Monday, April 3, 2017

Mind reading

It seems like "I can't read your mind!" is a classic example of things couples say while arguing.  It's true enough, I suppose, because nobody actually knows the exact content of another person's thoughts.  It's a bit funny to me, though, because so much of what makes human relationships work is based on reading each other's minds.

People rarely explicitly call it "mind reading," lest they be mistaken for talking about some super-natural ability, but as far as I'm concerned, predicting the responses of other humans to stimuli and discerning another's internal state based on external cues is absolutely reading other people's minds.

My kids are certainly accomplished mind readers.  They regularly know exactly what they should do, and how much of it, to produce maximum parental irritation, while still falling below the threshold of negative consequences.

I, too, am a mind reader.  I'm excellent at some kinds: I usually know what to say and how to say it in my papers to obtain A's from professors.  I'm terrible at other types of mind reading: I love my sister-in-law, but when purchasing gifts, I have no idea what items might communicate my appreciation and affection to her.

I have even, on occasion, conducted whole conversations with my husband inside my head, and arrived at mutually acceptable solutions to problems based on the answers I imagined him giving me.

Part of the problem with autism spectrum disorders is an inability to mind read.  People with autism know what they are thinking, but they have difficulty connecting cues like facial expressions and posture to what other people are thinking.  And they often have difficulty predicting what other people will think, especially when those thoughts are abstract rather than concrete.

It's an interesting exercise to intentionally try to identify when you're mind reading, especially because it happens so often in our interactions, and being wrong can be damaging to our relationships.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Two Minutes on Intersectional Feminism

Hey, it turns out I'm white.  I'm pretty sure nobody's surprised by that revelation.

It took me a long time to recognize that being white is not the same thing as being race-less, and that my happy color-blindness was really a manifestation of my racial privilege.

Funny enough, it also took me a long time to recognize that a lot of the things I had internalized about myself as a female were really manifestations of the rape/purity culture in which I lived.

I like to think I'm a pretty smart person, so realizing that I had lived for decades without recognizing the profound affects of racism and sexism on my life was a pretty big shock.  Once my eyes were opened, though, it didn't take much for me to jump on the feminist and anti-racist bandwagons.

For a bit of background here, the way that I read the Bible, it's pretty clear to me that all human beings are created in the image of God.  As a result, all human beings have the exact same inherent value and are deserving of respect.  Feminism and anti-racism have at their cores the same goal: for all human beings to be treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their individual differences.

Because I was becoming aware of sexism and racism at the same time, however, I found myself in a bit of a confusing situation.  Because I am a woman, I have experienced oppression on the basis of my gender, but being white, I've also experienced a great deal of privilege on the basis of my race.  I didn't know how to own my racial privilege while talking about sexism and fighting against it.

Enter intersectional feminism, a term coined by a black woman to describe the way that being black and female is materially different from being white and female.  To whit: a black woman faces oppression for being black, for being a woman, and at the intersection of blackness and womanhood.  The concept extrapolates out onto a variety of identities.  The end result is a multi-axis understanding of identity, and the intention of fighting for human dignity and respect on all of those axes.

There's a lot to unpack.  If you're ready to dive in, here's a reading and listening list curated by the King's College London Intersectional Feminist Society.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Jobs of Tomorrow"

I'm wondering, more and more these days, if "the jobs of tomorrow" are actually a thing.  The school system where I live is pushing math and literacy so early and so hard because, they tell us, kids need to be "college and career ready" when they graduate from high school.  But what's left behind in the exclusive focus on reading, writing, and calculating is much of what makes being human worthwhile.

Everyone says they hate math, but what most people really mean is that they hate calculating.  People generally like puzzles and patterns, though.  It's satisfying to order and organize the world.  It's also important to have basic math skills, because they're useful in everyday life.  Shoving formal math education down the throats of 4 year-olds doesn't help, though.  It just teaches them that they hate math.

Aggressive formal literacy education is no more useful.  People learn to read because reading is important to them.  Pushing formal reading instruction earlier and earlier doesn't create better readers.  It creates readers who believe reading is hard and they are bad at it.  To encourage children to learn reading, we don't need to drill them on phonics and sight words, we need to give them time to be curious, a chance to see that reading will help them find out things they want to know, and opportunities to read.

People learn to write because writing is important to them, too.  The fundamental piece of writing is not vocabulary, grammar, or spelling, although all of those things are good.  The fundamental piece of writing is ideas.  To encourage children to learn to write, we need to give them time to have ideas, a chance to see that other people are interested in their ideas, and opportunities to write.

When we spend all of our schooling time doubling down on formal math and literacy education, we miss opportunities to learn to communicate through painting, sculpture, music, drama, humor, and diagrams.  We miss opportunities to learn to ask good questions and to hunt for the best answers.  We miss opportunities to practice collecting our own data, reaching our own conclusions, and sharing our own results.

All of the things sidelined by education are the things that allow us to make our own meaning.

And I'm not sure I believe in "the jobs of tomorrow" anymore.  I'm not sure we can count on jobs and careers to provide meaning and direction to our kids' days.  I'm not saying that jobs will disappear entirely, like this video suggests.  I'm sure there will be jobs.  I just wonder how many.  For most of human history "jobs" have not been a thing.  People have always worked and had roles in their communities. but the current age of jobs, where most households function by one or more of the adults working full-time for a company for money to exchange for goods and services, is just a tiny sliver of human history.

If school is trying so hard to prepare kids for jobs that aren't going to exist, what will they not be prepared for?  What if our children have universal basic income and a whole lot of free time?  How will they fill their time if they've only ever learned sit down, be quiet, and practice your math facts?  I feel for the children prepared to be the next generation of working stiffs if there are no jobs of tomorrow waiting for them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Where I'm From

I'm a sucker for poetry.  I can kill a whole evening watching spoken word poetry videos on youtube.  The past couple of years when Uncle Erudite has come into town for Christmas, the two of us have gone to see the Sunday night poetry slam at The Green Mill, and it has been a wonderful time.

I occasionally write poetry, too.  One time I even performed at a poetry slam out here in the suburbs, and I came in second (out of five).  The guy who won gave me his prize because, in his words: "Your poem was the best of the night.  And I don't drink red wine."

So when a blogger I follow posted a poem by her son, which he wrote as part of a poetry unit in his fourth grade classroom, I cried all over my keyboard.

The idea came from poet George Ella Lyon, who in turn was inspired by a poem written by Jo Carson.  All that to say, the template's down at the bottom of this post, and below is my take on it.  You should write a poem with me!

Where I’m From

I am from patchwork quilts, from Nanking cherries, and freedom to roam.

I am from the grand piano with a cat sleeping on top.
I am from many, many bookshelves.
From novels, memoirs, science fiction, and cook books, all being read in the same room at the same time.
I am from companionable silence
I am from lively debate.

I am from the Mississippi river, the bluffs, the bald eagles, and the turkey vultures.
I am from the Alberta prairie, the endless skies, and the nodding donkeys.

I am from Whole Foods for the Whole Family and an open invitation for anyone to join.
From teacher, from pilot, from homemaker, from doctor, from musician.

I am from the know-it-alls and the win-at-all-costs.
From quit whining and go play outside.

I am from our Father and let your kingdom come.
I am from forgiveness and the whole earth being reconciled.
From the Word, the mystery, and the joy.

I am from "It's an assumed name," from "We only know there was some kind of disgrace."
I am from unflattering history, left behind in the old country.

I am from a cardboard battlefield, made and abandoned,
Endless arguments over practicing and lessons,
Breakfast with the Beatles,
And an imaginary shirt that said "She may not be fast, but she sure is cute."

I am from a homemade aesthetic and years of missing photographs.
I am from a blue book of someone else's memories,
From half finished stories and a dozen tall tales,
From a tree of a hundred branches.
I am from silence, from words, and from music.


Where I’m From (Template):

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

Monday, March 13, 2017


I just finished reading and would like to recommend Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life.

It's not a beach read, but it's not as dry as it could be.  And it's useful book for understanding the brain science of why kids behave (poorly) the way they do.

Ostensibly, it's an advice book, but the actual advice portion is really a fairly small chunk of the total word count. This is mostly because, while we all share certain fundamentals of biology and neurochemistry, every human being is different. A book that offers techniques to calm a child will be right for a given child under some circumstances and wrong for another child, or even wrong for the same child under different circumstances.

Instead of techniques, Self-Reg offers a philosophical framework and the scientific evidence for why this framework is effective in helping a wide variety of kids with a wide variety of behavioral problems.

A short summary of the framework is this: problem behaviors are very often a sign of disregulation, a child being in "fight, flight, or freeze" mode.  More than learning self-control, which is a high order cognitive skill not available during disregulated periods, children need to learn self-regulation, so they spend less time disregulated to begin with.

The book details the functioning of mirror neurons in co-regulation within the parent-child dyad, which is the initial step towards self-regulation.  It also discusses at length up- and down-regulation, or the work of returning to a calm and attentive state from a state of drowsiness or excitement.

Within the theoretical framework, the main advice of the book can be summarized in five jobs for the parent.

When the kid is having a meltdown, shutting down completely, or otherwise acting out of control, it's because they are disregulated. This means they are in a high arousal state without enough reserved energy to bring themselves down to a lower arousal state, and their make-decisions thinking brain has been overridden by their just-stay-alive instinct brain. Your first job is to recognize that being out of control is not the kid's fault.

When the kid is behaving poorly, it disregulates you. This means you go into a high arousal state, and if you've got low energy, your thinking brain also stops working, and you're going to blow up or clam up and make the situation worse. Your second job is to regulate yourself.

How to regulate yourself:
Step one- Notice that you are becoming disregulated.
Step two- Name the things that are stressing you. Review all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.
Step three- Reduce the stressors.
Step four- Calm yourself down with whatever works best.
Step five- Reflect back on patterns so you can prevent disregulation by reducing the things you know deplete your energy, avoiding the things that increase your arousal when your energy is low, and seeking out the things that calm you.

Your third job is to help your child feel calm. Start when your child is not disregulated. Help them notice and practice the sensation of being calm. Your child should recognize “calm” as a state that is attentive, engaged, and relaxed. Seek out the situations, places, movements, and activities that result in your child feeling calm. Pay attention to all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.

Your fourth job is to follow the steps for your child. 
Step one- Notice when your child is becoming disregulated.
Step two- Pay close attention to patterns in disregulation so you can accurately name the things that are stressing the child. Review all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.
Step three- Reduce the stressors.
Step four- Help the child calm themselves down with whatever techniques work best.
Step five- Reflect back on patterns so you can prevent disregulation by reducing the things you know deplete your child's energy, avoiding the things that increase their arousal when their energy is low, and seeking out the things that calm you.

Your fifth job is to teach your child to do all of the steps themselves.

And that's it!  Which is to say, now I've got the framework, so I can spend the next 80 years perfecting my technique.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Meal Plan Wednesday Feb 22

Wednesday- Roasted turnips.  Roasted sweet potatoes.  Baked potato bar.

Thursday- Brown rice.  Broccoli, mushroom, and beef stir fry.

Friday- Salad with spinach, strawberry, red onion, bacon, and homemade vinaigrette.  Salmon croquettes (my kids actually call them salmon cookies, which is a bit weird).

Saturday- Green beans with tomato and dill.  Bread.  Fried eggs.

Sunday- Black bean soup.  Raw red peppers.  Corn tortillas.

Monday- Sauteed Brussels sprouts.  Pasta a la vodka.

Tuesday- Broccoli, spinach, and bacon fritatta.  Cucumber and onion salad.  Maybe bread.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Retroactive Menu Plan

You asked me to give you my week's menu plan, and I agreed to start posting them again.  Then I only planned two days at a time for more than a week, so I never posted anything.  Here, by way of an apology, is the retroactive listing of what we actually ate for dinners.  I'll try and get you a new meal plan for this week on Wednesday after I grocery shop.  

Also, all three of my kids have had the flu, with one day of upset tummy followed by a whole week of fever.  Z got it the Friday before Valentine's Day.  V got it on Valentine's Day itself.  And L got it the Saturday after Valentine's.  So please don't judge my reliance on convenience foods.

Wednesday- Pot roast with all the usual veggies.

Thursday- Beef melts with leftover roast.  Coleslaw.

Friday- Baked potato bar (sour cream, broccoli, cheese, butter, salt, and pepper), baked butternut squash.

Saturday- "Progressive dinner" using all of the library reading program coupons and the free fruit for kids club at our local grocery store (McDonalds fries, Pizza Hut personal pizzas, Sonic ice cream cones, and an apple, banana, or pear).

Sunday- Vegetarian chili and bread.

Monday- Pasta with garlicky broccoli.  Cheater's Eggplant Parmesan (recipe below).

Tuesday- Valentine's Day Picnic at the Chicago Auto Show.  Cheese sandwiches with pickles and mustard, oranges, cucumbers, carrots, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.

Wednesday- Mexican rice.  Fava bean soup, based on this recipe.

Thursday- Vegetarian vegetable noodle soup.  Bread.

Friday- Frozen pizzas.  Chopped salad.

Saturday- Tuna melts, carrot sticks, marshmallows.

Sunday- Ramen with onions, celery, and peas.  Apples.

Cheater's Eggplant Parmesan

Slice eggplant reasonably thin.
Spread each slice with a spoonful of prepared marinara sauce.
Bake 45 minutes at 400 (you want the eggplant cooked to your liking at this stage)
Top each slice with a slice of cheese.
Return to the oven until the cheese is melted (about 5 minutes, or as long as it takes to set the table).

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reading books again

It's funny: in the past six or seven weeks, I've been reading books again.  My sister tells me I've been reading this whole time, because I've talked with her about books for years, but it hasn't been the same.

I remember when The Hubby and I first moved to the suburbs, and we used to walk to the library two or three times a week, because the number of books I could comfortably carry home was smaller than the number of books I would read in seven days.  I had at least two books in progress at all times, because sometimes I wouldn't feel like reading one, so I'd start another.  I used to finish all those books in progress before they were due back at the library, too.

Somewhere between Z getting old enough to not fall asleep in the stroller and L being born, I stopped reading like that, though.  I would have one book going, and when it was done, inertia would pull on me, and I'd sit in front of the computer instead of starting a new one.  I would check out books from the library and renew them until I couldn't anymore, and then I'd just return them.  I still considered myself a reader, and I wanted to want to read, but I didn't want it enough to actually do it.

A week ago, I realized I was reading again.  Reading like I used to: voraciously, three books at a time, because every time I sat down I wanted to pick up a book.  And the feeling it gave me was one of familiarity.  Like, "Hey!  I recognize you!  You're me!"

The next day, a friend of mine called.  She was feeling weighed down by the challenges of parenting, and she told me she didn't feel like she was being the person she wanted to be as a parent.  The more we talked, the more it seemed like her story mirrored mine.  She used to want to do things in a particular way, but right now it's more like she wants to want to.  Actually doing those things isn't bringing her the pleasure or satisfaction it used to, so she's letting them slide, and then inertia is dragging her down.

I'm guessing we're not alone.  Sometimes life is hard, and the workouts that used to energize you feel like slogs.  Or the delicious food you used to love cooking seems like too much hassle and too little reward.  Or you used to make art, make music, write poetry, write prose, volunteer, design, garden, and do things, which now you just don't.

Take heart!  Hard times call for hard pruning.  We cut ourselves down to the essentials, so we don't break and die.  If something is part of your root-deep self, though, it's not gone.  It's hibernating, or dormant: on hiatus for this season.  It's ok to recoup and regroup.  And maybe it won't grow back the same way it grew before, but I am sure that part of you will flourish again, when the climate in your life is a bit more conducive to growing.

Someday I know you will find yourself saying, "Hey!  I recognize you!  You're me!"

Saturday, February 4, 2017


I've noticed a phenomena in feeding children that I'd like to call the "Twix'n'Chips test."  Here's how it works: when considering a food item for a child's snack, the adult compares the food item to a bag of chips or a piece of candy.  The adult then decides that the item is not as bad as either the chips or the candy, and so they allow the item to pass as a healthy snack.

Strangely, the Twix'n'Chips test doesn't usually apply the same way to meals.  Adults have largely decided, it seems, that meals should contain meal items and snacks should contain snack items.  So for snacks, kids eat mixed-berry fruit leather, which has some vitamins in addition to its enormous sugar content and chewy candy consistency, and Veggie Chips, which have carrot flour somewhere on the ingredient list.  Then at meals, parents try to convince kids to eat actual real berries and carrots, and the kids don't.

After a hundred repetitions, the parents can begin to lament that their kids are terrible eaters.

I propose a solution: when assessing if an item is a healthy snack food, adults should apply the exact same rules they apply to deciding if an item is a healthy dinner food.  Not "How does this compare to candy?" but "How does this compare to my signature roasted cauliflower with cheese?"  And if the item doesn't stack up as a healthy dinner food, it's not healthy.

I'm a pretty big fan of Dina Rose, who has both a blog and a book that are good reading on the topic of nutrition and feeding kids.  She breaks down the categories of foods as "really good for you," "not too bad," and "junk."  Generally, American parents tend to feed their kids mostly from the middle category, assuming that really good and not too bad foods can and should be grouped together.  But if we want our kids to eat and enjoy foods that are really good for them, it makes more sense to group not-too-bad and junk together.  So so any given day we are choosing either a piece of chocolate birthday cake or a whole wheat muffin, rather than both with the justification that the muffin's not too bad.

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Alternative Facts"

I am irritated that the phrase "alternative facts" is being used to describe "lies."  The concept of alternative facts actually seems useful to me, if it means factual information contextualized differently, rather than fabrications.

There are lot of circumstances where opposing sides of an argument use the same set of factual information to uphold their position.  Here's an example: Planned Parenthood says that only 3% of their services are abortions.  They also say that they serve 2.5 million patients and perform around 300,000 abortions each year, which means that about 1 in 8 Planned Parenthood patients will receive an abortion.  That means that 12% of Planned Parenthood patients receive abortions.  However, the way Planned Parenthood crunches their numbers is by counting every service, rather than every patient, so while 12% of their patients receive abortions, only 3% of the services provided to their patients are abortions.  So every woman who gets a pap smear, an STI test, and a breast exam counts for three separate services.  And any patient who gets a pregnancy test, an abortion, and a birth control prescription counts for three separate services, as well.

Alternative facts: it is true that abortion comprises only 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood each year.  It is also true that 12% of Planned Parenthood patients receive abortions.  It is also true that Planned Parenthood provided over 300,000 abortions last year.  Heck, it's even true that Planned Parenthood committed over 300,000 abortions last year, if that's how you'd like to style things.

Depending on the point that you want to make, you can use actual facts to support a variety of claims.  There is no call, no call at all, for styling lies as alternative facts.  Period.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Diversity Isn't Enough

An idea that I've been kicking around in my head and in conversations for a while now is the idea of diversity.  Clearly, in a country with as many different people groups as the US, diversity is a good thing.  It's good to have children's books with diverse characters.  It's good to have many kinds of people in positions of power.  It's good for everyone to see people similar to them represented in media.

However, the majority of the Democratic party seems to have decided that diversity is not just a good thing, but rather that it is the good thing.  The highest ideal of the mainstream Left appears to be diversity.

I said in my last post that all people are created in the image of God and deserve respect as image-bearers of God.  Justice, respect, and full participation in personhood for all people is the goal we should be aiming for.  And diversity on its own doesn't accomplish that.  If anyone is making diversity their highest goal, they are falling far short of justice.

Follow my logic: if diversity is the highest goal, a company with a black, female CEO and non-white people as 60% of their labor force is a paragon of virtue, even if they pay low enough wages that full-time front-line workers qualify for food stamps.  If justice is the highest goal, it's clear that company is failing miserably.

I am certainly not saying diversity is irrelevant.  And I would be horrified to have my words used to justify ignoring the topics of inclusion and marginalization.  However, excellent representation of minority business owners at the top of a morally bankrupt system that further enriches the wealthy at the expense of the poor is a meager kind of progress.

We can do better.

And justice for all.

Monday, January 9, 2017


Are you still reading after the title?  Good on you!  In case you were not abundantly clear about this, I'm a white person, so I am not the expert on Being Black In America.  There are, however, lots of really great things on the internet about Being Black In America.  It is beholden on us, the white people, to pay attention to the experience of black people.  It is beholden on us, the Christians, to work for justice for all people, especially those most marginalized.  And in case the link between those sentences is not clear, black people are marginalized.

Whatever our political leanings, we all need to align ourselves in agreement with the Spirit of God and say, "All people are created in the image of God, and all people deserve respect as image-bearers.  All lives matter."  And after we're done saying that, we need to stand up and say explicitly, "Black people are created in the image of God, and black people deserve respect as image-bearers.  Black lives matter."

And, dear hearts, if it's hard for you to say "Black lives matter," take a deep breath and sit with that difficulty.

It is ok to feel uncomfortable.  It is ok to struggle.  It is ok to admit that this racial-justice-thing is unnatural for you, and there are no easy answers, and you don't enjoy thinking about it, and you'd rather just focus on the positive and get on with your day.  I validate your feelings.  You are entitled to all of your feelings.

But it is not ok for white people to sweep the issue of racial injustice aside and gloss over it because we feel bad.  Black lives matter to God.  Black lives need to matter to people who are following God.

Are you ready to get to work?

On seeing the racist world that influences us.
A test of your implicit bias for and against people who look similar and dissimilar to you.
How about looking up your local branch of Showing Up for Racial Justice to see what they're doing?