Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Did I Always Worry So Much?

Ellie came home from school today feeling "yucky" with cough and fever.

Here's hoping it's a QUICK cold. Because staying from from life for a couple of weeks with the H1N1 dealie is just awkward in October. We have 5 big things she really won't want to miss in the next week. Including . . . the Down Syndrome Association Walk in the Park Cardinals game, a reading from a favorite author, a trip to a local farm, a birthday party . . .

Then HER birthday and everything that comes with that. Plus regular things like gymnastics and soccer that we'll all miss. And, oh, slipped onto the bottom of the list like it's unimportant, you know, my fears for her life and health and those of her little sister. That sort of thing.

Three and a half weeks until flu shots!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


After quite a while of talking about everything else but: a writing update.

Current project status. I have a few short stories I want to polish, refine, edit, and get out on submission. But I feel like I can't stop work on the novel. I'm still editing and the pace is GLACIAL. I crave momentum.

A few days ago I sat down in a cafe with no wifi and no distractions. I edited furiously for two hours. No pauses, no daydreaming, just caffeine and editing. I was pleased with my work when I was done. But I only got through 3000 words, ten pages. Ten pages! I should have been able to write that much from scratch in two hours! And that was a good work day!

So: glacial. And I'm losing faith in the novel itself. It's a mystery. But it doesn't follow all the necessary/conventional tropes. I modeled it on a classic Christie novel, by which I mean that the whodunit is similar, though the how, why, what, and where are very different. I also borrowed Christie's pacing and cast size.

But Christie didn't always have a body in the first chapter. Nor does my novel. And I keep hearing how you can't sell a genre mystery like that anymore.

There's a barrage of suggestions for mystery writers: more dialogue! More action! More physical danger! Be economical with your description and character development!

And it's just . . . not what I write. I like to read books like this, certainly, and it's a wonderful stretch for me to try to work in this genre, but . . . it's not what comes naturally to me.

I just finished reading Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and I thought: YES!!! Not for the mystery side of it, because, for me, the mystery was way secondary to the conceit, the style, the writing.

The conceit, the style the writing!

I thought you weren't supposed to be able to do it like that! I thought that you just can't sell books like that right now. THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION breaks all the rules!

But it's really really good.

And therein lies the rub. I am no Chabon. I'm just a girl who wants to be a writer and is still learning and practicing and working and hoping and dreaming and trying to figure out the next step.

Speaking of which, tonight I went to see Sara Paretsky at a Left Bank Books sponsored reading at The Ethical Society. She was fabulous, of course. Having seen Paretsky in person, I love her even more than I do on the page.

And she's yet another brilliant writer who talks about how hard it is. How she gets distracted by any little thing, how she treats herself with chocolate or motivates herself with chocolate if she hasn't earned a treat. She's fabulous. And motivating.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kicking It Up a Notch

Given: a nice, level, paved surface neatly marked off in tenths of a mile, perfect for exercise and interval training (jog a tenth, walk a tenth, repeat).

Question: What's the difference between a hard, fast walk and a gentle jog?

Answers: The walk might well be faster. And can last longer. But the jog produces an impressive asthmatic wheeze in short order followed by sore knees later and a stiff body the next morning.

More answers: I now understand why the Wii Fit categorizes walking as "moderate" exercise (1:1 minutes exercised to fit credits earned) and jogging as "hard" exercise (1:2 minutes exercised to fit credits earned).

I also know that electronically exercised minutes (on a treadmill, elliptical, rebounder, etc.) are not the same as actually propelling your body forward in the way of foot meeting pavement.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Apple Picking Good

"This weekend," I told the girls, "we're going to go pick apples."

We talked about how apples grow on trees and how even if you don't care for apples (Ellie) you might still like apple cider or apple pie. Yippee! But as we prepared for our little trip we ran into a snag.

Where are all the local apple orchards? People talk about picking apples, but where do they go?!

The obvious answer is Eckerts. We picked pumpkins at an Eckerts once. It's always easier to go back somewhere familiar than to try out someplace new. But I wasn't excited about returning to Eckerts this year.

For one thing, the three locations are 40, 60, and 80 minutes from our house. Big trip for a few minutes of apple picking. Even more importantly, Eckerts charges admission. In addition to the cost of the apples, there is an $8 admission fee PER PERSON for the farm. That fee makes the apples very expensive.

Visitors do get something for their admission fee to Apple Fest. "Wagon rides, music, live entertainment, great festival foods, children’s activities and much more make this an apple pickin’ good time for everyone! Whether riding a pony or feeding a goat, your young ‘uns will enjoy getting acquainted with common farm animals. Children’s carnival and/or activities at all three farms. Funnel cakes, roasted sweet corn, caramel apples and more to tempt your taste buds."
Some activities, like rides and food, incur additional costs. But the $8 admission fee does get visitors into a big country carnival.

If carnivals are your thing and your apple-picking trip is to be an all-day outing, Eckerts might be just the thing. But we just wanted to go to a farm and pick some apples, hopefully showing the kids a little bit about where their food comes from, having fun, and not spending much more than we would have at Schnucks.

I was stuck until I found Pick Your Own (Missouri).

That fabulous site led me to: Thierbach Orchards & Market.

Thierbach Orchards & Market is also about 45 minutes from our house, but it's a lovely drive west on I 44. There's stuff to do at the farm (a small store, mazes, big slide, bouncy houses, petting zoo with chickens to watch and goats to pet) but it's not a full-on carnival. And there's no admission fee! ($3 charge if you want to bounce or go in the big mazes.) In fact, we showed up after a rainstorm and had the place to ourselves. The deflated bouncy apparatuses posed no serious temptation, either. Perfect.

Thierbach Orchards & Market feels like a working farm that welcomes guests. And that's exactly what we wanted!

Another nearby orchard I've heard is similarly low-key is Centennial Farms in Augusta.

Do you pick your own? What and where?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Birds and the Balls

I'm so crafty. Look out for homemade Christmas presents from meeeeee.

Also, soccer, yo!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Word

Our church has a LOGOS program. On the surface, it looks like an all-around good deal. After school, children in kindergarten through 8th grade head to church. Now parents have a choice: return for your child(ren) in a few hours or stay around and participate. (Free childcare is provided for younger children of LOGOS parent volunteers.) From 3:50 - 7:20 kids will have a snack, do recreation together, sing in a choir, do a little Bible study, and have dinner.

Score! One evening's family entertainment taken care of PLUS we don't have to plan/cook/clean up dinner! AND, Ellie loves church. She loves snacks, playing outside, music, and dinner. The only catch is Bible Study. So I volunteered to be one of the leaders for the K-1 Bible Study class, thinking I can sit next to Ellie and keep her engaged.

It's not working at all.

Recreation: Week 1, Ellie's exhausted and keeps trying to lie down outside. So I take her inside to rest quietly. She wants to run around and play as soon as she's away from her group. I decide to skip recreation this year, let her play quietly at home for 45 minutes after school, and take her to church in time for choir.

Choir: Ellie doesn't want to sit quietly in her seat. She doesn't want to wave her streamer high in the air when the pitch goes up and sweep the ground when the pitch goes down. She wants to lie on the bench in the back of the room and kick it with her feet to make a fabulous booming noise.

Bible Study. She's hungry. She has to go potty. She doesn't want to hear a story. She doesn't want to color. She wants to leave.

The next week, I tell her that we have LOGOS tonight. She's excited. She wants to go. Until we get there. . .

The solution seems obvious. There's a lot of new stuff with kindergarten. Why push her into another activity? Well, because we have already cut our schedule way back and are spending a lot more quiet time at home. But organized recreation/physical activity (and this is very friendly, fun, low-pressure, age-appropriate stuff) is important for Ellie. Forging these connections is important for Ellie. When relationships at school get hard, having a supportive group of friends at church will be even more important.

And choir is good for Ellie, too. If she doesn't learn the songs, she can't sing with the group. She'll want to be up front with the other kids in the Christmas paegent, etc. Again, this is fun, low-pressure, age-appropriate stuff (did you catch the thing about the streamers?). Toddler music classes are great, but . . . they aren't designed for older kids. Older kids have more structured classes, where sometimes you stand up straight to sing and sometimes you get to dance in the back of the room while you sing but regardless you participate appropriately with the group and follow instructions.

It's so hard. I think this program is great for Ellie. But I don't want her to be miserable. This is a fine line to walk, as a parent. Do I let Ellie stay home and participate in nothing? That might seem kinder in the short-run - and I certainly don't want an over-programmed kid - but she's missing out on some really valuable stuff.

Everything is harder for Ellie. Except sitting at home, playing in her room or watching a video. Increasingly, she doesn't want to do puzzles, she doesn't want to color, she doesn't want to LEARN anything or follow any directions/rules, she just wants pure DOWN TIME.

I know it's no fun to have to work hard all the time. And when even active or organized play is hard work, what then? Surely doing nothing isn't the answer?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Protect Insurance Companies PSA

Did I say that I was done with health care reform posts? Surely not.

And there's more where that came from!

(Facebook friends, the embedded video probably didn't come through. But it doesn't matter. I'm sure you've seen it before! After all, your favorite social networking site and mine is where I found the laugh.)

Night Sky

Ada and I spent the morning at the St. Louis Science Center. This is one of her favorite activities, and she requests it nearly daily. When we leave, she usually tells me all about how we're coming back later in the day with Daddy and Ellie. (I try to take her down there once or twice a month.)

Today we arrived a little too late for Planets of the Sun at the planetarium so I got tickets for the too-old-for-her Mr. Hubble's Universe show. You can't get up into the Planetarium without tickets for a show (which are free for members - yay!) and I figured she'd like some of the other stuff:
  • A 40 minute dark sky Planetarium show in the Orthwein StarBay including a live presentation The Sky Tonight which explores the current evening's night sky wonders
  • In between star shows take a self-guided tour of the Boeing Space Station and learn about living and working in space
  • Try your hand at various space missions in the SBC Learning Center (for Ada's age this means floor puzzles of the solar system and velcro planets to attach to orbits).

We skipped the Discovery Room today and went to a gravity presentation (the apple splat from 4 stories up with a big hit) and a pharmacology demonstration (too shy, total bust). But mostly we stayed in the Planetarium.

I might have mentioned that Ada loves outer space. She also loves oceans, dinosaurs, and fairies, so she's fairly well diversified. But space is something special for Ada. She likes nonfiction books about space, she has a mobile of the solar system hanging in her room, she can name all the planets and tell you a little something about each of them, she knows that blue stars are hotter than red stars, and so on.

Our good friend, Jessica, was reading to Ada one night when Ada decided to test her babysitter. "What's that?" she asked, pointing to a picture of a solar flare.

"That's a ray of sunlight," Jessica suggested. A completely appropriate response to a two-year-old, I might add.

"No, it's not. That's plasma shooting out." Also true.

Ada knows about the storm on Jupiter, the fact that Uranus has rings, and that it's windy on Neptune. She even knows why Mars looks red.

So we're watching the Night Sky presentation in the planetarium and there's no one else there, just the two of us and the astronomer who's being a good sport putting on the show for such a small audience. I'm digging it and Ada is listening quietly (except for periodic soft bursts of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). I don't know how much she's tracking about the heights of the sun at various times of year but she's really really into the red star that flies all over the whole sky.

The astronomer's laser pointer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Frightening" Indeed

A friend sent me this "frightening demographic video clip" with the note that she kept waiting for the punchline that never came:

My initial reactions:

  1. The uncited "research" doesn't even relate to the wild leaps of "logic" in the voiceover. ("There's no economic model to support...") I guess just saying "research" once at the beginning lends a air of legitimacy to the rest of the video.
  2. Fewer babies = better market for labor! Doesn't sound ALL bad. (Also, we are currently over-populated, so declining population is environmentally-friendly.)
  3. Some European nations are addressing declining birth rates in an interesting way: paid maternity and paternity leave for an entire year, if I recall correctly. So Mom can take off year 1, Dad takes off year 2, then you can start all over with another baby. That policy would convince me to have another baby if I were on the fence! (I think Canada also has a year of paid maternity leave.)
  4. What this video really is is racist. A pure call for white American Christians to have lots and lots and lots of kids. Who's behind the video? Probably some class project at Oral Roberts or similar.
  5. I admit that I'm not that much of an activist. If I did suddenly find myself in a Taliban-run society I'd cram on my burka faster than the gal next to me. But, even IF America became a Muslim majority country it would still be America. Land of the free, home of the brave, etc. It's awfully hard to ditch an entire Constitution and remake a country. It is possible, however, that in the future some of the free and brave might not be white Christians.
  6. That said, even knowing what I was getting into, I found the video well-made and powerful.
  7. I don't find militant fundamentalist Muslims much scarier than militant fundamentalist Christians, frankly.
  8. Wanna know a great way to make Islam more exciting and enticing to young Americans? Make it into the counter-culture. Make it something forbidden, scaaaaary, bad like the Beatles, man.
  9. It's an interesting idea that we must spread Christianity through breeding. I don't recall that message from the Bible. Whatever happened to evangelism?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oopsy Daisy

Retaining wall: 1
Sarahlynn: 0

I was walking along the retaining wall, Ada on the grass beside me, when all of a sudden the end of the wall . . . crumbled.

I . . . followed gravity.

"I gotta mosquito bite. Mommy gotta little scrape!" Ada repeated all afternoon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Good to Miss Them a Little Bit

Last month Paul and I decided to finally bite the bullet and really take control of our finances. We made a budget and are committed to sticking to it, saving up and paying cash for purchases, keeping an emergency fund for necessary but unexpected expenses, not using credit, paying off our bathroom, cars, house, etc.

Before that our financial planning relied heavily on . . . guesswork. And denial. Finally the stress of not knowing became greater than our distaste for managing money and we got serious about changing our habits. It's going well so far.

Jumping back a bit.

Last February I told Paul that I was planning a kind of expensive Valentine's gift for him. (This ruined the surprise, but we don't make big expenditures without checking with each other.) When I renewed our public radio membership, I was going to take advantage of the fund drive donation deal and get us an overnight stay at a nearby bed and breakfast, OK?

Not OK. We can't afford it.

(Remember, this was before we knew what we could really afford or not afford. Pre-budget.)

Sigh. OK, I said. It doesn't have to be now and it doesn't have to cost money but I want you to know that I'd like us to have one night alone together some time in the next year. I want to find someone to watch the kids overnight so that we can have a full night and morning without actively parenting.

He heard me!

My birthday was this past weekend, and Paul told me that we were "going away." I didn't need to know any of the details. Gradually, a few of them became clear. My mom and youngest sister would come to our house and stay with the girls. Yay! That's all I really needed to know. I was psyched.

Then I learned that Paul was considering an overnight trip to Mexico. Or maybe Puerto Rico. Or possibly just driving up to Hannibal and renting an entire house for the two of us for two nights (only one of which we'd use but then we wouldn't have to hurry out in the morning).

My turn to say: Not OK. We can't afford it. (This was after the big budget meeting, so we both knew I was right.)

We ended up in . . . Fulton, Missouri. I think everyone we met was a little surprised that we were there solely as tourists, not visiting our nearby college kids or participating in the MS 150 bike ride. Just us, visiting a small Missouri town.

I went all the way, wearing knee-length shorts, tennis shoes, and a big straw hat. Sadly, I did not have a fanny pack to complete the tourist look.

Of course, we had a wonderful time. We could have done nothing and stayed at the Motel 6 and had a wonderful time.

But we stayed in a cute B&B, ate great food, cooked nothing, cleaned nothing, and put no children to sleep. And I didn't plan a thing!

It was restful, rejuvenating, relaxing. We walked around Westminster College and scouted it out for our children's futures. (Too much Greek life for my tastes, but small and not too far and with a great program for students with learning disabilities.) We stepped through a big chunk of the Berlin Wall (the real deal! in Missouri!). I had a massage. We read on the porch before walking downtown (four blocks away) for dinner. We meandered through wine country on our way home and stopped for a tour and tasting.

Fabulous, perfect, rejuvenating. And I came back home to happy children, my comfortable house, a fantastic freelance project, TWO generous gift certificates for shoes (plus great books and a book light) and a strawberry-strawberry-strawberry birthday cake.

Thank you Paul, Mom, and Grace, and the rest of our families for a fantastic birthday!

Why Are Our Kids Fat?

Doctors' efforts to fight childhood obesity not working

Fri, Sep 4, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are recommending that officials in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia rethink their efforts to combat obesity in children because the current strategies -- emphasizing healthy diets and exercise -- aren't working.

In a study released online Sept. 4 in BMJ, Australian researchers followed more than 250 overweight and mildly obese Australian children who visited their general practitioners between 2005 and 2006. A total of 139 were given counseling over three months about changing their eating habits and increasing exercise; the other 119 did not get such counseling.

Parents said the kids who received counseling drank fewer soft drinks, but they didn't eat more fruit or vegetables or less fat, and they didn't lose significant amounts of weight.

The researchers reported that brief, physician-led intervention produced no long-term improvement in body mass index, physical activity or nutrition habits.

The counseling isn't harmful, the study authors noted, but it doesn't seem to work and is expensive.

"Resources may be better divided between primary prevention at the community and population levels, and enhancement of clinical treatment options for children with established obesity," the researchers concluded.

-- Randy Dotinga

What you can do:
  • Find out how much exercise your child needs. (links)
  • Check out five fun ways to get your child moving. (links)
  • Learn about the nutrients your child needs and how to make sure he or she gets them. (links)
  • Find out how you can encourage your child to eat healthier foods

I get that obesity is a public health epidemic and we must address it on all fronts. BUT. I really do think that the primary and ongoing responsibility falls to the parents. What behavior is modeled for the children? What food is offered to the children? What food is available to them? We need to model healthy, active lifestyles when they are small. And after that, too.

But many of us tend to offer our children food as rewards, give our children snacks to keep them quiet (in the car, in the stroller, in the grocery cart), and go to the gym while they're at school or asleep. We might even feed our children different foods from what we're eating ourselves.

What are we teaching children about the role food plays in their lives? What sorts of healthy behaviors are we modeling?

I'm not the parent of two extremely energetic salad-eating children. Ada is lean and active (and still loves broccoli and fruit). But she also loves hot dogs and we need to monitor the junk to food ratio we serve around here. Ellie is a different story. When she ate only healthy food as a toddler, she loved it! But, gradually, she met things like pizza and quesadillas and cheesy pretzels. Granted, these aren't the worst things in the world. But we know what she likes and tend to make "child-pleasing" meals for her. Who doesn't want to make their child happy?

She seems to lack the "I'm full!" body/brain notification system that her sister has but many fat adults (like me!) have battered into submission. And she fights exercise so hard. Unless we're at the swimming pool or gymnastics, Ellie is miserable when we do any sort of family exercise like going for a walk or bike ride. We work really hard to make physical activity fun for her - choosing new and interesting places to walk, rewarding walks with pushes on a swing, listening to books on tape during stretches in the trailer while mommy and daddy ride bikes. This weekend we started soccer.

It's hard work. But it's our job. And her health depends on us doing it well!

(Sidenote: I was shocked to see what the elementary school cafeteria is feeding kids these days. At Ellie's school, they have pizza day once a week. They also eat sloppy joes, hamburgers, and hot dogs. I remember some of that from when I was a kid, but not every day! We thought those lunch days were special treats.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Change Is Scary - Part 4

I think Health Care Reform deserves a serious discussion, not soundbites, scare tactics, lies, and ignorance. This is the fourth - and last - of my August Recess posts about health care reform. Wahoo!

What Does "Reform" Really Mean?

For the last few months, whenever I hear someone talk about "Obamacare" and how Obama wants to socialize medicine, etc., I just shake my head in wonder. (The sad kind of wonder, not the lovely kind.)

One of the biggest differences between Obama and Clinton in the primary campaign was healthcare. Clinton's plan would have mandated health insurance for everyone. The plan Obama campaigned on did not. He wanted - and still wants - insurance to be available and affordable for everyone, not legally required for everyone. Socialized medicine is not Obama's gig. (Some on the left are furious with Obama for not proposing single-payer healthcare. I'm not weighing in on whether or not I think we should have single payer here. I'm just explaining that it's not what Obama's been talking about for more than two years.)

As President, Obama did not propose healthcare legislation. Rather, he laid out a list of goals he thinks reform should attain and left it to Congress to write the legislation. Obama's goals are these:
"The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals. It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge -- not just government, not just insurance companies, but everybody including employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from senators and congressmen, from Democrats and Republicans -- and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election."

Legislators - and the media - repeatedly called for Obama to propose his own plan, so last night he laid out some specifics.

Health Care Reform is an area where reasonable people can and should disagree. But we can do so intelligently and respectfully. And if you are convinced that your position is so right and that the "other side" is so wrong, let's focus on the facts. Let's quibble about numbers and statistics if we have to; let's have a substantive discussion. But don't let's make up lies about what "ObamaCare" really is or isn't.

If you haven't had the opportunity to hear the President's speech outlining his plan for health care reform, please go listen or watch. It's an important way to spend an hour. (I watched most of it while running on the elliptical machine and the rest while folding laundry in an effort to save time and multitask.) And hearing the actual text yourself is vastly more reliable than catching snippets distorted out of context by the spin of your favorite news organization.

Related interesting reading:

America's Fatal Flaw: If it's not a crisis, we can't fix it
"It is demonstrably clear that the U.S. health-care system is on an unsustainable path. If current trends continue . . . health care will consume 40 percent of the national economy by 2050. The problem is that this is a slow and steady decline, producing no crisis, no Pearl Harbor, no 9/11. As a result, we seem incapable of grappling with it seriously. It's not as if the problems aren't apparent to everyone, whatever your political persuasion. Costs are rising so fast that every day, more than 10,000 Americans lose their insurance coverage. In 1993, 61 percent of small businesses provided health insurance for their employees. Now that number is down to 38 percent."

Attack! The truth about Obamacare.
My Note: Newsweek is not too fond of any of the Democrat-sponsored health care reform bills. The editorial position is frustration that Republicans and the media are focusing on fabricated hype and outright lies rather than engaging in substantive discussions on how to improve the bills. (Death panels, "socialized medicine," illegal immigrants receiving benefits, abortion and sex-change operations being covered, rationing, loss of your current health plan - all lies, all credibly debunked. But don't believe me! Please go read the text yourself, use Google to your advantage, get behind the fear and find the facts!)

Health Care Realities
So here’s the bottom line: if you currently have decent health insurance, thank the government. It’s true that if you’re young and healthy, with nothing in your medical history that could possibly have raised red flags with corporate accountants, you might have been able to get insurance without government intervention. But time and chance happen to us all, and the only reason you have a reasonable prospect of still having insurance coverage when you need it is the large role the government already plays.

"Where we disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that don't bear any resemblance to anything that's actually being proposed." --President Obama

I am worried that whatever Congress creates will be so watered down as to be useless. I'm worried that it will be so full of pork and loopholes that it will be harmful.

But I'm more afraid of doing nothing at all.

Part 1 - Down Syndrome is a Pre-existing Condition

Part 2 - It Pays to Work for the Insurance Company
Part 3 - But We're the Best! Why Fix What Isn't Broken?
Part 4 - What Does "Reform" Really Mean?

The President's Plan for Health Care Reform

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The President's Plan for Health Care Reform

Reposted without comment:

The President's Plan for Health Reform

“It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government."

If You Have Health Insurance, the President's Plan:
  • Ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.
  • Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage when people are sick and need it most.
  • Caps out-of-pocket expenses so people don’t go broke when they get sick.
  • Eliminates extra charges for preventive care like mammograms, flu shots and diabetes tests to improve health and save money.
  • Protects Medicare for seniors.
  • Eliminates the “donut-hole” gap in coverage for prescription drugs.

If You Don’t Have Insurance, the President's Plan:
  • Creates a new insurance marketplace — the Exchange — that allows people without insurance and small businesses to compare plans and buy insurance at competitive prices.
  • Provides new tax credits to help people buy insurance.
  • Provides small businesses tax credits and affordable options for covering employees.
  • Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.
  • Immediately offers new, low-cost coverage through a national “high risk” pool to protect people with preexisting conditions from financial ruin until the new Exchange is created.

For All Americans, the President's Plan:
  • Won’t add a dime to the deficit and is paid for upfront.
  • Requires additional cuts if savings are not realized.
  • Implements a number of delivery system reforms that begin to rein in health care costs and align incentives for hospitals, physicians, and others to improve quality.
  • Creates an independent commission of doctors and medical experts to identify waste, fraud and abuse in the health care system.
  • Orders immediate medical malpractice reform projects that could help doctors focus on putting their patients first, not on practicing defensive medicine.
  • Requires large employers to cover their employees and individuals who can afford it to buy insurance so everyone shares in the responsibility of reform.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

She Works Differently

Ellie's really fond of one of her classmates. I have been emailing back-and-forth with the little girl's mother - the lead room parent - and after making plans for the Halloween party planning meeting (is this really my life?) I said:

"Ellie thinks [your daughter's] really great, and so do I. Even at this young age some kids realize that Ellie's a little different and are obviously uncomfortable around her. It sounds like your daughter's been really nice to Ellie at school and she must be picking up that inclusive attitude from somewhere. So thank you! (Ellie has Down syndrome, of course, but what that means varies from kid to kid. In Ellie's case, she struggles a little physically - she's weaker than other kids - and behaviorally. Things are harder for her so she sometimes opts out of participating. But she's bright, so she gets it when she's excluded, and that's hard.)"

She replied, "I'm glad to hear that Ellie feels included by [my daughter]. We have talked about Ellie (not in a mean way, of course) and [my daughter] explained to me that Ellie's brain just works differently than ours does, so that is what we say. I hope that is ok. I don't pretend to know all of the correct ways of explaining things to my daughter, but I try to point out how people are similar to each other even though they are also different. Anyway, I'm just glad Ellie thinks my daughter is nice."

I love that this 5-year-old confidently explained to her mother that Ellie's brain just works a little differently. That's true!

Here's my latest metaphor. Have you ever been really really tired? Maybe you're trying to study or balance your checkbook or just finish reading the doggone book for your book club. Whatever the specifics - have you ever been in a state where you can just TELL that you're not quite firing on all cylinders? That your brain isn't making connections well, that your processing time is delayed, that your body is clumsy and not reacting the way it should? You know that something's wrong but you can't do anything about it?

You could be tired or sick or drunk or drugged or aging or injured or disabled or recently returned to Earth after acclimating to moon gravity. You're probably also very frustrated! You're still YOU in there, but you've got this barrier to interacting with to the outside world.

I think life is like that for Ellie, all the time.

She's the toughest person I know. And, especially considering how hard functioning with all the rest of us must be for her, she's also the brightest, sweetest, most giving person around.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The United States of America

"There is no red state America, there is no blue state America; but there is a United States of America."

"Americans...sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America."

"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too."

--President Barack Obama

Why on earth are people complaining about the President of the United States of America giving a speech to school children about the importance of education? Whether or not you agree with the President's vision for America's future, he's the President!

Laura Bush agrees. "I think there is a place for the president ... to talk to schoolchildren and encourage" them, she said. Parents should follow his example and "encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dream that they have."

President Reagan gave a televised address to schoolchildren. So did President George H. W. Bush. (Watch them here.) Now Obama is going to do the same.

Here's the full text of Obama's planned speech, addressed to students in Kindergarten through twelfth grade. "And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide."

If you think it's appropriate for Presidents to be able to speak to schoolchildren about the importance of staying in school and working hard, let your school administrators know.

Patriots may disagree vehemently with various policy positions taken by politicians. But patriots respect the office of the Presidency.

If you, like me, want a shot of respectful, bipartisan patriotism, have another listen.

And this, too:
"These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to [President-Elect Obama] tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that."

--Senator John McCain

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Beautiful Slab

I love our new front porch! But the pretty white railing and comfy patio furniture are going to have to wait.

Early in my college career, I briefly considered being a math major. After a few semesters I settled on English because my grades were better in Composition than Calculus. Paul is an engineer who took lots of math and accounting and used to work for the Economics department. But somehow, between the two of us, we can't balance a budget!

We sit there in front of our computer screens, spreadsheets and pie charts and how-to books and more than a decade of adult experience all around.

"Huh," one of us says, looking at the other. "I don't get it."

"We're missing something," the other replies. "It just doesn't make sense."

So: a hold on home improvement and moving to a cash-only budget for a while!

Apparently we'll have to live like no one else right now, so later we can live like no one else.

Which means . . . stay tuned for homemade Christmas presents.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Go Ask Alice (Anonymous)

This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm writing about Go Ask Alice by "Anonymous."

September 26−October 3, 2009 is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week. I'm not a big fan of public book banning, so I decided to choose a banned book and review it this week.

I read Go Ask Alice only once, way back when I was in Junior High. Since then, I don't think I've ever really talked about it with anybody but I still think about this novel frequently.

Amazon Product Description:

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life.

Read her diary.

Enter her world.

You will never forget her.

For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.

Look, I know it turns out the book was written by an adult anti-drug activist rather than an actual teenage girl (but who really thought this was a memoir?!) and perhaps some of the message is a bit heavy handed. But I didn't notice that when I read the book as a kid.

I have never tried drugs. Most people I know have done a little (or a lot) of experimenting. And many, though not all, of them enjoyed themselves and survived unscathed. But I haven't ever experimented, and I credit much of that to my reading this book at just the right time in my life. What if what if what if . . . everything goes wrong?

There's so little we can control in this life, I feel like I need to measure every significant risk. What can I gain? What can I lose? Maybe I'd have a really great time stoned out of my mind. But my mind isn't such a terrible place to be. And maybe I'd end up like Alice.

How ironic that parents refuse to let their teens read this book because it's so graphic. That's the point! It wouldn't be very scary or convincing if it depicted drugs as a relatively harmless diversion, or, worse, didn't mention drugs at all.

There are monsters under the bed, and while we need to protect our children's innocence when they're very young, we also need to prepare our children for the world in which they live.


With materials accused of being pornography censors have to decide if the content is intended primarily to titillate or if it serves a larger artistic aesthetic. So too it is with these books, each of which depicts something unpleasant. Should we only publish books about pleasant topics where nothing ugly happens? Fie. What greater sin than white-washing the past? We can't and shouldn't try to revise history. Nor should we attempt to make all the world's tumors into lumps of peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough.

The ugliness in these novels is informative, educational, and artistic. It is not intended to shock and titillate as much as to illustrate and illuminate. Revealing warts-and-all is how these books teach.

A few recently banned books that struck me:

Anonymous. GO ASK ALICE. Avon; Prentice-Hall. Challenged as a reading assignment at Hanahan Middle School in Berkeley County, S.C. (2008) because of blatant, explicit language using street terms for sex, talk of worms eating body parts, and blasphemy. The anonymously written 1971 book is about a fifteen-year-old girl who gets caught up in a life of drugs and sex before dying from an overdose. Its explicit references to drugs and sex have been controversial since it was first published. Source: May 2008, pp. 98-99.

Hosseini, Khaled. THE KITE RUNNER. Bloomsbury. Challenged as appropriate study in tenth-grade honors English class at Freedom High School in Morganton, N.C. (2008) because the novel depicts a sodomy rape in graphic detail and uses vulgar language. Source: May 2008, pp. 97-98.

Lee, Harper. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Lippincott/Harper; Popular Library. Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, N.J. Board of Education (2007). A resident had objected to the novel's depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression. The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it. Source: Mar. 2008, p. 80; May 2008, pp. 117-18.

Twain, Mark [Samuel L. Clemens]. THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Bantam; Bobbs-Merrill; Grosset; Harper; Holt; Houghton; Longman; Macmillan; NAL; Norton; Penguin; Pocket Bks. Challenged, but retained in the Lakeville, Minn. High School (2007) and St. Louis Park High School in Minneapolis, Minn. (2007) as required reading for sophomores. The district will conduct staff training about race issues and revise the way it weighs requests for curriculum changes. The district will also let its staff offer alternative assignments on racially sensitive issues in ways which “students do not feel ostracized because they have opted out of the assignment." Challenged at Richland High School in North Richland Hills, Tex. (2007) because of racial epithets. Challenged at the Manchester, Conn. High School (2007) "because the 'N' word is used in the book 212 times." Source: May 2007, p. 99; July 2007.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Knock Knock Knock. Did I catch you at a bad time?

Long long ago and far far away, I was a Girl Scout. Wearing the uniform to school quickly became uncool, but it never bothered me too much. What I really hated was selling those cookies door to door. It's not the selling that bothered me as much as the door to door part. I don't mind selling when someone's shown some indication that they're interested in the product. But interrupting people in their homes? Blech.

Ellie starts Daisy Scouts this week, but we're far away from cookie sales. Her school, on the other hand, does a big fundraiser every fall. This one is pretty great as fundraisers go. Really thick, nice quality wrapping paper and Belgian chocolates. Better, it's the only fundraiser of the year! And proceeds benefit the Parent Teacher Organization which pays for great things for the school. (Under consideration for this year are defibrillators and new furniture for the computer lab, among other projects.)

I've been trying to prepare myself to go door to door with Ellie, and then a great thing happened. One of the first grade classes cheated! The order forms were supposed to come home with all the kids last Thursday, but on Wednesday night we met a first grader from around the corner finishing up her walk around our subdivision. She beat us to the punch! This is great! Now we don't have to go door to door.

But I do want to support the effort. So here we are! If you're interested in buying wrapping paper or chocolates and you'd like the proceeds to benefit Ellie's fantabulous school, click below. Unlike the paper forms and cash orders of yesteryear, it's all about easy online shopping now.


A message from "Ellie" (as generated by the vendor):

My school's annual fundraiser with Innisbrook has begun. Innisbrook Wraps has beautifully designed gift wrap printed on quality recycled paper, coordinating gift wrap accessories, gourmet foods and fine Helen Grace Chocolates that make great gifts, Time Inc. magazine subscriptions, and more.

For every item that is purchased, Innisbrook donates up to 50% of the purchase price to my school. I also earn a prize credit for every item purchased except school supplies. The more prize credits I earn, the more prizes I win!

Please consider visiting the Innisbrook website and making a purchase on my behalf. A link is included below. Our sale will be over soon, so don't wait. Place your order today.

Thanks for your help!

Click the link below to visit and they will recognize me and my school automatically.

Click here to shop.