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#OhMichael, Age 6

My dear Michael,

This is what happens when you are the youngest child.

Your birthday letter is nearly a week late. I am so sorry.

In the meantime: On your birthday, I made chicken (okay, rotisserie chicken), vegetarian corndogs, mac and cheese, and broccoli. At your request. We also had chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and multicolored sprinkles.

Cake!
Cake!

On Saturday, I took you and two of your friends to see Trolls. It was, to my mind, an unexpected delight. You and your buddies seemed to like it too. I’m pretty sure your favorite part of the movie was either, “No Troll left behind!” with its accompanying visual. Or the icees. It’s a toss up.

On Sunday, we had a little family/close friends party for you that you seemed to enjoy too.

So. I guess this letter is late, but you haven’t otherwise suffered for birthday attention.

++

You, my dear son, are tall and thin. Your BMI is a ridiculous 1.48. So, more chicken and corndogs and mac and cheese for you! Maybe some chocolate chip cookies, too.

You are very boy: you hop and jump and dance and bounce. You TALK. A LOT.

You are also the sweetest boy. You give and ask for hugs spontaneously. You still snuggle (when you’re not jumping). You want to be friends with everyone, and you truly do not have a malicious bone in your body. Which is not to say you can’t be a jerk to your sisters. It’s just that you’re not mean. When you were getting picked on on the bus, and you told us about a boy kicking you, and Daddy said, “Why didn’t you kick him back?” you were shocked. “Because I don’t kick people, daddy! I’m nice.”

You are smart, which is not surprising. What surprises me is your breezy confidence, your belief that you are simply good at anything and everything. You are similarly convinced you are correct about a lot of stuff that you know nothing about, which grates, but I’ll get you on the right path. Believe it or not, buddy, I know more about math than you.

And, you’re silly. You like to laugh, you like making other people laugh, you remember funny stuff from shows and movies. You are still working on telling a joke. You’re current favorite, courtesy of Kate:

How do you make a tissue dance?
Put a little boogie in it!

You adjusted well to school after the first week. Full-day kindergarten is a major transition! You found soccer discouraging; I am hoping you will try it again, but if not, we’ve got to find something else for you to channel your energy. And you still have little meltdowns. You don’t like being told no, and you seriously don’t like being yelled at.

But you still will admit when you are tired and ready for bed, which is my favorite.

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That is you, Michael: sweet, smart, silly, and skinny. I love all the boy you are. Again, I apologize for this being so late. But I know with a little extra snuggling, you will forgive me.

Love you, buddy,
Mommy

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What I Did on Thanksgiving Vacation

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. “Food, family, and football,” I used to say. “What’s not to love?”

I’m less about the football these days — I don’t think we had a game on at all, and we definitely didn’t watch the Steelers at 8:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night. But I’m still about food and family (and drink!). I am fortunate that I don’t have to interact with people whose political opinions they feel like airing. We’ve all agreed to disagree, and not even the deep divisiveness of this year was going to change that.

Overall, it was a fantastic break, but Thanksgiving Day itself was rough. It was my FIL’s favorite holiday, and his absence was huge. In writerly terms, it loomed large. For the most part, we stayed focused on positive things, but there was a collective meltdown right before the meal was served that highlighted our dark cloud. Then, Dan and I received some heartbreaking news about the man who married us.

Life is short people. Love the people you love. Tell them about it.

However, the food was delicious (links to the recipes I contributed are below; both were 10/10, would make again), I taught people how to play Euchre, I learned a new cocktail, and… and we made it through the day.

1. I worked on the second draft of my novel. A lot. Devoted many hours to it Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. I still have more editing to do. But I am feeling very happy with this work. I’d like to finish this draft by Christmas, and start getting into the hands of beta readers by the new year. I have some agents and small presses to start emailing too.

2. I drove to Moio’s to pick up Italian pastries for my husband to give to someone else. To put that in context, this Italian bakery is a 40-50 minute drive from my house. It was busy, but the workers are efficient and cheerful — you’d be cheerful too if you worked in an Italian bakery, I suppose — and in addition to the pastries my husband had ordered (a cannoli kit, three pasticciotti, and three sfogliatelle) for his friend, I picked up three nutrolls.

Those nutrolls made the drive worth it. They were incredible.

As a plus, Dan and Kate spent some time filling the cannoli on Thanksgiving morning, just the two of them. It was a special little moment, and a pocket of sweetness that Dan sorely needed.

3. We went roller skating. As many parents know, between the break in routine and the crummy weather, holidays can make children fractious and give parents cabin fever. (Or maybe the other way around.) So I built some physical activity into the long weekend. We went roller skating Saturday afternoon, and it was great. Mostly great. Michael spent the first thirty minutes refusing to skate; he couldn’t seem to figure it out, and even with a skate mate, he just wouldn’t do it. Around 2 p.m., we stopped for snacks — always stop for snacks — and after a soft pretzel and a fruit punch, he rallied. I had to help him, which gave me a nice thigh workout.

The girls had a ball; they always enjoy skating. They used roller blades for the first time, and they preferred them to standard skates. So, there’s a Christmas list idea for people: roller blades.

4. And, yes, I started Christmas shopping. As per, I waited until Cyber Monday. I don’t shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and believe me, that is a judgement-free statement. If Black Friday shopping is your thing, go for it. I don’t like crowds. Full stop. (I am also lazy.) Black Friday demands a degree of hustle that I lack when it comes to buying stuff. So I wait until Cyber Monday, go through my email for deals and coupons, use Ebates, and buy a few things.

All-in-all, it was a very relaxing, fairly productive break. I probably won’t get that kind of time off again until March.

What did you do on your Thanksgiving vacation? Food? Family, friends? Football?

Recipe links:

My contribution to the appetizer course; light, flavorful, good with crackers and cheese: Lebanese Lemon-Parsely Bean Salad
My main protein dish, and a nice side with turkey: Broccoli, Cheddar, and Quinoa Bake
A light drink that is the perfect foil to Thanksgiving dinner: The Americano cocktail (h/t to @thejqs)

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I Am Thankful…

… that my husband is doing the work he needs to be doing to work through his grief. It’s hard work, people. Make no mistake.

…that my children are 12, almost 10, and almost 6, healthy and smart. They are a pleasure, truly.

…for having a job that I like, and that I am good at, and where I am appreciated. Working in an environment where you are heard, where your expertise is recognized and where your opinion on the work matters, means so much. If you’ve had a job like that, you know. If you don’t or haven’t, I cannot encourage you enough to keep learning and keep looking to find that kind of employment. It’s aces.

…that I can cloak myself in my skin and my faith and my straightness to do the work that needs to be done for those who do not have the cloak.

..for internet friends, especially on Twitter. I had to pull back from Facebook, I really did. Maybe I’ll get back there someday outside of the groups I am in. For now, though, I have to put myself out there IRL, and not fight the battles online.

…for IRL friends, who I do not see enough, but who still reach out to me to see if I can come out and play. (I can, sometimes. Thanks so much for your patience, IRL friends.)

…that we did not have to travel this year for the holiday. While I love my parents and extended family very much on that side, it’s nice to not have to do more than walk across the yard for food and drink.

…for words and music, and writing and music, and all the various ways I can find and give voice to what is inside of me.

…for you, for listening.

What are you thankful for?
Copyright: wernerimages / 123RF Stock Photo

American-flag

#NotNormal

I emailed the electoral college Monday. This is what I wrote.

Dear Elector,

My name is [Red Pen Mama] from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am writing on behalf of myself and my husband.

We are concerned about many issues that the country will face with a Trump/Pence administration. The GOP candidates ran on an incredibly divisive platform, and their campaign was marred by violence, racist and misogynist language, and promises that the administration cannot possibly hope to keep because they are unconstitutional. In the days since the election, more than 400 acts of racist violence have taken place, and the administration has only addressed them once. Donald Trump has appointed white nationalists to his cabinet, and seeks to install more in some of the highest positions in the land (for example, Jeff Sessions to Attorney General). The alt-right and other neo-Nazi organizations are reveling in the election of Trump and in his unconstitutional policies.

I hope when it comes time, you will find the will and the support to vote for the person who also received the most popular votes in the 2016 election. A Clinton administration would give us the checks we need in Washington to stop a dangerous demagogue and those who support him. We do not need to give these people unlimited access and power. It would be a grave danger to the American democracy.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.

Sincerely,
{RPM}

++

I got a bunch of automated replies. The EC is being inundated with emails like my own — and for good reason. Some of the emails were rather snippy, especially the one from Texas. Clearly, the electors are not non-partisan. Oh, and I was reminded we live in a republic, not a democracy.

But this is what I am doing now. Signing and promoting online petitions (see Audit the Vote), having conversations about what more I can do, deciding where to donate money. Checking in daily with my children to make sure everything is okay at school, that their friends aren’t getting picked on.

Do I expect the electoral college to NOT install the T*ump/Pence administration? No, no I do not. However, this whole election season has been one unprecedented act after another. Hillary Clinton got nearly 1.7 million more votes than The Great Orange One. And since the election, his actions have been the least presidential ever. I don’t need to run them down for you, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, wake up.

Oh, and there’s this:

not-normal

If you are okay with that kind of language, or with a major news networking asking, “Are Jews people?” then I don’t know what to say to you. The guy’s not even officially in office yet. This is not my America, and I will not let it be my America.

And no one is doing anything. One of my senators did release a statement condemning the appointment of Bannon, but in general, the Democrats have been awfully quiet. Major media outlets can’t find it in themselves to challenge the administration.

It’s not time for silence. Nothing about the in-coming administration is business as usual. It’s time to find your voice, and to speak up.

Find a group to join, whether virtually or IRL. I know that as a white woman, I will be doing more listening than talking. I will be doing more learning than teaching. I know that I will be doing something.

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Not Going Back

Don’t come at me with your calls for unity. Don’t ask me to give him a chance.

I won’t do it. I’m not sure I’m capable of doing it.

He has no clue what he is doing. He gave the alt-right a voice in his cabinet. That is unconscionable. His vice president is a vile homophobe who seems to also have little respect for women.

I don’t want to go back to millions of uninsured people, exclusions for people with pre-existing conditions, and children getting kicked off their parents insurance before they are established in a career.
I don’t want to go back to 2008, when the economy went off a cliff.
I don’t want to go back to the 1970s, when women’s health care regarding reproduction was condoms and hoping he pulled out in time. (The pill was in its infancy.)
I don’t want gay, lesbian, trans and queer people to go back in the closet.
I don’t want to go back to the 1950s and segregation.
And I certainly don’t want to ban and deport different religion and cultures. Diversity makes America strong.

The GOP ran on a platform of taking things away from people. But they didn’t actually win a mandate to do that. (I’ll leave the Democratic Party to figuring out its own mistakes and missteps in the last election. Both parties have to get better, foster room for other parties and voices as well.)

I’ve seen reports of Obama “being willing” to stick around and help out.

Screw that noise. I think Obama should walk away and not look back. Why in heavens name should he help transition the next administration? They did nothing but demonize him.

Let the people who sowed this reap it. As for the rest of us, fight. Write, call, protest, give money, and VOTE in 2018 and 2020. Screw the next administration. Let ’em founder on the shoals of their ignorance.

It takes a long time to build. It takes very little time to destroy. This upcoming administration is built on hate and bent on destruction.

And before you tell me I’m overreacting or I have to let it go: A friend of mine received death threats today because of her faith. She writes for an online magazine. She’s a mom. She could pass for a white Christian woman if she had to.

She shouldn’t have to.

Here’s a resource I will be using: http://www.posttrump.help/

Here is a speakers series that may be a good starting place (for people in Pittsburgh). It’s a conversation about Race and Parenting.

We have to be part of the solution. We have to fight to win the country back.

I’m ready.

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Flora: The Growing Year

Dear Flora,

You are a Rock Star this year. I guess this is what developing maturity looks like.

You are handling sixth grade with grace and determination. You have become a straight-A student. Your teachers adore you. Your soccer coaches talked about how far you had come in the two years they have been coaching you. (I agree, and I thought so too, but I also am so ridiculously biased in your favor.)

You may be a little hard on yourself. You had struggles last year regarding organization and grades, and are clearly determined to do better. You are smart and talented enough to do better.

And you are doing better. One of your teachers actually suggested I let you know it was okay to chill out a little bit.

You are also showing a depth of emotional maturity that is reassuring. Something happened earlier this school year that threatened to throw you for a loop. And you came to Dad and me with it. I won’t tell the story — it’s not mine to tell — but I was so proud. I was proud for two reasons: 1. That you handled it exactly the correct way, setting your boundaries, and keeping them. Many adults don’t know how to do that. 2. That you trusted your father and me enough to come to us, tell us what happened, and believe us when we said you did the right thing.

You are still delightfully goofy. As a matter of fact, you are flat out funny. You have a wonderful sense of humor, sharp and observant. You love making people laugh, and you’re quite good at it.

When you aren’t on your tablet, you are drawing. You draw all. the. time. You must not be doing it too much in class, because your grades are excellent and your teachers haven’t mentioned it. You are better now when I ask you not to be on your tablet — you put it aside; you do what I ask. As a matter of fact, you don’t even get on your tablet most days until homework is done and the dishes are put away. Your ability to self-regulate has made me feel relieved.

FloraToon
Budding feminist cartoonist.

You draw comics. You draw animals. You draw people. You go through sketch books like crazy. Every other week, you need a new one. You draw stuff for your friends, but only if you want to. I call your cartoons #FloraToons. Thanks for letting me share them online, especially the one about Jesus walking his dog on water. You draw on the letters you send to your friend.

You adore your brother, and he drives you batty. You and your sister are best friends, except when you are decidedly NOT. You are still daddy’s girl. He even let you help him rack wine this fall, a special vintage he is calling Il Messaggero for his father.

I love you, Flora. I will always love you, and I will always advocate for you and the unique girl you are and amazing woman I know you will be.

Happy birthday, Florabean. I love you with my whole heart.

Mommy

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I’m Still With Her

I started this post last night at 1 a.m. and on about 5 ounces of bourbon. I thought about deleting it — no one cares what I think — but I will feel better when it’s out of my system. It is poisoning me.

I will continue to stand against anything and everything Donald Trump represents. I will give him about the same amount of respect that he and the GOP gave to President Obama.

Around midnight last night, I went upstairs, and looked at my sleeping children, especially my daughters, and I cried.

Dan will be fine. Michael will be fine (unless he’s gay; never say never). Even I will probably be fine — unless I lose my job because the economy tanks. But I’m white and straight. I have that going for me.

Millions of other Americans will not be fine. America elected a misogynist criminal who doesn’t know anything about government and a VP who hates women and gays. America elected a platform and a party that the KKK liked, that wants to keep out anyone that doesn’t look or believe as they do.

Welcome to the 1950s, America. If you thought the 1950s were great, congratulations. If you know the 1950s sucked, it’s time to fight.

++

That ends last night’s rant.

I was okay today — I was holding it together today. I slept very little, from about 1 to 3 a.m., then again until about 5, and then I lay awake picturing myself telling my children that Trump won. The anxiety was unbearable.

I was fine for the most part until my parents both texted me, separately. That caused some tears — good tears. They were worried, about me, about the results and my reactions to them. My father tried to be upbeat, and while I appreciate it, it’s difficult for me to share his optimism. I had some ups and downs emotionally speaking, but I didn’t burst into tears or lose my temper with anyone. Thank goodness for offices with doors.

++

Two random thoughts from Dan. One, at some point during the day, maybe even right before we voted: “Do you think people will just walk into the booth and say, ‘Screw it. Let’s blow the whole thing up.'”

Two, as we watched the results trickle in (God, who does that to themselves?) (We do!): “Maybe American wasn’t what I thought it was. Maybe it’s what I feared it was.”

++

Part of my struggle, of course, is that I WAS SO SURE SHE WOULD WIN. I will never believe a poll again in my life. I am going to assume people are lying.

It’s especially painful, too, that a lot of the people who voted for Trump look like me. They are white, college-educated, and have a vagina. And they picked whiteness over any other value. And that is unbelievably appalling.

White women voted for Trump. In droves. Even though he said terrible things about women. Bragged about sexual assault. Called us pigs; insinuated that our bodies were something shameful; told 10-year-old girls he’d be dating them in 10 years; walked in on teens who were naked.

White women voted for him instead of ANOTHER WHITE WOMAN.

I know the problems with Clinton, and I see know that the Democratic party shot itself in the foot. (Bernie would’ve gotten beaten by Trump, too.)

I think white women aligned themselves with protection instead of with power. I think they figured change wouldn’t be that bad for them. I don’t know if anyone who voted for Trump would call herself a feminist. I am betting she would not; that she would think feminism isn’t necessary. “As long as I ‘stand by my man’ he will take care of me.”

They chose whiteness over bodily autonomy, equal pay and treatment, over the bodies of minorities and LGBTQ people.

It’s enraging. I am embarrassed for my tribe. And I won’t make excuses. But I will fight. For them. For my daughters and my son. And your daughters and sons. Even if you don’t think I need to.

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Adventures in Parenting: The Kate Version

Monday was Halloween and trick-or-treat.

Tuesday was gymnastics for Kate.

Wednesday was a memorial service for people from our parish who had passed in the past year. My father-in-law would be mentioned and remembered.

When I got home Wednesday, I got everyone fed and fought with Kate and Michael from the time I walked in the door until we walked out the door to go to the memorial service. Kate was especially resistant. We fought about dinner, clothes, and going at all.

Kate and Tadone
A girl and her grandfather.

She cried almost the whole service. She and Tadone had a special relationship, and she misses him greatly.

Thursday, I was looking forward to getting home, making burgers and fries for dinner, maybe a salad. I had a little bit of work to finish, I was going to do some writing. Soccer’s been over since Saturday, and my evenings are opening up again. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to.

Not five minutes in the door, and there was screaming and crying from upstairs. Kate was saying something about having gotten shocked. When I ran upstairs, she was standing in the hallway, sobbing, holding out her right hand.

She had been plugging in a Kindle charger in the outlet behind her bed. Apparently, she had her finger on the prong of the plug when it made contact with the current. Her hand was red, and she wasn’t able to move it.

I had no idea what to do about electric shocks, so I consulted Google. Google basically said, “Call 9-1-1.”

Calling 9-1-1 led to the paramedics showing up, me sending Flora and Michael next door (thank goodness Bella was home), and my very first ride in the back of an ambulance. Kate’s first too.

ambulance selfie
Ambulance selfie!

*sigh*

Long story short, she was fine. Yes, she got a nasty shock, and it did hurt. It lit up the nerves and muscles of her arm, but didn’t burn her or do lasting damage. We left the hospital at 7:15, took an Uber to Dan’s office, grabbed dinner at the Italian place behind his office (just me and Kate; Dan had patients until 9 p.m.), and then went home.

Where Mommy had a big glass of wine.

Is it too much to wish for a quiet Friday night? A little dinner, a little writing? The weekend ahead is busy, but not insanely so. I have a hair appointment, a writer’s workshop, a family party, and I’m making phone calls for the Clinton campaign Sunday afternoon (GO VOTE, PEOPLE). Dan works Saturday; Sunday is CCD and Mass and cleaning, probably.

I just… I just want one or two quiet nights during the week. That’s all.

12438704 - two glasses of scotch whiskey and ice isolated on white

We Pulled Off a Spontaneous Date Night!

Advantage of older children #599: When your husband texts you at noon to tell you that he scored free tickets to Whiskey Fest, you can put the almost-12-year-old in charge for two hours. (It’s true that you have to set consequences for the younger children so they listen to the almost-12-year-old. It’s worth the effort.)

Here are highlights from our tasting:

My New Rye: Dad’s Hat
Strong and spicy, but with zero burn, this rye is going to be the new staple in my liquor cabinet. (Sorry, Bulleit.) It’s a Pennsylvania-made spirit, and the two gentlemen behind the table were delightful. The owner’s opening line was, “Are you rye curious?” Along with the standard rye, they also had rye finished in port and vermouth barrels. I think Dan liked the one finished in the port barrel best.


A Pleasant Surprise: Art in the Age (ginger) Snap

A friend of ours likes to gift us unusual spirits for Christmas. Last year, he gave us a bottle of this distillery’s rhubarb spirit. Suffice to say, Dan liked it much better than I did. (Note to future self: mix with lemonade.) I was skeptical to try another from Art in the Age. But I do like ginger as a flavoring, and I love ginger snap cookies, so I decided to take a risk. I was quite pleasantly surprised. The spirit is very sharp, but not overpowering, and excellent in apple cider.

One of the suggested cocktails is Ginger Rye:
1 part SNAP
1 part rye whiskey
1 tsp honey or maple syrup
2-3 dashes bitters
Garnish with slice of orange
And if that doesn’t sound like a refreshing fall drink, I don’t know what does.

My New Irish Whiskey: West Cork Irish Whiskey
Puts Jameson and Bushmills to mass-produced shame. They do a special distilling that carries the Pogues moniker as well, which is just a bonus.

The Best Thing I Drank All Night: Balvenie 21
If I ever do something really, extraordinarily nice for you, or you just like me a whole lot, a bottle of this as a gift would be most welcome. The Balvenie Portwood Aged 21 years is the best single malt I have had. It is large, a big and rich smooth flavor, with notes of honey and spice.

Other nice touches on the evening: Dan won a bottle of Jeffersons Bourbon for knowing what Montecello means. And we came home to a completely clean house, courtesy of a houseguest and our children.

So it is possible to date after children! You just have to be patient.

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More Updates!

Someday, I will write a real blog post again.

Today is not that day.

Car Accident
It looks worse than it is. Maybe.

1. This happened a week ago.

I am fine. I was a littlest bit sore.

Thank god for insurance! Now I would just like to get my car back.

2. At some point last Saturday, I thought, “I need a pause button.” I need to stop time so I can catch up. I would use it to do chores: pause time while I grocery shopped, or cleaned the kitchen, or cleaned out my closet. (My closet REALLY needs to be cleaned out.)

Of course, at some point on Sunday, I thought, “Getting up and starting the day at 8 a.m. makes for a long Sunday.” We did a lot that day. When the children have CCD at 8:40 a.m., and then you go to church right after, Sunday stretches away in front of you.

Pumpking carving
Reason #598 older children rock.

3. One of the things we did was carve pumpkins. Technically, the children each cleaned out a pumpkin. Flora carved hers, but the design broke off, and before we could solve the problem (toothpicks!), she tossed it in the weeds in frustration. Kate carved hers, designed Michael’s, and then ended up carving his too. She even went back to Flora’s and carved a cat’s face in the back of the pumpkin! When that girl gets a goal in her head, she carries through.

4. Conversely to that pause button idea, it could just be November 8 already, and voting could be done. I am ready for this election season to be over. It’s torture. If Pennsylvania were an early voting or mail-in ballot state, at least my part would be done by now. But instead, I gotta wait to go to the polls. It will be exciting to vote for the first woman President!

5. Michael is doing math. And reading. He actually sits down and sounds out words. He says stuff like, “10 + 10 + 3 = 23” out of the blue. I distinctly recall Flora refusing to sound out words. That girl wants to be good at something the first time she tries it. (I DON’T KNOW WHERE SHE GETS THAT.) But Michael seems to have no self-consciousness about trying stuff or being good.

Of course, he thinks he’s good at EVERYTHING. So.

5. Things just keep rolling along. Parent-teacher conferences went well; Halloween is around the corner (Flora, werewolf; Kate, Harley Quinn; Michael, Killer Croc); flu vaccines are onboard. Pretty soon, it will be Flora’s birthday, and I’ll still be like, “pause button, where are you?”

6. Last night, as I was driving from work to home to the pediatrician’s office to dinner to Rocket Fizz (flu shots mean Rocket Fizz), I was half thinking, when does this part end?

And I realized, it really doesn’t. As much as I think, “Oh, when soccer practice ends for the year, my weeks won’t be so crazy”, or “We’ll get through the holidays and then get a break,” I’m deluding myself.

This is it. This is the ride we’re on called life. I may have a slow week or two when soccer practice is on pause — that depends on who is going to play indoor soccer this season — but other things will crop up. I will have to run to the store, or attend a school concert, or otherwise be busy.

And that’s okay. It is what it is. I will keep doing what I need to do to keep my sanity.

7. Still struggling with the date night thing, though. Dan and I just can’t seem to figure it out. It’s really disappointing. That is one area that needs work, and that I can’t be blase about it. Again, a pause button would be helpful.

Do you have date nights? How? Enlighten me!