Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40-Day Challenge: Do Without Stuff

I know it is boring to talk about what you are giving up for Lent, because it becomes nothing about the altruism and all about the ego and that's neither very holy nor actually, very polite. Except I wanted to tell you what I am giving up for Lent because I also thought it would be an interesting challenge coming off the back of my success on the Whole 30 again in January (did I tell you how much I enjoyed the Whole 30? I liked it so much I did it twice!). So given that I've got roughly six weeks, I'm planning to give Make Do and Mend a real go.

So the rules for my experiment are to stop buying anything except groceries: that means no new clothes, no new makeup, and absolutely positively no clicking "buy it now" on cheeky little Amazon sprees (a nasty habit my Prime membership has enabled me to indulge these past few years). I'm going to make do with what I have and remake it, re-read it, re-do it. If there is anything I really, really want, I will have to wait until after Easter to buy it. This will allow me to, what? Learn to live without stuff, think more carefully about making purchases (is this something I really need, or am I just buying it to fill a gap in my day), and most importantly, save money on things like takeaway coffees or bought lunches that I could very easily bring from home. I'm expecting this to be especially hard at a time of year when the garden requires attention and could benefit from new plants...but I know I've got perennials that self-seeded from last year, and a whole crate of un-used seeds from previous planting projects, so I'm going to sow those and see how they do. I know it's going to be the start of a hungry month. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Squeaky Clean

I managed to skip out on housecleaning day yesterday in order to catch a train to Paris (!!!), but the cleaning went on without me. We spend most of the day Friday cleaning the sh*t out of the house so it can be tidy for the weekend, and while it's my least favorite task of them all, I'm always happy when it's done. I was glad to see the new "Home Ec" series over at Design*Sponge, which details all the stuff that needs to happen in order to make a household run efficiently. I know that none of my friends in high school took this class, and while I don't agree that women should feel chained to their houses, I think maybe there are some valuable lessons my generation missed. Like, how to cook. And how to clean. I was glad to see that Puppet Opera HQ ticked every one of the weekly tasks off on our cleaning list, but who knew that you should try to clean the inside of your oven once a month? Or that you should clean out the fireplace once a season? Not me. But I'm going to get right on top of that. The next time I'm at home. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

If I can finish what I'm saying...

I'm married to a "manteruppter".

Manterrupting (definition): Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man. 

This has always been the case at our house, and it never really bothered me (that's just the way we operate as a couple), until last night when we had a dinner guest who asked me a direct question and my husband did me the favor of replying on my behalf. I let it pass at the time: the guest was his friend, and we often talk over the top of one another when we are excitable about a topic, but in this case, the interruption really stuck with me like a raspberry seed in a wisdom tooth. Not least, because I just learned this fantastic word (manterrupter), but also because it seems like this is enough of a problem in the wider world to prompt a couple of recent articles here and here advising women how to deal with the subject of being interrupted by a male colleague at work.

I am no stranger to "manterrupting"; as someone who works in the male-dominated field of media, I'm often the only lady in the room, and the "manterrupting" can be especially epidemic here in England, where there is a definite gender divide in the workplace culture. Fact: when you are sitting around a table of big guys who all played rugby for their school and negotiate million-pound deals with FTSE 100 clients, it can be tough to get a word in edgewise, to navigate the choppy waters of "speaking while female". It's not only me; Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook's number 2) and will-she or won't-she-run Hillary Clinton are both having a hard time too.

So here's the thing: I am feeling the need to speak out, because just Friday, little Isabelle became the victim of "bropropriation."

Bropropriation (definition): Hijacking a woman's idea and taking credit for it. 

In this case, it wasn't an idea, it was a thing, one of the five badges she earned as part of walk to school week. Her male classmate wanted her dinosaur badge, and so she gave it to him, and thereby, he retained credit for her walk to school. Boo. And so now she's unwittingly participated in a culture of someone else taking credit for her work, a pattern which, if it isn't stopped now, is going to carry her all the way into her professional life, where she might become less engaged, less creative, and self-doubtful.

It's not okay to give your own things away without a good reason. We've sent her to school today with the instructions to remind this other kid he owes her a badge in trade. That's today; what about tomorrow? We have to make room for girls and women to speak. Check this out: when President Obama held his last news conference of 2014, he called on eight reporters — all women. It made headlines worldwide. Had a politician given only men a chance to ask questions, it would not have been news; it would have been a regular day. What would happen if we all had Obama-style meetings, or made special room for the girls in classrooms to speak up, would the plague of manterrupting disappear? How can we support each other to make sure we are heard in meetings or the living room ('Wait a moment- let her finish')? I'm not sure, but I think it's definitely time to make a start. Let's make 2015 the year to speak out!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy Talk

Is it a second-child thing? As Mr. B rounds out the days after his third birthday, it's become much more noticeable to us that his speech isn't as clear as his older sister's. Most annoyingly, he does this weird little "whisper talk" thing, where he speaks at a barely audible volume and vocalizes only fragments of words, mainly at a time (say, 3AM?) or a place when there is something he needs or wants, but doesn't want to ask for it aloud. Anyway, speech. He can speak, but it's very hard to understand. 

So it was with great interest I happened upon this article in the recent issue of the New Yorker about a program in Providence, RI, to get parents to talk with their young children--not only talk to, but have a conversation with--in order to boost language and IQ skills in under-threes. I was upset to recognize  my own behavior in the descriptions of some of the families: we take care of Mr. B, feed him well and dress him properly, but I know that most of our verbal interaction with him is crabbing about not jumping on the sofa or dropping his fork at the table. Very rarely do we prompt him or encourage him to talk, and I can see now where we're going wrong. Maybe we're just too tired to talk... or maybe we're wrung out from talking to Issy... or maybe it's just because it's boring. This won't come as a surprise to anyone, but childcare is dull, children's books are repetitive, colors and shapes on the farm are a bit, I don't know, meh. Whatever the reason why we haven't been talking enough with B, I realize that's not great. But now I know what we can do to boost his conversational skills (repeating, verifying, asking questions, extrapolating), I'm going to make it a personal goal to help Billy reach the thirty million words I know he is capable of. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Look! It's January! I missed you so...

Well, hello there! Bet you thought I went into hiding, didn't you? In fact, I haven't... it's just, well, CHRISTMAS really kicked our tails this year. And why not, I ask you? We had a great holiday season, a lot of home baking, many handmade gifts, and a new dollhouse requiring constant fiddling, but all the busyness (and boozy-ness) made for an actual whirlwind this December. 

Our fake tree was lovely this year... and lit up from the first of December. I must admit, we had a little bit of Christmas overload in 2014, it's possible we put the tree up too early, and maybe even possible that we were sick of Christmas by the 16th, but having said all that, it was so light and bright and cozy in our front room, and it seemed so dark and desolate when we put everything away on Tuesday.

In fact, we loved our tree so much, sometimes we camped out in the living room before school. 

It's lucky that Santa (or one of his helpers) stops at a grotto in Kew Gardens, so we could have a word with him before the big day. Santa may or may not be a little hard of hearing, but I feel confident in saying he does have a fine singing voice, and indeed speaks mainly in iambic pentameter

One of the biggest differences between Christmas in England and Christmas in Illinois is that the weather is reliably mild. We had one hard frost (instead of ten inches of snow.... sorry, Illinois), which looked absolutely lovely on our hated sacred bamboo, which has exactly one season of interest and that is at Christmas and under frost. 

We have five fireplaces in the house, and I love decorating the mantelpieces. Who knows which one Santa might pop down this year? This is my favorite decoration of all, my tiny little snow village. Doesn't it look like someplace the Sugar Plum Fairy might go on vacation? I love it to bits. 

It's been a long Christmas, but a good one. We're hoping to see more of you in the coming weeks and months.

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