Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

I am undermining my child's teachers... maybe

Monday, November 24, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA - Emerson's social studies teacher is probably exasperated by her at this point in the school year. Every time she comes home with a new event to share with me, it's like I just HAVE to tell her it's a big lie. I don't know what my freaking problem is.

It started in preschool, when she came home and cheerfully told me all about George Washington and the cherry tree.

"You know he probably didn't actually chop down a cherry tree, right, Emerson?" I asked.

Judging by the look on her face, she clearly did not.

We had a discussion about myths and legends, and then after much precocious logic from her 4-year-old brain, I conceded that it was possible that George Washington had, in fact, chopped down the cherry tree and told the truth about it. I am not trying to back her into an existential crisis. I just want her to think critically about things, and she did. So I conceded her point.

But I planted a seed of doubt. So over the years, she has sometimes asked, "Do you think that's true, or a myth?" And I would give her an honest answer. We struck down the Disney princesses pretty darn quickly, for example. Ha. Take that, patriarchy. But sometimes she tries to reason through things and comes to some questionable conclusions, like the idea that Einstein was somehow an evil scientist.

"Mom, we have homework about Columbus Day," she told me. "We have to write a poem, and answer these questions."

"Hmm," I thought. "What rhymes with 'genocide?'"

We got through the poem, but I decided that it was a perfect time to introduce to her the idea that what she's taught comes from a certain perspective.

"Em, you realize that Columbus didn't actually discover America, right?"

"I know," she sighed, sensing a lecture. "He discovered the Minican Public."

"The Dominican Republic?"

"Yeah, that," she glared at me. "But, mom, he might not have discovered America, but we still didn't even know the DOminican REpublic was there before he found it."

"Well... who's we?" I asked.

"America!" she snapped, exasperated. And then stopped, eyes widening. "Wait a minute! If he discovered America, then there weren't any Americans yet."

"Exactly," I said. "So, who's 'we?'"

"I don't know," she frowned.

"So you know where Europe is, right?" I asked. She frowned, so I explained, using language she knows. "It's like where England is, and Harry Potter, and your Aunt Natalya in Germany, and Paris, France, with the Eiffel Tower - and a bunch of other countries that make up the whole continent called Europe."

She brightened. "Oh! Yes! And Spain, where they speak Spanish! And... the country that has the trees that make the wine lids...?"

LOL! I had told her about the cork industry in Portugal after watching a segment about it on "CBS Sunday Morning."

"Perfect, yes. Okay, so you know what the word 'centric' means? It means like the focus of things. So, when you say 'we didn't know where it was,' you meant people from Europe. But we're not from Europe. So that's what's called a 'Eurocentric' point of view."

"But... so... wait... what else would the focus be on? We all came from Europe."

"But we didn't all come from Europe, did we? Is your friend, Rachel, from Europe? No. Is your friend, Eduardo, from Europe? Nope. And, the thing is, Emerson, is that we're not from Europe."

Her eyebrows went up. "Yeah, we're from America! But... wait, didn't our old family come from Europe?"

"Well, that depends. How far back do you want to go when you're talking about family?"

"A hundred years!" she crossed her arms at me, smugly.

"America. And some members of our family were Native Americans, who definitely were not from Europe."

"Okay, two hundred years."

"Still America."

This sent her reeling.

Two hundred years is an awful long time to a fourth grader. She mused for a moment.

"Five hundred years?"

"Some of our family is in Europe - in Ireland, to be precise, on my side. I don't know about your dad's side. But if we keep going all the way back to the beginning, where would we be?"

"Uh... I don't know."

"Well, if we keep following back and back and back, through all the families throughout human time, where do we start?" I asked.

"Uh... Europe?"



"Yep. The oldest human remains have been found in Africa. Right now, science thinks that is where humans started, millions of years ago. But let's back up a little bit. We already know there were people here when Columbus arrived, right?"


"So... how did he discover it, when it was already known?"

"But he discovered it for Europe."

"Ehhhh... there's actually some debate over that. Turns out that the Vikings may have been here first. And they're from Europe."

"The Vikings were super duper a long time ago! That's awesome!"

"Right? It is. They were master sailors, the Vikings. But... imagine this: Do you think there were explorers in other places? Like, maybe Asia?"

"Yeah! I bet there were! And maybe Africa, too! And maybe even the North Pole!"

Side note: My 9-year-old totally still believes in Santa Claus.

"Right. So... where are their stories?"

She frowned. "I don't know."

"So, the thing is, they all had their explorers and adventurers. But we don't hear about them. Because we focus on stories from Europe. But there are lots of other stories, from lots of other people. In fact, scientists think that a Chinese explorer might have actually been the first one to sail around the whole world."

"From China?! Oh my gosh! That's so freaking cool!"

"It is! Think about how many stories there are out there that you don't even know. And everyone has a story. Every country, every city, every person."

"So... wait. If Christopher Columbus didn't discover America, why do we say that he did?" she asked.

It's a great question. And it's where things could have gone off the rails. Well... further off the rails. I had a very tenuous control of this conversation.

"So, a couple of reasons. First, this is what people were told for a long time, before science knew it was different. And it takes a really long time to change textbooks," I said. "Second, we talked about how myths are powerful, and people believe them and pass them on. Everyone agrees to it. And changing everyone's mind at once is almost impossible."

She laughed. "I can't even get you to change dinner!"

LOL! She had not enjoyed my experimental dish the night before. Lesson learned.

"True," I sighed. "Sorry about dinner. But let's think about this for a minute. What was he trying to do?"

"Discover a way to India to get more spices."

"Okay. Did he do that?"


"What did he find?"

"Land? But not gold. His crew was upset they didn't find gold."

"And what did he take back to Europe with him?"

Her eyes widened. "Slaves."


"That's horrible. You can't own people. We don't even own Sweetiebelle, and she's just a cat."

I guffaw. Sweetiebelle has definitely trained us, and not the other way around.

"So, how could we celebrate a man who stole people and sold them as slaves? We couldn't, could we?"

"No," she said, sadly.

"Unless we made him out to be an amazingly great man. Like an explorer. Who discovered a whole new world."

She looked at me, with total seriousness. "So we... lie?"

"I wouldn't say they're lies. I'd say they're not the whole story. At the time he did it, they really did think he had discovered a new world. And many people really did think it was okay to own slaves. The important thing, though, isn't even whether or not he discovered America. The important thing is that you think about what you're learning. Just think about it. And ask questions."

"Okay... but mom?"


"I don't think I can put all that on my homework sheet. The question says: Who discovered America? What do I put? The Chinese guy?"

I put my head down on the table and laughed until I almost threw up. I may have taken her question too seriously. By a lot.

"Just put Christopher Columbus, Em. Respect what the teacher is telling you, and respect the teacher. But know that there's always more to the story."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

His wardrobe consists almost entirely of T-shirts and smarty pants

Thursday, November 20, 2014 By


Me: "Okay, I gotta run. I have a meeting in ten minutes."

R.H.: "Okay, then."

Me: "Ten minutes? No, 14 minutes. But I still gotta run."

R.H.: "Just not quite as fast."

Me: "... Dork. Bye."

R.H.: [too busy laughing to respond]

Monday, November 17, 2014

One boyfriend for sale

Monday, November 17, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - R.H. was coming over after work, so I cooked dinner. But I didn't have time to defrost and blah blah some fancyness, so I overcompensated for the lack of fancy by making a salad, Zatarain's jamabalaya, and a big pot of Greek lemon-chicken soup. The soup involved parboiling a chicken and making homemade stock, deboning that chicken, chopping vegetables,

"Mmm, this is good," he said. And I glowed with pride.

"It tastes like Campbell's chicken and stars."

Awesome. Three and a half hours of careful cooking, and I could have just opened a can.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I called looking for a doll and you'll never guess what happened next... actually, you probably will

Thursday, November 13, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA - My daughter has a very intense best-friendship. I love her little friend almost like my own child, and I'm glad the two of them have such a beautiful relationship. They're very caring and polite to one another, have a lot of fun, and make a lot of messes that they both help clean up. K recently turned 11, and I didn't have enough warning to order her gift online and have it arrive in time for her party.

I was desperate to find the doll she wanted. But I didn't realize it was a fool's errand. K latched onto Bratzilla dolls at a time when the company is apparently pulling them from the shelves, since they never did very well against Monster High dolls. I tried to find her the one she wanted, and couldn't. They're pretty much only on eBay. So I made a last-ditch effort to call around town to see if anyone had it.

A quick summary: Know what kind of customer service you can expect when you visit a retailer. For today's purposes, Target wins customer service, Walmart is pretty much what you expect. Toys R Us was a surprise. But if my experiences are indicative of the status quo, how the heck is Kmart even still in business?

Toys R Us, Wrightsboro Road

Number of rings before someone picks up: 4

TRU: "Thank you for calling Toys R Us. My name is L, how may I help you?"

Me: "Hi, L. My name is Stacey. My daughter's best friend is having a birthday, and I'm having trouble finding the doll she wants. I wonder if you might have it in stock."

TRU: "Sure, just a second and I'll look for you." [puts me on hold.]

Me [talking to no one, since I'm now on hold]: "But... I didn't tell you what the toy was..."

Total running call time: 5 minutes 27 seconds.

TRU: [picks up phone, puts phone back on hold again without acknowledging me]

Total running call time: 10 minutes 49 seconds

TRU: "Hi, ma'am, you were holding for the tablet, right?"

Me: "No, ma'am, I'm looking for the Bratzilla Meygana Broomstix doll."

TRU: "You're not holding for the tablet?"

Me: "No, ma'am, I never got a chance to tell the representative what I was looking for."

TRU: "So, what are you looking for?"

Me: "The Bratzilla Meygana Broomstix doll."

TRU: "What is it again?"

Me: "It's the Bratzilla Meygana M-e-y-g-a-n-a Broomstix B-r-o-o-m-s-t-i-x doll."

TRU: "Okay, let me check."

Me: "Thank you."

Total running call time: 13 minutes 54 seconds.

TRU [a new voice picks up the phone]: "Thank you for holding. What were you holding for?"

Me: "Um... The Bratzilla Meygana Broomstix doll?"

TRU: "Okay, hold please."

Total running call time: 14 minutes and 40 seconds.

TRU [first rep returns]: "Ma'am? We did check and we do not have that doll."

Me: "Thank you very much for checking. Have a nice day."

TRU: "You, too."

Total running call time: 14 minutes and 50 seconds.

Target - Evans location

Me: Number of rings before someone picks up: 4

Target: "Target Evans, may I help you find something?"

Me: "Yes, please, I'm looking for the Bratzilla Meygana Broomstix doll."

Target: "The - what? Is this a Bratz doll?"

Me: [laughing]: "Yeah, it's kind of a take-off of the Monster High dolls. It's super dumb, but my daughter really wants to get it for her friend's birthday."

Target: "Okay, let me check for you."

Total running call time: 3 minutes, 27 seconds.

Target: "Ma'am, I looked in our system, and none of the Bratz dolls are in it, so I don't think we have it."

Me: "You don't carry any Bratz dolls?" [My first indication that the dolls weren't being sold anymore.]

Target: "No, ma'am."

Me: "Wow, okay, well, thank you so much for checking."

Target: "You're very welcome."

Total running call time: 3 minutes, 36 seconds.

Target - Augusta Exchange location

Number of rings before someone picks up: 1

Target: "Target Evans, may I help you find something?"

Me: "Hi, thanks. I'm hoping that you might have the Bratzilla dolls."

Target: "Sure, one moment."

Target [apparently I was transferred, but the call was answered immediately]: "Toys, may I help you find something?"

Me: "Yes, ma'am, please. I'm looking for the Bratzilla Meygana Broomstix doll. Do you carry it?"

Target: "Let me check in the system. I am looking to see if we still carry the Bratz dolls, because I haven't seen any around in a while."

Me: "Thank you for checking."

Target: "Yeah, the system is showing that it is online-only. We don't carry them in the store."

Me: "Thank you for checking. Have a great day!"

Total running call time: 2 minutes 21 seconds.

Walmart - Bobby Jones Expressway

Number of rings before someone picks up: 2

Walmart: "Bobby Jones Walmart."

Me: "Hi, how are you?"

Walmart: "......"

Me: "... okay, I was hoping that someone could help me a find a particular doll. Do you have Bratzilla dolls?"

Walmart: "Toys doesn't have a phone. I'll have to transfer you to electronics. When they answer, ask them to get toys for you."

Me: "Yes, ma'am."

Number of rings before someone picks up in electronics: I lost count.

Electronics: "Electronics."

Me: "Hi, how you are?"

Electronics: ".... fine."

Me: "I was transferred, and they asked me to ask you to get toys on the phone."

Electronics: "Okay, one moment."

Total running call time: 2 minutes and 31 seconds.

Toys: "Hello?"

Me: "Hi, is this toys?"

Toys: "Yeah."

Me: "Hi, I was hoping you could help me find a toy. My daughter's friend wants a Bratzilla doll for her birthday, but I haven't been able to find any. Do you carry them?"

Toys: "Bratzilla?"

Me: "Yes, ma'am. They're a take-off of the Monster High dolls, but they're made by Bratz."

Toys: "Yeah, I know. But I don't think I do. Let me check."

Me: "Thank you very much."

Total running call time: 4 minutes and 27 seconds

Toys: "Ma'am? We had them at one time, but we don't anymore. Did you try online?"

Me: "Yes, ma'am, it looks like they may not be making them anymore."

Toys: "Yeah, I think the Monster High dolls kind of took over. But if you find one, you might set it aside, because it will probably be a collector's item in the future."

Me: "Okay, I'll keep that in mind, thanks!"

Toys: "You're welcome."

Total running call time: 5 minutes and 45 seconds, with a shout-out to Toys for their product knowledge and friendly advice.

Number of rings before someone picks up: 1

Walmart: "Thank you for calling Walmart. How may I direct your call?"

Me: "Hi, I was hoping to speak to someone in toys, please."

Walmart: "Just one moment please."

Total running call time: 3 minutes 7 seconds.

Walmart [picking up from hold]: "They comin', ma'am."

Me: "Oh, thank you."

Walmart [puts me back on hold]

Total running call time: 4 minutes 59 seconds

Walmart: "Electronics."

Me: "Oh, hi, sorry, I was holding for toys...?"

Walmart: "Whatcha need, I cover toys, too. And the photo lab."

Me: "Oh, gosh, that's a lot. Thanks for your help. I was looking for a Bratzilla doll. Do you happen to carry them?"

Walmart: "Bratzilla?"

Me: "Yes, ma'am. They're like Bratz and Monster High dolls put together. We're looking for Meygana Broomstix, but if you have any Bratz dolls, I'll take what I can get."

Walmart: "Okay, lemme go check."

Total running call time: 8 minutes and 5 seconds.

Walmart: "Ma'am? I only have one, it's the Switch a Witch doll, where you make your own. It's on clearance for $13."

Me: "Uhh... hold on one second, pretty please." (I do a quick Google search [total time, 15 seconds] "No, I don't think that's something she would want. But thank you very much for checking for me. I really appreciate it."

Walmart: "Alright, you have a great day. And good luck!"

Total running call time: 9 minutes 44 seconds.

Number of rings before someone picks up: 2

Kmart: "Kmart, this is S. How may I help you?"

Me: "Hi, S. My name is Stacey, and I'm looking for a doll. I was hoping Kmart might carry it. Can you help me?"

Kmart: "Sure, can you hold one second?"

Me: "Sure, thanks."

Total running call time: At an even 20 minutes, I hung up and tried again.

Number of rings before someone picks up: 11

Kmart: "Kmart, this is S. How may I help you?"

Me: "Hi, S., I called 20 minutes ago looking for a doll. I was placed on hold. No one ever picked up. Is there someone there who can help me?"

Kmart: "Sure, I can help you. What doll are you looking for?"

Me: "Thank you. I'm looking for the Bratzilla dolls? You may not have them. They seem to be out everywhere else."

Kmart: "Ooohhh.... I haven't seen any of those today, but let me go check for you."

Me: "Thank you so much."

Total running call time: 18 minutes and 33 seconds.

Kmart: "Who are you holding for?"

Me: "I long ago forgot. I was holding for someone who was looking for a particular doll."

Kmart: "And no one picked up?"

Me: "Well, I called and was put on hold for 20 minutes. Then I called back and -"

Kmart [interrupting]: "Let me get someone to help you."

Me: "I..."

Total running call time: 20 minutes 48 seconds.

Kmart: "Toys, how may I help you?"

Me: "Hi, I was hoping you might help me find a Bratzilla doll?"

Kmart: "Brat.... zilla?"

Me: "Yes, ma'am. Bratzilla."

Total running call time: 21 minutes, 23 seconds.

Kmart: "Hello, ma'am? We don't have any. We have a lot of the Monster High dolls, but no Bratzilla dolls."

Me: "Okay, thank you very much for checking. You have a great day."

Kmart: "You, too."

Total running call time: 21 minutes, 46 seconds.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Product Review: Campbell's Skillet Sauce Creamy Parmesan Chicken

Monday, November 03, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA - I got home last week and there was a huge box of stuff from #Campbells and #Crowdtap. Yesterday, during my usual Sunday cook-fest, during which I make a couple of dishes in advance for the week, I gave the Campbell's Skillet Sauce in Creamy Parmesan Chicken flavor a try.

I already had half a roasted chicken languishing unused in the fridge, so I just pulled it apart and heated it in the skillet with a little bit of olive oil. Then I poured in the sauce and brought it to a boil. It's supposed to be just that easy.

Then I took a bite...

Y'all. No. Do not do this to yourself, or to your family.

It was way too salty, and I could actually taste the preservatives. I don't know what their market research panelists told them, but it was entirely inedible.

I know it's difficult to offer tasty, high-quality, shelf-stable food, and I applaud Campbell's for their effort. The ingredients within the package include Dehydrated Whey, Disodium Phosphate, Yeast Extract, Sodium Phosphate, Anhydrous Milkfat, and two ingredients just nebulously titled "flavoring" and "enzymes." I don't usually worry about those kinds of things, but when these ingredients are the primary terroir, I cringe.

I set about trying to save it. Luckily, I had just gone to the grocery store. I simmered some garlic in heavy cream, with a dash of chicken consomme, and whisked it in with the Campell's Skillet Sauce and chicken. Much better. Actually, pretty good. Over pasta, it should work.

The thing is that these sauce pouches are supposed to be edible as they are. They are not supposed to need repair.

I can't review the other five sauces in their product line. But if the Creamy Parmesan Chicken is any gauge of their quality, steer clear. Unless you are the kind of person who likes to eat that nuclear orange fake cheese powder straight out of the can, it's not worth to pay $2 for a sauce you will just have to "fix" in your skillet - with another $2 worth of products you could have used to create your own delicious sauce, from scratch.

This being 'gourmet' cheese powder, maybe I underestimate its quality.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Five Worst Halloween Costumes

Thursday, October 30, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - Rather than recycle this post again, which seems unfortunately to have gained relevance, rather than lost it, I decided to stop my annual tirade and focus on a NEW annual tirade: That of stupidly offensive costumes.

Every ding-dang year, you see one. That guy. That guy who thinks he's being super clever or funny, but is really just being a big dummy. Now, there's nothing in the law that says you can't be a big ol' ball of stupid. Heck, there's nothing in the Ten Commandments that says you can't be a raging butt-head. No number 11 that says, "Thou shalt not do stupid things to get attention by annoying people."

But some people just don't get it. So I'm here to tell you that if what you're wearing tomorrow night falls within one of the following categories, you need to refer here for a quick costume change.

1. Blackface or Brownface - Let's start with what should be The Most Obvious Thing Ever. It does not matter if you are portraying an African-American character, and darkening your skin makes you look more realistic. It's racist, racist, racist. So cut it out. No, don't argue. No one wants to hear your condescending justifications. Just don't do it.

Alternate costume: Lucretia Mott or William Lloyd Garrison. Don't want to go historical? Just click here for a costume that lets you go as yourself.

2. ISIS or Al-Qaeda - OMG. No. First of all, you're dressing up as horrific mass murderers. Which... okay, it's Halloween. But these are horrific mass murderers of the relatives of people you know. Someone you know, in the country right now, has experienced the loss of a loved one due to the disgusting mess in the Middle East right now. In addition, there are  hundreds of thousands of members of the military - and former members of the military - who are walking around, in the dark, with their kids. Do you really want to trigger their PTSD? Finally, you're bastardizing the national/folk costume of millions of law-abiding, peace-loving people. Let's just be respectful, okay? Side note: Also don't dress as a school shooter. My god, are you a sociopath?

Alternate costume: You want to be a scary mass murderer? Maybe choose something a little more storybook, like the Headless Horseman. Want to insult the folk costume of a culture you don't understand? Go as a resident of Houyhnhnm. But just the hind end.

3. Ray Rice or Michael Brown or Adrian Peterson - There is nothing funny about domestic violence, police shootings, or child abuse. Nothing.

Alternate costume: An Olympic curler. No controversy. Just wear pants with a crazy print, carry a broom and crouch down and yell at things all night. See? You can still be obnoxious.

4. Ebola or A Mental Illness or An Eating Disorder - People live and die with these diseases. Be respectful. Other people's pain should not be your source of amusement.

Alternate costume: Bob Ross or Mister Rogers. Bring a little peace, empathy, and kindness into the world. Wouldn't it be nice to hand out postcard-sized paintings of happy trees all night?

5. Dead Celebrities - Look, Marilyn Monroe in her famous pleated white dress is something we all understand. It's not original, but it is iconic. Mrs. Doubtfire is a funny costume. But Mrs. Doubtfire with a noose around her neck? You suck.

Alternate costume: A black and white film star, or pop art cartoons. You clearly want to be someone famous. Make it fun.

Now go out there and make Halloween safe, fun, and a little less stupid.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This is the most shocking thing a child could ever say

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - Emerson and I went to the Jack‑O‑Lantern Jubilee last weekend. We brought her best friend, K., with us, and picked up two more munchkins while we wandered the festival site. T. is a nice girl whose mom is a good friend of mine. But I had never met J., a child who goes to school with Em. Let me tell you, this kid was hilarious. Smart, funny, articulate, good-natured. I have a problem with wanting to take everyone's child home with me, so naturally when T.'s mom took her home, I went to his mother and asked if he could attend Trunk or Treat with us that evening.

To my great surprise, having never met me before, she agreed.

"Are you sure? I could be an ax murderer," I joked.
"But you haven't murdered your child," she grinned.
"Well... not yet," I said. Uh... hee?


What a wonderful time they had, running around like little maniacs. I wrangled a random smorgasbord for dinner, which they barely touched, and then we rampaged through Trunk or Treat.

While there were lots of slapstick moments - because kids fall down, whaddaya gonna do? - the best part of the whole day was listening to them talk to each other in the backseat.

Emerson: "I'm a unicorn!"
K: "I'm a princess!"
J: "I'm a ninja!"
Emerson: "Wull, I'm an allicorn princess!"
K: "Well, I'm a gothic princess!"
J: "I'm a pedophile!"

SCREECH! Hold the phone. Do what?

The members of the backseat peanut gallery were too busy laughing their pants off to notice my shock. Apparently, that was the funniest thing that has ever been said in the entire history of fourth grade.

Me: "J., sweetie, are you sure you know what a pedophile is?"
J: "Uh.... no, not really."
Me: "It's like a really bad thing that you definitely don't want to be, honey. If you said that in a group of people other than this one, they'd think something was very wrong. You might even get in trouble."
J: "Oh....."
Me: "But you didn't know that, so don't stress about it."
J (brightening): "Okay! I'm a SUPER ninja!"

I made a mental note to mention it to his mother.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Product Review: steaz Organic teas

Monday, October 27, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - Having been raised in the South on Georgia table wine - AKA sweet tea, I have very specific ideas about what constitutes "good tea." That's Tetley, hot water, sugar, ice. The end. Away with your lemon slices and Lipton. What is wrong with you?

But Klout sent me a box of fair trade items to try, so I gave steaz teas a shot. I really enjoyed this tea. It was smooth, consistent, and lacked a preservative taste that I've come to expect from bottled teas. In addition, their teas are organic, fair trade certified, and American-owned

Best of all, I understand their ingredient list: Filtered water, organic evaporated cane juice, natural peach flavor, organic lemon juice, fair trade certified™ organic green tea. Ha. Didn't even need my three years of high school Latin to decipher that.

Still, I am not a big tea drinker. Most days, I drink a single diet cola (totally non-organic, not fair trade certified, and made of things I can't pronounce) in the morning, and water the rest of the day.

steaz has not changed my mind about that routine. First, they are selling tea in a can. That is just wrong. Second, that tea is $1.75 a can. So, already, there are two strikes against steaz.

However, steaz has created a little bit of magic. They made something peach-flavored that I didn't want to throat-punch. I mean, nothing with an artificial fruit flavor tastes like the fruit. But there is a hierarchy of yuck when it comes to artificial fruit flavors.

Top Five Worst Artificial Fruit Flavors

5. Cherry - Apart from the popular yet mostly ineffectual Luden's cough drops, nothing cherry flavored ever did anyone any good. Not even cough syrups. We just give Emerson honey, instead.
4. Melon - Tastes like peach, banana, and Windex mixed together. Sometimes you get strawberry-melon as a choice, and that must be what eating a Yankee candle tastes like.
3. Peach - Always ends up tasting like a hibiscus-banana hybrid. Yuck. Plus, now, thanks to the Internet, I can't think of peaches without thinking of this crazy lady.
1. Raspberry/Strawberry - One, raspberry flavoring tastes a little bit like fruit-flavored bile. Two, these fruit flavors (and vanilla) are achieved by milking a beaver's anal glands.

So while peach isn't The Worst artificial flavor, it's in the top five. As determined by me.

Again, I really enjoyed this tea. As I stated above.

Will I buy a $1.75 can of tea to drink every morning?


Will I buy a $1.75 can of tea to drink every once in a while?


But for those people who would do so, I highly recommend giving these teas a try. They really are super tasty. Even if they're in a can.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Six Things to Know About Children's Dance Classes

Friday, October 24, 2014 By

Turns out, The Carlton is not considered "classic dance."
AUGUSTA, GA - This week, I was quoted in "U.S. News & World Report." Although the reporter was great, the editing process seems to have skewed my contributions a teensy bit. That's okay. Answering the reporter's inquiry was a great opportunity for me to think about some things I have learned about children's dance lessons.

Emerson takes two dance classes a week - along with school chorus and the robotics club. Dance classes were Very Important to her dad's family. Her dad and her aunt both took ballet, so there was great pressure to enroll her. She was amenable, so we did so when she was four.

Let's just say it has been an adventure. I grew up playing Little League softball (badly) and participating on the swim team (eh, pretty well), so dance classes were new to me. There is a lot that I didn't know. How to make a ballet bun, for example. That took forever to get right.

So, for all you new dance moms out there, here are some things I have learned over the years.

1. Dance gear is cheaper at big box stores than at studios and specialty stores. 

Dance clothing is very expensive at the studios. And shoes are often close to $100 through the dance studios. In addition, dance studios often have to order the shoes, and my daughter once went six weeks into a class without the proper shoes, because we purchased through the studio and they didn't arrive on time.

Tights are $2 at Target. Leotards are $15 at Academy Sports. Tap shoes are $20 at Payless. Unless we're talking about pointe shoes, which require a precise fit and good quality, or unless it's recital time, and the studio requires a particular outfit, just go with what's cheapest. They're going to grow out of that size soon, and in the interim it's just going to end up stomped on the floor.

A friend was a professional ballerina. She confirmed for me that - unless your child is taking intensive, competitive dance for several hours each week, or they're dancing en pointe - there is almost no reason to invest in expensive shoes: "Just make sure ballet shoes are the real deal. You must purchase from a real dance store, or Payless actually sells a decent brand called ABT."

2. There is no "best" dance studio.

Dance and music studios have very different philosophies, and the right studio for your child may be different from the recommendations you get from friends. There is no "best" studio. Some studios focus on classical techniques. Some on performance. And some on competition. Are you looking for an intense experience, or recreation? Are you okay with "booty-shaking" 5-year-olds, or are you more conservative?

Don't be afraid to discuss your child's needs with the studio owners. So many of them just want to share their love of dance with children, and are happy to help you find a "dance home" for your child.

We originally had Emerson at a high-quality studio noted for its instruction in technique. But she was most excited about performances, which they almost never offered. So we moved her to a studio that offered that option.

Figure out which is right for your child. For me, if they treat my child like that woman on "Dance Moms," or just model that behavior in front of her... well, I can't say what is right for your child. But that would not fly with me.

3. Boys dance, too. 

And they love it. The most enthusiastic tapper in my daughter's class is an adorable little boy. He kicks everyone's butt. I love to see his big smile.

4. You do not have to drink the Dance Kool-aid. 

Dance moms, cheer moms, and sports moms can be an intense bunch of folks. They nitpick uniforms and performance outfits, have very specific opinions about hair bows, and bring what we can politely call a "competitive spirit" to the experience. That's their thing, and that's cool. But the conflict and drama are too much for me.

I do not hang out with them. Some of them judge me for it. And I am perfectly okay with that.

One friend, whose daughters are amazing competitive dancers (and people), told me that her daughter's team moms bought special jackets to wear at competitions. Like, satiny lettermen jackets with their daughter's names and dance studio name on them: "Olivia's mom, Augusta Dance Place." They tried to pressure her into buying one, too. "I'm not going to do that," she laughed. "That's just too much." And this is a woman who competed in pageants with an ocean of sequins and enormous hair as a child and teenager. If she says it's too much, I trust her judgment.

You also do not have to be comfortable with the outfits your studio chooses. Luckily, we've not had that issue with Emerson's dance studio. But some of them are just insane. Don't be afraid to speak up.

5. Your child's experience is the most important thing. 

My daughter's paternal grandmother pushed ballet on her for years, for the purpose of having bragging rights at the country club. Last year, my daughter began to push back, so we added hip-hop at a second studio. This year, we dropped the ballet studio altogether and moved her into styles that she values - tap and jazz. She's much happier. And her grandmother definitely has not stopped bragging.

6. Find a balance. 

We wanted our child to have something physical, something artistic, and something educational. What those things were, however, we let her explore and decide. Right now, she's very happy. But she's disappointed that we didn't also let her play violin. We didn't want her activities to impact her grades. Perhaps next year.

Balance is key to making sure that a child gets the most out of his or her experiences. And it helps them to prioritize what they value most. Mostly, though, I think they should just enjoy their childhood. I hope Emerson is enjoying hers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Product Review: Dang Coconut Chips

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - So, as you all know, I sometimes get new products to try. I have yet to be paid to write a review, and I'm in no way obligated to write one. But I like to, so here goes another one. sent me a box of various +Fair Trade Certified items to try.

That's good groceries, right there. I'm going to be certain to eat all of that right up, you can be sure. But I saw the dang [sic] coconut chips, and almost dove in headfirst.

You should know that coconut is A Thing for me. I love the taste and texture and smell - even the overly sweet, pungent odor on the beach is pleasurable to me. Part of my adoration is its exoticism. Part of it is my amusement that coconuts are more vicious than sharks. Seriously, y'all, when there is an amusing statistic or story behind something, I will develop an unnatural affection for that item. It's just how I am.

But the biggest part of my love for coconut is the memory of the Best Cake Ever. My great-grandmother, Mama Ida, used to make a coconut layer cake from scratch whenever we'd visit. Of course, everything on her table was amazeballs. Fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes. But that coconut cake sat on her cake stand on a nearby shelf and taunted me the entire meal. No cake has ever lived up to it. Mainly because the flavor of the cake is shrouded by a veil of childhood memories long since filtered into postcard nostalgia.

However, these little morsels of joy from dang come close to satisfying my desire for it.

Vincent Kitirattragarn is the founder of the company. Coconut chips are apparently a big snacky thing in Thailand, which is from where the mother of the company's founder hails. His mother's name? Dang. The website says:

Dang is named after my mother, who grew up eating food from some of the best chefs in the world: Bangkok’s street vendors. One day, she passed on her recipe for Thai Lettuce Wraps just like she used to have as a college student. I found myself involuntarily snacking on one of the ingredients - Toasted Coconut. It had a strong, sweet aroma and a very satisfying crunch. I immediately called my family, who have been importing goods to the US for more than 30 years, and with that, our company was born.

Vincent took the coconut chips and turned them into a snack of their own. And then the big jerk went and coated them in dark chocolate.

That's all lovely, you say. But how do they taste?

Psh. Awesome. Of course. The earthy, bittersweet, smooth chocolate perfectly pairs with the delicate, sweet, dense, fibrous coconut chips. The bite-sized pieces are a satisfying chew, with a pleasant grind and slight squeak in the teeth.

The company sells several other flavors of coconut chips: plain, lightly salted, caramel sea salt, and Greek yogurt-coated. dang foods provides a free recipe book for download.

Best of all, this is an American company, certified fair trade, and the product contains just four ingredients: Coconut chips, dark chocolate, tapioca dextrin, and confectioners glaze.

A word to the wise, however: coconut meat is a powerful laxative. Snack wisely. Don't be like the people caught unaware by sugar-free Gummy Bears.