Get widget

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moment of the Week - 147: Running Away to the Circus

I am lucky enough to have a fabulous writer friend who owns a circus in real life. No, really. This is true.

I know, right? And not only does she own a circus, eat fire and fly on silks and hoops as an amazing acrobat, she also beat me in a writing contest! I couldn't ask for a cooler friend, is what I'm saying. And that said, yesterday she let my kids play on her equipment.

What? Luckiest kids ever is what.

They had the best time. We went to a show her camp (called Starfish Circus, check them out) put on. 55 kids learned basic tricks in five days and put on a show! The girls loooooooved it. They were enthralled. I hope she makes her way up to my town so I can sign the girls up for it, for real.

Allison also performs around the United States with her adult flyers, called Aerial Angels. They put on workshops and teach private lessons, too. Seriously, look them up!


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Preschool Pointers - 40: Ask the Obvious Question


I don't know if your kids are like mine, but if they are, they might sometimes need to work themselves up into a tantrum. I mean, sometimes the premise is so ridiculous they have to spend some quality time even convincing themselves it's worthwhile to cry about.

In these instances, my child will ask me a seemingly innocent question. I will answer. The question then comes again, a little more urgently. I will pause, see the hole into which I'm about to fall, and attempt to answer using slightly different words. Now, sometimes I'm blessed with a warning, "you just don't understand me!" after which I can encourage the use of other words. But many other times, the answer simply is one my child doesn't want to hear or cannot believe. Or neither. Sometimes she just wants to cry.


With four year olds, delicacy and tact will often get you nowhere. When my child is fixing to cry like this--when I can see the cogs in her brain turning rapidly, edging her emotional state to the brink--I stop it with a blunt, to-the-point question that brings to the forefront what is actually going on (because my kids aren't really doing this on purpose. They only know that they feel a certain way and those feeling, to their subconscious, demand a certain kind of relief.) I ask them, "Are you going to cry?"


"Mom, why are there rainbows?"

"Well, after a storm, the sun sometimes shows through the clouds and the light is reflected and refracted, splitting it up into all the colors and showing them in the sky."

"Mom. Why are there rainbows?"

"When the sun comes out after the rain, sometimes it makes a rainbow."

"You just don't understand me."

"Are you going to cry?"

Asking the question gets rid of the undercurrent as the child recognizes what she is accidentally doing to herself. And without that undercurrent, it's easier for us to reach an agreement about rainbows without either of us getting emotional.

Example 2:

"Mom, can I have a candy?"

"No, how about some string cheese?"

"No, I want a candy. Can I have a candy?"

"You just had a candy. You have to wait before you can have another one. Sure you don't want string cheese?"

"I want candy!"

"You can't have candy right now. That's not going to change. Are you going to cry about it?"

Addressing the issue directly gives the child the choice to cry or not, whereas before, she really didn't have a choice. She was going for it, maybe without realizing it. When you put the outcome out on the table like that, your child can then assess her options. Usually, mine will make the decision, no. I'm not going to cry about this. But they wouldn't have been able to do that unless I asked them.

In my opinion, this just helps them hone their own mental processes. Soon enough (one would hope), their minds would ask this question to themselves with lightning quick speed, and the decision, then, that they make to make a fuss or not, will be a true decision.

But at four, they're just going along with the tides. Might as well help them swim.


Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Love Me - Guest Post

Melanie Greeke took time out of her busy schedule of wrestling her three lovely children to write an inspiring piece on body image that I'd like to share here.


As women, we are told how to look, what we have to do to achieve this look, and how inadequate we are if we fall short. This irritates the absolute shit out of me.

Women in a size small have a hard time finding clothes and feel fat in a swimsuit. Why? Because the media has given us unreal expectations of what a female body should look like. Size small? Not small enough. Super-model size thin? Too thin! Eat something, you skinny bitch. Size 10? "You'd feel so much better if you were a size 8." Size 20? "You have such a pretty face, I don't understand why you don't lose the weight!"

Because fuck you, that's why.

I had gastric bypass in August 2010 in an attempt to prolong my life because my weight and family history were leading me down a road I didn't want to travel, with two little girls who needed their mom to be healthy.

I didn't have gastric bypass to be skinny; I didn't do it to look sexy. I did it to improve my health for my children. And it worked.

But, even after gastric bypass and losing weight, I still feel the need to hide my thinner body. Oh no, the extra skin on my arms is unappealing to some! Oh no, stretch marks!

Melanie, stop it. Your insecurities are ridiculous. Let it go. You are absolutely the only one who cares enough to notice how much your "bingo wings" jiggle when you gesture your hands...and even if people do notice, who cares?  You know that shit is jiggling, too. Nothing to be ashamed of here.

So, I'm paving a new way for myself, and hopefully my daughters. We are going to love ourselves unconditionally. We will not engage in body talk or body hate. If we are feeling like there is room for improvement, we will improve, but no more standing in front of a mirror crying because skinny jeans make my thick Portuguese thighs look like sausages! No more will I allow the media to try to bamboozle me into thinking I'm anything less than absolutely spectacular. I'm going to love me for me. If I feel I need to change, I'm going to do it by myself and for myself. No man, woman, or TV personality will tell me what I need to look like.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ten Amazing Uses for All that Glorious Postpartum Hair - Guest Post

Artist Emily Santanella is now a proud mother to her third child, and as such, going through the beautiful stage we call post-partum hair loss. But is it getting her down? You bet not! Being an expert at this now, she's got ten awesome ways to make the most out of the loss.


1) Weave the lost hair into extensions for existing hair. J Lo wears extensions, so they must be cool. Though is she still cool? I haven't seen a cameo on sesame street this season

2) Craft tiny wigs for Barbie for the inevitable day your daughter cuts off all her hair thinking it'll grow back.

3) Three words: discount. Baby. Toupees. Yeah, you could buy your little baldie a wig online, but those things are expensive. This is free AND matches Momma's sloppy bun that is all you can muster with a small child in your care!

4) Save it to remember what your hair looked like before your teenagers turned it grey. Or before your toddlers did that damage for that matter (my middle child is 18 months and a climber. I'm gonna look like a less cute Betty White before he hits kindergarten.)

5) You forgot the umbilical cord that fell off. You didn't make a placenta Teddy bear. Weave your postpartum sheddings into a baby quilt. You will one-up the shit out of that overachieving Pinterest mom. Yeah, you know the one I mean.

6) Stuff a pillow with it. Yeah, that works. Hang on, lemme refill my wine to get me brainstorming for 7 through 10.

7) Ok, got it. Your next halloween costume? The scary lady from The Grudge. Or Cousin It. OR stop shaving all of your body hair and go as Chewbacca. Dress Baby as Yoda-totes adorbs!

8) Tell your poor husband who is still recovering from either seeing your hoo-ha stretched to capacity or seeing your uterus outside of your body (shout to to my fellow c-sectioners!) that it's from stress and convince him you need a day at the spa!

9) Just keep letting it clog the drain and keep calling different plumbers for help. One of them has to be serious man candy, right? Now's the time to locate a hottie to call when your adorable little angel flushes your keys.

10) Make your own Muppets! Only a matter of time before Junior is OBSESSED with Elmo, so get a jump start on that. Especially if you're a redhead!

So, I hope next time you feel like weeping at the massive hunk of hair stuck in your scrunchie, you instead feel inspired!

Coming up next is 10 tattoos to go with your stretchmarks!

Emily Santanella:

Married stay at home Mom to two surprises and one planned child (who is ironically the most challenging one). Prides herself on being a fun mom, and hopes her exceptional cooking and baking makes up for her husband's frequent lack of clean clothes.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Caloric Content of Muffins Outweighs Gruesome Texas Showdown in State Senate

At 11:30 p.m. last night, eastern time, I sat hunched over my desk, a glass of wine at the ready, preparing manuscripts to send to magazine editors. I nearly jumped out of my chair when the shrill sounds of a woman with a "parlimentary inquiry" blasted over my computer speakers.

I'd totally forgotten about the Texas filibuster! Not because I wasn't interested, but because news outlets apparently couldn't care less about the veritable circus going on within the chambers. No one was saying anything.

Wait, let me rephrase. No one who gets paid to pay attention to newsworthy events around the country was saying anything. Twitter was aflame, and I did my part to engage the 500 friends I have on my Facebook account, many of whom had no idea what I was talking about.

How could they not? This was a level of Tomfoolery not seen since I'd say 2000 when the presidential election was a Texas politician (uncanny coincidence, eh?)

Senators shouting over each other, ineffective calls for order, the crowd literally going wild, arrests, miscounts, wrangling of official records to change vote times, slimy political moves, feminism in Texas ("At what point must a female senator raise her hand to be recognized over her male colleagues?" Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D)TX, who skipped her father's funeral to be there, by the way. This had me clapping in my house at past midnight. Looking like a lunatic, but I didn't care.)

What about this isn't news?

As for me, it was pure luck I had the livestream of the Texas senate going in a tab I'd long forgotten about. Curious about it earlier in the day, I'd clicked over, to no audio, lost interest and left without shutting it off.

Where were you? Where were you CNN? This is...kind of your thing. And you're so "Twittery" and "Youtubey" lately, one would think you would have jumped at the chance to air that livestreaming Youtube video. It's just like a satellite share. It's easier in fact. No coordinates to type in, no networks from which to get permission. Plug in and air the news. You didn't even have to do anything. You had three straight hours of amazing programming just sitting there gift-wrapped for you. Where. Were. You.

Sure, you're there now. 10 a.m. the next morning. But two hours ago, your story on the matter consisted of quotes from random people on Twitter and a brief overview of Wendy Davis' website. Really? You couldn't, I don't know, pick up a phone? Basically, I could have written the story you wrote at 8 a.m. this morning five hours before that. Word for word. Not because I used to be a journalist, but because that's the amount of research you did. Any Twitter or Facebook user even remotely interested in the event could have fashioned your story.

I've never been so disappointed in my life.

Here's a quick rundown of Journalism 101 for you, in case you've forgotten.

Determine newsworthiness:

- Is it timely? (Yes.)
- Is it breaking? (Yes.)
- Is there drama? (Yes.)
- Does it impact individuals? (Yes.)
- Does it have overreaching consequences for the country's population? (Yes.)
- Is it salient? (FFS, YES.)

Women's rights has been a hot-button issue for years now. It's not as if this blindsided you. And sure, state proceedings could possibly be boring and silly, but you had the video at your disposal. You could see that things escalated to newsworthy in .02 seconds. Hell, it was newsworthy as soon as Davis put on her pink sneakers.

Here's what you were doing at 8 a.m. this morning:

- Quoting President Obama's Twitter status from more than 10 hours before that. (Old, vague and irrelevant.)
- Quoting Ricky Gervais' Twitter. (I...what?)
- Quoting some random guy's Twitter who at least said something funny (Not newsworthy.)
- Getting background information on Sen. Wendy Davis from her website. (Lazy. You couldn't confirm she went to Harvard and got pregnant at 19? Really?)
- Outlining the bare bones of the story that anyone could pick up from watching the livestream (Not helpful.)

Here's what you should have been doing:

- Getting to the scene. Seriously. You weren't even present? This wasn't a quick story. You had thirteen hours to get your shit together.

- Interviewing people outside. Can't get in? That's okay. They're taping. Talk to the people outside. Get the human side of the story.

- Calling your sources frantically to get statements from the senators as the proceedings were taking place. Look, I saw Lincoln. They used to do this shit via carrier pigeon, and note-carriers on foot. Surely it's easier now.

- Blowing up the phones of Wendy Davis, the Lt. Governor and Senate President, Kirk Watson, Letitcia Van de Putte, etc. Running them down in person directly after session. Getting the story. You know. Things.

- Stalking the police department. Your people could have been there when they brought the arrests in. On the other side of this, you didn't even have to leave the chamber. Interview police officers at the scene. When they can't talk, call the chief or the PIO. This is easy stuff, people. I did this at 18 years old for a local cable station. No reason why you can't.

- Digging up the rules of the Texas Senate so you could do a feature piece on how many rules were broken in a slimy and horrid way. (Actually, I bet no one does this. If anyone wants to commission me, I'll totally do it for you.)

- Digging up the history of this bill so you could do a feature on how it came to be, who the main players are, and how it all managed to culminate in this wild governmental kerfuffle.

I could go on and on and on, but I'm getting too disgusted.

Journalism, they say, is dead. But Twitter didn't kill it. Bloggers didn't kill it. The Internet didn't kill it. You killed it. By paying your employees literally nothing, by promoting people who don't know what news is but do know how to say "yes, sir," and "you're great, sir."

But, hey, everyone loves a muffin debate, am I right? So get on with your bad self, CNN. You eat that 350-calorie muffin and call it a day. Because it appears you've had yours.

And if you want a true rundown of the actual events, and a number to reach Wendy Davis head over to Accidentally Mommy who wrote a heart-wrenching piece on the implications of this historic filibuster attempt.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Five Ways to Practice Feminism - Guest Post

Kate Allen who blogs over at Corn Dog Mama has some great ways to practice feminism in your own way, and forward the movement while keeping your individuality.


I've seen a lot of conversation lately about what constitutes a feminist, or a "good" feminist.  As the mother of two young daughters, I have reason to spend a good deal of every day reflecting on what feminism looks like at its best.  I want my daughters to learn, from my example, what it means to embody equality, embrace compassion and diversity, and carry a prophetic voice--all the stuff of feminism, as I see it.  But how does one do all those things in an everyday sort of way?

I offer the following five suggestions as ways to "do" feminism:

1) Embrace diversity.

The tough fact is, not all feminists agree.  The ideal of homogenous thought is, in my experience, a patriarchal one, not a feminist one.  Case in point: I grew up Roman Catholic and studied theology as an undergraduate, a graduate student, and a doctoral student.  Both then and now, when my voice has diverged from that of the big guys (i.e. the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the priests, and even the deacons) on matters of faith, I've been looked on with suspicion.  I've been told that's not the way things are.  I've been told to shut my mouth, or else.  I've been threatened with everything from excommunication and damnation to poor grades and unsavory recommendations (and that's just my experience with my church--I've experienced patriarchy in many other contexts as well).  In other words, the difference of my thinking has been perceived as a threat, which has led to me being bullied.  Preview of #4: bullying and feminism are not compatible.  This segues naturally into the next way to do feminism:

2) Practice listening.

This is the toughest thing I do as a self-proclaimed feminist.  I expect and want people to listen if I take the risk of speaking. That being said, if it's someone else doing the speaking, and that someone is saying something that conflicts with a view or idea I hold as important or even non-negotiable, it's hard to listen.  It's hard not to shut out that person's voice to begin formulating my clever comeback.   But the moment I fail to listen is the moment I fail to do what I expect others to do--and then I'm simply a hypocrite.  I've failed to do practice listening over and over and over again, and those failures haunt the crap out of me.  For example, when I was in college, I remember writing a rant in the form of a letter to the editor of the college paper.  I was upset about something campus ministry was up to, so in my letter I made rude remarks about it.  I made a whole lot of people upset--students, staff, and faculty alike.  I remember meeting another student a few weeks later who shared my name, and she said, "Oh, you're the one who wrote that letter to the editor."  Her eyes were huge, like I might suddenly reveal my scaly wings and blow fire at her.  I managed to single-handedly create enormous offense across the campus because, in wholly rejecting the value of what campus ministry was doing, I also implicitly rejected the intelligence and wisdom of those who might have had the smallest morsel of interest in taking part in it.  In rapidly spouting off my own perceived wisdom, I failed to listen, and alienated dozens of people I knew and cared about (and probably hundreds more whom I'd never meet).  What did I gain from writing that letter?  Nothing.  Not a thing. If I had just listened first, rather than roaring my way into a written rant, I might have brought something worth reading into my letter the editor--balance, for example.  Kindness, for another.  The possibility of a genuine dialogue, even.  You know--the stuff that awesome feminists are totally savvy about.

3) Value your personal experience and dare to speak up.

One critical thing I've learned in the process of becoming a feminist is that my personal experience is as important as, if not more important than, my ability to bandy about ideas and objective facts.  I've learned the slow way that the most compelling voices I've heard are the ones that aren't afraid of honestly and non-threateningly sharing personal experiences.  I may not be able to relate to someone's political stance on abortion, for example, but I can relate to the desperate urges to protect and care for children and family (full disclosure: I am pro-choice).  I can relate to strongly felt emotions, even when I can't relate to being boxed in by emotionally-charged accusations.  If a person can make herself or himself just vulnerable enough to share her or his experience without attempting to claim that her or his experience is the only valid one, that person can get my ear.  Likewise, I've found that people listen to me most readily when I reveal myself not as someone hardened into in impermeable, unchanging boulder, but rather a flesh-and-blood person who fears, loves, gets angry, is joyful, and feels hurt.  Someone who can experience all those things is someone who can have her mind and heart transformed.  One of my professors from graduate school used to talk about being an openness rather than a closedness.  To be open to others, rather than closed to others, is a great way to practice feminism.  However-

4) Don't ever buy into the idea that bullies have a right to bully you--or that you have the right to bully others.

Yes, this is negative advice, but it is also, in my heartfelt opinion, absolutely crucial to practicing feminism.  As I wrote in a recent reflection, before I was a feminist, I didn't realize I had a right not to be trampled by others.  I was that shy kid in grade school who never knew how to say "no!" or "stop!" when someone mistreated me.  I've learned in my adult life that if you live and breathe, you deserve respect and love, and any person who tries to persuade you otherwise by word or deed does not deserve your attention.  Listening (#2) and becoming vulnerable enough to share your personal experiences (#3) are wonderful feminist things to do, but there's a fine line between listening/becoming vulnerable and allowing someone to pummel you verbally, physically, psychologically, sexually, or otherwise.  If someone's response to your vulnerability is to be cruel, demeaning, or vicious, that person's response lacks integrity and merit.  So what's a feminist way to respond to a person who acts/speaks without integrity or merit?  Well, for a start:

5) Value yourself.

Assume that you have not only self-worth but a right to be part of the world and the conversation.  It's no one's job to do that for you, and someone who doesn't value herself or himself isn't likely to value you the way you deserve.  It also means that you have a right to walk away from relationships with people who don't value you properly.  To answer the question posed in #4, if you encounter someone who acts/speaks to you without integrity or merit, one valid feminist response is to reject future communication/relationship with that person.  But isn't that the same as not listening?  This is where the waters go murky, the way life often does.  I speak from my own experience, which certainly isn't perfect ("perfection" is another patriarchal ideal, anyway, one which I reject as a personal ideal), but I've found that sometimes--just sometimes--the best option is not to listen, because to listen--in these rare cases--is to allow myself to be bullied, and thus not to value myself well.  If I'm in relationship with someone who doesn't value me properly, I'm in relationship with someone hierarchically.  Hierarchy doesn't work in heart-felt relationships--at least not for feminists--because it's antithetical to mutuality.  (St. Paul might disagree with me on that, but I'm not here to debate with a dead man.)  Some of the best--and most difficult--decisions I've ever made involved cutting a person out of my life whom I had previously valued a great deal.  Those decisions, agonizing as they were, empowered me.  Those decisions were tangible ways of affirming that, in relationships that could only be power-imbalanced, I deserved more value in my life than those bullies did.

These five ways aren't the five ways to do feminism, but they are some ways.  In my experience, feminism doesn't work well when it relies on hard and fast rules.  It does seem to work well (and work hard!) when it turns again and again to collective wisdom that's continuously built upon personal experiences.  What would you add to this list of ways to do feminism?  How would you modify the five ways I've presented?


Monday, June 24, 2013

Recipe Monday - Zucchini Avocado Salad

We're experimenting with vegetable sides over here, to great success. Here's my first attempt, a zucchini avocado salad everyone loved.

2 cups zucchini, cubed and lightly steamed
1 haas avocado, peeled, pitted,and cubed
1/4 cup oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

Combine all ingredients
Cover and chill at least one hour

That's it! Delicious!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Moment of the Week - 146: Mom, Move!

The girls play a very serious make-believe game, and I best get out of the way. Never mind that they're supposed to be getting ready for bed.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Preschool Pointers - 39: Be Prepared to Cancel


Last week, I talked about the schedule I've taken to making for the girls and I during summer. But the system is not fool-proof, and life happens. Kids get sick, they sleep too long or get up too early, you're too busy with chores, or maybe they're just involved in a crazy-fun, imaginary game at home and rounding them up to cart them to some other thing that is supposedly fun is just going to break the rhythm. But you're supposed to be at the library or museum or a movie, and you've told other people you are going, even.


Be prepared to cancel, and make sure your friends understand that there is a large chance of this happening (if they're moms, they should get it). Be forgiving when your friends have to cancel, too. Be aware that no matter what your plans, there's a 30 percent chance of you cancelling and a 30 percent chance of your friends cancelling because reasons. If the schedule is free-flowing, easy-going, it will be a lot easier and a lot more fun to do the activities you can actually get to.

For instance, this week, we cancelled twice. We did not go to the splash pad at 10 a.m. because my girls happened to sleep that day until 9:30 a.m. (right? awesome.) We did not go to Dino Days at the library because I was editing a manuscript and the girls were playing really nicely. We went bike riding a day later than planned because it rained. The park a day later than planned because during open swim, they allowed us to stay for a lot longer than I thought they would. It's summer time. It should be easy.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Fitness Corner - 30 Days of Fitness: Contributor Post

Today, Joella from Fine and Fair takes us away from the Couch to 5K for a hot sec to talk about a different, and yet totally doable, fitness routine. It's based on the 30-day shred, and she's got nothing but good things to say!


Last Wednesday, I did 250 squats.

I don't know about you, but for me? That's kind of a big deal.

When it comes to physical fitness, I have always been, let's say, inconsistent. I'd get into a solid workout routine, keep at it for a few weeks, and then forget that exercise is a thing for months on end. Surprisingly, all of that changed during my pregnancy with Canon. I was determined to remain healthy and strong throughout my pregnancy, committed to doing everything in my power to ensure the best possible outcomes for both of us. For the first time in my life, I was exercising consistently. I was doing yoga, water aerobics, swimming, walking, and even took up Zumba. The day before I went into labor, I was waddling, slowly but surely around the indoor track at the Y, when an older woman smiled at me and called out "Hope your water doesn't break!"

After Canon's birth, I was frustrated with having to recover from surgery before I could start easing back into the consistent physical activity I'd grown accustomed to. I started out slowly with walking, then the Babywearing Workout, then yoga, then Zumba. Consistency was difficult to come by while managing the needs of my 3 year old and my newborn, but I did what I could, when I could, re-building my strength and endurance as I went.

Fast forward to mid-April, when I started to see something about a 30 Day Squat Challenge popping up on my radar. At first, I brushed it off. I've never been successful at completing a fitness challenge. I made it 2 weeks into Couch-to-5K before hurting my knee and giving up. I made it a week into a push-up challenge once before forgetting about it. And despite owning Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred [affiliate link]for 5 years now, I've never done it consistently for more than a couple of weeks, and am "shredded."


I decided to go for it, and I invited friends to join me. We got together in a facebook and encouraged and supported each other. We had a daily reminder of how many squats to do. We had a body-positive space to participate in this challenge together. Not all of us made it until the end, and those who dropped out or modified the challenge to suit their needs were fully supported.

So on the first day, I did 50 squats. And on the 30th day, I did 250 squats.

Next up, I plan to start a 30 day push-up challenge that starts with 5 push-ups and works up to 40, with several rest days thrown in for good measure. After that, the sky's the limit! A leg-lift challenge? Planks? Crunches? All of the above! In due time, of course. Will you join me?

The private Fine and Fair Fitness Challenges group is HEREJust click "Join Group" in the upper right-hand corner, and you'll be added! Our next challenge will be starting soon, so join now and introduce yourself!

When you work out, you'll need a sturdy sports bra, so make sure to read about your best options here.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why the Museum Is Important - Guest Post

Since summer can leave us with days of open boredom, Sascha Fernandez, who blogs over at The Smart Little Girl's Guide to Summer, gives some great ways to make museums fun and interesting during the dog days.


Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. ~Thomas Merton

Shhh...I took a picture of Maddie and John Schoenherr's Sandworms of Dune, 1977

Our first adventure for the 2013 summer Camp Mommy extravaganza is our local museum. Our museum does its best to get the best exhibits it can and over the last few years has exceeded expectations.  Last year Maddie and I spent our time viewing some of the most incredible science fiction/fantasy paintings ever created.  Included in the exhibit were images and sculptures by H.R. Geiger, one of the paintings upon which the original cover of Dune was based, at least five Tolkien inspired works, and many Boris Viejo pieces.  There was concept art, costumes, and other tremendously large sculptures. Some of them were so life-like I had to stop Maddie (and myself) from touching  (and I’ll tell you a little secret..I snapped a few pictures.  Shhhhh). Though not a part of the science fiction exhibit, the Allentown Art Museum also had a Victorian Mourning exhibit around that time.  Though small in size, the pieces included historic mourning garb, mourning jewelry, hair art, and modern jewelry interpretations of Victorian mourning culture.

This summer The Allentown Art Museum is hosting a collection of the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  Not only is this Maddie’s first exposure to the historic fine art of Europe, it’s one of mine as well. I’m glad her first exposure is so early and a painter I love and understand and can translate to Maddie.  The only other major art exhibit I ever saw was Marcel Duchamp when I was about 5 or 6.  I had no idea why there was a toilet inside a museum, and I couldn’t figure out how a big piece of broken glass with bunch of triangles, circles, and lines could be a bride (and I had no idea what bachelors were and why they were making her naked).  I kind of still don’t…and I took a fine arts class in college. 

Wait, what? Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)
 My step-father was an artist who, unfortunately, never took the time to explain to me the art he loved, or help me appreciate what I saw. Perhaps I would have loved Duchamp. All these years later I believe he felt one should simply instinctively understand and be Zen about viewing a piece of art, and while I agree with that fundamentally and am a firm believer that the first emotion you feel in regard to any piece of art is the one you take with you forever, I also believe guidance is necessary, especially for a small child. Duchamp confused and frustrated me, and though I have learned about him since, and come to appreciate his talent and vision, I will never truly love him, taking those initial feelings of frustration with me as well as the internal “ugh” I hear myself say when someone mentions him. Had my step-father taken the time to crouch down next to me and explain the toilet in the museum (or simply the vision of the conceptual/Dadaism movements) I might have had a very different first experience.

So what does Duchamp mean to me all these years later?  What does it mean for my daughter? I think my younger child’s first exposure to art should be something I can explain. I don’t mean interpret, as that is up to the individual and you must encourage that, but give background information on, and help her understand the vision behind the piece itself.  Either that, or find artwork that we can learn about together.  I have a passion for the Belle Époque and the Fin de siècle so this Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit has me giddy with excitement.  I took a book on Toulouse-Lautrec out from the library and we sat together and looked at his paintings.  She saw a picture of him and asked about his legs. When I told her what happened to him she said, "well, I guess it didn't hurt his painting."  Even there we see a lesson in tolerance and understanding.

You have one activity to do before you go to the museum.  You have to give your child a basic understanding of the idea of different styles.  Several years ago my boyfriend's son came home with a project he did in art class.  Most schools are doing away with art classes unfortunately, so it falls to you to teach appreciation.  Below is a copy of his project.  The best way to do this is to choose eight different painters.  Fold a regular piece of unlined drawing paper so you have eight boxes.  Put the name of one painter in each box.  Show your child one piece of work by that painter, discuss what it looks like, and have your child do a small scale, simple reproduction.  If you discuss Jackson Pollack, have your child use markers of many colors and draw dots all over the inside of the box.  Below is a list of 10 artists and one piece of representative art. You can look up all these pieces on the internet.  Don't worry if your child can't draw a real person if you talk about Rafael...stick figures with wings works!
Aidan B. School art project (about 2010 or so)

Definitions of Artistic Movements
The best online dictionary of artistic movements is found at Art History on  Most of the definitions here are amalgamates of and Wiki entries.

Impressionism: 19th century art movement centralized in Paris. Characteristics include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.
Post-impressionism: Originated in the early 20th century. Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations: they continued using vivid colours, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, but they were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colour.
Pre-Rafaelite: Middle to late 19th century British movement that rejected the mechanical religious works of the Renaissance. These painters returned to the subjects of myth and legend, and rejected art that was seemingly done by rote and convention.

Dadaism: (Ahhh! Marcel Duchamp!)  An artistic moment in the early 20th century that valued nihilism, nonsense, and travesty.  It rejected conventional art.

Cubism: A movement of art that originated in 1907 and is still practiced today. Cubism has several key components: geometricity, a simplication of figures and objects into geometrical components and planes that may or may not add up to the whole figure or object known in the natural world, conceptual reality instead of perceptional reality, distortion of reality, the overlapping of planes, multiple views of the subject matter.  Seems like a difficult concept, but when you view a Picasso,  you'll get it.

Futurism:  From Italy around the same time Cubism was developing. A style of art that embraced mechanism and industrialsim.

Surrealism: Also an early 20th century movement. Surrealism valued the insights and subconscious realities highlighted by Freud.  It included ideas of strong emotions, emotional repression, mystical ideas, ambiguity, and the ideas of chance and spontaneity.

Contemporary: Art from the 1960's or 70's up until this very minute. Contemporary art can involve all previous art styles and most often addresses contemporary issues such as AIDS, poverty, multiculturalism, globalization, and gender issues.  Contemporary art has often been attacked as pointless scribbles that could  have been made by someone's 3 year olds; however, this is not the case.  This kind of art is planned and constructed with vision and the desire to share feelings, images, and ideas just like any other piece of art.

10 Artists and Their Most Famous Works (my opinion anyway!) 
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1509 (Renaissance)

Starry NightVincent Van Gogh, 1889 (Post-impressionism)

Number 8, Jackson Pollack, 1949 (Abstract Impressionsim)
The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893 (Expressionist)
Water Lilies Clouds, Claude Monet, one of 250 Water Lily paintings (Impressionsim)
The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931 (Surrealism)
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908 (Symbolist)
Two Dancers On the Stage, Edgar Degas, 1874 (Impressionism and Realism)
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Jan Vermeer, 1665 (Baroque)
Woman in a Hat with Pompoms and a Printed Shirt, Pablo Picasso, 1962 (Cubism)

Should I go into "why art is important" or do you know that already?  I think you know that already.  If you believe art is important you must do what you can to make it interesting and fun.  You must do what you can to prevent the eye rolls and sighs when your child has a school trip or is going with you to the museum.  The only way to achieve this is to be excited right along with them, even if you don't like the museum very much yourself.  There are a lot of questions you can ask your child while viewing paintings or sculptures that will increase your child's interaction and instinctual understanding of art.  It might help you as well.  There is nothing more wasteful than going to a museum, viewing works of art, and leaving with no more enlightenment within you than there was when you walked in. The only way to combat that is to TALK about what you see (quietly of course...proper manners in museums is another important lesson). Talk, talk, talk.  Talk at the museum, talk on the way home, talk when you get home.  

Ten Questions to Ask Your Kids About Art
(courtesy of Project Muse)

1. Look carefully at the work of art in front of you. What colors do you see in it? Take turns listing the specific colors that y ou see (for example: "I see red." "I see purple.") 
2. What do you see in the work of art in front of you? Take turns listing the objects that
you see (for example: "I see an apple." "I see a triangle.") 
3. What is going on in this work of art? Take turns mentioning whatever you see happening, no matter how small. 
4. Does anything you have noticed in this work of art so far (for example: colors, objects, or events) remind you of something in your own life? Take turns answering. 
5. Is this work of art true to life? Ho w real has the artist made things look?
6. What ideas and emotions do you think this work of art expresses? 
7. Do you have a sense of how the artist mi ght have felt when he or she made this work of art? Does it make you feel one way or another? 
8. Take a look at the other works of art displayed around this one. Do they look alike? What is similar about the way they look (for example: objects,events, feelings, the way they are made)?
What is different? 
9. What would you have called this work of art if you had made it yourself? Does the title of the work, if there is one, make sense to you? 
10. Think back on your previous observations. What have you discovered from looking at this work of art? Have you learned anything about yourself or others? Now that the game is over, ask your kids again: Do you like this work of art? Why or why not? Has your reaction to the work changed? Do you like it more or less than you did in the beginning? Why?


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hey, Jessie. No, Really, Hey!

Dear Disney,

You know those God-awful children's sit-coms you have on in the afternoons to try to compete with Nickelodeon's God-awful children's sit-coms (and Spongebob)? Can you stop?

No, seriously. They're all really freaking bad.

Anyway, the show I have a particular problem with today is Jessie.

Admittedly, at first it seems like your typical sucky show with its cast of quirky, one-lining, not-hilarious-at-all characters, getting themselves into silly, embarrassing and otherwise boring situations. In other words, fairly non-offensive, run-of-the-mill crap. We've now caught bits and pieces of a few episodes (it's meant for tweens, not four year olds, so we're not really watching it anyway), but I'm still totally appalled at this programming, and even if my kids were nine or ten, I still wouldn't want them watching it. It's everything I do not want them to be.

Hey, Jessie is not only thoroughly inane, it's also modelling horrible behavior. Consistently. And in many different avenues.


The way they treat Nanny Agatha is reprehensible. Now, on Wiki, Nanny Agatha is listed as a character as follows:

"An unattractive, arrogant British nanny who frequently locks horns with Jessie and the Ross children. During their first meeting, she attempts to ban Zuri and Jessie from Central Park. Zuri and Jessie ignore Agatha and keep coming back, so Agatha starts posting mean things saying that Jessie is a bad nanny on her website "Toddler Tattler:. Zuri, Jessie, and Christina stand up to Agatha, and Agatha shuts down her website. Agatha has a twin sister Angela, who is even more dishonest (but much prettier) and tries to steal Jessie's job, but the kids and Jessie stand up to her, and she goes back to England. So far, this is the only time Agatha, who despises the long-favored Angela, was on the same side as Jessie. Officer Petey met Agatha (dressed as a clown) at a fair in the park, and thought she was cute until he learned her mole and snaggle-tooth were not part of her costume."

Given this mediocre Wikipedia description, you can clearly see there are many reasons for the viewer to dislike Agatha. She's mean, she's dishonest, she's constantly trying to trip your hero up just for kicks, she's surly and awful.

But what do you do? You make fun of her looks. Constantly. All those other bad qualities are almost completely ignored vocally, as Jessie ranks on Agatha for her apparent ugliness.

Poor form.

Here are some examples:

Their first meeting -

Jessie: "I'm pretty sure you don't own Central Park."
Zuri: "For her sake, I hope she doesn't own a mirror."
Jessie: "And for the mirror's sake."

Jessie frequently refers to her as "Hagatha."

They also poke fun at overweight people, and sometimes the insults (of which there are dozens per show) have racist undertones.

They'll make fun of anything on that show, seriously. Intellect, looks, socialization skills, love, friendship. And the biggest offender is Jessie herself, the adult nanny. Shameful. It's all she has for jokes. And making fun of people isn't funny.

I'd like it if you would stop trying to teach my kids that laughing at people because they are different or have a weakness. What horrible behavior modelling. And not only are the characters doing it, but the laugh track finds it off-the-hook funny.


The sex talk and innuendos used are graphic, stupid and objectifying. Jessie should not be talking to her young charges in the manner that she does, referencing her "end zone" and etc. And it should not be funny that Luke (one of the kids who has a crush on Jessie) tapes the nanny sleeping, says things like "Come and find my off button" or gropes her in an elevator.

What in the ever loving...?

Disney, it's like I don't even know you any more.

I'd like to end this with some reviews I found on Common Sense Media from parents with kids who might actually watch this tripe on a regular basis.

- "this show is full of inappropriate innuendo and sexual references by very young kids as well as "Jessie". I don't think 8 or 9 year old girls need to hear their heroine saying "As long as he doesn't touch my end zone"."

- "The show makes me regret relenting on the whining for Disney in my house. For one thing, there is too much sexual innuendo - in one episode "romancing the crone", an older female neighbor is bending over suggestively and mentions something about "the view" to the butler Bertram, who is visibly horrified. Disney really thinks I want my kids to watch this? I won't go into many details because you can watch an ep for 5 minutes to see for yourself. For a show that is aimed at tween girls to contain so much sexism is inexcusable. The main characters are materialistic and shallow. Stereotypes are reinforced constantly (fat, old, or unattractive characters are frequently insulted and made jokes of)."

- "This evening I watched my first and last episode of "Jessie" and think it is inappropriate for all ages of adolescents and teens. The reason given here will be brief and to the point. The two attractive female teens are tall, fashionably dressed, wearing make up, hair attractive, etc while another young teen is short, boring drab outfit, no make up, childlike hair style and wearing glasses to boot. This young teen was subjected to very pointed unkind remarks by others and indicating in one scene that she was not pretty enough to have a boyfriend so might as well get a cat."

- "Bra stuffing is not a topic I'd expose my children to, same with bullying without any consequences, and the sexual references are inappropriate. Tired of the media telling our young teenagers that they need to change their bodies to meet the world's standards. Horrible role models and very negative message for kiddos. Come on, Disney."

And lest you think we're all just making a big deal out of nothing, don't forget you had to take an episode of Jessie off the air after the characters made fun of someone with Celiac's disease.

Keep it classy, Disney.

A lost customer


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Expecting the Unexpected - Contributor Post

Kim Wright who blogs over at No Progress Without Pain is one of the strongest women and mothers I know, full stop. She has ridden through tough times, smiled at the good ones, and braced for more. This post is just one of the reasons why she should be president of the world.


All my life people have told me I need to expect the unexpected. I think I’ve been told that so much it might be at the root of a pretty serious anxiety disorder that I have. It’s taken me a long time but I’ve finally realized you can’t do it. There’s just no way to expect the unexpected.

To be completely honest with you there’s very little way to expect anything in life, and just when you think something is a constant it’s my experience it can change on a dime. I make a habit of trying not to make promises to my daughters. I guard our plans with careful wording. Plans fall through, things change, and they certainly don’t always occur, as we desire them and we have to adapt and overcome. Simple things like play dates change all the time and if I utter the words “I promise” it’s a death sentence to the plan, you can almost be sure it’s going to go up in flames. I don’t know why that is, maybe I just have bad luck, but that’s my experience and I’m a little sick of working myself up and my family up when things don’t go as I plan.

I have a special needs daughter who just had surgery. Dorothy has Conradi Hunermann Syndrome, and we travel 7 hours each way to have her VEPTR growing rods that are used to treat her severe scoliosis and breathing issues expanded. If you are interested to read more about her syndrome and treatment you can visit her caring bridge which admittedly I don’t update as much as I should. We have made the trip every 6 months minimum so when I say it wasn’t my first rodeo at planning a surgery trip I mean it. At this point I’ve lost count, but I know she has had more than 14 surgeries and she’s only 6 years old.

Her surgery that occurred last fall I planned on going easy, like others. I told our house sitters we would only be gone a couple days, I promised her such things. Just like usual when I make a promise it went up in a fiery inferno of doom, instead of a couple days we were gone more than a week. Instead of the surgery going well it went horrible. We were worried and sick and stuck in ICU beds hearing stories of “flaky bones” and bone grafting and waiting on big icky back braces that she’d have to do her first half a year of kindergarten in.

So this time around I planned for the worst. I worried and fretted and my daughters surgeon was even fairly concerned about my inability to form coherent sentences by the day before surgery. I told our house sitters it would be a long haul, and I balanced credit cards to see how much more debt we could possibly juggle because hotels and food add up. Just like that though, this surgery was the easiest one I’ve watched her recover from. No surgery trip is easy, but I really didn’t need to make it as hard on myself as I did if I had just let it be and planned like I normally plan

I could have taken a moment to breath. I could I stepped back and maybe formed those sentences more coherently, and I could have gotten a few extra full nights sleeps in and avoided being a babbling crazy person who deep cleaned every room of her house like maniac in expectation of being gone for weeks.

I really can’t plan for the worst all the time, I shouldn’t plan to expect the unexpected because the unexpected could be more terrible than I can imagine or it could be much better. Sure I have to be an adult about things and be ready to handle what comes our way without it breaking me apart but the way to do that is not planning for every unexpected scenario. I think a better way at least for me to approach plans is bending and adapting to them as they come. I’ll still guard my promises to avoid those flames of doom whether they be tantrums from missed play dates or fiery pits of financial ruin from two unexpected weeks of hotel stays.

From now on though I’m going to do my best to not try to expect the worst case. My daughter’s surgeon told me he just “takes what her body gives him and works with that.” I think that’s a good guideline for life, take what it gives you and work from there.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...