What Makes Sense

I want to say a little more about the film, Gasland.

A couple of years ago, we drove through Wyoming, and I wrote this. My previous experience with Wyoming was largely through the scenery in the movie Brokeback Mountain, which was stunning, but admittedly not the focal point of that film. Anyway, Wyoming was...horrifying. Mile after mile of oil and natural gas drilling. Waste dumps. Truck traffic. We didn't care much about anything at that point. We had no jobs, no obligations, no itinerary. Everything we owned packed in Sandy. We camped out every night, got a little drunk with Lance and made awesomely delicious food on the fire. So, we said screw Wyoming and went on to Montana and Idaho, where we became obsessed with following the Lewis and Clark trail. I forgot about Wyoming.

I use natural gas to heat my home, just like most people in this area. I really can't argue the need for energy sources. I know that I can't realistically power my home on solar. As for the necessity of domestic energy production? Well, I'm pretty sure that has to do more with domestic money making than with national security. Anyway, I'm a long way from figuring out how to reduce my own energy usage.

Gasland is not thorough investigative journalism. Critics debunk the claims made by those featured in the film, mainly the impressive lighting-well-water-on-fire.

And there's more, very rational debunking here, and here and here. A lot of scientists and oil men making a good and rational case for the safety of fracking.

I'm no scientist, but I just want to make a plug for common sense.

How can it possibly be ok to mix a bunch of chemicals with water and inject them thousands of feet into the ground? How does that not contaminate something? Why would you assume that those toxic chemicals will never resurface? So maybe you can drill into the Marcellus Shale and it won't pollute my drinking water this year. But what makes you so sure it won't pollute Laurel's water in 10 years or her children's water in 30 years? Or even two hundred years from now? Or a thousand years? Why are you so sure that trillions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals will not resurface at some later date making for a very icky cleanup?!

It makes no sense to me.


The New Friday Night

We held happy hour on the porch with Laurel and fed her butternut squash and avocado, and she finished the meal giggling, but also covered in the sticky remnants of her dinner. We drank wine and snacked on hard-boiled eggs and potato salad leftovers. The weather was pleasant. Neighbors waved. We shared stories about our day and babbled back at Laurel.

Next was bath time and a squirmy little girl who can't help but try to stand up in the tub over and over again. Who squeals every time she squirts her water bottle at her mama. Who loves to be naked and prolongs the moment by wiggling away from her diaper no less than 7 times before it's firmly pinned on.

Then, bedtime with daddy, while I eavesdrop from the next room, hearing his voice rhythmically rising and falling with a story book. He'll rock her and kiss her and place her ever so gently in the crib before tiptoeing out to the rest of Friday night.

And Now for Something Lighter

I thought I'd take a break from my current fixation on energy and regional development to express my love for the show Bethenny Getting Married.

I have long had a fascination with Bravo TV's "Real Housewives..." series. Watching the New Jersey series is like viewing a train wreck in slow motion. And to be clear, my life as a housewife is nothing like that (although often just as exciting, if not a little scarier.) Bethenny was on the Real Housewives of New York, which I could never really get into, but I love her on her own show. I'm watching the episode where Bethenny brings home her little baby, and her early adventures with nursing and figuring out car seats and watching her husband fall in love with his daughter reminds me so much of our early days with Laurel.

I like the way Bethenny comes across on television. It's a nice mixture of self-depricating humor and sarcasm and zest for life. Unlike most of the characters on Bravo, she seems like a real person, with flaws and strengths, and she's very self-aware. (Unlike Teresa Giudice on Real Housewives of New Jersey, who just leaves me going, "Wha???" after every episode.)

TV? I could take it or leave it. But as long as we're paying for the "triple play", I'm glad there's at least one show that appeals to both my maternal side and my sarcastic side.


No, we don't want to share....

I grew up in the idyllic suburb of Hampton Township, recently named one of America's best towns for families by Family Circle Magazine. And yeah, it's a nice place to live. Green lawns. A nice park. Small schools.

I recently attended a networking event put on by Power of 32, which is encouraging a more regional vision than what is the norm in western PA. Hampton, like many municipalities where things are going well, has declared that it doesn't want to join with any other local governments. There are over 2,000 governing bodies in this region! People like local control here. But we could save a lot of money by merging public services.

But if you need another reason for a regional approach to government, regulation and development, you should watch this. If you live in this region, some of your neighbors are making deals with the gas man right now.


All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Traditionally, elementary teachers have been paid crap money for really difficult, time-consuming work that requires a high degree of professional preparation and on-going development. If you've ever been in school yourself you probably know that not all teachers are noble and do this difficult work out of the goodness of their hearts. Lots of them are kind of apathetic and do the work because it's really, really hard to get fired. (Sorry, this digression is fueled by my own frustration over not being able to find a teaching job in Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, researchers have long suspected that there may be lasting effects from good teaching. However, most studies looked only at standardized test scores, and the impact of good teaching on test scores tends to fade after a few years. A new study (although not yet peer-reviewed) looked at other outcomes by following a group into their 30s and looking at things like marriage and divorce rates, and income. Kindergarten is a place where children learn all kinds of important social skills, in addition to some important pre-reading skills. I'm wondering if the new more academic nature of lots of kindergartens (the last one I worked in was full-day, no naps, no free play, no sand table, sometimes no recess, but lots of reading and writing and math worksheets) would actually not be teaching students what they actually need to know as adults, in exchange for a few points higher on the their third grade bubble tests.


Oh So Hot

It's hard to remember a time when I was this hot. Our apartment on Mathilda Street didn't have air conditioning. The summer we hiked the AT had some pretty hot days, especially through Pennsylvania and New York. The local news tonight advised people to keep an eye on their elderly neighbors. Some people lead climate-controlled lives and go from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned job, perhaps stopping at the air-conditioned grocery store or the air-conditioned Starbucks on the way. Those kind of people also complain about the heat, but experience it in five minute bursts as they walk through a parking lot. And yes, I'll admit it can be shocking to the system to step through a door and feel that blast of hot air.

We, however, are not climate-controlled people. We live in a 95 year old house without HVAC. Central air is not in our future. We have a window unit in our bedroom that keeps us sane. We sweat. We mop our brows. We drink ice water and sit in front of a fan cranked to high, rendering all conversation impossible. We drink Pimm's Cups for happy hour on our porch and celebrate every blessed breeze that comes our way.

As I sit here typing this with sweat literally dripping off my forehead, I think about Phoenix, where I was twice as hot, but sweat less, and where we kept our A/C on 80 and that actually felt good, and I have to say that "hot" is a relative term. No matter how hot you are, it is hotter someplace else in the world. At least I'll be looking forward to winter when this summer winds down. And I'll forever remember this steamy summer as the time when Laurel started to crawl, and learned to clap her hands, and carefully fed herself Cheerios, one at a time, while she sat in her little red chair on the front porch, watching traffic and smiling at neighbors. I'll remember her first summer concerts at Hartwood, where we cool off on Sunday nights. I'll think of her sitting in the grass, bouncing to the music. Lots of cool baths, and combing her baby-fine hair. Hide and go seek from opposite sides of the bed, where we played on the hottest of afternoons, with the curtains drawn. Pool parties with her friends and escaping to the mall for the air-conditioning. With all these memories collecting, I really can't complain about the heat.


Fleeing the City

This summer continues to be annoyingly hot, so Laurel and I fled to the suburbs today to go to the mall. I never liked the mall, did not hang out there as a teenager, don't even do my Christmas shopping there. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover...the mall has great sales! I mean, really, really great sales, especially if you have hours to kill. The other great thing that the mall has is a kiddie area with a big foam mat and models of PIttsburgh bridges as jungle gyms for the kids to play on. At first Laurel was intimidated by all the "big kids", but then she gained a little confidence, and started zooming this way and that. She joined a game of hide and go seek and waved to all the smiling two year olds. (Why do two year olds love babies so much?)

All in all, it wasn't a bad way to spend the afternoon. Now if only she would sleep tonight. I have a bad cold, and she's teething and the last two nights have left me with ridiculously small amounts of sleep.


Pool Party

Sarah invited us over for a pool party on Sunday. Laurel was pretty stylish in her flamingo bathing suit. (Baby bathing suits are utterly useless for the baby, kind of hard to get them into, and purely for the entertainment of their mamas.) Laurel was like an otter...crawling all around the pool, and then she discovered how to slide right over the edge of the pool so she could get in and out. She's a little bold - in this photo she crawled right over and practically sat in Kai's lap.


Dog Days

Man, this summer is hot. I went to see one of my tutoring clients yesterday and Laurel spent the afternoon at my mom's house. Some of the more popular attractions at my mom's house are the infamous "fridge DJ", teeny tiny cups for Laurel to drink out of, and a rotating selection of old, but excellently maintained toys. Yesterday, however, the popsicle was the big winner. My mom froze some diluted cranberry juice, and when I got back to her house they were sitting on the front porch, cooling off with a popsicle. Laurel did not even bat an eye when I arrived because she was so into this popsicle.

We ended up staying for dinner, and Laurel ate up the chickpea tomato sauce and pasta the rest of us had. (My dad used his stick blender to grind it up.) Laurel seems to like food that is seasoned better than bland and pureed baby food. When I make my own baby food, I leave some chunks in it so it has a little texture. She also loves yogurt. Beans don't seem to bother her.

Right now, she's doing a lot of pulling herself up to standing by holding on to furniture. Her other favorite "skill" to practice is laughing. She will make her own little laughing noises and try to get you to join in. She loves being tickled under her arms.

She's been babbling for a while, but we're starting to see her distinguish sounds...who will be the first to be called by name? Hmmmm, that's a timeless debate. My mom reported that when she showed Laurel a picture of M, Laurel said "dada". I've also heard her say "dada" at bedtime when I'm putting her to bed (usually M does it).

Watching a child develop right in front of me is one of the most amazing things I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. I think any parent can attest to the daily joys. But does it make life better?

The debate over parenting and happiness is chronicled here. As M and I read it over this morning, we found lots of things that resonated with us. (And the photographs in the article are very interesting - be sure to check them out.)

Having your first child at 30 is a lot different than starting at 22. I think we have a better capacity to reflect on how things are going. However, having a baby has hampered my career, interfered with some of my most valued friendships, completely changed the amount and way we travel, and complicates pretty much every small action of my day...from laundry to solving problems that come up like running out of gas or making phone calls to handle household business. I'm not saying it sucks...just that it's a big transition.


Feeding Babies

I'm no lactivist. However, I do breastfeed my child pretty much anywhere, anytime that she needs to eat. I try to be as discrete as possible, but I do it without a nursing cover. I don't make a big deal about it, and frankly, nobody else does either.

I was blessed to be surrounded and nurtured by a fantastic group of mamas during my early days of motherhood. We bonded on Friday afternoons during the cold winter months, nursing our newborns and sipping tea. When spring finally came, we moved to the park and happily nursed babies while sitting on logs next to the stream. Three of those mamas trekked halfway across the North Hills with me a few weeks ago. We stopped on the side of the trail, laid down some blankets and nursed our babies there. My favorite quote from that day was from one of the hikers who passed us and was talking to M at the finish line. M asked him if he had seen a group of moms and babies on the trail and he said, "Yeah! They were having a picnic!".

So it surprises me when I encounter other mamas who have less positive experiences and report feeling awkward or ashamed. But I know that it happens. And even more than that, I hate the Breast vs. Bottle war. Just because I am breastfeeding my kid, doesn't mean I think you suck because you use a bottle. Really. And you don't owe me an explanation or an apology. You are doing the right thing for you and your kid. You know how I know this? Because that's what mamas do.

I recently came across this post on the subject, and found it relevant and well-written. I especially liked the following suggestions:

1. When you see a mother with a baby, say, "Wow--your baby looks so healthy and happy! You must be doing a great job!"

2. If you're a breastfeeding mom, and you have a choice about where to feed, sit down next to a mom feeding a baby from a bottle, and start a conversation about something not related to feeding.

3. Don't hide your breasts when you feed your kid, whether you're nursing or using a bottle. Be as discreet as you personally want to be, but don't cover up just because someone told you you should.

4. If you're out in public and you see a woman feeding a baby, give her a smile. And a piece of chocolate, if you have one.

5. Defend and protect. If you see a feeding mom being harassed in any way, step in the way you would if you saw big kids picking on little kids at the playground.

6. Talk about feeding babies with your kids, so they grow up knowing that babies need to be fed and that you fed your children and they'll feed their own kids. The circle of life.

Ok, so maybe I am a little bit of a lactivist. Or maybe I just want to promote a society where a woman has access to good information and then is supported and respected for her parenting decisions.


Long Overdue Photos

It's 9:00am and I am already literally dripping sweat, sitting here in my living room. Laurel broke the fan, making it so it will turn on, but it takes a few minutes to get going. Weird. Over the course of the last few days she's really started to master the art of pulling herself up to a standing position. She's way too tipsy to attempt walking, but I can see that she's trying to get the hang of moving her feet a little bit to cruise along the side of the bed or the couch. Our friend Leah was in town over the weekend and commented that she had literally seen Laurel grow and develop, just in five days time. Here are some photos from the last few weeks.


Happy 8th Month Birthday, Laurel

Happy Birthday, Laurel! You're sniffling in your pack n play right now, asleep but restless. My fault for letting you stay up too late. Or maybe it's because I put you to sleep in our room, and you miss your monkeys. It's 79 degrees at midnight, and most definitely hotter than that in our house, so we turned on the AC in our bedrooms.

I remember seeing an eight month old baby at the neighborhood Christmas party. Laurel was maybe about 5 weeks old. I thought he looked giant. I couldn't imagine having to tote around a baby that big. And now she is.


Baby Gear: Must Haves for the 7-9 Month Old

My cousins Heather and Lisa and my Aunt Donna were in town over the weekend. Heather and her parents have recently completed the process of getting certified to be a foster family. The process sounded rigorous but not impossible, so if it's something you would consider doing, I would urge you to contact your county to find out what the process is in your area. Right now they are waiting for an infant to be placed with them, but all the baby talk got me thinking about what you need and how that changes even over the course of six months.

Laurel is one day shy of eight months old. She's mobile via crawling, pulls herself up, eats some solid food, and is generally a very engaging and interactive baby. She still spends most of her time in my care, but doesn't protest too much when she gets a babysitter. I am happy to report that she sleeps great these days, although still wakes up 2-3 times per night to be fed. We've tried to break her of this habit, and she's not havin' it right now. I guess the girl takes after her father and has a fast metabolism or something. Anyway, it's either fight her for an hour or just feed her and she goes back to sleep in five minutes. I expect that she'll grow out of night feedings eventually, and we'll try again to encourage it in a few months.

So here's a list of some of the things we're finding particularly useful these days.

safe real toys - Laurel has a lot of great toys, but she seems to have a preference for "real" stuff...pots and cooking utensils, the remote control (take the batteries out - she almost ordered a movie the other day!), etc.

playmat - My Aunt Mary bought us a great playmat that has 36 foam tiles you can arrange in any configuration. It's great for a house with wooden floors and is big enough for Laurel to crawl around on.

books - We keep adding to her library and her interest in books is only growing. She definitely is able to show preference for her favorite books.

walker - M's mom bought us a basic walker a few weeks ago. The setup of our house is such that she can't get to the stairs, so it's not a hazard. She loves scooting around in it and it's invaluable to have someplace to "stick" her that leaves her fairly limited in what she can touch (i.e. she can't get to the outlets or eat dirty stuff off the floor when she's in there).

food - I'm still working on increasing solid foods. She's eating about three "meals" a day, usually with fortified cereal mixed with pureed food (I'm working off a stash of pears, sweet potatoes and carrots I made a few weeks ago). In addition to that we feed her soft foods off our plates...mashed beans, pieces of avocado, pasta, eggs, potatoes. She seems to really like strong flavors, so we let her taste the sauce of whatever we're eating. We also plan to use our food mill to mash up our "big people" food for her, since she seems to have a preference for that over bland baby food. I need suggestions for portable, nutritious finger food. I bought these Gerber Puffs, which are like cereal, and Laurel loves them, but I'm not convinced they are really food.

Ok, so this isn't really a list of "must haves" - that kind of goes against my entire parenting philosophy anyway, which is a) make choices that suit your family b) it's really hard to mess up your kid even if you don't have the "right" stuff and c) follow your kid's cues and you will know what to do.


Saturday Morning

It's nice to have a baby in the house. It causes one to wake up early, when the air is still crisp. This is what a Saturday morning looks like at my house. Laurel wakes up before either of us really want to, so we bring her into our bed and try to convince her to lie still. Being a few days shy of eight months, this is not an attractive choice for her, so instead she climbs all over us and grabs our hair and rolls on the pillows until we give up on sleeping in and go downstairs. I mix up some cereal and pears for her and feed her in the kitchen. In between spoonfuls, I wash dishes, fry up eggs. M starts to bake a loaf of bread. Someone puts on a record and the tinkling sounds of Joanna Newsom's harp provide background. Sunbeams make their way through the wooden slats of the dining room blinds. Laurel is in the habit of taking an early morning nap, so once she eats breakfast I put her back in her room and M and I drift to corners of the house to get a little work done. It's the kind of morning that makes you feel like everything is going well with your life.

I really should have some video for you, but there's been a lot of details to juggle this week....contractors and job interviews and house guests. Laurel is squirming all over the place, army crawling across any obstacle to get to something she wants. She's pulling herself up to standing, or at least making strong attempts, and there are many tears of frustration on her part. I don't believe she wants to crawl, I think she wants to go straight to running.

My longtime virtual neighbor Leah is in town this weekend. Leah is the kind of house guest that blends right into your regular life. You look up and there she is, drinking a cup of coffee in your kitchen, and making faces at the baby. It's nice to have someone bear witness to the ordinary details of your life. It's validating somehow.

9:26am, and already so many good things have happened. What will the rest of Saturday hold for us?


Entering a New Era

I am now entering the stage of motherhood when a few moments of silence no longer sounds blissful...rather, I immediately jump to attention to see what Laurel is putting into her mouth. That girl has some amazing finger dexterity. She can pick up little tiny bits of anything.