Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The BIG Knitting post

So last weekend we went to my inlaws' home in Schenectady, New York. I have no problems with my inlaws. However, the nine hour drive each way has always posed a challenge. My spouse says I am a far worse traveler than our children. What can I say? I am bored by car travel. Especially since the arrival of children, which means I ride with the "food bag" between my feet and spend half of each trip contorted to pass snacks and books to the back seat.

This time, however, things were different. I loaded up my wonderful BagSmith birthday present...

...and knitted my way across Ontario and New York. I did not get motion sickness (which has plagued me from childhood and acted up as recently as my FIRST trip to Sch'dy as a new bride when I puked up a footlong hotdog on the side of some highway between Albany and the Berkshires). In fact, it worked quite well, with the exception of having practically nowhere to put my feet, now that the knitting was riding aside the food bag.

Between the trip to and from, and the quiet evenings at my inlaws', I was able to make this much progress on a summer cardigan from the last issue of Creative Knitting:

You probably can't tell from the photo, but the yarn is a soft coral (Cascade Sierra in color 55). It has a lacy bottom that was very fun to knit. Now I'm into the garter ridge, which is pretty boring. Maybe that's why they have you do the back first: get the longest rows out of the way first.

My mother-in-law is a wonderful, old skool knitter. She learned as a girl in Maine. She has been knitting with wool (and only wool -- no acrylic for her thank you) ever since. She has years and years of patterns, knitting magazines and yarn in her craft room. She was generous enough to open her craft room to my eager eyes. I came away with a bunch of Green Mountain Yarn patterns and these items from her stash:

1. Two skeins of bulky yarn left from a mitten project of hers.
2. Yarn for the Christmas stockings I promised my friend who got married in February.
3. Half a cone of mulberry-colored chenille (project suggestions?)
4. Leftover yarn from the sweater she knit my youngest when he was born (how could I not take that?).

5. NORO!

There's a bit of a story behind the Noro. Namely, I did not get it from my mother-in-law. Instead I bougth it at the yarn shore she took me to the day my husband and sons went with my father-in-law to tour a decomissioned navy ship in Albany. We drove to Altamont and went to The Spinning Room, which was very well stocked and had helpful staff (one of whom appeared to be the owner). Noro was on sale for $9 (which maybe wasn't such a sale, but it was $2 off the usual price there, so I registered a bargain). I don't know what I'll use it for but now I have 4 balls of Silk Garden. I have wanted Noro yarn for quite a while. My desire chakra has been temporarily appeased. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Finally, I wanted to share a few tidbits from my mother-in-law's pattern collection. In thumbing through old Reynolds patterns, I came across these two photos, which have to be of Christie Brinkley and Tia Leoni before they hit the big time. Am I right?

Finally, for those of you who like "vintage" knitting, check out this swingin' pattern I uncovered.

If you knew my mother-in-law, you would realize this could only be in her posession through some accident. Perhaps my spouse's older sister bought it in the hopes her mother would finally make something "groovy" instead of "square." Or maybe someone put it there as a joke. Either way, I would pay a hefty sum to see my mother-in-law knitting this pattern, let along wearing the finished garment.


Beating the Proverbial Dead Horse

O.K. I think this is the last post for a while on the subject of menstruation and menopause.

I simply wanted to link to two interesting articles. The first, courtesy of Milliner's Dream, is discussion of potential harms associated with stopping menstruation for prolonged periods (no pun intended).

The second is an article that reports a beneficial effect from exercise on the symptoms of menopause.

Now I'll move on to knitting. Yipee.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More on Menstruation and Menopause

I finished The Woman in the Body last week. It was due back to the library, so I don't have it to refer to or quote from. This means I am forgetting much of what it said and can't share the photos.

Nonetheless, let me recommend it if you enjoy questions of culture, gender and identity. Even if you don't you're likely to get something out of the chapters on Cultural Images in Menstruation and Menopause, and Cultural Images in Birth (Not the exact titles, but close enough). The author argues that metaphors of women's reproductive functions are linked to her role in the workplace and societal views of work overall.

Thus, in ancient Greece, menstruation was viewed positively, as a means to unify and balance the bodily energies. With the rise of industrial production, women's bodies were subjected to hierarchical production metaphors. Hence, menopause is when the ovaries fail to respond to hormonal signals originating in the brain's control centers in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Labor is the work of the body to produce a baby; it often malfunctions (e.g. fails to produce the baby in a predetermined amount of time), requiring the skill of doctors and their tools to fix it.

Seemingly objective descriptions of body functions are framed in negative terms, rather than affirming ones. For example, most of us, when asked, describe menstruation as the sloughing off of the uterine lining when an unfertilized egg reaches the uterus or a fertilized egg fails to implant. This presumes the purpose of women's uteruses is reproduction. The author argues that the same process could be described as a cleansing of the uterus that signals the body's preparation for a fertility cycle. OR, if you want to be liberated from the procreation paradigm altogether, menstruation is confirmation that women's hormones are functioning well (or that she has successfully avoided pregnancy).

Similarly, menopause is not necessarily the "loss" of reproductive capacity. It is the refocusing of women's energy from reproductive areas to other areas.

Then there is the dissociation of women from their bodies. In other words, the notion that we talk about "what our body does" when we menstruate or give birth belies a possible separation of "self" from the physical body. Women do not usually say, "When I bleed." We say, "when I get my period." We do not say, "I contracted stronger as time went on," we say, "the contractions got stronger." Indeed, examination of medical texts discusses labor as involuntary -- the actions of the uterus in a vacuum -- and leaves the individual woman out of the process (except when she fails to dilate or she has to have a surgical delivery -- then it's the woman's fault, not that of the innocent uterus).

I only touched on a few of the ideas introduced in this short book (about 1/3 of which is references and research methodology; skip those parts if you're not interested). It's certainly worth the read.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bruce Cockburn, I'll be your Man Ass

Leave it to a scammin' law prof. to score a paid position as the official blogger, a.k.a. Management Assistant ("Man Ass" for short), for the Dixie Chicks' new tour.

Fellow Bloggers, whose Man Ass would you like to be?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

And men think we're just looking for a big package

Two different studies have confirmed that women know what they're looking for in a mate and know HOW to look for it in a mate.

One study showed that women could identify, simply by photographs of men's faces, those individuals who like children. They could also identify men with high levels of testosterone. This is less surprising, since testosterone produces the cut, square jaw and strong buccal muscles of action heroes.

When asked with whom they would prefer to have a short-term relationship, women tended to pick the high-testosterone males. ... The problem with testosterone-fuelled males is that they are less likely to remain faithful to their partners

By contrast, men who show an interest in children are also likely to make good partners, because they will care for their offspring. The study showed that women prefer these men for long-term relationships. Again, no surprise.

The surprise is this: some men were perceived both as masculine and as interested in children. From an evolutionary point of view, a trade-off between the two would have been predicted. That would produce what is known as an evolutionarily stable strategy in which the child-loving men father fewer babies to start with, but see as many live to maturity because they help to raise them rather than deserting the mothers.
So we tend to "know" whether men will be philanderers or diaper-changers just by looking at them.

Things get complicated, however, when we move past looking to courting. You may have heard before of tests where college women are asked to smell their male counterparts' unwashed undershirts and indicate which ones are from men they'd like to meet and of how that really relates to identifying the best immune system configurations? That, plus a lot of other interesting chemical cues are summarized in this article. A few interesting summary points:
Women can identify, by smell, men whose immune systems best compliment their own (making for the healthiest offspring).
  • BUT, when women are taking oral contraceptives, their oflactory sensors are faked out: they choose men who are least suited to them, immunologically.
  • AND when women are approaching ovulation, they are more attracted men whose traits are associated with high testosterone levels; at other times in their cycles they are more attracted to men who tend to be loving and monogamous. (Hence the number of "hook up" pregnancies in which the father isn't present at birth?)
  • AND women can interpret the cuddle-factor from oxytocin released during sex as bona fide love.
It is a complicated world in which we live. If you feel you were fortunate enough to choose a good life partner (or to reject bad ones!), then perhaps you should thank your senses, as well as your heart!

Monday, June 19, 2006

It has happened again...

The things I want to post about have outpaced my ability to write about them. So here we are to another round-up.

1. The Yarn Harlot is coming. To Ann Arbor.
It's not up at the AADL website yet, but the Harlot herself is reporting she'll be at the library on Sunday, July 30.

2. Added hormones in dairy products may increase likelihood of twins.
From the NYT article:
Many dairy farmers inject their cattle with recombinant bovine somatotrophin, a synthetic version of the naturally occuring [bovine growth] hormone. This increases size and milk production, but it has another effect: Cows with higher growth hormone levels produce more twins.
3. Added iron in formula may contribute to Parkinson's Disease.
Striking a cold bolt of fear in the heart of any mother who has used or is using pediatrician-endorsed, iron fortified formula (not to mention infant vitamin drops with iron) is the news that this exposure could give our babies Parksinson's Disease down the road. Just another case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Maybe there's a reason breast milk is low in iron, eh?

Thursday, June 15, 2006


To have found an image of this:

For more info, read up on Miguel Calderon. Better still, watch The Royal Tenenbaums.

Innocence Lost

The other day I got home and saw this note waiting for me on the table, in the printing of my eight-year-old son:

"Today at recess Andy* was touching Jennifer's private part and I did it too. I am sorry I did it. It was wrong."

*not the real names
Oy! How many different thoughts this raised.

My spouse said he and my son had already discussed it. He had a few more details to add. The private part in question was the girl's breast area (though she is not developed yet, if that matters). This all took place on the kickball field during a game. Andy did it first and kept doing it. My son said as soon as he did it, he knew he shouldn't and he stopped. He even reported himself to the teacher.

I was torn. For an eight year old child to be curious about body parts is natural and normal. It was at around that age I peed in the cornfield behind our house with the neighbor boys, them watching me, me watching them. It was each of our first views' of peers' privates. I do not want my son to feel it is shameful or wrong to have that curiosity, or even to act on it.

On the other hand, any time I hear about a girl being touched or looked at by a male, especially more than one, little alarms ring. It does not matter that she's eight, that her breasts are not developed, or even that she was, according to my son, a willing participant in the process. I don't know at what age the male-female sex/power hierarchy starts to be established, but what if this is how it starts?

I do not feel it is fair advice to say, "it's okay as long as both of you want to do it," because it can be hard to know what you want. And that rule would not apply to, say, and eighteen-year-old and my second-grade son.

In the end I did nothing because my husband had already talked with him, because my son was very upset about it and didn't want to talk with me (hence the note) and because the teacher had talked with the three kids at school.

I could not help but notice, however, that my son's first sexual experience, however innocently it started, became his introduction to sexuality as taboo and shameful. That is too bad. Certainly not the path I would have preferred.

I've been planning to get this book for our household. Perhaps now is the time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Whoring for a Good Cause

Hardly. Though asking for money can feel just about that icky, especially as you're getting used to the idea.

This past weekend I hosted a fundraising tea for the Center for the Childbearing Year. I invited around 100 women that I know (however tangentially -- cut my hair? you're invited. Interviewed me to be your doula and hired someone else? you're invited) and ended up with a crowd of 12. I expected that, actually. THIS really great book actually walks one through various fundraising efforts. It said to expect at 10-20% response rate.

Anyway, among the highlights was getting to talk about all the good things the Center does, showing a slideshow of women in labor and giving birth, and explaining what doulas do and why providing doulas free of charge to low-income women is a cause worth supporting.

The event raised over $600. I was very pleased when I got home and added up the checks. Better still, some women indicated an interest in volunteering for the Center in various capacities. That made all my discomfort around an explicitly "ask" oriented event worthwhile.

Grand Rounds

The medical carnival Grand Rounds is up at Haversian Canal. Lead entry? Our own doula blogger, Milliner's Dream.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Birth Words

The Chronicle of Higher Education had a note this week about a professor of English who routinely polls his students on their selections for the most beautiful and the most ugly words in the English language. Here is their list for this year:





That, of course, got me thinking. What are the ugliest and most beautiful words associated with birth? I put a few of my thoughts here but am curious to know what you think.


ferning (what they look for on a glass slide to see if amniotic fluid is present)


bear (as in "bear down")

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Simple Coincidence?

In the week I post twice about menstuation and culture, my hold request for The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction, with a chapter entitled "Medical Metaphors of Women's Bodies: Menstruation and Menopause," comes in at the library.


More on Menstruation Management

Several comments on the menstruation cessation (sounds like a Schoolhouse Rock song, doesn't it?) post reminded me that I didn't say all I wanted to on the subject. I am persuaded by arguments that women today menstruate much more than our forebears did. As sumarized nicely on the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals website, "Preagricultural women had about 160 lifetime menstrual cycles, attributable to late menarche, high parity, extended periods of breastfeeding, and early menopause. That number has almost tripled to about 450 cycles for contemporary women who live in industrialized Western nations."

We bleed sooner, have fewer children, breastfeed for less time, and experience menopause later in life. Our poor uteri are perpetually riding the egg ripening and releasing roller coaster. In that sense, reducing the number of periods we experience, would more closely mimic the situation we have evolved to experience.

I am a hypochondriac who rarely goes more than six months without convincing myself that I have breast or ovarian cancer. The argument that all this ovulating makes us more susceptible to cancers of the reproductive organs resonates with me. In fact, if chemically relieving the body of its monthly cycle was shown to reduce the risks of ovarian/uterine/breast cancer without increasing other risks, I would be first in line for treatment.

But I tend to think of ovarian/uterine cancer risks and breast cancer risks often being in opposition to each other. The elevated estrogen that helps supress ovulation increases breast cancer risk.

But I digress. What is interesting to me is that the notion of what is "normal" for our bodies again comes back to a cultural context.

In my last post on the subject, I said, in essence, women should let their bodies bleed monthly because that's how our bodies are designed to work. Yet the historical perspective is that our bodies are designed to bleed only when they are not gestating or feeding children. In the absence of birth control, that would be approximately every two years.

It is only our recent control of fertility and the rise of alternatives to breastfeeding that have made monthly menstruation seem normal.