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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How much slut-shaming can we fit into a day -- Guest post

Slut-shaming is the act of shaming someone for being -- or even just appearing to be -- sexual. It is used to control the behavior of women and girls by criticizing or demeaning them any time they don't conform to the rigid expectations of our sexist society. Some incidents are pretty straightforward. If someone yells "slut" to me from their car as I walk down the street in a short skirt, almost anyone would agree that I was just slut-shamed. However, sex-negativity and misogyny are so ingrained in our culture, that more subtle acts of slut-shaming occur every day (sometimes all day long) without anyone even realizing. A lot of people might not notice (or care) when this kind of slut-shaming takes place right in front of their own eyes.

I consider myself a sex-positive feminist, so I might be slightly more tuned in to slut-shaming than the average person -- I did run a blog called "Evil Slutopia" for seven years -- but I never really thought about exactly how often I experienced (or witnessed) slut-shaming on a daily basis. So I decided to do an experiment and document every incident that I experienced or witnessed, no matter how subtle, within a 48-hour period of time.

This is what happened...

Day 1

-- I start my day by flipping through radio stations. I almost immediately hear a conversation about women who cheat. The term "nymphomaniacs" is used.

-- I post a photo of myself in a Facebook group for fashion critique. One woman describes my outfit as “very street walker.”

-- As I scroll through the other submissions, I notice more than one woman asking the same kind of question: "Too much boobs?" "Are my boobs too big for this?" "Is this too low cut?" "Do I need to wear a cami under this top?" Most of the responses are encouraging, but it still makes me wonder why this question keeps coming up.

-- As if she psychically knows I am reading about low-cut tops, my mother refers to the shirt I'm currently wearing as being too revealing. Cleavage is my favorite accessory.

-- While listening to Paramore, "Misery Business" comes on and I catch the line "once a whore you’re nothing more, I’m sorry that’ll never change." Boo.

-- Chatting with a guy friend online, the conversation turns to dating and he says, "you’re not that picky. Well… you’re not picky with who you hook up with. Maybe you are with who you date."

-- My daughter tells me about a lesson from her English class this week. The teacher gave everyone a list of twelve people with descriptions and said they can only fit seven in a life boat... who do you take? (Context: They’re reading Lord of the Flies.) One of the people that was dismissed by her group was a 23-year-old cocktail waitress who had worked as a prostitute in the past. My daughter says the conversation went something like this...

Classmate: We don’t want her.
Daughter: Why not?
Classmate: She’s a prostitute.
Daughter: Who cares? We need some women so they can reproduce.
Classmate: She only has a ninth grade education.
Daughter: We only have a ninth grade education.
Classmate: Yeah but we're not prostitutes.
Daughter: <Eye roll>

-- Scrolling through Facebook, I see that one of my friends has posted something about "Hookers for the Handicapped," a program in the Netherlands that provides citizens with disabilities with money from the government to pay for sexual services. I’m not sure if this is a real thing, but the first comment on his post is "I hope they don’t get herpes."

-- I read a blog post about RealDolls (anatomically-correct, rubber women). The author mocks the people who buy them and says, "I fear only what this says of our humanity." Wow. A little heavy-handed for sex dolls, don't you think?

-- I go to a party with friends and the topic of sex comes up, as it usually does. I am especially vocal on the topic, as I usually am. While I'm talking, I catch a glimpse of an eye roll in my direction from another party guest who has overheard our conversation (although I can’t prove it was necessarily aimed at what I was saying).

-- I flirt with a cute guy friend at the party and someone mistakenly refers to us as a "couple." We both correct him that we're not a couple, but later when he catches us kissing he suggests we were lying when we said we weren't a couple. He seems confused by the idea that you can casually make out with someone without trying to date them.

Day 2

-- I make a conscious effort to hide a hickey from the night before and then wonder if I’ve actually just slut-shamed myself.

-- A guy I sort of know shares a photo on Facebook from an anti-feminist page. It is of women at a Slut Walk protest screaming at a man who exposed his penis to them. The caption is “Feminism. Because street harassment should be illegal.” Sigh.

-- My daughter tells me that her father said earlier that he didn't approve of the outfit she wore today. He said she needed to button her shirt farther up. (She's wearing a button down with a tank top under it that isn't even that low cut.)

-- I feel like watching some bad TV on Demand, so I turn on Two Broke Girls (CBS). The character Max makes a comment about her boobs. My mother, passing through, says "this role is beneath her." I ask, "why, because she said boobs?" but she doesn't elaborate. Max makes a ton of sexual comments and aggressive advances towards a cute waiter, while Caroline slut-shames her repeatedly. I don't get to see how it ends because I have to turn it off when they make a "Precious" fat joke.

-- I switch to Your Family or Mine (TBS), a new show that is about... I don't know... a family? "Only strippers should dress like strippers." Pass.

-- I consider trying reality TV instead, so I put on Little Family (Lifetime), a spin-off of Little Women LA. Pregnant Terra and her boyfriend Joe are looking at baby clothes, when she shows him a baby bikini. He questions why she's trying to make the baby "sexy." Ugh. Before I can even grab the remote, he says, "I don't know what Terra was thinking. A baby has nothing to do with a bikini and she'll be wearing turtlenecks 'til she's 18."

-- I decide I'm not going to stop looking until I find at least one show that doesn't slut-shame. I try Finding Carter (MTV), a show that I sometimes watch with my daughter. Fraternal twins Carter and Taylor are shopping for dresses for a party...

Taylor: Carter thinks that I should slut it up.
Dad: Carter’s wrong. Very wrong.

-- I figure Last Man on Earth (Fox) is probably safe because there are almost no characters on the show at all to slut-shame. I was wrong...

Carol: Why would there be any hard feelings? All you did was make a series of quick slut-based decisions about sharing your body with a man you hardly knew.
Gail: Carol, you know we would never have done that stuff if we’d known Phil was married.
Carol: Of course. I don’t hold it against you. You had no idea. And you’re not even from here. In this country we tend to do a little bit of research before inviting a man into the land down under.

-- I finally turn on Mom (CBS). The character Bonnie is going through withdrawal as she gets sober again and imagines both a "Good Bonnie" and a "Bad Bonnie" arguing over her.

Good Bonnie: I’m the reason she reconciled with her daughter.
Bad Bonnie: I’m the reason she had a daughter.
Good Bonnie: At age 17.
Bad Bonnie: Oh yeah here comes the slut-shaming.
Good Bonnie: I’ve asked you not to use that kind of language around me.
Bad Bonnie: Slut.

They earn points for acknowledging that slut-shaming is, you know, a thing, but points deducted for the voice of reason on the subject coming from the imaginary persona that is advocating for drug use. I decide to give up on television for the day.

-- I read an article about revenge porn. The author suggests that anti-revenge porn laws might do more harm than good, but fails to give any evidence of this actually being true. (Laws against posting all nude photos are referenced, but that's not exactly the same thing.)

--Another article about yet another pharmacy that refused to sell a woman birth control pills because of their "morals." I can't even bring myself to read it.

-- Just before bed, I get a notification from an online dating app. It's someone way out of my age range, so I politely decline. He responds by calling me a whore. Thanks and goodnight.

So what did I learn? Nothing I didn't already know: Slut-shaming is all around us, all the time.

Now to be fair, not all of these incidents were blatant examples of intentional slut-shaming. Some of it cannot be mistaken (like being outright called a "whore"), but some may not have been slut-shaming at all (like the eye roll during my conversation) and others were, but only indirectly so. A lot of the slut-shaming we experience (or inflict) every day is probably unintentional, but it still does damage. For example, mocking someone for buying a sex doll may not be textbook slut-shaming, but criticizing someone's sexual behavior sends the message that there is such a thing as "too much" or "too weird" when it comes to sexuality. It perpetuates the idea that some kinds of sexuality need to be policed or controlled, and when that belief exists, it is usually women that end up bearing the brunt of it.

Slut-shaming contributes to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts in girls and women. It also reinforces rape culture, through misogyny, victim-blaming and rape apologism (e.g., "you can't rape a slut"). One little comment on a stupid television show might not make or break a person, but when it's the eleventh or so experience of the day... who knows how deeply ingrained these "anti-slut" messages can really get? I'm not saying that someone is a bad person if he or she accidentally slips up now and then, but we can all be more conscious of it.


Abby Rose Dalto is a freelance writer, editor and social media consultant. She is also a single mother and a sex-positive feminist. Abby was Co-Founder of ESC Forever Media and Co-Founder/Executive Editor of the blog Evil Slutopia, where she wrote under the pseudonym "Lilith." She is the author of two books, Create Your Own Sand Mandala: For Meditation, Healing and Prayer and Create Your Own Power Jewelry, as well as numerous articles on a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in Women's Studies with concentration in Creative Writing and Literature. Visit her online at

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Breastfeeding in the NICU -- Guest Post

I was never good at pumping. Breastfeeding, sure, I had that down, after three years of nursing my firstborn. I think at its largest, my freezer stash had topped out at 8 oz, hand-expressed on the rare occasion Captain wasn't physically attached to me. But when my second pregnancy got complicated, when I was anticipating NICU time, that meant pumping for real. From years of hanging out in breastfeeding-friendly spaces online, I knew the basics. Put yourself on a schedule. Stay hydrated. Look at photos of your baby. Make sure your flanges are the right size and replace your tubing and membranes regularly. Oatmeal, brewer's yeast, flax seeds, blah blah blah. But none of that really prepared me for the reality of trying to provide milk for my tiny baby, as well as getting him to latch and feed effectively straight from the breast.

Miles Adrian was growth restricted, born at 37 weeks via successful induction. (I actually delivered him directly onto the bed while the nurse was out of the room, with my husband calling for help in the doorway. It was an exciting night.) He was 3 lbs 10.9 oz, only 16.5 inches long, and absolutely perfect. Due to his size, he was whisked away to the NICU. My room was up a floor and one (connected) building over. For the two days I was admitted, I had to walk down multiple long hallways and ride down an elevator to visit him. When Captain was born, he roomed-in for our entire stay, so it was particularly weird to have had the baby but not have the baby with me at all times.

One of the nurses showed me how to hook up to the hospital grade pump, wrote the number for Lactation on the board, and that was about it. I had a supply of 1mL, 5mL, and 10mL syringes, labels with my name and medical records number, and a sample-sized bottle of Dawn for washing pump parts. The ice machine was just outside my door, so I could keep those tiny syringes cold between trips to the NICU. The sink in my room was lined with paper towels and drying flanges. I aimed for every three hours, which was nearly impossible between rounds, meals, bathing, trying to rest, and, of course, the hours I spent with the baby. Twice a day, there were new PCAs and a new nurse, some of whom I only ever knew by their names written on the whiteboard.

He was so tiny. He had an IV in his arm (later removed and replaced with a port in his foot) and sticky leads monitoring his heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation levels. Because he was in an Isolette, a nurse had to get him out and put him back in for me. It was the beginning of cold and flu season, so we had to scrub every time we came in, and visitors were extremely limited. My older son didn't see his new brother in person until he came home from the hospital. Only two visitors were allowed bedside at once, so mostly it was me and either my husband, my mom, or my mother-in-law keeping me company. I was friendly with the nurses, most of whom were really great, and our NICU neighbors, who had a set of quadruplets.

Everything in the NICU is numbers. Two minutes scrubbing in. Three hours between each feeding. Milliliters of breastmilk in each bottle, minutes spent nursing on each side. Wet and dirty diapers, each one meticulously weighed. Body temperature within the Isolette. Grams lost meant more time before graduating to an open crib; bradycardia spells could push a release date back.

We were incredibly lucky. Miles was considered full-term, and even though he was the size of a 32-weeker, he had full-term lungs. He came out breathing on his own and stayed on room air. His suck-swallow-breathe reflex had developed just fine, so he never needed a g-tube. But his mouth was tiny, and he was sleepy, and we constantly had to maneuver his various wires and cords. For the first few days, I was pretty much always terrified I was going to rip his IV out, and I don't think my husband even held him at all until the IV was removed. I spent hours at a time just holding him, letting him try to latch, switching sides when he got frustrated. The nurses would ask how long he'd fed, and I never really knew. Five minutes one side, ten on the other? He had milk on his face and a wet diaper, and he was sleeping on me, exactly like he should have been doing at home.

Being released from the hospital and leaving the baby behind was surreal. My husband had to uninstall the infant seat and shove it in the trunk to make room for my mother-in-law, who'd been watching our big kid. I unpacked my bag, got a load of laundry in, and set up my brand new breast pump. I had a pretty good routine going from the hospital: Two sets of flanges, so I could use one while the others were being washed, carefully pouring milk into the NICU-supplied bottles (milk now measured in ounces instead of mere milliliters), time & date on each label. Still, there were differences between the machines. The hospital grade Medela had a lovely gentle preemie setting, and a preset that switched between regular and letdown modes, and automatically turned off after 15 minutes. My personal double electric was much noisier: the Symphony sang, "Milk for Miles, milk for Miles;" the Pump In Style shouted, "Rock on, rock on, rock on!"

Both sets of grandparents are nearby; they had all taken turns watching Captain during my induction and subsequent hospital stay so my husband could be with me. He had three weeks off, and basically took over being the primary care-giver for Captain so I could focus all of my time and energy on the baby. I couldn't have done it without their help.

The next morning, I was back at the hospital, up the elevator this time, carrying bottles of milk in an insulated bag. I acquired a reputation as a "hardcore breastfeeder." Twice, Miles was accidentally given formula when someone didn't check the fridge for milk. I cried. After the first time, his nurse made a big note on his chart; the second time earned him a laminated sign taped to the Isolette.

Those were my days, celebrating each tiny success: IV gone, back to birthweight, incubator temperature turned down. I learned which rocking chairs were the most comfortable, how to change preemie diapers without yanking on leads, which nurses were willing to sit around and chat. I read books on my phone, took a bunch of breastfeeding selfies, confided in wonderful women via a private Facebook group. I hated having to leave him, especially when he was awake. If I could have stayed at the hospital full-time, I would have.

At home, my fridge filled up with milk, which I dutifully transported to the hospital each day. I was terrible at keeping to my schedule. Even after spending the whole day nursing the baby, I felt engorged and would pump ridiculous quantities as soon as I walked in the door. I always meant to pump twice at night but never got around to setting an alarm, and regularly slept until my boobs hurt enough to wake me up. Basically, I did everything wrong and it's sheer dumb luck I didn't get plugged ducts. I pumped while eating, while browsing on my phone, and with visitors sitting across from me, since I refused to banish myself to the bedroom. At the one week mark, I started keeping some back to freeze, as I knew there was no way Miles was drinking it all.

On the ninth day, Miles was discharged. He was only 1790 grams, still just under four pounds, but he'd been fine overnight in an open crib. As one nurse put it, they were fine moving him from the incubator a little early because he was out with me all the time anyway. He passed his hearing test and car seat test, got his first vaccine, and the hospital photographer took newborn photos. And along with the diapers and other supplies, we were sent home with a cooler full of milk- about half a gallon all together.

I stopped pumping in favor of breastfeeding full time as soon as Miles came home. I probably should have pumped for comfort for a couple of days instead of going cold turkey, but I was awfully sick of that machine. I honestly don't know how exclusive pumpers do it: I never did figure out how to fit in all of those extra steps while caring for the baby. We don't know for sure what caused Miles' growth restriction (it was likely some sort of placental issue), but he's growing just fine now.

My NICU milk took up room in the freezer for three months, at which point I donated 45 ounces to a local mama in need. I can't stand to dump the rest, but I don't really want to use it, either. And today, I nursed.


Emma Wade is a get-out-of-the-house! mom, adventuring around Columbus, Ohio. She is a feminist, nerd, internet junkie, breastfeeding advocate, and doesn't like writing author bios. Emma blogs inconsistently at

Taking the Single Biggest Risk Out Of Nurseries -- S Post

Following years of tragic stories regarding the risks of blinds and children, it's no surprise to see that many parents are absolutely terrified about the dangers of these systems with their own little ones. Fortunately, the blinds industry has reacted accordingly and has developed products which are much safer. However, for peace of mind at least, let's take a look at just how the nursery can be made completely safe around the windows.

To start with, let's give a special mention to cordless blinds. Forget insulated shades, forget solar shades, forget the top-down bottom-up invention, the cordless blind is unquestionably the biggest development in this industry. This is the product which has virtually eradicated all of the risks that the press have unfortunately been made aware of over the years. Blinds no longer have to have dangling strings attached; they can be manipulated through other means which are much, much safer for nurseries.

Of course, not every blind in the land operates via such means. If you own one that falls into this category, it's time to read on. It's not the end of the world; blinds can be made much safer.
Firstly, always use each and every piece that the manufacturer supplies. A lot of people just like to get the blind up and running - forgetting about the small cleats that are at the bottom of the box. The truth is, these are life-saving devices. They might just seem to be there for convenience, but by tying the cords around these cleats you are immediately reducing the risk of a tragedy.

Next, we're onto blind stops. These are slightly less well-known, simply because they are hidden in the header of the blind. They are formed as a basic knot and are designed to stop the cords from being lost in the header. There are occasions where they are positioned incorrectly though, and this is where safety concerns occur. They can result in the cord dangling excessively and unsurprisingly, this is a major safety concern.

Another suggestion doesn’t even involve any parts that arrive with the blinds kit. Instead, it’s all about the layout of the nursery. During the initial months of your newborn’s life, this won’t be much of an issue. However, once they start to explore, you need to ensure that any furniture is firmly away from windows. Whether it’s a table, chest of drawers or anything else – just make sure it can’t be used as climbing frame. The aim is to make these windows as inaccessible as possible, just to reduce the risks again.

Fortunately, if you can follow the suggestions which have been mentioned, you almost eradicate the risks. It should be noted that while the preferred option for any nursery is a set of cordless blinds, if you take the appropriate steps blinds that function with standard cords can be safe too. It’s all about knowing how to use them, and keep the cords out of harm’s way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one -- Guest Post

I was a weird kid.

A shy kid. A sensitive kid.

A dreamer.

I knew instinctively, from early childhood on, that I was somehow different from nearly everyone around me. I was perplexed by people, and they, in turn, seemed somewhat perplexed by me.

I was fascinated by them, though. I watched them constantly, everywhere I went. I watched them walking around, making small talk with each other as they passed. I watched their gestures, their easy, spontaneous laughter. I studied their faces, picking apart their features, observing the way they smiled and the way their eyes danced while they talked to each other, sharing some small momentary connection with one another. They were beautiful creatures.

But I wasn’t one of them.


I didn’t know. But I was somehow certain of it.

I made a conscious decision to become one of them. Surely I could do that if I really tried. I was smart enough, and I knew it. I could figure this out with sheer willpower and brain power.

One of the first things I realized by my observations is that people didn’t like smart, though. At least not in girls. My brother was smart and he was practically worshipped. I was three years younger, painfully shy and awkward, and I wanted what he had: an easy air of confidence and the respect and admiration of everyone around him. He deserved it; he was awesome! I wanted it too, and was determined to get it.

Good grades came effortlessly to me. I loved standardized testing days, and looked forward to them all year. School was fairly boring – even with gifted/talented classes – but it gave me plenty of time to observe my peers and try my damnedest to emulate their behaviors. Somehow, though, I always fell short. I still replay my childhood social errors in my head, over and over, and berate myself for being “so stupid.” I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I could be simultaneously intelligent and stupid. And it seemed that people disapproved of me if I displayed either trait. I yearned to be average, yet I liked being smart, because it made me feel competent in a world that was confusing and overwhelming. However, the smarter I appeared, the less people liked me. Well, the teachers liked me….the children, not so much. I made a few good friends over the years who accepted me, guided me, and even came to appreciate my weirdness. The rest of the kids, by and large, treated me with a mixture of mild curiosity and contempt. They called me things like “bookworm,” “geek,” and “schoolie.” They teased me for being horrifically inept at all things phys ed-related, for being “gullible,” and for the way I used to bite my nails and the skin on my fingertips until they were raw and bloody.

I kept trying though. Oh, lord, did I try to fit in. I’d choose a girl I admired – a cool, confident girl – and try to become her. I’d emulate everything from her clothing to her mannerisms and speech. I made an effort to tone down my use of big words while speaking to peers. It was almost physically painful to do so. In class, I knew just about every answer to the teacher’s questions, but I made a “rule” for myself: I could only raise my hand for every 6th question. I spent my school days sitting at my desk, daydreaming, humming tunes to myself, watching kids and counting questions, sitting on my hand to avoid it automatically shooting into the air with each of the teacher’s queries.

I had the typical “pedantic speech” of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, a true “little professor.” At age one, I could speak in full sentences, yet I did not walk until 17 months. My mother said she thought I could have walked earlier, but I just too stubborn and scared to try (yep, that sounds about right). Even as a baby, I was not comfortable with change or trying new things. I ate basically NOTHING, which was a major source of contention in our family throughout my childhood. I knew that my “picky” eating habits (which I now know is actually an eating disorder called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) were causing my parents to tear their hair out. I was also keenly aware that my entire extended family was raising their collective eyebrows and wondering why my parents weren’t force-feeding me ham or the assortment of terrifying, mayonnaise-laden salads at holiday parties. I wanted to please my family so much, but it wasn’t enough to make me overcome my significant sensory issues and try new foods. Still, to this day, my diet is quite limited. I basically survive on assorted cheeses. My eating habits have only improved marginally since I was that little girl feeling disapproval every time I couldn’t eat what was served for dinner.

My childhood wasn’t all bad. In fact, in many ways, it was great. I may have been different, but I was definitely loved. My parents were unknowingly doing all the right things: consistency, schedules, and routines were big in my family. My social life may have been tumultuous, but I had stability and support at home. Dinner was at 5:00 pm sharp every single day. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and kept a nice, tidy home. She and I were close. I think she was unsure how to handle my intense sensitivity and frequent emotional outbursts, but she understood me in a way that no one else could. I think she is somewhat of a “dreamer” herself.

Things completely fell apart when my parents got divorced, right at the time I was approaching adolescence, when the social stakes get higher. I needed support more than ever before, and there was none to be found. I’m not sure I would have made it through middle school without the help of a very supportive guidance counselor. I felt….simply lost. I didn’t know exactly who I was yet, but I knew without a doubt that I was a failure. A defective person. I had tried SO HARD to be like everyone else, and I had failed. Effort and intellect weren’t enough.

It all came to a head at age 14, when I made the decision I had been seriously considering for four years. I decided to kill myself.

I rummaged through our medicine cabinet and found several bottles of prescription pills. One said in bold capital letters: “DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL.” “Perfect,” I thought, as I raided the liquor cabinet, took out my mom’s signature bottle of store-brand Light Vodka, and mixed it with orange soda pop. I brought all my supplies up to my room, and shook the pills out into three neat piles on the white dresser that used to reside in my pepto-pink little girl bedroom, but was now in a run-down house owned by my mom’s second husband.

Before I started popping the pills in groups of threes and washing them down with swigs of my vodka drink, I set my alarm clock for 6:30 AM. I thought that if this suicide attempt didn’t work, I’d better be prepared to get up and go to school in the morning, just like any other weekday. As silly as that action sounds….it saved my life. The next morning, my brother heard my alarm blaring incessantly and found me in bed, unconscious. The doctors later told my mom that if I hadn’t been found when I was, I wouldn’t have made it. Thank goodness for my compulsion for routines!

I’ve come a long, long way since that incident. That was my darkest moment, and although there were many other dark times in my life after that, they paled in comparison to that singular act of complete desperation and despair at age 14. Still, I didn’t quite find myself until I was 32…

You see, I’d had a daughter, and she was like me. She was different too.

She was a weird kid.

A sensitive kid.

A dreamer.

Her eyes shone bright like sunbeams. She was different, yes, but in a magnificent, magical way. And I saw myself in her.

I found myself through her.

We dream together now.

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"Amber Appleton Torres" is a stay at home mother of three, the eldest two of whom are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After their diagnoses, she realized she is on the spectrum as well, and got her own Asperger's diagnosis. She blogs about her family's journey at

Friday, April 17, 2015

Graduation Season: a primer for parents whose kids are headed to (loud intake of breath) college -- guest post

These days, kids “graduate” a lot. Cap and gown ceremonies mark the exits from  kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school. But no graduation is as life-altering in its high and lows as the big one: high school. This clammy, hormone-lined passageway, celebrated in movies and songs, is both feared and longed for by students and parents alike. And with good reason.

As a teacher of 80+ college-bound AP Literature students, I see the senior year as a recognizable pattern. At Parents Night in the fall, I try to warn parents about the roller coaster ride they are about to take. But generalities only go so far when you have such diversity in senior students! There’s the girl who gets into multiple Ivy League schools and spends the spring jetting around to various admitted-student events, all while keeping her grades up. She basically glows in the dark. There’s the boy having a nervous breakdown and can barely pass senior year over anxiety about his girlfriend going to college in a different part of the country. There’s the party dude headed to a huge university to join a fraternity of young men exactly like himself in order to strengthen his fortress of homogeneous privilege, thus lessening his fear of learning how to cope with human difference.  There’s the budding theatre major who just KNOWS she is going to be the one to break through and make this passion a real career.  There’s the “signed” athlete, experiencing a peak of exultation that may not be repeated ever, despite his dreams of what lies ahead in college sports. And these are just a few of the senior stories I watch unfold. There are as many narratives as there are graduates, and some don’t have any kind of goal or plan yet. Which is really OK.

Let’s face it—high school is a bubble, and they are about to bust out, come what may. Graduation cards all scream, “Follow your dreams!” and “The sky is the limit!” True, it’s a fantastic milestone. But the future is not a slam dunk. And parents need to know this.

Everyone wants to imagine that their child will LOVE college life and everything will fall into place. But about half the time, that dreamy dream does not play out. And really, how could it? Despite a carefully considered decision, these kids are still very plastic, forming creatures according to brain development experts. So here are a few hard but true things to keep in mind as you get ready to shove your golden young bird out of the nest.

College is a big bunch of personal freedom. We all know this. But the fact is that many kids will not deal well with sudden self-regulation. Kids who have been in charge of their own getting-up-and-out regimen in the morning fare better than most, but it’s still a shock to the system. Nobody to nag you to do homework before fun. Nobody to stock the fridge if you missed dining hall hours. Nobody to care if you come home or not.  Which brings me to the next thing:

College is dangerous. Yes, it really is. Drink-spiking, drunk driving, full on peer-encouraged alcohol poisoning (and serious abuse of other substances), and plenty, plenty of rape culture. Despite the discrediting of the infamous Rolling Stone story of rape at UVA, this is a shockingly pervasive issue all over this land. Misogyny and the dehumanizing of young women is probably more intense in various pockets of American college campuses than anywhere in western culture. It’s hard for the good guys in the crowd too—they feel incredible pressure to join in the fun, whether it’s sexist (or racist) trash talk or worse. This grimness is worth another post entirely, but trust me on this one. If they experience this part of college life, and many will, your kids will probably never tell you the unvarnished truth, because it would make you cry.

Alternate reality: Some kids find their people early, even without the benefit of paid social networks like Greek houses. They form life-long friendships and steer clear of disastrous choices. Hurrah! But they are living in the same petri dish as the others. The culture is unavoidable. Either way, don’t hover. DON’T. They have to figure shit out without you.
Exclusion: If your kid gets sick, pay attention. You might have to swoop in. Campus health centers are notoriously lame. My daughter went to hers when desperately ill during her second semester and was offered either a pregnancy test or narcotic pain killers. I had to bring her home to get the triple threat diagnosis of tonsillitis, strep, and MONO. Yikes.   

College will make them different. A year from now, you may hardly recognize your higher ed scholar. Some boys get extremely scruffy and unkempt.  For girls, the weight thing is big. Don’t comment. Gain or lose, the decisions that follow are not always the best, as in “let’s only do SHOTS because it’s less calories than beer or wine.” (Yes, the drinking factor seems to be a given. The question is what kind.) They experiment with styles and personas. I moved my daughter into her freshman dorm with computer cords, cleaning supplies, notebooks, and a poster of the Eiffel Tower. On move-out day in May I carried a chocolate fountain, rose-patterned cowboy boots, and sexy bras I had no part in purchasing. 

But they will also change politically and socially, and THAT is some excitement, people. Sophomore year Thanksgiving dinner is often the scene for shocking revelations. Don’t get hot under the collar. This deliberate separation from you is a healthy part of becoming themselves. Love them for it. And warn Grandma.

They might F-ing HATE college. 
Well, it happens. It might be the wrong place at the wrong time--no way to know in advance. They might transfer, take time out, quit and get a job. They will learn, whether they are in college or not. This is huge, crucial figuring-out time, and some kids take longer than others, and there is nothing particularly magical about the year 18. You’ll do yourself and your child a favor if you can be at least kind of OK with this rootless period of questioning and ennui.  Don’t get in the way if you can help it. On the other hand, do not let them languish forever living the life of young idle royalty in your home. The more personal responsibility, the better. And the more honesty about all issues above, the better.

Wallow in all the “lasts.” These final days of your child’s at-home adolescence are like fitful dreams. They will be vivid and ephemeral. Your kid will plan endless “last chances” to get together with this or that friend as they take flight, one by one, for brand new territory. And when they are gone, you will be OK. It’s a tough passage; the emotion you will feel is the sister of grief. It flares and wanes and finally changes into a quiet star that burns with nostalgia, intermittent fear, and joy.

But even if it hits you like a spear to the heart, even if this is the last chick out of the nest, keep reminding yourself that you would not have it otherwise. It’s a great time to sit still and think about your own sweet life in this new reality. Where will you put all that energy you have beamed into your progeny for almost two decades? Savor the satisfaction of a job well done; congratulations are in order. Breathe in the freedom. Get ready for a personal renaissance. You are graduating, too.


Susan Lilley is a Florida native. Her work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Slipstream, Sweet, and American Poetry Review, among other journals.  She is the 2009 winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and her chapbook, Night Windows, won the Yellow Jacket Press contest for Florida poets. Her 2012 chapbook Satellite Beach is from Finishing Line Press. Her MFA is from University of Southern Maine. She lives and teaches in central Florida and blogs at The Gloria Sirens.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Creating Great Workspaces at Home -- Guest Post

More and more of the workforce is telecommuting or working at home at least part of the time.  There’s lots of benefits to this: it reduces your commute time and likewise your environmental impact, it can allow for more productive and uninterrupted work time, can save on relocation costs, and a host of others.  Telecommuting is a huge boon for parents who need and value the schedule and workplace flexibility.

But how do you make sure your work-from-home time is as productive as it can be?  It starts with a dedicated, well-designed workspace.

Ask yourself some questions to begin determining what kind of space will meet your needs best.  Where are you at your most productive? Do you need lots of natural light? Do you meet with clients or business partners in your home office? Will you need space for special equipment or filing cabinets? What is your budget?

While larger homes mean that many of us can set up whole rooms as home offices, not everyone has that luxury.  Check out a variety of home workspaces below and determine what might work best for you!

New Workspace / Nick Keppol / CC BY 2.0

Workspace number 1: Dedicated home office

If you have a spare room that you can use for your office, you can set up a great workspace sanctuary.  Choose paint colors that will inspire you to be most productive in your work- shades of blue and green work well.

With a dedicated room, you can enjoy quiet for conference calls, and easily use the space to meet with clients and others. You can keep things as minimal or as cozy or cluttered as you like.  If you’re lucky, you can use a space with lots of natural light- or if you prefer a more den-like workspace, the basement may be an option for you.

No matter what your space, you’ll want an ergonomic desk chair to support you while you’re working, or you’ll want an anti-fatigue mat if you use a standing desk.

Workspace number 2: Secretary or small writing desk in a spare corner

Do you lack a spare room to set up your home office? Perhaps a secretary desk or rolltop writing desk would be a good option or you!  Secretaries are great for tucking away your work when you’re doing other things, and have a small footprint, while allowing you to maintain a dedicated workspace.  Add your laptop and you’re good to go to get your work done.

Workspace number 3: Shared office

Maybe you and your spouse or partner can work well in the same office, and you can save space that way! Shared offices are a great way to keep workspaces separate without taking up as much living space.  Consider a double desk or a built-in workspace, and play rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets to sit by the window.

Home Office /Panjanfirst / CC SA 3.0

Workspace number 4: Office/Guest room

A combined office and guest room allows for efficient use of space, without sacrificing a place for guests to stay.  Consider a murphy bed to keep the sleeping area tucked up and out of the way during your workdays. Portable screens can also help to divide space and allow privacy and comfort for your guests if you need to access your workspace while they are staying with you.

Guest Bedroom / Adriane Leithauser / CC BY 2.0

I work from home one day a week myself, and my workspace is an office I share with my husband. What is your home workspace like? Share your photos in the comments!


When she’s not making play-doh spaceships with her two young sons, Jenny Hill, CPLP creates engaging, accessible, and effective learning experiences, so learners can reach their potential and do their most meaningful work. You can contact her on LinkedIn at

Carpet vs Hardwood Floor for Newborn Babies -- S Post

First time parents might feel overwhelmed as they try to figure out how things should be done. There are so many decisions to be made that when it comes down to flooring it can be too much. Deciding whether you want carpet vs hardwood floor for newborn babies is something that many parents spend countless hours trying to figure out. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Hardwood Floor

Easy to Clean

One of the best things about hardwood floor if you have a newborn baby is that it is easy to clean. Many people do not realize just how simple it is to clean hardwood. Plus carpet can have lingering dirt and grime that goes beneath the top layer of fibers. With hardwood parents do not have to worry about this as their babies get older and start to roll and crawl on the floors.

Last Forever

Carpets are known to stain, fade, and wear out. With proper care carpet will last several years but over time it can look very old. When it comes to hardwood floors they can last for much longer. In fact some historic homes have hardwood floors that are more than 100 years old. So when you choose hardwood, you are choosing something that is going to last you a long time. Some hardwood floors are even made to last a lifetime.


Wood floors offer a classic and timeless look. Wood flooring is never going to be out of style so there is no worry about updates or having to replace the floor in a few years because it is something that you hate. In fact there are many different versions of hardwood flooring so you can pick out exactly what you want.

Offers A Rich Look
Many people will love the fact that hard wood flooring looks rich. Some people even think that homes with hardwood floors look way more expensive than homes with carpeting.

Natural and Organic

Many different types of hardwood floor are natural and all organic. They come from organic materials and are non-electromagnetic. Many doctors from around the world recommend that you use hardwood flooring in your home when you are having a new infant.

Advantages of Carpet

Less Likely to Fall or Slip

Many people complain that they slip or fall more on hardwood floor. It is true that hardwood floor can be slick. One of the major advantages of carpet is that you never have to worry about slipping and falling on the flooring.

Help Keep Air Clean

Carpeting can actually help to keep the air clean. It can trap dust particles, dander, and pollen. So it can actually help purify air which can benefit people who are severe asthmatics or have severe allergies.

In the past people sometimes chose carpeting because it was more affordable. Today with so many competitive companies out there, there are many hardwood options that are affordable as well. One great thing to consider, if you are looking at whether or not you would like to have hardwood or carpet for your newborn baby, is that you can actually get free samples of hardwood flooring to make sure that you get what you love.

Choosing flooring is just one battle that you will face as new parents. In fact there are a ton of additional things that you will ask yourself from the type of diapers that you are going to use to the car seat and everything in between. Some families even struggle with knowing whether their baby needs a schedule or if they should choose to a go a different route and not have a schedule.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The spirit world is waiting for a good way! -- Guest Post

When I was 11 years old, I had my first paranormal experience. At that time, I had no idea what the word paranormal meant. In fact, I didn’t even believe that there could be spirits or “ghosts” lurking on this planet. Some may call it naivety; I call it innocence. I have always been the type to want to learn more about the occult. At an early age, I was mesmerized by events surrounding Halloween and the mayhem that accompanies it. The first item that drew my attention was the Oujia board, as I had seen it used in my horror movies of the time. Unbeknownst to me, my mom took me on a surprise trip to Toys R’ Us. As I was skimming through the board games, I came across the Oujia board. Who knew that Milton-Bradley offered divination tools, but I knew I had to have it. It took me weeks to save up, but it was worth it. I remember the checkout lady giving me a weird look as I was smiling from ear-to-ear, but I had no care in the world. I knew that I would be using it as soon as I got home!

The first thing I did when I went home, was call my cousin. She always talked about the Ouija board, but she never would have thought that I would have it. As soon as she found out, we organized a date and time to try it out. It just so happened that she would be visiting me that night, so the excitement was even higher. Later that night, my cousin and I opened the box for the first time. We both sat on the floor, and glared at the box. Inside was this mysterious board, full of letters of numbers. On the side was the piece that glided over the board, of course by itself because we would never push it with our fingers on purpose. With everything setup, we turned out the lights. I got my father’s flashlight to add some lighting on the board, and we began to ask questions. It didn’t take long before we realized that we weren’t alone. The flashlight began to trickle its luminosity, and the gliding piece was circling hectically on the board. Freaked out, we stared at each other. That’s when it happened. As I leaned back against the wall, I felt a hand or arm against my back. All I could feel was this chilly presence around me. My room became extremely dark, and cold. My cousin and I began crying, and ran down the stairs. Out of panic, I jumped half way down the staircase and almost broke my elbow. The adrenaline scared the crap out of me, but it also confirmed to me that this was something worth investigating in the future.

Spirits, or “ghosts”, have long been a topic of discussion whether it is good or bad. For centuries, communication to the other side has been explored through various mediums. Societies throughout the world have considered this area of life taboo, but there always existed those who were blessed with the ability to communicate with the dead. Sadly, this also has led people to abuse this gift and make money off those seeking closure or guidance from deceased friends and relatives. Despite all of this, Hollywood still continues to make huge profits of paranormal investigations via reality television and film. In my case, it took years for me to develop a peaceful connection with the Spirit world. As a practicing Hindu Pagan, my spiritual path is combination of traditional Hindu deity worship intertwined with Wicca. Throughout the years, this path has enriched my sensitivity to spirits and has opened channels of communication. Through meditation and fervent desire, I allowed my spirit to connect to their world through many tests of personal life challenges. It hasn’t been easy, but God and Goddess above (and their various avatars throughout time), have finally provided me the way.

As an adult in my mid-30s, this paranormal fever is stronger than ever. It took me many years to finally dedicate time and money into exploring this field. Researching techniques and tips on paranormal investigation on YouTube, I discovered my “role model” in the field. Steve Huff, from Huff Paranormal, has been a guiding light in redefining myself as an amateur, but avid, paranormal investigator. His videos contain tremendous evidence, much so that he is the most valid investigator at the moment. As a result of his work, he was able to get the attention of another paranormal investigator and mobile application developer, Anthony Sanchez from Both teamed up, and created the first, authentic “ghost box” named the SCD-1. This tool has been a blessing, because it has allowed an amateur like me to explore the Spirit world head on. My first session produced amazing results, while my second session confirmed the validity of the device through Spirit communication. As a result of such promising results, I have decided to visit various landmarks around Gainesville, Florida and surrounding areas with the SCD-1. North Florida is now my official paranormal playground, and I can’t wait to communicate with those on the “other side”.

Apart from being an amateur paranormal investigator, Carlos Alberto Soria is the main writer for the blog, “THE LOS PERSPECTIVE: The Journey and Adventures of a Hindu Pagan”. In addition, he is the main content creator for LOSMEDIASTUDIOS.COM, a start-up, online media studio located in Gainesville, FL. While he loves helping students succeed during the day at the University of Florida, his main passion is film, photography, and digital arts. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ask a teacher: What do teachers really want for Teacher Appreciation Week?

Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner. Yes, I get a whole week. Be jealous. In addition to this, the end of the school year is fast approaching. Unless you were buried in Snowmageddon at some point this summer, in which case you have a few months to go. Whatever the reason, the desire to give a gift to your child's teacher make suddenly strike you. But what on earth should you give them?

First, please know that this is not expected and you don't need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on your child's teacher. I know money is tight and things get hectic. It's very rare for me to get a gift from my students considering the population that I serve. Honestly, a nice email or phone call from a parent would mean the world to me and other teachers if you don't have the cash for a gift. With that said, if you want to give a gift, here are some ideas.

The Practical

Pens/Pencils - Your kids might be well stocked, but not every kid is. I spend a lot of money every year on writing utensils for my students and very rarely get them back. While decorated pencils are cute, they often clog up the pencil sharpener, so plain pencils are best. In the younger grades, crayons and markers are also appreciated.

Paper - Whatever paper is used for your child's grade, from tablet to college rule, is beneficial. Like writing utensils, I spend a freakish amount of money every year on looseleaf for my students. Think in the hundreds. Yes, really.

Stickers - Kids love stickers. Even my 16 year old sophomores go nuts for stickers. Every teacher can find a use for stickers.

Classroom Library Books - I have a few hundred classroom library books, most of which I bought myself. Even in younger grades, teachers are in need of new and interesting books for students.

Post Its - I can never have enough. I like fun ones, but basic yellow is fine, too. Basically every size is used.

The Personal

Mugs - I can never have enough mugs. Seriously. Most teachers drink some kind of hot beverage, be it tea or coffee. I'm also taking them home on accident or stuck with a dirty mug. Travel and regular mugs are appreciated.

Notepads - I send notes to parents and students. Yes, even in this digital age. If you have the time and inclination to get a nice notepad, personalized or not, for your child's teacher, it will definitely be used.

Water bottle/Cup - I drink freakish amounts of water. Those cute plastic cups with straws and tops are a big trend amount teachers right now. Most teachers spend a lot of time talking and keeping your throat well hydrated is very important.

Hand Sanitizer - I go through buckets of this. I love your little angels, but they have a lot of germs.

The Gift Card Route

Store Closest to School - See what store is closest to your school and choose a card from there. I never shop of Meijer normally, but it's right down the street from school. A gift card there would work the best because it's literally minutes from school for me. See what's close to your school.

Organize It - If you have the time and inclination, see if you can organize a card from any parents that want to chip in. Maybe you were going to give $10 and another was going to give $25 and a third wanted to give $20, but the three of you combined can get an easy to use single card instead of three separate cards.

Restaurant - If you find out what restaurant your child's teacher enjoys the most, this is a nice, thoughtful gift. If you're not sure on their favorite restaurant, go back to a store card. Store cards can be used on personal purchases or classroom purchases. A restaurant card won't work for every teacher. I don't have the time to go out with my own kids and busy teaching and coaching schedule, so a store card would work better for me.

The Food

Individual Snacks - Things like granola bars are a huge hit. They're portable and have a decent shelf life. Individual snacks are great for teachers because we often get 20 minute lunches and sometimes don't even get to eat during then. A quick snack during class change is great for us.

Candy! - I freaking love candy. Remember smaller is better. I've gone through a huge 1lb bag of chocolate before. I have no self control, so a smaller package is better.

Hot Beverages - Find out how your child's teacher gets their caffeine or hot pick me up. Maybe they like tea or coffee. Maybe they have a Keurig or a traditional coffee pot. Whatever way they take their hot beverage, they always need more.

Homemade - I'm always down for your homemade Chocolate Zucchini Bread or whatever. Bring it on! Just remember dietary restrictions and let us know if it's been around peanuts or whatever.

Whatever you decide on, you can't go wrong by showing your child's teacher that you thought of them. I'm always grateful no matter what gift I get!

Emilie is a high school English teacher with two children. She holds a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. After completing student teaching at an urban, Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, she was placed at another PLA school in the same school district. Her Ask a Teacher column can also be found over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What happens when a bank executive, an attorney and a CHOC vice president eat only food from a South County Outreach pantry? Answer: Nothing

At this point, I have written extensively about my mere brush against the fear of possibly facing poverty during the economic crash.

We struggled for two years while my husband looked for work and we took care of our twin babies best we could while managing a house we could no longer afford. We used government programs to supplement our meager income until we could afford to get off.

But what we never did? What we never did was face poverty itself. Yes, there are many in the middle class who are experiencing very scary changes in their lives. They are needing assistance, they are swallowing massive debt, they are forced to sell off their belongings, they can no longer afford the lifestyles they once had, even though those lifestyles may not have been anything close to resembling lavish to begin with.

They are like us. Scared of the very real possibility of poverty, but not poor. Not poor.

Those who actually experience poverty exist in a world that the 'new poor' have yet to have to deal with. My mother grew up in a world where if one of the children lost the week's paycheck, her entire family didn't eat that week. So many of my friends have to choose between keeping the lights on or feeding themselves. Moms go without meals so they can clothe their children.

That is poverty. And that is not what I experienced. And it is certainly not what three high-powered families experienced when they agreed to eat nothing but food from a local food bank for three whole days.

The rules were simple. No grocery shopping. They must eat what they get from the pantry only. Except not, because they could supplement with whatever food they already had in their pantry.

This, like all "I witnessed the other side for a week" stories, is disgusting to me.

First, the operators of the food bank talk about how lucky these families were that there was so much fresh produce that particular week. They said sometimes there's not nearly so much good food available.

Which means that those rich families took fresh food, a rare and hard to come by delicacy, from people who are actually hungry. Not for three days, or months, but as a life.

Second, three days of pantry food plus food they already have in their homes is not 'seeing how the other side lives'. It's a voyeuristic vacation, swathed in privilege and entitlement. It's insulting to see an article that starts out with spoiled milk and talks about a child asking her friends to pack extra crackers in her lunch and being worried that people will judge her for her different school lunches. It's insulting not because those things didn't happen, or don't happen on a regular basis for those who are truly in need. It's not insulting because of its attempt to raise awareness amid those doing better in their lives. It's insulting because taking the time to write about a few well-off families and their experiment with poverty for a few days makes a mockery of the very real struggles other people are going through day in and day out throughout their entire lives. As if this experience would make any difference at all.

You know what would have made a difference? If those families had pledged to donate money or time to the food bank they utilized for this event. If they had campaigned for better programs to help those truly in need rather than just sit back and say, 'wow, all those people are right! Poverty sucks.' then wiped their brows in relief over the knowledge that they were successful enough on their own to afford milk whenever they want or need it.

As it stands now, this is just another embarrassing experiment in classism.


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