Archive for April, 2012

The Dominion of Sin

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

If you’ve made it past the title then bully for you.  Sin is a messy topic, full of disagreements and contradictions and diametrically opposed perspectives.  In short, it’s not the type of thing I’d usually address in this forum.  But last Sunday as I sat in church and listened to the sermon the priest said something that caught my attention:

The dominion of sin isn’t the act, it’s the ego.  It’s the wanting to be first.

He conceded that murder and adultery and all of the despicable acts we associate with sin are indeed horrific examples of it.  But he posited that the sin starts much earlier.  The sin begins when a person places himself above other people.  I was fascinated because this had never occurred to me.

I started thinking about sins of all stripes and as I thought through the list of some more garden variety sins I was amazed at how well the priest’s position held up.

  • If I am a bully it is because I care more about feeling big than I do about whether or not you feel scared or threatened.
  • If I am materialistic it is because I care more about presenting a certain image than I do about being a certain kind of person.
  • If I am judgmental it is because I care more about finding myself superior than I do about exhibiting compassion or tolerance.
  • If I am selfish it is because I care more about myself than I do about the people affected by me.

I’m sure the list is endless.

And as I thought through these various sins, some of which I myself am guilty, I was struck by one thing.  Putting yourself first in all of these situations is almost always a byproduct of insecurity.  Put another way, not sinning requires and incredible amount of confidence.

When I feel confident in myself I don’t need to bully.  I don’t need appearances to feel good about myself.  I don’t need to make snide remarks about other people to inflate my own sense of self.  And I don’t want to put myself first if I know that it will negatively affect another person.  When I feel confident I am more patient, forgiving, substantive, and empathic.

The rub here?  Confidence is a hugely difficult thing to develop.  It takes years of cultivation.  Each person requires a different concert of people and experiences and reactions for its care and feeding.  But like a house of cards, it can collapse in an instant.

Yet churches do precious little to cultivate our confidence in ourselves.  As Christians we are taught to have confidence in God; confidence in His omnipotence and benevolence; confidence in His love and forgiveness; confidence in Him to guide us and save us.  And I know that this kind of confidence in God can also lead us to lives of less sin.  (I don’t believe anyone lives a sinless life.)  But I wonder if churches aren’t missing the boat a bit.  Would more sin be eliminated if people had confidence in themselves?  And further still, if more sin is eliminated by fostering confidence in oneself than in God which approach should churches take?  Should it be their chief end to cultivate Christian belief throughout the world or to end sin in the world?

I’ve gone a bit far afield here.  Clearly purpose of faith and the purpose of a church is an enormous topic that I actually do have the good sense not to opine about here.  (Nevertheless, it’s an interesting question, isn’t it?)

The dominion of sin isn’t the act, it’s the ego.  But the great irony here is that it’s when my ego is healthy that my sins are fewer.

Keeping it Simple

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

My sister-in-law eats an apple every day.  She’s religious about it.  Ive never really understood why she is so steadfast about it, but I’ve recently learned that it doesn’t matter.  I should follow suit regardless because she’s onto something.

I was a bit shocked last week when I read this article about all of the health benefits of apples.  Of course I’ma accustomed to hearing the praises of blueberries and grapefruit sung.  But apples?  I had no idea they were much more than convenient additions to a brown bag lunch.  Nevertheless, they are apparently all of the following: beneficial for weight loss, beneficial for digestive health, antioxidants, and agents in preventing oral, breast, colon, and kidney cancers.

Bits of information like this inspire me in some strange way.  I think it’s because of their simplicity.  In a world where we are constantly inundated with copious – and often conflicting – information about our health, it is such a relief to learn that for once that the advice is easy.  We give up carbs and gluten but we aren’t sure why.*  We read about the evils of sugar and then try to figure out whether or not sugar substitutes count.  We hear from one source that we should take a multi-vitamin and from another that we shouldn’t.  It becomes overwhelming quickly.

But this?  This I can get behind.  So instead of waxing philosophical about the beauty of simple advice, I’m going to let the advice stand alone.  Eat an apple today.  In fact, eat two.  And if you need more convincing, go read the article.  Then go eat your apple.  Your body will thank you.

*I really don’t understand the current gluten free craze.  For anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease, what’s the problem with gluten?

Who’s the Better Boss?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

IEP and Nanny on her wedding day

I’m here to follow up.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Manhattan’s niche industry of super high end nannies and mused about why some people will pay astronomical prices for childcare.  I was responding to an article in The New York Times Magazine that discussed this topic and has since gotten quite a bit of national attention.

Take, for example, this article from Slate’s Double X section in which experienced nanny L. Wood discusses why she would rather work for a rich family (specifically a rich mother) than a working one.*  Wood comments that the obvious issue of compensation certainly factors in.  But, rather, she believes it is the way that wealthy mothers manage their relationships with nannies and babysitters that makes them preferable employers.  Specifically, they don’t have relationships with their nannies – according to Wood, that is.

Perhaps I come to this topic defensively.  Except for the fact that we did go through a well-reputed referral agency (rather than Craigslist or similar) to hire our nanny  I am everything she described in a working mother.  We went through a series of awkward interviews.  We ultimately made a decision based on a gut feel.  When our nanny was new to us and we were new to parenting I’m sure that I micromanaged her more than was warranted.  And – at the heart of Wood’s position – we have a personal relationship with our nanny.  It seems we’re everything she’d hate.

So now that I’ve gotten my disclosures out of the way let me ask this: what’s so wrong with all of that?  When it comes to babysitters I can see her point.  They are there to keep your kids fed, amused, out of trouble, and put to bed for an evening here and there.  They are paid hourly and if they are reasonably experienced there is no need to go through lengthy pre- or post-game rituals with them.  But a nanny is different.  This person is caring for your children on a daily basis for long periods of time.  (I know of a family who had the same nanny for 12 years!)  Nannies are working (and sometimes living) in your house for the majority of your children’s waking hours.  What I don’t understand is why anyone wouldn’t want such an employment arrangement to come with some degree of personal relationship.

Wood argues that, “Wealthy moms know how to manage their help because they have experience hiring, managing, and firing people in their homes.”  She believes that this level of comfort with household employees makes them better employers because it affords them some degree of detachment from their nannies.  While I would agree that someone well-versed in managing a household staff is better equipped to be a good boss, I wholly disagree that the detachment that supposedly results is any kind of asset.

Any study that analyzes people’s job satisfaction tells us that one of the biggest indicators in whether or not people like their jobs is the relationships they have at work.  This usually outranks even the work itself in measures of job satisfaction.  In a professional environment the friendships and camaraderie that are built amongst coworkers are highly valued.  Yet Wood seems to believe that such relationships come as a detriment.

Taking this a step further, a nanny’s job is to help raise your kids for a portion of their lives.  Certainly she should do so in accordance with the parents’ rules, values, and priorities.  But she’s still shepherding them through life on a daily basis.  In the same way that two parents need to communicate about their children extensively, so should a mother** and her nanny.  Raising a child is a huge job and a collaboration.  If a nanny is part of that collaboration in your family then shouldn’t there be more to a mother’s return home at the end of the day than, “You’re dismissed”?

I don’t pretend that our nanny comes to our house every day out of the goodness of her heart.  She comes because it is her job and because we pay her.  Nevertheless every morning when I leave for work thank her.  And every evening when she leaves our house we thank her.  Perhaps this isn’t the way things are for most working adults.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my current boss has ever thanked me for anything.  But maybe that should be the way things are for more of us.  How much happier might we all be if our employers told us on a regular basis how much they appreciate what we do?

In my last post on this topic I mentioned that IEP was Nanny’s ring bearer when she got married last month.  I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.  And I’m pretty sure neither could she.  And I know for certain that we’re both very grateful for that.

*For the purposes of this blog post I will overlook the incredibly erroneous assumption that no working mothers are affluent, and that all stay-at-home mothers are.  Clearly she’s never heard of Sheryl Sandberg.  Nor has she, apparently, ever met a family that made financial sacrifices in order for one parent to stay home.

**I don’t mean to exclude fathers here.  But Wood limits her argument to mothers, so for the sake of practicality so am I.

And Now With a Dose of Reality…

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

I’m pleased to introduce, once again, my sister Anne.  These days she’s writing for Heart of Gold Girls, which is a wonderful site dedicated to helping girls pursue their goals.  She’s guest posted here once before and can always be counted on for a thoughtful and/or pithy response to popular culture.  In conjunction with the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic Hollywood is all a-twitter with the 3D re-release of Titanic the movie.  Anne was quite the fan of the movie when it was released, and today she’s here to provide her view of the film as someone who has successfully survived adolescence.  Thanks, Anne!

I was a part of the demographic that made Titanic an international success.  I wish I were the demographic that flocked to an edgier, more hip groundbreaking film.  Pulp Fiction, perhaps.  But nope.  In 1997 I was a cliché with no shame who saw Titanic 5 times in the theater.

I could defend myself.  I could tell you, for instance, that despite its totally lame dialogue, Titanic restored the grand tradition of epic films a la Doctor Zhivago or Gone with the Wind. But who am I kidding?  I spent over 16 hours of my life seeing Titanic on the big screen for primarily 3 reasons…

  1. The love story
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio in a tux
  3. Kate Winslet’s clothes

But how about today?  Does Titanic hold up over time for this former swooning 17-year-old?  In an article for The Huffington Post, a kindred Titanic groupie saw the 3D version, and compared her thoughts while viewing the movie at age 12 to her thoughts as a now 26-year-old.  I haven’t seen the 3D version yet, but I popped in my VHS(!!!) copy of Titanic the other day so I could do a similar comparison.  Here are my thoughts:

Age 17: I wish people still dressed like that.
Age 32: Kate Winslet looks uncomfortable in those corsets.

Age 17: I wish I had red hair the color of Rose’s.
Age 32: I hope my daughter ends up having red in her hair. My ship has sailed.

Age 17: Leonardo DiCaprio is hot.
Age 32:  Thanks a lot, Titanic. Because Leo was stalked by teenage girls after Titanic came out, he never played heartthrobs after that. Please, oh please, let the new Great Gatsby be as good as I want it to be. Maybe he’ll be pretty again. No more J Edgar please.

Age 17: Jack seems kinda nerdy when he shouts about being “King of the World”.
Age 32: Good instincts, “Anne-at-17”.  It was indeed nerdy. Your cringe was worthy.

Age 17: I just love Kathy Bates; she’s so nice and friendly.
Age 32: Kathy Bates is always a hoot! Should I start watching Harry’s Law? Nah.

Age 17: I hope I meet a wandering artist someday and have a wild fling.
Age 32: How on earth do they think they’re going to travel the world if they’re broke?

Age 17: Jack is so fun-loving, getting Rose to dance an Irish jig!
Age 32: Jack can pull it off, but Rose looks like a doofus dancing that faux jig.

Age 17: Eeek!  Kate Winslet is really gutsy to show her breasts like that!
Age 32: Clearly Kate Winslet had not nursed any babies when she shot this movie.

Age 17: Ugh, I have to watch the ship sink now.  The good stuff is over.
Age 32: Oh god, I forgot they killed off that old couple in bed together.  I can’t watch.

Age 17:  Why doesn’t Jack try harder to climb on that friggin’ board?
Age 32:  Why doesn’t Jack try harder to climb on that friggin’ board?*

Age 17: What a dramatic gesture throwing that necklace into the ocean!
Age 32: Throwing that necklace in the ocean served no purpose whatsoever. It ticks me off.

Age 17:  I must buy the soundtrack.
Age 32:  Did I really buy that soundtrack that sounded like Enya but wasn’t Enya?

And, with that, I need to find someone willing to go see it with me again in 3D.

*I’m with the Huffington Post on this one…

Did you love Titanic or hate it?  Leo-lover?  Am I alone in thinking James Cameron should find a screenwriter and stick with the special effects?

Facing the Day

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

His heart was in the right place.  Truly it was.  Nevertheless, I gave him the cold, hard diss.

In the summer of 2003 I started a new job more than a year after having been laid of from my previous one.  GAP and I were dating at the time and he wanted to spend the night at my place the night before I started work so that he could make me pancakes in the morning.  I turned him down.  While I certainly appreciated the thought, I was nervous, and all I really wanted was to go through my normal morning routine without any special occasion festivities throwing me off my game.

I thought of this memory yesterday when I was scanning headlines online and came across this article wherein various women commented via Twitter on the essential components of their morning routine.  It seems I’m not the only one who adheres to a morning routine with a certain religiosity.

Having kids is about the fastest way to put any adult routine on the chopping block.  But even as my morning routine has evolved to account for feedings, diaper changes, and temper tantrums I still hold certain aspects of my mornings sacred:  My breakfast.  My two-mile walk with our dogs.  And leaving the house with the bed made.  These things make me feel normal and in control of my day.

Most of the respondents to HuffPo’s survey said that coffee was the thing they couldn’t live without.  Others said exercise, a favorite body lotion, and a hug or kiss from a loved one.  But I think that what we include in our morning routine isn’t so important as the fact that we have one.  Mornings are hard for many of us.  Making each day up from scratch would be a disaster.  Having a routine allows us to operate on autopilot for a bit until we’ve rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and all pistons are firing.  And that routine also gives us a barometer of sorts for how the day is going.  This isn’t to say that a rough morning means that the rest of your day is doomed, or conversely that a good morning can’t be trashed pretty quickly.  But it gives us some context for the day.

There are certainly days when I wish for a different morning routine; one that includes sleeping until 7:30, eating breakfast at a leisurely pace while reading the news, and then going out for a long run while I’m still feeling fresh and energetic.  (When all my children are grown, perhaps I will have that…)  For the moment, though, my mornings are quite different.  Nevertheless, even if they are subject to influences outside of myself I know how important it is to take care of my own needs amidst the chaos.

I need my morning routine.  It keeps me upright and moving at a time when horizontal and sedentary seem much more appealing.  And if I can cross off my morning tasks one by one, then I can face the day knowing that I got it off to a good start.


Okay, so let’s pretend this is Twitter.  What are the aspects of your morning routine that you could never give up?

Sugar High

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

I’ve been living it up lately.

Every day at work I eat my lunch.  And every day when I finish eating I walk up to the check-out line of the company cafeteria and pay for a chocolate chip cookie that is about four inches in diameter and a fountain soda.  And it always hits the spot.  This daily treat probably runs me about 600 calories.  Under normal circumstances such a delightful sin might be a once-a-month occasion, if that.  But lately I’m doing it every day.  Why?  Simple. …  Because I can.

Nursing a baby is a huge commitment and a lot of work.  The bonuses are two-fold.  Most importantly, it’s good for my baby.  Secondarily, the calories it burns afford me the opportunity to eat more or less whatever I want.  This doesn’t mean that I eat junk food every day.  On the contrary, I’m aware that whatever I eat so does SSP.  So I take care to eat a balanced diet that is good for both of us.  But I justify my “cookie and a Coke” habit with the premise that I can take such liberties with my diet only for a limited time, so I had better take advantage while I can.  Hooray, I thought.  Bring it on!

Then 60 Minutes had to go and rain on my parade.

Their recent piece on the toxic nature of sugar was a total buzzkill for me.  The net of it is this: “When a person consumes too much sweet stuff, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and converts some of it into fat. Some of that fat ends up in the bloodstream and helps generate a dangerous kind of cholesterol called small dense LDL. These particles are known to lodge in blood vessels, form plaque and are associated with heart attacks.”  In addition to the heart disease risks, sugar is associated with increased cancer risks and has been shown on fMRI to be as addictive as cocaine.

Then The Huffington Post doubled down with a pair of articles (here and here) endorsing the 60 Minutes piece and echoing the evils of sugar.


So what’s a girl to do?  What is any of us to do?

Should we heed this doomsday – and scientifically substantiated (grrrrr) – news?  Or should we take it with a grain of salt?  All of this new research on sugar is depressing at best, foreboding at worst.  Are we to believe that sugar is like tobacco, and any amount of consumption is to be avoided at all costs?  Or is it more like alcohol, something that can be damaging and addictive when consumed irresponsibly and in excess, but which can also be enjoyed in moderation without any real harm?

If I were overweight, or diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension then I would not sit here wondering whether or not I should ditch my daily sugar high.  But I’m really healthy.  My cholesterol level are great.  I exercise daily.  I drink lots of water and eat lots of vegetables.  At my most recent physical my doctor told me that I am “built to last.”  Given all this, can I afford to to continue my sugar-laden indulgences?  Or is the fact that I can afford the calories irrelevant?

I can tell you this: as soon as SSP is weaned I will drop this habit.  My soda consumption will drop back to about one a week.  And my dessert proclivities will be substantially adjusted as well.  But can I afford to throw caution to the winds for the next seven months?  Or do I need to dial it back now?  Given what I’m learning about sugar I’m inclined to modify my habits sooner than my baby’s first birthday.  (Also, the novelty of my cookie/Coke habit is slowly fading.)  But at the same time I want to believe that in the context of an otherwise completely healthy lifestyle, it’s not that big a deal.

It’s my one vice and it’s temporary.  But I care a great deal about my health.  Truly, I’m torn.

I Just Don’t Have It In Me

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

This is the finished side of our basement.  It is the place in our house where IEP did his first crawling.  The place in our house where we watch movies and ball games.  The place in our house that doubles as guest quarters when we have overnight company.  The place in our house where GAP and I have had some of our most important conversations.  It is one of the most-used rooms in our house.

And as you can plainly see it’s a disaster right now.  The original cast iron sewer pipes under our house were corroded and must be replaced.  This means that a crew of men must dig into the ground beneath our house, exhume the old pipes, and put in PVC.  This also means that everything from the basement is now strewn about the first floor of our home.  It looks like crazy hoarders live here.

So, last night as I sat and stared at my computer screen, scanned the web for blogging inspiration, and came up empty handed, I resigned myself to the fact that I just don’t have it in me this week.

I will be back next week.  In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed that this whole operation goes smoothly!