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Friday, November 29, 2013

Spiced Carrots Recipe - Guest Post

Amazing chef and mother, Jill Redding, from Pianissamma, joins our blog group with an incredibly carrot recipe. Yes, you read that right. An. Incredible. Carrot. Recipe.


Photo by Tejaswi Kasturi.

When I was a child, I always looked forward to Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house. Sunday dinners were always worthy of the good plates, especially after a good sermon at church.

It wasn’t uncommon for some of those Sunday dinners to include a roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions. All cooked together in a Dutch oven.

When I decided to become a vegetarian, I realized that I missed that idea of a one-pot meal. Sure, I use my slow cooker to make stews all the time. But to have root vegetables baked with a broth? I had yet to find a recipe that brought those veggies to life. So one Thanksgiving about ten years ago, I decided to make my own. This works well as a side dish.

Spiced Carrots

2 Cups carrots peeled and quartered lengthwise
3 Cinnamon Sticks
1 Teaspoon Whole Cloves
1 Teaspoon fresh thyme
1 Teaspoon chopped basil
1 Teaspoon oregano leaves

1/8 Cup orange juice
1/8 Cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon honey (Agave nectar may be substituted)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Pinch of saffron strands
1 Dash of crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spread carrots evenly in an 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cloves, thyme, basil and oregano on carrots. Take your cinnamon sticks, and break them in half lengthwise. Add cinnamon sticks to carrots, interspersed throughout the dish. Drizzle marinade over carrots.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 1 hour. Garnish with sprigs of thyme. Serves 4.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Am and What I Wanted to Be

I often say my life changed forever the day I found out I was having twins (the same day I then had to turn down a job offer in New York City), but in all honesty, my life changed a month before that.

It was Thanksgiving, 2007. I was living the life I'd thought for years I'd wanted to live. I'd made the huge jump from associate producer at a cable station in Connecticut to the morning show producer in San Diego. And not the baby morning show producer. The big guy. 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

By this point, I'd covered wildfires nonstop with no breaks (commercials) for nearly a 16-hour period. I'd manually timed shows with nothing more than a stop watch and a printout rundown (unheard of in the business). I'd produced a show live from the Del Mar races. I'd interviewed Jennifer Lopez, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and freaking John Levitz (shut up, he's awesome.) I'd made Mario Lopez sing "Merry Christmas" San Diego, for a canned promo.

One of the Dukes of Hazard dented my car for a teaser.

Now, I'm not relaying all this because it's super-duper glamorous or anything, but I was only 25 at the time. It seemed as if I was on my way, know what I mean?

Anyway, in order to get this dream job (which was actually the stuff nightmares were made of, no offense, KUSI, but I cried at your station on the daily, and you can't tell me it's me because in my seven months there, thirty two  people quit. And more than half of them didn't have anywhere to go. I was number 33.) I'd moved across the country from my boyfriend (now husband).

I thought it was a good thing. We hadn't planned on being serious and forever, and an opportunity came up, and I didn't want him to hang out in a relationship he didn't want to be in just because I wanted him to be in it. (I know, I don't know, shut up.) Anyway, I packed up, thinking we'd try long distance for a bit, then probably break up, and live our own lives.

That...didn't happen.

I missed him with a ferocity I'd never previously known. He'd come to visit me every couple of months, and each departure would leave me wrecked for days.

I once called a friend of mine who asked me how things were in San Diego. I answered that the weather was beautiful. She told me that was the saddest "the weather is beautiful" she'd ever heard. In short, I was a wreck.

Sure, I had friends (Meghan!) and made more (Laura!), but I couldn't get my bearings. There was a San Diego me and a Connecticut me, and the SD me was just a shadow, a shell. No matter what I did. I went to coffee shops. I read dozens of literary masterpieces, I talked to the neighbors and made friends with my coworkers (the ones who weren't Satan himself, tbh). I listened to French music and took long walks on the beach. I was miserable.

That Thanksgiving, I went to a few different places. People knew I was alone and kindly invited me to join in their celebrations. And around all that festivity, all that happiness, I couldn't appreciate. I couldn't do anything but excuse myself to the bathroom to go cry.

I hated everything.

And that's when my life changed. That Thanksgiving. I somehow had an inkling that what was waiting for me (well, I mean, mostly waiting) in Connecticut was something bigger than my dreams of becoming a big-time producer. I didn't know what it would be at the time. But I knew right then, that day, that I had to give up the fast-track I was on. I had to admit defeat and go home. With no job, no insurance, no apartment of my own. It was a decision incredibly unlike me, perhaps the only one I've ever made like it (I usually stick things out until the bitter end). I didn't know what was in store, but I put faith in me landing on my feet.

I got off the plane on December 13th 2007. The doctors say that's the date I conceived.

Today, in 2013, I'm struggling with three research papers, two sick kids and a hefty order for a five-course Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I haven't "worked" in three years. The broadcast ship has probably long sailed.

The last time I saw a celebrity was this morning, but it was Charlie Brown on my TV.

I'm not anything close to what I thought I would be. I've not done anything I thought I would.

And I couldn't be more thankful for that.

Thanksgiving, two years ago.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

GoldieBlox vs. What Exactly? - Contributor Post

Pollychromatic brings up some really good points about the Goldie Blox / Beastie Boys issue.


GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys. What a freaking mess. Right in the heart of the intersectionality between feminism and parenting. Add in copyright legalities. Add in free speech. Add in artistic expression. Add in the free market.

Really, what a mess.

So where do I start?

I’ll start with who came first. The Beasties. Hey there Beasties. Oh how I love you.

I was 14 when Licensed to Ill came out. I loved it unashamedly. It was probably the very first hip hop that hit me in the suburbs of Northern California. I mean, there was the stray shot of rap that was White Lines, but really. It was all about the Beastie Boys when it comes to bringing hip hop to most of white America. That’s what started it.

I loved “Girls.” I don’t even cringe at it nowadays because that love is so strong. We shook our teenage asses to that song because it was freaking fun. Because. Because reasons. Because, listen.

It’s hard not to shake to that.

It does not even matter how horrible the lyrics are. Sometimes we just like horrible things. Let’s be real, though. When I was 14 I did not know how horrible it was. It was just catchy, and I was just dancing.

That love continued, too, even though the Beasties evolved so much over time. I loved their new stuff (hey, if you don’t think Paul’s Boutique is one of the most perfect albums to ever come out, you don’t know music), I loved their old stuff. On the run up to getting the scan done to find out the sexes of my twins, “Girls” was one of the ringtones that I had one my phone for a solid week.

It’s just a solid riff, and as much as I am a staunch feminist who completely rejects the message of “Girls,” I’m also the girl who shakes her ass to it.

So there’s that.

Then there’s GoldieBlox.

Dammit, GoldieBlox. I grew up in a family that completely supported STEM for girls (and boys). When the GoldieBlox Kickstarter happened, my whole family ate it up. My daughter has one of the original Kickstarter sets. You know, it’s a pretty good toy, too. Both my son and daughter like it.

The box is orange and yellow, with multi-colored dots and the blonde tool-belt sporting “Goldie” on top. The toy inside consists of pieces that are blue, purple, lavender, red, and yellow. With a long peachy-pink ribbon, and five character figures to manipulate. Each of the figures are internet-nerd friendly. A sloth, a hound dog, a grumpy looking cat, a tutu wearing dolphin and a koala in a business suit. A book that tells their story while giving you building instructions, and then alternate building instructions for ideas for free-play.

Pretty okay. Very tinker-toy with it’s spools and sticks and connector bits, but also kitschy in a way that has a lot of wink to the parent, and a lot of play for the kids who don’t get that it’s kitschy. Not quite enough toy, but a good starter set. For those of us who are raising boys and girls, and are kind of horrified by the gendered changes in marketing of toys in the last couple decades, we were willing to buy in and get the company off the ground.

Company founder and inventor Debbie Sterling is from the Bay Area, too, so that was an extra selling point for my family.

Then came this.

A great little Rube Goldberg machine built out of princess girl toys backed by three little girls running around to the song “Girls,” but with new lyrics that say girls really want a change.

And this. GoldieBlox are one of four finalists for ad space for a small business to get aired during the Superbowl.

This was sort of a slam dunk for me. Even with these good arguments in the mix.

I liked the subversive message of taking a song that had lyrics that are pretty backwards, and all the pink princess toys, and turning it all into an anthem that says NOPE. Admittedly, I was also pretty happy that the Beasties had signed onto this. Because of course they would have had to. Right?

Oh. Wait. Nope. The remaining Beasties make it clear that they accuse GoldieBlox of using their song in an ad. Something that MCA specifically requested in his will to never be done. They didn’t sue, they simply accused. It seemed to be upsetting to them, too, because they specifically like the mission statement of GoldieBlox. The guys grew up a lot, you know.

What was even more brass balls for GoldieBlox than using a song they didn’t even get permission to use, was that they hadpreemptively sued the Beasties for the right to do it under the label of free speech parody. Something that at least one expert in fair use legalities said was likely a legally tight case. At least tight enough to hold legal water, that is.

My ass stopped shaking to the new “Girls” for a second. Now I’m not sure what the hell I feel. I think I support GoldieBlox. Right? Feminism? STEM for girls? The right to free speech? Wait. Where do I stand?

It’s a bit harder to dance to that music.

The next shot out of this mess is a needle scratching across the record for me, though. The Beastie Boys didn’t even sue GoldieBlox. Whhhhhut?

Dammit, Debbie. Dammit.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Recipe Monday - Asian Inspired Tuna Steaks


 Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 clove garlic minced
2 Tbsp minced ginger root
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp chili pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
4 8oz yellowfin tuna steaks (1 1/2" thick)

 Set a large frying pan on med-high heat. Remove tuna from the marinade and dry on paper towels. When the pan is hot, pour 2 Tbsp of oil from the marinade into the skillet. Add tuna steaks to a pan. Shake the pan couple of times so that steaks don't stick. Sear 2.5 minutes on one side. Flip and sear 1.5 minutes on the other side. This will cook 1/4" of tuna on each side and leave the rest rare. If you like your tuna more cooked through, cover the pan, turn down the heat to medium and cook flipping the steaks half way until desired doneness.

 I cooked the shit out of these because I don't trust my own rare tuna. I'll leave those to the restaurants.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kindergarten Kids - Oh God, Oh God, A Week of Vacation


When we were kids, I had Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off for Thanksgiving. That's reasonable, right? One wouldn't really question that. That's pretty much what the work world does, too. Well, thank goodness for me, I had a chat with the teachers yesterday where I learned that the girls have the entire week off of school. The whole thing.


I mean, not that I don't want to see my kids 24/7 for the next nine days, I totally do. That sounds like heaven to me. Except I'm all in grad school right now, and from now until Christmas is the 'busy time.' And I just lost 12 hours of research paper work. Plus, I have to actively find something for us to actually do. Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God.


I have got to get my butt on the phone right now, and call every friend and acquaintance the girls have in the hopes I can procure them some entertainment in the form of another five year old. Of course, a lot of people are going away for Thanksgiving. A lot of other people are having family over. Great. I'll scour the sites for fun diversions, but Tgiving is a family time. So, I'll probably make them do some school work, too. That I make up for them. Because, I work, they work. I don't know.

The only solution I can see is to organize the heck out of this 'vacation.' I'll make a concrete schedule and post it up on the fridge, and I'll include things like, "go outside" and "clean your playroom" in there along with "paint for an hour" or "bake an apple pie." I'll try to secure myself alone time in at least one-hour increments so I can code, write, and calculate my papers. Maybe. Or I'll just barely get them in with the minimum effort and be thankful I have solid grades that can maybe carry me through the end of the semester.

Solution for next year? Take vacation this week. Do more school work before Thanksgiving week next year, so this doesn't happen again. I don't know. Life is hard.

Wish us luck.


Friday, November 22, 2013

More of Me Than Anyone Wants to See...

Internet, can we just have one thing? Can't we just do one trend without talking it to death, dissecting every side, defending, offending, attacking, contemplating, etc.? Must we intellectualize everything?

Well, truth be told, I don't mind discussing every tiny thing to death, so this is okay with me. Though if we were to have a trend where everyone just raised their collective shoulders in an idk shrug, I'd have thought this would have been it.


You take them, I take them, we all take them.

Why? Does it matter?

There are too many reasons to list, but I'll give a few: because we like them, because we like ourselves, because other people like us, because we want to show something to someone else or ourselves, because it's a form of communication.

Because we can.

Selfies, though, are actually more than that. I challenge all of you to go through your selfies from the past three years. Go collect them, put them in order, and flip through a slideshow.

Your selfies tell a story. And not only do they tell a story, they tell your story. And that shit is important.

Want to see mine? No, you don't, but I'll show you anyway. It's okay not to want to see a million selfies of someone else. It's not your story, after all. But the people taking them? They're telling a story over time, whether they know it or not. And each of those stories is beautiful.

Here's my story, from the last three years, as told by cellphone selfies.

We'd just moved to Gainesville, here. Notice my frustration, the opened graham crackers on the counter, along with the crumpled towel and wine bottle. The magnets on the fridge. My new life as a stay at home mom.

I had just bought new tights and boots. Why did I post it? To show them off. Also, because I feel I look awesome here.

This was to show an internet friend of mine how to do a twirly knot in her hair. This is not an easy picture to take of yourself, by yourself.

This is mid-potty training. I'd just cleaned up more pee than I thought was humanly possible and the emoticon D: just wasn't enough to express my feels.

Fed up with cleaning urine, I decided to go on a job interview. It didn't work out.

This was for a DITL (day in the life). I was lucky enough that day to start it with a shower. This was the only picture of me taken that day (on my phone, anyway).

I'm documenting my genetically curved eyebrow. One of my twins has this eyebrow (which is one of the main ways people can tell the girls apart), and as an adult, I know how to make it straight. But I wanted to show my friends it came from me.

I get my hair cut once a year in October. Here are 2010 and 2011 consecutively.

This was taken for one of those take a picture of yourself right now memes. Notice how I hold the phone way over my head? I didn't know how to take a selfie. Important to note also, up until last year I didn't like the shape of my face and thought it looked better from space, apparently. Sorry about the boobs.

 Showing off my wine and apron. Feeling like a right housewife, just a year and a few months after that first photo.

 Tried to dye my hair platinum and wear makeup. Welp, that was a mistake, eh?

 I was feeling like a moody poet that day. A mood poet with large, outstretched arms attached to a camera. What?

 Halloween last year. My kids thought I was a witch, but I was a goth kid from 1996.

We were moving and I found my fedora buried in my closet as I packed. I mean, I really didn't have a choice, here. What else could you do after finding an old fedora?

Documenting a sick day, showing how close my kids were sticking to me that day.

 I have two kids.

Showing off new sunglasses. This is the picture where I realized taking pics of myself from an angle so far above my head my arm could have been a crane was ridiculous. See how selfies helped me shape my self image?

I'm standing with Wendy. From Florida. Because selfies allow me to do that.

 On vacation. I took this photo to show my husband my abs. Then I shared it because...abs.

 Look at how artsy I am! But seriously, it's not meant to be art. It's meant to show that I felt like attempting to be artsy. This is an important distinction in the selfie-era. Many critics think the pictures are something they're not.

Halloween this year. I'm looking happier as the years go by, I think.

 Showing myself hiding from the kids for a few minutes after the gym. Because it's okay not to go get them immediately. And I wanted to tell people that.

 I had just gotten catcalled three times while going to pick up the girls from school. So I documented it. Notice the lower camera angle? This time, though, I'm not sorry for the boobs.

 Today. In defense of selfies and the stories they tell.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgivukah Advent-ures: How to Celebrate the "Season" before You Celebrate Christmas - Guest Post

Resident Thealogian Kate Allen who can be found at Life, Love, Liturgy, preps for the holidays in amazing ways. (as always).

If you're like me, you're just not ready for the red and green and tinsel cropping up at Target, Starbucks, and the grocery store.  I want to go, "Hey, don'tcha know there's all kinds of cool stuff that goes on for a couple of months before Christmas ever arrives?"

I invite you to try out the following this year, not to ditch your family traditions, but to expand them.

Thanksgiving/Chanukah: This year, for the first time (and the last time for 77,000 years, according to one source, Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah coincide.  This year, as you finalize your Thanksgiving day menu, consider a few Jewish specialties, like latkes 

Courtesy: All Recipes

Courtesy: Food Network

(Pro-tip: matzo ball soup can be made in minutes using a handy-dandy pre-made dry mix in the Jewish section of your grocery store.)  When you and your family and friends are gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, share the story of the miracle of Chanukah, in which an oil lamp with only enough oil for one night lasted eight nights, providing ongoing light in darkness.  Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish feast of enduring, miraculous light--telling this story is is a great time to light the first candle of eight of your menorah, if you have one, or perhaps the first of other candles you have on your table.  Allow this to be your segue into a giving of thanks by each person around the table.

Then, when you awake the day after Thanksgiving, consider just staying home.  Really.  Eating latkes with cranberry sauce for breakfast while sipping home-brewed coffee and wearing fuzzy slippers is a far gentler holiday practice than trampling your neighbor at 3 a.m. to get through store doors.  Consider continuing your candle-lighting through the eight days of Chanukah, saying a silent prayer as you light them if you aren't familiar with the Hebrew prayers.

Next, Advent, as in, advent-ure!  

That's right--before you pull out your tubs of Christmas glitz, try cutting a few boughs from an evergreen (places that sell Christmas trees may give these away for free, if you don't have any evergreens of your own) and fashion an Advent wreath with your kids.

Courtesy: Happy Home Fairy

Each Sunday, beginning December 1, light one of the candles.  Sing a verse of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or "People Look East" with your kids. Invite them into conversation about what the dawning of light means.  Refer back to the Chanukah ritual, if you used it.  You might ask:

Why do we want light when it's dark?  
What are examples of darkness we experience?  
What are ways that we can bring light to dark places?  

Allow Advent to be the season of quiet, pregnant anticipation that it's intended to be--because if you do, the glimmer and dazzle of Christmas Eve's light and the bright clamor of Christmas morning will shine and ring out for you in a whole new way.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Kindergarten Kids - Make Them Do Stuff (part II)


These kids get everything. They get TV time, video game time, coloring time, outside time, board game time, time to use their imaginations, time to read, time to play, you facilitate their every fun loving moment.

And yet they're still right up your butt. Why?

When you were a kid, you would have killed for this life. At least I know I would have.


Seriously, one of the biggest mistakes I've made in this parenting gig is trying to "fix" what my mom did wrong. Even though I was 26 when I fell pregnant, I had given no thought to parenthood or to growing up, and in many ways, I still identified as that kid who always had to work and never got the good cereal in the morning.

People will say, "don't try to be your kids' friend, they don't need a friend." But I never paid attention to that because it didn't apply to me. I wasn't trying to be their friend. Couldn't care less about being their friend. Definitely wanted to be their mom. And in many ways I am strict with high expectations. What I didn't see, is that in many ways, I am not.

And even more insidious...I wasn't trying to be their friend. I was trying to be my friend. I was trying to be the friend of me as a kid.

Now, I don't know if this is a common problem; it sounds pretty out there to me, but on the offchance anyone else was silly enough to do it, it...doesn't work.

See, my subconscious thought had been, man, I was so awesome as a kid. Respectful (for the most part), responsible (for the most part), nice, well behaved, grateful. Imagine how much awesomer I would have been if I'd been able to eat Coco Puffs every morning and didn't have to spend my whole Saturday doing chores? I didn't deserve that! I was amazing!

And since I was amazing (turns out in large part to chores and not eating pure chocolate at 7 in the morning...who knew), my kids are obviously inherently, genetically amazing, and they will appreciate these awesome perks I am bestowing to them, because I know what it's like to be an awesome kid and be held back by the man/the mom.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don't know why I assumed awesomeness was inherent, or why I chose sugary cereals and no-cleaning to break from my mom's system, but stayed with everything else. I can only say I really did think they were superfluous (in my subconscious) and that they weren't part of the mechanisms that honed me.

ANYWAY, long story short, I'm weaning the amazing awesome cereals I deserved as a kid, and I'm making them do chores (which was met with shock and dismay, let me tell you. lol five year olds.)

And you know? Even though they gripe about it verbally, they actually like it better. It structures their day, they don't have to deal with a huge sugar rush in the morning, they see the boundaries of expectations, and they know that life isn't just about catering to their whims.

Which is something I'd kind of missed before.

Their behavior has been better with this in place. I'll let you know how it continues.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Ask the Cleaning Lady: Basic FAQ

We are lucky enough to have a professional cleaner in our midst, who has sat down and answered some of the most frequently asked questions by those thinking of going the paid-for clean route. Smibbo takes it away.

Q: Do you judge the people you clean for?

A: absolutely not. The vast majority of people I clean for are pretty damned busy people and/or they have a disability/illness that precludes intensive cleaning. Besides, they can afford to pay me, then I certainly figure they must be busy enough to warrant hiring someone.

Q: you ever snoop around?

A: not really. The closest I’ve come to snooping is checking out someone’s fridge because I was hungry. THat’s if I’ve been there for 5 hours. I’ve occasionally sneaked a candy bar, energy bar, juice drink, a stray cooky or whatnot. I think the worst I ever did was snag someone’s sugar-free pudding. Those people happened to be friends of mine as well and they told me I could help myself (lots of people say that actually)

I don’t do it often but every now and then I clean for a long time and I get hungry. I’d rather snag some minor something in your kitchen and keep working than stop what I’m doing to eat a packed lunch.

Q: so you’ve never been tempted to root through people things?

A: not really. If I’m hired to do the laundry I will naturally peruse your wardrobe. Mostly that is because everyone I’ve ever cleaned for had a HUGE wardrobe (compared to me) with really NICE stuff. I’ve been pretty jealous of some of the clothes and footwear I’ve seen. But no, I don’t really “root through” people stuff because most times I”m in a hurry and I don’t have time to stop and notice anything. Even when I’m organizing.
Well okay, I have been known to stop and peruse people’s book collections. I try to be very stern with myself and not take anything down and open it because I might lose several hours if I open a book. But I will definitely look at your collection. I believe a person’s book collection tells a lot about them.

Q: so you’ve never found really scandalous things?

A: just becaues I”m not purposefully looking doesn’t mean I haven’t occasioned across some item that might raise eyebrows! But truthfully its pretty hard to shock or upset me. Unless I found proof that someone was a criminal of the type that physically harms human beings, I really don’t care what I come across.

Q: Ooo! What kind of things??

A: Really, nothing that outrageous: fetish wear, pornography, sex toys (I tell people up front I won’t clean their personal sex toys), sex gear, love notes, recreational drugs -legal and illegal, private journals, large sums of cash, jewels… really nothing you couldn’t imagine on your own. Most times I come across items like that I barely notice because I’m concentrating on either moving it or keeping it from getting vacuumed or dusted away. I’ve held what was probably a thousand dollars in my hand in order to dust under it. I am not sure because I didn’t stop to count it, I was too busy looking at the counter top I was wiping down. I don’t read journals or letters either although I have occasionally been hired to organize “kippel” (piles of printed paper that accumulates in everyone’s abode) and thus had to glance at mail but I don’t READ it. I notice if its hand-written (save those) or typed (look for category) and put it in the appropriate pile. I’ve shined people’s fetish wear and organized sex gear tote bags (whips, restraints, corsets, etc). Other than an occasional glance of fleeting admiration (that stuff ain’t cheap) I really do not care at all. Its just one more thing to organize or clean.

You have to understand there’s a heavy mental side to cleaning like I do: I can’t afford to be ruminating on every object I come across. I barely have wherewithal to even LOOK at the objects, much less devote precious time and brain power to thinking about them. It happens occasionally but even then its brief and meaningless.

Q: What do you hate cleaning the most?

A: If you mean what area/room I’d guess I’d say the kitchen. Kitchens are ALWAYS bigger than they seem and there’s a bazillion little details no one ever thinks to clean. I could probably spend an hour scrubbing cabinet doors alone. Well, actually I’ve been known to spend more than that. The good thing is most of those details stay relatively clean for a long time. Once I scrub your cabinets, I will most likely only have to wipe them down once a month to keep them nice. But it always seems like I’m discovering something that hasn’t been cleaned in forever when I do a kitchen. Even if I was there two weeks ago. Unless I come on a strict regular basis, there’s always SOMETHING in the kitchen that throws off my timing. Plus its often dried food which – if you had cleaned it when it splattered or dripped it would have come right off but since you let it dry, I now have to scrub it with a brush, a scrubbie or my fingernail. It irks me. People pay me to clean but there are times when I’m sitting there scrubbing something thinking “really people?? All you had to do was wipe it for five seconds!” A similar thing is walls. I am always amazed at how often people spill something, it spatters the wall and they can’t be bothered to just swipe it with a paper towel and some windex.

If you are talking about what type of mess i hate cleaning most, that’s easy: moldy stuff. Anything that smells bad I cannot stand. And yes that’s another time when I actually do get a little judgey. HOW can you let something get so nasty that it starts growing and smelling? This baffles me
I despise picking up underwear that has “skid marks”

After the one time, I absolutely refuse to clean anything with maggots now. So I don’t usually clean thhe inside fo garbage cans anymore

Q: Ever break anything?

A: Once. I broke a very delicate glass while I was wiping it dry. Obviously it was far more delicate than I realized. I tucked a $10 bill into the remains of it with a note of apology and didn’t worry about it. The customer did say anything and didn’t tell me to stop coming (I came once a week) so it must have sufficed.

Actually I think I might have broken a tiny piece of a collectible once when dusting BUT I am not sure because I wasn’t familiar with what the object looked like to begin with. I was delicate and the piece was sticking out (easily broken) so its quite likely it was already broken. Since that incident I take a little bit of time to look at objects when I am dusting. Other than that, I’ve never broken anything.

Q: I bet your house is super-clean/a big mess!

A: actually my house isn’t much cleaner or messier than the average person.My house happens to be a bit cluttered because I have children and a chronic condition and I got to where I stopped wanting to spend so much time keeping it all in check when the only person who cared was me. I keep it reasonable. Every week I clean SOMETHING. If I’m hosting a party or having certain people come over, I’ll really go nuts but most times, I’m too tired from cleanig other people’s houses to really care that much about my own beyond a certain level.

I’ll tell you what IS different about my place versus most places I’ve ever gone (for cleaning or socializing) – there’s nothing in my house that has gone more than two months without being cleaned. The window sills get wiped down at one point. The inside of my fridge gets wiped down. The books and knick-knacks on shelves get not just dusted but cleaned. The toys and clothes get organized.
In other words: my house can get messy but its never dirty. Even my garbage can is not “allowed” to smell. And the kippel in my house is only allowed to get to a certain point before I go through all of it. So in some respects my house is cleaner than everyones because if I want to make it spotless, it wont’ take me six hours to do it.

Q: I don’t know how you do it, You’re amazing! What is your secret?

A: elbow grease and determination. Money motivates but I really take pride in my job.

Q: What’s a good vacuum cleaner?

A: it depends on your circumstance. If you’re living in a small 1-br apartment with hard floors, I highly recommend a roomba. If ou live with carpet, get the cheapest on the market. If you live in a moderate sized place with both hard floors and carpet, be sure whatever you buy has proper attachments and is height adjustable. If you like in a fairly large place (3br/ 3ba +) then you need a bagged vacuum. Bagless vacs simply do not hold much in the cup. Its messy and a PITA to empty those cups out. A bag can last two three complete passes through your house. Plus they are better for allergies. Brand? Pfft. The brand merely determines bells and whistles and price. I’ve had just a good experience with a $40 Bissell as I have with a $400 Oreck.

Q: What’s your favorite product? your go-to cleaner?

A: I use mostly two things: Pine-Sol and Fabuloso. Pine-Sol disinfects for toilets and the like but it doesn’t make me cough from the fumes (although it will strip the outer layer of skin from your hands) and Fabuloso is just a basic cleaner with lots of perfume that lingers. People know their place is clean once I’ve left. If the client has preferred product I don’t mind using theirs. But really, I’ve not found much that works any better than those two things. I use windex sometimes and I have a stainless steel spray I like but I can easily use Fabuloso for those things, I just have to rinse.

My REAL go-to is two things. My two “secrets of success” that does make a difference between when *I* clean and when you clean. A vacuum cleaner and a squeegee. I use a vacuum cleaner in nearly every room to vacuum up hair, pet fur and other difficult to see stuff. This means when its times to dust or mop my tools will not get filthy. If my mop is filthy from hair and fur and nasty other things, then its not going to clean your floor so good. So I make sure my tools are clean and they stay clean. The squeegee is a wonder. I use it in bathrooms and kitchens to squeegee the water and residual cleaner off. Its fantastic for making the floor even cleaner. Mop, scrub a little, then squeegee it.

Q: I read that story by David Sedaris about being mistaken for a stripper cleaner… you ever have any awkward or weird moments as a cleaner?

A: thankfully, no.

Q: Do you *like* doing that? Is it cuz of your OCD?

A: actually no, my OCD can get triggered by cleaning and if it does we’re in trouble because I will spend HOURS doing some pointless ritual. But I take medication and I have a good handle on my OCD anyway so it rarely comes up. I have other manifestations. Cleaning isn’t really one of them.
I like cleaning because it makes me feel two things:

1) that I matter, I am powerful. I take a situation that upsets and overwhelms other people and I make order out of it. Sometimes, I make beauty. Plus it really lifts people’s spirits to have a clean environment. It makes them HAPPY sometimes even. That, to me, is a powerful thing.

2) pride. Other people may clean, but I CLEAN! I do not just make things look decent, I can transform a place. I clean things no one even realizes is dirty and therefore I brighten a room without people even knowing how I did it. Its simple particle physics: any grungy dirt fragment will diffuse light and absorb some as well. It makes things look more dim and dreary. You shine everything up, suddenly everything it a tad brighter. Its like magic. I love having a reputation for being “perfect” – I know I”m not perfect but I am pretty damned close. There’s not much in my life I feel super-confident at, but cleaning is one of them.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ask a Teacher - What's the Deal with Common Core?

Emilie Blanton over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes graciously comes over and answers school questions for us once a month, and this month's is a doozy. What is up with Common Core?


You've probably heard about it in the news. Common Core is a newest buzzword with parents, despite being heavily discussed in the education world for more than three years.

Judging by the posts I see on Facebook, Common Core is the new thing to blame for all the ails of education. Parents post pictures of worksheets and complain about how horrible Common Core is.

Let's start with what Common Core is NOT.

Common Core is not:

a set, assigned curriculum
assigned worksheets
a way to remove autonomy from the states
about added homework and stress for students and parents
"Obamacare for Education" or whatever that means (oh, Facebook...)
In 2001, George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law. The act was designed to ensure 100% proficiency in the entire nation by 2014. That's next year. That's right, by 2014 all students were going to be perfect! You're perfect all the time, aren't you? Surely every child in the United States of America, the greatest nation on this here planet, can be perfect, too! NCLB wasn't the beginning of the Accountability Movement in education, but it was a heavy straw added to the breaking back of education.

The measure for proficiency was on a state by state level with tests created by the states over standards also created by the states. So California makes their standards of "stuff the average students should be able to do by the end of the year" and tests them over it. Kentucky does the same, and New York, and Texas, and New Hampshire, and Florida and on and on and on. No two states are the same and no two tests are the same. This creates a problem when families have the audacity to cross state lines and students proficient in Kentucky are suddenly severely behind in another state. What's worse, the idea of "college ready" isn't stable across the country and countless students are accepted into universities, go in debt in student loans and promptly drop out or are kicked out because they just weren't ready, keeping their enormous education tab while they reassess their lives.

As 2014 edged closer and closer, the Common Core was created for a few reasons. First, the states needed to agree one reasonable expectations for grade levels that will create individuals who are ready for postsecondary education and the workplace. This agreement will help students who move between states first, but it will also make an ending point for 12th grade that students need to reach in order to move on from public school. Without cooperation, students moving between states are left to flounder while universities will continue to have more and more freshmen drop out because they can't handle the workload.

Instead of making sure that no child was left behind, the Accountability Movement of the 1990s created a further gap of haves and have nots. Parents who had the means could secure a spot at a charter school, private school or even public schools that are more selective in who they allow in. These students continued to learn at deeper levels, similar to the education you probably remember. Students at struggling schools, or "Persistently Low Achieving" schools were more and more focused on test scores to the detriment of the education the students received.

The expectations were leveled by grade creating a scaffold that students would build on each year in order to grow and develop. The expectations are not unreasonable. They're just different. Different is not inherently bad, but it does take some adjustments and getting used to.

Those "Common Core Aligned" worksheets? They're not endorsed by the government or required. Companies are looking to make a buck off teachers and parents trying to make sure that they are teaching the "assigned curriculum" that doesn't exist. The curriculum is not assigned. There are a set of skills a student must be able to demonstrate. In kindergarten, there is no "Do this worksheet because it's required." Instead, this is an example of a literature reading standard for kindergarten: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text."

The same standard is built upon the following year in first grade with the following adjustment: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text."

And again in second grade with a further adjustment: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.1 Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text."

The standard grows each year until the final version of the standard in high school: "CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain."

All four of those examples are the same literature reading standard, Standard 1, which I shorter for my students as "Cite text evidence." The skill is begun in kindergarten and grows to an actual, useful skill that is required in any English 101 classroom.

That's it. That's all the Common Core is. It's not a way to control the masses or brainwash your children. It's not a plot to increase homework or make children cry. It's nothing to do with irrelevant or tricky worksheets. It's not some socialist agenda designed to dumb down your children. If anything, the level of work required for Common Core will help your students.

There's a lot of misconceptions about Common Core and pundits aren't helping the dialogue by creating fear and misinformation about it. Teachers are still working to grow and adapt to the massive change in curriculum. The adjustment can only go as smooth as people let it. While people continue to kick up a fuss about Common Core without understanding what it is, the adjustment will take longer and it is the children who will deal with the consequences.

If you'd like to see more of the Common Core State Standards for various subjects and grade levels, this is an excellent source: Common Core State Standards Initiative.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Kids Are Not the Center of my World and Yet I Somehow Manage Not to Be a Complete Asshole

What did she say? Yeah, you read that right.

(I'll also not stop here and put a disclaimer in about how this post is a rant and all over the place because 1) this is the internet and duh, and 2) I'll shoulder the fault should my writing not flow as a normal blogger's writing should.)

And when Young Mother (she's 29) Stephanie Metz says "My kids are not the center of my world, and that's quite simply because they are not the center of any world, anywhere," my old, wizened ass (I'm 31, and most decidedly not a young mother) would like to point out that this sentence actually doesn't make any sense.

Sure, the two sound good together, and both may be true, separately, but in no way would her kids not be the center of her world because they are not the center of any world, anywhere. The two thoughts do not flow together. Her kids not being the center of the world in general is not a condition upon which their being the center of her world is dependent. Just...think about it for a while. What she meant to say, she did not say. And that's the lead sentence of the piece.

I make a big deal out of this small detail to get across to everyone right away that writing on the internet doesn't have to be good, or even sensical to go "viral". Hell, it doesn't even have to be remotely subtle. Let's continue.

"If you’re feeling adventurous today, feel free to read on. I’ll forewarn you though, this post contains subject matter about which I feel very strongly. As are most emotionally heated issues – I suppose it’s controversial. But hey, I feel how I feel and that’s not going to be changed."
Great! I am feeling adventurous! Hit me with your edginess, you young mom of sage and wit! (I mean, seriously, if you're going to come out balls-to-the-wall like that, surely you have something original to say on the matter).
Or not.
So there I am, all hyped up for adventure and what I get is a little whinefest about how her kid can't bring a toy gun to school. Talk about a letdown. I'm not even going into the fact that there are very good reasons why kids don't bring toy guns to school these days because I'd like to focus on what she focused on--taking an issue that has relevant and important backstory, stripping it of all meaning, and throwing the context and onus onto a superfluous (to the story) and confusing diatribe about another issue entirely. How very smoke and mirrors of you, Metz. Probably the most sophisticated thing you managed with this piece.
You see, Metz in meandering, soft-handed prose laments about her decision to bring her boys into this weak world full of nincompoops and softies. Though how this has to do with their not being the center of her world is not yet made clear, and we're already a good five paragraphs away from the lead. Let me dazzle you with a few of her words:
"In completely selfish terms, bringing my boys into this world was such a great decision – for me. They bring me so much joy, they fill my heart, they make me happy. But I often question whether or not it was the right decision for them. My boys are typical little boys. They love to play guns. They love to play good guy versus bad guy. They love to wrestle and be rowdy. That’s the nature of little boys, as it has been since the beginning of time. 
How long will it be before their typical boy-ish behavior gets them suspended from school? How long before they get suspended from daycare??? How long will it be before one of them gets upset with a friend, tells that friend to go away and leave them alone, and subsequently gets labeled as a bully? 
The mentality of our society in 2013 is nauseating to me, friends."
I'm sorry, is she saying that because she feels her boys will eventually be suspended from school for "typically boyish behavior" she shouldn't have brought them into the world? First of all, what the fuck, and secondly, there are plenty of real reason why individuals feel they shouldn't bring children into the world--poverty, life complications, a world recession, overpopulation, individual choice, etc. I am surprised to see "could be suspended for liking to play good guy and bad guy" on the list.
She says many years ago, boys could run around playing guns and it was fine, and now they'd be "labeled threats and immediate action [would be] taken to remove that threat from the group."
Is that even true? I require citation.
She then makes a huge leap into bullying, somehow trying to equate 'boys being boys' with bullying, or the 'fake bullying' she sees going on in this new-fangled world of social media and wimps. Again, the thoughts don't follow, but we'll move along anyway. Fine, bullying.
She complains that when we were kids bullying was being stuffed in a locker and having your lunch money stolen, and tries to make a case for why that should still be so, today. Toughen up, buttercup, and etc. As if the strides we've made in society to equalize marginalized voices and promote kindness have been a massive mistake. Okay.
Apparently, in Metz's world, when a girl calls another girl a "bitch", the one being called that has no right to her emotional response. Apparently now these girls being called bitches left and right should suck it up, and everyone should just leave the name-caller alone because 'lol kids.' Apparently no other circumstances could be working upon the callee so that her 'world crumbles', longstanding bullying of this nature is clearly all in our minds, and we need to stop the 'worldwide pity party.'
Is this where I'm supposed to feel adventurous? That old chestnut of buck up and get over it? No new ground is being broken here. Only the same old shitty diatribes we've all heard since childhood.
Suicidal? Tough luck. Get over it, and count your blessings. Hey, at least no one gave you a black eye today. Also, get off the back the bullier. She doesn't deserve your anger. She's just being a kid. You're being a wussy. sigh. I should have just turned on Fox News, to be honest.
"The young generations of today (yes, I sound old. I realize I’m only 29 years old.) are being taught that they shouldn’t have to ever put up with anything doesn’t make their hearts feel like rainbow colored unicorns are running around pooping skittles onto piles of marshmallows."
^^See what I mean? PS - That sentence would have been awesome circa 1999. You know, before it had been said in that exact same iteration a billion times. Again, nothing new or adventurous here.
She goes on to list these atrocious "real-life" situations in which Debbie, Donna and Billy fail miserably because their parents loved them...oh, I mean, stopped everything to cater to their every whim.
In her scenarios, Debbie can't handle college because she got a bad grade, Donna can't handle work because someone didn't like her idea, and Billy can't handle work because he can't follow vague instructions.
And this is all your fault, so fucking stop it, okay?
Only the whole thing is ridiculous because I know hundreds of "modern" parents and even those far more indulgent than I am are working incredibly hard to instill survival mechanisms in their kids. Is the white-knight syndrome there sometimes? Sure. Is a parent caring about her child's feelings after being called a bitch on the street going to turn that child into someone who cannot fathom a way to go on after getting a bad grade on a paper?
I think we're stretching a little, here.
I mean, the reason parents are trying to be more mindful of their kids is because society is progressing in such a way as to allow them to do so. This is not a bad thing. We can spend time with our kids, play with them, hell, like them even, in this day and age, because some of us have the time and energy to do so.
As I said on Facebook, Metz's post is a mediocre attempt to outrage people at best, and a piss-poor intentional mismanagement of modern parenting at worst. In other words, don't be purposefully obtuse just to get clicks.
Then toward the end she talks about what a fabulous parent she is (and modest, too, guys! She says she's not a perfect parent) for about five paragraphs until my eyes are firmly lodged in the back of my head.
Then she says, "Everyone parents differently, and I respect that." And I laugh and laugh, because what the hell did I just read, then?
She wraps the whole thing up with her sons always using their manners, only getting a certain amount of TV and leaving her alone when she has to be "head of the household" while also being free to play good-guy, bad-guy with their guns (which, why is this even associated, I still do not get it).
Her kids will know the value of hard work and will accept failure and move on, and I'm all like, so will everyone's kids because, welp, they're alive. I mean, that's kind of what being alive entails.
Some kids won't have as big a helping of "bootstraps!" from such a young age as hers, but I'll venture a guess as to them being just fine.
And when she says, "they will appreciate that not everyone is out to get them", I marvel at the privilege because what about those who cannot say the same?
She ends on this note, not necessarily tied to anything else in her piece, to be honest: "My kids are not the center of my world because I love them enough not to allow them to be."
Which would sting if any of her previous writing had actually done what it was supposed to do and told people how not placing their (neurotypical) children at the center of their world would help them grow into well-rounded human beings. 
My kids aren't at the center of my world either because I am a person who does people things, one of those being having kids in the first place.
But I also manage not to be a complete asshole who tramples all over a parenting style I've chosen not to understand, or who makes broad generalizations and hyperbolic forecasts for the future of children who are not mine.
It can be done. Go figure.
As Pollychromatic so elegantly says to parents everywhere, "You aren't doing it wrong."


Monday, November 11, 2013

Recipe Monday - Easy Fajitas

I have a complicated fajita recipe I love, but this one does the trick in one-third the time!

2 red bell peppers or 2 green bell peppers, cut into strips (or one each)
1 small onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs lean beef sirloin or 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch strips
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 -2 teaspoon chili powder (depending on how much heat you want)
1 dash fresh lime juice
olive oil
vegetable oil
8 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed (I toss mine in a frying pan with vegetable oil for a few seconds on each side...way better than oven warming, tbh)

Toss your olive oil in a pan on medium high heat
When skillet is very hot add bell peppers, onion and garlic; (be careful not to burn garlic or it will taste bitter) cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is slightly golden and peppers are tender.
Stir in beef or chicken, cumin and chili powder; cook, for just a few minutes
Squeeze a little lime juice over meat and stir occasionally, until meat is no longer pink.
Serve in tortillas; top with desired toppings.

Maybe you're looking for easy-peasy quesadillas. If so, check out this site.



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