Shared posts

05 Dec 20:00

Jaya Catches Up: So Many Ponies

by Jaya Saxena

Horse Girls. Man, that was and IS a thing.

horseRaise your hand if you were a Horse Girl. It’s ok, this is a safe space. Honestly, I was one too. If you’re not familiar with a concept of the Horse Girl, here’s the breakdown: a Horse Girl is that girl in your 5th grade class who is obsessed with horses. Horse Girls are found most commonly between the ages of 6 and 16, though if left untreated, this condition can often continue into adulthood.

Often the Horse Girl has never seen a horse in real life, or if she has, has no concept of the work and cost of actually caring for a horse. Horse Girls talk a lot about the freedom and beauty of these creatures, or about how intelligent they are. They often fantasize about getting married barefoot on top of a hill and riding off on a horse into the sunset. Girls who regularly care for horses, raise horses, or compete with horses are no longer Horse Girls. One positive side effect is that the Horse Girl is the only person who knows how to draw a horse. Talk to your children about Horse Girl syndrome today.

I most definitely was a Horse Girl. My grandparents kept horses, but even though I’d spend weekends grooming their Shetland Pony, Honeybear, and picking up manure, I was abysmal at competing, and had a lot of fantasies about riding bareback through fields.

Scan copy

The other thing about Horse Girls is that there is a whole genre of books dedicated to their interests. These books are full of willful children who discover true friends in horses, the only other animal apparently capable of an almost-human level of intelligence. As you may have guessed from this series, I did not read many of these books, but my impression is that no matter how much inside-horseball talk there is, or how long it takes for child and horse to actually bond, the book can and should always involve a bitchin’ horseriding montage.

Which is why My Friend Flicka is a bunch of horseshit.

The book begins with 10-year-old Ken riding Cigarette, what I assume is a goth horse, through his family’s ranch in Wyoming. Ken is always daydreaming, forgetting to do his chores and his homework, and now he is at risk of getting held back a grade. This doesn’t really matter to Ken, who spends all his time thinking about what it would be like if he had a colt of his own. (Note: This book uses the term “colt” the way most people use “foal,” that is as a young horse of either sex. Typical usage has “foal” for either sex, “colt” for a male, and “filly” for a female. O’Hara’s interchanging usage is extremely confusing and makes me question whether she was a real Horse Girl, though who knows, it was probably different in 1941).

Ken’s dad, Rob,  doesn’t want to give him a horse and is constantly grumbling about Ken costing him money and being irresponsible and not doing his chores, but I don’t know man, what else did you think having kids was like? I know you wanted sons to work your land on the cheap but maybe you should have just saved up and hired some adults. So Rob is grumpy, but just as soon as it seemed Ken was doomed to a summer of extra schoolwork and tense moments with his dad, his mom, Nell, steps in and convinces Rob that maybe giving Ken a foal to care for will teach him responsibility.

I want to take a moment to talk about Nell, who is by far one of the most interesting (I hesitate to use the term Strong, for some reasons) female characters I’ve encountered in YA. Nell’s story is that she’s a hardworking farm woman with a New England background, and a degree from Bryn Mawr. She bakes her own bread and knits, then goes on hikes to seek solitude and shoot rabbits. She spends the whole book seeming to long for something, whether it’s for her husband to understand Ken, for the daughter she will never get to have, or for her life back north. This is something I particularly appreciated, since there are too many narratives to count about city kids who wish to be free in the wild west (“too many to count” = “I can only think of Newsies right now but I know there are more”). It’s nice to see someone who can love the mountains, and still miss life in the city.

Nell plays the part of the good farm wife by providing food for all the men around her and making sure everyone is taken care of, but beneath it O’Hara depicts a sadness, and a desire to be more than what she is. O’Hara writes:

It has amused Nell at first to be addressed as Missus, but it had not taken her long to learn that, here in the West, it meant “the woman,” with all that word signified of gentleness and motherliness. Here, in her world of men, husband and sons, hired men, haying crew, horse buyers, to be the Missus meant to be that before which they could remove their hats, and bend their heads. In the cities a woman could turn herself into a driving machine, or harden herself to meet difficulties, but the Missus on a farm or ranch, though she might be milker of cows or trainer of horses, must be more and not less of a woman for all of that, or she would rob the men around her of something which was as sweet to them as the sugar in their coffee.

When we complain about Pick Up Artists, or Nice Guys bitching about the “friendzone,” this is the feeling we’re talking about. It’s a world that sees women not as their own agents, but as props in the story that men have crafted for themselves. If she became a “hardened” woman, or stopped being gentle and motherly, she would be “robbing” these men of something they believe they’re entitled to, rather than making her own choices. Her inability to adhere to this lifestyle would be a crime. So Nell goes on her walks to watch the sunset by herself, or drives into town to see a movie alone. She makes decisions and watches as her husband gives orders over her. She lets the farm hand take an axe from her because he thinks a woman shouldn’t cut wood while there are men around to do it. Every time she speaks I can hear her sighing.

As Nell mentions, she is surrounded by men, the foremost of which is her husband, Rob. Rob could easily be featured in Dad Magazine. He’s gruff and tries to raise his sons with tough love, and in his more playful moods chases his wife around their porch or makes some comment about how strong she is. He seems to understand that Nell and Ken have a deeper connection, and is honestly distraught by how much his son seems to be scared of him, so he quickly takes her advice and lets Ken choose a foal.

Ken chooses Flicka, a fast horse with a strain of “loco” blood from her mother, who was never able to be fully broken. There’s a lot of talk about how she’s beautiful but unbreakable, fast but unreliable, but Ken doesn’t care and makes his dad and the farmhands reign her in. She, being a wild fucking animal, becomes scared of the humans chasing her and tries to run through a barbed wire fence, which leaves her with bad wounds and infections.

The rest of the book is just Ken bringing his sick pony some oats, petting her, telling her how much he loves her and how she is his and he will take care of her forever, in language that I am sure would not be out of place in an Otherkin messageboard. Ken is very serious about his love for Flicka, and she seems to reciprocate (“She loved his hands, his touch, his caresses…They looked into each other’s eyes as lovers look,” I MEAN). Eventually she learns to trust him and do what he says, but she remains sick and her infections are causing her to lose weight. Eventually Rob gives the orders to his farmhand Gus that, at some point when Ken isn’t around, Flicka needs to be put out of her misery.

(By the way, there is also a whole subplot about a mountain lion that’s terrorizing surrounding farms and I just, I don’t even care, it is so boring. The mountain lion kills a foal and a cow and then Rob shoots it. The end.)

Ken then decides to spend one last night with Flicka, sneaking out of his room and cradling her body in a cold stream as she dies. Because for about a full chapter, O’Hara leads us to believe Flicka dies. She uses the words “she died,” and you’re thinking “great, now I’ll never get my bitchin’ horse montage” and think about watching Fly Away Home instead, because no it’s not horses but it’s still animals and humans accomplishing something together!! Gus comes to find Ken shivering in the water and carries him home, then comes back to find Flicka is actually still alive.

So now Flicka is getting better and Ken is sick, and the next chapters are just Ken in basically a coma and Flicka learning to walk again. And you think maybe, just maybe, they’ll both get better and reunite and ride off into the sunset. No. You know what happens? Ken, still sick, is driven out to see Flicka, and upon seeing her regains some strength and starts running toward her, and Flicka starts running toward him, AND THAT’S IT. He never rides her, or trains her, or gets to stick it to his dad and his asshole brother that he got the best horse and they were idiots to have doubted him. No, he just gets to run toward a horse. I can run toward a horse. Central Park is across the street from my office and any day I want I could jog over and spook one of the mares pulling a carriage. I won’t, but you are not special, Ken!

Tell me, Horse Girls, that there are other horse books that include scenes of children riding free with their horses, after they have learned to communicate solely with their eyes. Tell me that there are books that at least involve a relationship between human and horse that exists when they are both healthy, because I cannot take a horse book with another disappointing ending. Though maybe it’s different if you’re really into horses. To be honest, I was a pretty shitty Horse Girl. I couldn’t even draw one.

Read more Jaya Catches Up: So Many Ponies at The Toast.

11 Oct 19:01

How to be an everyday poly (and solo) ally

by aggiesez

So good. So, so good. SFW unless your boss is a douche canoe.

alliesHey folks, it’s National Coming Out Day! Congrats to everyone who’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer — you’re wonderful, whether you’re out or not.

Of course, today isn’t solely about sexual orientation and gender identity/presentation. It’s also a day to celebrate being out as polyamorous, open, a swinger, solo by choice, asexual, kinky — and any other way in which you might not quite fit the standard social relationship escalator norm.

National Coming Out Day also celebrates our allies: people whose sexuality, gender presentation, or relationship approaches may not veer much from common social norms, but who also appreciate and embrace the fact that other people do things differently. Love was never one size fits all — and that’s a good thing for all of us.

Allies are people who don’t simply passively accept the existence sexual, gender, or relationship minorities. They acknowledge us. They welcome us. And they’re also willing to stand with us publicly and speak up on our behalf, in order to combat ignorance, stigma, discrimination, and even violence. They treat our lives, preferences and relationships as no less important or valid (or inherently healthy or unhealthy) than their own.

Allies are tremendously important to any minority community, mainly because they generally enjoy social privilege. Because privilege exists. It’s not inherently wrong or evil; it simply is. People didn’t ask for or earn the privilege they have; it’s bestowed upon them by social norms.

But if you do have some privilege — including monogamous or couple privilege — you might as well use it for good.

You don’t have to act like an activist, or be obnoxious, in order to be an ally. This is something you can do in small ways, every day (or on any day, if not all the time). You don’t need to march in Pride parades or write pro-polyamory or anti-couplehood op-eds. You can be an ally in the course of casual conversations and daily decisions, simply by modeling inclusive, accepting behavior.

If you enjoy monogamous privilege or couple privilege and are a poly/open ally, then you have an advantage: Other monogamous/coupled people will probably notice and listen more — and respect it more — when YOU speak up on behalf of ethically non-monogamous people, solo people, and their preferences and relationships! Hearing such inclusiveness from mono or coupled people is more likely to inspire general tolerance and acceptance (and combat ignorance and stigma) than when it’s just poly and solo people speaking for themselves. That’s just how the world works.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT an “If you’re not with us, you must be against us” situation. I’m not saying that people who opt not to do some/all of the tips below  all the time, or who disagree with some/all of these suggestions, are opponents or bad people. Conversely, neither am I saying that doing any of these things “proves” that you’re an ally.

I’m just saying: If you’d like the world to be a friendlier place for people who have nontraditional approaches to honest, ethical, mutually consensual intimate relationships (specifically poly/open), or who prefer solohood to escalator-style relationships, you can help create that change through small, everyday actions and interactions. You can model the behavior that can clue others in, which helps create a more inclusive society.

Tips for poly and solo allies

Here are some ways you can be a poly/open ally — and a solo ally — in your everyday life, in the real world:

Don’t assume that everyone is, should be, or wants to be monogamous. Try imagining that, say, every third person you know is poly. Your friends, your relative, your colleagues, the cop who just wrote you a traffic ticket. We’re all just people, and difference is a part of life. Monogamy is a good option — and it’s not the only one.

Don’t assume that couplehood or primary-style relationships are universal goals. Couplehood is important to many people. They enjoy — and seek — lifelong, cohabitating, socially recognized life partnerships. But couplehood doesn’t work for everyone, and not everyone wants it. Even people who are in couples may not want to ride the relationship escalator in a standard way — they may never want to live together, etc.

Don’t hypersexualize ethically nonmonogamous people. We are no more or less likely than anyone else to be sexually voracious/indiscriminate, or perpetually sexually/romantically available (seriously, we have lives and limits too!), or seeking casual hookups, or predatory, or willing to engage in deception or cheating (yeah, we’re generally serious about the “ethical” part), or “sex addicts” (which itself is a pretty biased concept — basically, anyone has/wants more sex than you think is “normal”), or even interested in sex at all (many asexual/demisexual people consider themselves poly/open). If a poly/open person invites you to coffee or offers to let you crash at their place, don’t automatically assume they’re hitting on you. React as you would when getting such an offer from any other person.

Don’t conflate love and commitment with exclusivity. Don’t assume that poly/open people, and also anyone who prefers to be solo, are averse to or incapable of deep emotional investment or lasting commitment in intimate relationships. Don’t assume that our relationships and partners mean less to us than yours do to you. Don’t assume that our breakups hurt less because we may have other partners at the time. Don’t assume that exclusivity is required for love or commitment to be “real,” valid, significant, “serious,” or healthy. Remember that plenty of exclusive relationships end up being shallow, fleeting, or unhealthy.

Similarly, when talking about love and commitment with people you believe are monogamous, don’t act like, or talk like, exclusivity and the relationship escalator are synonymous with emotional investment and commitment.

Don’t make the verbal evil eye. When someone mentions polyamory, don’t automatically say, “Well, I could never do that!” Seriously: do you feel the need to react that way when someone mentions that their religion is different religion from yours, or that they prefer a different type of dancing than you do? Unless someone is explicitly suggesting that you, personally, should try polyamory, don’t react as if they’re talking about you. You don’t need to defend or distance yourself from other people’s choices.

Don’t ask, “Can polyamory ever really work?” Let me answer this up front: ANY type of honest, mutually consensual relationship can be healthy and happy — or not. This includes monogamy. It all depends on the people involved. I’m sure you know that, monogamous relationships can be unhealthy, drama-prone, and detrimental, too. The potential for relationship dysfunction is equal opportunity. The main difference is that monogamy enjoys a ton of social, legal, financial, media and governmental support — which serves as exoskeleton, and as role modeling, and as discouragement from developing skills for dealing with diverse relationship types. All of this makes it much easier to enter into, and to stay in, a monogamous relationship.

Maybe you’ve asked this question because the only nonmonogamous relationships you’ve heard about are ones that have had messy breakups. Well, guess what? You probably hear more details about monogamous relationships with messy breakups, too. Healthy relationships are peaceful and boring; people don’t really talk about them much. Sex advice columnist/podcaster/author Dan Savage has a lot to say about why you don’t hear about successful open relationships.

Do take media portrayals of poly/open relationships with a grain of salt. Most mainstream media portrayals of polyamory focus on the couple+ model (implying that it’s mainly done by and for couples), and emphasize rules and hierarchy, or family-style polyamory where everyone lives together in one household. Speaking as a journalist, that’s lazy journalism: writing the story you already know how to write, rather than the one that exists. There has been some fair, accurate coverage of polyamory — but so far that’s the exception, not the rule.

And as for reality TV shows about polyamory: You know the “reality” in “reality TV” is always ironic, right?

Don’t assume that solo = lonely, or antisocial — or that someone’s only solo because they’re they “couldn’t land a partner.” In fact, many solo people (poly, open, or not) are involved in pretty significant, ongoing intimate relationships — just not escalator-track ones. Also, lots of solo people are really happy that way; and lots of partnered-up people are completely miserable.

Don’t assume someone is cheating if you see them out on a date, or being affectionate with, someone other than the spouse/partner you know about.

Don’t ask poly/open people rude questions about their sex life. Hey, if you’re monogamous, guess what? People probably assume that you have sex, too! (Or at least, that you want to — which shows how marginalized asexual people are, too.) Do you want them to ask you about your sex life?

Don’t out people as poly/open. Just because someone has outed themselves to you doesn’t mean they are out in general. Many poly/open people are selectively closeted — they’re willing to be out in some contexts, or with some people, but not others. And they should be the ones who decide when, how, and where they share this information. Poly/open relationships face a lot of stigma and judgment, and get no protection. People do get fired, ostracized, lose housing, lose professional advancement, lose child custody, and more for being ethically nonmonogamous. These risks are very real. You don’t get to decide which risks other people take. But by acting everyday to make the world a friendlier place for poly/open relationships, you are reducing those risks. (Thank you for that.)

Don’t perpetuate or tolerate polyphobic stereotypes and myths. Such as: all nonmonogamous people must have commitment issues, or be sex maniacs, or are hippies, or have low self esteem. Don’t say these things, and — more importantly — don’t just stand there silently when you hear others voice them. Say something. You can be nice about it. You can be gently educational or humorous. Or you can get pissed off if you want to. The point is to let people know those remarks and stereotypes are as wrong, and as damaging, as racism or sexism.

Don’t concern troll poly/open people. This is when you question/criticize/judge someone under the guise of acting “concerned” that their identity, choices, or behavior may cause harm to themselves or others. This happens to ethically nonmonogamous people a lot, and it’s really hurtful, patronizing, and insulting — even when it’s well meant.

Concern trolling is especially damaging when it comes from medical, legal, social services, or education professionals — it actively interferes with people gaining access to services or exercising their rights. Also, it’s common for poly/open people to concern-troll solo poly people.

Not concern trolling people mainly comes down to not asking stupid, biased questions, such as:

  • “Aren’t you worried that you’re more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease?” (Lack of testing, communication, honesty, and safer-sex skills and supplies are what increase your STI risk — not whether you’re monogamous. Plenty of mono people get STI’s — because very few people are 100% monogamous, and because monogamous people are probably less likely to be comfortable with or skilled at safer sex and sexual health communication.)
  • “Aren’t you worried that this is bad for your children?” (Parenting skills do not depend on monogamy. Single parents often get this same kind of concern trolling.)
  • “Don’t you feel like you’re missing out on having a real relationship?” (Nonexclusive relationships are just as “real” and valid as exclusive ones. In fact, you could argue that exclusivity of any kind might be more likely to cause you to “miss out.”)

Do acknowledge that ethical nonmongamy is an option.
When you get involved in discussions involving fidelity, monogamy, and cheating (because most people talk about these issues at least sometimes), mention that ethical nonmonogamy is a viable option. Or at least, don’t avoid mentioning it because other people might think it’s weird.

For instance, if someone is saying how another person is cheating on their partner, you might ask, “Are you sure this is cheating? Maybe they’ve agreed to have some kind of open relationship.”

Don’t believe in guilt by association. Stigma is only contagious if you buy into it. Are you concerned that if people knew that some of your friends, colleagues, family members, neighbors, etc. are poly/open, or that they prefer solohood — or that if they hear you speaking up on behalf of such lifestyles and relationships — then they might assume that YOU could be “that way” too? And that then they might start treating you like you’re weird/dangerous/flawed, and that you could be ostracized, judged, or otherwise suffer as a result? Let that go. You can’t control what others think.

Also try not to decide whether to invite/introduce/include people in your life or events on the basis of their lifestyle. That is, don’t worry: “Well, if I invite that poly/open/solo person to this party, what might people think that says about me?” Rather, consider this: If people were to judge you on that basis, what might that say about them?

Don’t issue “+1″ invitations. If you’re holding an event (like a wedding) where seating is limited, simply ask people to indicate how many guests, if any, they want to bring. Don’t imply that people should bring a date (and only one date) — as if attending solo is unwelcome. Similarly, don’t imply that people must choose among their significant others in order to attend your event. Issue invitations in waves, count the RSVP totals as they come in, and issue more invitations until you’ve reached your seating/space limit. Or better yet, build in flexibility to the number of people you can accommodate. Events that only accommodate people in pairs tend to be stultifying.

Don’t ask poly/open people, or people who prefer solohood, to conceal that aspect of themselves. Don’t say, “I’m fine with your lifestyle/relationships, but please don’t mention it to X” (my family, my dinner party guests, my kids, my friends, etc.) If you ever feel someone is inappropriately raising ANY topic (like Walter re Vietnam in The Big Lebowski), that’s a separate issue to address. But don’t assume that your poly friend/acquaintance mentioning their relationship(s) or lifestyles in a casual, non-sexually-explicit way is any more or less appropriate than other people mentioning that they’re married, dating, single, pregnant, etc. And if your family/guests/etc. react strangely to such mentions, you can be an ally by demonstrating through your behavior that consensual, ethical nonmonogamy or a preference for solohood are no big deal. Let your family, etc. deal with their own reactions; you are not responsible for managing them.

Do watch your language. Even poly people fall back on couple-centric and hierarchical language and concepts. Be aware of them, and be willing to catch and correct yourself when you do it.

Do educate yourself about polyamory in general (the Polyamory Weekly podcast especially rocks), monogamous privilege, solo polyamory, swinging (and where swinging shades into polyamory), couple privilege, the relationship escalator, and the perspective of non-primary partners. And share those resources with others!

…That’s my list so far. What would you add? Please comment below. I’ll be revising this list as new stuff comes up, so consider this a living document.

Thanks to the many allies of polyamory, open relationships, and other approaches to ethical nonmonogamy. We really appreciate you, every day, for supporting us in everyday ways.

11 Nov 18:30

Who gets your money, your vinyl collection, or your blog? The basics to making your estate plan, part 1

by Cass

Don't let your eyes glaze over yet! This shit is really important, and we're going to do all we can to make it interesting.

Who gets your vintage vinyl, and your other stuff? By: doguloveCC BY 2.0

With some basic planning, you can provide for your loved ones in the worst case scenario. "Estate planning," an umbrella term, can help you direct exactly what happens with you, your loved ones, your money, and your things in the event of your incapacity or death.

Every person can benefit from a basic plan that provides peace of mind for you and gives your loved ones what they need to know if you cannot tell them.

Usually people think that an estate plan requires an attorney and a lot of money. While an attorney will be able to give you comprehensive advice and documents unique to you and your situation, it need not be expensive. And you do not necessarily need an attorney for many of the documents that can help in tough situations. These documents are also a great place to start if your partnership is not legally recognized where you live. You can essentially make a contract between you and your partner to give each other some rights that would otherwise be automatic if your marriage were legally recognized.

This overview is meant to be general information and applicable for wherever you are. For your specific situation, check your local legal help society, inquire at your bank, or ask your doctor.

Wills: for more than just post-dead-times!

The first thing people tend to think of is their "last will and testament" that says who gets their stuff when they die. However, a will is an extremely powerful and versatile document that can do so much more. A last will is valid only when you die. This document lets you decide who (or what) gets your money, your vinyl collection, your blog, or your pet cat when you die. If you have children, this is also the place to say who will take care of your child — if your spouse is a step-parent to your child, this is a MUST to make sure the logical transfer of care happens and that your spouse takes care of your child.

Healthcare power of attorney(POA)/Living will/Advance healthcare directive: Sign all the forms!

Whether you realized it or not, you likely filled out one of these forms if you underwent any major surgery. Hospitals make people fill out this form so they know what they can or cannot do if you cannot make your own healthcare decisions. The healthcare POA is valid only while you are alive and cannot make your own decisions related to healthcare. This is where you tell your doctor that you do not want to stay on life support, or that you do want painkillers if you have a terminal condition. Here, you can also say what kind of funeral or body-handling you want in the case of your death — likely this is the only document around when you die.

The healthcare POA is one of the easiest plans to make, as many are forms where you check boxes and fill out a questionnaire to indicate your preferences. Once made, give copies to your decision-maker (patient advocate) and your doctor, and bring it with you to the hospital if you are having surgery.

Durable power of attorney: who signs your checks and steps in your shoes?

Durable power of attorney is one of the most confusing parts of your estate plan, and it is also extremely powerful. While you are alive, you can designate someone (your "agent") who can do things and make decisions on your behalf. This document lets you decide who can sign checks for you, participate in legal matters, or do practical things like pay bills and negotiate contracts on your behalf. Everything your agent does for you is only what they know you want them to do. However, because this document allows someone to "step in your shoes" to act as if they are you, this is not a document to be made lightly, and should be as specific as possible.

Trust: Like being a zombie, but less creepy

Often called "the hand from the grave," a trust gives you control of your property, and is valid while living or after you die. Trusts are often used to direct how someone is allowed to use or manage your property. Trust fund kids are really just people who get income from some account which is not controlled by themselves, but by a trustee who manages the money for that person. You can set up a trust to benefit yourself, your family, your pets, your business, or a charity.

This document is extremely flexible and treated a bit differently everywhere, so this is one document to consult with your attorney.

These documents are the basic documents of many estate plans. There are more, but they are more complicated and are not legally binding everywhere. Document titles may differ depending on where you live. For legal advice, seek an attorney.

Recent Comments

  • Tiffany: please please please talk with anyone you choose to handle your final affairs! Make sure they are comfortable with … [Link]
  • Holly: I look forward to part 2! My husband and I have had these conversations with eachother but not with … [Link]
  • Cass: A GREAT question. Typically creating a new Will will void the previous one. (There are special cases, but an attorney … [Link]
  • Cass: Yes. If OBH is publishing part 2, that will be its focus - the questions to ask to get these … [Link]
  • Cass: That's a good reason not to use those Popular Online Legal Services or the kits from Kinkos. They just ask … [Link]

+ 11 more! Join the discussion

08 Nov 18:30

A non-parent's holiday guide to picking out offbeat children's gifts

by Stephanie Kaloi

I NEVER have any idea what to get kids! Bookmarking this website. Search by age = brilliant!

I love everything to do with gifting: giving them, receiving them, scheming them, you name it. Since I have a kid, a lot of my non-parent friends and family members will often ask me what kind of fun, kind of weird, somewhat non-traditional gifts they should give their nephews, nieces, and family friends and I've decided I should just compile a list to make it easy on everyone.

I built this list with non-parents in mind, so here goes:

Baby stuff that isn't plastic

Oompa Toys is one of my all-time favorite websites for baby toys. You can shop by category (blocks, arts and crafts, music, and so on), age (they cover newborn to 9ish), theme (architecture, ocean, etc.), and brand. Everything is wooden and typically sources from organic materials, which means your plastic-shunning parent friends will love the all-natural materials, and you get to look like an awesome and informed friend. Win-win.

Plush organs: unusual yet delightful toddler-friendly gifts

I'm going to take you to the next level and introduce you to a few toddler-friendly things that aren't your average toy for a two-year-old.


I discovered plush organs a while ago when I was looking for a great holiday gift for my son's hematologist (answer: this super cute platelet), when I discovered the wide, fantastic world of weird stuffed animals. These are totally cool for toddlers because they can be toted around anywhere. Each organ is a potential funny conversation piece ("Excuse me, is your son playing with a blue testicle that kind of looks like Elvis?" Why yes, he is.), and you'll probably get a few chuckles from the parents in your lives. Or at least, you would if you gave these to my kid.

For little nerds

Nerdy kids are my favorite kind of kids, so if you've got a mad scientist between 8 and 13 in your life, get pumped. I'm all about those cats! I'm particularly infatuated with the FrankensteinLabs Einstein's Brain Desk Lamp because OMG: that's incredible. Can you imagine growing up with that in your bedroom? Epic.


When in doubt, buy BOOKS. Offbeat Families has a TON of pages of archives filled with different recommendations based on what you might need. There are books about LGBT adoptive families, books that feature children with disabilities, and more. Here are a few that I really love, divided up by age:


Babies don't really care what you read to them as long as you're doing it, and I'll go ahead and tell you that many a parent has appreciated a baby's book with a fun twist.

Toddlers + Preschoolers

I have to avoid the temptation to make this book section all about Star Wars, but need to mention Darth Vader and Son and Star Wars: Vader's Little Princess just in case you missed hearing about them. There are, after all, many toddler and preschooler-friendly books out there (and if you're looking for good reads for elementary aged kiddos, we have a great list right here. Fair warning: City Dog, Country Frog will make everyone cry.

Tweens + Teens

I love, love, love Young Adult Fiction. I love it so much I still read it regularly! I knew I'd love Eleanor & Park as soon as I saw the cover.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: quite a few gift ideas for the kiddos in your life. It's not exhaustive by any means — what awesome gifts have you given in the past to kids?

Recent Comments

  • enigma: Love these game suggestions! I got my cousin (nearly 10 then) Apples to Apples for Christmas last year and … [Link]
  • Ariel: This is an oft-asked question, and the answer is … I think if you click this link and make your … [Link]
  • Karen: So I love some of this stuff and would like to buy it but I'm in the UK and don't … [Link]
  • jane: These are great suggestions for littles and bigs. I find the 6-10 age range the hardest to shop for. … [Link]
  • Ellie: I love your recommendations, especially for books! For your Tween/Teen section on books, though, I'd actually say that those … [Link]

+ 16 more! Join the discussion

02 Oct 22:31

Video Wednesday: Tiny Houses of DC

by WashingtonGardener

Tiny house love!

Last weekend I attended a tour of the Tiny Houses of DC. These are located at the colorfully named Boneyard Studios off of North Capitol Street and next to an historic cemetery. There are four "tiny" houses on the pie-shaped lot and also several fruit trees and garden beds. In this video, you will get a quick overview of the site and the basics of tiny houses. The simplicity movement has always fascinated me and I think many of us share that "on Walden Pond" fantasy, but being able to live in the city gives you (in theory) the best of both worlds. I encourage you to attend a tour yourself. They are offered monthly, are free, and take less than an hour.
25 Oct 15:20

apple slab pie

by deb

"I realize that if you’ve never been in an apple orchard in October, when you’ve escaped the city to find yourselves in a quiet grove as the leaves are just starting to turn and the sky is unimaginably blue and you’re wearing your first thick sweater of the season, it’s hard to imagine how one accidentally picks 25 pounds too many apples."


apple slab pie

In one of my favorite October traditions, we picked too many apples a few weekends ago. As in maybe perhaps 25 pounds more than we needed? It’s hard to gauge. I realize that if you’ve never been in an apple orchard in October, when you’ve escaped the city to find yourselves in a quiet grove as the leaves are just starting to turn and the sky is unimaginably blue and you’re wearing your first thick sweater of the season, it’s hard to imagine how one accidentally picks 25 pounds too many apples. But I bet if you’ve been there and felt that, how fun it is to pluck crisp, unblemished, unwaxed apples from trees and let the branches snap back and the leaves flutter droplets of last night’s rain over your face, you’ve probably gotten carried away too. I think picking too many apples in October is about as important of a tradition as burning food on a backyard grill over July 4th weekend and going through a whole jar of cinnamon every fall. It’s going to happen either way; it’s best to embrace it.

the galas had a bad year

But when we got back to our distinctly not-grove-sized apartment, we didn’t have anywhere to put them. So, we started with applesauce, eight pounds of it. We moved onto oatmeal cookie-ish crumbles (would you like the recipe?), which chipped away at a few pounds apiece, and then my son’s preschool was making something with apples and I was all “LET ME DONATE THEM PLEASE.” There were whole wheat apple muffins (which enlisted 2), then apple pancakes (another 2), and then we made more applesauce (4 pounds) and all of a sudden we had only 6 apples left and I was devastated, because I’d forgotten to make pie. Who forgets to make pie? Nobody you should be friends with.

apples, apples, everywhere

... Read the rest of apple slab pie on

© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to apple slab pie | 252 comments to date | see more: Apple, Fall, Photo, Tarts/Pies, Thanksgiving

08 Aug 15:14

strawberry, lime and black pepper popsicles

by deb

For John, the popsicle man. Love this idea!

strawberry-lime, black pepper

I had these popsicle molds for 14 months before using them once, yet in the weeks since I used them for the first time, I’ve made three other varieties and considered doing a 5-day week of posts here exclusively devoted to popsicle offerings. I’ve basically fallen down a popsicle rabbit hole so deep, now every time I see something that looks good, I think, I wonder how that would taste as a popsicle. (My family’s looking nervous around me, understandably.)

strawberries, hulled and quartered
macerating with sugar

So, what changed? First, I realized that they hold 1/3 cup each. One-third of a cup! Do you know how little that is? You could literally stuff it with the most indulgent Ben & Jerry’s and still come in under their suggested serving size, while eating something that felt generous. Not that we’re going to do that. Yet. I also realized that all of the headaches that most iced frozen desserts involve — egg yolk custards, buckets of leftover egg whites, freezer bowls, the churning of machines so loud and groaning that we used to (seriously) lock in the bathroom so we didn’t have to hear it, only to have another two hours of freezer time to go — do not exist in Popsicle Land, a magical place where all concoctions freeze perfectly and but six hours stand between you and your next indulgence-on-a-stick. Finally, seeing as we recently decided it would be a really good idea to buy a white carpet, I especially love that at least the ones I’ve been making aren’t terribly drippy. As they’re mostly fruit purees and other thick things, they don’t so much melt back to a watery state when someone (not naming names) takes an hour to finish one.

a brief simmer to further limpen them

... Read the rest of strawberry, lime and black pepper popsicles on

© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to strawberry, lime and black pepper popsicles | 149 comments to date | see more: Lime, Photo, Popsicles, Strawberries, Summer

24 Oct 06:30

Sometimes words actually do hurt me

by Skylar Fox

I, like many, was a child who was bullied. Constantly and for years. I had it harder than some, not as hard as others. I was never physically attacked (besides the occasional shove here and there), my experience was mostly bullying through insult and exclusion. And while having to deal with that was hard, what made it harder was the fact that no one was capable of supporting me effectively.

From one of my absolute favorite webcomics, xkcd

In my experience society tends to take a triage approach to bullying. Is someone acting physically violently toward you? We know how to handle that! There are lots of systems in place for dealing with it – not all ultimately positive – but we understand it on a fundamental level (hitting = bad) so we prioritize it. And rightfully so, physical violence is incredibly traumatic (sometimes fatally so) and, particularly for LGBTQ children and adults, an unconscionably common experience. Emotional violence, on the other hand, affects people in intensely personal ways, ways we can’t fully internalize because the experience is theirs. Combine that with a victim-blaming my-word-against-theirs culture and the social stigma of therapy and we get a system which dismisses and minimizes (and contributes to) the long-term emotional damage of non-physical bullying.

“Just ignore them and they’ll stop.”

Don’t take it personally.”

“They just don’t understand you.”

“It’s ok, we love you.”

Words can’t hurt you.

All of these aphorisms and more are so common and incredibly well-intentioned but not the least bit effective in actually providing support to someone in need of it. They don’t encourage the victim to identify and process the feelings of sadness and isolation and anger and confusion they feel. While said out of love and a desperate desire to help without the tools to do so, they don’t actually acknowledge our experiences or guide us in creating an identity that simultaneously incorporates and transcends those experiences.

Earlier this year a spoken word poem called “To This Day”, written and performed by Shane Koyczan and overlaid with contributions from over 80 visual artists, went viral and I was hesitant. So many Facebook comments about its power and truth. Subconsciously I didn’t know if I was ready to turn around and face that part of myself, the part that I’d suppressed so well for two decades. I’d moved on hadn’t I? I’ve created an identity and a life that I love. I’m at peace with my past and have moved on!

I found a private place and watched it.

I wept for 20 minutes.

I wept again when I re-watched it while writing this post.

(If you have a little extra time I recommend Shane’s TEDTalk which includes the poem above and more thoughts[1])

I cried because someone had finally acknowledged all of my experiences and feelings. I cried because I finally felt inclusion. I felt respect. I felt grief. I felt relief. I felt joy. I felt overwhelming pain and overwhelming love.

For the first time in my life, really, I FELT.

I cried because just that simple act of acknowledgement, after such a long time, revealed to me just how profoundly and deeply I was affected by my experiences. How that fundamentally informed how I related to myself and the people around me, how I approached relationships, and even how I perceived my own personal value.

At that moment I found opened a flood gate of self-awareness that I didn’t even know was closed. I almost immediately began relating to everything and everyone in new and more engaged and complete ways that are beautiful and satisfying. At the same time I felt sad that it took me until I was almost 30 to have these realizations. That, if it weren’t for a viral YouTube video I may never have processed those feelings.

We spend a lot of time deconstructing and postulating about the “why” of bullies themselves. What is their home life like? What is the source of their anger? … And those are incredibly important questions to address, but at the same time let’s also ask their victims how they are affected. How they feel and how they’d like to be supported. How they perceive themselves and their relationships as a result of their experiences. Let’s acknowledge and respect their struggle and provide guidance for creating an intentional identity.

Sticks and stones never broke my bones but words…

they hurt me for decades to come.

Please respect their power.

[1] The “To This Day Project” also has a website here with links to bullying and support resources along with the video, a transcription of the poem, animator contributions, and even an app.

Filed under: Communication, Harassment, Mental Health, Parenting, Poetry, Relationships Tagged: Bullying, Shane Koyczan, support
11 Oct 01:26

I’m detecting a foul odor coming from your general direction.

by Kerry

The best part of this is the "countdown timer of farts"

Basic hygiene: Sadly, one of those things that some people make it to college without learning…until they end up with a bio major for a roommate.

I'm detecting foul body odor coming from your bed sheets and closet. Due to the humidity, age, and overall neglect of the Howell building, there are a lot of bacteria and they function at a significantly higher rate than in most other structures. The bacteria feed on human excretions and other easy food sources. These are but are not limited to sebaceous and apocrine gland secretions, actual food, fecal residues from farting, etc. As you may or may not be aware of, the bacteria that metabolizing these substances are odor causing. Since we are paying in excess of $2000.00 for these rooms per semester, cooperation to ensure a livable room and satisfactory cohabitation is a very high priority. I pay out-of-pocket by myself, so I'm resentful that the room almost always falls short in cleanliness in appearance or odor. This smell is not from room humidity, end of story. To remedy this problem, take the following steps...

related: This room is protected by the Constitution!

18 Oct 15:30

How can an introverted couple cohabit with another couple?

by Offbeat Editors

Fascinating and related to intentional community.

Could we all live together in one townhouse? (Photo by: Taber Andrew BainCC BY 2.0)

My husband, our two closest friends (who are married to each other), and I all live in an apartment building that has recently been purchased by an Evil Property Management Company. We aren't bound by a long-term lease, so we're considering moving out — all four of us together.

Since we have loved the community we have created living in the same building (we do a lot together, including having dinner together once per week), we've started discussing the possibility of renting a townhouse together, and living in closer community.

All of us have lived in some degree of community before, and had some combination of good and bad experiences with it, so we want to make sure we don't fall into a dysfunctional roommate dynamic. Also, we're all introverts to a greater or lesser degree, so we need to make sure we protect alone time. Has anyone else lived as a couple with another couple, or been an introvert living in intentional community? What made it work? What made it hard? -Sylvia

Recent Comments

  • Sara B: I'd be really interested in hearing more about this as you all move in together and negotiate living together. … [Link]
  • Colleen: I love the cohabiting couples/intentional and/or unintentional community posts pop up. Like most people above, my girlfriend and I live … [Link]
  • Sylvia: The duplex is the Someday Plan — kind of like the motel is your Someday Plan. Before our apartment … [Link]
  • Brigitte: I'm seriously planning, one day, to buy a motel and turn it into a little intentional community space. I like … [Link]
  • Brigitte: Once I tossed my roommate (who was reading a book) the video game controller and turned on the TV for … [Link]

+ 14 more! Join the discussion

15 Aug 11:50

Want your kids to play outside? Rip out the lawn! by Garden Rant

by Garden Rant

YES!!! Down to the lawn!

Pam's kids loved their lawnless front yard.

Pam’s kids loved their lawnless front yard.

Guest Rant by Pam Penick

Lawns are for kids, right? After all, they need that big, green carpet to enjoy the outdoors. Would it be an exaggeration to say it borders on neglect not to keep a lawn for your children or grandchildren to play on?

Some people think so. In a recent article in the New York Times about drought-prone cities paying homeowners to rip out water-hogging lawns, one critic implied that families should keep their lawns for their children’s sake. “It’s getting to the point where kids live in apartments, and they don’t even see grass, except in magazines,” a Los Angeles mother was quoted as saying, vowing to keep her emerald turf. I hear this a lot: kids need lawns so they can go outside and play.

As a mother of two, a garden designer who works with plenty of young families, and a former kid myself, I think that’s hogwash.

The sad truth is that most kids hardly set foot in their own yards today thanks to the indoor lure of video games, texting, Instagram, and whatever the latest cool app is. Sure, kids still play a lot of sports, but these activities are scheduled on school and municipal fields. They’re not the casual pickup games with the neighbors’ kids in the front yard that some of us remember. Heck, kids aren’t even at home that much these days. After school they’re at piano practice, karate lessons, and tutoring sessions. If the family lawn is meant to entice kids outdoors, it’s clearly not working.

The bad news, much lamented by wellness experts over the past decade, is that kids are spending less time than ever in nature.

The good news is that means the yard is yours! Even you young parents can feel justified in ripping out the lawn and remaking your yard to your gardener’s heart’s content.

The really good news is that doing so can actually make your yard more enticing to your kids than a lawn ever could.

Here’s why. Kids like big rocks to climb on. They like bushes to hide under. They like trees to climb. They like water to splash in. They love trying to catch lizards and holding out a sweaty hand to see if a passing butterfly will land for a moment. They love riding trikes and scooters on circuitous routes through a garden, the junglier the better. They like digging in dirt.

I remember as a kid my favorite spot in my big, suburban back yard was the woodpile stacked between two trees, which my friends and I, caped like superheroes, climbed onto and pretended was the Bat Cave. The lawn was of no interest to us. Next door lived the luckiest kids in the world, or so it seemed to me, because the recent construction of their home had left a 6-foot mound of lumpy soil, overgrown with weeds, which was perfect for creeping up commando-style and spying on grownups from the high, secret perch. When we moved a few years later to a house in an established, more landscaped neighborhood, I loved to hang out in the woodsy, overgrown area at the back of the yard, not the open lawn. During the mild South Carolina winter my sister and I raided our garden’s pine trees and Camellia sasanqua hedge to make tiny bark boats adorned with frilly, pink blossoms, and floated them on the waterlogged cover of the pool.

My own kids, when they were little, confirmed my memories of what children find to be fun. They loved scampering on boulders at the local park, leaping from rock to rock. They barreled around our lawnless front garden on their scooters, cruising the garden paths that I’d paved with ramps rather than steps, ducking under overhanging branches and crazily skirting my planting beds as I hollered, “Watch out!”

They taught me, and I remembered from experience, that the best yard you can create for your kids is one that they can explore. An expanse of lawn gives you no reason to step outside and see what’s going on. You can see everything there is to see from the window. But a garden! A garden beckons and entices. Flowers and seeds attract all manner of entertaining and beautiful birds and insects. Leafy plants offer touchable texture and help hide parts of the garden from view, making even a short garden stroll an adventure: what new bloom or butterfly will appear around the bend? And, if you like, a small lawn fits quite nicely into such a space, offering a restful spot for the eye and the body – and even a game of catch.

So I say to those who reject the idea of a no-lawn yard as detrimental to children, think again. Unless your children are playing on that lawn regularly, you could transform your yard from a lawn desert into a diverse, interesting, enticing place of discovery for your whole family to enjoy, and likely conserve water and create wildlife habitat in the process. When you think about it that way, a lawn is depriving your children of experiences with nature that they’re unlikely to get elsewhere.

But don’t worry – it’s an easy fix. Just get out the shovel and start digging. Find a few extra shovels, tell the kids it’s OK to get dirty, and they may even join you.lawngone

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Whether you’re ripping out your lawn for you or your kids, you may be interested in my book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, which I wrote for beginning gardeners and anyone concerned about the environmental costs of maintaining a lawn. Filled with how-to information, design ideas, plant suggestions, and plenty of inspirational photographs, it’ll show you how rewarding a lawnless or less-lawn garden can be.

How to enter? Just leave a comment on this post; one comment per person, please. Entries close at 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday, August 21. Winner must reside in the U.S.

Pam Penick is a garden designer in Austin, TX and blogs at Digging.

Want your kids to play outside? Rip out the lawn! originally appeared on Garden Rant on August 15, 2013.

17 Oct 14:30

The Girl Who Loved Too Much: A Fairy Tale

by Jan DeVry

Too beautiful not to share. Too honest, and sweet. And some parts are too familiar.

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved too much.

Too much to be “normal,” that is. As a child, she made “little while friends” on vacation and floated between cliques, welcome in all but never really one of them. Sometimes she was part of a group of three or four girls, but she never had a “best” friend – or if she did, it didn’t matter if the best friend had another friend who was best to them. When she was friends with someone, though, she meant it, and was generous and helpful and loyal. And she was all right by herself, sneaking off at recess with a library book to see her friends within the pages.

The girl who loved too much grew up, and started noticing boys. One day the boy she liked called her, asked her to work on a project for the school play with him. He was older, and had a girlfriend, but it was nice just to talk to him and create something together. It was enough, to just feel the warmth and happiness that came from love. She almost wanted to keep him at a distance, so that nothing would happen to the love.

The boy graduated; the girl’s parents moved away. In the new city was a new boy, who played the upright bass with his arms wrapped around it like a lover. She was jealous of that bass. What a silly feeling, jealousy! As though arms could be used to hold only one thing; as if he were supposed to stop making that wonderful music just because she was there now. Eventually, he did wrap his arms around her, and the warmth returned, and this time she didn’t have to hold him at a distance. They explored each other’s bodies together, silently, and for the first time there was a bit of pain, but still the feeling of love, and it was wonderful.

The boy graduated, went to college, got a new college girlfriend. The girl who loved too much was sad that he couldn’t just tell the new girlfriend about her, so they could keep having sex on his visits home. She wouldn’t have minded sharing him. But she knew that you just couldn’t ask about these things.

The girl graduated, went to college, got a new college boyfriend. She went home for the summer without telling him how she was feeling, because you just don’t talk about these things, especially with the person you’re having the feelings about. The girl who loved too much met an old friend, also home for the summer, and for some reason he smelled good and she wanted to rub her face against the stubble on his chin. And the fact that she was nominally already dating someone just seemed like such a small thing, not worth losing this opportunity for. But after a couple of glorious months of sex in the woods and on the sun-warmed pebbles of a pocket beach, taking walks with his dog and having him over-tip for coffee at the place she worked, it started to feel silly that she wasn’t telling her boyfriend about this great, positive love that was blessing her summer. It would have been so easy to hide, and lie, but it didn’t seem important enough to lie about. So she told him, on the phone late one night. And he flipped. It was horrible and blamey and there was shouting and the words “I love you” used in hatred and manipulation, when before there had just been two people making each other feel good. There were promises never to do it again.

She did it again, only this time she didn’t tell. There were just too many wonderful people with which to fall to sleep in a sweaty tangle of naked limbs. But the yelling and the manipulation still got worse, and it was a huge relief when they broke up, making the secret she had been holding meaningless. Still. She didn’t think of herself as a bad person, but this was what bad people did – not choosing one person to love. And despite the fact that she had just spent several months making love to people who knew they weren’t the only one, she didn’t know anyone other than herself who was doing this, so it must be impossible to do in the real world, in the light of day, with real love.

Jeffrey Alan Love polyamory

The girl who loved too much made a friend, one friend, one girl friend, with piercings and invisible scars and sarcasm and experience, who introduced her to the online oracle for freaks in the back of the alt weekly with the sex worker ads. And Dan Savage said the magic words: ethical non-monogamy. There are people doing it. There are people who will be open to it if you ask them for it. There are people who don’t want to do it, and if you do, they’re the wrong people for you anyway. Forget them. Find the ones who will love this part of you, with radical honesty. Find the ones who, like you, realize that what we’re told about relationships is completely dysfunctional, and every aspect of every relationship must be negotiated on its own terms. Realize that the most important people to me may not be the sweaty tangle of naked limbs people, but the friend people. Love is what you make of it.

Armed with Dan Savage’s magic words, the girl who loved too much made her way out into the world. Many people came through her life; sometimes the magic words didn’t work and people heard “easy meaningless sex” when she thought she was saying “radical redefinition of patriarchal structures.” Still, it gave her the courage to ask for what she wanted, and leave if she wasn’t getting it, knowing that she was and would always be her own person, and there would be more people to love. Sometimes what people thought the magic words meant was “sure, sex with other people, but those relationships will be less than ours, and here are a bunch of hoops you must jump through to prove that to me.” The girl who loved too much tried that a couple times, but she never got the satisfaction out of them she thought she would, and quickly took them back. There was just no way that every situation could be covered with a rule. You had to just talk about what would work for you. One time a boy she loved made a rule: of “I want you to tell me about dates before you go on them.” Another boy asked her to get together, as a friend, but she wasn’t sure and wanted to make sure she wasn’t breaking the rule, so she told the boy she loved that it was a date. And she treated it like a date, and that made the friend look at her in a different way, so the second time he asked her to get together, it was a date. That, she thought, is what rules do. If you trust someone, you don’t need rules. If you don’t, it won’t matter if you have them.


But overall Dan Savage’s magic words worked, only they weren’t Dan’s any more, they were hers. She found people who were using the same words, and even if they meant slightly different things they could still talk to one another. They were good at talking. Love got even better through talking, except when it didn’t. Words were painful, sometimes, but still better than silently trying to guess a person’s intentions and feelings, through the spending of money and the returning of phone calls. She couldn’t go back to loving only one person, and the people who wanted that usually lost interest right away. She couldn’t rely on one person to meet all her needs and fulfill all of theirs – it was clear no love could survive that. She didn’t want to compromise. She didn’t want to act out the charade of ownership invented when women were only slightly more valuable than cattle. She didn’t want to look for a missing half; she wanted to be one whole person, held aloft in a web of love, holding others in turn. And society said that she loved too much, and would run out one day, but to her, the more she loved, the more she could love.

And she lived, relatively happily, for a while longer. It’s hard to say how the story will end; she’s making it up as she goes along.

With apologies to A Softer World

With apologies to A Softer World

Filed under: Relationships, Sexuality Tagged: personal histories, polyamory
08 Oct 01:02

My Introduction To Rape Culture

by Charlie Glickman

I remember exactly when I first understood what “rape culture” meant.

I was nineteen and a sophomore in college. I was talking with a woman I knew about gender and sexual politics, and I just wasn’t getting it. She was describing what it was like for her to move through the world as a woman, to be constantly under sexual surveillance, to always be worried about whether some guy would harass or attack her, to never know if she could walk down the street without getting cat called. This was pretty foreign to me, because I’d never seen any of this happening.

Partly, that was because I’d never really fit in with most other boys and I didn’t understand how the performance of masculinity encourages boys and men to compete with each other to demonstrate their manhood. I simply didn’t play those games. But more than that, it was because men don’t do the same things when they see a woman with a man. I had no idea that women’s experiences walking down the street were so different when I wasn’t there.

So my friend gave me a challenge that changed my life. She offered to walk down the street on a weekend night and allow me to walk behind her so I could see what happened. I took her up on it and the next Friday night, out we went. She was dressed in pretty standard “going out” clothes and we headed out to the strip of stores, bars, and restaurants that most college campuses seem to have within walking distance. I stayed about twenty feet behind her- close enough to observe without seeming like we were together. And I was shocked at what I saw.

Individual guys whispered or made comments about her as she passed them. They’d ask her where she was going or simply turn and stare at her ass. Groups of guys were worse, though. I could see them checking her out and talking to each other about her body and appearance. A few times, one guy in a group would say something and the rest of them would laugh while staring at her. And twice, one guy said something, followed by another guy escalating either the volume or the message, with another dude chiming in. I could see them all competing with each other to be the most macho, not caring that their games were at the cost of my friend’s feelings of safety.

It was an eye-opening experience for me. It was the first glimpse I got at the crap that women have to put up with, simply for moving through the world. I started paying attention to it more and thought about how I would feel if I couldn’t go anywhere in public without having to think about getting harassed, how I would feel if I couldn’t feel safe walking down the street. If a picture is worth a thousand words, getting to see this for myself was worth so much more.

Over time, I came to see that I needed to do more about this than simply not participate in it myself. In my workshops on sexuality, masculinity, and gender, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds about these topics. And one pattern that consistently shows up is that there are a lot of cisgender men who act like this without realizing the impact it has. Many of them are so surrounded by the Act Like a Man Box that they see it as totally normal. Some of them would like to break out of it, but they don’t know how and don’t have the support to do it. And a lot of them are scared to change because other people will attack and shame them back into the box. It’s not just men who reinforce this prison.

I also started to understand the connections between street harassment and sexual assault. One of the common threads is the belief that one person’s desires for sex, sexual attention, or validation as a man outweighs another person’s autonomy, safety, and consent. Another is that very few folks are actually teaching boys and young men about respect. Most of the conversations that I’ve seen center on shaming them without giving them the skills they need to navigate relationships. What if we could actually talk with boys about how to ask for sex, or ways to flirt without being creepy? I know some parents who are doing this, but the “boys will be boys” attitude is still common. Just as most people shy away from talking with girls about these issues out of discomfort with addressing adolescent female sexuality, we also avoid looking at adolescent male sexuality with any clarity. So is it any surprise that people grow up confused about relationships? Is it all that shocking that many of my coaching clients struggle with these same issues as adults?

I’m deeply grateful to my friend for showing me what rape culture is about. For helping me understand that the world she moved through was so different from the one I moved through. For making it possible for me to take my first steps towards understanding what she and other women deal with every day. If you’re a cisgender man, I really encourage you to ask a friend if she’d be willing to do this experiment with you. Trust me. It’ll change your life.

The post, My Introduction To Rape Culture, is from Charlie Glickman's website.
09 Oct 15:38

How to Take Coleus Cuttings and Over-Winter Your Coleus

by WashingtonGardener

Washington Gardener Magazine ( shows you how to over-winter your coleus plants by taking cuttings from them and rooting them in water.

I posted this two years ago, but somehow it never made it onto our main Youtube channel.

My cat, Santino, was a BIG help filming this one. Because he would get out of the shots, I worked him into the video. I think a star is born!
23 Sep 10:45

The Science of Stress, Orgasm and Creativity: How the Brain and the Vagina Conspire in Consciousness

by Maria Popova

NSFW images and language.

Absolutely fascinating about the biological changes in the body when women are stressed, assaulted, or exist in stressful environments.

“To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.”

“The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’” philosopher Alain de Botton argued in his meditation on sex, “the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” But in his attempt to counter the reductionism that frames human sexuality as a mere physiological phenomenon driven solely by our evolutionary biology, de Botton overcompensates by reducing in the opposite direction, negating the complex interplay of brain and biology, psychology and physiology, that propels the human sexual experience. That’s precisely what Naomi Wolf, author of the 1991 cultural classic The Beauty Myth, examines in Vagina: A New Biography (public library) — a fascinating exploration of the science behind the vastly misunderstood mind-body connection between brain and genitalia, consciousness and sexuality, the poetic and the scientific. What emerges is a revelation of how profoundly a woman’s bodily experience influences nearly every aspect of life, from stress to creativity, through the intricate machinery that links biology and beingness.

Wolf writes:

Female sexual pleasure, rightly understood, is not just about sexuality, or just about pleasure. It serves, also, as a medium of female self-knowledge and hopefulness; female creativity and courage; female focus and initiative; female bliss and transcendence; and as medium of a sensibility that feels very much like freedom. To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.


Once one understands what scientists at the most advanced laboratories and clinics around the world are confirming — that the vagina and the brain are essentially one network, or “one whole system,” as they tend to put it, and that the vagina mediates female confidence, creativity, and sense of transcendence — the answers to many of these seeming mysteries fall into place.

Handcrafted vagina embroidery by artist Kira Scarlet

A pivotal player in this mediation is the female pelvic nerve — a sort of information superhighway that branches out from the base of the spinal cord to the cervix, connecting the latter to the brain and thus controlling much of sexual response. But this information superhighway is really more like a superlabyrinth, the architecture of which differs enormously from one woman to another, and is completely unique for each one. This diversity of wiring in the highly complex female pelvic neural network helps explain why women have wildly different triggers for orgasm. (By contrast, the male pelvic neural network is significantly simpler, consisting of comparatively regular neural pathways arranged neatly in a grid that surrounds the penis in a circle of pleasure.) This biological reality, Wolf points out, clashes jarringly with the dominant culturally constructed fantasy of how sexual intercourse is supposed to proceed:

The pornographic model of intercourse — even our culture’s conventional model of intercourse, which is quick, goal-oriented, linear, and focused on stimulation of perhaps one or two areas of a woman’s body — is just not going to do it for many women, or at least not in a very profound way, because it involves such a superficial part of the potential of women’s neurological sexual response systems.

Embroidery from the series 'Lessons from My Mother' by artist Andrea Dezsö

Another key component of sexual experience is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the puppeteer of arousal, controlling all smooth muscle contractions and affecting the body’s response beyond conscious control. It encompasses both the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions, and ensures they work in unison. Because arousal precedes orgasm, the ANS first needs to do its own work before the complex pelvic neural network can work its own magic. Wolf writes:

For women, sexual response involves entering an altered state of consciousness. … In women, the biology of arousal is more delicate than most of us understand, and it depends significantly on this sensitive, magical, slowly calmed, and easily inhibited system.

To be sure, Wolf reminds us that it’s not at all uncommon for women to have a physiological response during rape, despite the enormous psychological pain and stress of the assault, but this response is not the same as the transcendent, dimensional orgasm that takes place when brain and body work in harmonious bliss. This also holds true in sexual situations that aren’t as violent as rape but still assault the ANS in one way or another:

If a woman’s ANS response is ignored, she can have intercourse and even climax; but she won’t necessarily feel released, transported, fulfilled, or in love, because only a superficial part of her capacity to respond has been made love to, or engaged.

In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the ANS, absolutely critical yet poorly understood, is that it is profoundly impacted by the mental landscape, steering the immutable interdependence between brain and vagina. The ANS, which serves as the translator between the psychological and the physiological, is thus particularly vulnerable to what psychologists call “bad stress.” (By contrast, the “good stress” many women experience in exciting or mock-dangerous sexual scenarios which they still control can be compelling and pleasurable.) “Bad stress” stems from the perceived lack of safety, and the presence of safety is absolutely essential to catapulting the female brain into the kind of “high” orgasm that is only possible in this disinhibited trance state. Wolf explains:

This biological, evolutionary connection for women of possible ecstasy to emotional security has implications that cannot be overstressed. Relaxing allows for female arousal.

Just as being valued and relaxed can heighten female sexual response, “bad stress” can dramatically interfere with all of women’s sexual processes.


“Bad stress,” researchers have now abundantly confirmed, has exactly the same kind of negative effect on female arousal and on the vagina itself. When a woman feels threatened or unsafe, the sympathetic nervous system — the parasympathetic nervous system’s partner in the ANS — kicks in. This system regulates the “fight or flight” response: as adrenaline and catecholamines are released in the brain, nonessential systems such as digestion and, yes, sexual response, close down; circulation constricts, because the heart needs all the blood available to help the body run or fight; and the message to the body is “get me out of here.” Based on [research insights], we now know that threatening environment — which can include even vague verbal threats centered on the vagina or dismissive language about the vagina — can close down female sexual response.

This notion that biology conditions consciousness and vice versa, of course, isn’t new. But the research Wolf cites presents compelling evidence that “bad stress,” especially rape and early sexual trauma, can have profound biological effects:

There is growing, if still preliminary, evidence that rape and early sexual trauma can indeed “stay in the body” — even stay in the vagina — and change the body on the most intimate, systemic level. Recovery is possible, but treatment should be specialized. Rape and early sex abuse can indeed permanently change the working of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — so crucial for female arousal; and, if she is not supported by the right treatment, it can permanently alter the way a woman breathes, the rate of her heart, her blood pressure, and her startle reaction, in a manner that is not under any conscious control.

Even more strikingly, some studies have found that elevated SNS activation is linked to a variety of health hazards seemingly unrelated to sexual trauma, including vertigo, motor control and balance issues, visual processing problems, and elevated startle response. In other words, sexual abuse alters the brain in a way that sabotages multiple body systems and damages healthy stress response. Wolf recapitulates the implications poignantly:

Understood in this way, and with this significant evidence, rape and sexual assault, with their attendant trauma, should be understood not just as a form of forced sex; they should also be understood as a form of injury to the brain and body, and even as a variant of castration.

Demonstrating just how strong the connection between mind and body is, Korean researchers discovered that stress and sexual trauma actually affect, on a biological level, the very functioning of the vagina. Studying female rats, they found that “chronic physical stress modifies [sexual behavior] through a mechanism believed to involve complex changes in sex hormones, endocrine factors, and neurotransmitters.” What’s more, they were able to identify the precise biological mechanism responsible for this deep-seated interplay:

Evidently nitric oxide (NO) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) play important roles in vaginal and clitoral engorgement — helping the smooth muscle of the vagina relax and the vaginal tissues swell in preparation for arousal and orgasm — and these chemicals and their actions are inhibited when females are negatively stressed.

The researchers found that the stressed-out female rats were less receptive and more hostile to their male partners, displaying measurable aggression and irritability, and ultimately refusing to copulate. Stress, it turns out, diminished the female rats’ ability to reach arousal by greatly impairing their genital blood flow. The scientists concluded:

In animal model studies, mental or physical stress increases the level of serum catecholamines, thereby causing vascular contraction, which in turn reduces blood flow and leads to sexual dysfunction. . . . Since stress is concomitant with an increased output of catecholamines in blood . . . it is reasonable to assume that blood flow to the genital organs reduces during periods of stress. . . . [W]e measured norepinephrine as an indirect index of catecholamine level and found that it increased in the stress group and decreased in the recovery group. This result indirectly supports the suggestion that stress affects female genital blood flow.

Most ominous of all was the projection that if such stress levels were sustained over time, the physiological changes they cause would eventually affect the vaginal tissue itself. Indeed, researchers tested those tissues after the female rats were dead and found “biologically measurable changes.”

Women, of course, are not rats, but this only means that the effects of such stress are even more profound. Wolf argues that besides impairing women’s ability to reach orgasm, “bad stress” also affects the overall capacity for joy, hopefulness, and creativity. Unlike rats, humans are also susceptible to forms of abuse beyond the physical — Wolf cites the tragically prevalent cultural tendency to deride the vagina and its owner, embedded even in the slang we have for female genitalia. She writes:

The role of manipulating female stress in targeting the vagina should not be ignored. This behavior—ridiculing the vagina—makes perfect instinctive sense. These acts are often impersonal and tactical—strategies for directing a kind of pressure at women that is not consciously understood but may be widely intuited, and even survive in folk memory, as eliciting a wider neuropsychological “bad stress” response that actually debilitates women.

She cites one particularly unsettling example:

In 2010, male Yale students gathered at a “Take Back the Night” event, where their female classmates were marching in a group, protesting against sexual assault. The young men chanted at the protesters, “No means yes and yes means anal.” Some of the young women brought a lawsuit against the university, arguing that tolerating such behavior created an unequal educational environment. Ethically they are in the right, and neurobiologically they are right as well. Almost all young women who face a group of their male peers chanting such slogans are likely to feel instinctively slightly panicked. On some level they are getting the message that they may be in the presence of would-be rapists — making it impossible to shrug off immature comments, as women are often asked to do. They sense there is a wider risk to them that is being threatened, and indeed there is, but it is not just the risk of sexual assault. If they are stressed regularly in this way, they will indeed depress the whole subtle and delicate network of neurobiological triggers and reactions that make them feel good, happy, competent, and as if they know themselves.

One study termed the complex and lasting effects of such stress, an increasingly recognizable medical pattern, “multisystem dysfunction” — and it can effect such a wide array of physical health issues as higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, hormonal imbalances, and fertility problems. But the most damaging consequences of these physical changes, Wolf argues, are cognitive and psychoemotional:

The female body reacts in the same way to “bad stress” whether the context is the birthing room or the university or the workplace. If the female brain senses that an environment is not safe, its stress response inhibits all the same organs and systems, regardless of setting. Many of the signals that either stoke or diminish female desire have to do with the female brain’s question: Is it safe for her?

So if a woman goes to work or to study in a sexually dangerous or threatening atmosphere day after day, she risks — because of the cumulative, long-term effect of that “bad stress” — having the letting-go, creative “relaxation response” inhibited even outside her work or school environment.


If you sexually stress a woman enough, over time, other parts of her life are likely to go awry; she will have difficulty relaxing in bed eventually, as well as in the classroom or in the office. This in turn will inhibit the dopamine boost she might otherwise receive, which would in turn prevent the release of the chemicals in her brain that otherwise would make her confident, creative, hopeful, focused — and effective, especially relevant if she is competing academically or professionally with you. With this dynamic in mind, the phrase “fuck her up” takes on new meaning.


The vagina responds to the sense of female safety, in that circulation expands, including to the vagina, when a woman feels she is safe; but the blood vessels to the vagina constrict when she feels threatened. This may happen before the woman consciously interprets her setting as threatening. So if you continually verbally threaten or demean the vagina in the university or in the workplace, you continually signal to the woman’s brain and body that she is not safe. “Bad” stress is daily raising her heart rate, pumping adrenaline through her system, circulating catecholamines, and so on. This verbal abuse actually makes it more difficult for her to attend to the professional or academic tasks before her.

Cartoon by Emily Flake from 'The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism.' Click image for more.

Yet despite the compelling scientific evidence, the most moving and encompassing point Wolf makes is an anthropological one:

The way in which any given culture treats the vagina — whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly — is a metaphor for how women in general in that place and time are treated.

Vagina: A New Biography is absolutely fascinating in its entirety. For a less scientific but no less pause-giving take, complement it with The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism, then revisit Susan Sontag on sex.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:

♥ $7 / month♥ $3 / month♥ $10 / month♥ $25 / month

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Brain Pickings takes 450+ hours a month to curate and edit across the different platforms, and remains banner-free. If it brings you any joy and inspiration, please consider a modest donation – it lets me know I'm doing something right. Holstee

08 Oct 19:10

Gutsy Talk About Anxiety

by Jen
Trigger Advisory Warning: While I don't think this post is very triggering, I do discuss managing anxiety & some of its general causes, so please proceed with caution.

Yesterday I finished a Buzzfeed roundup of 24 comics about anxiety, and then I started worrying that maybe I don't really HAVE anxiety, because almost none of them seem familiar to my own experience at all, but then I thought maybe being anxious over whether you're really anxious or not is one of those paradox deals that cancels itself out. Or... something.

Even so, it still seems most of the comics I've seen online (and it's weird to describe them as "comics," given the subject matter) describe a kind of social anxiety I don't generally feel. In fact, the only common experience I found in that roundup was all the physical symptoms:

(Although they left out the near-certainty of impending death - that's a big one.)

And the difficulty in getting non-sufferers to understand my limitations:

So now I'm curious: tell me, fellow anxiety peeps, are you mostly only afflicted in social situations, or while thinking about social situations? You know, parties, group interaction, self-doubt, over-analyzing past conversations, that kind of thing? Or basically everything described in that roundup?

Because me, I seem to be struck by panic more from excessive stimulation (like watching a movie in the theater), situations I can't easily and immediately escape from (Disney rides, public transportation), or  - though incredibly rare these days - random no-reason-whatsoevers while I'm relaxing at home (sudden heart palpitations.) I guess you could say my anxiety isn't very people-oriented, while it seems from these comics most other peoples' anxiety is.

I do tend to over-think things, I guess, and I dislike parties as much as the next introvert, but I never associated any of that with anxiety before - maybe because my "over-thinking sessions" have never led to a panic attack or panic-like symptoms. (And why do I feel like I should knock on wood right now? Ha!)

There is no "better" or "worse" form of anxiety, of course, so please don't think I'm trying to qualify it in any way. I'm just genuinely curious if social anxiety is really the most common, or if maybe it's just the most easily identified - and easiest to identify with, since I'd guess we've all experienced bouts of self-doubt and awkward social situations and whatnot, even if not to the extreme degree other anxiety-sufferers do.

And while we're on the subject, I've been wanting to share this ABC News article Felicia Day tweeted ever since I got back. Apparently some studies have found a (perhaps tenous) link between mental health disorders - like anxiety - and your gut health, which strongly correlates with my own experience. Often times anxiety and GI problems are a chicken-or-the-egg thing, with most people assuming the anxiety comes first. In my experience, though, the GI issues did, since I was first diagnosed with a "nervous stomach" in my pre-teens, followed by everything from mild ulcers to GERD to IBS since, but I only started having panic attacks - literally overnight - about six years ago.

I've been managing my anxiety pretty well these last two years by avoiding triggers, regular trips to the chiropractor, and a little mental jujutsu I picked up from the book Hope and Help for Your Nerves. Even so, I'm fascinated by the possibility of a gut connection.

Plus, the reason I'm so excited about sharing that article with you guys is because the potential "fix" is ridiculously easy, and good for you either way: just take a daily high-quality probiotic.

I'd been taking cheap probiotics from Wal-Mart for a while - the ones with only a single type of whatsits in them -  but since reading that article I switched to the nicer, more expensive blends (I change brands every month), which have made a noticeable difference for my gut, at least.

(Keep in mind I have almost every stomach problem imaginable, though, so unless you're uncomfortable most days the change might not be as dramatic for you. I've also taken up veggie juicing a few times a week, which I'm sure could also be helping. And even then I'm still often in pain, because my stomach really is the devil.)

As for my anxiety, well, since I was already doing pretty well I can't say for sure if this is helping. I've been paying closer attention, though, and have noticed several seemingly direct connections between that general anxious unease and extra-bad GI days. (Suffice to say that once the spirit moves, the spirit immediately feels MUCH better.)

So, yeah, I think I'll be staying on the nicer probiotics. It would be wonderful if this was the final piece in managing my anxiety puzzle, but of course only time will tell. (Not to mention having a GI track that isn't actively seeking my demise would be a nice side-benefit.)

SO, while you guys are telling me if you're anxious more about social situations or more stimulation-and-escape-centric like me, could you also tell me about your guts? :D Again, I'm just curious here, but it'd be nice to know if anyone else out there is a similar basketcase of happy funtimes.

Oh, and are any of you gluten intolerant? And if so, did cutting gluten help your anxiety? I've heard that could be key, but darned if I have the self-will to try the diet for long enough to tell if it helps. :/ (I do realize I have most of the symptoms for it, yes. BUT GOSH DARN IT I LIKE MY OREOS.) If I hear enough success stories, though, that MIGHT convince me to try again. Maybe. Possibly.

Ok, I've yammered on long enough. Your turn.
04 Oct 12:17

The Shutdown Hits Home by James Roush

by James Roush

Really? I mean, this was your last straw? That the website was down? Don't even get me started about your feelings on the WWII memorial....

Friends, in his own opinion, ProfessorRoush has done an exceptional job at Garden Musings, avoiding any mention of politics here over the now 3+ years I’ve blogged. Only those who know my tendency to rant over seemingly minute issues can fathom what a struggle that has been, but I’m going to make an exception today. The dam has broken. The Rubicon has been crossed. The …. oh, you know what I mean.

Last night, I was at a Riley County Extension Board meeting and the local horticultural agent reported that he and the ag agent had recently seen a new “weed,” Tragia sp. and had visited the plant experts at K-State to identify it. Now, Tragia, also known as NoseBurn, is not new, since two species have been reported in Kansas, but it’s fairly rare and I hadn’t seen it before either. In fact, it’s not described at, my go-to Kansas native plant site. So I pulled out my iPhone and went to, where, to my surprise, I received the following message:


My Fellow Gardeners, that is way beyond absolutely ridiculous. This is the ultimate evidence that the bureaucrats are playing games. I’m in a fortunate place in my life, not old enough for social security or medicare, not directly dependent on the federal government for income, and not planning any trips presently to a national park. So I’ve been personally unaffected by the “Shutdown” and as long as the military and senior citizens get paid, I have enough of a libertarian streak that I’m happy for a respite from government. I was a little aggravated yesterday over the news of closing of the WWII memorial; I mean, the place is for walking around—do we have to barricade it off? But to shut down a running informational website? I understand that the information may not be immediately updated, but I’m sure that I can manage without the absolute latest information on a botanical specimen. I suppose someone might offer the feeble explanation that no one is around to make sure Server #2115 doesn’t overheat and subsequently burn down Washington, but the USDA plant database isn’t the only thing on those servers and I suspect that computer technicians in charge of running servers are on the “critical” list of personnel anyway.

Recognize that I’m not pointing a specific finger here. Blame the Democratic senators or blame the Tea Party, but they are all representing the people who elected them, and we got what we asked for, stalemate, which is almost as good as not having a government. Shutting the USDA plant database down, however, is nothing but a political ploy. A pox on both their Houses.

The Shutdown Hits Home originally appeared on Garden Rant on October 4, 2013.

19 Sep 19:18

Unpaid Emotional Labor

by Charlie Glickman

Incredibly well written from the male perspective.
The facebook post reads:
"Driver today told me "Your fare depends on how much you smile." 'Jokingly' threatened to charge me extra for staring out the window or trying to use the commute time to catch up on work rather than try to entertain him, the person I was paying for a service.

Instead of relaxing and knocking out some emails, I was stressed out, feeling like I was doing unpaid companion work I hadn't been expecting to do for an undisclosed amount that would be decided - after completion - by my customer, who was monitoring and actively critiquing my facial expressions.

I sometimes underestimate the emotional labor women and people read as female are expected to perform for free. Of course, people are rarely as up front about it as my driver today was."

The amazing Sabrina Morgan posted this on Facebook today:

I don’t think there’s any doubt that had this driver’s passenger been a man, he’d never have dared to pull something like that. But there’s more to this that needs to be unpacked. It’s disturbingly common for men try to get women to smile for them. I get how annoying that is and I agree with Sabrina that it’s unpaid emotional labor. I think that more men need to look at why it happens so often.

I’ll admit that this is something that I used to do sometimes. I used to have real difficulties bearing witness to women’s discomfort, whether it was real or simply my perception of it. Knowing what I do now (and not in any way considering this an excuse), I can see that what was motivating me was the story in my head about what women’s discomfort meant. It had a lot to do with my family of origin and it wasn’t until I took a good look at that and did the work that I needed to do that I stopped wanting to “fix” women’s bad moods. For what it’s worth, I never did that to strangers. And I’d mostly stopped actually trying to get women to smile before I got my shit together, because I’d been told how obnoxious it was. But it wasn’t until I’d healed that part of me that I stopped wanting to do it.

This is a perfect example of a man asking or expecting women to coddle his emotional issues because he sees his comfort as more valuable than their labor. It’s one of the many costs of the Act Like a Man Box, the difficulty many men have with managing their own emotions, and the expectation that women will do it for them. I didn’t know how to lean into my discomfort and do the healing work that I needed to do. Instead, I tried to reduce my discomfort by controlling the trigger. In this case, that was trying to get women to stop expressing their negative feelings, even when they had nothing to do with me and despite the fact that they had every right to their emotions and their expressions.

Of course, this is hardly the only reason men do this. There’s also the fact that women are supposed to constantly be on display for men’s visual pleasure. This is sexual labor that women are expected to perform. Women are expected to be eye candy for any random dude who sees them walking down the street, and that’s ridiculous.

Women are also supposed to be accommodating and to set their own needs aside, even to a total stranger. This is another kind of emotional labor that women are expected to perform, and while the motivation may be different than the desire to not feel discomfort when we see women who seem unhappy, the way that men demand it looks pretty much the same. The impact of this is huge. A lot of men expect their desires to be more important than a woman’s needs, and that is the definition of privilege.

I’ve always found it really curious that most men, when confronted about this, will fall back on claiming that they just wanted to compliment her. They don’t see that trying to make someone smile is an attempt to control her. And while they usually deny any sexual component to their actions, I can’t help but notice how much more often it happens to women that these guys find attractive. If the frequency and tone of your compliments correlates with how attractive you think someone is, you don’t get to pretend that there’s nothing sexual about your motivations, whether you actually want to have sex with her or not. Expecting women you think are attractive to perform femininity for you is one of the many sexist microagressions that reinforce gender inequities. Stop it. You’re making the world a worse place.

And then there’s this specific situation, in which a man threatened reprisals for non-compliance. He extorted sexual and emotional labor because he could. He might have thought that he was being funny, without any intention of following through. But that’s like someone who’s big and muscular “joking” that he’s going to punch me in the face. My ability to protect myself is less than his ability to follow through on his “joke, ” and I don’t know if he’s actually going to do it. It’s a violation of trust that makes it harder for me to move through the world feeling safe. And what this driver did to Sabrina (and, I assume, does to other people) was much the same. She had to choose between compliance, confrontation, or the risk of retaliation.

That’s the deeper problem with this kind of thing. Whether the motivation is harassment, a desire for sexual validation by getting a woman to smile, or to avoid one’s own uneasiness with women’s discomfort, it’s all about controlling women. And when women don’t comply with that, they run the risk of reprisals. Women already walk through the world worrying about their safety from men, and there’s no way to know who’s going to lash out. This driver might have had no intention of following through on his threat, but how could she have known that?

So here’s my suggestion for any men who feel the urge to get a woman to smile for them. Stop and ask yourself if you would do the same thing if you were engaging with a man. If that person is your close friend and you want to help them out, then perhaps your answer is yes. Though I expect that in those situations, you’d probably ask them what was going on instead of demanding that they pretend that things are OK. If you’re training someone at work and part of their job is to smile to customers, or if you’re a photographer, then yes, telling someone to smile is a reasonable thing to do and it has nothing to do with the gender of the person.

But if you wouldn’t do it to a man, then stop it. It doesn’t matter what your motivations are. Stop it. Figure out why you expect women to perform unpaid emotional labor for you. Figure out what’s prompting you to try to control women’s emotions and behaviors and faces. Figure out why you think that’s ok. And then do what you need to do to change that about yourself so that you can be a better man. Do what you need to do to make the world a safer place. Because if you’re not making yourself part of the solution, you’re part of the problem and we don’t need that. Stop it.

Update: Stop Telling Women To Smile is an awesome art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh about street harassment. Check out the Kickstarter page and her video below.

The post, Unpaid Emotional Labor, is from Charlie Glickman's website.
25 Sep 14:58

Kerli’s Mirror Mirror – Hunicorn Dreams Photoshoot

by Lillyxandra

NSFW but pretty...

We are so in love with Kerli’s Photoshoot we had to reblog it!

“When I put on my magickal horn, I transcend to a realm of fantasy. A koi pond appears where my bed ends and the flappings of butterfly wings reveal stories and mysteries from other dimensions.

Shot by Brian Ziff aka Vespertine<3″ – Kerli

Horn: Firefly Path

Dress: Forever 21

Stockings: BonBon Lingerie

Shoes: Forever 21

Pink eyeshadow: Lime Crime

02 Oct 17:50

Wait, But What?

by wileyreading

I want to scream all these things at every person who ever calls people my age "lazy", or thinks that there is something wrong with simply wanting to have a life that makes you HAPPY.

Side note: You DO NOT have to have a "serious" mental illness to think perhaps talking to someone might be a good idea.

So this dumb opinion piece on what’s wrong with my generation happened. Pretty much all articles that make sweeping generalizations about anybody are flawed at the heart. This is no exception. Most I can write off as just another denizen of the internet weighing in with their special snowflake opinion, but this one was actually getting re-posted. A lot. By my Facebook friends.  So I thought it might be important to point out why this is not, in fact, real life, and is, in fact, utterly insulting.

Let’s take a look at this guy’s argument, point by point.

  1. Wait But Why Dude: “Lucy is part of Generation Y, the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s. She’s also part of a yuppie culture that makes up a large portion of Gen Y…I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group—I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.”

Actual Twenty-Something Who Lives In Real Life:  

  • Nice job picking a racial/ethnic slur as your cutesy acronym.

2. WBWD: “Before we talk more about Lucy, let’s quickly figure out if you, the reader, are a Gen Y Protagonist & Special Yuppie.  The Gen Y part is easy—you have to have been born sometime between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s (there are various opinions on the exact range of time, but this is the most common).  As for the Protagonist & Special Yuppie part, let’s lay out some guidelines.  You’re probably a GYPSY if:

  • You went to sleep-away summer camp during your youth.
  • You’ve won a number of meaningless awards.
  • You studied abroad during college.
  • You, after graduating college, considered (or will consider) big, famous cities like New York, San Francisco, LA, or DC, or small, fancy cities like Boulder or Santa Barbara as the only acceptable places to move (i.e. you feel like too special of a person to move to somewhere like Cleveland).
  • You have disdain for a restaurant like The Olive Garden or Red Lobster.
  • You need to have an iPhone and wouldn’t consider an Android phone.
  • Foodie is a word you’ve ever called yourself or anyone else.
  •  You’ve been to a therapist without any severe mental illness.
  • You have started your own business or have plans to do so.
  •  You regularly talk or think about your passions.
  • You’ve ever had a blog.  Shit.”

I am doing this right now.


  • Omg THANK YOU, internet dude! I’ve always wanted to know if I am a yuppie!
  • How many of these bullet points, exactly, do you have to accumulate before knowing you’re a yuppie? Is it ok that I didn’t study abroad? Does it count if I only ironically refer to myself as a foodie? TELL ME, OH WISE YUPPIE ARBITER.
  • What if I considered the cities you mentioned because I am a homosexual and they’re the only places where I don’t have to wait for a twice yearly “ladies’ night” to hang out with the two lesbians and solitary bisexual chick in town? Or did you not realize that it sucks to be totally isolated from people who understand you/want to date you?
  • ESPECIAL LOL for thinking being an entrepreneur makes you a yuppie. Is the beeper king a yuppie? What about Good Ole Tom?
  • My favorite, though, is “You regularly think or talk about your passions.” You regularly think or talk about your passions. I’m sorry, WHAT? Are there people who DON’T do this? Is there like a contingent of salt-of-the-earth Amurricans who ONLY talk about things they DON’T care about?

3. WBWD: “Now that you know where you fit into all this, let’s get back to Lucy. Lucy’s enjoying her GYPSY life, and she’s very pleased to be Lucy.  Only issue is this one thing: Lucy’s kind of unhappy. To get to the bottom of why, we need to define what makes someone happy or unhappy in the first place.  It comes down to a simple formula:

Happiness = Expectations – Reality

It’s pretty straightforward—when the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.”


    • If Lucy’s enjoying her life, and happy to be herself, why is she unhappy? If she is unhappy, it’s probably because outside factors are influencing her state of mind. Seriously, think this through. If you like your life, and you like yourself, but you’re unhappy, isn’t the rational assumption that something that is not your life or yourself is making you unhappy? Like, maybe Lucy’s crushing student loan debt is worrying her. Or her aging, stressed out parents calling her every day worrying that they won’t have enough money to live on once they retire? Or maybe it’s that she gets cat-called every day on her way home! Or maybe she’s worried about her friends who are struggling to find work. Or maybe her landlord won’t fix anything in her house, goes out of the country for long periods of time without warning, and refuses to give her a copy of the lease. Or maybe all of those things. Even relatively privileged people have debt and families and shitty landlords and lots of grinding problems that are beyond their control.
    • That is a really stupid definition of happiness. I can think of about a million better ones. Let’s try a few.

Happiness = Security + Opportunity for Personal Growth

Happiness = Knowing What You Want + Having the Resources to Pursue It

Happiness = Being Loved + Doing Meaningful Work

4. WBWD: Tl;dr: “The Great Generation,” Lucy’s grandparents, were obsessed with economic success. They raised the “Boomers,” Lucy’s parents, to pursue “good” jobs/careers (illustrated in this article by a green lawn.) The economy was great until about the time that “Lucy” went to high school/college. Lucy’s parents thought the economy would be great forever! They said “Lucy, go to school. College will get you a good job. Don’t worry about your major. Don’t worry about your debt.” This left GYPSYs feeling tremendously hopeful about their careers, to the point where their parents’ goals of a green lawn of secure prosperity didn’t really do it for them.  A GYPSY-worthy lawn has flowers.”


      • This is a dumb metaphor.
      • If your parents tell you that you’re going to have a decent career if you go to college, and you believe them, that makes you an entitled yuppie? I don’t follow.

5. WBWD:  “The GYPSY needs a lot more from a career than a nice green lawn of prosperity and security.  The fact is, a green lawn isn’t quite exceptional or unique enough for a GYPSY.  Where the Baby Boomers wanted to live The American Dream, GYPSYs want to live Their Own Personal Dream.  Cal Newport points out that “follow your passion” is a catchphrase that has only gotten going in the last 20 years, according to Google’s Ngram viewer, a tool that shows how prominently a given phrase appears in English print over any period of time.  The same Ngram viewer shows that the phrase “a secure career” has gone out of style, just as the phrase “a fulfilling career” has gotten hot.


      • Are we seriously nostalgic for the American Dream of the fifties right now? The American Dream was “Buy stuff you can’t afford on credit so your wife will look more impressive than the other wives in your racist rape-den of a suburban neighborhood!”  FUN FOR EVERYONE!
      • “Follow your passion” is a trite phrase, but it’s not bad career advice, if you don’t take it super literally—which most people above age five manage not to do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make money doing something that makes you happy.
      • Is he actually arguing that getting a secure job (which doesn’t even exist the way it did in decades past thanks to extremely anti-union, pro-“business” legislation) that bores you is better than spending the 40 hrs a week most people have to work to feed themselves doing something mildly interesting?
      • Passion and security are not mutually exclusive. I’m a bookkeeper. It is not wildly exciting work. But I’m working for an organization that works on education reform, something I’m immensely interested in. I’m not passionately fulfilled by paying bills, but I’m not compromising. I work for an organization I believe in, and I have a job that’s reasonably secure.

6. WBWD:  “But something else is happening too.  While the career goals of Gen Y as a whole have become much more particular and ambitious, Lucy has been given a second message throughout her childhood as well: You’re special!”


      • Yes, telling your children they’re nothing out of the ordinary and should never strive to lift their heads above the crowd is an excellent parenting technique.

7. WBWD: “This would probably be a good time to bring in our second fact about GYPSYs: GYPSYs Are Delusional. “Sure,” Lucy has been taught, “everyone will go and get themselves some fulfilling career, but I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd.”  So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GYPSY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better—A shiny unicorn on top of the flowery lawn. “


      • I am exactly the same as everyone else! There is no reason for me to try to achieve greatness or pursue a unique life path, because I might become “unhappy,” thereby forcing some middle-aged blogger to write a whiny piece about me illustrated with MS Paint drawings! Let me soothe him by getting a “secure” job and buying an Android phone.

8. WBWD: “A second GYPSY delusion comes into play once the GYPSY enters the job market.  While Lucy’s parents’ expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it’s just a matter of time and choosing which way to go.  Her pre-workforce expectations look something like this: [graph of quickly peaking “career path”] Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard.  Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build—even the ones with no flowers or unicorns on them—and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.”


      • I will throttle the next person who tells me I have to work for my career. I have to work to PAY THE BILLS, motherfucker! It is insanely difficult to get hired in my city, even having graduated from an IVY with HIGH HONORS, for an ADMIN POSITION. And my city has one of the highest employment rates in the country right now. I don’t know any people my age who are not viscerally cognizant of the fact that a shiny career is not going to get handed to them on a silver platter.
      • I think what you meant to say is: A very tiny proportion of 20-somethings believe success will be handed to them, but the rest of us are frustrated that the economy tanked just as we were graduating with thousands of dollars in student debt, and no one wants to hire our overqualified, desperate asses no matter how many “entry level” positions we apply to!

9. WBWD: “Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GYPSY expert, has researched this, finding that Gen Y has ”unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.”  He says that “a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.” For those hiring members of Gen Y, Harvey suggests asking the interview question, “Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?”  He says that “if the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They’ve been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief.”


      • Yes, the entire generation is resistant to criticism. That seems like a solid claim.
      • LOL yes, PLEASE DO ask interviewees if they “consider themselves superior.” Please also ask them if they have affiliations with the Aryan Brotherhood. Please film this and send it to me so I can DIE LAUGHING while these poor kids sit there going “Why the fuck would anyone in their right mind ask me a question like that?”
      • This dude, and apparently Mr. New Hampshire Research as well, really seems to think there is an army of clueless narcissistic airheads wandering around just ITCHING to tell potential employers how superior they are to the lesser humans. I would like to watch a television show about this, please. Unscripted.

10. WBWD: “GYPSYs are TAUNTED. Sure, some people from Lucy’s parents’ high school or college classes ended up more successful than her parents did.  And while they may have heard about some of it from time to time through the grapevine, for the most part they didn’t really know what was going on in too many other peoples’ careers. Lucy, on the other hand, finds herself constantly taunted by a modern phenomenon: Facebook Image Crafting. Social media creates a world for Lucy where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation.  This leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, only adding to her misery.”


      • THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Is your tween sexting? Is your twenty-something crying because her boyfriend’s sister has a better-organized Pinterest than she does? MORE AFTER THESE MESSAGES.
      • He has a sort-of point in that people do polish their online images. We’ve all felt kind of glum from time to time because someone seems like they’re having more fun than us on Facebook. But for the most part, envy or frustration is not based in fantasy, it’s based in reality. When I hear that my friend has scored a coveted journalism position, I’m not jealous because she LOOKS happier/more successful than I am, I’m jealous because she IS.

TL;DR: This guy is kind of racist, super patronizing, doesn’t understand what a yuppie is, and has a lot of really stupid thoughts about what is “wrong” with a group of people who probably don’t exist in real life, and if they do, they’re quite a small portion of the population. So, if you read this and found yourself nodding along, you should probably make some middle-class/poor friends. Then you can read this to them and when they stop laughing while staring into your eyes and stabbing a teddy bear with a butter knife, maybe y’all can go get some Fro-Yo. You know, another thing “our generation” just can’t get enough of.

(image credit:

Filed under: Class, Humor
25 Sep 14:18

Video shows the Gardens of Greenbelt, Maryland in ’39 and ’13 by Susan Harris

by Susan Harris

So cool!

Click here to view the embedded video.

Put something online; you never know where it’ll lead.  In this case, a reader of this very blog discovered the “Less Lawn, More Life” garden tour I organized in Greenbelt, Maryland, where our reader once lived.  So she attended and created this fabulous video of the tour!  It includes short clips of Greenbelt gardens in 1939, soon after the town was built by the Roosevelt administration, followed by scenes from the tour.  Not only is this a great memory of a tour enjoyed by over 100 people (no way to know exactly) and the 15 garden on it, but something the town can use to attract visitors and home-buyers.  Many thanks to Marcia Van Horn!

OH!  And Washington Gardener Magazine editor Kathy Jentz also attended and created this photo album of the tour, so thanks to Kathy, too.

Video shows the Gardens of Greenbelt, Maryland in ’39 and ’13 originally appeared on Garden Rant on September 25, 2013.

26 Aug 17:30

A Look at 'Iron Lady' Tomato

by Jon Traunfeld

Definitely putting this variety on my list for next year!

A few GIEI bloggers and gardeners have commented on 'Iron Lady' F1 Hybrid released this year by Cornell University (in partnership with North Carolina State University), and sold through High Mowing Seeds. This cultivar is a big step forward in the battle against tomato diseases. It has resistance to late blight, Septoria leaf spot, Fusarium wilt, and Verticillium wilt, AND tolerance to early blight.

I grew four plants at the Home and Garden Information Center and one at home. It's a determinate cultivar that makes vigorous top growth and sets fruit in tight clusters over a relatively long period. I did not keep track of planting and harvesting dates. The description claims 75 days to maturity (from transplanting). It seemed slow to ripen but produced  nice firm, smooth fruits (4-6 ounces).


There was a lot of Septoria leaf spot in home gardens this year and 'Iron Lady' came through unscathed. We did have some minor early blight infection (see photo above) that did not affect growth, fruit cover, or yield.

Sure, there are tomatoes with better texture and flavor but this level of disease resistance is unmatched! Can't wait to test the other hybrids coming out of this breeding program.

27 Sep 15:00

She Said, She Said: Advice About Nails and Aisle-Walking

by Nicole and Mallory

THIS THIS THIS for the breaking-physical-habits thing.

beautiful-girl-has-relaxed-in-coffee-1352610-mPrevious installments of The Toast’s newly-renamed (thanks, Adrienne!) advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. Last time: Job Dilemmas.

Okay, so I know we’re all disgusting meat bags, and that’s cool, but I am hoping for some advice on being slightly less disgusting. In the past few years, since I graduated college, I’ve developed the gross habit of basically gnawing on my cuticles/the whole area around my nails. I’ve never been a nail biter, but I guess this is similar. Even if there isn’t anything loose to bite, I pick at it til there is. At this point I barely even realize I’m doing it. My fingers look awful, it can’t possibly be sanitary, everything is unpleasant about it. How do I stop??? Painting my nails doesn’t work; they’re usually painted anyway and it doesn’t deter me. Help!

Nicole: I do this too. I cannot help you. (strokes your face with ragged cuticles)

Mallory: Oh! This is actually something I can be vaguely helpful with. My dad (hi, dad!) used to do the exact same thing for years, and he’s not a disgusting meatbag at all. It’s definitely not good for you (have you ever had an infected cuticle? It’s pretty rough, my friend), but the good news is that the answer to your problem is not just “buy that stuff that makes your nails taste bad” or “I don’t know, try harder.” There’s a whole field of psychological study around how to effectively and permanently change unconscious habits (habit reversal training), and there are some nifty tricks you can learn to break the unconscious cue-and-response system.

Basically the idea is that every habit starts off with a sometimes-unconscious cue (emotional, external, whatever), followed by whatever behavior you’re looking to break, then the emotional or physical reward (Goddd, yesss, I ripped off that long strip of skin by my thumb, it feels so good, let’s do it again forever). You’re not gross, you just have an effectively trained brain. You don’t have to try to change or get rid of the cue or the reward; you just have to become consciously aware of them and then find ways to change the routine.

Here’s an example:

The psychologist knew that changing Mandy’s nail biting habit required inserting a new routine into her life. “What do you feel right before you bring your hand up to your mouth to bite your nails?” he asked her.

“There’s a little bit of tension in my fingers,” Mandy said. “It hurts a little bit here, at the edge of the nail. Sometimes I’ll run my thumb along, looking for hangnails, and when I feel something catch, I’ll bring it up to my mouth then. I’ll go finger by finger, biting all the rough edges. Once I start, it feels like I have to do all of them.”

Asking patients to describe what triggers their habitual behavior is called awareness training, and it’s the first step in habit reversal training. The tension that Mandy felt in her nails cued her nail biting habit.

“Most people’s habits have occurred for so long they don’t pay attention to what causes it anymore,” said Brad Dufrene, who treated Mandy. “I’ve had stutterers come in, and I’ll ask them which words or situations trigger their stuttering, and they won’t know because they stopped noticing so long ago.”

Next, the therapist asked Mandy to describe why she bit her nails. At first, she had trouble coming up with reasons. As they talked, though, it became clearer that she bit when she was bored. The therapist put her in some typical situations, such as watching television and doing homework, and she started nibbling. When she had worked through all of the nails, she felt a brief sense of completeness, she said. That was the habit’s reward: a physical stimulation she had come to crave.

At the end of their first session, the therapist sent Mandy home with an assignment: Carry around an index card, and each time you feel the cue — a tension in your fingertips — make a checkmark on the card.

She came back a week later with 28 checks. She was, by that point, acutely aware of the sensations that preceded her habit. She knew how many times it occurred during class or while watching television.

This might not be the exact case for you, obviously. You might bite your nails when you feel nervous or scared or upset or ____. The key is to start paying close attention to what feels like an automatic, knee-jerk response, until you can start figuring out whatever circumstance or feeling sets the need to chew off in your brain. Then comes the next step:

Then the therapist taught Mandy what is known as a “competing response.” Whenever she felt that tension in her fingertips, he told her, she should immediately put her hands in her pockets or under her legs, or grip a pencil or something else that made it impossible to put her fingers in her mouth. Then Mandy was to search for something that would provide a quick physical stimulation — such as rubbing her arm or rapping her knuckles on a desk — anything that would produce a physical response. It was the Golden Rule: The cues and rewards stayed the same. Only the routine changed.

They practiced in the therapist’s office for about half and hour and Mandy was sent home with a new assignment: Continue with the index card, but make a check when you feel the tension in your fingertips and a hash mark when you successfully override the habit.

A week later, Mandy had bitten her nails only three times and had used the competing response seven times. She rewarded herself with a manicure, but kept using the note cards.

After a month, the nail biting habit was gone. The competing routines had become automatic. One habit had replaced another.

For what it’s worth, this is exactly the technique that my dad used and it’s worked for the last year. As long as I can remember, my dad has always had chewed-up nails and fraying cuticles, and now they look like anybody else’s. Normal hands! I have no idea how long it took him or how much time he spends thinking about it now, but I do know that it’s been a long-term and effective change for him, so take heart. Keep us posted if this is something you decide to do, by the way! I want to hear if it works out.

If my adored grandad is still alive, I kinda want him to walk me down the aisle. But I love my dad and also he might get pissed at being passed over? And my mom will get pissed if I don’t include my stepdad, whom I love too (though I don’t imagine he personally would care either way.) So, what to do? Have three men walk me down the aisle, relay-race style? Or walk my own damn self down the aisle, because Patriarchy and I don’t need to be passed like a hot potato from the control of one man to another? ADVISE PLEASE.

Mallory: What I really want is for the three of them to crowd-surf you down the aisle until your husband can reach out for you and hoist you above his head for the duration of the vows, but I realize that might be difficult to choreograph this late in the wedding-planning game, particularly if your grandfather is elderly.

It sounds to me like the “walk my own damn self down the aisle” isn’t really an option you want to take, just a criticism you know could hypothetically be lobbed at you and that you’d prefer to anticipate. But if you would prefer to walk down the aisle alone, and you’re only worrying about which man to choose to walk with you because you feel like you have to, just saunter down by your lonesome. It’s, what, a twenty-second walk? You’ll be swell; you’ll be great.

That said, if you would find it meaningful to have a member of your immediate family join you for the toddle to the altar, invite as many gentlemen you like. If all three of them linked arms and walked with you, it would be like the Wizard of Oz, which is a gay classic, and that’s sort of like subverting the patriarchy if you close your eyes almost all the way and tilt your head a little.

Nicole: OH, I’ve got this one! I have this bizarre, bizarre aversion to any kind of ritualistic daddy-daughter stuff, which, happily, my dad shares, so we have always eaten burgers and talked about books and life and stuff and enjoyed each other’s company in perfect contentment without paranoia that aisle-walking or first-dancing would ever come to pass. But this is a real issue* for wedding-havers that is only more of an issue every year, and my personal suggestion would be to just embrace the zoo. Let the whole horde walk down the aisle/beach/botanical garden path with you together, if they aren’t in the habit of getting into fights. Or have your future spouse walk with you. I’ve always liked the Jewish tradition of both the bride and the other bride walking in with each of their parents, which might distract from THIS LADY HAS SO MANY PARENTAL FIGURES. And, obviously, just do exactly what you want to do, because “your wedding is really about your family” is a crock of shit, they had their fucking chance. Your dad is not giving out favours to Luca Brasi. Not making waves may be the thing that will ultimately make you happiest, but that’s for you to figure out. I bless your union.

*Obviously there are realer issues, like overthrowing the patriarchy, but you might as well do something that works and is satisfying and meaningful to you.

The post She Said, She Said: Advice About Nails and Aisle-Walking appeared first on The Toast.

20 Sep 12:24

Games shown at the Seattle Indies Expo

by megan

I need more indie games in my life!

Earlier this month I went to the Seattle Indies Exhibition. It’s a gathering of independent game designers who are showing off their upcoming projects and it happens during PAX. It’s free and separate from PAX so you don’t need a pass to get in. These are the games that caught my eye:

The Bridge by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild. This started as a computer science student project and was further developed into a really interesting game. This is a logic puzzle game in which you can manipulate the position of the building as well as reverse the game in time as often as you’d like. It’s challenging and amazing and difficult to explain (go check out the trailer). The graphics are hand drawn in black and white and are stunning. Available now, Steam (Windows).

Tengami by Nyamyam. I’d love to tell you I played this game but I could only observe because it was the game that way always mobbed. It’s an adventure game set among Japanese fairy tails and involves pop-up book surprises. It was gorgeous and I must have it. In development, iOS, PC, Mac and Wii U.

Shaman by High Iron Studios. When I approached this table I was greeted by a man saying I was his target audience, Shaman is designed to appeal to girls because it has no violence. (I kept quiet about my character’s level in Borderlands 2. Not that I don’t appreciate a good non-violent game, mind you.) This game combines gorgeous comic books layout and graphics with exploration and gathering. You forge shields using a recipe like interface when you have the right components, then confront and attempt to cure a shaman that has been possessed. The recipes involve the elements of traditional Chinese medicine. This game wasn’t ready to play but there was a trailer showing while I talked with the game designer. The game will be released in six episodes starting later this year, PC.

Energy Hook by Happion Laboratories. This game is a little bit Spiderman with swinging physics and the city scape reminded me of Mirror’s Edge. You have a jetpack that gives your character some height and you can attach an Energy Hook to buildings and swing and jump. It’s a lot of fun. And I’m not just saying that because Jamie Fristrom let me sample the gameplay while wearing his Occulus Rift. You can currently do a post-Kickstarter to get Alpha access. Windows, Mac and Linux.

Festival of Magic by Snowcastle Games. I didn’t get a chance to play this but I was taken by the bright and appealing 3D graphics. This game is described as “adventure role-playing game in which the players must fight and farm their way to glory”. There is exploration, puzzle solving, combining materials for ammo and spells. This all sounded good but it sounded better when I found out this game uses turn-based combat. I’ll definitely be checking this out. Beta launch later this year. Nintendo Wii U, PC and Mac.

Buddy & Me by Sunbreak Games. This is a sidescrolling platformer and runner that is meant for kids and it’s called “an endless adventure about friendship”. Your character escapes into a dream where he’s joined by a large flying creature I was completely taken by the beautiful hand drawn graphics. If your character falls he’s lifted back onto the screen by some helpful little birds and the game continues, so there is little frustration involved. I might get this game for myself. Should be available soon. Android and iOS, mobile and tablet.

Redshift by Belief Engine. This is a timed escape game. Each go has a randomly generated map and countdown clock, between 3 and 5 minutes if I remember correctly. You need to run through the halls (of a nuclear power plant? I cannot remember!) to find three control panels. Your way is blocked by locked doors and fires, which you can pass by collecting objects. I am normally stressed out by countdowns but found this game engaging and fun. It’s not out yet but I’m keeping an eye out for it’s release. Android and iOS.

Go Plague Monkey! Go! by Sparsevector. This was a funny game where you play a plague infected money who must attack as many people as possible to spread the disease while avoiding police, CDC doctors and dogs. You collect power ups and have a random, open world to run around in. The graphics were cartoonish in a charming way and the game was hilarious to watch. Release later this year. Xbox Live Indie Games and Windows PC.

21 Aug 10:01

fuckaspunk: brokenbalder: Brokenbalder: Some Know Your Rights...




Some Know Your Rights materials I made. Hopefully find them helpful. :)

Very useful!

17 Sep 18:34

It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

by Jenny the bloggess

Sometime the good stuff is as simple as a stuffed fake bear head.

This week Victor took me to a shop to find a lamp for the bedroom but they were all too expensive.  Like, they had an $8,000 crystal chandelier in the shape of a leaping, life-sized, cavorting pony.  True story.  I wanted to take a picture but Victor thought it would be too weird for me to say, “Hey, can I take a picture of your shiny pony?” so instead I stayed quiet until about 10 seconds later when I saw an enormous bear’s head on the wall and I screamed ,”HOLY SHIT THERE’S A BEAR” and then I think probably Victor realized that he just can’t take me out in public in general.

Several clerks (and shoppers) looked up in a rather annoyed way, which is sort of rude because 1) if there really was a bear in the shop they would probably be grateful for my warning and 2) THERE REALLY WAS A BEAR IN THE STORE.  Victor pointed out that it was just the head of a bear, but I countered that the head was technically the most dangerous part of the bear and then he argued that bear paws are just as painful, but I pointed out that no part of the bear is deadly if his head has come off, and then we just agreed to disagree because we were attracting more attention.

Then a salesman came over and I was all, “HOW MUCH IS IT FOR THE BEAR?” but I was trying not to sound too eager because even though the head was dusty and mostly shoved behind a vent it was still pretty bad-ass and I didn’t want to let them know that I was too interested because that’s how they get you. The saleman looked confused for a second and then laughed awkwardly, and then said “Oh.  You’re serious” and was like, “I am deadly serious, sir” and he said he’d ask his manager.

The manager came over to make sure that I wasn’t just fucking with him and I said, “Before we go any further, I just want to point out that this bear is literally 75% off.  I mean, unless you have the body of the headless bear in the back, in which case I might be interested in purchasing it too” and then he wandered off in a bit of a daze.  Victor shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, but in his defense it’s possible it was because he was looking at the pony chandelier because that shit was fucking dazzling.  Then the salesman came back saying, “We would be so…so thrilled to let you have it for $75″ and I shouted “SOLD!” and then I was a little offended on Beartrums behalf because why were they so happy to get rid of him?  Clearly I was saving him from people who did not appreciate him and probably didn’t even realize his name was Beartrum.  This was a damn rescue.  Plus, when they climbed up on the ladder to get him down I realized that Beartrum’s head was three times the size of a normal bears and the whole thing was made of fiberglass and fake fur so no one even had to die to make him, unless it was a lot of stuffed animals from a scarlet fever ward, which would explain why they were in such a hurry to get rid of him.   Then they really quickly wrapped him up because I think they just wanted us to leave.  This is exactly why I often get really good service and also why I recommend not taking your medication during days when you have to buy a car or a bedroom set.

Victor drug the giant box of bear to the car while muttering that I was unstable, and I agreed with him, but I don’t think you have to be crazy to realize that paying 2 bucks per pound of bad-ass bear is a goddamn bargain.  I tried to go online to find a similar bear head to prove that I’d made a fantastic buy, but when I searched “Big Bear Head” it gave me a San Diego craigslist ad entitled “Big Bear needs some quick head now” and then I just decided to never go on the internet again.

I got Beartrum Higglebottom home (“Beartrum” was just a given and I think “Higglebottom” is nice because it sort of implies that his non-existent bottom had once been wiggly and positive) and I decided to take some of those fancy unwrapping picture sets like you see on sophisticated techy blogs, but when I downloaded the first one I noticed that Ferris Mewler was doing something weird in the back.

I don't... Wait. Is he doing yoga? Is that the Sun Salutation?

And so then I was like “Enhance….Enhance….Enhance” until finally it was big enough that I could see that Ferris was hiding his head in his genitals.  Or something.  I’m not sure.  All I know is that he’s way more flexible than I am and he seems to be showing off.  Victor says he’s probably just hiding his head in shame so that other neighborhood cats won’t recognize him on my blog and make fun of him.  I can’t but help to think that this is not going to help his case:

You're only hurting yourself, Ferris.

Then I opened the box a little more and you could see Beartrum’s enormous smile, as if he was saying, “YOU ARE MY VERY BEST FRIEND EVER AND NOTHING WILL EVER TEAR US APART.”

That bear was totally fucking right.

Then I asked Victor to walk around holding Beartrum up at various places in my office so that I could figure out the best place to hang him, but I was actually just taking pictures of Victor wearing a bear and then he heard me giggling and was all “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?  ARE YOU RECORDING THIS?

I totally was.

Then he put Beartrum down and walked away muttering under his breath.  I figured I needed to even the score for the sake of my marriage so I yelled at Victor to come to the front yard and when he got there I was wearing Beartrum’s face and singing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” in a deep, creepy, slow-motion voice on the yard.

It's like if a bear was doing dub-step. In a dress. On the yard.

That’s when Hailey’s school bus pulled up and I waved at her, and the bus driver seemed sort of disturbed, but probably only because I looked so realistic that she wasn’t sure if it was safe to leave Hailey there with me.  Victor agreed, but not for actual bear-related reasons.  Hailey, however, thought Beartrum was totally bad-ass, and that’s when I decided that from now on I’d only hang out with eight-year-olds, because they still understand the whimsical joy of silliness, and they’re too young to call the authorities on you.

Victor, on the other hand, demanded that I get in the house and stop waving at our neighbors because “WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO THINK?” and I immediately dismissed him, but then I thought, “Oh my God, they probably think we’re furries.”  Then I started to explain what a furry was to Victor and he was like, “STOP TALKING ALREADY” because apparently education is not important to him.

Then Victor told me to put Beartrum away, but I told him I needed a few days to figure out where he fit best.

There were more options than you'd expect.

Victor:  NO.  Just…no.

me:  But he looks so happy.  And it’s the guest bedroom so it’s hardly ever used and when we have family spend the night they’ll have company.  I tucked him in like a burrito baby.  LOOK HOW HAPPY HE LOOKS.

Victor:  Try again.

I attempted another option:


me:  Rowr-rowr-rowr.

Victor:  What?



me:  He likes to wander at night.  I think he might have narcolepsy.

I briefly considered poking his head through the hedges just to freak people out, but Victor said I couldn’t because I might cause an accident because people weren’t prepared for that much awesomeness.  (He didn’t say that last part out loud, but I’m pretty sure it was implied.)

In the end, I left Beartrum on the floor of my office until I find the perfect spot.  The cats fucking love him.

"Maybe if we cover his eyes he can't eat us."

The good news though is that I think I’ve finally found my new profile pic.

Everyone wins.

11 Sep 09:00

Snowball Debt Reduction Calculator Spreadsheet

by mark

During law school I had unfortunately accumulated a decent amount of credit card debt. This calculator helped me to pay down all my credit card debt in a short time.

The snowball method helps users pay down multiple credit cards in a way that minimizes the interest payments. It asks for details including interest rates, minimum payments, and any special rate sunsets and then asks how much you can afford to pay to each card. The spreadsheet will then give you the amount to pay to each card each month as well as showing you a graph forecasting the slowly diminishing interest payment you will be making each month.

I’m surprised its not already up here! (Pro-tip: this debt-reduction method, in conjunction with a negotiating session or three with the the banks holding your largest, highest interest rate cards, can save you a lot of money.)

-- Aric Bright

Debt Reduction Snowball Calculator

27 Aug 17:40

Video Game Would Make Players Navigate Abortion Access in Texas

by Laura Beck

Choice: Texas is an interactive fiction game that allows users to attempt to get an abortion in the state. As you might've guessed via your womanly intuition/following the coverage of the insanity in Texas, it ain't easy to be a woman in the Lone Star State these days.



21 Aug 03:31

Open thread: Favorite sci fi / fantasy by women

by katejowrites

NPR’s top 100 science fiction and fantasy book included only 15 by women. Here they are, my new reading list. Correct me if I missed anything!*

1. Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
2. Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
3. Anne McCaffrey – Dragonflight
4. Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Mists of Avalon
5. Ursula K. LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness
6. Lois McMaster Bujold – Shards of Honor
7. Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
8. Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice
9. Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife
10. Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Dart
11. Ursula K. LeGuin – The Dispossessed
12. Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave
13. Diana Gabaldon – Outlander
14. Robin McKinley – Sunshine

15.Connie Willis – Doomsday Book

I haven’t done the calculations, but I suspect the numbers are similarly dismal for books written by authors of color, featuring female main characters, or featuring main characters of color. This list was a result of reader voting, and it has some sad things to say about awareness of and access to female-written speculative fiction. I’d like to combat that with y’all today, by sharing our favorite sci fi and fantasy novels written by women. Bonus points for female main characters, and POC, queer, or differently abled authors and main characters!

Speculative sausage fest.

Speculative sausage fest.

Lady Bee started us off months ago with her Ode to Cimorene, the main character of much-beloved Dealing with Dragons (and subsequent series) by Patricia C. Wrede.

I’d like to kick off this particular open thread with a recommendation of a book I just finished reading: Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. Written in 1993, it depicts a moving-toward-distopian near-future in 2024, in which a young woman must shape a community and fight for safety in a changing world. It was a page turner! You know those books that keep you awake reading for later into the night than you should? And then when you wake up the first thing you do is pick the book back up? Parable of the Sower is one of those. The main character, Lauren Olamina, is very intelligent, balances strength and empathy, has a unique perspective on religion, and navigates sexism and racism in an already-dangerous world in a way that is just so compelling. So compelling. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Parable of the Talents.

So, what about you? What science fiction and fantasy novels with women authors do you recommend?

Filed under: Book Review, Media Tagged: fantasy, female authors, octavia butler, parable of the sower, science fiction
19 Aug 15:00

How to maintain relationships with difficult family members

by Maggie A

How do you deal with that damn brother you love, but who's SUPER difficult to have a relationship with?

How do you deal with that damn brother you love, but who's SUPER difficult to have a relationship with?

About once a month for the past few years I get a call at 2 o'clock in the morning from my brother. Most of the time I don't even notice the call because I leave my phone in the kitchen when I go to bed (partially because at one point these calls were so frequent that it was a big sleep interruption). He's an alcoholic, he's wildly unpredictable (because of his drinking), he's difficult, and I love him.

"Difficult" can cover all manner of things from substance abuse, untreated mental illness or just general jerk-itude (although to my knowledge jerk-itude is untreatable). There is no shortage of ways for your family to be difficult.

My brother's wild antics and hell raising have always made for some great stories. I was telling one of these tales a few weeks ago to a group of good friends and an acquaintance. The acquaintance scolded me, and explained exactly how to fix him — get him into a rehab, get him counseling, schedule an intervention, or cut him out of your life. Apparently it's very common for people who know nothing about you to give you advice (or so my friends with kids tell me). So I ignored her.

It's not the first time I've gotten this advice and it probably won't be the last. My little brother will be 23 this year he's had issues with alcohol, drugs, and just general defiance since he was 12 or 13. He has said horrible things to me, to my husband, and to my mother on different occasions. He has shown up to holidays drunk and late and a bunch of other stuff too (I try not to keep track). No matter what he does he's still my brother and I love him and I decided I'm not going to cut him out of my life (unless he cheats at Monopoly — then I'll never speak to him again).

Now that you know where I'm coming from I'm going to give you my advice for dealing with a difficult sibling or family member you want to keep in your life.

Know your limits

Set parameters for contact, make them clear, and make them something you can live with. I won't drive anywhere in the car with my brother if he's been drinking at all — but he knows why and he knows the deal. If he calls me for a ride that's the first question I ask him.

How strictly you set the parameters will probably determine how often you see the person. If you aren't comfortable with how much you're seeing them you might have to adjust your parameters. I know I won't see my little bro very often (maybe at all) if I refuse to see him when he's been drinking, so that's not my rule. I'll hang out with him, have dinner and if he gets rude or ugly I leave. As for those late night calls — I answer if I'm already up and if I see it the next day I return the call.

Know that you can't fix them

They are who they are (right now) and no amount of forcing, cajoling, arguing, or blackmailing is going to change that. People will tell you that you can force them into rehab or AA meetings by cutting off contact with them (cutting off contact is usually the consequence set up in an intervention). It might work, I've never done an intervention or threatened this because I know I'm not going to follow through. What I do know is that most rehab options are voluntary because people don't get clean and sober because someone else makes them. It's something they have to decide themselves and something they have to work at. You can't help them until they want to be helped (it's trite but true).

Let them know you love them

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I think my middle brother (who had very similar substance abuse problems) might have died thinking I didn't love him. That he should quit drinking and get his shit together was the thesis to almost every conversation we had. So I don't end a conversation with my baby bro without telling him. I haven't given up my right as a big sister to attempt to boss him into another lifestyle, I've just accepted that he probably won't listen and let him know I still love him when he doesn't.

Don't be an enabler

I have been called an "enabler" by some for not refusing to cut my brother off. I disagree. If I were buying him booze or drugs I would definitely be enabling and encouraging his self-destructive behavior, but I don't do those things. I'll buy him dinner or groceries from time to time, and I still buy him birthday and Christmas gifts. I think these are things an older sister who had a "normal" brother would do from time to time for her baby bro just starting out in the world. But this, like many things, is a matter of degrees and you have to decide what you're comfortable with.

Even though my brother has issues and I am almost constantly worried for him I still love him. His addiction is going to take a lot of things from him. One day (hopefully) he's going to wake up and wonder what happened to his twenties and as he gets older I think his future self is really going to regret some of the decisions he's made. But I'm going to work hard to not be one of the things that this takes from him. And it's worth it when I get a call at the wonderfully reasonable hour of 10 in the morning from a sober little bro asking for a ride to mom's house for a family dinner.

I want to make it clear that I'm not suggesting that anyone stay in an abusive (physically or emotionally) relationship. If my relationship with my brother took a turn in that direction I'd make the drastic changes necessary to protect myself.

So let's hear it with your advice. REMINDER: We're not here to bitch about our family members or compare horror stories — we're here to share survival tips for dealing with the drama.

Recent Comments

  • Stacey Rose: Totally agree with how you handle it. There is a time and a place for those conversations… We have family … [Link]
  • Frog: That's some good stuff, beck - do what you can, when you can, & hope for peace down the road. … [Link]
  • Frog: wendy, you're amazing. Thanks for posting!! We all have our faults, & it's never easy to admit them. … [Link]
  • JB: Also if you haven't yet check out She has 2 or 3(I forget) internationally adopted teenagers with attachment issues and … [Link]
  • SamanthaB: Thank you for this. My baby brother (he just turned 24; I'm 32) has struggled with serious drug addiction and … [Link]

+ 51 more! Join the discussion