Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Wish for Peace

Mikaela says:
Apologies for the re-posting here, but I was so touched by this sermon of peace that I had to share it here.

One of the messages of Christmas that gets me every year is the longing for peace on earth.

This year, Rev. Christine Robinson shared the story of a Unitarian minister who authored the carol “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” It's not one of my favorite carols, and I'd never paid much attention to the words. It deserves our attention, though. Read on.

Here are the first 2 verses. The rest come after Christine calls for them.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven's all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

"Although this is one of the beloved carols of Christians, you’ll note that this is not a carol about Christ. It is a carol about peace....

Edmund Hamilton Sears, Unitarian minister, was a man who longed for peace. His longing was very personal; that is one of the reasons he could write such a beautiful hymn. He longed for peace inside himself, he longed for peace in his community, and he longed for an end of war. He wanted those things so much because he didn’t have them.

Sears was apparently a high-strung man, verging always on a nervous breakdown, haunted by a sense of inadequacy as a minister. Indeed, he never really carried a full workload as a minister; his wife did most of what we would call the pastoral work—the calling, the meetings, the counseling. Edmund couldn’t handle those things. If he lived today, he would probably be diagnosed as clinically depressed, as having some imbalance of brain chemistry that made it hard for him to concentrate, to rest, and to work. These days, he would have medicine to help him lead a normal life, but he lived before such things. So he had to always husband his strength and tranquility by long walks in the country, by working in his garden, and by writing.

Inner peace came hard to Sears, and yet, out of a rare experience of inner peace, he wrote a beautiful carol that now the world enjoys, and enjoys all the more because it is such a peaceful song to sing in a hectic season.

Sears also longed for peace in his community, and he didn’t have much there, either. The people in his community were embroiled in arguments over two important things: over slavery and over the rights of women. Sears was an abolitionist and spoke out for women’s suffrage. His congregation did not all appreciate his stands.

Now, Sears had his own handicaps and problems to think about, and perhaps another man would have said to himself, “I am just not strong enough to argue with my neighbors about national issues.” But he didn’t. He wrote and spoke and preached his conviction that slavery degraded human beings—slaves and owners alike—and degraded nations that allowed it. Sears longed for peace, but not at any price. He was willing to argue for what he believed, even when it caused conflict in his community. Sears spent his small strength fighting for abolition of slavery, knowing, perhaps, that sweeping the conflict among people under the rug does not bring peace, and that only justice can be the basis of lasting harmony.

Finally, Sears longed for peace in his world, which is to say, for an absence of war. And he didn’t have that either, I’m afraid. The Mexican War was going on. Sears thought it was an immoral war and wrote articles trying to convince others of his convictions. If you read the third verse of “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” you can hear how discouraged he became about peace on earth.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears, Unitarian minister, didn’t see much peace in his time, but the Christmas hymn he wrote about peace was an important force in making peace on Earth one of the messages of Christmas. And probably, more than anything else he wrote in his life, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” has been a force for peace in our world. For, when enough people hope for peace, then peace can come.

This longing for peace was underlined for me while listening to Performance Today yesterday. There's a classical chorale piece written in honor of the true story about the Christmas truce between German and British soldiers during World War I. From their trenches - just meters apart - the soldiers sang Christmas carols to each other.

Silent Night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Oh for a day of peace for all us all: A truce. Can you imagine it? A suspension of disagreement to feel the resonance of our similarities, the haunting familiarity of oneness, the power of our combined intention for peace: May this instinct continue to guide us toward the generosity of spirit that true calm requires.

Un-Merry Christmas Blocks

Mikaela says:
It's been a strange holiday season so far. I've been feeling the most Christmas spirit I've ever conjured up, predominantly because it's my little one's very first Christmas. (See the preview of Christmas morning present extravaganza to the left...)

At the same time, I keep tripping over the most un-Christmasy roadblocks to holiday cheer.

Example #1:
While listening to the classical radio station, which has brought so many bright holiday moments this season, an ad came on that starts with the admonition from a young woman to throw away the cookbook and just make dinner however you're inspired. You can hear the sizzling of what must be meat right about the moment the woman reveals that this is a funeral home ad. So ... cooking meat and dead bodies. Ugh. Methinks this gruesome juxtaposition is not what they intended. Perhaps the tiniest bit Dicksonian, but largely ... a Christmas spirit killer.

Example #2:
The healthcare bill rigmarole. Enough said.

Example #3:
For some reason, my husband and I, not normally horror film afficianados, cannot seem to get in or out of the holiday season without watching horror movies. Last year, we watched What Lies Beneath on Christmas morning as I finished the last of the gift wrapping before heading to my mother's for the day's main events.

This year, with a new HD television combined with Netflix instant watching, we've consumed not one, not two, but three horror movies so far, despite my request that we bar horror from our Christmas festivities this year.
  • Let the Right One In - a dark little holiday charmer about a kid vampire and her little buddy and all the hijinks they get into - killing people, infecting people, beating up bullies
  • House of Voices - a spirited morality tale about war orphans, abuse, murder, and motherhood.
  • Haunted - a Christmas classic about a haunted house and the havoc it wreaks on a weak-minded, youngish spinster.

With the majority of my Christmas gifts purchased; my first year of holiday cookie baking almost complete; our real, live Christmas tree decorated; seasonal dish towels, mugs, and appetizer plates purchased; it's time to reap the Christmas spirit I've endeavored to sew.

If only the universe would stop making that quite so difficult...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Economics & Social Justice

Mikaela says:
You've got to go listen to NPR's Planet Money blog from today, which covers both the contributions of recently-deceased Paul Samuelson and a re-situating of Adam Smith in the dialog about governments' role in advocating for the poor in world markets by Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, in his new book, The Idea of Justice.

Samuelson on PBS Newshour interviewed by Paul Solman:

INTERVIEWER: [Y]our student, Robert Merton ...said, look, innovation always brings with it certain risks. You don't kill innovation as a result.

PAUL SAMUELSON: I'm not speaking in favor of killing innovation. I'm speaking in favor of centrist use of the market, which involves necessarily a considerable degree of regulation. Markets by themselves will get themselves inevitably into inequality and into their own destruction. It will happen again and again.

INTERVIEWER: You're a lifelong Democrat.

PAUL SAMUELSON: I'm an incurable centrist.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel that there was simply an ideological shift towards free-market fundamentalism, some people have called it, that got us inevitably onto this track?

PAUL SAMUELSON: Since 1980, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And that's your explanation for what happened?

PAUL SAMUELSON: Yes. And not only that, the economics profession, the guys I have lunch with and love, have, generally speaking, moved greatly rightward. I'm not sure that all of the fiendish stuff could have been picked up by centrist regulators, but you don't have to be perfect in anything in economic life. If you spent 70 years in economics, you'll understand that.

INTERVIEWER: So things could have been a lot less bad?


Sen on Adam Smith as the advocate of the Invisible Hand:

Sen: That's a complete caricature of Smith. [T]he invisible hand is not one of Adam Smith's theories. He uses the term three times in all of his entire corpus of work, twice as caricature. One is referring to the bloody and invisible hand, from Macbeth if I remember right. The later construction of this "story" that you have been sold from good economists is based on about 16 lines of Wealth of Nations, in which he discusses why people want exchange. For that, you don't need a big theory of morality, because they want each other's commodities.
How can you make these trades survive? Then you need mutual trust and understanding of each other. If you end up in a society with a lot of poor, what do you do? Then you need a concept of justice, you have to have transfer of rich to the poor.

This is from Wealth of Nations: Nearly all intervention in the interest of the rich, is almost invariably counterproductive, whereas all intervention of the state in the interest of the poor is almost always successful and achieves good results.

Smith is one of the heroes of my book - the real Smith not the manufactured Smith put together, totally different from the caricature of Smith.

Interviewer: So you're saying the Wealth of Nations was a tract advocating the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor?


Sen: His criticism is always in the interest of the underdogs of society. ... The thing implied about racism ... In one state, he's very angry with Italy about the white supremacy argument. ... He says there isn't a negro anywhere in the North of Africa, with which he's familiar, who does not have a superior concept of justice which his sordid master is scarcely cable of understanding. He was a totally radical figure.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

m-pyre birthday: recession edition

Mikaela says:
The m's thought it would be fun -- okay, bad word choice -- to write about how the recession has affected us as our birthday reflection this year.

So with my daughter screaming herself to sleep in the next room, heaters blaring in all the rooms, typing with fear of breaking a circuit any minute, I'll share a bit of what this recession has meant to me.

The biggest effect by far has been the impetus to quit my job. That's right, quit my full-time with great benefits job for an uncertain future as a consultant doing all manner of odd, small jobs.

You know the saying, "It's always darkest before dawn?" Here in the balloon fiesta city, we all know it's also the coldest right before dawn. It also translates into screaming baby, actually. The biggest scream is often the last one, right before she drifts away to sleep, oddly and miraculously enough.

And so it was that it took the biggest recession of my lifetime to push me to do the thing I knew I was supposed to do all along, which is ... not get pigeon-holed into a job for the sake of security. I'm a virgo and not a big risk-taker anyway. I don't like being out on a limb, but I also know that my skills will support a number of endeavors, and so I should assemble the odd jobs that make up a life that supports me, challenges me, and makes me happy. Did I mention they also need to be flexible enough to allow time to raise a little girl? Well, there's that, too.

My mom worked from the time I was two. She was a realtor, and her work was never done. She struggled to make ends meet, so there was little she could do to make time for extra commitments with us - organized sports, concerts, etc.? Not so much. But she raised us, and we never went hungry. And her efforts were enough.

Here I am, a generation later, and I can see that I may have chosen a path that allows me to take her to daycare and pick her up every day, but it's also the path that means I'm checking my email all hours of the day, and working late and once even pulling an all-nighter to shoehorn the work I need to get done into the shrinking available time to do it.

This recession has simultaneously given me the biggest freedom since going to school full-time (which most of us remember was not all that "free" to begin with) and the most stress I've ever had about work. I have five jobs at the moment - one of them full-time with flex hours and the rest very sporadic but still time-consuming. I'm lucky to have them all, even if I honestly don't know how I will find the time to complete them all.

In the meantime, Eric's job at UNM is looking increasingly grim, even as he personally struggles more and more to find meaning in his efforts there. He's been "keeping an eye out" for a while now, with no good options revealing themselves. Even with all his good connections and friends in high places, there's no positions to be had. If he can't find work, I really worry about everyone else in the job market. Yikes.

We can pay our bills for one more month on our savings, and then I pray that my consulting gigs start paying. It will be close, but I'm sure it will all be fine.

As the people who have coached me about money in my life say to do, I'm focusing on the abundance in the universe and the feeling of being buoyed by all the gifts and blessings I know to be my life. Life will provide.

In the meantime, I work, listen to NPR, drink coffee, and do yoga -- chanting T.S. Eliot's invocation (quoting an English mystic Julian of Norwich, author of the first book written in English by a woman): "All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well."

Maybe in the next year, I can add blogging to that daily list.

Maybe in the spring...

A little more from my pal T.S. Eliot, excerpting (and updating, where needed) from his fourth Quartet, Little Gidding:

In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers.
[W]hat you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending

... I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder.
[L]ast year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.
I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit

All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
...I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them

The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre— To be redeemed from fire by fire
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded [website]
History is now and [the Internet].

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Buying Good (?) Health (Insurance)

Mikaela says:
So a little tidbit on the radio got me to thinking about how little we're hearing about who's most in the pockets of the health care industry. We hear a lot about this congressperson or that congressperson being for or against the bill and a lot about Republicans want this versus Democrats want that, but how does that map to the money?

Bad news: I haven't found much that directly answers that question.
Good news: There is some info out there.
Good news & bad news: I've barely scratched the surface.

Here's a quick snapshot of what I could scrape together in a fairly short amount of time.


Top Industries Giving to Members of Congress, 2010 Cycle


% Received
(of 50)
IndustryTotal ContributionsDemsRepubsTop Individual Recipient
2Health Professionals $13,611,257 63%37%Harry Reid (D-Nev)
6Insurance $8,405,172 58%42%Charles E Schumer (D-NY)
10Pharm/Health Prod $5,434,796 61%39%Richard Burr (R-NC)
19Hospitals/Nurs Homes $3,872,639 74%26%Charles E Schumer (D-NY)
37Health Services $2,249,688 69%31%Charles E Schumer (D-NY)

Industry No. of Lobbyists
Health Professionals 781
Health Services/HMOs 988
Hospitals/Nursing Homes 1,172
Misc Health 165
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products 1,659

Senate Finance Committee Members Receiving the Most Contributions from Top 25 Healthcare Industry Orgs. 2007-2009

Recipient From Clients From Lobbyists Overall Total
John McCain (R-Ariz.) $427,530 $473,400 $900,930
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) $276,050 $237,722 $513,772
Max Baucus (D-Mont.) $252,750 $200,899 $453,649
Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) $116,750 $108,778 $225,528
Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) $56,950 $130,808 $187,758
Mark Udall (D-Colo.) $76,025 $79,150 $155,175
Mark Warner (D-Va.) $46,650 $84,450 $131,100
Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) $47,200 $83,420 $130,620
Mary Landrieu (D-La.) $35,800 $67,000 $102,800
Patty Murray (D-Wa.) $32,800 $59,500 $92,300
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) $22,500 $55,950 $78,450
Susan Collins (R-Maine) $28,300 $40,916 $69,216

Here's another great article that breaks down individual recipients. It also provides a link to download two awesome pivot tables in Excel here, one for the health insurance companies and one for big pharma:

Happy hunting!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NPR, my beacon of sanity

I can't remember a time I didn't listen to National Public Radio. My fierce fandom is nearly entirely due to my father, who is as hardcore an NPR listener as they come. When my dad is home alone, he'll either have NPR playing on every radio in the house or have it playing on his hand-held radio, which he carries around the house with him. Now that is a fan. The voices - recognizable and reassuring - are instantly calming and grounding to me. The conversation is relevant and piquant, refreshingly free of the mindless chatter or shrieking stereotypes that clutter up television. And if pressed, I must admit that no jingle makes me happier than the chords announcing "Morning Edition." NPR is how I begin my day, how I like to fill my day, and how I like to make the transition from work to me-time. NPR even made it into our wedding vows. Is that more or less fanatical than carrying around a hand-held radio?

It's NPR pledge week this week, as all of you regular listeners are already aware. As much as we always know that NPR only exists with listener (and not government or commercial) support, we also know this: more than ever, NPR rises above the fray of broadcast journalism. So put your money where your ears, head, and heart are. Every dollar counts.

Have you pledged your local NPR station yet?

Pumping Horror 2: Traveling

Mikaela says:
What's worse than trying to pump at the workplace? Trying to pump on a business trip! Not only are you at the mercy of other people's schedules, you also have virtually no control over the spaces you inhabit, which means you're going to end up pumping in public restrooms - asking wary strangers for the nearest family room and praying it has a working power outlet.

If you're on a car trip - you're invariably carpooling with three guys, one of whom is your boss, and the other two you've worked hard to make them believe you weren't going to quit after having a baby as they automatically assume, no matter what you say.

The last car trip I went on with three guys, I had to excuse myself from our presentation practice 15 minutes before we were scheduled to leave on our 2-hour drive so that I could pump, then worry that they were waiting for me, badmouthing me for ducking out, and talking about what I was up to, anyway. We stopped for lunch before our presentation, and I inhaled my food so that I could sprint ahead to the car to pump again. Instead of waiting a reasonable amount of time (read: longer than 5 minutes, people), two of the guys decided to come on back to the car. I had hopped into the passenger seat to be nearer the car power adapter, and the guy who'd ridden up in the seat actually came to the door to give me grief, not really understanding what I was doing! The other just hopped on in the back and proceeded to talk to me like nothing was happening. I've never been so glad that he was a little deaf! Both guys now installed in the backseat, I've got to figure out how to unhook myself and put everything away discreetly - and quickly - before my boss comes back to take the wheel. He comes back just as I'm putting the last of my things away. He looks at me to ask if we're all set and ready to go. Redfaced but relieved, I say yes.

After the interview (2 hours later), I'm praying that someone wants to stop for soda or chips or something so I can hook myself back up again in relative privacy, even if they come back to the car right away. No such luck. I sit in the backseat, calculating the hours in my head to see if I can wait until we get back and still have time to fit one more pump in before it's time to go home and feed my kid directly, as nature intended. But no. I have to do this in the next hour or my daughter's going to go hungry - either tonight or tomorrow when she runs out of food! Now praying that neither of the guys in front clue in or -- god forbid -- turn around, I surreptitiously get out my supplies one at a time - modesty cape first. I'm all set to go but have to ask the guy in front to plug me in. He acts put out, and I just have to hope that he doesn't make a big enough deal out of it that I have to explain why it's important! And then there I am, surrounded by men I work with, as I'm hooked up like a cow at a dairy, hoping against hope that the whirring and buzzing is much less audible and embarrassing than I think. And 15 tortured minutes later, I have to risk further exposure by unhooking and putting it all away once again. As unlikely as it probably is, I don't think those guys even figured it all out. Or at least they had the decency to act clueless!

The last trip, I got to experience the joy of pumping in airports. Thank goodness for family bathrooms. Damn those family bathrooms with broken outlets! In the second bathroom, the outlet worked, but there was an entire outfit in the trash that smelled like unspeakable body fluids, and the only place to put the pump was a sink that I would normally not touch for any reason. I was beyond all this and covering my mouth with my little girl's pajamas, imagining the phermones "letting my milk down" when the janitor started knocking. He'd wait a minute and then knock again. And again. And again. More and more annoyed. I yelled each time for him to wait, but I didn't really want to announce to all the passers-by the real reason why. When I finally emerged, he looked at me accusingly, knowing I was in there shooting up or getting off or worse. I looked him right back and said, "I was trying to pump in there."

Flustered, he said gruffly, "Someone said there was broken glass in there."

"I didn't see any glass," I said, walking quickly away.

Of all the things to be surprised about in being a new mom, it's the little indignities that are the worst. I thought they'd end with pregancy, then with recovery after the birth. But I think they're just going to continue. Next comes the stage where your kids puke in public places, then when they act badly, and finally when they end up needing public assistance or something.


At least the benefits of motherhood more than makes up for the rest!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What it comes down to

Mikaela says:
Oh to be a mom brave enough to order one of these for my new office door!

Today is the first real day in an honest-to-god office, with a lock on the door and blinds on the windows. I can leave the pump out, meaning pumping now takes 15 minutes instead of 20 because of set up and take down time, every time, every 2 hours.

You have no idea how annoying that is, not to mention the stress of fearing a work mate, or god forbid boss, will ignore the Do Not Disturb sign and the locked door and just come on in. You think this is unlikely? Think again. Happened to me. Happened with the big boss.

This was the third office they moved me to (and here I can only whine a little bit, because at least they were trying to provide a private place other than the bathroom to pump), but I'd just been informed I'd have to move again because the big boss was moving floors. It would be a few days, the office manager told me. So I readied myself and gathered my things but still went to pump at my regularly scheduled 10 am "de-canting" as one workmate called it. I'd gotten a bit lax about using the cover-up. I did have a locked office, after all, but thankfully I'd used the modesty cape that time, when I heard a key in the lock. Yep, my boss walks in, sees me, apologizes ... AND THEN CONTINUES TO CHAT WITH ME FOR A GOOD TWO MINUTES before backing out, locking the door behind him. He just wanted to check out his new office; he had no idea he'd be checking out just so much!

Then they moved me to a different floor, saying this room would turn into a conference room in a few weeks, but it was mine until then. There was a bookcase and a chair, so I set myself up in the corner, back to one wall of windows. Oh right, did I mention that this room was floor to ceiling windows on two sides? These windows faced one office to the northwest and one bank of cubicles to the southeast. Fun times! I picked my poison and faced the one office. Now, I thought the windows were reflective and no one could see in. I didn't really think to check that until I walked in one day (about a week or two after using this room at least 3 times a day) there was a window washer outside. I figured before I bared all, I should make sure just how reflective that glass was. To my horror, not only could I see into the bank of cubicles, I could see right into the office I'd been facing all that time, even to the desk where the head of Civil Engineering was sitting and had been sitting. No wonder his face got red every time he and I shared an elevator! I fled to share my embarrassment with my closest work girls. But the crazy thing? I had to go back to that room 2 more times that day, and every day thereafter! I learned to close the blinds, believe me! But as time went on, people started using the room for meetings. I'd run up on a break to pump only to find a room full of people, some of them facing my pump artfully draped with my modesty cape but still plugged suggestively into the wall. So horrifying...

Now you can imagine my relief to be sitting, trying to work on a contract job, in my very own office, where I can close the blinds, lock the door, strap on my boob shields, and pump away, SVU playing on one screen while I page through pictures of my beautiful baby on the other.

Ah, the modern world of a working mom!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Note to Self: Do Your Research

Mikaela says:
Damn. I am a bad voter! I did not look at the sample ballot or read the League's guide, so I was unprepared to vote on the proposed amendments to the City Charter, all of which passed with or without my uneducated vote.

(All the bonds passed, too, including affordable housing - yay! Does this surprise anyone else? I hear all the bonds typically pass, but when I vote, I picture all those pinched Republicans saying, "More money for libraries, community centers? Why I should I pay for those?")

Google leads me to believe no one's blogged about the story behind the charter amendments in depth, either. It's up a planning student's alley (hint, hint, kids), but I feel like there's a story there that I want to know, so maybe I should get off my you-know-what and have a little look-sie.

Here's where the trail is leading...

Phew! That was exhausting. I'm out of shape! Did I miss something? Please, god, let someone have done this already... Links, anyone?

A down and dirty summary (still looking for the dirt behind these... who's for them? who's against? who pays? who benefits?):
  1. Elections - adds a summary of where to find policy on elections in the charter, since it's scattered throughout.
  2. Salaries - creates an independent salary commission to determine Mayoral and Councilor salaries, which then get voted on by the public, to start with the next term after an election. [This was the subject of lots of debate - is this self-serving? an end-run around the voters? Umm... No!]
  3. City Clerk - makes the position coincide w/ the Mayor's term & subject to approval of 2/3 of the Council, which also gets the authority to remove the Clerk w/ the same majority vote.
  4. Petitions - clarifies how amendments can be made to the Charter and allows the City Clerk (with approval from the City Attorney and City Council) to fix clerical errors and delete outlawed sections.
  5. Budget - attaches dates to the current budget process for accountability.
  6. Ethics - changes the authority for election ethics from the City Attorney (criminal charges) to the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices (civil process).
  7. Zoning - adds an article clarifying the legislative role of the Council as the "ultimate planning and zoning authority (including adoption and interpretation of Plans, ordinances, and individual cases) versus the Mayor's role for implementation, enforcement, and administration of plans. [This is a big deal, and we'll see how it shakes out inside the Planning Departments... the Mayor's and the Council's!]
  8. Disputes - establishes a 3-person arbitration committee (1 appointed by the Council, 1 by the Mayor, 1 jointly) to resolve disputes about duties under the Charter. [Also very interesting! How often will this committee get used? All the time? Never?]
  9. Signatures - changes the signatures needed on a petition from a percentage to a number - 3,000 - to become a candidate for Mayor and 500 to become a candidate for City Council (making this equal across districts of different sizes).
  10. Attorney - changes the City Attorney's term to coincide with the Mayor, similar to the change to the City Clerk above, w/ the same approval & removal provisions by the Council.

Well, what do we think? Voters think they look okay...

(Incidentally, what's the knee-jerk response from voters on charter amendments? Is it, "They're fixing something that's broken, which is always a good idea!" Or, "They're *&^%$ing with our constitution, which is always a bad idea!" The approvals across the board seem to indicate the first instinct. Yikes!)

ABQ to Mayor Marty: No to Unprecedented 3 Terms!

Mikaela says:
Well, this may be a disaster, but the people have spoken (at least those who cared enough to go the polls this election), and they've all said, "More Marty? Not again!"

They couldn't quite go all the way to the left to vote for Romero, so it appears many people chose the box marked "Other," or in this case, Berry, sadly a Republican, yes, it's true. But I have to say, having heard all the candidates on KUNM's calling show on subsequent weeks, this guy said a lot of things that I was shocked to agree with. For the moment, he seems, well ... reasonable. And that's a breath of fresh air compared to Mayor Marty's childish and petulant grudge-keeping dictatorship.

Eric says the worst that can happen is he'll cut all the social programs, so when we elect a Democratic in the next mayoral election, then it will seem like Christmas again, or maybe a chance to re-assess our values and put money where our hearts are. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.

This was a tough call. I knew I couldn't vote for bubble butt (there's a reason you never see him filmed or photographed from the back, don't you know!), but Richard Romero agonized me with his picking on the Council Service Planning Department, which I think is a really good idea when the Planning Department is inextricably linked to the Mayor's office, no matter who's in it. I think it's an important check-and-balance for our local government. And he also denigrated hiring outside architects and planners (something Maggie and I have both talked about) for city projects, and okay, he has a point, but what's his solution? The city does NOT have the capacity in its planning program, and won't if it doesn't offer competitive wages, which it can't in a budget crisis and hasn't, anyway.

So Berry's advantage? He's not the other guys, and he seems, to quote the Hitchhiker's Guide, "Mostly Harmless." We'll see if that bears out. It's fitting that it's balloon week. Just picture us all holding our breath while a new pilot gears up to blow hot air at us!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Marjorie on

Did you see Marjorie over on

Marjorie: Dems should use health care reform

Go read!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

Like so many Americans, I woke up completely heartbroken this morning to the news that Senator Ted Kennedy, standard-bearer for liberalism, Lion of the Senate, had passed away.

It's overwhelming to take in all that Kennedy did to fight for justice over nearly fifty years of service, all the ways in which he championed the cause of those without desks in the Senate chambers, all that legislation - an entire generation's worth of legislation - that bore his mark in some way.

More often than not, Kennedy served as a barometer for that single, highest measure of importance: are we treating others the way that we'd like to be treated? Are those who are ignored and forgotten helped by what we are doing? Are those who have been wronged a little more righted by our efforts? Is it enough? What more can we do?

Over the years, here on m-pyre and in a hundred conversations, Marjorie and Mikaela have lovingly teased me that my heroes tend to be dead white men. This is true to an extent, the reason being that our structure of government lies at the center of my own experience. (And that structure, as we know, has historically enabled one demographic more than others.) I've always felt strongly that there is a time and a place to work within that system, as flawed as it may be. Like it or not, it is the arena that translates activism into policy. If ground-up, community-based action is the heart of any movement (and I believe it is), we need instruments of change inside the power structure to harness that passion and translate it into law. Progress is easier when there are allies on the inside. And there was no stronger ally, or more knowledgeable figure about the legislative process, than Senator Kennedy.

I began here by pondering the overwhelming scope of Kennedy's legacy. So, too, is the thought of a future without him. I look around and don't see that new standard-bearer in wait. Paul Wellstone was taken away from us too soon. Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State. Barack Obama became President. Whereas Kennedy's failed bid for the presidency freed him to dedicate himself to the Senate, I fear that "ambition or bust" is more common today. We cannot all become a Lion of the Senate, after all. Nor should we. There can only be one.

I'm remembering this morning that voice looming over debates on the Senate floor. I'm thinking about my own lifetime of being invested in politics, as defined in large part by Senator Kennedy. I'm remembering working in politics in Massachusetts, and seeing the senior senator here, there, everywhere, his hands in everything that mattered. And since I'm traveling back anyway, I'm thinking too of that childhood concept wherein it's impossible to believe that certain people will ever leave this world, because they are in so many ways the center of it. That girl wishes beyond hope that Senator Kennedy could've lived forever.

From the greatest senator of our lifetime, his most quoted pronouncement:

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Swopistas make me happy

Maggie says...

You guys rock!

Palin Poetry

Mikaela says:
Thanks to Maggie Mae, the Freckled Citizen, for posting this. It was too good not to throw on the old m-pyre.

As a dabbler in poetry myself, I thought I could recognize a good poem when I heard one, but apparently not. Leave it to Conan O'Brien and William Shatner to uncover the poetic heart in Palin's dumbass farewell speech.

Verbatim transcript provided below for you to follow along!

"[S]oaring through nature's finest show. Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun. And then the extremes. In the winter time it's the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty. The cold, though, doesn't it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs? And then in the summertime, such extreme summertime, about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins. It is as throughout all Alaska, that big, wild, good life teeming along the road that is north to the future."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Funny

Mikaela says:
I work at a Native-American owned company, and one of the things I love is the paradigm shift that occurs here, where white is NOT the norm and shouldn't be.

My coworker, who happens to be part Navajo and part Cochiti, sent me this Top 10 List of Things Native people should say or ask white folks. It's funny because it's true!

  1. How much white are you?
  2. I'm part white myself, you know.
  3. I learned all your people's ways in the Boy Scouts.
  4. My great-great-grandmother was a full-blooded white American Princess..
  5. Funny, you don't look white.
  6. Where's your powdered wig and knickers?
  7. Do you live in a covered wagon?
  8. What's the meaning behind the square dance?
  9. What's your feeling about Las Vegas casinos? Do they really help your people, or are they just a short-term fix?
  10. Hey, can I take your picture?

(This also reminds me of a similar list of things people ask when you say you're from New Mexico... Maybe I'll share that next Friday!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Women and our "temperament" problem

Maggie says:
Let's review yesterday's gems from everyone's favorite Southern gentleman, Lindsay Graham, in which he uses phrases such as "nasty," "fiery," "a bit of a bully," "a terror," and asks that very gendered question, "Do you think you have a temperament problem?" As you can see in the following clip, the only temperament I see in effect here is the graceful, calm restraint used to respond to such questioning.

Oh, Lindsay. Let's expand this a bit. Might I remind you of some of the other women in U.S. history with "temperament" problems?

It takes a certain temperament to achieve great things, wouldn't you say, LG?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Harry Time!

Mikaela says:
Oh my. Feels like I can hardly wait the 2 days until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is here! But I hate crowds. I hate crowds of fans even more, so my wait is even longer. Add to that wait the factoring in of a viewing with audience small enough that I can risk taking my 3 month old! We're talking Monday night, now, people! Can I make it?

In preparation, I listened to the audio book again. Love that Jim Dale*! I will admit that I like the audio book more than reading it myself because it actually stretches the experience out longer. It took me about 2 weeks to get through the audio book, listening mostly on my way to work and on walks. Reading the book takes about a night. That would be all night, and now that my baby sleeps through the night? I want to, too!

I'm reading reviews, but you know what? Critics are too critical, and fans are too breathless. All fans care about is how much the film deviates from the book. All the critics care about is how slavishly the movies follow the books at the detriment of making a good movie.

Me? I see the movies as an added bonus to a literary and cultural event that's made me happy for 10 years. I'm even glad they're splitting the final book into two movies, just so the series won't end for that much longer. What on earth will I ever be this excited about again? We've gotten to build excitement and anticipation for 8 movies! That's incredible.

The C.S. Lewis Narnia series might work well as a movie experience, but they need to get their act together a little more. Actually, the first couple Harry Potter's weren't that great, either. The first installment in Narnia -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- was pretty good, mostly because of Tilda Swinton (love her).

But the books? I read them as a kid and was a fan... right up to the moment I heard they were all a big Christian parable. Bleck! Even if you are a Christian, isn't THE BIBLE good enough for you? Why pollute children's books with MESSAGES? Harry Potter's got its share of morality -- the deadly battle between good and evil -- but it's somehow specific to itself and therefore not just a thin veneer for a deeper message. Aslan's a great character, but he's a pretty poor Jesus, if you ask me.

But that's neither here nor there. What matters is that Harry's almost here. And even after I finally see the movie, there will be 2 more installments to come! Woo-hoo!

(After that, do I have to stoop to reading the Twilight series? And yes, I know how that sounds. I was all uppity about Harry Potter, too, until my little brother's fan-dom forced me to read the first one, after which, of course, I was hooked!)

[Trivia via Freakonomics blog: Dale was given only 100 pages of manuscript at a time to read and then record, so he never knew what was coming; in order to keep track of the 146 voices he’d created for all the characters, he often pre-recorded a bit of the characters’ voices and then held a tape recorder up to his ear in the studio to remind himself.]

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ira Goes to Moscow with a Clean Heart

Mikaela says:
A link on This American sends you to Yahoo's Babel Fish (Yay Douglas Adams fans!), which translates literally from Russian into English. The blurb describes Ira's upcoming trip to Moscow to speak about the power of radio. That's not the fabulous thing.

The fabulous thing is this line, which needs to become a poem immediately:

Here is man,
which speaks before you
from the clean heart -
there is nothing better
than this.

Voces 2009

Mikaela says:
Another year, another successful wrap-up to Voces: Writing Institute at the NHCC. This year's challenges? Teaching with a baby on your hip while corralling 26 (!) creative minds to think past cliches in expressing your deepest feelings.

Another change this month was the introduction of a blog by the kids, for the kids, put together with the help of dynamo Kenn Rodriguez, who in addition to being a great poet & performer brought his journalism and technological skills courtesy of Americorp. You can see blog entries, poems, and performances here. Pretty cool window into the creative world of Voces!

My friend Lisa came to the final performance, as she has each of the past 4 (?) years. Listening to 2+ hours of teen poetry can be a bit trying at times, but Lisa seems to see past the occasional groan moment to get charged up with the energy and passion these young folks shower on the crowd.

My daughter didn't last past the first two applause moments. She's not big on whistling, it turns out. Daddy whisked her home, so Momma got to go out for a well-deserved cider after the show! Woo-hoo! There, she caught a glimpse of the famously fabulous Gene Grant, who applauded seeing me "out" late on a Friday evening. Gene was a part of Voces again this year, taking part in a journalism panel with Kenn and a young woman from the Alibi. The kids adored him, of course.

And me? I didn't get much writing done this year. Between caring for an infant, editing 26 kids' poems (up to 4 pieces each turned in each Friday and returned each Monday), and working on another consulting gig report also due at the end of June ... I was pretty tapped out. I did get a good dose of writer's guilt, though. A certain little lady in Texas needs a certain wedding present poem that's been brewing slowly since April. At this point, the poem will probably have the gestation of a real baby, and the labor will probably take about as long as Umea's: a solid five days. Such is the price of life, I guess!

I also got a happy dose of pride in this program. So many of the kids mentioned how much the program has meant to them personally and how influential it's been in their lives, showing them a world where they can be honored for who they are and what they think, not for their stereotypes or their "cool" factor. As one of our success-story kids told me: "It's so sad that not giving a shit is cool." Well these kids learned that caring and succeeding can also be cool and feels a lot better, even though -- and maybe especially because -- it's hard work.

That same student came to Voces three years ago unable to read or write. He just won the state Slam competition this year. He now goes to the schools with Carlos Contreras -- mentor of the Voces program -- and performs his poetry to inspire other students to share their voices, too. For him, the knife edge of his previous life -- slinging and gangs -- is always there, but he tries to remember how much better it feels to be a poet than to be "hard," acting the badass to intimidate others not to fuck with you.

He told me his story over lunch one day. We both had tears in our eyes, and I felt for a moment how high the stakes were for him, how much he clung to the world opened to him through poetry, how much he appreciates the window of opportunity Voces provided him. All I could say was that the work had all come from him. All we did was set the expectations and encourage him that he could do this: speak with power. The rest was all his voice and his bravery and hard work to use it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sophie's (Job) Choice

Mikaela says:
I don't know about you guys, but I find myself thrust into a decision between 1970 and 1990.*

(*I admit I don't truly understand that choice, but I've heard two super-smart friends make that distinction, so if you'd like to quibble - take issue with them!)

  • Do I keep (or try to keep) the security of my full-time job with some health insurance and a 401K, despite the fact that it's not really what I want for myself personally or professionally?

  • Or do I throw caution to the wind and risk a part-time job that could give me just enough income to cover personal expenses and the cost of adding myself to my husband's health insurance? This isn't really what I want to do with my life, either, but it would only be a part-time waste of my life, leaving more time to try to fill in the blanks with gigs, paying and no, that include things I love.
I recognize that I'm lucky to even have this choice. Both have risks, and either one would ultimately be okay (probably).

It's been a fun opportunity to think about what skills I have that I'd like to use more, and what services I could put on a personal business card (no longer an oxymoron):
  • Meeting planning, facilitation, & recording
  • Technical & creative writing
  • Teaching & training
  • Desktop publishing
  • Visioning & planning workshops
  • Project management
(Am I missing anything?)

I'd love to be an ad-hoc consultant for any of these in alternating months, with home as my base from which to work.

Do you think it's possible? Do people pay for these things? Can you get hired just to be a smart, organized person?

Any advice?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mommy Moment

Mikaela says:
A flash of understanding:

  • Drive-throughs are not for lazy people, fat people, or shy people. They're for people with small children. I totally get this now.
Drive-in grocery stores? I'm all over this, suddenly! I find myself avoiding stores with no drive-throughs and seeking out establishments that cater to my less-mobile lifestyle.

Barring drive-ins for every daily need, I'd settle for a car seat with wheels.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Feminists fall in love, too

Maggie says:
Feministing is one of my daily reads. As such, I've come to admire and respect founder Jessica Valenti, now a published author and fixture on the college speaking circuit. Valenti has been engaged for several months now, and has written in several places about the process of being a feminist and planning a wedding, something that seems to many to be an oxymoron. In this piece for the Guardian, Valenti offers an eloquent recap of the process for her thus far, and the response her engagement has elicited from some conservatives ("You've Never Met a Bridezilla Like a Feminist Bridezilla") to fellow feminists who believed Valenti had compromised her values by wanting to be married (she "seem[ed] to find flaws with patriarchy, but fail[ed] to find a way to bring it down"). The value in having this discussion in multiple mediums is enormous, and digging into feminism, romantic partnership, and structural conditions is something that I could do all day long. What these serious discussions come down to is the same bottom line that fluffier wedding-based reads bring up for me: do what makes you and your partner happy. That's it. That's all.

Being a feminist and planning a wedding embodies much more than whether or not you're wearing a white dress (I am) or changing your name (I'm not) or being given away by someone (both my parents, thank you). Being a feminist and planning a wedding is about your relationship and your partnership, and incidentally how you choose to celebrate (raucously and tenderly all at once, for us, and with donations to a same-sex marriage fund in lieu of favors, because we feel extraordinarily lucky that we're able to marry at all). Trevor and I are equal partners through and through, and I think our wedding celebrates that fact. Our campaign logo is fun and memorable, but is quite literal in the statement that it makes. Adams Hanger '09. Separate entities joined on a ticket. Distinct identities embarking on a journey together. (Remember a Council Between Equals?)

I like the kind of wedding that celebrates how stubbornly independent the two of us are, while not diminishing for a second that we're also madly in love with each other. I like the kind of marriage that kind of wedding will kick off. And maybe I do have a set of 12 glasses on my living room floor right now with an etched family monogram that will never be ours, sent by someone who didn't quite get it. These things will happen, and if I get fed up enough I can call my future mother-in-law, who never changed her name, for advice. That small hassle, though? Totally worth it. Because I get to marry the only person who's ever made me excited about the idea of marriage, and because he's every bit as equal-opportunity and well-adjusted and unpossessive and excited to be married as I am. Is he "garnishing his testicles" for "letting" me keep my name, as someone wrote about Valenti's fiance? Hardly. Trust me.

It's funny to me how much we can fuss about the way other people decide to get married. If we're going to fuss about it, let's fuss about those who aren't even allowed the option. That's the real deal. Me? I'm just a feminist co-hosting a big 'ol beach party and shacking up with her favorite guy for the rest of her life.

Congrats, Jessica. And you know what? Congrats, me! (Us, I mean us.)

Happy Friday, everyone.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Oh no, Matt, er..LP, say it isn't so!

marjorie says...

Over the past year, I've watched in admiration as LP over at FBIHop pulled off blogging at the same time he fed his news bits to the NM Independent.

Matt announced on his blog this morning that the gig is up over at FBIHop, that he's shifting to twitter, and continuing at NMI. He's also on Facebook. In his farewell post this morning, he writes:

"...maintaining this blog at the level which it deserves is just not possible for me, nor is it fair for the readers. I do not want to do this, to put it bluntly, half-ass.

I could just blindly cross-post things I write, but it wouldn't work. What I write for NMI does not necessarily relate to what the mission of New Mexico FBIHOP is.

I can relate to this, of course. As many of you may have noticed, my own blogging here at m-pyre has slowed since taking up that gig, because--you know--I do on occasion have to unplug and have a life. Hmmm (scratching head), maybe that means I'm a little "half-assed" over here at m-pyre! But then, part of the central mission of m-pyre has been that this is an outlet, not a job--which, yes, I realize isn't always fair to our dear family members, er, wait..."readers."(Speaking of my two fellow M's --seems a baby M is making her way into the world this very week).

Maybe Matt is just ahead of the curve in this world of electronic opinion sharing.

But I have to admit, I don't quite understand where I'm to go to get his bromides. Matt, can you really put all those in a few twittered words?

I don't know if I should cry or wait, because in my un-technological la la land I simply don't realize twitter and facebook are good enough.

Well, Matt has explained twitter to me, so maybe he'll explain this to me as well. In the meantime, here is his twitter page.

(Hmmm...isn't today April 1??)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Juarez resident says violence is U.S. responsibility (duh)

marjorie says...

In addition to New Mexico’s congressional delegation, a Ciudad Juarez taco vendor is glad to see the U.S. government ramp up security on the border. Here’s what Andres Balderas told a reporter from Reuters:

“This is what we have wanted for so long. People can leave their houses again,” said taco seller Andres Balderas in Ciudad Juarez, the bloodiest flashpoint in Mexico’s drug war. Cartel violence has killed 2,000 people in the city in the past year.

“They should have done it a long time ago, given they are responsible for this drug demand and violence,” Balderas added.

I guess he told us.

It gets better. Not only is U.S. demand for the drugs fueling the conflict, we also sell the drug cartels their guns:

As President Felipe Calderon stakes his presidency on an army-led war on drug cartels, he has urged Washington to crack down on weapons smuggling to Mexico, where nine of every 10 guns recovered from crime scenes and raids are traced to U.S. deals.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guv, say it isn't so! Conference Committees need to be open

marjorie says...

Heath Haussamen tells us that the Governor is actually considering veto'ing the conference committee bill that opens those meetings to the public--even though he previously promised to sign it:

“The governor has concerns about what appear to be major loopholes in the
bill,” Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos wrote tonight in an e-mail. “…The
governor is taking his time to scrutinize the bill.”

not what Richardson said on Thursday when asked by a reporter during a news
conference if he would sign
House Bill 393, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, should it pass the

Richardson said at that news conference. The bill passed
the Senate
that night on a vote of 33-8.
Guv, say it isn't so!

Veto'ing this bill would be a really bad move. New Mexico needs greater transparency in politics, and this bill is a crucial step in that direction.

You can tell the Governor what you think by calling 505-476-2200, or emailing him.

Friday, March 20, 2009

TV for the Social Learners

Mikaela says:
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I cannot WAIT for the new TV series Parks and Recreation - with Amy Poehler as mid-level bureaucrat. Set to premiere April 9.

The pool of potential humor about this pseudo-sister planning department is too good, too rich.

I just hope they can exploit it to its full potential. The teasers on NBC so far have been GREAT fodder for optimism.

And as an aside, I'm slightly interested in the prospect of a new show on Fox by Amy's husband, Will Arnett, with Mitch Hurwitz and Jason Bateman -- all of former Arrested Development glory -- and Pushing Daisies' Kristin Chenoweth, whom I adore. Scarily, it's animated, but ... worked for the Simpsons, I guess.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Our weak government and corporate blackmail

marjorie says...

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the apparent thumbing of its nose by AIG Insurance to the federal government's demand that it not hand out at least a $100 million in executive bonuses:

This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. So to whom should they be accountable? When taxpayers have put up, and essentially own, a large portion of their assets, AIG and other behemoths should be accountable to taxpayers. When our very own Secretary of the Treasury cannot make stick his decision that AIG's bonuses should not be paid, only one conclusion can be drawn: AIG is accountable to no one. Our democracy is seriously broken.

Reich is right, to an extent. He fails to acknowledge that our democracy has always been a highly controlled system, with a government that often acts as an arm of big corporations.

A good example is probably going to happen this very week, when the state legislature agrees to let Sun Cal Corporation pad its bottom line with tax payer money to the tune of about $800 million over the next quarter century.

We've already done that for Mesa del Sol, and you can bet that both companies will be coming back with their hands out again, for more.

Sun Cal says they won't even issue the bonds until they've built the infrastructure and proven they can successfully raise the tax base. So, they're going to operate at a deficit until then? No, this means they don't need the bond money to build their project.

It's corporate blackmail, pure and simple--Sun Cal says they'll simply build sprawling housing tracts otherwise, with big box stores.

And as ever, our very weak government is going to fall for it. To a company that is experiencing mass bankruptcies in other states.

Have they not noticed that there is no market for those sprawling housing tracts?

It's business as usual. But what may be the case is that New Mexico hasn't actually realized yet that--whatever you want to call it--this system we have is indeed broken.

Caution and prudence should be the raison d'etre at the Roundhouse when it comes to corporate tax subsidies. Especially when it comes to diverting huge future tax revenue streams to a massive out of state real estate company that is struggling to salvage major projects throughout the west.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Showering Mikaela (and a bonus rant)

Maggie says:
Confession: I don't really understand "bridal showers."

Since no one I knowlike subscribes to the theory that it's necessary to have a gathering where women can talk appliances and congratulate the bride-to-be on getting a ring out of some hapless shmuck so that in a few months' time, she can proudly proclaim herself "Mrs. John Doe" and not die of humiliation that she's not going to be single at 25, well... no thanks. That's not me at all. Also, it goes without saying, I really dislike wedding-related shower games.

Now, if we interpret the bridal shower to be purely symbolic, as a tradition of women gathering to support one another in the way that only women can, that's another thing entirely. If the goal of a shower is to, literally, shower love and support and wisdom upon a fellow woman, well why not do just that? A shower where women bring their own advice, lessons, blessings, and funny stories based entirely on their experiences... now that sounds like a true community-building kind of celebration. No toilet paper games necessary. Nothing more than the shared experience of people you care about surrounding you.

This brings to me baby showers, for a couple of reasons.

First, I think baby showers are a fantastic idea for all the reasons I dislike traditional bridal showers. Back in the day, it was a lot more necessary to give basic household goods to someone getting married, as she was likely moving straight out of her parents' house into a house with her husband. And back in the day, now-antiquated gender stereotypes were very much the norm. But these days, we've lived alone and accumulated our own things already. Even more, most of us are already living with the person we'll marry. But having a baby is something else entirely. There are things you need that you never even knew existed. There are tips needed for how to use these things you didn't know existed. Babies are expensive, and getting gifts to help ease that expense is fantastic.

Also, the gender disparity of baby showers is less troubling to me. Women give birth, men do not, simple as that. Although women and men (thankfully) parent equally, gender-specific knowledge has real value in the birthing of the child. With a marriage, women and men enter into marriage equally, as partners. The antiquated setup of "Bride, let us congratulate you!" and "Sorry man, guess it's your time to step up" is why a traditional bridal shower isn't modern or helpful. But with a baby, "here's what you need to feed your baby from your own body" is woman-to-woman advice that is priceless. (I've been to co-ed baby showers, by the way, and love them... I'm merely speculating on why women-only baby showers don't bother me like 1950s-era bridal showers do.)

Baby showers are on my brain because I recently returned from one very special shower and am about to attend another. My sister's shower on Saturday will be great fun, will have games (and I'll play them happily just for you, sis!), and will be a fantastic way to spend the afternoon. But I really want to take a moment to describe Mikaela's baby shower a few weeks ago, because it was very easily the best shower I've ever attended. Why? In New Mexico, more than any other place I know, there is an openness of expression that enables folks to translate symbolism into active expressions in a way that is completely real and graceful.

Sitting in a circle, we each brought blessings for Mikaela and her baby, and shared them together. These blessings were read or sung by each of us in turn, all women who are a part of Mikaela's life, and the experience was beautiful. There was so much laughter, more than a few happy tears, and lots of hugging. Mikaela opted to have general baby gifts at another setting, so on this night, we each brought baby shoes instead. Is there anything cuter than baby shoes, after all? The significance of that circle will be represented in her baby's birth, too. At the end of the month when Mikaela goes into labor, we're each going to light a candle that we won't blow out until her little one is born.

What was special about that night was the literal blessings that we brought with us. They weren't represented in the shoes, they were represented by our voices, in our words that we read and then presented to be bound into a book. It only took us each doing that in turn, as part of a group, to turn those individual thoughts into a collective moment and a truly meaningful night. Here we are, surrounding our baby shoes:

And back to bridal showers... they're simply not me. My brain gets fuzzy at the incongruities; that's just who I am. But I love parties honoring the couple together (dinners, cookouts, any excuse for a party) or themed showers, like books (I know, nerd alert) or booze ("stock the bar" etc.).

What's the modern "bride" (still hate that word, I admit it) and mom-to-be to do?