Archive for October, 2007

Happy Halloween

See? Dragons aren’t so scary up close.

On second thought….

In lieu of more substantial thought, here’s a link to a new story at Shred of Evidence. Meanwhile, I wish you all a very safe and happy Halloween.

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On its surface, The Black Widow Agency might appear to be what Kirkus Reviews indelicately referred to as a “bitch-a-thon”: a man-bashing, ultra-feminist piece of little more than propaganda.

Those of us who have not experienced chronic or egregious sexism might be inclined likewise to write off Felicia Donovan‘s* debut, but that would be an oversight. That’s because underneath the quips and jabs lie characters, both female and male, who have made–and continue to make–plenty of errors, sometimes serious ones; and who are ultimately their own people, not the stereotypes that Kirkus would have us think.

Donovan writes about aspects of female relationships that often get glossed over in the popular media. Women offend and are offended, not always understanding “the big deal” on either side. Women cross each other’s boundaries, believing it’s their due under the umbrella of “sisterhood.” And sometimes, women stab each other hard in the back.

This debut comes at a time when organizations like MomsRising seek to change pervasive attitudes about working mothers. The story central to The Black Widow Agency is a case of sexual harassment and repercussions against working moms. Donovan, who has seen her share of both equity and inequity at the New England-based law enforcement agency where she works, writes effectively on several different levels. Although some of her secondary characters could have stood a bit more fleshing out, Donovan promises this in upcoming sequels. And although the happily-ever-after wrap-up is a bit of a stretch for those of us with darker sensibilities, they’re also a fun bit of escapism in a prevalently dark world.

*Full disclosure: I once interviewed Felicia about the law enforcement technology consortium (CLEAT), which she founded. The article appeared in Law Enforcement Technology in, I believe 2003, and Felicia and I got back in touch via Crimespace. I’m very pleased to be helping promote her creativity once more!

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Sorry for the lack of posting, folks. I’ve been meaning to post more personal, writing-parent-related material for an even balance of it and book reviews, but this past week the kids were sick (back to back) and sleep was at a premium. Hope to be back with more this weekend, or barring that, the beginning of next week!

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I’m convinced that in a past life, Boris was an Egyptian embalmer. Just the way he crams his fingers up my nose and twists them around in my sinuses while he’s nursing….

Yes, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to share that anecdote! In all seriousness, however, author M.J. Rose tells me that children under the age of 5 remember past lives more than people of any other age group. Although I confess I’m a bit of a skeptic as to reincarnation, the possibility is fascinating. That’s why, after reading Rose’s latest book The Reincarnationist, I asked her to tell me more about children with regard to this subject.

CM: You told me, “children under the age of 5 remember their past lives more than any other age groups.” Why is this?

MJR: Some people describe it as a door that remains slightly open till somewhere around 5 to 7 years old. The reason that I’ve read about that makes the most sense is that reincarnation memories are carryovers from past lives and children are literally closer in time to those past lives. Since past life memories are stored in the subconscious as our children’s minds become filled with other information those memories become buried and or confused with the millions of pieces of new information that children take in as they grow.

CM: In the book, Natalie’s mother believed her child’s memories were just pretend. How would you begin to guess whether your child was pretending, or remembering? What are early memories like in children and how do they articulate them?

MJR: In Eastern cultures–where 60% to 80% of people believe in reincarnation–it’s very different than in America, where only 20% believe. There, when a child says, “Mommy, when I knew you before I was your brother and we lived in a red house,” the mother would first believe it was a reincarnation memory.

As for pretending or remembering, what I’ve often heard is that they are simply not the same kind of stories. Most kids under five wouldn’t make up stories that have the kind of striking details about time and place. Or so I’ve read.

There is so much information about this at a site, http://www.carolbowman.com/. She’s an expert who has written about childhood reincarnation memories and regression.

CM: The events in THE REINCARNATIONIST are grounded in events of historical significance. Is this common among those who remember past lives, or do they recall more mundane details?

MJR: Usually people remember the lives that ended violently or were troubled. So many do remember historical events.

CM: Your characters Malachai and Beryl don’t remember past lives. Do some people have the “gift” and others not? Are some personality types predisposed to remember, or does it have to do more with upbringing? (Or, as in Josh’s case, physical trauma?) How about boys vs. girls?

MJR: It’s not a boy/girl thing. Or a personality type. Most adults don’t have memories unless they work on finding them through hypnosis or regression. That said, most people if they take it seriously and do the work, can find some memories.

CM: You told an interviewer that as a child, you had recalled details of your great-grandfather’s life that you couldn’t possibly have known unless you’d been there. Do reincarnated souls typically reappear further along blood lines?

MJR: Reincarnated souls do often return to be with the same group of souls they’d been with before so they can finish what they started, or complete issues that haven’t been worked out. So there are a lot of family connections. A lot of parents report on kids talking about the last time they were together. Or the last place they’d lived.

Interested in more? Check out M.J.’s other blog: http://www.reincarnationist.org/wordpress/

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Mama Knows Breast: A review

Andi Silverman presents a breezy, conversation-with-girlfriends style in her new book Mama Knows Breast: A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding. Meant to be a basic handbook rather than an oracle (Silverman provides a list of those at the end of her book), Mama Knows Breast covers the essentials of breastfeeding a baby: pros and cons, “operating instructions,” etiquette, and spousal involvement, among others.

It’s important to read the book cover to cover, since Silverman either omits or glosses over some details in the opening chapters but covers them later on. Still, even as a handbook, I found it to be not quite informational enough, especially to a first-timer. For example:

  • Silverman recommends healing sore nipples with breastmilk, but doesn’t say why (the antibodies in the milk aid healing).
  • While she advises that thrush can be cured with antifungals, she doesn’t discuss the natural remedies (including probiotics) that many women feel are more conducive to healing (especially if mother and/or baby are taking antibiotics).
  • A mention of the milk-supply-enhancing effects of dark beer doesn’t take into account research that shows it is the prolactin level, not the actual supply, that increases with alcohol intake.
  • Nursing pillows are never mentioned (they can help support a smaller-than-average infant, as well as an inexperienced mother; I depended on mine with my first, but hardly needed it with my second).
  • Neither are growth spurts, which can be stressful for a mother who doesn’t know why her baby suddenly refuses to be put down!

A discussion about the history of formula is good, but does not discuss social/class attitudes toward breast- and formula-feeding during this century – a critical omission, since many of our grandmothers felt that breastfeeding was something “only poor people” did. Even if our mothers disagree, the lack of support from either or both generations can persist, leading a mother to give up sooner than she might have liked.

Some details outright concerned me. “No one’s handing out a martyr medal,” Silverman tells the reader after she advises not to suffer in silence, but this is not what keeps many women from asking for help. Instead, help is either not there (if a new mother lacks supportive family and friends) or it’s available, but conflicts (differences in opinion among care providers, such as the pediatrician and the obstetrician).

In my own experience, confused about how to handle my older son’s dietary sensitivities and afraid that my care providers would advise a switch to formula, I ended up calling my local La Leche League leader. Many women are not so lucky, and Silverman doesn’t account for this. (Neither does she account for soy allergies, which can affect many babies who are sensitive to milk protein, or spicy foods, which can trigger reflux in reflux-prone babies.)

Likewise, a frank mention of sexual arousal while breastfeeding is not given adequate attention. Specifically, given the anxiety in our culture about sex and children, Silverman could have devoted a few extra sentences to the reason why this happens: the hormone oxytocin, which flows in abundance during both sex and nursing. It happens that way to promote bonding between partners – yes, nursing is a partnership – which is crucial to a mother and the newborn she doesn’t yet know.

The book does have its strengths. Relationships are given some weight in Mama Knows Breast, which was nice to see. A father’s role gets a good discussion, as does co-sleeping, which receives a realistic balance as to safety vs. efficacy. Some of the relationship advice is a bit too glib – “Use erotica” may not be helpful to people who simply aren’t turned on by it, and “Keep communicating” doesn’t help a couple who have had hundreds of conversations interrupted – but by the same token, sometimes the simplest solutions just don’t occur to sleep-deprived, lifestyle-shocked couples.

The “From the Mouths of Moms” segments, following a format in use by other childcare experts, are good (notwithstanding the mother who advocated breast pumping while driving – “If people can talk on their cell phones while driving, why can’t I pump?” – actually, many states and cities now ban cell phone use while driving); it’s always helpful to see how other moms have handled a trying situation.
Silverman also spends considerable time discussing relactation for adopted babies, as well as using milk from milk banks. Her section on nursing etiquette is wonderful in its detail, including comebacks for nosey critics. Likewise her kick in the pants about comparing oneself to celebrities who have personal trainers, chefs, and nannies that most of us can’t afford.
Silverman’s best advice is in her closing paragraphs. “Wean yourself of all your preconceived notions about breastfeeding…. In some ways, that’s the beauty of this whole Mama thing. You get to make it up as you go along.” All in all, Mama Knows Breast is a good start, but in spite of its encouraging tone, may not be all a newly nursing mother needs as she starts – or continues – a nursing relationship.

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