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Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

Quilted Caturday

I am not a quilter, though I often wish I were. These feline quilt blocks make me yearn for the skllz and the time. They come from a blog with the enviably goofy name Katinka Brusselsprouts. It’s a beautiful blog worth a visit even if you can’t thread a needle. Katinka will lead you to the original source for these patterns, Regina Grewe, whose site is also an Augenschmaus (treat for the eyes – yes, she’s German).

This one looks like a little imp – equal parts charmer and stinker. Such an adorable face!

This little guy looks like he’s sleeping in perfect repose in a perfectly alert posture – the ultimate Zen practitioner (after Shironeko, that is).

Little Miss Daisy (my nickname for her)  looks like the picture of pure innocence. But she’s a cat, so you know she’s got to be cooking up something.

And finally, the Cat before Christmas, who has his very own quilt. To be honest, I love the first three best, because their focus is so intently on the cat, without any distraction from the background. But this little guy is still sweet and seasonal. Merry Catmas to all! (Or should that be “Merry Quiltmas”?)

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About three weeks ago, I informed the Sungold universe via Facebook that I was in love. No, not that I was in a relationship. Not that I’d gotten divorced. (Indeed, my dear mate and I were enjoying a local high point.)

It was, um, far more complicated. I was smitten with a kitten. And my husband is allergic. Like, asthmatic allergic, which is cruel, since he loves him some kittehs.

On August 11, a thin orange cat with stunning mackerel markings walked up to me as I was pulling scuzzy weeks from my driveway. He said, plaintively, “Meow?” as cats tend to do. Of course I answered in kind.

Within moments my kids informed me that this little guy could be Little Lion, a much-loved cat their friends had lost earlier in the summer. I held on to Orange Kitty until Little Lion’s family confirmed that we hadn’t found him. We then checked to make sure OK wasn’t an escapee from our friends across the street, who at one point had had two orange/ginger cats. No luck.

That night, Orange Kitty drifted off to sleep in the comfort of our porch furniture, seemingly secure in the knowledge that these silly humans who’d fussed over him all evening and provided stinky fishy cat food would carry on their tuna-scented gravy train in the morning.

But (cue Dragnet music or Darth Vader’s theme): The Ditch Witch arrived sometime between 7 and 8 the next morn. Despite the absurd, even cutesy name, this digger is the H-bomb of the construction world. It commenced to tunnel under roads and sidewalks, preparing the way for 21st century gas delivery. (My town is the poster child for the urgency of infrastructure repair.)

By the time I checked on Orange Kitty, he had vanished, like any intelligent kitteh would. And he stayed vanished for a full four weeeks.

This very last Thursday night, I spotted him in our backyard at 6:20 p.m., evidently hot on the trail of a mouse. He broke off his hunt to issue his trademark pathetic meow and allow us a whisker rub. I was elated. He greeted me! He came trotting up to me! He begged to get in the back door! But my kids were about to be late to music lessons, so I couldn’t dally. By the time I sped back home, the only orange was a streak in the sunset.

But hey, at least we knew he was alive.

Yesterday, Friday, he appeared in once again in the early evening. I was sitting on my front porch – just in case – as I’d done faithfully all those weeks before.And yet he took me by surprise. (Which is actually not surprising, in light of the dozens of porch-hours logged in vain hopes of finding him.) He came meowing up to the porch, instantly seizing my attention.

We were ready this time. We wined and dined him like the prodigal kitten. (And no, we didn’t overfeed him – he’s very thin and we want the food to stay inside him – plus the wine was for me. Obviously.) He again fell asleep on our porch furniture after a few longing glances toward the living room.

Today, I went onto the porch around noon to call him. No kitteh. I slipped back into the house and commenced a samba-esque rendition of “Just the Way You Are.” I got to a rest … and heard “meow! meow!” in the key of G#. A Billy Joel fan?

We’ve spent the rest of the day with this charming pumpkin. I bought him toys and food and worm pills. Two of the three were a grand hit. I figure I’ll need to take him to the vet this week, which will take care of the de-worming. I’m fully aware the vet visit could bring heartbreak. (I notice Orange Kitty is breathing too fast, though his gums look pink to this rusty observer, and he doesn’t seem to be sneezing or coughing, nor is he evidently in pain. He eats well and likes to play.)

We need to ascertain, too, that no one has lost him. Surely, he was once loved and fed with kindness; otherwise he’d be skittish and feral instead of sweetly social.

But my heart can’t help but leap – nay, pounce! – at the hope that we might have ourselves a part-time kitty, one who could live outdoors due to my sweetie’s allergies, yet enjoy lots of mutual love. And feeding, which would be a whole lot less mutual unless he starts sharing his mice (ugh). (Ideally, I think cats belong indoors, but when the alternative is life as a stray, an outdoor gig might be a decent compromise.)

Whatever happens, I take the appearance of Orange Kitty as blessing in my life. A mitzvah. An arc of grace (at least until he falls off the porch furniture; it seems I still attract rather clumsy cats).

Oh, and my statement that we might just have us a part-time cat? Scratch it. We all know who “owns” whom – on whatever temrs he chooses.

Night-night, sweet Orange Kitty. May you please favor us with your presence tomorrow, the next day, and all the days thereafter.

And it not: Well, the cat came back. Not once, but thrice. Reason for hope, even if – as one of my friends has suggested – OK is just one of those “nonmonogamous” kittehs.

(Click here if you can’t see Laurie Berkner singing “The Cat Came Back.” Yes, she’s a “kids’ singer,” but not only – not in the least.)

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Dear Bear and Tiger,

The Bear baskets are on the left. The Tiger baskets are on the right. The presents not in baskets are to be shared.

If you fight over Hello Kitty I will only bring you vast amounts of bunny poop next Easter. Seriously.

Love,

Your Easter Bunny

This missive was left by the Rabbit, gracing (?) baskets full of sugar and plastic crap that will probably condemn my children to tooth decay and type-2 diabetes.

Kindly note the pastel colors. For all her turdly threats, this is a high-class rabbit who respects Easter traditions. (She also knows that the Tiger loves any poop reference. She further realizes she’lll regret this cheap poop joke a thousand-fold as the Tiger compares each and every chocolate egg to … well, ’nuff said.)

The aforementioned Hello Kitty product is a bubble-blowing set. The Bunny is weary; she has lost all photo-taking capability and merely wishes to sleep until the rain ends in southeast Ohio. (That might be late December, at the rate we’re going.) This blog will not feature a picture of said plastic-crap bubblicious Kitty. You will therefore have to use your florid imaginations. Suffice it to say that the HK product looks incredibly ineffective, as you would expect from a Kitty without a mouth. I mean, how else should she blow bubbles?

Perhaps we’d best not answer that question.

Instead, here is a thing of beauty from the Bunny’s garden. It was not toothsome. That is why we could capture it in a picture, which was taken a few days ago, before the Bunny and her handler committed to a good nights’ sleep. The rain clings to the blossoms. Its fragrance makes us believe in magical rabbits, unearthly and perfect. If only blogs offered scratch-and-sniff functionality!

Happy Easter – or belated spring solstice – or whatever blessed moment you choose to celebrate as the earth awakes from its too-long slumber.

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Long time no meow. Earlier today, longtime reader Euchalon Grandy commented on this blog’s unfortunate radio silence:

Oh No!  I’ve killed Kittywampus with my angry rant!  Please, Sungold, Oh Please come back!  I’ll never post after midnight again!  Nothing but kittens and pink, puffy unicorns from now on…

First: Euchalon, if you bring puffy unicorns onto this blog, they will be driven away by the fierce sound of hissing. (I am honored that you missed me, though!

Second: The blog went dormant because I went on spring break. Even as a student, I never did that! (Too broke.) Then, once I got a teaching job, either my husband or I had too much work (usually both of us). This year, I felt squeezed between winter-quarter duties and spring-quarter prep. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to filing my taxes. Yet I ever-so-maturely decided: SCREW THAT. And so, we were off to the beach. Hilton Head, South Carolina, to be precise, which turned out to be a delight.

The drive south was long indeed (and rains threatened to wash us clean off the mountainous West Virginia Turnpike), but it was also a curious compression of space-time. We left Ohio in sodden winter; by North Carolina, the redbuds were bursting forth; and as we plunged deeper into South Carolina, spring wrapped its green tendrils around us and refused to let loose. It was as though we’d driven three weeks into our future. (Well, the palm trees won’t come to SE Ohio anytime soon, I’m afraid, but the redbuds will soon catch up.)

If you want to view vacation instrumentally, there’s emerging scientific evidence that play is good for us, as Jonah Lehrer reports at Wired. Studies are showing that not just preschoolers benefit more from unstructured play than from direct instruction; even young adults learn better when they have time for play. I’m here to testify that it works for the, um, no-longer-quite-so-young adults, too. As Lehrer notes,

Nietzsche said it best: “The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of the child at play.”

And so I finished my grading from last quarter on the beach, then launched into some reading and brainstorming for a new class that began yesterday already. It was all pretty painless with the salt breeze wafting in the window and the tides whispering and roaring. Nor was it all work. I read a novel for fun and started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (I’m not far enough into it to comment yet.) The kids dug such deep holes in the sand that they could practically disappear underground. They scampered after shells and flied kites with their dad. Most days, we were treated to weather in the upper 70s, balmy enough to sit and read a book (my favorite beachy activity) even with kite-brisk winds. One day I had a cocktail on the beach – a Funky Monkey – another experience completely novel to me. Evenings, we dined with other families who’d traveled with us and played board games next to the pool. When everyone was sunburned and avoiding the peak sun, we putt-putt golfed amid semi-tropical bougainvillea and palmettos.

Instrumental thinking? Oh, screw that too!

It was my first trip to the Deep South, apart from New Orleans, and a few things jarred. At the resort where we stayed, black men took care of security, while Latina/os cleaned. The guests were overwhelmingly white, with a few Spanish-speakers in the mix. More than one business establishment called itself a “plantation” of some sort. At the same time – perhaps because we’re steeped in white privilege – we met unfailingly warm, friendly people, from the (black) security guards who used humor to spice up their day, to the (white) elderly lady who informed my husband that she once lived in Ohio, but the good Lord brought her back to the South.

Now we’re back home. I was greeted by my unfinished syllabus and the tragic crayon-in-the-clothes-dryer incident that exploded 10 minutes before we were due to leave on break. I’ve thought more than once: Why are we not still at the beach? and our friends who went on the trip are querulously asking the same. But just this one thing: When we rolled into town again, weary from an 11-hour drive, we were saluted by a stand of daffodils welcoming us home in our front yard. Even the snow that frosted our yard the first night home couldn’t drag them low.

(The pictures below are all courtesy of my husband.)

Two crispy-burned kids in the surf.

The beach, backlit by sunset.

Sungold turning toward the wind.

A friend and I, casting long shadows framed by palmettos.

Just the beach. That is all. It is enough.

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In my offline reading this week, I came upon an argument for the allure of big boobs. The writer stated that all men prefer large breasts – and that women with small ones risked being misread as men.

Well, I’ve never been mistaken for a man, even though I’m decidedly not one of those gals who – as Susan once said of Edie on Desperate Housewives – enters a room several minutes after her breasts. The only time I was taunted for looking boyish, I had short hair and was five years old. Most of us lesser-breasted girls endured some teasing in junior high and beyond, but we were teased very specifically as girls. (Of course, no one escaped: the busty girls just had to deal with other forms of harassment. And everyone’s bra strap got snapped, sooner or later.)

Now that I’ve reached an age where gravity is an irresistible force and the flesh no longer an immovable object, smaller breasts have some real advantages. Who’d have thought that in seventh grade?

As for all men desiring large breasts? I doubt that’s true, either, though I think it’s still a widely held preconception. It may well be that some college-aged men, having grown up with ubiquitous access to porn, really do expect DDs or more. Even back in my youth, some men were fixated on size: the “breast men” of yore.

But all men? I started to do the math, and I realized that if all heterosexual men insisted on larger-than-average breasts, half of them would be left without a partner. It would be worse than China! Men would have to discover a dude-bro version of Lake Wobegon – one where instead of all the children being above average, all the boobs would be bigger than a C cup.

Back here in the real world, though, most men ultimately seem more interested in whole women, not just their parts. At least, that’s been my experience and observation. Yours, too, I hope?

Echinacea in Berlin’s Tiergarten, July 2010; photo by Sungold

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When my little Bear was actually little, he loved the show “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Now my Tiger has discovered it, too. Yes, it’s aimed at preschoolers, but Muppets are ageless. Myself, I can’t stand the squeaky voice of Tutter the Mouse, but I’m utterly charmed by the big Bear and his little niece Ojo.

(Image borrowed from here.)

I’ve always loved the show’s music, too, even after logging thousands of miles with those tunes filling our car. The one that always struck a melancholy chord in me is “The Goodbye Song,” sung by the Big Bear in a duet with his lovely friend Luna the Moon at the end of each episode. Meant to help the child let go of the fantasy world and transition calmly back to reality with the promise of another day, it had an opposite effect of me, evoking fragility and impermanence and frank loss.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

It’s partly the key change that would put me in a melancholy mood, but most of all it was Luna’s voice. Before googling the show yesterday to see if it’s still in reruns (apparently yes, but not where I live), I didn’t know that Luna was sung by Lynne Thigpen, an actress and singer whose career spanned the stage (Godspell), movies (Anger Management), and oversized Bear muppets.

Thigpen was struck down at age 54 when she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in early 2003. When she died, the show died with her. Her Wikipedia page says that “the crew’s hearts just weren’t in it anymore.” I had wondered why the show disappeared so abruptly and blamed corporate greed at the Disney channel. Wish I’d been right.

I never knew Ms. Thigpen, but I love her voice, and I love her work. I wish I’d known her name years ago. Her voice lent company and comfort in those topsy turvy, sleep deprived, sometimes lonely days of early parenthood.

Bear: Hey, this was really fun

Luna: We hope you liked it too

Bear: Seems like we’ve just begun

Both: When suddenly we’re through

Bear: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Both: Cause now it’s time to go

Bear: But, hey, I say, well, that’s OK

Luna: Cause we’ll see you very soon, I know

Bear: Very soon, I know

Both: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Bear: And tomorrow, just like today

Luna: (Goodbye – today)

Both:
The moon, the bear and the Big Blue House
We’ll be waiting for you to come and play
To come and play, to come and play.

She died too soon. Tomorrow is not just like today. It’s not OK.

So to Lynne: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye. And to Luna: Thanks for the light.

(Photo of Lynne Thigpen from her tribute page at Muppet Central.)

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Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

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