Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Do you Twitter? I have added a new Twitter Moms feed as an ongoing feature on the sidebar to keep you "in the know." Check it out!


Twitter Moms: The Influential Moms Network

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to My Readers!


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Thank you to all my Revelant readers. Enjoy the holidays with your loved ones, and safe travels. The news will take a break and return after new year. Unless of course there is something I just have to write about!

Be Well,

Aphra

Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Minute Holiday Gifts and Tales of Hot and Hazardous Potty Business: Relevant Holidays

Not that we have cornered the market on holiday exhaustion, but odds are if you are a mom you are running on fumes right about now. So let's cut to the chase and get to it. Here are a few holiday tips to pass along before the big day:
  • I'm biased as a former professional bookseller, but books are fantastic last minute gift ideas for everyone. I can attest that I nearly had to escort people bodily to the doors on Christmas eve to get them to stop scouring for just the book to give. Talk about holiday exhaustion, please, please be nice to a retail store person in the last hours of the holiday crush, and please understand that they to have families and festivities and cakes that they have to frost into the wee hours of the night. So cut 'em a break and leave when you are supposed to. BUT, I digress. Here is a last minute list of great children's books.
  • Better yet, avoid the store all together. Not that I am trying to single handedly derail any efforts that are being made to get our economy going (honestly I'd need a few more readers for that one), but there are plenty of ideas hanging around your house, so check these out.
  • Want to know what THE hottest toy this season is? Move over Elmo, darling, baby dolls that really, um, poo have flown off of store shelves. They are billed as potty training aides. As if we didn't have enough real poo to handle in our daily lives, we have to endure the doll's to? Yeeeeech!
  • And still on the bathroom/potty training subject, this one is a little odd, but helpful due to all the traveling to unfamiliar places. Apparently little penises are prone to lots of toilet slamming injuries while visiting non kid proofed destinations, so be vigilant!

And, for all those parents that are really just not that into this whole hullabaloo--Religion, holidays, et al. (sorry, I am, but I recognize the differences around me, so consider this a little gift non-holiday affiliated), there are others in the so-called "humanist parenting movement," who feel your pain.

Whatever you celebrate have a happy and healthy time!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Working and Stay At Home Parents Are Actually On the Same Side: Relevant READ THIS

I was going to include a commentary article from the U.K. Guardian into a larger discussion of parenting issues in the news, but decided that it was to good, and to important an article to risk getting buried and perhaps unread. And I am telling you that you should read it-take the time. The reason is that this writer, Geraldine Bedell, instead of writing a trite polarized article about the working versus stay at home mothering divide, really gets into the issue and illustrates that all to often we are fighting over choices that already are so loaded:

If you wanted to design an ideal childcare strategy, you wouldn't start
from here. You'd have to go much further back, to gender parity and social
equality, and an economy that was designed to serve those ideals, not ride
roughshod over them.

Perhaps the recession will induce a rethink; perhaps technology will
offer more civilised, financially manageable ways of working to more people. But
it's hard to see the balance of work and family being much easier for the next
generation of parents. Not as long as we are prepared to countenance quite so
much inequality, anyway.

I hope you will read and comment!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Layoff the Gloom, Taxing Anxiety and Give Credit for A Well Laid Plan: Relevant Fiscal Functioning


Fiscal concerns have you down?


Crisis has a way of focusing one's priorities and what one's values doesn't it? Kind of makes one wonder if there is indeed a plan in there somewhere, doesn't it?

Photo courtesy of http://spacespin.org/

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rant Break: Relevant Retail Recoil

We interrupt the news, for news...of my ranting:

I'm a notorious procrastinator when it comes to things I really hate doing...like shopping...in crowds...while doing mental budgeting gymnastics. Waiting in lines is high on my avoid at all costs list as well, and salespeople who mess up gift receipts also are the target of my holiday exasperation. Before you get all indignant on their behalf, let me remind you I WAS one of those folks once upon a time, and I know when someone is just phoning it in. I understand it, I just don't endorse it. Why don't I shop online? Besides a strange aversion to frequently meeting the UPS/FED Ex driver in my jammies on a regular basis, as I said, I procrastinate, which then leads to increased shipping charges, which leads me back to...mental budgeting gymnastics.

So it is this negative cycle of retail avoidance that landed me in the girls section of JC Penney's today looking for cute outfits for my niece (Yes, you can find cute outfits at JC Penney, I had to work at it, but it can be done, and no this is most definitely not a paid post-I don't do them). The budgeting issue was happily in check, as it seems just about everything was $7.99 in the department. Check, the economy sucks, as evidenced by the blaring sale signage verging on liquidation levels. I realized then that it is occasionally good to get out to get my sociological news; Internet news postings can be so "clinical."

Other than an economy in decline, here also staring me in the face was the evidence of a parenting culture out of whack. Tucked in amongst the plethora of Hannah Montana and High School Musical trademarked everything, were bedazzled, sparkly t-shirt after t-shirt bearing messages such as "It's all about Me, Myself and I," "Spoiled Rotten," "Because I Said So," and some vaguely disturbing "Daddy" messages that sealed the deal, and caused a full scale feminist recoil. Seriously? People send their daughters out in this stuff? This extremely glaring and narcissistic messaging is considered hip?

Listen, I'm not a cultural reactionary, hairy-legged feminist, whatever pejorative moniker you would like to assign to me, but I can't help but think that THIS is a part of the problem of why women have such an issue getting ahead. And why do we wonder where we went wrong in raising generations of kids that are largely defined and motivated by what they want alone, who get indignant when an employer doesn't quite see that their view of things is worthy of constant praise, and a hefty raise on their second day? We are quite literally setting these girls up for failure and disappointment, because when they encounter "the real world" they are in for a jarring world view readjustment. Or they just marry a sugar daddy and star in the Housewives of... And while I'm at it, why do we wonder where our politics of "exceptionalism" comes from, when we put "exceptional" billboards on our kids, and raise them with this mindset? Where does the line lie between harmless cute snarkiness with sequins and glitter, and crass commercial cashing in on the erosion of our daughters and society?

I'm just saying...that's the beauty of a blog, it's all about me.

The news will return shortly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Change is Coming to Education, and None to Soon: Relevant Matriculation



Bringing you up to date on recent education headlines:


  • President elect Obama has just announced his selection of Chicago superintendent of schools, Arne Duncan, for Secretary of Education. His selection is viewed as a good choice to balance the calls of opposing forces in the education debate, having established a track record of tough school standards, as well as a productive and respectful relationship with the powerful teachers' unions.
  • Part of Obama's education agenda includes a strategic $10 billion investment in early childhood education. "Mr. Obama’s platform, which Mr. Duncan helped write, emphasizes extending care to infants and toddlers as well, and it makes helping poor children a priority. It would also provide new federal financing for states rolling out programs to serve young children of all incomes."
  • As public schools continue to struggle, and the rates of homeschool instruction increase, some look to the charter school program as a model that may address the inadequacies of the system. Washington D.C.'s charter school program is steadily making gains and maybe a model that the administration and legislators will take a close look at when considering overhauls to the system. The article is long, but well worth reading through for the nuts and bolts of a system that has changed education on a larger scale and looks to be bearing fruit.
  • The quality of teachers has always been a hot button issue in the education debate. And the process and requirements for certification are a particularly thorny issue. Keeping the labor pool restricted, with more cumbersome requirements for entry benefits the unions that need to keep supply and demand in check to maintain their bargaining leverage. But this is not always in the best interest of the children, especially in areas that are not a desirable to teach in. In areas of the country that have instituted alternative pathways to teaching, metrics have indicated improved performance, and some feel merits real consideration in prospective solutions for education.
  • Meanwhile others are finding alternative modes of learning delivery...YouTube. Math and science are particularly hot views, and the "YouTube tutorial on calculus integrals has been watched almost 50,000 times in the past year. Others on angular velocity and harmonic motion have gotten more than 10,000 views each."
  • Speaking of math, the news isn't all bad. We've actually improved, although the results are still mixed, and the improvements have some in the lowest 10th percentile. Some systems have made the improvements by focusing on the basics:

Minnesota is perhaps the best example of what can happen when a state narrows
the number of topics taught at a given grade level to allow teachers to
concentrate on fundamental concepts. Since 1995, its fourth-graders made gains
three times the size of the overall US gains in math. The state's eighth-graders
outperformed their US peers as well. Minnesota is now "on the edge of
world-class performance," says William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State
University who has studied international math curriculum. "Everybody always
wants to know, is it possible we could ever perform like those top-achieving
countries? And I think the answer is, yes we can," Professor Schmidt says.

  • Some modes of alternative teaching, however, are not as well received. A teacher in White Plains, NY, offended several students and parents when teaching a lesson on slavery, when the teacher bound two black students hands and feet to illustrate points of the lesson.
  • In other news, the Newberry Medal award is traditionally awarded for excellence in young reader writing, a long a go-to list for teachers and parents seeking quality reading materials for their children that will encourage a love of reading for a lifetime. But some are leveling the criticism recently that the award is losing touch with what children actually like to read.

Photo courtesy of Oregon.gov




Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Family Role Models with Actual Values: Relevant Parenting

We in the American culture are desperate for role models, but the problem is that we get caught up in some questionable role models. Flip on TV these days and you will encounter any number of reality television shows featuring celebrities letting you in on their "family values." I spend most of these shows, when I can stomach getting through one (some of them I can't get past the opening introduction) with my mouth frequently hanging open, and my head shaking.

It's one of those "breathe of fresh air" elements of the new President-elect and his family, that people are now starting to take some cues from the soon to be First Family, and reevaluating things like chores and allowances. If it's good enough for the Obama girls, maybe it's good for my family as well! And perhaps most inspiring is the fact that parents are using Barack Obama as a real role model that they can point to, and they are telling their young children that smart, straight-playing individuals can in fact make it to the top.

Hopefully these particular role models will be a more compelling example that we as a culture can "roll with."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sticks and Stones may Break my Bones, but Pins will Offend my Dignity: Relevant Random Fun


Random Fun Stuff:
  • A few days ago I wrote about NORAD's annual tracking of Santa Claus. Ever wonder how a major defense institution got into the business of tracking Santa? Turns out it was a wrong phone number printed in a newspaper in the mid 1950s that kicked off the annual tradition.

  • Some of our traditions around Christmas might seem a little odd to the uninitiated, like the American proclivity to dunk poultry in a potentially combustible vat of oil. We'll deep fry just about anything. But Europeans are not to be outdone in the odd tradition department. In Catalonia the holidays are particularly applicable to mothers of potty training toddlers, and centers around...poo. I'm not kidding.

  • A guilty pleasure is watching video clips on the Internet, and a list in the Washington Post of "The Ten Silliest Videos We Wasted Time Watching This Year" is great for a quick funny fix. My friend tells me that I may have found her son's future wife in the Star Wars According to a Three Year Old clip.

  • Manicurists may soon institute a ban on the i-Phone, as it is not very user friendly to women with long nails.

  • Do you know if you are late to work in NYC due to subway delays, they will write an excuse note for you?

  • In Australia, according to Reuters, "Teachers using red pen to mark students' work could be harming their psyche as the color is too aggressive, according to education strategies drafted by an Australian state government." I must have mangled my fellow yearbook staff in high school, where I was known as "Miss Red Pen, Editor in Chief."

  • Not so fun, more than it is absurd. People are now testing their children for specific sports genes. The plan is to direct them towards sports they will be more naturally inclined to.

  • Chuck E Cheese's is a rough scene in many communities throughout the country. One police officer remarked,"There's a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there." The "place where a kid can be a kid," turns out to be more "the place where adults can be a jack..."

  • The headline on the Broadsheet blog on Salon.com was a bit deceptive, "Bush is Back." Lo and behold when I read it, the "bush" was suffice it to say nothing to do with George W. Apparently the economy inspires cost cutting measures in every area.

  • Perhaps we Americans could be a tad more respectful of our national leaders, but it takes a thick skin to direct the free world. France's Nikolas Sarkozy doesn't seem to have this tolerance, and recently moved for removal of a voodoo doll likeness of himself being sold in France. The courts ruled that "voodoo dolls can still be sold by a publisher as long as they come with a warning that sticking pins in the toy is an affront to his dignity." Ever heard of the adage, he can dish it out, but can he take it? Apparently, non.

Photo courtesy of http://soisawonthesubwaytoday.blogspot.com/

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Getting a Presidential Life: Relevant Politics and Family


A few notes on politics, family and "having a life."

Change is definitely coming:

As the transition creeps closer (and doesn't it feel like it is creeping?), Obama steadily makes his team selections, and is working on delivering on that promise of change, if only thus far in how we are hearing and interacting with this decidedly 21st century President-elect. First, he is harnessing the Internet like none other we have seen, and recasting the political landscape and spheres of influence. And perhaps most surprising in a democratic nation that had become decidedly jaded, he has invited us to the table to participate-and you don't have to call your representative to do so, just log on to Change.gov. He even has a defined and hugely ambitious plan ready to go, and it's only mid-December, and the other guy hasn't even vacated the corner office yet!

But then some things don't seem all that different, in fact, they are kind of familiar to all of us:

Barack and Michelle are readying their family to assume the mantle of the First Family, and the narrative could be about any person and family when dad takes a new big job, and the family has to relocate. But really not, because all of it is taking place in a huge rarefied fishbowl, in such a hyper focused manner. All the seemingly common decisions seem to delve to the roots of society's views on family, raising and educating the kids, and realizing a personal standard of happiness. Take the following examples:

  • You thought your PTA was rough? Try the Sidwell school PTA, where your fellow parents are political friends and foes alike. How do you handle friendship crisises, when the friend happens to be the child of a major political correspondent, key Senate vote, or even granddaughter of your VP?
  • Most wives and moms get advice from other women about how to adapt to the new neighborhood, or set of work colleagues, but in Michelle Obama's case, she gets to hear from Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as well as her husband's future Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Not to mention that all media new and traditional scrutinizes your every move and its meaning for the status of women in the country.
  • It's not everyday that one willingly invites one's Mother-in-Law to move in with you. And she even gets a secret service name. That could get sticky.
  • Selecting a dog gets very complicated.
  • The landlord has strict guidelines about what you can and cannot do to your house.
  • Your parenting also gets scrutinized, such as weather your kids will do chores. And there are actual books about the subject of what it will be like for your kid growing up in this particular house.
  • You play the starring role in the Mommy Wars. While you work to set the standard of balanced family life as "Mom-In-Chief", the women on your husband's team, and other professionally accomplished women, resent the fact that they are expected to have "no life." Some say that it is just the way it is, so get over it, get to the top, and change it when you are there, and they kind of look down on you for deciding to shelve your career to be the First Mom. E tu sista?

It will certainly be an interesting four to eight years for family Obama, and us as well. Something tells me that Michelle Obama will have one interesting letter to add to the Mother Letter Project when this is all done, because she is just like all of us, but yet not. She'll definitely need some humor about the struggle to balance, so she might want to check out the motherhood balance lessons to be learned from the Wii, originally posted on MommyTrak'd. And you should to, it will make you chuckle.

For me, all is interesting in politics and family life and I look forward to the next several years!

Photo courtesy of www.obamamagazine.com/


Storied Children: Relevant Reading


I spent thirteen years in the book industry, and I definitely still retain my love for bookish things. Having children is a great opportunity to guiltlessly unleash the inner storyteller, as well as indulge in beautiful children's books along with your kids.

Having books at home, and reading to your children is so important. As a college student I worked on a graduate student's project involving early childhood literacy. As a volunteer family tutor I would visit the homes of families being studied for the project. I saw something that seemed so fundamentally alien to me--homes with no books.

Reading the Books on the Nightstand blog, I was reminded that snazzy toys are nice to have, but for my family, books are essential. What about for you? As the writer asks in the mentioned post, "how are you raising a reader?"

As budgets are tight, the library has once again become an important resource to keep a fresh mix of books for my growing toddler to be exposed to, but there is also a "Netfix for children's books," excitebooks.com. This service also has a very interesting and inspiring twist. Instead of the books being returned to circulation, they are instead donated to a local school in need. You can express your love for reading and support local schools.

Finally, I read quite a good interview in Der Spiegel with Cornelia Funke, sometimes referred to as the "German J.K. Rowling." A movie adaptation of her book, Inkheart, is just about to hit theaters. A few of her interesting perspectives:


"It doesn't matter whether a child reads a book, listens to an audio book
or watches a movie. It's only important that children grow up with
stories."


"But we mustn't worship books as deeply sacred shrines, and declare
everything else to be a fall from grace. The problem with many books for
children and adolescents is that they try to send a message. But a child will
not voluntarily pick up a book hostile to fun and, therefore, will learn nothing
about language. And that child is right to do so. We don't go into a bookstore
and say: Give me an especially difficult and instructive book."


How do you keep stories alive in your children's lives?
Photo Courtesy of www.princeton.lib.nj.us/

Save Handmade Toys!: Relevant Action Needed

Save Handmade Toys


An example of when good intentions go horribly awry. In an effort to make sure that toys are safe, a whole host of regulations covering testing requirements and labeling are currently awaiting implementation this coming February by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Problem is that the regulations will be catastrophic for small boutique businesses, and also make European made toys further out of reach due to specific requirements above and beyond their already stringent restrictions compared to the current U.S. regulations.

Lend your mom voice to urge them to reevaluate key provisions of this legislation that takes effect in February to protect small business people and the artisinal toy market by visiting the action page created on Cool Mom Picks. It is easy, and so very needed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Is it Ethical to Dispose of Unused Frozen Embryos Or Ticket a Laboring Woman on the Way to The Hospital?: Relevant Pregnancy and Birth


My list of pregnancy and birth stories is full to bursting, and ready to deliver!
  • The journey of infertility is filled with difficult decisions, not the least of which in the case of IVF treatment is what to do with frozen embryos once the couple is either done having children, or decides to cease the procedure. Complicating this is the fact that there aren't always satisfactory choices available to couples. Hopeful parents aren't always alerted sufficiently up front that they will potentially encounter these kinds of ethical, moral, and spiritual dilemmas. Nor are they throughout the process, as goals, situations and attitudes may change. With increased attention to this dimension perhaps couples would more carefully consider how many embryos they create at the outset.
  • For those couples that require an egg donor, another risk they don't anticipate is when a donor drops out, causing a lot of grief, stress, and lost money. In Illinois three egg donor agencies are coordinating to guarantee that a couple has access to another agency's resources when their donor back out. Ten percent of donors typically drop out, but these days the supplies are increasing. The Chicago Tribune notes that there has been "a 30 percent increase in young women expressing interest in becoming donors, prompted by the bad economy."
  • When it comes to surrogacy, a recent article published in the weekend New York Times magazine, recounting a wealthy woman's first person experience of going through the surrogacy process has drawn fire and particularly sharp criticism. The critic is not swayed by the emotional nature of the process, but rather questioning of the exploitative relationship between often well to do parents, and surrogates who live in decidedly more modest circumstances.
  • Medical science and the resiliency of the human body is often truly inspiring. A successful birth recently resulted from transplanted ovaries from one sister to another.
  • This may be a very promising development reported by Reuters: "Doctors may soon be able to diagnose inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, thalassaemia and sickle cell anemia in fetuses by simply testing a blood sample taken from the mother."
  • Turns out meddling mothers have a genetic reason for wanting their daughters to marry and doctor or a lawyer. A new report reveals that smart men have higher quality sperm. But don't panic! The lead researcher was quoted as saying, "This is scientifically interesting, but unimportant in terms of people's likelihood of conception or fertility." Tell that to your mother.
  • When you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, it suddenly seems like the rest of the world around you is pregnant. In one town which draws most of its population from military families, most of the rest of the women really are. The return of the division from a long deployment sparked a baby boom, and people struggle to get supplies and prenatal care. Additionally, many are choosing to start or add to their families to take advantage of extra leave before returning to overseas duty.
  • For all the wonder of the human body, pregnancy and childbirth still carry risks. A recent report found that mothers-to-be collectively are more daring and willing to take those risks than their doctors. But we have our limits as the reporter notes, especially when it comes to the lingering affects on our, shall we say, private considerations. Believe them when they say "kegels."
  • I can't explain why, but every since I read this story a while back I have been trying to recall a movie, in fact a musical ,that forcefully asserts in relation to women or children that they have "got to be taught." News flash, it's riskier and riskier to have children later in life. Yet, we persist, and health care professionals insist that women must be better educated about the risks. More so right now because in tough economic times, many couples are thinking very strongly about delaying starting or adding to their families. Try telling this to the seventy year old Indian woman who just gave birth, after fifty plus years of marriage.
  • And finally, we have all seen those dramatic, and usually funny, mad-capped dashes to the hospital by freaked out laboring couples. Many parents to be secretly fear just this scenario. Usually they are escorted, or otherwise hilariously assisted, by the law enforcement they encounter along the way, and they safely arrive at the hospital just in time. A couple wasn't quite so lucky, who despite being in obvious labor, received a citation from a diligent patrolmen who ticketed them for driving illegally in a prohibited lane during heavy rush hour traffic, AND made them wait while he finished ticketing another car.

Photo Courtesy of http://health.howstuffworks.com/

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Greening the Holidays and Saving Some Time and Money: Relevant Holiday Preparation

I'm sure you can relate. I have a ton of things to get done for the holidays, a work deadline that could not be missed, and a child who was sick, and threw up on me twice. I'm bone tired, and desperately counting the key strokes between me and my bed. It's creeping up on us all fast, and I reason that you can always use some quick tips to help make things easier, so let's have at it:
  • If you haven't already gotten your tree, check out this article that talks about healthy Christmas trees and ornaments from Debra's List forums, the must view resource on the web for reducing chemical exposure in your home and personal products in my opinion.
  • Save money and the planet with alternatives in giftwrapping brought by Asha Dornfest of ParentHacks. I'm a rampant recycler myself, so much so that a small joke in the family is that if you really like the giftbag you just gave me, it will probably be coming back to you in the future.
  • Toy store fatigue? Wondering if the toy your kid is pleading for is toxic? Another safety resource to use, especially during the surge in toy influx to the household, as well as add to your bookmarks is The Good Guide's Guide to Safe Toys.
  • Eco and budget friendly holiday greeting card resources: http://www.postcards.org/ , http://www.123greetings.com/ , http://www.all-yours.net/

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tracking Santa Claus: Relevant Junior News Junkies

For those moms (and dads) that are getting tired of answering how many more days until Santa comes, something fun for you and the kids to take the pressure off. Apparently Norad doesn't just monitor all the weapons, etc. that might be pointed at us, they also are on Santa tracking duty as well.The kids can visit their own special interactive countdown page, and get up to the minute Santa updates. You can even track Santa in 3-D on Christmas eve via Google Earth. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Their Wounds are Our Wounds: Relevant World News

Pardon me, but I'm going to step up on my soapbox now:

I'm aware that I don't write the typical "mommy blog," and I'm fine with that. Fact is that I'm just not all that into adding yet another virtual chapter to the saga of losing the baby weight, sex after baby, taming toddlers with 'tude, and finding a pair of jeans that addresses (insert hated body part post-baby here). It's been covered, ALOT, and by people way more talented and pleasurable to read than I.


And, I'm not saying that people who do write and read about that are lacking. I'm strangely drawn to the tales of Angelina and Brad, et al. as well. And Lord knows I'll sign up for a pair of jeans that can a.) tame the donut, b.) lift the bum, and c.) not bring to mind visions of Joe the Plumber when I bend down for the hundredth time to retrieve my kid from whatever mess-in-the-making he is hell bent on plunging himself into. Just like any other mother, I also discuss all the minutiae of motherhood with my girlfriends, trying to figure out how to get my kid to eat vegetables and not put his buddies in a head lock at playgroup. I write about it to, just browse my archive here. I'm not smarter, I'm not a saint, I don't have all the answers.


It's just that when I became a mother, instead of the world getting smaller, it got bigger, a whole lot bigger. For me it is the gift and the challenge of this new chapter in my life. I have brought a life to this planet, and although I was always fairly informed about what was happening beyond our borders, it was just not something that touched a nerve regularly and with, well, relevance.


So for me when I read the back and forth about Michelle Obama and weather she is selling herself short to just be "Mom in Chief," I don't fret about what her choices say about mine, or their implications for women. What I think is that she understands that motherhood is a powerful platform for womanhood. The mother has a covenant to keep for herself and her world when she first felt that flutter in her belly. Lifting this up rather than tearing it down ought to be the covenant we keep with fellow women. Motherhood doesn't define a woman, but it does dramatically alter her landscape.


And that landscape ought to include the rest of the world. The other covenant we should keep is not to turn away from other women and mothers in the world, and herein lies a driving passion of this mommy blogger. Countless reports have affirmed the basic principle that when women are educated and empowered in a society, things get better. Somehow, those who want to control others for negative ends understand this, and they are merciless to women in their sphere.

So I write about things you won't always read on other mommy blogs. They don't get high clicks, but they are a calling from which I can't turn away. Motherhood is a bridge between cultures, and something tells me this First Lady to be, like countless before her gets that.


You can't solve the world's problems, but you can do your part to not turn away, and to teach your children well. As women and mothers in a blessed position to be able to speak, we have a responsibility to make sure their stories are told, and their suffering not suppressed.


By all means, be interested in the strange mysteries of teething and potty training, be outraged if you wish about Motrin marginalizing babywearers, but please don't look away from these stories as well:
  • The International Criminal Court is considering a key ruling as to weather systematic rape, such as that planned and executed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan against three ethnic groups, constitutes genocide. As David Scheffer writes in the International Herald Tribune, "Hanging in the balance is whether the heinous strategy of mass rape in modern warfare will be condemned and prosecuted for what it truly is: genocide." He quotes one observer as saying, "'In this society if you rape one woman, you have raped the entire tribe.'"
  • Female leaders in Afghanistan face increasing security threats from the ousted Taliban, and yet they persist in speaking, as long as their faces and names are not printed. The risks are grave, certain death or maiming and threats to their families. But as one leader was quoted as saying in an AP report, "'My philosophy is that you are born, and one day you will be dying. So why not die while being an ideal for others?'"
  • Democratic nation building is a tricky thing, more so especially when doing so in a society that does not share key common cultural norms. In Iraq, while empowering tribal and religious leaders has been a strategic move that has netted some degree of increased security to strengthen the fragile freedom of Iraqis, women aren't faring as well. While violence abates somewhat, tribal killings of women is increasing. The newly empowered leaders are imposing brutally interpreted codes of Islam that among others things disallows educating women and sanctions "honor killings."
  • Meanwhile, Islamic feminists struggle to reclaim what they say are the sources of their religion that do not sanction this brutality and repression of women.
  • Perhaps one of the most tragic consequences of the attack on Mumbai is its legacy for the children. Much as our 9/11 did, Mumbai's horrific attack leaves deep and resonate wounds on the children for which all mothers cry.
  • In Zimbabwe, a terrible situation of hunger, has gotten unimaginably worse as Cholera grips the land. The tragic consequences of a leader allowed to run amok.
  • The death of a fifteen year old at the hands of police has sparked riots in Greece unlike any seen for decades. Gripped by difficult financial straits and sensational political corruption, the threads of society are unraveling alarmingly.

This list is not meant to paralyze with despair, but to inspire with a shared burden, and a passion to remain alert to the sufferings of this world, while working to change your little corner of it, one well loved and secure child, supported fellow woman and mother, responsible and accountable government, and blog post at a time.

Now this mommy shall step off her pedestal and seek her bed. Lack of sleep is a pressing issue for mothers I hear.

Photo Courtesy of http://www.stolenchildhood.net/

Monday, December 8, 2008

Take this Job and Keep It!: Relevant Weathering the Storm


With the economic numbers what they are and the prospect of a recovery uncertain, it IS certain the no one's job is secure, so it is best to be proactive and look at what you can do to improve your economic condition, and ride through the current cycle of economic contraction and layoffs. Here are some interesting items I have come across recently:
  • There are a wealth of articles that advise what to do when you are laid off, or to avoid it, but two articles really stood out for me. The first by Gladys Edmunds is unique in that she reminds people who have been laid off, or fear it, that they, "have the skills to regroup and reorganize." Further she makes the very proactive assertion, "When you approach your work with an entrepreneurial spirit, you will recognize that you own the skills you were hired for. You take those assets and continue to use them for your benefit wherever you work. " This is very inspiring for so many that feel they do not have some say in what happens to them. So take heart, and take those skills into your next company or venture.

  • And, in an effort to avoid being laid off in the first place, or at least be in the best shape literally and figuratively to weather it, follow the advice of business leader, Kevin Merritt, who isolates the ten things you need to do before you are laid off. It's practical and realistic, so get to it!

  • If there is a bright spot in these difficult times, it is that it forces us to reassess our priorities and our values, and as one writer in the Christian Science Monitor wrote recently start at one critical solution, "Expect less and want less."

  • You may be stressed, and short on time, so check out a bookmark worthy article in the Washington Post recently had a great list of top financial sites by category to seek out for help.

  • Already starting to dread tax season? Check out this article that advises some savvy tax pre-planning steps that can save you money.

  • On the fence about the automakers bailout? Consider the issue from the perspective of the ramifications of bankruptcy.

  • Columnist Michelle Singletary has set your financial reading list for the coming year, unique paced to her predictions for how the economic conditions will play out over the coming twelve months.

  • Finally, many many marriages go through really tough times during times such as these, which may have them considering divorce. Before you go there, read this article about the financial implications and cost of divorce. It's a strange blessing, but it just may make you reconsider and work it out. And as parents, it is o.k. to be honest with your kids, and check out the tips in this AP article.

All in all, remember, "this to shall pass." Surround yourself with a positive and supportive network of people, which a recent report is a key driver of individual happiness.


And if all else fails, take a moment to laugh and enjoy the ten silliest videos to watch on the Internet, compiled by the Washington Post.

Photo Courtesy of http://workplacewellnessgb.com/workplacestress.aspx

All Top is Awesome: Relevant Usefulness

When you are a mom, you don't have time to surf all over the place to find what you are interested in, or always the luxury of meandering around the Internet to discover great sites and writers. Guy Kawasaki's latest venture, AllTop.com is a one stop source to find the best, topic specific content sites on the Internet. Save yourself some time and visit All Top. If you are specifically interested in other moms writing on the Internet (like me, and I'm thrilled to be included in their list), visit http://moms.alltop.com/.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

No Virginia, There Isn't a Santa Claus: Relevant Parenting Holiday Angst


We hold these truths to be self evident, all children are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, education...and toys. Nothing quite says hard times, and cuts a parent to the quick, as when they struggle to put a few coveted toys under the tree for their kids during the holidays. Although the seasonal barrage of advertisement and marketing is a time honored tradition, tough economic times just inspire embattled manufacturers and vendors to ratchet it up.

Guilty parents are crying "uncle," and imploring marketers to lay off the heavy marketing of toys directly to their children this year that they are simply unable to afford. It is also suggested that the reprehensible behavior that spawned sensational headlines and tragic outcomes in this year's Black Friday crush, were in part caused and intensified by these feelings of guilt, disappointment and a desire to provide these material comforts amidst difficult circumstances. In sum, snagging that doorbuster prize became a do or die proposition, literally.

While not all feel such desperation to satisfy their children's holiday wish list, many mothers are volunteering that they are at least foregoing presents for themselves in order to be able to provide for their children. This is troubling news for retailers, since the women's sector of the holiday shopping season is significant.

Also, in uncertain times parents are mining their own childhood for comforting, and somehow more simplistic pleasure. The nostalgic toy market is hot this year. Ken Moe of BacktoBasicsToys.com says, "It's instinctive in tough times to reach back to a happier, simpler time," he said. "Parents remember how much they loved those toys, and want that same happiness for their children."

Some parents are starting to think outside the box as well, and take advantage of rental services, such as RentaToy.com that cut the cost of toy commitment, and allow parents to cycle high quality toys through the household, and return once the child has tired or outgrown it. What they do buy has to be highly value added, well reviewed, and multi-task, such as games that teach one how to cook.

Many parents worry about excessive materialism, security while shopping, and basic toy safety considerations, since new toy safety standards do not apply to the current crop of toys on the shelves, but take effect early next year. Therefore, many of these parents are shopping online and searching for deals, as well as scrutinizing what they do buy on sites such as HealthyToys.org to check their safety, and buying less and higher quality selections. Or, they are returning to hand making their gifts. These parents are expressing a desire to dovetail their environmental priorities, with their desire to achieve a commercial free holiday.

Yet others are hardly shopping at all, turning to more spiritual and community based activities such as gifts to those in need, or works of service, and involving their children, to underscore a less material basis for the holidays. They are also picking up classic Christmas stories to offer "messages of hope, faith and togetherness during an intensely uncertain year," according to William J. Palmer, an English professor and Charles Dickens expert. But don't look to the Disney versions, says a Catholic clergy in the U.K., who has cautioned his parishioners to the evils of Disney, which he claims, "pretends to provide stories with a moral message, but has actually helped to create a more materialistic culture."

What may turn out to be the hot gift of the season after all will be web cams from grandparents, and extended family that no longer travel due to the downturn, or the increasingly hellish travel experiences that are becoming all too common. They still want to visit, if only virtually.
Door busting tragedies aside, Holidays 2008 may be proving that parents can be resilient, savvy and creative. It remains to be seen if there will be a robust supply of cookies waiting on Christmas eve this year. It turns out that even Santa gets downsized.
Photo Courtesy of http://www.asdfing.com/

But Mom The Lucky Charms is "Fortified": Relevant Health


Bringing you up to speed on the health front:

Check out the permanent link in the side bar with a link to Dr. Sears' website advising how to survive cold and flu season with your kids.


Stay well!



Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Friday, December 5, 2008

Our Moon Shot is Far From A Clean Shot: Relevant Energy and Environmental Concerns

President-elect Obama is moving swiftly to name his team, and the order of his nominations and appointments could be seen as an agenda priority list. First, the economy, then national security, and next up is energy and environment, with several prominent names from science and politics in the mix. Just as with the other issues pressing on the soon to be installed new President, the challenges are huge, complicated, and have far reaching implications for immediate conditions and future aspirations. And although he indicates that he wants the White House to "go green," the scope of the issue will require a comprehensive, forward reaching, energy policy as yet unattained in previous administrations.

Although the price of gasoline has plummeted in recent months, Americans are still smarting from energy prices that tipped many households into financial ruin, so timing and urgency are of the essence. Of all the soundbites coming out of the presidential conventions, it was the assertion at the Republican National Convention that energy independence must be this generation's "moonshot," which might well be something that everyone in the spheres of politics, business and society can easily agree on.

Make no mistake about it, this rare agreement stems from chilling evidence that we are perilously close to the conditions that existed during "the great dying," otherwise known as the end-Permian extinction, which occurred 251 million years ago. It was "the worst of earth’s five mass extinctions. Ninety percent of all marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life disappeared. It took five million years, perhaps more, for the biosphere to recover." Conditions, an environmental "horsemen of the apocalypse" scenario, are accumulating at an alarming rate, and fears of an unknown tipping point make the necessity of bold action clear.

However, agreement on strategies to both avert a calamitous environmental event, as well as achieve the mission critical mandate of energy independence, are far from consensus. Ethanol based biofuels, once the environmental darling, are quickly losing their appeal as countries around the world flirted closer to food shortages of catastrophic proportions, although the large money interests behind them keep them far from the periphery of potential solutions.

European nations, notably Sweden, continue to work out the challenges of biogas, in which sewage is captured and transformed into fuel, but convenience complaints and a setback when Volvo (division of Ford) ceased production of a biogas vehicle have hampered progress. Several nations are also actively pursuing ways to safely and effectively capture methane gas hydrates, which are "flammable ice crystals packed with hydrocarbons." The sheer amount of this lesser known resource, and significant advances on ways to bring it to market are making it something akin to a goldrush, perilous and potentially packed with profit. But there are significant concerns about the risks, such as the effect of the release of the trapped solar heat from millions of years ago contained in these packed parcels that could very well exacerbate, and perhaps accelerate our environmental problems.

And then there are the reliable stand-bys that we have been willing to get off the ground for decades, such as solar. Affordability has been a key detractor, but recent advances, combined with increased compatible governmental policies and subsidies are making this option more and more feasible, and some say that “In five to seven years, the idea of building a home without solar energy on it will be as silly as building without plumbing.”

Although early deployment results have been mixed at best, hopes for the electric vehicle are resurgent, especially with the battery advances that prototypes such as the Chevy Volt offer, if they can avoid insolvency to be able to bring it to market, as well as a innovations and business models from a host of other non-traditional start-up entrants into the fray. Hawaii is boldly plugging into the electric model, and an entrepreneur, backed by convincing endorsements, who stands poised to build a comprehensive electric network to support the technology. Aided by an equally as bold and ambitious venture to harness ocean wave power, activity in this sector of energy provides some interesting alternatives to fossil fuel based energy options.

Already the specter of innovation to generate new "clean tech" jobs and break the geo-political strangle hold of oil is invigorating to a global economy watching the collapse of old business models and the growing and potentially destructive leverage of oil rich regions of the world. But as in all the pressing policy agenda items before our nation, execution is key, and it remains to be seen if the new administration can find the right balance of present dividends and future sustainability necessary to seize upon yet another historic component of this moment in time. You know, no pressure.

Photo courtesy of CA department of fish and game

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In this Hot Mess, Which Burner is Education On?: Relevant Social Agenda


Most agree that to remain competitive in the global economy and shifting economic and industrial models we must make quality and access to education a top priority in an agenda that is decidedly crowded. The urgency is underscored by the recent report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education that found that, "published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families. " Even more chilling is the analysis that, "Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.”

Washington, we have a problem. Another one. And like the others it is a big one.

Get in line you say? Well, this one has some serious implications for all those other pressing issues. That new-fangled clean tech economy? We need some more engineers. Not to mention a workforce ready to hit the assembly lines, and build and install. "Rogue states" bent on our destruction? We need some well rounded thinkers, ideologue resistant doers in the diplomatic corps.

But like everything else on the long list, the solutions are not simple. In addition to issues of access and affordability, some believe that of current method of education and decentralized administration leads to inequity, inconsistency, and ineffectiveness. Legendary former IBM chief Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. says that we should abolish local school districts and manage a federal standard of education from Washington. He reasons that education is simply to critical to leave to individual interpretation and management.
A chief concern in the debate over education also includes the issue of teacher accountability and student performance to standards. Most agree that there need to be assessment standards for teacher effectiveness and metrics with which to gauge our performance, but No Child Left Behind, while raising some metrics, has soured a growing portion of an already embattled profession. Some recommend that we look to Finland's peer review model of performance management. The method aims at guarding standards, while addressing the trickier intangible aspects of teaching that are not so easily quantified, and providing critical mentorship in a profession that sees a large percentage exit early.

President elect Obama has signaled that he recognizes that education is a central core issue in our future prosperity, but it remains to be seen if he can work it in to an already pressing agenda. But can we afford to wait?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Once a Bully, Always a Bully?: Relevant Parenting Fears

What are your list of "I won'ts" when it comes to parenting? As in "I won't raise a brat," "I won't raise a bully," "I won't raise a (insert your reviled political party here)." Most of us start off with the best of intentions, but what happens when things don't go the way we planned? What if your child is the bratty one that others secretly hope won't rsvp "yes" to playgroup, and how does it feel as a parent when you realize that your child is the bully that others fear and revile?

Most assume that such children result from fundamentally lacking homes, thus the comforting litany of parental resolutions that we think will shield us and avert such calamitous results. But, as a mother from the U.K. recently shared, worrisome behavior can crop up in the best of families. Realizing that society will all too willingly label and pigeonhole her child in a ill defined box, she writes, "there's definitely an element of the bully being a child who's been labelled and who doesn't know how, and isn't being helped to shift out of that "naughty child" position, and so who simply goes on living it, digging himself deeper into the hole."

Taking the behavior seriously is essential. The victims of bullying behavior are left with sometimes lifetime repercussions, and in some tragic cases take their own lives, as was the case with the recent highly publicised online bullying case. But parents also have to be on their kids side in a world that will easily label and discard them.

So scratch out that "I Won't" list and instead start an "I Will" list:

  1. I will acknowledge who my child is
  2. I will accept them as they are, and love them where they are
  3. I will be their biggest advocate
  4. I will hold them accountable
  5. I will not hold their youthful indiscretions, terrible relationship choices, and misguided political affiliations against them, and I WILL feel free to comment on them vociferously.

Photo courtesy of healthwatchcenter.blogspot.com




Monday, December 1, 2008

Teens Twitter, Are in Your Facebook, and Scream They Just Want MySpace: Relevant Teens



It's Teen Time!


Photo courtesy of FutureParadigm.org

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Women and Children Caught in the Middle, and Charitable Innovation: Relevant World News



Meanwhile in news around the globe:



  • With the headlines fraught with stories of power struggles and violence in Mumbai, Nigeria, Iraq, and elsewhere, it is refreshing to read about a peaceful and mindful shift to Democracy for the nation of Bhutan. An island of sanity that I sincerely hope survives and gives rise to others.

  • Adoption can be a very fragile process, with no guarantees, and especially so when different countries and cultures are involved. A story of heartbreak and heroism recently shed light on the sometimes dark underbelly of international adoption, when a California couple in the process of adopting a Guatemalan baby discovered that the child came to them under questionable circumstances. They could have been quiet, as it is suspected that many have been, and the adoption would have proceeded as normal, but they felt that the right thing to do would be to expose the fraud, thereby having to give her up, in order to save her.

  • Also, there was a heartbreaking story about a young Chinese-American girl, who was born in the U.S., and through a convoluted series of events, was in the process of being adopted by the American couple that had fostered her, but was returned to her birth parents by court decision, who subsequently relocated her to China. The young girl is struggling to acclimate to her new culture, and an unfamiliar language, while coping with her birth parents recent estrangement. The foster parents, careful not to criticize the birth parents so as not to jeopardize their ability to keep contact with the girl, call her weekly and send her care packages and she copes with the fallout of an adult power struggle. In both cases it is wrenching to realize these helpless children are at the mercy of systems and adults that dubiously act in the best interest of the child. A complicated issue with no easy solutions.

  • Equal parts appalling and inspiring, a story about fifteen girls and teachers who were attacked with acid by ten Taliban militants in Afghanistan, reports that although the girls attending the school stayed away for three days, they have since returned.

  • And, speaking of courageous women in this part of the world, get to know the stories of women in Pakistan who are standing up against reprehensible treatment of women despite the jeopardy such actions bring with it. Also a "well done" to columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, who sheds light on their struggle and stands ready to defend them.

  • Planning on buying a laptop this holiday season. Why not help a third world child also receive a laptop through Amazon's "XO Give-One-Get-One" campaign? Amazon is partnering with the One Laptop Per Child project to provide children in developing countries laptops when people purchase a sponsored laptop.

  • The rates of Downs Syndromes births is rising in Britain it is thought in part because with increased support and life expectancies, parents are opting to not test for the defect, or terminate the pregnancies with a positive test result, although many still do terminate.

  • Access to medical care is a real problem for much of the world's population, and even more so for those who live in remote or dangerous areas. An innovative program spearheaded by Swinfen Charitable Trust links these patients who need care with volunteer physicians through email! A simple and effective solution engineered by a couple in their retirement.

  • Another fall-out from the global financial crisis puts yet more stress on parents. In Australia a childcare company which services fully 25% of the market has shuttered leaving thousands of parents in the lurch. A particularly cogent piece of the discussion in the article asks the question that with increasing numbers of "essential" services being outsourced to private entities, putting these services at the risk of market forces, is it ethical to continue to privatize these services, thereby making the vulnerable populations they service at increased risk? The experience in Australia is unique in that no where else in the world are childcare services controlled in such a high percentage; other places average around 2-3%, therefore providing adequate alternate choices should one particular provider cease operations. The underlying question about the ethics of privatizing essential services is a compelling one in my opinion.

image courtesy of Muslimwoman.org

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shopping Kills: Relevant Are You Kidding Me?!



Welcome to another edition of "Are You Kidding Me?!" Today we've got tragedy and comedy for the offering:



  • I come by my distaste for Black Friday honestly...15 plus years in the retail trenches in a prior career, but these stories just take it up a thousand notches: A temporary worker for Walmart was trampled to death by people who literally broke down the doors to get the "doorbuster deals." To add to the appalling nature of the incident, when people were told that the store was closing because someone had been killed in the melee, they reacted with outrage because they would miss out on the deals they had waited in line to get. The people who trampled the worker, didn't even stop to attend to or help the man; they kept shopping. And, two men pulled out guns and proceeded to have a fatal gun battle (they both perished) over a dispute in the electronic aisle of a southern CA Toys R' Us, right in front of frightened and traumatized little kids picking out their Christmas toys. Suffice it to say that these incidents are just so wrong on so many levels it literally takes the breathe away. Be safe out there, and keep in mind what the whole point of this holiday season is, and uncaringly trampling/shooting people to death just to get to more cheap stuff is most definitely not it!

  • You've heard of designated drivers, but have you heard of "designated flip-flops?" Apparently, women getting soused and subsequently toppling from their high heels on the wobbly way home was enough of problem in Torbay, Devon, U.K., that the police have taken to passing out flip flops to women making their way home from revelry. Sure they guard from hangnails, but how about hangovers?

  • Sooner rather than later Sweden will begin using "spray-on skin" for wound care. We're talking actual skin cells.

  • Would you name your kid after a dictator if someone paid you to? Reuters reports, "An Italian right-wing party is offering 1,500 euros ($1,930) to parents who name their babies after wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini or his wife Rachele, saying their names are under threat."

  • Evidence that times are tough were glaringly apparent, when a farm in Denver, Co, invited the public to come and pick any left over produce after their recent harvest, and 40,000 people showed up, and picked the fields clean of 600,000 tons of "left-overs."

  • Beware thieves armed with lubricants! A women in Florida was accosted, and thieves with a lubricant substance on their hands slathered her hand to be able to yank off her rings more easily.

  • Check those tires! And no this isn't a cost cutting tip, but one that might potentially save your life. Even if your tires are "new," if they were manufactured more than six years prior they could be compromised by age breakdown. Watch this important video report from ABC, check your tires, and be aware when you get your tires changed in the future.

  • There are many evils associated with obsessive cell phone use, but the Vatican also proclaims that it imperils your immortal soul as well. Confessor to priest: Can I text you my confession? Apparently, no. The Vatican will not be going Web 2.0 anytime soon I suspect.

  • Let's conclude with a story that inspired me to say "are you kidding me," but in a good way. A family owned Midwestern company, recently sold to a Swedish corporation, surprised their employees by sharing some of the proceeds of the sale with them in a bonus, in amounts according to their years of service. Some people received over $30,000! What an exceptional company!!

Photo courtesy of SmackShopping.com

Scrimp, Save and Ship: Relevant Holiday Help


Ho-Ho-Ho-pefully helping you save headaches, hassles, and money this holiday season:



  • Want to save money shipping your gifts? Check out the tips in this article.

  • Check out the deadlines for varying shipping methods here.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Can I Get A Coupon?: Relevant Deal Resources


A few articles and websites to aid in controlling your shopping costs. Enjoy and remember when shopping online to buy from trusted vendors and always look for the little lock graphic and "https" in the URL when checking out for the security of your information!

Articles:
"
In Lean Times, Online Coupons Are Catching On" from The New York Times
"
Online Coupon Sites See Sharp Rise in Visitors" from The San Francisco Chronicle

Websites that save you money:
RetailMeNot.com
FatWallet.com
Budget Fashionista
CoolSavings.com
CouponMom.com
CouponCode.com
CouponCabin.com
Ebates.com
Eversave.com
RedPlum.com

Resources for budget and cost conscious living:
BeingFrugal.net
LivingOnADime.com
CheapHealthygood.blogspot.com
BettyCrocker.com
TheGroceryGame.com
Stretcher.com
HillbillyHousewife.com
OrganizedHome.com
MyClipper.com
LocalHarvest.org
TheHappyHousewife.com


Sharing and Swapping with Others:
FreeSharing.org
ReUseItNetwork.org
RecyclingGroupFinder.com
Freepeats.org
GreenKidsAuction.com
HandMeDowns.com





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