Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So What, Who Cares? Yikes, My Kids Are Learning About Sex on the Playground!

Dear Erin,

My daughter has been coming home from school with all sorts of information about the birds and the bees that she didn't get from us.  Eventually, we learned that one of her 2nd grade classmates has been "enlightening" the class with information that is at best exaggerated -- at worst, completely invented.  After complaints from parents, the teachers tried to intervene.  The child and his parents denied responsibility.  They claim their child doesn't know anything about sex to begin with as they "haven't had that conversation with him yet."  What can we do to protect our child and get this to stop?


Dear TMI:

Kids say the darndest things.   Most of the time, their misguided utterances seem pretty harmless. Consider this jumble of misinformation that my kids brought home this year: 1) Taylor Swift has had 500 boyfriends,  2) North Korea is going to start a world war (and win),  3) Women can’t vote,  4) Guinea pigs are cannibals, and 5) Someone’s uncle is making a movie about their recess game.

When kids get stuff wrong, parents can usually just straighten them out.
My personal responses to those fact nuggets, for example, were pretty simple: 
1)Wrong.  2)Wrong.  3) Sexist and Wrong.  4) Maybe.  5) Um. No. Creepy.

What I can’t tell from your letter is if little Billy Birds and Bees is harmless, or outright offensive.  I mean, if the kid is going beyond bad facts – e.g. Taylor Swift is a sexual cannibal, or my uncle gave birth to a guinea pig – to details about human sexuality that are violent, graphic, or terribly age-inappropriate, then those parents were right to enlist the help of teachers.  In extreme cases, a school should probably respond with age-appropriate sanctions. 

Since you used the word protect, though, perhaps you don’t find the kid so harmless.  Perhaps it bothers your daughter to hear this graphic dialogue.  If the other parents are defensive, or in denial -- and the school refuses to challenge them -- parents like you are left to wonder how you can stop the sex, lies, and inaccuracy on your own.

I assume you’ve already told your daughter that this lad is an unreliable informant.  We can’t control the crazy of other parents, the crazy of their kids, or the inaction of authorities.  But we can exert some control over our children’s personal filters.  We can urge our children to report unsolicited rumors to us, then help them fact check, in the privacy of our own homes.  Will that be enough for you?  Maybe.  Perhaps Billy just has a mysterious and untreated hormone imbalance.  Once he stops eating soy, maybe he’ll stop acting out, and start having whatever conversation it is, that his parents think they've already had.

Or maybe that won’t be enough.  Maybe his chatty ways are still bothering your daughter, or disrupting her education, or presenting her with concepts she isn't old enough to filter.   In that case, I can offer this potentially relevant story.

Many years ago, I took a job in an office, and was placed on a team with several men who were predisposed to sexual banter.  They talked about their sex lives.  They asked about mine. They commented on my looks.   I tried to make it clear that, uh, I was busy working.  A few months into this job, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I told my supervisor that they were disrupting my ability to do my job. 

My supervisor told me that legally, I could file a complaint.  I could escalate it through "proper channels."   Practically, though, this wasn’t likely to accomplish much.  My colleagues might be reprimanded.  I’d have to confront them more publicly.  And since I still might have to work with them, this might be a bad outcome. For me.   Instead, he suggested I simply ask them to stop.   I’ve tried that, I protested.   Try it again, he said.  This time, don’t smile.  Don’t sound friendly.  Look them in the eyes.  Tell them you need it to stop.  Immediately.

And you know, it was great advice.  I think of myself as a fairly brazen chick.  But really, I hadn’t even realized how much I undermined my own message – in a stereotypically female way, I suppose -- through facial expressions, verbal cues, and body language.  Ultimately, was I a bad feminist for failing to escalate through proper channels?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  In any case, that's not the issue we're debating here.  But more to the point, it totally worked!  It didn’t force a big legal thing.  Or make anyone defensive.  It just delivered the best outcome.

I don’t know how relevant this story is to your conundrum.  I just know that oftentimes, the proper channels can’t protect us. Or our kids.  If ignoring, and correcting, and legally escalating hasn’t fixed the problem to your satisfaction, maybe it’s time to empower your daughter to just let Billy have it.  To tell him she’s wise to his lies.  That his teaching style isn’t working for her.   That she’s dropping his class.   Shut the kid down.

It’s nice to be nice.  Especially on the playground.  But sometimes the best outcome is to stop getting along, and start speaking the truth to crazy.   Good luck.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

10 Random Questions the Internet Can't Answer

Don't you just love the internet?

I know it has a few drawbacks.  Like, the reproduction of rampant violent anti-female pornography. The spread of prejudicial and dangerous misinformation. Terrorists.  The encouragement of ignorant and anonymous misanthropy in the comments sections of everything. The crippling of conventional news outlets through millions of idiotic click bait stories.  And way too many cover videos of Gangnam style.  People.  It's done.

But the internet has so many positive attributes!  Instructions for how to Rainbow Loom.  Lots of awesome cat/pet blooper video montages (mostly cats).   Wikipedia: a totally error-free research tool that means college students  never have to set foot in a library.   Self Awareness Games -- Games that tell us which seventies hairdo we are.  Which Disney dwarf we are.  Which Williams-Sonoma flatware line we are.  And which hilarious celebrity we would be, if we were actually hilarious celebrities instead of regular people wasting valuable work time on buzzfeed.   That social network that uses 20% of our discretionary time.

But my all-time fave thing about the internet is how it can answer any random question I feed it.   I love that!
One time, for example, I was having trouble remembering stuff and I literally typed in the phrase, name of bad wizard in that one movie.  Saruman.   Boom. 

But listen, even the internet has limits.  It can't do everything.  I’ve been compiling a list of random questions which, for some reason, the internet hasn't been able to answer to my satisfaction.   Maybe these questions are just too dumb and irrelevant.    It’s also possible I haven't done enough  searching.  I'm not always that thorough, and if I'm being totally honest, I sometimes nap during the day, underneath my cat. 

But what about these questions, internet?

1.  Does anyone else get confused about which is real: The Unicorn or the Reindeer?  

For some reason, I’ve always had a hard time remembering which is the real, zoological creature that also flies and pulls Santa on his sleigh, and which is the magical animal that doesn’t exist.   I typed this question into my browser.  Nothing.    


2.  Do kids raised by Stay at Home Dads (vs Moms) talk less?   

Does this question sound sexist?  I don't know.   Sorry.  But you know how women allegedly talk more than men?  I’m curious about this.  The internet doesn’t know.   

3.  Is the Snuggle House literally the dumbest business ever invented?

Some guy opened a business in my hometown called The Snuggle House.  
Where people would pay to lay down – LAY DOWN – with a stranger.  To snuggle.  There were lots of news stories about it.   But none that answered this question.  I have my own opinion.

4.  Why do people leave one morsel of cookie/cracker/whatever at bottom of a bag?

Look, I’m not pointing any fingers.  But I don’t understand the psychological condition that compels people to open the pantry door, find one cookie is left, break off half of that cookie to eat it, and then leave one, stale leftover piece in the bag.  Who wants to eat that?   The internet only gave me recipes. 

5.  Why does Linked In only invite me to connect with people I don’t know or like?

You know how networking sites sometimes upload mass contact information and then ask you to join?  Well, something is amiss with the algorithm over at Linked In.  Nobody relevant ever contacts me.  Yet, on a constant basis, I get invitations to join from random women who used to live in my neighborhood then got divorced.  Or husbands of women I’ve shared parenting lists with at school, but never even emailed with directly.  I don't even use Linked In.  Confused.

6.  Would the movie, Frozen, have done as well without the "arctic vortex"?

I think this is a really reasonable question, isn't it?   I mean, I know nothing about the movie industry.  But was it just a coincidence that we experienced very cold temperatures just as a movie about very cold temperatures was released?    Or, was it not a coincidence at all, Disney?

7.   Why is it not a violation of private property to let your dog poop on someone else's lawn?

Think about it. You can’t just unfold a lawn chair and sit on my lawn, with a newspaper.  You can’t throw trash on my lawn.  You can’t walk across my lawn and plant flowers in it.   You can't fertilize my lawn with chemicals.   It’s my lawn.  Private property.  Likewise, I can’t send my kids over to your lawn, and let them poop on it.  That would seem gross.  But for some reason, it’s totally acceptable to walk your pet down the street, and let him poop on my lawn.   I don't get it.

8.   Why is it so hard to get rid of chipmunks?

Honestly, I’ve looked into this.  I’ve gone to the hardware store to ask about it.  You can buy poison to kill almost anything.  You can hire exterminators to kill ants and flies and mice.  You can get specialists to trap bunnies and raccoons.  But nothing has been invented that actually works to get rid of chipmunks.  I even tried to bury these beeping things that were battery operated and shaped like dildos.  The whole thing makes me feel like Bill Murray in Caddyshack.  I need help.  

9.   Why don’t English speakers who live in China use Chinese names?

Chinese is a complex language.  I understand that.  In this country, or our neighborhood, at least, Chinese nationals often use English names when introducing themselves.  Totally not their real actual names.  So why don’t Americans use Chinese names in China?  Do they?   And why don’t people from other cultures – like Russia, or Japan – also use English names?   I’m not trying to be rude, or politically incorrect.  I just don’t get it.   

10.  Why do some people say you don't have to sharpen serrated knives?

I have gotten nothing but conflicting information about this.   When we take our knives to get sharpened, the place won't do the serrated ones.  The internet says you can.     What is the correct answer?    

(You can find this piece in a nicer font and with better editing HERE at Thought Catalog.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mischievous Mixologist: The Campari Grapefruit

Campari Grapefruit

2 ounces Campari
½ ounce Cointreau
6 ounces San Pellegrino Aranciata soda (or to taste)
juice half a lemon
several dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters

(shake without soda, then pour both over ice)

Listen, I need to make this short.  Short work week, lots to do.

Let's start by dispensing with the niceties.  Happy fucking spring.  I'm sorry if that sounds rude.   I realize that in a lot of places, spring started about a month ago.  But in Wisconsin, it’s just starting to warm up now.  Sort of.  Almost.  So that's why I'm cursing about it.   Don’t judge, moms.  You know it sucks.

It’s been a month since my last cocktail post, so let me now bring you up to speed on my drinking in the last 30 days.  For spring break, last week, we went to California.  We spent the first half of the trip visiting relatives in the Central Coast area.  My in-laws live in a one-taco town near Paso Robles.   Going there is a bit like going to Coachella, but without the people.  Or the music.  

There are plenty of opportunities to walk through vine trellises, though.  That area happens to be the “new wine country” (as depicted in the movie, Sideways).   According to local viticulture lore, the central coast now produces most of Napa’s cabernet grapes.  So basically, suck it Napa.  Just kidding, Napa.  Love you.  Also, I love red wine but it gives me migraines most of the time.  Really, I don’t have a dog in this fight.  Moving on.

After the in-laws bit, we drove down to Los Angeles for Easter weekend.  Of course we did.  L.A.: the city of angels. Cue the choir of naked baby cherubs.  In observation of Easter weekend, we went to the beach, visited Universal studios, swam in the hotel pool, ate Mexican food, and drank delicious cocktails.  Totes angelic. 

One of my personal favorites was from a restaurant called A-Frame, chosen by our friend and tour-guide-master-of-the-universe, Justine.  The drink was called, The Trick.  And oh yes, it was.  Quite a trick, too.  It had some kind of hot and sexy blend of tequila, cucumber, ginger, lemongrass, lime, and chile powder.  Here is a picture of it.   

Die of excitement now.

I had another incredible drink at a restaurant called Mercado, in Santa Monica. They call it a spicy cucumber margarita.  It’s got silver tequila, house jalapeno puree, and a chipotle salt rim.  If I were going to continue the drink-as-lover theme, I’d have to admit: I almost left my husband for this drink.

He's so green. 

So that takes care of one week.  Now: What have I been doing for drinks the rest of the last month?  

Well, the truth is that prior to my spring break libations, I had been taking it down a notch.   Trying to keep the old liver from turning prematurely into foie gras, if you know what I mean.   It was a long, cold winter marked by a lot of snow and a lot of cocktails.  They were good times, and terrible times.   It was winter in Wisconsin.   But once the thaw got under way, I thought it was time to slow things down.    So I wasn’t drinking as much.  At least not during the week.  And when I was drinking, I was mixing much lighter cocktails.  

In your personal mixology repertoire, you sometimes have to consider the strength of the liquor you’re drinking.  There’s obviously a vast difference in drinks.  If you drink Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, for example – a bourbon that I’ve used in the Nashville Mule – you’re drinking stuff that’s 90 proof.  I’m no math genius, but by my calculations, that’s 45% alcohol by volume.  If you want Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila – another spirit I have in stock in mi casa – you’re looking at 80 proof.  40% alcohol by volume.   Given that a nice margarita mixes tequila and Cointreau (also 40%), you’re looking at twice that volume of alcohol in your drink.

Well, nobody needs that on a school night.

So in my lighter spring cocktail mode, I started mixing with lighter alcohol varieties.   A great weekday cocktail is the Pimm’s Cup.  Pimm’s, always tasty and refreshing, is only 25% alcohol by volume.  You can find a lot of recipes on line.  I mix Pimm’s with ginger beer sometimes, or just plain soda water, sour mix, and a little simple syrup, which I keep in the fridge.  A few dashes of rhubarb or orange bitters, and it’s a drink.   One.  Done.  A refreshing cocktail to cook with, about as potent as a single glass of wine, but nobody ends up needing to leave the dishes for the morning. 

And hint to the guys: this is a VERY good cocktail for date night.  You can pace yourself without getting too sloppy, so you stay fresh and clever for your long marathon night of Game of Thrones.  Later.  When you drop off your date.

Another fab lite spirit is Campari.  I have always loved Campari.  Why?  Because as far as apertifs and such go, I think it’s the spicier Italian cousin to Pimm’s.  And really, anything Italian is a little bit spicier than everything British.  I know some people think Campari tastes like motor oil.  But then, some people think that song Happy is cool, and I find it massively annoying.  Especially after hearing it 47 thousand times while driving (aka parking) in L.A. on the freeway.  There you go.

Frankly, I think more people would enjoy Campari if they mixed it in cocktails.  I appreciate the old standard blend of Campari and soda.  It’s tall, dark, handsome, and always the gentleman.   But it still comes on too strong for some folks.  I get that.  So do I.

For you gentler souls, then, I’d suggest a Campari cocktail.  There are a lot of variations available on line but remember: If you’re trying to concoct a light cocktail, you can’t mix Campari with Gin, and Cointreau.  Defeats the purpose.   I get around this problem with soda (which I happen to love) and mix it sort of like a Pimm’s Cup.   Throw it over ice.  Ahhhhh.

The drink I’m featuring here does use a little bit of Cointreau, for flavor.  The great thing about mixing orange liqueur with Campari is that – surprise! – it tastes like grapefruit.  Don’t ask me why.  I really don’t know.  I’m not a real mixologist.  I just play one in my suburban midwestern village.  Plus, maybe some things are meant to stay unsolved.  Like that one day all of Manhattan smelled like syrup.  So mysterious.  Am I right?

So.  Here’s a drink you can feel good about sipping on a Tuesday, and still get up fresh for -- wait for it -- Hump Day.   Salute!