounds or looking for attention.

       And while I had always entertained these instances with a sort of detached amusement - even a touch of flattery, they nevertheless constituted a source of distraction, and occasionally stress, that had absolutely no significance in my real life.  So I decided to be done with it all, once and for all.  To follow MacGvyer's example and ignore these pleas for attention, living utterly and entirely in the moment.

       I got sucked in once or twice, but for the most part I carried forward with my plan, and am still carrying forward with it.  But today, recently, I'm rethinking it - to a degree.

      The Universe, it seems, wants me to refine my plans a little.  Perhaps I misinterpreted earlier messages, because the messages I'm getting now are quite a bit clearer.  The messages are coming in words.  Three particular books, to be more precise.

       In the Pagan Calendar, the Wheel of the Year as I observe it, the Fall is a time for clearing out, wipping away, cleansing.  The Winter is for ruminating.  Thinking, planning, looking ahead.  It is about growth, development, newness - but not in the active way that Spring is about growth.  Where as Spring is about shoots, blooms, and birth, Winter is more like pregnancy.  It is where the stirrings of new potential start, slowly, thoughtfully, to take shape before bursting forth in Spring.

      I did not directly choose any of the three books I am reading now.  (I'm technically reading four books now, but I'm only a few pages into one of them).  The Universe, fate, forces of circumstance, brought them into my life.

      One was given to me by a friend.  She suggests books to me all the time.  I rarely read them.  She is a psychologist and very into "personal transformation" books.  I find them too contrived and "touchy-feely" most of the time.  This one, she insisted, was perfect for my hyper-rational nature.  While it talked about personal transformation, it did so from a very rational, scientific standpoint.  "And," she pointed out, "most other people don't like the book because they find it too technical - too much brain and not enough emotion."  Well, that does sound right up my alley.

      The second book, Pride and Prejudice, came already programmed into my Nook.  I figured maybe I'd read it one day, but it was so far down at the bottom of my list that I might never get to it.  And really, that didn't bother me at all because it really didn't sound like my kind of book.  I have all the romance I need in my day to day life.  I don't fancy reading about it.  Then, through the most random string of events, I one day found myself with time to read - which never happens - but no books!  Which also never happens!  All I had was my Nook, but I had already read all the books I had loaded into it.  So, perhaps a tad reluctantly, I set to reading P&P.  At the very least, I thought, I do enjoy the insight "classic" novels provide.  Now, I'm totally hooked on this book. (Update: Have finished it, and absolutely loved it).

      The third book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, has already had a great impact on my life.  A little more than half way through it*, I already know I will be rereading this book many times.  It speaks to me in a powerful and direct way that I haven't felt in a very long time.  With Ethical Eating, with my UU Pagan spiritual journey, with my desire to truely make a difference in people's lives through my legal practice, with motherhood, and charity, and a focus on gratitude, I have been for some years now forging a path.  I don't know where it will lead.  Indeed, I try very little to look ahead on the path as each new step is so potent and full in and of itself.  I don't need to know where the path is going, factually.  Because I have utter faith that it is leading me to a place of helping, of healing, and of - dare I say it? - Personal transformation.  Actually, the entire path is transformative.  And at the end of it, I will truly make a difference in the world.  Perhaps through the path itself.
* Also finished this one since I started this post.

      Ok, so that's getting rather deep and maybe a little self-righteous sounding.  At the very least overly-heavy.  But it is my dream, and it is where I feel faith at this point.

       So back to the books:  I have been on this path for some time - a few years at least.  Just sort of feeling it out as I go, trying to be a better person every day, to be empathetic to all creatures, to be a source of information for change, and to refrain from judgement.  So far, I fail in all those things on a daily basis.  But I am getting better.

      The first book, Mindsight is like a tool.  It attempts to teach a deeper understanding and control of one's emotions through a deeper understanding of the workings of the brain.  I am still not all that far into this book because the others have been taking up more of my time, but I love the concept of this book because it is already something I have done for most of my life.  As a "hyper-rational" person, since childhood I've always been able to separate myself from my emotions - to step outside my emotions and interpret them rationally.  This is a defining characteristic of my personality and contributes largely to my ability to remain calm and collected amidst chaos as well as to my wry sense of humor.  This ability, however, tends to glitch in the face of overwhelming emotion.  Early on in our relationship, I hadn't the slightest idea how to conduct myself around MacGyver because the strength of my emotion was in conflict with my rationality.  I'm sure this has also contributed to my obsessive worry issues when it comes to my kids.

      So for a couple years I've been trying to reconcile stronger emotions with my hyper-rational nature, but with only limited success.  The two things just don't seem to mesh.  This book, it seems, may answer that issue.  And it's looking like it will be a big bridge for putting into practice deeper discoveries and revolations from other areas of my life and from the other two books.  Because anger and annoyance are also emotions, and lately, being more in touch with my emotions, I've been more prone to harbor anger toward people.  Not anger that causes me to really act, other than possibly shoot my mouth off here and there, but anger that simmers in me when other people do or say stupid freaking things (not good when you're a lawyer!).  And I don't like that anger being there.

      So Mindsight is a tool to put the new themes I'm seeing emerging in my life into practice and an effective manner.

      Compassionate Life will be getting it's own post.  Hell, it will probably (ideally) be getting a lot of them.  Even though the title did NOT make me want to read the book at all, the fact that it won the 2008 TED "Ideas Worth Spreading" prize, AND the fact that the author, Karen Armstrong, was a speaker at General Assmbley this year got me interested.  Then the opportunity for MacGvyer and I to read it together as part of a discussion group at church finally goaded me to actually get the book.  And I could not be more grateful that I did.

      There are too many concepts in this book to boil down to just a paragraph or two, but I will say that much of what it talks about is similar to Mindsight, but on a much deeper, more spiritual level.  The purpose of the book is to move people - all people - to live lives of empathy and compassion, to ease anger, fighting, war, and all the harms to humanity that spring from those things.  Lofty, lofty goals, but they are put forth in individual step that can be worked inside any human being.  Moving doesn't even begin to describe this book.  Written from a religious and and ecumenical stance, it discusses points from many major religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Confusionism, Judiaism, Islam - and those are just off the top of my head).

      It is exactly what I've been trying to get to in my life, but expressed with so much more clarity and direction than I think I could have ever come to on my own.  It's like the Universe looked at me and said, "Oh, that's what you're trying to do?  Here, there's an app for that a book for that."  (In my world, the Universe has quite a sense of humor).  In the future, I will write more detailed posts about this book, but for now I will simply say that this is what I've been looking for.  It contains the keys to being the person I want to be, to truly following the "golden rule," letting go of judgement and the pointless anger and annoyance it breeds, and to reaching higher goals than I had previously considered spiritually, emotionally, and practically.

      Compassionate Life is the center point of these three books that have communicated so powerfully with me lately.  It is the crux.  And it may well become something of a Bible to me for some time to come.  Seriously, go get this book.  You will not regret it - no matter what religion you are.

      With the lofty notions and goals of the first two books, how does Pride and Prejudice fit in?  It is, after all, a romance and a work of fiction.  How does it tie in to the two books that are molding and transforming my thoughts right now?  Perfectly.  It ties in perfectly.  A strong, intelligent lead character who believes herself quite adept at rationally controlling her emotions becomes blinded by her own perceptions and unwittingly stands in the way of her own happiness.  It was during my reading of P&P that I had the "Aha" moment of the Universe smacking me upside the head.  While Compassionate Life was deeply moving and transformative, it was the degree to which Pride and Prejudice tied in to everything else that made me stop and take notice of all the signs falling into place.

       It was as if the Universe were saying, "You've cut away all the negative, now is the time to outgrow it."  Now is the time to let go of annoyance and judgement and accept people for who they are.  Even the flawed ones who inject stress into my life.

      Because as I grow in my ability to compassionately evaluate my own reactions to people and actions in the world, slowly I will outgrow feelings of anger and resentment, even when people take pointless swipes at me and those I love.

      So, while I am not quite ready to go back and strike up discourse with all the people and things I decided to cleanse from my life in the Fall, I will harbour no more resentful feelings toward them, either.  I will be a friend (though not necessarily a Facebook friend, mind you - for privacy reasons) to anyone who seeks me out for friendship or advice.  And I will grow. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plodding Along

      Though it may not reflect here, I really have been picking up on my leisure reading.  As you can see from the new additions to my sidebar (over there ----->) I've added the books I'm currently reading for pleasure.  I'm loving Pride and Prejudice though it is taking me a long time to get through it because I keep accidentally killing the batteries on my Nook.

      I'm also reading Mindsight.  I'm not usually into "personal transformation" type books.  In my opinion they're usually all full of gimicks, and really any personal transformation gimick can work for someone if they just pick a path and stick with it.  I'm giving this book a chance, though, because it comes highly recommended by a friend who also happens to be a psychologist.  Since I'm a very rational and controlled person, she said she was sure I'd really like this book.  I just started it yesterday, so we'll see.

      I imagine it will take me a long time to get through both of these books.  While I used to put down a book every few days, those days are long behind me thanks to every increasing work and parenting duties.  It's a little sad, but really, I'm ok with it.  I'm going to enjoy my work and my family right now, and read when I get a spare few minutes (which right now is about 10 minutes a day for Pride and Prejudice and 5 minutes a day for Mindsight).

       At bedtime, we're reading Punky The Last Olympian from the Percy Jackson series.  We've loved all the books so far and expect this one to be just as good.  On her own, Punky is devouring book after book.  A lot of them are Goosebumps books, of which I am not a fan, but hey, reading is reading!

      And to put Flintstone to sleep, every night we read It's Time for Bed and It's Time to Sleep My Love.  I love the rhythm of the prose in each one.

      MacGyver just finished Ender's Game and is now picking back up with The Alchemist as well as attacking a large stack of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Urban Farm and Handyman magazines. 

      I also read Urban Farm, Working Mother, Natural Living, and various law journals when I get a chance.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Schooling Myself: Political

      I've mentioned before that I don't often comment on politics in general because I feel the topics are more complicated than most people give them credit for and I don't have the time or the energy to collect enough information to feel completely confident in my opinion.  And I think people who buy into the over-hyped spinmiesters are complete tools.

      This morning, I was listening to discussions on the radio of President Obama's Jobs Bill as well as some of the Republican proposals.  My thinking (based solely off what President Obama and the Republican Candidates said about their own proposals)?  I think it makes a hell of a lot more sense to put money into building schools and roads - putting teachers and construction workers back to work - than it does to tear apart our environment and sink the nation deeper into the oil pit.  That said, I'm sure there is a heck of a lot more to each plan, but I do know enough to say that I instantly bulk at the idea of using environmental destruction as a tool for economic advancement.

      But, really, that's about as far as my knowledge goes.  So I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should add a book to my reading list that will educate me a little about economics and politics.  Something a little less pop-culture than Freakonomics - not that I'm knocking it.

      So I've added a new book to my list: 
      The Price of Civilization by economist Jefferey D. Sachs examines the widening income gap between the rich and the middle class and looks at the reasons why middle class growth has basically died in the last couple decades.  If you click on the image of the book above, you can read an exerpt.

      Even though it intimidates me a little, I find economics facinating and am looking forward to digging into this book as soon as I finish up one of the other 3 I'm reading right now.  Anyone care to join me?  I would love to start a little mini book club (as in this one book and stop - I like my book club committments limited to one book at a time).

      Heaven knows I found the information about farm subsidies in Menu For The Future extremely enlightening.

      If you're on the fence about whether or not to join me in reading Price of Civilization, you can check out an interview the author gave on NPR here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wellspring of Magic

      We just finished reading Wellspring of Magic by Jan Fields as Punky's bedtime story.  I did not love this book.  It wasn't horrible, but it had nothing at all to set it apart or recommend it.

      It was an extremely formulaic story that unabashedly pandered to princess fantasies.  There was a princess for all the most common princess sterotypes - the mermaid, the animal princess who can talk to bears, the dancing princess, and so on ad nauseum. 

      I can tell that Punky is finally outgrowing her princess phase thank all that is holy.  She wasn't all that enraptured by this book even though she enjoyed it.  I think she would have liked it a lot more 2 or 3 years ago.

      At the very least, I can say the girls in the story were decently strong female characters.  If only in as much as they didn't need rescuing.  Throughout the book they used their *ahem* "talents" to work through their problems.

      This book might be better suited as an easy read for a child just getting into chapter books than as a family read at bedtime.  I neither recommend for or against this book.  Take it or leave it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sex Ed: It's So Amazing!

      When I was pregnant, Punky started asking questions.  Nothing too risqué, nothing particularly specific, but it was clear that she was curious.

      The first time she asked, I was completely unprepared a little surprised.  I pulled up some handy internet images of the good old female reproductive system (internal) and promptly bored the curiosity right out of her with talk of cells and tubes and gestation.  I also answered her question of just how the baby would get out of my stomach.  That pretty much quelled the curiosity at that point.  An important note on this was that she asked about the pregnancy.  She did not, at that point, ask about sex.

     But I knew the questions were just around the corner, and I needed to get my act together.  I have been a HUGE proponent of fully comprehensive, age appropriate sex education since college.  Accurate, comprehensive Sexuality Education is THE MOST effective method, bar none, to protect our youth - not only from teen parenthood and STIs, but also self esteem and relationship issues, prejudice, involvement in risky situations - a whole gambit of things related to sexuality throughout life.

     I will TRY to refrain from turning this into a rant about how unbelievably vital good Sex Education is for our youth (EVEN THOUGH IT SO TOTALLY IS) and how completely ineffective and DANGEROUS abstinence-only Sex "ed" is.  Just take my word for it.  I researched the heck out of this topic in college - hours and hours of pouring over various studies, statistics, and evaluations of programs.  The facts are absolutely clear: Comprehensive Sex Ed is the answer. 

     So I knew I had to get on top of things for the next round of questions from Punky.  And I knew the questions were imminent.  It was clear she was hitting an age full of curiosity about boys, relationships, and S-E-X.

     I’ve been a UU for a long time, and one of my very FAVORITE things about the UU church is that it has its very own whole life, comprehensive Sexuality Education program, OWL (Our Whole Lives).  The program has been highly praised by many organizations not at all affiliated with Unitarian Universalism.  Many people bring their kids JUST FOR this program.  OWL is awesome.  Punky was in OWL for a short period of time in Brooklyn, but she was much younger then. 

      Sadly, our current UU church is too small to support an OWL program, so I was on my own.  There are a lot of brilliant resources available online for parents to create their own Sexuality Education programs.  But, to be quite honest, as a pregnant full time working mom, I was looking for a little faster fix.  And I am IN LOVE with what I found:

     After a whole lot of research, I ordered Punky this book:

      It’s So Amazing is the second in a trilogy of wonderful Sexuality Education books for kids.  I just wish I had found out about them sooner so I could have started her with the first one!  This book is what’s amazing.  The entire book is colorfully illustrated and every single page is engaging.  The text is simple and straightforward – it doesn’t condescend, confuse, or titillate.  And it has every detail I could ever imagine Punky wanting at this age – to include information on different kinds of families (step, adoptive, homosexual, etc.), promoting love and tolerance for all, and information on good and bad touching and AIDs.  It is COMPLETE.

     And, yes, it talks about intercourse.  I was extremely impressed by how this was handled.  Two sentences, factual and matter-of-fact.  They provide all the information while leaving you without making a huge fuss out of it.  Out of this whole huge beautiful book, only two sentences go to “the act,” and that’s all that are needed.  But every word of the book is worth reading.



      The book couldn’t have arrived at a better time.  Punky was starting to hint around that she wanted to know how the baby actually went IN, and she obviously knew it was something salacious.  She was super excited when I gave her the book, and she loves it.  We read the first couple chapters together, then I cut her loose to fill her curiosity on her own, but she knows she can come to me with any questions.  The funny thing is, I’m not sure she’ll have any.  The book is just that good.

      I can’t recommend this book enough, and I’m already looking forward to getting the next book, It’s Perfectly Normal for her in a year or two (not to mention the first book, It’s Not the Stork for when Flinstone gets a little bigger). 

      Now it’s time to open the discussion.  How did/will you teach your kids about sex?  What sort of sex ed did you get from your parents and/or school?

For more information about Sexuality Education, please check out: