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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Feed

Even among those of us who consider ourselves "whole life unschoolers," there are authoritarian hold-outs, typically in those areas parents consider "health and safety" issues. These most often present themselves in the form of: use of technology, food choices, seasonally-appropriate clothing, and hygiene. There might be valid reasons for a parent not to partner with their child in these areas, but to dictate what must or must not be done, but it never hurts to take a look at these and question why we are holding them so tightly and whether or not it's working for our families.

I want specifically to address the food choice topic, as it's come up frequently with Christmas, Valentine's, and Easter tumbling on top of each other.

First, there's this: There's no such thing as "healthy" or "unhealthy" food. Food can't be healthy. It can be nutritious, more or less or not at all nutritious. But not healthy. WE can be healthy or unhealthy, and "healthy" is about more than what food you consume. It's about activity and environment and attitude and so many other things. Some people genuinely take joy from making brownies that contain only dates, cocoa, spinach, and black beans (and insist, "You can't tell the difference as long as they're cold!). That's great for them! For me, I'd rather make fudgy brownies all the way, with a chocolate chip cookie dough crust and homemade marshmallows on top. That is a lifestyle choice that brings me great joy and contributes to my health, even though the food itself might not be incredibly nutritious.

Because of my outrageous sweet tooth, we often have desserts in the house. My kids know about them. I don't restrict what my kids eat. At all. Well, I have a fourteen-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, so the younger one is automatically restricted by his height, his inability to open some (but not all) doors, and other procedural things like that.

But I decided when I knew I was expecting my first that I was not going to hand down the food issues with which I'd struggled most of my life. Nothing was going to be off limits. All food had a noble purpose, even if it was just to look nice in a bakery case.

This bothered my firstborn's dad a bit. He insisted that we shouldn't have tempting items around on a regular basis. He cited some relatives who were nutritionists both by vocation and avocation. Once, when we were with their family, he asked their two older teenaged daughters if they felt that being raised as they were, with access only to nutritious, meticulously-planned food had kept them from falling prey to tempting junk.

They both laughed and looked a little guiltily at each other before explaining in very good humor: "On the one hand, when we'd come back from summer camp and all of the other kids would be begging their parents to take them to McDonald's, we knew better than to try pulling that! But on the other hand, we'd hide candy bars in our bedroom and eat them when our mom was outside mowing the lawn or something. We'd listen in fear that she'd come in and catch us."

Those girls are both adults now, and are extremely healthy, like a wide variety of foods, and take care of themselves. So their parents totally did right by them by introducing them to all of the flavors and options that they did. That's one way to do it. But it's not the only way to ensure that your kids will make wise food choices on their own.

For Easter, my older got a *lot* of candy. I guess because sweets are my love language. At the end of the day, I suggested that she take it to her room to keep the toddler out of it. The following day, she brought it into the kitchen and found a safe place to stow it up and toward the back of the pantry. She said, "I knew that wouldn't work when I put it in my room. I don't know why I did it. I don't want to think about it all of the time."

Is that interesting to anyone else besides me? My daughter knows herself and what she needs. She has listened to her body, and knows enough not to totally trust her own willpower, so put her candy in a common area. Now, we don't care if she goes in there fifteen times a day to get a bite, but apparently just having to parade up to the kitchen in front of us is an external accountability... that she put in place by her own choice.

Like her cousins, my daughter has been exposed to a wide variety of foods and cuisines. Not on the same level as her cousins, of course, especially not when we're talking homemade. But I love that she will frequently ask me, "Do we have anything even vaguely nutritious?" when she's snacky (even as I roll my eyes, because a) of course we do and b) you could totally look yourself), and that she is in tune enough with her body to know when she needs some veggies.

And I love that, rather than hiding "comfort" food from me, my daughter's biggest concern might be that I'd want her to share.

Incidentally, more than one pediatrician has told me that a balanced diet for a child isn't what they eat every 24 hours, but over a two-week period. That gives you some breathing room, doesn't it? Some days, my little boys eats only fruit, and other days, he only manages crackers. But over a two-week period? Yeah, he's getting a bit of everything. He's a little light on protein, so I keep trying new things with that until we hit on something he likes, but I plan to do with him what I did with his sister: Let him eat what (and when) he wants.

It's what works for us.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Random thoughts on diversity and parenting and stuff you don't care about

I've had a bunch of thought/pictures running through my head for a while, and I need to get them out on paper.

LGTB stuff is on my mind a lot, because it's showing up a lot in media, with the Presidential campaign, states and localities voting on "religious freedom" and non-discrimination ordinances, etc..

One thing that I see people say is that God wouldn't make people transgender because he doesn't make mistakes. Well, he doesn't. But I think we can agree he makes (or allows to be made) intersex people (formerly called "hermaphrodites"). Is the only reason it's difficult to allow that someone might be born as one sex externally but really be another because we believe what our eyes see more than anything else? We can see ambiguous genitalia so we understand that that person might have more going on than meets the eye... but if someone just says they know they are something else inside, we say they have a problem and need to get over it?

And then I was considering, too, posting a Facebook status something like this: "I've been thinking a lot about the obese community and their agenda. When I was younger and in school, if someone was fat, they were made fun of and bullied. That's not okay, but it just wasn't something that you wanted to be. Today, if someone is fat and they don't want to do anything about it, they can just say, 'I'm big, this is the way I am supposed to be, and I'm happy.' And the obese community just welcomes them and celebrates them. It's like it's the cool thing to do now. And I don't have a problem with fat people, but the Bible does say that gluttony is a sin, so if I'm trying to teach my kids that it's wrong, I really resent that there's this 'fun' group of people who are all happy and accepting and probably actually recruiting fat people."

Along both of those lines, with a shady statement recently released by some alleged group trying desperately to sound like the American Academy of Pediatrics, even though they're not, I've seen a lot of people talking about how parents (and kids, but mostly parents) just see a "trend" in transgenderism, and that they're rushing out to pump their kids full of hormones because maybe their little girl is a tomboy.

Two issues I have with this.

The first one is that the argument "It's just a thing that people are doing now, so everyone's doing it" is dismissive and insulting, but it could also be applied to something that I have, which is left-handedness. In the not-so-distant past, if your child was left-handed, you "fixed" them by making them do everything right-handed until they were conditioned to be right handed. Thing is, handedness is not confined to the arms. It's a brain thing. And going against what your body is designed to do has mental and emotional implications, as well as physical. So now our culture is progressive enough to realize that there's nothing actually wrong with being left-handed, and people are left to do their own thing. It's not that it's so cool all of a sudden to be left-handed (although I think it's pretty awesome), it's just that people are allowed to be it now, and the world didn't end.

Also, the whole "there wasn't any of this when I was younger" argument might have two answers (and this applies to homosexuality, too, I think): a) It did but people couldn't be open about it because they'd suffer even worse repercussions than they do now. It's just now that society is accepting and accommodating people who are "different." b) There are many genetic changes that happen over time. We as a people are taller than our ancestors. Are we taller just because it's some "cool" trend we're determined to force on other people? No, it's an observable thing. A cursory look into the chemistry of fetal development, chromosomes, hormone exposure, etc. reveals that gender identity develops separately from physical sex characteristics. And in terms of homosexuality, that's a lot more cut-and-dried, with the nicknamed "gay gene." These are observable phenomena.

The second issue is that I think a lot of people believe, especially when dealing with children, that believing a kid is not the gender with whose genitalia they were born is ridiculous for reasons like "I went through three years when I was a girl that I refused to wear a dress, and I loved playing sports. Imagine if my parents had made me identify as a boy! When I turned 16 and realized that boys were cute, I would have been so confused!"

That is NOT the experience of families with transgendered kids.

This isn't like when your daughter says, "I'm going to marry Daddy when I grow up!" and we all giggle and she grows up abandoning that idea because it was an immature understanding of a real love.

This is boys who are 2 or 3 years old literally trying to cut off their own penises, or telling their parents that they hate themselves when they're naked. This is a 10-year-old girl starving herself for two years because it's the only way she can keep breasts from developing.  These kids know what they are, and they're insistent. Parents can try to talk them out of it, but gender dysphoria is a real thing, and it's like someone insisting that I'm a man, even though I'm not. I might be able to dress up like a man and pretend, but that doesn't make me a man. And after a while, I might feel like crap for not being accepted as I am, and I might decide that I didn't want to live anymore. This happens a disproportionate amount to transgendered kids compared with the cisgendered population.

No parent... or, almost no parent (I'm sure there are some sickos out there) has a kid and thinks it'd be a hoot to change them up. No parent brings home their little girl from the hospital (or birthing center or just stays at the home where she was delivered) and dreams of the day that they can start them on hormones to stop puberty until they can get the right counselling to turn them into a male. Most parents are at best confused and somewhat hurt and at worst aggressive in their denial and disgust and fear and misplaced anger when their kid tells them who they really are. They don't talk about how to handle that in most circles. There are resources becoming available, but it's a tough road, regardless.

Somewhat lastly, I've been wondering how strictly-literal-Bible-interpreting churches will handle transgenderism within a marriage. If a person says, "I'm a man, and I've been in denial, but now I'm going to live as a man" but agrees to stay married to his husband, and to continue their marital relations, what then? They're not straying sexually. And if you don't recognize transgenderism as a "thing," you still think they're a woman. So does the husband have any right to say, "I'm sorry. I love you, but I'm not attracted to men, so I'm out"? If you don't allow for emotional abuse/neglect, I don't see how you can allow for this. And obviously, I'm in favor of allowing for emotional abuse/neglect to terminate a marriage, as well as having your spouse so drastically turn the tables. Though I'd still try to love my husband if he became a woman. He said he'd love me, too, but not be in love with me and wouldn't stay married. I wonder if we'd still live together, though, because we love our baby. Anyway, I'm rambling.

Why do I even care about this stuff or think about it so much?

Here's why: Because I think the majority of the church global is getting this wrong. Even if we don't believe that genetics determines homosexuality or even if we don't believe that people are truly transgender, we still get the "they'll know we are Christians by our love" part way wrong. We don't have support for them that doesn't involve "fixing" their "sin." We shun their family members because it makes us feel awkward, or we disapprove of their unconditional love and acceptance of their son or daughter or sister or nephew. We "allow" LGBT folks into our churches, but don't let them serve in leadership positions. We pigeon-hole them into a "sexual deviancy" framework before we ever get to know them. I'd imagine this is the exact taboo that "divorcees" used to have. See? No one even uses that word to define anyone anymore. Now, we just say "single."

Okay, I'm going to end this with something Kevin Teets (whom I don't know) wrote, but it sums up why this is important to me and why I think about it so much:

Happy Easter...and please read on...
I got a text last night from my friend Ryan telling me a guy named Evan was looking for me. Ryan is a bartender at a gay bar I frequent often. Evan is a dear friend, but he's straight. Something didn't add up as to why he was there looking for me.
To make a long story short...I went to find my friend Evan. Evan couldn't call me or text me because his phone stopped working the day before and he's waiting for a new phone to arrive on Monday. But he knows Canvas is a place he's likely to find me on the weekends, so that's where he went.
I learned Evan's eighteen-year-old gay cousin killed himself. Evan had just returned from the funeral. And then he went looking for me. I cried with a friend that felt like he could have done more to help his cousin feel loved and feel accepted. His cousin experienced years of bullying from his peers and even felt condemned and unaccepted by the adults in his life, some of whom were family.
I haven't stood in his cousins shoes, nor have any of us. But I do know his story is all too similar to that of other youth and adults that feel marginalized in a society and are living as broken souls battling depression, shame and substance abuse...and his story is all too similar to that of those who felt they had no way out and chose to take their own life.
I also know that this world has a lot of bullies and that when it comes to LGBT discrimination, most of these bullies, no matter if they're kids in a classroom or politicians in a committee room, are using God and religion to justify the rhetoric they use to judge and condemn others.
I love Jesus. But I'm getting fed up with his fan club. Christian or not, none of us can ever do too much to make another person feel loved, valued and appreciated. Kids like Evan's cousin depend on it.
He is risen. He is risen indeed. But he didn't die for any of us to hate or marginalize others or in any way be a dickhead to another human. He died for love.
Happy Easter.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

My Apologies to the Parents I Judged

Oh, you sweet mamma and dah-dah. I was wrong about you. I was so wrong. I might not have said anything to you, but I totally judged you in my heart, and that was a huge mistake. I am sorry. I am so so sorry.

When your toddler was running around the restaurant and I assumed that he behaved that way because you let him, that was some now-laughable hubris. I hope you'll forgive me, understanding that at the time, I had a kid who just naturally sat in a high chair for upwards of an hour with no problem. I didn't understand that some kids just don't. sit. still. Or that no amount of training can "fix" them, that it just takes time and maturity. If I rolled my eyes, I hope you didn't notice or that you just didn't care.

When you mentioned that your child slept with you, and I genuinely thought you were "creating a monster," oh my goodness... I did not get it. The study about genes playing a role in how babies sleep hadn't been conducted yet. My own anecdotal experience was that, sure, babies might not love sleeping on their own in a crib, but after a while, if you just insist, they'll get used to it and be just fine. For this one, I am so humbly sorry and hope you will accept this apology, knowing that I get it now.

When I saw this cover, I was certainly opinionated enough about it. I'm very sorry. I wasn't able to breastfeed my first, so I never thought about nursing for a year, or past a year, or all the way to the age of three or four, and this picture was way too evocative for where I was at the time. I am also sorry that the magazine didn't portray you and your cohorts the way that you thought they would; you seem like very thoughtful women, wanting to normalize breastfeeding. I get it now. I'm there now. And I would resent being judged the way that you were, the way that I judged you.

When your kid was running away from you, throwing a fit, doing that thing you'd asked them not to do six times already, you pleasantly picked them up, you were smiling even, and I thought you were obviously not taking this parenting thing seriously enough. I repent in sackcloth and ashes for this biggie. I had no idea how much determination it took to keep a pleasant demeanor when your kid isn't listening and won't do the safe thing. I didn't realize how much easier it would have been for you to show your frustration, make sure your kid knew, and use that anger to bully your kid into "minding." I never thought that you might have made a deliberate choice at some time in the past to treat your child the way you were treating him, and that it might take huge sacrifices and self-discipline to do that.

If it makes any of you feel any better, I am experiencing all of everything now. So much of what I thought was just good parenting was actually having an easy kid. I realize that now. I guess I'm glad that I realize it? No, I am. Glad. It's humbling, and I needed it. It is making me a better person. It is making me a more sympathetic person. It's making me less judgey. Sorry I ran into you before the change.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This is What the Internet is All About...

Avenue Q's assertion aside, I am confident that this story represents one of the greatest uses of the internet, in terms of global shrinkage and the community of mankind and all of that hippie stuff.

A few weeks ago, I tried my first Cadbury Mini Eggs of the year, and of this new era of American chocolate replacing the genuine Cadbury Dairy Milk. Well, eww. They were subpar and disappointing. They had some white chocolate ones, and those were all right. But neither was anywhere near as good as last year's eggs (I should have stocked up!) and the regular chocolate ones... might as well have been big old M&Ms. Disappointing.

I took to social media to complain about this, because, you know, it's the 21st Century and that's what we do. Actually, for years now, I've told people that if they want something, just to put it out there on Facebook and the things have a way of happening.

To that end, I posted in a group of breastfeeding mamas of kids who are a year + since there seem to be a lot of Brits in the group. From their side, I heard that, sadly, Cadbury has changed the recipe of the mini eggs in Great Britain as well, and that now they blow equally badly.

It's funny: I've posted several things to that group, including videos of Mal feeding and doing various things, but that's the most response I've received to any post so far. More than a hundred people commented. Several offered to get me the eggs if I wanted to compare, and while that was sweet, I didn't feel like paying shipping for something that was that widely panned.

One woman, however, messaged me that she was, at that moment, eating Cadbury Snow Bites, which she described as similar to Mini Eggs, if you suck the powder off of them. She offered to send me some. Obviously, I found some on Amazon, so I told her if she could get them to me for less than $8 a bag, I'd take them!

She messaged me later and said that she got two and shipping was 7 pounds, which is roughly $10, so it saved me $6. Woo hoo!

Well, yesterday I got the package. First of all, shipping was 7.7 pounds, so she was just being nice. Then I realized she'd been *very* nice.

I was so happy to see the goodies; it was totally worth getting stung in the butt by a wasp on the walk down to the mailbox! So, there are two caramel Cadbury "eggs" (in name only; they're truffles). There's a "twisted" creme "egg," which is a truffle that looks like it's been twisted. The Eclair was a lot like a soft Werther's filled with runny caramel. The Fudge was a fudge-filled chocolate, and then the Whip was light chocolate. The Dairy Milk was just that delicious chocolate.

What about the Snow Bites?

They're round, but roughly the same circumference as the thickest part of a Mini Egg.

There is a light dusting of sugar and cornstarch, kind of similar to what's on a marshmallow.

The sugar shell isn't as thick as on the Mini Eggs, but, goodness, see that pretty Dairy Milk chocolate inside? Yayyy!

So, thanks to the internet, a lady on the other side of the world with nothing in common with me other than the fact that we both have toddler nurslings ran out to the store, bought candy, and sent it off in the mail, just because we were connected by a group on Facebook.

This is the internet at its finest!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: Pajama Jeans

No! I haven't given up. Stay with me for a minute, okay?

I've never understood why jeans are considered such awesome casual wear. I get that they're tough, so I can see them as work pants. But, dang, I don't think they're comfortable. I prefer slacks. No-iron slacks, of course.

So... I seriously wish I'd taken some screen shots, but I didn't a couple of months ago when Pajama Jeans showed up on Zulily. Their tagline is "Pajamas you live in, jeans you sleep in."

Well, I didn't plan to sleep in them because I have plenty of PJs, but I was curious as to whether they'd look like jeans and feel comfy, though. So I bought two pair, planning to feel smart if I hated them and kick myself if I loved them.

As it turns out, I love them. They're so thin and comfortable, but they don't look like leggings. As in: You can't see my underpants or my butt crack. They have 5-pocket detailing. But they don't have a zipper or buttons! Sounds weird, right?

The thing is, when they're on, you can't tell (unless you tuck your shirts in, maybe, and I don't).

I got this boot-cut pair of blue "jeans" and a skinny jean in faded black. The blue denim looked less believable as a pair of actual jeans when they were laid out...

Oh, and for the record, these "skinny" cut jeans don't look like leggings, either.

And here are the blue ones. But, once they're on, they look like... jeans.

You might have noticed the pink drawstrings. They keep the pants cinched tightly at the waist, and then the string tucks into the waist so you don't have a "pooch."

In the course of my day, I'm up and down a LOT. I carry, hold, and crawl around after a toddler. I clean house. A lot. I spend time in the floor. There's no binding or bunching. I can do the splits without splitting the pants. I can sit Indian-style without being sorry. Full range of motion. And if I happened to pass out at the end of the day, they are comfortable enough to sleep in.

Hoping that Zulily has them again soon. Until then, I'm going to go stalk the sales on their official site.

A Parental Public Service Announcement

There is a line between having a properly proud parent moment on social media and in coming off like a sanctimonious a-hole. Sadly, this distinction seems to be lost on many people. Therefore, I have prepared a little tutorial.

Perfectly acceptable public kid brags:
1) "Robb's off rappelling again today! I love seeing his passion for this, and watching him work so hard."
2) "Kelsi picked out this cute kitty shirt at Target all by herself. Doesn't she have great taste?!"
3) "Mariana has been practicing piano like crazy lately, and I don't think I'm biased when I say she's getting GREAT!"

Unacceptable public posts:
1) "Robb's rappelling again today. I'm so glad he's climbing a mountain that the Lord Himself carved out of nothing instead of virtually scrabbling up an 8-bit mountain with a bunch of 6-year-olds on, goodness, I don't even know for sure; what's it called? MindCrap? ;)"
2) "Kelsi picked out this cute generic kitty shirt at Target. I'm proud that she selected this one instead of one of the hundred Frozen shirts that are everywhere. She has no idea who those or any characters are, since fifteen years ago we converted our CRT into an aquarium so the only thing she knows about a television is that the box houses fish, all of whom are smarter than we'd be if we'd kept watching TV."
3) "Mariana just transposed Bach's Symphony No 3 from memory! Thank goodness we get to homeschool so she doesn't have to waste 4 hours a day in kindergarten with all of those other glue-sniffing, booger-eating morons at the government compliant citizen factory."

Now, I might have punched those second examples up just a tiny bit, but, seriously, I've seen similarly-themed posts recently.

You might have heard this before, but please allow me to reiterate: It's not a contest. You're not in competition with anyone else. You don't get bonus parenting points if your kid has no pop culture awareness, or if he chooses organic broccoli over cake every single time, or if she can say all of the states in reverse alphabetical order. And you don't lose points if your teenager doesn't know your address, or your son is obsessed with Doc McStuffins, or you were just super grateful that this morning, your daughter remembered both shoes when you left the house, and that the shoes actually match.

All families have their own priorities, morals, and ethics, and we all love our kids and try to raise them the best way that we can. We're not perfect, and neither are they. Sometimes they blow our socks off, and sometimes they're remarkably unremarkable. So, sure, when you have a "win," share it! Let people rejoice with you! But don't throw other people under the bus. Don't assume that your particular brand of parenting means you somehow care more or are seizing the days with any more vigor and life than anyone else.

Especially if your pride is in something hipster - ahem, I mean, outside of the mainstream. Think about it: If you're outside of the mainstream, then by definition, you're probably looking down your nose at and offending the majority of your audience, many of whom are supposedly friends.

So be proud, but not prideful. You and your kids aren’t getting into heaven any earlier than the rest of us because you’re gluten free or media free or sleep in hammocks. Stop saying stupid things that imply others are just doing it wrong. Don't be a d-bag.

The more you know...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Rejoice with those who rejoice

The other day, my mom posted a picture of Mal on her Facebook page. A friend private messaged her and said, "I saw the picture of your grandson. So sad. I will continue to pray for your family, and especially your daughter, that she will see the error of her ways and return to God. It's just not right for those poor bastard children. They don't deserve this."

Okay, that didn't actually happen. And if it did, most of us would think, "Good gravy, person! RUDE!"

This doesn't happen, even though I've been twice divorced, neither time for what the literal-Bible-takers would consider "scriptural reasons." (And the first time, especially... that was just selfishness and my being a total jackass.) So, carrying that out to its logical conclusions, God did not recognize my second marriage, and I can't even imagine what he feels about this third one. So neither of my kids have legitimate parentage according to that, yet no one feels compelled to mention this to my parents when they talk about me or my kiddos.

As a parent, I love it when my kids are happy. I love it when they do well. I love when I can share something funny or neat or celebratory about them. I love it when my friends get on board and are happy for our family. I think all parents love the same things.

Over and over lately, I've heard and read things fellow moms have written as their hearts break, and you know why? Because their child came out as gay (or transgender) and even though the mom might have been caught off-guard at first, she has worked through her own stuff to come back to that place where you just love your kid because he or she is your kid, and their relationship is the better for it.

But then she posts a picture of her FTM son in his prom tuxedo, looking handsome. Or she shares a picture that the photographer took of her lesbian daughter and husband dancing at the daughter's wedding.

Now, Facebook explodes with prom pictures in the spring, and "I can't believe how grown-up she looks!" and "Beautiful! Love that dress!" and "Hope they have fun!" and the mom of the transgender kid sees that. She also sees how her post languishes, with no one really chiming in. She posted a picture because she loves her kid and is proud of him. Her friends are uncomfortable and, not knowing how to respond, don't. Or they are disgusted and tell her. Where is the encouragement? Where is the, "I love you and I love your kid!" that friends are supposed to have for each other?

And wedding pictures? My goodness, people "like" and comment like crazy on our kids' special days. Unless it's a gay wedding. Then people shake their heads. Maybe "hide" the post. Maybe unfriend the person. Maybe even message them and ask how they can support such a sinful thing.

That mom isn't gay. That mom is loving her child unconditionally. And regardless of how anyone feels about homosexuality, why can't people just support their friends and find SOMETHING positive to say, so that those moms who already know their sweet offspring is being judged (something we all know HURTS our hearts) will know that they themselves aren't?

After I left my first husband, I was living with a guy literally old enough to be my dad (he had a son 11 months younger than I was). Did my parents approve of the whole enterprise? Um, no. Did I know this? Heck, yes. When they went to see Bette Midler at the MGM Grand Casino (back when we all lived in Las Vegas), and they knew that I loved her, did they buy a ticket not only for me but for the guy I was dating, and treat us to a nice dinner beforehand? Yes. Yes, they did. Why? Because they loved me and they wanted a relationship with me.

Did anyone call them on the carpet for not shunning me due to my "sinful lifestyle?" I don't believe that they did.

If you have a problem with homosexuality, then you don't have to comment on a friend's picture of their kid, "I wish them a lifetime of joy!" (thought why wouldn't you?). You can say, "She looks beautiful." Or, "Everyone looks so happy."

Why break a woman's heart even as it's already being broken over and over just by watching how people react to and treat her kid? Especially as a church, I think we have to do much better with this.

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Review: Amazon's Review System, and how it disincentivizes my writing further reviews

Amazon and I have a long history. The first review I wrote for them was nearly seventeen years ago. SEVENTEEN, FRIENDS.

I tend to review only when I really love or really hate something, so I've tried more recently to make it a point to review mehh things, like the amber necklace I got for Mal which was what it was but didn't do anything for us.

Over the years, I've written 45 reviews, and some have been voted "helpful." One, especially got some attention and landed me in a book

Because of these helpful votes and my what seems to me paltry review count, I'm in the top 20k reviewers on Amazon. I think I used to be higher, and am considered a "top reviewer."

A great deal of Amazon's credibility and trustability, I believe, comes from their customer reviews. They're given a cursory going-over before they're allowed, but Amazon doesn't weigh in favor of something by not allowing negative reviews. And authors/sellers can't delete reviews. It's brilliant.


A couple of years ago, I started getting requests via email to read a book the author would give me for free in return for my posting an honest review. At first, I tried. I really did.

The first book I read... It was this one. The Story of the Sparklefly

"Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2014 21:42:19 -0400
"Subject: Please Review My Children's Book (portion of proceeds to support Children's Literacy Programs)


"I got your email address from Amazon's top reviewer list as well as preschool websites.  Being a top reviewer myself, I know you get many requests for reviews, so I really appreciate you taking the time to even read this email.  For the past year I have put my heart and soul into a very special children's book about dragonflies.  The first in this series (The Story of the Sparklefly about dragonflies) that will teach of love including self love, love for nature, love for each other and more, is finished. Even if you don't have children, feedback I've gotten from adults has been great, as they love it too.  It seems to bring out the child within and help you to look at things in a new light.  My book is free until Sept 3rd and I wonder if you might help me and give me an honest review. It's a very quick uplifting read.  I can't tell you how much I would appreciate it!  A portion of profits will go to help with children's literacy programs so I hope you'll consider helping me promote the book with the help of your review.

"Thank you!

"Mary Leckie"

I responded to her rather than leaving a review; I thought it would be kinder.


"Thank you for the invitation. However, I don't think you want for me to review your book on Amazon. I downloaded it and read the beginning, then skimmed the rest... and while I appreciate your effort, quite frankly, the book does not work on several levels.

"I've read your responses to several of the reviewers and you seem very defensive about your writing. I understand: when you put time and effort and love into something, it becomes your 'baby' and it is easy only to see and believe the best about it. Unfortunately, when one takes to writing as a profession, one has to learn to be ruthless in changing or cutting what doesn't work, and the beginning of that means being willing to listen to honest feedback and to implement it with a passion for becoming better.

"It is my opinion that what you have published is not a 'story' at all, as it doesn't meet the generally-understood standards of a story, namely some kind of arc that includes conflict, climax, and resolution. Instead, this reads more like a verbal painting. You're creating a world out of words, and that's saying something, but you need to coax an engaging story out of it. I understand that there is positivity and love and belief in magic and all of that, but it isn't enough. It's like being hungry for dinner and only getting the frosting off of a cupcake. I love frosting, but I'm hypoglycemic, and if I don't get something of substance, a little bit of sugar is just going to make me sick.

"One of my biggest problems with the book is that you do not properly punctuate, use consistent tense (or other grammatical structures), or appropriate capital letters. For someone who is wanting to support children's literacy programs, this seems like it would be essential to the mission.

"I urge you to find a professional editor for your book. Not just for the grammar issues, but because a professional editor will be able to pinpoint where you have missed out on opportunities to punch up the plot. The feedback of someone who knows the market will be invaluable.

"I wish you the best of luck, even as I believe you jumped the gun publishing this book. If you can implement some of the feedback you solicited in asking for reviews, that'd be a great start.



After a couple more book requests, I made it a policy never to read those books. They were unanimously awful. But I started getting more and more requests for reviews.

Eventually, they started including product reviews. Some of the free stuff has looked cool, but the couple I've gotten were underwhelming once they were in hand. The cats ignored the playscape someone sent me. I felt bad leaving a "we put catnip in it and they still couldn't be bothered" review, so I didn't. Then I felt bad about getting free stuff when I didn't fulfill my end of the bargain.

It got to the point that I was receiving upwards of thirty (30!!) requests a day for reviews in exchange for free -- or, in some cases, DISCOUNTED (like I'm going to pay you for something I didn't know I wanted just so I can work for you??) -- items and books. Thirty a day. 

There is no way to set up a junk filter using the address, because they're sent from individual people and I don't want to put key words like "sample" or "review" in a junk rule because sometimes vendors I use on purpose ask me to review my order or offer samples, and I want to get those emails!

I Googled several things, like "How can I stop getting review requests on Amazon?" and similar, but all I ended up with were tutorials about how to solicit feedback when you're selling on Amazon. So, yeah, the opposite of what I needed.

Eventually, I went into my profile, hid my email, and put the following note.

That did nothing to stem the flow. I ended up contacting Amazon and explaining my predicament to them. The response was that they understood my need for privacy, would make sure that my email is hidden, etc. And it kind of slowed down for a few weeks, but now it's getting back up to half a dozen or more per day.

So, I'm not writing any more reviews. I'm hoping that soon, I'll drop out of the Top 20,000 and people will leave me alone. But I think there must be an old list out there that sellers can purchase, anyway, because they can't be getting my email from the current website anymore.

Basically, Amazon seems unable to protect their reviewers from harassment, and this is a huge disservice not only to customers, but to their own infrastructure. Maybe some people don't mind dealing with junk mail to that extend every day, but it really really gets on my nerves.

Anyone else had this issue? Anyone else successfully dealt with it? I welcome advice!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Super Tuesday

Our apartments are being upgraded, meaning we're getting new granite countertops in the kitchen, new flooring in all of the "wet" rooms, a new light fixture in the kitchen, new backsplash, and they're trimming out the mirrors in our bathrooms. Because having a mirror with trim is vastly superior to having a trimless mirror?

I think the assumption is that these "non-invasive" upgrades will be done in an empty apartment. They set things to right when they leave, but there are those of us who are home. All day. So I've seriously had anxiety about this since I heard about it a month or so after we moved in. I was grateful to hear that they'll wait to paint until we leave!

We were told that the work would be done between 9 and 6, so by 8:15 yesterday morning, I was ready. I had all of the stuff off of the counters, and James had moved his "liquor store" from under the sink into his office.

Mal and I had been up since 5, so by 9:02, I started to feel like they were late. We were told we'd be first on the list because I mentioned to the property manager that it's taken us more than a year to get on a relative nap schedule.

We spent quite a bit of time on the patio as yesterday was extremely warm. I heard the call of the Mexican Scrub Jay for the first time in a while. Looked around, and there it was, taking in the scenery.

When I realized I was getting stir crazy waiting for the workmen to come start tearing up our kitchen, I looked up polling places and realized we could walk "next door" to vote at a community center.

Mal and I went downstairs, got his tricycle, and headed out. He walked part of the way, then rode up the hill, across the grass, and through the parking area of an office building to get to the community center. We went inside and there were five booths with only one in use and no lines! I realized that I had to have photo ID (why even issue voter registration cards, then, really?) and while I was getting that, Mal decided to run back outside because the fun automatic doors take so long to close (it *is* a senior center, too, so...).

I pulled him in and realized he had a giant half-dried boogey on his cheek, so I ran him toward the bathroom to get a tissue, and on the way out from that, I slammed my elbow into a metal partition and cracked it open. *sigh* But I had my ID, my reasonably clean kid, and now there were four people waiting to check in.

Fortunately, the process didn't take long, but because I was choosing to participate in the Republican primary (as an anti-Drumpf), this guy pulls out a stamp and marks my voter registration card "Republican." DUDE! There's a reason I don't put an affiliation on there! I don't want one! But I changed it when I got home, anyway. Blacked out his dumb red label and wrote "Libertarian."

Oh, while I was getting stuff together to check in, this guy, of whom I did not take a picture, but who resembled this --

-- Except younger and with an afro, walked out of the building yelling "Trump it!" as he exited. He went outside to smoke a cigarette, then went somewhere, and came back to vote carrying... a baguette. This is barely Austin, but that was a sort of Austin mountain folk thing to have happened.

I only voted for Presidential nominee and three Texas propositions. I don't know or care enough about the other positions. So we were finished quickly and headed outside. Mal had fun playing with the bike racks, then hopping around on the stones between the sidewalk and the mailbox.

He got kind of snacky, so we sat on the bench and he ate a bag of dried apples.

He likes them. They're just really crunchy.

After we'd been there about half an hour, eating, jumping, trying not to mess with the "vote here" sign, even though we *really* wanted to, greeting all of the people coming to vote (90% elderly), we decided to head back because the suspense was killing me about the kitchen demo.

As we left, we passed the "no electioneering" border sign and I realized we'd violated voting day rules! We'd loitered within the boundaries for a good half hour, maybe more. Oops. We didn't encourage anyone to vote or not vote in any way, though, so hopefully they'll grant us leniency if it ever comes up.

When we passed the office, Mal wanted to go in. He looked around and I was trying to shoo him out the back door, but he wanted to go where the bottled water has been when we've had tenant events. They didn't have any in the fridge, but they had some snacks out, so we got Cheez-Its and a Cutie, walked down the hill, and found a nice bike rack in the shade. Mal played, I sat on the sidewalk, and eventually he asked me to peel the orange, which he ate.

It was such a gorgeous day, and I love love love that I get to spend so much time with my kids. (Even though one of them is on an opposite sleep schedule from me; at least that one *has* a sleep schedule!) The other day, I told James that it's actually a good sign that sometimes I get bored out of my skull with the mundane tasks of being a stay-home mom. It means that I'm around enough to take it for granted. I never feel like I just haven't had enough time before I have to move on to the next thing. I'm really grateful for that.

We got back around 11, just as the workers were getting here. By the time we got upstairs, they'd already pulled the tile half-backsplash off and were removing the countertops. They were very respectful of our space, so the demo was pretty anticlimactic. No sledgehammers. No loud noises. But it was over in under ten minutes.

The rest of the stuff took until 6 o'clock, but that's with giant gaps as they're renovating three apartments on this end of the building at the same time.

Mal wanted to watch some of it, and we also spent a lot of time outside. We got to see a roadrunner nosing around (do they have noses?) in the back yard. I've never seen one this far back in the complex, so that was a treat.

Did you know that roadrunners have an exposed swath of skin behind their eyes? It's blue-to-red. I didn't know that until I took the pictures and wondered, "What the heck?"

Interesting, right? At one point, the roadrunner called out, and I tried to get it on video but couldn't. He did it a second time, then disappeared into the bushes, and called out a third time. So now I know what a roadrunner sounds like!

Mal took a bath around 2:30 and ended up going to sleep around 3. We spent a lot of time in my room, playing on the bed and just trying to stay out of the way of the kitchen crew. Sadly, when Mal was getting out of the tub, he slipped and hit what I thought was his forehead on the side of the tub.

Yikes! Today it's pinkish purple, but the swelling is gone. Sweet little kid.

He slept for three hours, and I made him get up at 6. Now that he's napping better (yesterday, he slept two hours before he woke up for a nurse and back to sleep; today, he woke up after just a little under an hour but is back to sleep), usually 2.5 - 3 hours per day, he's sleeping less at night. He becomes inconsolable at night, so we're having to put him to bed around 8:30, even though I wouldn't care if he stayed up much later. But, no. Instead, he's waking up around 5. Last night, I ended up just going to sleep with him so I could get my 8 hours (interrupted) as I'd only had 6ish hours of sleep the two nights before that. I need like 10. It's amazing what the body can do when it has no choice.

As much as I was dreading the apartment upgrades, yesterday was actually a great day. It was made even better by the fact that James had a meeting downtown and got to come home about 2.5 hours earlier than usual! We got Dominos because it was on sale and I wasn't able to get into the kitchen in any meaningful way until 6.

So, regardless of the election outcomes, Mal and I had a Super Tuesday. I hope you did, too.