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by jess lewis

with a ginormous thank you to laura  –  for the inspiration, the friendship, and for essentially holding my hand and giving me courage while i gave street shooting a try. i wish we could do this together every single day.

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Today’s guest blogger used to call me up every snow day and whisper the three little words most teachers love to hear: No school today. And for the longest time, I had no clue who she was since her Caller ID didn’t match the name on the weather tree. Turns out she was living in sin back in the day, and twelve years later, I’m happy to say that she is one of my best friends. She’s also child free, which means she brings something new to our month of women. But I’ll let Mary Burke explain why she made that choice.

I am super selfish . . . I always have been . . . and I don’t think it’s such a terrible character flaw when one is aware of their selfishness. And when it comes to recognizing that one is too selfish to have children, is that a bad thing to know your own limits? I think not! At this point in my life, I am absolutely confident I made the right choice not to have children. Actually I was pretty confident all along that this was the right choice for me. This is a very good thing because at this point my eggs have expired. Some people talk about a biological clock. I am convinced I wasn’t born with one. I never heard ticking, and the older I got, I found babies and small humans less and less appealing. Ironically, I am a teacher, and I choose to work with children everyday. I love my job and I love (for the most part) my daily interactions with kids. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Well, except being a stay at home dog mom . . . but that’s just not in the cards right now!

I grew up with a fairly large, close extended family. I’m the oldest of four children and the oldest of 22 grandchildren. There were always lots of babies around. I loved taking care of my younger cousins at family functions, and once I was old enough, I babysat. I have many wonderful female role models in my family with my mother leading the way. She was nothing short of amazing while we were growing up, and she still is tireless in her efforts to care for our family. It’s almost like she set the bar too high! Despite early positive experiences and being raised by supermom, sometime in my early 20s, I had a shift in my perspective. I don’t remember an actual defining moment, but thinking back I can easily remember the time in my life when this happened. I was in college when I realized I wanted to work with children, but I didn’t want to have children. I began to understand what an absolute CHORE it would be to have to care for another human being for the rest of my life. Also, I can’t do throw up or diapers. Don’t tell me I’d feel differently if it’s my kid; that’s just BS. I have nieces and nephews, and I always enjoyed holding them as babies, but as soon as a diaper change was needed, I passed that kid off as fast as I could! I recall a time holding my nephew and as he was throwing up, I almost dropped him trying to get rid of that little spewing alien. I think my tubes spontaneously tied themselves! I guess I just don’t really have any maternal instincts. I also find that I have an absolute lack of patience outside of the school setting. It’s like I have an off switch when I leave work. However, I am the kind of aunt that loves to sugar those kids up, spoil them rotten, whip them into a frenzy and send them home with my sisters. Remember . . . I am the oldest and I have a long history of sibling torture! I love family get-togethers, but I am always thankful that I get the fun part of spending time with the kids and not the daily hassles and never-ending work. I am simply in awe of the work that goes in to being a parent (if you’re doing it right, because believe me, I see way too many examples of poor parenting choices . . . but that’s another story for another day).

So, my choice to be childfree is not typical, and it’s especially not typical in my family (did I mention large? and Catholic? Breeders, those people are). My husband and I lived together (SINNERS!) for eight years before we got married. We had the “kids” conversation a couple of times, each time completely agreeing that no, kids just weren’t for us. Pretty serendipitous, huh? Of course, this is much to the dismay of my ever-growing family . . . there are now 19 great-grandchildren . . . breeders, I tell ya! My husband and I jokingly came up with reason # (insert any large number here) why we don’t want children. One funny, with a wee bit of truth, reason I have is not wanting to procreate with my husband: because when he was in school, he needed a custom made football helmet for his giant melon.

I have come across many people in my life who simply don’t understand my choice. And that’s OK. I love the life my husband and I have. We have independence, time to enjoy things together, and less of a financial burden than our friends with children have . . . kids are EXPENSIVE and not always the best investment. I’ve had people ask who will take care of my husband and me when we’re old . . . and I tell them I’m counting on other people’s children to go into the health care field to take care of us! I even have one friend who still holds out hope that I will come around. Honestly, that ship has sailed, and I’m pretty sure it sank!

I once had this conversation with my mom at an age when my eggs were not past the expiration date: ME: Mom, you know that feeling people get when they hold a baby, and they just need to have one and that’s all they can think about? MOM: (Holding her breath with anticipation) Yes! ME: I had that feeling today . . . I was holding a puppy and it had the sweetest puppy breath and my heart ached because I just knew . . . I need to get a puppy! MOM: Mary, that is NOT funny! True story, I think it’s the closest I’ve come to having ”that feeling,” and I really do love me some puppy breath! I have a soft spot for dogs. I don’t think my childfree life would be complete if it wasn’t for my dog. Dogs love you unconditionally, and they don’t ask for anything in return. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first baby, and I really am so happy for them, but I did tell my brother I would be way more excited if he was expecting a pile of puppies. (BAD SISTER!)

When we figured out this month was all about women, I was thrilled. “I’ve got this” I thought. I’ve crafted a half a dozen posts in my head and wondered how in the hell I would ever narrow it down. I figured the words would be pouring out- celebrating our power, lamenting the ways we fail to claim it, demanding that we do better. As the time got closer for me to actually write I came up with at least a half a dozen different topics- breastfeeding and wage gaps, and feminism, and having it all, and the war on women. Cue to me sitting in front of the computer in the final hour, with so much to say I’m silent.

The truth of the matter is this. There is SO much to celebrate about being women. Despite the many (many) ways we are oppressed, I’d still argue that we get more space on the gender continuum to be both masculine and feminine. Don’t believe me? Try sending a boy to school in a dress. I love being a woman, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I will say this- ladies, we need to get our shit together.

Every semester I get the chance to teach young women about feminism and gender stereotyping, and underrepresentation in politics, women’s representation in media, the list goes on and on. And every semester I get blank stares, and papers stating we’re all equal now (hooray!). It’s a tough sell to them to make them feel oppressed which in its own way is good, I suppose. I remember what it’s like to be 18, 19…feeling like I could take on the world, and nothing, not even my gender, was a barrier to that. The only problem with that is that it takes away the fight, and we NEED the fight, desperately.

 
Instead the fight all goes toward each other. We’re back here bickering about who’s mom enough, and meanwhile women are earning $.77 on the dollar for men. I don’t know how exactly, but I vow to take up that fight just a little more. When I was pregnant in both instances I wanted a girl so that I could teach her how to take on the world, but more and more I’m realizing it’s equally important to raise men who appreciate and expect that strength and fire in women. In this way I do my feminist work every day, but today I’ll try a little harder- for us, for them.

 

here it is my day to write and i still can’t find a clear voice for this topic, which has me scratching my head and kicking my own ass all at once. what does this mean? i am all woman, 100% female. i consider myself independent and forward thinking, but i also love being a SAHM/homemaker too. I used to work full-time and support myself and my first-born daughter all on my own.  now many years later, married, 2 more kids, i savor my time at home.  i feel like my womanhood is stuck somewhere between rosie the riveter and martha stewart.  i think therein lies my problem.

being a “woman” has never come easy to me. when i hit puberty my physical body went full speed ahead.  my mom loves to tell the story of 5 year old me throwing a crying fit in a department store dressing room.  we were trying on those frilly easter dresses that little girls of my generation were stuffed into, matching straw bonnet of course. why was i crying?  because i wanted the dress with the boobs in it. yes, my 5 year old self was already thinking of boobs for some reason assumed that they came with the dress. my mom was very small chested,  so this still confuses me to why this happened at all,  but it did.  fast forward to me now (size G bra)  i guess i should have been more careful what i wished for.  seems this is the story of womanhood for me. every step of the way i never quite “fit”.

“childbearing hips”, “morning sickness”, here again i never fit in these accepted female boxes thought to be normal. pregnancy (all 3 of them) were absolute horror scenes.  i did not glow,  i was green.  i did not have morning sickness,  i had all day sickness. it did not last 3 months,  it lasted 9. it did not matter if i gave birth to a boy or a girl,  it was always the same.  my mom always told me it was the reason i was an only child,  she was SO sick she was never doing that again.  i guess i thought i would be different.  (i now know this is why babies are so darn cute.)  i had to be medicated (a huge taboo in pregnancy) but it was that or dehydrate, go to the hospital, be put on iv fluids, leave hospital, repeat.  so i took my medication and hoped that i was not damaging that tiny fetus my somehow flawed womanhood was already letting down before they were even born… enter the guilt. i truly felt my womanhood was flawed and therefore broken. this was unacceptable to society, to me.  now move onto child birth. again, FAIL.  no home births, no water births, none of those blissful scenarios. my first-born i developed preeclampsia. that was a fast and furious delivery as my blood pressure tipped the scales.  #2 was the scariest day of my life, with a happy ending.  my son was looped twice in his umbilical cord but that was not known until it was almost too late.  lets just say he needed to be ripped (literally) out of me to save his life. he lived and so did i, but my insides would never be the same. #3, again 40 weeks of sickness and guilt. breastfeeding, the next step in womanhood wonder and bliss.  ugh.  my very large boobs (the ones i wished for at 5) only made it near impossible for my babies to latch on.  i was engorged and huge and in pain.  my nipples cracked and bled. i nursed and cried, pumped and cringed, again feeling nothing but guilt.  my brain screaming, “WHY CAN’T YOU DO THIS?!?!”  (you being me.) again i was broken,  failing at something that others did so naturally and happily.

i could go on,  my broken vagina. my inability to go to the bathroom “normally” after birth #2 that continued for 5 years until i succumbed to surgeries required to try and rebuild my broken parts. my flawed uterus, ultimately removed a year ago… i am the lemon on womanhood.  i did not feel empowered, i felt defeated. reading my own words, this sounds like a long winded whine,  but truly it is not.   it is just me saying that we should not buy into all the literature and pressure pumped out into the world on how to do things,  and what makes us “womanly”.   those lofty ideals breed pressure and guilt.  shortly after my hysterectomy,  i was connected with a friend of a friend who was having a horror show of her own, all tied into her uterus. surgery would end her painful suffering, yet still she wavered.  why?  pressure.  peer pressure from her own kind, women!  women looking down on her for her choice of following through with a hysterectomy.  how it was unnatural, how she should continue to fight this beast inside her for the sake of nature.  screw that.   i totally understood why she was struggling emotionally with it all.  she too was carrying this guilt. she, for whatever reason, was born with a malfunctioning uterus, and because of society’s opinions all in her face,  she felt like she was failing by having that removed.  can we all give ourselves a break please!  can we not buy into these grand visions of womanhood.  instead can we all agree that we all have our own path,  our own parts, and sometimes we just don’t “fit” into any box.  being a girl is hard!  lets not make it even harder on ourselves.

-By Becky “ranty-rant” Reno

I have a laundry list a mile long of things that get under my skin. Most are benign – things like wasted food in the produce drawer, family not dropping everything and running to the table when dinner’s ready, and seeing something cheaper after I’ve already bought it. I’ve got one shot this  month though to vent so I’m going for the big guns- the thing that makes my eye start to twitch, and gets my blood boiling. It’s the topic that makes it near impossible for me to keep social graces, and I instantly get hot and sweaty when it comes up, as I struggle not to go off the deep end launch into a twenty minute rant.

It’s this- “welfare”.

Let me say this first- this is not a political rant, although it is, but it doesn’t have to be. I understand how in theory how being socially conservative doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t want other people to have their basic human rights met. They just disagree on how to go about it. I understand that in theory. However in practice, I think most conservatives aren’t interested because they think people (of color) are lazy, are deliberately working the system, and are at fault for their own misfortune. [I won’t go off on a tangent about this, but look into the Southern Strategy if you’re interested in hearing about how this isn’t an accidental association, even though more whites are on welfare.]

As a social work student, I’m working with many low (no) income women who are pregnant and/or parenting so I’ve had the opportunity to learn from this population first hand. They are single-handedly some of the most amazing women I’ve met. They can budget for their family on so little money a month, their kids are taken care of, and loved, and their kids are easily cleaner than mine. These are some of the most stigmatized women in our society and I’ll save my feminist rant for another day, but truly all they want is a better life for them and their children. I don’t know a single one who is interested in just living off the public dole.

There are so many misconceptions about them and so few people in the public know how welfare really works. I know one mom who desperately wants to go to college, but she needs a stable house for her and her child first. She’s sleeping on friends and family’s couches while she waits to get a section 8 voucher. She’s been on the waiting list TWELVE YEARS. That waiting list, by the way, is now closed, as it is in all the counties where the college has a branch campus. Another mom wants to get a job, but in order to get childcare, you have to first have a job, or be in school. Can anyone explain to me how a woman is supposed to get a job when she can’t even get child care for an interview? Food insecurity is perhaps our most pressing issue, and not a month has gone by where a woman hasn’t run out of food for her and her child. Formula in particular is one of our biggest needs, which is necessary because of the lack of support women get around breastfeeding. Also? For as much as I hear about people living off welfare, did you know you can only receive TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) and general assistance for pregnant women for a LIFETIME of 5 years? Lifetime, people. That means if you start at 18, you’re done at 23. FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. You can have 30 kids and that lifetime limit is not changing.

I could go on and on, but for me it all boils down to this. I don’t give a shit what you think the size of government should be, or whether or not you think people are undeserving. No one, not a single fucking person in this country, should ever go to bed not knowing how they’re going to feed themselves or their child. It’s an atrocity for this country, and we should be so fucking ashamed that we’re busy fighting about whether or not “those people” deserve help while they are struggling to keep themselves, and their kids alive. For all the political rhetoric around the economy, especially in this election cycle, I am still waiting for someone to talk about how to fix this broken system so that at a minimum people get their basic human rights met. Here’s the crazy thing too- despite all this I’m still optimistic that people would help other people if only they knew them personally, but our cities are so segregated that we live almost parallel lives, usually only miles apart. It’s easy to have stereotypes and draw conclusions about people you’ve never met, but once you’ve come face to face with them and their family, most would do anything they could to help. There’s no pithy way to wrap this up, but if you are inclined to help, please pick up a couple of extra groceries and drop them off at your local food bank. Diapers and formula are especially needed.

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As our month of “loves” starts winding down I started thinking about what’s out there that hasn’t been covered. My list is long- open top jeep rides in the summer, that moment you realize a class you’re taking is going to be really, really good, making a to-do list, then crossing items off, clean sheets, that “the whole weekend is ahead of me” feeling…the list is never-ending. In fact, if you want more things to be happy about, here’s 180.

I’d feel remiss, however, if I didn’t hit one big one: water. I’m sure it could be chalked up to something simple, like summers spent at the community pool, or more likely being born to a mother who realized she was tired of trying to make it work with a sailor so instead decided to become one. I spent more childhood nights than I care to count swimming in a  filthy, polluted river, and truth be told I’m a bit surprised my kids didn’t come out with an extra limb. Instead, they seem to have inherited my love.

At any rate, my love of water runs deep (pun intended). I dont care if it’s a lake, an ocean, a pool, or a sprinkler in the yard- you’ll find me there, happy. Especially if there’s a drink nearby.

There’s a lot I’m going to miss about summer, but the feeling of jumping off a dock, and floating to the surface might just be at the top of my list. In a couple of weeks we’ll tuck our swimsuits into the back of our drawers, and store the beach towels in the top of the linen closet, but between now and then I’ll be taking every moment I can to soak it all in.

on the street…

i wander and witness…

i lose myself…

i find myself…

i return again and again….always searching.

there is beauty on the street…ever changing and unfolding.

this is my obsession.  my love.

how about you?  what do you lose yourself in?  where do you find yourself?

I think there are 2 very distinct camps when it comes to desserts. Team cake and team pie.  I used to play for team cake. Chocolate with buttercream frosting, banana cake with chocolate frosting, and of course carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Somewhere along the line, I switched teams. Nowadays I am all about the pie.

As a kid I have serious memories of this one little diner my Pop-Pop would take me to, Fegleys. I think I need to mention I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country. They take baked goods seriously there people! This little diner had the widest assortment of fresh homemade pies every day. Apple pies, double crust, crumb and dutch apple. Every cream pie imaginable. Egg custard, raisin, blueberry, rhubarb, sour cherry, and my fave, cherry crumb…  The food was good, but I think many came just for the pie.  So much so, that when we sat and ordered our ‘usual’ ( hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and fries) we ordered our slice of pie WITH our dinner.  If you took your chances and waited til you were done eating, your pie of choice might be all gone.  We were not taking any chances.

Oh course as an adult, I married a man who dislikes cherries in all forms, so this cherry pie loving girl needed to find new pies to love.  In autumn I am all about the double crust apple. Hubby likes it with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. No à la mode for me, I like my pie just as it is.  My son loves toasted coconut cream pie.  We do live in Maine, so blueberry pie is a must.  My friend Diane makes the most heavenly chocolate cream pie on the planet. Those are all very good, but summer is never complete without 1 homemade peach pie. We have a super short growing season up here in the north.  I have been searching for ripe peaches at our markets but none SMELLED like peaches.  They have to smell like peaches for me.  I was beginning to think this might be the summer without a peach pie.  The horror! Lucky for me, just last week I traveled to PA.  My dad and I went to market on Saturday and I was in search of peaches. I found plenty.  I bought enough for a pie and wrapped them up and packed them in my car for our long drive home to Maine. I knew I needed to make the pie quickly, so I emailed my husband (who happens to be an awesome baker) and asked him to whip up a batch of our go to double crust recipe. (America’s Test Kitchen recipe.  no fail crust. I promise.) He did, and had it balled and waiting for me in the refrigerator when I got home.

We are talking obsessions here all month long, this post covers a few of mine.

  1. PYREX –  cannot get enough.  colors, patterns, WANT!  If I walk into a Goodwill and there is a pyrex bowl,  there are very good chance that that bowl is coming home with me. Making this pie I used my favorite blue pyrex bowl and my pink pyrex pie plate.
  2. PIE – (nom nom nom) team pie represent!
  3. SUMMER – summer fruits, summer sun, summer everything. My summertime requires 1 fresh homemade peach pie. Now I can happily check it off my summer manifesto.
  4. PHOTOS of food, aka ‘food porn’.  I love food photos.  Especially messy, in the process of making something, food photos. My camera got a bit sticky and dusted with flour making this pie.

So here’s my bit of food porn from me to you… Summery peach pie.
summer's pie

blanching

rolling the crusts.

summer's filling

ready

mine.

Seriously, look at the color of those peaches!!!  Photographer’s and eater’s DREAM all in one. Pie is sexy, yes?

Recipes you say?  Sure! I love Hannah’s Sweet as a Georgia Peach Pie filling recipe. And of course every pie deserves homemade crust, I absolutely swear by America’s Test Kitchen Recipe for my crust.

Erika once posted this on my Facebook wall, “When I think of you, I think of peach pie.”  I like that.  I dedicate this post, and this pie, to Erika. If only all the O+U girls could come over and share a slice with me, now that would be awesome.

Some day I will have a pie potluck party, everyone is invited, all you need to get in is one fresh-baked pie, then we eat!  Now that’s my kind of party.

One more little obsession, this song… about peaches…  I can’t help myself.

by Tiffani “Oh, look, a llama!” Michele

Because everyone knows I get paid for some of my photos, whenever I go away on vacation (like, to Peru!) people expect that I will return with National Geographic quality photographs of my trip. Here’s why that will never happen:

1) It takes a lot of work to capture the feeling of place! Usually done in the hours right before/after sunset and right before/after sunrise. These are known as the golden/blue hours of the day. Everything is awash in soft filtered yellow or amplified by a gorgeous blue after-sunset sky. But as a tourist, you know what I call these times? Happy hour and “sleeping off a hangover” hour. Drinking and photography rarely mix well, kids. Put down the camera and pick up the beer glass!

2) It takes work and time to scout the location to find the best angles to take the photos. Good lord, if I were trying to get good quality shots of Macchu Pichu I would probably get there and just watch the location change in the light for a few days in advance before deciding where to go and what time of day to get the perfect photos. But when I’m on vacation, the only things I’m scouting for are good gelato places and possible napping spots.

3) As a photographer it’s also important to have your camera at the ready and your eyes ready to spot anything worth noticing. But as an idle vacationer, it’s more important to have a nice cocktail at the ready and a good book to read.

Therefore, when National Geographic pays me to take pictures in exotic locations, I will come back with badass photos. Which would make it not vacation at all. So instead I’ll stick to my vacation modus operandi…eat well, drink often, and explore much!

I do take pictures while on vacation though. But it’s more about having an obsessive vision than it is about a sale-able image. And trust me, photographers are some of the most obsessive people around town. Some become obsessed with sun flare, others with reflections in windows, or old people on bikes. Sometimes you show up to a foreign place and become obsessed with things within the culture.

If you were to look at my pictures of Peru, you’d see a lot of pigeons, llamas, alpacas, dogs, and policemen. Not a lot of grand sweeping landscapes or even photos of the most memorable spots in the country. Nope.

Pigeons were everywhere in Lima, and for some reason I took pictures of them. Lots and lots of pictures. Like, more pictures of pigeons than anything else in the beautiful city. I can’t explain it, it just happened!

Llama, oh llama. (And alternately, alpaca, oh alpaca. Which looks like a llama with a bad hair day.) You are gawky, ill formed, and crazy looking. You are graceless and a little spastic. You have large expressive eyes and long long eyelashes. You have bewitched me with your direct gaze and your long ass giraffe neck on a furry mule shaped body. If I am ever feeling cranky, I just look at the pictures of you and all is right in the world.

I seem to recall an animated movie that came out in the 80’s, called “All Dogs Go To Heaven”. My younger brother and sisters watched it on VHS all the freaking time. I was a surly junior or senior by then, so I never watched it with them. I remember it was about a pack of dogs trying to survive in NYC (?? maybe?). Peru reminds me of this. There are so many free range dogs, it’s like the world is a kennel and we’re just renting space. I became obsessed with the dogs I saw. What were their stories? Who was in their pack? Were they happy? They looked pretty content. In fact, I like to think that my little shih tzu Frito Bandito (RIP little lady) magically transported there and is still prancing around with lots of other dog friends.

Finally, I have lots and lots of police photos. They were so…present…everywhere. Guns, riot shields, stern looks. It freaked me out. Everything was calm and cool, so I guess they were strictly preventative. I also found them highly photogenic.

What do you love to take pictures of? Like, obsessive love. As in, you can’t pass by a window reflection without stopping to take the shot?

Yep I’m a city girl. Seriously. If I even fantasize living in the suburbs my chest get all tight and I feel panicky.
I attribute this to growing up in the suburbs. The very deep depths of the suburbs. We were 15 minutes from a store.
And on a hot day you could smell cow poop from the farms.
I love being able to walk places for dinner or being able to walk to the coffee shop to feed my coffee addiction.