Monday, December 22, 2008

The 12 Days of Infertility

Have you ever tried to conceive? (That's TTC, for those not in the know.) If so, depending on your circustances, you're likely to find this absolutely hilarious or pretty painful.

XBox for Nappy Rash: Infertility Carol Singing

In the first month of TTC, my true love gave to me:
A good old shag, contraception free.

In the second month of TTC, my true love gave to me:
Two pairs of baggy boxers,
and a good old shag, contraception free.

In the third month of TTC, my true love gave to me . . .

There, but for Various Circumstances . . .

You know what's currently one of my least favorite sayings?

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

On the surface, the sentiment sounds OK. It encourages sympathy, right? How easily I could be in her shoes . . .

But really, doesn't it suggest that it's God's grace that's keeping me from an undesired fate? And indeed the converse, that God's grace is not being shown to the person whose fate I'm hoping to avoid?

Doesn't this come awfully close to the idea that we're somehow being punished by God when bad things happen to us? That maybe it's our fault for not praying hard enough? That God is petty and vengeful?

Eh. That's not my theology.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Crafts

Since Ellie started therapy an an infant, we've been preparing Christmas gifts for her various teachers and therapists each year.

The first year, we made hot chocolate candles. This one is probably my favorite of all of our Christmas crafts. The brown wax is chocolate scented, and the frothy white whipped cream is scented like vanilla and sugar:

The next year we made appletini candles, which looked and smelled good enough to devour.

We've also made cinnamon bun candles. These too were double scented and colored (also very time-consuming, since we only had one mold). For some reason, we didn't take pictures of these, and this cropped close-up of my mother-in-law's hands is the best I've got.

Last year, we went really simple and compiled little bags of homemade Paula Deen-style chocolate cheese fudge. This was easy and delicious, so I think I'll make a batch every Christmas until the end of time. (I made 2 batches tonight!)

This year, we made 12 (TWELVE!) Christmas trees out of homemade star-shaped sugar cookies. It took forever, but I love the way they turned out. And fortunately they made the trips to the girls' schools intact.

Tonight, we finished wrapping and most of the baking. Wahoo!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Our church has 2 sets of big glass doors, one facing north and one facing south, that are unlocked on weekdays. Between the two, in the bright, open intersection of two hallways, is a large, circular desk. We call it the Welcome Center and it's staffed daily by volunteer "Ambassadors" who greet people and help newcomers find their way. When there's no weekday volunteer, I occasionally fill in at the desk.

Yesterday, I was sitting there happily typing away when a woman from the church office (which is nestled upstairs and out of the flow of traffic) stopped by the desk. "You look so busy!" she said. "Are you studying for finals, dear?"

Bless her heart. I think I might wear this outfit everyday for a while. I'm wearing it again today because we didn't really get much chance to go to bed last night . . . pictures of this year's Christmas craft to come tomorrow for Friday Photoblogging.

Anyway: t-shirt over long-sleeved shirt. Casual khakis. Long, unstyled hair. no makeup. Glasses. Sleep deprivation. Yep! I can still pass for a college student!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not Today, Thanks

With all of the hustle and bustle of December and Advent, there's one big stressor I'm not experiencing this week, and that's testing.

Ellie's last evaluation was in August of 2006, shortly before her third birthday. It was good for 3 years, so she'd need another before starting Kindergarten. It makes sense to do it now, her teacher explained. That way we'd have all the most current information on hand when we start the IEP process early next year and talk about Ellie's needs and goals for Kindergarten.

Sure, that sounds reasonable. BUT, I know that the pre-Kindergarten evaluation is the one where a Real Diagnosis is assigned (until now she's been a "young child with a developmental delay") and I've been dreading this moment since before Ellie was even born. Most of us live up to expectations. Labels can be very helpful in accessing necessary services to promote development. They can also affect others' expectations and therefore limit potential. I see this all the time, in myself as well as in the people who work with Ellie.

Also, our last evaluation experience was awful. And the IQ score the evaluator came up with for Ellie was . . . ridiculous and not at all a measure of her current abilities, let alone her potential. I can't bear the thought of her future Kindergarten teacher seeing something like that in the file as her first introduction to my wonderful, amazing, smart, capable daughter.

I've been to some pre-kindergarten parent workshops about how to introduce your child to her new teacher in the best possible way. And Ellie and I still go to her monthly "practice reading class," which is a special pilot early education program for kids with Down syndrome, sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis. It's a fabulous academic program, but its greatest benefit from Ellie's perspective is getting to spend the afternoon with a bunch of other kids with Down syndrome. And the greatest benefit from my perspective is what I learn from the other moms and their experiences.

Last month I learned that I can refuse the IQ test without losing services. So I did, in a gently and nonconfrontational way. And Ellie's teacher was totally OK with it. And we're going ahead with the IEP and all that early next year with no expectation of problems or loss of services. And no new labels!

I didn't even have to use the suggested wording: "As many scholars argue, I.Q. tests measure only the output from the student at a particular moment in time and are not necessarily predictors of future ability (particularly when dealing with children with disabilities). Additionally, studies from England are beginning to show that standard I.Q. testing may not accurately predict the abilities of children with Down syndrome. Based on these points, we feel the I.Q. testing recommended in the proposed assessment is not appropriate and therefore, oppose it."

I just pointed out what my mom said to me, that Ellie's last test was unequivocally inaccurate (everyone agrees on this) and that IQ tests are notoriously unreliable at this age.

And it worked!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Final Word on Bras

The whole thread was interesting reading and I learned a lot! Here's the final vote tally:

48 people voted in the mini poll.
4 (8%) of you only wear a bra once before washing it.
18 (37%) of you wear it 2-3 times between washings.
7 (14%) go 4-5 wearings.
And the winner, checking in with 21 votes (43%) was "until it smells funky!"

So now you know. I wonder if our tendency to re-wear bras is a price thing. Good bras are definitely a lot more expensive than my cotton jockey underpants, which I never re-wear between washes. I also don't re-wear t-shirts or nursing tank tops. What puts bras in a different category than other undergarments?

Wait. You don't re-wear your underwear, do you?

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm Not to Bah Humbug Yet

The house is clean (including the basement and bathrooms!) and decorated. The Christmas cards seem to have arrived at their 96 various destinations. The open house has been scheduled for next Sunday.

I just need to plan and shop for the open house (ask friends to borrow their coffee carafe for mulled cider, purchase all ingredients, organize, bake). Did I say bake? YES. I SAID BAKE. I wonder if people would mind if they showed up at a Christmas open house and there was no food? Moving right along so as not to stress about that tonight.

Almost all of the Christmas shopping is done. For my mom: hubcaps or donation to charity? These are the big decisions. Much wrapping remains, but that's fun and not necessary to do very far in advance, as long as we have a few presents under the tree for atmosphere.

The last little item of stress (other than BAKING) is teacher presents. We need a dozen (that's 12!) of these for various teachers, therapists, and bus drivers, and we always do some sort of craft. This year I had the bright idea of making Christmas trees out of star shaped sugar cookies, but there are two problems. First, have I mentioned BAKING enough? Second, the specially sized cookie cutters I ordered have not yet arrived.

It's always a frantic mad dash, but it always gets done and I always love sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying it once the big prep goals are accomplished.

Paul and I had a funny argument this weekend. He was frustrated with how little I've been sleeping lately, and the negative side effects of that. (But surely I'm my usual pleasant, patient self?) "I think you've got your priorities all wrong! You're spending way too much time on this stuff!" he said as I paged through catalog after catalog, working through my shopping list.

(The next night, I was up even later preparing an Advent meditation and Sunday School lesson, so it's not all the "wrong" stuff I'm focusing on this season.)

"HAH!" I replied. "I told you that the open house was going to be a LOT of work, especially since November was shot with NaNoWriMo, but that I could get it done if you wanted to do it. And you said that you wanted to do it. So now I'm doing it. And you're criticizing how I'm getting it done?!"

I'm sure I sounded rather dangerously unbalanced during this little diatribe, because I got a quick apology and the conversation ended right there. Paul does so much around the house. But the whole organizing/hosting thing is really my gig, and he doesn't quite register all the little details it takes to pull something like this off.

Anyway, we went out on Saturday evening for a wonderful date night and all is well. He worked like a dog this weekend, plugging through a formidable to-do list. This year, like last year and the year before, it will all get done. And in the days before Christmas we will be so happy and proud of ourselves as we sit back, relax, and enjoy our prettily decorated house and delicious cookies, surrounded by friends and family.

Sure, there'd be a lot less stress if we eliminated some of the items from our to-do lists. But there'd be less reward, too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ho Ho Ho!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The R Word

There is a big campaign out there about the r-word. I haven't been at the forefront of the movement, although I do support it. I have posted before about how Language is Powerful and about the movie Tropic Thunder.

There's nothing wrong with the actual word, all by itself. "Retard" means to cause to move more slowly or operate at a slower rate. It's very descriptive. But it definitely has become a pejorative term in our society.

If not addressed, underlying prejudices will color any subsequent descriptive terms of choice with an unpleasant, negative association as they too begin to be used as insults. (In much the same way that in my lifetime I've seen a progression of words used to describe groups of people from various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.) But that doesn't mean that it's OK to keep using outdated terms once they've become passé.

And the word "retarded" has clearly passed that point. The Association for Retarded Citizens has renamed itself The Arc, formally removing the word "retarded" from its description and acknowledging overwhelmingly negative connotations with the word. The American Association on Mental Retardation changed its name a couple of years ago to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. And as for the clinically diagnostic use of the term "mentally retarded," well, that does still exist in the DSM-IV, though that document itself is significantly outdated, and many practitioners, evaluators, educators, and others who deal with people with developmental disabilities are very careful about using the loaded term.

Recently, I was involved in an discussion board thread about "the r word." The problem was that the thread wasn't supposed to be about the term, but the mom writing about her son used it several times.

A shorter copy of the original story was also posted on a blog I read, here. In short, a woman is going through an incredibly frustrating time trying to get her (undiagnosed) son the help he needs. Of a conversation with an evaluator, who has commented that the boy will have a hard time qualifying for a particular service because his cognitive score is normal, the mom writes, I, being pissed off and disinclined to be PC about the whole thing, said “Truly? You only serve r****d children?” To which she replied, “No, no, most of the children we serve are not r*****d at all! It’s just that by the time we get to them, they’ve been so neglected that they’re TESTING as r*****.”

The original post on the discussion board was uncensored, and in response I brought up my discomfort with use of the term in this way. A very interesting discussion ensued. I don't want to keep bumping a thread about a difficult situation for this woman and her family, but I do want to respond to a couple of issues the conversation raises, so I will do so here.

First, I think that calling hurtful language merely "not PC" belittles the complaint.

Second, I don't think that being angry justifies using hurtful language. Most of us slip up and say unpleasant things sometimes, but that doesn't mean that we should get a free pass.

Third, I think an apology that includes a "but" isn't much of an apology. Similarly, saying "I'm sorry for offending you" or even, "I'm sorry that you were hurt by what I said," is different from saying "I'm sorry that I said something hurtful and offensive." Because, in a situation like this, I am not personally hurt. I am not looking for a personal apology. I'm just raising awareness that this sort of language is hurtful and offensive to many in the community of people it describes. And, as such, it is unacceptable.

Fourth is the idea that intent matters, that if the speaker doesn't see a word as negative, then it's not. There's something to that, in that it's possible to be ignorant of changing standards. That's why people who know better should speak up and explain. Once we know better, we can and should be more thoughtful. In this case, however, the "intent" excuse doesn't really fly, if the anecdote is shared to demonstrate the evaluator's inappropriate usage of the term. The mom either knows that it's an inappropriate thing to say, in which case she shouldn't have said it, or she doesn't know, in which case the evaluator's parroting back of the term doesn't raise any red flags.

In this discussion, I was accused of wanting to "ride [my] "r"-word hobbyhorse," and just showing up to "give [the mom] a spanking."

I hope (clear and insightful writer) Kay Olson doesn't mind if I quote her, because I loved her response so much:
Language usage issues always look like they have popped up out of nowhere, but they never really do pop up out of nowhere -- they are there in every conversation until someone does exactly what Sarahlynn did here and make them part of the discussion. Then, predictably, as here, the person gets blasted for going off-topic or missing the point or tone of the conversation. The invisibleness of problematic language until someone has to make a stink to bring awareness to the use of that language is the whole problem.

Language usage issues like this are not a simple matter of "etiquette" and "courtesy," unless, of course, you are completely tuned out to the historical and ongoing oppression and prejudice they contribute to. It's not just "rude" to use the N-word or the C-word, and it would be dismissive to excuse that language as just rudeness and use of something that has "fallen out of fashion."

All that said, I appreciate your apology, [J's Mom], and apologize in return for seeming insensitive to your family's struggles. I hope this clarifies where I am coming from.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Used To Be an Editorial Ass

Because I'm too busy Christmas shopping to post tonight, I'll highlight one of my favorite editor blogs, written by Moonrat: Editorial Ass: I work in publishing and I like to read things. Herewith: free association on books, nice things I ate, publishing, editing, and other nice things I ate.

And in particular, I'll point you to her recent post suggesting some great books to give as gifts this year - many of which are available in paperback!

In case you're wondering, the Editorial Ass is not a jerk. In fact, she's really very nice. She's also a former (now promoted) Editorial Assistant. Which can be a grueling, thankless, and very poorly paid position.


Edited to add a completely unrelated question. What does the term "natural causes" mean when you're talking about a college freshman? (I'm thinking "traditional" first year student, rather than an older student, because I can't imagine anyone else choosing to live in Ruby.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Catching Up

I've gotten a lot done this weekend. And this is really shaping up to be an exciting post, as you can see. Who doesn't want to hear all about someone else's Got-Done list? Perhaps you would (or wouldn't) if it was about something interesting, like "places I've had sex" or something like that. Which doesn't apply to my weekend at all. Consider yourself forewarned.

This weekend, I decided that it was December and I darn well better start acting like it. On Friday, I knocked my Google Reader down to under 150 unread messages. This was huge progress for me (check out the agent/editor/industry/writing blogs in the lower part of my sidebar; they're great!). I also tidied the main areas of the first floor.

Saturday morning I dusted everything and tidied both girls' rooms, too. I ordered favors for our Christmas Open House. We created a guest list and sent out an invitation to the open house. (My Punchbowl is a FABULOUS application, if you've not tried it. Evite is MUCH clunkier.) I also exercised, read, and napped. So that was fabulous, except possibly for the reading, since I'm working through Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which is wonderful but also depressing. We also went out to get a Christmas tree for our sparkly-clean house, and made a big pot of chili. Before bed, I prepared a Sunday School lesson, and I stayed up way too late, as usual. (I was working on an Advent meditation, so that does help ameliorate some of my guilt at poor time management.)

On Sunday I did the whole shower/lead Sunday School/church/brunch with friend thing. Naptime failed - both girls and Paul have lousy colds - so we pumped some Christmas tunes, broke out the eggnog, and started decorating. The house is starting to look and smell pretty good, and only part of that is from the entire cup of eggnog Ellie spilled on the carpet!

On Sunday we also realized that we scheduled our big annual open house right on top of our church's big annual Christmas concert and dinner. Oops.

It's Sunday night, now. Both girls are bathed and sleeping, though congested. Paul and I are about to address all of our Christmas cards, which should go out tomorrow.

And then the only things from my impressively long weekend to-do list that we didn't complete are raking - we still have 3 HUGE old oak trees dropping leaves all over the place, the jerks - and putting up the lights on the outside of the house.

I'll take it! Next weekend: bathrooms, cleaning downstairs, and baking. And the week after that is the fourth week of Advent!

Just don't talk to me about Christmas shopping. I'm WAY behind.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Life Continues, Even When I'm Preoccupied

Ada caught a cold and last night she didn't sleep very well. No biggie; I'm not back in the habit of sleeping yet, myself. But NaNoWriMo is over! And I have a nice little sense of accomplishment to offset my despair about being woefully unprepared for December. My house is a mess, I haven't started decorating, I've barely started Christmas shopping, and I haven't even thought about baking. Moreover, I haven't thrown out the indoor "mini pumpkins" yet, and just tonight I took down the Halloween decoration from the front door. I haven't quite figured out how to balance writing and home life yet; I tend to do either/or, in spurts.

But this morning I took myself off to my favorite coffee shop, Kaldi's. First, I treated myself to a latte while reading the last 5 pages of the Ursula K. LeGuin novel I started a couple of days ago. Then I reread the last chapter of Seek Ye First to put myself back into that voice. And I started writing again! It felt like coming home to an old friend. I'm enjoying this story again, so much so that I think I'll be sad when I finish it. No worries, though, the end is still at least 30,000 words away, another few months at my current snail's pace.

Tonight, over dinner at Trattoria Branica (Kirkwood) a friend asked me, "So, what are you going to do with all these things you keep writing?"

Ah, that is the question. And also one of my major goals for 2009. Confession: I cower in the face of revision! (I once ditched a first draft and started over rather than revising it.) Note to writer's workshop coordinators: please offer workshops on self-editing, re-writing and revising. I will show up!

Define Clean

OK, ladies, let's talk about bras. I've put a poll over there in the sidebar if you'd rather not comment publicly but still want to participate.

How many do you have?

How many times to you wear them between washes?

What colors do you have, and what determines the color that you wear?

Do your tops match your bottoms?

On special occasions?

Where do you stand on the whole wire issue?

But mainly, what are your criteria for determining if a bra is "clean" or not?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pastor’s Advice for Better Marriage: More Sex

This is a New York Times article, so it wants registration to view. I used "laugh123" as both username and password to get in, but if that doesn't work for you, might I recommend

I don't necessarily think that there's anything wrong with suggesting to your congregation that they try having sex every day for a week. I've probably mentioned the marriage enrichment group I'm leading this year. It's going great and we have certainly assigned wink-wink-nudge-nudge intimacy homework. One big difference is that there was no guilt attached, it was not an ongoing daily requirement, and I was not speaking to a crowd of 20,000+. I was speaking to a small group of people whose issues I know, in a way that was much less . . . prescriptive and more personalized. There are so many things about this situation that just make my hair stand straight up on end.

1) I hate one-size-fits-all prescriptions like this daily sex thing.

2) This part in particular is utterly lacking in compassion: For others grappling with infidelities, addictions to pornography or other bitter hurts, “there’s been some pain; hopefully there’s been some forgiveness, too.”

The way to forgive a spouse for infidelity is required daily sex? Fabulous. If that works for you, great. But to suggest - as this pastor apparently has - that you SHOULD forgive a cheating spouse and have daily sex with him/her anyway - as this article suggests - is dangerous. There is no single right way to work through tough issues like this, and sex might very well not be the first step in the healing process. It might indeed make things quite a bit worse.

3) Keep it going? Daily sex indefinitely? This might work for some couples, but won't for others. So now they get guilt for what feels right for them, or obligatory sex that they don't really want. Yippee, that sounds healthy. "C'mon, honey, I know you're exhausted, but I really wanna and pastor said . . ."

4) "Mr. Young advised the couples to 'keep on doing what you’ve been doing this week. We should try to double up the amount of intimacy we have in marriage. And when I say intimacy, I don’t mean holding hands in the park or a back rub.'"

Fantastic. I hardly know where to start. So let's say one person in a relationship wants more sex. And let's say that the other wants more cuddling and non-sexual touch. Apparently, only one of them is "right" in the eyes of this pastor! Jerk. Both partners need to have their physical intimacy needs met, and there's certainly no one-size-fits-all prescription.

In the end, this whole thing confirms my sense that megachurches are not for me. I don't want a pastor giving marital advice like this to me as one of 20,000 congregants with no individuality. Bleh.

If I were to offer any one-size-fits-all relationship advice, it would be this: Talk to one another. Listen to one another. Care for one another. Respect one another. It's hard to go wrong with all that.