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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.

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.

I love tattoos. Which is funny, because I don’t have any.
I’m not bothered by needles, nor am I put off by or pain, rather I’m afraid of the commitment. I’m guessing this has something to do with the fact that I witnessed the tattoo regret firsthand. My name DID look awesome across my high school boyfriend’s arm, and we DID think we would make it forever, but as it was that tattoo far outlived that relationship.

Still I drool over other people’s ink on a regular basis, but somehow can’t seem to make the leap myself- which is why when I saw that Tattly had a monthly subscription- I jumped.

Someday I might work the nerve up to get something permanent, but for now- me, and the rest of my family will be switching it up every couple of weeks.

If you’ve got any ink yourself, I’d love to see it. Head on over to the facebook page and show us your ink, would ya?

obsessions, yeah i have a few… most involve thrifting, so i never feel too guilty about picking up one.more.pillowcase., when it is just a buck at goodwill.

but obsessions can come in other ways, like coveting. i covet certain things. i long for them, pine for them, look at them online. see them all over flickr which only feeds my obsession, but rarely do i pull the trigger and buy any of those things i covet. i tie them into my thrifting obsession and think to myself, “maybe today kristin, maybe today you will happen upon those sandals.” not only is that chance more than slim that i will ever see ANY of those sandals at goodwill, but for them to actually be in my size?!?! yeah, dream on dreamer. what do i do instead? i buy crappy sandals, because they are cheap. and what do cheap sandals inevitably do? break. and usually at the most inopportune times. like walking around the city with a friend… and then you are left with one broken shoe and a barefoot march back to your car, ending your night out. ( been there done that.)

this year i pulled the trigger on one of my covet/obsessions, saltwater sandals. so many pretty colors! i loved the navy, the orange, and silver. i went with silver. trouble is you can only get them online.  i hit “buy” and waited.  to say i was excited for that box to arrive is a huge understatement. i felt like a kid on christmas!
they came when i was not home.
my mail lady did not leave the box.  😦
nooooooo!!!!! (exhale)
so i had to wait 1 more day to drive to the post office in town and pick up my pkg. EXCITED!!! i brought it home and tore it open, oooh pretty….
ou salty1

ou salty2

oooh shiny.
then i tried to put the first one on. hmmmm tighter than i hoped. then i stood up and it confirmed my already sinking feeling, they are too small. not a lot, but just enough. small enough that keeping them is silly. trust me i am tempted to force them on and keep them. but alas, i will box them back up and send them on their way back to CA and wait for the next size up… that’s the trouble with obsessions, they do not feel your pain.

ou salty4

“ENJOY YOUR SHOES!” it says… pour salt in my wounds why don’t ya.
until we meet again shiny sandals.
soon…

soon.

————

do you covet/obsess over stuff?  do share, because i need new stuff to obsess over.

“Cure for an obsession: get another one.” -Mason Cooley

1 year ago today I was very pregnant.

1 year ago today I had only one son.

1 year ago today I was about to embark on the most amazing birth experience.

Photo Credit: Erika Ray Photography.

I struggle with what to say about that here, because I’m really kind of a “live and let live” kind of person. All too often, especially around parenting decisions, endorsing what works for us turns into inadvertently shaming others for their own decisions.

{Rant approaching} In a million years I would never begin to try to insist that everyone should have a home birth. I will insist, however, that everyone should have an empowered birth. This has nothing to do with epidural or no epidural, or cesarean or vaginal birth. This has everything to do with being informed, and being respected.   I do not care how you get that baby out- whether home in a birthing tub, or in the hospital under the surgical lights, the amount of strength, and power, and fortitude, and endurance it takes to become a mother is unparalleled. That experience for so many women is negative, and far too often women are told “all that matters is that you got a baby out of it.” Sorry, no. That’s not all that matters. If you felt disrespected, violated, traumatized, and depressed after your birthing experience, that matters too. One study shows (sorry, my academic side is showing) that up to 34% of women experienced trauma in their births. This is heartbreaking to me. This matters. It matters to every single one of those mothers, and those babies, and those families. We need to get our shit together, people. {Rant end-for now.}

Tomorrow is my one year anniversary of the greatest experience I have had in my 33 trips around the sun, and as much as I love my little boy, it’s ironic that this has nothing to do with him (well, in so much as that’s possible). It has to do with the respect and awe I have of my own body. It has to do with the love I have for those who were there with me, holding my hand, and documenting the experience. Ultimately my son’s birth gave me a gift of knowing the strength I have within, and as trite as this sounds, as long as I live that is something that no one can take away from me.

Photo Credit: Erika Ray Photography.

This summer, and every summer at this time, I’ll be not only celebrating my son’s birthday, I’ll be celebrating and remembering my own strength. And I’ll be working to empower women to celebrate it within themselves as well.

All photos are courtesy of Erika Ray. Hear her take- including why all women should have a photographer at their birth, and see more of her amazing pictures on the experience here and here.