Monday, December 28, 2015

Embracing Winter Break With Your Kids (Recipes Included!)

A typical start to my day:

"MAMA!" *crying/screaming/thumping/something crashes/more crying* "MAMA SHE WON'T GET UP!!"

"What? I am up!" *more thudding as oldest child proceeds to get up*

"NO! NO YOU DIDN'T!" *3-year-old whiny voice*

"I didn't do anything!" *9-year-old whiny voice*

"What in the H is going on? Why are you two fighting?" * 31-year-old whiny voice*

"I WENT PEE PEE IN MY UNDIES AND SHE WON'T TURN OFF THE RADIO!" *wailing*

Mind you, this is between 6 and 7 in the morning, while the sky is still dark and I'm stumbling around with crusty eyes, looking for something to put on so I don't die of pre-heat frostbite. It is far from the pleasant stretch, yawn, and slow beginnings of my youthful yesteryears. It is insanity, a scramble of getting booties on potties, sheets in the laundry, cereal into mouths, and of course, managing two children who want nothing more than to fight to the death.

So while I look forward to holidays and school breaks with visions of crafts, outings, and baking dancing in my head, I realize my only true break in the morning chaos is when my big girl gets on the bus to school and my little one is left to her own devices. Without that bus, I am toast. My ability to remain calm under pressure - diminished. My lofty visions of bonding time with my children - dashed. My eardrums - exploded. And for those reasons, winter break causes a weird sort of pressure to rise in my stomach....a combination of excitement and dread at what could be.....both exhilarating and terrifying.

So I've made a few adjustments this year.


#1: Relaxed Fun Time

I have a real hard time just sitting down and doing nothing with my kids. I feel the Pinterest pressure to do crafts all day while explaining the history of the lima bean and planning an all-day trip to a museum. Sometimes this pressure is awesome because it motivates me to do real fun stuff with my kids and plan some awesome outings. But sometimes this pressure stresses me to the point of exhaustion and feeling like a failure before I've even gotten out of bed.

Enter the solution: relaxed fun time

Relaxed fun time is simply going with the flow of the day without planning anything at all. If you're tired, you stay in and nap when the kids nap. If you wake up energized or stir-crazy, you head out and take a day trip somewhere. If you feel like staying in your PJ's all day, you stay (home) in your PJs all day.

So you don't go to a museum. So what? Make a fort. Pull out every toy you have in your house. Dig out a stack of old encyclopedias or if you're like me, old college textbooks with anatomy and nutrition info all up in them. Peer over color diagrams of the human brain or the cell structure of a plant leaf. Talk to your kids about the cool things you did in AP biology.

Don't feel like making forts, playing with toys, or looking at books? POP ON A MOVIE. I mean it, mamas and daddies. It is OK to watch movies with your kids. I always feel guilty about this one because I feel like it's so passive, so unhealthy, to just stare at a screen together and not speak or interact but you know what? Some of my greatest childhood memories are of me, my mom, and my sister sharing a bowl of popcorn on the couch while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol or Babe or The Halloween Tree. If you feel like snuggling your babies in front of the TV, do it, because sooner or later they will be grown and gone and you'll have thousands of hours to be alone and productive in all the ways you yearn to be productive today. This is a fact.

And let your kids guide you, too. For example, sometimes our kids have potty training regression and sometimes that makes moms die a little inside and then sometimes that kid needs to stay near a potty all day for the rest of her life....so cancel the playdates without guilt and tend to your baby. That is your job.....tending to your babies, not making other grown-ups happy.

Try asking your kids what they want to do - sometimes they come up with some really innocent, do-able activities. I asked my big girl what she wanted to do for her last week of winter break and she said she really wanted to color in our new coloring books together. How easy is that? I whipped up some homemade hot chocolate, popped on a fake fire (#thanksNetflix) and we had a coloring party.


Homemade hot chocolate recipe:
Equal parts baking cocoa and organic cane sugar (I used 1 cup of each)
A tablespoon or so of arrowroot powder (cornstarch would work well too)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
Mix it all together, store in a mason jar
Add 1-2 tablespoons per 1 cup of hot whole milk
Drink it down and feel the happy!

Now all this fun time is great, but if you're like me, getting stuff done helps balance winter break anxiety. There's gotta be a way to mix fun with function so your reach that optimal anxiety-free level. And I came up with one.

#2: Cooperative Cleaning
Kids are messy, abusive little craps with nothing better to do than to ruin your clean carpet and dried-crust-free-surfaces. Trying to keep up with them, I've realized, is pointless. Real dumb. Like washing a car in the rain.

So instead of sticking with my regular cleaning schedule, during break this year I am "flowing" with it. I am doing laundry when we're down to our last few pairs of socks. I'm vacuuming before company comes over and that's basically it. Same with the dusting. I'm kinda letting it all slide.

And I've also implemented one important element of winter break behavior - an all-hands-on-deck approach to cleaning up. If we're going to drink hot chocolate and color, we need to clean up our play cooking area. If we want to veg out and watch movies, we need to make our beds and fold laundry. If we are interested in leaving for the day, we need to tidy up so we have a clean house to come home to.

And guess what....my kids DO it. My 9-year old is a master cleaner. She can clean the entire bathroom, she washes dishes every night, she can do laundry from start to finish, she can dust the whole house, and she knows how to run a vacuum. My 3-year old wants to be a master cleaner, but she's just not that powerful yet. She is awesome at putting things away, picking up little pieces of debris the vacuum left behind, matching socks, and carrying things for me to put away.

Kids are hands, and more hands means getting things done, faster. If you make cleaning a non-negotiable item...if you tell your kids cleaning is what needs to get done to enjoy the fun parts of the day, they will do it. They might grumble, they might not do it well at first, but it helps mom, it gets the crap done quicker, it teaches life skills, and it gives the kids a sense of pride in their abilities. One last tip - my trick for coercing a well-done job? I make my kid do the chore until it's up to standard. This rule makes my 9-year old real motivated to do the job well the first time!!

#3: Cook it Out

No, I'm not kidding. Look, I get it. Some people just aren't into cooking. I myself was a Carrie Bradshaw up until a few years ago. Now, though, I am quite thrilled to find new recipes, especially if they are easy and only contain a few ingredients. Because I promise, once you try, cooking can be one of the greatest sources of pride and accomplishment in your life. Plus, cooking = food. Who doesn't love food?

And lemmie tell ya. Kids LOVE to cook almost as much as they love playing in dirt, splashing in the tub, or jumping on your pristine bedspread. Flour and sugar and then yummy stuff to eat once it's all done cooking? For a kid, what's not to love?

Some of my favorite kid-recipes include:

Mashed Potatoes
2-3 russet potatoes
5-6 lil' red potatoes
milk, butter, salt, and pepper to taste
Roughly peel your taters (leaving some skin on is OK!)
Chunk into quarters and put into a pot
Cover in water, then boil until the taters are soft (your fork should go through like buttah)
Drain water, add milk and butter (I typically add about 1/2 cup whole milk and 4 tablespoons of butter, but it depends on the consistency I'm going for)
Add your seasonings (I use salt, pepper, and sometimes seasoned salt, but you do you!)
Mash it all up and then EAT! Also does great when reheated. 
Let the kids: Pick up the peels, add the milk and butter, and smash everything together!

Granola Cereal
Super easy version: buy bagged organic granola from the store
Little more ingredients version: get some oats, almonds, butter, syrup, and brown sugar, mix it all up, bake it in the oven at 250 degrees, turn it over and mix it up, and wah-lah, homemade granola
Any nuts your kids love (hell-ooo cashews!)
Dried cranberries, raisins, apricots, whatever you like
Mix it all up and store in a mason jar
YUMMO!
Let the kids: Do everything except the oven stuff!

Any Cookie Recipe, Ever
Cookies are the easiest things ever for kids to help with. Check out my blogging buddy Kristen's post on letting the kids make a mess with cookies - it's awesome! 

Bonus points for having the kids help with dishes afterwards. They've got hands - make them use 'em!

#4: Love on Yourself

You know what I did the other day during break? I took a freaking bath. That's right. I drew myself a giant bath. I had the oldest make some lunch, and while my kids ate, I sat in the bathtub. Now granted, the door was open and my youngest kept poppin in every now and then to laugh at my "naked booty" (true story), and at one point I needed to get out and reach over to wipe her butt after a particularly stinky poo, but I took a bath. In the middle of the day. With both my kids home.

And you know what? Nothing burned down. Nobody broke in and tried to kill us. No one fell down the stairs. Nothing terrible happened aside from the poop stink and frankly, that's a small price to pay for sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the day. 

I also make a point of doing yoga 5 days a week whether my kids want me to or not. I will set them up with something to do (two separate things so they don't interact/argue when I'm in the middle of my down dog), and I take to my mat. My chi may need to adapt from constant princess song-singing and my session might need to pause for a couple potty-helping breaks, but I get yoga done with two kids in the house. Far from perfect, but perfectly do-able. 

You gotta take care of yourselves if you wanna take care of others.

#5: Call Grandma

When all else fails, rally the power of Grandma. My mom took my kids overnight a few weekends ago, and while it wasn't in the middle of winter break, it was during one of my busiest months of the year and I needed the break like the desert needs rain. My kids were loved on and hugged and entertained and cherished and I didn't need to do a thing. 

Same with my in-laws. They come and watch my kiddos whenever I need them to and are constantly initiating playdates at their house so I can be a real grown-up for a little while. It's magical and incredible and I am so blessed.

Family not in the picture? How about a family friend? A trusted neighbor? A favorite babysitter? You have the option of taking a break from break. It doesn't make you a crappy parent. It doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you can't take care of your own kids. It means your kids get to have fun with someone else for a bit. Take a couple hours one day to let your kids live it up with someone you know and trust....and then take that time to execute #4. **Note: This does not mean asking stay-at-home moms to watch your kids for you if those moms are not into watching kids. I have some friends who love kids and don't mind the extra children, but I am one of those moms who doesn't enjoy watching other people's kids and wants this well-earned time at home to myself. Those who WANT to watch/be with your kids are the ones you should be calling - they will make it the most fun!

This week will fly by like the last one did, I'm sure, and then school will start again and I'll be riding the long, tired wave 'till we reach warm weather again. My mornings aren't likely to calm down anytime soon, but with a little perspective and flexibility, here's hoping the daytime can make up for the chaos of morning. 

How about you, dear readers? Those with kids, how do you handle winter breaks? Those without kids, will you please tell me about your holiday life so I may live vicariously through your joy and peace? :) I hope you each had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a very happy New Year. Thank you so, so much for reading!

Jen


Monday, December 14, 2015

What I Really Want for Christmas

I just spent close to five hours researching homemade chicken food. I have excel open, the little computer calculator sitting in the toolbar, and countless blog posts windowed in my Chrome tabs.

Pricing chicken feed, dear readers, is the 10th circle of hell.

So instead of delivering a wise and well-written post about chicken feed I thought I'd focus on things I like. You know. Anything other than chicken food. Fun stuff. Like presents.

I love my kids. They truly are the best presents a girl could get. But sometimes, being a mom of small kids means I get the shaft in the purchased gift department. Or the feeling special department. Or hell, just in the "thank you" department. And that's ok, you know? It will pass sooner than I want it to and then my kids will be grown and undoubtedly showering me with hundreds of gifts to compensate for the years upon years of sweat, blood, and tears I willingly donated to their childhoods. That's what happens, right? Your kids turn 18 and then WHAMMO, you get presents raining down upon your heads, right? RIGHT?

So I'm gonna start a list. You know. To prepare for the upcoming Shower of Gifts for Mom. Or maybe, in all seriousness, to just focus on the things that matter most during this (sometimes materialistic) holiday season.


1. Stock in hardware cloth because hell-ooo, early retirement!

2. One solid hour of my two daughters getting along

3. Rent-free homes for my mom (a cottage in the woods) and sister (a gypsy trailer)

4. American citizenship for Aya. Aya is an Iraqi refugee whose application for resettlement in America was rejected. She has a very real, very eye-opening story that you can read about on the Humans of New York Facebook page. If you'd like to voice your support for Aya, you can sign a petition for her on this Change.org page.

5. Pretty much anything written by Joel Salatin

6. To feel proud and in love with my body regardless of, as my husband's friends call it, my Estimated Growth Potential (aka, how much weight a woman gains as she ages/has children/etc.)

7. Snow! :)

8. One of those book exchange sign-up delivery services. You know. Where really attractive men deliver a books once per week so you always have a fresh book to read. Those types of services exist, right? Hmm? Yes?

9. A community owned grocery store in my area

10. My 2nd mama to be cancer free and healthy forever and ever, Amen

11. One entire day of just me, my PJs, snuggly kids, popcorn, Dots, cocoa, and movies

12. A book agent

13. Easter Egger chickens, complete with free feed for life

14. The ability to calm down and not get so angry and frustrated

15. Anything, and I mean anything, from the Simple Life Mom store on Etsy

16. The power to convince others to rethink the way they think, particularly about things like food, racism, and global politics

17. I'd love for my entire head of hair to turn silver all at once. I am excited about "going grey"...I consider those silver strands my sprouting unicorn mane. I just wish it would kinda happen now, instead of little by little. I want full unicorn, baby!

18. To end my reliance on money and grid-delivered energy

19. 500 pounds of pure, organic, hand-expressed coconut oil

20. For each of my lovely readers to feel loved, supported, and happy. Cuz that's how you make me feel :)

What about you? What do you really want for Christmas? I'd love to
hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading!!
Jen

Monday, December 7, 2015

Best Online Resources for Chicken Keepers

The growing season is over, the harvest, ended, and wintertime is knocking on our door. For me, this means a little bit of a break. Nothing left to weed, nothing to freeze, can, or collect, my herbal medicine closet is nice and stocked, and my seed catalogs are sitting open on my bedside table. This is my time to dream and concoct and plan and set my wish list for next spring.

And next spring, I'm getting 10 more chicks. 

Now in the big picture, 10 chicks is nothing. A small, nice little amount of birds for the common backyard homesteader wanna-be. For me, however, 10 chicks is a ton. A massive amount. A bounty of possibilities, learning opportunities, and of course, eggs.

And here's the funny part: I still am a long way from knowing exactly what the heck I am doing. I'll probably lose a few birds. I will likely still muck up the butchering process a bit. Joel Salatin might shake his mighty, incredible head at me and think, "Who is this girl, and what in gosh's name is she doing with those birds?"

But I'm going to keep trying anyways. Because that's what it's all about, people. Trying, failing, and trying again. Lessons learned. Flaws, forgiven.

Thankfully, I have this little magic tool called the internet. It allows me to connect to those who started this journey long before I knew the difference between a chicken nugget and chicken meat. And with this incredible resource comes a limitless supply of information, both good and bad. Everyone has an opinion. Thankfully, only a handful of them are actually worth reading and following. What follows is my list of tried-and-true resources for all things chicken. 


These are the people who inspired me to start and motivate me to keep going. 

Justin Rhodes, author, teacher, and filmmaker at Abundant Permaculture
I found Justin back when I first started researching how to raise free-range hens. He was promoting Permaculture Chickens, his incredible film detailing everything you need to know about raising chickens, from chick to the dinner table. I backed his crowdfunding campaign as fast as my little fingers could type and received my copy of the film a few weeks ago. My 9-year-old and I watched it together and can I please tell you....there are no chicken resources like this available on the market today. Believe me. I looked. For months before I found Justin, I looked. 

Listening and watching Justin is like talking to a friend. He is super relatable and "walks the walk," backing his knowledge with a plethora of real-life experience he's earned throughout his years on his own homestead. He lives what he teaches every single day and shares the same passion most homesteader wannabes preach from the hills - self-sustainability, field to fork eating, and transparent, eco-centric living.  

Did I mention he is sharing some of his chicken videos online right now? Exclusive interviews with Joel Salatin. How to get started with chickens in one weekend. I'm serious, dear readers. It's one thing to actually know what you're talking about in this crazy world of chicken keeping. It's a completely separate thing, a gift to us newbies, to have someone so willing to share his knowledge with the world. Check him out. You will not regret it. And I can vouch for his email list.....it is never spammy. He sends these hilarious and awesome Friday lists once a week and lets you know when his new videos are out. That's it. You'd be crazy to want chickens and not want to learn from Justin.

I don't subscribe to many email lists, mainly because I hate checking my email every 5 minutes. It detracts from my down-home, one-with-nature vibe to have my little pink cell phone in my hand. Really clashes with the plaid. But I subscribe to Jill. Like Justin, Jill sends out a weekly email with a list of 5 or so homesteading tidbits she found interesting that week. Sometimes she gives out seasonal recipes, like stellar homemade eggnog recipes, sometimes she gifts her lessons on vegetarian chickens, and still other emails contain little golden nuggets of hard-earned perspective about what to do with your chickens once they stop laying. Jill has it all, and then some. Her site is FULL of awesome information about chickens and homesteading for the common, simple Jen. I mean reader. 

This is another one of those incredible multi-faceted homesteading resources I frequent on the regular. I was directed to Merissa by a friend who was looking to simplify her own life and loved the free e-book links Merissa gave out regularly. Little House Living focuses on a number of sustainable living skills, but her posts about Raising Baby Chicks, Backyard Chicken Breeds, and How to Care for Setting Hens were some of the very first articles I read about chicken keeping. Merissa is easy to follow and also lives what she teaches. I love her easy-to-follow posts and of course, all of the fuzzy, adorable chick pictures.

I don't know of a chicken owner out there who doesn't know The Chicken Chick. I had to look up her real name because honestly, all I think when I see her face is "Chicken Chick"...sorry Kathy. This lady knows everything there is to know about chickens. Bumblefoot problem? The Chicken Chick can help. Wanna make your own waterer? Chicken Chick can show you how. Broody hen problems? Let the Chicken Chick walk you through some solutions. She helped me choose which medicines to keep on hand and what chicken books I must have on my bookshelf. 

The only criticism I have of this incredible lady is that our views don't always line up. Her chickens are absolutely her babies, through and through. Mine are more a source of nutrition and food. Sometimes I read her posts and think "TO THE STEWPOT!" and I'm sure if she were to read some of my posts she'd want to slug me. Differences aside, I head to her blog when I have chicken health issues and want an expert opinion on what can be done.

Another all-in-one homesteading resource! Jessica caught my eye by way of her beautiful pins. I am a Pinterest fanatic, in case my boards haven't shown you, and her posts quickly made their way to my Green Grass Grows board for safekeeping. She is a wealth of information on all types of homesteading creatures, especially chickens. You can find info about changing chicken ordinances on her site, how to care for chickens during the snowy season, safe egg handling, and even some hilarious stories that only happen in suburban homesteading homes. Jessica is a delight to read and again, one of those places I go to for a number of my homesteader wannabe needs. 

This is my go-to place when I'm looking for others like me. I went to this site back when I couldn't figure out if my chick was a rooster or a hen, back when I didn't understand the egg song was a-ok, and back when I was scheming on ideas for my chicken hoop house. This site houses a fantastic community of chicken enthusiasts that love to share their learning experiences with the world. Great community!

Honorable Mention: Fresh Eggs Daily
Now some might argue this is the very best website for all things chicken. That might be true, but I have a bit of a tainted perspective when it comes to this site/author. Now I'm sure this isn't the norm (at least I hope it isn't) but I was quite literally bullied off the Fresh Eggs Daily Facebook page back in the beginning of my chicken-keeping journey for praising some egg producers for selling eggs in stores that are certified humane by the Humane Farm Animal Care nonprofit organization. The comments I received for supporting eggs sold in stores were stinging and bordered on harassment ....and that's coming from one tough B who can pretty much handle herself when it comes to confrontation. Not on the Fresh Eggs Daily page, though....wheweee. I was torn apart for allowing any store-bought eggs into my home, despite my (valid) argument that we all want fresh eggs for everyone, hence the need to support eggs sold in stores that align with the core values of sustainability, responsibility, and love for both animal and earth. I kid you not, I had to leave the Facebook page. I'd never met a group of more closed-minded people in my life, which is really sad, considering we all want the same thing. I thought it was important, though, to list the site here despite my bad experience, simply because I know if you can get past the pitchforks and close-minded die-hards who can't see an ally from an enemy, you're bound to find some great info. 

So there you have it folks :) My list of the best online resources for chicken keepers. I hope you would consider passing them along to someone you know who is on the fence about chicken-keeping, or even pinning this post for your reference later ;) Would love to add some chicken-loving peeps (see what I did there) to my flock (I'm on a roll!).

Would you ever consider keeping chickens? Would you be more like the Chicken Chick, keeping them as pets and babies, or like Justin, keeping them as livestock? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Cards: Wonderful or Wasteful?

There are five types of people in this world:

The Gleeful Card Crackhead
You absolutely live for sending and receiving mail. The Christmas season puts you over the edge of happiness and you quite literally soar to the mailbox each day. The cards you receive are hung delicately in a primary location in your home and then once Christmas is over, you press each card lovingly into a scrapbook. You mail approximately 150-300 handcrafted cards each holiday season to share the joy.

The Update Maniac
You view Christmastime as a chance to catch up, share the year's events with friends and family, and proudly display the growth of your kids/pets/acreage. Your cards are typically full of beautiful, flowing text, factoids about your job, and recent vacation pictures. Any cards you receive are quickly scanned for updates, then filed away in a pastel-colored accordion folder in your new home office.

The Standard Santa
You like Christmas. You order cards during online sales and pick a design that allows between 2-4 pictures of your family, preferably with everyone in sweaters. You try to get your cards mailed in time to not be rude. The cards you receive are placed on the counter with every intention of getting taped to the fridge, but 99% of the time end up in the recycling bin sometime around January 19th.

The Vintage Postman
You don't fall for the online gimmicks and marketing techniques of these new-fangled online "photo" card stores. You prefer to head to your local mom-and-pop shop, carefully select a set of pretty, unique Christmas cards, and hand-write a Christmas message to each of your card recipients. You are intentional with your stamp selection. You appreciate receiving cards but sometimes wish the cards were a little more personal and detailed.

The Scrooge
You can't stand Christmas cards. You think they are a complete waste of money and resources and you wish people would stop sending them. Any cards you receive are displayed for an obligatory amount of time and then disposed of, preferably in the recycling so yet another landfill doesn't become filled with our irresponsible holiday behavior.

Now for the most part, those categories are satire. They are not intended to cause guilt or pigeonhole anyone, although I'm sure some of us can relate and match specific faces to each personality. I actually know a Scrooge, and she is a fantastic person who just really doesn't like Christmas cards. All in good fun.

I am a Standard Santa. Christmas cards are more of an obligation than a true joy to me. I do not pen nice notes to my friends and family. I forget about cards until the last minute and, because I also forget to budget for them, end up getting whatever is on sale with whatever pictures I can take myself. I sit back and pray the pictures do the talking...."Look! My kids are alive, look at them being alive and smiling!"

I wish I were more like the gleeful card crackhead. I have visions...beautiful, gorgeous visions of handmade cards, created from scraps and repurposed garbage, created by my own two hands and lovingly delivered in-person to all of my loved ones.

I also really, really want a rainbow unicorn to pull me around in a sled made entirely of caramel butter pecan toffee.

Handmade cards won't happen. I can pretend they will. I can even say they will. But I know me. And they won't.

So that leaves me wondering, as Christmas draws near, why do we send Christmas cards? Do we do it out of obligation? Do we do it because it's the polite thing to do? Is it truly another wasteful tradition stemming from Shutterfly-manufactured demand? Or do we love it? What is the point of mailing a Christmas card?

To answer my question, I first turned to history. I'd read a kids book about a chick named Sarah over the weekend - she apparently saved Thanksgiving. I thought if I dug into the history of Christmas cards, maybe I'd find another cool story about determination and love and the meaning behind Christmas cards.

Instead, I found out the very first American Christmas cards showed up in the late 1840's and were actually too expensive for most people to buy. It wasn't until some dude named Louis Prang came over and started mass-producing cards in 1875 that most Americans were able to buy cards. He was eventually run outta business...although the same cannot be said of John Hall and his two brothers. They started Hallmark cards in 1915 and well, we all know where that went.

So history isn't lending much help in the way of supporting the feel-good tradition of sending Christmas cards. If anything, history speaks to Christmas card commerce....the very thing I don't want to fall victim to. Money is the opposite of Christmas joy, to me.

Well how about an informative infographic? Infographics always help, right?


Hmm. Seven years ago the average American family spent about $32 on Christmas cards. I can tell you that is not my life....I paid $35 for the cards and at $0.49 a pop, my postage will cost an additional $25. So for me, sending my measly 50 cards will cost $60 this year. Just for Christmas cards. Purchased half off. Without the gold foil trim. Or printed return address.

But wait! What's that blurp about donations to charity? Oh. That's the UK. Dang. Good, but still dang. Also apparently only women really buy Christmas cards. My inner feminist is screaming.

So no help from history, no help from infographics...what's a blogger to do?

That's where you come in, dear readers. Tell me, oh tell me, what are your thoughts on Christmas cards? Are they another ploy designed to suck the money from our pockets, or do they add real value to our lives each year?

I think if I were really honest with myself, I would acknowledge that most communication, updating, photo sharing, and happy greetings can be delivered via text, Facebook, or *gasp* in person these days. The lost art of letter writing makes my soul cry but yet I do nothing to bring my pen to the page, to reach out via snail mail to family living far, far away. Instead I do what I can to mitigate the guilt from not spending as much time communicating with family and friends as I should and I buy a photo card and send it in the mail once a year. I should probably stop spending unnecessary money on cards and instead work to send personalized letters or greetings to those I love when I think of them, year-round, instead of just at Christmas. Whew. Good thing I'm not being honest with myself.

So let's hear it, lovelies. Can you relate to any of the personalities I described above? Where do you see yourself? And what is your honest take on Christmas cards...are they wonderful or wasteful? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading!
Jen

Monday, November 23, 2015

#1 Way to Stress Less, Be Happy, and Laugh

The holidays are here. Thanksgiving, one of my favorite days of the year, is in 3 days. This year I'm celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family (we are little, but fierce) and I'll be making the short trek a couple of hours away to gorge on good food. I'm also, however, cooking a little Thanksgiving meal for just me and my little household the day after Thanksgiving. We have a little turkey and I've got some great new recipes I can't wait to try.

But even with the promise of good food looming on the horizon, and a month of festivities kicking off in a matter of days, I still find myself habitually prone to stressing the f out. It's like my own little piece-o-crap holiday tradition. Stress, worry, feel guilty about it all, then repeat.

And there's more to life than that. I'm going to be a middle-aged woman soon for frick's sake. I should be capable of handling Thanksgiving and Christmas without dissolving into a pile of tears and guilt every two days or so.

So, earlier this year, I started a de-stress experiment. And by experiment, I mean I tried something, started doing it almost everyday, and then decided the results were favorable enough to write about it here, at a time when I (and others) need the extra de-stress help.

I needed to implement a new habit into my life and being the picky little habit-maker I am, I outlined a few new-habit guidelines. I needed something:
  • Healthy - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, whatever
  • Easy - no running/jogging, forcing myself to write when I don't wanna, or class commitments
  • Flexible - can do it at home, whenever the heck I please
  • Free - I don't have money
  • Enjoyable - gotta love it each and every time or I'll never do it again
  • Promotes self-love - no feeling guilty...about anything
  • Walks me through releasing anger - because this past year I'm getting angrier than a kicked hornet's nest and the anger is slowly destroying all chances of happiness
Not that bad, right? I mean, anything can fit the criteria above, right? ;)

But wait, there's more:
  • Inclusive - something I can do with my kids
  • Relatable - following Ree Drummond is all well and good until I start looking around my life and realizing I did not marry a cowboy or have a sprawling, million-dollar ranch with wild horses roaming around
  • Friendly - My feelings of failure follow me around like a dark shadow 99% of the time. I needed something that welcomed me like an old, non-judgmental friend
So yeah. Basically, I needed calorie-free ice cream that grows on trees and talks to me like Ellen DeGeneres.

Unfortunately, despite some heavy research, I could not find Ellen Edy's.

But I did find something else. Something better. Ok, maybe not better than calorie-free ice cream that grows in my backyard and talks to me like Ellen. But close.

You ready to finally hear what it is? Promise you won't click off the page once you see the word?


Yoga.

Now wait! Don't run away! Don't let any pre-conceived ideas ruin your chances at finding an enjoyable, funny, happy way to relieve stress!

Yoga is not all about perfect poses and bending all over and squeezing into tight pants and buying $50 yoga mats. Matter of fact, it's the opposite of that. 

I've done all kinds of yoga. I never stuck with it because I was pissed it didn't melt the fat right off my body. If I'm gonna exercise, it better be fat-melting. It better be worth the hour or so that I'm stretched out in front of my TV in roll-inducing yoga pants, lookin' like a holiday ham wrapped with twine. I did MTV yoga. I did "professional" yoga taught by ladies with national certifications. I did Self magazine yoga. I did flashcard yoga. I did a whole ton of yoga....but nothing stuck, nothing became habit. It's like I wanted to maximize my exercise time, which meant either blasting through cardio or doing some sort of body-damaging, lose-your-mom-bod boot camp crap. Those things have a place in my life, don't get me wrong, but they aren't a way to reduce stress, be happy, and laugh.

Yoga, when done right, shouldn't be about losing weight. Toning and tightening might be side effects, but weight loss? Think about it. The very concept behind weight loss is stressing your body enough to make it eat it's own fat. I mean, really. C'mon here, people. I'm going for stress-free, happy living here. Weight loss is none of those things. It just isn't. Physically and mentally, weight loss is stressful by its very nature.

So I took yoga out of the "drop pounds" picture completely. I shifted it from my mental "exercise" column to my mental "relaxation" column. And can I please tell you, that shift alone has changed the way I move through my practice. Instead of waiting for it to be over, I listen to Adriene and truly embrace what I'm doing. It's crazy healthy and really allows me to enjoy the "me" time.....because running 3-4 miles up hills doesn't feel like "me" time at all. It feels like punishment...another item to check off my list, another obligation...and after making that mental shift, yoga is now something I actually crave, even on days when I typically don't hit the mat (or in my case, carpet as I don't use a mat).


Oh yes, I forgot to mention....Adriene is my YouTube yoga girl. She is hilarious. She is real. She focuses on nothing but self-love. She is knowledgeable. She is peaceful. She films out of her own house. Sometimes her dog walks into the shot. Sometimes you hear motorcycles revving outside her house. Sometimes she messes up. Sometimes she says things like, "Get down, Shorty," or sings the opening song from The Lion King. She is a real human, a funny, relatable human, and I love, truly love tuning into her page and meeting her on the mat. She approaches everything with a sense of acceptance....and it's not the kinda boring, cheesy acceptance that makes you roll your eyes and think, "really? I didn't drink enough kale this morning to handle this much hippie..."...no. That's not her. She's a friend. A YouTube friend who helps me chill out.

I promise, try one, silly, 20-minute video. You will be hooked like I am. There's no pressure, no stress, no guilt, and you'll leave the mat feeling clean and fresh and ready to tackle the next thing on your list.

And no, this is not a promotional blog post. No exchange of money, services, or whatever here. I just love her and like telling my readers about things I love.

Her Yoga for a Broken Heart video helped me through unspeakable hardship earlier this year.

A few of my other favorite (and free) online yoga videos by Adriene:

Yoga for Stress Relief

Yoga Love Flow

40 Minute Fat Burning Workout (I do this one when I'm real angry - it's a nice challenge!)

Detox Yoga for Digestion

Energizing Morning Yoga

Yoga for Back Pain

That's it, dear readers. Yoga is my #1 way to stress less, be happy, and laugh. I hit the carpet in my pajamas with my hair piled on top o' my head and my breath stinkin and I join Adriene as she laughs and breathes her way to a more relaxed, strengthened state of mind. It's fun, it's easy, it's free, and I feel nothing but acceptance when I'm done.

Any other yogis out there? Iva from Neuroscience Newbie I'm lookin at you! :) What other stress-relief tips do you guys have for me? I'd love to hear about them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading! 

Jen



Monday, November 16, 2015

A Winter-Proof Chicken Hoop House

I get so excited when the air indicates a change in the seasons. The sweet, fragrant smell of spring, the sticky, humid aroma of summer, the subtle undertones of forest and leaves in the fall, and the snap, crisp scent of winter.

I love winter. Winter is coming. I am a happy girl.

Kinda.

You see, I have a new concern this year.....these two little babes.


I am a chicken-owner now. A completely moronic, first-time chicken owner who lost over half her flock in the first year. That's right. I started with 6 in April this year and now have 2. Lost my first chicken to a predator - we're thinking a fox judging by the way she was killed. Had to cull Gandalf, the rooster, when he started biting my kids. Then, like the sad, sad stories I read about and shake my head at, thinking there's no way in hell I'd ever let something like that happen, my girls were attacked in their hoop house, just a few months ago.


The predator killed Yennifer, my beautiful little silver-laced Wyondotte. Holiday, my last buff Orpington, was in bad shape. Real bad shape. Broken foot and can-see-though-her-abdomen bad shape. So I had to put her down. While in my pajamas. In the rain. With tears streaming down my face because despite how much I want to be a hardass, emotionless homesteader, I love my birds and feel no joy in taking their lives. Plus my sweet girls were wasted. Can't eat a bird when you don't know what's bitten it. Pretty much one of my lowest moments in this journey toward self-sustainability.

So that horrible morning left me with two birds. Two lone little loves. Strangely enough, the two I have left are also the very first two chickens I brought home. Ruby and Cheese, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, my little survivors.


Predators are underrated. I thought with my 8-ft-high privacy fence and secure hoop house, my girls would be safe.

Turns out it's not so easy.

Chicken wire protects chickens from nothing. That's right. Nothing. As in, not a single thing. Anything can get through chicken wire. Skunks. Dogs. Opossums. Foxes. Raccoon. Cats. Minks. Weasels. Pretty much the only creatures that cannot get through chicken wire are chickens. And that is a shame, because the other material I use, hardware cloth, costs about 3 times as much.

But I'd rather eat sand that's been peed on than lose another bird. I've made it my life's mission to keep these last two alive and to learn from my own stupidity. I modified my original hoop house door and added yet another of hardware cloth. That pretty little screen door? That was my downfall. That was how the predator got in. Screen doors do nothing, people. Nothing. Wrap your screen doors in hardware cloth because that screen ain't doing you any favors.

And I figured, while I'm at it, modifying this hoop house and making it more secure, how about I go ahead and get my winterizing on.

I live in the northern Midwest. It gets down to -20 degrees here in the winter, sometimes dipping lower, especially with the windchill. We average close to 40 inches of snow each winter. I know. It's crazy, but I love it. I love the thought of getting snug and reading with tea. It's my happy zone.

So anyways, I researched some cold-hearty chicken breeds and only purchased birds that could do well in my climate. My two girls are built for the cold, no doubt....but regardless of breeding, they still need a warm shelter for the coldest days of the year.

Some people add a heat lamp to their coop. I can't do that (nowhere to secure it in the hoop house). Plus I don't wanna. Heat lamps get hot. Heat = fire. Fire = my last two chickens dead and me pulling all my hair out and then falling into a pit of homesteading failure and doom.

I knew I had this sweet little modified hoop house just chillin the the backyard. I needed to find a way to insulate it.


Enter scene: Free plastic from a local garden and nursery shop. Think about all those greenhouses you see at your local garden store. They need to replace that plastic every now and then and guess what - that means the old plastic needs to get dumped. Sometimes they'll keep it around for patch jobs and oddball projects, but when they've got a 100-ft greenhouse that stands 50-ft tall, little scraps of plastic just aren't that useful anymore.

And that's where I come in. I have a teeny little 10x12ft hoop house. Teeny. Little. Insignificant. I talked to the manager at the garden center, who also happens to be a cherished and lovely friend, and she said the plastic is super expensive, but yes, she was pretty certain they had some old stuff sitting in a shed somewhere. That I could have. For free.

A few weeks later, I went and picked up a ginormous, huge ball of dirty, ripped, old, white greenhouse plastic. I had myself a little moment in the truck on the way home. I officially scavenged my very first item from a local business. I drove home with that lump of plastic in my truck smiling like a maniac the entire time, so happy, so excited, so thankful. I'd received enough plastic to cover the hoop house.....twice.

I cut the plastic out around the door, stapled a bottom panel of plastic onto the door (which of course is also covered in hardware cloth now), and created a curtain for the top of the door. Like their own lil' vertical dutch door. That curtain is fabulous. Allows air in and out (super important for healthy birds) but doesn't let the wind or rain in when it's rolled down. That's a piece of baling twine stuck into it and holding it all rolled up.


I also made some cutouts, covered with hardware cloth, of course, near the back of the hoop house. A little cross-ventilation will make sure they have fresh air to breath, without sacrificing their need for a non-breezy, warm place to roost.


The plastic is, to be honest, barely secured to the frame. Those tarps on top hold the plastic down pretty well, in addition to adding another layer of protection. The plastic is also stapled to the frame in the front and back....but I wanted the sides mobile...non-permanent, so in the summer I could roll them up and let the light in and the heat out. Of course, you're just asking for problems if you don't secure your cover down somehow on the sides.

The solution? On the two long sides, the plastic is stapled to a detached wooden board, a 2x4, and then rolled around the 2x4 until it's tight. In the summer, I will roll the plastic up higher and secure the 2x4 to some hooks in the PVC frame about 3 feet from the ground. Waa-lah. Hoop house side windows. Of course, the plastic went right over the hardware cloth I'd wrapped around and around and around, so (hopefully) I won't need to do much come summertime. Just roll and go.

The key to using plastic on your hoop house? Make sure you don't have pointy stuff sticking out. I had to painstakingly check every piece of baling wire I used to secure the hardware cloth to the PVC pipe and make sure all pointy parts were tucked in. The front and back frames are made of wooden beams (check out this post for the full breakdown of what was used for the hoop house, how much it cost, and how it's put together). The beams were too "sharp" on top, meaning the weight of snow could potentially tear the plastic. So what can cap a piece of wood, stay soft in below-zero temps, and cost nothing? An old glove, of course. Bam. Works like a charm.


I stuck a thermometer in the hoop, the same one I used when they were wee lil chicks, so I could keep an eye on how cold it gets in the hoop house. So far the temp has stayed about 5-10 degrees warmer inside than out. We'll see how she does in the dead of winter! And yep, that waterer can be plugged in to keep the water from freezing. We'll need to run an extension cord....I'm delaying that as long as humanly possible as I've heard these things have a short life.


I'd read straw bales are great for insulation, but can get moldy and create problems with chicken lungs. One of my favorite chicken dudes, Justin Rhodes, said you can always use the bales on the outside of the house if you're worried about too much heat loss. So that's what I did. Bonus points: the bales help secure the plastic down so the wind doesn't get under it and cause it to freak out.

Of course, one of the best things you can do to keep your animals happy in the winter is to add some warm, soft bedding to the ground. The layer of pine shavings in the hoop house is about 1.5 feet deep near the roost. Those doors help block any stray wind gusts and help hold the roosting branches in place.


It's a little dark in there sometimes, which will undoubtedly affect my egg counts, but eggs aren't my primary concern these days. I just really want to keep my flock safe.

I went ahead and purchased one of these for good measure. Next time something comes at my girls, I'll get 'em on camera.


So who wants to take bets on how well I keep these two little loves alive this winter? Anyone? Anyone? And no, if you're a hawk, fox, or raccoon, you can't join in the bet...Ruby's rules.



What are you doing to prep for the winter? Are you looking forward to the change in seasons? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Jen



Monday, November 9, 2015

Movember....More Than Just a Pretty Stache

I'm just going to throw this out there.

I'm not a huge fan of balls. Yep. The ones you're thinking of. Don't really like 'em. They weird me out...worrying about smashing them somehow - weird. Dudes' obsession with them, touching them, scratching them, talking about them - weird. The wrinkles - double weird.

So it should be no surprise that I am not at all versed in the ins and outs of ball health. In fact, I am giggling right now like a total moron. Just typing the word "balls" and giggling, thinking about balls and trying not to say the word out loud...just Jen your most flawed blogger, sitting here laughing out loud, alone in my living room, with windows in my Chrome page open to ball health webpages. Creepin on some balls. 

Can't handle it.

I know everything there is to know about women's health. Breast, cervix, uterus, estrogen, you name it, I know it.

But not balls. Had a whiff of biological reason in my arsenal. That's it. I had no clue. Up until today, of course.


November is also Movember - the month of mustaches. These mustaches act as a walking billboard to promote men's health awareness. They are "changing the face of men's health".....see what they did there...I am in love with the creative mind that made that one up....pulls at my copywriter heartstrings like no other...And if I'm any indication of the female populations' knowledge base, we need a helluva lot more mustaches.


Men love to talk about balls, amiright? It's pretty insane how many times I needed to hear the word "teabag" in college. But I never heard about ball problems. Or problems with any other part of a guy's body. I know when men get colds, because it's like the world is ending, but when guys find a lump somewhere, they just wait for it to go away or literally explode. Serious stuff isn't talked about. I never hear about it. I mean, think about it, can you think of a single guy who voluntarily goes to the doctor for yearly preventative exams? No, I'm not talking about men with chronic conditions, I'm talking about those dudes I know, friends and family of mine, who almost refuse to see a doctor. Ever.

When my girlfriends are ill, I know right away. They'll text me or call me and while they always keep on trucking, they talk about it. 

Any chance you can watch my kids so I can go to the doctor? Yeah my lady visit. Oh joy.

I am seriously so sad, I cannot even.

Jen's pap came back abnormal. Yeah you should totally text her later this week. Don't tell her I told you.

My cramps made me throw up in public today.

Does it matter that Mama's had a headache for two weeks? I didn't think so!  

I love my menstrual cup. You need to try it.

I mean, women are vocal. If something is bothering us or we're not feeling good, chances are we'll say something or lean on one another to get through the illness, especially if it's serious. But guys?

Hey man, heard your skin, like, burns or some shit.

Are you contagious?

You went to the hospital? I hate hospitals. Did you have a hott nurse at least?

That sucks. 

Jake hasn't shown up for practice in like a month. Eh, he's prolly fine.

Man up.

It's no wonder men's health and wellness sometimes gets lost under layers of pink ribbons and scarves. Men just aren't as vocal. And women, as much as we (occasionally) love men, are sometimes too busy worrying about our own intricate bodies and health concerns to try and educate ourselves about the bodies of the other half. I mean, shouldn't they know about their own junk? Why should we have to know about that jazz? 

Cuz we're women and we have a civic duty as strong, smart, quick goddesses to help those less fortunate. ;) And because guys need love too. 

So let's nab some quick facts:

Prostate cancer is the most common major cancer in men.

Men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. 

And testicular cancer hits them young.

How can we help?

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has a (hilarious) Mo Bros and Mo Sistas campaign that raised over $126.3 million dollars last year. A description of the funding strategy (incredibly easy to read) can be found here.

The Testicular Cancer Foundation has teamed up with Tommy John to create the Support Your Balls campaign (seriously cannot stop giggling) - they have an Instagram challenge running until the end of the month where you can snap a pic of two things that look like balls, *snicker* tag them with #SupportYourBalls, and follow them (@TommyJohnWear and @TesticularCancerFederation) for a chance to win a free pair of men's underwear. Bonus points - Tommy John is donating $1 for each entry... Also, and this is important, they have half-naked hot men messing around with/in underwear on their webpage. Seriously, they have videos for each product. And they're an underwear company. Just think about that for a second. And no, I am not getting compensated in any way. It would be an injustice to all women to not share that info. Plus, men's health and stuff. 


Support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They host walks all over the country and take donations year-round. Men's mental health is just as important as their bodily health....and even harder to diagnose. 

Casually ask a guy you know if he's going to participate in Movember. It's a nice ice breaker because the only thing dudes like to talk about more than their balls is their facial hair. 


Plus mustaches are hott. 

How about you, dear readers? How would you grade your men's health knowledge? Did you know what Movember was all about? Know any men in your life who could benefit from a little more Mo? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weirdest Stuff I Found in My Kid's Halloween Bag

It's that time of year again, folks. The devil himself, disguised as so many delicious little morsels of sweet goodness, is in my home. He is fruity. He is peanut buttery. He is my favorite breed of kat. Calling all gym rats - send me your power! This is the beginning of the end...it all starts with Halloween....then turkey all up in my life.....then Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and mashed potatoes divine.

So let's pretend I am resisting the temptation. Let's pretend I am not typing with one hand while another clutches a snack-sized Heath bar on it's merry little way to my mouth.

And let's sit back and reflect on the other things I found in my kid's Halloween bag this year. You know what I'm talking about. The different things. The weird things. The things that make you look down into your sack and say, "huh?"

Now for the record, I am a fan of anything free. If you're handing out something on Halloween, you rock, especially if you don't have kids of your own or don't particularly like children. I consider all Halloween distributors generous souls.

But some stuff is just weird.



I remember a time when Laffy Taffy consisted of only fruity, neon-colored flavors. And banana. How can you forget banana laffy taffy. But then I saw this. No artificial flavors, hm? So you're telling me a little mug of steaming cocoa with marshmallows in it was somehow dropped into your vat of taffy and then poof - out you came? What happened to you, Laffy Taffy. What happened to you.



Didn't even realize they still made these. True story. I see they've updated their package to keep with the times - Gluten Free! Nut Free! For all those lil' ones who wish to go vintage!



Halloween popcorn. I won't go into a tangent about why microwave popcorn is horrific...especially while eating a Butterfinger....but trust me, it's apparently horrific for you. Normally, I think bagged (read - already popped) popcorn is great as an alternative option for kids with sugar sensitivities (haha). I think it's a thoughtful gesture. But that Act II stuff you see pictured below? It expires in two days. Do you know how long it takes for popcorn to expire? Thanks for the tease, neighbor lady.



Go home, Lemonheads. You're drunk.



Did you just hand my kid a diet soda? You know Jen believes in Jesus when she manages to smile and not chuck a can of diet soda back at the lady who just handed it to her little girl.



And now, for the piece de resistance, this lovely hunk of curiosity. Yes, that is a fruit cake. And not just a little fruit cake, that thing could serve 4-6 people, easily. My kid came trotting back from the house smiling and saying, "Wow! I just got a fruitcake!" and I subconsciously tuned it out per the Parent Handbook for Creative and Imaginative Children and then I opened her bag and sure enough, fruit cake.


Oddities are fun, aren't they? I certainly enjoyed opening my kids' Halloween bags and finding all the incredible things I could eat when they went to bed creative ways people in my neighborhood handle trick-or-treaters.

What about you, dear readers? What's the strangest thing you found in your kid's Halloween bag? Do you remember receiving something weird in your candy bag when you were little? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Jen

Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Do Chicks Cry so Much?

I have this problem. See, I have two daughters who, despite their feminist upbringing, love to watch princess movies. And as they're watching these movies, (Frozen, Tangled, Cinderella, Ariel, repeat), their mama, little ol' me, is sitting there either typing away, stirring something, or scrolling through my phone.

And then, without rhyme or reason, it happens. That specific part of the movie (Elsa draping herself over her frozen sister, Rapunzel's dad shedding a tear as his queen wipes it away, Cinderella saying "but you see, I have the other slipper," and Ariel's dad with his fingertips on her chin as they say goodbye) will happen, and my eyes will start to prick, my nose tickle, and sure enough, no matter how many times I've freaking seen these freaking movies, I will have tears in my eyes.

Happens constantly.


The Budweiser commercials with the Clydesdale and the puppy.

Soldier homecomings.

Culling my chickens.

Timelapse videos.

Violence or illnesses against children.

When a shy person dances.

Getting put on the spot.

Witcher 3 cutscenes.

Witcher 3 graphics.

Witcher 3.

Carrie Underwood singing "How Great Thou Art"

When dudes I care about (either in real life or on TV) cry.

When my corn doesn't grow properly.

While singing my toddler a lullaby.

Anytime someone asks if I'm ok.

When a leaf falls off a tree.

I mean the list goes on, people. Most of my friends know this about me because when I was younger, it was worse. I had a high school biology teacher ask me a question once after class and I just stood there, crying. I don't know why. She wasn't scary. She was nice. My friend Jen (we're Jens, squared, get it?) just looked at me and was like, "It's alright, she does this sometimes." Those friends of mine, They get it.

My spouse hates it. I mean hates it. Pretty sure he's told me he can't stand that I cry everyday - which is SO not true. I mean, I don't cry every day. Not every single day. That'd just be crazy, right? Yeah......so not me. Not me. No. Maybe.

Even I get frustrated by my lack of control in this department. When I was in the Army I learned how to hold it in pretty well by just getting pissed. I would get angry as shit. The Army handles angry. The Army does not handle crying. But I've been out of the Army for years. Many years. I'm back to my wily, crying ways.

I decided to check into it. This is the end of October, after all, and as some of you remember, I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. 30 days of getting straight-up locked in the basement, type, type, typing away. There will be crying, oh yes, there will be crying. So like I warned you last year, this will be my last perfectly-coherent (well, coherent for me, Jen) post for a while. I'll still write on Mondays, of course. It might just look like alien speak. But I digress.

Chicks and crying is a real thing. I have friends, female friends, who will cry with me when I cry. And if they don't, they cry pretty consistently on their own. We're a giant gender of crying. And I want to know why. ***fingers crossed it's not just because I am insane***


Apparently it's a combination of things.

Chicks cry because of our biological makeup. That's right. I can't always control it, you hear? My hormones, apparently a specific hormone named prolactin, are vastly different than that of a man. Us chickies have about 60% more prolactin than men do. And men of course have more testosterone, which is said to work against emotional crying. Plus, one article I read said female tearducts are smaller....which I guess means they cry more because they can't hold as much? Weird. But biological! Can't change it!

Chicks cry because of our social environment. We're kinda socially allowed to cry more than dudes are. I hate to say it, but if I walked into my old office and hugged a coworker and then cried a little everyone would laugh and hug me harder. If my old boss (dude) walked into the office and cried a little when he saw me, everyone would be freaked the f out. We're getting better at allowing dudes to show their more sensitive (read - not angry) emotions but they're so not on the same level as us chicks. It's also a running joke in every movie ever that chicks who cry get what they want from dudes who don't want them to cry. That is not the case in my personal situation - I just get ignored - but if I had a man who didn't want me to cry so badly that he'd do anything to make it stop, you bet your ass I'd use that to every now and then get what I want. Flaws, forgiven, people.

Chicks cry because of our personality. Just like dudes, some chicks are just more prone to emotional outbursts. I, for one, am an overly-anxious, somewhat-extroverted, highly-empathetic person. This is part of the reason why I cry when I see the elderly holding hands. And why I can't watch the news. My internal person, the very essence of who I am, transports me into the lives and feelings of those around me and my head gets filled with the thoughts and concerns of others. And so when they cry, or they are happy, or they are sad, or they are scared, I feel it with them. For the most part.

You hear that?? Half of that stuff I can't even control. Like the biology. And the social environment. And even the personality traits, kinda. I can't really change who I am in the blink of an eye, you know? Yeah, I may sprout tears like a hydro-chia pet but you know what? I get some great stuff in return.

Like friends who aren't afraid to cry in front of me because they know I'm a crier.

Kids who know emotions are ok.

Problems that get resolved instead of swept under the rug.

Stress relief.

Clean tear ducts.

Stock in Kleenex.

In fact, although it gets annoying at times, I am kinda proud of my ability to place my emotions, trace them back to a root cause, and then communicate the whole process to another person. That is a pretty bomb-ass gift, if you ask me. It allows me to explain myself. Explain things for others. Help others explain themselves. It's pretty rad.

In fact, the only part of this whole "crying like a wee lil baby" thing that I don't like is the blotchy face. And the perception of others, specifically, those who don't understand emotions or are afraid of them. Like dudes. Specific dudes. Dudes with emotional barriers that sit there like logs when a woman is crying.

So how 'bout this, dudes. How about you make like a movie and hug the crying girl. Get over yourselves for two measly seconds and hug the crying chick because you know what, she prolly needs it. And if you hug her, maybe she'll stop crying sooner. And maybe she'll feel closer to you. And maybe she won't feel terrible about something that simply is part of who she is, who most women are, at the core of our very beings.

Cuz I betcha what - I betcha next time you're real upset, and you feel so down you can't find your way back up, that chick will be sitting right there, ready to wrap you up in every wonderful, soft, caring, empathetic part of her.

Sources for research:
http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/why-do-women-cry-more-than-men.html
http://www.livescience.com/51183-tim-hunt-why-women-cry.html
http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/why-we-cry-the-truth-about-tearing-up?page=2
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2905888/It-s-true-women-cry-men-twice-long-Hormonal-differences-social-conditioning-said-blame.html

And that does it for me, dear readers! I will be back next week with (hopefully) a semi-legible post for your reading pleasure. How many criers do I have out there? Are you ashamed of it? Proud of it? How do you handle your emotional prowess? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Jen