Emergency Bikini Body Part III

25 Jun

As we touchdown on the runway of 4th of July week, it’s time to wrap up this party and talk about the very last last last minute tips for a beach body so you can get to the important part: relaxing. (You can read the first parts of the series here and here).

chillax

Day of

Eats

Let’s consider what to eat the night before and morning of your vacation or event.

Google “foods that cause bloat” and you’ll get 866,000 results. That’s what I call info overload. Spend a little time sifting through the advice, you can find basically any and all foods listed at least once somewhere. Even foods that are quite healthy and nutritious can cause bloat if you don’t already eat them frequently. That’s the catch-22: if your diet already has nutritional holes, introducing new things to fill those holes quickly and all at once can cause bloat. That’s why advice to avoid certain foods is kind of a muddy prospect. Ehh…kind of yes and kind of nah.

There’s the usual suspects like cruciferous vegetables (ex: brussels sprouts and cabbage) and beans. Then some say apples and peaches as well (while other sources say they actually stop bloat). Those folks over there say dairy causes bloating.  Then these guys say that high fat foods puff you up due to longer digestion time (while others say the fat-packed avocado is a top flat belly food). Others sources go as far as to say avoid artificial sweeteners, chewing gum, eating fast, and drinking through a straw. In the end, nothing is safe but an IV of black coffee and dandelion greens chewed at a cow’s pace.

That’s pretty silly.

You know your body best. After years of observation I’ve discovered that bread and salt are two of my biggest bloat triggers, so a practical breakfast for me on a beach morning is something like yogurt with berries and a boiled egg, or a banana with natural peanut butter. For someone who has issues with dairy, or with fat, it might be totally different.

Women’s Health has a huge archive of daily eating plans. (Most of them make me depressed and slightly hangry just looking at them, but you’re bound to find examples of meals that avoid whatever your trigger is).

But the number one bloater to avoid?

A large meal.

That’s the only one-size-fits-all solution: just keep meals small and frequent, particularly 1-2 days before you want to look trim, and you’ll be golden.

Elemental Side note: Water or Gas?

If you suffer from bloating and aren’t sure why, do a body check at the end of the day. If your bloat is due to water retention, you would see swelling in the feet and ankles. Reducing sodium intake and drinking more water will help that. If it’s all in the tummy, the culprit is probably gas, which comes from food. Only time and attention can pinpoint what your individual trigger might be.

Plank

Right before you head out to the beach (or step into ya fancy clothes), do 10 push-ups and hold a minute long elbow plank. I confess almost never get to do this step because by the time we’re at this point of readiness there’s generally a swimsuit-clad child jumping on me and whining at the door to go out (is this a preschooler or a puppy?), but when I do there’s a real difference.

Get Up, Stand Up

To look immediately thinner in two steps:

1. Roll shoulders back

2. Pull tailbone forward (tuck hips) without squeezing the tush (check out the first installment in this series for details).

Out of all posture checks, this is the best because it’s how classical dancers are trained to stand (have you seen a ballerina?). It takes practice to stay that way when you’re used to slouching, particularly if you’re a female who is #blessedinthechest, but it’s the fastest, easiest trick in the book. Try it in the mirror. Then try it on the beach and see what happens.

Get in the water!

You’re not doing yourself any favors by sitting or standing by the pool edge, trying to remember to keep it sucked in. Everybody looks cute swimming around like a mermaid (or man – no hate or discriminate). Plus, you’ll automatically be getting more activity into your day.

And One Parting DON’T

As an experiment, I tried a DIY body wrap (anything for my readers). And it was a huge fail. The plastic just bunched up into a thin band and made me itch, plus I lost all the clasps on the ace bandages. Leave it to the professionals, or better yet, ignore that snake oil entirely.

 

So that’s it! The Cushion Cut Beach Body countdown. But just remember the thing the makes you the most attractive on the beach, male, female, young old–is having a good time. Take it from this guy.

Happy Chillaxin.

 

Emergency Beach Body Part II

12 Jun

Five to Seven Days Before

Strategic Suits

If you’ve been following the first part of the plan, you may already be noticing a difference. Time to go suit shopping! (Feel free to skip this section if the event you’re counting down to is a wedding or something like that).

Rashguards, patterns, color blocking, high waists, deep plunges, funky cut-outs: coming from a girl who grew up in the string bikini era, there’s a lot to love about the resurgence of sexy one-pieces. Used to be wanting a little more coverage meant you were confined to speedos or unflattering tankinis. Now there’s tons of fun choices with nary a skirt suit among them (although if skirts are your thing, go for it!). Here’s a few of my favorites. There’s something for everyone here, from funky to preppy, petite to plus!

Swim 2015 CollageLeft to right, top to bottom:

Athleta Rash Guard — Splendid Spory Blues SwimsuitMichael Kors One Shoulder SuitBeverly Swimwear Daring DollyAsos Petite High Waist Deep PlungeMara Hoffman Harvest Cut Out Print SwimsuitGabifresh City Slicker Plus Size Wrap BikiniZimmerman Floating Halter Swimsuit

Here’s the top I got for myself this year. Something new and interesting to draw the eye up! (Top: Bocas Criss Cross Halter by 6 Shore Road, Bottom: old Victoria Secret)

Meaghans Bachelorette

I blacked out the other ladies not because they’re not beautiful each and all, but because I don’t have their permission to post their pic on the interwebs.

Speaking of tops…

Make sure yours fits right. You can see I have some spillage in the above pic…see, what had happened was, my size was sold out, so I went with the next size down because it was the kind of top that stretches to fit (the next size up seemed like it’d be too much fabric). I really don’t recommend buying a suit that is not available in your best size, but what can I say, I’d been eyeballing that top since last summer and when I saw it on sale I couldn’t stop myself.

But anyway. In general you really don’t want a top that’s too small, or you’ll get bra bulge. Much of the time, what we see as back fat is actually breast tissue overflowing from a too-small top. When shopping, don’t even look at the size on the tag. Just bring a few different sizes into the fitting room that look like they might fit to the eyeball. And don’t forget to try on your older suits to make sure they still fit and are holding up OK.

Tan

OK Yes, I did just make fun of this in the last post. But to some extent, a tan (faux of course) really does perform some kind of trompe l’oeil on the body. I usually double up on my tummy tan, not because I’m trying to sculpt muscles or anything, but because it regularly stays 45% paler than the rest of my skin. There are so many excellent self-tanners at all price points, you don’t have to worry about choosing between skin damage and being orange, smelly, and streaky anymore. I read recently that up to 90% of aging we see on the skin is due to sun damage. (!) Excuse me, I’ll be over here building a time machine to go back and kick my pasty ginger ass circa 2002 laying out in SPF 2.

If you’re in Atlanta, I cannot say enough good things about the custom airbrush tans at RAW Bronzing Studio. Sadly it’s a special-occasion only treat for me, but they do an amazing (and very fast) job. It was raining the last time I went and the receptionist actually walked me to my car under an umbrella while she got wet herself so I wouldn’t ruin “my investment.” How’s that for service?

Here are my two favorite at-home tanners.

Neutrogena Micro Mist Airbrush Sunless Tan

This is pretty close to fool proof. I wasn’t even capable of spraying, as the direction indicated, “in a single smooth motion” and it still turned out beautifully. I just smoothed it over with my hand after spraying to be sure it was even. It dries very fast, so fast I was able to take a shower, shave, and airbrush tan, all during my hour long lunch break from work. Yes, it really does spray upside down. No, it does not get all over your carpet and everything in a 5 foot radius. I do recommend finding a well-ventilated area; honestly outside would be best. They aren’t kidding about the airbrush particles–EWG would not approve. HA.

L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelettes

If the spray still glooks you out (understandable), give tan towels a try. These are also very easy to use, are a nice natural color, and take like two seconds to wipe down. I even use it on my face to great effect. To do your back, grab one end of the towel in each hand and sort of floss it in an up and down motion. You’ll get your back evenly, and also a wonderful shoulder-opening yoga move. Can’t do that with a lotion or foam!

One caveat: these both do have a touch of that self-tanner smell, not bad, but it’s there. But I am freakishly strange because I actually kind of like it. It reminds me of summer.

Eat in Skinny Jeans

Don’t even play, I know you all have your “eating pants.” You know, those stretchy things you put on at Thanksgiving so you can comfortably overstuff? The opposite also works. Put on something–anything really–that is fitted and has little or no give in the fabric. I have a pair of melon skinny pants I ordered online that, as it turns out, have absolutely no stretch. Whenever I wear those things, I noticed I don’t (maybe can’t would be a better word) overeat. When you’re close to busting out of your clothes you generally don’t feel tempted to gorge.

Lest you think this is some kind of freaky pro-ana trick, let me assure you I am not the first to suggest something like this (it was actually Dr. Oz, and was swiped up quickly by popsugar).

OR, why not go big or go home: have meals in your snazzy new swimsuit (no coverup)! I confess I’ve never actually tried this at home, but I have worn my suit during lunches on vacation, just incidentally, and I do tend to eat lighter. This is a good choice if you have GERD, which is exacerbated by tight waist bands.

Drink Water

It would be remiss of me not to mention the water thing, even though we’ve all heard it a million times before. But if you’re not already doing it, a week out from your big event is the time to start pounding nature’s nectar like a champ (watery fruits and veggies also count). If you’re retaining water at all, this is the best/easiest/cheapest way to get rid of the bloat.

Get on the Reg

While we’re on the subject, make sure your digestive system is a well-oiled machine. Water helps with that majorly, but if bloat is a real problem for you (it is for me), pop a probiotic. There’s a whole lotta choices in that aisle now, but you want to look for one with Bifidobacterium infantis–that’s the only strain that’s effective on GI problems like bloating (according to a review at Northwestern University).

Miralax is effective for a bit of stoppage (just ask T), and pick up some Gas-X if tummy bubbles are a contributing factor, but please please please do not take laxatives to lose bloat. Huge mistake.  You will regret. Do not want.

OK that’s it for today! Keep up the micro-workouts and good(ish) eating, and stay tuned for what to do at the very last last minute before you hit the sand!

Summer Reading: Ghost Stories

9 Jun

Never fear, I’m cooking up part II of the ER beach body series as we speak. But in the meantime let’s talk summer reading!

Completely by accident, I found myself reading four books at the same time that all had something to do with ghosts or other such ghastly creatures. And by an even greater stroke of coincidence, they were all good. Here for your reading pleasure are my reviews, in the order I finished them.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I received an ARC of this title from LibraryThing* and it was in – ahem – PDF format, which is worrisome. How good could it be if they couldn’t even be bothered with epub at least? But I thought I’d give it a try since I found myself with the time, and it was a short novel. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a YA book set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, but it was quite unusual in all other ways. The narrator Wasp, has the lonely, undesirable, and psuedo-religious calling to catch ghosts and record their habits, a role she just so happens to keep by yearly fights to the death. When an unusually powerful and guilt-wracked ghost enlists her help to find the soul of his dead partner, Wasp wonders if the terrifying and beautiful underworld might just be a better deal than the raw one she gets on earth.  First, I’ll admit there was a bevvy of technical tripwires (ambiguous transitions, a few loose ends, and a tendency to overuse interrupted and ellipsed dialogue) that detracted a bit from the novel’s overall clarity. There were even a few outright errors (like misplaced pronouns) that made me wonder if I was reading some kind of beta version. But the dream-like underworld the author paints, each layer an entire universe utterly different from the one before and resting inside each other like nesting dolls, is amazingly creative. It’s almost worth reading for that alone, but I think many will also enjoy, as I did, the slightly different take on the strong-and-prickly female lead. The lack of romance between any of the characters is a bit like stepping off a staircase in the dark only to find you’re on level ground–disorienting, yet oddly relieving. The core themes that replace it–trust, teamwork, reliance and self-sufficiency–will speak to many.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*The ARC copy was provided with no strings attached, except if I rate the book on the LibraryThing site I’m more likely to win books in the future. It’s purely my choice to review it here. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors for me (like Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Moore, and sad to admit Jodi Piccoult) whose books I’m almost 100% guaranteed to enjoy. This one in particular though, by some kind of bookworm’s alchemy I can only haphazardly summarize as “the right book at the right time,” struck a cord with me. Not exactly a ghost story as much as a fantastical play on particle physics, Ocean tells the story of a boy (Gaiman gets inside a child’s mind like no other) and his brief but formative run-in with the supernatural underbelly of his rural English home and the Hempstocks, a mysterious trio of women who have lived in the farm at the end of the lane for untold ages. If you think of piles of rags, bath tubs, and the color pink unthreatening, you won’t after this little tale. Despite the overall pall of terror cast on the events of the plot, you’ll find yourself feeling the loss of it keenly at the end (hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). It’s a gentle reminder that even our darkest moments are lined with unbelievable bright silver, and to lose one means the loss of the other.

I listed to the audio version read aloud by the author, and it was as perfectly digestible as the farm suppers the Hempstocks serve up. It’s just a good, strange, wonderful story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Also a rural setting, albeit more backwater than idyllic, The Winter People is a little bit mystery and a little bit horror, which I think is the author’s specialty (this is the first of her I’ve read). This book was chock-full of storylines and characters that pushed the book to the edge of chaos, but McMahon managed to herd them into a streamline narrative against all odds. The title refers to ghosts that linger on the land like the long New England winter. But the real danger is the temporarily resurrected dead–don’t call them the Z word–that come from a cave in the woods. Despite the variety of chills that this book sends down your spine–including some pedestrian ones involving greed and guns–the real horror is the uncontrollable longing of the grief-stricken. More specifically, to what ends such longing drives the grieving.

There were a few things that didn’t really work for me–the pocketed braid for one–but I chalk that up to reading it on a Kindle. I sometimes miss things in that format.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

If it didn’t say so right on the cover, I would never have believed this was written by the same author who wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, so very different were the two. One thing I appreciated about this book, especially after Winter People, was the first person limited narration. Far from being constraining, it was revelatory to hear the story from one person instead of several, which if I’m being honest, is a device that sometimes feels like a cheat when it should have just been written in third omniscient. But I digress.

This was the most traditional haunting of the four books–straight up disembodied souls floating in secret passages. But in other ways the novel attempted to be unconventional, although its success in this is limited and perhaps in the eye of the reader. Again there are some parts that don’t quite work for me, the biggest being the aunt–not her motivations so much, those I understood perfectly–more her personality and mannerisms. In comparison to the other characters it felt overly heightened, which is saying a lot when the other characters include a homosexual tree-hugging ghost. Despite all of that, I really enjoyed seeing the story unfold. The old house was a character in itself too.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Read any good books lately?

How not to: Emergency Beach Body

3 Jun

Behold, a last-minute plan for that important event on the horizon, like a beach vacation or a Dirty Dancing Reenactment.

So you’ve got a thing coming up that you want to look good for. And here it is, summer already! Now what?

This is the first post in a short series with tips to help you get ready for (as one of my magazines once crassly put it), half-nakey season. All of course, geared toward the last-minute and lazy energy-efficient.

DON’T: expect miracles

Let’s start with the disclaimer: This plan isn’t going to significantly and permanently change your body. I get so irritated when I read about Victoria Secret models making vague recommendations about getting spray tans and watching what they eat before a bikini shoot, like it’s no biggie. There is absolutely no way around it. If you want to actually look like a model, you need to be slightly miserable. You need to work out hard (at least 90 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week) and think about every bite that goes into your body.

But my thoughts on the matter are: who wants to be slightly miserable? Most of us have jobs, kids (whether four- or two-legged), stuff going on, you know? This list is for actual humans. You know, those who want to live ya life, and simply look as good as possible doing it.

DO: something

At this point you might be tempted to throw your hands up and order a cheeseburger pizza. But even little somethings add up, promise.

Ten Days to Two Weeks Before

DON’T: do long, hard workouts

Long, strenuous workouts, like seven mile runs, aren’t the best plan (unless you’re already in a regular habit). Why? Because the average person is way more likely to overeat afterward and/or be more sedentary during the rest of the day, and maybe even skip the next day.

DO: Micro Workouts

Exercise every day, in bite-sized chunks. My favorite workouts are the 7-minute scientific workout, which is an app you can download to your phone and needs no equipment besides a chair (or couch). I also like this 4-minute workout (fair warning: it’s Tabata style, aka fall-on-the-floor intensity). I do them at night while watching TV. Who the heck can’t spare four minutes? You don’t even need to put on workout clothes or shoes.

If you have the time and energy to go a little harder than 4-7 minutes, try a 15-20 minute interval workout (I do P’s Ruthless videos which are great for both chicks and dudes) or here’s a free one. But seriously, don’t push it. The goal is to workout out every single day.

DON’T: fast or juice

I do not believe that drastic calorie drops under any circumstances are healthy. At best you’ll get hangry, and eat all the things–if not before your vacation, then definitely during. At worst, you’ll leach important nutrients from your system, weakening your immune system and making you susceptible to injury, illness, and fights with your significant other.

DO: pick your poison

Instead of trying to eliminate everything bad (that is to say, good) from your diet, cut just one dietary evil for a couple weeks.

Here are the four main things that will make the biggest difference:

White carbs – includes white potatoes but does not include high fiber grains like oatmeal or brown rice

Sugar – particularly when combined with carbs or in drinks

Alcohol – especially beer or cocktails with sugary mixers like soda or margarita mixer (sob!)

Sodium – such as is found in sneaky places like bread, condiments, and salad dressing

For most people, one category makes a bigger difference than others. Beer makes me bloat up like a blimp, for instance. It’s a shame because I really like beer, especially on a hot summer day. But I know that if I don’t want to go to the pool disguised as a puffer fish I’d better skip it.

If you’re having trouble choosing go for white carbs. Why? Because if you cut down on the carbs you’ll probably also cut down on salt and sugar automatically, without even having to make a special effort. (Note: I do not recommend low carb diets as a general lifestyle choice. This is just a temporary thing).

Let’s not get crazy here. I’m not saying you should forego cake at your husband’s birthday or suddenly become a teetotaler (like I said, this plan is for actual people with real lives). I’m just saying if you know you’re going to eat cake, don’t also have champagne. If you’re going to have cheese and/or mayo on your burger, leave off the bun. Go ahead and put butter and salt on your steamed veggies, but don’t get anything that comes in its own sauce. Remember, it’s only for ten days, not the rest of your life. You can handle anything for ten seconds days.

DON’T: attempt a thigh gap by sticking your butt out

There’s some kind of subconscious call, that I can only assume is evolutionary, that makes women stick their booties out when they want to look thin, instead of tuck under as you really should for proper posture. Leave the butt hike to the bikini model contestants. Honestly those girls scare me.

I always stand like this on the beach.

Because in reality, this is what happens.

DO: stretch away a pooch (dudes, this is you too)

A major culprit of potbellies in both men and women, even for those who are otherwise thin, is anterior pelvic tilt. APT is caused by tight psoas mucles (aka hip flexors) and a weak pelvic floor, and to some extent tight hammies and glutes. Why do we get this? Desk jobs, for one.

The psoas is the muscle that allowed our ape-y ancestors to begin walking upright so many eons ago. So it deserves some lovin’! There are many good resources to help combat this very common issue but I’ll show you the easiest stretch in the world. Do it once or twice daily to both sides.

Take a gentle high lunge.

Like so

Like so.

Keeping the back leg straight[ish], pull your tailbone forward (like in hip isolations, for my fellow dancers) until you feel a stretch at the front of the hip. Alternatively, you can think of someone scooping out your stomach with an ice cream scoop.

If the difference in the hip is too hard to see, look at the heel.

If the difference in the hips is too hard to see, look at the heel.

Hold for 20-30 seconds. Don’t push it, the effects are not immediate. That’s why this is in the 10-14 days ahead post.

Optional: lift arm and side bend in the same direction as the front knee.

APT stretch 3

You can put your hand on a chair or couch back for balance if needed.

Switch legs and repeat.

While we’re on the subject, working the pelvic floor is not just for ladies. Gents, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you overlook this crucial organ hammock.

So, confession: kegels skeeze me out big time. Not a fan. Luckily there are other ways to work the pelvic floor, and one you can do during the stretch above. Simply avoid squeezing your glutes when you tuck forward in the lunge–the PF takes over the action automatically.

Another easy PF activation is deep squats. This time, you do want to stick your bum out! Hold for a minute or two.

Squat yay nay

If I can share this embarrassing picture with you, the least you can do is like my post.

I have to hold on to a door knob because there’s a bone in the front of my ankle that’s so long, I can’t plant my heels and stay upright at the same time #weirdanatomy. But you normal people can also do this while watching TV. Or, as my mom always did, while brushing your teeth.

DON’T: forget dat back

Your back is part of your core. Give it a little attenshun and your whole tummy gets tighter. This move is fun and hits all the corset muscles. It’s perfect to do in place of bicycle crunches, which are both strenuous on the back and contribute to tightness in the psoas.

DO: the banana superman

Start in a superman. Think of someone pulling your arms and legs away from your body, as opposed to arching your back. Without letting your arms and legs touch the floor, roll over to your back in a banana shape. Keep rollin’ all the way through to superman on the other side. Then roll back the way you came. Go slow, otherwise you’re cheating by using momentum instead of muscles.

My photographer got a migraine at this point, so you’ll have to make due with a demo by this much less attractive chick.

Up next….what to do 5-7 days before your beach deadline!

Everything is Awesome

29 May

Happy Friday!

As if the three-week run of temps in the mid-80s wasn’t enough of an indication, Memorial Day’s passing means summer–season of warm nights and mosquito bites–is officially here!

The beginning of summer is my absolute most favoritist time of year. It’s time for picnics and outdoor movies when it’s nice, puddle hopping and reading when it’s not (which is basically every other day here. Since when is Atlanta the tropics?). It’s the time to grab that iced coffee, roll the windows down, and crank up the tunes. I hope summer 2k15’s playlist lives up to the bar set by last summer’s. I’m grooving on this track right now.

 

It feels like everything good and exciting is just ahead of you. For me that includes not one, but two beach trips. (Look for a post about emergency bikini-readiness in the near future!)

But a lot of good stuff is right here, right now. Here’s what I’m grooving on this month.

Venus Swirl

If you’re me, you’re wondering why you can spend 50% of your shower attempting to shave your knees and still see those light fluffy hairs the second you hit a patch of sunlight. Lo and behold, somebody finally took the technology that dudes use to hug chin stubble and made it into a lady razor. If you’ve heard of this and are wondering if it actually works? It does.

There’s now a baby-smooth place on the hollow of my ankle that probably hadn’t been graced with a blade in like, four months. Imagine that if you will. The only downside is you’ll have to get a second job to afford the refill cartridges, but hey. Beauty is pain.

Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure Topcoat

After trying about 42 brands of top coat (many of which were high end) trying to get a “gellish” effect, I got this one in a Hail Mary pass at Target. It’s a miracle! Check this out.

The blobs you see are from crappy cuticles and lack of skill.

The blobs you see are from crappy cuticles and lack of skill, not chipping.

This is day five of this manicure. On my right hand. And I type all day, do the dishes, and have a very deep purse to dig in.

One caveat is that it takes a bit of time to dry completely. So don’t do it an hour before bed or you’ll get sheet prints.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Fact, we’re living in a new golden age of TV. I’m always looking for new favorite shows to watch, especially a little off the beaten path. But if you’re part of a couple you know that you don’t always have the same favorites. P and I both got into this AMC show hard.

I’d never even heard of it, but Netflix’s scary accurate algorithm predicted I’d five-star like it, and I five-star did. (How did it know I am a Revolutionary War era nerd when most of what we Netflix is Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger? I’ll sure as hell never know.) We actually finished the available episodes weeks ago, and I still keep wishing I could watch it.

Mic Drop

BBC is making a TV drama about the Bronte Sisters.

Mic Drop Again

Colin Firth is playing Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady on Broadway.

Another openin’ of a Another Show

You may recall that a short play I wrote was accepted and produced in an original works festival called Onion Man Summer Harvest last year. This year I’m performing in that festival. P directed me in this short. We did not kill each other, even though he made me do improv (revenge for my making him help demonstrate choreo for Hairspray). The one I’m in is called Amber Light and it was written by one of the actors who performed in the play I wrote last year. This year she’s playing a character in a totally different play whose name happens to be Amber. How cool is that?

My scene partner J is rad-a-ma-tazz. Ours is one of only two heavy pieces in the showcase, so of course we can’t take a normal backstage photo.

That photobomb hand belongs to the playwright. We kept saying we were going to crop her out until we realized: she probably should’ve legit been in the pic HA.

Alas, it’s hard to get support for new work in this city of perennial Steel Magnolias and Legally Blonde revivals. If you’re in the area, I’m officially inviting you–it runs through June 7. Tickets are cheap as heck and available here and at the door.

So many good books

I’m pretty much living 80% of my life in other worlds right now. Look for a book review post coming soon!

Sketchy

As soon as I get done with Harvest Fest I’m diving into another show called The Hundred Dresses. This will mark the first time I’m officially playing a mother on stage. It’s a mainstage production, not a junior show, yet I’m one of only three adult actors—the rest are fifth graders. But these are talented fifth graders so it’s OK. One of my dear castmates from Blythe Spirit is doing the costumes. But the super-cool thing is that my super-artistic mom will be featured strongly in this show. I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s finally getting to almost fulfill her childhood dream of being a fashion illustrator and costume designer. I’m basically more excited for her than for myself.

Dress collage

Sunscreen Smackdown

Consumer Reports just came out with the results of its 2015 sunscreen test. So did the Environmental Working Group.

And they are totally at odds with each other.

Both of them say that the majority of sunscreens don’t actually do what they say they do, but they completely disagree on which is which (No-Ad made the top 3 for CR, while I’m pretty sure the folks at EWG would sooner eat No-Ad than put it on their skin). Am I the only one that find this kind of thing hilarious?

EWG says spray sunscreens will keel you and yer chilren, while not one, not two, but five of the sunscreens that passed the CR test are–you guessed it–sprays.

The root of the problem is that EWG says that mineral (aka natural) sunscreens are the safest, while CR maintains that–well–they don’t actually protect you from the sun.

The end result is that for another year, we’re left to stand in the sunscreen aisle utterly flummoxed about what’s best again, and probably end up not using it right again, and getting melanoma again (wait–what?).

The only sunscreen the two managed to agree on is….guess.

Freakin’ Coppertone Water Babies. That’s right, the same crap that made that gritty, stingy reapplication at the beach hell on earth for us as tots.

…And one huge let down

I tried Bulletproof Coffee just for the heck of it. It’s a thing. It’s a gross thing though. I just used the knife I’d buttered my toast with to stir my coffee–so I guess maybe I didn’t really do it right? It just made my teeth feel scummy all day though. Do not want.

What are you into this May?

DIY Tutorial: Lip n’ Lotto Favors (free printable)

19 May

I’d like to share with you a very easy craftish gift I made for Teacher Appreciation Week. I did them at the last minute because obviously. The bad news is that it’s too late for Teacher Appreciation Week this year. The good news is…well…they’re easy to do last-minute (and in all seriousness, you can still use these for thank-yous, grads, end-of-year happies, party/wedding favors–all kinds of stuff!).

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Every holiday, even some of the more obscure ones, my family always gives each other lottery tickets. Even my three-year old gets his own scratch-offs. He’s trained now; when he sees it fall out of the greeting card, he immediately goes to his piggy bank to get a coin.

So naturally, it was the first thing that came to mind when puzzling about what to get his preschool instructors for Teacher Appreciation Week. Cheaper than a fruit basket, healthier than baked goods, more original than a gift card, and (sorry, #honesty) more attractive than a child-made art project–and what better gift to give an underpaid teacher than a chance to strike it rich and immediately quit her job teaching your child?

At approximately $4.50 per card it’s pretty economical if you need to make multiples. We did one for every teacher at his school, because there aren’t that many to begin with, and they really do take turns watching each other’s classes.

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Materials:

lip balm of your choice – something for which you can think of a clever pun is ideal.

scratch-off lottery tickets

hole punch

string or raffia or ribbon

shiny new quarters (optional)

card stock or other high quality paper

Hot MUNAY!

Hot MUNAY!

Step 1:

Have someone lucky get the lottery tickets.

Sadly, in our family that is T. Do I look like Mother of the Year stuffing dollar bills into the scratch-off vending machine and making my tiny child push the buttons? Maybe not. But hear me out: in 3+ decades of life, I have won ($1 usually) on scratch-off cards maybe……4 times? In Tenny’s 3 + years of life, he has won on scratch off cards approximately 7 times. And once was for $20. I don’t math so I can’t tell you the exact odds in this scenario, but if I was receiving a lottery ticket from someone in our household I’d be banking on him.

Step 2:

Design your gift tags.

Iknow Iknow, my kid isn’t really a baby. But in our case it was still kind of appropriate. I’ve noticed that T requires a lot of speshul love and attention. (Why is my son on the teacher’s lap during reading circle when everyone else is sitting on the rug? I can’t be sure, but I bet it involved whining and tears).

Also, I think Baby Lips are fun and cute.

If you choose to use them, you’re welcome to print my version of the cards using the link below–it prints 3 to a letter-sized page, and there’s room for you to insert a name on the bottom right as you see in my version (just give me a shout out if anyone asks where you got the idea, k?).

Download the Printable

With a little creativity you can use any brand though. I was originally intending to give Burt’s Bees and put “Thanks a million for BEE-ing my teacher!” but I changed my mind because they didn’t have enough of the same flavor, and I didn’t want to cause a Battle Royale over who had to end up with Mango.

Baby, Baby, Baby OH

Step 3:

Print the cards and cut them out, then punch a hole in both the cards and the tickets.

I put the corner of the ticket (where the $1 sign is) the upper middle of the card and punched both together. This was so I didn’t accidentally put a hole through the winning number or something. Yikes.

Optional step: You can also tape a shiny new quarter to the back of each card so the lucky recipient can get to scratchin’ right away. 

Step 4:

String the ribbon or what-have-you through the holes in the card and the lip balm.

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For this project you don’t have to unwrap and rewrap the balm in some cutesy and skillful way, like many other balm-based gifts I’ve seen. This works with the original packaging with the hanging hole already punched in. The Lazy Girl Way for the win!

I used plain old gift string, the kind you tie on a balloon. I like doing the curly thing with the side of the scissors–it’s literally the one crafty thing my mom was able to impart to me, so I don’t care how uncool it is–I’m doing it now and forevermore. And also T likes green and I felt he ought to contribute something other than his magic fingers. But feel free to get artisanal with it, with some recycled kraft raffia or whatever if that’s your jelly.

Million Dollar Baby

 

Step 5:

Find a cute way to arrange them and you’re done! Yay!

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Did I dump our bread onto the stove in order to use this basket? Maybe.

For the record, they were a big hit. The whole week the teachers were coming up and telling me to thank my husband (I didn’t manage to get these ready until Friday which is P’s day for drop off, so he ended up with the credit. I know, what?). The cafeteria lady even won $20 on hers! I’m telling ya, ol’ Lucky Strike T over here.

Have fun!

NAMB: Is this a birthday party or a wedding?

1 May

Is it just me, or are birthdays for small children getting utterly out of control?

I don’t mean out of control like my 7th birthday, where I invited every girl in my class to sleepover and all twenty-two of us paraded around the house in our PJs playing toy instruments at 11 PM. My poor parents.

I mean out of control like you realize that March is too late to start planning for your kid’s 2nd birthday…in July. I mean out of control like, you’re starting to wish you had an event planner to manage the various elements of your soiree.

This is clearly just my opinion, but seriously: if you are using words like “element” and “soiree” in reference to a birthday party for anyone under 50–even in your head–you need to #checkyoself.

I mean, I think we all know on some level that children’s birthday parties have become some sort of toxic cocktail of perfectionism, one-upmanship, and Pinterest. And I’m hardly the first to make fun of the phenomenon of over-the-top birthday parties and borderline insane parents (see the now-infamous birthday list email, or how about the kid that didn’t show up for a party and got an invoice for his cost incurred). But if my social media feed is any indication, the trickle-down effect of these crazy, wedding-like extravaganzas is very, very real.*

*seriously–I just witnessed a 30+ comment thread on custom themed birthday cakes in my actual life. No, not whether they’re necessary, but the best place to get one.

Ask for pictures from a child’s birthday party, and instead of a bunch of smiling kids you’ll see forty angles of lavish table layouts. We’re talking blowouts for kids who are turning 1, 2, 3….ages where they still think playing in the bath tub is the height of good-time fun. Who is this shindig really for? Look in the index under parents, impressing other.

We need to stop the madness.

In that spirit, I have created a primer of good and bad words for children’s birthdays. To hammer the metaphor even further, we’ll play it like Red Light, Green Light. Next time you find yourself in conversation about a birthday, notice what key words pass your lips and follow the directions accordingly:

Green – go for it!

Cake – No party, indeed no birthday, is complete without cake. Go hog wild and let the birthday kid pick the flavor! Ice cream is always good too.

Mess – Accept it, embrace it, encourage it. Have you ever been to a fun party that didn’t get a little messy?

Invitations – I’m really old fashioned and like paper invitations sent via snail mail*. Even if they come from a pack at Target, it’s awesome. I mean, when you see an envelope in the mail with your name on it, you know you’re really and truly invited somewhere. I’m not against Evites per se, but I do get a little wistful when it seems like parents are putting more thought and effort on things like themed labels for the food (and taking pictures of said labels) than they are on requesting the pleasure of a guest’s company.

*tangent–I said the phrase “snail mail” to an intern the other day and he had no idea what I was talking about. Is that an old term or something??

Improvise – Story time. Last year P and I went to the Starlight drive-in and there was a birthday party parked next to us…probably a dozen 13 year old girls, split among two or three mini-vans. The party fare consisted of a few pizzas, a cookie cake, a couple of six packs for the parents. No decorations, no party favors. During the long wait to get into the gates, they got out of the cars and played with–you’ll never believe it– a ball. Like the kind you get out of the bin at the grocery store. The entire group, including the adults, was raucously laughing the whole time. The whole thing was on point, without reeking of planning. I bet you your deposit at Legoland they didn’t even have to make a reservation.

Red – Stop Right There

Fondant – I agree those cakes shaped like unicorns and cars look cool. Hell, I watched like 40 back to back episodes of Cake Boss at Northside while I was waiting to pop out T. But #truth, that stuff tastes like the bottom of a shoe. Whatever happened to buttercream?

Deposit – Does anyone else think it’s weird that in one generation, parents went from showing up with ten kids at whatever McDonalds had a decent playplace to laying two bennies down to reserve the party room at HippoHopp? (which is basically a glorified playplace, if you really think about it). Super-screaming red light if the words “non-refundable” are attached.

Dessert Table – Uh….you have a cake, right? Dessert. Bam.

If this is the 3rd birthday, what will the wedding look like?

Schedule – Think about it from a kid’s perspective. School, piano practice, the dentist…those delightful activities are examples of things that are scheduled. Leaving a few things up to chance makes it easier for you and fun for them (see improvise).

Registry –  Not to get too Emily Post, but I really do think this is gauche. Yes, it’s an unspoken rule that you bring a gift to a child’s party. But it’s the giver’s prerogative to choose the gift (and the price of the gift). I swear, half the time I see a birthday registry the stuff on it is high-priced–I’m talking in the $100-$200 range. If you want your kid to have a new kitchen set, that’s what grandparents are for (or here’s an idea– buy that ish yourself). If people are asking you what to get, by all means offer a suggestion–the $15-$30 range is reasonable, although even less is fine too (who doesn’t love some new playdoh?).  I’d even be OK with an Amazon wishlist, as long as you only send it if someone directly asks for it. And whatever you do, don’t provide links on your invitations to a registry. People don’t even do that on a wedding invitation! (Do they? Please tell me people have not started doing that).

Yellow – Proceed with caution:

Custom – Having the baker put your kid’s name on the cake? Yes. Hiring three different bakers to make customized cookies, cupcakes, and dirt pudding in individual ramekins? Overkill.

Game – It’s not a bad idea to have a few activities planned in case things start out slow. But this isn’t a baby shower. If it takes more than ten seconds to explain the rules, forget it. No rules works too–stuff like a bucket of water balloons or even a big roll of butcher paper and finger paint is plenty fun.

Favors – Something to say “thank you for coming” is a very nice touch. But most parents agree that a goody bag of tiny plastic crap toys is kind of annoying. People just do it because they feel like they have to.

Staaahp.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have personalized and/or homemade favors that seen to scream “I’m overcompensating for something.”

Apparently, this includes a personalized note and homemade hair bows. Good grief.

A lot of parents get overwhelmed between the two and don’t give favors at all. But there is a happy medium, if you get creative. On a related note, thank-you cards for gifts are great for character building.

DIY (see also: homemade) – I know some of you maams are crafty and genuinely enjoy (and have time for?) making doilies, and if that’s you, go for it. But if you find yourself up at 4 AM the night before the party, cursing because you can’t find the right pastry tip to ice the clam macaroons or you’re only halfway through the 100 DIY bathbombs for baby’s magical mermaid party, you’re only hurting yourself.

I don’t make this ish up.

I say for us non-Martha Stewart types, pick one thing to make yourself (the cake, the invitations) and get thee to a Party City for the rest.

Look.

I’m not saying parties need to be like they were “back in my day” (#getoffmylawn). A few things, like donations in lieu of gifts and the slow fade of the watch-the-birthday-kid-open-presents tradition, are standout achievements of modern birthday parenting. Things evolve and that’s fine. But when it gets to the point where moms are feeling like they might be depriving their child if they don’t arrange for a candy buffet and miniature fruit bouquets, that’s a problem. For your child, it is and it should be all about the experience–just ask the girls at the Starlight Drive-in.

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