Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Is Ron Paul?

I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to politics. I've always felt that I don't know enough about what really goes on to be particularly vocal about my opinions on the matter.  And I certainly don't know enough to engage in a real discussion with somebody about things like foreign policy or fiscal responsibility.  But, a new presidential race is happening now, and I feel like everything I've learned about all the other stuff I'm interested in (food, education, etc.) has made me feel obligated to learn more about who's running, what the issues are, and to engage in the conversation.
In 2008, I voted for Obama. He is intelligent, respectable, articulate, and he promised to bring change for us. He hasn't. I certainly don't think that he's responsible for the current dismal state of things, but he hasn't done much to shake things up, either. And in the four years since I voted (rather casually, to be honest) for Obama, a lot has happened in my life to change my worldview.  I am now a wife and mother, a small business owner (paying for individual healthcare), and a homeowner.  I have a better understanding of how much of our income is taken by the government and I have seen firsthand (in people around me unjustly receiving welfare benefits) how poorly mismanaged that money is.  And it infuriates me. I also have learned more about how the government's involvement in the food industry and in education have prevented the voice of the public from really affecting change.  And I now know that when our grandparents pass and want to leave us their hard-earned money, the government will claim a large portion of it as its own. WHAT?!?!  My parents always told me that when I got older I would become more conservative. Ha! They were right. But here's something weird:  I thought when I announced to my parents that I was thinking of voting for Ron Paul, that they would be excited that their youngster liberal daughter had finally come over to their side. But they weren't. They told me Ron Paul was a nutter, anti-Israel, and dangerously indifferent to Iran.  Huh?  Well, like I said, foreign policy is not exactly my strong suit. So, when they said this to me, I retreated and became determined to learn more about it and figure out why my die-hard Republican, NRA-member, anti-big government parents were not fans of Ron Paul. I really didn't get it. But as I scoured the internet, watching debates & interviews, trying to get the full scope of things by watching FOX News, CNN, The Daily Show, and a bunch of little guys in between, it became clear. Ron Paul has been intentionally dismissed by mainstream media and by the other candidates. He has been painted as a loon, on the fringe, wacky, and unelectable. The GOP establishment wants us to think that by supporting Ron Paul (and taking all those votes away from Mitt Romney), we are supporting Obama.  They want us to think that he doesn't stand a chance and that we're really better off to just go ahead and ignore him and vote for Romney instead. Plus, they are deliberately confusing people about Paul's stance on foreign policy (among other issues).  So, I'm going to sum up what I've learned so far about Ron Paul and what he stands for, in case you're wondering some of the same things I was.  You guys that have been Paul supporters for a long time, please comment and correct me if I get any of this stuff wrong.

1. Foreign Policy  Basically, Ron Paul is non-interventionist. He things we should mind our own business and stop trying to police the world. This means bringing our troops home, and not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from places all over the world. He recognizes that our meddling in other country's affairs actually makes us less safe (because it makes people hate us), rather than more safe, like our past administrations would have us believe. He thinks the threat of Iran has been vastly overestimated, pointing out that their military is terribly unorganized and inefficient, and that they are not a serious threat to our national security.  And he wants to cut funding to Israel (this one causes a lot of gasps).  He agrees that Israel is our friend and ally, but he also recognizes that they don't need or want our money or military presence in their country. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel's Prime Minister) has said so.  Cutting our funds to Israel is simply part of the larger, non-interventionist plan for cutting military spending.  Ron Paul is not out to get Israel.  He's also not interesting in cutting defense spending, meaning he wants to continue to build our military presence at home. He just wants to bring troops home from all other corners of the world, and this would mean huge cuts in spending, which we obviously need.

2. Monetary Policy (End the Fed)  Ron Paul plans to first issue a major audit of the Federal Reserve, and he wants to eventually end it. This is a really big deal and would fundamentally change our economy.  Even though I worked in a bank for a while, I still don't fully grasp how the Fed works. I know how it works in terms of clearing checks and monitoring money supply, but then it starts to get foggy for me. I'm still learning on this one. I know the Fed controls interest rates and inflation and has the sole authority to print money, even when there is nothing to back it. Printing money without anything to back it is like using your credit card when you don't have the money in your checking account. You're spending money that doesn't exist, and it will most certainly bite you in the ass later.  Interest rates are something that I didn't have that much understanding of until I bought a house.  When interest rates are low, it's great if you're getting a mortgage (ours is only 5%, but they were around 18% in the 1980s) but really sucks if you're trying to save money or have been dependent on interest income, because interest rates on things like CDs and savings accounts will also be low. So, in the 1980s when interest rates were high, it cost more in interest to buy a house, but it was easier to save money and retired people could easily live on interest income from the money they had saved. 
Basically, the Fed controls our economy. And, that control rests in the hands of just a few people, and they operate in secrecy and answer to no one. Because they control interest rates and inflation and can print money whenever they feel like it, they control the value of the dollar. Ron Paul suggests that we end the Fed, that its existence in unconstitutional, and that we should return to our Laissez Faire (remember that term from school?), free market society.  He also wants to do away with the IRS and repeal the federal income tax (which only accounts for 1/3 of total federal revenue, anyway, which I did not know). REPEAL THE FEDERAL INCOME TAX!!!!!  How much more of your paycheck would you take home if you weren't paying those taxes? Uh, a lot.  He's also vehemently opposed to overspending and understands that getting our debt under control is incredibly urgent and serious and that it should be our number one priority right now.

3. Civil Liberty Ron Paul talks about the Constitution a whole lot, and seems to be the only candidate out there who actually knows (or cares) what it says.  He believes that the role of government is to protect the liberty of the people. Period. The End.  He wants us to be able to have our guns (yes, Dad, he supports the NRA), he thinks the NDAA is a complete outrage (if you don't know what that is, look it's serious business), he's a big supporter of homeschooling (hooray!), and he thinks people should be able to spend their hard-earned money however they damn well please, thank you very much.

4. Healthcare Dr. Ron Paul is a retired OB-GYN, so he has real first-hand experience with the healthcare industry. During all his years as a doctor, he never once accepted payment from Medicare or Medicaid. People who couldn't afford to pay were taken care of by the church (he worked in a Catholic hospital).  And it wasn't that big of a deal, because healthcare costs were low. Ron Paul believes that government involvement in the healthcare industry, along with big ugly corporatism, is part of what has driven prices so high.  He thinks that the government has no place requiring people to have healthcare and that the market needs to be opened up to allow people more choice in healthcare coverage.

These are the most talked about issues lately.  Ron Paul of course has strong opinions about other things, including education and environmental policy.  On some things, I don't quite agree with him. But he is fundamentally different from any other candidate that we've seen in years. And he has a HUGE following, despite what the mainstream media has said. He is particularly popular among young people, like myself, and even younger college students. This totally baffles people because college students are historically liberal and no one can pinpoint why they love Ron Paul so much. Well, here's what they don't understand: we young people are sick and tired of being lied to and manipulated. We can't get jobs, despite our college education, and when we do get a job, it pays next to nothing and the government takes half.  In these low-paying jobs, we aren't offered employee-paid healthcare and can't afford to pay for individual insurance, but we still don't qualify for Medicaid. We are drowning in student loans and are desperate for a paycheck.  Meanwhile, our politicians are spending money that we don't have and aren't doing anything about our lack of jobs, and instead are playing word games to try and convince us that real changes are happening.  We are not convinced.  We are not stupid and we are not blind.  We see that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the other major players are all a part of the same big political machine. They're all the same: playing with rhetoric, dancing around the issues, blaming each other for the poor state of things.  People see what's happening and are tired of it.  And that is why Ron Paul has so much support, as "fringe-y" as he may seem. He is not part of the machine. He is genuine and honest and has held the same values for thirty years. And he is the only one who has the courage to really get into the nitty gritty of these difficult and complex issues. For Ron Paul, the agenda is not so simple and shortsighted as beating Obama, which is what Mitt Romney focuses on.  The issue is that we have got to change direction, fundamentally change the way we're doing things, and soon, or else our beloved America will really be headed for dark days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Caterpillars, Bugs, & Slugs!

The garden looks like a real garden this year!  Like, with actual food growing!  Very exciting.  However, with all this fantastic growth, I'm entering all new territory in the world of gardening. I have to be out in the garden a lot more often and I'm constantly having to look up and identify bugs and how to deal with them sans chemicals, and having to identify other problems like nutrient deficiencies.  The raised beds that have my friend Duane's magical compost are doing wonderfully, and I fertilize them a bit here and there just to encourage more lush growth. The other pots and beds, which do not have that magical compost have given me some trouble.  Here are some pictures of how the garden is looking now. We have eggplant, jalapenos, sweet red peppers, green bell peppers, tomatoes, and basil growing (and okra and beans, which are kind of behind). So far, only a few cherry tomatoes and basil have been ready to harvest, but the others are growing fast!  I have to go out to the garden daily now to keep an eye on bugs and make sure I'm there to pick the veggies as soon as they're ready.

                  Eggplant                                                    Sweet red peppers

                        Green bell peppers                                 The short ones are okra

Garden troubles:

Nitrogen Deficiency   The beds without magical compost have had a major lack of nitrogen (and probably other nutrients, too).  I suspect that this is because we used store-bought compost which probably came from some god-knows-where giant farm and the manure that was composted is actually sterile because the animals it came from were not well cared for. Anywho, the soil is not so wonderful, so the plant growth was significantly stunted and the leaves were all yellowy.  Also, my bean leaves were developing weird brown spots, which I initially thought was some kind of bacterial or fungal thing, but turned out to just be another sign of too little nitrogen.  I was super discouraged and had sort of lost hope for these guys, but I began a serious fertilizing regimen anyway.  I started dousing them with liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed, the gold standards of organic fertilizers, and they seem to have made a miraculous recovery!  Their leaves are now a lovely dark green and they are showing rapid new growth. The beans are dropping their brown spotted leaves and also have new growth.  Hooray!  It feels really good to have nursed these guys back to health.  I'll keep up with the fertilizing regimen, since I know they need those nutrients and are not getting them from the soil. 

Bugs  This part of gardening sucks.  I've poured so much time and energy into getting healthy, productive plants and now all these bugs think they can just come along and eat my veggies!  How rude!  Plus, in many cases, the best way to deal with them is to pick them off by hand, which I do not love.  But, I have to save my veggies. The bugs in the pictures below are the most obnoxious. They're called leaf-footed bugs, but here in Alabama we call them stink bugs. I HATE THEM. The ones on the left are adult bugs. The red ones on the right are the same type of bug in the nymph stage. They cluster together on the tomatoes, stick in their needle-like mouth thingy, and suck out the juice of the fruit. This sucking damages the fruit and stops it from growing.  These guys are super difficult to control organically, so I've been out there several times a day lately, spraying them with soapy water and flicking them away.  Today, I plan on going out with a cup full of soapy water to capture them (the big ones fly).  I'm super frustrated with these stupid stink bugs and I really hope I can get them under control.

Caterpillars  Caterpillars are kind of cute, but they eat my plants. They love to munch on the leaves and hide out on the under side of leaves, in the shade.  Luckily, they've been relatively easy to deal with. I just pick them off, which isn't so bad, and put them safely on the ground in another part of the yard. I don't like to kill things unnecessarily.  The caterpillars seem to be worse after a big rain, but generally they haven't caused too much of a problem.  And thank goodness I don't have those monster-sized green glob looking caterpillars that are like a scary real-life version of a cartoon bug. Mine are small and friendly looking, but still unwelcome in the garden.

Slugs  I really only had a problem with slugs for a little while. I never actually saw them, but I knew (thanks to the internet) that they were there. They come out at night and munch the leaves (very irregularly, not in holes like caterpillars), and can be easily controlled by placing a cup full of beer in the garden!  I was all ready to put some beer in an old yogurt cup and place it in the garden with the rim at soil level, but I never had to.  I noticed after a big rain that there wasn't any new damage being done to leaves, so I guess they went away....or drowned in our torrential Alabama rain.

Aphids These are tiny little black bugs that generally congregate in large numbers on the underside of leaves, which they like to munch on. I noticed them on my okra plants and immediately went out to spray them with soapy water.  Then we had seven inches of rain in one night. Uh, that's a ton of rain (we also had a minor roof leak that night, so that was lovely).  Haven't seen the aphids since.

I've also had to learn to leave the good bugs alone. Spiders and ladybugs are friendly in the garden.  I never thought I'd be glad to see spiders!  And I've developed a whole new level of appreciation for being able to go out and buy food at the store, and especially at the farmer's market. I can't imagine what it would feel like to know that if it didn't rain or if stink bugs ate all my tomatoes, I might not be able to make ends meet. But that's what it's like for farmers, I suppose. And doing it organically is really hard work (I'm certainly more aware of that now), and requires a whole world of knowledge about everything from soil chemistry to entomology to weather patterns. It also requires careful planning and management. When I get ready to plant a fall/winter garden, I'll have to find out which plants can be planted where tomatoes were, which ones shouldn't be planted in the same place as beans, etc. This kind of planning is important in organic gardening/farming because it's the natural means of discouraging pests and plant sickness.

I think it's important to support our small organic farms whenever we can, and to understand that there is good reason that organic produce, even direct from the farmer, is often more expensive.  Buying from the farmer is best for everybody: best for the farmer (who we need to stick around so that we'll keep having good food), and best for us because we can ask the farmer about his/her practices and feel confident that we are making a healthy food choice.

Maybe next year I can grow enough food to share with friends and family!  If the stink bugs don't eat it all.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why film?

I get asked this question all the time. So, why do you shoot film?  Some people think it's old fashioned and unnecessary, other people think it's oh-so-cool and hip of me, and some people just really want to understand what distinguishes film from digital.  For a long time, I just knew film was better and that digital sucks. But that's not really true. Actually, there are plenty of digital photographers whose work I really envy.  There are some things that film really is better for. But the same is true of digital.  It's really just a choice of medium, like a painter might choose oil over acrylic (and may actually use both, depending on the type of painting being done).  I used to shoot digitally and made the full switch to film a few years ago because:

1. I take better photographs when I don't have that little screen to depend on.  When I'm shooting film, I have to really slow down and concentrate on what I'm doing.  I'm more in tune with my surroundings and with my camera.  I have more confidence in what I'm doing and my photos always turn out better for me.  Even though I still do everything fully manually with a digital camera in my hands, somehow I just can't resist looking at that screen and depending on it to tell me I'm doing a good job.  It interferes with my workflow, instead of making it easier.

2.  I don't like working in Photoshop.  I know some photographers who really enjoy the post-production/editing part of photography, often more than they enjoy actually taking photos.  I'm exactly the opposite.  Shooting is the best part of the process for me.  I do of course spend some time fine tuning my images with a bit of color correcting and such.  But, the time I spend in Photoshop is minimal, and that's how I like it.  Film images come out of the camera (or back from the lab) pretty much ready to go.  Digital images require quite a bit more work (work that I don't enjoy).  Here's an example:

These images were taken at the same time and are untouched. The one on the left is digital. The one on the right is 35mm film.  The one on the right still needs a bit of tweaking. But the one on the left is flat and dull. It needs quite a bit more TLC to look really polished.  Lots of photographers are really good at this TLC process and this is the part they enjoy. I'm no good at it and I don't think it's fun. =)

3. Medium format film gets an incredible amount of detail while still looking soft.  The medium format images that are sharply in focus capture so much fine detail because the film itself is larger. But, it's not a harsh, yucky detail that will highlight every single pore or imperfection on someone's face, so that's nice.

4. Film is very forgiving. For one thing, it renders skin tones much more accurately (particularly in fair-skinned people like myself).  You can kind of see in the images above how the bride's skin has a weird red/blue thing going on in the digital photo and in the film image she has a nice warm glow to her (though a bit too yellowy for a final product).  I have a really hard time correcting skin tones with digital images, and it drives me nuts.  Also, film allows a wider margin of error in exposure. Sometimes I'll think a photo was so overexposed it's going to come back from the lab completely beyond saving, and it actually will still look great!  Whites blow out much more easily with digital (but, if you have that screen, you can correct it, obviously).

And that's pretty much it. I like film. I like the way it looks. I like the way I feel when I'm shooting with it. The end. It's not inherently better than digital, and digital certainly has its winning qualities (convenience? cost? hello.).  One thing about the arrival of fancy digital cameras is that because they're so easy to use, anybody with a small bit of cash can buy one and decide that they're a professional photographer. This saturates the market with people who don't really know what they're doing and that undermines the craft, which sucks. But a digital photographer who knows what she's doing is certainly just as legitimate a photographer as a film lady who knows what she's doing.  Anyone who says otherwise is just being snotty. =)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

French Mommies

I just finished reading Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I found it really interesting and tore through it in just a couple of days. I like that it's written sort of like a memoir, so it doesn't have that preachy tone that a lot of parenting books have. It's not really a parenting book, anyway. It's more like an observation of the French way of parenting. She brings to light a lot of things about French culture that I never knew. For instance, they have a very high quality child care system that is subsidized by the government. This obviously plays a huge role in women's decision of whether or not to go back to work after having a baby. Knowing that child care is of superb quality (all the caregivers are carefully selected and highly trained) and doesn't cost money, means that staying at home with a child beyond the first year is nearly unheard of in France. Also, it's apparently very uncommon for French women to breastfeed. I find this very strange. And there's a very famous French parenting "expert" who believed that babies, from birth, can understand language, that they know what you're saying to them. That, in my opinion, is ridiculous (though I do believe babies pick up on and understand our tone of voice and our general state of mind or disposition). But the most interesting parts of the book are in the deeper, more fundamental differences between French and American parenting. Here are some things I took away from the book.

1. We American parents are overwhelmed by two things: guilt and fear. We feel guilty if our children experience any frustration or disappointment and go to great lengths to make sure that they don't. We feel guilty for saying no to our children. We feel guilty if we read a magazine while they play in the sandbox instead of getting in the sandbox with them. We feel guilty if we decide not to breastfeed. We feel guilty for going back to work. We feel guilty for staying at home and not working. We feel guilty if our child has few toys and less elaborate birthday parties than the other children. You get the picture. Also, we're consumed by fear (this is an issue throughout our culture, not just in parenthood). We're afraid of germs, of putting our babies to sleep on their tummies, of causing allergies or autism, of letting our toddlers go down the slide alone, of not getting them involved enough in extracurriculars, of their not getting into the right and preschool and then not learning fractions soon enough and not getting into a good college and ultimately ending up poor and lonely because of it. Fear consumes us and makes us totally nutso.

2. We Americans seem to have a really hard time doing things simply because it's enjoyable to do them. This is something she briefly mentions in the book, but I've come across this in other places as well. We eat for our health, not just because eating is enjoyable. Same with exercise. We push our kids to learn to read so that they can compete and excel in college, not because reading is enjoyable. This carries over into our parenting in ways that have negative effects, not just on children, but on family life in general. Parents have a hard time justifying enjoyment for themselves and also tend to think everything their child is doing must serve a purpose. Listening to classical music is good for baby's IQ. Stacking toys help develop motor skills. Puzzles are great for cognitive thinking and problem solving. Art and music help children excel in math and science. Why can't we just relax and let them paint or listen to music because it's enjoyable to do those things? The author also notes that French couples find the American idea of "date night" for parents very strange. They think this implies that romance is something separate from daily life and needs to be scheduled as such. They also think this implies that American parents have no time for each other unless they schedule such an evening. This, in the French way of thinking, is a very unbalanced way to live.

3. We have little faith in the abilities of children. I think I did a post on this once before. French parents apparently really stress autonomy in children from a very young age. They see it as a critical part of their development and also recognize that their children's independence has a huge impact on daily family life and on marriage. If you constantly have to do everything for your children (including entertaining them), the children are the center of family life, which is exhausting for both you and them. I think, though, that many parents really believe that they have to do everything for their children, that four year olds are not capable of dressing themselves or using scissors. This is a problem. It frustrates the child and wears out the parents. The author of the book tells a story of her five year old daughter preparing breakfast for the family because her mother was sick in bed. The author (who is American) is stunned by her daughter's abilities and notes that had she raised her children in America she may never have discovered that she was so capable at such a young age. I think our fear plays into this, too. I think our fear that the five year old might burn herself or cut herself has in time convinced us that she inevitably will burn or cut herself.

4. French parents create strict boundaries and then leave their kids alone. This is one of the major points of the book. French parents have very clear rules about certain things but also allow their children a lot of freedom. They also stress the importance of teaching kids to entertain themselves and to deal with frustration and disappointment. Many American parents view playpens as too confining for a child, but the French think of this as necessary to the child and the parent. With a playpen (or another safe play environment), the child can be left to play alone from a very young age and this also gives parents an opportunity to do other things like prepare dinner, read a book, or have adult conversation with a friend (without guilt). The strict behavioral boundaries work very much like a playpen. The parents sets up certain boundaries, but the child is pretty much free to do whatever she wants within those boundaries. For example, during dinner, it is common for French children to be required to at least try every dish on their plate and to sit at the table throughout the meal, but they are rarely coerced into eating more of something they don't want or don't like. So, the boundaries are clear: try everything once and participate in meal time. But they also have the freedom to choose not to eat any more than one bite of peas or anything else on their plate. This freedom and mutual respect supposedly encourages children to decide to eat on their own (I bet it works). Also, in France there is one fixed snack time, generally observed by everyone. French children do not snack all day like American children. If a child goes to the candy store and chooses a treat, she knows that she can't eat it until snack time (around 4pm). But, during snack time, a child can decide to have a big fat piece of chocolate cake if he wants. He has that freedom, because it's the only snack of the day. This kind of structure makes life much easier for parents, I imagine. Everything is so clear and finite, you're not having to constantly evaluate every tiny situation, like trying to remember all the snacks your child has had and wondering if chocolate cake is okay at this point in the day. One other example seemed really great to me: A French mother explained that her children only have juice at breakfast. This way, when a child asks for juice at 2pm, you can simply say, "No, we only have juice at breakfast," instead of trying to explain why you don't want her to have more juice because it's full of sugar and you think she's already had enough juice today. Makes sense, right? Having these simple and clear rules in place and then allowing the kids freedom within those boundaries, seems to make everyone happier and more relaxed.

The general point of the book is that parents are in charge and children should not be the center of everything, but that children should also be allowed freedom and choice and should be respected as separate, rational beings by the parents and other adults. And, stressing that the parent is in charge and the children don't control everything is what's best not just for the parents, but for the children as well. It helps them understand what is expected of them and to learn to deal with their frustration, disappointment, and even boredom. And, the whole family is happier for it. Many American parents feel that their lives are totally and completely upended after having a child and confess to never going out or having adult conversation, feeling exhausted most of the time, and having little or no sex life. No wonder so many young people feel so wary about having children. The French say it doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be like this! Raising children should be enjoyable and fulfilling and being a parent should not completely overwhelm every other aspect of life. We must find the balance. Anyway, it's a good read, even if you're not a parent!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Look at my plants!

All my plants are in the ground now, and I've even planted some bean and okra seeds. This is the hardest part for me. After weeks and weeks of carefully tending to my seedlings, making sure they're little environment was just right, I have to put them out in the ground and hope that they do well on their own. Like little chirrens, all growed up. Obviously, I've done my best to make sure they could do well outside and that the soil they're in has what they need to grow. But, still, they're out there in the big bad world of wind and rain and bugs and squirrels. But, OH MY GOODNESS, they're doing SO WELL! This is the best my garden has ever looked and I am totally beside myself with excitement. I feel like a little kid showing off her accomplishments to mom and dad. I secretly wish Doug would put a photo of the garden on the refrigerator to show he's proud. =) I'm really hopeful that this year will be the year that all my hard work really pays off and I have a big jungle-y garden with lots of fresh food for us to eat. I've gotten a few things out of the garden the past two years, but nothing like what I've hoped for. This is the year, guys. Get ready. And, the best part is I've done it all 100% myself, growing these little plants from seed without any chemicals or yucky stuff. From seed! My apologies for being a big fat brag, but I haven't had such a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment in quite a long time. Maybe ever. Here are some pictures of the garden for you. Look how healthy everything looks! Grow, plants, grow! Make me some veggies!

Here is some okra starting to poke out of the ground!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Garden Update and Compost Stuff

Today, I planted my tomato seedlings in the ground! They're actually pretty far beyond "seedling" stage and I think they were getting as desperate to get into the ground as I was to put them there. We've had a lot of wind and rain lately, so I wanted to make sure they weren't going to topple over. Plus, we went out of town for three days, so I needed to wait until we got back to make the big move. Well, here they are! Hooray! They look pretty happy, I think.

Last year, I learned a lot about tomatoes. Much to my surprise, I learned that tomatoes are not native to climates like we have on the Gulf Coast. They like warm, dry areas and they need cool nights. So, in order to get a good crop of tomatoes down here on coastal Alabama, they need to be planted pretty early in the Spring. They are not, in fact, a middle of July type of veggie for this area. I did not know this. But last year I sent a tomato seedling I had grown with my sister down to her home in South Florida. Her tomato plant did much better than mine. Why? Because, even though South Florida is hot and humid, they have cool nights in the summertime. We do not. When it's 95 degrees here, it's still 95 degrees at 10:00 at night. Also, last summer was particularly hot for us and we got basically no rain. So....this year should be different for my maters. I started early, so the temperatures are not too hot, and they're looking awesome so far.
I've done a lot of things differently this year. I've enriched my soil with some great compost from friends, and have some fish emulsion (which is as gross as it sounds) to fertilize everything with. I ordered my seeds from a different place this year, just to try something new. They're from
Seed Savers Exchange. I'll probably get my seeds from them again next time, I've had such a positive experience. I really like that they give you a bit of history about each variety of seed. I have a variety of beans that were developed right here in Mobile! That's neat, I think. I also used a new seedling tray (called Speedling Tray) that has been fantastic. Each pod is pyramidal rather than squared off, so the roots grow in a downward direction. This keeps the seedlings from becoming root bound (with their roots all swirled around themselves) and also encourages that downward growth when you plant them in the ground. The seedlings I've pulled out of the tray so far have had beautiful, healthy roots nearly 6 inches long, all in a lovely straight ribbon. No tangles or swirliness! The tray looks like this:

Those are seedlings of Jalapeños, sweet red peppers, and basil. The peppers and eggplant ready for bigger pots, but it's still a bit early for them to go in the ground. They like pretty hot weather. So, the garden stuff is going really well this year and I feel really excited and encouraged. I was worried I wouldn't have the time or energy to devote to the garden with Lucy in the picture now, but actually the opposite is true. I find myself more motivated to do it because I only have little slivers of time when I can, which are during her naps. Her naps are only about and hour each (maybe two, if we've had a big day), so I have to sort of be ready to go outside when she goes down for nap, then run out and tend to my plants with the monitor on my hip. I seem to get more done when I know that my window of opportunity is small.
Anywho, on to compost. We started our compost bin and I was really frustrated and discouraged at first because it was so yucky. Every time I went out to dump our kitchen scraps in the bin, I was totally bombarded by fruit flies. Then, we had a terrible time with fire ants invading the bin and had to resort (more than once) to dumping boiling water on the compost pile to kill the ants. Thank goodness for being able to find what to do on the internet, right? The fruit fly problem was an easy fix. I realized I wasn't covering up the kitchen scraps with "browns," like I should have been, so I started adding dead leaves and pine straw each time I added kitchen scraps. This didn't eliminate the flies, but kept them from being in my face when I went out there. And we took care of the ants by finding a new home for the bin, on the ground instead of raised a few inches, and by dumping boiling water on them. So now, we finally have a nice, not-as-gross compost pile. We don't quite have usable compost yet, but the pile continues to shrink, so that's a good sign. Here's our bin, which we made by drilling holes in a $20 heavy-duty trash can with a tight-fitting lid:

We collect our kitchen scraps in a little plastic bin that we keep under the sink. If we don't take it outside often enough, it does get moldy, so how often you need to take it to the bin depends on your tolerance of mold growing under your sink. My tolerance is surprisingly high, if you wanted to know. I can't go to the bin with Lucy because of all the bugs and the fact that I need both hands. I do not like walking to the compost pile in the rain. I'd rather let the mold sit another day. And that's that. Here's our kitchen bin:

So much stuff can go in the compost. We mostly put kitchen scraps (leftover pieces of chopped veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, old bread, etc.) but occasionally we'll add paper towels and such. And between composting and recycling, we have virtually no trash. I think it would probably take a month or longer to fill up our 13-gallon trash can. It's so great! And very rewarding. Hopefully, I will very soon have news of my first little tomatoes sprouting!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hoopla about that video...

There has been SO much talk about this KONY 2012 thingamajig, and I feel (surprisingly) compelled to participate in the conversation. I've enjoyed reading articles and watching videos of all the back-and-forth, and the (sometimes nasty) criticism of the video and the Invisible Children organization and it's all caused me to revisit ideas of my own that have been sort of dormant for a while. I guess it's not very often that I chat about the plight of African children.

I watched the video in its entirety. I shared it on my Facebook page. Then I went to the kitchen to start dinner.

I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to say that I went right back to what I was doing after watching the video, I did not shed a tear, nor did I think, even for a second, about getting one of those kits. I've seen such videos before and I agree with people who criticize them as emotionally manipulative and essentially meaningless. But, I had never heard of Joseph Kony until I watched the video, and the day after watching the video I felt compelled to read more about the situation in Africa. The video at least did that, and that counts for something I think.

Waaay back when I was a student at Auburn and still admittedly a little angry at the world, I remember all the Invisible Children hoopla on campus and I remember feeling very irritated about it. I also remember feeling very irritated about GAP's very loud RED campaign against AIDS in Africa. Remember all that? Whatever happened with those shirts? I was irritated that it had become so hip and trendy to talk about saving children in Africa. I was irritated that I was made to feel guilty for wanting a new pair of $60 jeans when some people had no clean water. And meanwhile, what about the people in our own city or country who need our help? What about American children who have no place safe to go and don't have any food to eat? Who's wearing T-Shirts for them? I remember feeling that part of the reason that people are so eager to jump on the Africa bandwagon is because there is a certain sense of glamour to it, ya know? It makes something like spending every Tuesday at a soup kitchen seem terribly mundane. Also, it's abstract. Most people who buy the shirt or wear the bracelet, or even send money, don't actually get their hands dirty in really making a tangible difference. And that's okay! Money is certainly useful. But, people get their emotional high, which often fizzles out quickly, and then what? Has any difference really been made?

I agree with most of the intelligent, matter-of-fact criticism of the video. Some critics, though, are making equally sensational and sometimes downright mean statements about the video, the guys who made it, and the whole Invisible Children organization. To those crazies, I'd like to say, "You're obnoxious assholes. Cut the guys some slack. They're trying to do something good here." But I think the more interesting discussion lies in these issue of "awareness" as an end in itself and the "white man's burden" or "savior complex." Raising awareness is something we love to do. It makes us feel good. It gives us a reason to have fun events and parties. And we think it's important. But is it, really? I'm not sure that it is. This article from The Atlantic sums it up nicely, I think:

"The problem is that these campaigns mobilize generalized concern -- a demand to do something. That isn't enough to counterbalance the costs of interventions, because Americans' heartlessness or apathy was never the biggest problem. Taking tough action against groups, like the LRA, that are willing to commit mass atrocities will inevitably turn messy. Soldiers will be killed, sometimes horribly. (Think Somalia.) Military advice and training to the local forces attempting to suppress atrocities can have terrible unforeseen consequences...
The t-shirts, posters, and wristbands of awareness campaigns like Invisible Children's do not mention that death and failure often lie along the road to permanent solutions, nor that the simplest "solutions" are often the worst. (In fairness, you try fitting that on a bracelet.) Instead, they shift the goal from complicated and messy efforts at political resolution to something more palatable and less controversial: ever more awareness.
By making it an end in and of itself, awareness stands in for, and maybe even displaces, specific solutions to these very complicated problems. Campaigns that focus on bracelets and social media absorb resources that could go toward more effective advocacy, and take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy...
For all the excitement around awareness as an end in itself, one could be forgiven for forming the impression that there might be a "Stop Atrocity" button blanketed in dust in the basement of the White House, awaiting the moment when the tide of awareness reaches the Oval Office...
Treating awareness as a goal in and of itself risks compassion fatigue -- most people only have so much time and energy to devote to far-away causes -- and ultimately squanders political momentum that could be used to push for effective solutions. Actually stopping atrocities would require sustained effort, as well as significant dedication of time and resources that the U.S. is, at the moment, ill-prepared and unwilling to allocate. It would also require a decision on whether we are willing to risk American lives in places where we have no obvious political or economic interests, and just how much money it is appropriate to spend on humanitarian crises overseas when 3 out of 10 children in our nation's capital live at or below the poverty line. The genuine difficulty of those questions can't be eased by sharing a YouTube video or putting up posters..."

I'm not entirely sure that we should be willing to risk American lives (not to mention go even further into debt) to fix another country's problems. Conflict in Africa is obviously a complicated issue. But, I think it's really important to note that whether or not the U.S. government should get involved is also a complicated issue. Are we the world's moral police? Should we spend our money and risk our soldier's lives to end a war that isn't ours? Isn't that part of the reason so many of us are wondering why we're still in Iraq? It's complicated, messy stuff. And that's really all I have to say about that.

Also, on a lighter note, Awareness is #18 on the list of Stuff White People like. It is, of course, dead on.

And you can find the entire article from The Atlantic here:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brain Dump

Just some things on my mind lately...

I don't believe that people are or should be defined by their work.
It doesn't make sense that people should do the same thing, day in and day out with merely a week or two each year to do something different and not be expected to totally lose their passion and sense of well-being.
I want to educate (yes, homeschool) my own children.
I want to grow my own food.
I want to require less money.
I want Doug to have more free time.
I don't want to have to get in the car to see my friends.
I don't want to live for the weekend. And I don't want Doug to live for the weekend, either.
I want to travel with my children.
I want to create a lifestyle of constant learning for our family. New experiences and new knowledge all the time.
I don't want a meaningless job to dictate whether or not we can see our family at Christmas.
I want to know that if all hell breaks loose and the shit hits the fan, our family will make it through, because we know how to survive without supermarkets and gasoline.
I want to feel like I am in control of my own life and that I can take care of my own family.
I don't want to find myself looking at my grown children and wishing I had taken the risks, made the sacrifices, to have the life we wanted.

Is it too much to ask? Can we do it? Will we do it?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Real things

Today I started making a photo album for Lucy. It's really for us, too. We'll all enjoy looking through them together one day. I know that nowadays people don't really make photo albums anymore. Everything is stored digitally on computers and phones. And so many photos get lost or forgotten about, never looked at. Lots of photos of mine from college that existed digitally have vanished to who knows where since I've bought new computers and moved files around, etc. Of course, physical prints get lost, too. You put them away in boxes, then you move to a new house, and another new house, and god only knows where they are now. But, keeping physical prints is important to me, not because files get lost and forgotten in digital space, but because there's something meaningful about holding and looking at a physical photograph. It's just not the same when you look at it on a screen. Flipping through old photos is a physical and social act that can't be replicated by crowding around a computer, just like playing Words with Friends on your phone is not the same as playing Scrabble around the coffee table. When Lucy grows up, she'll probably be one of very few people her age with an actual photo album. It even has magnetic pages, just like mine from the 1980s. We can slide in a 4x6 or a 4x5 or an mini polaroid or an iPhone print-out all in the same book. I think she'll enjoy looking at it one day. I will, anyway.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Year of Waste Reduction

This year, I'm trying to be more conscious of all the crap that I throw away. There's not really an "away" for things to be thrown, actually, so I need to do my part to reuse or recycle as much as possible. Doug and I have been good about recycling for a long time. Recycling to me is no big deal. And, when you see your big recycle bins fill up over a month or so, you just can't ignore the importance of making sure all that junk doesn't go to a landfill. We also recently started a compost bin for all of our kitchen scraps and such. Coffee grounds, banana peels, the yucky butt part of the onion, even paper towels (unless they're covered in cleaner) get thrown into the compost bin to be turned magically into good food for our garden. Even if you don't have a garden, composting is still an important part of the reduce, reuse, recycle and save-the-earth thing. We also have one more new addition to our waste reduction and that is....CLOTH DIAPERS! So, I'm mostly going to talk about cloth diapers here.

What in the world made you decide to do that, you ask? Well, my older sister (from whom I get the wonderful life advantage of watching and learning before doing) decided to do cloth diapers waaaay back five years ago when her first baby came along. Nobody but hippy fruitcakes in California even thought about using cloth diapers then, but my sister was always more environmentally conscious than the rest of us and she decided to give it a go. I got to help, and was able to see firsthand that it really wasn't so bad. Worth the savings in both money and yucky yucky landfill waste. Now cloth diapers are all the rage (meaning I don't get quite as many raised eyebrows as she did) and I get to use her very same cloth diapers for my newly-arrived munchkin. Talk about reusing and recycling, right? Plus, they were free and that's awesome.

So, what's it really like? I'll be honest and say it's pretty gross. I mean, cloth diapering is not for whimps. And I'm still a big whimp some days. But any amount of cloth diapers used instead of disposables makes a difference. day at a time. I've found that creating a convenient, organized system is what has made it easier for me. There's just no comparing to the convenience of disposables, so you have to make a system that works for you, and this can take some trial and error. After a few tries I think I finally have my system down, and I'll describe it for you shortly. Cloth diapering is hard work. It's messy, smelly, and kind of a pain in the ass. BUT! It is so worth it for three reasons:

1. Money: You will save thousands of dollars over the course of your baby's diaper days by using cloth....even more dollars if you also use cloth wipes.
2. Earth: The amount of waste created by disposable diapers each year is astonishing. It's gross and irresponsible. Plus, new studies show that the chemicals and gels used in disposable diapers contribute greatly to the amount of cancer-causing yuckiness seeping out of landfills and into our soil. Not to mention all the energy, oil, and chemicals used to produce and distribute all those diapers across the country.
3. Baby: Cloth diapers are less likely to cause diaper rash, cause fewer blowouts (I didn't believe this at first, but it's true!), and often help toddlers potty train more easily (because they feel the wetness, I suppose).

Okay, so here's how I do it. First, a photo of my diaper-changing station:

The basket on the top shelf holds all my diaper covers, which are the cute, waterproof outer layer of the cloth diaper. The two brown canvas bins in the tower on the right hold all the diaper liners, which are the cloth part that catches all the poop. The trash can on the left is where all the dirty cloth diapers get tossed. The green bag liner is a wet/dry bag made to repel odors and funk and it can be machine washed with the diapers. I use the cloth insert/waterproof cover combination and the fancy gDiapers. I'll show them both here, but there are all kinds of other cloth diapers out there, including all-in-ones that are pretty close to disposables in terms of convenience. They are, of course, more expensive.

Okay, so I have my old-fashioned 100% cotton cloth diaper and my waterproof cover.

I fold the cloth part in half and insert it into the liner like this (my folding technique will probably change a couple times as Lucy grows):

Then, I fasten it on her! It looks like this:

And, on her, it looks like this (not the same diaper, but similar):

When she needs to be changed, I get a clean diaper ready to go before taking the dirty one off (learned this the hard way). If it's wet, the diaper goes into the pail and the cover goes back into the basket to be reused later. If it's dirty, I clean her up and put the fresh diaper on (setting the dirty one aside), then put her in her crib and turn her mobile on while I go to the diaper sprayer. Usually, with a dirty diaper, I rinse both the diaper and the cover and toss both into the pail. Sometimes, if it's just a tiny poop, I will reuse the cover. The diaper sprayer hooks into the water supply with your toilet, and works like a super high-powered kitchen sink sprayer.

So, I spray the poop off, wring out the diaper (the worst part of the whole process), and then toss it into the pail.

That's it! All done. Except the very last step: WASH HANDS! Please note that cloth diapering involves serious hand-washing. Have fancy hand salve handy (no pun intended!) for dryness that will occur from excessive washing.

gDiapers work similarly, but they have biodegradable, flushable inserts! You can also use cloth inserts with gDiapers, AND you can throw away the flushable ones, which is nice if you're out and about. They don't have as much yucky stuff as regular disposables. Also, gDiapers are cuter and less bulky than the regular cloth diapers...and, of course, more expensive.

First, make sure to have your clean diaper ready to go before taking off the dirty one! You have the cute cloth outer layer with the snap in liner (if one liner gets dirty, you can snap in a clean one and use the same outer cover), and the disposable/flushable insert that looks like a giant maxi pad.

Place (more like shove) the insert into the white snap-in liner, and hoorah! Cute diaper!

The gDiaper is super cute on!

The frustrating thing for me about gDiapers is that you have to take the insert to the toilet every time, not just for poopy ones. But there's no spraying or laundering and everything goes bye-bye down the toilet. First, you tear off the side of the insert (I usually tear both sides) so that the fluffy inside part comes out into the toilet. Then, you use your special swish stick (it hangs on the side of the toilet) to break up all the fluffy part so it will flush down easily. As you flush, drop the outer layer (still in your hand from when you tore the sides) into the toilet and watch it disappear! No more poop. No washing. Gone down the hole, where poop belongs.

And that's my diapering story. I got off to a rocky start and thought I wasn't cut out for it at first, since newborns poop 5-6 times a day and their poop is pretty runny. Ew. But, now that Lucy is bigger and poops less often, it has gotten much easier. I think it will get even easier as she grows and starts having even fewer, more solid poops, which can just be shaken off into the toilet. And, I really do feel a twinge of guilt each time I use a disposable. I've been using them whenever I go out, but I recently bought a small, zippered wet/dry bag for use on the road. Not giving in to the convenience of disposables while I'm out is the next step for me. And, I'm sure that any time I actually travel (overnight, for instance) I will use disposables. I do have to do a lot of laundry, which uses energy and water, but the green bag that lines my pail keeps me from having to do it every single day, and when it gets warmer out, I'm going to try and line dry the diapers once they've been washed. The dryer uses a lot of energy. But, even with the extra water and energy use, cloth diapers are still incontrovertibly the most responsible choice. They're yucky, but important. Next, I'll talk about recycling and composting (in a much shorter post)!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Oh Yeah, mah blog.

I haven't posted anything in over six months. Unacceptable in the world of blogging, I'm pretty sure. But, I had a baby and then before I knew it Christmas was here and now it's a new year. Golly. No time for blogging til now. Lucy arrived on October 12th, three weeks early, and I couldn't have asked for an easier delivery. Of course, I experienced the worst pain of my life, but it didn't last too terribly long and I only had to push for 10-15 minutes and then she was here! Even though I ended up needing an epidural, I'm super grateful that I didn't have to have a c-section. Surgery sucks.

Baby story out of the way, there have been lots of new ideas and plans stirring around in my brain the last six months, so I figure I'll lay them all out for myself in the form of New Year's Resolutions. I don't really do those usually, but whatever. Here goes:

1. Take more pictures.
I've rediscovered my love for photo-taking in the past year or so, since I've been shooting more without my lovely hovering husband. Sorry, Doug. I love you, but I become paralyzed behind the camera when you're around, mostly because of my own natural tendency to second guess myself. Now that my confidence is coming back, I need to get out with the camera more.

2. Create a cohesive body of work outside weddings and such.
Ideas for this have been wiggling around in my brain for about a year and a half. I'm getting really close to nailing down specifics for my project. It might seem ridiculous to spend so much time planning and thinking, but it's how I work. I like to know exactly what I'm aiming for, or I'll lose my steam. Of course, I need to be shooting all the time, but I like to have a clear and specific project going, also.

3. Eat better.
Finding fresh, seasonal, local food here is kind of a chore. It can be done, though, and I need to be better about it. In a few months, Lucy will start eating real food (!!) and I want to make sure it's the safest, yummiest, freshest food I can find for her. Also, I need to eat more veggies. So does everyone, I imagine. Maybe one day we'll live in a city where access to such food is easier.

4. Start a mom blog with my sister.
Blogs can make monies, and we want to capitalize on this. My big sis has two little people of her own, and we're thinking of starting a mommy blog for the middle-of-the-road granola types. Mindful living and parenting ideas from moms who don't raise chickens or ban Chik-fil-a. Moderation, people. Also, Sarah's planning on unschooling, and (unofficially), so am I. So the blog will talk about life without school and all that jazz, too. If you decide to look up what unschooling is, don't be alarmed by all the crazies. Call me and we'll talk about it.

5. Travel some place new.
This year, we'll have friends in California and Boston and would like to take full of advantage of their presence there. I'm not ashamed to say, "hey, let's visit, because we've never been there and we can have a place to stay and friends to show us around." This is the way to see new places, my friend. Am I right?

6. Plan less. Risk more.
I'm a planner, and I have a tendency to get stuck in future mode. I need to learn to be more conscious of my thinking habits and enjoy my youth more. Doug and I are so young, and we need to be enjoying ourselves more. Easier said than done, but important to note. And moderate risk taking is good for mental health.

7. Figure out how in the hell to live by my sister.
I want to live by my sister and her family. Like, next door neighbors close. I want to be part of her kids' lives, and I want our children to grow up together. Annie will be five in March, and sometimes I panic that we'll wake up and our kids will have grown up already, without each other. I don't want that to happen. This will require some two-footed jumping in at some point, I'm sure.

8. Other stuff.
There are lots of other things on the agenda for this year. Exercise more, meet other stay-at-home moms, build a new and improved website for Studio A, make my own baby food, remodel my kitchen, build something wooden. And we have some big life events this year, too. My best and oldest friend in the world is getting married. Doug's sister is getting married. Lucy will have her first birthday. Time moves faster and faster. All the more reason to chill out and not worry so much about the future. And to make sure you're not doing things that make you miserable just for the sake of having stuff and being prepared for imaginary What If?s. Be conscious of your thinking habits.

There it is. A little summary of the past six months' brain activity. Here's to self-motivation! Cheers, everybody.