Friday, January 30, 2009

Fiscal Feminist Freak-Out: Relevant Finances


I recently opened my 401 K statement, and I knew it would be bad, but my stomach nearly fell through my feet. What ensued was a full-tilt "what the heck have I gotten myself into" feminist freak-out. Financial fireworks aside, those women who have "off-ramped" will completely understand what I'm describing without going to much further. I know about financial cycles (I was raised by a very pragmatic financial analyst, MBA mother), and although this is as bad as I've seen personally in my adult life, I factor my age and other sensible data and tell myself to chill out. 

But this still doesn't quite cut it, because it doesn't address the fundamental feeling of vulnerability that women of my generation feel when we let go of our former careers, decide to take time for our families, and perhaps launch ourselves into new and unfamiliar and non-traditional professional territory. My generation was raised with cautions about not having their own little piece of the pie by a generation of older women who were finding upon death, divorce, and /or financial ruin that if all your finances were derived from, and/or were in your husband's name, you were effectively screwed. And I use that word intentionally I might add.

So when my husband walked through the door that particular evening, he was assailed with my angst and worry that no doubt soon he would toss me over and where would I be without one half of my former retirement nest egg? He is familiar with my periodic dramatic histrionics, and he tried to calm me, to reassure me, but the feelings of insecurity lingered. He assured me that we lived in the best state (CA) for me to effectively get half anyway, and a host of other serious, but tinged with humor tactics (he's learned that these work best).

When good sense, and let's face it a huge helping of faith, come to bear, I remember that life, and financial markets, for the most part are a serious of cycles, with occasional disasters thrown in to force retooling and growth. And, largely these disasters inevitably occur when we stray from what is right, placing our blind faith in false idols. I am inspired by the many many women I have encountered in the social media world that showcase the force of femininity--resilience and creativity. They find ways to make it work, they start their own businesses, they care for their families, they find time to fulfill their passions (and maybe not the ones they started out with either), and they even occasionally find time to fix their hair and face properly. 

I couldn't imagine the life I'm living three years ago, so I have learned that I just need to roll with it, adjust, and relish the creativity that comes out of previously barren and scarred ground.


Need some more input and reassurance? Have a look at these articles recently:
  • I should say for the record that I do not like the 401 K system one little bit, and never had. It is definitely flawed. But I do agree with the advice, given certain factors, that it is best not to panic, and typically the markets will recover before the jobs reappear, so hold on campers.
  • The thing that really gets my hackles up is the 529 plans though. This is a travesty for a generation of young people. But many are questioning our higher education's relevancy in the current global environment as I recently wrote about here. Who knows, education may also be in for some fundamental institutional shifts as well.
  • I find it slightly ironic that the reality of how women who are employed have to make it work in a pretty untenable situation normally (part-time, off schedules, etc.) actually turns out to be a factor that gives them a bit more job stability in this environment.
  • As a direct dependent of the banking industry, I watch the news of what is and will happen to our banks with more than a little interest. It can, I'm sure you know, make you go buggy at times. In trying to understand nationalization, I found this article helpful.
  • If you are a woman who wants or needs to on ramp, check out this article about how to address your time out of the game.
And here are two tools to definitely bookmark to help you balance your personal balance sheets:
Photo Credit jwowens 

Obama Signs Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into Law: Relevant Gender Equality

Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law, and it was an important one in the struggle for women's equality. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act addresses a vexom loophole that only allowed 180 days from the time of a pay set for a woman to bring legal action if they discovered that they were being paid unequally for the same work. Lilly Ledbetter will never see the over $200,000 she was underpaid by her employer for the same work performed by men over her nineteen years with her company, and that wasn't the point. She wanted to make sure that future generations of women could achieve equal pay for equal work, and this is an important step in that direction. Thank you Lilly Ledbetter!




Thursday, January 29, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall Further Update

The peanut recall is growing by the day. Investigations are being launched to assess if the manufacturer knew that there was contamination in their facility. 
Here is a handy resource I grabbed from a favorite blog, ParentHacks, which is a FDA web tool to search peanut products to keep on top of the recalls.

American Dream Reassessed: Relevant Education News


The American Dream seems to be undergoing some revisions. Own your own home? Maybe not. Send your kids to college. Not necessary? There have been some interesting headlines around the education world lately:
  • When the economy tanks, many head back to or choose to stay in school for more training and higher degrees in an effort to positions themselves for a better position as things improve. But,  more stories are emerging lately, with prominent figures  such as Suze Orman, that suggest perhaps a college education is not all it's cracked up to be anymore. From the cost benefit perspective, the Delta Project has tracked a trend of reduced value and devoted resources to students, even as tuition has risen. The Christian Science Monitor offers a pretty balanced look at the issue, suggesting that perhaps the model no longer applies to today's climate, and greater attention to vocational training may be in order.
  • And talk about a model that may not fit any longer, colleges aren't happy with the College Board for instituting a new policy for the SAT called Score Choice. Currently each time you take the SAT, each score is sent to the college one is applying to. Score Choice would allow students to send only their best overall score. The College Board sees it as an anxiety lowering move, while critics think it just promotes more test taking (read revenue) and another handicap for students that lack the resources to keep taking the test and getting coaching to improve performance.
  • If education indeed does lead to better mobility and equalization, the open source curriculum movement feels that education needs to be more available and free to all, globally. The "University of the People," spearheaded by an Israeli educational entrepreneur is attempting to do just that.
"The idea is to take social networking and apply it to academia," said Shai Reshef, an entrepreneur and founder of several previous Internet-based educational businesses. "The open source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free. We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection.
  • California has a lot going for it, but we're about to go off a financial cliff. We've been told that tax refunds are on hold indefinitely (with no interest, although if WE are late we have to pay up), and my friends and neighbors are going to school district meetings to learn just why they have to pony up more money for their "free public education" (we are expected to stock our kids' classroom supplies, pay for "elective" classes such as music, and we even teach P.E. ourselves! Oh and yes, we need to add more property taxes to make up for the budget shortfalls). Is it really all that surprising that homeschooling is on the rise?
  • I think most can agree that our funding plans for education need alot of work. For those that want to circumvent the bureaucracies  and target their money for education, DonorsChoose.org allows teachers to state their needs, and donors can choose whom they fund. 
It will be interesting to see what reforms the Obama administration will make, and I'll keep my radar up for any good stuff on this front.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Politics, Pain and Pregnancy: Relevant Fetal Factions

Some reproductive and infant headlines you may have missed in all the recent excitement:
Stay tuned for education headlines soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

We've Only Just Begun: Relevant Post Inauguration

All that inaugural excitement wore me out, but I'm back with more dispatches from our new administration:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Live Blogging The Inauguration of Barack H. Obama: Relevant History


Good Inaugural Morning, folks! It's just past 6 am west coast time and the house is quiet for now, and I'm watching the news coverage from Washington. It is already packed! I'll be posting throughout the morning, as this historic event unfolds. 

  • Bouncing between MSNBC and FNC, tantamount to left and right. Predictably, MSNBC is practically giddy, and FNC is inserting Reagan quotes and wisdom. But hey, FNC just put up David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign, so there's a little "fair and balanced."
  • Ok that's interesting, both stations are running the exact same camera shots, right down to split screen. 
  • Wow, legendary journalist team Woodward and Bernstein reunited on MSNBC!
  • When I turned in this morning, and woke up I said a prayer that all will go smoothly today. Many people are understandably concerned about the safety of this gathering and of this president.
  • The Obamas emerge from church. For the fashiony people, she is wearing all American designers. And that's probably as hip as I'll get today :-)
  • Check out this great demographic data breakdown of our country. Thanks to my Twitter friend TwinToddlersDad for this link. You should follow him if you Twitter.
  • That's nice, the Bushes say no handshakes...give us a hug!
  • Jill Biden, bless her heart (as my southern grandmother would say), kinda stepped in it on Oprah, revealing that Biden was offered the choice of V.P. or Secretary of State. Sends the spokespeople scrambling. What does this mean for Hillary? I say not much. She was already out of the number 2 slot, and I think Obama was in the midst of negotiations with his top pick, Biden. So it is what it is, and no slight to Hillary should be blown out of proportion.
  • The Obamas are looking for a church to attend. That will be a hard, but important decision for them. Here's a little about what he said recently about his faith:
"Now, I didn't grow up in a particularly religious household. But my experience in Chicago showed me how faith and values could be an anchor in my life," he said. "And in time, I came to see my faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community -- that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn't be fulfilling God's will unless I went out and did the Lord's work."
  • Terrific story about the wonderful conversations that issues of country can inspire in communities and families. Politics need not be divisive and vitriol, but opportunities for families to grow and help one another flesh out what really matters. This is the ideal function of family, grounding and a safe place to learn the deep lessons of life and faith.
  • Details of Michelle Obama's emerging agenda. She's got a powerful team of her own behind her. Interesting look at this soon to be First Lady and the tone she may set for the country and for women.
  • One of things that swayed me to Obama-yes I was an undecided for awhile-was the class he exuded in handling the grittiness of politics, and his treatment of John McCain, recently reaching out and quietly including him, as well a publicly acknowledging him just underscores that. Sure, it's savvy and pragmatic, but how many politicians have turned away from such acts despite this, just to satisfy their own egos and need for "payback?" ALOT.
  • Here is the official schedule of the event.
  • Time for my little man to join the party. He's up and wanting to get involved. I may slow down, but stay tuned.
  • The excitement of the crowd is palpable, even on tv, can't imagine what it is like in person.
  • I like what Rachel Maddow said : "This is a democratic event, with a small d"
  • The moving vans are busy at the White House switching everything over.
  • It's super cold there, but I think all the people crushed onto the mall are probably keeping each other warm. Amazing.
  • Wow, Cheney in a wheel chair. That is a metaphor if ever I saw one.
  • It's got to be hard for President Bush to walk out there, and it's virtually as silent as a crowd can be.
  • I didn't hear them...cranky toddler who wants undivided attention...but Twitter reports some booing. That's bad form people! Follow the example of you soon to be new President!
  • Wow, look at that crowd go wild!
  • Here we go....
  • I wish there could be a continuous succession of garbage trucks today to keep little man happy during the festivities!
  • Rick Warren is taking the podium...pause for prayer.
  • Heartfelt, but not so eloquent.
  • Here comes Aretha! That's some hat.
  • Biden is sworn in...Cheney can go flyfishing.
  • Wow the dream team of classical music coming up next.
  • Doves released, beautiful...let's hope it is significant. This President can not avoid being a war President.
  • Baby boy is trying his best to bring anything he can stand on to try and get to the other side of the gate where mama is (right next to it).
  • The oath of office with the historic Lincoln bible. 
  • He's officially our President! People in the crowd are beside themselves.


Speech: Part One


Speech: Part Two


Word impressions from the speech: humble, grateful, mindful, gathering clouds and rising storms, WE the people, faithful, true, not well understood, greed and irresponsibility, collective failure to make hard choices, indicators of crisis, sapping of confidence, nagging fear, challenges we face are real, they WILL be met, chosen hope over fear, worn out dogmas, strangled our politics, words of scripture, time has come to set aside childish things, precious gift, ALL are equal, ALL are free, greatness is never a gift, it must be earned, risk-takers, doers, men and women obscure in their labor, FOR US, fought and died, struggled and sacrificed and worked until their hands were raw, capacity remains undiminished, we must pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America, everywhere we look there is work to be done, all this we CAN do, all this we WILL do, imagination is drawn to common purpose, retirement that is dignified, held to account, restore a vital trust between a people and their government, without a watchful eye, spin out of control, extend opportunity to every willing heart, surest route to our common good, reject as false the difference between our safety and our ideals, friend,  we are ready to lead once more,  sturdy alliances, enduring convictions, power grows through prudent use, force of our example, humility and restraint, we will not apologize for our way of life, you can not outlast us, and we will defeat you,patchwork heritage is our strength not a weakness, we can not help but believe that old lines of hatred will fade, mutual interest and mutual respect, people will judge you on what you can build, not what you can destroy, we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist, the world has changed and we must change with it, embody the spirit of service, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all, a parent's willingness to nurture a child, return to these truths, a new era of responsibility, price and promise of citizenship, who we are and far we have traveled, brave once more the icy currents, nor did we falter, God bless the United States of America.
  • Amen.
  • Poetry takes the stage. "All about us is noise" "We encounter each other in words." "...the figuring it out at kitchen tables." "Love with no need to preempt grievance" (That get a smile from Michelle Obama)
  • Benediction. This man voice of gravity, more traditional words than Warren. "White will embrace what is right"...alright, not necessary. Only note of come-uppance. Review the speech of MLK, there were many white faces in that crowd, as there are today. Only note of divisiveness in my book. Otherwise pretty flawless.
  • The White House website is updated. Goals for their communications--looks good!
  • Bushes on their way out of town...must be bittersweet.
  • People...the singing of "hey, hey goodbye" is classless. Did you not listen to the speech? Ok I understand the venting, but still!
  • By the way, let me say how much I love Legos today...essential toddler taming tool!
  • Great article about a better way to evaluate Presidents : Presidential rankings should be based on different standards: "Did the president uphold the Constitution, and have an agenda that contributed to peace, prosperity, and liberty, and was he reasonably adept at getting that agenda implemented?"
  • Can't listen to MSNBC anymore, lets see what's up at FNC. PBS is coming up soon for some peace and quiet.
  • Change.gov has now shut down, and everything moves to the WhiteHouse.gov. The tech team is on top of it!
  • Toddler sons patience is now at an end, so it on to my part in the future, "willingness to nurture a child."
Final thoughts later once everything has sunk in. For now, happy that all has gone safely (thus far), and it's time to get to work.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE:
  • Want to see some photos of the inauguration? Visit the Huffington Post's photostream on Flickr.
  • Well that didn't take long. Al Jazeera published an article by Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, who says in essence "Obama is no MLK." 
  • Check out some great links to what international papers are saying from a great contributor, Stella, on OpenSalon.

Early Analysis:
  • A professional connection overseas commented that he was a little disappointed in Obama's speech, and expected more. This solid analysis of the speech addressed this issue and others, written by one who has studied the seminal Kennedy inaugural address closely.
  • If you took the visual inaugural quiz I posted yesterday, here is Obama's speech visually presented word cloud style.
  • A view of how they celebrated the inaugural around the world.
  • More speech criticism...a little tougher.
  • Looking at the first technology moves of the administration on the White House website.
  • Wondering about that Lincoln bible that hasn't been used since 1865? Here's some more about it.
  • Wondering what Bush was up to before the inaugural? A reporter managed to be the only one who got in to a farewell BBQ
  • And, it was profoundly sad for me to hear them serenade the lift off of the Bushes with the "hey, hey, goodbye." I'm not pleased, I'm happy to see the change, but there is a level of class fundamentally missing in that. Despite a bruising assault, Bush as shown some class in his exit, and that is worth noting. You may disagree, and that's o.k., but I think it goes to the heart of qualities that we need as a nation to be able to engage the world community, which is full of people we revile by the way, but which nevertheless people calling for the change that Obama represented felt strongly we still needed to engage diplomatically. Model it at home people, to get it right abroad. Absorb the words of the poem, "Love with no reason to preempt grievance."
I didn't really intend for that to be the last word of the post, but there it is. My hope is that the momentous movement that propelled this extraordinary person to this most exalted and difficult of positions, will listen to his words today that we must each take responsibility, and avoid the hypocrisy of expecting things from others when we do not hold ourselves to the same standards. 

It won't be easy. But together, yes, we can.

Once again, thanks for reading!

And on second thought, I'd rather this be the final thing I leave you with:


What a day.


Photo Credit Dave Test

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gather Round Kids, We're About to Get Ourselves a New President: Relevant Inauguration


Welcome to your Inauguration run-up edition. The day is upon us when we witness one of the most inspiring things about the United States of America- a peaceful transition of power and a willingness to acknowledge our past and work for a better future. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, agree upon the remarkable and yes, exceptional, nature of this evolving experiment. Get ready, get set and let's get the party started:

The inauguration festivities have been criticized for being un-friendly to kids and families due to the restrictions:

"Officials are banning all strollers and backpacks and make a point of saying on their Web site that "there are no childcare facilities provided to attendees." If that hint isn't enough, they suggest that "extra consideration" be taken by those planning to bring children, noting that "a vast majority of attendees will be in standing room sections and should be prepared to be on their feet for several hours."

They also helpfully point out that the swearing-in ceremony is an outdoor event "that is typically cold -- normally 37 F at noon -- and occasionally wet."

In other words: Leave the kiddies at home."


Well, this edition is decidedly kid focused. As parents I think it just adds to the excitement of times like this when we can share them with our kids, even if they just end up falling asleep on our shoulders like the adorable little girl who snoozed directly behind the Obamas despite the history happening around her at the concert on Sunday. Somehow they will soak it in, even if they just understand the undercurrent of emotion that runs through their parents and seeps into their little bodies.

  • As I write this I am listening to the Disney Kids Inauguration concert. If you missed it, here it is again. We definitely are a country of free choice, because frankly I don't get the Miley thing, but the kids certainly love her. But, I'll refrain from speaking too much, I had pictures of Wham! when I was their age.  So bring on the Jonas Bros.
  • Here's a quick primer about sharing the inauguration of Obama with your kids and the themes that run through his journey to this moment.
  • A great feature on the Scholastic site is "If I Were President." The interactive feature allows the kids to make decisions, and at the end a newspaper article is generated to summarize their actions.
  • A remarkable move by the Obama transition team was to provide a portal for the nation to participate in the dialogue of what needs fixing and how to do it. Not to be left out, PBS Kids has a portal for kids to do something very similar, contributing ideas and voting on those of others.
  • A really interesting way to follow the inauguration through the eyes of young people is the SHS Inauguration Project where student journalists will stream back their reports of the inauguration.
  • Also Nickelodean will interrupt their regular programming to bring news and perspectives from kids. In addition there are some other ideas for making the inauguration come alive for the kids here
  • If you don't know about Ron Clark, he is a remarkable educator who wrote the book The Essential 55. He has built a school in Atlanta, and his students got quite a surprise when they performed their rap "Dear Obama."




  • Another way to follow and participate in the activities is to visit www.linklive.org
Here are some relevant and interesting tidbits for the adults as well:
  • Take this Inaugural Quiz. I warn you it's hard, but interesting and different. It doesn't take long. I only got two out of ten, correctly identifying Clinton and Lincoln.
  • While we are at it, here is also a President's Day Quiz as well.
  • Much has been made of the parallels between Lincoln and Obama, and Obama clearly looks back to this particular president for guidance and inspiration. Noted Scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., however offers a view on the these two presidents that questions just how closely they align. An interesting read.
  • I always feel for Colin Powell, a really inspiring man, who kind of just seemed to take a wrong turn, and the public has been very unforgiving. He wrote a moving editorial that I think is worthy of attention on this occasion.
  • Wonder about where the oath of office comes from? Check out this NPR background.
  • Fan of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire?" Here is a political columnists attempt at a revision.
  • I love the creative energy that arises from times such as these. Here is an interesting poem by the Wales' National Poet Gillian Clark.
  • Speaking of literary inspiration, Barack Obama is said to be a man of the books. Sidenote: this article was written by Michiko Kakutani, the notoriously tough and difficult to please NY Times book critic, which just goes to show you that book geeks swoon for a man who really reads.
  • And finally, I don't really do the celebrity thing, but this birds eye view of the Sunday kickoff "We Are One" concert illustrates that celebrities are in the words of US magazine, "Just Like Us," except for the fact that, um, they are ON stage in front of the thousands, make a bucket of money, etc. But it is still kind of interesting to watch John Legend's behind the scenes footage.
Happy Inauguration. I shall be watching, and attempting to Live Blog if my toddler will allow it.


Happy Birthday Martin! You Have Overcome: Relevant Eloquence

As we stand poised on the inauguration of the first African American President of the United States, and arguably the most powerful office in the world, we turn our eyes back to the voice of a generation that moved the nation closer to "mak(ing) real the promises of democracy." With the call, "now is the time," the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was a voice of the conscience of America that resonates through the generations. Truth will always overcome, eventually.

Happy Birthday Dr. King, we owe you much, and although we celebrate now, we are still not satisfied and have much to do.

 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Endangered Toys: Relevant Consumer Protection


New regulations take effect in February that will significantly effect all children's products sold in the U.S. Responding to consumer concern and pressure, Congress passed legislation last year that would regulate the amount of lead and pthalates allowable in children's products. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately the regulations have some provisions that have the unintended consequences of putting small toy producers, and resellers in jeopardy, if not out of business all together. The testing required to establish the safety of the products is extensive and costly, and may not be tenable for small businesses. Additionally those who are found to be in violation, or reselling products that present a hazard, will be faced with stiff fines. 

Outcry from the parties affected are mounting asking for revisions to the legislation, or else they say they will face going out of business. The precise effects remain unclear. Unrevised, certainly the regulations will most probably drive many small and craft businesses out of the market, who are unable to bear the cost of necessary testing (although the CPSC says it will exempt natural materials products). The effects on the resale industry are a little less clear.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission's own press release states that:

"The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties."

Resellers fear the possibility of unknowingly selling such products because they say they lack the resources to authoritatively confirm a product, such as one of kind, or older products. It is already illegal to sell recalled products as of last August, so it is unclear how the additional restrictions will alter the procedures that such resellers should already be employing to comply with the recall provisions. But many will say it will most probably restrict the selection, and send many more products to the trash heap, perhaps unnecessarily.

And what about all those collectors that have been hanging onto toys from eons ago in their original packaging? Do these become toxic contraband? Are we looking at a toy black market? I'll meet you in the back alleyway to exchange those vintage Hot Wheels.

Photo credit Eliseo Oliveras 


Peanut Butter Recall Update

Updated info about the peanut butter salmonella outbreak:

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Parenting Pulpit, An Agenda all Its Own: Relevant Trenches


A friend commented to me today, after receiving news of further layoffs, "this recession is getting really scary." That sentiment is echoed throughout our communities, and especially in those that care for the most vulnerable in our society--children, elderly, and the disabled. Along with business budgets, community services budgets, and education budgets, household budgets are being slashed, and extremely difficult decisions are being made. Families that may have depended on after school programs are feared to possibly be resorting to leaving their kids home alone, as those programs become scarcer and scarcer. In some cases, social services case workers are reporting that older siblings (sometimes only 10 to 12 years old themselves) are missing school to care for younger siblings. People are pushed to the wall; what else could push a man to lock his kids in a cage in his truck while he was working because he didn't have anyone to watch them? At the very least "relay parenting" has become a reality for many households, where spouses work opposing schedules so that someone if always with the children, but it's not easy on a marriage. But another interesting byproduct of the economic downturn is that the rates of divorce are also falling--who can afford one?

Other stories around the parenting water cooler:
  • For those statistics nerds out there (you know who you are) a collection of pretty interesting parenting statistics. For example, "The University of Maryland found married mothers spend 22 percent more time with their children than their peers from the 1950s," and "Contemporary dads spend more than double the time with their children than their own fathers did with them." 
  • Inauguration excitement continues to build, and the ink about what Michelle Obama's "mom-in-chief" proclamation means for modern women continues to grow as well. An interesting post on the Huffington Post sees a hopeful dimension to what may be the most prominent First Lady in recent history's choices. Aside from affirming that choosing to focus attention on one's family is worthy employment for a woman, she may also bring a much needed dose of reality to the feminist debate. Heather Cabot writes, "she seems to be a woman who understands that having it all doesn't necessarily mean having it all at the same time." In fact both of the Obamas, President and First Lady, hold potent and potentially impactful roles, as "Parents In Chief," to set the example of positive parenting, particularly in the African American community.
  • In case you missed it, pot stirrer extraordinaire, Ann Coulter, has been making the media rounds to promote her new book, in which she pins the ills of society on single mothers. Dan Quayle tried this tack, attacking the television character Murphy Brown for promoting a negative example for women. It didn't work out so great then, and it's similarly causing quite an uproar now. But then, that is just what she likes.
  • And you thought it was tough to find a sitter on  date night! There is quite a babysitting crunch in the D.C. area for parents who are attending inauguration activities.
  • After years of the "self-esteem" school of parenting, the pendulum is swinging back towards teaching respect, deportment and manners to children (excellent article!). Not a moment to soon.
  • On this note, I came across a great and useful article about getting kids involved in chores around the house.
  • Many feel that medication is the only viable therapy for ADHD children, but real success is being found in focusing on the parental skills of the parents of these children to teach them how to handle the everyday challenges and stressors of parenting a child with special needs. The conclusion, "The take-home message for parents: There are other good treatments besides the pills, but no treatment's going to work without sustained effort from the whole family."
  • Should parents that persist in their belief in faith healing be held criminally responsible when their children pass away? What are the limits of parental choice in the care of their children?
  • How many hours to you spend in the car as a mom? Apparently on average of fourteen full days per year, according to a recent survey.
  • Are parents to cautious with their children? Are we buying into a culture of fear? Would you send your kid (not a teenager) alone on the NY Subway System?
  • A tricky issue is favoritism in families. Most experts agree that it is corrosive, and many parents reluctantly own up to having a favorite, although they say they strive to not show it. Whether or not they think they express it or not, it gets out, and the effects can be far reaching into adulthood. The solution: treat you kids as the individuals they are, and strive for fairness.
  • In that vein of parental analysis, what makes a "good parent?" Writer Meredith Jameson shares seven habits of good parents.
  • This tidbit has been sitting on my list of to blog about for awhile. Find out what the Dalai Lama has to say about sex and parenting.
  • Still want to read some more--check out the New York Times' list of favorite mommy and daddy blogs. Maybe someday I'll be among them!
Thanks for visiting!

Photo Credit mooshuspice

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If You've Birthed a Child in The Winter, Shame on You and Other Headlines: Relevant Health

Recently I read a great title to a blog post: "Blogging is like going to the gym for your brain." Clever, but did they have to put it that way? Somehow that mere word, "gym," triggered a bodily reaction that triggered the avoidance reflex. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm working on getting back into the groove. 

Let's get current on some health news (and there is a lot):
  • Let's get the critical stuff out of the way right off the bat. There is an ongoing national Salmonella outbreak occurring that is being linked to peanut butter, triggering a recall of King Nut and Parnell's Pride brand peanut butters, which are not sold directly to consumers, but to food service companies. Kellog, however, has also asked stores to remove peanut butter sandwich cookies under its Austin and Keebler brands over concerns of peanut butter from a possibly affected supplier.
  • In case you missed it, Vicks Vapor Rub misapplied in children under 2 years of age can cause severe respiratory distress. When applied directly under the nose, and especially in children under two years old, it can cause the airways to swell and fill with mucus. Further the company cautions that it should never be applied under the nose to anyone.
  • There are many distressing and wrenching realities of the current financial downturn that we are experiencing, and high on the list is the numbers of children who are losing their health coverage as their parents lose their jobs. Congress is considering renewing the national universal childhood healthcare coverage provisions, and it is sorely needed, and hopefully will not be derailed by disagreements over how to accomplish the overreaching healthcare reforms aspired to.
  • A new national study has just begun that is unprecedented. It will track individuals from fetus to adulthood
"Researchers hope to find genetic and environmental causes of preterm birth, birth defects, low birth weight and other health problems. They'll look for new ways to prevent and treat major diseases, such as obesity, asthma, diabetes, autism, schizophrenia and injuries, which together cost the country $758 billion a year, according to the NIH."
  • Being able to predict and prevent is the focus of medical research, but it is often fraught with many ethical and moral dilemmas as well. In the U.K., researchers are closer to being able to detect Autism in fetal testing, which is once again posing the concern that given such information, will parents choose to abort their unborn? Additionally, with the World Health Organization predicting that cancer will be the leading killer by 2010, also comes the news that a so-called "world's first breast cancer gene-free baby" has been engineered by scientists in London, prompting some critics to see a eugenics, genetic class war in the making.
  • Having a good family medical history is invaluable, but information is usually rushed in the gathering and spotty at best. A new tool is available to help people construct a comprehensive family medical history collaboratively with their families.
  • Food allergies are a growing health issue, and another comprehensive study is working on understanding this challenge that touches more and more families.
  • More and more adults and children are now seeking complementary and alternative medical care, or CAM. And, increasing numbers of children are now vegetarian.
  • Many people think that if they don't smoke directly around others that it spares them, but now they have found that "third hand smoke," like that carried in one's clothes, in homes and cars is just as harmful. 
  • Speaking of environment, USA Today recently ran a three part in depth series chronicling the impact on children's health and attendant socio-economic effects of living close to urban industrial areas. It was particularly alarming to see the results of the tests conducted around schools, putting the youngest and most vulnerable at risk. Also learn how you can get EPA air alerts for your area.
  • Apparently babies born in the winter seem to experience lower stations in life, and find out why. Moms, apparently it's one more thing to add to our "it's our fault" list.
  • Given the horrific debacle that was the Chinese tainted milk and formula scandal, leading to thousands of sick children, activists in the U.S. are calling for more testing and stricter standards on formula in this country.
  • A new dvd is showing promising results in helping Autistic children recognize and process emotions.
  • Finally, apparently getting enough sleep is a key factor in preventing colds. I'm doomed!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Not Nest All the Time?: Relevant Organization

Everyone jokes about the crazy manifestations of the need to clean and organize an expectant mother in her nesting phase exhibits. My husband looks forward to this time, and I say that power needs to be bottled and dispensed when we're lacking the motivation to keep up the fight with kids and husbands underfoot to maintain some sort of order.

Our current circumstances also lend themselves to organizing. We are nervous, expectant, scared, and a little out of our minds with what is happening to us. When things are seemingly so out of control, some find some measure of comfort in concentrating on what one can control. Perhaps owing to this collective need, coupled with kicking off a new year, organizing stories abound. I'm one of those that is not immaculate, but generally tidy, and I can say I definitely feel the difference. I saw some great info in these articles to share with you:
  • The Washington Post featured some terrific free web based tools to help the whole family in the quest to get and stay organized.
  • Need a little help to get started and stay on the path of organization? Join the online community, The Clutter Diet to support your organizational journey.
  • The Miami Herald posted a good general overview of quickly assessing your home and getting the ball rolling.
  • I wrote recently on Twitter that chef Mark Bittman makes me swoon, and it's true, because few can capture that rare balance of simplicity and inspiration, especially in the kitchen. His latest cookbook draws inspiration from the excellent book by Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and sets about constructing a roadmap to cook and eat in the manner that Pollan suggests to save our own health and that of our planet. He recently wrote an article advising home cooks about what to throw out and what to keep or get in an effort to clean-out and equip the kitchen for good eating.
  • This one hits both the need to reduce and organize, while saving money. Swap books online!
Happy organizing!

Photo Credit sweetshabbyroses

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Parenting is an International Language: Relevant Diplomatic Relations


Meanwhile, catching up with the world at large:
  • As the sides square off in Gaza, the children suffer. No side is blameless in this crisis, but one thing is clear, it is horrific what is happening to helpless victims on both sides of this divide.
  • Chinese parents have confirmed that they have filed a lawsuit against the companies responsible for the contamination of the country's milk and formula supply, that caused thousands of children to become ill, and unconfirmed numbers to pass away. The Chinese government has in the past tried to minimize and quiet the outcry, quickly demolishing the collapsed schools and offering parents what amounted to a payoff for their silence. Some are stubbornly resisting the continued efforts of the government to sweep the incident under the rug, and the government has allegedly detained parents in an effort to prevent them from speaking to the press.
  • One of the things that has so saddened many Americans is how the actions of a few has degraded the regard that the world holds for us. But the actions of a few also can show the spirit of the American people as well. Read about a pair of passionate men who have created a non-profit to bring much needed medical care to Iraqi children.
  • Sure it is a cultural tradition, but it's pretty difficult to understand one which allows for eight year old girls to be married period, let alone to much older men. A young Muslim girl was denied a divorce from a recent marriage, which had been arranged by her father against her mother's wishes. The little girl is not aware that she is married. Traditionally the young girls will continue to live at home until they are of age, and then go to their husband's home.
  • There are amazing female voices in the Middle East that advocate for human rights, despite grave risks. One such voice is Ms. Shirin Ebadi who is a lawyer and the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Get to know this remarkable woman.
  • One interesting place that Muslim women are finding a measure of liberation is as flight attendants. Yes, flight attendants.
  • Parental rights are being fiercely debated in Belgium, where if a parent fails to, among other things, vaccinate, they are subject to jailing.
Despite our differences in the world, perhaps our diplomatic voices ought to find common ground in our love for, and struggle to, protect our children.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Parental Controls in Reverse: Relevant Social Media Parenting

It's teen time!

So a few weeks ago I did it. Yielding to the Gen X group think that you just can't seem to shake, I thought "I guess it's time I joined Facebook." Look! How nifty, people I haven't heard or seen in twenty years. Who needs high school reunions?

If there is a teen in the vicinity they have just curled their lip in derision and called me all kinds of names in text format that I have no way of deciphering. It can all be summed up succinctly as "hey spying old person, get your own social platform." It reminds me of a story my parents told me about when they moved to their rural community in the early 70s and the local kids scrawled in the dirt "go home city slickers!" And you remember "never trust anyone over thirty?" Every generation has had it. Same message, just higher tech.

One of the fastest growing social media demographics is my beloved Generation X. We sort of have a techie clue, but not quite, plus we've been working our little tushes off, and now have taken a moment to stop and savor the virtual roses. Throw virtual drinks at one another? Sign us up. 

Social Media for the"old" set is exploding. Facebook reports that "the number of users age 35-54 more than tripled in the 12 months ending in July, according to the site's survey of 3,100 users. The 13-34 age group doubled, and the number of users age 65 and up grew 150 percent."

But this poses a little problem for some of us. Some of our kids are of age, and they don't like our incursion into their little social clique at all, not one little bit! It seems that parenting is hard enough, but add in the wrinkles that social media and technology brings into the mix and parents feel a bit outgunned. I remember a parenting adage that says keep your friends close and your kids friends closer, to know what is "really" going on. That means heading into the social media foray to some degree, and navigate the new frontier of connected parenting. They may not like it, but clearly they still need you, given the kinds of information the average teen posts on their Myspace and Facebook pages. There are even those that suggest that one can improve their family life through Twitter

So go ahead and dip your toes, and while you are at it reconnect with your elementary school nemesis, because, you know bygones can be bygones, right?

Here are some other stories of things "parents just don't understand":
  • You think your credit/lending terms are tough these days? For the teen set, the funds have all but dried up, so they have had to get creative on the cheap.
  • Get up to date on the lingo. A date is not a date anymore.
  • Best thing I ever did was change schools right before high school. It changed me and my path. But, many kids have a tough time breaking away from negative peer groups because they are still the people that they are most familiar with. An interesting take on the issue.
  • Recently there was a report of a study that concluded that virginity pledges did not positively affect the rates of sexual activity and attendant issues, and the media jumped on it. This commentator begs to differ and argues their side.
  • A spot of good news: smoking rates are down!
Remember one of the upsides of a teen. They can help you pimp your Facebook profile, provided you promise not to "friend" their friends.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Feminine Political Cry? "No Cuts!": Relevant Line Jumping


In all the holiday hustle and bustle, there are some stories that a busy mom (or dad) may have missed from the political stage. Let's get caught up politically, shall we?

As Congress gets ready to go back into session, there has been no shortage of drama, and down to the wire machinations in key open and unresolved seats. Al Franken seems to be staking a claim on his race, by a ridiculously close margin, where all votes were scrutinized and double scrutinized. Who knows what will happen with Obama's vacated seat, since the gatekeepers of the Senate are all but barricading the door to the appointed choice of the defiant Illinois governor, who is hanging on to his job by his fingernails, while he is investigated for political corruption allegations. 

And then there is the seat left open by Hillary Clinton in New York. Another cultural storm kicked up when storied Kennedy-in-waiting, Caroline Kennedy, stepped forward and threw her hat in the ring (I think it would have been a nice touch to throw her mother's actual pill-box hat in the ring myself). People are sensitive about dynasties, but curiously not as much when it's male ascension. And, they claim that, you guessed it, she's not qualified, because she has largely remained out of the public spotlight and raised her kids. 

But one hole in this argument is that they discount her years of behind the scenes work, prominent roles actually, not least of which was being a part of the team tasked with advising then candidate Barack Obama about his vice-presidential candidate choices. So disagree with her politics, get cranky about the nepotistic reality of pathways to power, but qualifications are off the table on this one in my view. Call it what it is, another lob in the war of women who feel that she didn't play the game to deserve the opportunity. You can choose to focus on your family, or climb the ladder of power, but not both, at least in some circles. Women get really touchy when you do, and it's a shame!

Here's a summary of some interesting articles on the topic:
  • An editorial in the New York Times thinks that she should "wait her turn."
  • There are inevitable comparisons to Sarah Palin, and The Week sums up these articles.
  • But others have put the kibosh on that line of marginalizing, and say "she's no Sarah Palin."
  • Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the book I'm finishing right now, The Mommy Warswrote a column on Mommy Track'd wondering if it really is possible that she can "on-ramp" (a term describing professionals that resume their working life at some point after having stayed home with the kids) and still have it all?
  • Another columnist on Mommy Track'd, Meredith O'Brien, also delves into the motherhood politics surrounding this particular political contender.
  • An interesting article about family business from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology.
  • Careful about underestimating a stay at home mother! In Virginia, a group of like minded stay at home moms are mobilizing for political action in their local community. One of the advantages that they have in making inroads? Their flexible schedules!
A couple of other interesting political stories to throw in the mix:
  • Learn the really pretty fascinating history behind the oval office itself.
  • This is kind of different, as task forces go. Obama is assembling a "Middle Class" task force, led by Vice-President elect Joe Biden. It's focus is to come up with plans to strengthen and protect the middle class in the country. This is an interesting one to watch.
  • How nifty is this?! The kids get their very own inauguration concert
  • One of the really thrilling parts of this transition has been the solicitation of ideas and feedback from "joe public." I don't envy the people that have to wade through it all, but I commend the move. There are no shortage of prominent people advising of course, but even prominent but usually kind of quiet people are stepping up to offer ideas, like Craig Newmark, the famous "Craig" of Craigslist, who has some interesting ideas about a "Craigslist of Service."
I have to say if I'm a civics teacher this year, I'm thinking the motherlode of curriculum has been dropped on my desk. What a political season!

And here is a parting thought: why do we have such a problem with the feminine in spheres of power, when we refer to countries, ships, etc. in the feminine? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments.

Photo Credit cacalloohcallay

Another Word about Finances: Relevant Add On

A few relevant fiscal add-ons landed in my in-box today from the Christian Science Monitor, so following up on yesterday's post, here are two more great financial articles to pass along:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Honey, They Blew Up the Economy: Relevant Financial Explanations

I, like most people, am positively sick to death of hearing about economic news, and the temptation to tune out is great. The news is so extreme, the astronomical figures and sensational and breathtakingly brazen nature of the architects of the scams (let's call them what they really are) that have touched the richest and the poorest, and everyone in between. But it is precisely at times like these that it is important to tune in, to improve your understanding, and do the small things that help your family and your community to weather this storm. Check out these recent stories, and take away what you will. This to shall pass.

  • One of the more vexom aspects of our culture, for me, is the degree we have become dependent upon our consumer impulse, indeed have stoked it to high flame. Look behind the curtain, and learn how marketers get under our skins and into our brains. Most people have heard our leaders variously exhort us as a public to "get out there and shop" at economically sticky junctures, and now that the American consumer is all but hightailing it to their financial bombshelters, some worry if we can pull out of this if we do not spend. I think the question is more what do we now choose to spend on? Maybe that is the gift of the crisis--reassessment of what is important to allocate resources to. I am always staggered when there is some random national charity drive, and literally millions comes out of the woodwork. The money is there, but where is it being spent? Hopefully we won't let an important cultural conversation go by as things improve. Pain is unfortunately a powerful motivator.
  • Wonder about how the printing of money is managed? They can indeed "just print more," but it isn't at all as easy as just firing up the printing press, which lately is positively smoking from the exertion!
  • It's not surprising that saving is now in vogue with everything from recession meal planning to fashion runway turns on what the modern frugal diva will pry open their pocketbook for. In fact some speculate as to whether vanity is dead in our recessionary times? Have they turned on Bravo lately? Um, my guess is no. Oh yes, you want further proof? Be flabbergasted about the woman who sold her twins for liposuction. You really can't make this stuff up!
  • Along with this, guess what was a hot gift for the kids this year? Piggy banks!
  • We can barely keep up with understanding all that is happening, but imagine the kids. They can whip out your i-Phone and "pimp it out" in seconds flat, but they might need a little help from you to understand bailouts and ponzi schemes. Learn how to talk to junior about the bailout. Also check out general tips about talking with kids about money. In fact, for many adults this explanation works better as well!
  • Better yet, teach them creative ways kids can make money.
  • For those who think that the mattress is looking pretty good as a financial institution, don't stuff it just yet, and read about how to assess a bank.
It's a new year, and the financial hangover is likely to persist until perhaps the next new year, but resolve to turn adversity into opportunity. And that's enough of that trite motivational drivel. I like what a old colleague of mine posted on his Facebook, resolve to "see the beauty in the necessary."




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