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Diapering: earth destroyer, or crazy hippie?

Overall, our parenting is somewhere in the range of a 7 on the crappy crunchy scale, with some dips into the 2 range. (Yep, I’ll wait….okay, back now?)

Diapers are one of the both-ends-of-the-scale things.  Our primary diaper is the cloth/synthetic BumGenius FreeTime All-in-One, which, yes, costs $20 per diaper.  At night, though, we go Huggies Overnights disposables.  Cloth dipes first:

Cloth diapers have come a loooong way from the absorbant squares that you hand-fold and attach with safety pins that I and my siblings were clad in. These guys are high-tech wicking fleece numbers with multiple sizing options in 2 dimensions: we’ve been using our set since they were about 8 weeks and 8 pounds old to now, going on a year and 25 pounds old. (For the first 8 weeks, we rented a set of newborn-sized diapers from our friendly neighborhood diaper shop, Ann Arbor’s Little Seedling.)

They’re pretty darned easy to use–there’s definitely some practice bias, but we both find them easier to put on a squirming baby than the fussy little tabs on disposables–and the long-run cost/benefit is crazy good.  Even if you don’t get a bulk discount, that $20 gets you a diaper that you use about once every 36-48 hours. For us, at 9.5 months of use so far, that means we’ve used each diaper between 140-190 times so far.

At the low end of that scale, that means each diaper would have cost us 14.3 cents per use so far.  At the high end, and at Little Seedling’s bulk pricing, that cost would be about 9.4 cents per use.  If we use them until the kids are two, that cost per use ends up in the 4-6 cents per use range.

By comparison, disposable diapers are in the range of about 20 cents per diaper. If we used exclusively disposables, at our typical rate of usage, that’d be somewhere in the $2,500 range over two years.  Our set of 30 cloth diapers, plus the rental of the set of newborn diapers: about $800. Yes, there are costs to washing them and drying them (we gave up our clothesline once the dog started turning all the clean laundry on it into toys), but the 2-year savings on purchase cost of cloth diapers are enough to cover the cost of a brand-new high-efficiency washer and dryer.

There’s also a practical benefit to the reusables: it’s quite reasonable to receive a 2-year supply of cloth diapers and wipes at a baby shower, because once you’re using them, you don’t need storage space for the others, because they’re the same diapers over and over again.  Even if your friends and family wanted to give you $2500 worth of disposables at your shower, you’d be left renting a storage locker to hold them all.

If you want to talk environmental benefits, the disposable diaper industry claims no significant difference (surprise!), while the cloth diaper trade group claims those life cycle analyses are flawed, comparing the best case disposables to the worst case cloth diapers.  Fortunately, I find the practical and financial benefits of cloth diapering to be enough that it doesn’t matter if there’s zero environmental benefit.

Now, as I mentioned, we do use disposables at night.  There are certainly benefits to those chemical super-absorbing agents in disposable dipes–like letting the kiddos sleeping for 10-11 hours straight without needing a change. So using 1 disposable diaper, per kid, per night, is part of our “sleep is good for everybody” suite of parenting choices.

Campaign notebook: the origins of the Not-a-Gnolls

For about the two years before parenting started, my major D&D game (used in the generic sense for a game using Pathfinder, in this case) was the “Not-a-Gnolls”, a band thrown together by circumstance to restore the minor god Nobanion.  The ultimate session was a somewhat rushed climax which, as a result, didn’t work terribly well and was sadly anti-climactic–but there were a lot of good parts along the way.

The campaign map: a section of the Forgotten Realms, photocopied at 400%, traced over and hand-colored, with some names changed to suit.

The campaign map: a section of the Forgotten Realms, photocopied at 400%, traced over and hand-colored, with some names changed to suit. Just like middle school!

Where’d this campaign come from? I’d been playing D&D in the Forgotten Realms setting for over 20 years at that point, and basically just picked a spot on the map to say, “I’ve never really done anything over here.  Wonder what’s going on there.”  Browsing the campaign setting book (3rd Edition), I found,

Gulthmere Forest: The lion-god Nobanion ceaselessly roams the wood to protect it. All the tribes of Gulthmere venerate Nobanion and call on the deity to halt invasions by greedy northerners.

Et voila, a campaign is born: Who is Nobanion (not an actor I’d come across in my use of the setting), and what would happen if he did cease his ceaseless roamings?

Other sources suggested a feud with Malar, The Beastlord–both being gods of the hunt, but Nobanion in the way of giving thanks to a creature that gave its life so that one may eat, while Malar in the bloodsport, most-dangerous-game sense of the hunt. Nobanion, a regional power, had cast Malar and his followers out of his turf in a previous conflict, and now Malar wants back in–and wants revenge.  In the Realms canon, a god’s powers are linked to the number and faith of his or her followers: having been bested in direct combat, Malar would thus take his revenge by cutting off Nobanion’s source of power.

I renamed the town of “Nathlekh”, near the aforementioned Gulthmere Forest, to “Nob’s Lake”, deciding it would be the center of Nobanion’s human worshippers–the poor souls.

The opening of the campaign was set in Nob’s Lake, in the midst of Nobanion’s high holy festival, during which the faithful from around the region would gather in town. In the midst of the festival, the town was struck by a massive earthquake, destroying much of the temple in a huge sinkhole, followed with an assault by gnolls. The PCs all managed to survive the onslaught, making their way to the woods to hide: one, catching sight of another, whispered, “Hey, over here–I’m not a gnoll!” and the group’s name was determined.

I enjoyed the start of the campaign: the somewhat in medias res opening worked well, even if via action the PCs were not able to effect, to set the stage, to push the characters together, and to provide them some clear hooks for adventure. It was also fun to flip the trope of PCs meeting via saving the town’s festival (spoilers) from danger, and instead totally demolish the town. And, while I had planned for some next steps of the party going after the hostages, and trying to determine where the gnolls came from, I had a lot I hadn’t bothered to figure out yet: what happens when a god suffers a catastrophic loss of his fanbase? What could the PCs do to repair that? What was under the town to cause / enable the sinkhole?

As a side note, it looks like the Forgotten Realms are the “default”/base setting for the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I’ve seen a fair amount of kvetching that the Realms are “done”, that 35+ years of publishing game material and fiction set in that world has left nothing gamers to explore or experience anew or define their own role in. Hopefully it’s obvious that I disagree with this sentiment: while I have at points had 4 editions worth of the campaign setting spread across a table while coming up with ideas, at no point have I felt limited by canon–it’s a pile of ideas: take a few, leave what doesn’t fit.  And even after a couple of decades of playing in the Realms, there are still a lot of good ideas on the pile to choose from.


“Do what’s right for your baby/family”…even if it’s conventional

It’s not common in parenting circles to brag about formula-feeding, disposable diapers, and sleep training, but: yep, we do those things (at least in part).  And, hopefully I can save some new parents out there a lot of grief by assuring: yep, it’s totally okay for you to do them too, if that’s what works for you.

For context, I find there to be a big trend in hip-and/or-middle-class-parenting of pushing back against the “modern” parenting practices of our parents’ generation.  By way of example, this article chastising the very question of “how’s your baby sleeping?” is what prompts my rant of the moment:

I’m going to start charging anybody who asks the parents of one of my patients “is your baby sleeping through the night yet?  The answer to the question, while it seems polite enough, often leads to a judgment of how we’re doing as a new parent.  We have enough judges. Plus, the answer is almost always “no” and physiologically, that’s the right answer. Most children don’t sleep through the night because they are built that way. 

The “let them cry it out, is the nursery ready, put that baby down you’re spoiling him” culture can also undermine our parenting efforts.  Our culture encourages independence from a very young age and says that normal babies were never meant to be held all the time, and were meant to sleep all by themselves. 

I see things like this shared around by way of saying, “Hey, it’s okay–just because grandma thinks you need to do something a particular way with your baby doesn’t mean that’s your only choice.” (Or your co-workers, or Babies R Us, or random passerby on the street, or your pediatrician…) These pieces then tend to go into detail about (for example) the science of sleep cycles and brain activity, some evolutionary psychology theories, and discussions of indigenous/traditional cultures’ practices in order to illustrate the fact that today’s standard parenting practice is not the one and only way to do things.

And I’ve come to the realization that I’m not the target audience for this.  The target audience is the parents who were themselves raised on day care, cartoons, formula, Huggies, and cribs, and who need every detail of the alternatives spelled out for them in order to get basic familiarity and comfort with trying it out. I and my younger siblings, though, were breastfed, cloth diap’ed, and no-“screen timed” by our at-home mom, so, yeah, sure, these things are totally within my experience.

And, further, I’ve kind of got a giant chip on my shoulder at this point about it. Something about a pair of type-A perfectionists trying to parent twins “right” and reading things like this while short half our brain capacities from sleep deprivation led us to absorb a lot of guilt out of this: the detail and justification and assertiveness that’s calibrated for chipping away at Western cultural norms to create an openness to new ideas has an entirely different effect on somebody who already holds those views, and is now being waterboarded with them in conjunction with chronic sleep deprivation.

The inevitable conclusion of these advice pieces–that “only you really know what’s best for your child and family”–is intended as a shield against nosy normative interlopers, to say, “Hey, look, those cultural norms may be totally fine for some babies, but if they’re not working for your baby, it’s really okay to try something else. Unfortunately, the level of hammering home of their points that most of these writers do has the effect of implying, “(…and what’s best for your baby is clearly this stuff, not the conventional stuff.  How can you read all that stuff about millions of years of human evolution and tens of thousands of years of traditional practices, and possibly believe that suddenly after World War II we struck on something better?)”

Some of the more zealous writers out there intentionally play on this emotional vulnerability, rather than making any pretense of simply laying out options, for example, 

Likewise, why do sleep-trained babies stop calling out? Perhaps because it is futile for them to continue crying. Why cry when nobody comes?  This knowledge hurts your soul when you consider that a baby’s cry is their first attempt at communicating. Through it, the baby establishes his status as someone who deserves something. When the communication is answered, the baby’s sense of positive entitlement as a person becomes stronger. However when their cry is ignored, this sends the opposite message – that they are not worthwhile.

I fell for this parenting terrorism for quite a while, up until about the third or fourth incident of nearly drowsing off and driving into a bridge abutment on my way home from work, when I decided, you know what?  Daddy making a trip to the morgue probably isn’t “what’s best for your baby.”

For others struggling with the same, I’ll offer up a bit of an antidote: when you’re feeling guilt about not co-sleeping, or not exclusively breastfeeding, or not holding your baby 24/7, open up the Dr. Sears Baby Book and find an anecdote of traditional societies’ practices of childrearing. Then grab Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? to the section on childrearing practices, and wonder at how different the two accounts are.  Then remember that one of these two writers has spend 50 years doing field work in places like New Guinea, while the other charges tens of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements to tell parents how to feel good about themselves, after using his books to riddle them with guilt.

Then use that comparison to feel okay about ignoring the oh-so-clear-cut Right Way that Sears offers, and make your own decisions.  Even if those decisions involve formula.


A line in the stats: gerrymandered crime reporting

This weekend, the Ann Arbor News offered a look “behind the numbers” at crime stats in the Ypsilanti area.  Their findings: crime is higher than state and national averages in the City of Ypsilanti, near or below averages in Superior Township and Ypsilanti Township.

Unfortunately, the story spends a lot of ink on the numbers itself–not necessarily a bad thing–with virtually no “behind” to be found.  The analysis of why a disparity might exist is limited to a vague quote from a city police officer that sums up to “I don’t know,”

Ypsilanti police Lt. Deric Gress attributed the higher crime rates to Ypsilanti’s urban nature, with an estimated 19,809 people living in four square miles, per the U.S. Census. “I don’t have a real reason we’d be higher than any others, other than being in an urban environment,” he said.

and some discussion of differential levels of community engagement, a discussion that uses a few anecdotes of positive engagement in areas like West Willow to generalize across the township, while generalizing that the city police have struggled in recent cases with a prevalent ‘No Snitching’ culture in the city.” This discussion ignores that the city’s police department started a community policing program like the one lauded in West Willow a decade ago, and the “uncooperative witness” factor, as far as I can tell, has been limited to a few shootings at a single housing complex.  (But it makes a good story, right?)

Coming up with some theories on the “why” behind the numbers isn’t that hard; here’s a couple, with some discussion:

  1. Ypsilanti is a college town.  College kids do dumb stuff, with some of that stuff being criminal and some of it leading to them being victims of crime. Consider these two graphs, the first from the City of Ypsilanti’s Master Plan, the second from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest Data Analysis Tool (This is a thing.  Cool!)

    College town Ypsi has nearly 3 times the 18- to 24-year-olds of Ypsi Township or Michigan--an age bracket featuring prominently in Federal arrest statistics.

    College town Ypsi has nearly 3 times the 18- to 24-year-olds of Ypsi Township or Michigan–an age bracket featuring prominently in Federal arrest statistics.

  2. Ypsilanti has a lot of people living in poverty. Poverty exposes people to crime as well as making crime appealing, for lack of access to better opportunities.  As of the 2012 ACS, 28.8% of Ypsi City residents were living in poverty, compared to 16.3% of Michigan residents.  A quick literature search finds a 2011 paper from Justice Policy Journal, Does Age or Poverty Level Best Predict Criminal Arrest and Homicide Rates? A Preliminary Investigation, which finds that, “poverty … displays three to four times
    more explanatory power in predicting arrest rates and eight times more in predicting homicide death rates than does age”. (That is, teenagers are more likely to live in poverty than 40-year-olds, and it is their poverty, not their age, that is the best statistical predictor of their being arrested or murdered.)  I especially like this link for contradicting my first theory, leaving some work for the enterprising journalist!

There are policy implications of each of these hypothesis that we could dive into (and should! …in a future post), but the one I want to call attention to up front is Sheriff Clayton’s slicing and caveating of the data:

After Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton’s statements in July that the crime rate in eastern Washtenaw County is below the national and state crime rates, The Ann Arbor News analyzed crime rate statistics from 2008 to 2012 — the last five years available — from Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township, the three most populated areas of eastern Washtenaw County. …

On Thursday, Clayton clarified his statement, saying he was speaking about the areas the sheriff’s office is primarily responsible for, Ypsilanti and Superior townships.

“If you add in the city’s numbers, that’s what spikes it and when I’m talking (in the press conference), I’m talking about our area,” Clayton said. “When you take Superior and Ypsilanti Township, they are below the national rate.”

This whole “investigation” was sparked by a comment of Clayton’s, in which he has to draw a particular line–adding Superior Township to Ypsilanti Township, but carefully excluding the city that’s directly in the middle of that area–to bring his stats down below a target number. He’s not slicing by political jurisdiction, lest Ypsi Township look bad, nor by “community” in an identity sense of the word, because he’d have to include the city, but by what makes the numbers line up in his department’s favor.

If the standard by which we’re measuring crime prevention is how well somebody can draw creative lines to make the crime Somebody Else’s Problem, then we stand little chance of actually addressing it.

Ypsi as the value stock of Michigan?

It was recently suggested to me that my beloved Ypsilanti was “the most under-performing city in the state.” Hyperbole aside, they had a fair assessment:

You’ve got everything you’re supposed to have: two great little downtowns, historic neighborhoods, the river and the parks along it and the festivals, you’re a college town, and you’re  right next door to one of the biggest research universities in the country.  So what gives, why isn’t Ypsi thriving?

I offered a couple of themes, some of which (totally coincidentally?) may just make good topics for future posts.

  1. The public schools are on the wrong end of a collective action problem–though we’re seeing friends’ kids moving back into the public schools as they hit grade levels with new options, which gives hope for changing trends. (We’re only 4 short years from kindergarten ourselves, and would rather join an upward curve than start one.)
  2. Crime genuinely does happen here. You can avoid nearly all of it the same way you can anywhere–by avoiding things like the drug trade, bad romantic relationships, picking fights while intoxicated, being poor, or foolishly leaving electronics in front of open windows at night–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem, both for the individuals it does strike and the community as a whole.
  3. We haven’t figured out how to deal honestly with our diversity of needs and goals. I see three major Ypsilantis: the Ypsi trying to be Ann Arbor’s newest enviable zip code (the Old East Side?), with kids playing in the sleepy, homeowner-filled neighborhoods; the college town Ypsi of students and recent grads, with all the attendant chaos and bustle; and the struggling factory town that hasn’t figured out how to replace 4,000 Ford jobs.
  4. Long grudges and old fears dominate many discussions: opinions are often formed not in the context of here and now, but on who is offering them, or on something that happened decades ago. For a community whose median resident was born in 1990, we hold the 1970s incredibly present in our policy conversations.
  5. Our ambitions seem too low. While some cities would find success simply in stemming their losses, and others might look on Plymouth or Chelsea as their goal, Ypsilanti would be selling itself short on the first–and ignoring, or expelling, many of our residents en route to the second.

It’s a thorny problem, and I have no pat solutions to offer. In this context, though, and considering the role of history in all of the other challenges, it will be interesting to watch our new mayor, who will be the youngest to take that office since George Goodman in 1972.

Dipping a pinky toe into writing for RPGs

While I’ve been playing D&D and the like for about 25 years(!), I don’t think I’ve ever got to the point of publishing any materials.  This past winter, I made a first, very small step in that direction, submitting an entry to the open call round of Paizo’s RPG Superstar competition.

Entering had been a goal of mine for a couple years, and I’d had the idea for my entry for some months, but somehow being the parent of infant twins[1] kept me from writing it down for entry until the day before the deadline, when this goaded me into action:

Deciding that my answers to “why not”–(a) I don’t possibly have time to put together a good enough entry to make it through to the Round of 32, and (b) If I were to make it to the Round of 32, I wouldn’t possibly have time to put together an entry for that round–neatly cancelled each other out, I got things down on paper, did a couple edits, and submitted this:

Summoner’s Skirl
Aura moderate conjuration; CL 9th
Slot none; Price 27,000 gp; Weight 1/2 lb.

This small flute is made from the hollowed segment of a demon’s finger bone, etched with arcane runes and punctuated by several holes along its length. It can be played with one hand to produce an otherworldly and high-pitched tune.

Once per day, a summoner’s skirl can be played to teleport one summoned creature within 100 feet to a space adjacent to the user (Will DC 19 negates). The destination space is selected by the user, but cannot be an intrinsically dangerous location.

The summoner’s skirl can also be played to send an adjacent summoned creature back to its home plane instantly. On a DC 19 Will save, the target summoned creature is not dismissed, but is staggered for 1 round. Using this ability consumes the item, even if it is unsuccessful.

Activating either of these effects requires a DC 15 Perform (wind instruments) check. With a DC 25 Perform (wind instruments) check, both effects may be applied to the same target creature as a single full-round action. The creature receives only a single Will save in this case; a successful save negates both effects, but the creature is staggered for 1 round.

A targeted creature is not affected if it cannot hear the skirl’s tune.

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, dimension doordismissalCost 13,500 gp

When the voting closed, I was delighted to find the best case scenario: I’d made it into the top 100 of 1,000+ entries, but not into the next round!  Feedback in the post-results “critique my item” thread was both helpful and ego-boosting–just the thing to make me try again this year.

[1] This year’s Superstar, Victoria Jaczko, blunted this excuse a bit by winning the whole shebang while being mother to a 3-year-old and 2-month-old.  Superstar indeed!  (To my credit, I did put together my own entry while wearing a sleeping baby in ring sling.)

Hello, yet again, world.

Oh look, I’ve rebooted this blog once more, migrating from an 8 year old Drupal install to WordPress and moving it to the main page in the process.  I might get around to importing the old posts, but in the meantime they’re conveniently linked in the sidebar.

Expect this space to include the traditional fare of Ypsilanti commentary, home maintenance discussions, and gaming, but now with an added leavening of parenting as well.  (I don’t think it will be all parenting, all the time, but you never know–that does seem to have happened to the rest of my life, after all.)