It’s that time. BlogHer’14 – and Slap Dash Mom – inspired me to finally jump to my own domain, so off I go.
The new url is, unsurprisingly:
See you on the new server, y’all!
It’s that time. BlogHer’14 – and Slap Dash Mom – inspired me to finally jump to my own domain, so off I go.
The new url is, unsurprisingly:
See you on the new server, y’all!
Yep. I’m committing heresy. This is pure girl blasphemy. I’m saying OUT LOUD to all the Interwebs that I’m glad I’m not having more kids.
I realize that – by some people’s definition – mothers are supposed to be all “Oh, babies are just the best and I could totally go for another one!” anytime a friend shows off their newborn, but I’m perfectly content to coo from a distance and be happy snuggling the two I have. As the younger of two kids, from parents who were an only child and the elder of two, respectively, I’m used to the concept of a small family. Meeting DH’s family for the first time, and seeing that the extended family was A) large, and B) around each other on a regular basis, was overwhelming. I swear it took me a good six months just to learn everyone’s names.
When we talked about kids, DH really wanted four. His mother is the second of four, and he really liked the idea of a big family. Until I met DH, I’d figured I wasn’t going to have kids at all; it was never really something I wanted to do, and I never thought I clicked well with kids. We waited for me to finish graduate school before we really started trying to have kids, and it seemed to take forever before I finally got pregnant. I’m actually pretty sure I had a miscarriage right before I got pregnant with dd. It was early, though, so it just felt like a horrible period.
I remember lying in bed one night when I was pregnant with dd, wondering aloud, “What if I don’t have a maternal instinct?” DH assured me that everything would be fine, and I just hoped for the best. While some parts of the early parenting experience were rough – like exclusively pumping for six months because of physical issues that made breastfeeding hard and my stubborn refusal to give up – it turns out that I do have a maternal instinct. That part, at least, is comforting.
At some point during my pregnancy with ds, my OB/gyn asked me if I wanted to have a repeat c-section or a VBAC, and it took me a while to think it through. DD had been in full breech, so c-section was the way to go for my first delivery. There was some risk with VBAC, and I gathered info from my doctor and other sources before making my choice about how I would have ds delivered. Ultimately, I decided on a repeat c-section. When I told my doctor this, she immediately countered with, “Would you like your tubes tied?” I think I blinked a few dozen times and let that sink in.
“Can you do that?”, I asked.
“Of course. They’re right there,” she said, cupping her hands in the air as she mimed holding my fallopian tubes.
I called my health insurance company and they said that “voluntary sterilization” was a covered benefit, and they thought it was great that I would be able to consolidate things into ONE hospitalization and ONE anesthesia and ONE recovery.
It sounded so…sterile.
And so it was, that on August 11, 2009, after giving birth to a healthy baby boy, I was voluntarily sterilized with a tubal ligation. In normal people-speak, that means, I shouldn’t get pregnant ever again. That doesn’t mean I can’t, since I know that there is a minuscule chance that I could get pregnant. One of the former teachers at the kids’ daycare center is a tubal baby, so I know it’s possible. But still, as much as I hate the creature with the rusty knife that attacks my abdomen every month, I’m secretly happy. It means I escaped one more month closer to the point when babies are simply no longer an option.
It’s not that I don’t love kids – I adore my kids. They are the light of my life and there is no way that I would want to know what my life would be like if I had never had them.
But knowing what it was like struggling with breastfeeding that never worked and pumping that I made take over my life, remembering what it was like to juggle life with infants who couldn’t tell me funny stories, and thinking of what it was like dealing with blow-out diapers and strollers and high chairs and baby food and pacifiers and and and…I’m happy never to go back.
I love my babies. And though I know that it probably makes me a freak in some people’s eyes for saying that dd and ds are enough, I don’t want more babies. I want the kids I have and I know I was meant to have only them. I’m more than content with that. They are all that I wanted and never knew I needed until they were in my arms. And each time I get my period, I say a silent thank-you to my body, for keeping me at just the two that I adore. I have an abundance of awesome in my two sweet and wonderful kiddos, and that’s all I need. Anybody who thinks I should ever want more doesn’t know me and doesn’t know my babies. I truly have all that I need.
This was my second BlogHer conference; BlogHer’12 (New York City) was my first, and BlogHer’14 (San Jose) was my chance to be the veteran, swagger in full effect. Well, what passes for swagger. It mostly translated to “I’m not putting on tons of makeup for this.” With the location for BlogHer’15 still unannounced, here’s my take on what to consider before making travel reservations for 2015. For those who haven’t seen a “plus/delta” before, plus represents things that worked well and delta is for things that need improving (delta being a symbol for change).
I met my soulmate. I was introduced to Slap Dash Mom by a mutual friend, and we were on the same wavelength from the first minute. Sadie knocked me over with her awesomeness. We were some kind of stupid chick flick on the afternoon we left San Jose, when she was due to board her flight at the same time JetBlue would finally open their counter to let me check my bag, effectively circumventing our last shot at ONE FINAL HUG. Luckily, her flight got delayed – and the line at security was short – so we managed to get one last little visit in. It was some serious Hollywood material. Truly: call us. We’ll help write the script, guys. Have your people call my people.
My path is MUCH clearer. My aforementioned soulmate is a highly accomplished blogger and, during our first evening together, she gave me a “Come to Sadie” talking-to that I really needed. It clicked: I understood that, in the choice between running an online journal and running a blog, I preferred to have a blog. I realized that what she was talking about – running self-hosted on my own domain, finding ways to engage with brands where money or goods may be offered but my morals aren’t for sale, etc. – was the direction I really wanted to go. THIS is why I came to BlogHer: to find my path.
I made new brand connections! This trip, I talked with brands I hadn’t met before and satisfied my curiosity about products I didn’t know very well. In some cases, this meant I got information and set up relationships that will lead to “work” together; in other cases, it helped me quickly cross things off my list. Bloggers, especially newbies, may assume that any brand that shows interest is one that you should do work with; depending upon your specific goals, that may – or may not – be the case.
I learned some best practices. I heard about optimizing WordPress, using visuals to improve your blog, and key elements for creative non-fiction. I’m planning to channel these lessons into improvements I’m rolling out over the next couple of months, and having face-to-face connections with these subject matter experts was really helpful.
I made a bunch of new friends! I met bloggers at a variety of experience levels, and so many people were nice, funny, kind, and cool people. It’s lovely to fly 3,000 miles and meet people who you’d love to see every day. Jana of Merlot Mommy, Christy of Giveaway Train, Carol of All Mommy Wants, and Melanie of She’s Write are just some of the fabulous people I met.
When I joked that San Jose wasn’t the desert, I didn’t expect them to hide the water. For some reason, water was exceptionally hard to find at BlogHer’14. In fact, as we wandered the Expo Hall on opening night, bartenders explained champagne was free but water was $2/bottle. Wat. If we’re going to support health, let’s start with hydration, please. Since cups seemed to be the most popular swag choice for BlogHer’14 sponsors, it would’ve been nice if one was included in the conference tote bags, along with a map for hydration stations.
Brands are running away from BlogHer conferences. According to current exhibitors, it’s obvious that the costs of BlogHer participation are becoming – or have become – too high. Whether it’s the five-figure sponsor fees or the tight restrictions on events/giveaways and badges, BlogHer is getting a reputation as being brand-unfriendly. This clearly contributed to the founding of Blogger Bash, a brand-oriented event held in New York City the weekend prior to BlogHer’14. Apparently, outboarding events – timed to coincide with the conference but without the sponsorship $$$ heading to BlogHer – got out of control at BlogHer’13, but the pendulum swung too far in the other direction for 2014. Note: Outboarding events still occurred, but they were greatly diminished in number.
Which brings us to swag…or the lack thereof. I’m no swagwhore, but the distinct lack of quality swag was fairly depressing. Fab swag kudos go to the teams at official sponsors Chuck E. Cheese (board games and tokens), Baskin Robbins (ice cream!), Bridgestone/Firestone (tote bags and those amazing tire cake pops), and Skype (power stations, rain jackets, and the ever-present cups). That’s not to say that other folks didn’t have great swag, but the majority of the offerings were minimal. Even “room drops” – items delivered to your room when you stay in an official conference block room – were minimal to non-existent. My roommate and I only got stickers from The Mrs. (tune to enoughsong.com to hear their tune); others got stickers and cupcakes. The consistent theme was, “No, you’re actually in a desert and just didn’t know it”. Perhaps if BlogHer lowered their sponsor fees, sponsors might be more inclined to dangle better swag and increase booth traffic.
Trust in the BlogHer team is diminishing. There were several “official” events (breakfasts, talks, etc.) with a limited sign-up window and, “in the interest of fairness”, random selection of bloggers rather than first-come, first-served. One look at who got the first batches of confirmations suggests that “random” was a creative term. Bloggers with well-established brand relationships coincidentally landed spots at these exclusive events, shutting out new folks. Any attempt to swap or otherwise open space up was greeted with iron fists and disinvites. If the brands or BlogHer want to fill events with bloggers that have pre-established relationships, they should be honest about it. Disclosing “pre-existing relationships will increase your likelihood of getting chosen” will at least give people a sense of whether they should get their hopes up. That said, I would prefer first-come, first-served: let those with the fastest fingers win. Or let people apply and the brand picks who they want. Transparency is better than opacity that’s pretty damn easy to see through.
Session diversity and organization needs to improve. The most common complaint was that sessions were too high-level or aimed at newbies. Experienced, well-established bloggers are looking for more connections (with each other and/or brands) and to take their blogs to the next level. General sessions, where material lacks depth, don’t really serve that need. To that end, I’d recommend that BlogHer do two very important things.
Verdict: Ultimately, ANY conference is what you make of it. There will always be sessions that don’t quite grab you, food that’s not 100% fantastic, and people that turn their nose up rather than say “Hi” to a stranger. On the flip side, there is always at least one nugget of wisdom, there’s always a restaurant or SOMEWHERE nearby for better food, and there’s always at least one nice person who’d love to be your friend. I had a blast at BlogHer’14, neither in spite of it nor because of it. I hung out with friends both new and old, I learned a lot, and I soaked up plenty of sun. I can make a party anywhere. So, before you go to BlogHer’15 – or any other conference – the question for you is: Can you say the same?
After what was a pleasantly civilized trip thru airport security (no stripping! no removing things to place in separate bins!), our luck ran out at the gate. A group of us were all flying JetBlue from Boston to San Jose, and we schmoozed for a while – not noticing that HEY OUR PLANE ISN’T HERE YET. Turns out it was delayed, probably due to lines of thunderstorms, and we didn’t get out until about an hour past our scheduled departure. We also learned there was no wifi on our plane. The one carrying bloggers. To a conference for bloggers. Oh irony…
Once in the air, we enjoyed the movies (“Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” for me and my friend), but not long after our second flick finished we were told we were on approach to Salt Lake City. Um…what? Turns out that we had been diverted around those same storms – sent up as far north as Maine and central Vermont! – and we were running low on fuel. We landed in SLC, spent a short time on the tarmac and headed out as soon as we were fueled up.
By this time, we had already lost one hour to the storms – and now we lost time to the fill-up. Sometime around 11pm local time (almost 2hrs late), we groggily wandered off the plane into the surprising vastness that is the San Jose airport. Cabs were procured, and – thanks to my Marriott app the nice Rewards people recommended – our keys and two bottles of water were waiting for us at the front desk.
The view may be lovely – hard to tell at night – and it was a slog…but we are here, so I’m just happy to be able to say that we have made it. I didn’t expect red eye flights in both directions (not my preference), so here’s hoping the return trip goes more smoothly. [FWIW, it could be worse. The folks waiting for the return flight to Boston were waiting all this time for us to come in, so they could equipment, and the flight attendants were filling up the flight with passengers and heading right on back with them, working two long flights in a row. They were a chipper bunch. Hope they got some sleep.]
Recently, a friend of mine who has a 4yo son asked me if I’d written something about how to decide when it’s okay to take your kiddo to their first movie, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet covered that (although I do talk about the kid-freak-out-potential in my movie reviews). In the spirit of fairness, I figured I’d write up a longer version of what I discussed with him, since this was something that I was worried about when my kids wanted to start going to movies.
Let me preface this by saying that I love going to the movies. Seriously, I adore it. There’s something about going to this magical building where you can be transported away to some other time and place through sound and images. It’s a link with culture and the arts, it’s escapism, and it’s stories brought to life by people with incredible talent (both in front of and behind the camera). The first real opportunity dd had to attend a movie was when she was 4-1/2yo and one of her friends invited her to a birthday party at the local movie theater, to see “Hop”. Not being a tremendous fan of Russell Brand, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I dutifully took her to the theater. When other parents did the “drop-off” thing (leaving their kiddos in the care of the parent[s] in charge of a party), I stuck around and bought a ticket for myself so that I could be there for her. It’s not that what those other parents did was wrong and what I did was right, but I wasn’t sure that bringing my daughter to her first immersive movie experience and then leaving her there would’ve been the wisest move I could make.
Turns out I was quite right. During the previews (the PREVIEWS!), she had a freak-out at the violence in the trailer for a “Kung-fu Panda” movie. Having been raised primarily on The Wiggles and PBS Kids shows to that point, she didn’t see violence. Ever. And even cartoonish violence can cause massive panic. I don’t recall if I offered her my lap or if she just cuddled up with me, but she was fine by the time the feature came on. There were moments where she snuggled up close, not because “Hop” has any especially scary parts but more because – at age 4-1/2 – she just wasn’t able to process all of this information without it overloading her to some extent.
By the time ds was ready to hit the theaters, it became more apparent that the “cuddle up” message had to be made and reinforced – early and often. The “cuddle up” rule for movie-going in our family is that if something on screen causes someone to get scared, they need to “cuddle up” with the nearest parent. If I take the kids on my own, then they each get an arm (it’s only fair). For the most part, ds has been fine; he hasn’t yet needed to see an entire feature on my lap, but he did get very upset when Constantine brandished a gun at the end of “Muppets: Most Wanted”, and there were tears. Since then, he’s asked for scare-level information about each movie we’re considering, so he can decide whether he wants to see it or not. Contrast this with some girlfriends whose similarly-aged kids have seen “Marvel’s The Avengers”; not every kid hits the panic button about violence, and some of it may just go away on its own. Each kiddo is different.
We’ve been to several movies with the kids (as a complete family and one parent + one or two kiddos), so at this point I feel like we have it down fairly well. With that in mind, here are five suggestions for those who are considering taking their young child to their first movie and would actually like the experience
not to suck to be a good one for everyone involved:
1. Make sure your kiddo can get through a whole movie at home first.
If they can’t get through a whole movie at home, then attention span may be an issue. All you need is your kiddo to get bored in the theater and you’ll both be climbing the walls. Between previews and a feature, a movie experience may run 1-1/2 to 2 hours for a beginner movie; if your kiddo is unable to sit still and pay attention for that long a time, then heading out to the theater may not be the right move yet.
2. Check the ratings and reviews before heading to the theater.
I consider this the “Cars 2 Rule”. One exceptionally hot day, following an tent concert by The Wiggles that nearly made both of us melt, I took dd to “Cars 2” as a way to cool off. I made that spur-of-the-moment decision not knowing that “Cars 2” was rated PG. When the movie started out with a shootout, I realized I’d taken her to the WRONG FILM. I trusted that the “Cars” label meant “kid-friendly” and didn’t expect that it was really “kid-friendly at a certain age”. The new Planes: Fire and Rescue is also PG, so buyer beware.
3. Consider nap and meal schedules.
This one should be a gimme: if your kiddo is used to naps at the time when you want to go to the movie, consider the likelihood of a meltdown and plan accordingly. Similarly, check to see what your local theater offers for food if you’re going near a meal time. Nicer, newer theaters will often have anything from hot dogs and pizza to chicken nuggets and fries. Not every kid will eat well when you’re in a theater (sensory overload), but it may be easier to aim for a movie at lunchtime and head home for nap than to go to a mid-afternoon movie that may not exist. (Movie theaters just don’t consider nap schedules well enough when setting movie times!)
4. Use the bathroom right before the previews come on.
It doesn’t matter whether your little one is potty trained or still in diapers; odds are, if you don’t check right before the movie starts, you’ll end up missing part of the movie for time in the bathroom. That old adage of “Always go before you go” is still great advice.
5. Reinforce “the cuddle rule” right before the feature comes on.
Make sure that your kiddo knows that they should cuddle up if they get scared and that you’re there for them. Even if they don’t take you up on it, knowing that the offer is open (and reminding them to the point of having them repeat it) removes one potential source of stress for them. That way, if they do get worried or scared, they immediately start clinging and you both know that’s the signal that you need to “protect” them.
Additional things worth considering:
When all else fails, try just renting something from Redbox or grabbing a movie off OnDemand/Netflix/Amazon Prime, popping some popcorn and springing for $1 boxes of movie theater candy at the local drug store. Really, there’s nothing to stop you from having a “movie viewing” at your house that mimics the experience well enough – but at a price tag and with amenities – that are a little more everyone’s speed.
Almost a year after the first “Planes” movie was released, the folks at Disneytoon are back again with an adventure featuring Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), the mild-mannered crop duster-turned-racer. This time out, our story opens with Dusty sustaining critical damage to his gear box, a part long since out of production, putting him at risk of crashing when he pushes the needle into the red. His very real concern about crashing puts him in a metaphorical tailspin, leading the depressed Dusty to go on a flying bender that ends with him careening into a pylon and accidentally starting a fire.
The haphazard firefighting by Propwash Junction Airport’s sole – and well-past decrepit – fire truck, Mayday (the prolific Hal Holbrook – “Wall Street” and “Lincoln”), exposes the airport’s lack of sufficient fire safety equipment. Immediately thereafter, the authorities sweep in and pull the airport’s license to operate until there are at least two pieces of firefighting equipment onsite. Looking for meaning in his life, or at least to help out his friends, Dusty volunteers to undergo the certification required for the airport to re-open, and he flies up to scenic Piston Peak National Park, to study under the taciturn helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris – “The Truman Show” and “Apollo 13”).
The lovely park is hugged by trees, hills, and a gulch with a raging river, and it features the stunningly renovated Fusel Lodge which is managed by the arrogant Superintendent, Cad (John Michael Higgins – “Bad Teacher” and “Pitch Perfect”). As much as Blade wants to make even minor improvements to the firefighting capabilities of his crack team, Cad is focused solely on the grand re-opening of the Lodge, gushing over the champ and ignoring the heroes. Dusty makes friends with members of Blade’s team, including the amorous Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen – “Ed” and “Modern Family”), the philosophical Windlifter (Wes Studi – “Last of the Mohicans” and “Avatar”), and crazy smokejumper Dynamite (Regina King – “Boyz n the Hood” and “The Boondocks”). Though Dusty learns the mechanics of fighting fires, his impulsive decisions override his training and put him on Blade’s bad side.
When Blade suffers injuries from compensating for Dusty’s mistakes during a wildfire, Windlifter is left to direct the team as the fire spreads close enough to threaten the Lodge and all its visitors. Dusty has to put his own personal safety on the line to prove to everyone – and himself – that he has what it takes to be a true hero.
Ultimately, I found the movie to be just okay. Understanding that the first “Planes” movie was originally intended to be a direct-to-DVD movie that detoured to the theaters, this felt much like something that could have gone straight to DVD. There were no visible advances in graphics or effects, the plot was fairly predictable, and it straddled an interesting line between repetition and sophomore slump. The movie has some cute moments, and the casting is truly wonderful, but the drive to see it will be fueled primarily by Dusty-philes and merchandising.
The two big questions that I typically see pop up around these movies are: should I see this in 3D and is it too scary for my child? As to the question of whether to see this in 3D or 2D, I’d say that there’s no tangible benefit to seeing it in 3D. Frankly, the best use of the 3D display was in the end credits – and that’s insufficient to justify the surcharge. When it comes to the scare factor, the scenes with the fires (two of which are probably a bit scary for those under 7) are likely to be the biggest issues. Dusty and the Piston Peak team are put in harm’s way, and though the graphics aren’t hyper-realistic, I can imagine that some kids might find even those brief scenes a bit tough to take.
In the end, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” does the job it sets out to do; it continues this fork of the “Cars”-world franchise and it offers all new characters for kids to collect at their local stores. Parents can expect some amusing one-liners and great cameos, and kids get to see Dusty in action all over again. For many, that’s reason enough to head to the theater.
2 stars out of 4
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” opens nationwide starting July 18, 2014. This movie is rated PG for action and some peril.
I realize I’ve been sorely neglecting the book reviews I should have been posting as I’ve made my way slowly but surely through the year. In the past several months, I’ve made my way through four books – some of which were FAR better than the others. As far as my weight goes, I’ll be reporting on that in a separate post, since there is news to provide there and I’d like to have separate space to think it all through. I am still aiming to get through 21 books, though – as Goodreads was kind enough to point out – I’m moving too slowly. You can see farther down on this page just who owes me a month of my life back. Hopefully the next few books will go faster…
As far as the books go, you can see where I am on Goodreads at any point, or you can wait for me to post my reviews here. One note: typically, I link to the Amazon page for a given book (just out of habit), but the copies that are exclusive versions printed by Barnes and Noble are linked to those product pages. Regardless of the book or the product page I’m sending anyone to, I’d like to be clear that I am not part of an affiliate program, and I do not make any money off you clicking on a link. If you want to buy these books, feel free to use these links or not; I make nothing off them. I’m just trying to make sure I’m sending people to a rough approximation (or accurate representation) of the version of the book I read.
So, without further ado, catching everyone else up on my last few months of reading:
The quintessential “pirate” book, “Treasure Island” breathes life into the character of Long John Silver, a character of broad reputation and dubious morals. A young innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins, gets recruited to go on a hunt for a sea-faring hunt for treasure, where he uncovers mutiny and danger. As one of those books that I felt I always should have read, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When you think back to the books you were required to read in school, “classics” typically stood in for “boring” or “why am I reading this” or “isn’t there something written within the last century?” This book was a fairly good read, the first time I’d ever read any fiction centered on pirates, and it was interesting reading about Silver and buried treasure. You saw Jim come into his own, learning probably more than he cared to about the dark side of human nature. For what’s typically considered something aimed at children (the “classics” version of YA?), I’m surprised at the amount of death and danger. Then again, I guess every century has its way of trying to shock parents.
From the presses at a Disney imprint comes the second book in a series about – you guessed it – Fairy Godmothers. Only, in this case, you have a young girl who’s been tapped to head off to Fairy Godmother school, leaving her family and friends behind. Lacey Unger-Ware (great name) is the young girl in question, and though she resists her call to join the corps, an accident places her squarely in the position of having to serve as a fairy godmother to her best friend’s mother…or have everyone hate her. A series of madcap mishaps ensue, and it’s up to Lacey to save the day – and herself – by saving others. I read this one with dd, who liked it a lot and asked to get more books from this series. I was sent a copy by the Disney folks so that I could see what she thought, and I was happy to see yet another example of smart YA writing. As much as dd liked the book, I found myself snorting along and enjoying it immensely. Definitely two thumbs up.
Having loved “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, I figured that this one had to be worth a read. I saw Chabon appear on “The Colbert Report”, plugging the paperback release, and I went out right away to get a copy for myself. What then ensued was my “Midnight’s Children” moment for the year. I could not have been more disappointed with this book if I tried. I liked that Chabon tried to explore the lives of multi-cultured couples in Oakland, CA, centering around a failing record store in a failing neighborhood about to be gentrified and steamrolled into a whole new existence. Archie and Nat are co-owners of this anchor for a driftless neighborhood, and the relationship between the two men and their families is the central point on which the book should turn. Instead, you follow the shiftless Archie more often than not, finding him less an anti-hero and more just a poor excuse for a husband and father. Threads of stories don’t get pulled together too well, as everything suffers under the weight of Chabon’s apparently editor-free writing. The idea was just far better than the execution. Chabon’s rambling narrative – including one epic 8-page-long sentence that was a chapter unto itself – reduced the value of the book to bare minimum. It was as though someone took filet mignon and smothered it in a rancid sauce; you can’t even come close to eating it with any sort of pleasure. Unlike the bother books I read this year, this one was a terrible bore and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
The first book in the Internment Chronicles series was just the breath of fresh air that I needed after slogging through “Telegraph Avenue”. Yet another delightful YA novel that I picked up for free at the local movie theater, “Perfect Ruin” centers around a young girl – Morgan Stockhour – living in a controlled, but generally happy, society established on a chunk of floating earth, suspended high above the planet. Strict measures determine the number of children, who will marry whom, and even the lifespan (population controls being important when you have finite space), but Morgan is fairly happy in her existence on this higher plane…until a murder is committed, and her illusion of a happy society is well and properly shattered. She begins to dig into what happened, her natural curiosity getting the better of her, and she uncovers far more than she bargained in the process. This was a delightful book (not just because of the contrast with the prior read); I’m definitely hooked and can’t wait for the second book in this series to come out. Further proof that the YA tag should never be used to weed out books…but perhaps to weed them in.
Dumas’ book was a literal page-turner; I found myself devouring the book 50 pages at a time. The story focuses on a young man, Edmond Dantès, wronged by a rival suitor for his beloved Mercédés. Dantès is tossed into prison, where he befriends an abbé right as he is on the verge of desperate measures. As time passes, Dantès’ mind and body both strengthen, and when he manages to escape from prison, he reinvents himself as the eponymous Count so that he can take revenge on those who contributed to his imprisonment. I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to miss every theatrical version of this book, since the material is so rich you could mine it for ages. Dumas draws his characters in 3-D; they just seem to have such depth and emotion. Where Chabon was slow and plodding, Dumas races from household to household, weaving an incredible tale of love, betrayal, politicking, redemption, mystery, and finally – salvation.
When asked about the meaning behind No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”, Gwen Stefani explained that it was about her struggles against the restrictions placed on her – specifically – because she was female. Every woman I’ve met has at least a half-dozen stories of some kind of injustice or imbalance she encountered in the workplace, at a party, at school, or in the home. It’s like the ridiculous double-standard that a man who’s dating four women at the same time is a “stallion”, yet the woman who does the same is a “slut”. It’s not just the Madonna/whore complex, it’s our cultural unwillingness to treat women as though they are members of society valued equally with the men.
Between last week’s Supreme Court ruling that shreds the protective protest barriers around medical clinics that offer abortions and yesterday’s ruling that allows large companies, like Hobby Lobby, to “opt out” of offering certain kinds of birth control due to “religious objection”, women are more under fire than ever. At a time when over 62 million women aged 20-64 are employed all over the country (roughly one-fifth of the entire US population), it seems like we have a value that’s less than zero. We are not defined solely by our breasts, our uteruses, or our vaginas any more than men can be summed up solely by their penises. The fact that we have brains or spines seems to be completely missing from the conversation.
Will letting “closely held corporations” opt-out of the contraception mandate reduce healthcare costs or the employer insurance burden? No, not quite. Large corporations like Hobby Lobby are typically “self-insured”, meaning that they pay health insurers an administrative fee to get cards and (effectively) rent their network. They get to design their health insurance benefits. BUT, when the government points at insurance companies and says that they have to cover the cost of contraception as a fully-covered benefit when their customer won’t have to foot the bill directly, insurers have to pay for that SOMEHOW. That means increasing premium rates for everybody (and that “administrative fee” goes up, too). Hobby Lobby gets off paying for it this year, but it’s baked into their administrative fees next year…and the year after that…and the year after that…(as well as everyone else’s, since they effectively raised everyone’s rates so they would get to pay less). Nice, eh?
So, does restricting access to low-cost birth control further the pro-life cause? NO. According to a study published in 2012, providing free birth control reduces abortion utilization dramatically. The irony is painful in more than one way, and it shows the short-sightedness of these litigants like Hobby Lobby.
Are birth control pills only for women who want to have sex without consequence? NO. A 2001 study discussed the health benefits of birth control pills in alleviating the negative effects from dysmenorrhea (aka “REALLY BAD PERIODS”) and pain from endometriosis. I can also say that I went on birth control pills to control my periods; they were irregular and sometimes debilitating without the introduction of the hormone therapy offered by the pills I took. And anyone who thinks that IUDs are just for preventing pregnancy just doesn’t know how the female body works. Honestly, people, TAKE AN ANATOMY CLASS, WILL YA?!
Are corporations people? HELL NO.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world that’s got less freedom and less opportunity for her than the one I grew up in. When I was a child, I was lucky enough to have a mother who worked in management – who showed me the value of education and hard work as a means to a successful, productive adult life. Seeing her example, it never occurred to me NOT to go to college and NOT to get a job and NOT to try to succeed in whatever I did.
I want my daughter to grow up, and then live her productive, successful adult life in a world where she’s valued. I want her to live in a world where her gender is simply a box to check rather than a box that contains her. I want my son to have a healthy respect for all women (not just his sister), and treat women with the dignity they deserve. I’ve never told my kids that one of them could do something the other had no shot at, that one of them was destined to succeed and the other would be great if they can just get married and reproduce. This is 2014, not 1914.
I choose choice. Options. There must be options. There must be freedom. And someone else’s religious freedom doesn’t get to stomp on my freedom to have those choices. So I will continue to exercise my choice by consciously boycotting organizations that have hurtful views, that carelessly aim to pick apart our society until we are nothing more than a homogeneous, mindless pen of sheep.
Are corporations people? NO. But I’m a person – with disposable income – and I vote.
Don’t EVER count women out. Don’t EVER count ME out.
“I’m just a girl” is one hell of a war cry.
I usually try to keep my politics off my blog, although lord knows that as someone with a degree in Political Science, it’s not like I don’t have opinions. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to offend, and there’s another part of me that doesn’t give any thought to what other people think. If they choose to disagree, that’s their right.
So here’s where things get murky.
In the Supreme Court decision yesterday on the matter of McCullen et al. v. Coakley, the Supremes decided that the 35 foot buffer zone around clinics providing abortions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was a “burden” on free speech. The law was intended to provide a safe space, a bubble – if you will – around clinics so that patients and employees of the same would be able to enter and exit without undue disruption. You know, like people screaming bloody murder in their face. Or, perhaps, people actually murdering someone, which is what was the impetus for the buffer zone in the first damn place.
Here’s the thing: I don’t trust that the pro-lifers will be respectful now that the bubble has been burst, and I can only hope that Governor Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Martha Coakley make the effort to put more protections in place while the State House finds some other way – perhaps following New York’s lead of a 15-foot buffer zone – to rebuild a safe space.
Not all women who go to Planned Parenthood or other reproductive services clinics are there for abortions. And even if they are, abortion isn’t illegal. Harassment and intimidation, if not illegal, are really fricking tacky. Murder: definitely illegal. So, if we’re going to go on record as to who seems to like committing the crimes, I’m willing to point the pen squarely at the pro-lifers.
Operation Rescue leadership and long-time clinic protestors praised the Court’s decision, salivating at the opportunity to “educate” women about their choices. Strangely, their “education” only involves one choice…which, if you’ve ever learned how to count, means a complete LACK of choice. Choice implies more than one option. And if you have to educate by screaming, foaming at the mouth, intimidating, and frightening people, then you need to re-evaluate your curriculum. Do you want to know what goes on inside these clinics? Healthcare. Women interacting one-on-one with a clinician about their bodies and their health. Those conversations and anything that takes place inside those four walls are for no one else’s ears and eyes; HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is supposed to take care of that.
What would be great is if all of those people who choose to spend their time harassing the patients and staff of these clinics would refocus their efforts on helping the children who are already in this mortal coil and left behind by all sorts of circumstances, including parents completely incapable of taking care of them. There are kids in need of safe homes, clothing, food, education, and nurturing. Why aren’t they helping those kids?
And if we want to talk about freedom, how come “freedom” only gets to apply to taxes and guns but my uterus is up for grabs?
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say quite truthfully that – as of this point in my life – I’ve never had an abortion. I’m a mother of two children that I love more than my own life, and it was my choice to have them. And it was my choice to become a parent. And it was MY CHOICE to do what I did such that I have two wonderful kiddos. I would never in a million years want someone to have their CHOICE revoked by someone else, and – as I’ve already said – CHOICE necessitates more than one option. We don’t live in the world of “The Handmaid’s Tale” yet, and I hope we never do.
Women aren’t things. We’re people. We have brains and thoughts and feelings, and we are more than breasts, a vagina and a uterus.
To Operation Rescue: why don’t you rescue people who are really in need of saving? Put that effort towards fully funding Pre-K, donating money and time to The Greater Boston Food Bank, or shoring up finances for the tangled web of homeless shelters and soup kitchens around the Commonwealth.
To the leaders of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: I trust you to set this right and to fix the mess the Supreme Court has made. Please act swiftly, before something terrible and totally preventable happens thanks to some whack-job being emboldened by a misguided Court decision.
To the Supreme Court: shame on you for showing a complete lack of support for women and their right not only to “free speech” but to freedom from intimidation, harassment, and violations of personal space.
And finally, to everyone else: you don’t have to agree with me, and I respect your right to have a different opinion. That’s the joy of choice and the societal burden that comes with free speech. Choice requires more than one option, and no amount of bullshit “free speech” arguments will change that the people who challenged this law did so with the motivation and intent to do harm to these clinic patients and staffers, to limit these women and their freedom. And that, my dear readers, is just NOT okay.
It’s just not okay.
WARNING: THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “MALEFICENT”, “FROZEN”, AND “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, FORK OUT THE $$ TO WATCH THE FLICKS AND THEN COME BACK!
And so it was that last night, I saw “Maleficent”. In this twist on a classic tale once done up by Disney in animated form, Maleficent is the center of attention. Most tellings of the story of The Sleeping Beauty share the same general elements: a baby girl is born to King Stefan and his Queen; a big party is held to celebrate the baby’s arrival; fairies from across the land are invited to the party and all but ONE bestow gifts of beauty, kindness, etc.; before the final fairy can bestow her gift, she’s rudely interrupted by an evil fairy – Maleficent – who’s terribly offended by the lack of invitation and decides to curse the child to die on her 16th birthday when she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel; the final fairy “softens” the curse by instead having her go to sleep until true love’s kiss awakens her; natch, this ALL comes to pass no matter what King Stefan does to prevent it; Prince Philip, who fell in love with the princess when she was incognito turns out to be said true love; AND – key plot point – he slays Maleficent and frees the princess from her sleep by giving her true love’s kiss.
It all sounds so…Disney, right?
So, then we have “Maleficent”, where we start out with a backstory of Maleficent as a kind, brave fairy in the Moors, a magical land bordering a wretched kingdom led by a cruel, greedy King. Maleficent saves the life of a young thief, Stefan, whom she befriends and soon falls in love with. In one example of how much he cares, when she tells him that iron burns fairies, the dirt-poor Stefan tosses away an iron ring, probably his sole possession of any value, before it can hurt her again. Over time, their friendship does turn to romance – sealed with a true love’s kiss they share when they’re both teens. As time passes, Maleficent becomes the protector of her magical home, and she turns away the King’s army before it can pillage and plunder. Stefan, now a royal retainer, takes up the King on his offer to become his successor by slaying Maleficent. He goes to the Moors and they spend a magical evening together that ends with – sorry, no polite way to say it – Stefan rufeeing her and stealing her wings instead of her life. Maleficent awakes to find herself violated, horribly in pain and maimed both by the betrayal of her love and the vicious amputation he’d performed. She manages to recover physically, over time, but her emotional scars run deep, as one might expect. Her only trusted ally is the crow, Diaval, she transforms into a man (or other creature), and he becomes both her familiar and her lieutenant.
When (now) King Stefan and his Queen have a grand party to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Aurora, three simpering, Keystone Kop-like fairies come to bestow their gifts – and the third is interrupted by the arrival of BOSS Maleficent, resplendent in her black “crown” (a pleather skull-and-horns cap) and full of cruel revenge. At this point, she offers her “gift”: the curse of a death sleep that can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. Maleficent curses her in this fashion because her jaded soul now believes there is no such thing as “true love”. King Stefan, completely freaked out by the ex-girlfriend-from-Hell (and totally in denial that HE MAIMED AND BETRAYED HER), becomes obsessed with saving Princess Aurora from her fate. He sends her to live with the trio of witless fairies (a terrific waste of some great actresses), puts all of the kingdom’s spinning wheels in sequestration in the castle dungeons, and violates every iron worker union rule by having them work around the clock to manufacture iron implements of destruction.
Maleficent and Diaval oversee the three fairies’ raising of the child, becoming surrogate parents to Aurora and generally making sure she survives. Over time, the “beastie” (as Maleficent calls her) turns into a lovely – if completely vacuous – young girl, and Maleficent realizes that the ice in her heart from Stefan’s violation has thawed thanks to his daughter. She attempts to undo the curse, but she’s unable to stop it. When she sees that there’s no way to keep Aurora from her fate, she even rushes heroically to her rescue, dragging along a sleeping Prince Philip to serve up true love’s kiss. Philip’s kiss fails to revive anything (except maybe One Direction fans in the audience), but a teary kiss from a regretful Maleficent brings Aurora back to consciousness. Maleficent and Diaval fight their way out of the castle, so Aurora may escape to freedom in the Moors with them, and redemption comes at a heavy price. Aurora finds Maleficent’s wings, which – once freed from imprisonment in a display – rejoin their owner and make Maleficent’s physique finally match the wholeness of her heart. King Stefan, driven mad by obsession, dies in a final battle with Maleficent. Once Stefan dies, the tale can finally have its happy ending: Maleficent can return to her homeland to be a kind protector, Aurora is crowned the good Princess, and Prince Philip makes a sheepish appearance so there can be puppy love stares.
The new storyline puts Maleficent firmly at the center and finally gives us some justification for how she got to be thought of as the evil fairy. You can clearly see that the reason she’s so angry and badass is because she was mutilated by her human boyfriend, who thought he was doing the right thing by sparing her life. Of course, his ruse still involved maiming her, so perhaps he just didn’t understand that his lust for power was evil? This calls to mind the new-fangled origin story of the Wicked Witch – Theodora from “Oz the Great and Powerful” – who, while scheming, was certainly “turned evil” by Oz’s rejection. And Queen Elsa from “Frozen” wasn’t an evil queen, but she is terribly misunderstood; others expect her to control a power she’s never been taught to use or manage, and she is horrified to be treated like a monster after she’s already endured years of solitary confinement.
In “Maleficent”, as in “Frozen”, the love that saves the younger female is one between family. Princess Aurora mistakenly believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother, and their bond is far stronger than that between her and her “aunties” (the fairies), although the mistake may be more Maleficent’s. As she protects, guides, and ultimately interacts with Aurora, Maleficent unwittingly becomes fairy godmother to the child, and the completely-off-the-rails King Stefan provides the perfect counterpoint to show just how she’s the righteous one in this fight. Similarly, Princess Anna of “Frozen” can only be saved by “an act of true love”, and while much time and teeth gnashing is spent identifying exactly which boy will save the girl, it’s actually her sister – the familial bond – that thaws her and brings her back from icy statuehood. Boys on the side, indeed.
Not to say that I think this is a plot device that should be used all the time, since eventually it may get played out, but I’m happy to see Disney doing something other than the same old tactic they used for so long: a girl who’s in trouble just needs saving by a man. Now, it seems, someone believes that sisters are doing it for themselves. Beyond giving Maleficent the humanity that (oddly) is missing from the humans in her story, she’s given motivation and earns sympathy. She’s not just some evil creature, she’s a flesh-and-horns person deserving of respect and dignity. Princess Anna, for all her gullibility in believing that Prince Hans was THE ONE, acts solely out of sisterly love – risking her life and that of her companions to save Princess Elsa from herself. As much as Elsa saves Anna, Anna saves Elsa right on back: teaching her the key to controlling her power and giving her hope that they can both be happy.
I like where Disney’s headed lately, giving young girls – and boys – a new paradigm to consider. Instead of girls’ eyes fluttering open from a death sleep at the slightest peck from some wandering prince, girls (and women) are being given motivation and depth, and they’re saving each other instead of waiting for a guy to come along and do it for them. Little girls who dress up as Maleficent will think of her as a villain, and a hero, and they’re right on both counts. She finally has depth of character. By putting these characters on film and giving them wide release, Disney seems to be attempting to undo (or at least soften) the curse of the myth that all girls need a prince to save them. And like Maleficent, while the horse is firmly out of that barn and the curse can’t be revoked, it’s nice to see some stories riding to the rescue that help “flip the script” and give girls a chance to realize that they can have depth of character, strength, courage, and love – with or without that prince.