blue daisy

First ever meme!

Lifted (with edits) from fullygoldy):

The first seven people to respond to this post will get something made by me.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

- What I create will be personalized and intended for you.

- It'll be done this year (2009).

- You will have no idea what it's going to be. It may be something to eat, a drawing or painting, a poem, a story, something sewn, a bookmark, a mix CD, or some new craft that I haven't thought of yet. Who knows? Not you, that's for sure!

The catch? You have to put this offer in your journal as well, and make seven things for your friends!
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Thoughts for the day

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Floppy's Birth Story

Our local altweekly has as its cover story this week an article on home versus hospital births, with the sensational subhead "Inside Baltimore's Home Birth Underground." Lay midwifery here is illegal, so the midwives interviewed for the article are given pseudonyms, like drug dealers.

This has got me thinking about Floppy's birth. I've told his birth story a lot. I tell it routinely to Floppy of course. But I also used to tell it to my students, whenever I lectured on pregnancy and childbirth. I don't tell many other personal stories in class -- or, for that matter, on the web -- but I think it's a powerful tale, and illustrates a lot about what happens in hospital births usually, and what alternatives there might be that preserve birth as an astonishing miracle and the beginning of a love affair, instead of a source of pain.

Giving birth to my son was without a doubt the absolute peak experience of my life. It tapped all of my physical and mental capabilities, but rewarded that exertion with a sense of bliss and accomplishment and unity that I can't imagine any other work I could do would ever equal. That's not how it goes for most women, though. It wasn't how it went for my friends.

In a massive case of "it's in the water," most of my female friends and acquaintances were pregnant around the same time that I was. As far as I know, they all wanted natural childbirths. Certainly they all wanted a safe and happy birth experience! They were also, like me, mostly well-educated, well-off women with good medical insurance. You'd think that would be a good thing, but when it comes to birth, education, insurance, and money leads to more medical intervention in birth. And more medical intervention in birth does not lead to happy birth stories.

Their outcomes? In the year around Floppy's birth, 8 of my friends gave birth to 9 children (one woman had two kids in a single year, but not twins). Five of those births ended in a C-section. That's much higher than the national average, which is around 23%, although the CityPaper article says that the rate in Maryland hospitals is 32%, and my understanding is that rates of C-section are increasing.

Of those who managed to escape major abdominal surgery to birth their babies, 1 had a painful birth experience that improved after she received an epidural. Another had a very painful, brief birth – she had wanted pain medication, but gave birth too quickly to have it. Only 2 births – to the same woman, attended by a midwife both times -- were natural and positive experiences with no complications.

None of my friends -- all under 35, with low-risk, uncomplicated first (and in the case of the one friend, also second) pregnancies -- should have had stressful, painful, complex births. And yet all but one of them did. So you can imagine how nervous I was! I'm not known for impressive pain tolerance, I was not, at the time, an expert of any kind in childbirth, and I had chosen an obstetrician to attend my birth, because I respected the education the MD represents. I wanted her expertise, but I didn’t want a c-section if I didn't need one!

I did a lot of very smart things before Floppy's birth, all of them pretty much by accident rather than by design. We took Bradley Method birth classes because my doctor’s childbirth classes were only two sessions long, and I didn’t think that was enough to get me through labor without drugs. I was initially wildly disappointed in these expensive classes. I mean, really, what is a childbirth class supposed to cover? Breathing techniques, meditation, magical skills to manage pain, right? That was what I thought. Instead, most of the class provided textbook information: menu plans, statistics, and information about how labor is managed , informaton about different interventions used in birth, and how scary and dangerous they all are. The instructor was persuasive -- and terrifying! -- but I didn't see how all this fine knowledge was going to help when I was having uninterrupted contractions! I could not have been more wrong, though. It turned out that I needed that statistical information when my birth didn’t go as expected – and so my childbirth classes were one of the most valuable things I did. But I was disappointed at the time.

I also had a doula, Jessie Weber, who was fantastic. I knew that doulas -- the word is Greek for a female slave, but in English refers to someone who supports the mother and family with pregnancy or birth -- cause improved birth outcomes in research: fewer C-sections, fewer complications, shorter labors, less pain, less use of pain medication. But I chose mine by the highly scientific method of asking my OB whom she liked. She hemmed and hawed and said, er, maybe the hospital could give you a good referral. So I called the hospital's doula line, and took the first person who called us back. Who turned out to be Jessie, fortuitously.

My parents and my husband, as well as my obstetrician and the nursing staff, all came to my birth. I didn't know it at the time, but having wanted family members at the birth also decreases medical intervention in birth, so that was also a good choice. Having family there meant more hands to help with labor support, and I turned out to need them, apart from the joy of having them there to watch Floppy take his first breath.

I also chose a hospitalWoodwinds, in Woodbury, Minnesota – that was known for its emphasis on natural birth, although I don't know anything about their actual labor outcomes.

Most of the things I did -- with the exception of choosing an obstetrician to attend me -- were things that are associated in research with having natural labor with few complications. I would do all those things the same way again, except for the OB. If I have another child, it will be with a midwife.

My labor began when my water broke, and it lasted 18 hours from start to finish – so it was a longer than average labor, which is about 12-14 hours for a first child, and less for subsequent children. The first eight hours were cake -- I had a few mild contractions, but nothing difficult to handle. I danced around the hospital ward with my husband, bounced on a birthing ball, and hung out.

But at some point after that, my labor became very painful and stopped progressing. I wondered if perhaps this was  “back labor” -- painful but pointless contractions caused when the baby is turned backwards in the uterus and gets stuck there. Nobody seemed interested in my theory; the nurse felt my belly mid-contraction and said the contraction wasn't "strong enough" to push Floppy out.

My obstetrician wanted to give me pitocin. Now, pitocin is not some scary chemical. It's chemically identical to oxytocin, the body's own mechanism to create contractions. It's used to induce labor, and used to "augment" a labor , like mine, which doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Obstetricians like pitocin because it is reliable -- if you give it, labor is going to happen -- but every woman I've talked to who had pitocin, no matter how committed to natural childbirth she was at the start, ended up with some kind of pain medication. A pitocin contraction hurts! 

I can make a logical guess about why this is. Pitocin does not cross the blood-brain barrier. Now, neither would oxytocin (they're the same, remember?), but oxytocin is synthesized in the brain in the first place. It starts out in the hypothalamus. It's likely that when the brain is triggered to make enough oxytocin to push out a baby, it also makes endorphins and whatever other chemicals make up our natural pain management system. Probably the same stuff as you get with an orgasm, actually, since orgasms in both men and women are also powered on oxytocin. But an injection of pitocin never makes it to the brain, so when you labor on pitocin, you labor without these delicious innate pain relievers. Hence your sudden, unanticipated need for an epidural!

Anyway, in my birth, the pressure to accept pitocin to augment my stopped labor became intense. Eventually, everyone loudly, repeatedly agreed that I needed augmentation medication – my doula, my husband, my parents, and my doctors and nurses. My physician father told me later, when I was no longer a crazy laboring woman, that if he had been my physician he would have walked off the job!

It won't surprise any of you who know me that I was the only -- loudly -- dissenting voice in the face of all this united agreement. Floppy wasn’t distressed, as best as medical science could tell, so I kept repeating a statistic from my birth class: 85% of all women whose waters break give birth naturally within 24 hours. No one was very impressed with my statistic! 

I also wasn't convinced my contractions weren't strong enough, as they all said. They certainly hurt plenty strong! I thought Floppy was probably reversed in my uterus and stuck on my pelvic bones -- that was what it felt like, and I clung tightly to that small shred of expertise. No one but me knew what it felt like!  I was worried that pitocin, which would dramatically increase the intensity of labor, would put him in distress without helping him move. But everyone said I needed the medication! 

What do you think I did? I told my doula, Jessie, that I thought Floppy was stuck, and I asked her what we could do to move him. Jessie knew all sorts of tricks – tricks to make labor faster, tricks to slow it down,  tricks to conserve energy and reduce pain. So I thought maybe she’d have a trick for this too – although I wasn’t too hopeful! 

Miraculously, though, she did have an idea. She did a technique on me called a rebosa – a Spanish word for baby shawl. She stood over me as I laid on the bed, and passed a sheet under my back, lifting me in it as a cradle and gently shaking me from side to side, as if I was swaying on a hammock. Then she had me roll over on all fours, and she cradled and shook my pregnant belly the same way. Finally, she had me stand up, and she passed the sheet behind my back and shook me in it as we both leaned back in opposite directions. I actually felt Floppy move during the rebosa, when I was on my knees, so I wasn't surprised when 20 minutes later I was in active labor, with the nurses cheering my new, strong contractions (which felt exactly no different to me). Three hours later he was born, entirely without medical intervention, and much to the amazement of everyone, who thought he couldn't possibly be born on his own.

There really is a warm, hormonal glow around my first memories of my son. I remember his eyes, and my husband holding him against his bare chest -- but not the fact that it was apparently me who told him to take off his shirt so Floppy could cuddle on skin. I remember him nursing, and the amazing burst of manic energy I had after my 18-hour whirlwind tour through labor medicine. Nothing has ever felt more miraculous to me, than making him.

But it could have gone very differently. Without my doula and my childbirth classes, I too would probably have had a C-section. Floppy was -- as I thought, as I felt when he moved during the rebosa -- stuck in a posterior position, so pitocin probably would have put him in distress without moving him, as the intense synthetic contractions slammed his little head harder against my pelvic bones. Once he was in distress, I would have genuinely needed a c-section, and I would have happily consented to one. What else could I have done? They would have recorded me as a case of dystocia caused by an abnormally small birth canal, or something, and I would have thought of Floppy as a medical miracle. But I didn't need a c-section. All I really needed was a doula who knew how to do a rebosa! 

My birth is a great example of how and why childbirth classes and labor support reduce medical complications and create better births. If you're having a baby, get a midwife. Get a doula. Take childbirth classes; take notes. And, as the obstetrician Robert Atlas quoted in the City Paper story so eloquently says, "Don't. Be. Induced." Or augmented, or heparin locked, or continuously monitored, or any of the other hospital crap anybody asks you to do. It's birth, not an illness. You can do it. It's your body. It will be amazing.
blue daisy

Dining PSA

I've researched the subject thoroughly, and I am now ready to share my results.

The Edgewater Restaurant in Edgewater Maryland (est. 1948) has the finest Chesapeake bay crab cakes in the whole entire world. Jumbo lump crab, very little else, broiled and buttery and close to God. It's the kind of place with 20-year-veteran waitresses that call you "darling," huge wedges of lemon in the ice water, and real garden green beans fried in crab seasoning as the one veggie side. The softshells are also amazing: crispy and crackly and spicy-sweet,  a crustacean Lay's potato chip.

Despite the name, there's no view at all, and you'll have to squeeze by the deeply stacked gents drinking bottled beer at the bar to get to your table. (And, of course, there's no website. Who has the time?)

Now you know!
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Summer Libations: The Bomb Pop

This lovely drink, which I invented (although it wouldn't surprise me if someone else did, too), looks like the ice cream truck confection and tastes pretty good, especially with good ingredients. It makes a great fourth-of-July drink, but I was making them this weekend as mid-move refreshment, and DH had three of them. Then he said he didn't feel too good, but not for the reason you think: The way I make them, they have very little alcohol. The sugar and the fizz, though, pack a powerful punch.

The Bomb Pop

Fill a tulip glass with ice and add an inch or so depth of homemade grenadine. (You can also use Rose's -- the flavor isn't  quite as sophisticated, and the visual effect after mixing is different: With Rose's, when you finally mix up the drink it turns purple, whereas with the homemade stuff mixing it in actually makes it disappear without changing the (otherwise blue) color of the drink. A purple fizzy drink looks cool, and watching a pool of deep red grenadine vanish virtually without a trace also looks cool, so you can choose which you prefer.)

Then carefully add about an inch-and-a-half depth of blue curacao. There's a trade-off here, too. Expensive brands of of blue curacao taste better, but cheap brands are more syrupy and thus layer in the drink better.  We usually go with taste over visual perfection.

Finally, carefully, carefully fill the glass with soda water, so it layers rather than mixing with the curacao.  (I suspect people who like a higher octane drink could experiment with vodka or rum somewhere in here, too, but I couldn't care less about the firepower of my beverages, so I've never tried it.)

Carefully add some well-chosen drink floof, especially something to stir with. (Those toothpicks with shiny mylar tops that look like fireworks, maybe?)

Voila: A bomb pop! Don't drink three of them.

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Google maps: FAIL

My soon-to-be new address does not exist in Google Maps, despite the fact that the colorfully named road it is located on must certainly have been there, with its present name, since well before the advent of the refrigerator. Yahoo Maps doesn't have it either, but thankfully (and strangely), Mapquest does. So at least if you come to visit me I can email you directions. Anybody out there know how you get Google Maps to mend the error of its ways?
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How Do You Prove You're a Jew?


I was fascinated by this article, which talks about the difficulties some Israelis of American ancestry are having proving to the Israeli rabbinate that they are in fact Jewish. Apparently you have to have official proof of your Judaism from an Orthodox rabbi -- and not just any Orthodox rabbi, but an Orthodox rabbi whom the Israeli Orthodox rabbis think is Orthodox enough to pass muster with them. The Suzie Goldstein mentioned in the article is a shirttail relative -- a cousin of a distant cousin of mine. And the North Side of Minneapolis --also mentioned in the article -- is the birthplace of my heritage in America, too. (My great-grandmother designed and built a house that still stands on Elwood Ave N in Minneapolis; if I could remember the exact street address....was it 711?....I could show it to you on Google Street view. If any of my relatives are reading this and remember, comment with it, will you?) In any event, the article has me thinking about my own exile from Judaism.

I made my grandmother's hamantaschen for Purim this year, and in a couple of weeks I go to visit with family for Passover. I once hosted a Passover seder myself -- for which I wrote my own Haggadah --  for my family and roommates in my house. I was the only person in the (Scandihoovian Minnesota) theater who got the joke in Angels in America where the American secular Jewish protagonist starts off reciting the kaddish for the Rosenbergs and then finishes off with the prayer for lighting Chanukah candles, because he doesn't know the whole of the kaddish. Not only that, I can relate: The prayer for lighting Chanukah candles -- recited in my household eight times yearly, with great excitement by a certain small somebdy  -- is the only Hebrew I know, too. I vividly recall chatting by telephone with the rabbi in the first week of my son's life, trying to arrange a bris. My son is already hoping with great anticipation for a Bar Mitzvah. I have a Jewish last name, and I've been the victim, at least once that I know of, of anti-Semitic discrimination. Culturally I have a lot in common with Jews.

But I'm not Jewish. My son didn't get the bris, because the (Reform, female, very nice) rabbi agreed it was impossible, neither of his parents being Jews and all (disappointing my grandfather, who of course very much wanted Floppy to have one).  I've no idea what to tell Floppy about the Bar Mitzvah -- we've visited synagogues occasionally as a family, but never felt entirely comfortable. After all, my mother is Christian, and in the Jewish community I've been frequently -- and sometimes none too nicely -- reminded of the fact that I'm not Jewish. It's probably schadenfreude that I am taking some comfort in learning that most of my mishpoche aren't either, at least according to the Israeli Rabbinate.

Christians, when I was growing up, also were highly aware that I wasn't in their club. But they went to great (albeit fruitless) lengths to let me know that they wanted me to join. Every one of my mother's pastors, when I was growing up, tried hard to make friends with me. If the bris were a Christian ceremony -- and my husband and I as non-Christians somehow requested one for our son -- I've no doubt the pastor would have thrown one arm 'round my shoulder while calling the mohel with the other. 

Judaism used to be an evangelical religion. In fact, the famous Talmudic verse on conversion states explicitly that God exiled Jews from Israel in the first place in order that they might gain converts. (How surprised the Israeli Rabbinate will be if God comes down and explains that He wasn't kidding about that!) Jews stopped evangelizing for a practical and humane reason: Christian oppression made it dangerous for anyone to be Jewish.

I wonder what would be different if Jews had never stopped their mission, or if they sought converts anew now. They would probably be more powerful and less vulnerable in the Middle East and throughout the world. They would have reason to treat their Arab neighbors decently and humanely. The world might be a safer and more secure place. And I would probably be a Jew, with a Jewish son and a Jewish husband and a Jewish family.

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Split This Rock Day 4: Peace March

After the reading, we assembled together for a silent march to Lafayette Park. A silent march struck me as another bit of irony (poets marching silently?) but the organizers pointed out that there is enough screaming in the world, and in DC, and perhaps we could be more powerful in silence.

Floppy saw that they were handing out signs that read "War is Not the Answer." He wanted one, but they were out, so I got him a bumper sticker, which was not exactly what he wanted, but he accepted it, being in the frame of mind to be peaceful. (There are fringe benefits to turning your five-year-old into a peace activist.) Eventually I did find him a sign, and he held it proudly while we waited. He got into a discussion with a tall and stately woman arrayed head to toe -- even her hair -- in various shades of purple about his sign. "Discussing it is the answer," he said, but she didn't quite understand him, so -- aspiring wordsmith that he is -- he announced firmly, and with more volume:

"War is not the answer. Talking it over is the answer!"

She suggested he might want this to be his poetic contribution to the events later, advice he took under serious consideration.

I carried him on my shoulders for the march, which threaded silent and essentially unnoticed through half a mile of downtown DC. Being Easter, the city seemed almost deserted. We pointed out the Magnolia trees blooming to one another. We whispered to each other about peace. People took lots of photos of Floppy:

(This one is taken by Jill Brazel, official event photog, and posted at

(This one is another from Karren Alenier's blog.)

When we got to the park we had to wait while park police swept the stage with bomb-sniffing dogs. Sarah Browning greeted this with sarcasm -- we had a permit, we had an exhaustive list of other rules -- but we needed to be checked for bombs in this, the people's park.

Earlier this month my family tried to visit the U.S. Capitol, and discovered that to watch your lawmakers at work you now need a ticket issued from your congressperson's office, and of course there are no longer open public tours of the White House. Here we were confronted with yet another example of our administration's terrible paranoia.

I think these small losses of liberty are a much bigger deal than anyone seems to acknowledge, largely because of Svetlana Konopleva, a Soviet Byelorussian citizen who lived with me (both in the U.S. and in Minsk) in 1990, right before the fall of the Soviet Union. Svetlana, it must be said, was no would-be defector. She thought Americans were self-important and materialistic, and wasn't shy about letting me know it. But when she lived with me in the Twin Cities, we took her to see our state capitol, an imposing marble domed building designed by Cass Gilbert. This is what is looks like:

We took Sveta all over that building: sat in the galleries and watched legislators debate, attended a hearing about some issue I've totally forgotten, looked at the fine statues and the shiny marble reliefs and the golden quadriga on top. The state capitol of Minnesota was the only thing Sveta from USSR was impressed by during her visit here. And you want to know why?

Because, she told me, in Soviet Russia you couldn't go to see your lawmakers at work. She didn't even know where laws were made, exactly -- not in an impressive public building like that, she thought. Maybe in a private, discreet office building somewhere. She thought it was amazing, impressive, to be able to visit a grand public institution as a member of the populace, and keep an eye on your leaders. She thought that was the only part of America worth keeping, or copying, or exporting.

And now we've lost it.

But in Lafayette Park, the Speakers' Park -- but not the Capitol, not, of course the White House itself -- we were allowed to speak, so long as we had a permit to do so well in advance. So long as the gendarmes' dogs determined no one was planning on shooting off any bombs. So long as no one set a bag on the ground. So long as we adhered to a whole range of other rules I have even forgotten in all their minutiae.

Well, we might not live in a democracy, but speak we did, one at a time, a line (no more than 12 words each) at a time, we built a cento, a patchwork poem for peace. Floppy, in my arms to reach the mike,  bellowed his from the stage:

"War is not the answer! Talking it over is!"

to loud applause (the woman with the purple hair noted later he'd tightened his line even more fully than when they'd first discussed it; I'm glad he's got his editing skills down). (I also said a line which was anticlimactic immediately after his, and DH took one for the team by reciting a second line of Floppy's composition, since one line in the limelight was of course not enough for my dramatic son.)

Afterwards Floppy wanted to say goodbye to everyone, especially Naomi Shihab Nye, his special friend who was gracious about accommodating his worship of her. Susan Brennan gave us small slips of blue paper with famous poems for peace -- I ended up with Lao Tzu writing on non-interference.

Floppy wanted to hit up Nathaniel Siegel for stickers: Nathaniel had brought an enormous roll of what looked like colorful caution or police tape, but turned out to be adhesive backed tape that read "Peace and Love."

So we asked, and Nathaniel plastered us front and back with stickers, and gave Floppy a picture of the young Ghandi. We talked with strangers about where to catch the Metro, and I hugged or gave warm handshakes to all the new friends I could find -- Brennan, Karren Alenier, Siegel, even Naomi Shihab Nye and Coleman Barks.

We took the train home -- Peace and Love from head to toe -- and I noticed that so attired we were very visible, and also healing. The people on the trains -- all colors, all ages -- saw us and smiled. It might be a tired hippie phrase, but you could see the warmth radiating out around us, reflecting back at us. Everyone made eye contact. Like the people eating the Palestinian grandmother's cookies in the airport, no one was afraid anymore.

Speak Joy to Power.

Joy and Peace and Love.
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Split This Rock Day 4: Final Reading

The final reading of Split This Rock was supposed to have been the one I was looking forward to all weekend, because it was when Sharon Olds was slated to read. Olds is one of my poetic heroes, and I was excited to see her read in person, since I never had. But she didn't show. She was apparently sick, although a famous poet sitting near me who shall remain nameless muttered something to the effect that she is a frequent no-show.

In her absence, they honored her by reading her famous Letter to Laura Bush, refusing to attend the National Book Festival. Unfortunately, the reading fell a bit flat for me, partly I think because I had read this letter -- which is very moving -- before, and partly because, well, she'd ditched out on us, too, so that made her refusal to break bread with Mrs. Bush rather unpleasantly and unintentionally ironic.

Naomi Ayala read in her place, along with Galway Kinnell.

It should have been exciting to see Kinnell, but I had brought both the Floppy and DH along with me to the event, and I was distracted with making sure Floppy had enough paper and drawing materials to enjoy the reading (he was well-behaved, and sat quietly in the aisle turning out sketch after sketch, including one of a pirate manning a great ship, holding what looked like a gun, but was instead, I was told, his lunch). Also, Kinnell, in a fit of poorly placed humility, mainly read the work of other poets rather than his own, which was a disappointment to me.

In fact, here he is reading a poem by Paul Celan, so you can judge for yourself:

He did read one poem that was absolutely gorgeous and unforgettable, a section of his long poem The Book of Nightmares, from the part called "Lastness," that ends with these unforgettable lines describing a birth:

When he came wholly forth
I took him up in my hands and bent
over and smelled
the black glistening fur
of his head, as empty space
must have bent
over the newborn planet
and smelled the grasslands and the ferns.

Gorgeous: Now I have words for what it was like to hold my own son for the first time. Naomi Ayala gave a fine reading, was my impression, but not one that stuck with me: I remember she read one poem in Spanish and I was pleased with how much of it I could still follow, and that's about the extent of my recollection. At this point in the weekend, my brain was beginning to leak out my ears a bit, I suspect.
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Split This Rock Day 4: DC Poets Against the War

I dragged myself out of bed Easter morning to go to the final panel of the conference, an evaluation and wrap-up session with some of its organizers and DC Poets Against the War founders, Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, Joseph Ross, and Esther Iverem.

The program started late, so I had a crab eggs benedict and good tea and ended up joined for breakfast by a Philly-area writer named Elliott and Marianne Ehrlich Ross, who is also a founding member of DC Poets Against the War. We talked politics and Marianne gave me a copy of a journal called Poems Against War, which had her fine poem, "Numbers," in it. Several people I met at the festival gave me chapbooks or journals of their poems, which gave me a lot of joy: Oooh, presents!

The panel itself was interesting, as they recounted the history, the "We-have-to-DO-SOMETHING" longing that birthed DC Poets Against the  War and the conference itself. Mostly I was just amazed, inspired, and guiltily ashamed of my own lack of involvement by encountering this wonderful group of people. It was here that I was moved to tell Sarah Browning that I thought I'd been waiting my whole life for this.

People had lots of good suggestions for keeping the momentum going -- my favorite was creating an opt-in email listing of participants to allow the magnificent connections to continue to blossom, and I really hope they do this, although I suspect after this huge birthing they will need some recovery time before they do anything.