Out With the Old? Not so fast…2018 version.

Yes, it’s a new year, so in with the new…but not without another shout out to some “old” that’s coming with me into 2019.

Big Island Candies
Oh. My. God. Crack in cellophane wrappers. If you are EVER purchasing a lovely giftMika Mints basket to send, or in the mood to treat yourself and your family, look nowhere else. Not a huge sweets person, I can usually sample and leave alone. Not with Big Island Candies. My introduction began with the Mika Chocolates: These soft nibbles feature a dark-chocolate coating on the outside, and on the inside, a smooth, lightly whipped blend of dark and milk chocolate, cream and butter, and finally, a cooling touch of mint flavor. They are all that and more. You won’t find a better chocolate mint.  I next became enslaved by the Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee, followed by the Milk and Dark Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts.  But no need to stop there…Big Island Candies also has Signature Shortbread cookies,  brownies, and a number of other treats. Don’t take my word for it…experience these treats for yourself. https://www.bigislandcandies.com/

Bissell Powertrak Compact Vacuum
One might imagine I’m a cleaning nut with this addition, but the reverse is true. I like a clean space, but just about anything else can pull my attention away from cleaning.  This little vacuum encourages me back to the task because it’s powerful enough to be effective, so light I don’t mind going up and down stairs with it, and super easy to use and maintain. I bought it for around $60, and it boasts cheery lime green accents! A winner from Bissell.  The Bissell says this little number is no longer available, but it is at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Snatch it up… Bissell Powertrak

Louise Penny
If you have not been introduced to award-winning bestselling author Louise Penny, here are the basics: A Canadian author of mystery novels set in the Canadian province of Quebec centred on the work of francophone Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.
If there’s one thing I have done my entire life, reading is it. After spending my entire childhood focused on reading, I majored in it in college. Reading remains my biggest joy and Louise Penny is my favorite author. Interesting, because I’m only a sometime mystery reader, but Louise is so much more than a mystery writer. Her revelations regarding character, relationships, philosophy, and psychology set against the haunting backdrop of  snow-covered Canadian woods make her a literary treasure as well as a popular one. She belonged on this list last year; I’m sure she’ll belong on this list next year. https://www.louisepenny.com/

Knorr’s
Yes, those little packets of seasonings and ingredients for tasty food fast. Roast turkey is a top favorite meal in my family, particularly in November and December.  My home-made gravy is considered part of the tradition, but what my family didn’t know was that I was relying on a natural seasoning packet that isn’t available anymore. In steps Knorr’s Turkey Gravy packet to save the day, and we’re back in business. In 2019, I plan to increase my supply of Knorr’s helpers to have on hand for a last-minute meal.  https://www.knorr.com/us/en/home.html

Blanket Scarves
Days are cold in winter in New England, and increasing years can bring increasing sensitivity to temperature. A dear friend introduced me to the luxury of blanket scarves when she returned from a trip to Ireland and gave me a royal blue wool scarf/shawl. Perhaps the term blanket scarf wasn’t in use then, and perhaps I’m using the term a bit loosely, as a true blanket scarf is probably more of a square or rectangle that can be used like a small throw, or folded to be used as a scarf.  Whatever the exact dimensions, anyone who gets chilly in winter, or in air conditioning, would benefit from these cozy additions to be worn around the neck, the shoulders, or wrapped around legs and feet. I have three at this point, and decided my mother-in-law needed one for her birthday this year. A MUST for plane travel…

Take good care of yourself in the new year!

 

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Show Us What You Can Do, Donald J.

The misfit outsider won the election and the unpopular kids are on top. And they want nothing more than to stick it in everyone’s face.  They can’t believe they’re there. They’re pretty sure they don’t belong there.

But let’s ride this m*&#%er f#^&ing gig Big League!

That’s the current tone of the Trump White House. The leader, Donald J., is flinging himself at executive order after executive order. How can anyone, even as brilliant as this man thinks he is, imagine they are capable of making multiple considered and informed decisions within hours of taking a position? A position where, let’s face it, The Donald is a veritable Intern. But what a prime photo op these signings are. Get the cameras in every few hours and film The Donald doing Big Things. He’s doing Really Big Things.  Doesn’t he look presidential in his dark suit, white shirt, and blue tie doing Really Big Things.

Donald J. has changed his party affiliation with the regularity of the Kardashians introducing a new reality TV show. That he won as a Republican is no accident. Republicans should go in the corner and hang their collective heads in shame for eight years of obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake. You invited a candidate like The Donald. One who planned from the start to work completely outside the standards of a government that’s functioned rather well for over two centuries. Your party earned a candidate like The Donald.

But now we’re all saddled with him. And his team, replete with inexperienced outsiders and angry misfits ready to sell their souls to be an insider–for that elusive illusion of being one of the popular ones.

And oh, but is there no bottom to Donald J.’s egocentricity? How much longer are we going to argue and posture about whom had the most watched inauguration? And is there no end to the depth of deception and duplicity from his band of merry men and women?  Alternative facts? Huh? Voter fraud to the tune of millions when it fits the narrative, but not when there’s talk of investigation? Really?

I understand how this self-designed caricature got elected. People were tired of nothing happening in Washington. The choice became Trump, or don’t vote, and many chose Trump. They took a chance. I so want them not to be wrong. I don’t think Donald J. acts like a bad man. I think he acts like a frightened, needy, and rather bright, child…with possible potential under all that baggage.

So here’s the challenge, Donald J. Trump. You avow you like challenges. Enough with all the playground games and manipulations. This isn’t a school yard. Or a television set.  And you’re not campaigning anymore. You won the presidential election. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about us. All of us. So grow the frick up. Be a man. Be a president. Of these UNITED States of America.

 

 

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Out With the Old? Not so fast…

Yes, it’s a new year, so in with the new…but not without a shout out to some “old” that’s coming with me.

Liquid Fence
If you don’t have gardens, or gardens with animal problems—as in, your yard is their all-day buffet, Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent won’t offer much to you. But surrounded by woods, our yard often gives the impression we keep deer for pets, a veritable Disney land. Which we love. They have been known to stand on the side of the driveway and just watch while we pull our car out and close the garage door, and then they get back to grazing. But we don’t love the fact that over the years, our visitors have eaten large amounts of our landscaping. This largely natural product is about the best there is, keeping our graceful friends from munching our hedges with a mixture that includes “putrescent egg solids” and garlic. I get the concentrate, mix it with water, spray it on, keep my plants, and don’t feel bad at all.

Method Cleaning Products
I’ve loved these natural cleaning products for quite some time,  but after recently trying the 4x HE beach sage laundry detergent, I’m an even bigger fan. I love the clean packaging, the cheery colors, and the scents seal the deal.  Some of my favorites:  grapefruit, cucumber, and beach sage, my new bright turquoise laundry detergent. Happy cleaning!

Rose Lilies1-roselily
This is a personally spectacular find. Over the years of our marriage, my husband has enjoyed giving me lilies—plants and cut flowers, both Asiatic and Oriental varieties. He really likes lilies…but I really don’t. The blooms are too architectural, too stark, too unromantic. Until now. Rose lilies are ruffly, light, softly-scented, and have non-staining pollen. These wonders even have their own Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/Roselilyflowers/  Husband, gift me these ethereal wonders all you want.

Restorative Yoga
Is this a thing?  And where has it been all my adult life? Poses and practice that rely on gravity to create stretching and opening in the muscles and body. Finally, a yoga practice where I don’t end up feeling stiffer, more out of shape, or injured. After 25 minutes, I’m feeling relaxed, youthful, and ready to take on the next several decades!

Good Behavior
Every now and then, I discover a television show that I love so much, I don’t want to talk about it, share it, give an opening to anyone to say a bad word or not love it as much as I do. It’s mine, my secret pleasure. Outlander on Showtime was one such television event. (I can mention it now; it’s hardly a secret.) My 2016 find: TNT’s Good Behavior. I’m addicted. Michelle Dockery. Juan Diego Botto. (And where has he been all my adult life?) Shhhh….

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Wisdom of the Dead

skeletonOctober has been frightening this year. Not because of skeletons guarding doorways, ghosts in the trees, or dismembered body parts sticking out of yards. What’s frightening are the toxic fumes rising from the  cauldron of our election stew.

What would our predecessors think about how we are treating each other, the vitriol and baseness in these election-based exchanges in this civilized twenty-first century? I see banks of the dead, watching, pale and silent. Some I know–my parents are standing in the front–and many I don’t.

This audience of the dead is in agreement. While we the living are so not. They can’t sweat small stuff anymore, or even big stuff. They now understand division better than any of us, divided from earthly companionship, love, and joy.  Yes, They are divided from anger, pain and heartbreak, too, but what they no doubt remember most is harmony, synchronicity, and consideration.

Because if there is a heaven on earth, that’s where it lies.

I wish these dead could speak to us. In their later years, my parents heard the siren call of “the system is rigged.”  They felt that those in power, the “new world order,” were power hungry and evil, out to ruin the rest of us. With the distance of years, I see my parents having this reaction to counter an overwhelming loss of control, of their lives and their bodies. That we are in control is an illusion in the first place, I think, but as we get older, the veil between this illusion and reality gets much thinner. Reality can be hard.

“The system is rigged” resonates as a reaction to humans feeling “I can’t get what I want.” None of us  get exactly what we want, even though we may work diligently toward a particular goal for years. The system is designed that humans will always have challenges, surprises, and shocks; if we are not growing, we are dying. No wonder people build up resistance, fear, and anger to a Sisyphusian nature of existence, rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll down again. When too much seems out of control, we want someone to blame. Must be the people in charge which means–hey, it’s the  government.

Is this the grown-up version of blaming your parents for your problems? Blame the government, or the wealthy employers, or really both, since they are the “system.” And when our culture broadcasts this on a large scale, what is the effect on the upcoming generations? The system is rigged! Why work or try to get ahead? Overthrow the current system!

The dead groan in unison. Has history not yet convinced us as a species that democracy, for all its difficulties, is one of the better systems there is? Perhaps the best? No, revolution is not the answer. Unless that revolution means taking responsibility, all of us, for the divisive poisonous stew we are swimming in. Human existence, and politics, is a see-saw, a balancing scale; sometimes events tip in favor of you and your beliefs, sometimes the tip is in my favor. What our elders, and those who have gone before would tell us on Halloween, when the veil between the dead and the living is at it’s thinnest of the year, is this: “Grow up. Stop throwing tantrums and trying to get your way. No one consistently gets their way, ever. The human system is rigged to make sure of that. Start sharing toys and figuring out how to play nice.”

Shame on us for acting so selfishly and childishly. That’s what the dead would say. But they can’t talk anymore. They only listen. What wisdom they could offer from the other side of the divide. Divisiveness is hell, they’d say, but hearing each other while you still can, then leaning in toward harmony, not discord, is the closest thing to heaven–on earth.

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The Magic of Buried Banana Peels

azaleasWhy didn’t I stop my elderly and disheveled mother from scooting out to the rose bushes flanking our front door to bury the breakfast banana peels? The short answer would be: she’s my mother. The longer answer would be: she so believed those banana peels would help my roses, she had me half-convinced, too. That was how we rolled, for decades. So firm were her beliefs about any number of  VERY outside of the box things, that I couldn’t unequivocally decide she was wrong.

So I didn’t stop her from rooting around under the rose bushes, even though I was uncomfortable with the activity for a number of reasons.  Foremost was the fact that this woman who was still climbing trees to prune them when she was in her sixties, and showing off her can-can kick in her seventies, was now in her late eighties, post a few strokes and the passing of my father.  She was frail, unsteady on her feet, and had retreated deep inside herself, courtesy of depression and beginning dementia. Second was the fact I wasn’t super supportive of burying any of our garbage a few feet from the front door, especially in daylight, and I wasn’t too sure my neighbors would be, either. And third, while I was open to the fact that the peels might help the roses, I was also concerned that rooting around the rose roots in the dirt among the few remaining strawberry plants that were supposed to be ground cover could be more harmful than helpful to that little front walk ecosystem.

I also didn’t stop her because my mother loved to garden; one of the only joys she had left. It didn’t bring a smile to her face; nothing did at that point. But fussing over plants was about the only place where present-day challenges would fade, and she would lose herself out in my yard, burying banana peels or pulling weeds, or in the house, walking around grooming my houseplants. Gardening was a comfort, one she’d enjoyed as long as I could remember. If I made her come in the house, or stopped her from taking her tipsy weak self up the stairs to complete her houseplant routine, what was a saving her for? If she died gardening, I knew she’d be happy.

My mother has not been in my garden for a number of years, or any garden for that matter, except perhaps a great garden in the sky. If we have any say in what our heaven is, my mother is gardening. My indoor and outdoor plants now survive despite the care, or lack thereof, that I and my husband can give them. Even with her crazy schemes, my mother was a better influence on any garden than I probably will ever be, even with a horticulture degree as one of my credits.

But I did inherit my mother’s curiosity about plants and what makes them grow. So last week, years after those banana peels were laid to rest under my roses, as I researched the answer to the garden legend that peonies need ants to bloom (they don’t), I stumbled upon banana peels under the rose bushes. Roses supposedly like buried banana peels because they increase soil potassium. However, the soil microorganisms breaking down those banana peels have to extract nitrogen from the soil to complete their job, so the soil can end up low in nitrogen along the way, and without even much potassium to show for it. A net negative. Composting the banana peels first is the way to go, followed by spreading compost around the roses.

I may have also inherited impatience from my mother. Who wants to wait for months down the road for the banana peels to be composted, after all that monotonous effort of liming and turning?  Burying banana peels to make your roses bloom is magical, a fairy tale we want to be true. Practical is important, but magic is imperative.

Note to son: the day I shuffle my silver-haired self out to scatter used coffee grounds under the azaleas in your yard, let me be! I’m doing just fine.

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Growing Hope In Unlikely Soil

I’ve been educating myself on appropriate expectations for organic weed control.  My teacher has been the proprietor of an organic weed control service.  He’s militant about organic weed control. This is a strange juxtaposition for a tree-hugging profession. Peace, love, and save the earth one natural application of weed control at a time. But this fellow sounds pissed off. He talks in blacks and whites. In us and thems. Those who believe that putting chemicals into lawns and yards is toxic to us all and those people who don’t?

Were I to meet someone with this approach in a different arena, I would type cast him. I would put him at a rally for Donald Trump, where I easily imagine a person who has the absolute answers, and identifies everyone who doesn’t have the answers. An angry, dissatisfied person who embraces the idea that the world has it out for people like him. In a word: screwed.  By all the bad people who are making things bad for people like him.

An edge creeps into the organic weed controller’s voice, even though I agree with him about the destructive practice of pouring chemicals on and into Mother Earth. He’s singing to the choir!! However, I may not have the budget to take the full-scale integrated approach he mentions to completely nip the weed problem in the bud, and this seems to irritate him.

But what makes joining forces with this edgy weed eradicator an easy decision for me, despite hearing this topic framed in an us and them approach—an approach that generally makes me recoil, arbitrary separations that plant seeds for  the worst of everything in this universe of ours– is that he’s no victim. He’s not sitting around complaining and blaming, the tone at that Trump rally I was ready to consign him to. Nor is he attempting the tactic of insulting and bullying me into submission, another Trump rally approach.

He’s channeling his anger into action. Into organic weed control. This man has hope. That he can make a difference, a positive contribution to improving this world. Yes, one natural application of weed control at a time. And I’ll be right there with him.

I would have easily type cast this man, but I didn’t.  I also think I would have been wrong.

That gives me hope.

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Why Are Restaurants Trying To Kill Us?

salmonI met my mother and sister for lunch recently. They live about an hour away, but there’s a large shopping area between us. We have a choice of several restaurants, but I like one in particular because their food seems healthier. And you can ask for nutrition data, which they’ll gladly bring you. On one sheet, in teeny tiny type, but at least it’s available. Like all restaurants, you have to be careful not to overeat the bread or sop up half a cup of olive oil with it. This time they had a new menu item, Sesame Hoisin Salmon salad. Spinach, snap peas, mango, Napa cabbage, pickled ginger, and shaved carrots. Wow! Cabbage and carrots, spinach and snap peas! Just reading it made me feel healthy. Then there was the salmon, “grilled and lacquered with a sesame hoisin glaze.” Lacquered brought up images of shiny furniture, but hey, grilled fish is good! Omegas! And finally, “orange-sesame dressing.” No mention of oil there, or cheese, so that also sounded light. Sign me up! I ordered that salad and ate every bit of it. It was delicious. It didn’t come with any bread — because I’d already had a third of what they brought to the table to begin with — so I really felt like I’d done myself a favor with my choice.

Then I went home and looked up the nutrition data for my lovely salmon salad. WHAT? Eight hundred and seventy calories! How is that bleeping possible? Did they inject the salmon with straight-up FAT? And thirty-two grams of sugar? From WHAT? It was a SALAD! Oh, and that bread and oil for the table? Twelve hundred and seventy calories! Divided by three comes out to … TOO MUCH. THIS is what makes me crazy about dining out. I eat what I think are healthy items, and they’re not. I know, if it tastes that good, it’s probably not good for you.  And restaurants load up on fat and sugar because our little lizard brains adore it, and it keeps us coming back. Yes, if I’m ordering fries or a brownie sundae or a big plate of nachos, I know I’m getting a huge number of calories and fat. But a salmon salad should not be a big surprise. We spend a lot of our food dollars at restaurants, and a lot of us eat out several times a week. We’re great customers! So why are restaurants trying to kill us?

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May Day Magic Indeed!

1-FullSizeRenderDoes this look like fun or what?! This art is from the lovely book Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions by Sarah Ban Breathnach, a must have for families wanting to continue some of the delightful seasonal traditions practiced in the Victorian home.

I’m forever  attracted to traditional festivals attached to nature and the seasons.  Add spring flowers and streamers of pastel ribbons, and what’s not to love?  May Day is a natural for me, and dancing the May Pole has happily been checked off my bucket list. While I might have imagined a daytime version of dancing in the woods under the moon in a light muslin shift accompanied by Van Morrison’s Moon Dance, the actual experience of dancing the Maypole was a lovely one nonetheless.  My son’s Waldorf school had built a Maypole in the school yard and the school’s families,  from toddlers to grandparents, gathered in the spring air on a sunny May day to take a turn holding onto one of the ribbons and moving gracefully in a counter-clockwise circle around the pole accompanied by recorder music. Magic indeed. And may I add, my son’s school also added the tradition of serving fresh baked shortcake with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream, an inspired addition if there ever was one.

Another May Day tradition is the creation of May baskets.  Early in the morning, children in the Middle Ages gathered wildflowers to create baskets that they secretly left for friends and neighbors. Tradition said that if they were discovered, they had to run back for a kiss.

How romantic is that!!  Too romantic to be left there, I decided. So this alluring tradition became the seed from which blossomed (at least I like to think so) my contemporary romance, May Day Magic. Single mother Diane enlists the help of her two children to create a May Day basket to deliver to her ailing mother, their grandmother. She’s all thumbs when handsome plant nursery owner Marc joins in to help select the flowers.  Diane has also secretly created May baskets for her children as a surprise they will discover when they return from delivering their grandmother’s basket. But there’s one more surprise coming, this time for Diane. Marc’s got a little May Day magic of his own in mind…

Here’s to enjoying some May Day magic with Marc and Diane, and making a little May Day magic of your own!

May Day Magic on Amazon

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Back in the USA

No sooner had Kim, the 18 year old Chinese kid who lives with me, landed in China, where he went for school vacation to visit his parents, when he texted me that he needed help. Literally he texted, “I need your help”. I have received these SOS texts from Kim before and I am always apprehensive about what might follow. Once, he left his soccer shoes at home and he had a game that day. Another time he was having trouble with his eyes and thought he should go to a doctor. So, what was it that he needed my help with this time?

When I texted back inquiring as to the problem, I received the following, “I left my Immigration paper”. Well, this sounded serious but something I know nothing about. He went on to ask me to look in his backpack for some official Immigration paper (it wasn’t there!) and then the top of his desk (I found an F-1 paper and texted Kim a picture of it so I could be sure it was the right form). Yes, I had indeed found the right papers! Step one complete.

He then asked me to send them to Xi’an in western China, his hometown, by 2 day mail. Ok, sounded like an easy plan. When asked for his home address he texted three lines of Chinese. Whoa! I don’t read, write nor can I copy Chinese. But, I knew people who could…

So, after school I drove over and picked up JZ (American name), the Chinese boy that lives with my friends, so he could accompany me to the Mail Store and write the address on the letter to go to Kim. Unfortunately, the Mail Store told me that there was no 2 day delivery to Xi’an; it would take 9 days. Now I got nervous. Kim was due home in 12 days and with the time change, etc. I didn’t know if the papers would get to him in time. I decided not to chance these very important original immigration papers to the Chinese mail system.

Now what? I asked my Chinese friends if Kim could use a copy of the papers to get back in the USA and they all said absolutely not. But, Jill’s (American name) husband was returning to Shanghai around the time Kim would be changing planes in Shanghai and he would be glad to rendezvous with Kim to hand him his papers. Sounded feasible. But, when asked, Kim told me that he was not going through Shanghai as he had when going to China; he was changing planes in Beijing. So, thanks but no thanks to Jill’s husband.

In the meantime, I emailed a copy of the F-1 to Kim in case there was any way he could use a copy to get through customs even though all signs pointed to no.

And, then, it struck me that the best solution was to head to the airport just prior to Kim’s arrival and beg someone to take the papers to Customs so that they would be there when Kim passed through. On the day of Kim’s arrival into Boston I drove to Logan Airport, International Terminal, Hanian Airlines and walked right up to an employee behind the ticket desk. I explained the situation and Harry (American name) told me that he would take the papers to the plane and hand them to Kim. No begging required. When the plane landed I texted Kim to look out for Harry.

Harry did go on the plane and handed the Immigration papers to Kim. Kim sailed through Customs and he was back in the USA! And people think immigration is easy!!!

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Secrets of the Universe: Unisex Dressing?

secretslogoWhy is it okay for women to wear men’s clothes, but not okay for men to wear women’s clothes? 

I’ve worn men’s clothes for as long as I can remember. I have older brothers, and pulling on their tee-shirt at the beach or their sweatshirt to warm up on an evening was always fine with me. By high school, I was obsessing on when my brother would  hand-me-down his jeans: worn-in Levis to be specific. In my eyes, worn-out guy’s Levi jeans were the ideal wardrobe complement for the men’s construction boots my friends and I were wearing daily, which we paired with lacy fifties-era vintage blouses and Grandma-style button cardigans. Hot we were!

Now we take unisex clothing for granted, yet unisex shopping takes us to fashions designed for men that women also wear. Flannel work shirts, tuxedo shirts and pants, cummerbunds, sleeveless undershirts, always jeans, surf shorts, Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers, combat boots, bomber jackets, and the list goes on…

Levis-501-MonroeWhy doesn’t the unisex pendulum swing the other way? Fashions designed for women that men wear? Guys are making inroads in unisex dressing in the jewelry arena, but that’s about it. Guys wearing ruffles? Eh, not so much in this country. Skirts? No, for the most part, we still think men in skirts is strange. Would you buy a tunic beach cover up for your man? I can’t even conjure this look in my imagination, can you? Men, would you slip on a strappy platform sandal to go with those summer-time shorts? We would think this ridiculous. But why? How fair is that?

And so we come to this week’s Secrets of the Universe question for our panel:  Why is it fine if women wear men’s clothes, but not-so-much if men wear women’s clothes?

B: While I do find this unfair (which is how this landed as a panel question in the first place), I can’t say I’m fantasizing a change. I like wearing men’s clothes. And I like my men wearing men’s clothes, also. But to any men wanting to wear women’s clothes, I support you!

D: Exactly. That is the question. It makes no sense to me. The dominant group will not dress in the subordinate group’s clothing. But the subordinate group can dress in the dominant group’s clothing, and that’s cute. A sexist society.

P: American men are afraid homosexuality is catching. They don’t want to sleep on pink sheets, let alone wear feminine clothes.


R: Ball gowns are designed to highlight certain areas men just don’t have. Metrosexuals are wearing more feminine fashion. Men wear pink. Ruffles just aren’t in right now!

Does this mean that when women completely obliterate those glass ceilings, we will come home from the office to be welcomed by darling men wearing our embroidered ruffly-edged pink silk robes?  Hmmm, this panel author needs to cogitate on that one…

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