25 September 2014

Issues of Confounding: Gluten-Free Edition

I read this neat article today that basically say (no shocker here) that many, if not most, people who are sure they have gluten sensitivity, really don't. (Obvious disclaimer that Celiac's and NCGS are real things, that some people DO have.) I feel like we maybe didn't need to fund a study proving that diet fads are diet fads, but that is not really my point here. My actual point about the whole thing is that this study may be 100% correct that most people don't have gluten sensitivity, but it may be 100% incorrect in the idea that the "feeling better" or "lack of symptoms" is "all in people's heads."

What the study may not have looked at, because this kind of data is really hard to collect and analyze, is what overall dietary changes people undertake when they go gluten-free.  In broad terms, eliminating gluten from your diet generally involves cutting out the fluffy white carbs like bread and pasta.  It also removes a lot of processed foods from your menu.  When faced with "having" to eat a diet of mostly fruits, veggies, protein, carefully selected carbs and very little processed food product...well, yeah, you are going to feel better.  This study may have looked at specific markers for gluten sensitivity, but its didn't look at these overall dietary trends, trends that may very well have a huge impact on people's health.

I absolutely believe people when they say that going gluten-free made them feel better, helped with digestive issues and cleared up some chronic conditions.  Eating healthy food made of actual food will do that to you.  Add in that the gluten-free movement often plays well with other healthy lifestyle choices (like workout trends that rhyme with "floss snit") and again, you are definitely going to get people who feel better.

Basically the gluten-free approach to eating may very well make people healthier, or at least feel healthier, but not because of the gluten itself.  When it comes to nutrition, there really never is just one thing at play, it is a holistic (in the actual definition of the word, not the medicinal style) system with roughly 56 bzillion factors at work, That is the tricky thing about research, especially research on the human body.  There is always more at play.  No two bodies are the same, everyone needs to see what works for them.  This study certainly indicates that having gluten sensitivity is more "mass psychosis" and less "an epidemic of digestive issue indicating we should all live in caves and eat only twigs like our ancestors,'' but it doesn't indicate that choosing to eat gluten-free is bad for you.

The take home lesson for non-research minded folks: never assume that a study's conclusions are the only possible answer.  Scientific research really only serves to systematically chug through everything we think we know about a topic and line out what is untrue.  Widespread gluten sensitivity may be an untruth, but widespread health improvements as a result of people eating fewer gluten bearing foods may be very real.

09 September 2014

School Means Other Parents

Apparently we need to riff on the second grade homework some more.  Here, as the school year is in its infancy, many a parental unit are stressed about the homework.  They all have Very Important Concerns about it.

Of course I, like an idiot, always think that when other parents ask about the homework they are also referencing the heinous hand-holding. I could not be more wrong.  Apparently that is all just fine for many, if not most.  I am in the minority when it comes to parents who don't sit down with all their kids so as to specifically tutor them through all the homework.  The idea that you would micromanage your kids time and progress that way is a-okay with these folks.  In fact, they feel very strongly that is is entirely necessary given how challenging the material seems to be.  As in, the parents, full-grown adults with proven records of being upstanding and productive American folks, are challenged by the problem solving material presented in second grade word problems.  The work is "too confusing" and there is "no way at all that someone could solve the problems with the information presented.*"

So I guess that answers like 98% of my questions re: what the hell is wrong with kids these days?  What is wrong with our kids is clearly us.  The Atlantic did an article about why parents shouldn't help kids with their homework.  I am going to go ahead and assume that, unlike the majority of commenters (this is like Lewis' Law, only with critical thinking skills) that we all understand the difference between "keeping your kids on track and checking that homework is actually getting done" and "helping your kids step-wise through every last activity the school sends home." While the article doesn't really pinpoint why this is true, I have a guess.

Maybe, just maybe, it is because when your parent is freaking out and hysterically e-mailing the teacher about a word problem that my 4.5 year old was able to complete, you are not exactly sending a clear message of working for academic success. Or rational stress response. Or academic accountability.  Or critical thinking skills.  What a shock! Watching your parents bitch and moan about how hard your work is doesn't improve academic performance.  Go figure!

Teaching kids to immediately demand external validation the very second they are challenged (you all remember wanting our kids to be "challenged" because they are all so bloody "gifted" right?) might not be the best approach for academic achievement.  The message "we" are all sending our kids is that the second the going gets rough, you look for someone else to blame. Or at least someone else to sooth your delicate sensibilities as they walk you though it.  Not to get all "boot-straps" on people here, but yeah. All together now: a little struggle never killed anyone's chances at an Ivy League**.

So my response? We switched to doing homework after dinner.  I said to Charlie "decide what you want to do each day and fill it in, then do it, let me know if you need help."  Her response (after checking the family calendar we had made) was "Can I use the timer on your phone, I can do all this tonight then have no homework for the rest of the week."  She did the work in about 15 minutes, she handed me the bits I had to correct or sign, she then packed it all up and went to brush her teeth for bed.  Well folks, my work here is done with nary a hysterical e-mail in sight.  Now I just need to never discuss this with any other parents, like ever, and we will be fine.

*Source: shamelessly eavesdropping on fellow parents in the preschool pick-up line while trying to suppress the impulse to smash my head repeatedly into the decorative columns in the pick-up bay. 

**With the disclaimer that as a mid-pack, culturally-white, middle-class school district in an education-loving blue state, "struggle" is a relative term.  Notably, my current peer group of families have it relatively easy in terms of "struggle." 

04 September 2014

School Means HW

Both girls now have a fairly rigorous homework schedule going on.  Now I will say that I fundamentally have no objections to homework.  I think that, at the grade school level, 15-20 minutes a night of review is a great idea.  As a parent I like that it gives me a chance to see what the kids are doing and how easy, or hard, they are finding the current material.  I also think that with the new Common Core focus on learning the concepts and strategies behind math and English Language Arts (ELA), practice applying those strategies has never been more important. This house is totally for (appropriate, non-busy-work) homework.

However, the homework is not just "here is your assignment, bring it back tomorrow with the occasional long-term project thrown in."  Nope. Liz's  preschool homework is doled out in the monthly newsletter with each week having a letter assigned so the kids can do "letter bags" every Thursday (except alternating third Thursdays due to early dismissals, so then they are due Wednesday), every fourth Thursday of the month is monthly color day (so wear the monthly color) and each month there is a long term family project with an (arbitrarily?) assigned due date.  Charlie gets all her work for the week on Monday with the folder due back on Friday, except the included daily reading log that is to be filled in and returned on the last Friday of the month. Also, in addition to the work in the folder, she is to be practicing her math facts to 20 for ten minutes and reading, independently or with a parent, for 20 minutes with that time recorded on the aforementioned log for her reading teacher.

In practice, this only takes Charlie 15 minutes a night and if Liz and I spend a cumulative hour on the "letter bags" and monthly project, it will be a lot. Of course we are basically ignoring the math facts practice ( I fundamentally don't believe in memorization as an educational tool) with the reading taking care of itself since Charlie reads an entire Daisy Meadows chapter book every night and we do a story in our bed-time routine. Sure, the material itself is great, The work is age appropriate while still being rigorous. I am very pleased with how the school district as a whole handles the curriculum. However, this all requires a lot of admin work on behalf of the parents.  I made a family calendar and had the girls help me fill in the important monthly and weekly dates so we can all keep an eye on it.  I had to show Charlie how to divide up her weekly work and mark down what she needs to do each day in her (school-provided) planner which I then have to sign every night verifying that I have checked the homework and seen any notes from her teachers. I have to sign her reading log every time she makes an entry and sign her math homework after I check her work and correct it using a special notation system so she can then fill in a "progress chart" which thus far is a solid block at 100% accuracy. Just so much busy work for us parents.

While I wholly support parents being involved with their kids schooling, this just feels like forced participation.  I have the luxury of being home and having the time support this, but many may not.  I am excited that Charlie is already being instructed in the kinds of time-management skills that will carry her through her entire educational career, but right now that buck is being passed directly on to me. The homework itself is a great tool for tracking the kids' progress, the recording metric serves only to test who is the "good" parent willing to do this whole song and dance. I generally float around making lunches and prepping dinner while the girls do their school-work, but I am not a huge proponent of  the "lets all sit down and make sure Charlie never struggles with her work" style of homework supervision.  Additionally, if this level of constant monitoring is considered the bare minimum expected of parents, is it any small wonder that kids now pack off to college completely incapable of handling their own lives without the parental units there to hand-hold?

 I feel like attempting to teach kids time and homework management skills only has a lasting impact if they actually have to be responsible for it.  As it stands in this system, Charlie knows I will keep up with it if only to save my own ass from the withering stares of her teachers on conference night.  In our case, I can do this and I certainly will, but I really think this is a total fandango for second grade homework.  Specifically it is a lot of hoopla for parents in system that does not, at its heart, teach the kids much about syllabus management. Unless, of course, said parents make the effort to foist the responsibility back on their kids, which adds another step to the nightly procedure and just dear goddess when will it end?  I guess I will be doing the double-time routine of  being a good mom by the books, and signing all those sheets, while also actually making Charlie responsible for the bulk of it. Again, I have the time to do this, but I can totally see why many won't bother...who really would in this system? In so many ways modern education encourages parents to do way too much for their kids due to rampant parent shaming that will certainly require its own post someday.

In short: great teachers, amazing curriculum, quality material, horrible recording system with way too much parental hand-holding forced into existence.  Skirting the fine line between helping your children get the most out of school and helicopter micro-managing was hard enough without being "volunteered" (or "voluntold" as they say in the Navy) for this new system.  It will be fine. I am thankful that this is my biggest educational challenge to date, but still...no I don't want to sign 11 sheets of paper and correct your math homework in three colors...I did my time as a TA dammit!

02 September 2014

The Rewards of Working Out

The kids being in school has finally allowed me to take training seriously again. Having two hours, four times a week, where I have no direct obligations to family members really does make getting in a handful of meaningful workouts feasible. Of course, as much as I am liking how good exercise makes me feel, no good deed goes unpunished. In no particular order, here are all the "rewards" the universe has bestowed upon me for my efforts:

  • Extra Laundry- The sheer volume of sports bras alone has added to my laundry burden. With Chris and I both using an extra full outfit most days of the week, the laundry hamper fill way faster than it used to! Plus, the smell, oh my goddess, the smell. Leave a pair of running tights in the bottom of a hamper for the final days of a New England summer and the results are literally breathtaking.
  • Hives- Sometimes, and this is just awesome, I get hives from my own sweat. Apparently it is not that uncommon, and most likely from the heat, not the sweat, but none the less, I am not impressed. Never knowing if, or when, I might suddenly be covered, hairline to toes, in red itchy bumps kind of steals all my workout joy. Add in that I am such a special snowflake that I can't take any anithistamines without winding up unconscious for 12 hours....just blegrh. So glad I am doing this super healthy thing!
  • Windedness- Not only am I am doing my usual routine where the more I exercise the harder it gets even though that is exactly the opposite of how training should work, ever since I messed up my lungs with pneumonia in January, I need an inhaler when I run or bike. Add in 90 degree weather with 95%+ humidity and it can take hours before my breath returns to solidly normal after a good run. I am officially a fat-girl cliche, puffing on my inhaler, red and overheated, as I drip sweat and gasp for air. Again, so healthy! So good for me!
  • Acne- Another great thing about sweat and New England humidity: my skin hates it! I currently have a zit (or maybe cluster of zits) the size of two pencil erasers on my chin. The only thing about my skin regimen that has changed is the working out. Exercise makes you so attractive! Nothing says good health like the "glow" (hives and acne) of skin after a great gym session.

Overall, I know this keeps me healthy. Getting this exercise and eating as well as we can given our generous, but certainly not infinite, resources will keep me alive and healthy for a long time. I am grateful for that, I truly am. I just really can't be grateful for all this other BS. Maybe someday I can be the bigger person and just not care about all the downsides, but for now, I will curse like a trucker as I load laundry, slather on hydrocortisone cream, suck on my inhaler and see my lumpy face in the mirror.

 

Good health, get some!

28 August 2014

Toeing the Line at Naval War College

The whole Schindler debacle over at the Naval War College "blew over" when the dick-pic'd woman in question basically confessed to doing it in the spirit of revenge porn and claimed it was consensual. Now I will give the benefit of the doubt here and say that what consensual adults wish to do with their iPhones, genitals and any combinations therein is none of my business....but, it feels like there are still more issues at play here. Revenge porn is unacceptable behavior regardless of why one choses to do it, and I will say that on that topic, Schindler was the victim. Fair enough. However, the behavior that lead to someone (not his partner) having pictures of his penis and the fall-out that lead to the wide publication of those texts needs to be examined.

We do need to ask: was it really consensual and/or was she really sorry she had done it? She certainly may be, it is not my place to define or denounce her feelings on the matter. However, that choice did not happen in a bubble immune from the usual nonsense that accompanies issues of sexual assault and harassment in the DoD system. It is hard for me to separate her rescinding of the accusations from the inevitable shit-storm that she no doubt knew was headed her way if she dared challenge the sexual and professional supremacy of the middle-aged-white-male in the DoD. I certainly hope that she recanted and dropped the issue because it was the right choice for her and not because, like so many people in similar situations, she felt powerless to move forward without retaliation.

While the media immediately took the spin of "look at this poor man, his life was nearly ruined by a woman scorned" I find myself wondering why we can all gloss over his litany of other unacceptable behaviors. We can say that he is (under certain definitions of the term) an adulterer. With the disclaimer that he and his partner may, or may not, have some kind of agreement on this matter, as it stands, this could be considered cheating. Adultery is illegal and a possibly terminable offense for military members. Schindler himself may not be subject to the UCMJ, but he works for a military specific educational institution. If this would not be acceptable behavior for the military members he instructs, does the Naval War College feel OK with tacitly endorsing that behavior in its civilian employees? Apparently, yes.

Additionally, his behavior online, especially in the glaring case of sending a picture of his penis to someone via text, really makes me question his efficacy in teaching future military leaders about anything security related. Like isn't the first rule of spy-club that you don't blab non-stop about being in spy-club? Also, even 12-year-olds know not to be sexting with pictures. Sweet baby jeebus, that is like internet security preschool curriculum. Is this really the guy you want to be employing as the face of Naval War College's high level of security education? As a corollary, how seriously are any students going to be able to take this guy? While it may be unfair, I would not be able to sit in a class and assign any value to this man's guidance on the topics of security when I know about his highly un-secure online antics. Frankly, I would be pretty pissed if this clown was offered up as an important subject matter expert in exchange for my valuable education-related time and money. No thanks.

Finally, the fact that he still, independent of this issue, has behaved unprofessionally, including use of homophobic and transphobic slurs, should still make the War College question his viability as a member of the teaching staff. Regardless of the revenge porn incident, the question remains: is this the culture you want your school to represent? Do you want this guy, an unprofessional jerk who routinely makes his unprofessional jerkiness highly visible online, striding around the country as a representative of the Naval War College? I would hope the answer is no, but recent events certainly imply that the Naval War College is, as an institution, completely OK with it.

This issue serves as a perfect example of the pervasive social norms that will always make it hard for anyone who is "other" to overcome the good-old-boys-club that is the DoD. When all is said and done, as long as you are a white, relatively educated/affluent male with a position of even moderate power, you are basically living in a consequence-free dream world. So, for furthering yet one more man in the belief that his position of privileged allows him to be above the rules of basic human decency, Naval War College, we thank you.

27 August 2014

School Days

Both the kids went to school today.  Charlie went to second grade (Shut up! No YOU have a second grader you old lady!) and Lizzie trundled off to preschool (*sob* my last baby!).  I promptly drove for ten full minutes where no one cried.  I listened to NPR in relative silence and I am now at the library happily working in one of the study centers while not a single soul interrupts me. It is fairly surreal.

The point is that I am finally feeling confident that I could get back into blogging and/or start a training plan for running with some promise that when I set aside some time to do said things, I could actually, you know, do those things.   For two hours, four days a week, I can do what I want or need to do with no distractions.  Maybe it is selfish, but I do not plan to spend that time cleaning or house-keeping.  Frankly, I get that stuff done with kids around all the time, so I will just get it done with kids around in the future.  This time is officially mine.  Heck, I might even get a gym membership when it gets cold out.  That's right people, a gym membership so I can have some time to do what I want to do.  What a world.

Point is, I will hopefully be working in this space more often.  That is going to be nice. This is all going to be so very nice.

23 June 2014

Big Day at the War College

Today was exciting here in the world of RI DoD nonsense. In short John Schindler, professor at the Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, RI was put on leaver after he, allegedly, sent a classic "dick pick." Because apparently no matter how smart you purport to be, the temptation to send unflattering pictures of your genitals to people is a tough urge to overcome. I first caught wind of it from Chris who kind of mentioned that some guy at the NWC had imploded himself on Twitter. Cool! I love a good fiery demise by social media! I kind of watched it all unfold in real time and by this afternoon, he was on suspension from the NWC and it is big news. I have so many things to say about this, none of them necessarily connected, but here they are in no particular order.
  • Good on the NWC for moving ahead with an an investigation ASAP. They are at least giving the impression that this guy will not just get the classic "well, you know, we are all old white dudes so whatevs" pass.
  • It is sad that I consider that victory. As if the bar for response to what could, and should, be considered a form of sexual assault has been set so low that even a passing acknowledgement that it should be investigated is cause for celebration.
  • I am curious as to why he has not been investigated, or possibly, dismissed in the past. Schindler seems to have a long history of unprofessional behavior on his blog and on Twitter. While his behavior in those venues may not represent how he acts as a professor, and his private life should be just that, private, he is throwing around a lot of NWC clout. He presents himself as a subject matter expert (which he may very well be, no argument there) and constantly acts as an ambassador of the NWC in high profile discussions in his area of study. I am just surprised that he was able to walk around acting like a jackass while wearing a huge NWC insignia and no one has smacked that bad attitude down.
  • This is especially true since he has made transphobic and/or homophobic remarks about key players in the currently ongoing NSA investigations. I have a hard time accepting the professional credibility of a person, and by extension the institution that employs said person, when that kind of behavior is exhibited and subsequently tolerated. Looks like we have a long way to go when one of the DoD's leading educational research institutions is willing to tacitly endorse that kind of rhetoric.
  • The e-mails, just oh my goddess, the e-mails. They are sexist, misogynistic, elitist, uber-conservative gold. Seriously check them out (Warning: the following link is definitively NSFW and may contain un-pixelated images of the penis in question. The article makes it clear when the unedited material will appear, but a back up warning in case that is not your bag or it might be in any way triggery is always a good idea.) The emails.
  • His whole demeanor, the entire "I am saying this is true and you will believe it and not question it because I am an expert and that is all you need to know" attitude is so archetypically perfect I can't even stand it! Spend five minutes involved with DoD operations and this will feel oh so familiar. Not really a shock that the herd of professors they hire to train military members to be, well, good little service(wo)men unerringly embrace this attitude.
  • The simpering explanation that he has received negative blowback, not only directed at him personally, but his family and co-workers, is just too exemplary for words. While I don't enjoy seeing a person's life ruined, the total disbelief that he is in any way culpable for this outcome is amazing. That is white-cis-het-conservative-male privilege at its very best.
  • Additionally, this is probably still only a fraction of the abuse that women receive, daily, just because they dare to speak out on topics such as, just for example, trans* issues, homophobia, sexism, misogyny and sexual assault. I am having a hard time feeling sorry for a man who actively engaged in a breathtaking intersection of all those terrible things getting some blowback.
I am very curious to see how all this plays out. I have my doubts as to whether the college will actually do anything about this, or if they will keep up the standard DoD SOP of just making it look like they care. I am also waiting, with popcorn at the ready, for when this guy makes his inevitable return to social media so we can all hear about how he was the tragically wronged party in all of this. (Granted, that may still turn out to be true, the validity of all these claims has yet to stand up to investigation level scrutiny, but I am always going to assume claims of this kind of assault to be true because we owe that to victims who are brave enough to come forward.)

20 June 2014

That Time My Neighbors Were Rape-Culture Activists

My neighbor is currently running the local soccer league and finds himself with a conundrum.  The broad strokes are that a boy with a history of behavioral issues threatened a girl that if she didn't have sex with his friend, said boy would kill her.  Understandably, the parents of his girl do not think the boy should be allowed on the team, yet no one seems to agree with that idea.

"But he deserves another chance." Nope. White men of privilege are always given another chance.  This teaches them that there are no repercussions for this kind of behavior.  By constantly offering these "second chances" (and third chances and fourth chances and so on) the behavior is tacitly endorsed and  indirectly rewarded.  If you are wondering how we produce the Elliot Rodgers of the world, this is exactly how that happens.

"But the team should have all the best players." Nope, your desire for trophies doesn't trump this girl's fundamental human right to not be harassed and endangered.  All the kids deserve to be on the best team possible while maintaining an environment that is not hostile to agency.  Protecting the interest of a sports ball team does not make it acceptable to ignore misogynistic and dangerous behaviors.  If you are wondering how we produce boys like The Steubenville Rapists, this is exactly how it happens.

"But she can play on the girls team." Nope. She should not have to chose to play on her second choice team so as to accommodate the unacceptable behavior of this young man.  The perpetrator of the assault threat, and that is exactly what this is, a direct threat of assault if a girl doesn't subject to the sexual will of a boy, needs to be the one who loses out on this opportunity.

This neighbor is raising two boys of his own. He is a lawyer who should understand the full repercussions of such threats. The other parents have children of their own who will participate within this sphere of influence and not one of them is concerned that this kid would be on the team.  This kind of misogyny is so normalized that it literally concerns no one.

I can already see how this will go.  The kid will get a spot on the team, because trophies. The parents of the girl will petition for his removal. She will get pushed out of the soccer system because white men who help sport teams get medals will always be held in higher regard than the people around them who demand personal safety, because trophies.  This lovely white privileged community will carry on with its entrenched sexism and support of rape culture.  Everyone will wonder why girls don't seem to want to play soccer, as if it is a complete mystery that they don't feel welcome or safe in that space.

Suburban sports-culture is rape culture. Plain and simple.

19 June 2014

Chores are a Real...Chore?

My kids now have assigned chores as part of my "turn these horrid little tyrants into humans" plan.  Basically, they are just responsible for the kinds of things that keep a household going.  Make your bed, get your clothes in the hamper, put away clean clothes, help load dishes after meals, ensure the bunny has food/water/lettuce/papaya and some bigger weekly tasks like helping gather up trash and recycling.  We are slowly but surely building a little home-culture of everyone just pitching in and keeping the place running.

BUT...and isn't there always a "but" with kids...this has not actually made my life easier.  The thing about assigning your kids chores is that is actually makes getting those tasks done, and done completely/correctly, soooooo much more time consuming.  It takes me five minutes to make three beds, but it can take 15 minutes of arguing, tantrum throwing and fit pitching to get Liz to pull her comforter up and toss the stuffed animals back on the bed.  Sure dishes get put in dishwasher, but with no end of fighting, clattering of silverware and milk splashed over every square inch of the counter-top.  Feeding the bunny leaves a trail of hay and food that requires me to sweep the floor an extra time. All in all, this is not a particularly rewarding parenting task on a day-to-day, chore-to-chore basis.  I easily spend way more time reminding them to do these tasks, and dealing with the fall-out than it would ever take for me to to all this work myself.  Of course, doing it all myself  is how you get 32-year-olds who can't figure out where the measuring cups go (and the spouses who silently seethe)...so you know, we shall carry on.

Overall, they have been doing very well with their chore lists and it seems to have helped the general "flow" of the household.  Since doing household stuff has become routine, they also fight me less when we have to do other chores like the weekly overhaul of the playroom, sorting out summer clothes or getting the garage put to rights.  While day-to-day the chores provide way more work than they mitigate, I do actually feel like I am doing something that will help my kids be functioning adults one day.

This may only be worth it in the big-picture sense, but that is good enough for me.

18 June 2014

Sleep Deprived

Officially on my third night of only 3-4 hours of sleep. I am drinking way to much coffee and staggering through my day. It is not pretty. Kudos to my kids though. They managed to stagger their all night crises (illness, nightmares, thunder and plain loving to see me hustle) such that I was never in my bed for more than 45 minutes at a clip and got all my sleep in maybe 20 minute bursts. I am so tired I could weep.

Since cognitive thought is so not on the agenda for today, check out the socks I knit over at Full of Knit.

I will see you when the sleep-deprivation related fog has cleared....say 2027 or so.

 

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