April 19, 2017

My Story of Yoga


It's funny, in the nine year history of this blog, I've written (exhaustively) about exercise: the exercise I do, don't do, and did but quit doing. I've rarely written about yoga, which has been a consistent, significant part of my life for almost twenty years. This is my story of yoga.

Like many people, I came to yoga from a place of trauma. I lived in New York in 2001 and after the events of September 11, saw a doctor for anxiety. She gave me two choices: medication or yoga. Knowing nothing about anti-depressants and a lot about exercise, I went with yoga. My gym (shout-out, Bally Total Fitness!) offered yoga on Saturdays, so I started going.

Yoga in 2001 was not what it is in 2017. Yoga wasn't cool, and there was no industry pushing $120 lycra pants. In fact, I remember going to Herald Square and buying bootcut stretch pants from the Jennifer Lopez 'J.Lo for Macy's' collection to wear to class.

At twenty-five years old, I was the youngest person in class. There was a tai chi class beforehand and the only thing that changed between classes was the addition of the yoga instructor and me. But I loved my class, and I loved my instructor. She wore all black and a bunch of scarves. She was older, rounder, and had a Jewish-Stevie-Nicks vibe. I knew she liked me by the same way I knew all New Yorkers liked me, she let me be in her presence and occasionally engaged me.

Jewish-Stevie-Nicks taught me yoga. Either yoga marketing didn't exist yet, or I didn't know enough to pay attention, but I don't know what style of yoga I did. I do know that she didn't teach from the front of the class, but moved around, observing and adjusting us. And I know she was a good instructor because in all these years, while I've needed adjustments, I've never needed corrections. I was taught the poses correctly.

I took that yoga class every Saturday for the next year and a half. When I moved home, I joined the YMCA and started taking classes there. Around 2010, lululemon opened a store in Nashville and set about getting to know the local yoga community. They highlighted a different yoga studio a month and you could practice there for $20-$30. It was great! It was my year of The Traveling Yoga Pants.


I have a love-hate relationship with lululemon, but I'll give them this, they brought yoga back into my life. I started supplementing my yoga classes at the Y with one to two classes a week at a studio. My yoga practice was consistent again; my mind was calmer. Plus, I was learning new poses and getting stronger in old ones.

This is a comfortable place for the story to end for a lot of people. But I am not a lot of people. Like all good relationships, there is a cycle of rupture and repair. At this point in the story, my relationship with yoga ruptured. It ruptured when the owner of the studio I was practicing in told me she noticed I was gaining weight and suggested I sign up for this expensive 30-day juice cleanse she was promoting.

Do I need to point out all the things wrong with this? I'm going to assume I don't. But what I will tell you is how I felt when she said that: shame. Shame for being apparently noticeably fat (which I wasn't); shame for not being able to afford the juice cleanse; shame for not being good enough for that studio. I can't remember if I finished out my package, or quit that day, but I never returned to that studio.

I floundered around, trying different studios and going back to the ones I liked: Sanctuary and Steadfast and True. And then this new studio opened that all of my friends were going to, so I started going there. I love a trend and this studio was H-O-T (I mean popular, I don't have the constitution for hot yoga). This studio was fiiiiiiiiine. It was affordable, convenient, all my friends were there, it was sometimes crowded, but it was fine. And then.... I was in one of their crowded 6am classes and realized that everyone in there was competing with each another. The women would go into poses the rest of the class wasn't in. It was bizarre and destabilizing. You can't get centered when you're mat-to-mat in triangle pose and the woman beside you flips upside down. Also? I saw a lot of labia because they were all in shorty shorts and sports bras. Which brings me to my other point...

Whether intentionally or not, this studio fostered a community where "skinny" was the goal. That's a triggering, unhealthy environment for me. The shame started creeping back in. Shame for not being "skinny", shame for not buying their goddamn juice cleanse, shame for not being able to afford their TRIPS TO ITALY. I left and never returned.

It was around this time that I lost my job and went back to doing yoga at the Y, unable to afford classes at a studio. My friend bitch Paige, an instructor at 12South Yoga, asked me to come try her class, and not to worry about paying for it. I had never taken a class taught by a friend and I had never taken an Iyengar yoga class, although in hindsight, I'm pretty sure Jewish-Stevie-Nicks had Iyengar training.


Happy ending alert!

I responded to Paige's class like I responded to yoga back in 2001, which is to say I was welcomed and calmed. Paige's class was healing for me during a time when I needed healing, both physically and emotionally. About six months in, the studio downsized and consolidated their classes and I had to switch instructors. Paige recommended I try Rachel - I did, and it's been eye heart emojis ever since.

In the sixteen years I've been practicing yoga, I've done it for a variety of reasons - anxiety, fitness, injury rehab - but above everything else, I've done it to quiet my mind. I don't practice yoga to show people how good I am at it, or because it comes in a package deal with my juice cleanse, and I don't do it to lose weight. I practice yoga because I love it, it feeds me in a way nothing else does. It's where I've learned vulnerability and trust, and Paige and Rachel have played a large role in that.

Iyengar yoga is my jam. I've been practicing at 12South Yoga since 2014. I would love for all my friends to start practicing there. FYI - Rachel (my instructor) teaches at two other studios: Steadfast and True Yoga and Half Moon Yoga if you want more schedule/location options.

See you on the mat! Namaste, bitches.

*Photos courtesy of Rachel Mathenia

P.S. I've written poetic, eloquent posts about yoga in the past, posts like A Plea For Panties, and Archie Bunker Goes To Yoga. Enjoy!

P.P.S. You can read more about my experience in NYC here.

April 17, 2017

An Interview with Musician and Health Catalyst Kim Collins


I've known today's bitch for a long time. For years I knew her as a witch (note the letter change) who cured herself of breast cancer without relying on modern medicine. I remember seeing women on Oprah who ate kale and their cancer went away, but no one knows anyone like this in real life. Why? Because they're witches, which I one hundred percent mean as a compliment.

In the last few years, I've been lucky to become friends with Kim and I can't get enough of her. There's a quote I like that says, "The world looks so different when we remember we are an energy, not an image." Kim's energy is like catnip to me. I leave every interaction with her wanting more. See also: her backyard. If you live in Nashville and don't know her, you're living wrong. Meet today's bitch witch, Kim Collins!


What do you do and what is the name of your business?

Oooh, that’s an intricate question for me. Ten years ago I would be able to simply say I am a musician, but I have three “careers” now. I know, that’s death to success for some; not having a singular focus. But I have come to terms with this being my nature, now that I’m in my late forties. Follow your passion they say? Ok, I will. And I currently have three.

One, I make music. I write songs, play drums, accordion, guitar, mandolin and sing in a band called The Smoking Flowers.

Two, I am a holistic health mentor. I teach and speak about raw foods, juicing, herbalism and my personal experience with healing cancer naturally, without chemo or radiation. My newfangled health coach business (I prefer to call myself a Health Catalyst though) is called Own Your Ohm Health & Wellness. I named it that because I believe it’s time we take our health back into our own hands. Be more attuned with our bodies and responsible and not rely on big Pharma, overly westernized doctors and the FDA for what’s right for us individually.

And lastly, I do interior design and intertwine that with my imported vintage rug company, Lotus Eye Interiors.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I’ve been a musician all my life, well since the age of five. When I moved to Nashville in 1989, I began my singing career, but I am still learning. I didn’t start playing drums until I was thirty-eight.

As far as health goes, I have studied and practiced herbalism, Ayurveda and holistic healing since 1992. But I feel as if I learned more in the past five years (specifically raw foods and alternative cancer healing) than the previous twenty years combined while battling cancer.

And lastly, I’ve been into design as long as I can remember. My mother was an interior decorator so I guess I got the knack from her. I studied Feng Shui in the 1990’s, and I think that enhanced my love for the art form. I first realized this could be a career for me when my friends started to ask me to come decorate their places for them.


How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Some things you just know intuitively. I knew from a young age that performance, in some capacity, was my calling. You know when they mention finding a purpose in life? I think I knew this was my purpose before the age of ten years old. I was also a dancer since a young age and thought of trying for Broadway, but a series of events led me to Nashville and the rock and roll scene here instead.

As far as being a health coach and speaker, I have always wanted to be in the natural health field of work to some capacity. But I felt that since I was a singer, I needed to focus on that alone so I didn’t think about starting another career until the universe shouted out, “THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE MEANT TO DO TOO!” I’ve always been passionate about health and the holistic lifestyle. I think that’s why healing my cancer naturally was a no brainer to me.

I still don’t know if I want to be an interior designer! Haha. I just keep getting asked to design things! And I love vintage rugs! A girl’s gotta eat.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

I like to think of our “path in life” as a mirror to our body, soul and our life’s purpose. For me, my path has been about seeking and giving. I am a seeker of adventure, spiritual enlightenment, healing, soul fulfillment, happiness, inner wisdom and truth. On this journey, I have been fortunate enough to have had many touching experiences, trials, tribulations and challenges that have enabled me to walk in many shoes. So if anything has led me to where I am now it's that I listened to my heart and trusted my intuition. I’ve never worked for the “man” and never will.


Why did you decide to start your own business?

Music has been my main career for twenty-eight years. As much as I’d love to think of it as simply pure art, there inevitably has to be the business involved. I think for me it was less about deciding to start my own business, and more about how to create music and allow it to help pay my bills so that I can continue doing what I love to do. The same is true for my other endeavors.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

That consistency, daily work and authenticity are the keys to success.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Separating the art from commerce! Oh, and selling myself. I am horrible at that!


Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Learning how to stay true to myself and to not care what others think of me.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

See above.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Deep clean my house! Oh and cook more. I am so passionate about healthy cooking and I try and cook something new and creative at least two to three times a week… but I would do this every night if I had that two extra hours!


What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

A major record deal. When I was in my late twenties my solo project, Kim’s Fable, was being courted by a couple labels. I turned down a big deal because I felt I was going to be trapped with a partner in that band that I knew I needed to leave. I see that sacrifice as a possible mistake now… maybe I was fearful of success? But I have no regrets even if it was a mistake because all that I learned from that time.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

I am most proud of the fact that I have always followed my dreams and turned them into reality. That I make a living doing what I love. That I have always been in control of my art and not attaching a monetary value to it. I feel successful living and breathing as an artist and a free spirit and doing what I feel is my calling. It’s hard in this modern world to not follow the status quo, and I am proud that I have avoided that, at least to a large extent, in my world.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Instagram, if I open anything. I like looking at beautiful things and reading positive inspiration. And most of whom I follow on Instagram provide that.


Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

My back yard. It’s a magical fairy forest.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I don’t have an end of the work day technically. But when I need to decompress I either meditate or make a cup of tea and relax on my back porch. Oh, and red wine.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Taking orders from myself.


Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

My favorite cable series is The Leftovers. I like to watch things that can change your life instead of mindless TV. Currently I am enjoying Feud though! I loooove me some Bette Davis. My favorite snack? Raw cacao balls (I make my own) and I can’t help but love a good avocado toast on sprouted grain bread.

All photos courtesy of Kim Collins

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Graphic Designer and Letterpress Printer, Nieves Uhl!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

April 10, 2017

An Interview with Graphic Designer and Letterpress Printer Nieves Uhl


Welcome to the fourth installment of These My Nominated Bitches! Today's bitch was nominated by friend, artist, and fellow bitch, Agnes Barton-Sabo. Agnes, take it away!

***

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Nieves during a magical time in the mid 2000's whilst we were both employed at Hatch Show Print. In addition to getting along pretty smashingly as coworkers, we were also navigating the early days of selling art on Etsy, watching LOST in handmade Dharma Initiative uniforms before it got unbearable, and laughing over terrible garbage we got from online craft swaps in which we participated out of some sort of masochistic curiosity.

These days I mostly get to admire Nieves from afar, but thanks to the internet, we still get to keep tabs on each other and shop from each other's businesses! I think it's awesome that she has carved (wink wink) out her own corner of the letterpress printing world and continues to make cool stuff with this inky witchcraft we learned in olden times. Nieves is also highly inspirational in my personal fashion world and may or may not be emitting neon rainbows out of her heart at any given moment. She is a valuable comrade in the battle to remain weirdo artist creatures and care for small humans at the same time. Most recently, we have started working together on a long-distance collaborative art project in which we are each using various printmaking methods to create an edition, and then trade editions and add to each other's prints! -- Agnes


What do you do and what is the name of your business?

I’m a graphic designer and letterpress printer at Sawtooth Print Shop.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I feel like I’d always seen letterpress posters, but didn’t understand what it actually entailed until I visited Hatch Show Print for the first time in college.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

A good friend from college was working at Hatch and I was looking for something different than the regular freelance design I’d been doing. I’ve never loved working on design on a computer, so the design by hand aspect of moveable type and images was very intriguing to me. A couple of years after I graduated I had the opportunity to intern at Hatch and a couple of months later was hired on, and worked there for almost five years. After I’d been working there for a year or two my mom told me that she wasn’t surprised this was what I ended up doing. She reminded me of the whole set of upper and lowercase letter stamps I made in middle school. I cut out every letter, cut wood blocks for the uppercase and pieces of dowels for the lowercase, sanded them, glued them on, and used them to make little cards and comic books for friends. I realized I’d been working with moveable type for years!


What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

You can not do it all yourself, and know when to get help. I know my limitations in what I can and cannot do in the business, and know who to reach out to to help with what I don’t know or can’t do on my own. I’m great at the creative part, it’s the business stuff that I still have to seek help with.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

Letting go of the fear of failure! It was always such a scary thing for me. I grew up in a bit of a crazy household and came to be a control freak to help me cope. When things were not in my control I felt paralyzed. You can imagine this is a horrible way to live life, not to mention bad for a business owner! Having a child that has his own agenda and way of doing things has made me loosen up and help me push past a lot of my OCD issues. Also, if it weren’t for my friend and business partner Chris Cheney’s “Let’s just do it!” approach to the business I would probably still be planning every tiny detail. Not being afraid gave me permission to be more free and loose with my creativity and trying out a new aspect to our business. If it doesn’t work I know that and can always try a different approach or cross it off the To Try list. So many of the things I would have been terrified of doing in the past have brought about really fruitful results, and tremendous growth. I’m so thankful for failures now!


What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Ugh! I already steal time away from when I should be sleeping to try to read or bake at night! I always get a second wind around 10:30, when I should be going to sleep, and start doing something crazy like reorganizing my vintage fabric and patterns! I’d love to have two more hours to do that stuff and still get plenty of sleep!

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My shop partner and I started this business when my son was very little, and before my partner’s children were born. I had no idea how hard it was going to be trying to balance my life as a spouse, mother, homeowner, business owner, and creative person. There really is no “balance.” There is always something that suffers and I have to decide every day what is the thing that is not going to get my full attention. Probably my biggest personal sacrifice is not having enough time, creative energy, or momentum to keep my personal projects moving along like I did before becoming a mom and working a job where I have to be creative all day.


What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

I’m really proud at all that I’ve learned about the craft of letterpress in the ten years I’ve been doing it. There are so many things that are involved in taking an idea and seeing it through to a finished printed piece. I feel like I’ve mastered the intricate problem solving that is required in getting all of our antique type to print properly on the press. I know our press inside and out, how it works, how it should sound and feel when I’m running it, what to do to fix it when it’s not. I love being able to talk to a client about their project and know how to turn what they have in their mind into something beyond what they imagined.

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

I often start the day with some snuggle time with my son when he comes in and wakes me and my husband up. I also try to avoid my phone for as long as I can. I’ve been trying to incorporate a daily morning meditation habit, but it’s rather sporadic as I have to get my wild child and myself out of the house.


How do you decompress at night?

Again, I try to avoid my phone. It’s something I need for the business, but it’s also something that I seem to have a terrible habit of getting lost in and feeling bad about wasting precious time. I don’t have any social media apps on it now, and that’s helped. I really enjoy the time alone with my husband after our son is asleep. Sometimes I’ll knit or embroider while we watch TV, or I’ll listen to podcasts or audiobooks and draw or carve a lino block while he works on his projects.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

I find that when I don’t write daily in my journal I can lose sight of my goals and progress. Sometimes just getting my thoughts out of my head opens up the space I need to get my mind around a project or problem. I always have so much running through my brain that I can’t wrangle until I can see it in front of me.


What does self care look like in your life?

Currently a very real part of caring for myself involves avoiding too much news exposure. I’m also a big believer in mental health therapy. I have a standing monthly appointment with my counselor. Whether I think I need it or not that month I always get a lot out of it. I’m empathic sometimes to an overwhelming degree and always need to remind myself that something I think I might be feeling about a person or their actions are almost always not about me or something I’ve done. The phrase “It’s not all about you!” is a regularly used tool in my coping toolbox. I have a wild imagination and I can end up whipping myself into a frenzy of a story I’m making up about a situation or encounter that is not even remotely factual. I also used to train as an amateur muay Thai kickboxer and have to at least get two weekly kickboxing classes. Also, yoga. Also, lots of glitter and sparkly things.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Is this a trick question!? Of course! So many I’m not sure where to start! My maternal grandma worked for her whole career as the district court clerk in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was also an insanely prolific crafter, seamstress, knitter, cook, baker, gardener, and one of my fashion icons! She taught me that I can always make something myself instead of buying it or relying on someone else to do it. My mom always made my big sister’s amazingly intricate formal dresses for prom and homecoming. We didn’t have much money, but she made sure we had what we needed. I’ve had incredible role models on how to be resourceful, and as an example of how I can pave my own way. I also have some incredibly talented creative business women that I call friends! Cheering each other on in all our successes (or failures!), big and small, feels like we’re all winning! Support like that is better than anything else. Like we’re all paving the way together!


Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Oooo, good question. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Comedy Bang! Bang!. It’s so ridiculous and absurdly funny! It’s perfect for the end of a stressful day. I’m also really looking forward to the new Twin Peaks and Stranger Things seasons! I’m sure they’ll end up among my favorites just like the first installments!

I love to snack on dark chocolate, peanut butter on anything, or fresh mango with lime, chile and salt! So yum.

All photos courtesy of Nieves Uhl

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Full-Time Mom, Part-Time Farmhand, Carrie Wingfield!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

April 3, 2017

An Interview with Full-Time Mom, Part-Time Farmhand Carrie Wingfield


I can't remember the year I met today's bitch, but I remember where I met her - my house. Carrie came to one of our early house parties. (Remember house parties? Remember your youth?) Shortly thereafter, she and John went to SXSW and John told me I would love her and we should be friends. So we became friends. Ta-da!

I'm fascinated with Carrie because she spends her time doing things I spend my time AVOIDING, e.g. reproducing, working outside, getting dirty. Like many adult female friendships, ours has evolved from Carrie getting me into silent auctions with free wine to introducing me to artisanal soap and suburban, in-ground pools. My favorite thing about Carrie is how sincerely she worked, "the tug is the drug" into this Q&A. Meet my creek-fishing, goat-farming friend, Carrie Wingfield!


What is your job title and where do you work?

First and foremost, my job title is Mama and I work for a butterball named Millie. My “real” job is with Little Seed Farm, where I handle our markets and events, as well as some good ole hard work on the 84 acre goat farm in Lebanon, TN.

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I spent almost a decade working in nonprofits, most recently at First Steps in Nashville, where I was the Development and Marketing Director for a wonderful organization that provides services to children with special needs in Middle TN. When I got pregnant, I reevaluated what I wanted to “do” - I originally planned on having the baby and going back to work. But I found that I’d grown tired and unmotivated to continue a desk job, not because it wasn’t a worthy cause, but because begging people for time and money can be mentally exhausting and extremely stressful and I was ready for a change.

In early spring of 2014, I had called Little Seed Farm out of the blue after discovering their soaps at Old Made Good. I wanted to learn about what they did after reading their story. They were in the early days with just James and Eileen, the loveliest couple of farmers ever, and baby George. On my first time out, James showed me to the baby goats, handed me some bottles, and told me to feed them. UM…. YES PLEASE! I continued to volunteer with them, helping James do things like rotate the goat pastures and nail up cedar planks in the now much bigger and expanded soap shack.

When I really decided to soul search, I thought about what I really wanted. What was my happy place? It was the farm. Hearing the roosters, the guinea hens, the dogs, the goats… it was where I felt calm, even when I was sweaty and itchy and exhausted. It was gratifying. It was exercise. It was OUTSIDE. So I took a chance, and I worked many a sweaty farmers market and many a crowded Porter Flea, among others, and this past fall and winter have been working on the farm doing a little bit of everything. It’s the best job I’ve ever had! Doesn’t hurt that the products are amazing and smell like heaven.


What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I use this piece of advice for almost every aspect of life, including business:

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

It wasn’t until I bought my first home by myself that I truly became one of those “organized” people who obsessed over finding the most efficient, orderly way to live and work. It has vastly improved my productivity, both at home and at work. It soothes me to be in a calm, clean place, where everything has it’s place so you’re never wasting time searching. It may annoy my husband… but I think at the end of the day he always knows where his things are!

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

SLEEP. SLEEP. And MORE SLEEP. (Toddler + insomnia + daycare germs = Carrie never sleeps.)


What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of related to what you do?

I’m proud of myself for following my passion. I had to stop kicking myself for it taking so long, stop wishing I’d studied it or found it sooner. But I was meant to work on a farm. I was meant to work with my hands, to work up a sweat, to be moving and active, to make friends with and tend to animals, and to help make the work day more efficient for a team. I’m proud of myself for leaving a comfy, steady, every two weeks paycheck after a decade of supporting myself, and venturing into the unknown of part-time work and full-time motherhood. (And proud of my husband for supporting this dream of mine too.)

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Wine. All the wine. And cheese. When I was reluctantly avoiding admitting I had postpartum depression and anxiety, I took up weaving as a way to calm my mind, and have been hooked ever since. I weave everything from necklaces to mug rugs to large wall hangings, and am currently working on woven plant hangers. I like to Netflix and weave.

What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?

That I’m not doing “it” right. Whatever it is - motherhood, part-time work, being a good friend, being a good wife. The pressure can really get overwhelming sometimes.


What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That I am Eileen, the farm owner. (Pretty much the BEST compliment you could ever give me.) But I get mistaken for her at least once per event. She makes balancing farm life and motherhood look easy with her grace and charm. But we definitely share war stories. It’s not always picturesque on a farm like Instagram shows! It can get… interesting.

What does self care look like in your life?

Today it was stopping at Parnassus Books, getting a new novel and a little light feminist literature, finally getting my hair cut and a splash of color, and playing in the backyard with my husband, daughter, dog and cat. Real talk: It’s usually binging my favorite Netflix or HBO shows cuddled up with a Bota Box. I also love to fish! My favorite saying is “The tug is the drug.”


What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

My motto is tattooed in French right under my boob, actually. “One day at a time.” It has helped me through more tough times than I can count. It is quite honestly all we can really do. Take each day as it comes.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Too many to mention! Women are incredible, and I’ve been lucky to know more than a few who have inspired me to no end. Even just trying to pick them out to answer this question is overwhelming - there are so many women from history, from the public eye, from my past and from my present. I love and admire all of them. I wouldn’t be who I am without my fellow ladies. One in particular would be my friend Georgie. We met in the 8th grade and I have forever admired her absurdly intelligent, effortlessly graceful and articulate nature. She is one of the strongest, most patient women I’ve ever known. I will be lucky to end up even a tenth of the caliber of person she is.


Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

That’s like Sophie’s Choice. No way I can pick one favorite. I’m gonna have to pick a few: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Transparent, Louie (or anything with Louis C.K.), Californication (RIP), Parenthood (met Joel Graham/Braverman at Target West Nashville when I was SUUUUPER pregnant and as you can imagine… fell even more in love because the man said he was “eating hot chicken and drinking beer and felt like wandering around Target.”), and last but not least, Parks and Recreation. Ron Swanson is the greatest.

My favorite snack is cheese dip. No contest.

All photos courtesy of Carrie Wingfield

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Author, Courtney C. Stevens!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

March 29, 2017

2017 Reading Round Up, Part One


At the beginning of every year, Goodreads asks you to compete in their reading challenge. You tell them how many books you want to read, and then they keep track of it for you. In 2016 I read 53 (!!) books, which is insane. I've read 16 books so far in 2017.


*As a reminder, these are off-the-cuff reviews that I peck into my phone as soon as I finish the book. A literary critic, I am not.

Here's what I've been reading!

Real Artists Have Day Jobs: (And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You in School)
by Sara Benincasa

This is a great little book! I love Sara. Highly recommend. It's $1.99 on Amazon Kindle right now.

P.S. If you don't already, follow Sara on Twitter.

The Woman in Cabin 10
by Ruth Ware

Really fun book to read. I couldn't put it down and read it in a little over a day. If you're into murder mysteries, this is a great one. I also really want to go on a boat now, but one where no one dies.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond

For sure, the first nonfiction book I couldn't put down. This book was recommended to me last year and I thought, I'm not reading a ten pound book on eviction. But I went ahead and got on the library waitlist for it, and then when it came, I went ahead and started reading it.

This book has re-wired my brain. I'll never look at poverty and housing the same. It's shocking that we allow this to happen. And it basically explains homelessness, which I've always had a lot of unanswered questions about. This book makes me want to know more, and do something.

It's worth noting that the book's not as long as it looks. The whole back third is acknowledgments and notes. I was surprised when I reached the last page because there were almost a hundred pages left.

Kids of Appetite
by David Arnold

I liked this book a lot. It took me a minute, but once I got into it, I loved it. It gave me a good, cathartic cry. Highly recommend. 

P.S. I met David at SE-YA and he was so, so nice. I'm on the waitlist for his other book, Mosquitoland.

Sag Harbor
by Colson Whitehead

After reading Underground Railroad, I thought, I'm going to read everything Colson Whitehead has written! I might should have started with something more recent. This book is from early in his career and it's too descriptive. Every sentence needs about 4 words taken out of it. Interesting story, could have lived without it.

The Mothers
by Brit Bennett 

I almost didn't read this book because I've heard so many ambivalent reviews, and I get it, it's a sad book. The story orbits around suicide and abortion, plus the central setting is a church. But I liked it. It's touching, well written and I connected with the characters, especially the female friendship between the two main characters. I say give it a chance.

P.S. It's being made into a movie that Kerry Washington is producing.

History Is All You Left Me
by Adam Silvera


I loved this book so much. I couldn't put it down. I'm renaming it, Mascara Running Down My Face Is All You Left Me.

P.S. I also met Adam at SE-YA and fell in love with him because he laughed at my jokes and told me I look like Amy Poehler.

Scarlet Feather
by Maeve Binchy

I just finished this book and if it wasn't 600 pages long, I'd open it back up and read it all over again. I loved this book. I've only ever read Tara Road, but I guess I'm about to read all of Maeve Binchy's books.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet


This is a children's book, and I read it because Ann Patchett recommended it. If like me, Charlotte's Web was one of your favorite books as a child, you'll want to read this really sweet look at E.B. White's life, including his many, many dogs and farm animals. I loved it!

New Year, Same Trash: Resolutions I Absolutely Did Not Keep (A Vintage Short Original)
by Samantha Irby


It's 99 cents, it'll take you 30 minutes to read, you'll laugh through the whole thing. Do it.

P.S. Samantha Irby = shero. Also, she follows me on Instagram, which is possibly the most life-affirming thing that's happened to me on social media.

In the Darkroom
by Susan Faludi

I can't finish this book. I gave it 100 pages and it didn't pull me in. I can't emotionally attach to this book. It reads more like a history on Hungary and Budapest than a story about a father and a daughter. Everyone loves this book, and maybe it gets better, but I'm giving up.

A Modern Way to Cook: Over 150 quick, smart and flavour-packed recipes for every day
by Anna Jones


Meh. This book is above my pay grade. I'm not this kind of cook and I don't buy these kinds of foods. It's a gorgeous book, and I enjoyed reading the intro, and looking at the pictures, but I will never make any of this. It would be a great book for a vegetarian with better than average cooking skills and a backyard full of parsnips.

Swing Time
by Zadie Smith


I liked this book a lot. It's told in first person, unlike any of Zadie's other books, which gives it a more intimate, autobiographical feel. (It's not autobiographical.) It's the story of blackness, told through the lens of female friendship. I heard Zadie speak while she was on book tour, and she blew me away. If she's coming to your city, go see her. She's amazing.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
by Issa Rae


Meh. I like the author and love Insecure, but this book didn't do it for me. Watch her show though. It's amazing.

Nashville Eats: Hot Chicken, Buttermilk Biscuits, and 100 More Southern Recipes from Music City
by Jennifer Justus


New favorite cookbook! Love Jennifer's intros to each chapter, and the suggested playlists! As always, Andrea Behrends photos are amazing. I want to make everything in this book and I want to meet all of these people!

The Shining
by Stephen King


I've been watching the movie, The Shining since I was young, but I never read the book because I assumed they were the same. Wrong! The book is totally different, and better! Now I understand why Stephen King hated the movie/Stanley Kubrick so much. This book is scary as shit. Once the end starts, the end being the last night in the hotel, I couldn't put it down. It's a long book, but the last half reads really fast.

P.S. Forgot what I read last year? Here you go!

P.P.S. Are we friends on Goodreads?

March 27, 2017

An Interview with Author Courtney C. Stevens


As a lot of you know, recently I managed the social media for a book festival. This opportunity came to me via a Bitch, natch. Erin Alvarado handed me the gift of this job back in September and I spent six months getting to know the forty authors who would be at the festival. But I got to know them as the festival, not as myself. So when I met them, I was like, 'Hi, I know everything about the last six months of your life and until this moment, you didn't know I existed'. Totally normal interaction, right?

Luckily for me, authors are nice people! And a few of them had already met me because I would show up at their events and take pictures for the festival's social media. One of these authors is today's bitch. I looooove Courtney! Watching her interact with the 2,000 (!!) kids at SE-YA Book Festival was inspiring. I expected Courtney to have passion for writing and for talking about writing, but I was blown away by her enthusiasm for the kids and her ability to connect with them. She has a unique gift and I can't wait to make her be my friend. Meet today's bitch, YA author and my future rock climbing instructor, Courtney C. Stevens!


What do you do and what are the name of your books?

I name tattoos. I own bandsaws. I climb rock walls. Oh, and I write books with fun relatable titles. Here they be: Faking Normal, The Lies About Truth, and Dress Codes for Small Towns.

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

Did you know Carolyn Keene isn’t a person? She was a bunch of people. What!?! The day I figured that out--say college or so--I thought, well, huh, real people write novels for money. I wanted to be real too, (like Pinocchio, but taller.) I figured out writing was my career when I realized I would write for free.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

I once heard editor Jordan Brown say, “You can do whatever you want. As long as it works.”


Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you write?

It’s not a crafty lesson, but I try to remember that I type sitting down, and I write standing up. If I write from the overflow of a life actually lived, rather than a life imagined, my imagination will have more life.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Study screenwriting.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

They caught it on film. It’s that scene early in The Hunger Games where I put my hand up so they won’t kill my sister. It was a small thing, but I had to do it. Honestly, I can’t think of anything that writing has cost me that I wouldn’t have voluntarily given.


What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of?

Oh, how to pick. The time machine I built in my basement or my new found ability to apparate? Hmmmm. I think I should go with having the opportunity to partner with the next generation of world changers through the written word. So, basically, what every author is doing, and I’m super glad I get to do it too.

Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?

I appreciate brushing my teeth a great deal. And after that, I’m one of those writers who wears jeans instead of pajama pants. So, before I write, I dress in real clothes, have a Diet Coke, and turn on my playlist.

How do you decompress at night?

I snack in the shower, read, and watch part of a TV show on my iPad.


What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

If I’m stuck, I usually exercise. Physical movement turns my gerbil brain wheel. My current favorite quote is from Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
What does self care look like in your life?

Time and guilt are the enemies of self-care. So, self-care is first about understanding my yeses and nos. Before I tell someone I will do something, I ask myself: Does saying yes right now get me where I want to be? If the answer is yes, then I commit. If the answer is no, I politely decline. If I keep that boundary in place, I do a much better job of protecting my physical and emotional time.

To battle guilt, I have two grounding mantras. One, shared by my friend Ruta Sepetys, “Who do you love and who loves you?” She encouraged me to ask myself that question as a way to minimize work guilt. We are human beings not human doings, and making myself consciously say “Who” rather than “What” keeps my soul in better condition.

The second mantra comes from my faith life, because I find that it’s easy to get caught up in sales and external measurements. When my brain starts to tick that way I’ll say, “Hey, Stevens, God will never ask you how many books you sold. But... He’ll probably ask you who you loved. Are you loving people?” That helps me keep the main thing the main thing. Beyond that, I exercise four or five times a week. I wrote a thing about time management and artists, and you can find it here if you are interested in my jabbering ideas.

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Absolutely. I believe everywhere you see a successful woman, you can pretty much bet on the fact that she is standing on the shoulders of other women. I wrote about it in this post: The Chasm of Can’t and The Women Who Could. If I start naming names, I might never stop.


Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I’m currently watching The Good Wife as my iPad show. With my roommates, I’m following two shows this season: Supergirl and Big Little Lies.

In the snack department, I love a good Cheez-It, (but I don’t recommend them for the shower.)

All photos courtesy of Courtney C. Stevens

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Parnassus Events and Marketing Director, Niki Coffman!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

March 14, 2017

The Story of Linda, Part One


Today is my dog's birthday. Our guess is she's 13 years old, but who knows. I've been working on a short story about my dog, and I hadn't planned on sharing it, but it's her birthday and a special girl deserves a special birthday. This story is unedited and unfinished. Maybe I'll keep writing it and keep sharing it. Enjoy.

***


Linda is my dog. Full name: Linda McCartney [Baldwin]. She hails from Pegram in Cheatham County. When John and I got married and bought a house, I immediately started looking for a dog. I grew up with dogs and had been waiting until I lived somewhere where I could have a dog again. This was in 2009, and the website Petfinder was one of the best ways to find a dog. I spent my days scrolling Petfinder, looking at “corgi mixes”. I wanted either a corgi or a cattle dog. Turns out, I got both of those things, all in one glorious, ridiculous dog.

When I found Linda’s picture on Petfinder, I knew she was the one. She was a black and white corgi Australian shepherd mix with a cloud eye and floppy ears. Her Petfinder name was Sophie. Sophie was five years old, house-trained, current on all of her shots, and being adopted out by a rescue group called Cheatham County Paws.

I inquired about Sophie and was told she would be at an adoption fair that coming weekend. I asked if I could see her before then. I assumed she lived on a big farm where this rescue group kept all of their animals. Wrong. Sophie was at Cheatham County Animal Control. When I learned that, I got in my car and drove out there.

I don’t know what the animal control facilities are like where you live, but where I live, they’re notoriously pretty terrible, and this one was no exception. It’s basically like visiting a dog in jail. The woman in charge was sitting behind a glass partition eating takeout from McDonald’s and was visibly aggravated that I was there. The place smelled like nothing I’ve ever smelled before, like dog shit and despair. I told her I knew which dog I was looking for and, without getting up from her lunch, she told me I was welcome to go back to where the dogs were kept and look for Sophie.

Again, none of this is what I expected. I thought Sophie was running around on a farm eating homemade dog treats from a commune of women who drive around looking for stray dogs. When I opened the large steel door that led into the kennel, the stench almost knocked me out. I had to cover my mouth. My eyes were watering. The cages went floor to ceiling and were filled with pit bull mixes, all except one. Sophie was the only dog in her own cage, and the only dog who knew to shit in one corner and sleep in another. I had found my dog.

A teenage boy appeared out of nowhere and asked if I’d like to take her outside while he cleaned her cage. He put a rope around her neck and handed me the end and I walked out the way I came in and took Sophie outside to the piece of grass between the parking lot and the Cheatham County Animal Control sign. She was wet and trembling and looked at me with eyes that said, “Lady, I’m going to die in here if you don’t take me home with you.” Message received. I took some pictures of her to send to my husband and drove back to my office. A few days later, my husband and I drove back out there and adopted her. She cost $150. I imagine that buys a lot of combo meals at McDonald’s.

The rescue group was in the process of getting Sophie spayed. The appointment was made and paid for, we just had to take her. We brought our new dog home, named her Linda McCartney and she spent one night with us before we were to take her to her vet to get spayed. The vet’s office was great, they knew Sophie/Linda because they had already given her all of her shots and they worked with the Cheatham County Paws rescue group. They told me the regular vet was on vacation and a visiting vet from Knoxville would be doing Linda’s surgery. They would call me that afternoon to tell me how she did. So I went to work. At this time, I worked in the state legislature, and they were in session, so when I got the call from the vet that afternoon, I was sitting behind my boss, a state senator, on the floor of the senate in the state capitol building. It was in that seat, behind my boss, who’s mic was on, when I said into my phone, “You gave her an abortion?!”

I learned a lot about animal reproductivity that day. For instance, did you know that if a dog is pregnant and gets a rabies vaccination, that pregnancy is no longer viable? The vaccine deforms the in-utero puppies. I know. When the vet called me that day, she said, in this order, “The surgery went fine. Linda is in recovery. She was pregnant.” She also told me that Linda appeared to have been impregnated by a pit bull, and that they guessed that this would have been her fifth litter of puppies. Linda’s been around the block!

Hilarious side story. I have young nieces and when they met Linda, they were fascinated with her rows of nipples and asked me if Linda was a mom. Shit. They always ask me questions that I don’t know how to answer. So I told them that yes, Linda was a mom, which of course led to a line of questioning about where her babies are, does she miss them, is she sad, etc. They kept lovingly stroking her head and cooing, “Oh, momma Linda, don’t be sad.” It was very sweet, and very funny.

I learned from the rescue group that Linda had been at animal control for months. She was a stray that the dog catcher caught and brought in. Because she looks primarily like a corgi, they assumed she was missing and made flyers for her and took her to all of the adoption fairs, but no one ever called about her or claimed her. Someone had owned her because she was house-trained. A few years later I was talking to a County Mayor, who was also a farmer, and he told me that his county’s animal control office gets dogs who are riding in the backs of trucks that are driving through town - the dog jumps out at a red light, the owner doesn’t realize it, the dog ends up in animal control, and the owner has no idea which town he left his dog in. I showed him a picture of Linda and he said, “Oh, she was a farm dog.”

This story of Linda being a truck-jumping farm dog is hard to believe because of her short stature, but it’s better than the alternative. That she was a stray dog in Cheatham County, living on the streets, eating trash, drinking rain water, and raising five litters of puppies. She’s house-trained. She had to have lived with someone. I’ll never know.

One year passes. We love Linda and her presence in our house, even though all she does is sleep. We don’t think anything about it, she’s a five year old dog, she’s not an energetic puppy. We tell ourselves she loves us even though she she’d rather stare at us from across the room than sit next to us and let us pet her. Herding dogs, am I right?

It’s time to take Linda back to the vet for her one year checkup. Instead of taking her back to the vet who performed her surgery, I took her to a “value” vet that all of my friends convinced me was a perfectly legitimate place to take my dog. A well woman appointment for a dog includes taking her weight, administering her state-mandated rabies vaccination, and checking for heartworms.

No dog likes the vet, and Linda was having a strong reaction to being in this facility. She was shaking, whimpering and had her tail between her legs. They also took her away from me and performed all of these procedures while I sat out front in the waiting room. A technician brings Linda back out to me and tells me she has heartworms. They want to run the test one more time to make sure, so I wait. While I’m waiting, both the tech and the front desk clerk tell me how “very, very sorry” they are. They keep petting Linda and asking me how old she is, which is followed again with how “very, very sorry” they are. It finally clicks and I realize they’re sad because they know I’m going to have to have Linda put down. The vet comes out and confirms this - that Linda has heartworms, that it’s advanced and at her age, there’s not anything else they can do. Then they try to ask me if I want to go ahead and schedule the appointment to have her put down. Not on my watch, lady. All of the maternal genes I’ve spent my whole life ignoring kick in, I pick Linda up and run to my car, tears streaming down my face. I call my husband, sobbing, “They’re trying to kill Linda!” I don’t even remember where he was working during this time, but wherever it was, he left and was at our house by the time I got there with Linda. He had a friend who’s family had a veterinary clinic in Georgia who, astoundingly, was known for saving the lives of dogs with heartworms. We called and they could take her, so we got in the car and drove five hours to Georgia.


To be continued....

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