OyChicago blog

Bring Change to the Diaper Changer!

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07/27/2015

Bring Change to the Diaper Changer! photo 1

We were just wrapping up dinner at a new restaurant enjoying a lovely family evening together. My 1-year-old son, John, had eaten well and managed to get most of the food we offered into his mouth, avoiding the floor. My wife and I managed to complete at least half of a decent conversation. Nobody was screaming yet.

As I was signing for the bill, she was wiping a tiny pair of hands and some chubby cherubic cheeks. She sniffed the air twice and then lifted John out of the seat and went in for closer inspection. Scrunching her nose, she looked at me and said,

"He needs a change."

We paused and looked at each other with the same concerned expression on our faces.

"Is there a changing table in the restroom?"

We tend to focus our lives on the things that matter most; when it comes to the day-to-day kind of stuff, we don't often pay attention to the things not relevant to our immediate needs. Before we had a child, I wouldn't have thought twice about the layout and accessories inside a public restroom. Now, I keep a mental list of which locales provide the best and worst options for taking care of some often dirty but very necessary business.

Rather than list the best accommodators and worst offenders when it comes to family-friendly bathrooms, I thought it would be more productive to list some basic requests to bring all restrooms that serve families up to a certain level of comfort.

Bring Change to the Diaper Changer! photo 2

Parents' Bill of Rights for Diaper-Changing Stations

1. Have one

Without a place to change a diaper, my three options are change the baby on the dirty, diseased bathroom floor; try to get him to hold very still while I balance him on the edge of the sink; or change him out in the restaurant where his bright baby bum is on display for everyone to see.

2. Have one in the men's room too!

This is 2015 -- men change diapers too. Some guys go out in public with small children and don't bring a woman along. Having the women's restroom as a default location for a changer is not okay.

3. Put it in a reasonable location

Don't put the changer in the doorway so everyone has to uncomfortably squeeze by me to enter or exit the bathroom. Don't put it in a bathroom stall. This is all too common and makes no sense. Having it within arm's reach of a sink and a trashcan is really the most practical.

4. Provide a trashcan nearby

My free-throw percentage is awful. Challenging me to toss a stinky diaper across a crowded bathroom with one hand on my child, keeping him from rolling off the table, is a sure way for all of us to lose badly.

5. Check it every once in a while.

Make wiping it down a part of the regular bathroom cleaning routine. If that strap is broken, consider fixing it because a broken strap just becomes something new and disgusting for my child to put in his mouth. Consider fixing that broken hinge, so I don't have to balance on one foot to hold up half the table with my knee.

Trust me, any parent can tell you that these are really just the bare-minimum requests to ensure a safe, clean and comfortable diaper change for baby and us. It's not much to ask, is it?

Even if you are not a parent, you probably know someone who is! Please comment and share this post with others, so we can get some traction around this!

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A Blogger’s Paradise

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07/24/2015

A Blogger's Paradise photo

Photo credit: Alexanna Cox

It all began on a little island called Maui.

While soaking in the Hawaiian sun on a family vacation, I was schmoozing with one of the other hotel guests, a mother of three who was telling me about her children. As she was explaining her daughter's hopes of attending New York University, she also mentioned that her daughter began a fashion blog.  

I didn't think much of the conversation for a few days. But, then, it hit me -- I could start my own fashion blog! I've always loved fashion and was going to study it in college. Creating a place where I could document my favorite fashion trends seemed like a wonderful idea.

The direction and content of my blog has changed through time. After blogging for about two years, I've learned a lot along the way. I've rounded up what I believe to be the three most important elements to becoming a happy blogger. I hope my advice will help you if you're interested in starting a blog dedicated to whatever interests you.

Find your niche

Do you love dressing your dog in fun outfits? Maybe you should start a blog about canine fashion. Do you love fixing cars? Maybe start a blog that gives step-by-step instructions on how to tune up a car. Find a topic that interests you.

I have a passion for fashion, but there are thousands of blogs dedicated to fashion. I had to figure out a way to differentiate myself. What I love most within the fashion industry is ethically sourced and made fashion, so I've decided to focus on that. Hone in on your passion and blog about it.

Don't compare yourself to others

Don't you dare research how many followers another blogger has on Instagram or compare your content to another blogger's. It's good to research so you can become inspired to better your own blog, but never, ever, ever feel bad about your content. Blogging is a never-ending learning experience.

Be consistent

Post to your blog on a regular basis. Honestly, this is not one of my strong suits. I consider myself consistently inconsistent -- a quality that isn't ideal when you have followers who await your next post. I suggest sitting down with a calendar and planning what and when you'll post. I've found that writing things down holds me accountable.

Most importantly, enjoy blogging. Most of us have full-time jobs and interests outside of our blogs, so don't put too much pressure on yourself and your blog.

Blogging has become one of my favorite hobbies. I hope it becomes one of your favorites, too!

Carly is the founder of Hippie and Heart, a blog dedicated to ethical and Fair Trade fashion.

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The Trainwreck Magic Mike Dance-Off

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Two messages about female sexuality at the movies this summer
07/23/2015

The Trainwreck/Magic Mike Dance-Off photo 3

Trainwreck

We're living in an age of unprecedented female talent and, more importantly, widespread recognition for female talent. It is an age in which female protagonists can tell stories from a woman's point of view on TV, Netflix and the "Silver Screen."

These women can be strong, ugly, brash, sexual and downright sassy. Katniss is fighting governmental tyranny in the Hunger Games trilogy, and Olivia is covering it up in Scandal. The female experience is examined with a poetic and dark magnifying glass in Orange is the New Black through careful personal narratives and broader commentary on the criminal justice system. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Zooey Deschanel are reminding us to laugh at ourselves and peel back the layers of femininity while also embracing them.

More than anyone, however, Amy Schumer has been my feminist hero in recent months. Schumer's Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central is an unapologetic affront to sexism and misogyny everywhere--from the media to interpersonal relationships and experience. Each week, her show poignantly tackles how women are portrayed in micro and macro levels in society via humorous vignettes with celebrity guest appearances. Schumer's honesty and no-nonsense wit has gained widespread acclaim among men and women, which is very exciting, given that she appears to have a feminist agenda.

I first saw Schumer live at the YLD Big Event a couple of years ago and I was floored with her performance. Until viewing her stand-up and TV show, I had yet to see a female performer tackle feminist issues in such a self-conscious manner. Schumer is taking society's narrative about what it means to be female and prodding it with her big humorous stick (pun intended).

Schumer somehow has managed to toe the line between sexual humor and female empowerment. She has revealed both her seemingly extensive sexual experience and also her support for a healthy female identity. This is not an easy line to toe, as women are often boxed in (also pun intended) as a "Madonna" or "whore."

Because I've gained so much respect for her, I had been anticipating Schumer's film debut, Trainwreck, for months. So, I was surprised that I came away from the film disappointed--or rather, conflicted. With her film, Schumer managed, in some ways, to stray from what seems to be her mission of building women up.

The Trainwreck/Magic Mike Dance-Off photo 1

Trainwreck

I was pleasantly surprised to find the story had substance beyond her incredibly humorous moments and jokes, but I found it disappointing that the movie teetered on becoming the cookie-cutter romantic comedy we all love/hate and know. Schumer played it safe, and there were times when she also appeared to betray the self-empowered woman I believed her to be. There were many small moments in the film that felt like we, the audience, should wave our fingers and slut shame Amy (the protagonist). The movie is about her journey from a slutty "train wreck" to a tamed and "open-minded" girl in love.

As someone who has been out in the dating world for years, I understood and appreciated her humor around feeling disenchanted and even cynical about dating. But this movie felt like a cautionary tale about a 30-something who just needs to stop drinking and having so much sex.

That said, I really enjoyed Anne Helen Petersen's feature on BuzzFeed.com, "In 'Trainwreck,' Amy Schumer Calls Bullshit On Postfeminism," in which she posits that Schumer's film actually provides real and poignant commentary on post-feminist ideals. Schumer's character, Petersen explains, in the face of misogynistic stereotypes, embodies them, and then learns how to let them go and get out of her own way in order to be happy.

"Trainwreck suggests that neither romance, children, sex, shopping, jobs, sick apartments, nor even friendship with LeBron James can provide a shortcut to happiness," Petersen writes. "Instead, confidence, self-knowledge, and mercilessly rejecting anyone or anything that makes you feel like shit--especially the contradictory demands of postfeminism--that's something like bliss."

Even if Trainwreck is about radical acceptance, I still struggle with it.

Spoilers ahead: Amy's journey closes with her conceding to be more accepting of kindness, stability and sports--all in the name of love. The film ends with her dressed as a cheerleader performing to her love interest, Aaron's (Bill Hader), favorite song, Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl," alongside a team of cheerleaders.

This moment was the nail in the coffin for me. Amy plays the cliché cheerleader to indicate to Aaron that she can compromise and truly integrate herself into his life. Earlier in the film she states she doesn't like sports; by the end, falling in love means becoming the weakest personification of herself--and maybe the sports community. She lets her guard down, I suppose …

A week or so before Trainwreck, it so happens that I saw Magic Mike XXL, and with much irony, I must admit it deserves some high marks for encouraging female sexuality. Obviously, a movie about male strippers is going to appeal to a female audience, but the movie consciously promotes and opens the gates for female sexuality.

The Trainwreck/Magic Mike Dance-Off photo 2

Magic Mike XXL

Playing a strip show ringleader, Jada Pinkett Smith offers a window into a modern-day, female-focused brothel/pleasure house for women, in which she preaches self-esteem and the values of female sexuality. Via Pinkett Smith's performance and others' throughout the film, we truly experience the female (sexual) gaze, as many women experience it (or hope to experience it), something Nina Friend reflects on for The Huffintgon Post in "The Female Gaze Is Real In 'Magic Mike XXL.'"

Friend quotes the prominent feminist YouTuber Laci Green:

"In 'Magic Mike XXL,' 'people of all ages and sizes, races and gender expression are free to be sexual on their own terms.' Therein lies the Female Gaze: Women in this movie are given power over their sexual desires--something we rarely, if ever, see on the big screen."

The Magic Mike sequel is silly and very poorly written at times, but it captures a sense of pride and empowerment about sex that Trainwreck truly lacks. There is even a moment in the final act (small spoiler alert) in which one of the strip show montages plays on the marriage fantasy and dually incorporatesracy sexual innuendos and play. This performance encourages women who can want and have it all--the fairytale and the wild sex they might desire.

I also recommend "The Gender Politics of Magic Mike XXL" in The Atlantic, which provides three writers' perspectives on the gender politics of the film, and offers counter points, including one that the film provides a story of "what women want" according to men …The film is surprisingly complex, and I encourage you to review these perspectives outlined as well.

So, stripper or cheerleader: Which do you do choose?

If you've seen either or both of these films, comment below with your thoughts!

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My Workout Heaven

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07/20/2015

I have found my workout heaven.

It's a place where I'm accepted, I belong, and I feel motivated to do my best.

But first, let me tell you what my workout heaven is NOT:

1. Boxing gyms. I tried one because a friend found a coupon for a free class. It was probably the most intense workout I've ever had -- sprinting, running, more lunges than I've ever done in my life, and then punching and kicking a bag as if it were your worst enemy. It's possible I might have been so exhausted that I shed some tears -- or was that sweat?? -- no, they were legitimate tears. Meanwhile, the instructor didn't explain the terms -- something about upper crust? I thought that was a bakery -- and I felt a bit stupid.

2. Running on the street. I might someday become that girl who suddenly picks up running, little by little, and then runs marathons, but so far that hasn't happened. For now, it's hard, and then the whole world -- and all of my friends in my neighborhood -- have to watch me suffer.

3. Sports. I wish I liked playing sports for exercise, but again with the whole embarrassment thing. Remember how in college they had the professional level, then the "club" level for the pretty serious kids, and then the "intramural" level for the kids playing on teams with their dorm-mates? I need a level below that, for people who don't always remember the rules of sports but need a ball to hold and a team to be a part of to distract them while running.

My Workout Heaven photo

After trying those and many other workout activities unsuccessfully, my ears perked up when my coworker mentioned her Aqua Zumba class. I used to like swimming, I thought. This could be good. I signed up in January and I've been going weekly ever since.

Aqua Zumba -- a water aerobics class -- meets at the Lutheran General Hospital Fitness Center in Park Ridge, Ill. It's sort of on my way home from work, and for $5 a class, it's certainly worth it. I arrive in the pool 20-30 minutes early and swim laps, recalling my front crawl, breast stroke, side crawl, and, my personal favorite, the "Monkey-Airplane-Soldier" strokes from my swimming lesson days.

The members of the class trickle into the pool, chatting, and then the music starts. The instructor leads us through a warm-up and then into our upbeat Zumba moves -- but we're all under water. Dragging your arms in the air might not do anything in real life, but under water, there's resistance and it's a real muscle workout. Running a few feet outside is no big deal, but running a few feet under water -- it's quite different.

Our instructor dances to fun Latin songs with an occasional "Uptown Funk" thrown in there, and I appreciate the no-pressure environment. Can't kick your leg all the way up in the air? No problem. Starting with your right arm instead of your left? No biggie. Need to take a break? Who cares? We are told that we are doing a good job, and we're even encouraged to sing along with the music.

I follow the moves, I tune out, I make next week's dinner plans in my head, and I enjoy some brainless, stress-free time to myself.

Oh, and the best part -- I'm the youngest, skinniest, fittest, most in-shape person in the class. When I go to the gyms in Lakeview, I'm surrounded by girls who are much better at it all than me; but here, in the comfort of the Lutheran General Hospital Fitness Center, I'm the one to watch, the most flexible, the highest jumper. It might not be fair, being 30 years younger than most of the other people, but you know what, it's doing wonders for my self-esteem.

So, one of these days, join me in the pool -- I'll show you my new moves to the latest Pitbull songs and I promise -- no lunges.

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My Cubs Inheritance

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07/17/2015

My Cubs Inheritance photo 1

I have been a Chicago Cubs fan for as long as I can remember. Before I even knew the difference between a ball and a strike, I proudly wore Cubby Blue. I'm not a Cubs fan because I'm a North Sider and I'm certainly not a fan because of their track record. No, I am a fan because the Cubs were my grandpa's team, so they are my team.

Grandpa Bill didn't have a particularly idyllic childhood. A young Jewish immigrant, he and my great-grandmother, Edith, fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and after a time in Shanghai, were rescued to Chicago. My great-grandfather, Herbert, was able to join them in the U.S. a year later. My family was fortunate to have survived the war, but they still faced many challenges, especially Grandpa Bill.

In America, as in Germany, Grandpa was singled out for being different. He was German. Changing his name from Wolfgang to William couldn't hide that in Chicago just as taking off his Star of David couldn't hide that he was Jewish in Breslau. When his classmates heard his accent and saw his blonde hair they called him "Nazi." When he observed the Sabbath on Friday nights, they called him "Christ Killer."

However, despite these experiences, Grandpa found joy in many things -- a good book, a nice meal, a fine piece of music, his family and of course, the Chicago Cubs. He loved everything about Wrigley Field, from its iconic ivy to the shout of hot dog vendors marching up and down the stadium aisles. He read every book about baseball he could get his hands on and, as a result, he knew just about everything about baseball, from the Golden Age of Babe Ruth on.

But it was Ernie Banks who was his favorite player. Ernie personified what Grandpa loved about the Cubs: it was all about the joy of the game. "Let's play two," Ernie would say, and Grandpa thought his attitude was infectious. He loved the '69 Cubs, and taught my mom and uncle to appreciate them, too, pointing out the elegance of a Kessinger-Beckert double play, the consistent fire of strikeout champion Fergie Jenkins and the power of slugger Billy Williams. To this day, my mom has her collection of baseball cards in her keepsake box -- including the entire 1969 starting lineup.

Given Grandpa's passion for the baseball, it was only natural that he shared his love of the game with his grandchildren. I have fond memories of huffing up Wrigley's cement ramps and flagging down the elusive malt vendors with their dark blue freezer bags; of sifting through racks of crisp jerseys and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with Grandpa at the top of my lungs during the 7th inning stretch.

My Cubs Inheritance photo 2

As I got older, it became less about peanuts and Cracker Jacks and more about enjoying a rare opportunity to spend time alone with Grandpa. At family gatherings, it was hard to get a word in edgewise since, like any group of Jews, we talked over each other incessantly. But at the ballpark it was just the two of us. With Grandpa, it felt like I could talk about anything, from books and music to tougher subjects like struggling friendships and picking the right college. Somehow, talking with him made the playful subjects in my life more interesting and the daunting subjects more palatable.

Unfortunately, we had our last talk at Wrigley in 2012. The following year, a brain tumor felled the body, but never the mind, of my amazing Grandpa. For the last two summers, our seats at Wrigley sat vacant. But this year, we filled them again and then some when my mother, father, uncle, cousins and I returned to Wrigley to celebrate what would have been Grandpa Bill's 78th birthday. We laughed and sang and drank bad beer, we talked about books and tough life choices, and we remembered the amazing man who made such a profound impact on our lives.

Amid all the bodies and noise of Wrigley Field, it was easy for us to imagine him in the stands clapping his hands and shouting, "Let's go Cubbies!"

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Dealing with Anxiety

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07/16/2015

Dealing with Anxiety photo

"Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength."

I love this quote! But sometimes we have to ask ourselves … now what? How are we supposed to deal with the natural anxieties of life? I think we can begin to answer that question by understanding the mechanisms of anxiety.

Anxiety is a three-part process. The first stage is the assessment. I have a few kids, and it's amazing to watch how they assess the same situation in such different ways. When they all see a big heavy dog walking toward us on the sidewalk, for example, they respond differently. The youngest smiles and reaches out her hand to pet him. Another is apprehensive, but also wants the chance to pet the dog. Another has now crossed the street to retain a 200-foot distance at all times from being anywhere near what she assesses as a situation with a potentially vicious monster. We all assess life situations differently, and that assessment is the first stage of setting up whether it's going to be a moment of anxiety or not.

The second stage is the feeling of being an outsider, or a foreigner. This is a sense of discomfort. In an abstract sense, it's a feeling of insecurity. When experiencing anxiety, we start to feel unsafe and scared in our own skin. Where we used to feel security, we now feel discomfort.

The third stage is when we retract into ourselves. This actually happens physiologically with our blood going to our vital organs, and it also happens emotionally. We are no longer able to connect with the world outside of us; we are cut off from whatever is going on around us. We don't have the relaxed comfortable presence of mind required to think outside of ourselves.

Interestingly, these three stages are alluded to in one Hebrew word, "gur." Although the word is used in reference to fear (see Numbers 22:3), the word actually has three meanings according to the Midrash, a compilation of the philosophical teachings of Talmudic Sages. These three meanings are: "assessment of danger," "foreign," and "to gather in." They correspond directly with the three stages of anxiety.

In terms of the first stage, if we can reassess the situation through another lens, we may see that it's not as dangerous as we thought. A simple tool would be to ask a friend for their opinion. You might be surprised at what others see as danger or not.

Regarding feeling foreign and insecure, you can combat that by being proactive to do things that make you feel more secure. These can be as simple as checking in with a loved one, calling home, hanging out with friends, texting your sibling, or spending time with your special someone. Do some self-exploration, and try to figure out what it is that makes you feel really secure and comfortable inside (thriller rollercoasters may not be the first option here).

The third stage of disconnect can also be remedied. Similar to the second stage, we need to make special efforts to connect with others. That's not always easy to do when in a state of fear or anxiety, but it is all the more so important. Our friends, family, and community provide us with the stability and support to make it through trying times. As the eternal song of the early '80s taught us, "For good times and bad times, I'll be on your side forevermore. That's what friends are for!"

I don't think we'll ever reach a place of looking forward to anxiety to deal with. However, when those moments come up, I hope we can provide each other the support, love, perspective, and understanding to make it through them. And hopefully we'll come out with even better tools for life in assessment, security, and connections.

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Loving the Little Things

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07/15/2015

Adam Daniel Miller photo 4

Well hello there! Welcome to my Oy! post, "Loving the Little Things," a post that could have also been titled, "Enjoying the Small Stuff" or "Appreciating the Wee Wonders" or "Insert Synonym-Filled Title Here."

For you see, I love synonyms. You might even say I love different words with similar meaning. But I digress, meander and ramble. For me synonyms, in a strange, curious and atypical way, make me happy, jubilant and tickled pink. I'm very particular on the color in which I am to be tickled. This is because I try to enjoy the little things in life --those moment's that may be small to others, but huge to me.

There is a lot of hustle and/or bustle in all of our lives, and taking the time each day to notice to good or special moments in between can show me when a bad day was actually worth getting up for. So while I don't mean to get on my soap box here (there was an abundance of soap on sale for Amazon Prime Day and I didn't know I needed it until I bought it), I want to share with you some of those minuscule moments in my life that make it all the more full for having happened, so that maybe you see in your own life where those moments exist as well.

I revel in realizing the potential for small opportunities and taking them. As silly for me as it is, at the Blackhawks parade last month, I noticed Red Bull distributors on the street giving out free energy drinks. Therefore, I took the opportunity to keep walking by them to get free cans. I did this four times, wearing different disguises and putting on different voices, of course. But what I found true pleasure with this was then giving some of them to my coworkers to help give their day some feathery appendages. (I can't say the actual slogan for Red Bull, but either way my phrase is funnier).

Additionally, I enjoy opportunities that come from exploring a new neighborhood, and discovering a place that has a lunch deal for a Chicago-style hot dog, fries and drink for under $6. It's such a small thing, but I don't shut up about how stupidly happy that makes me.

While those previous moments happened rather organically, I am not a fan of expected celebrations/holidays, so I instead sometimes create, invent or fabricate my own. This is something I get from my parents, actually. I celebrate random milestone days. Like with my girlfriend, I celebrated us dating for 300 days, and more recently, for 1 million minutes. Having literally hundreds of thousands of minutes, you would have thought she'd have seen it coming. Or one of my more prolific, productive and worthwhile celebrations was that of me turning 10,000 days old. It is always nice to have anything to celebrate, even if I force it.

I also have impeccable appreciation for amazing, unbelievable coincidences in my life, which you can read about in more detail in my previous post, "Amazing Unbelievable Coincidences." I bring this up because it happened again recently, but in a way I never expected, predicted or prophesied.

My girlfriend and I were walking to Manny's Deli like every Jewish Chicagoan should do when they are awake, and on the way we ran into an old acquaintance of mine from high school. Here's the crazy, kooky and wacky part. I go to introduce my girlfriend to said old acquaintance, and it turns out she knows him from college. To me, it's a truly amazing, unbelievable coincidence (tying it back to the top of the paragraph!) that we knew the same person exclusively at completely different times in our lives. Once again, my mind had the appropriate reaction that comes with putting a leaf blower near my head: blown.

One final thing I love is how this article is little! It's barely even 800 words and that's what makes it great! Because great things come in small packages. Except for my Super Nintendo. That came in a big package. So perhaps, maybe, possibly this article is one of those little things you love? So now you can go do some other wee wonder, or minuscule marveling, or better yet -- read it again! It's easy, effortless, and a piece of cake.

Mmmm. Cake. Excuse me while I go enjoy a little thing I love that's definitely not cake.

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