Category Archives: Nicole

Happy Earth Day

I don’t know if I’m just living in the fog of small infant, but I almost went the entire day without realizing that it was Earth Day.  It doesn’t help that by prioritizing getting to church this Sunday, I virtually guaranteed that my limited interaction with the outside world (because, really, bouncing a fussy baby in the foyer is limiting) would NOT remind me.

Anyways, I’ve always thought of Earth Day as almost a New Years day for environmentalists… a day for me to reflect about what I can do for the earth.  Because I am generally too over-committed to participate in bigger events on the actual day, I tend to make an ‘earth goal’ and move on.

Earth Day goal for this year:  finish insulating the attic space (and all the rest of the stuff that involves)


Did you do anything for Earth Day this year?  Does anyone have any ideas/traditions for celebrating it with small kids?  Do you have an Earth Day goal you would like to share?


Consumerism and (hospital) birth – Part II – A Labor Intensive Process

Save for a passing introduction at the desk as I moved to a room, I never saw the OB on call because I had chosen the midwife practice.  I’m assuming that he/she  knew what was going on and likely signed off at that desk because the OB names are all over my discharge paperwork.  Which is how I wanted it.  And it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint of running a L&D wing with mostly midwives: use the less expensive labor when things are going as one would expect and save the more expensive (due to many more years of med school and their specializations) OB labor for when they are really needed.  But, surprisingly, intake wasn’t exclusively the midwives’ or the nurses’ domain.

For this second birth, I moved through active labor VERY quickly – like from entering hospital dilated a 3 to baby on chest in less than 2.5 hours.  The good news is that the midwives realized this right away and immediately started the water going in the labor tub after the obligatory 20-minutes triage monitoring period.  I was thrilled that this hospital allowed – actually encourage! – the use of a big tub for natural labors.   I was laboring in the tub about 45 minutes from walking in the door and was able to stay there for about an hour before we started draining the tub since I was pushy.

The bad news is that I  spent literally half of my time in the tub talking to the anesthesiologist.  For a birth where I explicitly had said no drugs with a track record of no drugs from the previous birth….where every nurse and midwife respected my request that drugs not be brought up unless I initiated the conversation!

So, when the anesthesiologist walks in the door, even in my hazy labor brain, I kept thinking “why is this guy here?”

His presence felt invasive.  I just wanted him to leave and let me get on with the business of being in ‘my labor space.’   But I did what so many women do when they enter the hospital doors – instead of telling him outright to leave, I answered the questions.  I told him thanks but no thanks, that I wanted to birth this child without his help. And then proceeded to answer his questions in the 90-120 seconds between contractions for at least a half hour!

Looking back with a non-labor brain, I know that the anesthesiologist was there to document ‘just in case’ of the crash C-section.  I’m sure it is hospital protocol.  But it still seems odd that an anesthesiologist did the majority of the intake patient history paperwork.  I question the efficiency of having such a specialist doing that for a ‘just in case’ scenario that seemed unlikely to play out.  Every single stinking thing he asked me was already (or could have already been) in my chart.  And, if I really was in need of a crash C-section, he could have done it without many of those questions.

Less invasive (and certainly less costly) were the many middle of the night vital checks by all the nurses.  Again, probably just hospital protocol intensified by the fact that I transferred to recovery just after midnight.  After the second round of vitals that first night, my husband looked at me and said ‘if we were home, we would all be cuddling in our king size family bed and the midwives would have already packed up and gone home.’   I couldn’t decide if I wanted to kiss or kick him for stating the obvious.  It did make me pause to think that (if things have gone relatively well) in a homebirth, the professional is more than comfortable leaving a new mom and baby to sleep and come back the next day for a check-in.  The hospital, in order to cover their ass, is far more labor intensive and resource consuming during birth than it probably needs to be.  Maybe some people find that comforting; I found it annoying.

So, why didn’t I tell the anesthesiologist (and the nurses at 3 am, etc) to leave? I can only explain it as the path of least resistance.  I kept thinking that this question, this wake-up would be the last.  I didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t have the energy to make a scene, just wanted to get people out of my space as quickly as possible.

This is yet another reason why women are choosing to birth at home.  Birth is such an intimate and personal thing; but as much as hospitals are increasingly paying lip service to this, it is very difficult to achieve that intimacy in an institution governed by protocol and the threat of lawsuits.  Only in your own home are you able to control who is in your space; you aren’t bombarded with a stranger asking you questions about something you don’t want to discuss.  Perhaps that is one of the things that scares the medical establishment about homebirth the most?

Garden Friday – A Child’s Flower Garden

Spring really is here!  And it is one wet week in the PNW.

I know I usually make this space about veggies, but I have to share something special we did in our family this week.  It is spring break here and I’ve been trying to make sure I do something special with my eldest (he is a verbal 4.5 years old) each day as we transition into a family of 4.  He came home the other day from a bike-ride with his father chattering non-stop about the flowers.  Spring around here means that many houses are lined with beautiful bulbs and other perennials right now.  Apparently, while riding (in the street – because we arethat biking family), a conversation went something like this:

Child: Look at those <insert various colors> flowers in that yard!

Father: yes, they are beautiful

Child: I have an idea!  We can ride on the sidewalk today so that I can stop and smell all the flowers.

Father:  Alright.  Let’s do it.


Child:  Papa, we need beautiful flowers at our house.

Father:  That is your mother’s domain.  Ask her when you get home.


So, when they got home, the kid was chattering about flowers and needing to plant some in our yard.  I said, great – just you and me – let’s go on Wednesday to pick some out.

And we did just that.  I took him to the locally owned nursery.  He picked the wagon, he pulled the wagon, he picked out the type of  flowers and chose the actual plants.  Luckily, I had the foresight to set an agreed amount of plants BEFORE we entered because my kid apparently has expensive tastes; he was instantly enamored with the perennials – hyacinths, daffadils, Iberis, Woodland Phlox, and Corydalis.  Who can blame him?  The hyacinths do look and smell lovely.  But he stuck to his 6 pots without complaint.  We came home, he picked the spot he wanted them to go.  (Well, actually, he wanted them against the fence line in the back yard – I talked him into doing back and front yard, helping him split the plants in order to do so.)  He picked the planting arrangement.

Now I have these cute little plants in a corner of my overgrown yard that desperately needs work.  It isn’t what I would have chosen or how I would have laid them out; I’ll probably have to move the hyacinths after this season because they are sitting north of a small fence.  But the kid is sooo excited to check on them everyday.  And every spring I’ll be reminded of my 4-year-old who wanted to stop and smell/plant the flowers.

Have your small children helped shape your garden?

Consumerism and (hospital) Birth Part I – Insurance Incentives

I’ve had a chance to birth my two kids at two of the most progressive hospitals in the nation and have some thoughts running around in my head about the pros and cons of such birthing options for the completely normal birth.  Since health care seems to be sucking up ever increasing resources and birth is a feminist issue at its core, I thought I’d use this space to pen some of my (flaky, sleep-deprived) thoughts.

To start, I suppose I should define progressive.  These are mother-centered hospitals with enormous (12+ women) CNM midwife groups that encourage doulas and natural birthing if you so desire.  Hospital #1 is a teaching hospital which also has a long-standing CNM (certified nurse midwife) degree program inside a university that is known for integrated primary care; the CNM practice is integrated into a larger ‘woman’s health center’ type place that is lovely.  Hospital #2 is the primary hospital in the region for a large HMO which has one of the longest-standing hospital midwife programs in the country; it contracts out all of its high-risk births to another hospital in the region so the midwives actually rule the roost so to speak at HMO hospital.  It is also a WHO ‘baby friendly’ hospital – so no arguing about whether or not a pacifier will be given, etc.

I myself saw only a midwife for prenatal care in both pregnancies.  In some ways, seeing a midwife within these large groups is great –  when things came up that were possibly out of the norm, a quick email to high-risk OBs quickly resolved the issue.  Everything is all coordinated with my primary care doctors; my prescriptions are seamless; even my (and the newborn’s) followup apt-making is seamless.

But there are some drawbacks of these big groups.  First, there is no guarantee (and very low odds) that your midwife will be on-call when you deliver.  This is how they keep costs down; but it also kind of wrecks (what is in my view) one of the attractions of midwife care – that you have a personal relationship of enormous trust with your provider.

The second is that you must birth in a hospital.  If I’m completely honest with myself, that wasn’t a complete drawback for the first birth.  Even though I have a mother who (for the 1980s) was pretty progressive in terms of how she interacted with pregnancy, I had my doubts and the hospital seemed ‘safe.’  My husband was even more skeptical of the process.  And even though I wanted a anesthesia-free birth, the knowledge I could change my mind at the last second was somehow comforting.  So, I had probably the best in-hospital, low-intervention birth you could want.  But it was a very lengthy labor and, despite the best care and great facilities, I found all the poking and prodding annoying during and especially after delivery.  After a 32+ hour labor (nearly 20 of it at the hospital) and less than a 30-hour post delivery stay, we walked out knowing (at least with a normal, low-risk pregnancy) why people choose to birth at home.

Fast forward 4 years and we were expecting #2.  We also had different insurance….the HMO insurance  that keeps costs down by making sure everything ‘normal’ is done within their facilities.  Well, birth is normal.  Normal enough that people like me should be able to have a baby at home.  But my house is not their facility.  We toyed with getting a homebirth midwife.  But at the end of the day, we could not justify the cost differential of home vs hospital birth.

And that is lesson #1.  We pay over $600/month in insurance premiums for our family of 3 (now 4) which is matched by my husband’s employer for great insurance.  A hospital stay copay is $100/night.  My entire birth and our 2 night hospital stay cost a $200 copay.  Sure, it was billed out at $7500 – and that is cheap because it was a midwife attended birth within an HMO that pays providers salaries rather than by procedures with no epidural (so no anesthesiologist charge), no interventions, nothing but a bag of pitocin when I started bleeding a bit more than desired and two nights of a hospital bed.  But I only had to pay $200.

A homebirth is obviously cheaper than $7500.  In this area, they seem to run $4-$5K.  But because we have an HMO (which, for the record, I actually love in so many other respects both in terms of care and in terms of overall efficiency of health care provision), none of that would have been picked up by the insurance.

Look, I had a nice birth experience and have a healthy baby.  I am incredibly happy with my prenatal and postnatal care.  But this is likely our last child, and I’m mourning my lack of homebirth this time (and I’ll tell you why in my next post).  And I’m feeling angry that I have to mourn that.   What kind of choice is that?  $200 vs $4500?  The incentives are such that I chose the less efficient option (and the more emotionally draining option) because the out-of-pocket costs.  Something is incredibly perverse in this cost structure, don’t you think?

This is not a mommy blog – But yet it is

I think all of us around OMK want to see this project continue.  We’ve all been incredibly stretched but trying to recommit to adding content over the next little bit.

My own personal excuse has been the life-affirming event of pregnancy and birth.  This event that made gardening less than desirable for a time, keeping up with more than my preschooler and teaching next to impossible, and that consumes my life right now.  So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share some of my sleep-deprived thoughts over the next few weeks.  Some might argue it will read far more as a mommy blog; I’m not sure that is a terrible thing as I’d argue (probably poorly due to that sleep deprivation thing) that the links to both feminism and environmentalism are strong.  Regardless, I hope you’ll stick around and engage my musings that might be a bit mommy-centric for the next few posts.

Santorum’s Theology Three-Ring Circus

Presidential politics is always messy.  I’ve been shaking my head about this year’s Republican primary for months now.  As a non-Republican, I know better than to talk politics with my family.   But that means I know it is crazy when my conservative LDS family has volunteered in my presence the existence of a bunch of crazies in the early race.

Still, I thought we had finally reached the end of the extreme crazies, but apparently not.  This week’s lead-up to the Michigan primary has been a three-ring circus when you consider religion and environment.

Ring #1 Santorum claimed late last week that Obama believes in “some phony theology.  Not a theology based on the Bible.  A different theology.”  Even though he was speaking in context of the environment, it opens the door for all the crazies suggesting Obama is a Muslim rather than Christian.  The alternative (which Santorum actually implicitly provoked in later comments) is Obama adheres to a radical form of Christianity (Rev. Wright resurrected if you will).  I can’t believe we are still having these tired arguments how many years later???

Ring #2: When asked to clarify the remark on Face the Nation last Sunday, Santorum said Obama has “a world view that elevates the earth above man and says we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the earth” and continues to go onto say that those harms “frankly are just not scientifically proven.”  Beyond the fact that Santorum should be more careful to use theology and ideology in their proper contexts (no, the words are not synonyms although sacrament meeting sometimes makes me wonder if most Mormons also believe that to be the case), the craziness of questioning the existence of climate change makes me shake my head every time.  I also start to wonder if I missed the magic trick where Obama was a radical environmentalist putting the ‘environment before Man.’  Did I blink?  Because I’m not seeing it.

Ring #3:  Of course, any time one of these candidates bring up theology and presidential politics, talking heads end up musing about whether Mormonism is Christian.  (For those of you wondering, Mormons do consider themselves Christian and following Christ is a central tenant of their theology.)  A reworking of the ‘anyone but a Mormon’ anti-Romney theme yet again if you would.

Obviously I’m disappointed that we are still arguing the basic facts that resource extraction harms the earth, that climate change exists, or even the basic facts of pollution and pressure on the earth from humans’ lifestyle.  Does it have to involve religion too?  Even more disappointing is to see that if environmentalism is rhetorically linked to religion,  it is apparently fair game to question Romney’s Christianity but not obvious to question the assumption that Mormons’ are not committed to environmentalism.

Those of us who are Mormon and care about the environment have a lot of work to do.

Should we aspire to gentrification?

By Common Consent has a post up right now about LDS architecture – a side interest of mine.  Someone made a comment about how an LDS chapel, generic though it may be, ‘gentrifies the neighborhood’…. as if that is a good thing.  And I immediately cringed, commented a couple of times, and then realized I should take my thoughts to my own space rather than hijacking the BCC thread.

Now, I’m not sure it is categorically a bad thing.  Nor, as a comment later in the thread points out, am I convinced a single meetinghouse actually carries that much weight in a housing market.  But I immediately bristled at the idea that we should be rallying around plunking chapels down as a gentrification tool.

I think the commenter makes a common mistake in thinking of gentrification as a turning over in housing/building stock/quality instead of a turnover of communities/people.  In one of the courses I teach, we spend a great deal of time discussing gentrification.  I do it because it is a central community and housing theme in urban planning circles; I also do it because invariably the communities that half of the students want to choose as their term projects are quickly gentrifying ones. But it is a tricky topic linked to a much larger housing debate about poverty concentration and its social implications.

Anyhow, I show a film called Flag Wars, a Point of View film, which is set down the street from where I once lived. It is a fascinating film, apparently now available to stream on Amazon and sometimes shown on PBS.  The extras on the website are also, if a bit dated, really good.   For those of our more conservative LDS readers, I will warn that on occasion the language is a bit rough (although not awful) and the central theme relates to the gay-lesbian community; you may want to preview before watching it in front of your kids.

The film allows me to make a couple of points:

(1) Gentrification is about displacement of people in terms of class NOT race, ethnicity, or (in this case) gender preference. But, because class and race are so intertwined in the US, certain racial communities suffer the brunt of gentrification.

(2) Gentrification does not always make the area feel safer.  There are several comments in the film about how the neighborhood began gentrifying, the crime was actually LESS prevelant.  Further, the conflict between the two different classes can often increase the stress of the neighborhood for long-tenured residents.

(3) Improving the housing stock does not necessarily improve the community.  In fact, the pressure it puts on housing prices results in displacement of the most vulnerable.  Displacement usually means dispersion of the community and thus tears it apart.

(4) Housing/code violations are a complaint driven process.  If you think that ‘cleaning up the neighborhood’ by forcing your neighbors to ‘take care of their property’ in this manner is ideal/ethical/whatever, you are wrong.  EVEN IF THE BUILDING/NEIGHBORHOOD IS HISTORIC.  It comes from a place of privilege including access to resources (specifically real estate loans and capital) that many people of color have flat out been denied for years.

I could go on.  And I could write about what little we know about how to avoid gentrification.  But I can’t because I have to go pick my son up.  Let’s just suffice it to say that run down neighborhoods are problematic but they hold real communities; gentrification is, by definition, the breaking-up of those communities.  And I’m super uncomfortable when someone suggests that placing a building that helps a tiny minority of that community is a good thing because it looks nice.  Placing a nice building in a poor neighborhood does not necessarily give the residents more access to nice (or even desperately needed) resources.  And it leaves out the part where it might eventually lead to massive displacement/disbursement of the current community.  Blah.

Garden Friday – Using Every Last Drop

As blasphemous as it is to my northeast-born husband, I do not care for maple syrup.  I grew up on the fake stuff (big working-class family in the southwest, what can I say?) and never have fallen in love with the real stuff.  Yet we eat whole grain pancakes or french toast several times a week for breakfast.  Such foods call for a syrup.  I dutifully purchase maple for the husband and the boy.  But given the price, I never really was comfortable pouring something so expensive that I didn’t love over pancakes for myself.

For a couple of years, I watered down preserves for my pancakes.  Well, I really juiced-down (we are in small child mode with apple juice a constant in our home) plum or berry preserves.  But then it occurred to me this year that thickening up the light-syrup in my home-canned peaches was another option.  I can’t claim to have grown these peaches in my garden – at least not yet – but they are local through a buying club and very yummy.

You could probably figure out on your own how to make your syrup, but I’ll tell you our process anyways.  We eat about a quart of canned peaches about every 5-7 days during the winter.  I just leave the syrup in the jar until we’ve eaten 2 jars.  This seems to equate to about a pint of liquid.  I then simmer that liquid down with an additional 1/3 cup of sugar (I only VERY lightly syrup my peaches… if you are a heavy syruper, you could skip the additional sugar) until it fits into an 8 oz jelly-jar.  This amount seems to last me about 2 weeks and then I start over again.

What do you do with the syrup in your canned fruits?  Drink it?  Toss it?  Something else?

Garden Friday – Winter Gardens with Light Freezes

Just as I have slowed in my Garden Friday feature as the temps have dropped, so has my garden.  Yet I did plant a winter garden this year and thought I would give an update.

As a reminder, I’m in the PNW, west of the Cascades.  I planted the garden around September 15th.  I had a feeling that would be a little late, but I was on vacation for the previous 3 weeks and early September is so dry here that I didn’t see the point of planting starts that would shrivel in the late summer while I was gone.  Turns out, too late.  Vacation be damned, I need to get it in no later that Sept 1st for it to be growing enough to be harvestable through the winter months.

That said, I’ve been thrilled at how well the plants are holding up to frost and light freezes. We’ve had about 2 weeks of unseasonably DRY weather which also means unseasonably cold nights – for us.  In real terms, we’ve dropped into the high 20’s about 7 times over the past 2 weeks and you would hardly know it by looking at my winter garden bed in the afternoon.  Sure, the Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, leeks, kale, and spinach look pretty sad in the morning, but after a few hours of sun, they perk right up.  I do have my mixed greens under a pane of glass – this seems to be enough protection for them too!  Even my little Myer Lemon tree is doing ok; I should say that I did move it next to the south facing wall to give it a bit more protection.

So, all in all, it looks like the garden will survive the winter.  I think it will end up taking off in the early months of spring.  So, while planting late may have resulted in a bust for the winter garden, the leafy greens are going to taste awesome come March.

How is your winter garden coming?  Or are you just eying all those lovely seed catalogs that are coming in fast and furious right now and wishing for spring?

Where do I belong in Occupy?

At risk of losing all anonymity, I’ll out myself as a resident of Portland, Oregon.  As a family, we’ve gone down to our occupy movement several times including bringing food and attending general assemblies with my preschooler.  My turning-4-year-old and I pass it every weekday on the bus.  During the first march, 3 vehicles of riot police passed within 8 feet of us as we transferred buses – several of the officers waving to the boy who was awed at the sight. (Scary but a new kind of emergency vehicle… cool!)  We’ve had many conversations about protests as people saying to the government that ‘this bugs us, we wish you would do something different’ … the language of non-violent communication for his preschool.  It is a movement that I (and my husband) personally support even if the organizational elements of it are fluid and difficult to make heads or tails.

So, last night, I – probably prudently – snuggled my nearly 3rd-trimester pregnant self into my bed with my preschooler down the hall in a comfy house even as I literally prayed – and I left behind petitionary prayers years ago –  that I wouldn’t wake up to a blood-bath in the wake of Mayor Adam’s midnight deadline for leaving the parks.  Tears literally streamed down my face this morning when I opened my laptop and saw that all were restrained last night.  I quickly shot off a thank-you email to Mayor Adams for choosing the non-violent way.

It has escalated again.  The parks have been cleared, a couple dozen arrested – peacefully though, and hundreds if not thousands are facing down a police line in a blocked street downtown.  Again, I watch from the safety of my home.

5 years ago, when I first came to Portland, I would have been down there with them.  But now it is more difficult; life requires different choices.  So, how do I show my support?  I offer my food on occassion; I email and call local and federal officials to beg for support; I explain to my preschooler – the very reason I cannot spend large amount of time down there during volatile times – why this is such a wonderful, if scary, thing.

Long term, I – we – have to find another way.  I teach my university courses, both of  which include a module about public conflict and discourse as it applies to communities and movements.  My husband embues his college courses with real and varied critiques of the economic system.  We continue to learn and share why we live simply, why we strive at some level to live in a radical, urban homestead fashion.

It is the sensible thing to do, the sustainable thing to do, the right thing to do at this life stage.  But right now, watching those brave people on that front line trying to peacefully ask for a better way while facing a line of riot geared officers (who, frankly, are the 99% too), those actions seem so very inadequate.

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