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

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.

Klout.com 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.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The 25 Thoughts You Have While Checking Your LinkedIn Connection Requests

Monday, October 20, 2014 By



1. Ooh, new connection requests! Yay!

2. Wait, I thought I'd already contacted everyone on my contacts list about connecting on LinkedIn.

3. Eh, I have a lot of contacts. Maybe I missed some.

4. Who's this?

5. Who's that?

6. I don't know half these people who have requested that I connect with them. No disrespect, but this is LinkedIn, not Twitter. It's for professional networking, so we should probably be in each others' general circles.


7. Who is this? Do I report this person for trying to connect with me when we don't know each other?

8. No. That's a douche move. Maybe I'll meet this person later. I'm sure I will find him/her to be lovely.


9. This person is a director of sales, so we might have a lot in common.

10. Oh. For a car dealership. That means you're going to try to sell me a car. I have a car. Rejected. Sorry.

11. And here's one from an insurance agent I've never met. You're going to try to sell me insurance. Rejected. No offense.

12. And here's someone else I don't know whose entire LinkedIn profile consists of 6 months running a home-based multi-level marketing business. Rejected aaaaaaaand.... reported.


13. Doesn't anyone I know want to connect?

14. Here's another one I don't know.

15. And another one.

16. Ugh! Reject, reject, reject, reject - wait...

17. Oh! I know her! I worked with her, like, 15 years ago!


18. No, wait, she was horrid to me. Nevermind.

19. Psh! I can't believe she'd try to connect with me. The nerve...

20. Oh, she lost her job and is looking for a new one... (sigh) Okay, fine. But I still don't like you. Accepted.


21. Hey! This person works where I work!

22. But so do 12,999 other people. And I don't know 12,990 of them.

23. Do I accept her request?

24. Eh, why not. Accepted.

25. Sooooo.... one. One nebulously connected person out of the 20 connection requests.




Friday, October 17, 2014

You know you should go to the Big Mo

Friday, October 17, 2014 By


AUGUSTA, GA. - The photo above is the main screen at The Big Mo in Monetta, S.C. It's about 45 minutes from Augusta, and about 30 minutes from Aiken, S.C. Doesn't look like much, does it?

You shut your mouth! The Big Mo is my new obsession.

As a movie lover, I'm always looking for a great experience. IMAX was an exciting development, but I am priced out of that market. Plus, most screens that claim to be IMAX (Augusta Regal Cinemas, I'm talking to your very disappointing selves) aren't what you imagine when you think of IMAX, which is this:



Stadium seating is nice, but how much you can enjoy it depends on the behavior of the other 200 people stuck in a black box with you. Let's face it, the theater experience is not always great. It's so claustrophobic. I never know what to do with my arms and legs. Who gets the arm rest? How much reclining can I do? When can I get up and go to the bathroom without irritating the people around me? Why is that baby crying? Wait a minute - are we on a plane

Plus, I don't want stupid day-old popcorn. I want real food. 

Essentially, all the modern trappings of movie-going have done nothing but make me want to go to the movies even less.


Well, here come our grandparents to save the day. Because The Big Mo, a drive-in that originally opened in 1951, deals with all of these quandaries, and more.



First of all, the people around you are there to chill. No one is going to get on your nerves. If they do, you are probably being a little grumpy, do dial it back, Gramps. Kids can run around and play before the movie - see the playground in the top photo above? Adults can get up and stretch their legs whenever they want.

Second, you can design your seating in whatever way makes you comfortable. Some people park their car and watch the movie from their regular seats. We bring camp chairs, like a lot of folks. But I've seen kids chilling on inflatable couches, teenagers lounging in the back of mini vans with stadium blankets, and even a family snuggling together on an air mattress on the grass, complete with a quilt and pillows. I'll admit it: I was kind of jealous of them. But Emerson and I watched part of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" from the top of the playground set. That was pretty awesome, too.


Third, the Big Mo's concession stand serves everything from cotton candy to mozzerella sticks. And it's all reasonably priced and pretty darn good. We got a half-pizza for $7. Hot dogs are $1.75. Cheeseburgers are $3.50. Plus Emerson wanted boiled peanuts, because she's crazy for them, so that was $4, but not a customary expenditure. Still, other families brought in their own food in picnic baskets. Some folks in a pick-up truck behind us were enjoying plates of pulled pork barbecue. Heck, yeah.


Finally, at $8 per adult and $4 per child, for a double-feature, the price of admission is more competitive than big box theaters. We last went Oct. 10. "Alexander" was in its first week of release, and the second film was "Guardians of the Galaxy." The Big Mo really knows how to pair movies for families.

Bonuses: The theater was recently given a grant from Honda to digitize their projection system, making them able to bring newer movies to their three screens. And they even have a loyalty card, called the Frequent Star Gazer Card.



Because when you're not looking at the screen, you'll be gazing at the sky.









Thursday, October 16, 2014

And here's where I lose about ten friends.... sorry.

Thursday, October 16, 2014 By


AUGUSTA, GA. - Someone I love sent me an email recently. That email, which I should have deleted the moment I saw "FW:" in the subject line, has stuck in my craw, as we say in the South. It was an email that said, essentially, that Newsweek magazine was out of business, now. But before they closed, the editors printed a take-down of President Barack Obama so passionate as to shake the very foundations of his support.

A simple check of Snopes revealed it as the hokey propaganda I knew it to be: http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/affirmative.asp

But that wasn't the only thing that clued me in that it was not worth the rise in my blood pressure to read it...

First, Newsweek is still in business.



Second, this piece was never published by a reputable news organization - no matter how much the website 
American Thinker wants to be regarded as one. It's really just a news aggregater.



For this particular piece of propaganda to work on an audience, it
must be couched as a surprising about-face from an organization that Obama-opponents would say supports him - which is anyone and everyone who doesn't diametrically oppose him, of course. The reason it needs to be framed in such a way is because not once in the article does it provide citations for a single claim. Not once does it provide a link or an academic citation to an unbiased third-party source. And all the writer had to do was pull up the Wikipedia article on the man. Even this site cites every claim it makes.



Finally, the lack of citations aren't even the worst part of this piece. The worst part of this piece is the reason that there are no citations: Because it's full of lies.



I won't get into every falsehood, because I just don't have the time. But a good example is this claim: "There is no evidence that he ever attended or worked for any university or that he ever sat for the Illinois bar." There is plenty of documentation and photographic evidence for Barack Obama's birthplacelaw school graduation, and university career. I can't immediately find evidence that he sat for the bar exam, but he does hold a license to practice law, which requires a bar exam passing score, so I would deduce from his license that he did. Not that he needs to pass the bar or have been a practicing attorney to be president.

Look, there are plenty of reasons to deride Obama's presidency. Escalation of military intervention in North Africa and the Middle East. The cluster-mess of compromise that is the Affordable Care Act (although I still think it has improved many lives and put insurance companies on notice). And his administration's failure to prosecute the robber-barons who caused the housing and banking collapses.




But there are plenty of reasons not to hate him. Job growth has improved. The auto industry was saved and improved. Expanded hate crime laws now include sexual orientation.



The fact is that it's easier for people to put their hands over their ears (and eyes) and say, "lalalalalalalalala I can't hear you" than it is for them to argue impactfully against policies with which they disagree. That's unethical and just poor sportsmanship. 
Being angry that your party lost or that policies you don't like are being enacted is no excuse for flat-out lying.



Deal with the political process. In American politics, the ends of an election, policy implementation, or legislative action cannot justify the means. Because the very idea of democracy is based on the means

Let's all hope the country does better in the next 8 years. But for the country to do better, we all have to do better as individuals. Let's start by being honest.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This post contains explicit material

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 By



AUGUSTA, GA. - Emerson and I were at the Dollar Tree this weekend, getting a new pooper scooper, because Emerson somehow misplaced ours. Which is as disgusting as it sounds.

In the toy section, Emerson saw a ball. And with her typical impression of Foghorn Leghorn, she said, "Scented balls? What are scented balls? Mom, do you know anyone who has scented balls?"


Emerson only has three volumes:

  1. Dear God, What is The Emergency?
  2. Attempt at Whispering That Sounds Like a Normal Volume
  3. Sleeping

She was in emergency mode. I wish I could say I was cool, but I had to walk away for laughing.



When I walked away, covering my hysterical giggles with my hand, she followed me, basically hollering the same set of questions. I had to choke out, "Please stop saying scented balls."

Mistake. She's almost 10, and we've had several co-ed puberty talks, and she thinks the whole dang thing is hilarious. Apparently, every normal body part and function on an adult is just the funniest thing ever. There's no hierarchy. They're ALL The Funniest Thing Ever.

And when I said that, she got it. And fell on the ground belly laughing. I tried to hush her, because her laughing is approximately the same volume as an ambulance siren. But that just made her laugh harder. I walked to the other end of the aisle, so I could still see her, but perhaps my mortification would be far enough removed that it would no longer amuse her so much.



And it worked. She caught up with me a minute or two later, still grinning so wide her face might have cracked, and still chuckling. But calm enough that I didn't feel the need to gag her.

"Sorry, Mama. That was just so funny!"

"Mmm..." I refused to comment, and resumed shopping. Then I heard it.

"sssssssscenteeddddd baaaaaaaaallllllsssss....[snort][chortle]"

She followed me around the store, whispering the phrase over and over. Needless to say, it was the fastest shopping I've ever done.



She collapsed into a fit of belly-laughing in the car, while I tried to keep a stern look on my face.

"Doodle, I understand that you think that's funny, but it's really more of a private funny. Not something to share in public," I chided her.

Her eyebrows shot back on her forehead in dismay. "But, mom, that's why I was whispering!"



Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Product Review: Dr. Scholl's Dream Walks

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 By


I would say that the above photo pretty much sums up my experience with high heels. I own probably 10 pairs of various kinds of heels - sandals, boots, pumps. And I might wear them once a year. I hate heels. Hate them. Didn't wear sparkly heels to any of my Major Life Events. Don't plan on doing so in the future. 

You know why? Because heels hurt. They hurt a lot. I don't see why that should even be a thing that women do to themselves. 

Now, I have had a few pairs of comfortable heels. They had no more than two inches in height, did not narrow to a pinpoint on which I was expected to balance, and were generously cushioned.

Unfortunately, they also seem to be as elusive as Bigfoot. ... Well, slightly less elusive than Bigfoot, as I've owned three or four comfortable pairs of heels, and approximately zero Bigfoots. Bigfeet? I don't know. Anyway.

All I want to be able to do is enjoy the air of professionalism and the illusion of height that accompanies wearing heels. My footwear is, I think, quite professional. But something in my closet just screams that I've totally given up. And I had.

Now... a ray of hope. 

Dr. Scholl's was kind enough to send me a sample pair of Dr. Scholl's Dream Walks (like, three months ago - I am soooooo late!). They are high heel insoles "clinically proven to help prevent foot pain" made from a "wicking fabric designed to keep feet dry" for all you unfortunate foot-sweaters - and hikers, I guess, who prefer to visit nature dressed like you're going to the club. 


Packaging features a lot of pink, of course. Because us ladies are stupid,
and wouldn't know we are allowed to wear things if they aren't slathered
in the Official Color of Womanhood - amiright, ladies?!



Close up of the packaging. Nothing particularly exciting
about the package, 
except that it's not one of those made of the
plastic you have to use a can opener to get into.



These are my trusty black leather pumps. Everyone has a pair like these, right. Eh, probably yours are cuter than mine, because my friend, Lisa, says I have no cute shoes. So I assume everyone else but me is winning the footwear game. I want to be able to wear these, if nothing else. They are sturdy. They match ALL THE THINGS. But they freaking hurt my feet.


Wearing the inserts actually helped. I made it through an entire work day. My feet hurt by the end, but most of the day was fine. Well, I did hurt myself, but that's because I slipped and almost fell. I can't blame that on the Dr. Scholl's Dream Walks.

So, while they were generally effective, there are some shortcomings:

  • First, these aren't gel inserts. They're really just extra-cushy versions of the same old shoe inserts you can get at any drug store or super center. So they don't work as well as they could work, if they were made of more forgiving materials.
  • Second, they didn't prevent all pain. I still winced as I flat-footed around the house at home, thankful (for the first time) that my home is carpeted. 
  • And, finally: Unless you have a very narrow foot, Dr. Scholl's Dream Walks don't cover the entirety of the insole of the shoe, which results in pressure against a an unusual part of your foot, and feeling like the insole is slipping under the arch of the foot.



See? It only covers about 60 percent of the real estate inside my shoe. I want it all, Dr. Scholl's. Give it to me.

Frankly, if Dr. Scholl's would just make women's work shoes - like Doc Marten did - we could skip all this runaround and just buy shoes that are comfortable in the first place. I owned Docs in the 90s, like everyone, because we were super original. All of us. Owning them was almost a requirement to graduate high school. Unfortunately, before I entered college, some jerk had stolen my Docs so I just bought some $20 surplus Army boots. Yeah. Who's real, now, grunge scene? Thrift store clothes and $150 boots - what's that even about?

Incidentally, Doc Marten only makes one pair of heels - which I would actually buy, if they weren't $140 and I didn't have to walk into pretentious stores teeming with Millennials to find them.

Anyway, here's the summary: Dr. Scholl's Dream Walks are really nice if you suffer from mild to moderate foot pain while wearing heels; and if you either have tiny, narrow feet - or you don't mind the feeling of walking around on shifting pool floats all day long.

Frankly, it felt a lot like this.

But for $7.99, and a recommended lifespan of six months, they are a good enough value for you to give them a shot. Also, here is a coupon for $2 off!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I'm sorry, Winnie Cooper

Thursday, October 02, 2014 By




Me: "She has a degree in theoretical mathematics, or... something."

R.H.: "So... she has a degree in pretend?"

Me: "...Oh. My. God."

R.H. (grinning): "I mean if you have a theoretical degree, do you even have a degree?"

Me: "You are a dork."