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23 Oct 13:34

On not “firepitting” our marriage (or our children)

by (Kristen Howerton)
We’ve got a new metaphor in our house to describe a bad habit that we often fall into. We’re calling it “firepitting.”

It’s one of those things that a lot of people do . . . that tendency to live your best life when others are around. A prime example of this is our backyard firepit. We pull it out almost every time we have guests over. We love sitting around it, listening to music, talking, or roasting marshmallows.


But here’s the thing: we NEVER pull that firepit out just for our kids. We never set up the firepit after the kids have gone to bed and enjoy some wine just as a couple. It’s a thing we do when other people are over.

Similarly, we had some friends visit a few weeks ago and we decided to rent a duffy in Newport Beach. This is one of those things we’ve never done as a family, even though it’s close and not that expensive and a really fun way to spend the day. It’s the firepit phenomenon.


Firepitting is when we get a babysitter for events with friends but fail to secure one for a date night. Firepitting is when we go to Balboa Pier every time the cousins are in town but never when it’s just us. Firepitting is when we see a new restaurant and talk about who we could go with instead of just making plans to go there ourselves. Firepitting is lighting candles and putting on mood music when we have dinner guests but never doing this when it’s just our family. Firepitting is finding fun adventures to do when someone comes to visit instead of just finding them for ourselves. Firepitting is the fact that we’ve made home-made icecream numerous times when we’ve had guests over but never when it’s just been our kids.

It’s cleaning house when company comes over instead of just keeping it that way so that we can enjoy it.

I think it’s a normal human tendency. We put more effort in with our friends than we do with our family. We want to be hospitable, but we also want to impress. And while it’s wonderful to feel like we can be comfortable with our own spouses and children, I find that sometimes this means that we put less effort in, too.

It’s just one of those things I’ve been aware of lately. Mark and I had a great talk about it the other night, and we both agreed: we want to stop the firepitting phenomenon. We’re trying to be more intentional with our date nights and also with special moments with our kids. What that looks like: I ordered a new firepit . . . and we’re going to use it as a family.

We went on a date night and watched the sun set, with wine and music and a blanket, and then tried a restaurant we’ve wanted to visit.

Photo Sep 28, 5 37 03 PM_thumb

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We made cookies and had a dance party in the living room last night . . . for no special reason.
And while I’m letting myself off the hook that every moment has to be precious and special, and I’m not going to feel shame about the fact that I love hosting and entertaining, I am also trying to focus on our own couple and family experiences. Because I never want my kids to look back on their childhood and think that people outside of our family got the good stuff.

Is firepitting a struggle for you? How do you combat it?
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11 Nov 14:54


by Andrew Sullivan

As Blockbuster gets ready to close its remaining 300 stores in the US, Alexis Madrigal pays homage:

This was our version of the great communal gatherings of the theater! This was our attenuated version of public space! We didn’t even browse the objects themselves, but avatars of the cassettes. Remember? All the tapes were stored behind the counter, and you’d carry this empty box that represented the movie up to the front register and they’d pull it out of their archival cabinet and load it into a clear plastic container for you. Josh Greenberg wrote a book about the creation of the home movie industry, From Betamax to Blockbuster, and he highlights how strange that was, “In the video store, customers browsed movies, represented by boxes that contained nothing more tangible than the experience of watching a movie itself.” For the industry, it was a way of helping you forget you weren’t watching on the silver screen, but the 22″ TV your parents bought at Walgreen’s.

Liz Galvao, who worked at Blockbuster in 2004 and 2005, remembers “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.” But Jason Bailey, also a former employee, feels differently: “Let’s not soft-soap the fact that this was a chain that ran roughshod over local businesses, gouged customers on a regular basis, employed scores of movie-ignorant dullards, refused to stock controversial titles, imposed a bullshit ‘family’ morality that was hypocritical at best, and operated on a business model that was less about Film than it was about Product”:

Here’s a story that encapsulates everything you need to know about Blockbuster Video:

during a down moment in the initial, training shift for my part-time job at the Big Blue, I posed what seemed a fairly safe small-talk question to the store manager: So, what are your favorite movies? It was an icebreaker that had served me well in my three previous video store gigs; I’d been doing it since I was a teenager, mostly at rinky-dink mom-and-pop operations, but since the slick, well-funded Blockbuster franchise had driven them all out of town, I finally had to give in and go to work for the Evil Empire. But even my cynicism about my new employer didn’t prepare me for an answer I’d never heard from a fellow employee in all my years in the video store business. “Oh, I don’t really watch movies,” my manager cheerfully and matter-of-factly replied. “I mean, I’m around ‘em all day, so I don’t really wanna watch ‘em when I go home.” She wasn’t my manager for long; within a few months, Blockbuster had promoted her to district manager. And that was Blockbuster Video, in a nutshell.

But the Big Blue isn’t quite dead yet; Kathryn Olson presents a map that shows “the company is still going strong abroad, with 1,295 locations outside the U.S., including in Brazil, Mexico, the U.K., and Australia.”

29 Oct 18:22

What is the most likely path forward for the ACA exchanges?

by Tyler Cowen

I had lunch yesterday with a friend and I was asked that question (and I asked it in turn).  My answer, with some ex post editing, was this:

1. The chance of “no smooth resolution” for the health care exchanges crisis is now 60-40.  Not long ago I thought it was 20-80.

2. The Obama administration is claiming the exchanges might be ready soon to stem Democratic defections and to keep the policy locked in, but in reality they now know there is no chance for timeliness (NB: this sentence is true with 60-40 probability, not unconditionally true).

3. More parts of the thing will be working by late November, but not enough for it to serve as a functioning enrollment system, much less encourage “the invincibles” to sign up.  They will figure, correctly, they don’t have to bother with the whole thing until they hear from peers, and from the media, that the process is as smooth and as easy as Orbitz.  (Oddly, Tea Party attempts to get young people to resist the mandate have the counterintuitive property of increasing awareness of the sign up requirement.  Disengagement, not fiery opposition, is the real enemy of the law.)

4. Come January 1, hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose their individual coverage packages for not meeting ACA standards.  Most of them won’t have ready replacements.  This will be a big mainstream media story, not just a FoxNews story.  There will be easily identifiable victims, expressing sorrow or rage or both in front of the camera.  Left-wing bloggers will express outrage that Republicans express outrage over the existence of individuals with no insurance coverage.  Republicans will express outrage that left-wing bloggers express outrage, etc.

5. Democrats will propose various ACA fixes, and Republicans will reject them, claiming that the law requires a more fundamental restructuring.  That standoff will not be readily resolved and it will become the “new debt-ceiling crisis.”  Democratic defections will be a problem for Obama.

6. The exchanges will be mostly working by March 2014, but by then the risk pool will be dysfunctional.  In the meantime, real net prices will creep up, if only through implicit rationing and restrictions on provider networks.  The Obama administration will attempt to address this problem — unsuccessfully — through additional regulation.

7. By October 2014, no one will think the exchanges are a satisfactory solution, except for 17 state exchanges which will be running reasonably well.  Some of the state-level exchanges, by the way, will have more serious problems than is currently evident, mostly on the back end.

8. Chris Christie will campaign against ACA and beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.  Upon assuming office he will place price controls on the insurance plans in the individual market, repeal much but not all of the federal financial support for the Medicaid expansion, and keep many other parts of ACA, while claiming to have repealed the whole thing.  Enough Democrats will go along with this, as public opinion will have shifted toward the Republican side on this issue.  The individual market still won’t be working very well.  The exchanges will be working fine in the technical sense, but skittishness, political risk, and the adverse selection death spiral will have led the insurance companies to withhold high quality policies from that side of the market.

22 Oct 19:37

The Beverly Hills Divorcee Saint

by Andrew Sullivan

Mary Clarke was raised by a very wealthy father in Beverly Hills, whose business she ran for a while after his death. She married twice and divorced twice, with eight children. Always interested in charity work, Clarke, then Brenner, started to help a priest minister to the hardcore inmates of Tijuana’s La Mesa prison. It changed her life. From her obituary this week:

Ms. Brenner began providing for inmates’ basic needs, giving them aspirin, blankets, toiletries and prescription eyeglasses. She sang in worship services. She received a prison contract to sell soda to prisoners and used the proceeds to bail out low-level offenders. If a prisoner died, of illness or in a gang fight, she prepared him for burial. Inmates told how Mother Antonia once walked into the middle of a prison riot while bullets flew and tear gas filled the air. When the inmates saw her, fearless in her habit, the fighting stopped. She never seemed to stop smiling.

In due course, she decided to move into the prison itself, in a 10′ by 10′ cell in the women’s section:

“It’s different to live among people than it is to visit them,” she told The Washington Post in 2002. “I have to be here with them in the middle of the night in case someone is stabbed, in case someone has an appendix [attack], in case someone dies.”

What makes her ministry even more remarkable is that as a twice-divorced woman, the church hierarchy could never accept her into a religious order. So she simply, like Saint Francis, invented her own. She made her own nun’s habit, and simply did what she believed was God’s work. In the end, the hierarchy – just as with Saint Francis – relented and blessed her new order, The Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. If you are a mature woman and are interested in their work, check out this page. The criterion for joining them is simple:

Members must, in their hearts and in their lives, bear the pain of the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the rejected, the forgotten and the abandoned children of God.

We have been used to reading such terrible things about religion – from the fanatics who murdered so many on that September morning to the death threats against young girls seeking an education and the burning of schools and massacring of sectarian enemies. No one should deny the unique power of religion turned into an instrument of earthly power and violence. But equally, the countless moments of mercy, tenderness, self-sacrifice and courage that occur every day and that spring from the same religious impulse must always be considered alongside the bad. It was a religious vision that propelled Mary Clarke and a priest called Anthony who inspired her to call herself Sister and then Mother Antonia:

She has said that in 1969 she had a dream that she was a prisoner at Calvary and about to be executed, when Jesus appeared to her and offered to take her place. She refused his offer, touched him on the cheek, and told him she would never leave him, no matter what happens to her.

No, Christopher, religion does not poison everything. It can be used in a poisonous way, but it can also be the most powerful force for human 51X2YX9WYSLsalvation – in the present moment – that we have at our disposal.

What I love about Mother Antonia, above all, however, is her demonstration of the power of women in creating a future for Christianity. She refused to let rules about such things as divorce prevent her from ministering to those she felt need ministry. She refused to let her gender limit her in any way. She – not the male hierarchy – is the church. And she reminds us of the appalling, morally crippling, un-Christian subjugation of women in the Catholic Church.

It must end as a matter or moral urgency, and when it does, the power of women as spiritual leaders and healers may shock and surprise many but elevate us all. In the words of Mother Antonia, from inside a prison where rapists, murderers, gang-lords and hit-men resided:

Pleasure depends on where you are, who you are with, what you are eating. Happiness is different. Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years. I have been upset, angry. I have been sad. But never depressed. I have a reason for my being.

(Photograph: the biography of Mother Antonia, The Prison Angel, which can be bought here.)

21 Oct 00:54

3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You

by zenhabits
By Leo Babauta

Something that we struggle with daily, that eats us up and causes stress and anger: annoying people.

You know those people: they cut in line, are rude to you in the office or at the restaurant, cut you off in traffic, talk loudly about obnoxious things, play loud music when you’re trying to concentrate, interrupt you, and so on.

These offenses are violations of the way you think people should act. And so it burns you up. Don’t worry, I’m the same way.

If you just keep letting these offensive people get to you, you’ll always be mad or annoyed. Life won’t be very good. But it’s something you can learn to deal with.

I have to admit I’m not perfect at this, but here are three strategies I use that are helpful:

  1. Get Big. I learned this one from Zen teacher Robert Thomas, who uses “Get Big” as one of his slogans that helps him to be mindful. Imagine you’re a 2-year-old toddler, who can’t have a toy or some ice cream right this minute. This problem is your entire universe, because you have no perspective, and so … you throw a fit. This is the world of a 2-year-old (I should know, I’ve had 6 of them). But as adults, we know that this is a very small problem, and in fact there are lots of other things the 2-year-old could do to be happy. Sure, that’s easy for us — we have a bigger perspective. But when someone offends us, we have a small perspective — this little offense is the biggest thing in the world, and it makes us very angry. We throw the equivalent of a 2-year-old fit. But if we get a bigger perspective (Get Big), we can see that this little thing matters very little in the bigger picture. It’s not worth being angry over. So remind yourself to Get Big, then widen your perspective.
  2. Float Down the Stream. When I drive and other drivers do rude things, I often get angry. Then I remember a trick: I imagine myself floating down a stream in a raft, and the other cars are just twigs and leaves floating past me one way or another on this stream. They don’t have to treat me a certain way, because they’re just twigs. And so I serenely float down this stream, not worrying about how the twigs float around me (though I try not to hit them, because, you know, safety first). And in truth, this is how life is — other people aren’t trying to offend you, don’t even worry about you most of the time. They are just twigs floating by. Be nice to the twigs though.
  3. Give Them a Mental Hug. This little trick can transform the way I feel about someone who makes me angry. Let’s say someone has just said something rude to me. How dare they! Don’t they have any consideration for my feelings? But of course, in this reaction, I’m not having any consideration for their feelings — only mine matter. And so I try to empathize with this rude person, and realize that they’re angry, or scared, or both. They are being rude as a coping mechanism for their fear. And so, mentally (and once in a while physically), I give them a hug. I have compassion for this scared person, because I too am often scared. We’re the same. We need a hug, some compassion, a little love.

Try one of these three tricks the next time someone makes you mad or offends you. And then smile in serenity, armed with the comforting knowledge that, like me, you are superior to the rest of the world.

01 Oct 19:24

Living With Kids: Courtney Adamo

by Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There are certain moments during an average everyday when I count my virtual pals among life’s little treasures. If I’m feeling low and worrying about it, one will probably send a note from South Africa or Germany or even Los Angeles to tell me I’m not alone. And if I’m wondering what in the world to do with the Treehouse’s floors, I will be gifted with at least three or four “I’ve been there, Gabrielle, and here’s what we did!” letters. With cute photos, tutorials, and source lists.

Courtney is one of those friends. You may know her as one of the stylish partners behind Babyccino Kids. (Remember when we met Esther?) She’s a lovely mom and entrepreneur living with her husband and four children in London, and someone who sends the sweetest, kindest letters. Oh! And her house is enviably crisp and chic. If I ever decide to paint our floors white, you will know who is responsible! Friends, please meet Courtney. I know you’ll adore her.

Q: Please tell us all about the gorgeous family living in this gorgeous home.

A: Oh, where do I begin? My husband, Michael, and I are both from big families in America; he’s the oldest of seven and I’m the oldest of five! We met in Los Angeles in 2003 and moved to London together two months later. He signed a one-year contract for work, and we thought we would enjoy a year in London and the opportunity to travel around Europe. That was ten years ago this month!

I suppose the allure of European travel never grew old, and as we became more and more familiar with London, it proved difficult to leave. Having children here has also rooted us even more. We have four children: two boys, Easton (eight) and Quin (six), and two girls, Ivy (four) and Marlow (ten months). All of them were born here in London, and the six of us now have both UK and American passports.

Q: How did this home become yours?

A: We were renting a lovely house around the corner when the owners moved back to London and wanted their house back. We then set out to try to find a house in the same neighborhood, and by chance we stumbled upon this one. It was in shambles! Completely run down! But it happened to be in our price range. Both my husband and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, although we were attracted to the idea of fixing it up and making it our own.

We bought the house and spent the next seven months renovating it before moving in. We rented a teensy flat around the corner while we did the remodel, which meant there was a lot of shuffling around of our belongings, but it was worth it in the end.


Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: We live in the leafy north London neighborhood of Highgate. It’s a charming old village up on a hill, overlooking central London, and it’s filled with other young families. Our favorite thing about where we live is the proximity to Hampstead Heath, one of London’s biggest parks. We spend our weekends in the Heath, enjoying long walks together, throwing around a Frisbee, playing in the ponds, etc. You can get lost in there, and forget about the busy city surrounding you!

Q: Describe a typical day for your family, and how your home plays a starring role.

A: Michael doesn’t have to start work until after nine, which means we get to enjoy a family breakfast together before school and work. Some people have family dinners – we have family breakfasts! We all gather in the kitchen in the mornings, and while the kids usually sit at the counter while we make breakfast, we will all sit down at the big table to eat.

Michael usually takes the three bigger kids to school while I stay home with the baby, and then he heads into central London for work and I stay and work from home. I’m lucky to have a little home office in our house where I can sneak off and get some work done while the baby naps or when our babysitter/housekeeper is here. I usually work from 9:00 until 3:00, and then go and pick the kids up from school.

The afternoons are wild in our house when everyone is home; the kids usually play upstairs in the playroom or out in the garden if the weather is nice. I feed them dinner around six, and then when Michael gets home from work, the two of us put the kids to bed and then eat dinner on our own. I like having the time with him to hear about his day and to share about mine.

Q: Speaking of your work, will you tell us a little about your site? From how it’s grown to what it’s become and to what you hope it will turn into. Also, how has blogging for a living affected your family and friendships?

A: Babyccino Kids started as a blog nearly six years ago. It began as a diary between friends living in different European cities, and it evolved over time to be a bit like an online magazine for parents, covering everything from recipes, craft projects, great new products, parenting tips, and interesting articles. Over time, we built up a reputable brand and following, and we decided to start up an online shopping portal to represent a selection of stylish children’s boutiques. If, for example, you’re looking for pretty bedding for your child’s bed, you can come to our site and search in the Décor category to find a selection of wonderful shops selling children’s bedding.

We have essentially taken the hard task of searching out of the online shopping equation, and made it easy for parents to find the best children’s shops online! We would love for it to become the first place parents go when they are shopping for their children; a trusted place to find inspiration and the best online shops. We’re also planning our first ever live shopping event this year in London, and it would be really great if it’s a big success and we can host them in other cities around the world!

Q: How intentional are you in the day-to-day design of your home? And have you found yourself editing your style to accommodate your kids? How has it changed – for the better and for the worse!

A: Michael and I both have an interest in home design, but we have a limited budget so we’re often hunting for the most affordable-yet-stylish options when it comes to decorating our home. We’re always trying to think of creative, affordable solutions for storage, which is something we don’t have much of in this home.

There are a lot of bags, crates, hooks and other storage pieces throughout the house to handle our needs, and I can’t count how many different baskets I’ve scattered around, many of which are holding toys, toys and more toys!

I think the kids have taught me to be more fun and playful in my home design. I love decorating children’s rooms most because you can have more fun with colors and accessories, and the rooms can really be a reflection of the children and their interests.

Q:  With four kids, how do you stay organized in your home? We’d love any secrets you could share!

A: I have always been really, really tidy. Even as a little girl, I always made sure my bedroom was immaculate! My mom joked that my sister’s room looked like a tornado swept through it, and mine always looked like I was hosting the queen!

In our house, I am constantly tidying and organizing, and putting things back into place. I let the kids be as messy as they want to be in the playroom and in their bedrooms, but I try my hardest to keep the living spaces as tidy as I can. I swear my brain just functions better and I am a happier mama when things around me are organized.

Also, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a believer of less is more. My closet is teensy; all my clothes fit into that little space to the right of my bed, and I like it that way. I try to minimize the clutter all around the house to keep things more tidy and organized. Most importantly, we have a housekeeper who helps with the cleaning and the laundry. I don’t know how I would cope without her!

Q: What memories do you hope your children take with them from this home?

A: I hope they remember all the fun they had together. I hope my boys remember all the late night chats they had when it was past their bedtime when they should have been asleep. I hope they remember the impromptu dance parties we had in our kitchen, the sunny days spent out in the garden, the wintery days in front of the fire, the morning snuggles in our big bed, long baths in the big bath tub, and of course all the special holidays and celebrations we’ve had here.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? Does your heart break a little at those moments when you realize they’re growing up and there’s no way around it?

A: Because we live in London, so far from family and childhood friends, we have a really strong family unit. It’s really rare that we’re not all together on any given day, and weekends are always spent together. We don’t have any outside obligations or family events to attend.

My children hardly ever ask for play dates because they know they have each other to play with, and I really love how well they play together and how close they all are. I love watching them interact with each other and love seeing the different relationships form between them. How lucky they are to have each other!

My biggest goal as a parent is to raise children who love each other, and who will want to spend time together even when they’re all grown up. Having come from a big family, I am so thankful for my siblings, and I really hope my kids will feel the same way.

And yes, of course, my heart aches every time I think about how quickly time is flying by. I wish I could just slow it all down!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: Not to stress about the little things so much. To be fair, my parents have always told me this. I just wish I had listened a bit more!

I try to remind myself to relax, slow down, and enjoy the moment without worrying if the house is tidy or if dinner is prepared or if I’ve ticked everything off my to-do list that day. It’s more important to be present in the moment, especially when spending time with the kids.


Courtney, thank you for taking us on a tour of your beautiful life. We happen to share a parenting goal: “…to raise children who love each others, and who will want to spend time together even when they’re all grown up.” There might be days when I don’t fold the laundry or we have scrambled eggs for dinner, but I try to check that objective off my to-do list every day!

Friends, what would you say is your one non-negotiable, get it done every day no matter what goal as a parent?

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

01 Oct 19:22

Indian baby farms

by Tyler Cowen


Vasanti is pregnant, but not with her own child – she is carrying a Japanese couple’s baby. For this she will be paid $8,000 (£4,967), enough to build a new house and send her own two children, aged five and seven, to an English-speaking school – something she never thought was possible.

“I’m happy from the bottom of my heart,” says Vasanti.

She was implanted with their embryo in the small city of Anand in Gujarat and will spend the next nine months living in a nearby dormitory with about 100 other surrogate mothers, all patients of Dr Nayna Patel.

There are up to 10 surrogate mothers in each room. The women have their meals and vitamins delivered to them and are encouraged to rest.

Here is more, and it is estimated that the sector in India is valued at about $1.5 billion a year.  The individuals receiving the money have a problem, though:

“My parents will be pleased that their son and his wife have managed to build a house. Our status in society will go up, which will be a good thing.”

But the new house comes at a price. It will not be built in the same area as their old one, because of hostility from neighbours.

“If you are at home then everyone knows that we are doing surrogacy, that this is a test tube baby, and they use bad language. So then we can’t stay there safely,” says Vasanti.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

24 Sep 16:45

Pumpkin Spice Latte Jello Shots (And a Starbucks Giveaway!)

by Michelle O
For me -- and just about every woman I know -- one my favorite signs of fall is the return of Starbucks pumpkin spice latte.

Some of my other favorites are caramel apples coated in crunchy peanuts at your grocery store. Cold crisp mornings that require a jacket for my morning commute and orange, yellow and red leaves on the trees outside our living room window.

This year the start of fall has been a little different. The cooler weather has meant we can spend more time outside with baby Austin, which I love!

We also had to go clothes shopping and pick up some warmer clothes for him. We got him the cutest little fleece vest and a hoodie sweatshirt.

To celebrate fall and their new K-cup flavors of caramel and vanilla (the caramel is ah-mazing) Starbucks put together a giftbox for me to giveaway to one of my readers.

Inside are their new K-cup flavors and some other goodies to help you enjoy the season. To enter all you have to do is leave me a comment below letting me know your favorite sign of fall.
I will announce the winner on my Facebook page Monday, September 30th.

Good luck!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Jello Shots
(Makes about one dozen large shots)
Plastic shot glasses (I buy these from Amazon)
1 cup cold Starbucks vanilla or caramel coffee
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (depending on how much spice you like, taste test it!)
2 packets of Knox gelatin
1 cup whipped cream flavored vodka
Green straws cut in half (the straws not only look cute but also help you extract the jello!)
Whipped cream or Cool Whip

1. Pour one cup cold vanilla or caramel coffee (or plain would still work too!) into a medium sized sauce pan. Sprinkle two packets of Knox gelatin on top and let it sit for 2 minutes without stirring.

2. Place the sauce pan over medium to high heat and whisk the coffee breaking up the gelatin and letting it dissolve. When warm add your 3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk and whisk until combined.

3. Add your pumpkin pie spice, whisk again, bring to a low boil then turn off the heat.

4. Pour 1 cup cold whipped cream flavored vodka to your pumpkin spice coffee mixture. Pour your Pumpkin Spice Latte Jello into your shot glasses.

5. Add your straws to the jello shots and then place them in the fridge for several hours to firm up.

6. Top with whipped cream or Cool Whip and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

(Enjoy responsibly!)
24 Sep 16:05


by Meg Biram

jaime derringer - design milk - gsd - get shit done - meg biram
JAIME DERRINGER  // DESIGN MILK, DOG MILK What does a typical day look like for you? I usually get up somewhere between 6:15 and 7:15 AM, depending on whether I can drag myself out of bed. Since I’m on the West Coast and deal with Europe, sometimes I have to get up at 5 AM […]

The post GSD // JAIME DERRINGER OF DESIGN MILK appeared first on Meg Biram.

23 Sep 15:03

maggiephotographs: Blue Bell Love  #texas Not enough Lactaid...


Blue Bell Love 

Not enough Lactaid in the world, unfortunately.

19 Sep 17:13

Investing In Marital Bliss

by Andrew Sullivan

Research showing that married couples that pool their money are happier doesn’t surprise McArdle:

These effects seem to peter out at some very high level — if you keep 5 percent of your income to yourself in order to have a little bit of discretionary spending, it won’t make you any less happy than you’d be if you pool 100 percent. But people who pool 80 percent are happier than those who pool 70 percent, and so on. People who keep it all to themselves are the least happy. …

[I]f you don’t pool the money, then you have to spend a lot of time arguing about the money. You have to decide how the expenses are split. Among other things, this tends to emphasize any earnings disparity between the two of you. It also provides rich fodder for fights over who should have to pay for what because I didn’t even want to go to Napa and get acid reflux drinking wine all week, I wanted to go to Nova Scotia, and I’m definitely not kicking in 50 percent for a stupid deluxe winery tour so I can meet the owner and have him make me feel bad about my taste in wine.

09 Sep 01:36

Tina: 4 gluten-free cookie recipes you’ll love

by Fitnessista

Hi friends! I’m on a little vacay, but I’ll be back soon and have some fun things planned for the blog while I’m away. Today’s guest post is from my friend Tina, whom I’ve been able to hang out with quite a few times. If you haven’t checked out her blog before, it’s one of my faves. She blog about CrossFit workouts, quick recipes, and her adorable pug, Murphy. :) Hope you enjoy her post with some amazing gluten-free cookie recipes!

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Hi! My name is Tina, and I blog over at Carrots ‘N’ Cake!

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Carrots ‘N’ Cake is where I share my love for healthy living by sharing meal ideas, recipes and workouts (and, ok, photos of my dog). While I try to pack the most nutrients possible into each meal, I have a number of favorite foods that are not necessarily “healthy,” but are still delicious and fun to eat. If eaten in moderation, I believe that the “bad” foods can be part of a well-balanced diet. With that said, here are four of my favorite gluten-free cookie recipes. They’re so delicious, you won’t even know they’re missing gluten! 


Clockwise from left:

No-Bake Almond Joy Cookies: I love these cookies so much! The combination of flavors reminds me of an Almond Joy candy bar.

Gluten-free Butterscotch Chip Cookies: Instead of refined flour and white sugar, these cookies are made with gluten-free almond flour and naturally sweet coconut oil and maple syrup. Of course, the butterscotch chips aren’t the most nutritious ingredient, but they’re worth every calorie when it comes to a splurge!

Gluten-Free Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies: These cookies combine white chocolate chips with dried cranberries, honey, and almond flour for a seriously delectable treat. They’re some of the best gluten-free cookies I’ve ever eaten!

Gluten-free Carrot Cake Cookies: I love carrot cake, so I created this lighter, portion-friendly version. These cookies are soft and fluffy with raisins, walnuts, and shredded coconut just like a real piece of carrot cake.

A huge thank you to Gina for letting me guest post while she’s away. I hope to see you over on Carrots ‘N’ Cake sometime! You can also find me on as well as Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

04 Sep 19:25

Why Did Assad Do It?

by Andrew Sullivan

That’s the question that still nags at me. He was making progress against the rebels, and had used small amounts of poison gas in the conflict perhaps fourteen times before, according to British intelligence. UN inspectors were very close by. It simply makes no sense for Assad to have raised the stakes so massively – when it was in his interests to keep whatever CWs he used to small and isolated incidents far away from global attention.

The Obama administration hasn’t answered this question. No one has offered a persuasive answer. But German intelligence just might have:

Germany has followed France and the US in suggesting that chemical weapons had been used to intimidate the rebels and capture territory in a crucial battle for Damascus, especially to the east of the capital. There is a twist: “It could also be the case that errors were made in mixing the gas and it was much more potent than anticipated,” Gerhard Schindler, [the head of the BND external intelligence service], said.

The mistake may have been by some incompetent Hezbollah operator, or because Assad panicked, or both. The point is: we don’t know. Until we do, beyond any reasonable doubt, we should not go to war. You do not go to war because of your enemy’s mistake. You do not go to war because your enemy cannot admit such a mistake.

Remember Iraq? We went to war because of a mistake: we assumed Saddam’s WMD bluffs were true. They weren’t. Would it not have been prudent to wait until we knew everything? Does not a grave matter like this demand getting every single piece of evidence right? Or are we really back to 2003 all over again?

29 Aug 15:42

You Must be This Pregnant to Ride, Guest Post: Lindsay Riddell

by Kelle
Every few weeks, I receive an e-mail from a reader telling a hopeful story of waiting for a baby.  Many of you who read here are mothers, but there is also a great number of women who come and read and take part in this community who are not.  Maybe some choose not to have children--and that's quite alright--but the ones who wait and hope and try and wait some more--well, it's an emotional journey, one that needs a lot of love and support.

In my own circle of friends and family, I know many that faced years of infertility struggles.  Many of these women became moms in different ways, and some chose to pursue other dreams without children.  Either way, this challenging journey so many women face is made a little easier when there is a community of support.  When we are well-informed and understanding and stand together.

According to Resolve, the National Infertility Association, currently 1 in 8 American couples of childbearing age suffer infertility issues.  Each has a story to tell.  Among these stories is that of Lindsay Riddell, our guest blogger today.

Lindsay, thank you for bringing your vulnerability, your beautiful words and your strong voice to this space.  I'm so honored to have your story here.  You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @LoisLaneSF or on her new Tumblr: Gross Stuff No One Likes.

 photo lindsayjohn8913-0073_zpsa5e9e477.jpg
Photo Credit: Paige Green Photography


You Must be This Pregnant to Ride:
Our Journey Aboard the Infertility Roller Coaster
by Lindsay Riddell

My husband asked me if I wanted kids a month after we started dating.
I was all: "Hey buddy, slow down, what's with the baby questions?"
He was all: "I'm 39. I want kids, and I don't want to waste my time."

I've joked with him about his bold approach, but fact is, I liked that he was upfront about it. Not only did I know he wanted kids, but I also knew he was already considering having them with me. We picked the names right then and there, Friday June, after "Girl Friday", the name given to the first female reporters, and June, after his mother. Jack Danger was an easy choice, because, 'No. Danger is my middle name' will always be funny. Our relationship, from then on, was serious.

There were other important things that influenced our courtship: Though he's eight years older than me, we love to do the same activities; biking, running, generally being outside; We prefer the same beers and the same movies and the same TV shows at least 80 percent of the time. And because he's color blind, he can't criticize my decorating decisions.

When I hold up my iPhone and say "pretend we're on a roller coaster," he always does it, no matter where we are. We have a series of these roller coaster photos: On the beach in Hawaii; at a super nice restaurant in Austin, Texas; on an airplane -- arms raised, eyes wide, terror-stricken. This might be my favorite thing.

When he travels for work (which is often), we'll FaceTime before we go to bed. If I've had a bad day, he'll pretend he's in a canoe, rowing back and forth across my screen until I start laughing. He totally looks like he's in a canoe! It works every time.

While he's logical and I'm creative, we're a good balance, the right amount of yin to yang; color-seeing to non-color-seeing.

He proposed on our two-year anniversary when he was 40 years old and I was 32. After a July wedding at City Hall in San Francisco, we started trying to make some babies in February of 2011.

It did not work.

For months we were really chill about the entire thing. We relished our 'Whatever happens happens' attitude. But one by one our friends started to announce their pregnancies and I started to get frustrated.

First, my best friend and her husband got pregnant literally the first time they tried. Blammo. Just like that. This is so easy!
Then a member of my book club who is a local farmer, got pregnant the first month she started trying - you know, to time the delivery for Winter when things would be slow on the farm. How convenient!

Next up was my neighbor, who had been on birth control for 18 years, and who got pregnant.. wait for it... on her first shot. First shot! These stories were all so hilarious!

My husband was convinced we just needed to be patient. That eventually it would all work the way it was supposed to.

After we'd been trying for more than a year, I went to a baby shower where, I swear, I was the only non-parent, not-pregnant person in attendance. A friend I didn't even know was pregnant waddled up to me rubbing her adorable pregnant belly with some encouraging words: "It took us five months," she said. "It's your turn next."

But it wasn't my turn. Two of my cousins got pregnant, one with her third kid, a girl, just like she planned. The other cousin got pregnant with her third - "an accident" (Whoops! Right?).

A longtime friend who bought us our first ovulation kit and had it sent to my house after a year of fruitless, non-strategic trying, flew to town, and held my hands across a dinner table. She was pregnant again. We both cried. But her empathy to my situation was real and touching. We could be happy for her together and sad for me together. And we were.

In October of 2012, my husband and I visited the infertility specialist and I got my eggs tested. I have plenty. I'm a spring chicken, eggs-wise. This is not that helpful as it turns out. My husband got his junk tested and guess what? Levels are normal. Despite the fact that he's an ironman who spends lots of hours on his bike crushing his sensitive parts to numbness, he has lots of swimmers and they swim.

The doctor explained our options: Clomid - a drug that stimulates eggs to drop; artificial insemination; and In vitro fertilization. We had already ruled out IVF - which can be a really great choice for some people, including a friend of ours who just this week delivered a perfect little baby after just one cycle of IVF. It doesn't feel good to me, however, and it isn't how I wanted to produce a baby. I knew that before the appointment and my husband supported that.

And even though the infertility doctor drew us a stark graph that gave us a 2 percent chance of getting pregnant on our own given how long we've been trying, we were not quite convinced. We thought "We can do this."

In November, a bunch of my cousins came to visit. One of my cousins, one of my best friends in the world, had some news. Telling me was hard. For her. For me. For everyone visiting.

My response: "God dammit." I said it out loud. And I cried. Not because I wasn't happy for her. She knows I am. Only because it sucked for her to have to tell me. It sucked, and it's the kind of news that shouldn't suck. When I woke up the next morning with all of my cousins at a fancy San Francisco hotel, I discovered I had started my period a week early. Insult. To. Injury.

In December I felt weird. Bloated. Ornery. I had sore boobs for two weeks. My back hurt. I looked at WebMD every day analyzing my symptoms, waiting to get within the window that I could take a pregnancy test and finally show my husband those two freaking lines. I tried to tamp down any hope, swallow it before it escalated and took over. But hope is a powerful thing. It is highly resistant to being swallowed or tamped. And it crept up anyway, bursting through that two year build up of dark infertile clouds casting a shadow over my future.

I started my period 8 days early, three days after Christmas.

In January we took a sexcation to Hawaii, to recover and to relax and to... you know. It was not fruitful despite our valiant efforts.

I turned 35 at the end of January and when I woke up on my birthday, I told my husband that this was the year we would have a baby - or at least confirmation that a baby was on its way. We were going to have to accept the fact that despite how much we wanted it, and despite how hard we tried, and despite how many trips we took on the proverbial roller coaster, we might not be able to make a baby.

Yesterday we took matters into our own hands. We made an appointment for our first adoption orientation. We are nervous and excited and so anxious. We don't know if we'll get pregnant, but we've decided to adopt even if we do.

My husband asked me if I wanted kids one month after we started dating. And today, six years later, and for the first time in a long time, our arms are raised, our eyes are wide, we are terror-stricken. But we are hopeful.

— Lindsay is a San Francisco-based writer. You can follow her on Twitter @LoisLaneSF or on her new Tumblr: Gross Stuff No One Likes.

25 Aug 14:21

Detroiters Should Move To Israel

by Tracy R. Walsh
by Tracy R. Walsh


Next City’s Bill Bradley compiled a list of countries that receive more more federal aid than Detroit:

Oftentimes, the first thing people say when they see Detroit’s hulking ruins and blight is, “It looks like a third-world country.” It’s not unsavory to imagine how more money injected into depopulated cities and struggling urban cores, from New Orleans to East New York, instead of struggling countries might benefit the economy and country as a whole.

14 Aug 12:47

sphillipsphotos: Lake Whitney, Texas I have full on,...


Lake Whitney, Texas

I have full on, desperate TX withdrawal this week. Need some good tacos, a beer, and a huge sky pronto.

13 Aug 20:36

Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid

by Elise Hilton

In the world of celebrity-do-gooders, Bono has earned the reputation of being more than a mouthpiece. Over two decades, the musician has created the ONE campaign, worked with Amnesty International, collaborated on the Band Aid bono clintonconcerts, and became increasingly involved in poverty-stricken Africa. He worked for years to promote debt forgiveness for African nations, while working for increased foreign aid.

Read more on Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid…

The post Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid appeared first on Acton Institute PowerBlog.

05 Aug 14:25

I Breastfed 7 Children…And Lived to Tell About It

by Zephyr Hill

For me, breastfeeding has been quite a roller coaster ride. I’ve nursed all 7 of my children….but our experiences have been all over the map. I’ve endured all the troubles, and the triumphs, that nursing can bring along.

Here’s the full dossier:

Joseph was my first baby. I read a lot about breastfeeding during pregnancy and was enthusiastic and (so I thought) well-educated. But the antibiotics I was given for my c-section led to a massive candida/yeast infection in my breasts and the pain was excruciating. Plus, Joseph came early and was small, so he struggled mightily with correct latch. Things just went from bad to worse, and Jeremiah and I worried that Joseph wasn’t getting enough to eat. His weight was barely inching up the scales. After 2 months of prescription medication, pain, crying (both of us) and constant weigh-ins, I switched to formula. For many in breastfeeding circles, this classifies as a failure. Not to me! I could have kissed those little warm bottles of Enfamil; feedings were now happy, quiet and satisfying. Joseph started getting nice and chubby, and that horrible, burning pain was gone for me. But still, I wanted to give breastfeeding a try with the next baby; I figured that with this experience under my belt, the next time would be easier.

Catherine came along the following year. It was my first successful VBAC and she was fat and rosy and eager to nurse. Although it was a struggle that first week, I told myself it was just the toughening-up phase. But the pain didn’t go away. I started to crack and bleed. Then one morning I awoke feeling like the Illinois Central had run over my body. When my husband found me shivering and shaking in bed, he knew it was time to get me to the hospital. The news wasn’t good: I had a breast infection (mastitis) and a massive uterine infection. Worse still, the hospital would not allow me to room in with week-old Catherine. I was such a greenhorn, and so desperately ill, I didn’t have the gumption to fight back. So I began pumping milk and sending it home to my newborn. After nearly a week in the hospital on high-powered antibiotics, guess what happened? Yes…..another candida infection. I was crushed and had no intention of going through all that pain again. “Maybe I’m just not meant to nurse a baby,” I thought. And Catherine went on formula at just 2 weeks of age.

Margaret is the beautiful little baby we lost in 2007. Her problems with nursing were very unique. Because of severe heart defects and low oxygen levels, breastfeeding for her was like running the Boston Marathon. She just couldn’t do it without literally collapsing from exhaustion. Although I pumped for five months, there still were not enough calories in my breast milk to sustain her and promote weight gain, so high-calorie formula powder was added to what I pumped. I thank God for that formula that helped to nourish Margaret during her short life. God called her home just before she turned six months, but I was grateful for being able to provide some of my little girl’s milk until she died. Still, amidst all the grief of losing our little girl, there was a twinge of sadness in my heart because I still felt the experience of nursing one of my children long term was out of reach.

Benjamin is what mothers call a Rainbow Baby. God sent him after the storm of grief that followed Margaret’s passing. Call it stubbornness or sheer force of will, but I steeled myself physically for the ordeal and nursed him right through the horrible pain of yet another yeast infection (caused, as before, by antibiotics). If you’ve never experienced candida while nursing, let’s just say I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. The stabbing pains are felt deep in the breast and when baby latches on it feels like hot knives are stabbing your skin. The burning literally made me sob like a baby. Multiply this by 8-10 feedings a day for an insight into my misery. It took nearly 4 months to completely clear the infection up; but after that, we reached the summit of the mountain. By that I mean that Benjamin was breastfed until he was 14 months old. Talk about a badge of pride! I was on a high for a while after that accomplishment. Now I knew it could be done!

Samuel came along next and I felt ready for anything. My first decision was to decline antibiotics during labor even though I had tested positive for Group B strep. I did LOTS of research and was 100% happy with the outcome; my midwife supported me wholeheartedly. After 4 babies, I had learned my pattern: antibiotics=yeast. We got through the first few weeks of toughening up, and newborn Samuel and I were soon nursing pros. Because of an early return to fertility and a surprise pregnancy test at 7 months postpartum, he weaned at 11 months.

Susanna was born and the story reads almost exactly the same. Once again, I tested positive for Group B strep, and once again I said “No thanks!” So glad I did! No antibiotics, no yeast and no pain! Breastfeeding went very smoothly and once again we were happily surprised by a Dollar Store test at about 7 or 8 months postpartum. Susanna weaned before her first birthday (I’ve learned that after about 3 months into a pregnancy, my milk supply changes and dwindles to almost nothing).

Erik is number seven and he’s nursing like a trooper with no signs of stopping. You can bet that I often thank my lucky stars while holding him close and listen to him drinking contentedly. This is what I prayed for all those difficult years. This makes all the suffering worth it!

I’m not one of those superhuman types that would hike up Mount Everest with a baby strapped to her back and nurse at the summit. No, you won’t read my story in a glossy mothering magazine with a headline like “If I can do it, anyone can!” There are many reasons why some mothers breastfeed and some don’t, and it’s not my place to approve or disapprove. A happy and well-loved child is a blessing that I will celebrate with any mother any day!

Do you have questions about nursing? Need some encouragement? Want to get something off your chest? (Sorry for the bad joke….)

Just leave a comment or use the Contact Me tab above. I would love to help if I can, or just listen (if that’s all you need). After nursing 7 children, I’ve learned a lot and know how important it is to have support. 


30 Jul 19:10

How we built our village

by Jennifer Fulwiler
village2 How we built our village

Yaya puts a shoe on one kid while…actually, I have no idea what’s going on in this picture.

I often hear comments from people who know us in person about what a great support network we have. It is pretty crazy:

  • Yaya, Joe’s mom, lives 10 blocks away.
  • My mom lives two miles away, within the same network of neighborhoods.
  • My grandfather lives 15 minutes north of us, and my dad recently moved there to be closer to us and to help him out.
  • We know quite a few great babysitters, and can usually find one who’s available when I need an extra pair of hands.
  • We have many wonderful friends, and a wide network of acquaintances.
  • We’re friends with our parish priests, as well as with the amazing young nuns who are building a convent here in town.

This is a setup that’s been years in the making.

When Joe and I were engaged, we started thinking about what we wanted our family life to look like. We realized that people weren’t meant to raise families without the support of a community, and we whole-heartedly agreed with the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The problem was that we had no village. We were living in a downtown loft, we’re both only children, and none of our parents lived nearby. On top of that, Joe was on a career path that meant we’d probably have to move every few years.

village3 How we built our village

A shot of me and my first baby, taken in the mirror of our building’s elevator when we lived downtown (in my very brief period as a blonde).

The more we considered this issue, the more important we thought it was. In July of 2003, with our wedding just around the corner, we decided to make this our top priority. We set out to build our village.

It took a long time to get all the pieces in place — in fact, there were times when I thought that it would never happen. It was only recently, when I started thinking about the fact that our 10th anniversary is coming up, that I realized that we finally have it. Ten years later, I really feel like I’m living my life within a cohesive community.

I want to share some thoughts on what we did that made this kind of setup possible. But first, I’ll give you a snapshot of one of my weeks to show you what I mean by having a “village.” (I don’t normally do all this stuff in seven days — I’d collapse. I’m condensing a few weeks’ worth of stuff for the purposes of illustration):

A week in the life


I take four of the kids to a day camp run by a friend’s 18-year-old daughter. It’s half the cost of other camps, yet I’m more comfortable with it since it takes place at a friend’s house. Also, it feels good to support this young woman, who’s raising money for college.

When I get back to my house, I run into my neighbor from across the street. She’s a single mother, and we’ve been talking about getting her son in some of the same activities as our kids so that we can help her out by giving him rides. We bat around some ideas for making that work, and make plans to do dinner soon.


Our car suddenly had problems, and Joe needed to take it to the shop that morning, right around the time the day camp starts. I call my dad and ask if he can give the kids a ride. He says it’d be no problem — he’s been acting as the family school bus driver a lot this year, and loves that time with the kids.

Later that afternoon, I get the car back just in time to do the camp pickup. We’re friends with every other family whose children are there, and I’d like to be able to say hello to some of them. I drop my two youngest kids off at Yaya’s house so that I can chat with the other moms without a fussy baby and an overtired toddler in tow, and pick them up on the way back home.

village5 How we built our village

My dad putting up our Christmas lights last year.


I head up to my grandfather’s house to pick up a dessert he’s put together for our priests. Our parish has a meal ministry where families take turns making homemade meals for our four priests, and my turn rolls around once a quarter. My 99-year-old grandfather is a self-taught gourmet cook, and even though he’s not Catholic, it’s one of his greatest honors to be a part of this ministry. Back when he was 97, he used to prepare lavish dishes with homemade crepes and stuffed Cornish game hens. These days, I usually make the main meal since he’s usually only able to contribute a small dessert, but he’s still grateful for the opportunity to give back in some way.

I take the food down to the parish office. The kids wait at Yaya’s house since I’ll have my hands full taking everything in. While I’m there, I run into a friend and fellow parishioner. Speaking of people cooking meals for others, I thank her for the great dinner she brought us a few months ago. When I was in the hospital, our friends from church mobilized to bring our family meals for six weeks, and she was one of the many people that contributed.

village7 How we built our village

My grandfather and Joe chat on his back porch after a delicious dinner.


In the morning, Joe grabs two containers of leftovers of our favorite jambalaya recipe to take to work — one for him, one for a coworker friend. His friend loves to have homemade food for lunch, and since he saves so much money on not having to eat out, he regularly takes Joe to lunch on days when I don’t send meals.

That afternoon, I have our regular babysitter come so that I can get a few things done. All the kids are delighted to see her, and her presence brings some much-needed energy to the house. She’s the oldest of nine, so she’s perfectly capable of dealing with the chaos that comes with having six young children under one roof.


After the kids get back from day camp, they’re all bouncing off the walls. I can’t get the baby down for a nap because everyone is being so noisy, and it’s driving me crazy. My mom calls on the way home from checking her business mailbox at the post office and offers for the two oldest kids to go to her place. She works from home, so she can’t have the younger ones there during business hours, but my seven- and eight-year-olds can usually behave themselves. I eagerly agree, and sent them out the door as soon as she’s on our block. Having two fewer children in the house makes a surprising difference, and everyone settles down.

When Joe gets home, my mom asks if we’d like her to watch the kids so that we can run out for a date night. We try not to openly cry tears of joy as we say yes.

village4 How we built our village

Dinner at my mom’s house with my mom (center), Yaya, and an aunt who was in town.


We go to vigil Mass, and let the kids run around the grounds while we talk to friends afterward. We say hi to the priests, and I think once again how thankful I am to have them as part of our family’s lives. Not only are the intelligent, funny, and super nice men, but every time I was in the hospital earlier this year, one of them came to visit me and bring me the Eucharist. I think of that and am filled with gratitude every time I see them.

That night, we go to dinner at another family’s house. Their kids are the same age as our kids, and everyone gets along fabulously. As I watch our children play, I think of how lucky they are that these friends will probably be part of their lives for a long time, since Joe and I are close with their parents.


I take the girls to pray Vespers with the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and run into a friend of mine who is there with her daughters. As always, I feel filled with energy and inspiration after spending time with the Sisters.

village10 How we built our village

With my friend Sister Elizabeth Ann, who’s holding her nephew at an event for the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

How we built our village

Again, my normal weeks have a lot less activity and a lot more sitting around the house, but that sample does give you an idea of how our “village” functions. You can see that we have a lot of folks in our lives whom we know and trust. They help us both in emergency situations and with the day-to-day challenges of raising kids, and we also have opportunities to give back to them in ways that work with our crazy schedules.

A large part of our setup is simply due to good fortune — we’re very, very lucky to have the kind, generous friends and family members that we do. But I do think that there were a few choices we made that allowed our lives to be more conducive to being part of a close-knit community, and, looking back, I think they’re some of the most important decisions we’ve made in our marriage:

1. We made career sacrifices in order to put down roots.

I moved around a lot as a child. That lifestyle had its advantages, and I enjoyed the adventure of exploring new cities, but it left me with a keen awareness that true communities are always geographically based — in order to be part of a village, you have to stay in the same place.

When Joe and I were engaged, we loved the vision of asking our mothers to come live near us once we started a family…yet Joe was climbing the corporate ladder in the high tech world, which meant that we’d almost certainly have to move as positions were cut or bigger and better opportunities came along in other cities. We realized that we had a choice: we could follow our current plan of chasing jobs around the country, or we could have family live near us. We couldn’t have both.

village9 How we built our village

Grilling at my mom’s house shortly after she moved to town.

We decided to choose stability over career, and it involved making huge changes. Obviously it all worked out, but at the time it was scary to have Joe get on an entirely new career path and make a bunch of financial sacrifices when we were expecting our first child.

2. We pitched the vision to our family

We wanted to have family live near us, and so we started telling them about our vision for building a community where we all supported one another. That sounds like an obvious move, but it wasn’t obvious to me at all. It seemed a little untoward to suggest that we knew better than our parents where they should live. But Joe pointed out that we couldn’t expect them to divine our plans through ESP — and, besides, they could always say no if they didn’t agree that the benefits of living near one another would outweigh the sacrifices of moving.

So we pitched our vision to them, a key part of it being the assurance that we would not move. Sure enough, they were as excited about the idea as we were. Not only were they delighted about being involved in their grandchildren’s lives, but they saw that we’d be around to help them if they needed assistance when they got older. It took nine years for everyone to get in a position to make it happen, but now Joe and I, his mom, my mom, and my dad all live within a few miles of one another.

3. We made location sacrifices in order to live in an area accessible to everyone

When we were first married, we assumed that we’d live in one of the charming neighborhoods in central Austin once we had kids. We pretty quickly realized, though, that that wasn’t going to be an option if we wanted to build our village: now that he was off the corporate track, we couldn’t afford houses in those areas. Even more importantly, our parents couldn’t afford to live there. We ended up moving to a suburb where there’s a wide variety of housing available, which meant that both of our mothers could find houses nearby that they loved and could afford.

village1 How we built our village

My mom taking the kids trick-or-treating.

4. We found a thriving church and lived near it

Okay, this one was not a conscious choice we made — God totally hooked us up when we were in the process of conversion — but it’s made a huge difference in our lives to be part of a busy parish community. Coming from a nonreligious background, I’ve been amazed at how strong the bonds are between people who go to our church. In the secular world I had moms’ groups and community organizations, but their membership was ever-changing and I didn’t really have anything in common with the other people. It was a fascinating experience when I first started meeting new people at parish events and realized that, by virtue of the fact that we share the same faith, we actually knew a lot about one another and had at least a few basic things in common.

As the years have gone by, our parish community has played a big role in our lives — and it gets bigger every year. Our kids are involved in many of its classes and programs, like Mother’s Day Out, religious ed, American Heritage Girls, the annual Christmas pageant, etc. The parish grounds are our home base for most of our activities, and so we run into the same people all the time. Joe has made a lot of friends through the Knights of Columbus. I’m on the email list for the moms’ group, which is a great source of information and camaraderie. We’re flooded with friends bringing meals any time we have a baby or experience a crisis, and we bring meals to other families in those situations as well.

It’s funny now to remember that when I converted to Christianity from atheism, I thought it was a purely intellectual decision. I could have never imagined just how much being part of a church would be critical to our vision of being part of a village.

5. We waited

Five years into our marriage, I felt like this whole community-building endeavor was a failure. Only my mom lived near us, and while she was a tremendous help, she was also busy with her full-time job. We’d been members of our parish for a couple of years, but I hadn’t really met many people. Any kind of socializing was difficult with two toddlers and a baby, and I didn’t even know my neighbors. What I didn’t understand then is that true communities don’t pop up overnight — or even over the span of a couple of years. It takes a lot of time, but the wait is well worth it.

village6 How we built our village

On the lookout for deer (pronounced “dee-oh!”)

. . .

Not everyone can do what we’ve done — a lot of folks don’t have parents who are in a situation to live near them, or they have to move regularly, or they have some other circumstance that wouldn’t allow them to follow this same path. I would simply suggest that people do whatever they can to be part of some stable community, even if the situation isn’t perfect. As I look back on our ten years of marriage and compare our lives then to our lives now, one of my biggest takeaways is that life is a whole lot easier when you live it in a village.

(I’m posting every day this week! To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see this list.)

18 Jul 18:29

How big is your chance of dying in an ordinary day?

by Tyler Cowen

A Micromort can also be compared to a form of imaginary Russian roulette in which 20 coins are thrown in the air: if they all come down heads, the subject is executed.  That is about the same odds as the 1-in-a-million chance that we describe as the average everyday dose of acute fatal risk.

That is from Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter, The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger, which is an interesting book about the proper framing and communication of risk.

18 Jul 14:13

A Family-Friendly Glass Ceiling

by Andrew Sullivan

I want a medal if I have four children!

After moving to France with her child and confronting a brutal job market for mothers, Claire Lundberg asks how “a country that is so outwardly progressive [is] still plagued with such basic workplace inequalities”:

While France has a wonderful safety net for women, much of it is designed to promote the growth of families as a way of boosting the birthrate. Indeed, families in France receive numerous supports and subsidies the more children they have. A family with two children is eligible for an automatic monthly stipend of 125 euros, regardless of income. With three children, a family is designated a “Famille Nombreuse,” which includes a raise in the automatic stipend, a possible further subsidy of up to 500 euros a month for the mother if she chooses not to return to work, and even reduced admission for transportation, museums, and amusement parks. And, at four children, a woman becomes eligible for the “medaille de la famille,” an honorary medal from the French government.

Douthat responds:

Family-friendly socialism, [scholar Kay Hymowitz] notes, does seem to encourage more women to stay in the workforce after they have children. But it also helps explain the persistence of “the glass ceilings, as well as stubbornly large wage gaps in more progressive countries,” because working women tend to be shunted more decisively onto a mommy track than they are in the United States. And it shunts them in other ways as well: To borrow an insight Neil Gilbert, the author of one of the must-read books on this topic, the social-democratic combination of high tax rates and a large state-run caregiving apparatus creates a strong economic incentive for mothers to leave their children with professional caregivers while taking a job … as a professional caregiver. This boosts workforce participation and G.D.P. — but whether it boosts actual female welfare seems at least somewhat debatable.

15 Jul 14:59

Why, Heritage, You’ve Quite Stolen My Heart

by janegalt

Such a fine bit of ranting about the appalling farm bill that the House GOP just passed:

House Republicans passed a farm bill today with a vote of 216 to 208. When the House leadership first announced it would separately consider the food stamp and farm components of the “farm” bill, it looked like they got the message that current farm policy was in dire need of reform. With separation, real reform to rein in market-distorting programs and special interest handouts could finally happen. But now that separation has occurred, they’ve forgotten the very reason why separation was needed in the first place.

Supporters of this farm-only farm bill wasted the golden opportunity that separation could have provided: the ability to promote policies that benefit taxpayers, farmers, and consumers in a fiscally responsible way. With the passage of this bill, the House has gone even further to the left than the Senate bill. It would spend more money than Obama on the largest farm program, crop insurance.

On top of all this, the process House Republicans used to get this 600-plus-page bill to the floor in a mere 10 hours essentially violates their own promise to conduct business in an open and transparent manner. They prohibited legislators from introducing amendments. And, they played a game of bait and switch by claiming this bill was the same text from the failed House farm bill of a few weeks ago.

I hardly know what to say about this monstrosity.  So I’ll just quote PJ O’Rourke: “Farm policy, although it’s complex, can be explained. What it can’t be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, DC, videotaped in flagrante delicto has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.”

He wrote that in 1990.  Almost 25 years later, it sounds as fresh as if he were blogging it from the Starbucks at 1st and E Street NW.  Which itself basically tells you everything that you need to know about our agricultural policy.

09 Jul 15:47

Map Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan


Kevin Hartnett highlights it:

At a glance it’s just eye candy: Steve Lovelace of Dallas has created a map of the United States, where each state is filled with the logo of a corporation that originated there. Gillette for Massachusetts, Anheuser-Busch for Missouri, Apple for California, L.L. Bean for Maine. On his website Lovelace acknowledges that his choices are subjective, based on his judgment about which well-known corporations best represent the states they originated in, rather than objective criteria like choosing state’s biggest employer or most valuable company. Some of his choices were a given (Starbucks for Oregon, General Motors for Michigan), others were inspired (Pillsbury for Minnesota, Garmin for Kansas), while a few have a whiff of irony about them (Saks for Alabama, for instance).

Lovelace lists the featured companies by state here. It’s not as great as this video though.

08 Jul 13:41

Why Do We Grieve For The Dead?

by Andrew Sullivan

Julian Baggini considers the question:

There are, of course, plenty of … things about a death to get upset about, most obviously our sadness for the person who has died. However, philosophers have struggled to make sense of this and, as a result, have often concluded that there is simply nothing to be concerned about. The person has died. He cannot suffer in any way. There is no point in feeling sorry about what he might have missed out on because there is no longer anyone there to feel sorry for. The only people who can feel any pain are those who survive.

I think there’s something deeply wrong about this. The sadness that one feels for the deceased is not that he is, in a strange way, still around but unable to appreciate life, but rather that he is no longer around at all. He is not suffering but nor is he enjoying, savouring, loving, laughing, or appreciating either. That is the cause of our sadness, for him or, perhaps more accurately, for what the deceased could still have been.

Many philosophers have been baffled by this, protesting that it is no more rational to feel sad for the unexperienced joys of the deceased than it is for those of the never born. But there is a huge difference between the time two people could have spent together in the real world were it not for an accident, say, and the time two people who had never been born could have spent together in a parallel, imaginary universe. The former did not come to pass when it very nearly could have, while the latter is just one of an infinite number of counterfactual possibilities. It takes a curiously impersonal perspective to assign the same value to both the unrealised experiences of purely hypothetical beings and those of people who lived and breathed. If we can delight in someone’s company, or even just derive enjoyment from a glass of good wine, then there is nothing irrational about feeling sad, perhaps painfully so, that someone we know who would have taken equal pleasure did not have the chance to do so.

08 Jul 13:34

“Doubt Is Essential To Faith”

by Andrew Sullivan

In a brilliant TED talk, Lesley Hazleton, author of a recent biography of Mohammed, argues for “a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith – and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.” It’s worth watching in full:

27 Jun 15:20

Map Of The Day

by Andrew Sullivan


(Hat tip: Maria Popova)

26 Jun 01:09

Our Dwindling Nest Eggs

by Andrew Sullivan

Mitchell Tuchman reviews recent projections of retiree financial health from the Social Security Administration:

It is working Americans’ greatest fear: Being dependent on meager Social Security benefits in old age. A surprisingly large number of people will be in that position — a median dependence of 39% in the year 2022 and slightly higher (41%) in 2062, according to a government study. What “dependence” means for the typical household is that 39 cents of each dollar of income they get will come from the government-run retirement plan.

As with all statistics, averages obscure important information. Among the lowest earners, dependence on government income is much higher (52%). Still, even the top fifth of Americans will find that 25% of their income — on average for their group — comes from Social Security.

Nancy Folbre worries that Americans aren’t saving enough for old age:

Persistent unemployment and stagnant wages have left many workers treading water, struggling so hard to stay afloat that they couldn’t open a retirement account even if they wanted to. A new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security, based on analysis of the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances, shows that about 45 percent of all working-age households don’t hold any retirement account assets, whether in an employer-sponsored 401(k) type plan or an individual retirement account.

Among those 55 to 64 years old, two-thirds of working households with at least one earner have retirement savings less than one year’s income, far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement. By a variety of measures, most households, even those with defined benefit pensions, are falling far short of the savings they will need.

In Europe, things aren’t much better:

Saving for retirement is “a losing game” for hundreds of millions of European citizens as high charges and taxes destroy the value of pensions, according to the European Federation of Financial Services Users. “If pension savers cannot enjoy [positive] real returns then there is no point in making private provision,” said Guillaume Prache, managing director of EuroFinuse. … Mr Prache said the outlook for pension savings was “grim” as expected returns from bond markets were low or negative and taxes on savings were rising in most European countries, while charges and fees on pension funds showed no signs of falling significantly.

26 Jun 01:07

Our Love Of Love Stories

by Andrew Sullivan

Robert Boswell contemplates the appeal of “how we met” stories:

Why are we drawn to stories about people falling in love? There are likely a host of reasons, but here’s a good one: marriage, when observed from a place of solitude, has the power of dream. Solitary people fall in love with couples, imagining their own lives transformed by such a union. And once the transformation finally happens, people need to talk about it, telling not only their families, friends, and strangers on the bus but also themselves—repeating it to make it real, to investigate the mystery of marital metamorphosis. And they get good at the telling. People who cannot otherwise put together an adequately coherent narrative to get you to the neighborhood grocery will nonetheless have a beautifully shaped tale of how he met she (or he met he, or she met she) and became we.

Such stories often have many literary qualities.

They rely, almost by definition, on the revelation and transformation of character—the same elements that are the backbone of literary stories. The narratives have a mystery at the beginning: how the characters begin loving each other before they understand they’re doing it, the way sleep enters our bodies before we’re actually asleep; and like sleep, we fall into love, and fall deeper as we go. The narratives also have something like a built-in ending. A wedding, after all, is the traditional conclusion for comedies, and it is meant to indicate that the transformation has transpired. Passing through the ritual of the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom are irrevocably changed.

24 Jun 01:31

Links Through Their Lives, Ctd

by Andrew Sullivan

Tom Shone expands on his glowing praise for Richard Linklater’s trilogy – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and the recently-released Before Midnight:

If asked to provide a list of great American achievements over the past 20 years, I would say the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the iPhone and the speech with which Jesse [Ethan Hawke] first talks Céline [Julie Delpy] off the train in “Before Sunrise“. It had to do with time travellers, as I recall, but it was the tone that did it—a small miracle of foxy charm and open-hearted entreaty, whisked along by a Huck Finn boulevardier spirit. It turned out to be enough to power an entire movie.  Make that three.

Shone speaks of a “third character” in the films – Time:

It has long been an obsession of Linklater’s, going back to his first film, “Slacker” (1991), and one he shares with his fellow indie alumnus Tarantino. It makes you wonder what they were putting in the coffee at Sundance in 1994 that caused all the film-makers of their generation to launch far-reaching investigations into the nature of time and narrative. Where Tarantino in “Pulp Fiction” bent chronology to his own ends like a magician constructing an animal with balloons, Linklater, by both temperament and theme, went with the flow, setting in motion a series that would turn out to record nothing less than the wear and tear of time on love’s young dream. … [T]he Céline and Jesse films will be held up as classics of the heartfelt sequel form, up there with Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films, Satyajit Ray’s Apu films and the “Toy Story” trilogy.

Previous Dish on Before Midnight here.

20 Jun 21:34

Uncluttering your children’s artwork and school papers

by Jeri Dansky

"A friend of mine was just given a GIANT box of old art and school papers and she cried. Not from joy or sentiment, but from the burden of having to deal with it. It’s now collecting dust in her basement." = how I feel about the impending load of John's stuff that his mother wants to unload on us.

Kids often create an enormous amount of artwork — and then there’s the huge volume of schoolwork they come home with, too. Keeping it all would be overwhelming, but how do you decide which things to keep?

Eliminate duplicates

Kids often draw the same thing over and over again. How many nearly identical pictures of cats or superheroes do you need? Consider just keeping representative samples done over the years, which show how your child’s art has evolved.

Jessica Hinton wrote that she used to keep every piece of art her toddler made, but she’s changed her ways:

Today my daughter made 20 portraits of her baby sister, but I only kept one that she called her “favorite.” More likely than not we’ll keep it on the fridge and throw it away when another replaces it tomorrow. Or maybe, just maybe, this will be the one we’ll frame and hold on to for years to come. Maybe.

And as Susan Ward noted, even handprint art — something parents tend to keep — can be overdone:

You probably don’t need to keep two different handprint crafts made during the same week. Your child’s hand has not grown in 48 hours. Pick the cutest one and toss the other.

Choose original art

Drawings your children create out of their imagination will be more meaningful than those where they just filled in the colors in a coloring book.

Keep papers with a personal connection

The essay entitled “My Summer Vacation” or “My Family” is probably more meaningful than the essay on George Washington. Weekly spelling tests can probably be tossed, but a few samples of your child’s handwriting over the years might be fun to keep.

Other likely keepers are the papers (artwork or schoolwork) that showcase your child’s personality and talents. If your child decided to write the essay about George Washington in haiku, it might well become a keeper.

Consider ditching the macaroni art

Anything that’s three-dimensional is going to be harder to store than simple pieces of paper. You may well want to save some of these projects, but for others, it may work fine to just take a photograph of the art. Consider having your child hold that artwork when you take the photo.

Ask your children what to keep

Your children may have their own ideas about what is worth saving. If a particular piece is especially meaningful to your child, it’s probably a keeper, along with a note explaining the significance, if it’s not obvious.

Parents often have more difficulty in parting with the art than their children do. Michael Tortorello, in an article for The New York Times, quoted David Burton, a professor of art education, talking about kids and their art:

Once they’re through with it, they may lose interest in it very quickly. The process is more important than the product for the child.

But Burton also notes that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to see you toss the art into the trash hours after they create it.

Remember that your children, when they’re adults, will thank you for not keeping everything

Most people enjoy seeing a representative sample of the work they did as children. But too many papers takes away that joy.

As a commenter wrote on Apartment Therapy:

A friend of mine was just given a GIANT box of old art and school papers and she cried. Not from joy or sentiment, but from the burden of having to deal with it. It’s now collecting dust in her basement.

Aby Garvey summarizes things nicely:

I use the “ahhh …” test, and keep things that really tug at my heartstrings. It’s the original artwork or the creative writing stories that are most special to me. Spelling tests and math worksheets just don’t have the same tug, but we might keep one or two of those, just so we can see how things change from year to year. By including my child in the process, I also make sure we keep items that are meaningful to her.

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