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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

7 Things about Pictures of Naked Kids Online -- Contributor Post

I actually had someone report pictures of my girls in their underwear playing in a sprinkler, and in a bathtub (in bathing suit shorts!). They were taken down. And I loled. Okay, dude. W/e. ANYWAY, today Pollychromatic has shared with me an important post on pictures of children on the Internet...what do you think?


I have a lot of friends who are photographers. I don’t mean the kind of people who take a bunch of pictures. I mean, honest to goodness, saved up bunches of money for the good equipment, spend lots of time on it, these are actually beautiful, photographers.

I also have a lot of friends who are parents. Some are both. Most parents end up dabbling in photography to one degree or another. It’s part of the territory.

You take pictures of your kids. You take them for you, and you take them in trust for your children when they are adults and want to see pictures of their childhood. You take them for family spread far and wide. You take them for friends. You take them because when you look at your kids, you overfill with pride, joy, and love. You want to give that to everyone. To share a bit of what you see when you look at your child. If you happen to fall into the first category also, your pictures also happen to generally be enjoyable for everyone.

Most people enjoy pictures of kids, though. There’s no real artistry needed. We were all kids once. If our childhoods weren’t ideal, then we generally are happy to see pictures of kids where that isn’t true. It’s a sort of reset on hope, you know? If our childhoods were good, then it’s a reminder of that.

Because we live in the FUTURE! we’re lucky enough that we can share the heck out of these pictures in a way that isn’t too onerous. There’s no more slideshows of the family vacation that you don’t care about. There’s an album online, and you can skip it or not. For the family and friends that are scattered far and wide, though, it means staying connected to each other and each other’s families in a way that only neighbors were able to do in the past.

Which is wonderful and awful all at once. I’ve already said some of the ways that it’s wonderful, and lots has been said about the different ways it’s awful, but one of the ways it’s awful really needs to be addressed.

See, I’ve had several friends now that have had their Facebook accounts flagged and their pictures flagged because somebody deemed that their pictures that they took of their lovely children were in some way inappropriate. By and large we are talking about pictures where you can’t see anything other than the fact that the child is probably naked. Maybe. Under the censored bits. Or the bits that aren’t actually in frame.

So the pictures and accounts are flagged, because hey, we don’t want pedophiles to see the pictures and target our children. Which, hey, is such a mixed bag of myth that I don’t even know where to start with it. But I’m going to.

Before I start though, I am going to say that yes. There are some very bad parents out there. Some parents who do, in actuality, want to pimp their children out. We’ve all read the news, and we know that it happens. It’s baffling, and horrific, and goes against every basic instinct of loving and protecting children, of basic human decency, that the vast majority of us operate with, but it does happen. I’m not talking about that today. I don’t know that I ever will. You go somewhere else for that, okay? That’s beyond the scope of my ability to talk about in a sane and rational way.

I’m going to give a list of reasons why you shouldn’t worry so hard about innocent pictures of innocent children.

1. This is not the child pornography that you’ve heard about online.

This makes me sad to say, but your innocent bath picture of your kid with a washcloth on, or blurred bits, or heck, even without it is not the child pornography that the pedophiles are looking for. This kind of wanders into the area of things I didn’t want to talk about because it makes my head break open and all the tears fall forever, but there are horrific photos of children online. Lots of them. Whole awful, pustulent corners of the internet dedicated to just that. The pedophiles want those pictures.

2. The vast majority of sexual molestation is done by people you know, who are actually in your everyday life.
It’s stepparents, and grandparents, and parents, and the parents’ boyfriends or girlfriends. It’s friends of the family that you have over for dinner regularly. It’s uncles and aunts and cousins. It’s your children’s friends’ parents. It’s counselors and priests and neighbors. It’s not strangers from the internet who happened upon your child’s pictures. That is so rare that it is beyond statistical ability to enumerate.

3. You can not make someone suddenly have a sexual interest in children.

This is something in them. This is not something you do. This is not something that your children do. This is a wrongness in that person. You can dress a child up in the sexiest of clothes, and give them the most dazzling make-up job, and there is not a single right-headed individual that is going to have a sexual thought about that child. Because it’s a child. Because you have to be wrong-headed to look at a child and find them sexual.

4. The people who look at children and find them sexually enticing do not need the children to be naked.
This is just another form of blaming the victim. It’s likely born of the same “I can keep me and mine safe” thoughts, too. People who abuse others sexually are not enticed into it. This is a wrongness in them. It’s not something that the victim can make happen. Pedophiles find children sexually arousing, clothed or not, because of the defilement. Because of the abuse of power. Because they can. Fully clothed, or genitals actually showing, it’s all the same because what the abuser is looking to do is hurt the child. Children could go through their entire childhoods fully clothed even for baths and there would still be sexual molestation, sad to say.

5. You keep your child as safe as you can from sexual molestation by teaching them that saying no and getting help is always okay. Always.

There’s been a lot of talk about this in the mommyblog world for a while. All the different ways that adults undermine children’s bodily integrity and right to say no. We tell them that they have to kiss grandma or give us a hug, or tickle them beyond when they say no. We tell them that they’re wrong when they say they feel a certain way about something or that their feelings do not matter (and yes, I know that their teeth need to be brushed even if they don’t feel like it, but that doesn’t mean their their feelings about it don’t matter). Whenever we tell them that they have to do what grown ups tell them to do, or that what they think is immaterial, we are undermining our children’s basic safety system.

6. The vast majority of sexual molestation is done by people you know, who are actually in your everyday life.

Can I just mention this again? Because yeah.

7. There used to be a lot of pictures of kids naked and we didn’t think anything of it.

A lot of us who are in our 30′s or older come from a time when just about everyone had pictures of themselves as children or babies naked in a bath, or on a rug, or any of a number of other regular everyday kid things that nobody thought was somehow enticing to pedophiles. Heck, in my day, it wasn’t all that unusual for a little kid to run around in the neighborhood naked. It was discouraged, sure, but nobody thought the pedophiles were waiting with baited breath on the doorstep for some naked kid to snatch up.

These weren’t the good old days. Don’t get me wrong. Nobody also thought the pedophiles were in their family. Or at their church. They thought it mostly didn’t happen, and if it did it was strangers snatching kids up. Which we mostly know better of nowadays. Right? Right.

Now, I can’t tell you if the incidence of childhood sexual abuse has truly gone up or down in the last 50 years. The facts are that it has historically been an under reported crime because it is a crime that is perpetrated on those who are the most voiceless in our communities.

I can tell you that the incidences of strangers kidnapping children to do harm to them has not gone up (and you’ll notice in there that the most statistically dangerous people in children’s lives are actually the parents, which is sad and horrible, but there it is). So there it is. Please stop worrying about pictures of kids online that are normal pictures.

Change your focus to teaching children that they have the right to say what happens to their bodies, and that if someone tries to do something to them sexually, they can safely get help. You can (and should) teach them that it isn’t their fault if something does happen, and that consent is always necessary. You can teach them to speak up if they see others being abused. You can get involved in helping to stop childhood sex trafficking. You can do any number of things that actually help reduce the problem. But you can stop worrying about pictures that you or your friends post of their kids that are perfectly innocent. If it really riles you up, teach them about privacy settings. Or talk to them directly about it (that’s part of that whole reducing the issue, right? Right). Hey, maybe they didn’t notice that a little bit more is showing in that picture than they thought.

And finally you can do what everybody else does with the thousand and one other pictures of pets, food, or kids that shows up in their feed.

Skip it.

This piece originally published on Pollychromatic on 4/29/14.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Inspirations for Writing - Guest Post

Today, I have author and superstar Elizabeth Hawksworth who has been gracious enough to talk about some of her inspirations for one of my favorite books, "Lake Effect."

They say you shouldn’t live in the past, but it’s from the past that I’ve gotten my inspiration as a writer. I’ve written at length about my inspirations for my second book, “Lake Effect: Voices of Toronto’s History”, but when Darlena asked me to write about them again, I struggled to formulate a post that was different from anything I’ve written before. And so this post isn’t about my inspirations so much as it’s about the reason why I felt like I had to tell the stories of Toronto’s immigrants. It’s more than just historical fiction. It’s a way to give back to the city and the immigrant stories that have shaped me and my life today.

“Lake Effect” comprises about fifteen “vignettes”, or “short short stories”, as I like to call them. When I started to write the pieces for this book, I didn’t have a set word count or outline that I was following for each story. I just wrote the story from the beginning to the end. So, some stories are a few pages, whereas others are chapter-length or longer. How long the story ended up being depended almost entirely on how much the character wanted to tell about his or her own life. That sounds stupid, but everyone has a different story to tell. Each of my characters, unless otherwise noted, are fictional – but they represent real people in this city. Some are more loquacious and educated than others. All have a message.

Because Toronto is a multicultural city, one of my main reasons for writing the story was to stray away from the usual historical account from a white, rich man that peppers our archives and history books. One of my characters is a black woman who works in Massey Hall. Another is an Asian woman who’s an architect. I, myself, am Native (1/4 Chippewa). I told stories from people who were born here and people who immigrated here. I focused especially on the Irish immigration push in the late 1700s, because the Irish, almost more than any other group, helped to shape Toronto’s early years as a city.

Each story was not necessarily the one I set out to tell. I had a story about Casa Loma, perhaps Toronto’s most famous historical residence. It never came together, and so it was left out of the book. I had another story about the “forest school” of High Park, an outdoor summer school for kids who lived in poverty during the First and Second World Wars. That, too, never materialized. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t the one picking which stories got told, necessarily. I was telling the stories of people who didn’t have a voice to tell them.

Collecting the information to set the stage for the hardworking people in each vignette was a two-year endeavour. I looked at the Toronto Archives, at many old pictures in the libraries around the city, and read countless first person accounts of what it was like to live in Toronto during the wars, and during the Industrial Revolution. I studied articles, books, and novels. I went for countless walks around the city, trying to imagine the old buildings before me in different settings, how things would look when the highest building in Toronto was St. James Cathedral. I learned a lot about the people I wanted to write about, but more than that, I learned about myself and what I wanted to convey with these stories.
The message of human survival is a big theme in “Lake Effect”. The lake effect, itself, is a strong weather phenomenon that can bring gentle winds and warm weather to the city, or can usher in wild blizzards, ice storms, and water damage. I wanted to show, both through my own experiences and through the experiences of the denizens of this city, that we survive anything the lake effect throws at us, be it hard times or good. We are survivors. It’s not only the Toronto spirit coming through, it’s the Canadian spirit. We are more than our situations. We are people who strive for better.
And so from a Jewish girl living in the Ward to an Irish mother losing her husband on the beaches of Lake Ontario, the book isn’t just about Toronto’s history. It’s about relatable themes and feelings, and the reminder that while those people are now dead, their legacy isn’t. We see their mark on every city daily as we go about our lives. We see it, and we live it.

And make sure you visit Liz's own blog, where she writes about writing, feminism, nannying and more.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Recipe Monday: Upside Down Omlette

Just kidding. I just call it upside down because that sounds better than "I can't make an omlette without burning the outside, leaving the inside raw and tearing it by accident in three places."

It is a great and easy lunch or breakfast though.

For my family of four, I use:

7 eggs
1/3 cup milk
2 tomatoes
1/2 bag fresh spinach
1 tsp garlic
1/2 onion
1 zucchini
1/2 cup cheese
1/2 cup ham or bacon
butter or oil

Put the butter or oil in a pan and heat it up medium heat.
Crack all the eggs into a bowl and add the milk. Whisk.
Add salt and pepper.
Saute the zucchini and onion in the pan.
Add the egg mixture.
Add the spinach and tomato when the egg is half cooked.
Keep stirring it up like it's scrambled eggs.
Add the meat.
Add the cheese.




Sunday, April 27, 2014

Moment of the Week - Easter 2014

This Easter was quite full, but I managed to get some shots of the girls in their dresses, being all cute.

Go big or go home. My husband was many kids do you think we have? And I was all...I LIKE HOLIDAYS, OKAY?

We went to Mass for the first time since...the girls were baptized five years ago. Happy I chose a chill church.

They love their dresses (after a few fights over who got which one, of course.)

Can you


My favorite. Coloring on Easter. Like a boss.



And our fruit tree is full of delicious fruit, too! Winning all day.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Kindergarten Kids: Discipline Fail


Sometimes even the gentlest of parents yell, and I am by no means anywhere close to the gentlest of parents. I yell. A lot.

I yell because no one responds to me.
I yell because shit is falling apart everywhere.
I yell because no one listens to me.
I yell because to my kids, fighting with each other is more important than whatever I have to say.
I yell because there is a general lack of respect for my authority.

There's a lack of respect for it because I've worked hard to show my kids that their opinion matters, that I value fairness and that I am reasonable when it comes to good debate...even with toddlers.
So, I'm not really going to fix this by going authoritarian. I'm trying to do something here, and I'm hoping it will pay off in the long run.

Still, enough is enough, and I have about, oh, NO patience at all, and so I yell.

And sometimes when I yell, my kids cry.

I had liked this, not because I like my kids to cry, but because I mistakenly assumed they cried because they realized the enormity of fault in their behavior, and had finally decided to correct their ways, and that they were so sorry for pushing me to that point.



Recently, one of them started practicing a stonewall face, which, above all, could drive me into a rage (which I don't give into, because just like above where they're not getting it like I thought they were, here, she has no idea that this is a mark of disrespect and honestly,  even though crying says to me you listened and responded and stonewall face says you didn't listen and didn't respond, in neither case are they listening or responding.)

In a fit of what I can only call parenting genius, I asked the kid calmly what the blank face was all about. And she told me.

"I'm doing it so I don't cry."

And my heart broke a little. I remember this. I remember this. I remember crying when people yelled at me, and not getting the words at all, just giving in to the emotion of the situation, and then working, practicing, working so hard, on a stonewall face. Because they yelled to make me cry. And I didn't want to give them that satisfaction anymore. And maybe if I stonewalled, they'd stop yelling, because they'd no longer be making me cry.

But notice, nowhere in my list of admittedly bad reasons why I yell is "to make my kids cry."

That is not not not not not not not the point.

The point is to convey importance of subject matter, irritation at repetition, and to change behavior.

Only it hasn't worked in five years, so I really doubt it's going to happen now.


While no one is going to be a perfect disciplinarian all the time, it's important to remember to talk to your kids after the incident.

And not just talk to them about what they did and why they need to do something else, but also talk to them about what you did. And what  the point of that action was supposed to be. I told my daughter that I absolutely wasn't trying to make her cry when I yelled at her. It wasn't a game where I won and she lost if she cried. There's not a power struggle here (my kids live for power struggles, being twins). I already had the power, and I didn't feel any better about myself for making her cry.

Long story short, that it wasn't the point.

And that it was okay for her to blank her face out, and maybe it would remind me to talk to her instead of yell at her, but when I did talk to her, she had to listen, repeat what I said back, apologize for specific deeds if necessary, and give me a plan for the future.

By involving her so much in the discipline process, I automatically get the engagement I was looking for with the yell, and she feels empowered to make a change. Not to mention, it gets a clear explanation--what was unacceptable and what she needs to change. That hadn't been as clear as I'd thought it was before.

This is a better way to discipline. Not only because I don't yell as much, but also because it actually accomplishes the goals I was trying to accomplish through yelling in the first place.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dying and Rising - Abortion and Easter: Contributor Post

Today I am blessed to have an extremely personal post by good friend and thealogian K. A. Her bravery and strength in sharing her story so that others may not feel so alone is inspiring. I am so lucky to be able to consider this woman a friend. Remember, people in all walks of life have had abortions, and each one must deal with it in her own way. And each one needs support.


My name is Kate. I'm a woman of deep, life-long faith. And a number of years ago, I aborted a wanted baby.

I was in relationship with a man I loved deeply, but our relationship was not known to others. If our pregnancy had been discovered, we (or, at least, I) perceived that we would lose support as a family from all those who then supported us as individuals, and we wouldn't be able to make a life together, much less support our child. The decision was ultimately mine. He was there when I took the pill.

A couple of weeks later, our relationship ended. In the midst of grieving the loss of that relationship, I lost sight of my grief for the tiny fetus that would have become our first-born child.

Now, all these years later, I am the mother of two amazing daughters; I am also the wife of the best man I know. My life is beautiful and full. And I'm finally giving myself permission to grieve my first pregnancy, the pregnancy that became my first abortion.

To my surprise and consternation, I've had a difficult time figuring out how to grieve it. Once I decided to allow myself to grieve, I intentionally tried to access my grief for over a day. Nothing came. I read a book called A Solitary Sorrow in which a therapist discussed her encounters with women who had had abortions. As I read the therapist's stories and considered my own, thousands of thoughts flooded my mind, but I couldn't access any emotional content.

I had already shared the story of my abortion with those closest to me long ago, so I decided to shared my story with several additional trusted friends. When one of them--the one from whom I most feared judgment--replied with compassion, my heart broke open. I ran to my husband and sobbed on his chest, a tidal wave of long-hidden grief bursting the dam in my heart.

In the United States, abortion is often heatedly discussed, but actual abortions--the abortions chosen by women all around us--are almost never discussed. To have had an abortion is an enormous taboo, and that impacts the self-perceptions of those who have abortions. The woman who has an abortion will often either perceive herself as a terrible, hypocritical sinner, or she'll tell herself that she's not supposed to feel any attachment to the tissue that grew in her womb.

I am pro-choice and completely support the right of all women to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy for the reasons she holds close to her heart, but I now also have the profound and personal realization that women who choose abortion need to be supported in their right to grieve that choice. The decision to choose abortion is rarely a neutral matter, and often it isn't the most desired outcome of a pregnancy, but when it is chosen it is almost always perceived as the best possible choice among the choices that are available. That makes for a lot of messy feelings, all hidden behind the rage of society's abortion debates.

I am one woman among many who has experienced abortion, and sharing the story of my abortion publicly here and now is terrifying. Even though I already experience deep support from some, I expect judgment and hatred from others. I expect to be disowned and cast out by at least some in my life who would otherwise keep me close. Beyond those I know personally, I expect strangers to point fingers, to call me a baby-killer and a whore and an evil woman, and even to threaten me for daring to speak up.

As I seek to answer my vocation as a future minister, however, I feel compelled to risk all of this. As a woman who buried her grief for years and discovered, after sharing it, that she is still loved, I can no longer justify cloaking myself in timidity and fear while other women still bear the burden of their grief alone (many in far more oppressive circumstances than mine). If I had known even one woman like myself--a woman of faith who chose abortion and dared to share her tale later so that others might be able to face their own stories--I might have been able to grieve and begin to heal far sooner.

I invite any woman who has had an abortion to consider letting her grief rise up and to share her story with someone she trusts. And for those women who can't think of anyone to tell, consider sharing it confidentially with someone who will listen to your story without judgment. If you are someone to whom one of these grieving women shares her story, I invite you to release all your expectations of how she should feel or how she should have acted and listen instead with all the tenderness and compassion you hold within you.

As a Christian, I experience on this Easter day the strange, radical truth that tombs aren't necessarily destined to remain closed. Perhaps, if we who have experienced abortion allow our grief to rise up, we will visit the tomb one day only to find it empty--and we'll realize that what was dead was made to be raised to new, undying life in us, just like Jesus was raised up from death in the midst of those who loved him.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Journalism Isn't Dead...It's a Zombie.

My mom just sent me an email that listed journalism as one of the worst three jobs. Ever. Like, there's no quantifier in there. Just one of the worst three jobs. This is by Daily Briefing, who uses Bureau of Labor statistics and runs them through a snazzy algorithm, weighing stuff like satisfaction, health risk, stress levels, etc.

You know what the other two worst jobs are, guys?

Enlisted military and lumberjacks.

"One of these things is not like the of these things just doesn't belong..."

But, seriously, let's take a look at those two. I mean, it's pretty obvious that one might be dissatisfied in these jobs because they're never home with their loved ones, or because it's really loud and strenuous all the time, and most likely because you make one mistake and you've lost a limb. Like a literal piece of your body. There are legitimate reasons these jobs are considered the worst.

How is journalism even remotely comparable to jobs where if you sneeze you could lose an arm?

First off, I'm absolutely sure the algorithm they used vastly over-accounted for the danger in a journalist's job. Are there reporters who have to put their lives on the line daily to get a story out? Yes. And in those cases, the danger is (or at least can be) as great as a combatant or a lumberjack.

But let's be real. That is not like 99 percent of journalists. For every one person risking their hide for a story, there are 200 more back at home, typing it up, making it pretty, calling "officials" etc. And it's actually that 99 percent that puts journalism on this list.

In no other line of work is the expectation of what you will be doing so very far from what you will actually be doing.

Think about the people who "become journalists." They're young, creative, idealistic, adventurous kids who get into this racket to be young, creative, idealistic and adventurous. And they're sold a false bag of goods.

People go into journalism to be this:

Bernstein and Woodward as dramatized by Hoffman and Redford.

And this:

Fictional hero of journalists everywhere.

I mean, we go in to find the good stuff on the bad guys, give no fucks, write it up with no shit from management because it's an important story and come and go as we please, fighting the good fight. We want to meet witnesses in bars, and buy coffee for corrupt police officers. We want to hide in the back of a truck bed, scribbling notes as a stolen bunch of paintings whizzes out of state. We want to find the exciting shit and grab on for the ride, stopping only when it's freaking over to type our fingers to the bone while swigging freaking beer and talking to our best friends about the coolest shit ever that just freaking happened, oh my God. And we want to tell the truth and change the world. We want to expose the faults and get them fixed. And we want to do it our way, on our time, with no used-up authority figure telling us we have to "tone it down" or we can't use a fantastic quote because "the police/government/our own corporation won't like it."

Nah, dude. We journalists. We gettin' this shit done.

Sure, your Jskool prof tells you in his steely, tired voice that you'll be eating bologna sandwiches for the rest of your life, and your ear will be attached to the phone, and you'll never, EVER, get paid any money. But do you listen?


You are a journalist. No negative nelly is going to stop you in your unquenchable thirst for justice and truth! Plus, you are a kid. You're convinced that old prof just 'did it wrong.' You'll do it right.

Womp womp womp.

So, unsurprisinglly, after your 3000th stupid town meeting and between your 500th and your 800th politely worded obituary, it's no wonder you lose your way. Journalists have to pay dues, apparently. (Which is dumb, btw). And those dues pretty much never end these days. There is no exciting story to be covered and if there ever were one, the corporations in control of the newsrooms would sap the life out of it as quickly as they sapped the life out of your immediate supervisor.

I mean, let's not forget about that guy, right? So, not only do you drag your ass to work every day to phone the town council president to talk about petunia growth in your town square while trying not to stab out your own eyeballs with the pencil you keep for taking very quick, important notes (that you've never even had to use one time), you also have to do that for eight hours straight with that guy staring right at you, waves of animosity just rolling off him.

Don't get me wrong. There are a million awesome people in journalism. They're tired, and broken, and disappointed, and sad (for the most part), but awesome. Then there are these guys. These guys who are just sure that your mere existence is a threat to them. You're going to take their scoop (on what, dude? The pony parade coming to town? Because that's all your corporate head lets you report anyway), or their validation (he really needed that 'you should have been nominated for a webby' comment, okay?), or worst of all, they think you'll take their job.

That's a legit concern, by the way, and it rounds out our ways in which journalism is the worst of the worst of jobs. There is no job security at all. Like AT ALL. Take news directors in broadcast, for example. On average, they last 18 months. These are the top dogs, people. Any further up the line and you're corporate. ON AVERAGE, they last 18 months. Fuck me typing if a producer or reporter is going to last that long unless they become the perfect yesman.

Journalist. Pusher of truth. The perfect yesman.

"One of these things is not like the of these things just doesn't belong..."

So, yeah, what this messed-up recipe yields is a whole lot of burned out, bitter, poor, automatons, saying yes to every stupid-assed decision and every ethically questionable agenda that comes their way for fear of losing the job they do for PENNIES, because they're supposedly in it for the love of it.

We say in mass comm grad school that journalism is dead, a lot. We're talking, of course, about the outmoded newspaper model. But it's so much more than that. And we're not even going to go into the blatant sexism and bullshit that goes on. Or how about how everyone not only hates us, but also thinks they can do our job. Like, everyone thinks they can just write. It is infuriating, no? That's another couple of posts.

The internet didn't kill journalism. It's been dead for a long time. Journalism is a zombie.


There is hope.

One of you suckers out there in internet-land is going to come up with a new model that turns everything completely on its head because in internet-land, we are no longer beholden to hours, and yeses, and phone calls to petty officials and bosses, and bullshit. Someone out there is going to break this shit. And they're going to put up something else. And I will be on that bandwagon.

Because I'm in journalism to be Fletch, dammit.

And no amount of firing me, telling me I'm a piece of shit, or making me rewrite a 20-second voice over about a car crash with no injuries that happened three days ago is going to stop me. And I know I'm not alone.

So, let's do this, journalists. Let's JOURNALISM.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Disney Trip!

Sometimes, you take a day and go to Disney. It's not often, and it's a lot of work, but it's definitely worth at least one trip for the kids. And lucky for us, we don't live far, so we don't have to go for more than a day. Phew!

On our way. Monorail isn't as awesome when you're an adult, fyi.

The kids LOVED this fountain outside of a restaurant to wash their hands.

Waiting waiting waiting in lines.

Dulce's favorite part was this roller coaster.

Princesses. Obviously.

My favorite Disney character.

Right outside one of the lands. Tomorrowland, I think.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Recipe Monday - Onion Chutney

This actually comes from a friend of mine and not me. So you know it's good. She says it tastes great on basically everything.

2 onions, finely chopped
4 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1 small tomato, seeded, chopped
3 tbs tomato paste 
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1) In a bowl, combine onions, 3 tsp of the vinegar, and 1/2 tsp of the salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.

2) Rinse the onions lightly, then drain and pat them dry.

3) In a bowl, combine onions, remaining 1 tsp of vinegar, bell pepper, tomato, tomato paste, vegetable oil, garam masala, cayenne pepper, and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and mix well.

Add garam masala, pepper, and salt as needed to taste. If you like it mild, stick to the given amounts. I ended up added a bunch more to make it nice and spicy. Generally, the chutney will be better after it sits for a while to let the flavors meld together.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kindergarten Kids - What to Do about the Damn Phone


Your kids could be silently behaving for hours on end, playing nicely, giggling, leaving you in utter peace and quiet, giving you the most idyllic of days.

Then their Spidey sense activates. You've taken out the phone and put it to your ear somewhere in the house.

Tantrum Engage! Suddenly, the only thing they can think to do is maul each other, screaming and crying the whole time. There's toy throwing, there's inconsolable sobbing, there's the inevitable child following you around looking for justice... "MOM, SHE _______ ME!"

Meanwhile, you just wish you had a kid-sized fly swatter. Why do they do this? Not only is it annoying to the tech person, teacher, interviewee (I'm a journalist), or anyone on the other end, it's mortifying.

I mean, is it their main goal in life to make me look like the worst parent ever at all times?!


There are a couple different ways you can go.

First, you can try telling them to stop. It won't work (probably) but you've got to keep that hope alive, right? I mean, maybe today's the day!

When that doesn't work, put yourself in another room. Lock the door if you must (my kids are five, so that's okay for me to do). Usually, of course, they'll hang right outside the door, screaming into it.

If that is the case, tell the person on the other end to hold on. Put them on mute to spare them as you go into the battlefield. Discipline your kids in the manner of a crazy person who's just been humiliated in front of some stranger they need help from. Put kids in room. Go outside. Walk a bit away from the house. Apologize to other party on the phone and quickly finish up.

The most important part of this happens after the phone call. My kids are actually finally getting better about phone calls after months of me doing this.

After it's over, go and talk to your kids calmly. Tell them the behavior is unacceptable and sometimes you are going to be on the phone and that you expect them to act appropriately when you are. This isn't going to work, of course, but after millions of repetitions of the same thing, it seems the kids are starting to get an inkling that the phone is not their enemy and they can just chill out when you're on it.

If you always do the same thing (I always go outside to the front porch when the call is important and verbally cue them that I am on a phone call and I'll be back in a minute) they get used to it via pattern recognition and do even better at laying off.

Alternately, never use the phone again.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Equal Pay Day Controversy

So, Tuesday was equal pay day. For those of you who somehow don't know about this, it represents the day women have to work up to before they've made as much as men made the previous year.

At 77 cents to the dollar, we have to work an extra 98 days.

Anyway, if you want more information about how this came about or what it actually measures, click on the link above, because what I'm doing in this post is taking on these two bullshit questions from this post over here.

Question 1:

Do women go into lower-paying sectors because they prefer them, or because employers discriminate against them? 

I don't know about you, but I don't know too many people in general who look at themselves and think, you know what I'm worth? Very little money.

There are more women in teaching and administrative work than men, and you know what, when asking many of them, they'd say they do enjoy the work. They are where they want to be. Great! Let's pay them more.

The women workforce also has a lot more part-time workers, which apparently messes up the average? They're working part time usually because they have a family at home, right? And daycare is incredibly expensive...more expensive than college.

And having families is something that people do, don't you know. And our society is still set up in such a way where the responsibility usually falls on the woman to care for the child, and if alternate care is used, the woman actually has to be making some money. However, since she only makes 77 cents to a man's dollar, she often saves money by not going to work.

Not to mention that we are constantly saying we need more women in science, yet to be in science you need a PhD and to get a PhD plus some experience, you need to not have kids until about your mid-30s.

In fact Freeman Dyson, the world-renowned mathematical physicist who helped found quantum electrodynamics thinks academia is bunk:

"I’m very proud of not having a Ph.D. I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination. It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions. It’s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it’s being a professor or other things, and it’s quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they’re not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they’re qualified, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all."

Question 2:

Do women stay home with the kids because of cultural norms, or because of the way parental leave policies are set up?

I don't understand this question. I mean, both? First of all, don't kid yourself, we don't have any  parental leave in this country so there is no "way it is set up" because it does not exist. Secondly, yeah, there are definitely cultural norms still in place that need to go away because they are annoying and they make people feel bad. Not to mention that they perpetuate stereotypes that women cannot hold positions of power because "they won't give as much to the company" or women "choose not to make as much" because they "chose to have children."

Okay, well, since we're the only ones who can have children, how about you help us out and not put us through those shitty choices.

The long and short of it is that women are still struggling to be seen as a serious force in the workplace because of outmoded ideas of family, cost of childcare, and doucheheads who think if a woman chose to birth a child, she decided she didn't want to work for a lot of money so she should shut up.

We need future people, right? And to get them to the adult stage, we need to feed them. And if we're going to feed them and teach them healthy things about the world, we deserve a livable wage for doing something we have been trained in.

And if a woman works as hard as a man in her profession, she should make as much money as he does. Period.

As my friend on Facebook said:

" If you are too much of a goddamn pithy simple-minded asshole to see the structural problem with putting a tax on working women of as much as $1000/month per child, there's nothing anyone can say to talk you to a place of reason.

I never want another person coming at me about the "personal choice" of mothers to take low-paying jobs who doesn't have a solution to this nightmare of a decision-making process we put women through."

Pay equity. Because we're effing worth it. And so are our kids.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Find Out Who You Are

We are all broken. But we are all beautiful. And no one in the world is better than you are. Who you are, right now, in this very moment, as you read this, is beautiful. You belong here. And you deserve things. Good things. Even if you hate yourself right now, or hate what you've have done in the past, or hate what you will do in the future, or hate what you are doing right now, that does not mean you do not deserve the best of everything in this world, and the sooner you recognize that you are special, unique and giving this world a great gift just by existing, the sooner you'll be able to walk away from the Land Of Bad Decisions (tm).

Everyone has been there. The intensity of the situations are different, and our ability to withstand different intensities are different. But we are, in essence, very similar. We all fall, we all feel like fakes, we all struggle with hidden demons.

Your demons are just as important as that guy's over there. And you  are just as deserving as he is.

You can't keep on keeping on if you feel like you are undeserving of life, love and happiness. It's not you. It's a thing. It's a thing that's near you. It's a thing that's not you. You are not your failures. You are not even your actions. You are defined by you and you alone. You get to make up that definition. Make it good. You are strong. A warrior just like me, just like everyone. You will not let your loved ones down. They are more forgiving than you are. You are not the past. The past is not real. It is shadows. Shadows we must confront and conquer, but not our reality this day, this moment. You are not what happened to you. You don't owe anyone anything, especially at the expense of yourself. You are beautiful and you can let that show. Those who would disparage it are wrong. You can, day by day, moment by moment, take control of your life. And you deserve it.

Here are some things to do:

1) Accept blame for what is yours. But don't wallow in it. Don't allow your past to become you. Own up to your actions, understand your motivations for them, and from there, make changes so that you don't find yourself in that position again.

2) Allow yourself mistakes. You are going to mess up. A lot. This doesn't prove that you are a bad person. It just proves that you are a person. It doesn't prove that you can't change. It proves that change is a journey, not a destination.

3) Forgive yourself. I don't care how bad it is, if you can't forgive yourself, you stop yourself from moving forward. Forcing yourself to live in your old shoes as punishments for your misdeeds is poisoning. You have control over this moment, and the next one, and then the next, but only one moment at a time. And when you mess up, if you dwell on it, taking it as indicative of your nature, you are missing out on all the next moments you could control. You are worth forgiveness.

4) Forgive others. Some people have hurt you worse than others. Some people have tortured you, some knowingly, some unknowingly. Some people are still trying to hurt you now. Forgive them so that you can walk away from them. Because emotion binds us. And you don't want to be a part of that.

5) Walk away. Cut ties with toxic people. You do not owe them anything. You forgave them for you. Forgiveness doesn't mean willingness to subject yourself to more pain.

6) Be proud. Sometimes it will be hard to do this. So look outside yourself if you must. Just find one little thing each day that you did that you can be proud of. And when you find it, do not find a way to displace ownership of that thing. Do not assign yourself ulterior motives. Do not doubt that one tiny thing you chose to be proud of. Start very small. Move to bigger things from there. You must accept that you are worthy of praise.

7) Stop hiding. I know it's scary. Try showing yourself for just a few minutes at a time until you can build your resistance up.

8) Be kind to yourself. That thing in you that hates you? That likes to tell you you're a piece of shit. It's wrong. Experiment with telling it to shut the hell up. It will feel silly at first, but it separates your masochistic tendencies from who you are in a way nonverbal communication doesn't quite reach. Realize that sometimes you do things just so you can tell yourself 'I told you so.' Experiment with not  telling yourself 'I told you so' when you make a bad decision. Remember, the only one around to police you is yourself. Be a good cop.

9) Own it. You are who you are and you can do what you can do. You do not owe anyone anything. Practice being direct. It is scary. You don't want to displease people. But, in all reality, they don't care as much as you think they do. And even if they think they care at the time, you are only a minor player in their life movie. They'll adjust. They'll figure it out. You are only the main character in your own book. Read your book.

10) Do it. Branching off of number 9, be honest in everything you do. When everything mounts against you, and you want to hide, or lie, or couch the truth, or spare yourself what you feel certain will be other people's scorn and hate, try to buck that instead and simply state the truth. Don't allow yourself to be paralyzed on the cliff of anxiety where action is impossible and going back is equally impossible. Go forward. The sooner you move, the sooner it will all be over.

Be your authentic self. That person is awesome. Give her a chance. Hell, no one else did, right? Doesn't she deserve it? You be the first. Give you a chance.

You are worth everything.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Twin Continuum

I don't know if this happens to anyone else or if it's just our family, but my twins operate on a continuum. Or maybe a more accurate description is a scale. I don't know. All I do know is that they are convinced that the other twin's behavior is a reflection of themselves in the opposite way.

So that, the worse one twin behaves, the better the other one feels. They're caught in this weird reality where behaving is good, but the other one misbehaving is better. It makes them more good than regular behaving would have.

And they follow strict rules in regard to this.

For instance, yesterday, Dulce coughed on the graham cracker I gave her, and started to tantrum about wanting a new one, even though I told her that her own cough on her own cracker didn't matter. Natalina came by to get her cracker and promptly dropped it on the floor, breaking it into a few pieces. She automatically went beserk, ratcheting up the emotion in the room to 60 from 0, far outstripping Dulce in her attempt at discontent over her own cracker. On Facebook, I said "feeling the quota met, Dulce took her cracker back and ate it quietly."

But that's not quite correct.

In fact, Dulce broke her cracker into pieces and then ate it, just to show everyone (quietly) how cool she was with broken-cracker-eating. Because Natalina was acting out, Dulce felt good, like "the good child."

Now, before we go further, I swear I do not promote this in any way!!!! I'm never like, "why can't you just be like your sister" or "Dulce is behaving right now and you are not." I do everything in my power to treat them separately, and don't think it's purely for them. It's for me. I need them to act like individual people. It's exhausting living this way.

On the opposite end, I cannot give one of them a compliment without the other one feeling like I've insulted them. I've mentioned this before. If I tell one she's done a good job, the other hears, "you did a bad job." If I tell one she's funny, the other one hears "you're not funny at all, why can't you be more like your sister."

They are constantly telling me they feel I love the other one better than them, when I give even the slightest individual attention to either of them. It's infuriating and frustrating and so hard to deal with.

My twins feel like they are sharing the goodness, in a sense. Like there is a limited quality of good and only when one gives up some of her 50 percent can the other grab up that excess. It's fully ridiculous in every way. And it leaves them bitter competitors in everything.

I can't give them different identities. They won't take them. Any difference at all is analyzed. The activity for each kid is taken apart and weighed in every aspect for "goodness" and "badness", "favored stature" and "unfavored stature". And mind you, these are all made up. They make up definitions of good and bad in their own minds, which makes it extra confusing to me, because I never know which twin is going to feel like she got the good deal and which is going to feel short-shifted for completely equal alternatives.

Twins are hard, guys.

Here are some shitty pictures to illustrate what I'm trying to say:

I haven't figured out how to fix this yet (obviously). Suggestions are certainly welcome.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Recipe Monday - Avocado, Tomato, Mozzarella Salad

This is a great salad for the spring nights ahead. Refreshing and cool, with great seasoning.

Avocado (two)
Tomatoes (three)
Cucumber (one)
Fresh Mozzarella (1/2 ball)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Mix all of these together and chill for an hour. Boom.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ask a Cleaning Lady: What's the Worst Job You Ever Did?

People always wonder about the best and worst of things, and one of the questions Smibbo gets most frequently is "What's the worst job you ever had to do?"

Her answer is basically a three-way tie, and just a warning up front, these descriptions can get pretty graphic. But if you're looking for the worst, we've found them.

Q: So what’s the worst job you ever did?

A: kind of depends how you define “worst” but I’ll assume you want juicy details of something really gross. No problem.

I once cleaned for a man who was a shut-in and had a mental illness. He also had some medical problems and took a cornucopia of very serious medications. He had a pet bird who resided in an open-doored cage. This means there was not only bird droppings everywhere, there were birdseed hulls everywhere as well. And feathers. When I say “everywhere” I mean, the room this man stayed in. He lived with his brother, the man who hired me. The room was covered in trash, which was expected, but the trash was kind of mixed in with “important” things too. I know because the brother spent considerable amount of time detailing the kinds of things I was NOT to throw away. Because he knew his brother (who was away at a doctor’s appointment) would probably freak the hell out if any of his important things were gone. Most of the Important Things were books. I can certainly understand that as books are very important to me as well. He had a lot of them. Very good books, too from what I could tell. Sadly, not all the books were in good condition; many had been broken into parts and strewn about. We tried to organize them together but it was not something we wanted to spend a lot of time doing because I wasn’t even sure he would appreciate it. Maybe he liked them being broken into pieces and strewn about. We debated about it but decided to just do whatever we could in the time we had (the brother had told us how much time he could afford) It was a pretty amazing mess but bird droppings, seed hulls, book remnants, old clothes (some of which were moldy and had to be thrown away) various hygiene objects (toothbrushes, nail clippers, combs etc) and letters (LOTS of letters) – that was all familiar territory (well okay maybe not the bird stuff). What made this quite possibly the worst job I ever did was the bathroom. I worked with a partner in those days and I pretty much always did the bathroom and kitchen because that’s my specialty. I don’t just clean kitchens and bathrooms I TRANSFORM them.

So I went into the bathroom and nearly vomited. There was stains on the toilet, the sink, the cabinets, the shower curtain, the tub the WALLS – all stained with a brown-ish coating of… well, it appeared to be a mixture of diarrhea and vomit. I could tell because it was… textured. I spent at least two hours in that bathroom alone. And it was a very small bathroom too. I bleached the shower curtain in the tub and discovered it was actually supposed to be white. I organized his medication box too – tossed out a BUNCH of expired bottles. I threw away underwear he had stained and stashed under the cabinet.

So between the shit-vomit scrubbing and the utterly depressing state of the man’s library, it was pretty heinous. But really it was very sad to me. Because this man was a veteran… I know it was no exaggeration because I found medals he’d been awarded and pictures of him in uniform. I don’t know exactly what happened to him after the war (Desert Storm, I think) but something did. I found his college writings. I found his personal notes. I found pictures of a happier time in his past. Even drawings: the man could draw! I found many little pieces of a former life that pointed to a highly intelligent, curious, creative and happy individual. And here he was, living inside a room with nothing but a bird and his loving but overwhelmed brother. Schizophrenia isn’t pretty, but it isn’t scary either; its very sad.

On the other hand, that job had a sort of weird feeling to it: it was sad but because of that, it made us feel kind of good about what we were doing. I mean, we were getting paid so it wasn’t like we thought of ourselves as Florence Nightingale, but really, we were helping them. After all, we got the job because the brother had twice tried to hire someone else and each cleaner had walked in, taken one look and walked right back out again. And there’s something about brushing up against someone’s tragic story without even knowing them that makes you gain a kind of attachment to seeing a decent outcome. I doubt those two men had any kind of miraculous conclusion but at least for a couple of days (we came probably about three times) their lives maybe weren’t so incredibly awful. Maybe?

So perhaps I should say the worst job I ever had was the time I cleaned an apartment that was home to (I think) around 15 cats. In one room. The woman who hired me wasn’t exactly a neatnik herself – her floor was so covered in trash that I could not SEE if there was carpet or wood in the living room – but she had somewhere along the way decided to give the second bedroom over to her growing collection of cats.

A room with around 15 cats and three litter boxes. Three. For 15 cats.

The litter boxes were sitting on a shower curtain …actually two shower curtains. I remember because the second one was clear so I didn’t quite realize what was going on after I moved the boxes and peeled the first curtain up. I can’t even begin to describe what it looked like so I’ll just tell you what had happened and maybe you can imagine for yourself. The litter boxes were resting atop two shower curtains BUT the cats had managed to urinate on the outside of the boxes enough that the urine had seeped into the wood floor, warped it creating furrows and hills which allowed for more urine to travel down under the curtain. Over time, the floor deteriorated and the curtain was starting to get dissolved by the festering urine. Also, some interesting forms of mold were growing under and around the whole setup. So the clear curtain was more or less fused to the floor and when I tried to pull it up, it came in pieces. Bits of it fused well enough (or were decomposed? enough) that I could not pick it up to pull it off. I had to use… a butter knife. Why? Because I generally do not bring a paint scraper when I go to clean someone’s place. So I sat there and tried to carefully scrape the new chemical arrangement of “feline floor soup” without scraping the varnish of the floor itself. It didn’t take long before I realized that the varnish was no longer protecting the floor and had at some point become part of the cat offal batter. I figured this out because the wood under the “varnish” was blackened. Yes, blackened.

So I cleaned that one room for about four hours. I got it as clean as I was capable of doing and applied oil-based floor polish in a vain attempt to protect whatever was left of the floor.

Then I worked on the trim. Some of which came away in my hands because the wood had rotted from repeated spraying.

Then I went into the kitchen and did a mini-version of what I had done in the cat-room. Because you see, she had about five *other* cats who were allowed to roam the rest of the apartment. They had two litter boxes of their own which were also sitting atop shower curtains. Luckily (I feel almost hysterically insane using that word) those boxes were in the kitchen. On vinyl flooring. Next to the wall. Which had wood trim. Which had been repeatedly sprayed as well.

Then when I was done, I cleaned the kitchen. All I remember of the kitchen was washing a LOT of dishes.

Then I bagged trash. TWENTY BAGS. I wish I was exaggerating. I am not. TWENTY BAGS (13 gallon bags) of trash from teh floors. This is not including trash from the cat boxes which I had already taken out. Infuriatingly, her garbage dumpster was at the other end of the apartment building. It took me at least 7 trips and 30 minutes just to carry it all to the dumpster. I had never wished for a wagon so hard in my life.

You know why she hired me? Because she was in danger of eviction. Her neighbors had complained about the smell of her apartment. ALL the neighbors. THe ones upstairs AND next door. AND two floors up. I had to explain to her that the saturation of urine in the wood trim and floors meant I could not remove all the smell. Her apartment was going to keep reeking of eau de chat until all the wood was ripped out and new floors and trim were put in. She was distressed that I was not able to “fix” the floors myself.

Then there was the apartment of the woman who had done a study-abroad thing in India. While she was gone, a friend of hers “cat sit” for her. Apparently “cat sit” does not include changing a litter box. In fact, her friend, rather than clean out the litter box, went and bought a new one for the woman’s cat to use. She did that TWICE. Also, “cat sit” apparently does not entail taking out one’s own trash OR doing one’s own dishes. FOR SIX MONTHS. That was the only job I have ever done where I had to clean the dried remains of MAGGOTS. All. Over. The Kitchen. It took a long time because I had to keep going outside to breathe. The smell of maggots makes me gag. I asked the woman about her friend and she said when she returned the first thing she did was call her friend and say “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!” and no, they most certainly were not friends any more. I had to agree with her wisdom. I did think that her cat deserved an award for continuing to use the litter box despite it piling up and up and up for two months. The fact that the cat did not once poop or pee outside of the box amazes me. But the woman wanted to keep two of the litter boxes so I wasn’t able to just throw them out, I had to actually empty one of them. I swear that was at least fifty pounds of cat detritus. The rest of the mess was just her “friend’s” trash and garbage. While I covered my nose and vowed to always bring breathing masks to new jobs.
That woman didn’t tip me.

So I don’t know. One of those three would probably be “worst job evar”


Don't forget to visit Smibbo for more cleaning stories, tips and other gems of wisdom!



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