Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I've never been much into celebrating New Year's Eve -- it's just not a holiday that speaks strongly to me. Some years we've gone out to a party. One year we hosted a party. One year I had a gig. But our latest tradition is my favorite. We stay home, build a fire in the fireplace, and spend the evening together. Q does a great job of building a fire, and we have fun putting in special pinecones that make colored flames. A quiet, peaceful evening is just what I most need after the stresses of end-of-semester grading and holiday shopping. And I get to start the new year with my best friend and beloved. What could be more perfect?

I hope you all have as much fun as I will. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beaded bellydance bra

I never got around to taking pictures of the dance costume bra I finished over the summer. This goes with the beaded bellydance belt I finished a while ago. I made the bra from a Kwik Sew pattern, using denim from old jeans, reinforced with stiff, fusible interfacing. The cups were then further reinforced with fusible fleece and two layers of buckram. I covered the finished bra with stretch velvet to match the belt. Then the beading began!

The motifs are all hand-beaded, one bead and sequin at a time. The motifs are a mix of glass seed beads of various clear and silvery tones, Swarovski crystals, and Czech glass beads, edged in sequins and more glass beads. The oval cabochons and the big triangular crystal on the top part are made of sew-on Swarovski crystals that were then caged with glass seed beads. The fringe is made with glass seed beads and three kinds of Swarovski crystals to make a pattern.

Under the fringe, I beaded a swirly design to match the design on the belt. It's hard to see in the picture, but this is a raised design. The fringe moves while I dance, of course, so this design peeks out under the swaying fringe.
The straps are too plain, and I'll probably do more beading there at some point. But the costume is wearable at this point -- in fact, I wore it for a performance in August, and it fit well and held up to the rigors of dancing. I also got a number of compliments from other dancers, so I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Winter has arrived

Baby, it's cold outside -- a good day to curl up at home and stay warm.

And today, we got our first snow of the season.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sex and cookies

Yesterday's Psychology Brown Bag was great fun, as always. I posed the question of why gender equality and feminism are associated with higher sexual satisfaction for men and women than male dominance (e.g., patriarchy). There were great suggestions and questions from the students and faculty in attendance. We talked about the effect of gender roles, sexual scripts, education, relationship factors, communication, and more. We discussed the continued impact of gender roles in the U.S. -- for example, do heterosexual women feel comfortable asking men out, or are men still doing most of the initiating? It was a terrific discussion, and my closing comment was that they should go forth, be feminist, and have great sex. Better living through science. ;)

We also had light refreshments, because I think food makes for better conversation. Some of it I buy at the grocery store -- fruit, sunflower seeds, hummus, carrots, chips. Some of the food I cook. I usually make a batch of pasta with basil pesto -- this is the pesto we make from our own garden, according to my partner's family recipe, and it gets rave reviews. And then I bake some cookies or cupcakes or quickbread, as I'm a big fan of sweets.

By far, the most popular cookie I have ever made (and I've been doing this for a long time) is Seven Layer Cookies. I've had people propose marriage after tasting these cookies. I often make them for events because, in addition to being tasty, they are quick and easy to make. I got this recipe from my friend Becka in high school. She wrote it on the back of a flyer for Duff's Business Institute (which encouraged you to make a collect call to get career advice -- always suspicious); strangely enough, this flyer fits into my recipe card file perfectly. I made the cookies with Becka at one point, and her main advice was to make sure to get the condensed milk into the corners of the pan. I've come up with a few additional suggestions over the years -- it's easier to use boxed graham cracker crumbs instead of mushing up graham crackers into crumbs, for example, and greasing the pan facilitates the cookie removal after baking.

So many people have asked me for this recipe that I figured I would share it with all of you. Enjoy!

Seven Layer Cookies
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 stick margarine or butter
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz. butterscotch chips
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 1/2 cup coconut (I use the sweetened kind that comes in a bag, not a can)
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if you chop them small, they will be more likely to stick to the cookies and not fall off) [I consider this ingredient optional -- I often make these cookies without walnuts and they are just as tasty]

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 X 13 inch pan. Melt the margarine or butter, and mix with the graham cracker crumbs. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, making sure it covers the entire pan evenly. Sprinkle on the coconut, then the chips, making sure that they are evenly spread over the crust. Then pour on the condensed milk so that it covers everything (don't forget the corners!). Sprinkle on nuts. Place in oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes, until the top is light brown (the edges will be dark brown, crystallized, almost burnt looking). Take out, let cool. Cut into bars with a sharp knife. It's easier to get the cookies out of the pan if you cut around the edges of the pan first, and then cut into bars. These are pretty rich, so you might want to cut them into small bars (I usually cut them into 24 or 32 pieces, depending on my mood). If there are any left, store in an airtight container.

So now you can have satisfying sex and cookies afterwards! Just don't get crumbs in the bed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. There are so many things to say and so much that needs to be done -- more research, better access to treatment, eliminating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is not just an epidemic because of its biological virulence. Cultural factors matter here -- women's disempowerment, sex tourism, sex trafficking, poverty, inadequate sexuality education -- all have to be addressed if we are to reduce the spread of HIV. But let me just take a moment to talk about one factor: sexual guilt and shame.

Shame and guilt surrounding sexuality are doing nothing to help contain this epidemic -- in fact, they only facilitate the spread of HIV. Guilt and shame lead to discomfort, silence, and denial.

Discomfort: Feelings of guilt and shame make us uncomfortable. So we become uncomfortable about sex -- unwilling to address it directly, speaking only in vague euphemisms. Uncomfortable going to get tested. Uncomfortable buying condoms. Uncomfortable using condoms -- research has found that those who feel guilt and shame about sex are less likely to use contraception consistently. Discomfort about sex doesn't stop people from having sex, but it does make them less likely to engage in safer sex. And when we are really uncomfortable, we don't want to talk about it at all, leading to . . .

Silence: When we feel ashamed or guilty about something, we don't want to talk about it. So we are less likely to talk to our partners about our sexual history (for example, men on the down-low). We are less likely to discuss testing with our partners prior to sex. We are less likely to negotiate safer sex practices with our partners prior to sex. We are less likely to talk to our children about sex, less likely to provide them with the comprehensive sexuality education they need to make educated decisions about their sexuality. And so silence results in the ignorance that continues the spread of HIV. It was this shame-based silence about HIV/AIDS that delayed any systematic response to the epidemic in the United States for so many years, and there is still a conspiracy of silence surrounding HIV/AIDS in many countries today.

Denial: We would rather not admit that we commit shameful acts. So if sex is embedded in shame, we try to deny our own sexuality. We don't admit to ourselves that we are sexually active -- which means we don't need to buy condoms, get tested, or talk to our partners. That doesn't stop us from having sex, but it means we are unprepared and more likely to engage in risky activities. When sex is considered shameful, government leaders deny the existence of stigmatized sexual activities (e.g., homosexuality, prostitution, sex trafficking) and go on to deny or minimize the issue of HIV/AIDS in their country.

I'm not saying that a shame- and guilt-free sexuality would cure AIDS or make HIV go away. But it would help us do what we can to protect ourselves, reduce the spread of the virus, and eliminate the stigma that it carries with it.