Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

New Hampshire was ranked the healthiest state for children, although the ranking did not include an increase in poverty rates due to the recession, according to a report covered by the Associated Press. Minnesota and Vermont ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the list.

On the other end of the spectrum, the same foundation that issued the report, found that Texas has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The New York office of the commissioner of investigation for city schools has recommended that high school history teacher Nathan Turner be banned from teaching in the public schools for taking students to Cuba in 2007, according to the New York Daily News. The students were detained in the Bahamas for the unauthorized trip, although their parents allowed them to go.

Struggling cities in the United States are offering free land to encourage people to settle there and pay taxes, according to MSN Money.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on how technology is cutting into teenagers’ precious sleep.

PBS Kids will air a science special that features the Cat in the Hat on Labor Day, September 6. The show will air at 8 a.m. You can view a clip at Facebook.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Lesbian Moms Rejected as Leaders of Son’s Cub Scout Troop

Cate and Elizabeth Wirth, a lesbian couple in Vermont, were told by a Vermont district director of the Boy Scouts that they could no longer volunteer for their son’s Cub Scout troop after it became known that they are a couple. According to the Rutland Herald, Richard Stockton, Scout executive for the Green Mountain Council, confirmed, “The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don’t accept gays and lesbians as volunteers.”

This is awful, but given the Boy Scout’s previous history with gay matters, it is perhaps not surprising. (For the record, I also have a serious problem with the fact that the Boy Scouts don’t allow atheists or agnostics to be leaders, either.)

What is interesting, however, and what I hope will stir some discussion among those of you who are around over the holiday, is this comment from one of the mothers:

Cate Wirth said Tuesday that she expects her son to remain in Scouting, despite this incident. And as of Tuesday afternoon, she had not told the boy about the comments.

“I still think Scouts is a good thing for him because he doesn’t have a dad and he’s really drawn to a lot of stereotypical male stuff that Scouting does, outdoorsy stuff,” Wirth said. “I don’t want my personal issues to impact his life in that way. I was concerned if he knew about it he might be uncomfortable going.”

She said of her decision to allow him to continue in Scouts, “Politically, if he weren’t a 10-year-old boy I’d feel differently about it. I wouldn’t support the organization. But his needs come first.”

First, kudos to Wirth for putting her son’s needs and interests above all. I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to yank my son out of the organization.

At the same time, I find myself uneasy about her words. “Stereotypically male stuff” does not in fact need to be done by a male. That’s one of the arguments trotted out by those who say all children should have a mother and a father, so let’s put that old canard to rest right now. My opinion is that yes, there are certain ineffable things about being male that are usually best conveyed by someone who identifies with that gender (parent or otherwise). Specific activities, on the other hand, should not be so gendered.

If the Wirths are not outdoorsy types themselves, however, that is fine. I’d like to imagine, though, that there are options other than the Boy Scouts for their son—but then again, without knowing their particular location, schedules, etc., it is hard for me to say. Perhaps the Boy Scouts are indeed the best alternative for them. The whole situation reminds me of the many trade-offs we must make as parents. Again, they deserve credit for making what must be a hard decision.

I have to wonder, though: Tanney told them, “We wouldn’t want you pushing your lifestyle on the boys.” How long before their son lets slip a remark about having two moms or accidentally reveals a family photo that he tucked away in his backpack? Would the Scouts go so far as to reject the son of lesbian moms, regardless of his own sexual orientation, because of the danger of exposing other boys to their “lifestyle”?

What would you do in their situation?


208-Year-Old VT Schoolhouse Closes

In a scenario that is playing out in many rural areas where mills and plants have shut down, a Vermont town has decided to close its 208-year-old schoolhouse in favor of having its 20 students pay tuition in neighboring schools.

From the Associated Press:

It’s a dilemma facing rural communities around the country. Just last week, a one-room schoolhouse with two students in Shirley, Maine, shut its doors. An elementary school with 14 students in Hamill, S.D., that faced possible closure has managed to stay open another year despite losing a teacher.

“It is pandemic,” says Marty Strange of Randolph, policy director of the nonprofit Rural School and Community Trust in Arlington, Va. “The factors are fiscal — where there simply isn’t enough money to keep the schools going — especially where there’s declining enrollment — the cost per pupil gets very high.”

Fond memories
As the year’s end approaches, the kids of Hancock Village School (in Hancock, Vermont) know what they’re losing.

Three fourth-graders and 10 third-graders in one classroom draw pictures of their schoolhouse, a white clapboard building with a bell on top that still clangs to call youngsters in from the schoolyard. They work on modern desks and colorful tables beneath antique pendant lights installed in the early days of electricity.

Tighter national standards also led to the school’s demise:

Barbara Harvey, 67, taught at the school for 21 years, from 1973 to 1994. She remembers cross-country skiing with the kids in the field out back and putting on performances at the town hall. Harvey liked the family atmosphere of the multigrade classroom….

But with more demands — and the same expectations as larger schools have — a small school becomes costlier to run.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, for example, Hancock was required to have a research-based math program and had to hire a part-time math teacher for the second grade.

“The expectations are all great expectations but unfortunately they don’t lend (themselves) as well to a one-room school, they don’t lend as well to multigrades,” Crowley says.

The decision to close the school has been divisive in Hancock, a town dominated by national forest land. In 2007, it lost Vermont Plywood, a mill that was the town’s only major employer. Many in town now travel outside Hancock to work and more than half are retired, says Jim Leno, 65, selectboard chairman.

“The costs just keep escalating — not only the costs but the level of education,” Leno says.


It’s Not Over Yet: “Protect Isabella Coalition” Forms to Keep Girl from Lesbian Mom

In this week of euphoria over the marriage victories, let’s not forget we still have a long way to go. Today, “a coalition of concerned Virginia citizens” has formed the “Protect Isabella Coalition” to “create awareness of what it labels ‘judicial tyranny’ in the child custody/visitation case involving Miller, Isabella’s biological mother, and Vermonter Janet Jenkins, her lesbian former partner.”

(I’m not going to boost their search ranking by giving them a direct link. If you like, cut and paste the following:

Those of you who have been following the case (see here and here) know that Miller and Jenkins created their family together. When they split, Miller said she was no longer a lesbian, enlisted the help of the far-right Liberty Counsel (think of them as the anti-Lambda Legal), and tried to claim sole custody, saying that Jenkin’s lesbian lifestyle was harmful to their daughter. The case has bounced between the jurisdictions of Vermont and Virginia, but in December, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, letting stand a ruling that Virginia must enforce a Vermont court order awarding child-visitation rights to Jenkins.

Most recently, a Vermont Family Court judge rejected a new bid by Miller to deny visitation rights to Jenkins, and reminded Miller that she risks losing custody if she continues to violate court orders. At the same time, he turned down a request from Jenkins that she be given primary custody, and allowed her five weeks of custody in the summer.

The Protect Isabella site is a compilation of the usual unsupported claims about how children fare better with a mother and a father, and statements like “Six-year-old Isabella Miller did not arrive in the world in ‘the usual way.’ Her ‘dad’ is an anonymous sperm donor. The only father she really has known is her Heavenly Father, thanks to the love and godly teaching of her real (biological) mother and role model, Lisa Miller.” Nothing wrong with being religious, of course, but let’s keep the religious arguments out of our legal ones.

Given the case’s Vermont connection, launching the site the day after the Vermont decision seems more than coincidental. Does this mean the right is running scared? We’ll see. I don’t think we should underestimate them, however. For Isabella’s sake, I hope they stop using this case to promote their cause. The custody decision has been made, appealed, and upheld. Yes, going between two households is tough, as it is for any child of divorce or separation. Children deal with it, however, and by and large do just fine. Let’s let the girl get on with her life, sharing it with both of her moms.

(Thanks to Paige Schilt for alerting me to the news.)

The full press release from the Protect Isabella Coalition is below:

Virginia Citizens Launch Protect Isabella Coalition
Group Asking Legislators To Uphold Virginia’s Marriage Laws

LYNCHBURG, Va. – A coalition of concerned Virginia citizens has formed in support of Lisa Miller and her 6-year-old daughter, Isabella.

Called the Protect Isabella Coalition, the grassroots effort aims to create awareness of what it labels “judicial tyranny” in the child custody/visitation case involving Miller, Isabella’s biological mother, and Vermonter Janet Jenkins, her lesbian former partner. The group has a Web site – – and also has produced television and radio public awareness ads.

Jenkins and Miller were joined in a civil union during a trip to Vermont in December 2000. Afterward, they returned to Northern Virginia to live. Miller was artificially inseminated in a Virginia fertility clinic the following year, and gave birth to Isabella in April 2002.

The couple lived in Vermont for just over a year before Miller filed to dissolve the civil union. Renouncing homosexuality and embracing Christianity, Miller relocated with Isabella back to Virginia.

A Vermont judge ruled in 2003 that Jenkins is also Isabella’s “mother,” allowing her liberal visitations, although she is unrelated and never adopted the child. Her requests for full custody have been denied.

Deeming Jenkins’ open lesbian lifestyle a harmful environment for her daughter, Miller began denying her visits with Isabella following a 2004 ruling by a Virginia circuit court judge that Miller was Isabella’s sole

Subsequent Virginia appellate court and Virginia Supreme Court rulings have held that Vermont’s visitation order must be recognized and registered because of the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. This law, both courts said, supercedes Virginia’s Marriage Amendment and Marriage Affirmation Act, as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Liberty Counsel attorneys representing Lisa Miller continue to file appeals aimed at protecting Isabella from the emotionally traumatizing experiences of forced visits with a lesbian women she barely knows. The latest appeal explains that the “Full Faith and Credit” obligation does not require Virginia to enforce the Vermont order.

“The road toward justice has taken a long and winding path, but we believe the courts are getting closer to addressing the core issues in this case,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law. “The people of Virginia have plainly spoken in favor of traditional marriage and have rejected same-sex unions. The Virginia courts must now uphold the Constitution.”

The Protect Isabella Coalition is asking fellow Virginians to contact their state delegates and senators and ask them to uphold the state’s marriage laws, rein in judicial tyranny and stand up for Isabella.

For more information, visit



Family Gives Away Possessions To Live Off Land

Provoking quite the reaction from the public, a family in Texas is getting rid of all material possessions to live off the land in Vermont, according to a story in the New York Times. Actually, you can read up on the day-to-day life of Aimee and Jeff Harris and their two children on their blog, Cage Free Family.

Here is what they wrote in response to the New York Times piece:

People seem pretty concerned that we are going to drive up to Vermont and unload ourselves, blindly into the mercy of a climate and lifestyle to which we are completely ignorant.


I’m not sure where to begin with that one, but here goes…

The bus is key for us because it will allow us great mobility for the purpose of learning from those who already know how. The idea is not to be a family on the road, but to be a family without roots enough to hold us to one location, so that we may follow our path of education more easily and quickly…

Worry not, internet masses, we are neither “hippy-dippy” nor “ignorant romantics”… don’t believe everything you read.

While the comments on the blog were overwhelmingly positive, there were a few posts, in which readers expressed a word — or two– of caution. For example, not everyone was down with the idea of Aimee Harris getting rid of her and her husband’s wedding rings.

liz said…
I would think that a man who went from a paper clip to a home was very possession oriented, which seems to be the opposite of what you’re striving for. No one demands consistency of you, but to seem legitimate, it’s a necessary thing.

And in response to a quote in the New York Times where you said you were getting negative emails, that’s probably because you’re telling people the way they live their lives is one that is defined by being slaves to their possessions. Whether this is true or not, people don’t often like being told that a driving force in their life is irrelevant.

Here’s another one:

s. nathaniel said…
I love what you’re doing — and have even though of doing it myself!, but please keep the rings — even if they aren’t “right” right now. A little box in your new place in Vermont will be happy to house these items of true meaning. Keep them.

May 16, 2008 1:41 PM

just_me said…
I’m with Nathaniel, the rings are worth more emotionally than you can earn in trade or cash. You have children who may not want to follow your path, or you may need the monetary value for serious barter later on.

Keep the rings, they have good memories and are not bad things.

In all fairness, what the Harrises are doing is nothing new. As the New York Times piece pointed out, they have a debt to pay to the hippies and “downshifters” before them.

The idea in the movement was ‘everything you own owns you,’ “ said Dr. Grigsby, who sees roots of the philosophy in the lives of the Puritans. “You have to care for it, store it. It becomes an appendage, I think. If it enhances your life and helps you do the things you want to do, great. If you are burdened by these things and they become the center of what you have to do to live, is that really positive?“

Juliet B. Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and author of “The Overspent American,“ said the modern “downshifters,“ as she called them, owed debts to the hippies and the travel romance of Jack Kerouac.

“Their previous lives have become too stressful,“ Dr. Schor said. “They have a lack of meaning because their jobs are too demanding.“

Mrs. Harris, who with her husband home-schools their son, Quinn, 5, and plans to do the same with their 15-month-old daughter, Nichola, agreed that there was something of the hippies in their quest: “the ideals, the peace and love, the giving and freedom.“

But she said they had no tolerance for idleness or drugs. “Any state that can be induced by drugs, the mind and body are already capable of,“ she said.

I have lived most of my life in the city and grew up with this immigrant mentality that owning a home with possessions was the American ideal. So no, I probably will never live on a farm in the bitter cold. LOL!

What about you? Are you or can you see yourselves live off the land?


Update: Freedom Airlines discriminated against nursing mom

Here’s a quick update on Freedom Airlines and the misguided flight attendant who kicked a nursing mom and her toddler off a plane for refusing to cover up. I first posted about this case back in October 2006:

The Vermont Human Rights Commission found grounds to believe that Freedom Airlines, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, Inc., “violated Vermont’s prohibition against discrimination against women breast feeding in places of public accommodation,” said Commission Executive Director Robert Appel… /snip

The commission is not a court and its ruling is an administrative decision, Appel said. The commission will now work with the mother, Emily Gillette, and Freedom to try to negotiate a settlement. If that fails, a lawsuit could be filed by the commission or Gillette.   –Source

I’m glad to see Vermont standing behind their laws and sticking up for women who choose to nurse in public. This case received public scrutiny because moms held nurse-ins at Delta Airlines counters across the country; Delta operates flights in conjunction with, but does not own, Freedom Airlines.

Another bonus: this brouhaha caused Delta to make clear where the company stands:

“Delta fully supports a mother’s right to breast-feed her children on board our aircraft,” said Delta Spokesman Anthony Black.


Hump Day Open Thread

Congratulations Hillary supporters! The New York senator broke a 12-state-losing streak last night and won Rhode Island and critical contests in Ohio and Texas. As of this morning, Sen. Barack Obama still leads in pledged delegates — I still can’t wrap my head around this system — but Hillary has the next few contests, including a big one in Pennsylvania on April 22, to close the gap. It ain’t over yet.

Update on tjb22: I actually spoke to her on the phone yesterday. (Thank you, Erika and Gloria, for your mad research skills!) She sounds great and was energized as she had just gotten back from voting in Ohio. But she is having health issues and is saving her energy for her family as she should. I told her we would keep her in our thoughts.

ATTN: Yogurt Lovers: Stonyfield Farms just released a plain yogurt in its YoBaby series. (My kids love their products!)

They also introduced YoMommy yogurt in strawberry, peach, blueberry and raspberry for pregnant and nursing moms, which I have yet to try.

What else is on your minds, MotherTalkers?


Second “Super Tuesday” Open Thread

I broke my resolution to stay out of the primary besides voting. I gave Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign $25 and called all my family in Texas and Ohio.

I left a message on my uncle’s answering machine in Fort Worth encouraging him, my aunt and cousins to vote for Obama in the primary and caucus. (Texas has both and there is same-day registration, fyi.)

I spoke to my cousin in the Cleveland area. She said that our family is pretty much split: the women — she and her sister-in-law — voted for Hillary. The men — her husband, my uncle and cousin — voted for Obama. If my family is any indicator on where the candidates stand, there is a gender divide in Ohio and this is a nail-biting race! Also, she said that the family was very undecided until last minute. (Sounds familiar.)

There are primaries in Rhode Island and Vermont, too. This is going to be a long night. My apologies to you political junkies on the east coast!

In related news, I thought Hillary’s performance on Saturday Night Live was superb. And while, ultimately, I will be very pleased with either of these candidates as our nominee — even though we voted differently, my cousin and I are in agreement on that! — I was irked by the gender warfare incited by, yet, another one of our favorite women writers, Linda Hirshman. Apparently, according to Hirshman, the self-proclaimed feminists who support Obama are rich and elitist. Look who’s talking.

I think there is a Republican race going on, but I forget who the candidates are.


Tell me Your Stories about Lead in Children’s Products (and I’ll share it with lawmakers)

Cross posted at Non-Toxic Kids

I just got an email this morning from Elliot Burg, Vermont’s assistant Attorney General, about testifying in support of a bill that would prevent lead poisoning of children by exposure to lead in consumer products. It would be the toughest anti-lead bill in the nation, and in the absence of federal legislation limiting lead exposure, the states are left to go it alone to protect their kids.  It’s a great bill that would significantly reduce the exposure of kids to lead from consumer products we all know are still out there, on store shelves.  I’m thrilled to support it and hope I can help.  

His email motivated me to do some more research about lead in children’s products to prepare for my testimony. I found some fantastic resources, I wanted to share with you. If you know of any others, please post a comment and link. I will be testifying at the end of next week, and will keep you all posted.

Also, do you have a personal story about lead poisoning from consumer products you could share with me? It would help if I shared some stories from parents who have a personal experience about the problem of lead in toys, bibs, and other items we use with our kids. Sharing a personal story or perspective would make this issue more real and pressing for lawmakers.  Please forward this to anyone you know who has had experience with this issue, and I can share their story with the legislature. Thanks in advance!

I found these great resources:

Made in Deadly China This is a website all about our dysfunctional and highly suspect relationship with China and the many problems with the health and safety of consumer products and food.

And an amazing site full of current events relating to toys, the CPSC, and all things related to consumer justice at The Consumerist.

Here is a direct link to a very comprehensive (and infuriating, maddening, exhausting-) list of recalled toys in 2007, over 17 million of them. Check in out in all your spare time by clicking here.

More on this later. I’ve got to get ready!Non-Toxic Kids


Hump Day Open Thread

Today is a good news day. Southern Californians are still shaken up, but the fires have subsided and the air is clear in San Diego, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Restaurants, bars, beaches and parks are full once again. Here is hoping the painful memories become a distant past.  

More good news: Vermont is the healthiest state in the country, according to a story on WebMD.

The state was given high marks for a declining smoking rate, rising insured rate, low obesity rate, low violent crime and high school dropouts, among other factors.

The top 10 healthiest states, according to WebMD:

4.)New Hampshire
8.)North Dakota
10.) Nebraska

The southeast made up a bulk of the bottom unhealthiest states.

I bet Sean Hannity was all over this one: A Virginia teenager just won the right to start an anti-abortion club at her high school, according to the Washington Post. The purpose of her club is to, “To educate people about the biggest holocaust that is going on right here in the United States. To come together and pray to end abortion. To be a voice for my generation and a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

The school initially turned down her request, stating it wasn’t tied to the curriculum. She sued the school district in a federal court in Alexandria, but dropped the lawsuit when school officials conceded to her.  

Like the school administrators, I do not like the content of her club. The “holocaust“ should always refer to only that event, which extinguished 6 million people. But, I respect her right to form a club of her own at school. Her parents are paying taxes like everyone else — so why not an anti-abortion club? I am glad her school saw the light.

Speaking of Christians: I was relieved that more evangelicals are concluding that God is an environmentalist and would want us to combat global warming. Then again, this may always have been the case, but a few bad apples have given Jesus a bad name.  

Celebrity Gossip: A judge ordered Britney Spears to pay $120,000 in legal fees to ex-hubby Kevin Federline, according to the Associated Press.

Federline still has custody of their two children. Court papers show that Spears “makes roughly $737,000 per month and spends lavishly on clothes and entertainment. Meanwhile, Federline ‘indicates that he does not earn any income,’ the ruling said.“

I heard on the radio that Spears spends between $100,000 and $200,000 on gifts for friends and “entertainment.“ The radio show hosts were jockeying over what the hell she buys her friends. I am guessing the “gifts” are what have landed her in rehab.

Brit also pays K-Fed $15,000 a month in child support for sons Sean Preston and Jayden James, and an additional $20,000 in spousal support, which ends on Nov. 15.

What else is the news? What’s up with you?