Monday, January 31, 2011

Kids' movies

We watch a lot of kids' movies around here. There are a few I won't let the boys watch, but they've seen quite a few. And with the weather this winter, we've been cooped up more than usual, so those DVDs and our Netflix streaming cue have been well-exercised.

Which has me thinking about the content of movies geared toward kids. Am I the only one who finds that they have an awful lot of violence? And some of the themes, like dead parents, seem to not be a problem. But have so much as a smooch and the rating might have to be PG! What is wrong with this picture? 

Frankly, I would rather have my kids watch a movie with a little sex and nudity than some of the violence that is apparently considered ok for them. They've seen naked bodies; it's no big deal. But watching fights encourages them to act in ways I'd rather they didn't. So why does nearly every classic cartoon have violence, name calling or scary themes? 

Don't believe me? Here's a little refresher.

A selection of Disney classics:
Snow White (the witch tries to kill the heroine); Pinocchio (the whale); Dumbo (Mrs. Jumbo gets locked away); Bambi (do I really need to go into this one?); Cinderella (one of the tamest with just the evil step-mother and step-sisters); Peter Pan (sword fighting with Captain Hook); Sleeping Beauty (one word: Maleficent); One Hundred and One Dalmatians (Cruella De Vil); The Jungle Book (Shere Khan); The Little Mermaid (the seas witch is pretty mean); Beauty and the Beast (wolves attack, the mob scene, Beast goes beastly); The Lion King (Scar plots the deaths of Mufasa and Simba, Mufasa is killed, Simba and Scar fight).

A selection from Pixar:
Toy Story (Syd); A Bug's Life (those grasshoppers are scary); Monsters, Inc. (the monsters try to scare kids - although I give bonus points to this movie for the ending); Finding Nemo (Nemo's mom dies, the sharks); The Incredibles (numerous fights); Cars (actually, just Chick causing accidents); Wall-E (fight with Auto at the end); Up (the fight with Muntz); Toy Story 3 (the dump).

A selection from DreamWorks:
Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third (the humor); Madagascar (Alex tries to eat his friends); Kung Fu Panda (more fighting); Monsters vs. Aliens (lots of fighting); How to Train Your Dragon (fight with the giant dragon); Megamind (it's about a villain - he does bad things).

Now, this isn't to say that we don't enjoy the movies. It's just something I've noticed. 

(By the way, a tool I sometimes use to determine if a movie is suitable for the boys in kids-in-mind, which rates movies but also goes through scene by scene so you know why they chose their rating. It allows parents to make an informed judgement call about the suitability of a movie for their kids.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Finding common ground

The topic of abortion brings out a lot of passion on both sides of the issue, with neither bothering to listen or trying to understand the opposite stance. Recently, I was able to sit and talk to my mother-in-law and have a very reasoned discussion. The thing is, we agreed on an awful lot of stuff. I think if most people could put aside their differences, take emotion out of the discussion, and just talk, a lot could be done.

Out of that discussion, I wanted to share a few things. I don't want a flame war, but I welcome comments if people can be calm, polite, reasoned, and refrain from using 'the Bible says so' as their ENTIRE argument.

For the record, I am pro-choice. I would like to address that first because it seems that amongst the pro-life crowd, there is a misconception that pro-choice = pro-abortion. I think the majority of people who describe themselves as pro-choice would agree that they are NOT pro-abortion. I think most, based on conversations I've had, would agree that we all share the goal of reducing the number of abortions (for various reasons), but that we don't support a full ban on them.

Since I can only speak for myself, the reason I don't support a full ban is that abortions have existed since the beginning of time. Before they were legal, many women sought them and they were unsafe. Why was Roe v Wade fought in court? Because women had a need and didn't want to die. If abortion were banned once again, I firmly believe that abortions would still happen, but we'd be losing the women too, not just the fetuses.

Abortion is a symptom of a much larger disease. Banning abortion puts a bandaid on that disease rather than curing it. Here's the thing: at the dining table summit, both sides were able to agree that we really need to solve the underlying problems. Let's reduce the need for abortions. If women don't need them, they won't have them. Everyone wins.

So what do I think we need to focus on?

First, let's get good, comprehensive, factual sex ed. I think it has pretty much been proven in areas where abstinence only is taught that the teen pregnancy and STD rates increase. That doesn't work. Let's face facts. Some portion of teenagers will have sex. We cannot prevent that. Teenagers have been having sex since the beginning of time.

Think back to your high school days. Either you or someone you know was fooling around. I knew several girls in high school who a) had an abortion, b) had a baby they gave up for adoption, or c) had a baby they kept.

I had a really good sex ed teacher. He was the health teacher and was very matter of fact about everything. He kept a box outside his room that anyone could anonymously slip a question in and he would find the answer and present it to the class. This was a marvelous thing: he found out exactly what students didn't know and needed answers to AND found out what misconceptions were out there, all without embarrassing anyone. We all had a safe place to go for REAL information.

It's all well and good to tell kids not to have sex, but it is much more powerful to tell them the consequences and give them the tools they need to make an informed decision. Knowledge really is power. Why has there been a rise in things like 'lollipop' parties and STDs when teen pregnancy rates go down? Because kids are getting the message that traditional intercourse can lead to pregnancy. They aren't learning that STDs can pass through other methods, that oral sex is still sex, that there are other consequences.

And can we teach that consequences effect both genders? Girls are very aware that their lives will change if they get pregnant. Boys don't have that immediate issue. They need it. They need to know that they are responsible.

After good sex ed, I think we need to build up self-esteem, especially in girls. Everyone knows the cliche 'if you love me, you'd have sex with me.' What teenage girl knows the rejoinder to that is 'if you loved me, you wouldn't push me to do something I'm not ready for'? And how many have the confidence to say it? It's hard when you don't know who you are to take a stand. I see a lot of girls who define themselves by their boyfriends. Can we try to teach both boys and girls to love themselves first? The best way to do that is by example, but how many women (probably men too) can really look themselves in the mirror and like the person there? Can we try so we can teach our kids to like themselves? Maybe that would help.

Being supportive of our kids is huge. How many abortions happen because a parent has told a girl that if she ends up pregnant, she can forget coming home? So her choices, if she makes a mistake, are to a) leave home and probably live on the streets or b) have an abortion. How much could be changed by talking to our kids, letting them know that even if they disappoint us we will still love them? That they can come to us with anything and we will do what we can to help?

A lot of this is aimed at teenagers, but reaching people young is a way to make a big impact. More than half of abortions are for women 25 and under. These are women in high school and college. Most (64%) are performed on women who have never been married.

So what about the older women, the non-teenagers? What about better access to birth control? Plan B is a start. Better access to condoms, Planned Parenthood, clinics, would help. On the argument that birth control, especially Plan B, is immoral, would you rather prevent the pregnancy or deal with the consequences? To me, it's a no-brainer.

If we work to prevent the unwanted pregnancies which account for 93% of abortions, wouldn't that be better than trying to legislate a ban? Think of that. If 93% of the estimated 1.2 million abortions per year (2006) could be prevented by removing the need, wouldn't that be a better solution? That's over 1 million not needed. As opposed to over 1 million either being performed under less than ideal situations or babies coming into the world who are in need of adoption, abused, mistreated.... If someone really doesn't want a child or can not afford a child, should the theoretical child have to pay for that? If there is no child to begin with because there was no pregnancy, we don't have to worry about a potential abortion or a strain on social services.

I don't know all the answers, but it just seems that current legislative efforts (abstinence only sex ed, restrictions on abortions) are just bandaids. They aren't going to solve the problem, just sweep it under the rug. That's a waste of time and money in my book. I want the same goals; I just have different methods of reaching them. Why should a woman be punished for a lifetime for a mistake? Especially since so many men get away with no consequences.

These are all things my mother-in-law and I could agree on. We may have different stances in the political debate, but we're really saying the same thing, just in different ways. Let's get rid of the rhetoric.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Golden Rule

A comment a friend made recently got me to thinking that so many of the people who shout their Christianity loudest, wrapping themselves in their beliefs, actually act in the least 'Christian' manner. They seem to think belief in Christ makes them better than others, regardless of their behavior.

On the other hand, many non-Christian, and even atheist, people display ethical behavior. They are kind, sharing, generous, all without expectation of a heavenly reward. Defining morality without religious dogma is secular humanism and I think it actually creates a better morality by putting the onus on the person rather than some outside force.

Whether or not you subscribe to a particular religion, thinking for yourself and not relying on faith allows you to be critical. Really examining why you believe something, why you act a certain way, can be truly enlightening.

For me, doing something because it is the right thing to do is a really good reason. Claiming to be a good Christian while not acting like one is hypocritical.

Frankly, a divine being isn't necessary to create good behavior. Acting in the best interest of society is both self-less and selfish. Think about it. Creating a functioning society along the lines of the Golden Rule benefits all.

So, here's the bottom line. Live by the Golden Rule. Doesn't matter if you are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, whatever. All the major religions subscribe to it. Here are 18 tips to living by the Golden Rule every day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musings on a book

I recently read Eat, Pray, Love for my moms' group book club. Although I won't make it to book club, I still wanted to read the book. I also took the opportunity to watch the movie.

I liked the book better, partly because the book was better able to go in depth. The movie wasn't bad, but the nature of movies is that they generally have to be concise. Some of the best thoughts in the book weren't in the movie, which was disappointing.

Here's the thing: I found Elizabeth Gilbert to be aggravating, narcissistic, and somewhat infantile. By that I mean that she didn't fully develop as a person until the journey of the story. That made it really hard to care about her and want to find out if she would evolve.

There are women who don't seem able to define themselves other than as an extension of a man. Starting in high school, they move from one boyfriend to another, never alone for more than a week or two. EG is one of these women, stunted in growth, molding themselves into the image of each man. How can you care about someone who isn't really a person but a reflection?

I applaud her for realizing she needed to change and find herself. Swearing off relationships and sex was exactly what she needed to learn who she was. The whole 4 months each in Italy, India and Bali? A little indulgent, but if she had the means, why not? Most people don't have that luxury. And one certainly doesn't need to go to such extremes.

One of the best lines in the movie is when Julie Roberts (as EG) is talking to Sofi who is concerned about the weight she has gained. She says something to the effect of has any man ever complained about her body? Probably not because he thinks he's won the lottery if he has a naked woman. This is so true!

There are a couple of ideas in the book that I really liked.

Ketut explains about having a special meditation that will take him up seven levels. He also has another that will take him down seven levels. EG's assumption is that the first will take him to heaven and the second to hell, but he explains that they both will take him to heaven, just different ways. Basically, we all end up in the same place, but we choose our path. Heaven and hell are of our own making.

She also has an interesting method of talking to 'god' (really just herself) by writing in a notebook. I like the simplicity. It's a wonderful way to tap into the better part of herself, learning that she has some answers - you know, god helps he (or she) who helps himself. And the story she tells in Italy about a man who prays before a statue of a saint to please, please, please let him win the lottery only to have the statue some to life one day and ask the man to please, please, please buy a ticket.... well, it's all about the same thing. Relying on some deity to solve our problems isn't going to do it. We need to help ourselves.

I'm sure there is much I'm forgetting. I wish I could make it to book club and talk about the book.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Driving in snow

So I've been driving in snow for 20 years. I realized this recently while watching people who obviously haven't been driving in snow that long do dumb things.

Living in a college town, there are a lot of people from all over the country and the world who come here. Many have never seen snow before. Some come from places that shut down if it snows. Yes, some come from snowier places than Chicago, but it doesn't take many inexperienced drivers to cause problems.

First, ice is the great equalizer. It doesn't care what you are driving, whether or not you have 4WD or AWD, ABS, traction control.... If you hit ice, you will likely slide. Knowing what to do is the key. And trying to drive such that you have as much control as possible is a must.

So, a few rules for driving in snow.

First, turn on your headlights! Headlights serve TWO purposes: so you can see and also so you can be SEEN. Using your headlights means oncoming traffic can see you better. They also mean cars behind you can see your taillights, which are not on if you have daytime running lights, without you needing to brake. Being visible is important; it gives you and other drivers (don't forget those other drivers!) more time to react. If you don't believe me, pay attention next time it is raining or snowing to which cars you can easily see. It'll be the ones with headlights.

Second, don't drive like the streets are dry. They aren't. They will be slick. Being conscious of the conditions is crucial. Sometimes a little caution is necessary, sometimes a lot. How many times have you seen 4WD SUVs in ditches on the side of the road? As the car commercial (can't remember which brand) says, safety features are not a substitute for safe driving practices.

So what are some safe driving practices? Don't tailgate. Keep a larger following distance than you normally would. Leave plenty of time to brake and accelerate slowly. Take it easy. It's better to be late than dead. Pay attention to other traffic. Use your signals both to turn and to change lanes. You may know where you're going, but no one else does.

If you do skid, steer into the skid. Now, this never made sense to me until I figured out what it means. Steer in the direction you want the car to go, but do it gently. Once you regain traction, you don't want to overcorrect and end up skidding the other way!

If your car is light, you may want to put bags of sand or litter in the trunk over the rear tires to help keep traction. If you get stuck, you can always pour the sand or litter on the road under your wheels.

If you don't have experience on snow, find an empty parking lot and drive around. Do some donuts until you learn how to control a skid.

If you can, make sure you have good tires and fresh brakes. Balding tires with no traction are exactly what you don't want on a slick road.

Okay, I'll step off my soapbox now. But please be safe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SIREN Energy Challenge

Last year, we participated in the Southern Indiana Renewable Energy Network's (SIREN) Energy Challenge. The goal was to reduce electric energy usage.

Each month, I entered our current electric usage and the previous year's data into a spreadsheet. The reductions were based on an individual household's consumption, so the percentage reduction was calculated and a winner was declared each quarter. There were quarterly prizes.

We actually won the first quarter, with the largest percentage reduction of all the participants. We received a free solar assessment and a Kill-a-Watt meter as our prizes. Our energy use actually increased slightly during the summer due to the hotter temperatures, but we were back in the game for the 4th quarter. While we didn't win, we did manage to reduce our electricity consumption by an average 22% in 2010 compared to 2009.

Tonight, at SIREN's monthly meeting, they had a special presentation where they asked the quarterly winners to talk briefly about how they accomplished their energy reductions. The winner of the contest was announced - a family that saved an average 46%!

Many of the strategies were similar amongst the three of us who spoke (the same household won the 3rd and 4th quarters). What everyone found amazing in our story was that most of the major things we have done to reduce our energy consumption were made prior to 2009. We saved 22% the hard way, yet we didn't go to the extremes that one family did.

Are you wondering what the others did?

The winning family (2 parents, 7 year old twins) installed timers on everything. They raised the temperature on their central air conditioning to 85º, but used 2 window units (one in the main living area during the day and one in the kids' bedroom at night) which actually reduced the humidity more so that they were comfortable with the higher temperature. They cycled their pool pump on and off throughout the day rather than leaving it on all the time. They hung laundry out to dry. And so on.

The 3rd/4th quarter winners really went to extremes to reduce their consumption, using a camp shower all summer so they could turn their water heater off, not using air conditioning, setting their thermostat extremely low in winter (58º!). I don't remember all the things they did, but I am not willing to go to those extremes.

So what did we do?

  • Well, after buying our house in December 2003, we noticed that the den and some other rooms were very drafty. In February and March of 2004 we replaced the original single pane windows with double pane windows. We could feel the difference in the comfort level immediately and our gas bill went down right away. 
  • We have replaced almost every appliance in the house, which, with the exception of the 2002 water heater, dated to 1986. (2004: dishwasher and stove, 2006: washer and dryer, 2009: refrigerator). 
  • We decommissioned a chest freezer that we were underutilizing in early 2009. 
  • In 2006 we installed extra insulation in the attics. 
  • Chris has the computer programmed to automatically shut down at night. 
  • We turn the power strip that our stereo equipment is plugged in to off when it's not in use. 
  • We've replaced the lightbulbs in the house with CFLs and have actually bought our first LED. 
  • We set the air conditioning between 78º and 80º in the summer and the furnace to 68º to 70º during the winter. When we can, we open windows and run the ceiling fans Chris installed in 2006. 
  • I hang laundry on the line outside, and occasionally in the basement, although not as often as I should. (Dryers use crazy amounts of electricity.)

Notice that the big things were all before 2009, except the refrigerator (which was probably responsible for much of our impressive savings) and the old freezer (which only effected January through March). Sometimes it is the little things, the habits we change. What's that saying? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step? Well, energy reduction starts with a single switch (off).

We still have work to do. We are currently saving for a new HVAC system, which will do incredible things to reduce both electricity and gas (furnace and water heater are gas). We would love to install solar panels. We may replace more CFLs with LEDs as they burn out, although they aren't necessarily what we want everywhere. A big benefit there is that LEDs don't have mercury, so we don't have to worry about disposal. I need to try to hang laundry out more so we use the dryer less. (I did mention dryers are energy hogs, didn't I? Next time you run yours, go look at your meter spin. It will sicken you.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Date night!

Dates are hard to schedule with small children who require babysitting, especially with a crazy grad school schedule to work around. But we've really been trying to go out at least once a month.

One of our neighbors also has small children and offered a babysitting exchange. Once a month I watch her kids while they go out and also once a month she watches ours while we go out. It's been nice since babysitters can be expensive. The babysitting co-op idea is a great way to make friends and have an evening out. I've even exchanged sitting with another neighbor during the day for appointments and such. We also have some really nice neighbors who have offered to watch the boys, usually about once a year.

Most sitters we've used have charged $10/hr for the two kids. A typical movie requiring 3 hours of sitting would cost $50 ($20 for two tickets plus $30 for a babysitter). Add any popcorn or drinks and it's just too much! That's really the reason we haven't had a regular date night the last few years.

Another option we have used is Grandma. The grandparents all like spending time with the boys, so we can often send them for a weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. We've done that for the last several years. But Grandma Deb is now retired and available for the occasional weeknight evening. Considering many of the Auditorium shows we want to see are during the week, this has been very helpful. We try not to abuse the privilege.

So where do we go on date night? We have gone to movies when they were $5, but the weeknight price has recently gone up, so we will probably do that less frequently. We also like to go to the shows at the IU Auditorium, through the Department of Theater and Drama, or one of the theater companies* in town. And now the IU Cinema is opening, where most movies will be free. We can see lots of classics and foreign films.

*Local theater companies include Bloomington Playwrights Project, Monroe County Civic Theater, Cardinal Stage Company, Theater of the People and Starrynight Productions.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Two is enough

The current issue of National Geographic includes a cover story about the human population reaching 7 billion this year. There is a neat video illustration too. (And a fun video for a World Party.) Population is a topic they are going to explore throughout the year.

While I haven't used my degree in a long time, I have a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. Even when I graduated from college in 1996, population was a huge issue. Many environmental issues are tied to population: use of resources is dependent on both the number of people using them and the amount those people use.

There are a lot of reasons we have only 2 kids. Some are practical (I only have 2 arms, managing the 2 we have is enough, we'd need a bigger car) but one big reason is that I just can't justify (for us) having more than replacement value. (Replacement value is 2.1 in most developed countries.) It goes against everything I learned. In the US, we use a much bigger percentage of resources than our share.

Even if the birthrate in every country could miraculously be reduced to 2.1 (some are actually lower), the population would still grow as today's children grew to adulthood. Really, the explanatory graphs in the article help, but the basic idea is that there is a larger group of kids than the current reproductive population, so it takes time for population growth to even out.

Why is population a big deal? Well, 7 billion people are using a finite number of resources. Some of us are using more than our share leaving many with much less than their share. If we all used resources at the low end of the scale, 7 billion might not be such a big number. If we all used resources at the top end of the scale, 7 billion (or even 6 or 5 or 4 billion) is too many to sustain. See, it isn't so much how many people are using the resources as how they use them. More people just stresses the situation.

So welcome to a world in which we will soon be 1 in 7 billion. Think about reading the National Geographic article. It's pretty interesting.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Informal poll

Ok, I read a blog post in December about the apparent arbitrariness of due dates. I'll wait if you want to read it, but the author complains about how due dates are meaningless and you can't tell when a baby will come.

I know, not a news flash. But he suggested that doctors could keep track of the spread of actual births versus due dates and maybe put together data showing the likelihood that a baby will be born on its due date (is it a bell curve?). I have no idea if such a study actually exists, but I thought it would be fun to poll people to see if your babies were early, late or right on time. And, if late or early, how late or early?

Wil was born 3 days early, but via c-section, so I have no idea when he would have been ready. Sam was 8 days early. How about yours?

Not just a housewife

I've been reading "The Feminine Mystique"by Betty Friedan. I haven't finished yet, but it has really made me think, and that's a good thing. There is some criticism of the book, but some of it resonates with me.

The basic gist is that after WWII, women were encouraged to go back into the home, leaving jobs for the men. Many forces aligned to convince women that their sole role in life was to be wives and mothers, that destiny was determined by gender. By 1963 when the book was published, many women suffered from neuroses and felt trapped by their role. The focus is middle class white women.

Some things that stick in my mind from the first 11 chapters, then.

A thesis for the book might be that limiting anyone's potential as a human being can be disastrous. Yes, it is primarily about forcing women (through psychological means, conditioning, limiting options, etc) to be housewives and the consequences of that. But whether you look at the narrow view of making women less than full participants in society or any other way of limiting someone (through poverty, slavery, caste, whatever), the message is the same. Think of all the achievements we will never know because someone was told they couldn't do something.

An entire chapter is devoted to the idea that housework expands to fill the time available. The housewives interviewed ended up bored out of their skulls, as cleaning a house doesn't require much brain power. I know I get bored sometimes. I hate cleaning. But I also know that staying home until the boys are in school is a temporary thing. I also make time to do things for myself. I do some part-time work; I write; I am on the Starrynight Productions staff.... The point is, I am a lot more than just a housewife.

One chapter discusses a phenomenon during WWII where some men were found to not qualify to serve in the armed forces because they had been pampered so much by their mothers they were incapable of functioning as adults. The mothers in these cases apparently had so little self-identity that they lived through their children. There were also some studies showing that children whose mothers worked or had some outside life were generally better adjusted.

I have long maintained that moms need to have an identity other than mom. How can we teach our children to be individuals, to be self-sufficient, to follow their passions, if we don't do the same? Children learn what they see. It doesn't matter if you work outside the home or stay home full-time; have a life of your own and you will be a better mom. If you live through your children, what happens when they grow up? Eventually we all have to face life. The sooner we do, the healthier we are.

There is a very interesting chapter on advertising geared toward the housewife and how advertisers began to target girls younger and younger so that by the time they married (often very young) they were already brand loyal. Think about the advertising now, targeting preschoolers. If the question was raised 50 years ago as to whether advertising to teenagers was too young and manipulative, what of advertising now?

It's interesting that the Kinsey reports are cited several times, especially living here in Bloomington. Looking back on the way things were and seeing how much or how little things have changed is really fascinating. Because some things have changed (women are encouraged to work, to get an education, to become full citizens) and how much they haven't (some employers still discriminate against women, some things are still seen as women's work). I think one of the best things now is that we all can make our choices. We can choose careers, or stay home, or do a little of both. And our husbands can make the same choices.

Really, I recommend anyone to read this book. I'm using it for a bit of research for a short play I'm writing, but I'm learning a lot. I keep finding things to talk to Chris about, ideas that need fleshing out. Understanding something that has been a huge influence, that is still referenced, is important.