Bodily Autonomy Includes People’s Hair, So Your Feedback Isn’t Needed

My son has always struggled with his hair. Before he hit puberty, he’d try and muster his locks into the Justin Bieber Side Swipe. It would fail every time and end in tears. His coarse, curly hair has a mind of its own. Not to mention that the cowlicks adorning his hairline make it impossible to have what he calls “a regular hairstyle.”

In elementary school, he wore a baseball cap whenever he could. Then he went through a stage where he tied a handkerchief around his head like a headband to tame his hair. Anything to hide the locks which always seemed to be the focus of his existence.

Around age eleven he was panicked every day because his hair started falling out. After a week of him crying over the sink each night after seeing his strands in the sink, I called his pediatrician. Turns out it’s a very normal part of growing up.

It didn’t look like he had any less hair, but it was noticeable that his hair was changing. It became even coarser, darker, and started growing up instead of down. 

That was the year I tried to flatten it for him with a straightener every morning per his request.

It didn’t work. He’d go to school every day upset. I spent a lot of money on hair products and took him to a few different salons. I wanted my son to like his hair, but more importantly, I wanted him to like himself.

My son’s hair is unique. It is his. And now as a teenager, he’s finally like, Fuck yeah this is my hair and I’m fine with it.

I didn’t know if we’d ever get here during those tough times when he did everything he could to change a part of him I loved. But holy mother, I’m glad we’re here.

He’s heard it all: “You have pubic hair as hair.” “Your hair is so tall.” It never ceases to amaze me the comments people make to others about what they look like.

First of all, my son knows what his hair is like — it’s his. It’s incredibly annoying how people, mostly Boomers, think it’s okay to talk to him in a way which insinuates they are the only ones who have noticed his hair and think it’s okay to reach out and touch it.

The other day he was flexing a man bun (which I did for him, and looked awesome BTW), and snapped a picture to post on his social media.

Leave it to idiots sitting behind their phones to take you out of 2020 and think their negative feedback is wanted. 

While my son is confident enough to still wear the man bun, he took the posts down after reading things like, “Buns are for girls,” and “Oh, how pretty, are you going to get your nails done?” And, “Dude, cut your hair.”

If someone wants your opinion about something on their person, they will ask for it. Why there are humans out there who feel the need to shame someone because their look doesn’t fit into some stupid container that they think it should is something I’ll never understand. 

It’s never okay to size up someone’s body. It’s never okay to question someone about what they are wearing. And it’s not okay to comment on someone’s hair and question their style. We have no idea about the journeys people go through. We don’t know the struggle, or the courage it took them to show up, whether it’s a picture on social media, or just going to a gathering.

Individual style belongs to the individual. It’s not for anyone else to judge and say they shouldn’t wear nail polish because they are born with a penis, or shave their head because they were born with a vagina. 

It only creates hard feelings for the person who’s being talked about. 

We can teach our kids (and try to teach ourselves) that other people’s opinions of us shouldn’t matter. But the truth is, words can hurt. 

I’m glad my son likes himself enough to disregard those comments, but that doesn’t mean his feelings weren’t hurt. They were.

So, to those who feel the need to comment on someone’s appearance: keep your opinions about hair, clothing, and bodies to yourself. Your comments make you look ignorant, and out of touch. You should know better.

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Millions Of Cicadas Expected To Emerge From The Ground This Summer

Of course 2020 — the year of a global pandemic and murder hornets — just so happens to be the year that millions of flying insects called cicadas will crawl out of the ground for their mating cycle, whilst chirping ever so loudly — and incessantly.

Every 13 or 17 years (depending on the species), as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre emerge to mate. This year, it’ll take place in southwestern Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and West Virginia. It’s incredibly obvious when they’re out and about, too, because, as part of the ritual, the male cicadas let out a noisy mating call.

According to Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, the number of cicadas traditionally start in May, peak in early June, with most gone by July. And don’t worry should you run into them; cicadas are not poisonous, and they don’t have a stinger.

“After 13 or 17 years below ground, mature nymphs construct a mud turret called a cicada hut and emerge from the soil and climb onto nearby vegetation or any vertical surface. They then molt to the winged adult stage,” according to VT and VSU. “Their shed outer skins or ‘exoskeletons’ are frequently found attached to tree trunks and twigs. The emergence is often tightly synchronized, with most adults appearing within a few nights.”

They go on to explain that male cicadas sing by vibrating membranes on the sides of the “first abdominal segment.” Females, on the other hand, are silent.

“Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, tells Virginia Tech Daily. “Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is.”

This year, the aforementioned affected area can expect the brood IX cicada, which last made its appearance in 2003. And as for why cicadas emerge in such cycles, it’s theorized that cicadas have evolved to “avoid synching up with predator cycles by having a 13- or 17-year prime number emergence interval,” Virginia Tech Daily reports.

“This insect is really fascinating, and if you don’t have fruit trees or grapevines to protect, you can enjoy this phenomenon while it lasts,” said Doug Pfeiffer, a professor and extension specialist in the Department of Entomology.

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We Adopted A ‘Difficult’ Dog During Quarantine

In mid-March, as Los Angeles braced for the safer-at-home order we knew was coming, I turned off the news and told my husband we should get another dog. It was a conversation he had pitched and I had ditched many times in the past few years. With our one dog, two cats, two adults and two young kids in a house smaller than many would find tenable, we were fully saturated with responsibilities, a family sponge incapable of another ounce of absorption.

“I’d love another dog when we have more time,” I’d said before. Suddenly, we had time.

Rescue groups list their animals with captivating pictures and a full personality report. Great on a leash, loves salmon (lemon, no pepper), was thoroughly tickled by Tiger King, maintains a subtle bias against women with canes. An animal shelter has no time for small talk. You’ll never find more than two pictures. Usually the sex of the animal. Occasionally the weight. An example post might read: Here is a dog. It is a dog. Want the dog?

At the time of my change of heart, the shelters had closed to visits but were open for adoptions. You see a picture online, you pay upfront, and they hand you a dog through the back door. It was a glorious distraction from the horrors of the pandemic to pore through shelter sites and before long we had spotted an allegedly female, 28 pound, 1-year-old, mixed-breed (perhaps a Beagle mutt? It didn’t say) who was smiling from ear to ear because she looked tremendously happy and also because the picture appeared stretched. When I thought about bringing her home, I was breathless with excitement.

We Adopted A 'Difficult' Dog During Quarantine
Courtesy of Jennifer Nashorn Blankenship

Well. Excitement is sometimes the kid brother of Reckless.

We brought our backdoor dog home and named her Bernie. You know why, but this isn’t that story. We showed Bernie off to the neighbors from a safe distance and took pictures and tried to pretend to our kids that this was exactly how we’d pictured the arrival of our second dog. Like the dread of a horrible mistake wasn’t nipping at our heels and panting hot in our faces.

Because even on day one it was clear that Bernie wasn’t who we’d dreamed she’d be, was not the dog we’d imagined trotting out of that stretched photo and into our little house to snuggle up with our family. Bernie was no Beagle. She was more likely a Husky/German Shepard and a biting, jumping, frantic, biting dervish of a dog. On no planet with gravity did she weigh 28 pounds.

As we were easing into remote work and full-time childcare responsibilities, Bernie flung her 40+ pound self into our lives helter skelter and without a semblance of gratitude. Did she terrorize our unassuming lump of a dog with incessant pouncing and neck-nibble attacks? Yes. Were our cats now hunted in their own quiet spaces by a dog that proved impervious to even blood-drawing claw swipes? Also yes. Had my own three-year-old son become Bernie’s favorite chew toy? I mean, yeah. Though, he also seemed to like it.

I walked Bernie daily, fed her meals and treats, and was the target of near-constant play biting. Her bites did not always feel playful; however let’s go with play biting because the bites didn’t break the skin, and I don’t want you to think we let our new dog maul our toddler on the daily. She was biting when she wanted to play. She was also biting when she was hungry, and also when frustrated, corrected in any way, or assaulted with a moving human or animal body.

As the days went by, my husband and I chewed over our rash decision, found ourselves doggedly chanting, “What were we thinking?” except there were two extra words between what and were.

Really though, what the eff were we thinking? Because here’s where you decide I’m a martyr or a moron. When I tell you:

We Knew.

We Adopted A 'Difficult' Dog During Quarantine
Courtesy of Jennifer Nashorn Blankenship

When I first called the shelter, I learned Bernie had been previously returned. For biting. The last owner brought her back to the shelter after just eleven days, reporting that she lunged at faces, bit people, and was, in a word, “uncontrollable.”

We were so desperate to get our pandemic pup, so needy to balance quarantine with a canine consolation prize, that we had justified every last complaint. She sounds like a mouthy puppy; the shelter staff said she’s friendly; the previous owner was elderly and couldn’t handle her; she’s only 28 pounds, how bad could it be?

It was bad. Our lives were already strained taut with work and kids and worry over our older parents across the country. To a situation beyond control, we had added an uncontrollable dog.

A month later, Bernie is still part of our family. We have rerouted our childcare costs to virtual sessions with dog trainers and the many tools said trainers have recommended. We’ve installed 200% more baby gates than we did for our human babies, and carefully juggle the locations of our other dog and cats and kids to ensure everyone’s safety.

Bernie is biting about 40% less, which, to be honest, is still a lot of biting. But she is also loving and playful and clever and, sometimes it seems, willing herself to unlearn her bad habits, catching herself before she snaps, literally. I know a lot of people wouldn’t have kept this dog. I can’t even bring myself to open the “fun project!” emails from my kids’ schools, but I am obstinately snout-deep in my own capstone Pandemic Project — unearthing the great dog I know is buried in our Bernie. (She’s also a digger, by the way.)

I think, through Bernie, I’m learning how foolishly off-scale our expectations can be. I felt a little silly packing up my office on March 11th – did I really need my extra monitor for a month of remote work? Now, of course, I wish I’d taken my printer, too. And the whole candy bowl stash rather than a modest handful. In March, we were all preparing for a few weeks of inconvenience.

The other day, my therapist floated the idea that maybe Bernie wasn’t the right fit for our lives right now, maybe there was a choice I wasn’t facing. She was right; I made the choice. I stopped seeing that therapist.

I wish there was a voice from three years in the future to tell me this cautionary tail has a happy ending. That in a few years our animals are a veritable Peaceable Kingdom and we can shake our heads and sigh and smirk over how frenetic and frustrating Bernie was those first months. We are all straining our ears to hear that voice from the future. Tell us everything is okay now. Assure us our loved ones stop dying, alone, with this vile virus. Remind us that uncontrollable forces come into our lives and yet we find some path – nicked and bruised but not defeated — in the smarting darkness.

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This Is TikTok For The Over-40 Crowd

My relationship with TikTok started as research about how a 16-year-old character in my next novel would spread information. I downloaded the app two days before the world went into lockdown.

I liked TikTok right away because a lot of TikTok is lip-synching. I went to elementary school in a small town in the 1980s. Airbands were a school wide past-time. We had regular competitions. In fourth grade, my twin sister and I placed third for our take on “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. This was a big deal.

I also liked how short TikToks are. I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old so everything I do on my phone has to take less than ten seconds. TikToks take 15… but I manage.

If we had not begun the endless days of social distancing, my fascination with TikTok would probably have passed quickly. But the app came at the right time for me.

If I had to draw a pie chart of how I’ve been spending this time, it would be ninety-eight percent taking care of my children.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

My kids are with me 24 hours a day now. Though they are the most beautiful things I know, they go into regular seizures of anger. They feel so sad and so alone. They miss everything. So do I. This is all so hard.

I needed a new way to connect with people. I was lonely. Facebook was empty. Twitter made me feel terrible about myself. After weeks in isolation, my Instagram feed—which was usually a source of happiness— had become depressing. Instead of my kids, forests and mountains, I now take photos of sourdough.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

Right now, making bread and caring for my kids gives me pleasure but no joy. I am desperate for joy. I know I’m not alone in this.

My sister lives half a country away from me. She texted me two days ago: “I miss new”

TikTok is my new. I am 40 years old. This is my TikTok journey.

There are three types of TikToks that capture my attention. That is not to say that there are only three different types of TikToks. Like other social media, there is a rabbit hole for every rabbit. As I scroll and select, my feed becomes roughly composed into three categories which I call transformations, confessionals, and dance challenges.

Transformations are when people appear on camera looking one way then transform into something else. Confessionals involve lip-synching to spoken words like air-bands without the music. But it is the dance challenges which are the best part of TikTok. They start when someone posts choreography to a snippet of a song. Others copy the dance in their own TikToks. Some people post themselves watching the dances. Others contort themselves into strange shapes or weird costumes. The end result is a series of uniquely different and impossibly fun copies of the original routine. It’s like an Andy Warhol painting in action.

I decide that my first TikTok will be a dance challenge.

I choose a user name that seems cool, tentative and slightly meta, which takes some time.

I pick an easy routine for my first performance. If I’m honest with myself, the choreography I really want to do is a sexy little number called #savage by MeganTheeStallion but it’s racy as hell and overly ambitious for my first attempt. Instead, I choose a jazzy dance to #blindinglights that’s a lot like an aggressive aerobics class. It looks fun, simple, and I like The Weeknd.

On TikTok, one can record themselves alongside another video. It’s called a duet. I decide to make my first dance a duet with a father-and-sons trio of some acclaim. They have over 100,000 followers and their moves are sharp and cool.

In the morning, while I’m doing the dishes, I move my body in semblance of the choreography. This makes me feel like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance doing moves while working on the factory line. I am not Jennifer Beals but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters on TikTok. Everybody is there to have fun. It’s like a party in the summer.

It’s tricky to decide what to wear. My husband is a head brewer at a microbrewery which has been deemed an essential service. This means I am the sole childcare provider and we have a steady supply of amazing beer which is not a slimming combination. I settle for a pair of black leggings with a heel cuff and a loose fitting top because it makes me feel like an off duty ballerina. I throw on red flats because it feels like something a cool dancer would wear. And that’s what I am.

Backyard TikToks are fun and I desperately need to get the kids outside so I can set the camera up in the yard. I hope that when they see me being a cool dancer, they will want to join me. They laugh as I rehearse the same moves over and over. This suggests I am not a cool dancer, but I don’t care because I’m having so much fun.

Full disclosure: I suck at this. I have no formal dance training. My style can best be described as “goofy.” I chose this choreography because it seemed simple, but it turns out that it is not simple enough for me. The first move is a dab with an associated side leg step and everything is moving very fast. Dabs are not a move I am familiar with, but no matter. I throw myself into it. My daughter tells me it looks like I am just bouncing up and down. I delete TikTok after TikTok. I dab and dab and dab. I am ruthless in my pursuit of okay.

Then, it happens. I bounce into the frame, dab, step, hop, and swim. I do a move that closely resembles Irish Step Dancing, which is not part of the choreography but it is working. At the end of the dance, I kick at the camera with pure unbridled pleasure and something inside me shifts. I have done it. I have found my new.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

The last frame is the best one. There is a smile on my face I haven’t seen for a long time. Before I post it, I add the hashtag #over40. There are many of us on here now, and we are all here for the same reason. TikTok is joy in a time of isolation. We don’t have parties any more, and might not for a long time, but we can still dance.

Now, on to #savage.

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5 Ways To Bring A Little ‘Hygge’ To Your Stay-At-Home Life

In the midst of a pandemic, looking to Denmark (consistently rated among the happiest countries on Earth) for tips on wellbeing seems like a no-brainer. Let’s face it – we could all use more happiness these days. Hygge, the Danish word for a feeling of cozy connectedness, has spawned a craze in the United States in recent years for its promise of greater happiness. But hygge is not a lifestyle or a philosophy so much as an emotion of belonging and comfort evoked by one’s surroundings and relationships. These emotions are common to all of us, and are possible (and so important) to cultivate in our current circumstances. Here are five ways to bring more “cozy connection” into your life – even in the midst of an isolating pandemic.

See your home as a refuge.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Dan Gold/Unsplash

You may have gravitated toward the more hyggeligt (or cozy) things in life already, upon finding yourself housebound. Knit throw blankets, a favorite mug to hold your coffee or tea, and warm flannel sheets on the bed can make your home feel like the safe harbor you need in an uncertain time. Surround yourself with soft fabrics, green houseplants, and lots of natural light. Open the curtains and let in the sun, light your favorite candles or fireplace, or curl up with a good book under the warm glow of an accent lamp at night to bring literal and figurative warmth to your home. Going stir crazy? Give your house a deep clean so it feels like a place you want to be. Reorganizing your home often has the added benefit of changing your perspective on the space, as well as unearthing roughly a million half-finished projects to keep you busy. But above all, it reconnects you with the treasures of your past – in the form of belongings you love – that help you feel secure and centered, and remind you that you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home.

Gather your favorite things.

Now is the time to go through the boxes of pictures we all have and display your favorites. Buy frames online and start enjoying the photos now by putting them up on the refrigerator, or against the fireplace mantle, until the frames arrive. (Come on, Prime!) The point is to surround yourself with the people and things you love, even if you cannot physically embrace them at the moment. You don’t have to limit yourself to pictures, either. Serve dinner on the china you inherited from mom, even if it’s just mac and cheese – again. Curl up for another night of Netflix in the blanket your grandma knit you. It will make you feel that warm sense of connectedness to the people who matter most in your life. That’s the very definition of hygge.

Get outdoors.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Lisa Fotios/Pexels

Feelings of hygge are closely related to our connection with the natural world. Depending on your area, it might not be safe to hike, go to the beach, or take advantage of the natural wonders around you right now. But even if your only current access to the great outdoors is your yard, patio, or balcony, make use of it. Drink your morning coffee or tea outside. Start a small vegetable garden. Soak up the sunshine on your skin. Yell greetings over the fence to a neighbor. Grill your dinner on the barbeque. Anything to spend a little time safely in contact with the world outside your four walls.

Let the outdoors in.

Much of the country is enjoying a beautiful spring at the moment, so if your allergies allow it, throw open those windows and let the warm breeze and sunshine cleanse your space. Wash your bed linens and hang them out to dry in the yard. Pick some flowers while you’re out there and arrange them in a pretty vase or a jam jar – whatever is handy – to decorate your bedside or kitchen table. Keep cuttings from vegetables and regrow them on your windowsill. All of these are ways to get yourself closer to nature and bring a little of that living energy into your space, even during a pandemic.

Stay connected.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Mary N/Reshot

Bringing others into a sense of connection during this time of isolation is a surefire way to feel more hygge yourself. Get your friends or family together for a zoom date and have a virtual shared meal. Call the people you love regularly to hear their voices and assure them (and yourself) that we’re all in this together. Are you close to a neighbor? Bake cookies with the kids (a very hyggeligt activity) and leave them as a surprise on their doorstep with an encouraging note. Put bottles of water and a “thank you” sign out for the delivery drivers who are bringing all those wonderful picture frames to your door. Provide them with a moment of hygge connectedness in a busy, yet isolating, workday. Like any kindness, it affects the giver as much as the recipient.

Remember that connectedness doesn’t mean being constantly perusing social media. Studies have found that spending too much time looking at other people’s curated selves on social media leads to depression and feelings of isolation, which is the last thing any of us needs right now. Give yourself a little grace. You have permission to stop comparing yourself to Susan, who seamlessly adopted a Montessori-based curriculum for her kids the first day of quarantine. Seek out real screen-to-screen communication with your closest crew, but don’t make your home on Instagram or Twitter all day.

This enforced time at home is the perfect opportunity to slow down and learn to appreciate the moments and relationships that make our lives worth living. Our world right now is filled with anxieties and confusion. Cultivating moments of hygge in our day helps us to balance ourselves; to respond to life’s problems with the security and connectedness of the naturally happy Danish. What a gift to give ourselves in this time of uncertainty.

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If Chore Equity Is The Goal, Then We Can’t Micromanage Our Spouse (AKA Stop Micromanaging Your Spouse Already)

Let me just start by saying that there is a right and a less-right way to do the laundry. As long as the clothes are clean, there can’t really be a “wrong” way, right? But there is most definitely a less-right way, and it all comes down to folding.

I fold the laundry the right way. My husband folds laundry the less-right way. But you know what? Whenever he does the laundry, I am learning to zip it about the less-right way because you know what’s worse than laundry that is folded the less-right way? Laundry that you have to do yourself.

The other week, my husband returned from his weekly grocery shopping (or bi-monthly, now that we’re in quarantine and the grocery store feels like it’s teeming with germs) and I may have greeted him with some sighs and more than a few “recommendations” about how to do the grocery shopping. I quickly realized, though, that when your spouse is the one gearing up in a hazmat suit to get food for your family, it is not the time to remind him that we don’t need four boxes of Pop-Tarts or that the kids don’t like chunky peanut butter. (Also my husband regularly does the grocery shopping and is very capable of accomplishing this task without input.)

I’m learning the hard way that if I want my husband to share in the household chores and emotional labor of running a family, it doesn’t help to criticize or nit-pick. (I say “learning,” because…well, old habits die hard.)

It goes both ways too. My husband prefers to do the cooking – and does a much better job of it, I might add – but whenever I make dinner, he knows not to complain that the pot pie was left in the oven a few minutes too long or that the broccoli is a little overcooked. Why? Because he’s not an asshole and that’s a surefire way to have dinner consist of cereal and toast for several nights in a row.

I think we can all agree that sharing in household responsibilities is the goal. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018 American Time Use Survey found that women in heterosexual relation­ships spend an average of nearly 50% more time each day on household activities and childcare than their male partners.

It’s important to note that chore equity doesn’t mean equality. “Equity means that you perceive the division of labor as being fair,” University of Alberta social scientist Adam Galovan, PhDd told Experience Life. “People have different responsibilities in their lives, so the question is: How do they balance that in a way that they both agree on? It doesn’t have to be exactly 50-50.”

So, no, you don’t need to do a tit-for-tat list of household chores, and I can assure you that keeping score is a great way to accomplish nothing but resentment. (Another lesson learned the hard way.) Nothing is even-Steven all the time, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, my husband does a much better job of helping our kids with school work, but I do a better job of loading the dishwasher. He enjoys grocery shopping and cooking; I loathe both things. I hate clutter and like to make the bed first thing in the morning, so I tackle those things. We both dislike home improvement projects so we try to outsource those or do them together (misery loves company, after all). The key is that neither partner feels like they are carrying more of the burdens of raising a family and running a household than the other partner.

Another surefire way to hinder chore equity and ensure that you shoulder most of the burden of running the household yourself is to constantly nitpick, to have unrealistic standards, and to expect your partner to do things “your way.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover who’s grateful for any half-ass job your partner does around the house. What it does mean is we need to remember that there’s more than one way to get things done. As long as you agree on some general goals for your family, you can cut each other some slack. In other words, heed my warning: do not – I repeat do not – harp on your spouse about the less-right way to fold laundry. (Seriously, just don’t.)

So stop micromanaging. Stop complaining. Stop nitpicking and making “recommendations.” Your partner is a full-fledged adult – one who you thought would make a good co-partner in this wild ride called raising a family and sharing a household – so let them act like it. He isn’t a child who needs to be taught; that’s just demeaning to both of you. So step aside. Bite your tongue. And let your husband act like the grown-up that he is.

Like I said, I’m learning. I’m reminding myself to keep my mouth shut when I might have done something differently. And as a result, I’m appreciating the liberation (and added time) that comes from not having to “do it all.”

Damn, chore equity feels good – even better than towels that are folded in the tri-fold method (i.e. the “right” way).

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I Have My Own Cleaning Business—Why Vinegar Is My Secret Weapon

For many years, my full-time job and passion was my cleaning business. I closed the business to stay home and raise babies, but now that all three of my kids are in school, I have added residential cleaning back to my list of part-time jobs. I have always prided myself on providing trustworthy and quality work. I am also proud to tell people that I only use eco-friendly cleaning supplies and products. I am adamant about it, actually. I care too much about the planet, myself, and my kids to use toxic chemicals when much safer and equally-effective options are available. Even though my job description has shifted over the years, one thing has remained the same: Vinegar is my secret weapon.

Vinegar is a safe, inexpensive, and versatile cleaning agent and something most of us already have in the pantry. There are lots of vinegars to choose from, but the one best suited for cleaning and the one I am referring to throughout this article is white vinegar because it is the most acidic and makes it a potent cleaner. In fact, full-strength vinegar may be too strong for some surfaces, so diluting it with water or using apple cider vinegar is the way to go. For an even more acidic cleaner, use cleaning vinegar. It has 20% more acid than regular white vinegar. A simple water/vinegar mix will effectively clean most surfaces in your house.

Use caution on some surfaces. Granite, soapstone, and marble countertops, untreated grout, and stone floors do not mix well with vinegar. The acid can cause pitting and loss of shine. However, vinegar is magic and works in more situations than not.

Bathroom

A simple solution of two parts vinegar, one part water in a spray bottle makes a great multi-purpose cleaner you can use anywhere in the house. But in the bathroom, mirrors, tubs, showers, glass, and tile can be cleaned with this solution. Because vinegar is so acidic, it is great at eating soap scum and brines left by hard water. I have even had luck getting stains from tub crayons off of shower walks. Spraying your shower after each use will help prevent mold and mildew growth too. For really tough jobs in the shower or tub, I have made sprays with a mixture that was one part plant-based liquid dish soap and one part vinegar. Adding lemon oil will make your vinegar cleaning solution smell better and work harder because the oil is also antibacterial and antiviral.

Kitchen

Bring your multi-purpose cleaner into the kitchen and clean counters, appliances, and sinks. Vinegar is great at cutting grease and sticky surfaces—like stickers or jelly left on the wall. However, vinegar doesn’t react well to egg-based messes; adding it will make the spill stickier. Use hot water and a cloth to remove the mess, then use vinegar to clean the surface. Vinegar also freshens stinky drains and cleans the inside of dishwashers.

Pro tip: to get your stainless steel surfaces to shine, dab a cloth with vegetable oil, use it to wipe off finger prints and smudges, then wipe the surface clean with another end of the cloth that has been dipped in vinegar. Let dry and enjoy until your kids appear and run their hands all over everything. Oh, and lean in close: your coffee pot is likely growing mold, so wash your pot and run vinegar through your machine to break down scale build up and knock out mold.

Cleaning Supply Bucket Kitchen Counter
Shopify Partners/Burst

Laundry

I am going to go out on a limb, but I have a feeling you have forgotten to put your laundry in the dryer until the next day or that your kids piss on things. I am also going to guess that if you are a wine drinker, you have slopped it on yourself. Vinegar deodorizes mildew towels, stinky gym clothes, and pee-soaked sheets and clothing. It is also a natural fabric softener, so skip the expensive dryer sheets and add up to a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle. Vinegar can be used as a substitute for bleach, too, if you want to brighten white cotton socks, shirts, or underwear. Grass and armpit stains are acidic and dissolve when sprayed with vinegar. A paste of baking soda and vinegar can remove red wine stains too. But the more delicate the fabric, the more caution you should use.

Floors

A little goes a long way with hardwood and laminate floors. No more than half a cup to each gallon of hot water is necessary to get your floors clean. And if you don’t want the vinegar smell, add a couple of drops of peppermint oil, lavender, or lemon oil. I personally love the smell of tea tree oil.

Clogged Drains

I refuse to buy those chemical solutions meant to unclog pipes. They are expensive and I have yet to find one that actually works. I feel like I am dumping money down the drain. Literally. An alternative is to do this: pour a pot of boiling water down the clogged or slow draining pipe. Then add a mix that contains one cup water, one cup vinegar, and one cup baking soda. Cover the drain and let everything sit for ten minutes. Follow up with another pot of boiling water. If this doesn’t work, I like to pull things apart; I will remove the drain plug and snake the drain from the top to pull out hair and gunk. I have also turned off the water supply and have unscrewed the U pipe under the sink. Be sure a bowl is under this to catch small leaks and be prepared for grossness. I find it satisfying. You may not.

Skip the fancy and expensive store-bought cleaning products filled with oil-based and toxic promises and get yourself some simple, but powerful white vinegar.

The post I Have My Own Cleaning Business—Why Vinegar Is My Secret Weapon appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Taking A Hot Bath May Be The Workout You Need Right Now

I am often tempted to fill the tub and take a long, hot soak. But then my kids scream and remind me how naïve I am to think I can enjoy such pleasures. Taking a bubble bath with kids around is about as relaxing as trying to do anything with kids around. Even if they are asleep or out of the house, I feel guilty about wasting water in an attempt to take time for myself while sitting in my own stew. Science is helping me reframe the way I view hot baths, however. If I call it “passive heating” I can call it a supplement to healthy living. That’s right, friends: sitting in a tub of hot water offers the benefits of a gentle workout.

There is no arguing that exercise is good for us; it provides both mental and physical health benefits. Boosting our mood while reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, and diabetes seems like a no-brainer. However, not everyone can exercise. Chronic pain and physical limitations make it difficult for some folks to move in ways that would provide the boosts they need to their brain and body. Researchers are examining the benefits of passive heating: raising the body’s core temperature through sedentary acts like soaking in a hot bath, hot tub, or sauna. The findings are cool.

A study done at Loughborough University measured and compared the body’s blood sugar control and energy expended after both an hour long soak in a hot tub or an hour long bike ride. The cycling burned more calories, but the overall blood sugar response was nearly the same. After eating, however, the peak blood sugar measurements were ten percent lower in folks who were in the hot bath vs. the folks who biked. While I am not suggesting a bath is better than a bike ride, evidence in this case is suggesting that it is better in some ways. Do what you will with that information.

Another benefit of exercise is inflammation reduction, which seems counter-intuitive. Movement actually creates inflammation, but then our body’s anti-inflammatory system kicks in. For those who don’t have a strong anti-inflammatory system, though, chronic inflammation settles in and leads to pain, arthritis, obesity, and diabetes. If exercise causes pain which contributes to more pain, I don’t think I would want to move my body much either. But folks can force their temperatures to increase with outside forces and still get some of the anti-inflammatory benefits.

Research has shown that hot water immersion treatments raise the levels of the inflammatory chemical called interleukin. Nitric oxide in the blood increased too. This improves blood flow and the movement of glucose through the body; the body’s tissues’ ability to take up glucose improves as well, which is vital for people with type 2 diabetes. Inflammation and type 2 diabetes are closely linked. People with type 2 diabetes have elevated levels of cytokine inside fat tissue which causes inflammation and reduces the body’s ability to appropriately regulate insulin. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, inflammation results and the dangerous cycle continues. While passive heating can’t cure diabetes or replace anti-inflammatory diet and exercise, it can help.

Anyone else as fascinated as I am? I am drawing a hot bath right now.

The nitric acid I mentioned earlier that causes blood vessels to dilate and blood pressure to drop is why pregnant folks are supposed to avoid hot tubs; if the body gets too hot a person can experience hyperthermia. This increases the pregnant person’s already high risk of dizziness, dehydration, and low blood pressure. But for a person at risk for high blood pressure, passive heating can improve cardiovascular health. One study compared the effects of passive heating on a body to what happens when our temperature rises while running on a treadmill; results showed that heart rate peaked at a lower rate during water immersion but femoral artery rate was higher than after treadmill use. Both signaled beneficial cardiovascular effects.

An interesting fact about hypertension in what the study called “young people” was that while exercise is a primary treatment for high blood pressure, it doesn’t have much or any effect on this population. However, studies found that heat therapy is capable of lowering blood pressure in “young, normotensive individuals” and can “prove more powerful than exercise alone as a treatment for hypertension.”

A hot bath may be just what your body needs right now. Perhaps you are too tired or sore to exercise; you don’t have the physical or emotional strength to do more than sit. That is totally okay. Passive heating shouldn’t replace that workout, walk, or bike ride all of the time, but it offers many benefits when we can’t get ourselves to move. Also, hot baths help us sleep better, relieve joint, muscle, and headache pain. Labor pain is reduced using water immersion. A bath can help us balance our hormones and improve our urinary tract and gastrointestinal health.

Put the kids in front of a movie, grab a book, some bubble bath or essential oils if that’s your thing, and enjoy the benefits of passive heating in the privacy of your bathroom. If you have a hot tub, get your money’s worth. I don’t have one, but I can call it an investment in my health if I purchase one, right? We can all benefit from lower blood pressure, improved health, and better sleep right now. Happy soaking, friends.

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Climate Change Is Making Our Kids Sick–But We Can Do Something About It

Greta Thunberg has been warning us. So has America’s favorite scientist, Bill Nye. Climate change is real and no joke. It’s responsible for some pretty freaky stuff. Some pregnant women are going into early labor because of climate change. Changes have also caused car-size wasp nests to pop up. Sound scary? You bet. Eco-anxiety is a real thing, causing some hopeful parents to reconsider how many children they want have.

If you’re concerned about climate change and its effects, you aren’t alone. We hear and read about climate change on a daily basis, with articles, memes, and videos flooding our social media feeds. Thousands of scientists are adamant that we need to sit up and pay attention. Climate change is a legitimate worry of many, but especially parents, because it’s putting the health of our children at risk.

There’s a lot of talk about climate change, but what does it really mean and how does it impact our kids? According to the World Health Organization, climate change “threatens the essential ingredients of good health — clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter — and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health.”

Yes, climate change is disrupting the quality and availability of our most basic needs. Yikes.

The statistics are grim. Between 2030 and 2050, there will be approximately 250,000 deaths due to climate change. Mainly, these deaths will result from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. You might blow these off if you live in a more developed and medically advanced country, but the reality is, we’re not out of the woods. The current pandemic has made us gravely aware of that.

Extreme heat, caused by ongoing, overall temperature increases, make cardiovascular and respiratory issues worse. This isn’t just an issue for the elderly. Because pollen and other airborne allergen levels rise in the heat, asthmatic patients—including children—are triggered. As a mom of two children with asthma, this is a terrifying reality.

Other climate change concerns include natural disasters, rainfall levels, and infection patterns. These can impact crop production, increase the spread of disease, cause mental health issues (due to forcibly moving from a disaster area), and water contamination.

Greta Thunberg Joins Hamburg Climate Protest
Adam Berry/Getty

Climate change isn’t just a physical health issue, I’m learning. The impact on physical health can create issues with emotional and mental health, too. Our children aren’t immune to these fears. My children often know far more than I think they do, and they’re always eavesdropping in on adult conversations. Furthermore, with readily available access to the internet, climate change is no secret. Our kids know that something is up, and it’s something serious.

Dr. Courtney Howard, a physician, professor, and the president of the Canadian Association of the Environment, told Scary Mommy that a range of climate change factors are impacting our children, including wildfires and tick-borne diseases. These have both made the news many times over the past several years, including wildfires in California and the scary truths about living with Lyme disease.

I admit, I didn’t know much about climate change outside of trying to make good choices because somehow, those are supposed to help save Mother Earth. We recycle and re-purpose as much as we can. We use cloth napkins and real dishes, instead of paper and plastic. We shop using reusable tote bags. Isn’t this enough? Are we not doing our part?

Dr. Howard offered some practical steps our families can take. First, she recommends we can decrease greenhouse gas emissions and improve our health by getting from point A and point B by foot, bike, or public transportation. She also recommends moving toward a more plant-based diet. When our electricity comes via clean energy sources like solar and wind, instead of coal-fired power which pollutes the air, we’re making a positive impact.

That’s not all. Most importantly, Dr. Howard says our votes matter. What we do in our day-to-day lives is valuable, but who we vote for is crucial to making more impactful changes. When leaders can influence the laws, we can drastically decrease the damaging outcomes of what’s currently being done, especially by companies, to pollute our air and water.

If you’re feeling grim, you aren’t alone. The more I dug into broadening my understanding of climate change, the more overwhelmed I felt. Are my kids totally screwed? Should I become one of those doomsday preppers, stocking up on canned food and medicine? Dr. Howard offered me some hope. She noted that change-making does work, and including our kids in the discussions gives us “a sense of companionship and empowerment.” Then she added, “Action feels better than anxiety.”

With the 2020 elections coming up in November, I feel more pressed than ever to make sure that those I vote for believe in climate change (you know, real science). And not just someone who believes that climate change is legit, but also understands its impact on us all, and especially our children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.

Parents have to look beyond the here and now. In the midst of our day-to-day busyness, we need to remember that tomorrow matters, too. Our children deserve to live long, healthy lives, free from the toxic and preventable effects of today’s poor choices.

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Social Distancing Can Result In Harmful Loneliness Too

Life can be hard enough during “normal” times, but life is far from normal right now and will probably remain this way for a couple of months. The COVID-19 virus is attacking our physical health, medical capacity, business and education infrastructures, and travel industry. Every piece of our everyday life has been turned over and changed, including the way we interact socially. In order to reduce the number of peak cases and slow down the rate of cases demanding medical and hospital intervention, we need to socially distance ourselves from each other by practicing social distancing.

Flattening the curve means staying the fuck home. However, social distancing is creating isolation from our social support systems, and it is making us lonely. I agree that we need to make the safe and correct decision to distance ourselves from each other, but I also need us to recognize that loneliness, the loss of our people and foundations of community, is another dangerous part of this pandemic.

Humans are social creatures, and when we are taken away from each other, we feel threatened and we feel a sense of danger. This need for connection is literally built into our biology. Compared to similar-sized primates or mammals, humans have a larger neocortex, the part of the brain involved in social cognition abilities like thought, language, and behavioral and emotional regulation. Empathy and the ability to read others’ intentions and their feelings live here too. We are said to have “social brains.” Our social brains have served us well, but right now, for our own physical protection, we need to pull apart.

For some folks, hanging on the couch and watching Netflix, finally getting to that project, or reading all of the books is a welcome two-week “vacation.” Boredom may surface, and it may be an inconvenience to stay home, but for others the discomfort isolation brings is far more significant.

Some of us are really struggling in this time of social distancing. Extroverts are bouncing off of the walls, looking for their interacting fix. As much as introverts love to stay self-isolated and recharge alone, they still want and need their small groups too. And no matter what anyone’s personality profile, social isolation is consistent with depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. For those of us who already struggle with mental health disorders, those risks increase when our social support systems are taken away.

We benefit from social interaction with our support systems. A sense of community increases our happiness, accountability, and physical health. Our social circles give us a sense of purpose, improve our self-esteem, and help us cope with stressful situations.

We are living in a very stressful situation and yet many of our coping mechanisms are gone.

I am worried about the impact that loneliness will have on people as we are socially isolated during this strange and scary time—a time when, more than ever, we need the support of friends and the feel-good hormones that come with hugging and hanging out and laughing with the ones we love. I’m a little worried about me too.

I struggle with anxiety and depression from PTSD, and I am an addict in recovery. I rely on working out with others, volunteer work, and sober groups to keep me well. I am also queer and am an advocate for other LGBTQIA+ folks. Affirming churches, Pride centers, PFLAG meetings, and LGBTQIA+ youth groups at school are gone for those of us who need them most. My heart breaks for the extra layer of loneliness that have been added to already lonely folks. Add all of the worry and losses from the pandemic (childcare, school, work, money, health), and we have a very dangerous recipe for a social recession.

But here’s the good news: support is still available. We all just need to do a better job of checking in on each other while knowing it’s okay to reach out. Netflix has created a way for us to watch a movie with a buddy while miles apart. Skype and FaceTime chats are so important right now. Up your messaging game. Send more memes and photos.

But be aware that too much time on social media can add to anxiety and depression. Mute certain words or unfollow triggering accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Fill your Instagram feed with cute animals. And to keep yourself from looking at your phone every 30 seconds, set times with friends to meet up and check in.

If you can, take advantage of online meetings of the support groups or book clubs you are in. Tonight I joined a live yoga class taught by an instructor at the heated studio I normally attend in person, and it was exactly what I needed. I was by myself in my basement, set up with my mat and a small space heater, but 40 other people were also taking the class from their home. Six states were represented, and some of the folks taking class had kids or a partner nearby. It was the connection I needed. It was a piece of my old routine done in a new way that lifted my spirits. While so much is changing, I need to know some things are still available.

Our kids look for this too. My oldest is nine and the twins are six. They don’t like not knowing when school, sports, and playdates will resume. They miss their friends, but today I made sure they had ways to chat with their buddies via a kid-friendly app. They spent a very loud two hours talking and giggling with their buds. They sent emojis and videos and called and hung up on each other so they could quickly connect with someone else. It was loud and chaotic, but it was the connection they needed. Screen time is no longer just mindlessly watching cartoons or playing a video game; it’s asking friends what they did today and taking screenshots with goofy filters. It’s keeping an open line of communication and connection with the ones we love.

Many of the people who are most impacted by this isolation — people 65 years old and older and people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities — may not have technological abilities or access to technology. Phone calls, waves from windows, and deliveries of food and care packages that can be left on the doorstep will be keys to connection.

If you are someone who is able to work from home and who doesn’t mind the solitude or is more immune to it, then do your part and self-isolate. The great news about limiting your exposure to others means that in a time of need, you will be able to check in on the most vulnerable people who are not only at risk for getting infected with COVID-19 but are also at a greater risk for the negative impact of isolation. Yes, it’s a lot to carry, but consider yourself a super hero.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help you find counseling services where you live. Or call 800-662-HELP (4357).

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a group of counselors ready to help the LGBTQIA+ population. Or call 1-800-273-8255.

AA also offers online meetings.

Loneliness is not simply a complaint; it can lead to serious mental and physical health problems. Please know that you are not truly alone and that this situation is temporary.

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