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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 ( $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 (

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 (

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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Big Book of Parenting Tweets: Making You Tinkle with Laughter in 140 Characters or Less

I know, I know. I'm your go-to gal for personal essays about motherhood, identity, guilt, and runaway baby poop. But I'm changing things up this week. The holiday season is upon us, kinda like how oatmeal is upon us when a toddler sneezes after taking a big bite of his breakfast. Bam! Candles and bedazzled pine cones are all up in our grills like half-chewed Quaker Oats.

This Friday, Black Friday to be exact, I'll be rolling out my first ever gift guide, highlighting small businesses and independent artists. For many years, I toiled away in the hellish splendor of a shopping mall. It took decades for my holiday spirit to recover. I want to help you, dear readers, avoid a similar fate, to feel more "deck the halls" than "#$@&%*! the halls" this season.

So, when I heard that some of my favorite bloggers had teamed up to edit and illustrate The Big Book of Parenting Tweets, I knew I had to add the book to my list of holiday must-haves.* Kate Hall (of Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine) and Jessica Ziegler and Norine Dworkin-McDaniel (of Science of Parenthood) have combed the Twitterverse in search of the most pee-pee inducing parenting tweets.

Do you drink hot coffee through a straw? Febreeze your clothes in lieu of a shower? No time for leisurely activities like eating? Then The Big Book of Parenting Tweets is the book for you. I promise you will laugh in less time than it takes for your kid to jam a bean in her ear or to drown your new iPhone in the potty.

You deserve a laugh (at your children's expense).
Get your copy on Amazon.

You don't have to be a Twitter user to appreciate how much hilarity can be packed into 140 characters or less. I've gathered a few of my favorite tweets below just to prove my point: 
  • I just sucked melted chocolate off my 2yo’s filthy fingers, in case you’re from the future and wondering how the outbreak started. —Dad and Buried (@DadAndBuried) 
  • This margarita tastes like I don't even have kids. — Kate Hall (@KateWhineHall). 
  • Yesterday I cleaned my house, which is dumb because we still live here. —Amy Flory (@FunnyIsFamily). 
  • Kids are like sponges. They smell bad. —Bunmi Laditan (@BunmiLaditan) 
I spent a good half-hour reading quotes from this book to my husband as he prepped dinner. He nearly burned himself while laughing. My point being that a few good tweets can really improve your mood, especially when they result in schadenfreude. (No husbands or pots of homemade chili were harmed in the reading of this book.)

Need a host or hostess gift? This book is a fantastic option. Note that moms and dads are equally represented in this collection, so grab a copy for your husband for Christmas or for your sister for Hanukah or for yourself because YOU DON'T NEED A HOLIDAY TO TREAT YOURSELF TO A DAMN LAUGH EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE. Ahem. Snap up a copy on Amazon today and you'll be supporting small business owners, fellow parents, and good humor this season.

*I was not paid to endorse this book. I was not offered swag in exchange for this review. Kate, Norine, and Jessica didn't even ask if I'd like some cookies or something. Jessica did say that she'd let me hug her if we ever met in a mall and I wasn't wearing any socks, but it's possible that was a dream and not a real conversation. Bottom line: I don't write sponsored posts or feature ads on my site. This book is genuinely funny. I think you would like it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When There's No Such Thing as Trying Too Hard

In the before times, my husband and I would go about our Sundays slowly, shuffling around the kitchen in our robes, brewing coffee, listening to the radio, frying up an extra strip of bacon for the dog.

In the now times, we have a toddler.

Our son doesn’t care that it’s the weekend. He doesn’t even know what a weekend is. He can’t appreciate the Lord’s day, which is a day of rest after bottomless mimosa brunch.

Fortunately, we live a scant few miles from the most kid-friendly coffee shop in all of suburbia. The shop is equal parts caffeine, homemade pastries, comfy seating, and toddler Thunderdome. Tucked discreetly next to a couch, near the far corner of the shop, is a wooden train table and bins filled with toy cars, blocks, and figurines. Near the lurid display of lemon tarts, pumpkin bundt cakes, and oversized cookies is a modest refrigerator stocked with low-fat string cheese, apple slices, and milk boxes.

Woe unto the businessman who tries to take a sales call during his coffee break; nothing can be heard above the din of frothing milk and the joyful thud of children pummeling each other with wooden toys.

For Shelby and me, scones and mugs of dark roast have taken the place of champagne cocktails and aspirin chasers. Like so many parents in our neighborhood, late Sunday mornings are spent at the coffee shop, where our kids can run amok while the adults commiserate. Even at my most socially awkward, I find it easy to strike up conversation with the other moms and dads nibbling muffins on the sly as they dole out carrot sticks to the little ones.

Last Sunday, the coffee shop was brimming. We were lucky to snag the last two-top, and right next to the play area. At the train table, a few preschool-aged boys were alternately maiming plastic pedestrians with a caboose and engaging a dinosaur in battle with a bulldozer. Pork Chop scrambled off of Shelby’s lap and joined the fray.

At the table to our left, a dad leaned back casually in his chair, a backpack, jackets, and hats stacked at his feet. He watched his two boys playing, occasionally piping up to say, “Colin, Joseph, please share.”

To the far right, a newish mom hovered over her daughter, a spindly babe crawling toward the bin of figurines.

And in the middle sat a mom and dad, their table littered with crumpled napkins, a leaking sippy cup, and empty plates. The dad wore a Steelers sweatshirt and scrolled through his smart phone, glancing up nervously every few seconds. The mom sat bolt upright and wore a smile that made my cheeks ache vicariously.

Smiling mom turned to the casual single dad, “I can’t believe how well they’re getting along! They’re just playing so nicely.” Then turning to her son, “Jack, aren’t you just having the best time with Colin and Joseph? Aren’t you having so much fun?”

In response, Jack, a fair-skinned boy with soft brown curls, snatched up a wooden railroad tie and used it to smack my son on the head. “We don’t like babies much,” he explained to my toddler.

“Careful now. Careful.” I said, just as his mom leapt up, pleading, “No hands, buddy! No hands!”

Jack turned slowly toward my voice. His pale eyes were fixed somewhere on the wall behind me. He dropped his weapon.

“It’s okay,” I mouthed to the smiling mom. Pork Chop had seen worse. Pork Chop had done worse. But the mom hurried over to crouch by my son’s side.

She stroked my son’s head tenderly, nervously. She glanced up at me. “How old?”

“Not quite two.”

“Would you look at those eyelashes! If I had lashes like those, I’d never need mascara. Oh, you’re just gonna be a heartbreaker when you grow up. Aren’t you?”

Abruptly, smiling mom turned toward new mom. “And how old is your little one?”

“Oh, Avery’s 10 months.”

“What a doll baby! And did you hear that, Jack? Her name is Avery! That’s what we were going to name you if you had been a girl. We love the name Avery. Love it. It’s our favorite girl name, isn’t it?”

Jack grabbed both Colin and Joseph by the neck, pulling them into a group hug. Then he squeezed until the boys turned red in the face. “Look how strong I am.”

“Hands, Jack! Hands to yourself!”

The new mom gaped briefly at the boys, then turned toward me from across the train table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch it. How old is your son?”

I opened my mouth to speak.

“Oh, he’s almost 2!” Jack’s mom swooped in, smiling, smiling, smiling with all her might.

I nodded and sat back in my seat. Shelby raised his coffee to his lips and covertly cocked his eyebrow at me. I shrugged.

“This place is just the best, isn’t it?” asked Jack’s mom. “Now that we’re homeschooling, it’s so nice to find a kid-friendly hangout. Lots of new buddies to meet!” Then she paused, cleared her throat, and dug into her purse. “The boys have just played so nicely together, haven’t they? So, so nice. Let’s just go ahead and set up a play date, right?” At that, she whipped out a stack of business cards, handing one to the single dad, who blinked and nodded in a gesture that conveyed both confusion and consent.

Shortly after, we took the last of our coffee to go and loaded Pork Chop back into his car seat.

At a red light, Shelby turned to me, “Well, she was intense, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah, you could say that. Did you hear her answer for me? She was trying just a little too hard.”

I heard myself say it: “Trying.”

“Trying” ­— in all of its incarnations. “To make an effort.” "To test the quality of." “To be difficult.”

Like so many moms on the Internet, I’d just read the moving open letter "Dear Parent: About THAT Kid" by educator and blogger Amy Murray. I thought about the difficult kid, the oddball, the troublemaker. I thought about “THAT kid.” I thought about Jack’s mom, smiling like it was her job, turning a free-for-all into a bromance, trying so damn hard.

I turned back to Shelby, saying, "I think maybe . . . " but trailed off at first, unable to articulate why I suddenly felt ashamed.

What, I wondered, would compel a mom to carry business cards for play dates? 

I tried again. "I think maybe that kid must have a hard time making friends. A really hard time."

Shelby was quiet a moment. "I think you might be right."

"And if he can't make friends . . ." I said slowly, working out my thought as I spoke, "it must be pretty hard for her to make friends. I mean, if your kid is THAT kid, what do you do?"

You smile a lot. You print out business cards. You try and you try and you hope that, one Sunday morning over cappuccino and juice boxes, something clicks. That someone gets him, and by extension, gets you.  That someone picks your kid for his team. That your kid has a team. That someone — someone else — picks your kid.

In the backseat, Pork Chop flipped through a picture book. "Lemon? Lemon? Lemon?" he asked, pointing to a yellow fish.

"It's a fish, buddy. A fish."

"No! No!" Pause. "Lemon?"

To us, our son is perfect. He destroyed our lazy Sunday mornings. He is lovable. He cries when we make him wear socks. He is a wonder. He calls the baby monitor "Grandma." He is worthy.

I don't know if OUR kid will ever be THAT kid, but if that day comes, I'll be down at the coffee shop, smiling 'til it hurts.

Smiling until it hurts, I tell you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

NYC: The Good, the Bad, and The Surrealist

My weekend in the Big Apple has come and gone. Shelby and I dropped the kid and the dog on my parents' doorstep and hopped a train from Baltimore to NYC, drinks in hand by 11 a.m.


Actually, we packed our Equinox to the hilt with butt wipes, footie pajamas, and dog kibble. We drove to my folks' condo in Maryland; took 45 minutes to unload the car; reviewed my three-page baby instruction manual with both my dad and my stepmom, allowing for a follow-up question-and-answer session; set up the travel crib, tastefully arranging stuffed animals in each corner; explained what "poopity" means ("I need to poop on the potty in T-minus 10 seconds"); suggested that Pork Chop lay off the sugar; fed Pork Chop a scone; watched as our son gleefully flung picture frames from a low shelf; and left for the train station just as the dog began to nervously circle the dining room table.

Although we did board our train by 11, we didn't actually have drinks until noon. We are, after all, well-bred. Also, it took an hour before we realized that the snack car sold booze.

Sexiest snack car ever! (JK. This was snapped at our hotel's aptly named Blue Bar.)

The bottom line is that we did, in fact, make it to New York. I'm a touch relieved that no one was twirling on the sidewalk a la Mary Tyler Moore; those walkways are tight on space. Instead, folks either walked while texting or stood still while muttering, "Designer handbag? You want Louis Vuitton?" Interesting fact: If you are a lady with acrylic fingernails and sequined jeans, there is a 90% chance you cannot resist the siren call of "Louis Vuitton."

But let me quit meandering and tell you what went down. You know me by now, so you also know that I could take a 2-day trip and turn it into the great American novel. Rather than recounting every detail, let me cut to The Good, The Bad, and The Surrealist.

The Good

The Algonquin Hotel / Porn for Bookworms: We stayed at The Algonquin Hotel, site of the famous Algonquin Round Table — a gathering of some of the greatest writers and wits of the early 20th century. The New Yorker was practically born at that hotel, and god knows I love a pedantic cartoon! Round table member Dorothy Parker — a poet, short story writer, and satirist — once said, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." That quote is particularly meaningful to me, because I love plants.

I'm sitting at THE round table, concentrating on balancing that pumpkin on my head.

The New York Public Library / That Place Where They Filmed Ghostbusters: Our hotel was just a few blocks from the famed New York Public Library. The locale was a cornucopia of wonder: Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions who guard the library's entrance; the intricately decorated barrel ceilings; the white-gloved researchers, turning the pages of rare first editions; pretending I was Egon Spengler, inventor of the proton pack, discovering a ghost in the self-help section. (Come on. If you were relegated to haunting the sad pervs who just want to read Fifty Shades of Grey for free, you'd definitely be boning up on some Oprah-recommended self-affirmations.) Right, so between the books and the Ghostbusters flashbacks, my 8-year-old self was practically tinkling in her acid-wash jeans.

Scalini Fedeli / Fancy-Ass Food for Fancy-Ass People: On Saturday night, we dressed up, hopped a cab for Tribeca, took a parting glance at our savings account, and settled in for a three-course meal at Scalini Fedeli. The waiters wore tuxes. The male dinners wore pinkie rings and dyed their mustaches to match their toupees. I knew right away that we would love our meal and/or be collateral damage in a mob hit. Obviously, I didn't die, but if I had, at least I would have died in the sweet, pillowy embrace of my goat cheese gnocchi. And did I mention that they served us sorbet between courses? Sweet fruity sorbet! The waiter told me it was a palate cleanser. Well, well, well. That was a revelation. I have a half-pound of Halloween candy left in my pantry, and let's just say that I'll be doing some serious palate cleansing this November.

Spending Time with a Friend / Free Booze: For months, I've chatted with Leslie from Hungry Little Animal. Mostly, we send each other Holy Bible-length instant messages on Facebook while our respective children eat pennies, play with knives, are overcome by ennui, whatever. Because Leslie lives in New York City, she invited my husband and me to drop by for cocktails. My enthusiasm for finally meeting her in person was matched only by my thirst for free booze. I was not disappointed on either front. Leslie and I chatted easily. Her daughter is tiny and wide-eyed and amazingly articulate at just 3 years old. ("What did you think of trick-or-treating?" her mom asked. "I did not care for it," the wee one responded with the complete composure.) And Leslie's friendly, easy-going husband whipped up St. Germain cocktails that made me feel fabulously old-timey, in that I couldn't remember much after I drank them. Huzzah!

Little Italy / Chinatown / The Realization of My Ricotta Cheese Fantasy: We strolled through both Little Italy and Chinatown. The two neighborhoods blend one into the other. Shops selling dried salamis and plastic replicas of the Pieta muscle up to markets teeming with explicit-looking geoduck clams (Google it) and baskets of cloud ear fungus. The sights were amazing, even if the smells sometimes made me question my faith in God. We wandered for an hour or two, and just when we agreed to hoof it back uptown for lunch, I spotted the Cannoli Express cart. You read that correctly: a cannoli cart. Just sitting there on a side street like it was no big deal, like little Italian cream-filled pastries aren't a sign that there's hope for this world, like "cannoli" doesn't mean "tube of fulfillment" in Italian. I ate three.

. . . and nothing was ever the same again.

The Bad

Hot Dogs / Whatever the Hell I Ate in Central Park: Our fancy-ass Italian dinner was amazing, but what I really wanted out of NYC was a hot dog. What can I say? I like my food to be mysterious and tubular. Shelby and I stopped at a cart on the outskirts of Central Park. Perhaps I should have been concerned that there were three men working at the cart: one guy to take my order, one guy to tend the food, and one guy to scowl at me. I ordered a chili dog. What I got was neither chili nor dog. It was, by my best guess, the pale, sickly cousin of a sausage, which guy #2 split in half lengthwise and doused with some kind of sausage moisturizing agent. The whole sad, wet thing was then covered in a baked beans/tomato sauce combo. I took two bites and now I have PTSD.

Migraine in a New York City Cab / 2014 Space Odyssey: It's not New York's fault that I got a migraine on Saturday night. I'd slept poorly the week before. I didn't drink enough water. I had wine with dinner. In short, I was asking for it. The jackhammers of pain began their miserable work just as we paid the check at Scalini Fedeli. We quickly snagged a cab back to our hotel, but a 4-mile drive through Manhattan on a Saturday night feels a lot like being in a Kubrick film. The flashing neon signs, the honking of angry horns, the sway of the car weaving in and out of traffic. One of two things is going to happen during this ride, I thought to myself: I'm going to vomit down the front of my new thigh-shaper tights or I'm going to exit this dimension via a star gate and witness my own death from a cool, out-of-body distance. (Note: Neither happened. Thank you, legally prescribed narcotics!)

Subway Smell / The World's Biggest Potty: For cost and reliability, New York's subway system has it all over DC's Metro. But for general lack of pee-pee and rats, DC's Metro is still the classiest act in public mass transit. Seriously, New York, the combo of uric acid and rodenticide burned a hole in my sinuses.
NYC Subway Pro Tip: Don't touch anything.  

Hoda Kotb / Not Tina Fey: I have nothing against Hoda Kotb, cohost of TODAY's "Kathie Lee & Hoda" show, but, look, I went to New York to become best friends with Tina Fey. (And to sleep past 6 AM. (And to spend quality time with my husband. (But mostly the best friends thing.))) Shelby and I took in 70 floors at ol' 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and the only celeb we saw was Hoda. She looks tall. She looks pretty. She even looks friendly. I know in my heart, though, that she wouldn't understand my psychosexual relationship with Tostitos. But Tina would.

The Surrealist

MoMA / Dingus Drawings: I wanted to get my nerd-on for 2 hours. Just 2 damn hours. Shelby knew well in advance of our departure for NYC that I wanted to visit MoMA. And we did. There were works by Warhol and Matisse and Picasso and Pollock. There was an exhibition of computer-generated "living" organisms, manmade voice boxes, biodegradable mine-sweeping devices — art that pushes the limits of invention. I pointed out the delicate Bell-47D1 helicopter hung from the museum ceiling, thinking my favorite aerospace engineer might find it interesting. I steered Shelby toward the video installations, toward the untamed canvases of Jean Dubuffet, but it seems that my husband's favorite work of art is the selfie, followed perhaps by the act of pointing out sculptures that look like poop.

We left early and went to FAO Schwarz to look at stuffed animals and buy candy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

New York State of Mind

Despite having grown up a paltry 3-hour drive from NYC, I am ashamed to admit that I've never spent quality time in the Big Apple. In college, I attended an off-off Broadway show in a cramped theatre-come-apartment, but the good Catholic girls of Notre Dame were hustled onto a bus as soon as the actors took their final bow.

My ignorance about New York City is a source of embarrassment, but also of great mystery. More than a few of my friends live in the city and try to satisfy my curiosity with first-hand accounts — about hailing cabs in the rain, people watching in Central Park, or eating matzo ball soup at the ubiquitous corner diner. Their comings and goings would sound, frankly, ordinary, were in not for the soft neon hum that saturates each undertaking.

Reality, however, has never gotten in the way of my fantasy life. Though the tide of yellow cabs and the cozy, greasy warmth of a diner have their appeal, whenever I imagine NYC, everyone is doing the Mary Tyler Moore twirl. Everyone is gaping and throwing hats into the air with sophisticated abandon, hats that just go up, up and never come down. Times Square is ablaze with honking and the clack of expensive heels, a kind of song, the the only lyrics to which are "This is your big break." The full moon balances atop the Empire State Building, beaming down like a spot light, glamorizing even the cops and the doormen and the other non-actors.

Driver, take me to the bagels and the knock-off purses and the celebrities!

But is the Empire State Building anywhere near Times Square? I have no idea. And why don't the hats ever come down? Do they hang suspended above the sidewalk? Do they disappear? This is my fantasy, but even I can't make sense of that part.

It should also be noted that there are no toddlers. Diaper wipes and apple sauce don't factor into the whole metropolitan idyll. Which is why we'll be leaving Pork Chop with my folks when Shelby and I board a train for NYC. Indeed, fantasy and reality are about to collide like a bunch of idiots twirling around on a New York City sidewalk.

The trip, which will take place during an undisclosed weekend (because burglars) has been a long time in the making, meaning that my anticipation and anxiety have reached dizzying heights. I have treated my nerves, however, with a numbing dose of retail therapy. Because what a mom with a relatively new home, a part-time job, and an unrequited love of Internet stardom needs is a $70 faux-leather mini skirt. With pockets! It has pockets! For, I don't know, stashing a few menthol cigarettes or a small shank.

My husband is an inveterate traveler; he bought our train tickets, booked the hotel, even made dinner reservations. Whereas I have been buying clothes in the hope that, when a literary agent sees me on the street, she thinks, "Would you get a load of those slacks! Now there's a woman with a story to tell." Common sense also dictates that if I bump into Tina Fey while I'm approachably eating a hot dog, I need to be wearing tall boots and a cable-knit sweater. It's just what a future best friend would wear. Wrinkle cream also figures prominently into my getaway preparations, because New Yorkers are attractive. Fact. And I wouldn't want to be taken for some kind of tourist.

Two days. That's how long we'll be in the city. And by "city" I mean "another city." We live a few miles from Washington D.C. — the seat of American power, crammed to the beltway with history, diverse, bustling. Oddly enough, I never find myself thinking, "If we run into Barry and Michelle at dinner tonight, I'd best be wearing my 'Why, yes, Mr. President, I am available to write speeches!' blazer.

But NYC isn't my city. For almost four decades, it's been a place I've visited only in books or in movies, a spectacular Frankenstein's monster cobbled together from The GodfatherFame, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. I know. I know it won't be exactly what I imagine it to be. And that's for the best. How disappointing to invest all of this anxiety, all this anticipation, only to have my expectations merely satisfied.  The New York of my imagination sounds lovely, but I've already been there.