Reading List: for your 3-year-old in NYC

Two books that were big winners on our trip to New York last week:
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Thanks, Mama Rote! I love the retro pics in this one, and MT was obsessed. I also had to attempt explaining what getting on board means. 

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Thanks, Tia Raquel! This one is charming and a pleasure to read aloud. More books should rhyme. Pictures are excellent.

It’s awesome how transportation is so entertaining for kids. Our week was full of planes, trains, and automobiles, and Mary Tobin’s new favorite . . . buses! In addition to riding on the real deal, Abuela took us to the children’s museum where MT drove their play bus for what felt like forever. We had several transfers and ended up in Boston. I don’t know how she knows Boston is even a thing.

This and that.

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A couple weekends ago with the bruddas. We almost asked an old man to jump in to substitute for Ben, but no one’s hair was white enough. 

We’re gearing up to take the fam to NYC for Thanksgiving, not packing yet, just thinking about it. Let me know if you have great New York City suggestions, especially for little ones! We do have traditions (e.g. taking our rings to Tiffany’s to be cleaned. “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding.” Name that movie. It’s easy.)—but they necessarily evolve with little chickadees, plus there’s always more to see. This year we’re looking forward to the Botanical Gardens with the cousins.

If you don’t have to pack up yourself and two kids—it’s like when grandaddy told Mama Rote, after unloading all the gear for baby Will, that he loved her, but they didn’t take that much stuff when they were storming the beaches at Normandy—maybe you’ll have time to peruse some links:

  • Great news for those of us who aren’t used to maintaining a yard: don’t rake your leaves. Or, “If you’re too persnickety to have a leave-strewn lawn all winter, rake them off the lawn but into your plant and flower beds.”
  • Even easier Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the gratitude jar that I’ve posted about in years past, follow this advice and write a notecard at the table with everyone. No forethought, except for the person making notecards, and no anger at yourself or a family member who may have forgotten to add anything to the gratitude jar all year. Ahem.
  • Also via MMD, this gem, by folks at Nashville Public Library . . . all the right books in all the right places.

  • From Pinterest, I was fascinated by this list of overnight hairstyles—ways to get great hair by doing something to it at bedtime (tiny braids for crinkly waves, weekly coconut oil conditioner, dry shampoo . . .). Do you have any tricky hair tricks like that?
  • To end on a triumphant note, here’s an idea from Pinterest that I actually executed and enjoyed (you can tell somewhat in the pic at the top).

    Thanks to a Virginia friend with a China connection :) I have a few strands of pearls, but I think my neck is too big for them to look quite right, unless I’m wearing exactly the right thing. Using ribbon provides a longer more flattering length on me, and perhaps takes the seriousness of the pearls down a notch. Try it if you need a festive, unstuffy look for Thanksgiving!

Have a fun, cozy week. May your turkey be yummy and your packing be light!

P.S. Jane Eyre pulp covers, and Jane Eyre for tots.

P.P.S. What a difference a year makes!

Princesses eat mac and cheese.

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This weekend we celebrated Mary Tobin’s third birthday with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a firstborn princesa. Up until now, I’d hardly given her gifts for birthdays and Christmas since she didn’t really care either way (well, we gave small gifts mainly to keep up appearances—so that we wouldn’t look like terrible parents), plus the grandparents and tias always have gifts covered more than adequately. However, by this birthday, the developmental threshold has been crossed at which a kid knows that it’s all about her. Mary Tobin was preening and asking, “Is that a surprise for my birthday?” about any bag or package in the house. So obnoxious, yet so winsome. Fellas, watch out for those eyelashes.

Still, her needs are simple: her only specific requests were cupcakes and balloons. (Thank you, Angelina Ballerina. Seriously.) Done and done. After a day of fun activities on Saturday— ballet, bounce place (a big indoor overpriced trampoline place), nap, bunny house, baking; all buh buh B words! (school is going to kill me)—we had a little birthday party at our house Sunday afternoon.

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Again this year the gathering was more about the grown-ups, with plenty of beverages to accompany the decadent MAC AND CHEESE BAR. I totally recommend this option as a fail-safe adult- and kid-pleaser. I also totally recommend hiring Mama Rote as your scullery maid to prepare the scrumptious macaroni and all the toppings. Here’s the recipe from my family cookbook (h/t Aunt Reba!):

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Our toppings included: bacon bits, smoked sausage (small slices, coated in BBQ sauce, broiled), peas, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, hot sauce, salsa, salt and pepper.

Of course, the birthday girl took hers plain. Happy birthday, MT!

Costume Contest

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What to wear when you’re falling in love and need to prove it to the world.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday, but it’s still fun and festive, plus I LOVE costumes. Now I’m in a peculiar phase of life: I think we’re beyond clever adult party costumes (not to mention awful sexy costumes), but not yet where our kids have fully embraced dressing up. In college I loved seeing all the students at The University trying to one-up each other in cleverness. I can’t think of a great example, maybe someone being a double helix or something like that, or a lot of plays on words, like one year I was a devil in a blue dress: clever (embodying some song lyrics), while also devilishly attractive (but seeing a picture of it makes me shudder).

And then in the DC young professionals crowd, we had ample opportunity for nerdy, tasteless, topical costumes (politicians, slutty intern and congressman, Sarah Palin; all real examples, but not mine)—so sad I won’t be there to see all the ebola references this year.

This year, Inez will reprise MT’s flapper of 2012, with some updates. Again, we want to take advantage of this magical time in which she can’t express her preference for something annoying. (Part of my parenting philosophy, truly, reasons that in order for something to achieve a healthy sustainability, it needs to annoy me as little as possible. Apply this to: toys, music, TV shows and movies, eating habits. Maybe I’ll try to flesh that out a little more for you in a later post.)

Mary Tobin generally has great taste because I give her only great options (I’m sort of joking). Who knows how long I can make it last, but I like the idea of dressing as a beloved book character for Halloween, thereby reinforcing the glory of reading in a new way. Last year, she was the most precious thing I’ve ever seen:
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her favorite, Madeline.

Maybe two or three months out from Halloween, she was asking to read Madeline every day (I can recite it for you dramatically, just ask any time), so Mama Rote went to work on an utterly darling costume. As Halloween approached I realized I’d better maintain Madeline’s favored status so MT wouldn’t suddenly refuse to wear the costume as I’d heard stories about, with other less refined children. Even so, at around 4:30 on October 31, 2013, Mary Tobin lost it. It wasn’t because she’d moved on from Madeline, but just because. Why would you change clothes at 4:30 pm, anyway.

Strong start. #halloween #madeline #capitolhill #dc #hilloween

A photo posted by @josieortega on

(Don’t worry: We persevered so that we her parents could enjoy lots of compliments on her costume. I was supposed to be Miss Clavel, and thus a pregnant nun, but I lost my headpiece immediately and avoided offending anyone.)

This year, she’ll be Angelina Ballerina, a bow-clad dancing mouse. Stay tuned to instagram. Easy breezy costume. I will be Mary Poppins. Our question mark is Papa/Israel. Mary Tobin’s vote is for Bert, to go along with Mama. Another idea was switching my costume as well for us to be Buttercup and Westley from The Princess Bride (since I just read this fun book!). Other options for Israel include a hippie, Wayne Newton, Marty McFly (the puffy vest is pretty much his daily uniform for fall), or any character who would wear a tux. If you feel strongly about one of these options, or have another idea, please comment below. We’ll head to the thrift stores tomorrow to figure something out.

What about you? Are you dressing up? Anything clever? Have you ever dressed like a book character?

Doctor’s Orders, or, Another Note for a New Mom

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Fresh out the kitchen. In her going home outfit. No post birth pics of me.

Talking about Christmas cards— last year I took one of our birth announcement Christmas cards to give the nurse practitioner who was conducting our follow up appointment, three weeks or so after Inez was born. She was delighted to receive it, but chastised me for having done birth announcements already, when I should’ve been resting.

The truth is that I was resting; I had plenty of family around helping, and I was excited about the cards! It’s out of character for me to be that organized and on top of things, but it’s not out of character to ditch housework in favor of a couple hours surfing the web and looking at card designs, then placing an order. Addressing is more work, but I passionately love mail.

Anyway, the result of all this was that Amy, the NP, wrote me a doctor’s note excusing me from household responsibilities for SIX MONTHS!

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Another aside: Amy actually witnessed Inez’ birth and was the one who kept encouraging Mama Rote to take pictures. Mom was kind of like, um, well, I don’t know if she wants pictures. The Pollyanna nurse persisted. (All this out of range of my hearing.) So finally Mom spoke up: “Jos, do you want pictures of this?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” I barked.

(I’m not anti-birth pictures, but you know, it’s just not me. Also, at that point in labor—probably at its most intense—the pictures from Mom’s vantage point would have been my butt in the air, so. No thanks.

NONETHELESS, this nurse was the sweetest and the best, and made me feel the beauty and gravity of birth just by her enthusiastic presence and communicating that she was honored to be part of it. Come to think of it, that was a consistent phenomenon. Everybody around—the girls at the front desk, nurses, midwives, family—everybody was so pumped and excited, which one should be about a baby being born; while I felt like I would die. Oh dear. Back to the postpartum checkup.

Obviously I put that doctor’s note on the fridge, for Israel’s benefit. Amy’s point was that it’s plenty of work to keep two kids alive, particularly if one of them is depending entirely on me and my body for nourishment (i.e. breastfeeding, i.e. nursing). As with pregnancy, your body is doing hard work with or without your conscious consent.  It’s so easy to forget, so easy to feel guilty, and so difficult to ask for the support you need.

Even if I wasn’t nursing, birth is a heck of a thing for one’s body to recover from. Read this article about postpartum care and practices in other cultures and how the American version, or lack thereof, sucks. We no longer have the “lying in” period that many other countries maintain. What would help? I’m not sure if the policy prescriptions the author recommends at the end would be as helpful as a cultural shift—but how do you achieve that? Maybe policy changes, maybe business owners giving more generous parental leave to both parents, maybe a dramatic restructuring of our healthcare system (I find healthcare so confusing, blergh.). For a start, and something that feels more achievable, we can try to help each other out, try to build community even when it feels daunting.

If you know any new moms, you can tell them about this article, and feel free to pass along my doctor’s note from Amy. She did not succeed with the birthing photography, but her admonition to rest was right on.

Christmas Cards!

A little public service announcement: Minted holiday cards are on sale 20% off until midnight tonight. (You don’t have to personalize them right now, but you can go ahead and place an order to get the discount.) I ordered ours last week, and they also threw in free recipient addressing. #winning

Christmas cards are such fun, but I’m a little bit torn about the phenomenon of sending family pictures every year. On one hand, I love getting the pictures from friends; on the other hand, sometimes it feels like we’re taking the focus off the celebration and onto how cute our families are. (Just thinking out loud here, folks. Please send me your family photo Christmas card!! Please.) Two of the last three years we’ve used the opportunity to send a birth announcement/Christmas card, so who am I to talk. This piece in the Washington Post last year put a finger on it— “Thank you for your impersonal and self-serving holiday card. It’s lovely.” —lack of handwritten notes, etc. I’m an old person, I guess, is the bottom line.

Growing up my family didn’t usually send cards. I remember one year we were thinking about it, and I got into a discussion with Dad about the options. He said Option 1 is a generic holiday card. Option 2 would be a Christmas card with a standard message. Option 2B (this is the only option Dad was interested in) would be a Christmas card that takes it up a notch with an inspirational message. Then I asked about cards for our Jewish friends, and he conceded that we could get a few Option 1 cards for them . . . needless to say, we didn’t send anything that year (or ever after). This is funnier if you know my dad.

This year I tried to walk the line by choosing a design with a greeting on the front, and a spot for our picture on the back. Can you guess which one of these we chose? Hint: it’s one of the million with berries on it.

Minted is fun because you can decide which backer you want to use: blank, one picture, two, three, six, etc. (If you order from them, I’d love for you to use my affiliate link. Thanks!)

And if you care to know, I have been known to use my dad’s philosophy of Option 2B (Christmas card with inspirational message), but I like the inspirational message to be vague and elegant, like a line from a traditional carol (“Tidings of comfort and joy” for example), instead of cheesy. Not that Captain Papa would ever be cheesy.

Do you have a Christmas card policy?

Frame Your Story

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Not my house. Obviously.

If you’re not impressed by cheap inexpensive affordable art, I’ve got a couple of higher end recommendations, both on my wish list.

First: frames by Saw & Mitre. Earlier this year my friend’s husband resigned from his corporate job to start his own business, combining his two passions for photography and working with his hands. (“He was a carpenter, and I just figured if you’re going to follow in someone’s footsteps, who better than Christ?” Name that movie!)

Order from Saw & Mitre Frame Co., and Dave will create a beautiful, gallery quality frame to display your photo. And it will last forever, so you can switch out photos in the future—just like an art gallery!—if, say, your photog skills improve and/or your decor needs a change.

We got to chat with Dave at a friend’s wedding recently, and it was so interesting and inspiring to hear how the business is going. Already he’s connecting with some of his photography heroes, learning, and adding to the products and services Saw & Mitre offers. I asked him if my iPhone/instagram pictures would be good enough for these frames. I don’t think he answered directly (very diplomatic) . . . but he is offering wood and metal frames in smaller square sizes now!

I’m not much of a photographer, but I love following Dave’s story on his blog, and I really love the Saw & Mitre instagram account, which is inspiring on the regular. This one really got me, along with Dave’s question: “How will my grandchildren discover and see photos of me when I’m long gone? Will it be a Google Image search? Will they find an old hard drive that (hopefully) still works? I sure hope not. #printyourwork” How right he is.

Second: textiles from St. Frank. An acquaintance from college is the dynamo behind this lovely company that sells beautiful framed textiles (and now pillows!) made by artisans around the world. Of course, my favorite would be the Otomi from Mexico . . . too bad Christina didn’t have the advantage of Mama Ortega’s bargaining!

It’s really fun to look through their Tastemakers posts and Collectors pictures to see the art in place in stunning, fabulous rooms. Also, if you’re needing more Pinterest inspiration, check out their account. My favorite board is Global Chic. Or Salon Walls. OK, also, shout outs to St. Frank’s Passport to Mexico, and Saintly Blue and White. Just check it all out.

You are dismissed. Go find something beautiful in your day.

(Not sponsored; just love ‘em.)

P.S. The story of acquiring Otomi for the girls’ room here at the end of the post; and if I were forced to choose, maybe I’d use one of the photos from here or here in a Saw & Mitre frame.

P.P.S. Two of soccer’s most iconic photographs.

A note for a new mom.

 photo 3D577B5C-1378-47FE-9537-19DC5B299857_zpspptzfghu.jpg You know it by now: the days are long, the years are short.

Sometimes I’ll write about parenting tips and things that I find helpful. I love reading about that stuff, and I figure a lot of you do, too. At the same time, probably nothing in my life has evoked feelings of insecurity as much as becoming a mother. (It’s also brought a new sense of empowerment and unparalleled joy—I guess they’re all mixed in.) So. It’s obvious, we’ll all make different decisions as parents and in life, but the truth is, that can make me nervous. I’m faced with the reality of how highly I value what other people think, when I realize that I’m doing things differently than other mothers.

I have enjoyed reading the baby books, the child development material, parenting articles, websites, blogs. (Again, following Uncle Steve’s advice: get a lot of advice, then do what you want!) It’s an important task—raising kids—so it’s important to make considered decisions about how to go about it. I want to do my best . . . but ultimately it becomes a big lesson in trust and giving up control.

This morning I wrote a quick note on a slip of paper to send my friend Ashley who’ll be bringing home a newborn in a couple days. (Eeeeps!!) Ash and I have discussed parenting styles and decisions (in theory), and as with other friends, I’ve said, hey, don’t worry if we do things differently. Before our family moved, I passed along to her a stack of baby books with the disclaimer that several of them contradict one another, so she’ll just have to decide what she wants to do.

But the note I wrote this morning contained my most practical, best advice. So I decided to copy it here:

“He . . . set my feet upon a rock making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Psalm 40:2-3

Ash, I’d written this verse out for myself as a reminder that God makes my steps secure in motherhood—of course we won’t be perfect, but we know God’s taking care of us. I pray that you will feel utterly confident (in yourself, but more in God’s provision) as you get to know Towns!

And, my fave parenting strategy: ask God for wisdom every day. He promises to give it (James 1:5).

I love you!

If you want to know what I think, that’s it. Thanks for letting me keep it real, dear reader. Maybe next time I’ll be back with some snarky judgmental thoughts on kids’ television habits. [wink.] Love y’all.

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Awesomely Cheap (or Cheaply Awesome?) Art

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I have such a fun art secret to share! Not a secret, I guess, but something new to me that I loved so much. My friend Allison has some cool paintings at her house that I noticed. When I asked about them, she said, “Oh, those are by Steve Keene . .  . do you want one?” How generous! Little did I know.

Allison told me that Steve Keene is a Brooklyn artist (she knows him from his work in Charlottesville) who creates massive installations made up of hundreds of smaller paintings on plywood. His process is really interesting, but so is his philosophy: he wants visual art to be available for everyone, like buying a song for a dollar from iTunes. So when those installations are dismantled, the individual paintings can come live at your house! You pay $30 (plus $12 shipping) and he’ll send 5 or so medium paintings. You don’t know what you’ll get, but you know it’s folk art and it’s likely colorful (possibly bizarre).

Of course, I jumped on that opportunity pretty much immediately, and then had to wait awhile before our mystery paintings arrived in the mail. By the time the package arrived I’d become so curious and eager that I was Christmas-morning giddy as I ripped through the brown paper. And I was not disappointed. I’d emailed with Steve during the wait, so maybe because of that, maybe because of Allison, or maybe randomly, we got nine or ten paintings instead of the advertised four or five!

Then I put on my insane art curator hat and ran around rearranging and trying things out on our walls. In the end, not a lot was rearranged. But the whole process, with the surprise element, not to mention the low cost, was such fun. I might be addicted. It was like Stitch Fix for art, except less expensive. Think about it— five paintings for under $9 a piece, and in my case, $4.20 a piece! The low cost of it makes it so low risk, which I love. Don’t get me wrong: the paintings are awesome and might fit in timelessly with your collection, but if they’re not your speed, no biggie fry.

With that in mind, here’s what’s happening with ours. A few I knew immediately would be gifts (and I mean sincere gifts, as opposed to funny gifts—you’ll see what I mean in a moment), a few are on our walls,

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 one in particular is in the bathroom (inexpensive=don’t worry about water damage),

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and the weirdest of the bunch made a perfect post-bar exam celebratory gift for my cousin Nate.

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(Trust me, he appreciated this.)

I’m not sure how it happened along the way, but we’ve amassed a pretty fun art collection. Not super expensive collector pieces, but meaningful pieces that have some reason behind them like the colorful Memphis in May Music Festival poster, framed photographs from travels during college, this fruit painting (I love. Our most formal frame, in the kitchen. :) That’s why art is fun. My aunt and uncle gave it to us our first married Christmas.).

Though I love what we have, I realized a few years ago that most stuff on our walls was framed behind glass—prints, photos, drawings—and that we should go for more texture to round things out—actual paint, fabric, more three-dimensional hangings. Then I visited one of my good friends who lived with her husband in Charlottesville at the time. They had a small rental house, and when I walked in I said, “Wow, this is really, like, a grown-up house.” I think she had inherited some formal side tables, and had generally nice coordinated furniture, but it was the art that did it for me. In the living room they’d hung a large abstract floral painting by an artist that her family really liked. She and her sisters had gotten a discount when all of them bought paintings at an arts festival.

It was confirmed: I needed* paintings.

But, two problems with original paintings: 1) They’re pricey (you have good taste, so anything you like is bound to be super expensive). Or, 2) You don’t have an artsy background, and maybe you like something and could buy it, but you’re worried: what if it goes out of style and you don’t like it later, or maybe it’s great by itself but just doesn’t work with everything else you’ve got going on, decor-wise.

Why would you spend so much on something purely decorative (and possibly of questionable taste)?

Art should be fun, expressive, not anxiety-inducing. This is why I love Steve Keene for giving me some honest to goodness paintings on my walls. If you like folk art, you should give this a try. Even if you don’t, there’s no risk involved. Give a painting to your pilates teacher, your farmer, or your favorite barista.

Will you order some paintings?? Please report back if you do!

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 They’re not funny. They’re art. (Name that movie.)

Not sponsored. I love Steve Keene.

*Wanted. But visuals affect me, and you, too, so the need argument could be made.

Mosquito-palooza

 photo E7E19A17-C739-48E9-9DC9-8D6017EEF6E8_zpsg0ecbbtt.jpg Pros about shifting from city apartment living to a house:

  • Don’t have to think ahead and get out any clothes from our closet before Mary Tobin goes to bed or takes a nap (her nursery was a closet).
  • Our bedroom seems extra roomy without Inez’ bassinet on my side of the bed and a laundry cart on the other.
  • Laundry. Don’t need to roll a laundry cart down to the basement; don’t need to keep half a paycheck’s worth of quarters around for laundry and parking.
  • Parking. It’s easy.
  • Outdoor space! Wherever we move in the future I can never go back to being yard-less. Actually, more than the yard, we’re using the patios—front and back—to eat dinner and host friends.

Cons:

  • Mosquitoes.

[Shannon and Rebekah (neighbors in our building in DC): there are so many cons in terms of what we miss, but I just wanted a way to lead into crowd-sourcing some mosquito advice.]

Our family has taken an “all of the above” approach to combatting mosquitoes, including, but not limited to:

  • Traditional bug spray: Israel uses the serious stuff, because bugs love his sweet Aztec blood and he’s not messing around.
  • “Green” bug spray: both the commercial and home-made variety, which seem to be pretty much the same. Our homemade is avocado oil plus eucalyptus and lavender essential oils. This is another recipe that seems like it would be good to try (h/t LMLD).
  • Citronella candle: alright, but certainly smells and can affect the taste of dinner. My brother’s trick with this is to put it under your table, particularly if it’s a glass top, so that the citronella stuff kind of billows around the people sitting there, instead of up and away.
  • ThermaCELL lantern: our favorite! It works, and it doesn’t smell. It’s not supposed to be toxic, and I’m betting it’s less toxic that covering my baby’s skin with DEET. We are forever committed to buying the little refills.

To make our environment less hospitable to the skeeters:

  • Dump out any standing water, clean gutters, get brush under control.
  • Mosquito repelling plants. (Who knows?)
  • Dump out coffee grounds or leftover coffee around your patio. I don’t know if this is effective, but can’t hurt. The new neighbors likely have spotted me on my bizarre nightly dash outside with a red french press during dishwashing time, but they haven’t said anything.
  • An oscillating fan to make it tougher for mosquitoes to land. (I guess that would be the budget version of a porch like this.)
  • To make you yourself less tasty, take B complex vitamins. (No source; hearsay from Mama Rote.)

Do mosquitoes love you and yours? If so, what do you do about it?

 photo A54FA5AB-9973-40F4-BC19-04288CDFDAA2_zpsydb9mn6s.jpgGratuitous pic of us hanging out on the front steps.
Mary Tobin says, direct quote: “Get out of here, bugs. This is not your house!”