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Monday, September 30, 2013

Recipe Monday - Cheesy Pork Chops

If you're looking for a different taste for your chops, this recipe is simple, quick and very good!

4 boneless pork chops
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried parsley
4 teaspoons butter, softened
4 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place pork chops in a baking pan.
Spread 1 teaspoon of butter over each chop, then spread 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise over butter. Season each one with seasoning salt, pepper and parsley.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over the top of each pork chop.
Bake 35 minutes in preheated oven, or until the internal temperature of the chops has reached 145 degrees.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Moment of the Week - Beach Vacation 2013

We've been on a glorious vacation. Lots of work to do now that we're back, but this week was full of moments. Have some!

 The girls each got a huge bed this time. Instead of having to share one!

 Cuddles while eating.

 The penthouse view.

 Little divers.

 Frisbee is serious business.

 Chilling by the pool.

 Out for pizza!

 In front of our condo.
 We were on the top right corner.

 Family selfie!

 Another day, another dinner.

And then ice cream!



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homeschooling Is Not Anti-Social - Guest Post

Today, Tracey from Inside the Mommyvan has a post about something that scares the crap out of me. Homeschooling.


Anyone who has homeschooled, or has even discussed homeschooling with others, has undoubtedly heard the socialization question. It is #2 on the hilarious—and accurate!—Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List:

Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now. Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both concepts.

I've heard several variations on this theme: an acquaintance who allowed that homeschooling was OK, except that it's too easy for the kids to be abused and no one to notice (if you require an explanation of the absurdity of this thought, please let me know); the generally well-meaning-but-ignorant queries that seem to all start from the (erroneous) belief that I'm trying to shelter my children from the evils of the world through homeschooling; the ones who believe that the only path for a child to learn social skills is in a grade-school classroom setting.

Recently a new type popped up out of nowhere. It's not the Socialization Question, it's the Socialization Compliment. Just in the past few months I've been praised, once embarrassingly effusively, for nothing more than taking my children out of the house for the purpose of participating in extra-curricular activities. I suppose I could be thankful that I'm not being grilled about the particulars of our every social interaction, but at least those people stop after I give them a reasonable and straightforward answer. I've got those stashed away in a special corner of my brain, you see, right next to the Answers to Twin Questions I've been practicing since the birth of my elder two. I feel as though perhaps I'm contributing to the homeschool community, in some small way, by taking the time to politely but firmly educate the masses on one of the most misunderstood areas of non-traditional education.

The Socialization Compliments, though, just keep coming, and any response at all is awkward. "It's so nice that they have friends who go to regular school!" Really? Are your kids' only friends the kids at the adjacent desks in school? "That's so great," another says, "That you let them go to scouts/dance lessons/summer camp!" Really? Isn't this part of that whole parenting thing? I haven't heard of one other parent at the Wednesday children's program at our church earning any words of praise whatsoever for dropping their kids off for a couple of hours of free activities once a week. More important is the erroneous, and frankly, quite insulting assumption that any of this is an effort worthy of a Mother of the Year nomination. You know, for a homeschooler, as if a run-of-the-mill homeschooler would, by default, keep their kids locked in the cellar 16 hours a day. To attempt to correct that notion makes me come across as an ungrateful jerk, but to quietly accept their praise seems to verify it in a way that makes me very uncomfortable.

Let me tell you a little about the reality of socialization for homeschoolers. There are a few families who do, in fact, wish to shield their young children from the world's ills for a while longer. I really can't fault them for that desire. How it will affect their children remains to be seen, but I knew just as many kids growing up in a traditional school setting who were expected straight home after school, who weren't allowed to visit friends' houses, and so on. In addition, homeschooling used to exist on much shakier legal ground than it does today, so many of the past stereotypes may well have been driven more by a desire to stay under the radar than from willfully keeping their children away from social activities.

Anyway, back to how it really happens for my children, which is remarkably similar to most other homeschooled kids we know. First off, understand that the term homeschooling does not even imply that all of our educational activities take place at home, much less our social interactions. My kids attend co-op classes, including plenty of time in the lunchroom and on the playground, one day a week. We generally have a fun activity or field trip of some kind planned with friends—homeschooled or not—on another day each week. We currently attend dance lessons, children's program at church, scout meetings, church, and Sunday school, all weekly. Only a fraction of this time is spent primarily with kids their own age; the rest of the time they play, converse, and interact with everyone from infants to senior citizens. They also accompany me shopping and going about our regular household business, plus occasionally to doctors' appointments, choir rehearsals, community organization meetings, and other places where we meet people and make friends the same way most adults do, by introducing ourselves and making conversation with people we find interesting or who share common interests. My children do this comfortably and naturally, much less hesitant than many of their traditionally-schooled peers to speak to an adult to whom they've just been introduced.

They also show kindness and compassion to children younger than they are, but don't let themselves get pushed around by bigger kids. Bullying is extremely rare in the homeschool groups we attend, and is generally rapidly dealt with by the kids themselves or a nearby parent, but we've run into a few at other activities. Oddly, it's been the worst at the activities populated mostly by those paragons of socialization, kids who spend their days in traditional classrooms. My son learned a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a group of these kids, how to gang up and harass the girls on the playground. Fortunately I observe enough of their interactions up-close that I could nip it in the bud. Maybe not permanently, but it's stopped for now, and my son has a very clear idea of why it is undesirable behavior. How well are those anti-bullying programs working at traditional schools? How many of those boys' parents, I wonder, had any idea that their kids were instigating this sort of behavior?

I'm not here to bash traditional schools, nor to promote homeschooling as the one true way (all I know is that it's working for our family so far, but that could change next week). I will point out that sitting at a desk next to some randomly-chosen other kids within 12 months' age of each other for 6-8 hours a day (with maybe 30-60 minutes of lunch + recess, for those schools that still have it, where kids are mostly unsupervised as long as they don't actually throw the food) is most certainly not an ideal environment for teaching, or learning, social skills. And I will ask that you consider, before you open your mouth to (or about) a homeschooler, that we're probably doing everything within our power to set our kids up for happiness and success as adult human beings in the real world where we live every day.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The winner of the adorable pumpkin toddler hat is:


Congratulations, and thanks to everyone for participating!


Friday, September 20, 2013

Finding Religious Formation Good Enough for my Daughters - Contributor Post

Today, Kate Allen who blogs over at Life, Love, Liturgy (and CornDog Mama!) shares her struggle to find the right religious landscape for her kids.

My oldest daughter turns three next month, and I can no longer put it off: I have to decide what sort of religious formation my kids are going to have growing up.

I wrote recently about resources parents can draw on for their kids' religious formation, but, the thing is, there's a bigger issue than resources at stake for me. I mean, I have more theological training than most ordained pastors--I am and always will be a walking theological resource for them. But I want more for my kids than what I can teach them. I want my kids to grow up in religious community. And it'll take a serious leap of faith for me to stick them in religious community and trust that they'll be formed well.

I grew up Roman Catholic. I have a Master's degree in Roman Catholic theology. The easiest thing would be to stick them in Catholic Sunday School and correct whatever they're taught that strikes me as off-base or wrong. In fact, that was my plan before I had kids.

In the last year, though, I've come to the realization that pragmatism won't be able to overcome one vitally important fact: the Roman Catholic Church isn't good enough for my daughters.

I don't want my daughters to grow up in a faith tradition where only men are allowed to do the most important things, like acting in persona Christi to say the consecrating prayers over the bread and wine. I want my daughters to look to the center of the action in religious services and see a woman leading, rather than making way for a man.

I don't want my daughters to hear weekly Mass readings that systematically exclude women. I want my daughters to hear regular references to the many bible stories featuring women who do awesome, even outlandish things.

I don't want my daughters to have to fight their way into the idea that women can do anything men can, especially in a truth-charged religious context. I want them to be empowered by everything they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in their religious formation.

The thing I've learned as a follower of Jesus is that Roman Catholics aren't the only ones who do Christianity wrong. Christianity has evolved into an exclusivistic club where you have to buy into Jesus as the sole son of (a male) God to get the most grace.

I don't buy it. Christian creeds alone aren't good enough for my daughters.

I do want my kids to learn about Jesus and all the ways he broke the status quo of his religious context--that's critically important to me. I also want them to see beyond what Jesus' followers have canonized and creedalized as right and good. I want them to know that Jesus was born Jewish and died Jewish. I want them to know that Jesus wasn't out to start a new religion--that what he was really doing was being an extraordinary interpreter of Torah. You know, the way rabbis often are.

I want them to dance in the presence of God the way the people at Chochmat HaLev did at their High Holy Day services earlier this month. I want them to laugh and sing out in the presence of Goddess. I want them to regard all places and creatures as holy, and that "more holy" or "less holy" are labels that can only apply to one's actions. I want them to learn that God is both-gendered and beyond gender. I want them to learn that they are sacred bodies as ancient and substantial and changing as the stars, not merely immortal souls as immaterial as infinity. I want them to see how extraordinary--even divine--Jesus is (and isn't). And I want them to see how extraordinary--and divine--they aren't and are.

So maybe I'll take them to a Christian church, and maybe I'll also take them to a Jewish synagogue. Maybe I'll choose a Christian place that rehearses radically and intentionally inclusive table fellowship in its liturgy, and maybe I'll choose a Jewish place in which all are welcome to dance with and kiss and learn and interpret Torah. And maybe both of the religious communities I choose will be led by women as awesome as my daughters are.

Because that would be good enough for my daughters.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

10 Reasons to Baby Wear - Contributor Post

Today, Joella from Fine and Fair shows us how easy and helpful wearing a baby can be! Why should you wear your baby?

Why yes, I did just weed my whole garden!
1. Get shit done.

Anyone with children knows how difficult it can be to get anything done efficiently, especially when they are
very needy babies. Without baby wearing, the options are: do shit when the baby sleeps and spiral quickly into sleep deprived delirium/psychosis (this depends on having a baby who will fall/stay asleep without touching you, which, lol), let the baby scream and cry while you get shit done and scream and cry yourself, or get shit done in short bursts with one hand while wrangling your baby. Babywearing keeps your baby snuggled against your warm body where they can smell your familiar smell and hear your familiar heartbeat, keeping them content (and often lulling them to sleep as you move around!) while you have your hands free to do some cleaning, cooking, yard work, homework, etc. (Safety tip! Don't bend at the waist while wearing your baby. Squat instead for bonus leg/glute toning!)

Do not attempt.
2. More effectively parent more than one child.

The transition from one to two children can be overwhelming at best, and panic inducing at worst. My mother warned me that two children is far more than double the work. Our family doctor confirmed that the work involved with two children does not double, it multiplies exponentially, so like, science and math and stuff. Babywearing has saved my sanity as I learned to juggle the very different needs of my two children. With the baby safely snuggled against me, my hands were free to play with my preschooler, to fix food for her, or to assist her with dressing, pottying, and other self care needs she was almost-but-not-quite independent with.

3. Help lose the pregnancy weight.

When I had my first child, I totally banked on that "Breast feeding makes the weight melt right off!" crap. For someone women, it does! For other women, it does not! (Guess which I was?) Despite breast feeding my daughter for over 2 years, I never lost all of the weight from my pregnancy with her. Now, I did wear her a fair amount, but not nearly as much as her brother gets worn, because, see # 2. Wearing your baby not only adds a weight bearing element to the movement your already do, it enables you to move more because you aren't stuck on a couch or rocking chair pinned down by your baby all the time!

4. Fret less.

When your baby is sleeping  (or even just hanging out) snuggled close to your body, you will be less inclined to worry about his or her well-being. No need to go check on them 20 times during an hour long nap. No need to worry that they might find something chokable on the floor. Simply snuggle and take comfort in feeling their sweet breath against your skin! Forget babyPROOFING* and get into babyWEARING!

*j/k, don't forget babyproofing, you can't wear your baby ALL the time....OR CAN YOU?

5. Make Mama Friends.

Babywearing is a great conversation starter when it comes to meeting other moms. Whether it's complimenting another mother on her carrier, or answering questions about yours from the woman juggling babies and groceries, babywearing can give a jumping off point to start chatting up other moms. Many towns and cities also have local babywearing groups who host play dates, meetups, and picnics! Strap your baby on and talk about it, I swear it's not (that) annoying! Hell, I'm doing it RIGHT NOW!

6. Impress people.
Look at that wrap job! Fancy!

People who aren't familiar with babywearing tend to be quite impressed by it, and a little ego stroke to a new mom whose ill-fitting yoga pants are in a perpetual state of puke-covered is never a bad thing. They might be impressed how much you can (SEE NUMBER 1). Or by your ability to (SEE NUMBER 2). Or maybe how quickly you (SEE NUMBER 3). They may just be overwhelmed by how cute your carrier is, or fascinated by the precision and skill required to wrap a baby on your back. They will be dying to know how you keep your baby so quiet and content, or where you found that ingenious carrier that is both comfortable and cute. Perhaps you'll venture into the world of making or dying your own carriers and blow them away with your crafty creativity. Regardless of what they're struck by, many people are seriously impressed by babywearing prowess!

7. Deal with fewer random baby-touchers.

This point is rather self explanatory. Random creepers are less likely to touch a baby snuggled up on your chest or on your back than they are to reach right in to your stroller. A bitchy resting face offers a bit of extra insurance. ;)

You can't even tell my boob is out!
8. Breast feed in public discretely.

I'm an advocate for breast feeding moms nursing whenever and wherever their baby is hungry, however they're comfortable doing so. Many moms are more comfortable with a bit of privacy or with a cover, and many babywearing options offer both! There are a number of nursing-friendly carriers and carries that can make breastfeeding in public private and discrete with a little bit of practice. A few trial runs in front of a mirror and you'll be whipping your boobs out like a pro with no one the wiser! Wraps and ring slings are probably the easiest to nurse in, but the more popular soft-structured carriers can accommodate nursing with some creativity and practice!

9. Bond with Baby

Babywearing can help facilitate the bond between moms and babies, particularly after a traumatic birth or a difficult start with breast feeding. The close proximity makes skin-to-skin time easy and allows you to smell each others' scents (yes, even the gross ones) and hear each others' sounds (yes, even the gross ones). It further allows moms to notice cues for hunger, diaper changes, or sleeping more quickly and accurately.

10. Enjoy warm, fuzzy feelings!

Cuddling with a sweet, soft, snuggly baby just feels good. 'Nuff said!

For more on babywearing, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, recipes, and feminist parenting, all with a touch of snark and a dash of sarcasm, visit Joella's blog Fine and Fair and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Down in a Hole - Guest Post

Today Sarah from A Place That Does Not Exist was kind enough to share some really important and personal thoughts in a post about something millions struggle through each day. Something that for some, writing can help with.


Depression sucks.

I could try all day to explain why, and I'd never do it half as well as Allie Brosh already has. So all I'm only going to say a little bit about the "why" part today. I recommend clicking here to read Allie's explanation, if you're one of the few who hasn't seen it already.

The biggest why, for me, is the isolation. There's a reason my work in progress is set in a desert. At its core, it's an exploration of what my therapist loves to call my "trauma" issues (doesn't that sound so dramatic?), and it gets a little ugly in places. It's going to be a series, if I ever quit rewriting the first book to death, and somewhere in there I expect there will be redemption and hope.

In real life, those things exist--even with depression.

The problem is, it's hard to believe in them when you're already dead inside. If you're lucky enough to have people who care about you (or unlucky enough to have people who just want things from you), you'll hear a whole lot about hope. How if you have enough of it for long enough, you'll pull through, and probably all the reasons you should have it.

Ever repeat a word so many times it lost all meaning and melted into random babble? That was "hope" for me, after a while.

I grew up privileged, and I was raised to believe you had to work to stay that way. Talking about your problems was whining and only results mattered. So I worked hard for what I wanted and mostly got it, except I guess a lot of it wasn't what I really wanted. I didn't know what I really wanted, and complaining about what I had felt idiotic. Nice house, nice husband. A good salary and a beautiful son. I was counting my blessings and coming up short.

People told me to buck up and fake it 'til I made it, and it didn't help. I'd been telling myself to do those same things for far too long, and I didn't know why I couldn't anymore. Explaining it to someone else would've been too much effort, anyway.

It was much easier to be alone. Scratch that--it was much easier to create a world where I wasn't. A world populated by people as screwed up as I was. I didn't do it intentionally, but its people spoke to me and wouldn't shut up until I wrote them into existence. And thus, Cliffton was born, and apart from my one-year-old son who couldn't talk enough to get bootstrappy, it was all I cared about.

Eventually, it was my way out of the dark. Sort of.

It was the only way I could feel, but it didn't feel good. It was raw and scary far too real. My characters were, too, in my head, and hurting them hurt me. I wondered constantly what kind of person would give life (even fictional life) only to destroy it, but I couldn't stop, because the stories needed to be written.

I wrote the first draft of my book in about three months. During that time, a lot of things happened in my "real" life (the one that wasn't inside my head), and I decided to go to therapy. If it weren't for my son and my characters, I don't think I would have. I'd probably still be alive right now, but I'd also probably still be stuck in the same hole I was then.

Digging my way out has been hard, but it's been worth it. There's only one problem. Sometimes I miss that hole, and my desperation to claw my way out of it. That desperation fueled my writing, and now that it's gone? It's not that I can't write anymore. My writing's been better since I've been better... when I can make myself do it. But I don't need it to survive now, or at least it doesn't feel like I do. You need oxygen to live, but you don't notice that in any given moment unless you're actively suffocating.

For every step I take toward rejoining the "real" world, for every commitment I make out there, that other world slips away a little more. It's still right here, and so are the people in it--revealing themselves to me in new ways all the time. But stepping out of my reality and into theirs? That gets harder every day, and I hate it.

My writing process used to go like this. I sat down in my chair, put on some music, and got sucked in. Whoosh. At my peak, I was churning out a chapter every day or two--even though they were crappy first-draft chapters. Now, I produce a chapter a week, and that's if I'm really pushing myself, the wind is blowing in the exact right direction, and all the stars are perfectly aligned. I outline and I rewrite and I second-guess.

I'm on antidepressants now, and my therapist warned me that they might affect the way I connected with my characters. She said it was most likely something I could work through in the long run, but I'd have to re-learn how to do it. I'm trying, and succeeding in some ways. But damn, does it ever suck sometimes.

My book is in first person, from five different characters' POVs (stop laughing). When my depression was at its worst, I could only connect with one of them on a deep and reliable basis--the one I often refer to as [Problem Character]. He'd hijack my brain whenever he felt like it, and at those times, the words would flow effortlessly.

For the non-writers here, let's pretend this is a normal thing. Okay?

This was good for my book, in a way, because he drives a lot of the plot. It was also bad for my book, because when I wanted to hear my other four protagonists, he'd shout over them. Besides that, he's mentally unbalanced and an Unreliable Narrator. He may drive my plot, but it's the other characters' perspectives that make it all make sense.

Since I started the antidepressants, I've developed the ability to hear two of my other mains really well. I'm still working on the other two, but I know I'll get there. [Problem Character] doesn't hijack my brain anymore when I'm in the middle of making cookies or trying to sleep, which is for the best because that got a little scary after a while.

It's just that have to work so hard for all of it now. I get so frustrated that I want to quit. It feels like it'll never get any easier and whatever magic I had before, it's gone now. I've tried everything I can think of to get it back, that perfect certainty that the story I'm writing needs to be told. I've written character sketches, done an outline, taken a break to read lots of other authors' work, forced myself to write every day even if it's awful.

No matter what I do, that drive--that craving--just isn't there anymore. I'm starting to wonder if it's gone for good. If I've already quit, and I haven't admitted it to myself.

And that? That's kind of depressing, isn't it?


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's Raining Hats! GIVEAWAY!

I hardly ever do giveaways, but this one is just too cute not to do! It's Raining Hats and Socks! is a small business that hand-knits and crochets the most adorable stuff I've ever seen. Hats, gloves, socks, dolls, you name it. So, so cute.

To help them spread the word about their amazing stuff, I get to give away an incredible baby pumpkin hat! (So excite.)


Are you ded yet? Omg.

Okay, to enter to win a hat just like this for your baby or toddler, just enter here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! We'll announce the winner next week! (Special thanks to Jennie Muzzy for helping coordinate this!)


Monday, September 16, 2013

Recipe Monday - Easy Beef Turnovers

This meatpie uses a homemade version of "manwich" which is so good, especially for kids!


2 lb ground beef (80/20)
1 1/2 large onions, chopped, about 2 cups total
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 Tbs fresh ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups ketchup
Kosher Salt to taste, about 1 tsp
Water – 1 to 1 1/2 cups
Biscuits in a can


Brown the ground beef until all the water is cooked out and only grease remains, then throw in the onions and cook until they just start to turn translucent.

Then add the garlic and onion powder, black pepper, ketchup and salt.

Combine well, then add water to almost cover the mixture. This helps absorb the meat absorb the flavors, and gives a good fine texture, instead of hard chewy lumps.

Cook over medium heat until moisture dissipates, stirring every 10 minutes or so, then turn to low.
Stretch out biscuits to make large round 'pizza-dough' like circles (I used two biscuits per circle.) Spoon four to five tablespoons of beef mixture into them, a little to one side. Fold the other side over and seal like you would a calzone.

Cook in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, if that.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Potato Stamps: Make an Easy Fall Banner - Contributor Post

Today, I've got an amazing craft from Samantha over at A Day Well Spent. A great way to use potatoes and a great way to spend an afternoon!


It doesn't quite feel like fall here just yet, but it is September, the kids are back in school and that is a good enough reason for me, to start fall crafting.

I have always wanted to give potato stamps a try, and I thought Ava would really enjoy them as well so we gathered the materials to make a fall leaf banner using potato stamps.

Yes, she was trying to grab the knife, you have to watch out for Ava. ;)
What you need:
a large potato
a knife
assorted leaves

To create the stamps cut in half your large potato. Trace your leaf onto the potato. Once you have traced the leaf you can go ahead and cut out around the leaf. The idea is to have the traced leaf sticking out of the potato, like so:
potato stamps!

 Next step is to paint! Once you have paint on your stamp, lay it flat on the muslin and press down hard. Carefully life straight up so you don't smudge the paint.

this is my favorite leaf, painted by Ava.

After you are done painting, you can hang up your muslin to dry. Once dry, you can then cut out the individual leaf prints and string them up. Then hang your banner up in a spot where you can admire your work for all of fall. :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Social Media - Guest Post

Today, Cassandra from Smibbo has graciously allowed me to share her interesting take on the social media we all love to hate or hate to love or any variations thereof.


Look at this Cartoon .

Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, G+, Reddit, Livejournal – those are only the ones I’m somewhat familiar with. Those are the generalized ones. There’s many more that are specialized too. Videosift, Youtube, dailymotion, Foursquare, Linkedin…

All virtual meeting-places. Forums, communities, groups, hangouts, guilds elists and PMs. We know what they are and how they’re used. Despite different tools, commands and symbols, they all do basically the same thing: bring people together online to share with each other.

The general consensus is that it is sucking up our socializing. We no longer rely on “real-time” or “face time”. We don’t interact on a daily basis in a “normal” way. Social media is making us all strangers. Social media is stealing our potential quality time. Social media is engulfing us in virtual reality and we are letting life slip by unnoticed. Our children are neglected, our work is sub-standard and our interactions are minimized. We are addicted to unreal relationships.

What did we do before social media?

The general consensus is that we actually made plans to see each other. We had conversations, went out and got to know each other. We looked at each other. We acknowledged one another. We had “real” relationships. Parents paid attention to their kids, SigOths went on dates, and we had hobbies that didn’t require looking at a screen.

Did we really?

All my life I’ve been fascinated with paucity. I read Lois Lenski and the “little house” series. I imagined what life was like without electricity, indoor plumbing or interstate commerce. Reading by candlelight, sitting on a latrine and relying on a garden for dinner…. not things I romanticized or wanted, but fascinated by nonetheless. All my life I’ve been grateful to live when I do; no slavery, women can vote, and modern “conveniences” like light, heat and ready food. There’s many thing I remember “the old fashioned way” – stick shift driving, gas heaters without thermostats, fans instead of air conditioners, ovens that had to be lit.

I remember everyone using cash to pay for things. A check was a huge hold-up at the store and a calculator that you could put in your purse was an amazing thing. Credit cards were for emergencies or rich people. In fact, rich people didn’t use credit cards much either; they had “line of credit” at stores and could simply walk in, pick things out, and have them delivered to their home and billed later.

Being billed later… the doctor, the grocer, the dress shop,… that’s what rich people did. Everyone else did “lay-away” Credit was a luxury.

When you were growing up, what did you think was “luxurious”?

I thought having a house with more than one floor was luxurious. One of my earliest dreams was to own a house with a master staircase. And have a credit card. And two phone lines. And being able to buy a new tire for my car. A NEW tire. That was “luxury” to me.

I remember when answering machines arrived. My parents refused one for a very very long time. My parents are not luddites, but they are logical: “if we buy an item, it will be because we NEED it” was their main philosophy on purchasing things. Because of course, we were very poor. So an answering machine? “Pah! If we’re not here, what’s the point of a machine telling people we’re not here? they can call back later!”

Then “call waiting” happened. It annoyed my mother. But I was a teenager and my penchant for phone conversations that lasted all night forced my parents to rationalize paying for call waiting. They saw the logic in the purchase the same day we got it. But they didn’t buy an answering machine until they became landlords.

I remember car seats for babies. Shoulder seat belts. VCRs.

But what I remember most? What changed everything for my family?

Programmable calculators.

My father bought one as soon as they were available. My father has a degree in physic engineering. Nuff said, right?

My father loved the programmable calculator so much he bought the next version as soon as it came out and gave me his old one. I was eleven. That was my first lesson in programming. Looking back, what I learned would be akin to what’s called a “script” or “macro” today- a short program that tells the computer to do a series of steps it already can do. Instead of having to input every step individually, the script or macro calls up the series of steps with one button. We thought this was amazing. I’d been to IBM on a field trip in school more than once so I knew what a computer was. And here was something very much like a computer, that fit into my backpack. Amazing.

So of course PCs came out. Of course my father got one. Like most early nerds, he bought a kit and built it himself. He learned rapidly. He taught some to me. I knew basic before high school. I fiddled with machine code. I learned to make pictures with ASCII. Fun times.

So what were we doing, socially, back then? Were we really a culture of people going outside all the time, walking around looking at each other, making eye contact and starting up conversations with strangers? Were parents paying rapt attention to their kids in the evenings? Did families go out and do all sorts of “organic” fun? Were we all really acknowledging each other all the time? Were we all full of so much social time that we engaged one another constantly? or even continually? did we use the phone to call each other all the time? did we write letters left and right? Were we a nation of hobbyists and athletes and artists producing and creating and generally making life pleasant without gadgetry?

Well yes, we were.

Did we do it so much more than we do now?

Well no, not really.

We didn’t stop doing any of those things. We haven’t retreated into a silent world of screen-gazing and info-sharing while neglecting the real flesh and blood of relationships any more than we used to sit every night around a campfire and sing kum-bah-ya with locked arms and loving glances.

What we did was trade. In some cases, we traded one type of communication that was cumbersome and time-consuming for much more efficient version of the same.

Do people sit down and write letters that they will later mail at the post office later? Some. Mostly, people write emails. It’s an exchange that actually broadened the scope of communication and made interaction more commonplace. Because “snail mail” letter-writing required a significant investment of time, money and mental energy, it wasn’t something everyone did. When a person did choose to write a letter, it was an endeavor which could take up much of their resources and as such meant the letter had to justify said effort. Of course, some people didn’t write their own letters to begin with. Many people would hire someone else more skilled to write on their behalf. Because of this, letter-writing was considered something of a talent; one could actually gain a reputation as a “good letter-writer”. Sending someone your thoughts, ideas and questions wasn’t something to be done lightly. So many people didn’t do it at all. Think of all those thoughts, ideas and questions that never got put out. All that information, clarification and interaction that never happened.

Email erased that and gave the power to exchange to everyone almost equally.

I hear the lamentation that grammar and spelling have gone out the window with the advent of social media and the internet. Some think its because the internet has made people stop caring, taking pride in their expression. I think the internet, for all its egalitarian beauty, merely opened the floodgates for those who are not talented or skilled in letter-writing to attempt to interact anyway. No longer is letter-writing an intimidating prospect that could eat up considerable time and energy. Now anyone can do it, so long as the “rules” for exchange have softened.

Do people sit and have conversations via phone or gathering like they used to? Of course they do. But social media has changed that landscape too. No longer does one have to be subject to the influence of whoever happens to be in their vicinity; with social media, one can choose to interact with whatever type and strata of person they like at any time. Barely speak English? Know nothing about current events? Only interested in discussing llama farming? Find your group online and start talking! now! Introduce yourself – ah remember that? “introduce yourself” used to be one of the most dreaded phrases in social gatherings. Standing in front of a crowd of strangers, you had to on-the-spot come up pertinent information about yourself that would entice people to want to know you, accept you and validate you.

Strangers you say? Bah! Why waste time with strangers when you could find an online “gathering” of people you share things in common with. Take as long as you need to write your introduction. Read other people’s posts so you can get a feel for how this group functions and whether you are “on their level” or not. If you realize you’re out of your depth, or sailing above everyone else, you can leave quietly and no one will even remember or care that you stopped by. It’s all in your hands. And if you want, at any time the “real world” is still out there, waiting for you to go join it. But now when you do, you can set your stage beforehand using social media. Much of the dreadful, terrifying unknown has been swept away from socializing now. No more standing around with total strangers wondering how to break the ice, present yourself and find out who everyone is. When you get to your meet-up you come armed with important knowledge that allows you to bypass hours of awkward fumbling and guessing.

So what is all this really building to? What are we getting from social media that isn’t being talked about?

Social media gives us one thing we have never had so much of before in our long history of socializing: the power of independent choice.

Social media is so seductive, attractive and wonderful because while it fulfils our need to be social, it also allows us to control everything about our socializing. Even the power to retreat, if we want to. Often with very little repercussions.

Think back… when you first started getting online, what did you do? When you first started dipping into social media (in my case it was IRC) did you make “mistakes”? How long did it take you to figure out “how this thing works”? Once you figured one social media out -the rules, the rituals, the expectations and of course the tools, how hard was it to move on to another type of social media and figure it out?

Social media doesn’t define our culture. It doesn’t supplant “normal” socializing. It hasn’t killed “facetime” nor has it erased the need for relationships. It has expanded our reach, broadened our capacity for inclusion and lowered the price of interaction for everyone equally. It has also allowed us to reimagine ourselves as social creatures. The person I am when I play an online game is not quite the same person I am when I discuss current events on a forum. the person I am on my public blog is not the same person I am on my friends-only blog, my facebook, my twitter, my emails… who I am is what I want to be, who I think I need to be for each unique online situation.

I have recently learned something new as well: I am not required to stay the same on any social media. I have grown all my life and social media is no different. My growth has included many lessons about myself, people I know and the world around me. But some of my favorite lessons have been about social media itself and how its changed my expectations and my interactions. I realized recently that I do not have to feel beholden to anyone for an explanation unless I am on a neutral-ownership place. If it is MY facebook, MY blog or MY twitter, I owe no one anything in explanation or expectation. But when I am on a forum, an email list, or any other group, I am no more important or less than any one else in that same group. I have never felt more equality than when in online discussions. Despite the fact that there are still bigots, assholes and patronizing jerks, the general tenor of online groups are egalitarian. We are all anonymous to some degree and yet we all have reputations as well. We gather personality traits over time like any other form of socializing. Yet because of the differences in online interactions and “real life” interaction, those traits are seen more as individual traits than indicators of whatever classifications of humanity I belong to. I may have a reputation for being quick-tempered and mouthy but I am not taken to be the token spokesperson for all white, disabled, female bisexuals. My traits are indicative of ME. Unlike many “real time” interactions wherein any type of noticeable reactive traits can easily be considered hallmarks of “your kind” The anonymity of the online world is good like that.

Lastly, I want to touch upon the intricate nature of social media’s place in parenting. Obviously, I am a big fan of parenting forums as my recent post about Special Needs Parenting forums clearly showed. But overall, social media has given parents a gift that has no ‘real life” component: individualized networking.

Before social media, parents had magazines and some books. If you wanted to meet other parents, the best you could do was to join the PTA or church group. If you did, you had to hope there were other parents who had similiar parenting philosophies but more importantly, you had to hope that your philosophies were NOT the type to get you branded as “one of THOSE parents” by the majority of wherever you were. Because if you went to your local school and mentioned an unpopular parenting idea… you were stuck for the next 12 years. You could be outcast, ostracized, gossip-fodder possibly even harassed through CPS if you said the “wrong” thing. So parents have gained solidarity in social media but they have also gained something more valuable: understanding and acceptance. Which goes both ways. Nowadays, even if you live in backwater USA and your entire PTA goes to church every day of the week, think Jesus rode dinosaurs and women must wear hats everywhere they go, even then, you still have heard of other parenting philosophies. You may not like them, you may think they are weird, but , you’ve heard of them and you know, whether grudgingly or happily, that you must have some level of tolerance.

And that first tiny foot-in-the-door of tolerance? Is better than humanity has had for the last thousand or so years.

Because of social media.

So yes, go out occasionally. Talk to people sometimes. Smile at strangers. Enjoy “real life” interaction. Its just as wonderful as its always been. But I suspect people haven’t stopped doing those things or craving them.

People just need to be reminded once in a while that social media enhances interaction, even as it doesn’t replace it. They live side-by-side, supporting each other. Use them both wisely.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ask a Teacher: What to Do About Bullies?

Now that school is back in full swing, you may be noticing some social problems you'd hoped you wouldn't have to deal with. Namely, bullying. Teacher Emilie Blanton from Teaching Ain't for Heroes gives advice on what parents can do about this common, but shitty, reality.

Bullying is a huge issue in schools. It's been an issue. It will continue to be an issue. Bullying will involve your child at some point in their lives. I get so many questions about bullying, I decided to tackle several of them at once. Bullying is persistent, aggressive behavior that is meant to emotionally or physically harm another individual. Bullying takes on many forms, from passive aggressive insults to outright physical assaults. All forms are serious and dangerous and need to be stopped.

How do I keep my child from being bullied?

Unless you lock them in a bubble, there's no way to shield your child from bullies. Even if you homeschool your child, there's the park, birthday parties and the eventual real adult world filled with bullies to deal with. Someone is going to attempt to bully your child at some point. Bully-proofing your child is important. Building up your child's confidence is the first step. Give them a happy, safe home to come to. Encourage them to advocate for themselves. Teach them the difference between tattling and advocating. Be there for them. If their attempts to stand up for themselves fail, be there to back them up. Realize that sometimes they have to fight their own battles and always be an open, caring person for them to talk to. You can't protect them from everything, but you can give them tools to help keep them happier.

Help! My child is being bullied!

Again, teach your child to advocate. Approach the teacher first and let them know what you know. Be as specific as possible. "Little Johnny is making my daughter uncomfortable. He pokes her and pulls her hair. It needs to stop." Don't vaguely state that Little Johnny is bullying your child, say what exactly is going on. The more specific you can be, the better. This part is important. Not all teachers will take action. Make sure you are recording when you talked to the teacher and what was said. Email is perfect for this. If the bullying is still going on, move a level up and seek out a counselor or administrator. The next step after that is the school board. Record everything and be as specific as possible.

Remain calm as you talk to each person. It is hard. Your child is being targeted and it feels horrible. Be firm. Be confident. Hold your head up and demand respect for your child's well being. Screaming and yelling won't get anything done faster, but that might be what you want to do. It's okay to have a strong reaction to your child being targeted. Staying calm will help you remember everything you want to say. If you need to, when speaking to someone in person, bring notes or index cards with important information. There's nothing wrong with having reminders to help you. I go into meetings with notes and you can, too. If you get flustered, take a moment, breathe and begin again. Your child deserves to feel safe and it's okay if you need to take a little longer than intended to ensure that safety.

I've failed. My child is a bully.

You haven't failed. Not all bullies are budding sociopaths bent on tyranny and extra milk money. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of families. Your child stumbled while learning to walk. They're going to stumble while learning to be a decent human being. Haven't we all?

If you are contacted about your child being a bully, don't go on the defensive. It's okay to be concerned. It's not okay to try to explain it away. Regardless of the reason your child may be bullying others, it does need to stop. If you explain it away to the teacher or administrator, you might start explaining it away to your child and they'll think the behavior is okay. Talk to your child. Impress upon them the importance of empathy. Remind them what it feels like when others are mean to them. Break out that old phrase "treat others as you'd want to be treated!" Just don't brush it off. Don't say "Well, kids will be kids." Yes, kids will be kids, but it is on us to make sure that they grow and develop into decent human beings capable of love and compassion.

The other parents are bullying me!

They probably are. I know people say that middle school is when bullying is the worst, but I'd posit adults are the worst bullies. There are mommy bullies, work bullies, frenemies and more. Hold your head up. Don't get sucked into the drama. It's hard to resist. I know. I've been there. Be a positive example to your child about how one deals with bullies. Be confident and avoid the people who cause the worst stress.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Recipe Monday - Sausage, Rice and Veggie Dish

So, I don't have an amazing name for this because I made it up myself, but it's basically delicious, throw-everything-together fare.

It involves:
Diced Tomatoes
Black Beans
Cheddar Cheese
Yellow Rice
Chicken or Beef Broth
Olive Oil

Heat sausage and oil in pan over medium high heat until browned on all sides, about ten minutes. At the same time, start making your yellow rice.
Cut up your pepper and onion and throw them into the pan with the sausage.
Open the diced tomatoes and beans, stir your sausage mix, and throw them in, too.
Toss in enough broth so that you're not burning your veggies to the pan and turn the heat down to low medium.
Throw in the finished rice and stir it all up.
Cook until the rice absorbs the broth.
Cover with cheese.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kindergarten Kids - Ignore It


Even though your kids (by which, of course, I mean my kids), are making great strides toward become actual rational human beings, they still turn into puddles of teary snot when you don't give them what they want. (And you don't know why. You swear they've never gotten anything that way.) Usually you count (and 1, 2, 3 Magic didn't work at all for you, by the way--again, by you, I mean me), or reprimand them, or yell (yuh huh, you do too sometimes), or send them into time out. But they seem insistent on doing this crying thing that gets them nothing but negative results.


Warning, this comes from my pediatrician, who is not a child psychologist, but it does seem to be working so far.

If your kids are like my kids, and are still having these silly, drawn-out, toddler tantrums (although, again, it's much less often these days thank God.) apparently, according to my ped, they're not doing it for positive results or to get what they want, but only for attention. And all the the above things I mentioned in the problem section give them a bit of attention.

She suggested completely ignoring it, which I've been doing.

And it works great for me, too, because now I don't have to deal with them when they're being total jerks.

(IMPORTANT: Don't do this until five. We tried doing this on our own about 18 months ago, and then when our kids entered preschool, instead of talking things out with her words, she'd trained herself to run away and cry until she felt better. Which you can't do in school. At that stage, the girls still needed to learn to use their words and face their problems. They do that now, and so this method is working better.)


Friday, September 6, 2013

The 7 Most Horrifying Things in McCall's (Sept. 1949) - Guest Post

Amber over at Miss Parayim stumbled across an old stack of McCall's Magazine the other week. What's resulted is...horrifying. Thanks, Amber! (The "story" is my favorite.)

Last weekend, I found myself in an antique store, and came across a stack of old McCall’s magazines from 1949.  I had completely forgotten that this magazine even existed, and since I wasn’t interested in sewing when they stopped publishing it over 10 years ago I never connected the dots between the magazine and the pattern company.
I decided to buy one, and thought it would be fun to peruse the pages of what your average housewife would read for funsies 64 years ago.
My how times have changed.  THANK GOD!
First off, that iconic ad image of the 1950′s woman that has become almost a cliche at this point- the huge bright smile, wide eyes, giant full skirt- it must have started sometime in the 40′s because this thing was so full of that it was almost unreal.  I had a few “is this real life?” moments because while I knew that character must have been used, for whatever reason I didn’t expect to see it on almost every page.  It was very surreal.
Also- there are NO makeup ads, but if you take a modern women’s magazine, and replace every makeup ad with an ad for deodorant, you’ll have a sense of how weirdly prevalent those types of ads were.  Apparently late 1940′s/early 1950′s women were naturally gorgeous, but they smelled REALLY bad (or, at least, that’s what advertisers wanted them to believe).  Kind of makes you wonder about the things they advertise in those magazines today.
As I flipped through the pages of brightly smiling, malodorous women, I became more and more glad I am in my 30′s today, not 60 years ago.  Because as beautiful and fun as some of those outfits were, there’s a lot from back then that I have absolutely no desire to remake as “vintage modern”.
Presenting….  The 7 most awful and horrifying things I saw in the September 1949 McCalls (or- why I feel sorry for my grandmothers)
#1  Crisco- it’s digestable!
Let’s start off with an easy one. This was early in the magazine, and is the sort of whimsical and humorous tag line we like to expect. Digestible! How quaint!
#2 Green food coloring = instant pistachio!
Yeah…. I don’t buy it. And I’m starting to doubt the image of the mid-century housewife that was an amazing homemaker and cook that they would even suggest such a thing.
#3 You’re a bad mom if you don’t buy our product!
Gee- thanks for the guilt trip, McCalls. Not only do I not have any oil-o-sol in my medicine cabinet, I had never heard of it until now. Consider my children, unloved :(
#4- You can never be too clean!
Can you read the subheading? This is number ELEVEN in a series. I don’t want to know how long that series was. This article was several pages long :(
#5 You are getting sleepy….
This article was about 6 pages long, and “Cook it for him good” was splattered across every page in large font. One page even had it twice. Brainwashing by repetition? It is my womanly duty, after all…
#6 I’m not even going to try to make this one entertaining. It’s that awful.
Think twice before you tell the man “make yourself at home” I can’t even put into words… The man is actually the “hero” of this story. That girl is supposed to be 11 years old. I only skimmed the story, and what’s implied by this picture doesn’t happen (which kind of makes it even worse that they would dream this up to lure in readers). The gist of the story is- man gets invited to dinner at his high-school girlfriend’s house. He is completely disgusted by how unkempt the place is (there are crumbs on the kitchen counter!). He says some borderline inappropriate things to the daughter. Later the mom propositions him, but can’t decide if he can be with someone that keeps such a filthy house (crumbs!!! on the counter!!!!) . He later decides to call the mom and take her up on the offer, and she pretends he dialed the wrong number. The whole thing was just weird, and the mediocre housekeeping seemed like the real point of the story. Or maybe that unclean houses are magnets for pedophiles? I thought this might be something of a Lolita rip off since the mom in that book was kind of a slob, but that wasn’t published until 1955. Maybe this was just an ongoing theme until that book defined it. Whatever it is, it’s gross on several levels.
#7 The woman today is as bright as a toilet
Bright? You’re right! That goes for the lady- and the toilet bowl too!
Really, McCall’s?  REALLY?  Let’s compare our readers to a toilet!  That’s a great idea!
This is the one that really infuriates me.  This is 1949.  Only a few years ago, the women that were reading this magazine were keeping calm and carrying on.  They were making do and mending.  They were planting victory gardens to feed their family, and hoarding their rations so they could be lucky enough to buy one of those brand new sewing machines that you charmingly advertise in this magazine!
They were Rosie the Riveter, and you just made a buck on an advertiser that compared them to a toilet!?  REALLY???
Fucking hell, it sucked to be a woman back then….



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