Archives for May 2010

Engineer in the Making?

My 21-month-old, Jacob, is good with electronics. He loves anything that has buttons, and if those buttons make noise or cause lights to flash, so much the better. From a very young age Jacob has sought out whatever electronic devices he could get his hands on, and attempted to master them.

Jacob LOVES playing with electronics
Jacob engaged in one of his favourite pastimes – playing with the stereo

One of Jacob’s best feats was locking me out of my own laptop. You see, my laptop has facial recognition software, which I didn’t enable. However, somehow Jacob enabled it. And, of course, his sweet little face was in front of the webcam at the time. So my computer decided that it belonged to him. The next time I fired it up, it considered me an intruder.

Jacob also likes to put CDs in the CD player, and play them. He even adjusts the volume to his liking – which is very loud, in case you were wondering. He especially loves to do this with his dad’s combination CD player / clock radio, while his dad is still sleeping. He’s messed up other people’s computers, learned how to make our computer print lined notepaper, called his dad on my cellphone and set his dad’s car alarm into deep panic mode. He just has a knack, my toddler. In fact, when 5-year-old Hannah can’t make something work, she enlists her little brother’s help.

I’m sure that everyone likes to see themselves in their children. So I might be biased in this, but as an engineer I take a certain pride in Jacob’s love of all things electronic. It’s true that he isn’t always as gentle as one would hope. And it’s true that it’s sort of a pain when he locks me out of my own computer. But I like to see that problem-solving process, and love of technology, in my child all the same. Maybe he’ll be a programmer just like his mama. Programmers get to push a lot of buttons.

The truth is that I was never as into taking things apart and figuring them out as Jacob seems to be. So maybe I can’t really take credit for his button-y love. It’s also true that my husband, while not an engineer, is pretty adept with electronics as well. It might not be all me. But my heart swells with pride at my little electronics whiz all the same. No doubt he’ll be even more technically adept than me one day. Hopefully not before he’s 6, though.

Do you see yourself in your children and their interests? Tell me!

Fun With my Camera

I am not a photographer. OK, maybe I sort of am, since I take photographs, which you have seen on this very blog. But I’m not a photographer in the sense that I do not have a fancy camera, and I don’t know anything about f-stops or anything like that. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t have a real desire to learn. You folks who create photographic works of art impress me, but my first love is painting pictures with words.

For many years I have favoured digital point-and-shoot cameras for my photo-taking needs. They allow me to take hundreds of shots and choose the best ones, without paying for developing. They have settings so that I can take macro shots, zoom in to take a photo far away, or adjust for low light levels. I am not a manual adjuster, because like I said, I don’t know much about photography. I want my camera to decide for me and make my life easy.

Despite my lack of photographic ambition, I do love my camera. I have two childhoods to document in excruciating detail, here. I need a camera to catch every sneeze and possibly embarrassing moment to use for blackmail purposes down the road. So when my trusty-but-battered camera died I immediately replaced it, but this time it has higher resolution and even more pre-programmed settings. Which, of course, I had to play around with.

There’s the miniaturization setting, that makes things look really tiny:

Toy saxophone, miniaturized

Fish eye is always fun:

My eye, in fish eye

If I want a sophisticated feel, I can use black and white:

Ye olde Amber

Or I can shoot Jon cleaning ye olde BBQ in sepia:

Ye olde Jon

I especially appreciate the image stabilization on the zoom:

Jon and the kids at the beach

I might not be a photographer, but I am loving my new camera. It’s so shiny and unblemished, and it does so many things. I hope that we will enjoy many happy years together.

What do you love about your camera? And how do you view photography – are you a dabbler or a pro? Tell me all about it.

PS – Many people have suggested that I include a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. Since I aim to please, I’ll include a link-up with my May review, which will go live at 6am Pacific on Wednesday, June 2. If you want to play along, write a post on or before June 2, come here, and link up. I have a feeling this is going to be fun!

I Can’t Believe I’m Talking about Epidurals

I am hesitant to write about epidurals. Because, honestly, I don’t want to armchair quarterback anyone’s birth, or leave anyone feeling like I am looking down on them. So I want to be clear that I am not here to judge you, or your birth, or your birth attendant, or your hospital. I am not the birth judge. I am the parenting judge.

(Just kidding! I’m not the parenting judge, either. Except for myself, and I often come up lacking.)

Epidurals and Me

I didn’t use epidural anesthesia in either of my births. In fairness, my births were really short. With Hannah, I was in active labour for about 4 hours, and with Jacob it was more like 2.5 hours. I am defining ‘active labour’ as being unable to sit still or talk during contractions, and feeling the need to engage in measures like vocalizing, swaying and so on. My birth records state that Hannah’s labour was 1.5 hours and Jacob’s was 45 minutes, based on confirmed dilation. Either way you slice it, there may be people out there who spent days in labour who would kind of like to draw a mustache on my photo. Feel free, but keep in mind that I am not responsible for resulting damage to your monitor.

Given my own birth experiences, I was very interested to learn that here in British Columbia, we have one of the lowest epidural rates in Canada for vaginal births. Approximately 30% of BC women had epidurals in BC, compared to 69% in Quebec, 60% in Ontario, 50% in Alberta and 39% in Manitoba. I actually thought this might be a good thing – perhaps it indicates that we are doing a better job of supporting women through labour and honouring their wishes.

Anesthesiologists Raise the Epidural Alarm

On Twitter, Chad Skelton linked to an article in the Vancouver Sun with the headline “Women who want epidurals not getting them in B.C.: report”. You can read some of Chad’s thoughts on his blog. My summary of the article is that the British Columbia Anesthesiologists’ Society believes the disparity in epidural use is related not to women’s choices, but to a shortage of anesthesiologists. While the article states that we don’t know why epidural rates are lower here in my home province, it conjectures that 11,000 women are being denied pain relief based on the difference between BC rates and the national average.

Let me be clear. If women are asking for epidurals and being denied them, or being made to wait 4 hours, that is a problem. I am not here to say that epidurals, or the mothers who use them, are bad. However, I took issue with this article on several fronts. The anesthesiologists may be somewhat biased in their call for more anesthesiologists, for one thing. For another, there are no actual, concrete examples of women being denied epidurals. And finally, I felt the article did a fair bit of fear-mongering. For example, here is a quote from Dr. Roland Orfaly, executive director of the Anesthesiologists’ Society:

If you have an anesthesiologist dealing with a life-and-death surgery and the women needs an emergency C-section to save the baby and just by chance the surgery finishes as the C-section is needed you have a near miss…An hour earlier and the baby could have died.

More Information is Needed

We need to do everything we can to protect the health of mothers and babies. But I would prefer to hear about actual birth outcomes, rather than stories of what could have happened. We hear a lot of scary stories about birth in our culture. It’s true that birth can be scary. But it can also be miraculous and empowering. Many women, like me, find labour manageable with good support. So I take issue with articles like this one that paint birth as horrible, and suggest that women are being left to suffer in agony, without unbiased information to support that claim.

I had a back and forth with Chad about this, and we both came to the conclusion that more information is needed. But I think we still stand in different positions on birth. Chad took the pro-pain relief stance, stating that “[he] had a front-row seat and [he’s] pretty sure [labour] hurt — a lot”. And I took the stance that supporting women to have the birth they want is the most important thing, and that lower epidural rates are not necessarily a problem.

Factors Contributing to a Positive Birth Experience

Some research bears me out. In a review of 137 factors that affect women’s satisfaction with childbirth, 4 stood out: personal expectations, the amount of support from caregivers, the quality of the caregiver-patient relationship and involvement in decision making. These factors overrode age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, childbirth preparation, the physical birth environment, pain, immobility, medical interventions and continuity of care. This comes from women evaluating their own childbirth experiences. So, epidural use alone does not indicate how most women feel about birth.

We know that women who have midwifery care, and women who use doulas, have lower epidural rates, as well as fewer C-sections and shorter labours. In my own high-risk labour with Hannah, having a midwife made a huge difference for me. She was an amazing advocate with the doctors and nurses, she helped me get into positions that I found comfortable and she helped me to avoid being strapped down to the bed with monitors. If I hadn’t had her, I don’t believe that I would have coped as well as I did. We had a good relationship, she provided me with quality support, she kept me informed and she listened to me. Like the study suggested, these things made all the difference for me. I feel very satisfied with my experience, overall, and I would wish the same thing for other women.

Supporting Women

My position is not that women should not use epidurals, or that women should avoid all interventions. Epidurals, C-sections and induction all have their place. My position, rather, is that women deserve support through their birth experience, from people that they trust, who honour their wishes. And so, instead of saying that we should increase epidural rates in BC, I think instead that we should talk to mothers and hear their experiences. We should track outcomes for mothers and babies. Then we should act on that information, to help make birth better, and safer, for everyone.

What do you think makes for a positive birth experience? How important is epidural availability to you in birth? And can you believe I’m talking about epidurals, either?

Trying is Awesome

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! May’s theme is recognizing our innate awesomeness. Because we are awesome. In the past few weeks I wrote about how moms are awesome, how making stuff is awesome and how having no plan is awesome. This week, I’m talking about how trying is awesome – as in trying again, and trying new things. So read on, and try to follow me.

Not everything that I do works out. I have baked cookies that were terrible, failed exams and not gotten the job I was really hoping for. I have given talks that bombed and I have written blog posts that, frankly, just didn’t work. I have had my fair share of less-than-stellar parenting moments and petty arguments with my husband. Some of my knitting projects would be better suited to an anorexic baboon than the person I created them for. And I am, quite possibly, the world’s worst bowler.

Failure sucks. It totally, totally sucks. Failure often leaves me feeling like it would be better to have never tried at all. Why put yourself out there and take the risk if it’s only going to end badly? Why veer from your safe and comfortable path, when all that lies beyond it is epic embarrassment?

This fear of failure, this desire to avoid pain, led me to seek a very safe and comfortable life. I was very, very good. Being good, it seems, was what I did best. I followed instructions meticulously, filled out every box on every form I was ever handed, and kept on top of my email. I tried to do what was expected of me, and then I waited around for someone to notice. I did not put myself out there, if there was any possible way to avoid it. And it worked, until it didn’t. Until I learned that avoiding risk did not guarantee that nothing bad would ever happen.

Now I am trying to create a different life for myself, and I have had to confront a lot of my fears. I have tried new things, things that I am maybe not so good at on my first attempt. I have had to become comfortable with self-promotion, and I have (mostly) accepted that mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of learning and growing. It is still hard, because my lizard brain is not a fan of being noticed or risking public embarrassment. But it is not as hard as it used to be.

Here’s the thing that I’ve learned through this process. It’s not about how good you are at everything you try. It’s not about your natural charisma or your innate talent. It’s just about the trying. It takes something to keep at it, to keep trying, when success is far from guaranteed. It takes someone pretty awesome to dust themselves off after a failure and try again. And again. And again.

Along the way, as you try and try again, you learn a lot. You discover who you really are. You face your fears and insecurities and you address them. You learn which risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t. And, if you try enough times, you may just succeed. The secret to success, I’ve come to believe, does not lie in inborn brilliance that some people just have. It lies in the trying, and the learning, and the boundary-pushing. It lies in putting your dreams out there, and finding people who feel the same way you do.

So, yes, trying is awesome. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it is awesome. Every time that you try, every time that you put your authentic self out there for the world to see, you’re awesome, too. Even if it doesn’t feel that way, it’s the truth. It takes something to try, and you deserve credit for that. Maybe I do, too. So here’s to trying, and here’s to us!

Tell me, what hard thing do you do that makes you feel awesome? I’d love to hear.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written a post about your own awesomeness? If so, enter the details below. And whether you have or not, go check out these other blogs for some inspiration or helpful advice.

My Baby, My Child

My daughter Hannah is 5 years old. This age is like a crossroads between babyhood and childhood. She can do so much for herself – get dressed, put on her shoes, get a drink of water. Yet there is still so much she can’t do – cook a meal, read a book, floss her teeth. Sometimes it seems as if these two factions are at war in her. She alternates between fierce independence and extreme dependence, between wanting space and refusing to let go.

Because Hannah is my first, I forget how little she really still is. I expect too much of her. Compared to her brother, who is not yet 2, she seems so capable and grown-up. She does not require my constant intervention to keep her alive. She doesn’t smear her food on the walls or wear diapers. She has an impressive vocabulary and is socially adept. She knows what’s what.

Gathering 'nature' in her box

There are moments, though, when I see her little-ness. It flits across my eyes and I am struck by its presence. I hold her wrist and it feels impossibly tiny and fragile. I watch her sleep and see a baby-ness in her face. Really, still? Is she still so small as that? Yes, she is.

Tonight Jon and I will attend kindergarten orientation with Hannah. My mind is wandering back to my own elementary school years. On that playground, the kindergartners seemed so small. I look at my daughter with those eyes, and my throat catches. Is she ready to tackle school? Is she old enough to hold her position on the playground, to navigate the social maze? I don’t know. I see my baby, the one who was born too early, and so very small. I want to cling to her and not let go.

Out for a walk

The truth is, from Hannah’s earliest moments I preferred to think of her as big. When her weight had dropped below 5 pounds in the NICU, I declared her big-ness. As soon as we got her home, I started dressing her in ‘real’ clothes. Because she was big, and strong, and deserving of an actual outfit. Hannah’s smallness was something I dismissed altogether, because I needed her to be OK. I needed her to be big.

Of course, she is OK. She was OK then, too. Even so, I am disarmed by her smallness. It gives my mother-heart pause. Can my wishing, alone, make her big enough to face the world? And if it can’t, what then?

Playing under a tree

The fears tumble over me, and through me. They spill out of my chest and across the floor. The truth is, there are no answers. Life is messy, and not always good. I don’t know how my daughter will handle it. Little or big, it’s not easy for any of us. So I clasp her tiny wrist, and kiss her tiny hand, and will that what I have given her will be big enough. Please, please let it be big enough.

PS – Have you seen my cloth diaper video? I made it for By Nature‘s Why Cloth Diapers contest. But more than that, it also showcases my fabulous new video intro. I have plans to do one or two videos a month. If you want to keep it real with my suburban videos, check the latest in my sidebar under ‘watch me’, or visit my YouTube channel.

Antibiotics and Agriculture

I prefer to buy local food whenever possible. I do it for a variety of reasons. Some of them are environmental – the closer to home my food is produced, the less carbon emitted getting it to me. Some of them are economical – gardening and buying in season are cheap. Some of them are about flavour – fresher food tastes better. And some of them are ideological – I like the idea of supporting my local community, including its farmers.

One of the biggest reasons that I like to buy local is that I can talk to the people who produce my food. Obviously, if I grow something myself, I know a lot about it. But I am far from being food independent. I buy the majority of my food, including all of my meat, eggs and dairy. I do not have my own chickens or cows, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And when I’m buying animal products like these, I have particular concerns. I want to know that the animals were treated humanely, and that the food is safe for my family to eat.

Why would I be worried about food safety? Because 70% of antibiotics in the US are used on food animals. Some estimates indicate that 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics are used sub-therapeutically in the US each year, in order to keep animals healthy and help them to grow faster. These animals aren’t sick, but they are crowded together in unsanitary conditions, so disease is an issue. Dosing animals with antibiotics is cheaper than providing them with more space or allowing them more time to mature, so the antibiotics are used.

The problem with routinely dosing animals with antibiotics is that it contributes to antibiotic resistance. A big ad campaign has been running locally, advising us that ‘not all bugs need drugs‘. The point is that using antibiotics unnecessarily, like to treat a flu virus that won’t respond to them, can lead to bacteria evolving a resistance to the drug. New strains are created that can’t be killed with certain antibiotics, and then when people become ill from the bacteria there are no treatment options. So humans are advised to use antibiotics judiciously and to always finish our whole prescription, to avoid contributing to the creation of super bugs.

The issue is that we might be only a small part of the problem. The super bug MRSA was found in the nasal passages of 70% of pigs on some Iowa farms. Chickens may carry drug-resistant salmonella. And cattle may carry drug-resistant E. coli. These bacteria can lead to humans, in turn, becoming sick and even dying. Particularly immune-compromised people, young children or the elderly. We might not be exposed to sick people, but when we eat we may be regularly exposed to sick animals.

Obviously, the use of antibiotics in agriculture is a complex issue. But it concerns me. I don’t want my family to be exposed to dangerous bacteria. And I don’t want cost to placed ahead of the health and safe treatment of the animals that provide me with food. I am willing to pay more for meat and eggs that are safe, and that come from healthy and happy animals.

One way to ensure that your food animals have not been treated routinely with antibiotics is to buy organic. Certified organic food may not contain synthetic chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. I do buy organic frequently, myself. But I think that an even better way is to get to know the farmer. Ask questions, visit the farm, see the animals. The beef that I buy isn’t certified organic, but the cows are grass-fed on an open range. For me, that first-hand knowledge is more important than a certification label.

When I consider the magnitude of the problems confronting our present food system, I can feel overwhelmed. But it’s heartening to know that I can still choose what I eat, and what I feed my family. I can vote with my dollars in support of a better way. And so I do, as much as possible. I visit my farmer’s market, and farm stands, and I garden. It’s my vote against super bugs, if you will.

What about you? Were you aware of how many antibiotics are used in agriculture? Does that alarm you, or does it reassure you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

PS – May’s Crafting my Life series is about recognizing our innate awesomeness. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 27th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme anytime in May, or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Then read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

Victoria Day Garden

If you are Canadian then you know that today is Victoria Day, the holiday that brings us the May long weekend. This is when water parks open and people bust out the white shoes. It’s traditionally a weekend of camping, and the weather usually does not co-operate, but no one cares because of the traditional beer they’re consuming. All drunk to the honour of the late Queen Victoria, after whom the holiday is named, of course.

For the more sedate among us, such as myself, this is also traditionally a weekend of gardening. All across Canada this weekend, people are packing into their local garden centres and buying seedlings and mulch. The risk of frost is over and it’s time to get your plants in the ground so that they’ll be ready for harvest in the fall.

Since the Victoria Day long weekend is associated with gardening, I thought that I’d seize this chance to show you what my garden’s been up to. My garden is sort of haphazard, but I’ve crammed a lot into it. Like parsley, basil, sage and lots and lots of mint. Word to the wise: mint grows like a weed.

Parsley, sage, basil and mint

I also have two each of two different kinds of tomato plants. Also pictured: super-glam slippers, because my feet like to be cozy, yo.

Two different kinds of tomato plants

There’s also broccoli and chard.

BroccoliChard

And my new raised bed boasts peas, carrots, dill, baby blue hubbard squash, sunflowers and corn.

Peas, carrots, dill and squashSunflowers and corn

The big challenge with the raised bed is keeping Jacob out of it. Apparently, garden beds are like magnets for toddlers.

I grow children, too

My strawberries and raspberries are coming along nicely.

StrawberriesRaspberries

The bees are hard at work turning blueberry blossoms into tiny, green blueberries.

Blueberries

I have celery and tiny cucumber sprouts.

CeleryCucumbers

Here are my oregano, chives and thyme.

Oregano, chives, thyme

And finally, I have some large and healthy garlic, and some itty-bitty onions.

GarlicOnion sprouts

What are you growing? Please share! And, of course, Happy Victoria Day!

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