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

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

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!

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:
Budget Fashionista

Resources for budget and cost conscious living:

Sharing and Swapping with Others:

Listen to Your Elders: Relevant Holidays

It may be "Black Friday," a dubious holiday all on its own, but personally I would rather celebrate the other holiday worth marking today, the National Day of Listening, a day in which families are encouraged to, brace yourselves, talk to one another to collect oral histories. The day was initiated by StoryCorps, a non-profit group who is collecting our national stories and storing them in the Library of Congress.

Give a gift to your family and the future generations by finding out about that "ten mile walk uphill in the snow in my day" experience of your elders. You just might find out something remarkable in the mundane details. I love talking to my grandmother. I always come across some tidbit that I want to remember, so I've taken to keeping a pad of paper nearby when we do talk. She only just revealed her birthday and true age to the family a few years ago!

If you must persist in celebrating Black Friday as well, at least use that slick new phone device to record an interview or two and preserve the experience for posterity.

U.S. Infant Formula Concerns: Relevant Consumer Safety

Witnessing the travesty that is the Chinese melamine baby formula scandal that sickened well over 10,000 babies, and killed unknown numbers (the official number stands at three, but previous reporting calls that in to question), some asked if it could happen here? Recent events are not putting that worry to rest with the report that the FDA detected, albeit extremely small, trace amounts of melamine and a related compound in at least three formula makers products in the U.S. The three formula makers account for 90% of domestic U.S. formula production. Sensitive to consumer concerns, the FDA and the formula manufacturers are moving quickly to allay the understandable fears of the public. But these assurances do not excuse the fact that the FDA did not forthrightly inform the public, but it was instead the Associated Press who unearthed the finding under a Freedom of Information Act request. The FDA indicates that the contamination occurred as a result of the manufacturing process, where equipment is shared, as well as from cleaning compounds. The FDA has set limits on the amount of safe level baby formula contaminants, but there was more contamination than the FDA has said it expects from equipment contamination, raising questions as yet unanswered. The FDA urges parents not to panic and alter how they feed their infants, but it is clear that there are many questions yet to be satisfactorily answered.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Makes Us Exceptional: Relevant Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many people are having a hard time this year, and it is precisely out of difficult circumstances that the original day of Thanksgiving began. There are many myths surrounding the tradition, and I'm not speaking of 1621, but rather 1777, when the first designated day for Thanksgiving began, during the Revolutionary War. Things were also bleak at that time, and the revolutionaries had been dealt several crushing defeats. It was in John Adams words, "chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholy, and dispiriting." Sound familiar?

But, as writer Ira Stoll recounts in the Wall Street Journal, the Battle of Saratoga cheered the fledgling nation with a critical victory, and Samuel Adams called for "a day of Thanksgiving" to God, so that "with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor." (Yes, people he did more than bequeath us a good beer!)These days of Thanksgiving were called for periodically through the years, and finally fixed as we know it in 1941. The tradition has morphed over time, but it is at its core an expression of gratitude for the unique "experiment" of the United States, and the values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," blessed by God, even in difficult circumstances.

One of the best Thanksgiving stories I read this year came from The Christian Science Monitor which featured an article by Joy Neal Kidney who told the story of a Bosnian immigrant family that her family has befriended over the years and has come to spend Thanksgivings with. The Thanksgiving traditions of family and food are made fresh and poignant through the eyes of a sixth grade girl who has made the meal her own. Columnist Tom Purcell also wrote a good piece about the strength of traditions, and how difficult times can be a positive reminder about what is truly important.

Last weekend we lent our family's hands to a grassroots cause a friend of mine organizes each year to put together baskets of Thanksgiving fixings for families in need, as well as bags of provisions for the homeless. As three hundred people took up their places for our "basket brigade," I was reminded that this is the strength of our nation, people helping people. It was nice to see our President elect mirroring this spirit, by bringing his family to feed those in need, and taking some time, despite ruffled secret service personnel, to spend some impromptu time with some very excited school children.

It can't be denied however that it takes alot of work to pull off the traditional Thanksgiving festivities, and can be a source of stress. An interesting article in The New York Times presents a very businesslike strategy to manage the event in and very "C.E.O." manner. With strategies from Dr. Amy Edmondson (no relation that I'm aware of), the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, and Stewart Friedman, a management professor at the Wharton School and an author, you to can take a page from the most successful leaders to plan, delegate and develop your family for highly effective festivities for years to come.

And for some fun stuff. President Bush pardoned two turkeys, "Pumpkin" and "Pecan." But where do they go? The Associated Press answers that question, where else but Disneyland! And looking for the best Thanksgiving videos on the web? Check out this list.

Back to a somber note, as I write this, the news is breaking about the terrible and heinous coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that apparently targeted westerners and is continuing to unfold. Our prayers go out to those families in pain or peril, and serves as a reminder of the fragile blessings we possess. Even if you may not always get along with your families or your neighbors, hold them close and give heartfelt mindful thanks.

May we also remember Samuel Adams call that we pray to God this Thanksgiving that he "would graciously be pleased to put an end to all Tyranny and Usurpation, that the People who are under the Yoke of Oppression, may be made free; and that the Nations who are contending for freedom may still be secured by His Almighty Aid."

May you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving! And thanks for reading Relevant Mom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Latest Fitness Craze- "Grenade Slinging Aerobics": Not So Relevant Absurdity

My Reuters feed was just chock full of nuts this morning, and I just had to share. Life can be so absurd, so you just have to laugh! Or cry. Suit yourself.
  • You know it's bad when...
  1. Germany faces a shortage of Santas with a clean police record
  2. The economy is so bad Russians have to cut back on vodka

A maverick Thai general who has threatened to bomb anti-government
protesters and drop snakes on them from helicopters has been reassigned as an
aerobics teacher, the Bangkok Post said on Friday.

Word to the wise, people, be very afraid, when he says "feel the burn."

This world can be so nuts; better carry a nutcracker!

Together We Mooch, Divided We Pay: Relevant Marital Matters

While "a couple breathing life into their marriage personifies love," it's admittedly a force of will when a family falls on hard times, and a couple is tested. Facing your children and trying to explain a job loss alone is wrenching. It's in times like these that taking the long view is the difficult but advisable path.

In fact, work it out together creatively. Take inspiration from writer, Judith Levine, who along with her partner Paul committed to stepping off the consumer treadmill for a year. She chronicled their experience in Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. I found this part of her account particularly inspiring:

Not shopping connected Paul and me with community in concrete ways. We
devoted more time to activism and more money to favorite causes. Meanwhile,
I paid off an $8,000 credit card debt without really trying and haven't run
it upagain. I still shop less than I did. And on more or less the same
income, I give away much more money than I used to.The shopping hiatus
reminded me how sweet it is to take home the perfect pair of trousers or sit
in a café watching the world. Unless you're a monk, material abstinence does
not magnify the spirit. Still, compared with either consumption or
abstention, the best soul-grower is social connection.

Not shopping isn't necessarily the answer, it's the mission behind it that counts. They were united in their effort, even if one was not so enthused at first, and they connect with others. And, don't forget your sense of humor! One journalist couple decided to put their mooching skills to the test as a couple. Their friends may be shaking their heads, but they are working together on their pretty entertaining quest. And that's the point...together.

For better or worse's in the fine print.

Motherhood Performance Anxiety: Relevant Worry Wart

As parents (I should say moms, we're really the neurotic ones, let's face it) these days we are so obsessed with "getting it right" with our kids; the right foods, the right education, the right activities. We analyze our every move. One of my wisest and oldest friends visiting with me today bemoaned the "motherhood performance anxiety" which makes the most confident of mothers fret what the "others" must be thinking when their kid does something for which we expect judgement in public. I'm definitely not immune.

I have a confession to make. I don't play well with my kid. What I mean is that I rarely feel I have the inspired activities to foster his young mind. I get (gasp) bored at times. I've got inspired cultural and political commentary, but I'm thinking that stage is about oh fifteen or so years off, if he even wants to stick around to talk about it at all in that "I know it all stage." So, scratch that, it's about maybe thirty-five years off. I'm all for pre-planning. Planning I CAN do, and quite creatively I might add.

In the meantime I feel like I should be putting him in "something" more equipped than me to inspire creativity, intelligence and good social skills. But this same friend reminded me that he's learning from me all the time, not just when I sit down with a determined "it is now the playtime portion of our day" agenda in mind. Right, let's try out some of these handy activities the three books I bought on the subject, and the ten sites I visited on the Internet generated. No? Continue to shove the Legos into the big truck it is kiddo! Carry on. And the thing is he seems to be coming along just fine.

I thought all the time that he spends puttering around me as I go about the business of the day was somehow not stimulating enough. But researchers are now saying on the contrary, good old fashioned "free play" is important, in fact our lack of it may somehow hold us back in the global economy! It is actually my citizen mother duty to raise a kid that can find interesting things to do with the paper towel roller, some random papers "I allowed" him to snatch off my desk, and his giraffe wooden puzzle piece he is especially fond of and carts around. And watching him do just this blissfully today was, I have to say, inspiring.

Right, so now I feel better about that, but now it is on to worrying about which way he faces in the stroller and the impact upon his future development, which is apparently a BIG deal according to advocates in the U.K.

Great, at this rate I'll have an MBA in "MPA."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Turbo Transition: Relevant Obama Quickies

The Obama edition of Relevant Quickies:

  • Quick update on the cabinet picks that Obama has reportedly made.
  • Senator Hillary Clinton is widely thought to have accepted the Secretary of State position, which has inspired reams and bytes of commentary. Can they work together, etc., etc., etc. The New York Times reports that they reached accord quite a while ago. And not only with each other; Mrs. Clinton has been offering advice and guidance to the soon to be First Lady, Michelle Obama as well. She's a double threat advisor--she can advise both the President AND the First Lady. Give the woman the job, and get over the Clinton thing!
  • It's not surprising to many, Obama is widely viewed as a political pragmatist with a more centrist approach, which, if he can pull it off, definitely would do a great deal to put our money where our mouth is when we prattle on about "bi-partisanship."
  • Also, this weekend, in the President Elect's weekly video address, in response to the vast unease with the interim power vacuum that threatens significantly more economic damage before he can even get into office, he and his team signaled that they are "hopping to it," to recommend policy moves even while the current President is in office, but doing little to effectively stem the tide. He broadly outlined a two year recovery plan to add 2.5 million jobs to the economy through infrastructure project spending. The markets are likely to react relatively well, because the goal is relatively conservative and "realistic," and doesn't indicate out of control deficit spending. In regards to the embattled automobile industry, the Presdient Elect's spokespeople are making it clear that they do not support a blank check, and they warn the auto chiefs to come back with some more realistic and pragmatic plans of their own when Congress reconvenes in December.
  • On a side note, I have to give a shout out to writer, David Sessions of Slate who constructed a great headline to sum up this move that definitely appeals to the mother of a toddler: "Barack The Builder." Even the theme song would work. Can we fix it? YES, we can!

If you want to hear directly from the President Elect watch it here:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Storied Children: Relevant Inspiration

One of my very favorite movies is "Out of Africa." In fact, when I need a boost of creative flow, I pop in the soundtrack, and my brain synapses do little happy dances. Storytelling is a central theme, when nights were long, and entertainment was found in the good conversation of an infrequent visitor, and the special treat of a gifted storyteller. A recent story of a mother raising her family today in Zimbabwe where books are hard to come by, was a beautiful reminder of the simple beauty of the special gift of imagination that a mother can give to her children.

Photo courtesy of PingNews

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Introducing "Are You Kidding Me?!"

Welcome to a new feature: "Are You Kidding Me?!" I occasionally run across things that make me shake my head in disbelief, and I shall periodically share them with you as well. Enjoy the indignation.
  • You've heard of "greenwashing," where a company hoping to hop on the eco marketing bandwagon makes some superficial changes and claims to be "green?" Now, welcome to "brainwashing." McDonalds is using "embedded" moms as marketers, or as they call them "Quality Correspondents," in a campaign that features regular moms going behind the scenes and discovering how McDonalds is really actually pretty healthy...really. Not to be outdone, Burger King has seen the healthy light and is going to reduce the sodium in the "kids meal." While it's great that the well known chains are featuring some marginally better choices, a fry is still a fry.
  • The budget woes in California are certainly brutal, and an enterprising AP teacher decided to close the education funding gap in his classroom by selling ad space on his students' tests. Very creative, and doesn't seem to hurt when it's the local orthodontist, but let's hope it stays local, because our kids are absolutely barraged with marketing and advertising as it is already.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Accomplished but Not Equal?: Relevant Feminism

Recent stories on the status of women front:
  • Who are the women blazing a trail in business? Check out "The 50 Women to Watch 2008" from the Wall Street Journal.
  • The election capped a tumultuous political cycle for women, and we made "modest gains," but as our recent 27th finish in the world gender equality report 2008 revealed, we are far behind many other countries. A significant barrier was overcome this cycle, but women are still waiting.
  • The rates of women entering computer science is falling, and an MIT graduate student decided to find out why.
  • The U.K. Sunday Telegraph recently published a survey of the modern woman in the U.K., delving into their concerns, views and inspirations. Lots in common with the U.S.
  • An article recently reported on a question asked by a well known feminist, Germaine Greer: "why don't women write the big idea books?" Greer's position is that women are too sensible to waste time trying to answer the ultimate questions. What?! My position is that women are too busy trying to be all things to all people most of the time to find the decade or four to retreat and write them. However, I think that many would disagree with the assertion that women's writing (some anyway) is lacking in this area.
  • Have you heard of the tense stand-off between the "breeder" and the "child-free by choice?" An interesting look inside the divide from MommyTrack'd.

Let Your Voice Be Heard: Relevant Citizenship

One of the first things that seems to be a change for President elect Barack Obama's new administration is the use of technology, and the apparent interest in hearing directly from you about what you think and would like to see the country do. If you haven't already, head over to You can submit "Your Story," and "Your Vision." You can even weigh in on specific issues they are asking for ideas and input about such a climate change. Let your voice be heard for a vibrant democracy.

Imprisonment 2.0, Tomboy Protests and Throwing Kids off Trains: Relevant International News

In international news:
  • An uproar occurred recently when reports of children being thrown off German trains came out. Children as young as twelve years old were ejected from the train when they did not have proper tickets. In some cases the children had to make their own way home. In response the train authority retrained conductors and made them sign an acknowledgment statement.
  • Norway approaches the method of imprisonment very differently than most countries. And they get amazing results. The story is reported from the writer's perspective, and he has an authoritative opinion. He himself was a prisoner for over a decade in a U.K. prison. It will challenge your views and assumptions about crime and punishment.
  • Protests have arisen in Malaysia over the recent edict that women may not wear trousers because it leads to "tomboy" behavior, which includes sexual promiscuity. These protests are being aggressively suppressed and treated as "security threats." A surprising revelation in the story is that "As well as women in trousers, the Fatwa Council is considering barring Muslims from practicing yoga."
  • The toll of the melamine scandal in the Chinese milk industry is heartbreaking. New reports indicate that the true toll may never be known, because those dying are not being reported due to cultural practices. So the official number of children that have died is three, but the anecdotal evidence indicates that there are far far more. You'll need a tissue for this one. And if you don't think this is a threat in the United States, please read this important editorial.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Parenting Through Childhood Pain: Relevant Challenges

How do you know how to parent? Let's take that up a notch. How do you know how to parent, when you, yourself, were not parented well? Let's take it up another notch. How do you parent when you were abused as a child, mentally, verbally, and/or physically? Parenting in those moments of intense frustration is hard enough, but how do you handle your unresolved anger and sense of betrayal, and stop yourself from perpetuating a painful cycle? How do you live with yourself and your guilt when you fail?

There are few relationships that lay you more bare, raw and vulnerable than parenting. Even those who have worked to "resolve" their issues prior to having children, can find themselves in a precarious place when pushed to the wall in the heat of child rearing. Craig Idlebrook, writing on writes bravely and movingly of the complicated process of confronting and parenting through one's childhood ghosts. Despite his best intentions, he finds himself losing control and victimizing his daughter because he hasn't been able to deal with his childhood pain. He undertakes a controversial move to confront and speak about the past with his parents. Although his family is unwilling to similarly acknowledge the past demons, he finds some peace in boldly naming what happened and holding them accountable, and in the process freeing himself from the anger that he was displacing onto his vulnerable child.

For some the risk is to great to undertake this process. How does one let go of the fundamental need to be loved, accepted and approved of by one's parents? How does one work up the courage to risk final and complete alienation and rejection? For this young father, the answer to these questions was in the eyes of his daughter when he had lost control and she trusted him just a little less.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why Do Boys Still Think "No" Means "Yes": Relevant Sexual Education

I've had this link for awhile, and waiting for the right post to put it in, which hasn't materialized, so it gets its very own. The story originated from a very troubling U.K. research finding that "Many teenage boys believe it's OK to force girls to have sex. They also think it's acceptable to get girls drunk so they're more inclined to agree." It delves into some of the reasons why this is still the case, but be sure to read down to the bottom of page one where it has some very good thoughts about "How to Teach Lads Respect." And, be sure to go the next page by clicking on the "read more" link to find out how to equip girls.

Alien Planets, Groundbreaking Genes and Another Reason To Say NO to a Mouth Piercing: Relevant Science Quickies

As promised, here's a quickie roll-up of all the science and health related news for the secret or not-so-secret science nerds out there:
  • Astronomer photography teams have captured the first photos of four "alien" planets, none of which are like Earth, but one of the leads on the project, astronomer Bruce Macintosh, says "It is a step on that road to understand if there are other planets like Earth and potentially life out there."
  • Last week, The New York Times, ran some great articles about gene research. New information has emerged about the genome that indicates that it isn't going to fit into one of our neat scientific boxes, yet. There are still many surprises it will challenge us with. And RNA, often left in the shadow of the super-star DNA, is proving a potentially powerful ability to fight and shut off disease at the source. And finally, an out-of-the-box approach to genetic research is revealing a potential gender connection in the genetics of autism and schizophrenia. All interesting reading when you can steal some time.
  • Umbilical cord blood is showing promise in treating heart defects.
  • Nursing is now being shown as having a connection to a new babies' respiratory development.
  • Another reason in your arsenal if your child fancies getting a mouth piercing: it contributes to gum disease, and gum disease leads to a whole host of nasty body health challenges.
  • Lycopene has benefits to help those with endimetriosis.
  • Not surprisingly, research is showing that kids growing up in "greener" neighborhoods are healthier.

A few notes about food:

  • The ParentHacks blog has a good little post with tips about curbing sugar overloads during the holidays.
  • Britain is considering banning certain food additives, that have already been banned in some other countries. Some are still allowed in the U.S., and have a look to take note for your own efforts to be aware of what is in the food you feed to your children.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mom Or A Terrorist Who Just Wants Her Toys Freed: Relevant Toy Tales

Toy tidbits:
  • Good news on the toy safety front. A new report shows that recalls this year have decreased 46%. But we aren't out of the woods yet. New safety standards are taking effect next year, and the toys on the shelves were bought before new standards are in place, so continued vigilance is warranted. Also, in a tight economy it is tempting to search out discounters, or gently used from recycling groups, garage sales (by the way, check out these excellent garage sale tips) and Craigslist. If you do go this route it is recommended that one "check the CPSC Web site to determine whether a product has been recalled." It's progress though, and I'll take it!
  • Judging from one British woman's recent experience when she tried to return to the plane where her daughter had a left her toys, it's best to do it in such a way that doesn't land you in an interrogation, and forever wearing the moniker "Emma Bin Laden." I understand, sister! I just might breech security to for my son's lovey.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Michelle Obama as "Mom-In-Chief," Not that There is Anything Wrong with That: Relevant Mommy Debate

I read a really interesting piece by Rebecca Traister of in which she discusses the "momification" of Michelle Obama. She observes that the coverage of the soon to be First Lady has revolved around her fashion choices, making the move to Washington, and specifically has focused on her self professed role of "Mom-In-Chief," with her primary concerns settling her girls into their new lives under the presidential microscope. Ms. Traister worries that Michelle Obama is being marginalized with this undo focus on her role as wife of mother, and that her aspirations and professional accomplishments are perhaps deliberately disregarded in a culture that is very sensitive about the possibility of undo influence that she might exert as the closest advisor to her husband. Following the Clinton years, many are wary of a presidential wife who asserts herself in the business of the presidency, the so-called "two-for-one" phenomenon.

Especially following the outcry that arose over Michelle Obama's controversial comments during the campaign that she "was proud of my country for the first time," Michelle assiduously cultivated the image as supportive, not necessarily participative policy partner to the now President Elect. In news reports Michelle Obama has taken pains, through "advisers" and campaign officials speaking on her behalf, to profess that she has no interest in participating in the policy decisions that her husband's administration will tackle, and will look for her niche as she gets settled, to "decide what kind of first lady she will be." Ms. Traister concludes that Michelle Obama faces the untenable choice that many accomplished professional wives and mothers must face, which is frustratingly not really a choice at all.

Many moms that have "off-ramped" to raise their young children chafe at this characterization, that the emphasis on her devoted role as wife and mother, in fact marginalizes the accomplishments that talented, educated and accomplished women achieve when they forgo executive duty for mommy duty. A poster to CNN's Michelle Obama Watch, expressed that many of these moms feel very happy and satisfied in their role choices, and emphasizes the equal challenges of raising children well. They do not feel that they have been "demoted," and feel equal frustration with a culture that does not respect their choices.

This divide goes to the heart of the "mommy wars," and many struggle to navigate the divide. Personally I think there is a middle ground that Michelle Obama seems to understand instinctively. There is honor and satisfaction in both roles, as devoted mother and accomplished woman, and they need not be mutually exclusive. I think one informs the other. I know I am a better mother for my professional experiences, and had I been a mother when I was a manager, I believe I would have actually have been a better mentor. That was my path of learning.

What matters, and where I think she will ultimately find her niche is in helping women navigate the divide in a culture that is not especially supportive currently of helping women find balance by providing supportive workplace policies for families, cultural support for strong AND accomplished mothers, as well as access to quality education and care resources. She will ultimately be a "working Mom-In Chief," and I believe we will see her work focus on empowering and supporting women to be educated, accomplished women AND mothers. I don't think there is anything wrong about that.

Jump into the discussion. What is your perspective on the role challenge for the soon to be First Lady, Wife and Working Mother? Comment if you wish.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grannies, Gwynnies, Gender Gaps and Google: Relevant Quickies

List of interesting news is long, and time is short, so welcome to another edition of "Relevant Quickies." Get in, hang on, and awwwwwwaaaaayyyy we goooooooooooo:
  • First Granny? There is some debate about this. Multiple news outlets, including the Washington Post's The Reliable Source column reported earlier this week that Michelle Obama's mom, who has played a big role in the care of the Obama daughters, especially during the long and demanding campaign, is coming to Washington as well and will reside with the first couple. But listening to Access Hollywood tonight (hey, it's not CNN and PBS all the time people) reported that People magazine's interview with Michelle's mother reveals that the First Granny would only be a part-time resident of the Beltway because "she loves her house" back home. Scooped by People Magazine? Ouch!
  • Need a baby name? Hop on the Obama bandwagon!
  • More news about the dratted dog debate. NOW the allergists are up in arms. Apparently, we are under a very dangerous delusion that a hypoallergenic dog exists, and this damaging fallacy MUST be dispelled immediately. The Obama team rightly did not respond to this, as of yet anyway.
  • Since I'm on the subject of celebrity of sorts, Gwyneth Paltrow has launched her own website to share her perspective with the world. GOOP is not yet ready for prime time, but you can register to get her newsletter in the meantime.
  • Japan just sent their first mom into space, a landmark for a society that still struggles with gender equality.
  • Speaking of gender equality. The 2008 Gender Gap report was just released. One half of my genes are happy--Norway (country of my mother's birth--perhaps the paleness factor tipped you off already?) is ranked number one in gender quality. The other half--American--is still miffed, and by miffed, I mean royally p.o.ed. Although the U.S. improved from 31st last time, we are still 27th. Miles to go before we rest ladies, miles to go. Simply unacceptable!
  • Google is tracking the flu regionally to assist the CDC in predicting infection movements, and direct resources. They will do so by tracking keywords that are entered into the search engine, and their frequency by area. While this seems pretty altruistic, it does reveal the power that Google has at it's fingertips. No wonder, one of the co-founders is sitting on Obama's economic advisory team.
  • Important story about the squeeze on the middle class and pre-K educational access.
  • Sign of the times: Layaway is back at Sears, and K-Mart has been advertising the option as well.
  • Britain has a shortage of sperm donors, following changes in regulations and loss of anonymity. Kind of scary factoid: there are varying regulations in different countries about how many babies can result from one donor, but the "United States does not cap sperm donations at all." The suggested guideline is "no more than 25 births in a population of 800,000 to avoid having siblings from the same sperm donor having children together."
  • It's my way or the highway? Um' not so much. What'oh! Canadian courts dealt a serious blow to parental discipline when it ruled against the father of a twelve year old, who had taken her father to court because she disagreed with his decision to not allow her to go on a school trip because she has disobeyed his web surfing guidelines.
  • Usually steer away from prurient, but this is just sad. Apparently police had a very difficult time finding any relative to drive home a one year old who wasn't drunk, after stopping the mother for drunk driving.
  • Also a bit morbid, but actually useful info. A report on the toy related deaths from 2007.
  • An interesting perspective on the financial crisis, courtesy of the writer's nephew.
  • The abandoned children count in Nebraska under it's controversial surrender law is now at 31. There is a deep underlying problem, rarely simple, which this article touches on.
  • Everything, and I do mean everything, revolves around South Korea's college entrance exam. Planes are not even allowed to land during the exam to reduce distraction. Now that's a national commitment to education!

Whew! Stay tuned for a Science and Health nerds quickie in the next day or so.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank a Veteran Today: Relevant Remembrance

No matter how you feel about wars fought, past and present, take a moment today to acknowledge the sacrafice of those who have fought. I was raised by a Navy man who always instilled an appreciation of history and was vigilant that I understand the sacrifices of those who made my life and freedom possible. As a teenager, I spent a memorable two weeks being drug through a succession of Civil War battlefields by my dad. I got snotty at times, like most teenagers, but I still remember the feeling standing on the grounds of Gettysburg. I had a few days on my own in Washington D.C., and I made my way to the Vietnam Memorial, and the feelings are nearly as intense today as they were then. So even though I was weary of the nearly hundredth roadside memorial my father insisted we stop and look at, I am grateful for the time, and believe that as a young person it solidified a lifetime of lessons that taught humility and gratefulness to those who laid down their lives. It is a priority for me as a mother as well to instill this appreciation, so that when we speak out in disagreement we are mindful of those that made that possible. Thank you veterans!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Food Feuds: Relevant Foodie

O.K., full disclosure, I have no children yet in school, so I can't really "feel the foodie philosophical pain" of those in the trenches, but I gather from my friends that do, that the subject of food and school is a, shall we say, tense topic. On the one hand you have those who work hard to keep their kids' diets as healthful as possible, and feel that the ubiquitous classroom cupcake should be banned, and those that generally go with the flow, and don't mind some sugar here and there. In an effort to improve the nutrition of kids in schools, CA is leading the nation in restricting sweets from the school grounds, and this is cutting into the bottom line of the classic fundraiser bake sale. I remember my junior high bake sales precisely because my friend, Karen, made the most divine cream puffs. I can't remember what we were raising money for, but I still remember those cream puffs.

I fall in the middle ground. I work to keep the diet healthy, but I believe in moderation, not elimination, and helping your kids make good decisions about foods, with a little indulgence here and there. Can we leave the innocent school fundraiser alone? Kids these days might even surprise us with quite a few alternative choices, because they themselves are becoming more and more concerned with their own health. Plus, as my mother-in-law learned, if the sweet stuff is completely off limits, even if it makes their kid sick (as it did my husband), they will still find their way to acquire the forbidden goodies. Better to teach moderation and good choices. Just my two cents.

On another note, however, food allergies are something not to be treated cavalierly, and a recent report finds that many schools are not handling them very well, and parents need to be proactive.

Chief Entertainment Engineer, aka MOM: Relevant Play

Amongst all the hats that moms wear, you can add "Chief Entertainment Engineer,"and in the fall/winter, the stakeholders are demanding:

  • My son is obsessed with sticks. Like most mothers of sons, it never fails to amaze me how happy they make him, and in the presence of fun play structures, well the stick still wins out. Perhaps then it is no surprise that the stick has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. And, it also plays a big role in our cognitive development.

  • As the weather turns colder, parents search for ways to keep their kids active and entertained. In California, we don't usually have basements, but they must come in handy during the fall and winter if you set them up for the kids. Kind of jealous. Not the weather, of course, but the basement, that sounds great!


Check your medicine cabinet for Mylicon drops (dye-free) that were sold after October 5th. They have been recalled.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Terms of Transition: Relevant Politics

News from the political transition:
  • Obama has tapped the controversial Rahm Emanuel to the powerful post of his Chief of Staff, and in a candid interview some great indication of what we will see next, including children's health care in their top three priorities.
  • Obama faces a long to do list at home, as well as internationally, and the world's leaders are keen to let him know what they want to.
  • But, don't expect too much to soon people!
  • A defense of a possible Treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, who got into some hot water with women a few years back, but who the author claims, actually holds high goals for women's economic conditions. Sounds good, because with working parents pushed to the level that they are now pulling their kids out of day-care due to the costs, mothers and families need an advocate in the Treasury, who keeps in mind the impact on your street, not just Wall Street, or even Main Street.
  • Speaking of economics, details about Obama's economic agenda in the works.

The Press Goes To The Dogs: Relevant Family Politics

I found myself a little annoyed in the middle of Barack Obama's first press conference to have questions from the press corps about the very pressing issue of what kind of dog the Obama family would be getting. (My guess is a bichon frise) The amateur political pundit in me surged to my feet (metaphorically...I think I was trying to feed my son lunch at the time...but you know, no less dramatic for emotional effect ;-) in disbelieving outrage. Are you kidding me? Really? All these challenges, and that is what you ask him about? Dogs are also a dangerous topic, and defintely a reluctant interview, as an unfortunate Reuters' reporter discovered when he attempted to pet Bush's dog, Barney.

Then I breathed, calmed down, took off the pundit hat and remembered that not everything is cynically political, although the debate about purebred versus shelter dog clearly will be spun this way and that. After all this isn't a messiah, this is a man and a family about to go for the ride of their lives. The campaign was just prologue, now the real fun begins. In that light, it was good to hear that the candidate turned President elect has his priorities straight. He will be our President in January, but first he is their dad and her husband. And this is a wonderful example for the nation.

Life will be different for the Obama girls, but thus far it seems they have a powerful advocate in their mother, Michelle, who is firmly focused on them. She might be a powerful advocate for America's women and families as well. First up, moving in, and it sounds like a remarkably disciplined operation. Would you expect any differently from the Obamas?
Speaking of First Ladies, on a side note, regardless of political affiliation, many admire Laura Bush, and this profile of her was interesting.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grace Fits Like A Glove: Relevant Accessories

Sitting in church, struggling with another pernicious cold and cough that just won't let go, and listening to the consistent call and response of those similarly afflicted, I got to thinking about gloves. Specifically, in light of recent reports that tell us that women have germier hands than men, how handy it might be to don a pair of gloves to stop the spread of virus vermin. Some people actually wear surgical masks throughout cold and flu season; hardly fashionable though, but I could get behind the gloves I thought.

I've always had a fascination with accessories, although rarely the budget to indulge it. When I was a girl, I was forever getting into my mother's gloves and scarves, etc. I always loved the femininity of them. I would love to wear gloves, but alas only Diane Keaton seems to be able to carry them off in public life, and still plenty of people are curious about it.

Nancy White, an iconic figure in the 1960s at Harper's Bazaar championed forward thinking in a magazine that has been a fashion gold standard for decades, but she herself was a hat and gloves kind of lady. She would have approved of Hillary Clinton's pantsuits on principle, but she had the caveat that one must accompany such a thing with impeccable accessories.

I know for many, gloves are at the least anachronistic, and at worst a symbol of a repressive social order for women. And in my bit of research, a disturbing bit about gloves and menstruating women in church completely turned me off of the church idea all together. But, I still love them. They still represent a certain grace and elegance, a physical manifestation of the formidable Miss White's stated goals for her magazine while she was at the helm of being known for ''authority, awareness, wit, spirit, surprise, curiosity, intelligence, timing, food for thought, vitality, balance and youth.''

Stored up Miscellany: Relevant Clean-Out

A few stories that I have had waiting in the hopper amidst the election furor:

A Reuters health news roundup:

Moms and work:

Saving money:

  • All those activities straining your pocketbook, but still want to keep your kids active? Here are some tips!
  • Retailers are looking to their online sales as a bright spot this holiday and there are some deals on the horizon. Here are some savings tips.
  • Tips for breaking the toy addiction from Raising Small Souls.


Ahhh my link list feels so much lighter! Enjoy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Changing the World One Woman at a Time: Relevant Impact

Last year I read Three Cups of Tea and became familiar with a simple guy, Greg Mortenson, who has a remarkable vision and is doing inspiring things to advance women and foster peace and understanding amongst cultures. If you have not yet read it, I highly reccommend it. I defy you not to be moved.

In his follow-up book he will profile a woman from the Kashmir region of Pakistan, and her journey. A compelling profile and preview of her story appears in The Christian Science Monitor.

Get to know a promising young woman, and see Greg Mortenson's innovative approach to international relations that our leaders would do well to learn from.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to Normal, Whatever That Is: Relevant Election Withdrawl

The election aftermath is inspiring emotion all across the nation, and the news outlets coverage can be summed up as "historic, inspiring, big mess, world watching, get to work pal!" But of all the news coverage I slogged through today, I think my favorite is a very sweet and sincere piece in Newsweek, written by a father to his four month old African American son on election night. That's what it's all about, and I like my rosy naivete, thanks very Wall Street...go take a yoga class, breathe, and stop having a bloody temper tantrum about change! Their behavior of late is not that far off of a willful toddler who has been denied the purple crayon, don't you think?

Also, some wondered what all us that have been election junkies would do with ourselves. I don't know, I'm just hoping to get my paying writing work done, manage to keep relevant, and go to bed before 1 am (mission not accomplished this particular evening) so that I can be less of a zombie for my boisterous guy, and muster up something more than "how about breakfast for dinner?" for my patient husband. I don't aspire to perfection, but how about a two day lead time on meal planning consistently?

How about you? What WILL you do with yourself now that the election is over, besides that is raising the future of our nation...maybe even a future president?

Join in the conversation and leave a comment. C'mon don't be's easy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All Things Are Possible: Relevant History

President Elect Barack Obama
Now the country has spoken and a new era of leadership has begun. It is undeniably a historic moment. I hope that you got out there and voted, whichever candidate you favored. It's time now to put partisanship aside and to get on with the business of leading this country through the challenges it faces, and as our new President elect called for in his speech tonight, it will take a collective effort. As parents, we have a special mandate to demonstrate the promise of this new wave of collective change, and first and foremost participate, and show that although we have differences we are at our core Americans with a shared destiny. For those who are watching this from overseas please hear the call that can resonate in your own cultures that I personally found so moving tonight:

"That is the true genius of America--it can change."



Monday, November 3, 2008

Are Advertisers and Entertainers Cultural Pollutants?: Relevant Debate

A Reuters report about the findings of a recent RAND research organization study quotes the lead researcher, Anita Chandra, as saying, "Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States." They aren't prepared to categorically say that sexually charged programming and explicitly violent games have a direct causal link, but they believe their results build a stronger case that cautions that it certainly doesn't help.

While this shall certainly strengthen the argument of advocacy groups that decry the increased sexuality and violence in the culture, and reflected by, or in their view partially driven by, our entertainment, many still strongly feel the causal factors lie in lack of education and equally decry the imposition of values and restriction of choice.

Judy Gruen, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, framed the debate in an interesting way. She asserts that the increasing sexuality and violence in the culture, and in entertainment and advertising, amounts to "cultural pollution" with adverse physical and psychological health effects dangerous to the culture at large, comparable to environmental pollution. As such, she suggests that as we address environmental pollution with collective action and mandates, cultural pollution demands the same degree of urgency, and perhaps the same methodology.

What's your take? What role should our government and cultural institutions play, if any, in addressing the issue?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sweet Talkin a Stay at Home Mom: Relevant Role Reversals

There is this old Bob Hope movie, Stranger in Paradise, in which a confirmed bachelor, and investigative reporter(Hope), moves into one of the newest western sub-divisions to live amongst the new breed of suburbanites. Hilarity ensues as he becomes the guru of every housewife on the block. Michael Keaton did something similar decades later in Mr. Mom. They all start with men that figure "how difficult could it be," and then they do it. More hilarity ensues. And women everywhere smile a little smugly.

Recently I read an article by a stay-at-home dad, Christopher Harder. It all started typically, role reversal... blah...blah...blah. But then, it morphed into a really nice tribute piece that brightened my day:

"Staying at home is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay-at-home moms need to string together months and years of such days. Their strength lies in their ability to store vast reserves of the energy, patience, resilience, and affection required to raise a child. Marathoners need a healthy heart, and so do stay-at-home moms."
Keep going like that, and you'll get a few numbers at the playground pal!

Here's to continually ensuing hilarity of the parental kind.

Why So Stingy in the Looks Department Dad?: Relevant Studies

Further adventures in science and medicine:

  • Another entry in the interesting and slightly silly things that scientists study. Apparently, extremely good looking fathers in general don't seem to pass on their attractiveness to their sons, only their daughters. Also, if both parents are certified lookers, odds are very good that they will have a daughter first. Draw what personal conclusions you may.
  • Scientists say you can stop feeling guilty if you periodically indulged in a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy, and reveal that a little may actually be beneficial, yielding more well adjusted babies. Remember, we're talking a small amount! Large amounts, on a routine basis leads to fetal alcohol syndrome which is very dangerous to the unborn child.
  • And this one is very relevant to parents. Scientists suggest five ways to remain sane:

Five steps to happiness :
Connect Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support.
Be active Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a
daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness.
Be curious Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and
reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you.
Learn Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence.
Give Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

Hopefully I'm helping you with the "learning" and "curiosity" part.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sleep Mayhem Ensues And Parents Groan: Relevant Time Change

Have you set your clocks back yet?
Yet another one of those "things are very different from the parental side of the fence" realities of parenthood is the time change. Before parenthood, the "fall back" time change was cause for celebration; yeah, another hour of sleep! But the more attuned inner clocks of our little ones aren't so easily fooled, nor compliant. Here's hoping that your time transition is relatively smooth.

Let's Go Voter Tipping-Last Minute Details to Get You Off the Fence and to the Polls: Relevant Politics

We're coming to the end of a very long and contentious election cycle, and hopefully you have made your decisions, and possibly even already cast your vote, but in case you haven't and you are still working it out, here a few last minute helpful resources:
  • VoteGopher.Com searches down the candidates positions on the issues and puts them in one easy to browse place.
  • If finances are your primary concern, here is an article from the Wall Street Journal that focuses on monetary policy stances. The WSJ is typically pretty conservative, but this article is pretty well balanced.
  • Wondering what kind of economic advisers might surround the future president? An article from the Christian Science Monitor compares and contrasts the likely economic teams.
  • Staffing your administration is a huge task, and a recent article profiles the probable personnel make-up of an Obama administration.
  • It's a fact that this particular election has riveted the country, and indeed the world, unlike any other election in recent memory. Emotions are running high, and much is at stake. Relationships have been sorely tested, with many articles written about friends and family members struggling not to let their differing opinions rip them apart. Check out this handy article that gives good guidelines for how to talk about the election in a reasonable manner.
  • Finally, the truly scary reports of plots to bring harm to the candidates and their supporters, terrible Halloween decorations, completely in bad taste, and people who harass others over their right to have a different opinion and express it, as well as exercise their right to vote their viewpoint reveals the ugly underbelly of intolerance. The Christian Science Monitor, as part of a call for prayer for the candidates, wrote, "First, reject the belief that hatred can have power or intelligence. Hatred is an unfaithful "friend" to those who embrace it – and the only antidote is total rejection." Even if you are not given to prayer, agree on the fact that nothing productive can come of such hateful thoughts and actions. If your candidate loses on November 4th, set the example that all our kids need to see: resilience and continued engagement in this flawed, but noble experiment we call democracy.

View my page on twitter moms
Alltop, all the cool kids (and me) Save Handmade Toys