I am currently blogging about everything. Jump in where you are and thanks for coming by!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Improvisations

So, Easter somehow or another crept up on me this year. I managed to get some cute things for the kids' baskets while they were at a birthday party, but I didn't buy actual baskets until the Saturday before the big day. When I inquired at the grocery store where I was buying the fixings for our Easter feast if they had any egg dyeing kits I was met with an amused laugh and "No."

When we got home my husband and I used a cheesecake recipe from YumSugar to make a classic New York style cheesecake. I also had some strawberries that needed using up so I made a basic compote with them, the general idea for compotes is to combine berries, water, lemon juice, sugar and a wee bit of cornstarch in a pan and heat on medium until thickened. For bigger berries, cut them in half and then proceed. We poured the cheesecake mixture into the spring form pan and realized to our horror that it was WAAAAAAY too full, so we pulled some of the mixture out and put it into buttered ramekins which we then baked as miniature cheesecakes alongside our main cake. Winning!

Saturday night was our night to dye eggs, but I think I mentioned before that I had forgotten to get any of the dye kits? I hadn't panicked about it because I thought, "Oh, I have food coloring at home." Yeah, turns out I was down to red and green food coloring, which I made the usual way, 1 tsp of white vinegar in ceramic ramekins, 1/4 tsp dye and 1/2 C warm water. My daughter Sarah suggested we try using orange Gatorade to dye the eggs, so we added a heaping spoonful of the powdered drink mix to our water and vinegar mixture. Perhaps unsurprisingly this worked very well. I cannot say the same for yellow Jello mixture. It looked great in the cup, but didn't dye the egg at all. I crushed some blueberries in a small amount of water and that gave the eggs a sort of lavender/grey color that was very beautiful. I taught the kids that we could use a white crayon to mark the egg with their initials or to make designs, which gave me the opportunity to teach them the term "wax resistance". Raspberry tea makes a lovely color in the mug, but didn't give the eggs much color. Yellow or purple onion skins make a fantastic egg dye, but I was out of the right color onions. Egg kits usually come with little paper collars that you place the eggs on to dry. I improvised some by cutting a paper towel tube into rings. After the eggs were dry, the kids colored on them with food coloring markers and they looked great.

My husband and I had tickets to go see Jersey Boys on Saturday night, and bless that baby sitter, she did a fantastic job helping the kids clean up the egg dyeing mess. All we needed to do was get the kitchen in order and set and decorate the table for breakfast. We used stuff we had around the house and tried to make things look Spring-y and festive. The stuffed animals are pulled right out of the playroom and placed in a basket we already had.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Open Letter to the Makers of 7 Pair Packs of Women's Underwear

To The Manufacturer/Packagers of Women's Underwear,

Dear Sirs or Madams,

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a recent purchaser of a 7 pair package of women's underwear from your esteemed company. I chose your underwear because it came in a pleasing array of cheerful and bright colors, –raspberries, lemon yellows, a tempting tangerine! – that reminded me of italian ice flavors one might purchase of a summer day. I thought long and hard about my purchase, standing there behind the red shopping trolley, whilst other shoppers parted around me like fish in a busy brook. Other packages of panties beckoned, promising the dull but reliable joys of beige underpants that don't show through sheer fabrics, basic black with a no-roll waistband. A 5 pack of flowered panties also seemed promising, but their flowers, bud-like and pastel, seemed juvenile. With a rush of thrilling abandon I gaily threw your 7 pair package into the cart with my cereal and sandwich baggies and made my purchases, my heart gently floating skyward like a child's wayward balloon. The promise of new and pretty panties beckoned even as Spring seemed to recede into an unreachable horizon.

When I got home I hurried to the sanctity of my boudoir to avail myself of your shrink wrapped glories. The raspberries, the tangerine, the sunny lemon yellow, all there, glowing with a promise to lift the chill hand of this eternal winter. But beneath them? Oh! Shame and ignominy! 2 pairs of insipid "zebra" print by way of a child's scrawling and 2 pairs of a muddy, muddled print one can only describe as duck hunter camo! Should I choose to stand nude, saving my panties, in front of a duck blind in Arkansas, surely I will blend in! One assumes I will now need to fashion the tangerine panties into a tiny jacket to alert the hunters to my presence. Or perhaps you did have my 37 year old, suburban mother of two self in mind, perhaps in case of HOME INVASION I am to strip to panties and stand motionless in front of my potted ficus in the living room! The intruders will be unaware of my stealthy, though chilly, presence.

The zebra print pants were clearly meant for when I go on safari, as I am wont to do! I am forever trekking off to the savannah and as I pack I think to myself, IF ONLY I HAD ZEBRA PANTIES! THEN MY DREAM OF BEING EATEN BY LIONS WHILST IN MY ALTOGETHERS COULD COME TRUE.

I have few material joys in life, underwear packagers and manufacturers, my "disposable" income going to things like dental appointments and field trip fees, but one of the few indulgences we allow ourselves, the parents, the overworked, the underpaid, is a pair of well-fitting and good looking underpants. Panties that allow us the illusion of a carefree and energetic existence. Do not hide your off-brand factory-second bargain basement panty patterns in with the cute ones! This is the not the kind of surprise that delights. This is upsetting and disconcerting like a surprise pregnancy, or a surprise audit.

No thank you, sirs and/or madams, no thank you!

Good day.

I said GOOD DAY!



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Little Celebrations

It's easy to go all out for the big holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, but what about all of those smaller holidays that lend life a little sparkle, a little fun? It's been a long cold winter, maybe make Valentine's day a little special?

The above is the breakfast table setting we made last year. My husband and I stayed up after the kids were in bed and at their place settings we placed the gifts their grandparents sent them, plus small boxes of chocolate from us. The garland on the light fixture was leftover from Christmas, I dug the doilies out of a cabinet, the place mats are just red round placemats we have. We served normal breakfast foods, but the decor made it fun. My Mom used to leave our valentines outside our door so we saw them first thing in the morning. As February 14th is also my Mom's birthday we celebrated all day long from breakfast chocolate, to a special treat in our lunch boxes, to a nice dinner at home we would all make together. Maybe that's where I got my love of celebrating all the holidays?

We did a similar thing for St. Patrick's day as well.

We made rainbows out of assorted fruit and we served it with MAGIC yogurt. To make a fun color changing yogurt, simply place a few drops of food coloring in the bottom of a bowl. Gently spoon some vanilla yogurt over the food coloring, when your child stirs the yogurt, it turns green, just like magic! The centerpiece was a package of store bought hot cross buns, the leprechauns used some doll house furniture in the middle of them and had their OWN breakfast and then they left a trail of rainbow colored sprinkles leading out the door!

The bunting on the light fixture is some rainbow colored flags leftover from a summer party. We also used some old "Hello, My Name Is" name tags to invent Leprechaun names for all of us. My own was Patty O'Furniture, I think my husband was Jack O'Lantern. We had a few scattered "Pot O' Gold" chocolate pieces on the table as well. Very fun.

The table settings just take a few minutes the night before, we use almost all things we already have in the house, just buying maybe a few paper plates or special napkins. What do you have planned for yourself or your family this year?

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Synopsis of Musicals I Have Never Seen*

* Since conceiving this post I have now seen the musical Once. My synopsis stands.

Spring Awakening: written by that one guy, who's song you liked for a hot minute back in the 90's, this musical features people who all dress like Wednesday Addams and seems to be about teenage angst and possibly diphtheria.

Pippin: this, just based on songs I've heard, is about a circus who decided to stage something like Hamlet, possibly Macbeth. Everyone may be insane. There's an old lady who sings about being young who might be Gertrude or might run the circus/madhouse. Fun Fact: A guy on American Idol once picked the song "Corner of the Sky" at random to sing on Broadway Night. Additional Fun Fact: All the songs in this musical were picked at random.

The Boys from Syracuse: Confusingly, not about the Orangemen, or is it? Some sopranos sing about prostitution using a bird metaphor. May take place in ancient New York.

42nd Street: The original location of every song your Grandma knows and sings when you drive somewhere for lunch.

Anything Goes: Unless Grandma was a bigger fan of this musical.

The Boy From Oz: Wolverine is just fucking with us now. Or Hugh Jackman plays a gay man who was playing a straight man. Fan fiction for theatre queens.

Once: the musical to see if you'd really rather be at an open mic night. Soundtrack fits seamlessly into coffee house back ground music. You need to write a sad poem in your diary.

Candide: the musical written to placate every budding drag queen at your high school so they had an excuse to work the word gay into a conversation. If you loved that kid you will love this musical I think. Practice your High E's.

Chess: definitely about chess. And prostitution in Bangkok? God bless Murray Head. If you were a big fan of Mamma Mia you will be left wondering why they didn't do "Dancing Queen". Like you do at every musical.

Damn Yankees: baseball musical, may be loosely based on the Bad News Bears, features an escaped lunatic who sings in a "sexy" baby voice and terrifies a professional athlete with her stylized hip thrusts.

Follies: about a haunted theatre, populated by the saddest humans on Earth. Their only joy comes from acting out old plays and praying for the sweet release of death. Do not listen while in treatment for depression.

In the Heights: West Side Story with actual Latinos, different neighborhood, no Polish gang members. Soundtrack fits seamlessly into a Zumba class if you're white.

Mexican Hayride: Why it gotta be Mexican? Is this like the jumping beans? Racist?

Nine: An Italian film director faces a midlife crisis, despite being surrounded by money, fame and beautiful women. Terrifying. True fact, I have only heard 3 songs from this musical.

Promises, Promises: is this a jukebox musical? Seems like every other song is from Lite FM. About love. Possibly might be the musicalization of a sitcom from the 70's.

Rent: The 90's happened. Some of us were bisexual. It seemed like a good time to be in a band. "5 thousand, six hundred, something-something minutes", will get stuck in your head.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let's Talk About Sex (To Our Babies?!)

We all have a story about how our parents spoke (or didn't speak!) to us about the birds and the bees, reproduction, the difference between boys and girls, "married love", um, sex. I am talking about sex here people. Hopefully we can all agree that sex is an important subject and one we can talk to our kids about openly, honestly and without a lot of embarrassment or shame. Or at least faking that we aren't embarrassed. I have a hilarious story about "the sex talk" that involves my mother. I was reading a Judy Blume book (GOD BLESS JUDY BLUME!) and I came across the word, "masturbation" and I asked my Mom what it meant. She turned beet red and stammered that it was just some thing that boys did.

I eventually just looked it up in the dictionary. Suddenly, some of the stuff I had been hearing at school was making more sense.

Today though, it seems a lot more complicated, we have to deal not just with playground talk but the vastness of the internet. We want to be open and honest, but protect their innocence, not over answer, protect them from predators, but not scare them to death. So today we are going to turn to my friend and sex educator Elizabeth Dilley.

Elizabeth is a UCC minister who served in a local congregation for nine years before accepting a call serving in the denominational setting. She has also served as a regional health educator for a Midwestern affiliate of one of the nation's largest reproductive health care providers. Elizabeth has led trainings for parents on how to communicate their values to their children, integrating sexuality and spirituality, as well as about a "zillion" classes on STIs, birth control and healthy sexual choices for children and youth of all ages. She is trained on a variety of human sexuality curricula. Today she is speaking for herself and not as a representative of the UCC or any other organization. She agreed to speak to me today as a friend and her answers are obviously informed by her faith, professional background, and her own experience as a parent of a (GORGEOUS, adorable!) toddler.

Thank you Elizabeth for speaking with me about this incredibly important topic, let's jump right in! When do you start talking about sex with your children?

Elizabeth Dilley: My goodness - this is such a complicated question. In some ways, we've been talking about sex literally since our child was born. In other ways, we never talk about sex. What I mean to say is, "talking about sex" is really a limiting frame to think about this. It's really a lot more about sexuality than sex, per se. Sex is all tied up with other values, experiences, and beliefs, and just as we can't separate the two in real life, it's best not to separate them when it comes to talking about them with your children.

The most important thing to remember is that as a parent, you are your child's primary sexual educator. They will learn from you from what you say, what you don't say, how you act around the topic, how you talk about your spouse/partner/co-parent (or all of the above), and what kind of shows you watch on TV or listen to on the radio. I always recommend that parents get clear about the values they want to communicate to their child, preferably before the child is born. Your children will take their cues from you! If you are religious, your religious beliefs probably tie into your beliefs about sexuality, and there's no need to try to separate the two.

For us, the values of mutuality, respect, sacrificial love, commitment, pleasure/delight, honesty, love, and monogamy are integral to our understanding of sexuality and the values we want to communicate to our child. We are progressive Christians, so we believe these values are central to couples, whether it is one man and one woman, two women, or two men. We are trying to raise a queer-affirming and trans*-competent child, too, so that comes out in our educating. (And while polyamory is not for us personally, we believe these values we endorse can be and certainly are present in poly relationships and we will do our best to speak honestly and fairly about them.)

Maybe you want to affirm that sex should only happen in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Maybe you want to affirm that sex is something fun and you want your child to really enjoy himself/herself, whether it's in the context of a relationship or a one-night stand. Maybe you want to affirm polyamory, or have your child grow up believing that same-sex couples are normal, or that the act of sex is only for procreation, or ..... Whatever your values are, take some time to think about what it is you want your child to learn, know, value and believe - keeping in mind that they may not grow up to share your values or beliefs. Once you as a parent (or as co-parents) are clear on the values you want to communicate to your child, it becomes a bit easier to figure out the age-appropriate ways to share those over time.

I also want to be clear that parents should agree on a strategy, even if it's unlikely that both parents (if both parents are active in rearing your child) have the same comfort levels in the actual talking about sex and sexuality. In our household, I'm both more knowledgeable, more comfortable, and more educated on the topic, so I'm the primary sexuality educator - but we both know that our child is learning from BOTH of us, and my spouse is very intentional about modeling healthy, open, compassionate and female-affirming sexuality.

This link provides a really helpful primer for talking about sexuality with your child: Planned Parenthood

But let's talk in more detail:

1. It's not just one talk - it's a regular, ongoing conversation that begins at birth. When we gave our child her first bath, we talked about each body part as we cleaned it - her head, her shoulders, her elbows, her chest, her back, her bottom, her vulva, her legs, her feet, her hands. We are vigilant about using correct medical terms, so babies don't grow in a woman's "tummy" but her "uterus." Of course, this also means that our toddler asked us this year, "Does Santa have a penis?" and she's been known to ask this about our friends and family members.

2. Know what your kid is really asking. "Where did I come from?" might be a question about childbirth. It might also be about adoption, or Toledo, or any number of things. "What do you mean?" can both buy you a little time to organize your thoughts and find out what they really want to know.

3. Remember - they will take their cues from you. If you are comfortable talking about it, or at least honest in expressing your discomfort, they will continue to ask from you. If you blow up or shut down the conversation, they will learn that sex and sexuality are shameful and maybe bad.

4. It's okay to say, "I don't know," or "I need a little more time to think about this before I answer." You can follow that up with, "Let's find the answer together," or "Can we talk about this at X time?" or even, "Let me find out more information."

5. I cannot stress enough that these conversations about "sex" are really conversations about "sexuality" and they often intersect with conversations about faith/belief, if you are religious. They also intersect with conversations about patriarchy, oppression, liberation, culture, history, hope, dreams, sensuality, etc. This PDF on the "circles of sexuality" may provide some context.

In one of the parent trainings I led, a parent who has very different values than I do expressed the ways she had talked with her children about sex. She described it as "sharing your body," which was a clear and concise way to communicate her family's values about what happens during sex, and she did it in a very positive and affirming way. There wasn't a lot of shame attached to this description and actually a lot of love and delight came through when she spoke in these terms. I was very impressed, and have been trying myself to think of a pithy way to express our own values to our growing child.

LLL: Thank you for sharing this with us Elizabeth! You have given me a lot to think about with how I talk with my kids and I feel a little better prepared! I look forward to this "ongoing conversation".


This is the first part of our interview with sex educator and mom Elizabeth Dilley! We will have parts two and possibly three coming to this blog soon. If you have questions or comments about having "the talk" or as we know now, a series of talks with your kids, please let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Laundry: The Neverending Story

I dislike housework, housekeeping, home keeping, chores, cleaning, straightening, organizing, putting away, whatever. It always feels like I am on an endless hamster wheel. Do the dishes, make the dinner, clear the table, do the dishes, repeat ad infintum. I married someone quite like me, he also would rather find something, anything else to do. This is a mixed blessing, because while neither of us is badgering the other person to pick up more or feeling resentful that the other person is more comfortable with mess, neither of us is actually leaping up from the couch to clean.

We got along okay in our mutual sloth until we had children. Children turn everything up to 11. We were both determined to do better and actually I think we have. We started small, with the laundry. First we bought a pink wood and cloth folding hamper for our daughter's room. She's 11 and still using the same hamper. I kept it next to her changing table near the closet. As I pulled the baby out of her tiny onesies and even tinier socks I would grab a bottle of stain treatment and hose down whatever messes she had accumulated. Then as I did laundry all I had to do was dump everything in the washing machine, and add the soap and hit start. This worked so well with her clothes that I started doing the same routine for my own clothes, getting them in the hamper, already stain treated, pockets emptied, turned right side out. My husband spontaneously bought some rubber sock rings and started pairing his socks before he put them in the wash. He puts clothes in the wash before he leaves for work, I make sure they go into the dryer when I get home with the kids, and then after they go to bed we fold the clothes. The folded clothes either get put on top of the dresser in the kid's room or left right outside their door. Our clothes get put into the dresser.

That doesn't sound like a lot but the routine took years to establish. We tried a lot of other things first. Having a specific laundry day, where we did all of the laundry at once. We tried getting the clothes washed and dried before work. We tried having one person do the laundry by themselves, we tried trading that job back and forth. Sometimes the laundry routine would get so insane we'd load the entire back of the car up with dirty clothes and drive to the laundromat with soap, bleach, and baskets and go and do all of the laundry in 2 hours using the super capacity machines. The upside to the 2 hour laundry marathon was that the laundromat was right next door to a Goodwill charity shop. As clothes came from the dryer that were too small, or were unwanted for any reason, we could bag them up and drop them off on the way home. The cost was astronomical, but at least we could begin again without climbing a slippery pile of dirty clothes I dubbed Mt. NeveRest.

The story flipped again when we lived in a place that didn't have a reliable dryer, but did have a large clothesline. I learned that if you want gleamingly white undershirts, dry them in the sun. Seriously, blinding whites. Sheets smell fanatic dried in the sun. Bathing suits and leotards and any garment that has a lot of stretch, will last forever getting line dried. I quit ever putting my bras in the dryer after that. They dry so quickly and they last forever! The hooks never snag other clothes in the dryer, nor do the underwires get bent.

We live in a new place now, same old routine, except the washer and dryer are in the garage and we hang clothes from the garage door tracks. The garage doors on this house were sealed off 30 plus years ago, but the tracks remained. Things that get hung up to dry include, all dresses, all bras, bathing suits, leotards, tights, pantyhose. Anything that has glitter or sequins on it. All of my husband's work shirts, all of his work pants, anything that is made in a "stretch fabric" anything very sheer or that has beadwork, or complicated embroidery. When I dry things in the dryer, I make sure what goes in the washer is compatible. Towels get washed together, jeans get washed together, bath mats and throw rugs get washed together. T-shirts and similarly weighted clothes get washed together. This way everything will dry in the same amount of time and it causes less wear and tear on your clothes. I am obsessed with removing the dryer lint. The girls like to throw it in the yard for the birds to make nests. Recently we saved our in-laws' dryer by going to the outside of the house and removing the cap on the dryer vent. It had become clogged with dryer lint, we pulled out 2 feet of backed up lint from the vent and now their dryer does the job in less than half the time. It was getting to be a serious fire hazard. If your dryer starts to take longer and longer to dry I suggest you locate your vent and check!

Everything we wash is separated by color, all darks and reds go together unless I have enough reds to have their own load. Light colored clothes get their own wash as do whites. I wash everything in cold water, it saves energy and money. The only exception to that is bed sheets and whites, they get washed on hot water. I use very little bleach, but I do use it on things like white socks or t-shirts. I have taken to using the detergent pods, that just get thrown in the wash. I wash delicate items on the hand washing cycle with a little Woolite. My favorite stain treatment is a cleanser called "Greased Lightning" which is also an all-purpose cleanser. Such became my zeal to complete my laundry that I would even bring it with me. I once lived 6 hours from my Mom, if I was coming to see her over the weekend, I would bring my dirty laundry with me and bring it home folded and sorted into piles to go straight to the drawers. My kids' drawers were labeled with pictures of the appropriate clothes, so they could put them away themselves.

So now our laundry is all caught up, big deal right? Well, by establishing the hamper routine, you have to make sure the hamper gets emptied. That keeps clothes off the floor. The bathmats and towels are getting washed regularly, which helps keep the bathroom clean. The dishcloths and dish towels are always ready to go to work in your suddenly cleaner kitchen. When the clothes are clean you have to make sure you can put them in the drawers and closets, so these start becoming cleaner and more organized spaces. With me it started with my fantastically organized underwear and sock drawer, then the jeans all started going to one place, then I started folding my t-shirts like the professional organizers do. When you can see your clothes at a glance you can routinely weed clothes out of the wardrobes. For the kids we try and check in the Spring and the Fall, but sometimes they have a sudden growth spurt and you notice all of their clothes look like capri pants and 3/4 length sleeves. Regular laundry means these clothes are always ready to be bagged up and taken to a thrift shop or to a friend with smaller kids.

If you are swimming in a sea of chaos, you just start with one thing, anything and watch the ripple effects. Maybe you have your home life down, but work is where you are floundering. Make a commitment to one thing there and see what happens. Fix your files, check e-mail first thing, block Facebook from your computer, whatever it is that is your personal boondoggle. My opinion is that when we take a macro view of our lives, the problems seem insurmountable. When we look at our lives in smaller parts we can see solutions. Can I fix everything today? No? Can I finish this load of laundry, sort, wash, dry, fold, put away? YES, I CAN!