Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Real rewards

One of the prominent qualities of a true fashionista is the ability -- nay, the instinctual need -- to one-up.

You wear a feather in your hair. I wear an entire ball gown made out of feathers. To Walgreens.

You wear a trendy patch of lace on your sweatshirt. I wear more lace than a Mexican quinceanera: a purple seven-layer(-dip) lace skirt, black lace leggings, a gray lace corset-style blouse and a gray scarf. Too much? Nah, I scaled back and I left the lace wrist-length gloves at home. Ridiculous? Only if you're boring. I prefer fearless and fun.

So needless to say, when my husband achieved the master one-up on me, it sent me into an identity-crisis tizzy.

He put the card in my pants. How? How did he do it? And more importantly, how could I ever beat that?

The challenge began about a month ago in the queue at Big Lots in Longmont. Despite the Hub's intimidating appearance -- he towers above Too Tall Jones like a 7-foot-tall tattooed totem pole -- he, like most huge beasts, is extremely gentle. So much, in fact, that he could not say no to the elderly cashier when she asked him to sign up for a Big Lots Buzz Club Rewards card. Just spend something like $200 a Big Lots and you can redeem your 20-percent-off reward.

Gee whiz.

I understand a Walmart rewards card because it's impossible to walk out of that war zone without dropping $2,000, even if you just "run in" to "grab some batteries."

But is it even possible to spend $200 at Big Lots? I don't think the entire store of dinged-up junk amasses to 50 bucks. And if we were to somehow blow that much cash at Big Lots, 20 percent off is a totally sucky prize. I mean, isn't the premise of the store that everything is already discounted? So, what, after spending $200 I can get my toilet paper for $1.40 instead of $2 discounted from $5?

Obviously, I had to make fun of my husband, because I am as short as he is tall and everyone knows that short people are generally evil. To rub it in, I sneaked the Big Lots card into his car -- "Just in case you need it, sweetie."

Later that day, I found the card in my wallet. So I put it on his key chain. Without saying a word, he wedged the card into my lipstick.

Oh, hell no. Not the lipstick.

It was on.

He nearly choked on the card while popping sunflower seeds on our recent road trip. I nearly vomited when I found it at the bottom of my beer. Then it appeared stuck on the inside of my sunglasses, in the leg of his surfing wet suit, under his scrambled eggs, wedged inside my apple pie, in the left cup of my bra.

The card made it inside my book, inside his shoe, under my pillow and in the bag for my white Halloween wig.

I was impressed when he managed to affix it to my bobby pin while shopping in Vegas without me noticing. When he grew suspicious of my actions, I enlisted a friend to slip it in his right shorts pocket while we were dancing on Halloween. I thought the superlative was when I found the stupid card taped to my back; it had been there all day.

But then I found it in my pants.

This brought up all kinds of complicated emotions for me. How oblivious must I be to my surroundings if A) He had managed to accomplish this, and B) I had not noticed for I don't know how long. Not to mention the gross factor. He swore he'd disinfected it, but after the scrambled eggs and wet suit, I felt a little violated, I did.

Which brings us to today. I've been paining over how to get back at that sneaky freak of mine.

With the full acceptance that some things just can't be one-upped -- like, say, Gaga's dress made out of raw meat -- I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't at least try.

Dear Husband, I hope you enjoy your lunch. I made that pizza just for you. Pick a slice, any slice. I call this game Russian Rewards Roulette.

Peeping tomboy

Indisputably, the creepiest thing about me is how much I love to people-watch.

When I lived in the city and not North-side-til-I-die Longmont, my favorite hobby was to walk through the neighborhoods around 6 p.m., right when everyone was shuffling around their homes after work. It was late enough that they turned the lights on, illuminating their windows like miniature stages, but early enough that they still left their curtains open.

My interest wasn't perverse. And it's not like I stalked a certain family, so put away that restraining order.

I just loved imagining things. I would turn to whatever poor friend I suckered to walk with me and exclaim, as if it were the most amazing news since Docs came back in style, "People live there. They relax on that couch. They've probably spilled on that couch, and only they know the memory associated with that stain. What do you think that stain is from?"

Needless to say, it was hard to keep a steady walking partner.

From the outside, I was a creeper and it was just another window to pass. But to someone inside, that window marked a meaningful refuge, his or her own little personal station. I saw a window into another life. Every home was another story. It was like walking through a virtual library, or window-shopping for imaginary characters based on actual home d├ęcor.

It's fantastic how much you can imagine about a person based on a glimpse into their living room. Like this guy: middle aged, long gray hair, spends 14 hours a day on a recliner watching TV. His walls are completely empty. His furniture is stacked magazines and plastic kitty litter outhouses.

You can't help it, your imagination is already piecing together this guy's life story, isn't it?

He's my neighbor. Yeah, I've been window-shopping again. I can't help it, though. I'm a gypsy with a mortgage.

My nature is that of Johnny Depp in the movie "Chocolat," yet I'm too something (or too little something) to actually follow through with city-hopping. So instead, I constantly rearrange my furniture and change my hair color, and I relocate every day (sometimes even 23 times in one day) in my imagination.

Photo by Flickr user texasgurl.

A surprising comedy about human consumption and Saran wrap

The bodies, compressed shoulder-to-shoulder, gut-to-gut, pulsate as one unit. Expanding with the inhale, quivering in anticipation with the exhale. Pacing from foot to foot, cheeks red and anxious, hovering over the Saran-wrapped pallet.

The bodies wait, staring at the immobile plastic mountain, elbows pressed outward to mark their space, their ranking in line based on who got there first. Hierarchy rules.

The supply is limited, which heightens the stress and competition. In this tight bubble, there is no room for sharing, no consideration for need. The poor and the greedy perch on the same branch, rewarded solely by their aggression and steady commitment to piercing the plastic barrier.

The bodies have been waiting weeks for the looming moment when the plastic is removed and they can possess the object underneath. This is important. Pivotal.

I have been here before.
It is 2008. I stand in the center of a circle on a refugee camp in Uganda, my hand on a plastic-covered stack of pink mosquito nets that we are distributing. This part of the world has one of the highest death tolls by malaria -- one child dies every 30 seconds from this preventable, mosquito-borne illness.

Mothers wearing dirty babies press toward the thin rope that we strung between trees, hoping to create some semblance of order. At first, it works. But as time crawls on, the tension swells. I hear the crowd growing in my ears, like a rabid dog pushed into the corner. I try to stay calm, to somehow send peace across the crowd.

But the dirt-lined faces begin spitting at me, shouting and demanding. They are sick of waiting. I rationalize with myself, knowing that I am here out of love, knowing that fear is the opposite of love. I reject the fear. Breathing. Breathe. I summon compassion, for the refugees' suffering, for their desperation. They are fighting to survive. I stand still and accept their anger, words slapping my face like cold, open palms. Now fists.

A sharp hand claws a mosquito net out of my hands, and the man runs away like a frightened thief. He thinks there are not enough nets, and this is a matter of life or death. I feel a chill rise, and with the crescendo, the crowd bursts through the rope barrier, a sea of despondency. The levy breaks.

I frantically look for an exit out of the mob. Claws, ripping, my heart chokes in my throat. I have no saliva. In its place, the rusty taste of fear. The riot explodes at my feet. I scream and tear for any exit, through arms and faces and sweat. With the next pound of my heartbeat, I suddenly understand the fight for life or death.

Ah yes. I have seen this before.
I look across the crowd, anxious bodies, circling a mountain of plastic-wrapped goods. Only this time, I am staying on the outside of the throng.

And this time, the mob swarms around a stack of DVD players that are discounted 70 percent for Black Friday.

This time, the mob is fighting for -- what?

I laugh.


Boulder is the third-techiest city in the nation, according to a TechAmerica Foundation report.
And we would be in first place if I weren't throwing off the curve. Ask my office's IT guys; I crash computers by looking at them. I should just start carving my articles into rocks.

While prepping for a recent party, I realized our boombox was broken. Well, I lost the cord, and I didn't want to look for batteries. So I sent an e-mail (very high tech) to several friends asking them to bring some good CDs to play from our DVD player (fancy) through the TV (some might also refer to this device as a "television set").

That is when it came to my attention that no one listens to these small silver circles of ever-
scratched plastic anymore. My friend Jess put it gently: "I can burn you some CDs from my iPod, I guess." Burn. Pod. Help. I was so out of my league.

Jess is the same friend who gave me a laptop she didn't want anymore because she was sick of me responding to her Facebook Evites three weeks past event date. That meant I also had to get the World Wide Internets in my house. When I signed up (it took three months), Comcast offered cable TV, too. I said no thanks, but we were satisfied with our bunny-ears antenna with crushed PBR cans on the ends (tech tip: they work excellent to boost the signal).

If you think I'm ignoring the photo you sent me of your engagement ring or new flip phone blackberry 32L network pad pod (see, I can't even come up with a fake product name), I'm not. I just don't get pictures on my Sanyo Qualcomm 3G CDMA, which came with my $35 per month contract. But feel free to post a "digital photo" on my "Facebook wall." I've been known to check that every two weeks, now that I have the Information Superhighway running through my very own house.

Just pretend I'm your grandmother. Ten years ago.

Photo by Flickr user kitakitts.

Brittany: How we got punked by an 80-year-old

The judgmental smirk from the older woman walking past our table tipped me off. We had Lola all wrong.

My BFF Brittany and I were stuffing lo mein into our mouth-holes at a Chinese restaurant called Golden Heaven Gate Red Dragon Lotus (or some arrangement of those six key words). Coming off a tumultuous week, we'd decided to kick the fun up a notch and sarcastically sport two extra-special Christmas sweaters to our lunch festivities.

Brittany's grandma, Lola, had recently given her the two sweaters, disclaiming that Brittany "might be out and about a bit more and need them."

Thoughtful, yes. The problem? Let's start with the looming sequin tree dominating the front of the boxy, thick red fabric; the star made a precise nipple bull's eye. And the decorative jingle bells. And the silver tinsel. And. And. And.

It felt a little National Lampoonish (where grandma wraps up her live cat as a present). Yet Lola, 80, was distinctly no Griswold. In fact, when she gave Brittany the sweaters, she, herself, was wearing skinny jeans under knee-high boots and a classy white blouse with a subtle holly embroidered on the collar.


Thinking about it, we'd never seen Lola wear anything like the nipple-star sweater. She looked like a movie star, from her still-pristine complexion to her signature necklace -- a cross that rivals 50 Cent, formed out of all of her old wedding bands ("reshaped into love for Jesus"). The exact number of diamonds is unclear, but let's just say any self-respecting rapper would be glittering with envy. I know I was.

Trying to piece this growing mystery together, Brittany and I began tracing back the gifts her grandma had given her over the years.

It started with a calculator with multi-colored gemstones instead of numbers. ("Probably why I'm so bad at math today," Brittany explains.) Then there were the purple bedazzled sunglasses with lenses in the shape of butterflies.

"These reminded me of something you might like," Lola had told Brittany.

When Brittany received a shapeless mauve winter jacket one year, Brittany noticed her grandma was wearing a fitted, trendy, double-breasted military-style coat. Then two years ago,

Lola gifted two ballcaps, smothered and heaving in multi-colored sequins because "I thought these might be of use to you."

We had laughed it off as just one of those bizarre gifts that grandmas give.

But on this day, at Heaven's Dragon Gate Golden Red Lotus, I looked at what Brittany was wearing -- underneath her sparkling jinglesweater: a royal blue dress from Forever 21, with a modest scattering of sequins on the shoulders.

That's when a woman about Lola's age walked past our table and looked us up and down, in unmasked horror.

Lola had never been spotted in sequins or insect-shaped sunnies. She wore over-the-knee boots three years before they hit the runways, military-style jackets and classy blouses. "These reminded me of something you might like." "I thought these might be of use to you."

Oh, my Golden Girls. Heavens to Betsy. I gasped.

Here we thought we were so hilarious, wearing Lola's ugly Christmas sweaters out to lunch. But this chic grandma was the one really laughing. At her granddaughter's garish style. Her gifts over the years had actually been gags.

And that's how we got punked by an 80-year-old.

Photo by Flickr user Robby Mueller.

Sometimes it's just sexier to be fake

The fire tickled the fresh-cut logs, as the scent of isolation painted the cabin with cozy stillness.

My new husband and I, obnoxiously sappy amid the first 48 hours of our marriage, stepped over the threshold (a word only acknowledged by new brides, never to be used again) of the mountain retreat that was our honeymoon.

Visions of sugarplums, porch swings, bird songs and calling each other "schmoopy" in the shadows of the fireplace danced through my head. No cell service or Internet. Just a stack of books, a teapot, my beloved and... two terrified eyes gaping at me from a decapitated head that had been nailed to the wall.

It wasn't the remnants of a voodoo ceremony or an ancient Roman battle. It was a bobcat. And an elk. And a deer. And a zoo of hunting trophies, paralyzed in their death for decorative purposes.

Now, I'm not committed enough to be an activist or rich enough to be a Boulderite or a vegan. I grew up in the mountains and learned how to brandish a shotgun before I could dress myself.
I've killed a snake with a shovel and eaten elk jerky and even Rocky Mountain oysters.

I just think it's gross to hang them on my body.

Decorating your house with preserved carcasses is like wearing a real fur coat or snakeskin boots. My closet is more sparkly and impractical than a Vegas showgirl's bustier, but it is not deceased. I own a floor-length faux fur black cape, a fake fur hand muff, and I recently acquired an Urban Outfitters coat made entirely out of fake feathers (which, according to the drunk guys who stopped me on New Year's Eve, actually looks like woolly mammoth or perhaps pterodactyl).

My closet boasts more faux leather skirts and corsets than food crumbs stuck in all of the Hell's Angels' beards combined. And I have enough fake snakeskin to clothe a fake python long enough to fake squeeze a fake elephant to fake death -- and subsequently enough of said elephant's imitation ivory jewelry to build a tower for at least half of Boulder to sit in.

My statement isn't political; it's fashionable. We are not cavemen, so we have options to not have to rub against rotting bones, flesh and fur of dead animals. Why don't we crystallize livers and hang them from our earlobes, or concoct an entire dress out of meat slabs? Oh wait, Lady Gaga did.

Let me explain something here.

When I first met my husband, before that one day I used the word "threshold," his mutt of a dog, Stitch, was almost a deal-breaker. Stitch is like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown, except instead of dust, she constantly walks in a cloud of white dog fluff. If I try to sweep up her hair, before I get to the dustpan, the hair has already regenerated in every corner -- even if Stitch is locked outside. She actually drops tiny hair seed pods, which procreate when they touch oxygen and then multiply exponentially, like Gremlins, or H1N1, or the terrifying trend of jeggings.

More than half of my waking hours are spent trying to escape animal fur; the idea of intentionally swathing my body with it makes me twitch.

I am sure there are more profound reasons to protest fur apparel, just like I'm sure Lady Gaga had some underlying sanity to her bloody steak suit. But for me, I've got enough leverage to stand my ground on the mere evolution out of the Neanderthal and into a species with more options, and better-smelling synthetics. Ones that don't spy on you with shell-shocked, frozen eyeballs while you're trying to get your honeymoon on.

Perverted bobcats.

Laura: Some things you never outgrow

The rent-a-cops at the hotel couldn't prove it, but they kicked Laura out anyway. On New Year's Eve, at 9:30 p.m., they sent her packing to the ice-rink of I-25.

It would have been tragic if we hadn't had 20 years of practice handling, and thereby laughing at, fashion-related adversity.

Laura and I were both straight-A students who grew up to be intelligent, respectable mothers with clean houses, emptied dishwashers and a regular stream of elaborate dinners that make
Martha Stewart look as lame as Colonel Sanders (OK, that last part is jut Laura, but I'm taking credit by association).

Except somehow when it comes to anything fashion related. Then we become terrorists.
Take New Year's. Granted, the security guards had their eyes on us, after they physically removed us from the life-sized gingerbread house for trying to consume the candy corn fireplace (apparently this "stressed out the children").

But don't build a glass elevator running through the middle of a hotel if you don't -- how do I phrase this? -- expect teenage boys to seize the opportunity when a woman wearing a short pink satin dress takes said elevator, and, unthinking, leans against the glass.*

If you ask me, the po-po should have kicked out the horrible teenage boys.

*For written record, this is exactly how the events unfolded, and no other possible way.

Perhaps Laura and I have bad luck. For example, in seventh grade when her mom asked us to paint the living room, how were we supposed to know that she wanted white paint and not bright orange? I thought we were overachieving by including the doors, hinges, light switches, trim and even some of the floor. Who knew her mom would cry?

This incident sent me into a spiral of rebelliousness against walls. At school, every time I went to the ladies room to apply lipstick (three times per passing period), I kissed the wall to dab off excess color. Soon, I had created an elaborate collage of pink smooches across the vast wall of blue tile.

Not even the notes the custodian left deterred me; first, pleas of cessation, explaining how difficult it was to remove dried Mauve Magic. Then, a sign announced that the walls were being washed with toilet water. Pssh. I actually kissed a toilet that day to make a statement about my untouchable insubordination. Looking back, there might have been a less hepatitis-y way to make my point, which I guess was, "I am the master of all walls, and the toilet."

Toilet water could not restrain my lips, but in-house detention eventually did.

A few weeks later, a substitute teacher said she smelled alcohol in my locker. "Yes, of course you do," I confessed cockily, and pulled out the bottle for her to see: Aquanet. Duh. I sprayed it in her face, to give her a good whiff.

I got sent to detention, which was whatever because I was already in detention for stealing an ID card from the library Rolodex (for you youthful whippersnappers who don't know what a "Rolodex" is for, well, neither do I) of the boy I had a crush on. Luke was cool because he had a puffy Buffalo Bills Starter jacket. He wore that jacket in his library picture. I needed it -- to kiss, now that I was banned from using the bathroom at school.

Detention wasn't half-bad, because there I could hang out with Laura. This time she was there due to controversial school pictures. Laura, whose parents were super strict (who wouldn't be after the orange paint incident?), left the house wearing a ribbed turtleneck and overalls. But by the time she got up to the front of the line for class pictures, she was sporting a midriff-baring lace shirt that would only be acceptable on an actual prostitute.

These photos remain immortalized in the yearbook today. Which makes the three days in the detention room totally worth it.

Of course, now that we're all grown up, we have risen above our troubled pasts, or at least we have better excuses.

Like it was the seamstress's fault for not sewing a tighter seam up the back of Laura's pants. Otherwise, they wouldn't have busted when she dropped it like it's hot. Twice.

And David's Bridal should make higher quality dyeable heels. Otherwise, Laura wouldn't get in trouble at a wedding for pounding her shoe against the wall, to try to repair the nail in the heel. Three times.

Luckily, over the years, Laura's mom has forgotten about the offensive paint job. Laura helped divert her mom's attention by meeting her at church, smoking a cigar and wearing a T-shirt that said, "I kissed your girlfriend."

At least it wasn't a lace crop top. See? A lesson learned.

Reba: Home weird home

Reba is weird. I love her.

Reba's apartment is a museum of the world's most amusing flea market items. It's a gallery of conversation pieces. It is, in and of itself, a work of art.

Public speaker Patricia Fripp once said style is being yourself, but on purpose. My childhood friend Reba's home is like diving inside her beautifully mad brain and backstroking across her dreams. It's the most alive building I've ever walked through, a character. And a dangerous inspiration.

Reba's living room boasts not one, but two, sets of mannequin legs. One rests upside down between the green nightstand, barely wide enough to support her television, and Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist doll, who I simultaneously want to hug and set on fire.

Full-scale skeletons dance on Reba's walls year-round, along with a sad clown portrait made out of yarn, various robots, a picture of a dog in a tuxedo and an oversized landscape of a German castle. She uses old doors for picture frames and a newspaper rack for dishes.

On some street in Oregon that I forget but it was cool. Being stalked by a cardboard wolf.
She adorned her kitchen table -- and four mismatched chairs -- with decoupaged coffee bags, and she let her 6-year-old son, River, decorate the bottom of the table. He chose hundreds of googley eyeballs. When new people visit, Reba excitedly ushers them under the table to lie and gaze at her son's creation.

Spend 10 minutes in this apartment and you'll feel like you've known Reba for 20 years. It's the opposite of a beige Pottery Barn showroom house that could be anyone's. Reba's house couldn't
be anyone else's. That's what makes it so glorious.

I visited her in Oregon last week, and returned home to an office that had relocated from a 120-year-old station on the Pearl Street Mall to a modern business park in east Boulder. At the new desk, first I noticed the cleanliness (more than a century of newsprint, yellowed papers and journalist tears really crusts up a place). Then, I jumped out of my chair. This order was uncomfortable. My desk needed flair. And a little crust. Just enough for character.

My first reaction was to hit up one of the Pearl Street shops that I've grown addicted to over the past 10 years (gross, I'm old) at the Daily Camera. Urban Outfitters. Goldmine Vintage. But that was no longer my 'hood. I wept three tears.

I needed to trailblaze east Boulder, like Christopher Columbus blazed the Atlantic, or like Russell Brand explored every woman east of Wales.

My sense of adventure and lack of finances led me to the Salvation Army on 33rd Street. After I ran across a cookbook so ancient that it was growing a new variation of mushrooms, I knew I was home.

My house, albeit lacking eyeballs on the underside of the table, has its own energy. Obnoxiously bright walls, furniture from the 1950s and '60s and even pictures of a glittery unicorn and a hologram wolf (both gifts) (amazing). I'll never claim my house is immaculate, and I'll never pretend I'm rich. But I am proud of my odd little nest that reads about me like my own palm.

At the Salvation Army, I found records for 49 cents each. Frames for $1.30. Books for 49 cents. I almost bought three dozen Chinese literature books (for the colorful pictures of birds and mustached men), but instead, I opted for two Whitman classical books, printed in 1955. Ever blasphemous, I ripped out my favorite sketches from "Five Little Peppers" -- of a girl crying, burglars breaking into a house and a gaggle of kids writing a letter -- and I framed them.

Nearby on my desk, I hung three record covers that make me laugh, including "Sing Along with the Honkey-Tonks," and I bought an old milk pitcher to hold my pens. I found a wooden jewelry box to organize my office supplies (paper clips, sticky notes and lipsticks). I used the records to divide up my desk. The grand revamp: $8.45.

As I complete my first article in the Camera's new quarters, I feel a little greedy, like I get the best of both worlds: a modern office without asbestos flaking into my tea, and a little old-fashioned weirdness, to remind me of where we came from.

I even decorated the underside of my desk, in honor of River. Feel free to peek under there. The carpet's clean of journalist sludge.

At least for now.

Clayton: Grin and beard it

Mustaches aren't funny anymore. There. I said it.

No more mustache theme parties. No more moustachio-etched coffee mugs or pink stick-on crumb-catchers. I am calling for an end to 'stachical jewelry and stickers, and even requesting the removal of all mustache tattoos on the inside of the pointer finger. I never want to see another sarcastic soup-strainer, I swear. Even though they still make me chuckle. At some point, the nose bug has to lose its funny.

Doesn't it?

Why does the fuzzy upper lip tickle me so, metaphorically and literally? Perhaps it's a passive anti-bourgeoisie statement (because everyone knows all bosses have mustaches, even the women). The nose-tickler denotes control: Hulk Hogan, Magnum P.I., Josef Stalin. Could there be some underlying rebellion rising with this unstoppable trend?

Or is facial hair just plain amusing?

Supporting the latter is my friend Clayton. His wife, Alex, wanted him to grow Elvis sideburns. He wanted a Groucho Marx. The end result was a hybrid of the two, a sort of Sgt. Floyd Pepper from the Muppets. A burnstache. Mustchops.

Clayton grew in a wee soul patch under his bottom lip, just to get wild. He ended up with hair everywhere except his lower jawbones, or the opposite of K-Fed's famous pencil-thin, chin-strap (also known as the "douche beard"). When asked about his unique scruff, Clayton explained that it had been "originally popularized by a U.S. president in the 1800s," if a trend can still be considered popularized 200 years later.

Coincidentally -- purely -- Clayton is also beardbald on his lower jaw area. As far as I can tell, most guys suffer this ailment, where a peculiar patch on their face has zero hair follicles. My husband's is next to his left ear, which results in one Vanilla Ice sideburn, with lines and zigzags naturally shaved in. This has not, however, stopped him from occasionally growing them out.

The plus side: I never have to fear my man attempting the lumberjack fave: mutton chops.

Options for facial hair designs are only limited by a man's imagination (well, and his blank spots).

In a "quest for every beard," blogger Jon Dyer experimented with 42 different scruff styles (dyers.org/blog/beards/beard-types), including a few rarer species, such as the Hollywoodian (mustache-beard sans sideburns). Dyer calls himself an annual winter beard-wearer and active celebrator of not only Octobeard and No Shave November, but also December's MaBeGroMo (Macho Beard Growing Month, which he created himself).

"Growing a beard is one of the simplest, zero-effort, macho things you can do," he writes on his blog.

When selecting your beard style, experts recommend complimenting your face shape. Let it grow for two weeks, and then re-examine your creation, according to eHow.com. At this point, the Web site says, you will have experience two bouts of itching and you possibly look homeless.

Considering your follicular strengths, choose a style. A weak stache? Opt for the Lincoln. Bare cheeks? A goatee is your friend.

Are your strengths on the edges of your face? If so, grow it long and flowy, a la Amish, or if you want to get beat up all the time, step into the chin strap. Feeling innovative? Shave everything except the edges, sideburns and then shave your head, except for your bangs. Voila -- you've mastered the Hair Ring of Fire. I'm pretty sure that was popularized by a red-headed U.S. Secretary of State in the 1700s.

With options like that, how can anyone ever laugh at Tom Selleck again?

Important vocabulary
Increase your knowledge and impress your friends by incorporating these terms into your daily life. Source: Urbandictionary.com.

Stache-ism: Prejudice or discrimination toward individuals with mustaches.

Beard Goggles: When you see a man with a beard, and you automatically think that person is awesome, funny, chill or just an overall cool dude just because he has a beard.

Beard of Shame: The beard that a man will grow after his girlfriend has broken up with him.

Photo by Bill Hogan.

How dresses can be good for your mental health

My baby twirls.

Granted, it is a slow, wobbly circle that usually ends with her tumbling down and injuring her head. But it is clear that Bettie Anne has the Twirling Instinct.

That's what I focus on. Not the impossible fact that she's almost 1. Why is she growing up? I told her not to. She didn't listen. I think I need to ground her.

Rumor is she even has teeth in there, but I don't know how many. I don't want to know. Because big girls have teeth, and since she was just born yesterday, she can't be a big girl yet.

She walks. Like a mature homo sapiens -- all upright and stuff. We went shopping on Saturday, and she walked through the store and got lost and confused under a clothing rack. This is also very peculiar since she is only three days old.

I am going to have another talk with Bettie tonight and explain to her why she needs to stop getting all grown up. Eleven months and 21 days is sufficient. Good job. She can stop now. Thanks.

Don't get me wrong. I adore the little lady she has become, especially how she rubs her hands together like she is washing them, and how she added in the cheerleader-style spirit fingers to the hand's-up "touchdown" move that Dad taught her for the Superbowl. My heart melts when she rocks her baby-doll while barking like a dog (like a poodle-mommy hybrid), and how she helps me do the laundry by pulling every single item out of all of the drawers.

I proudly watch my baby beginning to make sense out of the machine that we call Earth, but I warn her not to make too much sense out of things, because the unexplainable and indefinable parts are the most interesting.

Any parent knows it's incredible watching your baby define her personality and interests and abilities. And in all practicality, dresses fall much more gorgeously when they aren't bunched up around an immobile infant's milk-logged neck. A two-legged human being means no more dress folds. It means my daughter can experience the magical, floating feeling of a skirt twirling around her legs -- one of our first encounters with creating beauty.

I remember shortly after her birth (the superlative encounter with creating beauty), I was stuck in ICU. I couldn't hold her because I had lost too much blood to move my arms, and I had a thick transfusion tube implanted in my jugular, so I couldn't move my head. Bettie wasn't supposed to be there with me because it was dangerous for a preemie. But a nurse sneaked her down and placed her on my chest.

I remember whispering stuff into her hairy little ears (because she was born with hair on her ears like a monkey), and I told her things that we would do together. Some day, we would go to the park and dance and sing and sit under an apple tree. I told Bettie about twirling and tried to explain its significance, like how it creates a 360-degree, ever-rotating perspective shift and is such a pure form of pleasure. You should make sure you twirl at least three times every day, otherwise you could lose your grip on unreality, I explained.

Now, my baby twirls. All on her own.

I wonder if she absorbed what I told her. Maybe she's trying to show me that we made it; all of the promises I made her are coming true.

We have so much to celebrate on this first birthday. I know that. Remind me again. No dress folds, no dress folds, no tears, silly mama.

I think I need to commit to an extra 21 twirls every day this month. Because my perspective seems to be stuck looking backward.

Photo by Iman Woods.

Surely, this is what the Buddha meant by aesthetic, right?

Every day, my life forces me to practice wabi-sabi.

This Japanese concept is essentially the appreciation of flawed beauty. The acknowledgment that nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect -- and that very simplicity is profoundly fascinating and interesting.

Wabi-sabi is the green satin A-line skirt that my friend Laura sewed me for my 30th birthday.
It is the slightly scuffed-up pink pearl necklace I discovered at an estate sale. It is the wrinkles framing my eyes, the dirt on a freshly plucked carrot, the dried sweet potatoes on my daughter's left temple after a particularly enthusiastic dinner and the yellowing pages that break out of old books.

Wabi-sabi is a reminder that everything is fleeting, and that decay is woven into growth. Wabi-sabi is that which is asymmetrical, imperfect, incomplete and impermanent.

Which, incidentally, is how I would describe my husband's latest "creation."

My first encounter with this object was in the kitchen. For some reason, it was drying on the stovetop: a shiny silver 1-foot-tall statue of a flying hotdog on a triangular podium.
So many thoughts raced through my mind.

Oh, so many.

My emotions oscillated between confusion and delight, and then intense hope, that this special piece would not be our new roommate. For like a flying hotdog it did not look, but rather like a metallic banana in a thin bowl, or a fat snake inside a large contact lens, or fill in the blank with awkwardly phallic entities of corresponding shapes; please don't make me say it.

I was relieved when my husband explained that this statue would soon be awarded to his friend Jeff, who won the fantasy football recital show contest try-outs, or something involving sportive activities and thereby completely confusing to me. Turns out, the fake football troupe was called the Flying Hotdog Circus, and the statue was intended to be a spoof of the Lombardi Trophy. I didn't get the joke. But I did get that the manicotti tube in a clamshell would be leaving my house, so I smiled.

The next day, my husband had moved the trophy to the top of the refrigerator so the final layer of spray-paint could dry. The day after that, the trophy sat on the sidewalk in front of our house; another layer, for good luck.

A few days later, my husband came running in the house, moaning, "Oh no, oh no" like a little kid, juggling about 50 silver chunks. While adding yet another layer of paint, a corner of the base had crumbled off and the statue had toppled out of his hands onto the cement.

We would obviously have to super-glue it all back together, he explained. Obviously.

It took four tubes of epoxy, which my dad says can hold train cars together, but apparently not a clay hotdog wing. Five tubes. Two more layers of paint, now as structural support instead of aesthetic. By now, the trophy was missing many major components, the wings looked veiny with fault lines and the once-triangular base now resembled a tower of rubble.

I came home yesterday, and this time the statue was drying in the middle of the kitchen table. I went to move it so I could get ready for dinner.


It didn't move.

That is when it came to my attention that my husband had accidentally super-glued the flying hotdog trophy to our kitchen table.

So many thoughts raced through my mind. Oh, so many.

Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi. I repeated the words like a mantra, reminding myself to enjoy the flawed beauty that was now our dining centerpiece.

Asymmetrical. Imperfect. Incomplete.

But unfortunately, in this instance, God help me and have mercy on my soul, not impermanent.

Attention: You can stop searching for beauty now

Photo by Iman Woods Creative

My relentless pursuit of beauty has kept me from showering for an embarrassing number of days now.

This isn't some statement of societal rebellion or a social experiment. I haven't had a moment to spare because I've been trying to write myself a love letter.

Not easy.

Turns out, my subconscious is addicted to lying to itself, insistent upon pretending that I am weak, broken, ugly and somehow not enough. And as it turns out, those aren't the ingredients for a very good love letter.

Women are weird. We desire at our deepest core to be considered beautiful. Yet we refuse to admit that we already are. We (choose to) identify with our pains and insecurities, while waiting for someone else to tell us that one thing that we need to hear in order to finally acknowledge our worth. We play the (silently resentful) martyr to look strong, we slice up our faces to look pretty, we compete with people who are nothing like us to look accomplished. We chisel away at who we are in an ironic attempt to feel whole.

What if -- and this is a bizarre shot in the dark here, so bear with me -- what if we told ourselves whatever it is that we are trying so desperately to wring out of the world? What if we wrote a love letter to ourselves, saying exactly what we need to hear?

Gasp. That would make too much sense.

An Erie woman is leading an effort to try to encourage other women to do just this. The Inner Beauty Project started after 30-year-old Iman Woods wrote a letter to herself to help cope with post-partum depression. The experience was so empowering that she launched a Web site (theinnerbeautyproject.com) and created a contest to try to encourage other women to write their own letters.

I met Woods, who is a photographer, when I was the editor of Women's Magazine. She introduced herself as a "girl in search of true beauty." Which is, incidentally, also my bio. Then, we both found out we were pregnant in the same week. And we both ended up with premature babies and post-partum depression.

If you meet certain people for a reason, God wasn't being very subtle with this one.

Now, Woods has launched a project based on the belief that "true beauty shines brightest in darkness," and my personal search for beauty has been focused down to one single point on the World Wide Web. I find myself reading and re-reading the letters that local women have written to themselves, as if they were written to me.

You have wrinkles now, your hair is getting gray, and your teeth are not as white as they used to be. Yet, you are more beautiful now than ever before. Did you hear me?
You are more beautiful now, than ever before.
Your beauty lies within your capacity for love, the courage, integrity and determination you show -- not the length of your eyelashes, or the size of your thighs. 

I find myself floored by the stories of strength, and then shocked that these amazing women would still have feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, even though I do it, too.

You need to stop beating yourself up over this. You couldn't have stopped it because you didn't know it was happening. She couldn't tell you, she was too small, just 12-weeks-old and he did his best to hide it. What you need to remember are the promises you made to Jasmine that day in the hospital, the day she died.
I find myself saddened by letter after letter from women saying they had never thought to do this for themselves, and that after so many years of fighting their own various battles, they could finally hear words that brought them some kind of peace.

All of our lives, women are sent one basic message: Self-criticism is the way to self-improvement. Deep down, we all know this isn't true, but the lesson runs deep and the pattern is difficult to break.

It can be broken, one woman at a time, one voice at a time. Each of us needs to stand up for the one person who we are most under obligation to protect. That person is ourselves. By learning to embrace who we are, recognize what we have accomplished, and know we can carve out our own futures, we can escape the viciousness of self-criticism and self-loathing.

Iman's Inner Beauty Project is celebration of not just what we can be, but who we already are.

And finally, even though my "love letter" might always be a work in progress, I have begun to hear my inner voice soothing my anxieties. It keeps telling me that I am strong, healed, beautiful and more than enough. And the craziest thing is: It's totally telling the truth. I might even start believing it, one of these days.

My voice also keeps telling me something else: That my hunt for beauty is over.

I guess I should add that to my love letter, and bcc Iman Woods.

The alpaca approach

While the rest of the universe watched the Oscars, we watched Oscar the Alpaca.

Instead of a red carpet, we pranced on a dusty arena at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. Instead of designer gowns, we flipped through racks of sweaters, hats and spools of yarn made out of the coats of local alpacas.

It was glamorous.

Granted, I needed to shower when I got home. But glamorous.

Before you punch me in the neck, consider this: The average alpaca's eyelashes are six times fuller than the longest eyelash extensions on a Hollywood star. Alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic and silky, so it won't leave you itchy and bumpy like wool. (More than one-third of Americans surveyed by the International Wool Secretariat said they were allergic to wool.) A fancy male alpaca can sell for upwards of half a million dollars. And alpacas look like huge awesome poodles, according to my daughter while barking at the Alpaca Extravaganza, organized by the Alpaca Breeders Alliance of Northern Colorado.

Although I made up the eyelash statistic purely to start rumors by cut-and-paste-type readers who are too lazy to read a full article, the other junk is true. And although I'm not the type of gal to fester in fairgrounds dirt, I am a fabric whore and an alpaca aficionado.

Hence: Oscar.

When I was a young whippersnapper and I had a bad day, I used to drive 30 minutes to the Stargazer Alpaca Farm in Loveland and park near the barn. Like a total creeper, I sat in my car and just listened to the way-too-human humming sounds that these Muppet-lookalike creatures made. Without fail, their singing, paired with their appearance, make me laugh until tears were racing down my cheeks. Even today, a Youtube video called "Alpaca Approach" is saved as my home page. If you can watch this without chuckling, your soul is a rotten banana and you are the devil himself.

Alpacas are the most unintentionally hilarious creatures on Earth, and they're soft and warm and nice and they look like big awesome poodles. No many how many awards, "Black Swan" simply cannot compete.

Here's my favorite way to cover your life in alpaca.

The Alpaca Connection
on Pearl Street in Boulder, for high-quality alpaca sweaters, coats and accessories. According to the store, alpaca hair is two and a half times warmer than sheep wool, is water repellent and less likely than cashmere to pill or wrinkle.

My pick: A mid-shin-length white pea coat, the Carmen, originally $900, marked down to $600.

Tip: Ask about ordering a custom-tailored coat.

More info: thealpacaconnection.com.

Photo by Flickr user Shelby PDX.

Unstick your style

Photo by Flickr user purplbutrfly.

Something happens as people get older: We get stuck-er.

We cling, fearfully and fervently, to ideas, memories and ideals that no longer serve us -- and are no longer relevant. In trying to maintain some sense of control over our ever-changing lives, we become more conservative, more judgmental and more set in our ways -- both conceptually, but also physically.

Not only do we fight to keep the status quo -- "back when I was a young whippersnapper, this is how we did things and that is how everyone should do things forever and ever and never evolve" -- we also become comfortable in our own external expressions of our identity.

Women go decades without changing their hairstyle, in an attempt to stop aging, or because they begin overly identifying with their rut, or because those ratted bangs are an anchor to the past when everything else has changed so much. Men have the same clothes in their closet for 20 years. They don't stop aging, but they stop evolving.

Maybe people get scared. Maybe they're lazy. Complacent. Satisfied, just enough to be paralyzed.

I remember the day my dad shaved his beard. He'd been a bearded cowboy for 20 years. Then one day, without warning, he had a chin and upper lip. It wasn't a midlife crisis; it was an epiphany.

"The older I get, the more liberal I want to get," he explained, not talking about political slant, but about acceptance and the willingness to stretch his perceptions and comfort zone. "You start dying when you stop learning and changing."

I think he's right.

And it's fun to never be the same girl twice. To redesign yourself, your hobbies, your patterns. In the past 10 years, I have gone from butt-length platinum blond hair to chin-length brown to shoulder-length black, and every shade in between.

There are endless ways to tweak your style. Add in influences from an old decade, or a few pieces of trendy jewelry, or temporary hair extensions, or a nail color you've never tried before.

Every few weeks, for no reason whatsoever, I wear fake eyelashes (under $5) of a different style or color. It can be as simple as wearing something different to bed, or putting on your make-up in a different order. Try on something that is totally not your style, even if it's just as subtle as thigh-highs instead of support hose under a long skirt. Constant little surprises are like exclamation marks in your life.

Plus, they keep your style from dying -- a slow, boring, easily reversible death.

When cars cramp your style

I don't want to admit that cars play a crucial role in a person's fashion message.

Not because I am a Boulder earthworm who thinks oil is responsible for all of the evils of the world, and not because I'm a member of the Spandex gang that rides bikes 300 miles a day, come blizzard or (last month) land-locked tsunami.

It's because I think cars are boring. According to the extent of my automobile knowledge, there are three types of motor vehicles: old ones, new ones and trucks.

Exasperating my general antipathy is the fact that no human experience, short of giving/receiving an enema in the hospital or going bikini shopping, is more degrading and uncomfortable than purchasing a car. You have this ominous feeling that you're getting screwed somehow, but it's never until you're driving the Audi out of the driveway -- literally -- and its engine seizes and bursts into flames -- literally -- that you figure it out. (Thanks nice Boulder Craigslist dude for giving me my money back on that one. Karma back atcha.)

But after one year of driving an Old Car worse than the sacrificial hog that my parents gave me when I turned 16, I can no longer deny the truth. You are what you drive.

No matter how long I take getting ready in the morning -- how precise my red lips are painted, how smoothed my powder, how clean my armpits -- after the 45-minute drive to work with the heater stuck on and all windows down (the back ones permanently stuck), I roll up looking like I've had a 12-day bender.

My curls are wind-ratted. My lipstick is smudged because, for some reason, my upper lip has excessive sweat glands. My shoes are in the backseat, my top is wadded up on the passenger's seat, I stink like a Rainbow Child, my skirt is wet and wrinkled, and I've been crying. I stumble out of my car, kicking the door shut with my bare feet and cursing, with an aura only rivaled by Charlie Sheen.

So last week, when my Old Car left Earth to go frolic with my 10-minute Audi, I did not shed a tear. I kicked its tire with my bare foot, for old time's sake, and did the walk of shame back home, bed-head and all.

While walking, I reminisced about other cars that sucked:

The Stink Jeep.
According to my husband, all of the cool kids in Longmont went 4-wheeling at the sewage treatment field. Obviously, right?

Seventeen-year-old JD certainly reached the top of the cool ladder when he went too fast through the third, deepest bog of eternal stench and high-centered his Jeep on both axles. He and his friend, Steve, jumped on the car, trying to get its wheels to touch, and it rooster-tailed and spun out, waste-painting Steve from head to toe, eyes and all.

More than eight hours later, the 12th truck that tried finally extracted them from the mess. JD was late for work and got fired. And neither the Jeep -- nor Steve -- were ever truly the same again.

JD hasn't gone 4-wheeling since.

The Good. This high-school Old Car survived me side-swiping it on a metal bridge, but it humiliated me when I went to sell it. I had named it "The Good," because my friends had "The Ugly" and "The Bad." Because I was so clever, I marked it with a bumper sticker that said "Good."

At this time, I was also really into the band, Bush. Because I was such a big fan, I also marked my car with a bumper sticker that said "Bush."

It was not until I was selling my car that I realized I had been driving around for several years advertising an awkward combo of those two words that surely gave drivers the wrong impression (and explained so many unsolicited honks).

I've never touched a bumper sticker since.

The Happy Car. Did you know that shoe polish wipes off glass, but eats away at your car's paint?

I didn't know that.

I know that now.

So does the red Old Car driving around with a huge smiley face burned into the hood and my eternal expression of school spirit etched onto the doors. Go Eagles.

I've never cheered for a football team since.

The POS (short for Posse, duh). Basically, we bought a car for $100, removed its roof with a chainsaw, beat it with sledgehammers and cruised around town looking so fly until we drove it off a cliff, and then called AA or whatever to tow it.

Before you think this is a good idea (like 4-wheeling through feces), consider this: The police do not think this story is funny. Nope. So either blame it on your brother's friend, Derek, who's always in trouble anyway, or just kick the tire barefoot and call it good. Unless you like Bush.

In which case, just get a bike.

Monday, August 1, 2011

When style comes as a surprise

Not us, but basically. Photo by Flickr user bowler1996p.

My unsuspecting parents. It was getting late, so they thought they would just head upstairs and get ready for bed.

Ah, my poor, unsuspecting units. Little did they know what lurked at the top of the stairs, poised and ready to press play at the slightest creak of the staircase.

My mom was about halfway to the landing when the boom box exploded, "You ready, Ron? I'm ready. You ready, Dave? I'm ready."

I heard her slippered feet freeze, not in shock, because my friends and I pulled stunts like this all the time. Her pause was one of resignation. Sigh. Bedtime was still at least one hour and two intermissions away. And she was too polite to ever reject one of my "performances."

Girl, I must warn you.

My Bell Biv Devoe cassette-single streamed poison-y awesomeness across the stage, er, stairs, as Renee popped out from behind the curtains, er, old Smurfs sheet. She was sporting (a verb I learned in my Barbizon modeling course) an oversized Mickey Mouse T-shirt, cinched (thanks, Barbizon) with a cherry-apple (a unique fruit hybrid) belt, to reveal shiny black Spandex shorts.

As with every one of my impromptu fashion shows, today's extravaganza featured a special appearance by Rudi The Wonder Dog, whose poodle tail sagged with embarrassment and annoyance, only matched by the audience's.

And how convenient: I had placed a fully charged video camera only inches from where my mom's feet stopped. She could capture this glory on tape and re-watch it with her eager daughter 10 to 35 more times in the upcoming week.

Katie: Cowgirl for a day

My redhead friend, Katie, walks her own fashion path. And I have reason to believe that path was at least partially forged to spite me.

Our first meeting, an ominous beginning, set a precedent for our friendship and for Katie's future choices, from her talent in math to her love for polar fleece -- both of which strike utter fear in my soul.

Katie was the new girl in third grade, a particularly challenging position in our small, mountain-town elementary school where everyone had known everyone and their moms and horses and ducks since birth (or hatching, as it were). Few new faces ever moved to this part of the world on purpose. We'd all been cast there by crazy cowboy fathers, hippie mamas and general bad luck.

So when Katie walked into the classroom -- all orange hairy and freckled amid many dark-haired Native American peers -- I didn't want to make fun of her. But I guess I just had to. In the same way that the A-dog nips or tries to dominate a new puppy at the dog park, I tried to mark Katie.

"Your shoes are dumb." (They were white with brand-newness and obviously awesome, so I knew this was the most direct route.) "Jem and the Holograms aren't cool anymore." (They obviously were and still are today.)

At this crucial juncture in her youth, Katie had the choice to crumble or kick. She chose the third option: to crimp.

"You don't crimp your hair? That's weird." Zing.

We immediately became best friends, even sharing a boyfriend (Burke silently held my hand during morning recess, and then stood in Katie's general vicinity at lunch). The glory of crimp became the first of many lessons from Katie.

She taught me that you can get tanned, and by tanned, I mean seared like an overdone steak, by slathering your body with vegetable oil and lying out on the scorching tin barn roof. She taught me that it was stupid to cry when she spat crackers in my perfectly Aqua-netted cinnamon roll bangs, even though there was no way I could possibly get the crumbs out without destroying my coif.

In high school, she taught me about personalized license plates ("4-H Queen"), and how empowering it feels to cruise around Loveland in a massive lifted Chevy truck. Katie taught me about tight cowgirl jeans and that you can still feel feminine, even while shoveling horse manure, if you talk about "Dirty Dancing."

Now that we're old and have our own daughters, Katie has taught me that some people ride bikes for fun (not just because they lost their license because of a DUI), and that there is a whole line of shoes with "flat soles" (try to imagine the stiletto part broken off), and that some women consider lululemon an entire clothing group in and of itself, despite its lack of ruffles.

All of these lessons I would have never learned without my redhead. That's because, even to this day, we remain polar (fleece) opposites.

I'd like to think she learned a few things from me, too. But honestly, I think what I left her with was the decision, at age 8, to be nothing like me whatsoever. In other words, the freedom to pursue her own path. In other-other words, the easiest way to stop the A-dog from mounting you is to run the other way. And fast. But make it look like a game.

Photo by Flickr user mikebaird.