Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The other day I was chatting with two of my coworkers. One is a self-described "cafeteria Catholic" who picks and chooses from the Catholic dogma - she attends mass every week and had her kids baptized, but also supports gay marriage and birth control. The other is a lapsed Catholic who I'm pretty sure is either agnostic or atheist, but I'm not entirely sure.

Anyway, I'm not sure how this story came up, but my cafeteria Catholic friend told us a story that floored us. Her brother, she said, has fallen away from the church. He no longer attends at all, and didn't have his kids baptized. She said that she was talking to her mom about this at one point when her mother said confidently, "Oh, those kids have been baptized." Um, what?

Turns out, her mom (the kids' grandma) did an unofficial at-home baptism of the kids one time when she was babysitting them.


My coworker said that she is never planning on telling her brother or his wife about this because they would be furious. And I wouldn't blame them! My other coworker and I were just floored. I would be livid if one of my relatives did something like that! It's completely disrespectful of me as a person, and of my parenting choices. I was getting really angry just thinking about it!

What was really funny about it, though, to me was when I shared that story at a Freethinking Females meetup I went to that night. The other women there - atheists every one, and many of them moms - laughed and laughed! Who cares?, they said. It's not as if it actually DOES anything. It's not like she was taking the kids to church or something - a little sprinkling of water doesn't actually do anything other than maybe make their foreheads a little cleaner.

Huh. That wasn't a position I'd considered... maybe it's not actually worth getting all fired up over. On further reflection, though, I'm not sure. To me, it's still a very disrespectful gesture - it completely disregards the choices I've made for my life and for my children. It also seems like it could be inching towards a slippery slope... today a DIY baptism, tomorrow Sunday School, and who knows where it goes from there.

In the end, I feel that religion is pervasive enough in our society. I definitely don't need to let it make any more inroads into my life... or my children's lives.

And for the record, if anyone does try to baptize my kids? There will be hell to pay!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Take a survey for science!

I got the following in my email yesterday... so I thought I'd share it here!

Subject: Invitation to participate in Ph.D. research into atheism

We invite you to participate in a survey unique to atheists and other
non-religious people (i.e., those who do not believe in god(s)). This survey is being conducted by a Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada, Reno with the assistance of Atheist Alliance International (AAI). This survey intends to understand your experiences as an atheist, including your involvement (if any) with secular organizations and your perceptions of discrimination and prejudice (if any) against you as an atheist.

We aim to increase awareness of atheists and other non-religious people by publishing resultant work in academic journals and other outlets (such as AAI’s Secular World magazine).

Participation in this survey is voluntary and anonymous. Your responses will be combined with others, and no personally identifying information will be recorded. Your honest and complete answers are crucial to making sure survey results accurately represent the experiences of atheists. The survey will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete, and will remain open until 27 March 2013.

To participate in this survey, or to learn more about this study, simply click the link below:

If the link does not function properly, please copy and paste the link into your web address bar.

If you have additional questions before or after your participation, please e-mail Michael J. Doane at

Feel free to share this link with other people who might be interested in participating in this survey for atheists and other non-religious people.

Thank you in advance!

Michael J. Doane, B.A. Carlos A. Diaz
Principal Investigator
President, Atheist Alliance International

Marta Elliott, Ph.D.
Faculty Advisor

I took the survey - it didn't take that long to complete, not much more than 10 minutes. I think it's worthwhile... there are so many stereotypes and just flat wrong ideas out there about atheists - that we're angry at god, we have no joy, there's no meaning in our lives, etc. It'd be nice to see some research out there that shows that those stereotypes don't hold true.

So go ahead... take the survey. For science!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Parenting books

I thought I'd give some short reviews of pregnancy and parenting books I've read, recently and not-so-recently. (All links are to, but aren't affiliate links... no referrals or kickbacks here!). There are so many books out there aimed at parents and parents-to-be; as with so many things it can be hard to wade through the woo to find information that's actually worthwhile!

Please note: I'm a parent, not a doctor. These are just my opinions. Please share yours in the comments!


What to Expect When You're Expecting: This is the classic pregnancy book. It's been around for years and years, and is probably one of the more popular books out there, if my parent friends are anything to judge by. It tracks the fetal development on a month-by-month basis, and is pretty thorough. Unfortunately, it also tracks the potential developmental mishaps and errors month-by-month, too. I also remember it being very prescriptive about the right way to do things - the right pregnancy diet, the right amount of exercise, etc. I had an earlier edition, so perhaps this has gotten better in later editions. Overall, I found it informative, but also irritiating and anxiety-provoking.

If you don't get a copy at your baby shower, you can probably either borrow it from a friend or find it used. I don't know if I'd buy it new.

Your Pregnancy Week by Week: Similar to What to Expect, but on a weekly basis instead of monthly. More emphasis on fetal development (yay!). I enjoyed reading this one weekly. I remember this one being less prescriptive and lighter in tone than WTEWYE.

For what it's worth, it's been years since I read either of those. I only read pregnancy books during my first pregnancy. During my second pregnancy, when I already had a toddler running around, there just wasn't as much time for gazing at my ever-expanding navel.


The Nursing Mother's Companion: I mostly read this one while I was nursing. It was useful for figuring out different holds when the baby would get fussy. I had a pretty easy time with breastfeeding, though, so I probably didn't need it. I had friends who really struggled to get breastfeeding going, though, and found it useful. Secondhand anecdata, for what it's worth!

The Dr. Sears Baby Book: hoo boy. This one was a gift from a friend with an older child, who's VERY into attachment parenting ("AP"). If you're not familiar with the term, the book's blurb describes AP as "a gentle, reasonable approach to parenting that stresses bonding with your baby, responding to her cues, breastfeeding, "wearing" your baby, and sharing sleep with your child." The blurb also says that "the Searses acknowledge that there is no one way to parent a baby," but that wasn't my experience with this book. My husband and I read it, internalized it, and then felt like failures when our daughter was clearly Not. Happy. with some of the AP practices we were trying to follow. Plus, hello! I am the primary wage-earner in our family; I couldn't wear the baby in a wrap and breastfeed on demand all day long; I had to go to work.

There's some good medical information here (like medicine dosages and the like), but it's mixed in with a healthy dose of working-parent guilt. Take it with a grain of salt.

Baby 411: LOVED this book! Very informative, very easy to use, written by a pediatrician (hooray!). My favorite section was in the back: a list of common ailments/issues, like fever, animal bites, rash, vomiting, etc. Each lists symptoms broken out into three categories: 1. watch/wait, 2. see the pediatrician tomorrow, or 3. go to urgent care/E.R. Super, super useful. I highly recommend this one.

Older Kids:

Louise Bates Ames' series (Your Two Year Old, Your Three Year Old, etc.): I like these books. They're short and sweet, and describe the 'typical' developmental milestones that take place, year by year. Plus, they have some hilariously apt titles. My favorite is Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, which may seem harsh if you don't know any three year olds. :)

The Whole Brain Child: subtitled "12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind," this book is FANTASTIC. Written by a neuropsychiatrist, it's probably one of the best developmental books I've read. It takes the ideas in Thinking, Fast and Slow, simplifies them, and applies them to parenting. I highly recommend this book. It's useful for both understanding and parenting your child, helping your child understand herself, and understanding yourself as well. Seriously, all the thumbs are up for this book.

Parenting from the Inside Out: by the same author as The Whole Brain Child, I actually didn't like this one quite as much. It falls more into the self-help category - it's aimed at parents, but with the idea of understanding yourself better so as to be a better parent. Which is not to say that it's a bad goal! I just wasn't expecting a self-help book in the guise of a parenting book, you know? Solid advice, though.

Freeing Your Child From Anxiety: Finally, one of my new ZOMG THIS IS THE MOST USEFUL books. One of my children has some anxiety issues, and this has been really helpful for me.

The author (Dr. Tamar Chansky) is a licensed psychologist and the founder of the Children's and Adults' Center for OCD and Anxiety. She gives useful information that parents can use to determine whether or not their child's anxiety is normal, and provides tools parents can use to help their child overcome that anxiety. She also discusses treatments such as CBT and medication, and when they're effective and when they are not. The information is presented clearly and non-judgmentally, and is easily accessible even to a layperson like me. Really, really great stuff here.

So! Those are some of the parenting books I've read. Let me know your thoughts on these, and any of your other favorites or not-so-favorites!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy Darwin Day!

Today would be Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Happy birthday!

Over the weekend, Minnesota Atheists had a kid-friendly meetup at the Science Museum of Minnesota to celebrate Darwin Day. I wanted to go! Sadly, we already had conflicting plans... but we had fun, too.
Instead of the Science Museum, the girls and I were at the Minnesota Zoo, where they were taking a class on penguins! This was the first time they've gone to a class there, and I highly recommend it. The girls had a blast, learned a lot, and can't wait to do another one. The zoo offers classes for kids (including summer camps for school-aged kids), families, and adults - check it out!

Because the penguin class was kids-only, I had two hours of kid-free time at the zoo! It was great... I really love the zoo, but am usually distracted by my children and don't get to linger. So this was a rare opportunity for me! Because Darwin Day was on my mind, I ended up really marveling at the strange and beautiful diversity of life.

These weedy sea dragons always amaze me... the exhibit notes say that they are so fragile that they can be damaged just from the touch of a human hand. They're beautiful - I love watching them slowly drifting along.

This colobus monkey was taking a little nap on a log right next to the window. So relaxed and peaceful. I loved being able to see him up close like that.

This curious little guy is a prehensile-tailed (or Solomon Islands) skink! He was the subject of a "meet a reptile" demonstration. You can't see it here, but his tail is really amazing. I learned that this is just about the only type of skink that is a herbivore - most of the other species are omniverous and their diets include insects. The zookeeper holding the skink said that they feed it leaves of a type of plant (I forget the name...) that's actually poisonous to many other animals. But this skink can handle it!

I saw so many other animals in those two hours... lionfish, penguins, a shark, coyotes, a sea turtle, black bears, eels, flamingos, wolverines, dwarf cuttlefish... at the end of my time, I was left awestruck at the the diversity of life that's evolved and survived on earth.

Oh, and don't forget about pandas and spiders!

Life is strange and weird and beautiful. :)

Happy Darwin Day!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fandom, geekery, and self-confidence

I've been thinking recently about my various forms of nerdery, and why I feel so strongly about passing it on to my daughters. For the record, I'm a fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, and various Marvel comics. Not so much with Star Trek or DC, except for Wonder Woman. I loooooove Wonder Woman (naturally).

I've been encouraging the girls' interest in these things. Right now they both really like Star Wars and the Super Hero Squad. My older daughter is also getting in to Transformers, and is watching a show called Rescue Bots. They also both like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (blech!).

My husband has asked me a couple of times why I'm encouraging the girls so strongly to get into this kind of nerdery. Not that he minds, mind you - he likes these things too! But he's more of the mind to let them discover things on their own and develop their own interests, instead of nudging them in one direction or another.

As I thought about that question, I thought of the women I know who self-identify as geeky. And you know, they're pretty cool people. They have their interests, and they own them... celebrate them, even, with things like cosplay and conventions and fan art... regardless of what anyone else might think. And to be honest, my geeky guy friends are the same way. These people are happy with their interests and who they are.

And if my girls can grow up with that kind of self-confidence, then that is a really cool way to be.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reading list

Just a few notes on books I've read lately...

I recently finished Atheist Voices of Minnesota, a collection of personal essays by atheists from, or living in, Minnesota. They're varying quality (as is to be expected), but by and large, really well written. I don't know if they had an editor working overtime, or if we just are great writers, as a whole. But either way, I really recommend this. I'll be going back to it time after time.

And I just started Joseph Anton: a Memoir, Salman Rushdie's account of his years in hiding following the issuance of the fatwa. I'm nowhere near done with it but so far, I absolutely love it. I really enjoy Rushdie's writing, and this is no exception. It's also an interesting meditation on just how much religion has influenced Rushdie, an atheist - both in his writing, then through the fatwa that caused him to spend years in hiding, fearing for his life.

So there you go - two books, two thumbs up!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Your Health Care Needs Are Met.

Spotted this sign on the way to work this morning...

It reads: "Your health care needs are met here! ***Science & Health***  Quickly, clean, affordable, safe, lasting - customed to your life!"

I'm sure you're wondering where this was - a doctor's office? Pharmacy? Clinic? No...

This was in the window of a Christian Science Reading Room. Oh, Christian Science, with your wacky tales of people who prayed away their underbites without orthodontia.

If only your followers didn't refuse to treat their children's illnesses, allowing needless suffering and death. It'd almost be sweet, this faith in the power of prayer.

Yeah, too bad.