Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Guest Post: Next Stop, Doritoville, USA

I can count among the many fine gifts I received this Christmas one bag of Tostitos (thanks to my youngest sister) and an oinking chip clip (thanks to my soon-to-be-ex-husband). What can I say? I appreciate a good triangular corn snack. Incidentally, I also appreciate good writing. That's why I'm so excited that I convinced Ashley Brown Allen of Big Top Family to share her amazing post, "Next Stop, Doritoville, USA," with you, my fine readers, you, the ones in whom I confide my deepest, darkest, saltiest junk food fantasies. 

Ashley, also known as The Ringleader, is rounding out my guest posts for the month of December, which is fitting because this essay is, deep within its nacho cheese heart, a lesson in appreciation. Maybe you didn't get a new iThing for the holidays, but if you're reading this blog, I bet you have a roof over your head, computer access, and a bathroom that's not a plastic bucket in a cow pasture (just read the essay). That is what makes Ashley's writing not only funny, but utterly gripping. She share stories about a life growing up in poverty, of being raised by a wildly religious mother, of becoming a mother herself (to three boys no less). Her essays feel immediate and awing and, yet, Ashley has such a light, often hilarious touch. Check out "The Night the Devil Chased My Mom," "A Wake" (which is a personal favorite), and "Mortification Purge Party." The Ringleader has appeared on Scary Mommy and BLUNTmoms, and she contributes regularly to Huffington Post, but you can still nuzzle up against her greatness (Hmm, should I leave that line? Yes, yes, I should.) by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

Next Stop, Doritoville, USA

by Ashley Brown Allen

People who have known me a long time, short time, very well, or not so much, all know this simple fact: I love me some Doritos. But what they may not know is that like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Spencer Tracy and Kathryn Hepburn, Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal, Doritos and I have a passionate AND complicated relationship.

My first memory of my True Love dates back to first grade, when my mom, sister, and I lived with Grandpa MacNamara for a couple years. Prior to moving in, we had been living for a short while in an abandoned trailer, in the middle of BF dairy country, with no running water or electricity. This is when we had the sweet experience of peeing and pooping in a plastic bucket, storing our food in an Igloo cooler, fetching our water from a nearby spring, and keeping warm on chilly fall evenings by way of kerosene heaters. I had fun imagining for a time that I was Laura Ingalls, living the prairie life, but my fantasy got totally annihilated one night when I woke up at midnight to find our trailer surrounded by a herd of mooing cows. And they weren’t “mooing” in a cute little fluffy baby cow kinda way—they were mooing in a pissed-off “This POS trailer’s in our way, now mooooove it” kinda way. My prairie dream was over, and I’m pretty sure my mom was disenchanted too, because the next morning she packed us up and made the four-hour trip to her father’s huge, warm, well-lit house complete with a real gosh-darned Frigidaire and four operational commodes. All of a sudden, we were living high on the hog. And that brings me back to Doritos.

I noticed right away Grandpa had all kinds of kid temptations in his pantry, and one of them happened to be a shiny red bag with a clear oval window at its center, previewing and promising nacho cheesy triangular goodness. I eyed the bag for a few days, showing herculean restraint, really, for a kid who had never enjoyed processed food. I’d seen this bag plenty of times, on a smaller scale, in the lunch boxes of schoolmates in last year’s kindergarten class. My mom couldn’t afford those kinds of extras, and I didn’t complain because I really didn’t know what I was missing until that fated day in Grandpa’s pantry. I waited for my mom to go upstairs, her footsteps echoing on the wooden steps, and I reached up and ripped open the bag. My first bite could be compared to what a newly-sighted blind person might experience on the Fourth of July. My second, third, and twenty-third bites were just as euphoric, and soon I had devoured the whole bag as if my six-year-old life depended on it. I was happy, VERY happy, until they were all gone and then. . . I wasn’t. I was pretty nauseated, actually. I couldn’t eat my dinner, and I got a spanking when my mom discovered the empty bag still slick with my piranha saliva. But in no way did that deter my newfound obsession.

I soon realized that whenever I was sad, or lonely, or sick, or scared, in the back of my mind, the image of that big, red bag blinked like a neon sign through the dirty window of a dive bar. My mom caught on pretty quickly too, because after Grandpa passed away and we moved to Steubenville, Ohio, I seemed to be begging for Doritos all the time. I missed my grandpa, so I needed Doritos. I missed my dad, so I needed Doritos. Someone made fun of me at my new school, so I needed Doritos. I had a cold, so I needed Doritos. My mom was hanging out with a bunch of religious weirdos, so I needed Doritos. We were moving for the trillionth time, so I needed Doritos. They became my salve to the stress, my calm to the chaos, and my sane to the crazy. Unfortunately, though, money was tight, and my habit became relegated only to special occasions like holidays, weekend visits to our dad’s house in West Virginia (he kept them well-stocked), and my mom’s occasional moment of weakness, when she’d give me the precious $1.49 to walk up to the neighborhood market and soothe my soul.

Once a family-sized bag was in my hands, no one was touching them unless they wanted their fingers bitten off with razor-sharp, cheese-coated teeth. Even after Mom re-married and I had all sorts of siblings running around, I felt no obligation to share with their grubby little mitts. By that time, however, it was even harder to get my own mitts on them, because with more mouths to feed, my new step-father considered them an extravagance. My mom and he would get into fights whenever he’d shut down a Dorito request, and I can still hear the insistence in her voice when she’d argue, “They make her happy!” By that time, I was almost ten, and our family was collecting welfare money and using food stamps from time to time, whenever my step-father was out of work, which seemed like an awful lot. Child support from my Dad helped, but was only enough for the two kids that were actually his own—Alyson and I. I knew we were struggling, so instead of nagging, I took to daydreaming about them, drawing pictures of them, and I even did an entire school art project on them. It was a diorama of a town I named “Doritoville, USA,” and if I could’ve shrunk myself down to the size of an eraser, I would’ve happily lived in that Utopia for the rest of my life.

I was yearning along and enduring this long, pathetic Dorito Dry Spell until the night of my tenth birthday. My family was having a birthday party for me, and Mom made a chocolate cake. I wasn’t expecting any presents; those usually came from Dad and his side of the family at a later date. But lo and behold, right after blowing out my ten candles, a huge wrapped box was presented to me. I ripped off the paper in wild anticipation, and a large, moving box was revealed. What could it be? I wondered. A stereo? An Atari? A puppy (even though the poor thing would’ve suffocated by now)? It turned out the contents of the box were even better. Ten, sparkling, red, unopened, family-sized bags of crispy, powdered-cheesy deliciousness were inside, and even though I noticed my mom’s eyes were teary and downcast, I couldn’t have felt happier.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Guest Post: Zoloft for Breakfast

Hanukkah is over. Christmas day has come and gone. Yet New Year's Eve and the promise of more togetherness loom like a champagne hangover, like another bleak month of television reruns, like flu season. We have reached our capacity for mirth. Cookies are less of a treat than a Biblical plague. It's cold, and it's going to be cold for a long, long time. And now that I've made you feel properly depressed, I'm going to let Abby Byrd help you laugh through your tears with her brilliant essay "Zoloft for Breakfast." 

It is a crime that I've not yet introduced you to Abby the Writer. Abby is the kind of blogger you wish you knew in real life: a chick with a weird, wild sense of humor, a person who is equally capable of being ridiculous and revelatory. One day she's sharing her complex, sometime comic struggles with anxiety; the next she pens a conversation with her own butt hole (you know you want to click right here).  To top it off, her writing chops are more like fangs; she's that sharp. She will make you laugh in the face of what might otherwise make you cry, and the essay below is a case in point. She's been featured all around The Webs, and even landed a spot in Scary Mommy's Guide to Surviving the HolidaysYou'll want to read everything she writes, but for a good sampling, I suggest you read "Abby the Manic Buffalo," "I Am a Horrible Stoner," "Retired Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "Not My Child." And, because you can't actually be friends with her in real life (well, that's what she keeps telling me anyway), you should follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Zoloft for Breakfast 

by Abby Byrd

I am a remarkably highly-functioning crazy person. My clothes are clean and properly fitting. I greet people cheerfully. I have an impressive credit score and have never missed a day of work because of my mental shenanigans. In fact, the achievement I’m most proud of is graduating second in my class despite spending most of my sophomore year of college hyperventilating and trying to convince a Campus Safety officer that I had a brain tumor.

What people don’t know is that sometimes I come to work not having slept much, not able to keep food in, and in complete despair that my body is doing something I can’t control. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. And although I’ve had twenty years to get to know this illness, anxiety is a wily fucker that still manages to catch me by surprise. It probably shouldn’t. Like people with bipolar disorder, I tend to “cycle”—first mild depression, then a shift to anxiety.

A few months ago I adjusted my dose of medication, and within weeks I started getting clues that my synapses, who typically enjoy being awash in serotonin, were going dry.

Three Weeks After Reduced Dose: Tree Staring

For the last ten minutes, I’ve been staring out the window at a tree with tears in my eyes. Maybe I need more medication. No, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Let me just get up and do something now. No, I’m still gonna sit here and stare at this tree. OK.

Four Weeks After Reduced Dose: Irrationally Angry with Walnut/General Misanthropy

I’m eating the bread pudding I’ve just made. In all the spongy delightfulness, I crunch down on a walnut and am instantly filled with rage. WHY is there a fucking WALNUT in this delicious bread pudding?! This walnut represents everything that is wrong with the world I live in. The fact that I myself put the walnuts there seems not at all relevant. Walnut, to let you know the profundity of my displeasure, I am going to eat this other walnut right in front of you. That’s right. I’m killing your brother. I just killed your brother!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAA!

Oh god, I think I might be fucked up. I probably need more medication. No, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Also, I hate my entire family. Really I hate anyone who’s a person, who is not me. Yes, all of those people.

Six Weeks After Reduced Dose: The Tragic Brevity of Life As Exemplified By a Dead Wasp

Just a few minutes ago the wasp was buzzing in and out of the light fixture, but now it lies there motionless. I watch for a twitch—a leg, an antenna. How long did this wasp live? Days, weeks? Is a human life not as brief a candle? Will that wasp not be me someday, on the floor by the bed with my limbs contorted, my wings never to beat again? I will deposit its corpse in the trash can, unthinking, as one day I will be reduced to ashes by…whatever you call those people who cremate people. But my life matters, right? I matter? Yes! Of course! Haha! [insane laugh] It doesn’t bother me in the least that I will one day cease to exist! Onward to breakfast! I’m sure it will be totally fine, even though my stomach is a tightly balled fist and my intestines are contracting and my heart is racing and the idea of food is totally repellant!

[curls up in fetal position]

Holy fuck. You know what I’m having for breakfast? 25 more milligrams, that’s what.

Image courtesy of morguefile.com

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Guest Post: The Promise of a Christmas Card

I've wanted to share this story with you for a long time, readers, but I waited. I waited because I wanted you to be deep in the throes of the holiday season. I wanted you to be one more busted ornament, Mariah Carey Christmas carol, or blinking strand of lights away from building a holiday-proof bunker and hiding from ho-ho-ho-humanity until spring. Because "The Promise of a Christmas Card" is about the kind of gift that makes all that holly-jolly BS worth it.

Michele Mariani Vaughn is the blogger behind this story. You can read her on the regular over at A Storybook Life. Her writing is thoughtful, meditative even, and catches you off guard with its down-to-earth humor. She writes about everything from pregnancy to parenthood to life as a cancer survivor and to, above all, gratitude. I was lucky enough to meet Michele through Listen to Your Mother DC, which is where I heard her read "The Promise of a Christmas Card" (after you read the story below, check out her LTYM reading here). I watched from stage as an audience collectively leaned forward, willing a happy ending. And that's Michele's gift: revealing the wonder and rugged beauty in what may seem run-of-the-mill or even heartbreaking, making the happy ending. You don't even have to take my word for it. Read, "Cancerversary #7: Grateful for Survivorship" and "The One Where I Didn't Know What to Write" (in which Michele writes, very eloquently, about the Boston Marathon). Next, become her devoted fan on Facebook and Twitter!

The Promise of a Christmas Card

By Michele Mariani Vaughn

Most obstetricians’ offices might as well be decorated out of central casting: copies of Parents and Fit Pregnancy magazines, pamphlets for cord blood harvesting — and pictures of the babies they’ve delivered, plastered on the walls. Always the baby pictures, many of them from Christmas cards sent by grateful parents.

I haven’t always been a big Christmas card sender. Early in my time in DC, I was always at my busiest, work-wise, around Christmas. After that, I didn’t feel much interest in sending them out.

By the time I wanted to — when I was one, two, and then three deep in miscarriages — I couldn’t bring myself to send out a card that was missing a baby.

The third miscarriage had the worst timing: right at the start of December, just as the happy photo cards of my cousins’ and friends’ kids started to fill our mailbox. I had to put the cards aside in place of the issues of Us Weekly and Runner’s World that they arrived with.

I left my first OB practice after the nurse told me to just “go ahead and try again” after that loss. I found warmth and solace in the office of my wonderful specialist, and I was thrilled when his waiting room had stacks of travel and news magazines in place of Highlights and Working Mother. But there were so many Christmas cards there that the walls might as well have been papered with them.

Seeing all those babies still stung a little, but then, and there, I got it. Those cards were sent by parents who had walked those same hallways and endured those same exam rooms with the same fear that we had, that they’d never get the chance to send the glossy 4×8 photo card of a grinning infant wearing a Santa hat or tucked inside a stocking.

When I got pregnant again, my new doctor ordered weekly ultrasounds to monitor my progress. Each week, I’d go in, lay on the exam table, and look at the corkboard on the wall filled with Christmas cards, waiting and praying that the screen would show the flashing blip of a heartbeat.

Every week, it did. Once I’d had several good scans, Dr. Sacks, our specialist, “released” us to the care of my new obstetrician.

He sent us on our way with happy shorthand: “I think there’s a 90 percent chance that you’ll have a Christmas card this year.”

I didn’t repeat that line to anyone. It held such hope and promise, but fear kept me from saying it again. We’d made it this far before. We’d seen heartbeats. We’d framed early ultrasound pictures. And we’d agreed, back then, that this would be our last try – the last time we thought we could brave the pregnancy roller coaster.

What if we got cut off at the knees again? The what-ifs were all I could think about in those early weeks.

But with that Christmas card line, Dr. Sacks was giving us hope. My heart so wanted to trust him, but my head, filled with the reminders of the years of physical hurt and emotional heartache, didn’t know if I could.

Even now, tears spring to my eyes when I think of that conversation.

They’re tears of empathy for myself, remembering back to the fear that gripped me, and they’re tears of such relief and happiness that we were finally on the right side of Dr. Sacks’ odds.

He’s now on our Christmas card list, and our son Teddy’s picture is one of those babies lining his office walls.

And I’m already thinking about the card we’ll send him this year, with two babies on it: Teddy and his little sister.

Teddy and Katie, starring in "A Double-Stuffed Adorable
Sandwich: The Vaughn Family Christmas Card"

PS: Now that you've read "The Promise of a Christmas Card," you'll want to follow up with "There's the Promise of a Christmas Card, and Then There's the Reality of a Christmas Card Photo Shoot." If you've ever tried to herd cats or take a photo of small children, you will appreciate this epilogue. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guest Post: Baby, There Ain't No Easy Way Out

Somehow, Liz Curtis Faria of A Mothership Down found me. She dropped me a lovely note to say that she enjoyed my blog, and I was, "Aww. How cute. A fan." So, out of the kindness of my heart, I checked out her blog. Then I was, "Fuuuuuudge." Because Liz is hilarious. What's worse, she's hilarious and writes beautifully. What's worst is she's hilarious and writes beautifully and has a kid so cute that he may single-handedly put puppies out of business. Oh, and she's nice. And humble. Even after writing a viral post that made her an Internet sensation.

Damn her. Damn her right in her sensational face!

But in the spirit of "if you can't beat 'em ask them to guest blog for you," Liz has agreed to share a story on Welcome to the Bundle. And it's a birth story. It's just like Christmas, except with perineal massage! After you read "Baby, There Ain't No Easy Way Out," you will love Liz (just like everyone else, sigh) and want to read more. I recommend you check out "Are YOU a Liger Mom," "5 Universal Truths of New Motherhood," and the immensely moving "The Child I Didn't Adopt." You can find Liz on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and BLUNTmoms, among others. But I suggest you start by following her on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Baby, There Ain't No Easy Way Out

by Liz Curtis Faria

That's right, Tom Petty, there ain't no easy way out. There will come that fateful moment when your fetus needs to be evicted from your body's cozy B&B, and when that moment arrives there are only two routes out. Neither is pleasant, although one is more scenic. And yes, while it's true that you have probably been waiting for this day with anticipatory joy, that's only because mother nature has provided you with self-delusional hormones in epic quantities.

I really, really wanted to have a natural birth. And by that I mean a vaginal birth with lots of drugs in a sterile and impersonal hospital setting, with no less than four medical professionals at my bedside and a vacuum, extra forceps, and a SWAT team on standby.

I realized that I was not going to get my wish sometime around the 8th month of my pregnancy, when it became apparent that the bulge jutting out of my side was not, as I had hoped, a giant misplaced goiter, but was instead my baby's head. Nolan, it turns out, was in the transverse position, meaning he was horizontal in my stomach. This is fairly rare, and so I felt pretty badass about it. I was all, yeah, no big deal, my baby isn't interested in the normal positions. He's his own man. He's basically saying, "what up breech babies, that's all you got?!"

Nolan's position would have been really awesome if he was competing in the high jump. Turns out it was less awesome for childbirth due to the fact that my vaginal opening is not as wide as the state of Kansas. Nothing against my vaginal opening, yours isn't that wide either. If it is I would like to hear from you.

The reason I wanted to deliver vaginally, I realized, was a little bit different than the reasons other moms cited for wanting this. After reading many online forums, I learned that women often feel strongly about wanting to push their little bundle out the southern exit because they want the experience of childbirth and they do NOT want to feel cheated out of this. I can understand that, although this experience sounds downright horrific based on every friend of mine who has ever delivered vaginally. Women, it seems, want to feel this primal connection to their child and, moreover, to the act of birthing. For some reason pregnancy brings out a very "we are mammals" sentiment in the masses, and people who would never consider wanting to feel, say, a root canal, suddenly want to feel something much, much worse. It's a strange but common phenomenon.

I had friends say to me, when it was clear that the Nolan train wasn't leaving the station via the preferred exit, "It's ok, Liz, having a c-section won't make you any less of a mother." Huh. That thought never even occurred to me! I wanted to give actual birth because I am competitive and like to pretend I'm tough! Not because I thought it would make me a better mother. I just like overzealous challenges that I can later brag about. My upset over not getting to "compete" in the labor and delivery unit was real, but it was a little like the time I went skydiving - I had no interest in actually jumping from a plane, I just wanted to be able to say I did it after the fact.

Also, I had trained. I had taken the prenatal classes. I had paid actual money for them. And I had practiced my breathing techniques! Techniques that did not appear would ease much more pain than that of a bee sting, but still. I had practiced swaying on a giant ball to coax my baby out with my rhythmic bounces and periodic hip swivels. I had even bought a tub of olive oil, ready to slather it onto my nether regions! (For those of you who have not prepared for birth, this nifty little trick is called a perineal massage. It helps reduce the risk of tearing during delivery, and as a side bonus you can use the surplus olive oil for many tasty Italian dishes).

All of this intense training was for naught. A c-section was our only viable option, and so c-section it was. Yes, I would not experience the birth of my first child the way I had hoped, but we are lucky to live in a place where safe alternatives exist. Also, and this is no small thing, a c-section meant an automatic five day stay at the hospital. As we all know hospitals are like hotels but with catheters and adult diapers readily available. So better! And also I LOVE hospital food! The hospital where I delivered Nolan makes an excellent Coq Au Vin. Things were looking up.

Photo credit: Christina McPherson Photography

The big day eventually arrived and things started out smoothly. Brian was asked to wait outside while I was "prepped." He was excited and anxious, dressed in scrubs, hat, and booties, like an extra from Grey's Anatomy. I was busy having my spinal block administered, and quickly felt the lower half of my body go pleasantly numb. The plan was for me to be awake during the surgery, but totally numb from the waist down. I remembered a good friend saying she found her c-section to be "a very civilized way to have a baby." This is civilized, I thought.

By the time Brian was let into the operating room the surgery was already in full swing. He had barely gotten seated when the obstetrician exclaimed, "I see the baby's butt!" This was jarringly fast for Brian, who had anticipated more of a build-up to the main event. It was like going to a movie with no coming attractions. It throws a viewer off.

And with that, Nolan was out, via the express train. It was kind of amazing and kind of gross.

And then shit got real. Just as Nolan made his big debut - at the very height of emotion at this whole disgusting miracle - I started to feel stuff. Like, a lot of stuff. My spinal block wasn't so much "blocking" anymore. Well, damn. What's the good of a spinal block without the block? Very, very little, that's what. This was rapidly devolving into something decidedly uncivilized. Remember, getting the baby out is only the first part. After you evict your tenant you still need to close up the apartment, you see. Lock the doors behind you and all.

"I can feel this!" I was trying to keep the panic down in my voice. Perhaps I sounded too un-panicked, because the anesthesiologist was surprisingly nonchalant.

"Like tugging and pulling?" he asked.

"No, like I can REALLY FEEL this surgery!" I could feel tugging 5 minutes ago. I felt SURGERY HAPPENING now. If I'm not being clear, those two feelings are different.

"Oh, you do? Hmm....Looks like you metabolized the medication too quickly!" His tone was breezy. "Next time you have a surgery you should make sure to tell them that your body seems to metabolize meds too fast."

Um, yes, noted. Next time I'm having major abdominal surgery I'll be sure to tell them. Too bad I'm in surgery RIGHT NOW.

Brian could see the panic in my eyes. Oh, did I mention that I was tied down to the table? I was tied down to the table. I had kind of forgotten I was tied down to the table until the part of the story where the spinal block stopped working and I panicked and tried to free myself. Good thing I was tied down, actually.

Brian was in his own type of bind. Unbeknownst to me, he had just been told that he needed to leave the surgery area to accompany Nolan to another room, where I presume they make sure he has all of his most important bits. Nolan, not Brian. Brian's bits were already accounted for.

Not wanting to cause more panic, but clearly seeing that I was losing my shit, Brian approached me cautiously, the way one might approach a skittish but rapidly angering beaver.

"Ok, I'm gonna go now..." His voice was soft. He was trying to appear calm so that I may be calmed. Which is not possible when you are actively being operated on with very, very little medication.

Uh, ok. That's cool. I'll just stay here and fight off my captors alone. My eyes pleaded with him but he was quickly led away.

After about five minutes Brian was sent away from Nolan's room, too. Poor guy. He ended up wandering through the halls, full scrubs, without either his wife or baby. He was hoping, I think, to be with at least one of us during this most critical time. But then I was hoping to not feel my surgery, so that made two of us who didn't get what we wanted.

And that is pretty much how it went down. Yes, I had "missed out" on the chance to be tough by laboring with my baby, but I was fortunate enough to get the chance to be tough by having abdominal surgery with meds that ran out part way through the operation. Silver linings!

This is my first photo with Nolan. I do not even remotely remember this moment. And I had read that I would "never forget the first time I held my baby in my arms." I couldn't remember it 5 minutes later. Based on this picture it was beautiful. And hairy. And heavily medicated with post-operative tranquilizers.

Which would you prefer, c-section or natural childbirth? How was your labor and delivery? Let's hear it. Be descriptive. I want to picture your baby crowning.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Guest Post: All the Pretty Highlights

I'm not even going to be coy about my third guest blogger, Callie Feyen: I have a huge crush on her writing. I want to make out with her stories underneath the bleachers. I want to make her stories a mix tape and take them to blogger prom. Callie somehow blends what is funny and approachable with what is philosophical and deeply spiritual. Today's post takes us back to the summer, when Callie, after years of hard work, graduated with her Master of Fine Arts degree. She could have written an essay that went something like, "Neener neener, I'm smart and super talented." But instead, she wrote an essay about accidentally ruining her hair while wrestling with fear and hope and grace.

I met Callie thanks to Listen to Your Mother DC. You're going to want to check out her hilarious reading of "Superbuns" on YouTube (you will never call a bra a "bra" again). Callie is also a regular contributor to Coffee + Crumbs ("In Trouble" is a must read . . . and not just because it's about the word "butt). I also insist that you read "Dodging Skittles and Other Fears" and "Stop This Train." And though I'd love to keep Callie and her essays all to myself, I'm gonna do you a solid and suggest you follow her on her blog, calliefeyen.com, and on Twitter

All the Pretty Highlights

by Callie Feyen

Today is the day the wheels go up for Santa Fe and I head to my last residency, where I will graduate. So a post reflecting on my time as a Seattle Pacific University grad student would be timely. But over the weekend, I had a hair disaster of epic proportions so I’m going to tell you about that instead.

I wanted to color and highlight my hair so I bought a box with a model on it that seemed to resemble my hair and skin coloring. I wasn’t exactly sure but don’t worry, I’m a savvy consumer. While my daughters Hadley and Harper played tag up and down the aisle at Ulta, I asked a lady who was sharing the aisle with me (and dodging my kids) if she thought this box was the right box to get. She said it was. She might’ve worked there, but I’m not sure.

I brought it home, took out all the contents, read the directions, and texted my husband, Jesse: Can you color and highlight my hair tonight? I don’t understand the directions and also it says that if I do it wrong something could explode. His reply: Sure. We need to take more risks in our life.

So we’re in the bathroom after the kids go to sleep, he’s cut a hole in a garbage bag and slipped it over my head so the dye doesn’t get on my t-shirt and skin, and I begin to tell him about David Sedaris.

He’s rinsing my hair after the first part, the all over color, has been completed when I bring Sedaris up. “Did I ever tell you about that essay where David Sedaris writes about a boil on his butt and his husband Hugh decides to take care of it?”
“No,” he says, “stop laughing. I don’t want to miss any color.”

“Well, the essay is totally disgusting and funny but it’s haunting, too. No topic is off limits for Sedaris, you know? But he doesn’t exploit. I mean, he doesn’t write a story just to write it. He’s examining stuff, you know?”

“Close your eyes,” Jesse says and sweeps his hand across my forehead and past my temples.

“I think he and EB White are my favorite essayists,” I tell him. “Anyway, Sedaris says this funny thing about how if he has a health problem, he just let’s it simmer until he’s paralyzed with fear, whereas Hugh complains about every pain immediately. Sedaris says Hugh’ll get a splinter and say he understands how Jesus must’ve felt. HAHAHAHAHAHA!” I can barely sit still I’m laughing so hard. “You have to read it,” I tell Jesse.

“I think the water looks like it’s clear,” Jesse says, helping me up from craning my neck at the sink. “Sorry if that was uncomfortable. We need one of those salon sinks.”

“I’m fine,” I say and look in the mirror. “Woah. It’s kind of red and purple, isn’t it?”

Not Callie. I think. (Courtesy of morguefile.com)

I blow dry it, as the directions say, and Jesse begins the next step: highlighting. I continue telling him about David Sedaris.

“I want to do what he does,” I say and Jesse pulls bleach through a strand of my hair. It’s blue to mark as a guide. “I want to be funny and haunting and I want to write essays.”

“Sounds good,” Jesse says. And then, “It says here to put highlights close to your face if you want to look younger. I don’t think you need that.”

“Eh, just do it. It’ll look cool.”

So he does and I tell him that I think Sedaris might be like Flannery O’Connor because of his examination of the grotesque except he doesn’t claim to be a Christian so maybe he’s not aware of the grace in his essays. “But I think it’s still there,” I say, “the grace. I think so, anyway. Do you think it’s OK if you don’t know if you’re writing about grace?”

“I think it’s OK to not always know what you’re doing,” Jesse says and I look in the mirror. My hair is very blue and dark brown.

“When you get to Santa Fe next week, don’t tell anyone that I compared Flannery O’Connor to David Sedaris, OK? Flannery O’Connor makes me cry. And she scares me. She makes me want to give up a little, too. Not with writing so much, but you know, with life. I see myself in all those freaks. I mean, take the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I think I’m her, just being a nuisance all the time, and always worrying and not understanding any of it. I get on everyone’s nerves.”

“No, you don’t,” Jesse says.

“Yes I do, and I cry too much. And what if I figure out grace in the last few seconds of life? And did the grandma even figure it out? Ugh. Just don’t tell anyone about this, OK? I don’t get Flannery O’Connor and I think I get David Sedaris, and I feel stupid about it so don’t tell anyone.”

Jesse takes the gloves off and throws them in the trash. “I won’t say anything about David Sedaris or Flannery O’Connor in Santa Fe. Time to rinse.” He leaves and I’m in the bathroom blow drying my hair again and it seems to be getting more red because of the heat. When it’s dry, I flip my hair up and look in the mirror.

I’m not a screamer, so my reaction doesn’t seem dramatic. Not yet. But I walk downstairs to where Jesse is, sitting on the couch going through emails. He sees that I am crying, closes the computer and does his best not to laugh.

“Jesse,” I’m sobbing now. “What am I going to do?”

“Did you not see the box said, ‘red’? I thought you were going for something new.”

“I look like I listen to Depeche Mode!”

“Hon, you do listen to Depeche Mode.”

I get up and go to the bathroom to check my hair out again. Maybe it’s not so bad.

We had a bathroom once that we painted orange and it was so bright you could see it radiate from our kitchen. That’s what my highlights looked like. My hair was a dark, dark red with purplish hues and firecracker highlights.

“What am I gonna do?”

Jesse’s next to me now giving me a hug.

“I just wanted to do something nice for myself, you know? I’ve done all this work, the girls are going off to school full time, and I’m teaching again. I just wanted to step into this next phase boldly, you know?”

“Everything you do is bold,” Jesse says. “But if I had known that, I would’ve said to get it professionally done. Callie,” he holds both my shoulders and looks at me and I can tell he’s trying so hard to peel that smirk off his face. “I have no clue what I’m doing here.”

The next morning, I call the place I get my hair cut and tell them what happened.

“When can you come in?”

“Whenever you say.”

I’m there an hour later, and when I walk in the ladies all look at me with wide eyes. I point to my hair and say, “I’m the one who called earlier.”

Sarah snaps out a cape with the expertise of a surgeon and nods me over. They don’t even let me explain, or sit in the waiting area and read InStyle. Other hairdressers hover around sort of subtly and I think they’re jealous that Sarah gets to work on me and they don’t. “I’ve never seen anything like this before! Let me at her,” is what I think they’re thinking.

Tracy, the girl who usually cuts my hair, looks at me with slight disdain.

“What’d you do?” she asks.

“I’m sorry.”

“I tell you, stop messing with your hair.”

“You told me to stop straightening it.”

That was two weeks ago, when I went in for a cut and Tracy said to stop using a flat-iron on it. “I love straight hair, though!” I whine. “I want to look like Jennifer Aniston. I’ve wanted to look like her since 1994.”

“We can’t have everything we want,” Tracy said.

“I don’t understand those words,” was my reply.

Sarah flips open a huge poster-like magazine with about seventy five hair color samples. She immediately points to a brown color that my hair used to look like.

“We’ll do that,” she states.


There is a pause and Sarah looks at me. “Is that what you want?”

I look at my lap. I don’t mean to make this into a metaphor, but I don’t want to go back to where I started. “What do you think I should do?” I ask Sarah.

She takes a deep breath and lets it out. I’m sure I’m at least ten years older than her, but today I feel like a kid. She taps on the loop of medium brown hair that she showed me before. She thinks one color is best.

Conversations are not easy to have at Extreme Hair, the salon that’s tucked in between Diamond Nails and a Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas in glasses that look like soup bowls. The ladies, who all have the most beautiful hair on earth, are Asian and English is not their first language. I love coming here because nobody makes small talk with me. But today, Sarah picks up on something in my face and asks, “You want highlights?”

“I do,” I say, trying not to sound like I’m pleading.

“OK,” she says and gets to work.

The ladies begin to speak in another language and I quickly learn that there doesn’t seem to be a translation for highlights because that’s the only word I understand. That, and the giggling. It’s OK, I think. This is all going to be funny to me too, in a little while.

Tracy’s working on a woman who looks like she could be my grandmother or aunt, and I wonder if she’s Greek or Armenian. At one point, Tracy walks away and the woman lifts her cape up above her mouth so all we see are her cheeks and eyes. She holds it there until Tracy comes back with a flat iron, and the woman lets the cape fall. She shakes her head at the flat iron. I can tell she thinks it’s frivolous.

“I have to,” Tracy says. “You’re hair is big now. I need to smooth it out.”

The woman says nothing and Tracy begins. “I’m trying to help you. Trust me.”

I watch Tracy as she works her magic and about a half an hour later the woman, who I thought was pretty before, is stunning. Her hair is not complicated, but you can tell it’s a good cut. A well crafted cut.

The lady is smiling in that Mediterranean way I know too well. You know at the end of Karate Kid when Daniel is screaming, “We did it, Mr. Miyagi! We did it!” And Mr. Miyagi is sort of nodding vigorously and fighting a smile? Like that.

She stands up, still smiling, and thanks Tracy. Tracy nods as she cleans up, and the woman walks to get her purse. She pulls out a scarf that’s turquoise and green. It looks like what I think the sea in Greece probably looks like. She drapes it over her head, and sweeps the extra material over her shoulders and the scarf is striking against her skin and brown eyes that I can tell are still gloriously happy.

Some of the other hair dressers gasp after Tracy’s work has been covered up. “For her husband,” Tracy says, and we are all quiet as she pushes the door open and glides outside.

As Sarah finishes up with my hair, I think that all this is a big fuss. I think I’ve made a huge deal out of something small. After all, didn’t I just finish my coursework for grad school? Can’t I be happy with that? Aren’t I above all this now?

No. I am not. I might by shy. I might be introverted. But I am not humble. I am self-centered and selfish and I might’ve joked with Tracy about having it all but I want what I want. And right now Sarah’s giving me what I want.

It turns out that what I want is a hairstyle that was trendy around 2000-2001. I understand that as Sarah finishes blowing out my hair. I look like Snooki.

But I’m smiling. For real smiling. Because you know what? I’m going to embrace it. I wanted something different and this is something different. This makes a statement. I bet Snooki is the grandma in A Good Man Is Hard To Find, too. And I hope I don’t start to understand grace moments before I’m offed, but damn it, I earned a Master in Fine Arts. I am learning to sit in a world where I feel “wholly alien although [I] love it still.” Maybe the Misfit isn’t all that bad. Maybe he’s read All The Pretty Horses and was crushed by John Grady Cole’s realization “that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of divergent equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”

I might be the grandma, but I’ve found those words because of Seattle Pacific University. They make me scared, and ashamed. They make me cry and they make me see a little bit of grace before it gets dark again. I’m clutching onto them as I make my way into this world.

Ridiculous highlights and all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest Post: Tricky Business - A Mother's Touch

The first time I read Leslie Kendall Dye's writing, I held my breath. Each line was so finely wrought. Each paragraph plumbed a new and beautiful mystery. It's not often that I'm this earnest about a writer, but damn it, the woman knows her way around the cockles of my heart (which, full disclosure, may be illegal in both Mississippi and Texas). Leslie is an actress, dancer, writer, and former nanny living in NYC. She writes as thoughtfully about a day in Central Park with her daughter as she does about the aftermath of her own mother's stroke. For her guest post, I requested "Tricky Business: A Mother's Touch," which goes to the heart of one of parenting's most bittersweet frustrations: letting go (because, according to the pediatrician, you can't have kids surgically re-implanted once they've been birthed).

After you read this essay, and after you start breathing again, you'll want to read more from LKD. "Our Neighbors Stole Our Jagermeister: A Cautionary Tale for New Parents""The Season I'm Embracing for My Mother's Sake," and "Don't Call My Daughter a Princess" are just a few of my favorites. Leslie has been featured on Huffington Post, BLUNTmoms, Project Underblog, and the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop, among others. And just to make us feel like worthless slobs, she's also a regular contributor to Off the Shelf, where she writes excellent book reviews.  Check her out on Facebook and on Twitter

Tricky Business: A Mother's Touch

By Leslie Kendall Dye

The other day I was nursing my child to sleep. It was an early summer day -- the humidity had settled into our apartment and the air was still and we were damp with sweat and we smelled of the metal playground. Even the curtains looked drowsy after hours of beating back the sun. We melted into each other's arms to seek the refuge of air-conditioning and an hour's rest.

I noticed my daughter's curls had gotten tangled and one stray lock was hanging in her eyes. I went to sweep it off her face so that she might be more comfortable. She flinched a bit and a chill ran down my spine despite the sticky heat.

I know that flinch. I've flinched in just that way. Don't touch me without asking. Don't correct anything about me. Don't make assumptions about how I want my hair or what is bothering me. Don't meddle. Don't keep an attentive eye trained on me. Don't cross a boundary that exists here, suddenly, in this moment.

My daughter was curled into my arm while we rocked and sang to sleep. She visits me all over the house "to have a little chat" and she tells me that she misses me even when we are together. The bathroom door, as any parent knows, is no barrier to a child's visitations. She even likes to read to me while I take my bath. Perhaps this is precisely why a mother's touch can be an annoyance—How do I break free of this desperate need for my mother?—the child wonders.

When I was a child actor, my mother made sure my feet were firmly planted in the ground. I learned early the difference between flying by the seat of my pants and being a trained professional. A child actor's performances depend solely on talent and luck and have little to do with the mature performances a hard-working, trained actor can deliver. My mother had little patience for vanity or unearned confidence.

Inevitably, I was conflicted about my mother's presence on set. By state law I had to have a guardian, and it was always my mother who was available to fulfill this requirement. I always felt her eyes looking out for me and looking at me. She was not a stage mother. Yet she worried when the camera wasn't set up on my better angles. She worried that a producer of a miniseries clearly preferred another child actor on set. She worried when I looked pale and sallow next to a cherubic classmate at my sixth grade holiday choral concert.

I'll never forget the car ride home that Christmas evening. Mom said she felt guilty that her child hadn’t shone the way the other girl did. She fretted over how to fix it. For my sake, I truly have no doubt. Yet it was not good for me. A mother's touch extends not just from her fingers but from her eyes and her words and, at times, from her own insecurities. A mother's touch can damage as much as it can heal, even if the touch is always protective in its aims.

I confess I'm glad when my daughter picks out a dress or pants that match her socks. I prefer her blue shoes to her pink ones and I take too many photos because she is my jewel and seems (to me) to shine from every angle. I'm glad when she makes aesthetically pleasing sartorial choices because they make for better photos and show off her winsome charm. Most of us have some degree of stage-parent tendency. The trick is to shut it off.

I take a deep breath when she doesn't choose the shoes I wish she would wear. I take a deep breath when she wants a ponytail but I want her beautiful curls to fly free as she runs down the street. I exhale and wet the hairbrush in the sink so I can brush those silky curls into the smooth bun she wants: the bun that hides her lovely hair. I take a deep breath and I don't let myself hide her favorite dress, a bright bubble gum pink one, which is not a good color on any living creature, because I know she loves it.

We all want to be touched. We all want to be left alone. We all want boundaries and we all want limitless love. I think we can achieve this with our children. Let them attach and detach at will. Let go. Let go. Let go.

At birth, if you are lucky, your mother and then both parents and then a whole extended family are not only your universe, but your very identity. Gradually, you sprout an identity of your own and differentiate. If you are very lucky, so unshakable will that initial attachment be that you will take it for granted. You will not hesitate to build the highest walls when you want to, and you will not hesitate to tear them down when it suits you. There’s no greater gift I can give my child than the assumption that our fort can weather the storms of differentiation. I want my child to take me for granted—maybe not forever but for a good long while.

I am not allowed to touch my daughter when she doesn't want to be touched. For my own sake, I never want to feel the flinch. The first one on that hot summer afternoon was a warning tremor.

Go to Neverland without me, darling daughter, whenever you are ready. The home fires will be burning when you return.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Guest Post: Five Reasons My Son Is Like My Xbox

I'm excited to feature my very first Welcome to the Bundle guest blogger today. Mike Cruse from Papa Does Preach explains how he juggles fatherhood and a serious gaming habit. (Spoiler: He juggles them poorly.) You will love Mike's honesty and wanton disregard for his own dignity.

Mike is a dedicated husband to The Wife and an equally dedicated, though understandably mystified father to one toddler. His posts tend to be light-hearted, but he's not afraid to bust out the heavy emotional artillery from time to time. Other Papa Does Preach must-reads include "Potty Training: The Real Game of Thrones," "Hitting Home: No One Has the Right to Be Violent" (which was picked up by Huffington Post) and "Dads Deserve a New Stereotype" (which was picked up by Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, BLUNTmoms, and, ugh, whatever, Mike, you overachiever). Go stalk Mike on his blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter


Five Reasons My Son Is Like My Xbox 

by Mike Cruse

I am one of those quasi-adult parents – you know what I mean – the kind that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and now, in our 30’s, we are doing everything possible to hang onto some semblance of our childhood experiences at all costs. So, how do I do that? Well, at almost 40, I’m still a gamer. For you non-gamer parents out there, that means I play video games…a lot.

I don’t just play video games; I invest quite a bit of time in my gaming hobby. I still visit GameStop and Best Buy to purchase new games, I still read reviews on the latest products, and I still geek out with my friends and debate about which console is better (Xbox or PlayStation).

My video game playing habit took a major hit in 2012 when our son was born. “Nothing’s going to change for me,” I foolishly told my friends, “I’ll just put the kid in my lap and play while he sleeps. Late night feedings will be cool; I’ll get in a lot of gaming time.” Yeah, think again.

Two and a half years later, I continue the struggle to balance my nerdy gamer ways while, in real life, being a parent – that’s some pretty adult shit right there. In late 2013, I purchased a new video game console, and as we approach its half-birthday, I've noticed some eerie similarities to my toddler.

Only Responds to Yelling – One of the major attractions Microsoft tried to sell hard to the consumers was how their new console would be completely voice activated. Want to turn the Xbox on? Just say, “Xbox on” and it will recognize your voice and turn on. Want to do something other than game? Simply say the phrase, “Xbox go to…..” and fill in the blank and you will be binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, Skyping with grandma, or even watching TV. Problem is, just like our toddler, the damn system doesn’t do what we ask of it the first, second, sometimes even the third time around. Many times I will be in the kitchen and hear my Wife yell, “XBOX ON, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!” Luckily, while just as difficult, our son receives a little bit more grace…..and I mean a little.

It’s Always Fucking Watching Me – While the last function was supposed to be cool, the next option is just downright creepy. Xbox has a built-in camera system that, according to Microsoft, is always on and is always watching, even when the system is off. So while it’s really annoying that my son follows me from room to room (even to the bathroom, where he stares at me while I handle my business), at least when he’s asleep, I know there is no risk of him popping up and filming me while I walk around in my underwear and of then somehow posting that shit on the Internet. Trust me; no one wants to see that.

May Malfunction at Any Moment – Like any new generation of equipment or technology, there are usually some kinks or bugs to work out of the system. We consumers are usually more forgiving when it comes to techie items. When my new Xbox crashes for no reason, we know a system update is right around the corner. But, where the hell is my system update for my toddler that is happy one second and then a ball of fury and flailing limbs, screaming, “NO, I DON’T WANT IT!” the next? You show me that product, Microsoft, and I will be yours for life.

The So-Called Experts Are of Little to No Help – I’ve come to learn that those times when your techie gadgets inevitably fail you (much like how your toddler will inevitably have a complete fucking meltdown in public), the people we are supposed to be able to reach out to, to help us fix our problem, are just as fucking clueless as we are. Sure, your big-box store nerd-smug-asshole behind the counter will eventually fix your hard drive. Just like whatever family member’s, doctor’s, or supposed child-raising guru’s advice might work when trying to calm your kid, but at the end of the day, they can’t ever tell you why the breakdown happened or how to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s all a bunch of finger-crossing and hoping. So in my book, that makes all of you full of shit.

Both Are a Serious Drain on My Bank Account – Having a kid was a mutual choice between me and the Wife, but buying the Xbox One (aka the $500 paperweight in our family room) was all me. Both have the exact same effect on our bank account, however; they continue to take and take and take. Both require a continuous credit line for maintenance and upkeep. Examples include buying games or new products for the Xbox One, and clothing, feeding and paying for daycare for my son. I invest so much money into both and leave me wondering what I’m really getting in return, which brings me to my last point….

How My Son Is NOT Like My Xbox – While I joke that my Xbox is a useless paperweight (and will continue to be seen as such given current release dates for new games and products), that depreciates in value daily, the same cannot be said for my son. I see my son grow and change every day. While the Xbox can easily go unused for days at a time, my Wife and I enjoy watching our son as he becomes a little person, sometimes too quickly for his Dad’s comfort. I will most likely outgrow my video game addiction someday, but I will never outgrow being a dad.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Merry Christmas, Mom! I Got You This Deadly Payload of Guilt

Pork Chop can say "I love you." He just can't say "I love you" to me. He loves his daddy. He loves his daycare provider. He loves the dog. He loves Elmo. He once professed love to a donut. But me? His mother? I'm good for a laugh. I make a mean snack. But love? Well . . .

My husband tries to tell me that our son does love me. That maybe Pork Chop sees me as an extension of himself and, as such, doesn't feel compelled to tell me how he feels. We did, after all, share a body for 9 months, which was followed by 15 months of breastfeeding. I want to believe my husband. But when my kid grabs my throat skin between his grimy toddler fingernails because I tried to brush his teeth? It's pretty clear that he understands we're separate entities. It's also clear that he fights dirty.

2014 has been a banner year. On New Year's Day, I made one resolution: write more.

In January, I penned my first essay about motherhood. That essay earned me a spot in Listen to Your Mother DC. By February, a blog was born. By July, Scary Mommy had picked up one of my stories. By October, I made the front page of Huffington Post Parents. And by November, I was writing instead of sleeping and writing instead of making respectable lunch choices and writing instead of being on time to anything and writing instead of doing that thing I needed to do but can't remember (pay bills? gyn appointment? go to the bathroom?). But, damn it, I wrote MORE!

Note: You have to imagine that I just bellowed "MORE" while in my bathrobe, wild-eyed from exhaustion, and kinda power squatting, like I'm about to give birth to my own creative genius.

Somewhere along the way, my son also turned a year old. He learned to walk (finally, gawd). He started talking in earnest. He started dancing. He started singing. He knows all the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" (because his taste in lullabies is diverse).
He doesn't even wait for me to praise him anymore; when he does something special, he proclaims, "Good job!" at the top of his toddler lungs. Fastened the velcro on his shoes? "Good job!" Threw a ball? "Good job!" Farted in the bathtub? "Good job!" Threw blocks at our expensive hardwood floor while I shouted at him to stop? "Good job!"

Pork Chop is less of a pork chop every day. Less and less a helpless little pink hunk. His independence frightens me. How can I keep him safe from the great wide world while also keeping him safe from me, from my need to mother the hell out of him?

About 2 weeks ago, the boy and I were hustling about the kitchen in the morning. He noshed on a banana while I gathered our coats. It was a work day for me, so I had to get the kid to daycare by 8. Pork Chop rifled through his toy box, banana still in hand, looking for his favorite red ball. I took that moment to open my laptop, to tap out just a one more line of a post.

Suddenly, my son's sticky hands were grasping the tabletop. He was on his tiptoes, craning his neck so that he could see me above the open computer. His brow was furrowed. His eyes were brimming with tears.

"I love you! Turn it off!" he said.

And I died. I died for a good 30 seconds, and then I came back to my own thudding heart and to my hot face and to my son, gripping the table like he was gripping a life raft.

How, indeed, do I save him from me?

I turned it off. I gathered up my kid. I decided to write a little less for a little while.

Let me be clear: Parenting and pursuing what you love are not mutually exclusive endeavors. But juggling the two requires more creative scheduling than my simple New Year's resolution took into account. Huffington Post is nice. Huffington Post, however, does not sit on my lap at night and sing reggae lullabies with me.

I'm taking the rest of December off from writing new stuff. I'll be back in the New Year. I cross my cold, distracted heart. But like Bob says, don't worry. For the next few weeks, I'll be featuring my favorite posts from the Welcome to the Bundle archive. AND, AND I've convinced some of the Internets's finest bloggers to share their best posts of 2014 right here on my site. That means you will still get your regular Wednesday Welcome to the Bundle fix, but you'll also get Friday posts too. Maybe even some Monday posts. It's gonna be rad. I'm pretty much Bloggy Claus.

One year ago.

And have I mentioned that I love you? Yes, you, my readers? I do. I really do. Thank you for laughing with me. Thanks for laughing at me. Thanks for your comments and the stories you've shared. Thanks for filling my year with more MORE!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Across the Picket Fence (aka Hilarious Poems about Your Neighbors)

Not to make you nervous, but there are only 25 days until Christmas. Only 16 days until Hanukkah. And less than a week until I buy the annual tube of wrapping paper that I won't use because I'll probably get gift cards at CVS on December 24th (again). My family did enjoy a lovely outing on Small Business Saturday, but somehow we only purchased fancy cups of coffee and a hand-painted ornament for a tree we have yet to buy and subsequently ruin through dehydration.

But hark! It's Cyber Monday folks, which is just like Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, except that it happens in cyberspace. And you never have to fight for parking in cyberspace. You never have to feel about about racing that grandma on a mobility scooter to the table of $20 sweaters.

Last Wednesday, I shared my review of The Big Book of Parenting Tweets. On Friday, I published my first ever small business holiday gift guide. Today, to top off my extravaganza of presents on Welcome to the Bundle, and to herald in the joyful occasion of Cyber Monday, I present to you Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Across the Picket Fence. As with all of my reviews and recommendations, I was not compensated: physically, monetarily, or emotionally.

Were you aware that I have a Master of Fine Arts in poetry? No, no, please, hold your applause. I only mention it because (a) I'm vain and (b) I love Suburban Haiku. Peyton Price is a hilarious suburban mom cranking out social commentary in 17 subversive little syllables. Peyton has a fabulous website and can be found lurking on Facebook, but now you can cackle your way through an entire book of her haiku. (Rhyming: Nailed it!)

Composition with Suburban Haiku, baby monitor, laptop, grocery list,
the last of the Halloween candy, cold coffee, high chair tray,
rubber bib, macaroni noodles, and wine. 

Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence is available for just $12.95 (on IndieboundPowell'sAmazon, and Barnes and Noble). Today only, many of those sites are offering special rates on shipping and deep discounts (30% off at Amazon!). Think of all the parties you'll be attending this holiday season, then think about all the crappy wine you'll be buying for the hosts. Skip the Franzia (and the accompanying shame that should come with buying Franzia) and, instead, wrap up a copy of Suburban Haiku. Give the gift of laughter. Share the joy of poetry. Enjoy a rant about those a-holes in the carpool. 'Tis the season for 17 syllables of suburban self-deprecation.

I've been quoting from this book for a few weeks now. Got teenagers? There's a haiku for that. Need a mani/pedi? There's a haiku for that. Feeling bad about your lawn? There's a haiku for that too. I genuinely love this book. Here are just a few of the many reasons why:

They have nice cheese there
but we can't go to Whole Foods.
We're out of t.p.


Bolting from the bus
he runs to mom, arms open.
"Where's the iPad?"


Five houses over
it's time for trumpet practice.
That kid really blows.


Two cups of coffee
wake me up enough to ask
"Did I have coffee?"

Image courtesy of Suburban Haiku

Peyton Price is a regular contributor to NickMom and to Huffington Post. She was recently featured on Redbook and on BonBon Break. Basically, she's a big freakin' deal, so snapping up this book now is like an investment in being able to say, "Oh, you like Suburban Haiku? I own a first edition." And nothing says holiday cheer like out-cooling the cool mom in play group. Or should I say, "formerly cool mom in play group"?

Support a fellow mama and very funny lady by picking up a copy of this book. I promise you, cross my heart, you will nod you head in solidarity, you will sometimes wince from the sting of recognition, but you will also laugh. A lot. You can't make the checkout line at Target any shorter. You can't make family gatherings less awkward. But you can offer someone the chance to hide in the powder room for 10 minutes while reading this book and regaining his/her sense of humor. Or sanity. 'Tis the season of giving, folks! Give wisely. Give a laugh.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Small Business Is the New Black Friday

When I was 19, I worked a cushy gig as a cashier at a video store specializing in movies of the romantic, naked variety. I rented out flicks called Maliboobies and ate free bags of buttered popcorn all day (yes, we gave out free bags of buttered popcorn and, yes, Maliboobies is a real movie). Sadly, that shop went out of business and/or was run out of the suburbs by some nice ladies in long skirts.

It was 1995 and I was young, broke, and in need of a new baby-doll dress. Out of desperation, I swapped my crop top for a ribbed a turtleneck and headed to the mall, landing a job at The Gap just as our national obsession with khakis reached a fever pitch. Heady times.

Little did I know that I would spend 5 years in that store. And 5 years of working in a mall will do things to a woman, dark and irrevocable things. The lack of natural light. The steady diet of Sbarro pizza. The constant temptation of a new denim vest. But most damaging of all: Christmas. Each year, Christmas at the mall began the day after Halloween and was heralded in by the same 30-minute-long loop of holiday music. To this day, I have a Clockwork Orange-level response to "Jingle Bell Rock."

The only thing worse than the Christmas songs was EVERYTHING ELSE at the mall at Christmas: the shoppers, the parking, the desperation, the sequins and faux fur. I guess nothing says "a child is born" like a bedazzled animal pelt.

It's been almost 15 years since I last worked at the mall. Since then, I've done most of my holiday buying at local shops, farmers' markets, and small online retailers. In other words, I avoid the emotional devastation of the mall while supporting small businesses and reclaiming my holiday spirit. I'm pretty much Mother Theresa crossed with Martha Stewart crossed with a bald eagle crossed with dry winter skin.

Usually, I write essays about parenting or marriage or Tostitos. I don't feature ads on my site, and I don't do sponsored reviews (because earning money is overrated, or so I've heard). So today will be a departure. Today I'm writing a review of some of my favorite stuff, stuff you can buy for the holidays, stuff created by artists and craftspeople rather than by corporations. No one paid me. No one. Not even in a sly wink and a fistful of old Halloween candy, which would have been rad. I just like this stuff and think you should check it out. I have read, used, or eaten everything on this list. My hope is that this list helps you avoid the mall and support small businesses this holiday season. Your other option is to ignore this list and enjoy waiting in line for a pee-covered stall at JC Penney while supporting some CEO's yachting habit. Joy to the world! Okay, so here goes:

Sharp Shirter Tees (www.sharpshirter.com) $30 or less

Sharp Shirter specializes in tees for women and men. I bought my first (of many) Sharp Shirter tees at Baltimore's Artscape festival. It has since become a staple of my wardrobe, a comfy go-to top, and a guaranteed conversation starter. They call this beauty "The Haymaker":

Image courtesy of Sharp Shirter.

Why buy: So soft. 20% of the proceeds from certain shirts go toward charity (such as The African Wildlife Foundation). You need a shirt that features a lumberjack boxing a bear. You need a tee that depicts a sloth dirty dancing. Your wardrobe is really lacking a sense of humor.

Buy for: Teenagers, hipsters, geeks, dweebs, and suburban parents clinging to youth (<-- that's me!)

The Homemade Gin Kit (www.homemadegin.com) $50 or less

Like any self-respecting parent of a toddler, my husband loves booze. But, being an engineer, he's not content to sit idly by while someone else pours him an icy cold pint of "let's just leave the macaroni on the wall until after we watch TV." No, my husband likes to make his hooch from scratch. Two Christmases ago, I bought him a Homemade Gin Kit. It was a huge hit. Each kit comes with bottles, strainers, funnels, juniper berries, and a botanical blend (you supply the cheap vodka).

Image courtesy of The Homemade Gin Kit.

Why buy: It's easy to use. It produces truly delicious gin in less than 2 days. The bottles, strainers, and funnels are reusable (you can buy tins of replacement berries and botanicals). Um, booze!

Buy for: Wannabe mixologists, foodies, and parents

Tasha McKelvey Clay Goods (www.etsy.com/shop/tashamckelvey) $20 and up

You know what makes everything better? Ceramics! I discovered Tasha McKelvey's beautiful, simple jewelry and crafts at a street fair in Richmond, VA, several years ago, and ever since, I've been addicted. I can't stop buying her charming little earrings. It's like I caught the hipster flu.

Image courtesy of Tasha McKelvey.

Why buy: Her ceramics are simple, lovely, and have an ageless appeal. She's also fond of adding little clay birds and hedgehogs to her pottery. Did you hear that? LITTLE HEDGEHOGS! (Somewhere, a hipster's heart explodes.)

Buy for: Mothers, daughters, aunts, nieces, and folks who dig mason jars and kale chips

Naughty & Nice Art (www.etsy.com/shop/naughtyandnice) $20 and up

One of the highlights of my trip to NYC was stumbling onto art vendor Naughty & Nice in Bryant Park. His prints are gloriously bizarre: childlike, macabre, and hilarious. Because they were only $20 apiece, we walked away with three prints that feature Washington, D.C. as a backdrop (hometown pride!). Check out the "Reflecting Pool of Shame" below and tell me that it isn't meant to be hung above a changing table? 

Image courtesy of Naughty & Nice.

Why buy: Because art doesn't have to be stuffy. Because your office doesn't have to look like a museum. Because your kid's room doesn't have to look like a shrine to Disney.

Buy for: Weirdos, children

JD Wood Design (www.etsy.com/shop/JDWoodDesign) $50 and up

The man behind JD Wood Design is a wood magician: handmade jewelry boxes, craftsman-style picture frames, candle holders, wooden pens, wine stoppers, and furniture. When the apocalypse comes, I'm staying close to this guy, because he'll be the one that builds a four-bedroom colonial out of radioactive twigs and moss. I'm an especially big fan of his deceptively simple keepsake boxes (perfect for storing cards, pictures, or a private stash of candy). And, yes, he does take special orders, though he cautions that his schedule is contingent upon a day job and the whims of his children. Ugh, children.

Image courtesy of JD Wood Design.

Why buy: Sturdy and beautiful. So skillfully made that you'll feel bad that you can't even cook ramen noodles (or maybe that just me).

Buy for: Men and women alike, anyone who appreciates the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, beavers

Berger Cookies (www.bergercookies.com) $23 and under

Most of you know that I hail from Baltimore, also known as Charm City. Wanna know why they call it "Charm City"? Berger Cookies. These are the cookies that eat like a meal. One part pound-cakey cookie and one part fudge, these rich, delicious treats are best enjoyed with a glass of cold milk and an otherwise empty stomach. Berger Cookies have been around since the 1800's, but until recently, they were hard to find outside of Maryland. Praise the Lord for the Internet! Now you can order whole tins online. You can also order original cookie packs or single-serving packs — but why?

Image courtesy of Berger Cookies.

Why buy: Fudge. Cookies.

Buy for: Yourself. Oh, and anyone else with a sweet tooth and a blatant disregard for fat content.

Bird & Bow (www.etsy.com/shop/shopbirdandbow) $10 or less 

The days when I could dress my little guy up in yellow ducky pajamas are behind me. He's strictly a dump trucks and dinosaurs man now. So you'll understand why I sometimes live vicariously through the moms of girls. After seeing a few neighborhood gals decked out in the world's cutest headbands, I fell head over heels for Bird & Bow. The headbands are handmade by a fellow mama working out of her home. She's got a great eye for what is both fun and functional. An ice cream cone-themed headband? Squeal! Delicate silver vines? Adorbs. A sassy slice of lemon to adorn her lovely locks? Oh, just stop it.

Image courtesy of Bird & Bow.

Why buy: Keeping the hair out of their eyes is a great excuse for decorating your kids.

Buy for: Lady babies, young misses, and other small folk with a penchant for hair accessories

Lil Fishy Kids Clothing and Accessories (www.lilfishy.com) $20 and up

So, having made peace with the fact that Pork Chop just ain't down with wearing hair bows, I was thrilled to discover Lil Fishy clothing and accessories during a jaunt to D.C.'s Eastern Market. These kids' clothes are so, well, kid-like. They're not miniaturized adult wear. With tees featuring jungle animals, dinosaurs, and woodland creatures, I can still get my cute kid fix while also protecting my toddler's tough guy street cred. Lil Fishy sells onesies, tees, dresses, and bibs. Most items are gender-neutral; all are 100% cotton and made in the U.S. of A.

Image courtesy of Lil Fishy.

Why buy: Your kids may feel otherwise, but nudity isn't always an option. The clothes are handmade, all cotton, and washed twice to protect sensitive skin.

Buy for: The 5-and-under set who don't dig sparkles or corporate logos

Special Mention: Suburban Haiku and Science of Parenthood

Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence (www.suburbanhaiku.com)

Check back here on Monday for a full review of this book by Peyton Price, the comedic genius/documentarian of the day-to-day behind Suburban Haiku. Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence is everything you've dreamed poetry could be: a good laugh in less than 17 syllables. Forget the crappy wine; this is a hostess gift worth giving. Check out this link for purchase info.

Image courtesy of Suburban Haiku.

Science of Parenthood (www.zazzle.com/scienceofparenthood)

On Wednesday, I sang the praises of SoP's Big Book of Parenting Tweets (check it out). I still maintain that the book is hysterically funny and a perfect gift for the parents in your life. What I didn't mention in my review, because I'm a literary purist, is that SoP also has a Zazzle shop where you can pick up sick parenting swag (which I think means "neat stuff"). Mugs, posters, cards, magnets — all with scientifically accurate and/or painfully accurate illustrations and commentary from the gals behind SoP. Stocking stuffers anyone?

Image courtesy of Science of Parenthood.