My Part-Time Life: A horse farm & a farmers market

Last year, I left my full-time job and stitched together a series of five part-time gigs that keep me mentally and physically stimulated, and far, far away from Microsoft Teams. One of my jobs is taking care of horses for McSoley Equestrian on Morning Star Farm and another is managing the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market. When Motif needed a piece on RI farms and farmers markets, I knew just where to turn.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Cara McSoley

Owner McSoley Equestrian & Manager/Head Trainer of Morning Star Farm

When did you start riding?

When I was five I started playing violin but I also really wanted to ride, so my parents said, “If you practice your violin for 100 days in a row, then we’ll get you a riding lesson.” 100 days is a long time for a five-year-old and at one point I got really sick and had to stay in bed and was like, “Bring me my violin!” So I think by the time I started riding I was cusping six.

That’s dedication. 

It’s perseverance. Everything we do is driven by passion. You have to love it.

You have a degree in communications, why’d you make the switch to horse lady?

After college, my goal was to take the burden of my horse off my parents. I got a job and found a farm to rough board, and one day a woman who worked at a different facility saw me riding and asked me to check out her horse. I ended up moving my horse and working there part-time, while also working this e-commerce job. 

I was offered a promotion at the e-commerce job and the director’s position at the equestrian center. I went back and forth: Do I want to have enough money to fuel this habit? Or, do I want to make this passion my career? 

On the morning I decided to give notice to the equestrian center, I got a call and learned my horse had a terrible accident. He kicked his legs through the bars in his stall and pulled the whole iron-frame down. He lost a ton of blood. It was going to be a long rehabilitation and in my mind I was like I was going to quit this. I knew I couldn’t put my horse’s care into someone else’s hands. I hold my horse care to such a high standard and I knew then that was something I could offer others.

I’m glad you chose horse lady.

Well, it was e-commerce for Medicare. I had people calling me like, “I can’t install this bed rail!” And I was like, “I’m 22!”

I’ve learned so many lessons on the farm that apply to the everyday. What are some of your favorite lessons? 

One of my favorite concepts when it comes to horses is passive leadership. When we observe horse dynamics, we see bossy mares pinning their ears and chasing horses away from the hay pile. And we also see the quiet, confident, relaxed, stoicism of a horse that allows others to eat from the same pile. One thing I tell my students is: Be someone that someone else wants to follow. Don’t be a leader because you can chase someone away. Be someone who helps people grow and thrive. 

How do you get up after taking a fall that — even if it’s not physically traumatizing — is mentally jarring?

When you get back on with no mounting block and a busted ego, you have to replace your nerves with positive experiences. It’s so mental. You have to stay calm, even when you haven’t taken a fall, but you’re going through a lot. 

Let’s talk about the pandemic. People want to be with the horses and have that alternate reality at the farm where life is how it should be, but there’s a lot going on. People are sick, people’s family members are sick, and that weighs on you. Mental and emotional neutrality is super important.

What would you say to someone who’s interested in riding but may feel intimidated?

If you truly want to ride, you’re going to spend more time on the ground than in the saddle. A big element of horsemanship is understanding you’re not going to be galloping through fields all the time, there’s a lot more depth to it.

Another of my sayings is: Replace nerves with knowledge. If you’re intimidated, remember: Horses are prey and you’re predator. There are ways we can communicate with them and build understanding, and that knowledge will take the nerves out. Horses are captivating. They really are awesome creatures. 

McSoley Equestrian/Morning Star Farm offers riding lessons for all levels and summer horsemanship camps for ages 6–13. Summer camps run Jun 27–Jul 1, Jul 11–15, Jul 25–29, and Aug 8–12. Pony rides for the whole family will take place on Jun 11, Jul 16, and Aug 20. For more information, email cara.mcsoley@gmail.com.

Grace Feisthamel

Food Access Operations Manager at Farm Fresh RI

How many farms are in RI?

There are a surprising number. I wish I had a number for you, but it’s a really hard number to track. RI has some of the most extensive farmland in the country. There are farmers who’ve been farming for generations and there’s a strong, growing group of younger farmers. And by younger I don’t necessarily mean age, but people new to farming and farming very intentionally for food justice. 

What’s meant by food justice?

I think of food justice as people’s access to food, which is a consistent access to food as well as access to culturally appropriate food that people want to eat. Eating is a basic part of being human, and people should always have access to what they want to eat in a way that’s consistent and reliable. Increasing ways to access food and creating connections with people who grow food is an important part of that. 

What type of foods are available at Farm Fresh farmers markets?

The seasonality of the local food that’s offered follows the natural rhythm of what grows in RI. In the summer, there’s a lot more produce. In the winter there’s not a lot of produce, but we’ll still have farmers, as well as value-added products. 

We sell everything from mushrooms to meat to fish to cheese, prepared foods, donuts, pastries, sometimes there’s someone who sets up a table and makes balloon animals. There’s a wide-range. We always try to curate what makes sense for the farmers and vendors so they feel supported, and our customers feel a sense of ownership and belonging to their local market.

Can you explain the market coins? 

We run a token system called Fresh Bucks. There are three main types of tokens. One is related to credit and debit purchases. When farmers don’t have the technology to accept cards, our system allows customers to swipe their card with us, receive tokens and spend the tokens with the farmers. 

The two other tokens are related to food stamps. We provide a dollar-to-dollar match for every food stamp dollar spent at our markets. Bonus tokens can be used on fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. It helps increase access to local food and creates new access to different customer groups for farmers. It’s a win-win.

Is there an ebb and flow to food assistance programs depending on the administration? 

The SNAP program I believe is written into the Farm Bill, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere. But the amount of money per household income is slightly political. 

Through the CARES Act, Rhode Islanders who were already enrolled in SNAP received an increase in funding and a lot of new folks were enrolled for the first time. So that is slightly tied to the current administration. With the CARES Act, Rhode Islanders saw an increase in access to more SNAP money on their cards and we experienced that at markets, too. 

Last summer we had a 99% increase in EBT sales, when compared to the previous summer. Across the state there was an increase of about 55% of EBT money spent on people’s cards. The number of transactions was up 72%. And redemption numbers, which is when the customer spends tokens with the vendors and vendors return the tokens to Farm Fresh for reimbursement, those numbers were up 75%. 

It was a summer of massive growth and really exciting to see people who were new to farmers markets or people who’d been shopping for years and started coming more regularly or spending more. 

Congratulations, that sounds like a lot of work. 

Thank you. It’s been difficult on the back end to track and prepare. We actually ran out of tokens and had to order more. All good problems, all good things. But a lot to wrangle our minds around.

We also recognize there are people who aren’t on SNAP but have limited access to local food. So, we partner with organizations to offer paper vouchers, which is another incentive that can be spent at markets. It’s another growing piece of farmers markets and an exciting part of increasing access to local food for people who may otherwise have limited access. 

Can you describe your perfect market day? 

I enjoy coming to a market and listening to live music, and scheduled events, like bike day. Themed events are fun, they encourage people to come and stay a while. At some markets we have spots for community groups, like libraries or organizations who want to share information about the work they do. That’s another really important piece of farmers markets, it helps create ownership and identity for the different communities where markets are held.

Planning a Rhode Island Wedding to Remember

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Photo by Scott Webb

Vogue, The Knot, and Wedding Wire—all three of which are leading trend predictors and experts in wedding events and fashion—have shared their research on top wedding trends for the upcoming Spring/Summer 2022 season. Outdoor tent-style and garden weddings, long weekends away, and boho-chic themes will all be holding sway, as well as destination weddings to natural paradises like Rhode Island. It isn’t called ‘the Ocean State’ for nothing. Rhode Island is home to seven state beaches, many of which make the perfect backdrop for the ultimate nature-inspired wedding. To make the most of their beauty, keep the following tips in mind.

On the Water

For the ultimate Instagrammable wedding, make sure to make the most of the water, holding your ceremony and/or reception at one of Rhode Island’s many waterfront venues. Some of the most popular choices for couples wishing to say ‘I do’ to the sound of waves crashing on the shore include Newport Beach House: A Longwood Venue, and Belle Mer. Just a few features offered by these and other top venues include seafront dining, outdoor wedding ceremony spaces complete with artificial turf and beautifully decorated wedding arches, and catch-of-the-day fish and seafood for your reception. If you are into yachting or sailing, then an ideal venue is The Bohlin at the Newport  Yachting Center, where you can exchange vows with a romantic sailboat floating in the backdrop over sparkling waters.

Ocean-Inspired Wedding Jewelry

To remember your Rhode Island wedding, let the ocean inspire your jewelry choices as well. Trending this year are colorful, meaningful traditional wedding ring styles like solitaire diamond rings, or modern, fashion-forward styles like stacked eternity rings and twisted engagement and wedding rings. Sea-loving brides and grooms are choosing gemstones like Tanzanites, Sapphires, and Blue Diamonds to play a starring role in their wedding rings instead of sticking to traditional white diamonds. Mixed metals are also in. Think a blue gemstone ring designed in rose gold, worn alongside a white gold, pave diamond wedding band. 

Embracing the Boho-Chic Trend

If you will be celebrating an outdoor wedding, then aim to incorporate boho-chic features, as they are trending strongly across the globe but are especially prevalent in seaside events. Think boho flowers on your wedding arch and in your bouquet and table décor. Typically, these arrangements include pampas grass, mustard roses, natural broom, white achillea, white canary grass, wildflowers, and dried flowers. For lighting, opt for golden fairy and tealights and make sure a few macrame chandeliers are hanging from the trees or within your tent or outdoor table structure. Make sure your look suits the theme. Boho brides are wearing their hair down in beachy waves and choosing natural/nude makeup looks. They are also opting for hippy chic materials like golden lace, organic materials, and guipure lace for their dress. For grooms, white and light beige linen and cotton are all the rage.

Rhode Island is known as ‘the Ocean State’ so if this state is your chosen destination for your wedding, it pays to make water a major part of your event. Choose a venue that will highlight the beauty of the sea. Take it a step further by embracing the boho-chic trend and opting for a laidback, warm, beachy vibe for your ceremony as well.

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All for Games and Games for All: Local esports league proves popular

Gamers compete for their rank. Photo Bobby Forand

Gaming for All (G4A!) is an electronic sporting (esports) event service and league that has been holding events at local RI bars since June 2021. Dedicated competitors play each other in a pro-style environment that allows for warm-ups and free-play before competitive play starts. Prizes are given to the top-ranking players. All tournaments and leagues are free to enter, which gives gamers of all skill levels incentive to participate. 

“G4A! events are the place to be for players that want to learn, improve, and/or exhibit their competitive skills in a positive, encouraging environment,” start-up owner Marc DiMartino excitedly says about his venture. “Spectators can enjoy watching exciting matches, usually on a big display visible from the comfort of their own table.”

DiMartino is a gamer who grew frustrated with the lack of appealing options for competitive play. Most events were paid entry, unorganized or held at dreary locations. He set out to create an authentic competitive esports experience that encourages healthy competition and a fun night out. As the vocalist for long-running local punk band The Paraplegics, he has plenty of experience organizing and executing events. 

DiMartino started with low-production but quality tournaments at Proclamation in Warwick and Pizza J in Providence as a hobby/side-gig. Gamers caught wind of the free, high-quality experiences and started checking out the events. Word spread, friends were made and participation continued to grow, leading DiMartino to reach out to other bar and brewery owners. 

The G4A! community has rapidly grown to over 50 players each month. There are drop-ins and dedicated players that participate in the weekly events at Revival Foodworks and Brewery (Sundays) and Moniker Brewery (Tuesdays). The G4A!’s active social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram give participants updates, events and pictures from previous events. Their community Discord lets members chat, play each other online, pre-register for events and keep track of their standings. 

Super Smash Bros Ultimate (SSBU) on Nintendo Switch is the game commonly used for tournaments and league play. DiMartino says that games are ultimately decided by the community and SSBU is the popular choice: It’s simple to learn but presents opportunities to become skillful quickly because the controls are the same for each character.

“Our most valuable asset is by far our awesome community: a dedicated group of players and fans who turn out week after week to climb the ladder and increase their rank, as well as the many dedicated fans who enjoy exploring RI’s diverse dining and brewery experiences with us and seeing who will end up on top of the rankings,” DiMartino says when boasting about the GFA! community. “People who attend our events will enjoy the atmosphere and offerings of our dedicated venues and …  will get to know our established and welcoming community; no one leaves without making at least one new friend, if not way more.”

To celebrate its one-year anniversary in June, G4A! is having an invitational tournament that will have a sizable cash prize. There will be qualifier tournaments during the months of April and May to determine which 16 players will earn spots.

“I have to admit that running esports tournaments is a lot of fun and is very gratifying,” DiMartino says. “Building an outstanding and positive community is an experience unlike any other, and while I might not pocket as much money as I have working other jobs, nothing can match the satisfaction of seeing our community grow in number, and our members grow as individuals.”  

Learn more about Gaming for All on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/G4AEvents

Take a Hike!: Top RI hiking trails for spring

As the weather gets warmer, people will be making their way to the great hiking trails that RI has to offer. According to Alltrails.com, there are 386 to choose from in our state, and they vary in both the style of terrain and the activities they support. Here are just a few:

With over 14,000 acres of forest, Arcadia Management Area near Exeter is Rhode Island’s largest recreational area. Breakheart Loop (not to be confused with Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel) is one of its many trails, and has 3.6 miles of moderately difficult terrain that loops around a lake. The fishing is good, and the mountain biking is great: there are always mountain bikers when I go. There are many trails to choose from with varying degrees of difficulty, but Breakheart Loop is one of the more popular. 

Goddard Memorial State Park near East Greenwich provides easy terrain that the whole family can enjoy. The trails are wide and well groomed, and offer an ocean view. The 1.4 mile loop is easy to walk or jog, and surrounds large fields with sites for picnics and cookouts. You can also hike the 3.7 miles of trails. 

The terrain of Lincoln Woods ranges from easy to moderate. The main path that loops around Olney Pond is paved, and is 3.1 miles long. The trails veer off the road into varying degrees of challenging terrain. Bouldering, fishing, and mountain biking are popular activities here. Parking is easy and abundant. 

There are too many trails to name and describe, each unique in what they have to offer. The three listed here cover a wide range of style, difficulty, and location throughout the state. With a little research, you can find a trail best suited for your hiking needs. 

As always, wear appropriate footwear on your hike. You may arrive to find that a trail is muddier than expected. It also doesn’t hurt to have a trail map: I have gotten lost on many occasions, even on well marked trails. 

For more details on these trails and the many others that RI has to offer, go to alltrails.com or dem.ri.gov

Advice from the Trenches: Valentine card quandary

Dear C and Dr. B.:

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I was looking at cards for my girlfriend. They all have some message to the effect of: “You’re my everything. I’m nothing without you.”

Nobody is anyone else’s EVERYTHING, that’s a lie. It is also a really dysfunctional message to send. I don’t want to say anything like that to my girlfriend – we promised we would never lie to one another. Why can’t I find any other choices, something like: “You mean a lot to me, but you’re not my everything”? Now I am at a loss as to what to do.


Dr. B. Says:

Let me point out a few things. First, it’s a lie that you and your girlfriend will never ever lie to one another. Some things are best left unsaid. You should never just spout every thought that pops into your head. 

Yes – marriage, romance, and Santa Claus are all at core based on what are, in the strict sense of the word, non-truths, but they are ideas that are accepted within our culture. That is the sort of lie that it is OK to play along with, if you have a girlfriend. But cheating on your girlfriend would be the kind of lie that is not acceptable as part of the cultural norm in this country. In some European countries it is acceptable – but even there, cultural rules are carefully observed as to how to cheat in an acceptable manner. In the US, the same behavior would likely end in a messy divorce.

Know your girlfriend. If she wants to believe in romance, be romantic. If romance makes her vomit then do something else.

C says:

I just don’t think you’ve looked very hard, Valentino. There are tons of V-Day cards out there for people who don’t want to send sugar-frosted hooey to each other. Take a look at this collection from Bored Panda: https://www.boredpanda.com/funny-valentines-day-card-ideas/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic. 

These days, even Hallmark has a collection of off-the-wall greetings.

So much angst over a card is kind of nuts – Valentine’s Day isn’t a mass conspiracy to undermine your relationship or a plot to force you to lie to your girlfriend or agree to some ideology you don’t support. It is simply a nice, made-up day for couples to express their affection for each other in whatever way they choose. Or not.

I have another question for you, Valentino – how do you expect to keep a relationship going if you feel this pressured and conflicted over a single card? If you ever have to plan a wedding, or raise children, your head is going to explode. 

But back to Valentine’s Day. Yes, businesses try to make money off of the holiday; that’s what the gift industry is all about. This is a fantastic opportunity to sell us a huge amount of stuff that we probably don’t need at all. But, that’s a rather cynical way of looking at it.

The positive thing that V-Day does is to create a little warmth in this merciless month. Winter has frozen our hearts – doesn’t it feel nice to cuddle with someone warm?

Here’s my suggestion – make your own card. Ignore the commercial pablum and say how you really feel, in your own words. Well, maybe not in your own words. “You’re not my everything” is a little bleak. What if you simply told her that you really like being with her – and right now, in this moment, there’s no place else you’d rather be?

You could also take a look at Dr. B’s Quick Romance Status Guide:

Optimistic: you’re my everything

Realist: you’re a lot but you’re not my everything

Pessimist: you’re going to disappoint me but please not too bad

Masochist: you’re not much but I don’t deserve better

Masochist is my favorite. What woman wouldn’t want to get that in a card?

Good luck!

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Crowdsourced Valentine’s Day Ideas: We asked the Hive Mind and Dating in RI what their VDay plans were, and shared our thoughts too…

Instead of leaving our Valentine’s Day plans in the hands of advertisers, promoters, and self-serving bloggers, we thought to ask you, dear readers and social media followers, what it is you’d be doing on the 14th if you didn’t have a partner. The results were not disappointing, so we at Motif figured we’d spread the love: 

“I’ll be on a solo trip to Disney World. Not because it’s Valentine’s Day, but the fact that it is didn’t factor into my decision-making process either way.” 
We hear Mickey’s been single ever since that thing with Minnie and Felix the Cat… 

“My friend and I are going to Gregg’s to take advantage of their Valentine’s Day specials! We went last year and really leaned into the cheesy nature of the holiday.”
Are you over 70?

“Crying and downing a bottle of wine.”
As long as it’s in that order.


“Buying myself a new toothbrush.”
Sanitary. We hope that’s a kind of foreplay for you! Buy two!

“Take-out and bad TV.”
Good take out?

“I haven’t had a SO on Valentine’s Day in years so idk outside of that”
Courage! Somewhere, there’s an SO who hasn’t had you on VDay. 

“Probably the same thing I did last year… Taking myself out for a steak and salad alone.”
As long as the steak has salad with it, they’re never really alone…

“Cook myself a full course meal, then buy discount v-day candy the next day.”
Yes! Although, the Christmas candy is on discount now!

“Wine and cookies.”
Do you dip the cookies?

“Getting back from my Bahamas vacation for my birthday. VDay is my birthday.”
Is your name Cupid?

“PlantCity and Veg Fest for Galentines!”
Extra eggplant at least, we hope?

“Myself probably.”
Well played!

“Since the end of a long term relationship in 2017, I’ve donated to my fave wolf sanctuary on Valentine’s Day.”
This feels like a metaphor.

“I vote second Halloween!!”
Yes! I call the one in the slutty nurse outfit.

“It’s a Monday so probably work, dinner, lay on the couch pantless watching TV.”
Well, at least there’s a pantless part.

“My tradition is to gather up some babies, give them little bows and arrows and throw them out the window to see which ones fly. I give them a little time with the bows first, just to see if they can hit anything.”
So wrong.

“I like to print out photos of my exes and take them to some place like Dart City or the Axe Bar, where they let you attach them to the targets and throw things at them. Turns out doing that to the real thing can get you arrested, but with print outs it’s ok.”
We are glad we don’t have to inform SWAT.

“My VDay tradition is to get some high quality construction paper and cut out heart shapes. I write the name of anyone I need to release from my thoughts, and make a nice little fire to warm the mid-February air.”
I can’t figure out if this is really evolved or really scary.

Brotherly Love: How a small parish supplements PVD’s COVID response

On one of those mornings with looming gray clouds and skin-piercing sleet, I went to St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s over in Mt. Pleasant for my booster. 

A line of people stood outside the tiny parish’s arched red double doors. Some people held babies in their arms, some shifted toddlers on their hips, some rested their palms on plastic rolling cart handles, and most held empty tote bags in their hands.

Once inside, I was handed a number on a Post-It and instructed to sit in the pews on the right side of the church. On the left side, sat people with empty bags and rolling carts, they too held Post-It notes with numbers in their hands.

In the church crossing, two women sat at a folding table administering vaccines. To the left, people walked in and out of a doorway stopping every so often to call out a string of numbers to the people sitting on the left side of the church. 

The numbers were called in English, then Spanish, and when a word was unknown, whoever was doing the calling used whatever Spanish they had. One exchange went as follows:

“Okay,” a woman said. “Doce, trece y… what’s next? How do you say 14? Cómo se dice…” And she drew a 14 in the air.

Catorce,” said a voice from the pews.

“Okay, yes! Catorce! Doce, trece, y catorce!

There was laughter. People smiled. And several people walked off in the direction of a side room.

Before the pandemic, St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s ran a bi-monthly food pantry that provided food and toiletries to 60–80 families a month. Now, they provide food and toiletries to 80–110 families a week.

“It’s mind-boggling,” says Reverend Maryalice Sullivan of St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s. “At the beginning of COVID, the RI Food Bank was wise enough to know this was going to get worse, not better. They reached out and when they did we all just looked at each other and said, ‘Of course we can.’ We didn’t have any idea how, our space is very small, but we said ‘Yes’ and it’s worked.”

Last year, St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s gave out over 100,000 pounds of groceries. “That’s enormous compared to where we were,” says Sullivan. “And we’re still a small parish of 30 people, so it’s not like we’ve expanded into this great huge organization, but we have in a way because we couldn’t do this on our own. We reached out to other parishes and organizations, like Brown and Johnson and Wales, and now they help unload groceries on Fridays.”

In March of 2021, St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s opened as a COVID testing site through a partnership with Lotus Noire Health; in June, they began offering vaccines. The woman administering my booster said she preferred holding the clinic in conjunction with the pantry because it gave people the opportunity to speak with medical professionals about the virus and vaccine in a safe and trusted space.

“Because we are trusted, people come to us who wouldn’t get a vaccination otherwise,” says Sullivan. “They wouldn’t go to the Dunkin’ Center because it’s too intimidating, they wouldn’t even go to a state-run site. In the beginning, the National Guard was coming and we told them, ‘You can come but you have to be in plain clothes, you have to look like us.’ And they did.” 

In addition to running weekly food pantries and vaccination clinics, Sullivan’s congregation of 30 runs a pop-up thrift store. “It’s not a thrift store, thrift store,” says Sullivan. “It’s more like ‘What can you give us for it?’ And that honors [a person’s] dignity.” They also participate in Free., a program that provides free menstrual products to all who need them, and Sullivan’s small parish has plans for growth.

“We want to make work terminals [in our basement] so people can access computers and work remotely. The dream is to get people from the pantry to where they can support themselves.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Sullivan has noticed an increase in conversation. “That’s the beautiful part, that’s the community part, it’s not just people asking, it’s people sharing… There are a number of people from the pantry who now come and unload groceries, or help with the thrift store, or wash the floors. It’s truly a community, it’s not one-way.

“If this was a program to fill our pews, then we have failed, totally failed. If this was a program to say that you are of value, you are of worth, you are loved—and you don’t have to sit in our pews for that to happen—then we have succeeded.”

To volunteer or donate to St. Peter’s & St. Andrew’s visit stpeters-standrews.org/join. Current needs include: Spanish-speaking volunteers and a volunteer thrift store manager.

Still an RI Institution, Even After “Knock It Off”: Frog and Toad continues to impress

In 2001, Erin Piorek Schofield and Asher Schofield found some retail space on Hope Street in PVD which they made their own to pursue Erin’s dream of being an entrepreneur. They chose the name due to their childhood admiration for Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books; the shop, they decided, should aim to mimic Lobel’s quirky style and positive message. 

Twenty years later, they have created a neighborhood gift shop with community as a core pillar. They’ve helped respond to national disasters, including organizing a donation drive for New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, donating to residents of Flint, MI during their water crisis, and most famously supporting the RI Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund with proceeds from the ubiquitous “Knock It Off” t-shirt. The shirt’s catchy directive was inspired by former Governor Gina Raimondo’s admonishment of RI’ers hosting social gatherings during the early days of the pandemic, and along with proceeds from some other catchphrase-bearing products, the effort raised over $64,000 for pandemic relief. 

Oh, and did we mention their gift shop is worth a visit? The tight, eclectic store is an especially likely source for an RI-centric gift to match any style, from the kitchy to the absurd.

In the words of Schofield, Frog and Toad’s mission is to “sell stuff you don’t need but gotta have.” They sell all kinds of curiosities, including hand-knit sweaters, sassy greeting cards and graphic tees designed in-house, mugs, jewelry, stickers and more, sprinkled with smart local humor that has come to set the shop apart.

Blended Holidays: Alternative Ways to Celebrate

Currently it’s estimated that more than 65% of all individuals in the United States are in some kind of step-family relationship, be that they are a step-parent, have a step-parent etc, and 40% of all families are currently blended relationships. The term that’s typically used for this is blended families, though some have started using the phrase alternative families. 

And with the holidays quickly approaching, this means a substantial amount of the population is going to head into the most wonderful time of the year more stressed out than ever, since it’s time to pretend to be happy and get things ready for your pajamas-on social-media picture.

We’ve compiled a few holiday survival tips and tricks  for people who are a part of a blended family at this most wonderful time of the year. 

Focus on the Kids

First and foremost, if you’re reading this, you probably have a kid in your life that is a part of your blended family, and that’s a huge part of why we try to make holidays so special. Gone are the days when we, the cynical and jaded adult population, give into Christmas magic. Well, for kids, that’s just not true. Magic is everywhere. 

When dealing with a blended family, one of the best things you can do is to focus on the kids. What would make their holiday season? What is special about the holidays for them? Sure, you probably have a lot of traditions you want to share, but focus on the little folks. What do they need? Is going to La Salette on Christmas Eve going to be too much and exhaust you all, making it a generally terrible time all around? Well, postpone it. It’s up through the New Year, anyway. 

Embrace Others’ Traditions

I know that one of the reasons grown-ass adults turn into Scrooge as quickly as you can say Bob Cratchit isn’t because of the kids. It’s because you’ve got a set number of traditions you have to do each year. Well, great, but as I said, focusing on the kids in your life is important – so allow those traditions to be modified to make everyone feel more comfortable. 

That being said, don’t abandon traditions, find ways to embrace them without being the person demanding they follow through. Blended families typically have a lot of voices in the room, you don’t have to scream to get yours heard. For example, my stepdaughter has one of those Elf on the Shelf things. Each year, we begrudgingly get the elf out, and by the end of the holidays, we love it and embrace its presence. That’s something special we do, (the elf has traveled with us, too, breaking all rules of Elf on the Shelf-dom) and if we had a holiday without it, there would be tears. On the flip side, my stepdaughter also watches White Christmas every year with her dad. I can’t stand the movie, but I don’t jump up and down and say we can’t watch it, I go along. I’m not going to fight someone over their tradition, or stop them from having fun.

The same goes for traditions across every blended family. Do the grandparents do something special each year? Try to make time for it. Did the alternative parent or step-parent do something since they were little? Try to make time for it. The holidays are not a one-tradition fits all, you have to diversify and make space for everyone. 

Embrace Change

That being said, understand that things change. Holiday schedules for blended families can be insane. For a kid, one of the best/worst parts of having a blended family is the potential to celebrate holidays multiple times with multiple sets of people – this can be exhausting for everyone involved. 

So, be amenable to change! If something isn’t working, that’s absolutely fine. Take a step back, work on making new traditions. Find ways to meet everyone’s wants and needs, and honestly, with a cup of hot cocoa, who can be mad?

Additionally, please note that blended families can contain more than one religion or celebration, too. Does your step-child attend Hanukkah celebrations with one side of their family and Christmas celebrations with another? Great! Ask them questions, be informed, and take interest. Again, your job isn’t to sail the ship, but to help everyone get through the murky waters.

All-in-all, the way to survive the holidays is simple: Don’t be a dick. Not having the nuclear family that we’ve all been told is “normal” can already be difficult enough. Follow a few of the guidelines I’ve given and you, too, can make this holiday season one that’s fun, memorable, and full of light and laughter.

And even if you can’t, remember, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a cult classic for a reason.

Caitlin Howle (she/they) is a writer, professor, and small business owner in Rhode Island. Her hobbies include researching obscure history, arguing the need for the Oxford Comma and bothering her pug, Winston. Find her on Instagram @caitlinmoments. 

Advice with Spyce: Kiss, Kiss, Slap?

Dear Spyce,

When I grew up, in romantic situations guys leaned in for a kiss, made the move and then… either magic or a slap in the face. Nowadays that seems to be not just wrong, but possibly illegal! Any advice on what I can do to not get slapped…with a lawsuit?


 – an OK Boomer

Dear Sir,

This is quite the question for our times, and as a strong powerful woman who believes strongly in the power of consent, I must tread lightly. But as a kick ass Gen X chick who wants to be thrown down and get it given to me good, I also must voice my opinion and state things as I see them, even at the risk of sounding like an old fart, or even worse, an OK Boomer. 

So here it goes. 

People nowadays are too darn sensitive. You really have to walk a fine line between offending someone and turning them on. Back in my day…well ok, I grew up on movies like Porky’s and Fast Times so what the hell do I know…

But the good news is, there are ways to have a high level of consent, and make sure that everyone is doing exactly what they want, AND still make things super sexy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out (although my friend who is dating an actual rocket scientist waxes poetic about his love-making skills), but it does take a certain level of panache and finesse. While that might seem tiresome to all you horny fossils out there, it’s worth it in the end to make sure you end up getting screwed in only the best way possible. 

Now call me a basic bitch if you must, but I have to say that I’ve never been a fan of the constant inquiry at every turn. “Is this ok, is that ok, still ok?” That’s so millennial speak! I don’t want to hear your man bun questioning at every moment; it kinda takes me out of the sexiness of what’s going on, when I just want to be relaxed and pounded good. 

But as mentioned, consent is important. I don’t want anyone to think that’s NOT the case. So the crux is about getting the consent out of the way, and then going balls deep (if that’s what you’re into).

Rather than going in for the spontaneous kiss, how about acknowledging sooner than later that there’s a level of attraction there, and expressing your desire for wanting to explore it, in a mature and consensual way? Have an in-depth conversation about your own desires, and give the other person an open platform to discuss theirs. 

Now, people might worry that this isn’t sexy, and if we talk about it, then the other person will have doubts and not just go with it. But that’s exactly where we get into trouble. 

Back in the day, before there was all this talk of healthy boundaries, clear communication, and safe sex conversations, we were given the idea that there were two players in this party game. The Initiator, whose job it was to push it (push it good) as far as possible until you get a firm and resounding no. As The Initiatee, the constant battle is in your head:“How far do I let them go before I am supposed to feel disrespected, or before I’m ensuring that they will never call me again?” 

That game is one where no one comes out a winner, and it can lead to heartache, feelings of violation, and possible police reports. Ain’t nobody got time for that! 

So you gotta talk it all out first, explore every emotional nook and cranny, or at least have a basic idea of what’s on the menu before you dive in hungry. 

Of course, either party still has the ability to change their mind at any time, and hopefully having these kinds of conversations up-front opens up the lines of communication for a more comfortable interaction later on in the night when you’re high on oxytocin and genitalia. 

So you see, Boomer, there is a healthy middle ground to all of this. All you need to do is up-level your communication skills. Talk about all of it… in the beginning. Get consent, lots of it, upfront. And then, if they’re ok with it, you can proceed with a passionate and spontaneous experience, without having to ask for permission at every stroke. 

Love, Spyce 

Dear Spyce,

What do we do with maybes? Everyone talks about the fuck yes/fuck no distinction. Fuck no is easy, I don’t have a problem with that. But fuck yes happens to me never. I have had hot, intense fast-burn relationships based off chemistry that seemed like “fuck yes,” and then I’ve had people that I grew to love and form long-term stable relationships with that never started as “fuck yes” either. Fuck Yes as a guide feels inaccessible to me. So in my dating process I’m left with some solid “maybes” but I feel like that’s not good enough. Shouldn’t I know right off the bat if it’s a Fuck No or Yes, like everyone else seems to? 

Signed, Fuck If I Know

Dearest FIIK,

I have to tell you, this is very refreshing, and here’s the reason why. Since the whole F No/Yes concept was brought out into the great wide open, I have always been on the side of, “what the heckadoodle about the Fuck Maybe?”

I’ve specifically taught about it in my Healthy Boundaries courses as I truly believe that this is an important part of having clear boundaries and being able to speak to them in a concise way.

While I understand that the concept of fuck no or yes is geared towards trusting your gut, which I wholeheartedly subscribe to, I also think that we put too much pressure on ourselves to know exactly what we want in every scenario right away, and put pressure on ourselves to act accordingly immediately. 

People may be an F Yes at first because they are someone who does not like to disappoint others, and so they say F Yes at first, only to cancel later after they’ve had time away with themselves to get clear on what they really want, and realize that they are not being true to their actual desires. 

As you mentioned, there’s pure old lust disguised as F Yes, but once things settle down, you realize that you were once again duped by the Fuck No Fairy, and it’s time to move on. 

Now you mentioned F No being easy, and that is the case for some. But if we are to take a deeper look at that, you might be immediately putting up the wall of F No because you’re afraid of being hurt, taken advantage of, or maybe not being able to assert a boundary later on, so it’s easier to just not get involved from the beginning. While the scenario on hand may in fact not be a good situation for you, if you don’t have time to fully evaluate that because you feel pressured to know immediately which way your fuck is going, you might wind up losing out on a very good thing. 

So that’s why I think the F Maybes come in very handy, and can have their place to shine. Those sweet F Maybes buy you time, that precious commodity, to tune in your deeper desires, and really evaluate where you are with someone or something, as opposed to just giving an off the cuff answer that may or may not be what you truly feel. 

It’s always ok to take a step back and keep your own sovereignty intact, and there’s never a need for pressure (from yourselves or others) to go either way with something until you are 100% ready. So relax, and exercise your right for a healthy FUCK MAYBE!

Love, Spyce