Taco Robot and Awesome Mom


Taco Bell

Today was my crowning achievement of motherhood thus far.

It is not the labor, and delivery-in-the-ambulance.

It is not having raised a reasonably polite, lovely 6-year-old.

It is not having kicked ass as a seriously single single mom for almost 5 years.


What is it?

Not so fast.  Child has decided she likes Taco Bell.  Try as I might, I can’t disabuse her of this notion.

I hate Taco Bell.  I love food, but Taco Bell is not food.  It is cheap, nasty, ridiculous, foul, boring, empty calorie, edible garbage.

But today, nobody else was hungry, and we were out, and we are post-holidays lazy asses, and so we took her to the drive through where she acquired her empty calories, and this.

It is a folder that contains perforated Robot Parts on glossy card stock.


These are the scraps

Child is cool, but she’s not patient.  This was a project that required patience.

Drum Roll, Please

So I sat at the table for an hour and put the thing together for her. I folded all the little scores and carefully inserted tabs, and was generally impressed by the cleverness of the product. Especially the bent robot arms. This is a container design masterpiece.


Fella has been joking that Child needs me to play with her toys for her.

I did resort to tape for attaching the shoulders to the torso, but otherwise used the tabs.

Near the end of the assembly, it occurred to me that Taco Bell should put a notice on its Robot Lab: Not suitable for children under 30.

And now, I am indispensable to Child for Robot Maintenance.

The instructions were useless. There was no text.  I would’ve liked a warning about the small tabs that would render the robot broken during assembly if accidentally folded.

I credit Mrs. Winslow, my art & paper crafts teacher in High School (to whom I affectionately referred as Planet Winslow) with my abilities in this project.

I wonder how many kids and parents jump ship and throw the whole thing in the trash?

It is a project that requires some specialized training.

This kids’ meal toy is not for the faint of heart or the easily annoyed.

Even when my sweet, polite 6-year-old stood at my elbow, breathing her taco breath into my hair, she exacerbated my mild annoyance at this extreme sports style toss-away toy.

I’ve seen the way other parents are toward their kids in the grocery store.  I know that I am mostly a calm reasonable mom.

Like the woman who sued McDonald’s over her piping-hot-coffee-thigh-burn, I suspect that in a few months, a news item will blip across the American Culture radar that says, “Parents Found Guilty of Homicide, Blame Robot Lab, Sue Taco Bell.”

The Reading Life: Bossypants

I took this picture. This is a picture of this book as I physically possess it

Here are some facts I learned from reading Bossypants that heightened my girl crush on Tina Fey.

1.  Tina Fey’s first child, Alice (also a cool, old name, like Child’s), is the same age as my child within weeks.

2.  Tina Fey was also an adult virgin.

3.  She loves Williamsport.  Or I extrapolate that she loves Williamsport in that creepy, fan-person way.

4.  She is a good writer, and smart.

5.  She exhausts herself to a greater degree than I do.

6.  She worries about being a working mom, about being rich person, about having a nanny.

But what else?

What is this book?  Is it a memoir?  Is it a collection of essays? Is it a feminist tome?  Is it just funny?

I mean, yes.  It’s funny.

But that’s really all it is.  It’s not especially challenging or literary.  It does not reveal great truths, and often I found myself kind of both appreciating and getting worn out by Fey’s neurosis.

I enjoyed reading it, yes.  And reading it the same year it was published (by only 2 days, but still), is a luxury indeed.  A luxury I hope to have with more books in the very near future.

It also reminded me why my work with Billtown Blue Lit is so very, very important. More on this after the last heading.

Best Parts

The first third and last eighth were the best.  The first third was about Tina Fey’s childhood and journey through adult virginity and Chicago improv and landing as a writer for SNL.

The last eighth was about her current family, her relationship with motherhood, traveling across PA and OH at the holidays, and whether or not she should have another baby.

Those parts of the book were honest and funny and they made Tina Fey like a real person with whom I would like to have lunch  in ways that are brave for a public figure.

The middle remaining fraction (I am not good at math) had some good jokes, but it was about a world that only about 1,000 (this estimate is based on nothing, the point is it’s a small percentage of the actual population) people in the world will ever encounter: the world of making TV.

I enjoyed making the connections between the stories she tells in the book and episodes of 30Rock, in particular the pee jars.  And I found her pretty constant amazement that she gets to keep making this super smart, weird show to be refreshing and sweet.  It made me think that Tina Fey is humble.

I also particularly enjoyed the chapter about the photo shoot, though it was a little like reading about visiting the Moon.  There is no universe in which I will ever be a Moon-goer.

People who get to write books by popular demand

So Tina Fey is a writer in real life, and that’s the only reason I’ve read this book.  Will I ever read a book by Karadashians or by Snookie?  No.  But Tina Fey is also like Karadashians and Snookie in that she is a public figure who is also a pretty, young (in regular people years) woman.

She wrote the book because her agent or publicist or somebody told her she should.  Because her fans wanted to read it, and because Sarah Palin also wrote a book, and that matters to people who have no powers of logic.

She does improv and writes comedy because that is what feeds her soul.  Is this book soul food for anybody?  I kind of think not.  But I bet it sold more copies in hardcover than the book that’s sitting next to me that I got for Christmas, Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell.  But I bet Blueprints is a way, way better read than Bossypants.  I’ll let you know.

Tina Fey’s book is smart and thoughtful, even though it’s not literary.  I’m counting it as evidence that the world will read better books if somebody bothers to stand up and shriek about them, invite their authors to do interviews and podcasts, and writes blogs about them, and in some future happy land where the literati have a greater societal influence, interview them on The View and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

And that’s the long-term objective of Billtown Blue Lit.  To help the world see books that are smart and literary and feed souls.  The way to do this is with people: a community of people who think this is an important goal.

Come join us.  Invest in your future as a reader, in literary authors, and in the American Literary Canon.

Xmas Decompression, Depression, and Showing Off


These are my holiday gifts.

I’ve been dying to post pictures of them.

I want you all to know how creative and crafty I am.

I got the pattern for these guys over at Crafty is Cool, which I discovered from trolling Ravelry.com, which is a knitting/crocheting site.

This morning, I woke up with a premonition that Child was dead.

She was really so lovely at the holidays.  She was good and sweet and all things that are important for small children to be in order to win the favor of Jolly Old St. Nick.

But when I thought she was dead, I was full of sadness and panic for a moment, a much shorter moment than is reasonable.  Then I was filled with wistfulness for returning to my pre-child life, and I felt relieved and free.  I also briefly considered the delicious excusability of substance abuse and general fuck-uppery.

Then I went into her room and felt her chest for breath.  It was there and I was more glad than disappointed.  So that’s something, right?

I’m blaming this pile of angst on the massive, emotional build up that Xmas as a parent (especially a broke one) embodies, that is invariably anticlimactic.  I’ve written before about some of my mixed feelings about being a mom, and you all know about my mixed feelings about Xmas.  And please don’t take this to mean that I’m homicidal toward my kid, or that I regret or resent her.  But man oh.  I think I need to put some more pictures of monsters. Monsters are happy.

Dr. Zoidberg & Lena

I let Child watch Futurama, whenever she wants.  She does not get the jokes she shouldn’t get, and I find it to be a more entertaining cartoon than Fanboy and Chum Chum.  She thought these were hilarious.

So did their giftees, my good friends B and T.  I know these aren’t exactly proportional, and I worried for a moment that B&T would think I was making some kind of judgment about their human proportions.  I was not.

Everyone was a little more interested in these little gifts than I expected them to be.

I talked Fella into going to my parents for overnight.  It was lovely.

We got to hang out with my sister and her brand new fiance. They are getting hitched up this summer.  Below is  a picture of them and Child in Baltimore.

And now, I am feeling emptied out and tired and wishing that I could’ve worked through Xmas.

Sister, Child, Fiance in Baltimore

And I am hoping that you have better feelings about Xmas.  More like these ones I was having a few weeks ago.

I have conflicting feelings about marriage, too.  I am not married, nor do I aspire to be.  When I was young, I imagined my life alone in an urban apartment, taking a succession of monogamous lovers.

I am happy for my sister.  I like her fiance.  I think they are both fabulous humans and they will make lean, gorgeous babies.  But I am worried about them making babies.  Not because I think they are incapable, in fact, I believe my sister to be gifted with natural child rearing abilities (like my mom); but because I am traumatized by making babies.  And because, selfishly, I am worried about watching people I love become parents in healthy, rewarding, mature, socially appropriate ways.  And because my baby sister making a baby–even if she does it in 7 years–will mean something about the evolution of family that will force me to face my parents’ mortality, mine, and my own inadequacy, by which I am daunted.

My dad showed me a passage in a book Fella got him for Xmas that indicated that he believes that I am eschewing my spiritual journey.  That he thinks I am godless and hopeless.  Maybe you think that, too, now.

I am not.  But I do think that religion (not spirituality), is more limiting than people believe it to be. And I personally view it as a coping mechanism more than as a helpful set of mores by which to live.

So that’s it, fair blog readers.  I am not warmed and filled by this season.

I am warmed and filled by the so far, only positive response I’ve had about my nonprofit, Billtown Blue Lit.  By the indie book store agreeing to let us set up at First Friday, and by the way in which the project and my hard work will enrich my community.  I am affirmed by doing good work, not by religious rhetoric, gift-giving/receiving, or by motherhood.

Does this make me empty or capitalist or lacking perspective?  I don’t think so.  It makes me honest to myself, and willing to accept responsibility for figuring out how to be a useful, good, human, even though I’ve made choices that have ended in things I don’t always know how to manage.


Three Days to Xmas, and The World Is Not Singing.

I did post this image the other day, but today is Solstice (for which my Pagan domestic partner could not provide a suitable idea for an icon in the dragon’s house, above), and I think this is really funny.

Also, since I drew it, I will not go to jail or be hugely fined for using it (but you might).

As I told my girlfriends the other night, I’m my own biggest fan.

And this morning, at 7:00, as I woke up wishing I cared less that I was still in bed, not wanting to emerge from my cocoon of warmth and comfort, even for 50 degree December days, I read Facebook posts.  I feel like the  Facebook status updates in my feed are a pretty representative cross section of culture at any given time.  I have friends who are rich, poor, gay, transgender, aged between like 19 and in the 60s, etc. And starting on Turkey day, until about a week ago, all the little updates were things like, “so great to be in the xmas spirit, I sure do love this time of year, dreaming of a white xmas, etc etc etc.”

This morning there were things like, “What xmas song makes you want to puke?” and “I don’t want to brave the mall!” and “Dear Lord, when will it end?!”

And in my haughty little pea brain, I was like, “well if you people would just wait until the week of xmas to celebrate, and not drive yourselves bonkers buying buying buying presents, maybe ya’ll would be less miserable.”

But who am I kidding?

I totally didn’t drive myself nuts this year.  I am broke, and so I only bought gifts for Fella & Child.  Everybody else gets homemade ones.

Fella and I spent like 8 hours baking our faces off the other day, and are giving our friends pretty little boxes filled with cookies.

I made little thingies (I’ll tell you all about them with pictures and everything after the Big Day), and I started out really strong.  But now, I’m down to the wire, and I still have quite a few to do, and I’m feeling totally stressed and pressured.

Also, we’re trying to coordinate with our friends to GIVE the the cookies we spent all the time baking for them, and well, it’s just not super slick.  Everybody’s got in-laws and outlaws and ex-laws, and baby’s daddies, and other countries, counties, states, or prisons… It’s rough!

I find myself asking, “Is all this worth it for the 4 or 5 hours we spend with people we don’t see often?  Why not this: Let’s all make new year’s resolutions to stop being such utter wank jobs and connect with the people we care about more often than once a year.  Let’s all decide to ONLY buy presents for our IMMEDIATE families (that means, married children only buy for their partners and children, empty nesters only buy for each other, and everybody buys a box of bon bons, an enema, and a pair of slipper socks for anybody they know in a nursing home).

Let’s visit each other’s living rooms, announced or unannounced, and not feel pressured to cook for our friends and family.  Let’s pass around a loaf of wonder bread and a jar of peanut butter.  Or if we LIKE to bake, we bake.  Otherwise, we just enjoy the company.

Secret Santa?  I mean really.  Why?  Just a thing for a thing’s sake?  More junk we don’t need?

I’ve never had a terrific time at a company holiday party.  Well, maybe once, but it was a fluke.  And I kind of regret it.

So help me understand this, people.  What is the big deal?  And don’t give me that shit about the Son of God.  First of all, this whole celebration is historically inaccurate, and I’m pretty sure Jesus (if that was his real name) would not pepper spray people over toys, send out an extra super huge pile of spam all season long, nor would he be pleased to know that we are all torturing one another for a full month each year.

Say the average life span is 60 years, so we waste 1,350 days if we start working retail or stressing over xmas around age 15.  We lose 3.7 years of our lives.

Look, I’m trying to fight my inner Scrooge.  I really am.  It’d be the best thing for my kid.  But I just can’t get all lathered up over this nuttiness.  Tell me.  What do you love about xmas?

Santa is very tech, and I am a tricky, tricky mom.

My big thing about Santa is that it’s lying–and indeed making elaborate measures–to trick our children into believing something that is impossible.  I hate giving Santa credit for the thoughtful or awesome gifts I buy.

But Portable North Pole (.tv) helped me make this tricky video.

And Child sat on my lap with a look on her face that was equal parts awe, incredulity, and utter terror that she’d find herself on the Naughty List.

It was totally amazing.  I almost wept.

So this scrooge is coming around the bend of holiday cheer again.  Though I think there’s probably a market for a non-Christian Santa.

Happy Winter Holidays, People.


Surprise truth for today: I am not a literati snob.

this is from arts.nationalpost.com

The thing is, I think that Literary fiction is not public enough.  It does not have the same PR people as the genre stuff.  And while I do, myself aesthetically, prefer to read literary fiction, I think there’s also a place in the world for genre fiction.

I want people to have better access to smart books.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever want them to read genre fiction or nonfiction or silly, entertaining books full of cartoons of Bunny Suicides.

I want people to be able to access smart, literary fiction at the places at which they can access Nora Roberts’s latest: the grocery store, big box retailers.

And the opportunity exists right now, as the publishing industry is evolving by the day, to reclaim a slice of the media pie for literature, literary fiction. Smart books that presently have print runs of under 5,000, and whose authors would die for a $5,000 advance on a book, let alone the $15,000-$25,000 some genre authors get, should be more visible.

They should expect to receive royalties, and expect their book publicist’s efforts to be as rigorous as any other author’s.  Because the thing is, it’s not like every literary author is inaccessible.  Literary fiction has a severe PR problem. Most of it–especially the literary realism–is beautiful and smart, yes, but also fun and not especially difficult to read!

Excellent meeting with a guy who wants you to have his book, free.

I’m working on becoming a nonprofit slave.

I am a nonprofit slave, actually.

Running two blogs, tweeting and facebooking with intention, meeting with people, networking, hatching ideas, and doing graphic design is really more than I have time to do.  But I’m managing so far, and once we get some funding, I can hire a couple of interns to take over some of the marketing stuff.  I need some help with the marketing, the social media.  That stuff can really, really suck time.  But I’ve discovered two cool things:  Tweet Deck, and Twuffer.

I launched my StartSomeGood campaign, and this is SERIOUSLY awesome.  I am so excited about the responses I’ve had.  We’re already close to $400 on our way.  People are so warm and receptive to the idea.  I keep scoring meetings with awesome people who are well-connected, full of ideas, and who Want to Help.

One such dude: Peter Damian Bellis.  He wrote that book pictured there, and it was in the running for nomination for the National Book Award.

Click that book.  You get a free present from him.  You can read it on the train during your holiday travels.  Or read it to escape from the obligatory familial torture you’ll endure in the next few weeks.  Or maybe you can just let it junk up your hard drive till you get around to reading it.  But you should definitely grab it.  And tell all your friends, too.

Also, the book is special.  I’ve read maybe 6 total pages of it, and it’s really kind of teetering on the precipice of avant garde, I’d say.  But delicious, and it grabs you.  I’ll write more once I’ve read more.  But for now, you should read it too.  Then come back here, or go to my other blog and talk about it.

I was so freaking energized after meeting with Peter.

It’s been a long time since I had a meeting that gave me a nearly uncontrollable urge to write.  Peter reminded me to listen to myself.  To just let the writing happen.  That was a good reminder.  I’ve been so focused on ends and means lately.  Too much so.  Peter reminded me that I didn’t start to love reading because I like stories.  I started to love reading because I love language.  That’s why I started to love writing, too.

It was a great meeting.  And Peter’s going to be a terrific ally for Billtown Blue Lit.  Which, in case I didn’t mention yesterday, you can go donate by clicking here.

Guest Post: Five Failed Barbie Concepts

Marc Schuster, a PA Literary writer, will be guesting over at Billtown Blue Lit’s blog on alternating Mondays.  Here’s a delicious and funny post by him that didn’t quite fit in over there.  I’m honored to share it with you here, and hope you’ll go buy Marc’s book.


  • Grindhouse Barbie: Cool concept, but hard to fit into a pantsuit.

    Woodstock Barbie: Proposed in 1994 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, the roll-out for this edition was to include a pink flower-power themed VW microbus. The doll was axed due to alleged licensing issues surrounding the Woodstock trademark, but rumors circulating at the time suggested that authorities had found a “sizable” bag of weed in the VW’s glove compartment.

  • Muscle Madness Barbie: Also known in some circles as ‘Roid Rage Barbie, this Barbie represents the most dramatic departure from the standard skinny waist and buxom chest that most collectors associate with the plastic fashionista. Though seven prototypes were produced by placing Barbie’s head on various Ken bodies, the idea was eventually scrapped when the US Senate escalated its investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
  • Grindhouse Barbie (pictured): With the 2007 release of Grindhouse came plans for a down-and-dirty version of Barbie based on the film’s iconic heroine, Cherry. Oddly, this version of Barbie tested poorly among the target demographic not because she was missing a leg, but because children found it difficult to slip Barbie’s fashions over the machine gun.
  • Lock ‘n’ Load Barbie: When Sarah Palin was tapped to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Mattel jumped right on the bandwagon with this brunette version of Barbie, which came with stylish glasses, a plaid hunting jacket and cap, a rifle, and a fake-fur bear carcass. Plans for the doll were scrapped, however, with the election of Barack Obama.
  • Midlife Crisis Barbie: Although Barbie’s 50th birthday has come and gone, rumors continue to circulate that a Barbie with crow’s feet and a sagging neck is in the works. Though Mattel has not commented on this matter, the National Association of Cosmetic Surgeons is gearing up for a massive boycott. “If it’s okay for Barbie to get older, then what does that say to women throughout the world?” said one surgeon on the condition of anonymity. “That aging is natural? That laugh lines are no big deal? Please!”

Stream of Consciousness, Billtown Blue Lit, Dizzy, Grateful

Thank You

Today, I am grateful.

Here are things I am thinking about:

My other dead grandma.  Not the one I wrote about here.  She used to come into our house in the morning in winter, wearing a too-light coat, and exclaim, “It’s DAMN cold out there!” Yes, caps and italics.  It was the word she said most enthusiastically.  It is a shame that she didn’t live longer and that I didn’t know her better.  I think she is my spirit guide.  WWFD, What would Flo do?

Great friends, supportive family and people, and new adventures.  I launched the Billtown Blue Lit fundraising campaign last night at Start Some Good.  I am so grateful to have $300 of support already.  I feel like a sentimental ninny, and I feel validated.  So often, I shout my ideas into a void, and my throat gets raw and I hop up and down and get red in the face and I say, “somebody help me! I want to do something good/cool!”  I think a couple of things are happening here.  1.  I’m a full-on grownup.  People think I’ve learned something about life b/c I’m now 31.  So that belief/faith/deference that other people show toward me fortifies my inner strong person, and makes her confident and productive.  2. I live in a really Excellent Town.

And here’s how you can help, too: go to Our Campaign.  Donate.

I want to provide shout-out links to these excellent, smart, good-writin’, supportive or prolific humans who have helped with this project directly, or who have helped my brain these past few months by giving me great stuff to read, replying to my increasing stream of solicitious emails, or pledging to the campaign real early, or providing great ideas, or agreeing to be on the board.

Help them by visiting them online, buying their books, their merchandise, or reading their blogs.  You can also just give them a great big virtual smackeroo on the lips, cos they deserve it.

These are in no particular order:

Jamie Clarke Chavez

Carlos Antonio Delgado

Marc Schuster

Julianna Baggott

Penelope Trunk

Tim Parrish

Katney B

Ellen Line

John McNally

Steve Almond

Brock Clarke

Cathy Day

Alex Budak

Ron Currie Jr.

Jo Steadman

Jim O ‘Connell