Monthly Archives: May 2014

Hey Adriana! Can we go thrift shopping? Whut whut whut whut

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I am a bit of a thrift store aficionado. I can tell you the pros and cons of at least five different Seattle Goodwills and another three Value Villages. On any given day fifty to ninety percent of my clothing is used. I hand out Fossil wallets like Oprah because I just keep finding them.

A lot of people I meet say they have never had any luck at thrift stores and are astonished to find out that most of my clothing is, in fact, used. I get a lot of semi-serious requests to come along on shopping trips to share my mojo. As much as I wish my mere presence made pretty dresses magically appear, it’s really about certain habits.  I have to clear through a lot of junk in one sitting to find that diamond in the rough.

1. The “touch” test. 
Do the rows of knit short sleeve shirts seem to go on for miles? The easiest way to scan through miles of clothing racks quickly is to go by touch. Pull out what feels good. This is going to eliminate a lot of clothes that you wouldn’t be interested in wearing because they’re uncomfortable, and some cool-looking ones you might buy, but would never wear. By feel you can often learn the wear on the item, the quality, it’s purpose and more.

2. Try to get an idea of how clothes will fit by sight.
When I was a wee tween, I could not figure out jeans. I would try on five million pairs in five million different sizes as my body changed, and the hope of finding something mildly stylish that would stay on my butt while covering my ankles dwindled. Then one day I let my mom help. She gave me three pairs and all three fit. I was astonished and asked her how she did it–and she told me she just looked at the cut of the jeans before the size. I started studying my jeans and shirts to see how certain cuts fit better than others on my body. Get an idea of the length of the waistband. Look at the space between the back pockets to  see the size of the seat. Check the length of your favorite shirts. Looking at what fits you now can help you instantly eliminate things that won’t work. Since, at a thrift store, you’re looking at clothes from so many different companies, sizes mean less than they would in a department store or fashion boutique.

3. Don’t be afraid to modify.
I’m not talking major tailoring or completely reassembling clothing, but you can make simple changes to alter the look of an item. Blazer a little too ’80s? Consider cutting out the shoulder pads. That cool dress make you look like a sack of potatoes? Play with its shape; see if pulling it in at the waist (like a tie in the back would do) could make it more form-flattering. Tack on ribbons or a cord to add a tie. Don’t sew? Pair it with a belt!

4. Always, ALWAYS check the washing instructions.
If you know you’re never going to dry clean anything, make sure the item you are buying isn’t dry clean only (or, if it is, consider whether it is worth the money to try washing it and seeing if it holds up). This leads nicely into the next rule which is…

5. Don’t buy it unless it’s just right.
Cool fabric but it doesn’t fit quite right? Gorgeous dress but it’s made out of half inch thick polyester and you sweat enough to fill a small kiddie pool? Don’t go for it. I have made this mistake a billion times where I think an item is cool enough to overcome its faults. It usually isn’t, then you don’t wear it, and then you donate it right back.

6. You can pull off more than you think.
One thing I’ve found over the years is that a lot of items that I thought I might not be able to pull off because they were just a little too bold, odd, or out of fashion, were some that I got the most compliments on. If you think you look good in it, and you think you will wear it, go for it!

Happy thrifting!


Adriana is a microbiologist and aspiring medical illustrator in Seattle, Washington. She enjoys backpacking, hiking, belly dancing and wandering around Goodwills. She lives with her cat Melisande Shahrizai and her fiancé, whom she looks forward to marrying in a second-hand dress.

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Very Specific Book Recs: Bringing up babies

Throughout human history, all over the world, babies have started out life pretty much the same – slimy, squishy, and totally unable to take care of themselves.  Whether their first moments are in a sterile operating room or a tent with a dirt floor, newborns want to be warm, full, and snuggly.  But from that first breath onward, the way adults perceive and treat children varies tremendously between cultures.  As a nanny, I love reading about childrearing practices of all types – it’s a good reminder that there’s no “right” way to raise a child!  Here are some of my favorite books and movies for the baby-crazed.


Babies ‘round the world

12470851How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood

What it’s about: A journalist and mom combines personal experiences with research to cover childrearing practices from a variety of world cultures.  It’s a quick read with lots of anecdotes about babies all over the world.

Read this for: An overview of styles without any preaching.

Don’t read this if: You’re looking for something comprehensive or scholarly.

 

 

 Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman13152287

What it’s about: An American mom raising her young daughter in France discovers the significant differences between parenting styles in each county.  Interestingly, the common French methods fall well into line with RIE or respect-based parenting, but the French parents Druckerman talks to don’t see their parenting as following any specific philosophy.

Read this for: A personal exploration of French and American parenting styles

Don’t read this if: You’ll be offended that she has strong preferences and opinions about the two philosophies.

 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein8565083

What it’s about: Raising girls in an era of “princess culture.”  Orenstein discusses the Western focus on pretty pink princesses, early sexualization, advertising to children, and the negative effect on girls. This is easily my favorite book on the list, possibly my favorite nonfiction book of any sort, and I wish every American parent and caregiver would read it!

Read this for: A very readable feminist smackdown.

Don’t read this if: You are fiercely loyal to Disney.

 

Babies, then and now

15594 A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

What it’s about: A biography of an 18th century New England midwife by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (author of the now-famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”).  Martha Ballard kept a daily record of her life and work as a Maine midwife and nurse for nearly 30 years, and, amazingly, the diary has survived to the present.  It gives a remarkable look into the untold history of women’s lives in an era defined by men’s political actions.  There’s an associated PBS documentary which I recommend as well.

Read this for: A scholarly historical work.

Don’t read/watch this if: You are looking for a light, quick read, since it’s long and quite dense.

 

 6114607The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

What it’s about: A memoir of a midwife in 1950’s London – this is the book and the woman that the popular British TV show Call the Midwife is based on.  Worth was a district nurse and midwife in one of the poorest areas of post-war London, delivering babies in often miserable conditions before the advent of birth control or hospitalized birth.

Read this for: A world of bicycles and babies that will make you want to join a convent.  Then watch the TV show!

Don’t read/watch this if: You are easily grossed out by birth, blood, or grime.

 

Bonus! documentary

Babies (2010) babies-documentary

What it’s about: A documentary that follows 4 babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia and Namibia for their first year of life.  It’s entirely footage of the babies, and the simplicity of the format emphasizes the differences in parenting and the similarities in the babies themselves.  You might be surprised at which practices you identify with!

Watch this for: The babies.  Duh.

Don’t watch this if: You will be bored by the lack of narration or plot.

 


Stellata is an infant/toddler nanny living in Washington, DC.  When she’s not baby-wrangling, she loves baking, handcrafts, reading, and museum-hopping.  Online, she is on the Sheroes Blog editorial team and serves as the Sheroes Central rep to the Board of Directors.  Her book blog can be found at The TBR Shelf.

 

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A Faith of Flesh and Blood: An argument for visceral Christian art

Three years ago, at a high school art show, my teacher used masking tape to cover the genitals of the nudes in one of my paintings.  Other students had nude figures in their work, but mine were nude Madonnas, represented dancing, in youth, maturity, and old age, as a parallel with the threefold Goddess.  My teacher told me that she had gotten complaints from several parents; not only had I represented a holy figure “naked and profane,” but she had body hair, sagging flesh, and wrinkles; she wasn’t even a “pure and classical nude.”  It seemed contradictory to me that, in a religion characterized by the humanity and mortality of the main protagonist, the corporeality of aging human flesh could be seen as unacceptable. Christian imagery has always been harshly regulated; it’s run the gamut from the sincerely faith-driven to the blatantly politically oppressive, and all conventional critiques of the institution of the Church apply here.  As with all regimes, art has always played a vital role in the propagation of all the most oppressive aspects of the misogynistic, imperialistic Christianity under which so many have suffered.   This statement functions as a sort of disclaimer, in that the history of Christian imagery, in all of its complexities, is an ocean of study and thought unto itself, and this essay barely skims the surface of those murky and vibrant waters.  As an artist and activist who is also a Christian, and not as a theologian, I’d like to discuss my problem with the insistence on a pristine Christian iconographic tradition.

"Madonna of Choice" by Katherine Cavanaugh
“Madonna of Choice” by Katherine Cavanaugh

In his painting Death of the Virgin, Michelangelo di Caravaggio, a 16th-17th century Italian artist, modeled the dead Madonna after the corpse of a pregnant prostitute who was infamously murdered by drowning and publicly pulled from the Tiber river. The church that commissioned it rejected the piece; the parish objected to the model and to the idea of a bloated cadaver as the holy Virgin.  Official Church doctrine denied the Madonna any bodily humanity; according to those who would see real women condemned for corporeal functions, the Madonna, an “ideal” woman, did not suffer the pain of childbirth or the indignity of an actual bodily death.  Taboos on the mortality of Mary have their roots largely in misogyny; however, Caravaggio was also criticized for giving his holy figures in other paintings characteristics of real life, such as dirty feet.  Social insistence on a pristine Christian iconography, and on a refusal to embrace the Christianity of flesh and blood, has ostracized important expressions of Christian art up to the present day.

"Death of the Virgin" by Michelangelo di Caravaggio
“Death of the Virgin” by Michelangelo di Caravaggio

For example, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” of 1987, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine and blood, caused knee-jerk public outrage.  Few seemed to consider the beauty of the photograph and the possible commentary on the beauty of God’s grace through Christ manifested in the most primal of moments, present in all the messiness and pain of living.  Likewise, Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin displays an intrinsically Christian compassion toward the murder victim; by modeling the Virgin on her, Caravaggio relates her suffering to that of the Madonna, and underscores the humanity of both.

"Piss Christ" by Andres Serrano
“Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano

As recently as last year, Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture of Jesus destitute and sleeping on a park bench, recognizable only by the stigmata (the marks of nails on his hands and feet), was rejected by several major American cathedrals (though it was eventually welcomed to the Vatican by Pope Francis).  It seems that many Christians still resist the immediacy of Jesus’ message; we don’t want to remember the desperate, sticky, painful, primal moments when we experienced grace, and we don’t want to acknowledge that we belie our faith every time we fail to see Jesus in all other messy, struggling humans, including those we would rather forget, including ourselves.

"Jesus the Homeless" by Timothy Schmalz
“Jesus the Homeless” by Timothy Schmalz

I actually think that discovery of holiness in the profane is what has made Christianity such an enduring story.  My faith is woven into my mortal flesh, into all my fears and desperations.  When I paint, I try to express this grace. The most compelling expressions of God’s grace come from art of all disciplines, and regardless of how such art is received by mainline ideology, it’s how I come back, again and again, to the beating heart of my faith.

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Katherine Cavanaugh studies painting at the Rhode Island School of Design; when she’s not doing that, she reads, sorts mail, and answers a domestic violence hotline.  She’s currently abroad in Rome, Italy.

 

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When authors change the story

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Not too long ago, JK Rowling, beloved author of the even more beloved Harry Potter series, confirmed that hindsight is, indeed, 20/20. In an interview for the February/March 2014 edition of Wonderland magazine conducted by Emma Watson (the acclaimed actress who played Hermione Granger in the eight-part Harry Potter film series), Rowling revealed that, if given her druthers, major supporting characters Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley would not have ended up as a romantic couple. Even worse, she went so far as to suggest that Hermione might have been better off paired with the main man himself, Harry Potter.

Putting aside both the fact that this is straight-up blasphemy to Harry Potter lovers worldwide, and the fact that speaking of a kick-ass female heroine in terms of which one of the boy-heroes she should’ve married undermines her important role in the series, there are other, more philosophical reasons why Rowling’s opinions on the matter are irrelevant.

The furor over this situation in the world of Harry Potter fandom brings up really interesting questions about the nature of literary characters and of literature itself, as well as an author’s authority over his or her own works of literature. Is an author always “right” about his or her characters? Can characters exist outside of their text? They are born in an author’s mind, but are they really brought to “life,” so to speak, until they are published and read?

If the answer to the latter question is “no,” as I think it must be (for example, Hamlet would no more exist in the literary canon if Shakespeare hadn’t been widely read and published than the crush I wrote about in my diary at age 12), then, by the same token, characters are contained, or “live,” wholly within the published works in which they feature. What an author says or thinks outside of those works amounts to nothing whatsoever. For example, imagine John Green saying, twenty years for now, “It’s okay, fandom. Ansel Elgort Augustus Waters actually lives.” Do we reinterpret our understanding of The Fault in Our Stars based on the author’s opinion of his own work?

Of course not. While the above is an extreme example, it demonstrates that if authors hold an incorrect opinion about their own books, they’re not granted any more “rightness” than anyone else just because of their relationship to the material. Once a piece of literature exists, its interpretation is passed into the hands of its readers. An author’s opinions may be considered secondary or tertiary or completely irrelevant when it comes to an interpretation. Like any other reader, an author may correctly or incorrectly analyze a given work, even if that work is his or her own creative property.

So when Rowling says that Hermione and Ron might not have worked out together after all, even though there is an (admittedly poorly written) epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that says that they did, readers are rightfully infuriated. Their vital role in the conversation between text and reader is being ignored, while Rowling is failing to take up her proper place as a reader like anyone else. However, it should soothe readers to realize, even if Rowling doesn’t, that as a reader, she is just as susceptible to wrong or unsupported interpretations of her own text as anyone else.

Harry Potter is finished (as much as it pains me to admit it). Not just finished, but edited, published, and offered for sale in both physical and digital versions. Had Rowling still been drafting the novels at the time of the Wonderland interview, her opinion on the matter would have the utmost importance, and she could have gone home and rewritten the scenes that so clearly demonstrated Hermione and Ron’s growing attraction and affection for one another. However, given that the complete series has been available for public consumption since 2007 (and new paperback editions with gorgeous cover art were just released in August 2013), the content of those books are now outside her control.

Then again, Rowling owns her characters and she can do whatever she wants with them by asserting her absolute authority in published writing that reaches a widespread audience as an obvious continuation of the series. While her interview comments are irrelevant, readers should beware: she could always wave her magic wand and conjure up a new novel in which Hermione and Ron divorce and split their wizarding belongings between them.

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Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

 

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