Blog

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Boy has it been way too long since I’ve done one of these. Sorry about that! For whatever reason, over the last couple of months I’ve found it hard to read at all, much less get through material as certainly dry as self-help genre stuff. On that note Getting To Yes isn’t generally found in the self-help section, but rather the business section. If I could make a simple and critical point however, many things in our lives are negotiations and especially our relationships and even more especially when they go south. So I’m not just going to review this book, I’m going to give you some advice on how to use it. The latter half of that sentence may have tipped you off, this is going to be a positive recommendation.

“Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem”

If I could describe Getting To Yes in a nutshell it would be to compare it to a book I’ve reviewed previously, What Makes Love Last, by John Gottman. Basically, the material in Getting To Yes is called principled negotiation, and it’s the basis for the negotiation techniques Gottman encourages you to employ to repair and retain trust, Getting To Yes is however more comprehensive. To put it another way, What Makes Love Last could be considered the application of Getting To Yes as strictly applied to romantic relationships.

I’m being a little simplistic in that statement, which isn’t entirely fair to either book, but that’s a quick and comprehensive tl;dr for Getting To Yes. On that note, Getting To Yes is a far more comprehensive explanation of principled negotiation while managing to come in a smaller, more condensed and quicker to read package. Throughout this review, I have peppered memorable quotes from Getting To Yes that I thought would have been helpful to include in What Makes Love Last.

“Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process”

Now for the cover critique, or should I say cover appreciation. Since Getting To Yes isn’t strictly a self-help section book it mercifully comes with a cover that can actually be read in public without drawing attention to yourself. Bye bye lipstick red covers, suggestive fruit, and vulva purses. You could actually be forgiven for casually reading this in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break at work, physically, sans the protection of an e-reader and its coverless covertness. What a breath of fresh air that is.

“…some people begin by announcing that their position is an issue of principle and refuse even to consider the other side’s case. ‘It’s a matter of principle’ becomes a battle cry in a holy ware over ideology.”

The prose is deadpan, dry, but well written. It’s what you’d expect from a book focused on business deals and other similar negotiations but at the very least it’s not laborious to get through or especially hard to read. The book is small in physical dimension, and while 200 pages is already fast to get through, the fact that the pages are also small and the font is still large enough to comfortably read, and adding in some white space for the generously peppered formatting, reading Getting To Yes can be done in an afternoon easily. One of my metrics for scoring any self-help book is how quickly the contents can be digested and put to use, and Getting To Yes scores very high here.

Cost is another serious metric to consider. If a certain book is 40 bucks but there are two other books for fifteen each that cover the topic more helpfully and more completely I’ll generally give the nod to the two. It’s an opportunity cost to read a book, and combined with the length and difficulty of the read it can make one book not worth reading over two or even three others. Getting To Yes knocks this one out of the park as well, usually under 20 bucks, but at the time of writing, UNDER EIGHT on Amazon for the paperback.

“If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion”

So that’s the short of it, and that’s why Getting To Yes comes with a quick and strong recommendation. There’s something else I’d like to talk about though, that really makes this book very useful for me, and highlighted by a recent catastrophic failure to use the techniques therein—though I am unsure if that would have effected the outcome of said event.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need advanced negotiating techniques about unimportant things. You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between positional and principled negotiation to win the battle of the pizza toppings. You may win more battles of pizza toppings with such techniques, but losing the pizza topping battle isn’t a hill many of us are willing to die on in the first place and I hope something many of us wouldn’t even consider ‘losing’.

When an argument gets serious, consequential, and important however it also tends to be emotionally charged, and like many of you, that emotional charge on its own may rid me of the use of my toolbox of knowledge. Stress physiologically takes us out of our executive function and puts us into more primitive modes of thinking. I’m the good guy, you’re the enemy, at least, that’s what the stress is making me think. If you’re the source of my stress you’re dealing with the same part of my brain that teaches me how to deal with a hungry lion. People vary in this response, some freeze, some flee, some fight. I fight. This gets us into a bit of a circular conundrum. If the best time to use this knowledge is the time I’m least able to access the areas of my brain that contain it, how is it useful?

I don’t have a specific answer for that, but I know that for someone as prone to emotional flooding as I am, I’m going to need some sort of technique, some trick, some device, that backs me out of flooding the moment I hit it, because anything less is too late. The other participant in the conversation willing, I can postpone or even stop needless suffering while I recompose and remember all this training I’ve put myself through. I don’t have that technique yet, and I’m going to have to practice it once I come up with one. My major point here is that simply knowing this stuff may not be sufficient for you to start employing it. I flood very quickly relatively to my circumstances. General levels of pre-exisitng stress will effect how quickly each of us emotionally floods compared to our normal rate. But if your rate is generally high like mine, neither What Makes Love Last or Getting To Yes is going to help you when you need it the most. Practice detecting flooding in yourself, and in others, and have others, and particularly those that care about you the most, practice detecting flooding in you. Build a safety net, and use it, and then by all means, leverage what you learn in Getting To Yes.

Distributed Manufacturing – A Ray of Hope for Families

Last weekend I went out to Orlando Florida to visit a small company named Uberrime (Uber-ree-may). It’s a one man shop owned, worked, and managed by Marco Uberrime. I had gone down there to observe and understand the process of making silicone dildos by hand. If that strikes you as odd, welcome to the blog! You’ll get used to it. I got the additional education I wanted for sure, and I also got to chat a bit with Marco, quite the interesting fella himself. The shop itself is quite homey, but the production area is quite sterile for reasons that I hope are obvious. While I was there I observed, commented on, and was instructed more or less in how several models were made and the thought processes that go behind that and behind the business. Below are some pictures I took with Marco’s permission of several products curing in molds.

I’ll have more on Marco and Uberrime in the near future when we review one of his products. Those of you who’ve paid attention to the title and the content so far may be thinking I’ve got a screw loose. Henry what the hell do dildos and bringing hope to families possibly have to do with one another!?

Distributed manufacturing, that’s in the title too, and it’s become more popular over the last decade. It’s easy to forget, but the amount of time parents spend working outside of the modern home is anomalous from a historical perspective. For the vast bulk of human history, livings were made by the work done inside of the home. While we’re on that, I highly recommend reading about the history of marriage and getting familiar with it. We live in extraordinary and tumultuous times for families. While our divorce rate is not without precedent from a historical perspective, the severity of the economic burden watching and caring for a child brings is. The opportunity cost of not being productive in order to care for a child has hardly been higher since before we started farming and had to travel from food source to food source, and perhaps even before that.

Even as the industrial revolution raged on, for the most part, it was expected there would be someone home taking care of the kids, this usually was mom and it wasn’t uncommon for mom to have some live-in help. A common first job during the industrialization period was to work in someone’s home where you were also boarded. During the mid twentieth century single-family homes were all the rage, and floor plans picked up separate bed rooms for all occupants for the first time. Live-in help became less common, but someone still stayed home, still usually mom, and the other went to work, and the kids were watched. Only in the last 30 years or so has it become dead common for both parents to work outside of the home to make ends meet. The cost of child care has skyrocketed as a result, and even that is being held down by the veritable daycares our public schools have become with the help of a massive funding effort by uncle Sam. Between school provided meals and after school care programs, the school holiday has become one of the most dreaded days for families around the United States as the question of “who will take care of the kids” becomes a work interrupting emergency, among other things. A substantial part of the population has become so dependent on school meal assistance that many school districts keep offering the service over summer break.

But the tide may be turning on what is hopefully a historic flash in the pan when it comes to latch-key children. Advances in micro manufacturing like affordable 3d printing and CNC mills that fit on your desktop have provided a large facet of what is being called the ‘maker’ economy. As an aside, I think it says a lot about our culture that making things is a participle now. Websites like Etsy provide a place where common people can easily set up store fronts, supported by our expanded and super responsive logistics networks. Services like Amazon have caused our shipping capacity to expand like it never has before, and shipping across the country, and even around the world, has never been easier as a result. The convergence of all these conditions together threatens to bring meaningful production back into the average home, if we are keen enough to recognize the opportunity. More over, people are paying more attention now than ever to what they put in their bodies, how their products are made, where they come from, and are starting to reject goods made to be thrown away, and designed to be replaced rather than fixed. Made-In-[Your Nation-State Here] is no longer the domain of trade protectionists.

Evo-One desktop CNC Mill

Physical creation is actually late to the ‘creator’ party, which is the digital form of the ‘maker’. Blogs like this one, platforms like Wattpad, YouTube, Twitch, and other established and emerging platforms give more places than ever to ply a digital living from the home and that idea has been around for a while. Doing customer service as a call-center-from-home has been a thing for over a decade now. More and more technical work that you only need a computer to do has gone freelance and home-based as well. The emergence of the physical creator into the scene marks an important step forward in my estimation. If our logistics/distribution networks can take the strain, there may just be a real alternative for the working class to leaving their children to fend for themselves in daycares, schools, home alone, and otherwise without the direction and aid of their parents. A home business isn’t just an opportunity to spend more time with family, it’s a chance for youngsters to learn skills they can use to keep themselves independent and out of trouble. A more meaningful way to interact with the real world that sadly, our classrooms have failed to provide.

Formlabs Form 2 3d Printer

Naturally our society will be slow to acknowledge, much less come to parity with, the needs of this trend. While schools both public and private focus harder and harder on serving the interests of expensive diploma mills, our children will suffer from the lack of interest in providing everyday skill education such as balancing bank accounts, basic carpentry and machine work skills (how these fundamentally math based applications escape the ‘STEM’ push eludes me), basic finance, or even a basic set of social skills needed to navigate business. Learn to code? What about learn to operate a CNC mill? Or a 3-d printer? What about learn to take and process payments and avoid tax trouble while doing it? We’re still laser focused on creating middle management and cogs for large corporations. As I mentioned in an older post about the shortcoming of our education system, you as a parent bear the responsibility of teaching and passing on these skills to your children, even if you have yet to learn them yourself.

All those hurdles considered, the future is looking brighter every day for those of us who want to escape, and wish our children to escape, the expectation of the fluorescently lit cubicle farm. Self-determination and personal responsibility it turns out may still have a competitive place in today’s job market, and the future’s as well.

Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Without Caveat – Being Yourself

Photo By: Ilze Lucero

I was raised by parents who were very into ‘new age’ culture. If you aren’t familiar, think things like keeping amethysts around for their healing powers, belief in any of the zodiacs and their descriptive and predictive power, spiritual healing, burning incense and all manner of now frowned upon behaviors for being not-fact-based. I’m not saying my parents believed in all of those things, I’m just trying to give you a frame of mind for the culture. Of course, in his defense, my father is old enough that he had genuine claim to the title hippy without being a hipster about it. Far out. If it weren’t for this sort of eclectic upbringing I think I would have been a lot more vulnerable than I already am, by virtue of being a human being, to group think.

Why do I have that opinion? Because despite abjectly finding the idea of the healing power of crystal points humorous, I very much like how they look. Actually my youth started a life long obsession with mineral specimens in a Kantian disinterest sort of way. I like how incense smells, I don’t think it’s going to help bring me to some higher plane of thinking over some light meditation. As for the zodiac, that’s a punchline I’ll get to later.

Image result for blue crab

I actively hid these things about myself for a long time during and after puberty. I enjoyed these things, but not in the same sort of way my parents enjoyed them, and the sort of people my parents were, was being made fun of. Those are a few critical years of trying to fit in with your peers so I carefully considered answers to questions about my interests. Joke was on me though, I never ended up fitting in anyway. That was an easy lesson I somehow managed to ignore. Hiding my interests didn’t change me from being the sort of person that would be interested in them, and that person wasn’t particularly popular in high school.

I had actually managed to spend so long denying my interests that I forgot about them for a period of time. Love of minerals was one standout survivor but even that was kept pretty low key, that is, until I met Emily and started buying her jewelry. Emily seemed surprised I was so interested in buying these things for her. I mean, while the diamond necklace I had snuck into her high school on valentines day was a shock, it was also sort of expected, they’re diamonds and it was valentines day. I however, also bought her a range of earings and necklaces ranging from rubies to opals, a full gamut from precious to semi-precious. I had an outlet. It was however, something I still kept from most people.

The culture that really buys into those things seemed to be getting weirder and weirder. Colloidal silver and tinctures and anti-vaccinations had entered that area and I really didn’t want to be associated with them by having too many similar interests. I don’t despise those people, as seems popular to do these days. I would like it if drunk driving were met with half the energy devoted to the publicly acceptable shame and outrage, alas that still seems to be an angry-behind-closed-doors sort of thing. Still, I didn’t want to be associated with that crowd, and I thought expressing my interests in quartz points, tea, and incense would have left me defensive over it.

Then my daughter arrived. She got older. She turned three. Some time during that third year, by chance encounter, I stumbled upon one of those new age stores. They were having a moving location sale. My daughter and I were alone in the mall, which was a rare event. I think I was explicitly taking her on a date. I remember having reasons for it. Ah, that’s them. I will save those for a future post, they’re worth a future post. Daughters man, there’s something magical and frightening about them. Anyway, we were on our date and I see this relic from my own past, changing locations, deep discounts, meaningful ones, like half-off minimum. It was a liquidation. So we went in. After much looking around, my daughter fell in love with this sphere of gypsum. That’s all it was, plain jane ball of polished gypsum, it must weigh 3 pounds. It has a cats eye feature in it, and she absolutely fell in love with it the moment she set her eyes on it. That in turn, brought back memories of being in these sorts of stores with my parents, and that made me even more in love with her.

After I explained to my daughter that it wasn’t a toy, that she could easily break it, and that it was mostly going to be for looking at and having agreed to those terms, I purchased it and we got some ice cream and set back out for home. I took her shiny paperweight and set it up in a prominent position in her bed room so that she would see it all the time. Then I thought about myself and where I’d been the last decade or more. Out came my rose quartz candle holders, my oil fragrance burning apparatus, the tea candles that go with, I ended up going back and buying a wooden incense holder for the stick variety and ended up getting plenty of things to burn in it.

As chance would have it I was conversing with one of my older friends and somehow the subject of the zodiac came up. It was a gaming related context. Our group had been crustacean themed for some years now, and in the back of my mind was the information that I was a cancer, but until then that sort of thing was met with derision even from me. The song making fun of horoscopes by Weird Al was something of a favorite of mine growing up. But then we looked into it, and boy was I ever a cancer. I know I know, astrological sign descriptions are supposed to be vague to the point of applying to everyone, but this thing was dead on in ways that even surprise my friends. That doesn’t mean I “believe” in the zodiac, but the entertainment value given the theming of my gaming group was and remains high. Point of fact, neither of my wife’s signs—cusp baby—describe her in the slightest.

This all came to a head very recently when someone started criticising me for using an astrological sign to describe my personality. “Consummate cancer”, I told them. They droned on and on about things I already knew and didn’t care about. The lack of scientific evidence that they were efficant and blad-de-blah science I know. This person seemed to take it personally that I could find joy or entertainment in something not based on science while possessing the knowledge that not only was it not scientific but that it was a bunch of bullcrap. This interaction happened in the same culture that’s made Harry Potter a global phenomenon and devotes precious electricity and compute resources to making fan-theory videos about all sorts of fictional characters and universes. Hey, at least amethysts actually exist.

Seriously guys, why? You do you though.

Then it hit me. Our culture has become one where we are hypersensitive to our differences, rather than what we have in common. I’ve learned to turn these interactions around with my own sort of pointed ridicule. I don’t know what sort of joyless planet liking shiny rocks or freshly crystallized bismuth is frowned upon on but please leave mine. Anyway, the crux of the problem is focusing on the wrong sort of thing. Now there’s all sorts of reasons and causes for this. We know through our studies of social media that these platforms directly encourage social signaling and outrage culture in their participants. Heck, I left Facebook over the obviousness of that phenomenon, among other reasons.

So that sorta brings me to my main point, and the title. I think it’s pretty important that we do what we can as individuals to get over minor differences of opinion when faced with the temptation to socially signal about it. On the other end, and I’ve seen a lot of people do this and I’m just as guilty, don’t frame your likes behind caveats, justifying your likes isn’t something reasonable people should be asking you to do, though there seems to be plenty of that going around. Now, social signaling serves an important function, don’t get me wrong. Social signaling helps us determine our societies overarching values and guiding principals as a whole and it is key to doing so as a social species. Social media however has allowed us to start micro-managing social signalling into areas that don’t really matter, and that needs to stop, or at the very least be sharply reduced. Try and be aware of what really matters when tempted to judge or dog pile people. Though, a few internet memes sums all these words a little more succinctly.

XKCD
Maximumble

Derailed

It’s only been since the weekend when I last wrote, but that feels like far too long. I’ve been quite distracted over the last several days by a confluence of personal and professional road bumps. Interactions with some of my earliest creative writing courses in junior high taught me that when you really need to get something out and can’t seem to focus that the roadblock itself can often become the subject. Though, this far more easily applies to journaling and blogging, sorry fiction writers it doesn’t help you as much though it still could.

Though distracting for many reasons a bulk of the source of the personal speed bump is actually amusing from a distant viewpoint. Emily and I are struggling getting used to her having periods again. It’s just been that long. Between being pregnant and nursing we’ve had a good 5 years or so off, straight. Things that may have once been obvious no longer are, like sudden changes in behavior and mood. Oh yes it’s that time again, but the expectation that there should be a ‘time’ takes us both by surprise in ways that leave Emily inadequately prepared to spot and govern the changes in her own behavior and me inadequately prepared to temper my responses to them. That’s just going to be a thing that gets better with conscientiousness and time.

Professionally there were some set backs that are really nothing more than the logistics of having to work harder for an extended period of time. We hit a roadblock involving short maintenance windows and things that didn’t go wrong until load testing. This caused a missed deadline and it’s about a month and a half until the next possible testing period, so great efforts are being made to make sure that one isn’t also wasted. It’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things, just necessary extra strain.

See, I can feel my head clearing already, though the thing I really wanted to write about was just covered in essence by another blogger I follow so that’s kinda a bummer eh? I mean that’s understandable, expected really, when you’re trying to stay abreast of current events but the subject I’m tackling next has nothing to do at all with current events and that was a bit of a surprise to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to cover it, there’s more than one perspective on any given issue and especially when it comes to life lessons but, eh, I think other bloggers especially know the kind of feelings that occur when you see that happen.

Of course, perhaps my old at least every-other-day schedule just was never sustainable in the first place. Back then I wasn’t even bothering with featured images, I was barely watching my tags at all and you know, just not really doing the things outside of the actual writing that ought be done. On that note, I’m headed down to Orlando this Saturday to check out a special place in person, and that ought to be a treat, but I may not get my normal weekend content up in a timely fashion. No, it’s not house of mouse, you’ll just have to wait and see, it’ll be fun.

To-do lists around the house continue mounting as the days get longer and spring sets in and that energetic cleaning phase really gets off to an earnest start. Things need mowing, fixing, organizing, purging, you know the drill.

On top of all of that I’ve been dealing with the emotional fallout from a traumatic event from January. I’m not sure how many of you can relate to this but though the event is long over there are residual waves of it that come back to bother me every now and then and the stresses of this week just happened to expose those. It’s like throwing a hefty rock into a pond. There’s the initial splash and disturbance of the water but as the waves hit the edge of their confined space they bounce waves back towards the center like an echo. Those waves meet up again and cause a smaller but definitely there disturbance.

That makes it a little more difficult to watch my weight, which I’ve been struggling with since puberty really. Lately, I’d say the last 2 years or so I’ve actually been very on top of that and remain so, but boy do I reach for the chocolate quick. Like so many of us, I’m a stress eater.

I think of all of those factors, nah, definitely more than all of those other factors it’s the ripples in the pond that most impede my creative process. I’m looking forward to the day when they bounce their last bounce off the edge and the surface smooths again. That could take months, it could take years, but I’m looking forward to it. As for the blog, it’s been going fine since January and things have been getting better for me personally and emotionally since so it’s not like there’s any threat to my activity, there’s just been a disturbance this week and I expect that to pass soon. You’ll hardly notice.

Anyway, the main point is, I’m hoping some of you can relate to my troubles whether that’s personally, professionally, or creatively, and at the very least if I can do nothing with all these distractions and the amount of time they are stealing from otherwise productive thoughts I can at least affirm the experience of anyone else that’s had to deal with them.

Until next time.

Dildo Review – Hookah by Tantus

Dildo Review – Hookah by Tantus

Today’s review is singularly and easily the most work I’ve had to put into any review to date. I’ve noticed that when I’m on the fence about something the urge to do the deep dive gets very strong. When something is obviously bad or obviously good there’s a lot less work to do in parsing where something falls short and where personal preference is or isn’t asserting itself. But we go a bit further than that today, our little journey is going to take us straight into the heart of the manufacturing process, cross a bridge of changing preferences, and coin the term soft-spoiled.

I was mulling over my older and newer reviews a week back and thinking I might want to return to the format I used for the Apollo review, but after I started to write this one I realized that the format of each individual review was going to vary by what I needed to say about it. This one is going to be more of an essay. For those of you who need a tl;dr version, the Hookah we purchased is a rough ride due to the combination of shape and hardness, but on the balance Emily enjoys it. There are big caveats though, including the fact that your Hookah may be substantially softer and squishier than ours. Before we really get started with that in earnest though, have some pretty pictures of Hookah. It’s mirin’ time.

All hand poured silicone toys are going to have some variance in them, and the Hookah is no exception, but the variance in the Hookah’s hardness was so substantial that Tantus made some changes to the manufacturing process as a result of our investigation. Kudos to Tantus for taking feedback seriously enough to do that in the first place, but now it’s time to start our story in earnest.

When Tantus released their Magma model it stuck out to me as a lot bolder of a design than I was accustomed to seeing from them. Up to that point Tantus was the manufacturer that offered body safe silicone design in mainstream shapes, to us anyway. That’s not really a criticism per se, that approach was effective in securing a lot of our business as we transitioned out of potentially toxic toys—shout out to Dangerous Lilly—to body safe toys, but Emily quickly desired something more than a proximal penis out of her toys and we both got sucked head-long into the world of fantasy dildos. For a while, we didn’t buy from Tantus anymore, and the reasons why are very important. Tantus’ toys did not get worse, they are as good as ever, the company didn’t do something bad to us, our experiences had been great. Heck, we own an O2 from the original discontinued run. We were changing and leaving their target demographic. I saw the Magma and was excited. Was Tantus moving in our direction? We went to their website and saw it even came in two sizes and two colors. Surely, we thought to ourselves, this is Tantus dipping their toe into the unusual designs side of the market, Steamhunk not withstanding. We read the dimensions on Magma, too small for Emily in either size really, but we started keeping a very close eye on what Tantus was doing and had very positive feelings about this direction.

Then the Hookah dropped. This was even more obviously targeted at the fantasy crowd, or perhaps people leaning that way. We think that’s great either way and I in particular am critical of the human penis replacement design philosophy for dildos and much prefer a designed for pleasure approach. That could and perhaps should be its own blog post. It was enough that we committed to give it a try. It was cast in the new ‘super soft’ formula and that appealed to us too. We checked out the dimensions and they were definitely enough for Emily. We placed an order fairly quickly.

It wasn’t long before our Hookah arrived. We chose blue, we had more than enough pink toys and Emily deliberately wanted more blue in her collection. It doesn’t seem to matter how many of these toys we get, sometimes we misjudge the size. Hookah was significantly bigger than we anticipated, but what we anticipated was at the low end of Emily’s tastes, so we were quite happy about this particular misjudgment. On close inspection of the toy we found some beads of silicone in the grooves that form the ‘swirly’ look for Hookah. I must say we were a little disappointed by this. Yes these are hand made toys, we get that imperfections happen, but this seemed like a lot of them and for a simple detail. We own a lot of toys with much finer and more detailed features in softer silicone that are absolutely flawless. Something with that mold? I dunno, but it was a bit of a hype killer. The finish was nice and satiny, similar to the Vamp, also from Tantus, and we prefer this finish to the glossier one found on a lot of our Tantus toys. Emily wasted no time giving it a go, and that was the first time we noticed something was off.

Almost immediately Emily was complaining about how rough of a ride Hookah was. I found this very strange as Emily typically gets the firmer options from our favorite fantasy toy makers, enjoys glass toys, and enjoys toys much bigger than Hookah. Emily had to stop using it and didn’t find it pleasurable. I reminded Emily that she may still be sore from having ridden her firm Nova from the night before. Nova dwarfs Hookah and always leaves Emily sore for a few days, and she begrudgingly agreed to try it again later—yeah she was that convinced it was a no go. Nova by the way, is purportedly in Shore 8A hardness. That purportedly bit is going to get some attention later. Hookah felt firmer than that. This struck me as odd. “Super soft compared to what?” I asked myself.

My curiosity could not wait until Emily had recovered, I went and purchased a deurometer to test the hardness of our toys. It was something I felt I needed for the blog anyway but it was one of those eventually kind of things, at least up until that point. My curiosity demanded I get to the bottom of this. I had recently been educating myself on the finer details of silicone firmness ratings at Felicity’s blog. She has a lovely comprehensive guide to toy firmness on her website that I encourage you to check out. I immediately went to town on everything measured on the A scale in our collection. I wasn’t getting the numbers I thought I would, our 8A firm toys from Bad Dragon for instance were measuring at ~3A, and our Shore 5A toys from the same manufacturer weren’t even registering on the scale. I tested on other manufacturers toys. Tantus’ older—and I do mean old, like Echo w/handle and the version of Vamp with the bullet hole old—models were measuring between ~30 and ~40 where I expected them to. A Shore 10A tentacle from Pleasure Forge was registering about where it should, between 7A and 10A depending on where I poked it. I could never get the Shore 5A tentacle from Goblin to register either. The ‘bases’ of any of these toys seemed to be a place where the reading would be lower. Hookah was consistently getting between 10A and 14A, 10 being the lowest measurement at the base. This lined up with hand feel and experience, for us ‘Super Soft’ super wasn’t.

I had to sit back and stew on the numerical facts, Emily’s period had arrived and while that’s not a problem for me it tends to make her feel very unsexy and she typically doesn’t engage in any pleasurable activity while that’s happening, especially on heavier days. So here I was spinning my wheels about this ‘super soft’ branding while waiting for that to be over. I could see labeling it as that from the standpoint of comparing it to the 30A and 40A toys they have for sure. We however, review from a fantasy toy enthusiast perspective and when we hear ‘super soft’ we’re thinking 3A tops, maybe 00-50 or 00-30. It was jarring for us, and I was starting to wonder exactly who it was Tantus was marketing to, because it didn’t feel like it was us. I also considered mass market appeal and the details that go with. I don’t actually consider 00-30 and 00-50 hard enough for mass market, not because they aren’t enjoyable, but because it takes enthusiast level care to keep those things around. Silicone that soft is prone to nicks and cuts from almost anything, especially finger nails. I can just see the support tickets now from launching a mass market toy in that firmness. In fact, that original O2 we have? We retired it. We keep it around for memories sake and because we think that maybe one day we’ll try to repair it, but it has scratches and nicks and lacerations in the soft outer layer that appeared not only from finger nails and things like that, but just by being stretched repeatedly during thrusting. That’s where the largest tear came from actually, located just beneath the coronal ridge. I also ruminated on the idea that Emily used to enjoy those 30A and 40A toys. Even on our own blog the Vamp gets a glowing review. So why was 10A-14A suddenly a problem? Why could Emily still enjoy glass toys and not this one? Well, I think that’s two things. One, Hookah has much more aggressive features than those toys, and two, Emily has gotten very used to the much softer firmnesses of fantasy toys. I remarked to her that her vagina had become soft-spoiled. We had a giggle over that one.

Close-up of imperfections in swirls

I’m happy we kept the old retired O2 around though. I like that we can still include our old O2 in pictures like this.

Eventually we got to a place where we could try Hookah again. Soreness from Nova was indeed a factor, and Emily managed to bring herself to orgasm with Hookah this time and even engage in some DP play. Hooray! Emily noted that Hookah was still on the very edge of too firm for her and that while the ride was worth it, it was still rough. It should be noted at this time though, that for those of you who like ‘knot’ play Hookah is essentially a series of knots. Neither of us feel comfortable calling those features merely ridges.

I sat down to prepare our review, but something didn’t feel right. My investigative curiosity was not satisfied. Something felt off to me. Surely, this wasn’t what ‘super soft’ was meant to be. As luck would have it, a brief engagement with Felicity regarding her Magma review revealed that Tantus had intended Hookah to be a ~8.5A experience. I inquired further as Shore 8.5A is a firmness I think this toy would absolutely shine in. We got into a brief chat about deurometer technique and it seemed I was doing everything right. We talked about Bad Dragon firmness and yep, we both got low readings from their toys, wasn’t just me. What did seem to be just me however was how hard Hookah was. I reached out to Tantus for comment informing them that I’d be delaying my review slightly to give them a chance to respond to my inquiry about the seemingly abberant hardness of our Hookah. I was about to go ahead with the review, having not heard from them in six days when I got a curious but short response in my email from Tantus support.


 Thank you for alerting us to this issue. After much digging we found a procedural issue in production that ended up making the toys inconsistent. This has now been addressed and the shore hardness of the Super Soft is now consistently soft. Quality Control is also empowered and encouraged to stop the line if they find any more inconsistencies.


Again, your voice really matters, and we are very grateful for your input.

Well okay then. My gut instincts win again. Seriously I always get into trouble any time I ignore those. However, without any offer to send us a toy in the intended verified firmness, we can only review what we have. I imagine there are also still plenty of Hookahs made with the old process sitting in the channel, which means if you buy one today, by Tantus’ own admission, the firmness you’re getting could vary significantly which kinda makes the Hookah hard to review in the first place.

So what’s the bottom line here? Well we think we’ve hit a situation where our personal tastes and acclimation to softer toys are already pre-disposing our experience to be worse with Hookah than yours might be. I think the combination of 10A+ firmness in our Hookah and the aggressive features of the design make for a rougher experience than intended. Even in the intended ~8.5A of the Hookah I think that might be the case. As I stated earlier, Emily still enjoys her glass toys, like her Twist from Crystal Delights, she loves her girthy Nova even if it leaves her a bit sore later. It’s not even necessarily that Hookah’s girth is the issue, it’s the changes in girth that are resulting in this experience. Some of you though, some of you really enjoy a rough ride, especially you knot enthusiasts, and if that’s you, hoh boy I think you’ll have fun with Hookah. We have to be a little more careful about when and how we use it than we were expecting. Hookah by the way, even with the production flaws I was talking about earlier, is a beautifully crafted toy and sits with the rest of our collection not looking a bit out of place. On that note, that confirms to us that Hookah is an attempt to market towards the fantasy crowd and in that capacity I have some advice for Tantus, don’t call anything 5A or higher super soft if it is indeed those people you are trying to make into satisfied customers, our crowd looks at Shore 8A with skepticism about comfort.

I’d like to reiterate at this juncture that our second go round with Hookah did provide a significant degree of pleasure and we did end up enjoying it on the whole. It won’t however be enjoying reach-for-first status with that degree of firmness. Hookah also comes with some classic Tantus staple features, like harness compatibility and that same flared base makes Hookah anal safe. We don’t think we’ll be trying Hookah that way though. If you go to Hookah’s product page here, they also have a very well done sizing chart that describes every single knot on this the toy. Very handy indeed as we generally don’t bother with anything but ballpark measurements on shapes this irregular. You can get Hookah in two colors, as we mentioned before we chose Rockabilly Blue, but it also comes in Punk Rock Pink and both models have a high degree of sparkle to them.

I think the hardest thing about this review has been that Hookah is neither a recommend or a don’t recommend. It comes with a pile of caveats that essentially boil down to the idea that you’ll have to use your past experience as a guide for whether or not you’ll enjoy Hookah. With that comes the only concrete recommendation we can make. Hookah is not a toy I’d recommend to newbies. I think the strongest recommendation we can give for the toy are to people who are really into knotting and people who crave a rough ride now and again. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and sticking with us to the end. I hope you’ve found this useful. Until next time!

Coffee Secrets & Blog Roundup

Coffee Secrets & Blog Roundup

Hey everyone. Boy has today been an issue for writer’s block, and I still have a hell of a review to drop tomorrow. Figured I’d take a break and do something fun with some odds and ends. Also I’d like to plug a few bloggers\creators that have really caught my attention over the past couple of weeks and deserve a look.

First, we’ll go into the coffee thing, as that seems to make the writing world go ’round. This would be ‘one simple trick’ click bait if I put it in the title but it is absolutely and 100% true. Grind your own beans. Just do it. Get a burr grinder, start buying whole beans, start wondering why you suddenly like coffee brands you used to think were gross. So why is that? Coffee oxidizes over time, whole bean or otherwise, and starts losing its flavor and tasting bad. This is one of the reasons coffee is vacuum sealed and most of the containers it comes in can be closed again. Problem is that grinding the beans massively increases the surface area for this process and accelerates it. Keeping the beans whole for as long as possible prior to use is the singular best way to preserve freshness. We use the Cuisinart DBM-8 and right now you can get it for about half what we paid. Forget my normal penchant for graphs, facts, and figures and just trust me on this one if you have any love at all for good coffee. There’s a lot you can do to make it better, but I think this is the biggest and easiest.

So now for some shout outs, in no particular order.

First I’d like to give some props to Felicity and her amazing information-packed website for helping me bridge some gaps in my understanding of silicone firmness ratings, and for running a swell review site in general. You should check her out if you’re into vibrators especially, because that’s not so much our thing and she’s got much better coverage in that general area. Felicity is very thorough in her work.

The next one is a very recent discovery, and dovetails nicely with my last couple of blogs about transferring skills to children. In Dianes Kitchen is a digital cookbook full of all sorts of fantastic ideas running from desserts to appetizers to side dishes and main entrees. It’s going to be a go-to for “what do you feel like for dinner”

Next we have Ashley Dannielle, an erotica writer that I really think nails the style and truly gets how to communicate a sexy situation while giving you just enough wiggle room in the details to fill in the blanks rather than getting bogged down in detailed techniques that would detract from the experience. Ashley knows sexy, and she’s also recently joined the ranks of sex toy reviewers and is doing a pretty bang up job there too. Check her out.

Need a fun project to do with your kids? Are you of the outdoors persuasion or maybe you just like being self-sufficient? Well at basically 10 millions subs, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it before, but I’m going to make sure. Check out the Primitive Technology channel on YouTube for some fun do it yourself diversions. As someone that spends a great deal of time smoking meat, the charcoal videos are my favorites.

These next two, well you seem to rapidly meet a lot of interesting people when you dive into the world of sex toy reviews and romance/sexuality self-help. Both are cam girls and while a lot of people seem to think they can end the description right there nothing could be further from the truth. These are creative, hard-working, conscientious people.

First up is Keri Berry who I never imagined or intended on getting to know beyond her work with some delightfully sized sex toys. Emily and I had actually seen her posts a while back on various image boards and especially on the r/BadDragon sub, and I forget why, it was blog related, but we were in her profile one day and noticed she had started a …discord server? Well that was odd to say the least but Emily was all about it, and she joined it. I remember her excitedly telling me that it was something so much more than another place to promote her work. “Henry you should really check this out, these people are so cool and Keri is super chill” well, something along those lines anyway, close enough. I was actually a bit suspicious but at Emily’s urging I checked it out and uh…well it’s a damn community over there. I’ve had to change a lot of embed settings in discord to force it safe for work but it’s one of my favorite places to shoot the shit now. Keri has given us both a lot of insight into the world of caming and we’ve been confronted with the reality of how much work and creativity is required to make something of yourself in that business. You can find the discord link—and many other things—in the reddit user link I put on her name at the beginning of the paragraph. Super NSFW.

Next up is Tawney Darling whom I discovered on twitter. What doesn’t this girl do? She reviews sex toys—that’s how I encountered her—runs a blog, and has written books, just to name a few things, and that’s all in addition to her cam work. What really struck me was her blog, Open Bobs BB, and a book by the same name. Yes, I am picking that up and I am reviewing it, it will probably be a big breath of fresh air from the last 3 did-not-finish books. If you think that’s an odd name for a book or blog or both, go take a look at the about page.

Of course now that I’ve started getting to know these people my entire Twitter feed has become NSFW…..ah well I’ll deal, it’s for a good cause, and it’s inspired some large think pieces for my blog that I think everyone can enjoy. Well, that about wraps it up for today, I’ve gotta get back to work on that Hookah review so I can have it up by tomorrow morning. If I left you out don’t worry, I think this blog roundup thing is going to be a regular occurrence for a while, at least until I run out of cool people to talk about.

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

Home Economics – Spring Cleaning Edition

I was having an interaction earlier today with some online strangers, like ya do. Sometimes I forget that while I’m hardly ever the oldest person in the room, I’m getting up there when it comes to hanging out in online spaces, especially those focused around gaming. Home ec. was on its way out when I was a kid. We still had it, I still had to take it, but everyone knew the days for that course were numbered. At the time that just seemed like progress? I dunno, the conventional wisdom seemed to be it had little to teach people. STEM STEM STEM. We didn’t call it that back then but the trend was already started. Remove all real life courses from primary and secondary school because really, what is school for except to prepare every single child for college regardless of the likelihood they will ever step foot in one? So I make a reference to home ec. in this online space and suddenly I’m flooded with questions about what the heck that is. This was after a young adult, and I do mean above 18 years old adult, openly asked what it was you were supposed to put in a dishwasher if not dawn liquid dish soap?

Parents, are you teaching basic life skills to your children? I know it’s irritating sometimes and I know that they slow you down a lot when they’re “helping”, but do you really want your kid to be the one that’s somehow made it into the adult world without knowing how to operate a washing machine? I don’t mean to pick on the dude, it’s far from the most stunningly how-do-you-not-know-that question about house life ever thrown my way, but it is spring cleaning time and it reminded me of the seemingly epidemic lack of basic home skills in today’s young adults. Don’t need to know how to operate a dish washer if you don’t know how to cook the food that soils dishes.

Remind yourself this spring season to teach your kids something about basic home skills, even if it’s just a few at a time. Remember, you have a few years to go over this stuff. I’m not asking you to teach your 8 year old how to do your gutters for you, but you should at least be introducing them to the basic ideas. I think it’s striking in this burgeoning creators economy that adding home ec. back to schools isn’t a more urgent conversation. Production is getting more and more decentralized as 3d printers and kitchen shelf sized cnc mills fill more homes. Platforms like Etsy allow the things made from home production to be sold easily to wherever you feel like shipping to, and yet we are teaching our kids, at least in the context of schools, fewer and fewer skills related to home production and even finance. Now, I could hem and haw about how that’s always ultimately been a parents responsibility, but I can’t deny that without those classes this up and coming generation seems especially clueless about how basic operations of living work. Is that a bad coincidence? I don’t really know, and I’m not going to pretend to know, placing blame is beyond the scope of this blog, but this job can’t be expected to be outsourced anymore folks, you are solely responsible for ensuring your kid doesn’t burn their apartment down in a week after moving out. Oh, by the way, the average move out age is over 24 now, so you have plenty of time to correct this if your Jr. year high-schooler still doesn’t know ;).

Perhaps you feel barely competent in areas like cooking and cleaning, that’s okay. You’d be amazed what you can learn online. YouTube hasn’t been for just cat videos in a long long time, and there are awesome DIY subreddits for just about anything. Really young youngsters can start with the super basics, like how things in the cleaning cabinet will make them very sick if they drink them, or the fact that yes, eventually the base boards do get cleaned. A really great activity that’s fun if you let go of the sense of urgency is when a room needs repainting. Enjoy this time with your children and if it takes a week to do a 20×20 it takes a week to do a 20×20. In the mean time, break down how much it cost to buy that paint, the canvas spill guard, let them in on the whole process, take them to the hardware store—don’t pretend you aren’t looking at things you don’t need while you’re there either, verbalize all the home improvement fantasies you’re having while you’re there.

Older children can help you with stuff like drywall repair. Don’t know the first thing about drywall repair? Learn with them! It’s time for that know-it-all mask to come off with the older kids. Make mistakes together. Show them that being an adult is as full of mistakes as any other point in their lives and that they’ll never reach the point of knowing everything that you’ve been projecting at them since they were two. Instant obedience at a young age is a safety issue—they don’t need to get introspective when you’re telling them to freeze because they’re about to charge the wrong way in a parking lot—but eventually they have to understand that heading into unknown territory is something adults have to do regularly, or they won’t grow up. Rebellious teenagers might be interested in the idea of making their light switch different from the rest of the decor, the trade off is they have to do it. On that note it might be a good idea to teach them what a breaker/fuse box is for.

It’s time to get that oven deep cleaned, and to teach oven safety, and also how to make that killer cookie recipe they like when you’re done (you have one of those right?). A lot of these can be applied whether you own or rent but we can also cross into home owner territory like lawn care. Do they have a favorite spring flower for the flower bed? Would they like to pick one? What’s that mulch for anyway? What is mulch? Time to cut that grass, but also learn how to properly care for a 2-stroke engine, or properly store a lithium ion battery pack, maybe you have both. Our chainsaw is gas powered for instance, because it’s the thing we’re most likely to need when the power is out in hurricane alley, everything else is electric because it’s a luxury when the power is out. Oh hey, that’s a good one, teach them the thought process for decisions like that and how local weather affects them.

I could go on about specific examples butt the main point here is that while you’re in the middle of the season where you’ll be getting down deep and dirty with your home the most, don’t forget to include the kids in the experience in ways that will help them grow into functioning adults later on in life. It can be hard to convince yourself that you are allowed to slow down that much, but it will pay off in the long run.

Dildo Review(s) – Merfolk XL and Chaos Beast by Pleasure Forge

Dildo Review(s) – Merfolk XL and Chaos Beast by Pleasure Forge

We get a double header today with two lovely items from Pleasure Forge. The Illithid we reviewed a bit over a week ago came in the same order with these two and we figured it was high time to finish reviewing that order as it was a month old. Also I really wanted an excuse to post this picture I took of them for funsies when they arrived in order to pay homage to the D&D roots of these toys. Chaos Beast is first up, followed by Merfolk XL.

From Left to Right – Illithid, Merfolk XL, and Chaos Beast

Chaos Beast

Introducing the Chaos Beast. This is a tentacle class toy with a twist—literally. Ours came in Miami Heat, a swirly marble of black, purple, orange, and pink (We updated the Illithid review to correct the reference to this color, Illithid was in Miami Vice). Topping this hot quadruple marble is a mica sparkle and UV reactivity. Firmness is Shore 10A which is normally what we’d consider approaching uncomfortable firm but the Chaos Beast doesn’t feel that way. This is largely owed to the wild dimensions of the toy and I suspect it would have a harder time keeping its shape if you went softer. It’s definitely a firmer silicone than we’re used to but we can tell if this were a normally phallic shaped toy we’d feel that a lot harder than we do. The Chaos Beast tends to twist, bend, and give rather than resist.

How do I even begin to describe the physical appearance of this toy? You should click through that gallery to help you follow along. The shaft of this tentacle is a sinewy double helix. Filling the void of the helix is more fleshy goodness, smooth on the front, suckers on the back. As you go down the shaft the texture on the double helix itself goes from smooth to this sorta micro-ridged printer texture. The joint of the shaft and base is adorned by…..something. Is that hair, is that tentacles, is that fire, is that hair-tentacle-fire? It’s chaos, that’s what it is. I will note that ours had some very minor casting imperfections towards the base. These are tiny, purely cosmetic, and you’ll find imperfections like these fairly routinely in hand-poured silicone toys, however, we will be pointing these out wherever we see them. Topping off the already chaotic features of this tentacle is a, head? A sucker? A sucker-head? Okay, it’s a sucker head, with…teeth? The backside of the head is adorned with 3 nicely sized ridges, but that other side, there’s a lot going on there. Honestly, I expected to find casting imperfections here if anywhere, but on our Chaos Beast there are none on this crazy, tooth filled…what are those bumps anyway? Our sucker-head mouth is apparently full of clitorises. We’ll be getting to those in more detail soon.

So with all that going on how exactly are you supposed to use this thing? Emily put the Chaos Beast through its paces and some of the answers surprised us. Let’s start with that head. You can feel all of that texture internally, the ridges, the sucker-mouth-bumps, all of it. What surprised Emily about the head though was how great it was as an external stimulator. Her clitoris loved all those little sometimes also clit looking bumps rubbed all over it. The shaft is roughly the same story, surprisingly good for external use and feels-like-it-looks when used internally.

We’re not going to bother with our typical D-score table for this beasty. The shape is too irregular for that to really mean anything here and the girth is not the main star of this attraction, nor is the overall length, and most of you should be able to fit this comfortably. Even the measurements themselves are tricky, sure 6.7 inches is actually decently long but the Chaos Beast bends, folds, twists, and gives, and I think those of you with shallower vaginas might be surprised how much deeper you can take Chaos beast than the measurements would suggest, but for the sake of completeness here’s a quick rundown of the basic numbers:

Length: Overall 8.7in / Usable 6.7in
Circumference: Max 6.3in / Min 3.9in
Diameter: Max 1.97in / Min 1.0in

Like most toys in this size class, Emily found Chaos Beast very comfortable for dual penetration play. One warning though, we don’t consider the base flared/obstructed enough to be anal safe and we did not attempt to use Chaos Beast that way. Illithid, myself, or Goblin’s Tentacle played back door partner to Chaos Beast in our trials and the results were pleasant.

We picked up our Chaos Beast for 50 bucks before shipping, another steal from Pleasure Forge. We would be remiss not to include that the aesthetic took a small amount of time to get over. Chaos Beast certainly lives up to its name and there was a, albeit brief, moment of what do we even do with this? We can see some people, even fantasy inclined people, being put off by that, but fortunately this isn’t going to be a huge surprise, you should be able to work out whether you’re going to like how it looks simply through the pictures provided above. For everyone else Chaos Beast promises an intriguing, versatile, and unique set of sensations with premium colorations in an entry level price tag—entry level in the context of fantasy silicone toys anyway.

For those of you building out an existing collection the Chaos Beast is a strong and easy recommendation. Newbies to toys in general would be taking a bit of a gamble with unknown preferences in our opinion but we thoroughly enjoyed the sensations. We think there are better basics and first-buys though if that’s you. For those of you experienced with toys but perhaps just looking to dip your toes into the fantasy market, buy with confidence.

Merfolk XL

Alright size queens and size-aspirational onlookers, this next one is for you. Welcome to Merfolk XL in Shore 00-30, the gentlest fisting warm-up this side of a game table. Let’s take a moment to just gaze and take him all in; you’ll be spending at least as much time getting him in you.

Also lets talk about this King Cake coloration. We typically avoid green as a component color in our toys and we really don’t get the whole carnival thing, but here it just worked and we had to have it. I usually save the size chart stuff for later, but the whole point of the Merfolk XL—there are other sizes available if you’re not into the whole stretch thing by the way—is the size.

Merfolk XLCircumferenceDiameterD-Score
Minimum Girth7.5″2.22.27
Maximum Girth9.1″2.954.1

Quick Reminder: D-score is a measurement that essentially gives us the number of median sized dicks to equal the girth of a toy. You can read D-Score more easily as “This is how many dicks this is worth in girth”. So a D-Score of 2.5 would be 2 and a half dicks of girth, to make it simple.

Size queens should know this already, but for the sake of completeness we’re going to remind you that under no circumstances should a toy with these dimensions be deployed without copious amounts of lubricant handy and you should have a warm up toy, or two.

One thing we really like about Merfolk XL is the length and the top loaded max diameter. Merfolk XL measures just over 10 inches long with 8.7 of those inches usable, enough to satisfy the depth play needs of anyone vaginally. Emily isn’t even remotely in a place where we’d consider reviewing this for anal play and the shape isn’t technically anal safe anyway, just as an aside. In other toys with dimensions close to these, we’ve had issues hitting the max length of Emily’s vagina before we ran out of max girth—our large Spritz was in this boat and so is our large unflared Chance—but the Merfolk XL delivers that punch upfront in the large bulbous head. This is where the Shore 00-30 firmness(is that even an appropriate word to use when referring to something this soft?) really stretches its legs and shines. This stretch won’t leave you sore as the 00-30 squishes and accommodates.

There is minor gentle but noticeable texturing on Merfolk XL as you can see in the pictures, but this thing seems designed to scale up without becoming uncomfortable and it definitely accomplishes that. On that note, we know a few owners of the smaller sizes and they just adore the overall shape of this toy as well and we’re considering getting a ‘normal’ large for this reason. The lack of aggressive textures may also be responsible for the fact that our Merfolk XL is flawless, completely free of any perceptible imperfections cosmetic or otherwise. Winning.

As I alluded to before, the Merfolk XL has been our best fisting prep toy that we’ve ever owned. That was curious to me as we own toys that have a larger maximum D-score like our large Apollo. Also for the record, as these things vary a bit, my fist(duck-billed) is 10.5 inches around. I’m not sure if that is large or small on the scale but there it is, and that’s what Merfolk XL excels in prepping Emily to take. We think that has to do with the 00-30 silicone not leaving things sore before we start. Whatever the reason, as subjective as it may be, Merfolk XL just does this job better for us than anything else in our warchest.

Silicone toys in sizes like this typically come with hefty price tags to match, and Merfolk XL is no exception. However, Pleasure Forge delivers excellent value in this area again. At 100 bucks even before shipping, this is a lot of silicone for your money. The size queens reading this probably raised an eyebrow or two at that, there are much smaller toys that hit triple digits, much less hit it even. That price tag however, is still three digits and puts Merfolk XL way outside of beginner territory, though I’d argue the size already did that. But lets put aside paragraphs of who this toy isn’t for, because Merfolk XL is targeting a specific group of people—size queens—and y’all won’t be disappointed with Merfolk XL.

That wraps up our purchases from Pleasure Forge, and boy do they live up to their name, providing consistent value, beautiful toys, excellent craftsmanship, and stellar customer service. Whether you’re a size queen, fantasy newbie, or looking to expand an existing collection, you can’t go wrong with Pleasure Forge. We are truly impressed. We hope to bring you more reviews of their inventory in the future.

I am not a paid reviewer. My content comes from me and I was not solicited in any manner for this review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Activities for Bored Children

Activities for Bored Children

photo by: Ricardo Gomez Angel

I feel like I should have gotten to this one before snow season came to a close, but to be honest it would have slipped my mind completely were it not for the suggestion of a reader—also it doesn’t really snow here ever. That’s alright, we get our turn soon. We’ve got a veritable monsoon season coming up and that’s going to make it hard to get outdoors; stuck inside moments happen year round anyway, bonus points if the power is out. You’ll be bored, the kids will be trapped indoors, and you may be thinking about all the stuff you could be getting away with doing if they weren’t busy bouncing off the walls and getting into everything. So what do you do to avoid going crazy in these situations?

First, I suggest making sure your situation isn’t self-inflicted. I’ve caught myself plenty of times lamenting the fact that I was stuck in the house with the kids when it was sunny outside. Sure it was hotter than I wanted it to be, but it was about as safe to leave the house as it could ever get. This wasn’t a tornado warning or being flooded in or snowed in. I was just so bored I was making myself even more bored. Check yourself first for situations you are in control of. That being said let’s move on to our boredom toolbox.

If you are genuinely stuck inside, the particulars of your situation are going to affect whether or not a certain suggestion applies to you. For instance, we’re going to talk about baking a little bit and those of you with gas stoves can do this when the lights are out. Electric stove owners cannot, at least, unless you’re on some sort of heavy duty back-up power. See what I mean? The small details matter, I will be doing my best to cover a lot of bases but I can’t possibly cover them all.

So we’ll start with the classic inclement weather scenario. It’s raining or snowing or freezing, and it’s not an immediate danger to the family but getting out onto the road would probably be a less than ideal scenario. In situations like these there are many things to fall back on, and we’ll get to a few, but my favorite by far is passing down skill sets to the little ones in fun ways. Perhaps the easiest example of this, and one perhaps most of us can identify with, is baking cookies. Who’s not interested in cookies?! Depending on their age, you may have to limit their involvement, but even our three year-old is game for standing on a foot stool to watch us mix the batter and is definitely a good helper when it comes time to licking the cookie dough off of utensils prior to their disposal. It’s also a great way to just get them used to the idea of cooking, teaching oven safety, and if they get interested in actually making a batch themselves later on they’ll already be familiar with the process enough that you’ll be able to focus on the fun bits. Do you have a hobby that can be done indoors? Do you find yourself wishing you had the time to share that with your children but can’t seem to find it? Think about it the next time the weather keeps you cooped up.

Staying on the inclement weather kick, sometimes you really do just need a good Netflix marathon. I like to use this in situations where the weather seems scarier than it is—lots of lightning or above average winds for instance. Meet noise with noise. When I was growing up this wasn’t always a reliable option, and many are still in that boat. We had broadcast television and lightning storms tended to knock that out. We did however have a stereo that worked, and when the lights managed to stay on putting on a classic vinyl or two suited just fine. Be flexible, suggesting a Netflix marathon doesn’t mean you can’t go to your DVD or Blu-Ray library if you have one—just make some noise to lessen that thunderclap or that wind howl.

For those of us with an open air porch or similar structure I also find it’s nice to just arrange some chairs—maybe get some rockers for this—and just sit and enjoy the sounds for a few minutes. Strike up a conversation. It’s a good way to make up for lost time at the dinner table too. Some quiet face-to-face time may just be something you’re behind on.

Board(bored) games come in two distinct varieties in my experience. The first type has you interacting primarily with the people playing the game. The second type generally has you interacting with the board itself, avoid those. That’ll be games like some classic dominos, Trouble, Candy Land and Mankala. The first type is preferable, as it engages entertaining interactions. That’ll be stuff like Scrabble, Apples to Apples, Jenga, or Pictionairy. There are some type 1 games I’d avoid though, as they easily turn into drudgery, like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Curate your board games carefully to fit your family or they will never leave the shelf, especially when they need to, like say in a power outage. On that note, simulate power outages and remove electronics from the family routine now and then. You should have some semi-regular periods where there’s no TV, Phone, Internet, etc, otherwise you’ll never sit down to a table top game and you won’t even know if you like what you have.

Sometimes the mandatory indoors period is going to drag on for a while. In these cases your entertainment options may not help at all because the restlessness is being caused by a lack of physical exertion. Get your kids in the habit of exercising indoors so they’ll be able to burn that energy off when they can’t go outside. Children need to physically move around and exert themselves regularly or they become restless and can act out. I find yoga actually tends to keep kids entertained. The type of exercise matters, hardcore workouts can intimidate them and are typically low on fun quotient.

These are just a few of the basic tools we keep around for when we can’t leave the house, but they cover some basic scenarios and needs. Think about the things you like to do indoors but never seem to have time for, think about how prepared you are to entertain yourselves during a power outage too. Oh, and one last tip, do not neglect to get out of the house the moment you are able. It’s really good to reset the clock on cabin fever as soon as possible.

Do you have strategies for staving off cabin fever or passing the time on rainy days that I didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments!

How We Met

How We Met

picture by: Ali Yahya

So a reader asked me a question the other day that sorta floored me. I could have sworn I had told the story of how I met Emily already, but I so haven’t. That’s something that needs fixin’.

I had just been evicted. I had been out of my parents house for about four years and hit a pretty bad snag, and was headed back. I had no job, no income at all, I was already living paycheck to paycheck prior to losing my job and even then just barely. I also had a reputation among friends and family of being the reliable one. I wasn’t feeling very reliable now. My brother had invited me to a night out to just chill somewhere. That was something I rarely got to do anymore, he’d offered to foot the bill. I would have normally said no, gotta keep that life going, gotta take care of the things I’m responsible for. A part of me felt like I should only be focusing on getting back on my feet, but I was feeling so low I didn’t even want to live up to my own expectations, so I said yes.

My entire value system was up for grabs at this point, all of me was on shaky ground. I took my beat up old truck, and what little gas I had left, and set out to just waste some time with my brother and his pals. I was thinking a few things, like that I’d never amount to anything or escape this place, but I tried to put those thoughts aside and have a good time. Things started getting weird pretty quick. See my brother and I have this dynamic, we just get silly with each other, and we were both pretty low on sugar and were acting pretty punchy as a result. Somehow we ended up in my brother’s friend’s recently rented out space he’d be using for a second hand book store. I was working again, as a volunteer, a jobless volunteer. Well, I guess that’s how you get known for being reliable. Anyway, as I was saying, my brother and I were being pretty silly. There were ancient computer parts, even by those standards, sitting in several boxes in this space and they had to be disposed of. We went through them one by one to make sure we weren’t tossing anything useful. My brother and I came across some old processors and stuck them in our foreheads until they stuck, and pretty soon we were throwing the expansion cards like ninja stars into the corrugated box, trying to get those to bury themselves in it. We’d shout “NINJA STAR!” as we did so.

As these stories often go, my brother’s friend had a girlfriend, and she’d always been a miserable person around us. See, our friend wasn’t that good at communication and would often schedule his dates on D&D night, and we ended up having to put up with an understandably pouty and bitchy person almost every session for a few weeks at this point. We did not like her, she did not like us, and she was coming over with her sister to introduce her to some guy. Good, I thought, she’ll be busy and out of our hair. The girlfriend really wasn’t my type and I really didn’t wanna deal with two of them. So as I was winding up another add-in board to toss into the now shredded cardboard box, the girlfriend walks in with sister in tow, and I stop dead in my tracks. How in the fuck were these two related?! She was petite, she was cute, and despite her very hot-topic get up I could tell she was gorgeous, and she was smiling at me. I had been straight up caught and I knew it, I could feel the obviousness in my expression and my arm was frozen mid-throw anyway, I did about the only thing I could think of and resumed the throw, “Ninja Star!”. Emily giggled. She fucking giggled. I hadn’t totally torpedoed myself! I recalled that she was here to meet someone, and I decided I was going to take their place. That was another one of my values up for grabs tonight. I was out looking for a one night stand for the first time in my life.

As luck would have it, Emily and her sister seemed more interested in helping with the bookstore than meeting that other dude. I caught his name in conversation, small town, I knew him, and he was a loser. Now I’m pulling double duty, I’ve gotta get in to this girl’s pants and at the very least I’ve gotta keep her away from that creep show. We’re trading glances regularly at this point and finding excuses to talk to each other. Now we were painting the walls. I gave zero fucks about all the unpaid work I was doing, it was more time to spend with Emily. Turns out her 18th birthday is in 2 days. Sweet, add cradle robbing to the night’s goals. I didn’t think the sister would be much of an obstacle, after all she was prepared to put her on a date with that guy, couldn’t be too concerned about me, but she stayed attached to her sister at the hip, obviously irritated that we were hitting it off.

We took a break from working to grab some food. We ended up going to this cheap local pizza buffet. My brother said he would cover me, but he wasn’t exactly made out of cash, so this seemed efficient. Emily complained about the quality of the pizza, so I directed her to the desert pizza bar, which was actually pretty damn good. I walked up there with her, told her what my favorites were, and she dutifully piled everything I was pointing out into her plate. Old episodes of Pokemon were on the televisions, the place was primarily targeted to parents after all, and Emily obviously enjoyed it. We talked about it together, I got super nerdy about it—shocker I know—and started talking about all the math involved in the game if you actually wanted to tell the difference between good and bad Pokemon. She actually enjoyed that conversation, this deal just kept getting sweeter all the time, but I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance with her alone tonight, not at the rate things were going.

Painting resumed and we kept making conversation, she mentioned a very bad experience with D&D at her high-school with boys who seemed primarily in sexualizing her, actually attacking her in the game if she had a problem with their gross behavior. She was craving coffee but was a messy painter and would have to do significant washing to get her own, so I offered to get her coffee. This used bookstore was kinda nestled in a hippy commune, there was some damn good coffee that was just free to take, piping hot. The guy that ran the cafe just liked it that way. I got her coffee black, having neglected to ask her how she took it. I figured that if she took it black and I put cream in it I couldn’t undo that, but that if she wanted those things, I could always go back and add them. Sure enough, she didn’t take her coffee black.

“Well why don’t you come with me, since you’re so messy and tell me how to do it, I can’t recall everything that’s available over there.”

So she followed me back to the coffee nook and showed me how to make her coffee the way she liked it. I wondered aloud why she tolerated that behavior she talked about earlier, neither of us really remember the answer aside from the fact that she lamented not having the books again because she’d like to use the inspiration in her own art work. She really fancied the artwork in those books. Of all the nights not to have those in tow. So I just straight up offered to go get them from the house, a good 25 minute drive one-way, and she accepted. I thought that was perfect, at the very least if she’s a decent person and plans on returning this property that guarantees a second encounter, worth the gas in my estimation. Off I went.

On the way back I sorta wondered about the possibility that her sister took the opportunity to scram and take Emily with her; I was kinda kicking myself for not getting her number or discussing that possibility. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find her still painting, though they were packing it in for the night. I showed her the book and she squealed with delight and we just wouldn’t shut up about it. She mentioned that she’d be back at this place in 2 days, it’s where they were celebrating her birthday. No need to ask for a number now, I thought. I’ll see Emily in 2 days, that’s when I’m going to make my move, they’ll be staying the night.

I attempted to say goodbye, but Emily walked me back to my truck and I had zero problems with that. Just before I asked her myself, her sister, hanging back a good 20 feet blurted out, “Hey Emily, you going home with him tonight?!” in a mocking tone. Emily was clearly and visibly embarassed, and stammering. I just smiled at her. She shuffled sheepishly back towards her sister and we said our goodbyes.


I was nervous on Saturday. I had no idea what kind of party this would be or how it would go. There sure were a lot of guys here, guys I knew, these were my friends. Huh. I hadn’t thought about it prior, but Emily was celebrating her birthday with just her sister and her sister’s social circle. None of Emily’s friends were to be found tonight, and honestly, sitting here typing this, I’m only beginning to realize how odd that sounds. My brother was here too, for his friends sake, because Emily’s sister would be there with her boyfriend.

A television was set up and there was a giant half-circle of couch around it. I parked my butt next to her butt and she didn’t seem to mind. We smiled at each other. It seemed the night was already going well. We watched some anime and some Invader Zim, and we cuddled. As luck would have it, I actually did enjoy those things, and we were able to keep ourselves entertained while the rest of the “guests” got bored. Eventually her sister stood up and reminded her of the next activity on the docket, which was cake. I thought that was harmless and I really wanted to wish her a happy birthday too. Apparently this was timed at her actual birth hour. I wasn’t prepared for after-cake though, neither was Emily.

Her sister reminded her of something else she’d agreed to do. See, before she had really thought about me being there, or before she knew I was a thing, Emily had told her sister she wanted to see what was inside of a sex shop. I went white on the inside, and did my best not to show it. Emily definitely went visibly pale. Well this was going to be awkward, but it wouldn’t be my first time in a place like that, maybe I could actually make this more comfortable for her than the first time I set foot in one of those places. Clearly though, she was now nervous about her own idea.

When we arrived we were sorta doing everything as one large group. The store clerk seemed somewhat annoyed at us, already knowing why we were there. I suppose they saw the birthday groups a lot, they never buy anything. I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy anything. Emily knew I was single and I was not about to put my intentions on the table in such an obvious and crude fashion, she seemed damned innocent. Emily seemed into me enough as it was so adding unnecessary risk with a move like that felt dumb. Her sister was going out of her way to embarrass her in the store. We got to the novelty section with the life sized forearm and fist. I actually had to avoid eye contact because I didn’t want to show I was into that sort of thing. We had been dodging each others eyes the whole time in there, and it was obvious because of how much they were meeting prior. I decided to break from the group and just stare into the wall of porn with a hundred yard gaze. Somehow, Emily managed to duck out of the group in a few minutes and joined me. She of course, asked what I was looking at. At this point, I’d like to thank my grandfather for teaching me how to heckle newscasters, because those skills were just about to come in handy. I looked over the porn wall, “oh, I’m just looking at all these ridiculous names, here, take a look at…”. I forget the punchlines, so did she, but I started relentlessly making fun of all of the titles of the porn on the wall, and the tension eased. I even think I recall us making it to the leggings/skimpy outfit section—Amazon didn’t exist for that yet—and she told me how much she liked the idea of a corset. Even then Emily knew how to get to me, just this time I’m pretty sure it was unintentional. At some point, that wrapped up, the details of this memory get fuzzy in places, but I know we left the store both thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t managed to scare the other off.

I got Emily more coffee from the cafe, and we settled in for some more Zim marathon. No one could say shit, birthday girl’s party. Almost everyone else had fallen asleep, it was just us, and her sister. We were staring into each others eyes something heavy, and after a few minutes her sister had to get Emily’s sleeping place ready. They hadn’t had the good sense to do that prior. I asked for a kiss while we were briefly alone and she shrank back and squeaked out a yes. There was so much I wanted to do with, and to Emily but she clearly wasn’t ready. I think that’s when I set aside my expectations for sex. I would later learn that there was also a lot she wanted to do to me but was too chicken. 8 years later I would learn that I hadn’t been concealing that boner as well as I thought. But man, that was a great kiss. Soft, slow, romantic. We were well finished by the time her sister returned, but seeing her sister return put a Cheshire grin on Emily’s face. I think she thought she got away with murder.

That was a restless night for me. Just prior to Emily being escorted to her makeshift bed her sister gave me all but a speech on how closely that room would be watched and how locked it was. Please, that’s an interior door and there’s no way I couldn’t get past it, and I wanted to say that so bad. I spent until 3am trying to figure out if I was going to get past it. At one point, I even walked up with the thought to knock. It was 0130 and I stopped for a few reasons. It was late and I didn’t want to annoy her—though it turns out she was awake—and I also didn’t want to risk waking her sister. I could definitely get past that rudimentary lock, but that seemed kinda….very aggressive, but knowing I could presented a temptation. Years later, Emily would remark it was a good thing I hadn’t, because I probably would have gotten exactly what I wanted if I had.

Despite not getting to sleep until 3, I was the first one awake that morning. Shortly afterwards Emily was out and about. It was roughly 6:30 in the morning. Naturally, I got us both coffee. I found the computer the cafe owner had briefly played music from the night before, pulled up YouTube and found Desperado. I sang it to her. She had no idea how much that song applied to me in that moment, but she loved that I was singing it to her. A bit after that, everyone else started waking up. I hadn’t gotten my second kiss yet, she was too embarrassed that someone might find out the extent that she’d already fallen. She was the only one in the dark though, and that became a meme later. I still tease her about how long it took her to figure out that we were dating.

Everyone had breakfast, and Emily’s sister reminded her it was time to go. Her parents were expecting her back soon and they were reluctant (rightly so it turns out!) to have her spend her birthday that way in the first place. We were in the middle of another conversation about nothing as we headed out of the complex, she basically demanded a hug goodbye, where she promptly decided to take a deep sniff of my hair. I think she thought she was being sneaky, but I wasn’t going to say anything, I was content to let her think she wasn’t noticed. Her sister however, guffawed, “Oh Emily did you just smell his hair!?”.

Emily turned red. I just smiled and said my goodbyes. 13 years later, it’s been a hell of a one night stand.