CrunchyMetroMom

Trying to create balance…

My BlogHer’14 Plus/Delta: My 5 x 2 round-up July 29, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 9:24 pm
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BlogHer14 Badge

 

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).

 

Plus

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.

 

Sadie+me

Sadie and me, before her flight took her home to Arizona

 

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.

 

Communication

A reminder that it’s all about communication

 

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.

 

Delta

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.

 

Tire cakepops

These tire cake pops were as tasty as they were adorable

 

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.

  1. Set up specific tracks, i.e. “Beginner, Experienced, Advanced”, and then build content in each track to support the needs of those different bloggers. Of course, you let people roam in case they’re newer to one thing than another, but having categories and developing content for each unique need is vital to re-establishing BlogHer’s place as THE conference for bloggers.
  2. Put screens at each Geek Bar table. A distinct lack of A/V support hampered some of the sessions, and that’s not supportive of the speakers that are taking the time to develop and conduct presentations/sessions.

 

Reverend Run DJ's the closing party, sponsored by McDonalds

Reverend Run of Run-DMC brings down the house with an epic 1hr set at the closing party, sponsored by McDonalds

 

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?

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Day T-1 for BlogHer ’14 (#blogher14) July 24, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 10:03 am
Tags: , , ,

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.]

 

{divergence} I’m just a girl July 1, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:23 am
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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.

 

{divergence} The Supreme Court got it WRONG about abortion clinic buffer zones June 27, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:07 am
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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.

 

Has Disney turned a feminist corner? May 31, 2014

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?

 

Maleficent

Maleficent revealed in adulthood (played by Angelina Jolie)

 

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.

 

Diaval and Maleficent

Diaval (Sam Riley) and Maleficent (Jolie)

 

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.

 

Elsa

Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) in self-imposed exile at her ice palace

 

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.

 

That time I stopped taking Zyrtec (cetirizine) and couldn’t stop itching May 24, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 9:05 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sometimes, a title has to say it all. This is really, truly about how incredibly itchy I’ve gotten…as a result of withdrawal from the Zyrtec (cetirizine) I’ve been taking for the last couple of years. (First warning: before you start/stop taking Zyrtec or cetirizine, talk to your doctor. Seriously, that’s what they’re there for.)

Backing up slightly: I developed seasonal allergies somewhere in the range of about 14-15 years ago. I started off with brand-name medicine (Allegra), before they started to make these medicines available over the counter (OTC). When Allegra started having less and less effect on my allergy symptoms (coughing and itchy throat, in particular), I switched to Claritin. When Claritin went OTC not long thereafter, I continued to buy it – but eventually switched to the generic (loratidine). This went on for a number of years until I was able to stop taking these meds entirely, my seasonal allergies having mysteriously stopped after I gave birth to dd. Hallelujah! But short-lived…

After I gave birth to ds, the allergies I so happily lost three years before came back in spades (ugh!) – and that meant getting back on loratidine. Eventually, even that stopped helping me, and I’d wake in the middle of summer nights, when the windows were open, with terrible coughing fits. It was horrible. So, I decided to try Zyrtec – or, rather, the generic (cetirizine). My first impression of cetirizine was that it must be rather powerful, since I practically hibernated the first 48-72 hours I was on it. I was so incredibly sleepy. Once I pushed past that threshold, though, my life got much better. The coughing cleared right up, and I was able to function like a normal human being again. Hallelujah, part two!

Over the past couple of years, there have been times when I’ve failed to take the cetirizine on schedule; sometimes it’s that I ran out and haven’t made it to Target to buy another large bottle of pills. Sometimes, it’s been that I thought I didn’t need to take it. But the coughing always came back, so I would run right back to the cetirizine. It became a “take all year-long” kind of thing. On the nights when I didn’t have my nightly regimen of pills already tucked away (fish oil for my eyes, a multivitamin, iron supplement, and the cetirizine), I’d just make sure to take at least the cetirizine, to stave off coughing.

At my annual wellvisit (physical) a few weeks ago, the doctor told me that she’d rather I switched to Flonase and reserve the cetirizine for when I need supplemental allergy help. Apparently, Flonase takes a few weeks to take effect, but once it kicks in, it’s great. For allergy seasons like we’re having right now, when all the sexy flowers and trees are having sexy flower and tree sex with the pollen, it’s just brutal and I need all the support I can get. So, I got a script for generic Flonase (fluticasone), filled it, and started taking that daily. Since I figured that I should follow her directions to use the Flonase as my primary medicine and reserve the cetirizine for supplemental help, I just stopped taking cetirizine.

And then I started itching. And itching. And itching. And WTH I’m so itchy.

There are no hives, although my skin does get red where I scratch it. This is one of those all-over body itches, where it’s your scalp, your arms, your legs, your belly, your back…everywhere. It’s crazy.

Wondering if perhaps this was something that others experienced, I googled for “zyrtec and itching”. And oh boy, did I come up with a ton of results. There were even stories in things like the Chicago Tribune, where the letter to the health editor could have been written by me. The anecdotal results I scanned last night all came out with the same results: the itching typically runs anywhere from 2-4 weeks long, and there’s nothing – short of going back on the Zyrtec / cetirizine – that will make it stop dead in its tracks. There were some folks who said they just went back to the drug full-time, because they couldn’t bear the withdrawal symptoms; you could tell by their posts that they felt trapped, physically addicted to a seemingly harmless allergy medication that now they can’t (or won’t) stop taking. Some folks have had success with step-down protocols, where they use pill cutters to take limited doses and taper off over a period of weeks. Some have just toughed it out and waited for the itching to stop.

I’m planning to go the latter route, because I’m a stubborn person and really – *$&% Zyrtec and cetirizine. If the only way to get the withdrawal side effects to go away is to go back on the drug itself, then that’s physical addiction and I’m just not having it. This is definitely a great allergy medication, but the side effects of withdrawal are just NOT fun. Of course, I’ll say that many meds have side effects when you’re taking them, so this is sort of like the ultimate bad breakup.

{Side note: it’s also impressive and more than a little frustrating that McNeil – Zyrtec’s manufacturer – doesn’t have a warning saying that this could happen to you. Many online posts I read complained about this lack of information from the manufacturer, claiming that it was fairly reckless of them to know this and not warn people, but I guess they figured that if you have a problem when you come down off their meds, that’s not THEIR problem, that’s yours.}

So, what should you do if you’re on Zyrtec or cetirizine? First off, this is a conversation you should have with your primary care doctor or allergist. Talk with your doctor about whether you need to stay on the medicine. If it’s not harming you and you need it, and your doctor wants you on it: great. If you decide you want to come down off the medicine or swap it out, talk with your doctor about the treatment they recommend for you. Don’t design a step-down plan on your own; do it with your doctor. Don’t whip out a pill cutter and start a step-down protocol without checking with your doctor and being certain that’s what they want you to do. Don’t stop taking Zyrtec or cetirizine without consulting with your doctor. (Note that I had this consultation during my physical; we had this discussion, and I’m acting in accordance with what we agreed.)

I can’t say this strongly enough: HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT WHAT ALLERGY MEDICATIONS, IF ANY, ARE RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR CONDITION. DON’T TRUST THE ADS, DON’T DO WHAT I DID JUST BECAUSE I’M COOL AND SEEM TO HAVE MY ACT TOGETHER. DON’T LET DR. GOOGLE PRESCRIBE YOU ANYTHING. DON’T DESIGN YOUR OWN STEP-DOWN PROTOCOL WITHOUT TALKING FIRST WITH YOUR DOCTOR.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a warning to those who are on Zyrtec (cetirizine), who are considering going off it, or who stopped taking it, just to provide some information about what many people (and now I) have experienced upon stopping a long-term treatment with it. Now you’re armed with the knowledge that this could happen to you, as well, so before you start, change, or stop a course of allergy treatment that involves Zyrtec or cetirizine, you just got a new question to ask your doctor.

 

An open letter to my mom May 3, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 1:08 pm
Tags: , ,

You were right.

Well, at least some of the time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When you think about all of the stuff your mom said to you as a kid that just seemed incredible or downright ridiculous, it’s how funny so much of it actually was her telling you stuff you needed to know – even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear at the time.

 

If they’re really your friends, they wouldn’t treat you like that.

This is so incredibly true it hurts. I mean, it actually HURTS when you think about all of the time you wasted on people who were toxic, people who made you feel less than you really are, people who only had you around because it served some purpose in their life without providing similar return to you. I’m not saying that you should run your life like a game of “Survivor”, but it is really rather fantastic how many people I used to know that I just don’t even miss, because they just weren’t positive influences in my life. My best friend of 24 years is still my best friend, even though we haven’t lived in the same city for two decades, because even as much as our lives have changed and we have evolved in (sometimes different) directions, we still share mutual love, admiration, respect, and a belief that the other person is *important*.

 

Always GO before you go.

Parents of children really GET this. Case in point: I took ds up to the elementary school on his bike the other day; he biked and I walked. He played for maybe 10 minutes before he suddenly announced that he needed facilities that aren’t open on the weekends. While I give him high marks for being able to hold all bodily functions until we got home, I give myself poor marks for not having forced him into the bathroom before we left. Sure, the school isn’t too far from the house – but this is a rookie mistake. (Right up there with that time I forgot to bring diapers to a well visit when dd was still an infant; that’s a mistake that you only make ONCE.)

 

You can do better.

This applies just across the board. When I think about how things are going at work (extremely well, by the way), I wonder how much of it is luck. I’m sure there’s some karma involved, but some of it is just that I work very hard – and very efficiently – so that I can deliver at a level that meets or exceeds expectations. And I always, ALWAYS, assume I can do better…to the point where people accuse me of being humble when I shouldn’t be. There’s always room for improvement, whether it’s at work, or at home, or in the never-ending fight with my waistline. That’s not to say that I’m at the Marxian level of complaining that the capitalist system sets things up so one can never reach the divine; it’s that I think there’s always room for go beyond where you are. My pie crust could be homemade. I could rely less on boxed and frozen items when cooking during the workweek. I could be a size 8. She was right, though. I really interpret this NOW as “Celebrate when you succeed, and plan how next to exceed.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So, Ema, the basic point is: you were right. And I’ve learned a lot in the 41 years I’ve been on the planet – but none more so than in the 7-1/2 years since dd made her first public appearance in the delivery room. But you were right.

At least some of the time.

 

Some days, you just wonder how you got here March 30, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:06 am
Tags: , ,

When I was home for several days, fighting off fever, exhaustion and a sore throat that turned out to be strep, I took a whole afternoon off and binge-watched HBO’s “Girls”. I’d heard that it was a good show, and clearly there’s some positive buzz around star/writer Lena Dunham, so I figured that I’d watch a few episodes and see if it was worth giving it a longer look.

Of course it was.

I ended up watching something like 1-1/2 seasons that afternoon, and then I finished off the remaining 1-1/2 within the next two weeks. Somehow, this one show had touched on something that I’d forgotten since “Sex and the City” went off the air: that there is dramedy out there that reminds us of what we once had in favor of what we have now, and how what seemed so awful (or perfect) back then may never have been.

Some of it is parenthood; when you become a parent, your life changes forever. Things that you formerly did (spontaneous travel, spending money wherever and whenever you wanted, etc.) and stuff you previously spent money on (like expensive dinners or event tickets) take a back seat to diapers and car seats. You spend more time at Old Navy in the Baby section than you do in the Womens section, and whether or not you become comfortable with that, it’s part of just how things are.

I have some memories of my twenties, especially before I moved up to Boston, when my Thursday and Saturday nights were spent at Tracks – a long-gone gay club that featured alternative & rave music on Thursdays and drag queen volleyball on any night when it was warm and dry outside. I won’t say that we “did things that would frighten fish” (look it up in “Steel Magnolias”, y’all) – or at least I never did stuff that was frightening – but we partied. A lot.

Even after I moved to Boston, when dh and I were dating (or before then), there was a lot of going out and partying with friends, hopping a MetroJet flight to DC for the weekend to jump up and down at RFK in the Screaming Eagles/Barra Brava section and repair to our friend’s house afterwards to down copious amounts of cava or to a nearby Indian restaurant for curry and Kingfisher. Life was different in my twenties, and seeing “Girls” really reminded me of that.

I have so much sympathy for Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath. She’s a self-absorbed writer (what writer isn’t self-absorbed?) going from bad relationship to bad relationship, where even the one with the person who she believes is the one is weighed down by his own self-absorption. Your twenties are a bitch. It’s incredible to think that I survived it at all.

Watching a “Sex and the City” episode recently, the one where Miranda finally caves in to the notion of moving to Brooklyn because it’s what’s best for her family, I saw the maturing of a character who really had been self-absorbed for so long. Is that where Hannah could be in 20 years? Is that what I became when I got married and had kids?

That’s not to say that I’m not self-absorbed at times; I like my time to myself and my quiet time. I lived alone for several years before I moved to Boston, and I was rarely truly despondent and lonely. There’s something nice about the quiet of not having someone else in the house. I love having control over the remote, which may explain why I end up staying up late so many nights; even a half-hour of shutting the world’s wants out can be wonderfully relaxing.

I have no regrets as to how I’ve lived my life.

And I suppose, by watching “Girls”, I get a double-treat. In one sense, I’m seeing some amazing writing – very honest, no-holds-barred – and acting that really shows very vividly how wonderful and horrible it can be to be in one’s twenties. In the other sense, I’m getting a reminder of why I do and don’t miss my life from before I got married and had kids. I have no illusions about the joys of travel and a carefree life, yet I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything. I get so many laughs from the jokes they make, so many moments of wonder when I see them surpass expectations for kids at least year ahead of them, I can’t imagine them coming in a distant second or third to anything. They’re not the center of my world – I have a husband, a job, friends…a life. But my kids don’t come in last, and I wouldn’t ever want to go back to traveling nearly every month, because I’d miss them terribly.

By the same token, I’m glad I got to do some of the things I did when I was younger – the travel, the wild oats sowing, etc. – because I’d hate to think that I’d have to wait until my kids were out of college to experience all of that. At that rate, I might never have gotten to it. So, now, I appreciate it more. When I can get out to a movie and/or dinner, it’s more of a hassle but I cherish the experience. That’s why my girlfriend from up the street and I like to go to Lux movie viewings; if you’re gonna do it, DO IT UP.

Here’s the thing: Lena Dunham doesn’t have it all figured out, and neither did Candace Bushnell. But what they wrote (and, in Dunham’s case, acted and/or directed) even at its most ludicrous has an insane ring of truth. Relationships are hard. Experiences are worth having. Children – for those who actually want to have kids – can be a brilliant, life-altering addition. I think the important thing is to live without regrets. Don’t do what you’ll regret later and don’t regret what you have done, because this life is too short to spend it being angry for what you compromised…or the consequences when you failed to do so.

I know how I got here, and I have no regrets. I wonder how many others can say the same?

 

Showing off our #DisneySide March 26, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:30 am
Tags: , ,

At the end of last year, I started to see tons of ads for Disney’s “DisneySide” campaign – this notion that everyone, regardless of age, has a side of their personality that’s influenced or personified by something Disney. These days, what’s considered “Disney” is so incredibly broad that it encompasses not just the characters made famous by Walt but also incredible acquisitions that have their own fan bases and fandoms (such as The Muppets and Marvel). Even people who are fans of shows on ABC or of watching countless hours of ESPN networks (*raises hands*) are showing off their DisneySide as they do so, since Disney claims both network conglomerates as part of their media empire.

And so, when I was asked to show off MY DisneySide, it was hard to come up with just one thing. As I noted in a prior post, about getting Disney Fever, I was asked to host a party. OK, twist my arm. And the party was about showing off your DisneySide. No, seriously, what’s the issue here? And then they sent me a bunch of swag to have and to share. Are you kidding? Are you making this up? These nice people at MomSelect and Disney were kind enough to offer up all sorts of things to help host the party, so with that, I offer up the following disclaimer: I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebrations. As with every other post on this site, all of the opinions expressed here are very much my own. The free products included a very cute American Tourister bag for me and party supplies, t-shirts (for a decorating game), and party favors for my guests. This party was sponsored by MomSelect and Disney Parks and I greatly appreciate their including me!

Now with that out of the way…let’s talk about the party, shall we?

Party Kit

Time for a #DisneySide @Home Party!

 

This lovely party kit came filled with all kinds of goodies: Ocean Spray Craisin boxes, Disney decorations (tons of Mickey, natch), white t-shirts from Hanes – along with fabric markers – so we could have a t-shirt decorating contest, a thick stack of HP photo paper packages, lovely Minnie & Mickey prints, RunDisney bracelets and window clings…just so much stuff it was amazing to dig through it all.

The first order of business was to find 10 kiddos. Thankfully, I had a headstart with my own two, so I contacted some friends and encouraged them to bring their kiddos over to join in the fun! Then, it was a matter of figuring out the food and party favors. Sure, I got some stuff from the celebration kit MomSelect and Disney Parks sent over, but that didn’t mean that had to be ALL that I gave my friends!

 

Favor Bag

Each favor bag was stocked with DisneySide goodies (like the Craisins and HP photo paper), along with thematic pretzels, decks of playing cards, notepads, pencils, stamps, and sunglasses

The favor bag issue thus settled, it was time to get down to the food. I really wanted this party to have a cohesive theme – and so many of the other #DisneySide @Home partiers really had some amazing party themes going on. There were costumes and food and games and things and stuff and I nearly hyperventilated at the thought of it all. And then I had a moment of clarity: why not just celebrate all the things we love without worrying about sticking to one thing? To that end, we went with the theme of “A few of our favorite things”, meaning: anything and everything we liked was totally fair game. I even set up a Pinterest board just to track the ideas I found…most of which were too complicated to do in the time I had (but still totally worth pinning).

With that, IN went the Sofia the First purple party mix and IN went the Frozen cupcakes and ON went the nail polish decorated to look like snowflakes and…oh, of course I had to get in on the action. Why would I let an opportunity like this pass me by? Being the non-selfie-taking person that I generally am, there is no photographic proof of my outfit, but let’s just say that I was the walking embodiment of the theme. Sporting a Marvel t-shirt, sequined Minnie Mouse ears, and my “Frozen” nails, I did what I could to hold up my end of the bargain.

Frozen Nails

Frozen fractals all around…on my nails

 

Sofia the First party mix

Sofia the First…I’m finding out what sugar shock is all about….!

 

Frozen cupcakes

In Summer? Nah. How about “In Mah Belleh”?

 

Of course, it wasn’t ALL sugar. We also put out what we termed a “Hundred Acre Wood Veggie Mix” for fellow Winnie the Pooh fans who wanted something to counteract all of the glucose on the table: celery and carrot sticks, pepper slices and cherry tomatoes. Somehow, I managed to forget to put out some of the food I’d bought (like tortilla chips), but the kids effectively plowed through what was out, so it didn’t seem like more was needed.

When it came time to get into games, we dug into the items from the Celebration Kit: namely, the t-shirts/fabric pens and a Disney Parks Bingo game. First, we had the kids make up their own t-shirts, some using stencils that we made from pictures we found on the web, printed, and laminated for sturdiness, and some free-handing their own ideas. DS was all about having a train of some kind, so when his designated artist (dh) got into the mix, a monorail appeared on his t-shirt. Another party goer free-handed a castle with fireworks on a spare sheet of paper and then transferred her drawing to her t-shirt by layering the paper inside the shirt and tracing. Brilliant!

Kids working on t-shirts

Small hands, quite busy making t-shirts

 

My dd's shirt

Of course, dd wants a castle with fireworks

 

A t-shirt with a project plan

Not everyone wanted to wing it…

 

My ds' t-shirt

A monorail, a Mickey, and a Magic Express bus – of COURSE this shirt is for ds

 

The kids then voted on their favorite design, and the winner won a Little Mermaid Disney Golden Book I’d picked up at the grocery store. When we did the Disney Parks Bingo, all of the kids had similar cards, so I was biting my nails wondering if I’d have multiple winners. Luckily, only one winner yelled out BINGO – and he won a Cars Disney Golden Book I’d picked up at the same time as the other book was acquired.

By the time we made it through Disney Parks Bingo and the kiddos all got cupcaked-up with the “Frozen” confections, the party started winding down. After all, what’s better than giving kids sugar and then sending them home with their parents? A good time was had by all, and each kiddo left with a favor bag, a Minnie/Mickey print, and a balloon (another thoughtful inclusion by the folks at MomSelect and Disney Parks), and one family even left with plans percolating for their own Disney World trip (which they just took!) – fueled partially by the Disney Parks informational DVD included in the celebration kit. I’d be jealous if it weren’t for the fact that we have our own Disney World trip on tap…my first visit to the Magic Kingdom in Florida!

This post would have gone up MUCH sooner had it not been for the Adventures in Strep and rather incredible work schedule that have put me on the brink of exhaustion for the better part of the last four weeks…but I had to get it out so that I could share how much fun we had. Again, I’d like to thank MomSelect and Disney Parks for their generosity in including me in this #DisneySide @Home campaign. I had a lot of fun at the party, and the smiles on the faces of the kiddos were just wonderful. Even better, and proving the point further, the adults had lots of smiles and laughs, too. You don’t have to be a kid to have a #DisneySide. I think you just need to remember that spirit of fun, of play, and the belief that dreams can come true.

 

Disclaimer (encore): I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed in this post are mine all mine. No animals were harmed in the making of this party. Kristoff may or may not be right that all guys pick their noses. And kids – don’t try this much sugar at home without a parent and some vegetables. Seriously.

 

“Come back in 6 months” February 7, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:36 am
Tags: ,

On the list of things you want to hear when you’re at your doctor’s office for a second-pass mammogram, this rates somewhere in the mid-range.

Let me back up a step or two.

I’ve been going for mammograms annually since I turned 30, with the exception of the years when I was pregnant or producing milk for whichever kiddo had just been born. There’s a family history – my mom’s had breast cancer once and her sister had it twice (once when she was relatively young, too). Ever since my mom was diagnosed, I kind of had the feeling that I was probably wearing invisible pasties shaped like bullseyes.

Fast forward to now, recently having turned 41, and it’s time for this year’s pre-physical mammogram. So, like a dutiful person, off I went to get my digital snaps taken from my doctor’s practice. I love the digital mammography machines; no more of the “wait, lemme swap film trays” nonsense. The thing is, they didn’t read the pictures while I was there, due to the fact that my appointment was right smack during the radiologist’s lunchtime.

So, when I got a message on my cell phone a few days later saying that they needed me to call the radiology department, my blood started to run cold. I called the radiology folks back, and the friendly, helpful gentleman explained that they needed more pictures of my left breast. There was some “density”. Um, okay…

I made another appointment, the first I could get, and off I went yesterday morning to get new – hopefully completely boob-absolving – snaps taken. As I checked in, the receptionist told me that I had two appointments, one for a mammogram and one for an ultrasound. Turns out that they made the second appointment just in case. Oh. Okay. Just go with it.

I brought my book – “A Dance With Dragons” is long enough that I could wait for all of this year’s appointments for me and the entire family and still need more time to finish it – and followed all of the careful instructions about what to wear and where to sit. My wait wasn’t too long, anyway, and then off I went to get “square breasts”, as my mom tends to refer to it. [For those who haven’t had a mammogram, they put your breast on a metallic plate and then use another plate – a clear one – to smush it down so they can have a fixed picture without your breast wiggling, wobbling or any other kind of meandering. It’s not entirely comfortable. That is to say, at times it’s bearable and other times, you’re holding your breath not so much because they told you to but because otherwise you might scream.]

After the new snaps were taken, I was sent back to the inner waiting room…and then not very long after, I was just brought right over to the ultrasound room. I’d had ultrasounds done of my breasts before, when I had hormone-induced cysts that appeared (and just as quickly disappeared) during my first trimester of my pregnancy with dd. I found it all such a surreal experience. There were a couple of times when the ultrasound tech, who was training a new girl, stopped to take pictures of dark areas. She froze the screen on one such image and then left the room to get the radiologist. I looked at it, squinting at this amorphous void, and wondered aloud, “What are you, and why are you trying to hide?”

I remember the breast surgeon that I met with during that prior cyst incident back in 2006. I specifically recall that she told me it was a good sign that when I pressed on the spots where she felt lumps, it hurt. “Cancer likes to hide, so it won’t necessarily hurt when you press on it,” she said.

The radiologist came in and immediately picked up the paddle and started roughly moving it around, trying to find something that looked like whatever he saw on the mammogram. There wasn’t much explaining for me. It was more, “We know what we’re looking for and we’ll tell you if we find it.”

After a few minutes of this exploratory pushing and prodding with the gel-covered ultrasound paddle, the radiologist called it a day. “It’s probably just normal breast tissue,” he said. But then, he told me to come back in six months, “to see if anything develops”. I toweled myself off, pulled on my clothes, and dutifully made my appointment for early August. What else is there to do?

So, it’s likely this is nothing. Or, even if it’s something, it may be a benign something. But there’s always a possibility that it’s not a benign something, and that it’s not nothing. There’s a chance that it is something…but I won’t know until at least August. Maybe that’s better, and maybe it’s not, but the only thing more awful than him telling me to come back in six months would’ve been him telling me to go for a biopsy. I guess that’s my cold comfort.

I’ll come back in six months. I don’t know what he’ll find, but I’ll come back. And, in the meantime, I’ll just hope for the best and try not to think about that next appointment.

What other choice do I have?

 

 
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