Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pop of Joy Official Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Not many things bring me as much joy as choosing the right gift for someone, and the Christmas season is the best time to get my gifting on.  In fact, picking the perfect gift for someone is way more rewarding than receiving gifts, and the receiver can see that you gave some thought and love their way.  Here are some of my favorite gift ideas this year, in case you are still looking to pick up a few items this season.

For Classy Ladies:
This tray is so cute - Mark and Graham has awesome monogram gifts, and this is a versatile tray that can last a long time.  A bit high-end, so look for knockoffs if you can't spring for the real thing here.

Photo via MarkandGraham.com

I bought these for myself during a moment of weakness in the "impulse purchase bins" while standing in line at Sephora last year, and I am so glad I did.  They have them this year as well, so march right in the store and just get in line to shop.
Photo via Popsugar.com

I often can't help but buy a few things for myself when I find cool gifts for others.  This was one of the "one for you, one for me" gifts of last year.  Very sturdy, good size and shape, great adjustable strap that can be worn cross body, and super cute colors.
Photo via Westelm.com

For People Who Like Fun:

I don't need to tell you why this is cute.  Plant sold separately.
Photo via CB2.com

This is the ultimate rubber chicken gift (that is, other than incessantly chickening people year round).  I hope my sister is ready for her wine to be super-chickened in a few days.
Photo via Fredandfriends.com


I know a lot of people whose problems would be solved with this wine container that holds an entire bottle of wine.  Poolside, picnics, shenanigans, you name it.
Photo via flask2go.com

This is available for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but also for Madison.  The tin includes coaster gift cards for $10 off your $25 bill at 20 Milwaukee area restaurants.  I will note that the list of restaurants in the tin is legit, and a fine selection by the tin creators.
Photo via Citytins.com


Less stuff - Want, Need, Wear, Read
This was a concept shared with me this year (Thanks, Kathryn!) and I think it is a great idea, especially for young children.  Buy only four items, one item for each category listed.  This helps you and your child prioritize what is really important and what they really want the most.

Make a gift out of a family vacation, special day, or other experiences.  Or, buy something that the family can use to make memories or experiences.  One mom I know is picking up a "Go Pro" camera as a family gift, and think of all of the fun things that can come of that with the family!

Okay, if you need more than those four items, check out the Kiwi Crate.  It is a box shipped to your child (age range is 3-8 years) once a month with fun activities in different themes.  You can buy a subscription, a single box activity, holiday boxes, or other smaller items.
Photo via kiwicrate.com


I think that handmade or "hand assembled" gifts are always a nice way to put a personal touch on a gift.  I love a good themed basket or kit for a gift, it is a great way to put together some smaller items and make it feel really thoughtful.  This list from the berry.com is one of my favorite lists of basket ideas for all year round.  The key is throughout the year when you see containers or baskets on sale or clearance, snatch them up so you have a few on hand to make a basket when you need it.  World Market is also a great source for cheap basket and wrap kits in a pinch.

Photo via theberry.com

There you have it!  Only 8 more shopping days before Christmas, so this is your last chance for online shopping without paying a ton for shipping.  Go get 'em, tiger.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Note to my future self: Things I must not forget about what it’s like to be a new mom

Photo by Kate Kroes Photography

It is already starting.  My memories of the earliest days as a new mom are already becoming a little foggy.  Because being a new mom (and in some cases any new parent) is a unique experience, I wanted to make sure I never really forgot what it was like during those first six weeks (or still is).  I want my future self, the one with a toddler or teenager or grandchild, to remember really what it is like to be a new mom so that I don’t turn into one of those people who do not get it.

Being a mom means entry into this (not so) secret club of moms where we all understand what each other are going through.  I did not realize that this club really existed, because I couldn’t see it with my non-mom eyes.  This club of supporters has gotten me through a lot of challenging moments, and I am so grateful.  Some of the most recent new moms in my life have been the most helpful, because they have not forgotten what I have written down here to remember.  My first task as a new mom is to pay it forward to those who come after me, and people did for me.  It is now a life mission for me to help other new moms.

So I say to myself, “Self, please don’t forget these things:”
  • Don’t forget how hard it is physically on moms after having a baby.  I will not go into details or scare anyone away from having kids, it is still totally worth it.  But it goes without saying that it is tough on the body, and not only for a week or two but sometimes six or longer.    I will not forget to help people lift things or to share tips (NOTE: This does not mean unwanted advice) on all of the things that are challenging, like boobs, butts, guts, backs or anything else that doesn’t feel the same.
  • Don’t forget what it is like to be postpartum emotionally.  I cry at baby shampoo commercials and YouTube videos.  There is a lot of information about baby blues and postpartum depression, but nothing that really gives you any real life or helpful information, or for the people who fall somewhere in between a two week emotional roller coaster and real “I want to hurt my baby” postpartum depression.  And there are a thousand steps in between.  The only resource is the aforementioned “Mom Club” so make use of this resource and ask what your friends’ experiences were.  The reason I know that my friends experienced some form of emotional challenges is because they were the same friends who asked me directly how I was feeling emotionally.  They are some of the same people I asked for help when I wasn’t feeling quite myself.  This stuff is real, and don’t forget it.
  • Don’t forget how challenging it can be to get a stroller or a car seat through doors.  I am sure I will get better at it, but that means I have to continue to remember to hold doors, not cut people off, or get out of the way in the aisle when I see an infant carrier.  That shit is heavy.  I am also amazed at how many businesses do not have wheelchair buttons on doors.
  • Don’t forget that it starts out scary to go in public with a baby, so be nice.  It is scary enough to think that, god forbid, your newborn wake up, or actually have to feed them or change a diaper in public.  Remember not to add to it with being an inconsiderate jerk in a hurry.  Also remember not to tell new parents, “Oh yeah!  Just bring the baby!”  As if it doesn’t require an act of congress to get them, and yourself, out of the house.
  • Don’t tell pregnant people or new parents how they are never going to sleep again.  We know.  No seriously, we know.  It is just irritating both during pregnancy and after baby is born.  Did you know sleep deprivation is a form of torture?  This is true.  I don’t need anyone reminding me of the obvious.  And if you are lucky, it will be over before you know it.
  • Don’t forget about the kindness of a meal, or some help.  That “pay it forward” rule previously mentioned is in play here.  I am so thankful for all of the wonderful meals that people brought over for us so we didn’t have to cook.  I was particularly excited about anyone who brought vegetables, so that my diet wasn’t entirely carbohydrates.  Delicious carbohydrates.  But no seriously, you need fiber.
  • Don’t forget that taking a quick trip to the grocery store or to run an errand is not really a “break.”  Sometimes people ask me if I enjoyed my break, and the reality is I was running an errand as fast as I could without my baby so that I could get back since he would need to eat, and I never stopped feeling anxious about being away.  So no, I did not really enjoy my non-break.  I really just ran a lame errand that could be done faster without my infant and my incompetence as a new parent.  I will consider it a break when I can let go of the fact that I feel I should be at home with my kid.
  • Don’t forget to wash your hands.  I don’t anticipate forgetting this, but just in case I get senile it is here in writing.  Don’t touch peoples’ kids without washing your hands.  I am still living in fear of my child’s first illness, so don’t let it be from you.

Future self: These are the things you should remember for keeping membership in the secret Mom Club and for being truly resourceful to those who come after you.  You’ll figure this stuff out eventually, so don’t forget what it was like.  Don’t screw this up.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Moms are the best.

Shirley MacLaine and her daughter, 1959 - Photo by Allen Grant via the LIFE Picture Collections
I think we all had been there at one point in our lives where we were a little concerned that me might turn into our mothers.  I remember a moment in time where I was feeling there was no way around a future life of caring about drink coaster on wooden tables (my mom) and always forgetting to put the rolls on the table for holiday dinners (my grandma).  Now that I am older and arguably wiser, I realize that we should all be so lucky.  I mean honestly, now that I can afford to buy a table not made out of veneer fake wood, use a coaster.

Over the last several years, I have continued to grow in respect for moms everywhere as I have had the privilege watching my friends and sisters have children and raise fantastic kids, and as I have watched my lifetime moms become grandmas.  To all of my people, your kids are amazing.  They are funny, smart, and the weirdest little combinations of you and their dads.  You have done it with grace (but not too much so that it isn't real), humor (probably not without a few times yelling at Target), and you make parenting look good.

This year my respect for moms has grown even more as I have grown my own bun in the oven and experience the strange wonder that is being a mom.  So far, I am batting a thousand as I haven't screwed up any of my children yet as far as I can tell.  And while I haven't had to do much parenting for the 4-month old nugget in the belly, I have already found myself driving more cautiously though intersections and considering organic cucumbers.  Parenting win.

My mom in particular is something special, as all of our moms are to us.  As an adult I continue to grow in appreciation for all of the things that I really didn't realize as a child that I picked up from my mom.  I am also so thankful for the mom that she is today; she is non-judgmental, considerate of those around her, thoughtful at every holiday, willing to listen when I vent, gives advice only when it is needed or solicited, and even-keel, among all of the other thousands of reasons why she is the right mom for me.  Of course she is the right mom for me, she made me.

We are lucky too to sometimes have other moms in our lives that make an impact, like step moms, moms of our friends, and those co-workers or neighbors that take good care of us.  We will always have nice memories of the neighbor we stayed with for a few hours while our parents were away, or the lady at work that made sure to remind me to eat lunch when I was busy enough to forget.  Your awesomeness did not go unnoticed either.

So thank you, ladies, to all of the inspiring moms around me.  I have been watching carefully and making mental notes of how awesome you are at being moms so I can pay it forward.  The fact that your kids wear Spiderman costumes most days of the week and that you take the BEST Instagram photos of your kids makes my day and I can't wait to join the club.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Don't change who you are, but let's be real...this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon

Image Source
The concept of not being too weird to early is not foreign to me, I generally refer to this strategy as "time-releasing the crazy."  You don't want to go full Monty before people realize they can handle and enjoy your weirdness.  When I started dating my husband (and I knew that I would marry him very early on), I waited a whole month before I put a little statue of a sleeping gnome in the back of the fridge.  When he finally saw it, he stood there staring at it muttering, "What the...?" in front of an open refrigerator door.  That gnome has lived in our butter drawer ever since.  I knew the hubs appreciated me for being a little nuts when he made a straight-faced joke one day about how high the gnome's cholesterol must be (living by the butter and all).

When I started a new job last year, it took me almost two months to start hiding mini rubber chickens in peoples stuff.  And it took everyone else a few more weeks to figure out just what was going on.  Seeing as I have hidden over 500 chickens in the world, they have some catching up to do at work.

It's not that I advocate people being anything but themselves, because I don't.  But, as a curator of weird shit, I have learned that it is an art and a good strategy to not put all the weirdness out at once.  Hopefully by sharing a little at a time, I can help bring joy to my day and to others, and quietly convince people that it is okay to be funny, and carefree, and weird, and unique, and yourself.  I think that I learned it was okay to be a little weird by one person in my life, and I am glad I came to the realization that being myself would be enough.

If you are feeling unsure sometimes about being yourself and letting the weird out, just do a little bit at a time.  You can also surround yourself with at least one person who really is comfortable with being a little weird.  All the right people will appreciate you for you, not in spite of you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Accountability: Try It, It's Fun

Image Source
I have days now and again, as we all do, where I feel a little spent after my day in public.  I won't even just say at work, because sometimes the adventure continues when you go to the grocery store or the pizza place.  I have finally concluded that the theme is often a lack of accountability.

Accountability is a funny thing, because it is a life skill that only we can control for ourselves.  It is a self-leadership tool, and a skill set that not everyone has.  And that is okay, but I think it is in all of our best interest if we are aware of it, and strive to be just a little bit better at it.

As a close cousin to negativity, a lack of accountability is something I try and avoid in my day if possible.  Today I was less successful, since it was a pretty classic Monday riddled with phone calls and e-mails from people less concerned with "owning it" or finding solutions.

I often think back to the lady who yelled incessantly at the pizza counter clerk on Valentine's Day a few months ago about the fact that she had been waiting 15 minutes for the pizza for her family and now she was going to be late.  She did this in front of four other customers and her visibly uncomfortable teenage daughter.  She had one foot on the "blame others" rung, and the other on the just plain "unaware" part of the ladder.  I told the pizza clerk that they were doing a terrific job on one of their busiest nights, and that they shouldn't let one lady bring them down.  As for her daughter, I hope she stays uncomfortable with her mother's behavior and recognizes that she doesn't have to act that way.

It is not always easy to be accountable, but I find it to be a good way to feel like I am in control of the world around me.  If I only blame others, then I certainly don't feel very in control of my own destiny.  If I own my attitude and my actions, I feel much more in control of my day.

Tuesday always promises to be less Monday-ish, so my goal tomorrow is to shake it off, be one notch more accountable than today, and hopefully lend a hand to pull up the people still stuck at "excuses" or "wait and hope."  It's good to have goals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Self, you should be paying attention to this wise advice.

Image Source
I originally saw this picture listing a "Note to Self" a while ago, but it has been weirdly more sound advice since I am growing a person inside me.  I mean, if there are all these rules like I shouldn't eat fish with mercury or pesticides, or I should get enough sleep, or I should wear a seat belt, then I suppose there is some truth that I should treat myself well regardless if there is a little person growing inside of me.  These things seem to be advice that everyone knows, but no one does for themselves.  Honestly, when did we get so bad at taking care of ourselves?

It seems like we only remember these simple ways to take care of ourselves after we learned the life lesson somehow, like relearning a healthy relationship with food after an eating disorder, making a baby, or surviving a close call with your health.  How sad that we can't make better decisions to take great care of ourselves, right?

(Sigh) I wish it were that easy.  Don't get me wrong, I just ate a lot of Pringles chips today, so I haven't mastered the art of self care.  At the very least I hope to make plenty of right decisions throughout the day like get plenty of sleep, or drink organic tea (rishi tested without chemicals).  Next stop, the gym.

Hopefully I can remember to take of myself once I am worried about taking care of some other little peanut.  I don't want to wait until another life event serves as a reminder to avoid eating hot dogs.  Even if we all do only one of these nice things for ourselves, that is a step in the right direction.  I have the naps down, but will focus on not saying mean things to myself as my pants stop fitting.  Which one are you going to work on?  Take care, my loves - I would like us to be friends a while longer.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sorry I have been gone, I have been busy growing a person.

Photo courtesy of Kate Kroes Photography
For those of you who read regularly, I apologize for my absence over the last few months.  I wish I could say that I was busy solving world hunger or something, but the true story is that I have been working on some new stuff.  And the secret is out... that new stuff is growing a baby.  I won't post all of the time about baby things, I promise, but I do feel I should (A) explain myself and (B) do the first trimester it's due justice.

My husband and I were lucky in that we didn't have to try or wait very long to change from a family of 2 to a family of 2.5 once we decided to do so.  I know that not everyone has an easy time, and I am forever grateful that we didn't have to walk that line.  All in all, I have been lucky along the way in that I could have been really sick or had other complications.

With that gratitude acknowledged, I have to pay my respects to all of my ladies who have come before me and endured the silent suffering that is the first trimester.  Since we weren't going to be telling anyone yet, there was the solid month and a half where I felt pretty terrible and had to not look like it.  The hubs was the best, and he was nothing but supportive about the fact that I made the couch work overtime instead of hanging out with him while staying awake.  But seriously, (and I cannot explain this to men or women who have not been pregnant) I did not know tired like this.  I once did a few "long blinks" at my desk at work, and decided it was time to go for a walk before I straight up fell asleep at my desk.

I did not fully understand or appreciate all of the changes that come in the first trimester like feeling sick or tired, and I have total respect now for all of the ladies who have managed it, frequently without others knowing.  Or course, there are people around you all of the time that are pushers trying to get you to break the news on their terms.  Some stories from my friends and me include quotes like, "Why aren't you drinking, are you pregnant?" or "You HAVE to try this barbecue, it is the best around!" or "When are you guys going to start having kids?"  The answers are (1) Yes, but I refuse to tell you before my mom, (2) No I don't have to eat that barbecue because the smell of it makes me want to hurl, and (3) What if I had been trying for 3 years and you really hurt my feelings by asking A.K.A. none of your damn business.

Seeing as I felt nauseous most of the time for weeks, I resorted to lots of snacks.  Since people didn't know the secret, I have eaten many a granola bar in the bathroom because my incessant snacking was suspect.  Those of you who know me may be aware that I always have fantastic snacks with me anyways, so now by bag of snacks are really taken to the next level.  I am lucky that we solved that mouse problem a few months back, otherwise this would not be working out.

Now that I can stay awake longer than 14 hours in the day and feeling better, I am back in action.  I am so lucky to have lots of terrific friends who are moms before me to give me quality, real advice, pass on what they know, tell me not to register for that, and take great pictures of the journey (thanks, Kate Kroes!).  I am surrounded by love.

For the time being, here are the FAQs:
  1. Yes, I do look like I have been eating a lot of pizza.  No I don't need an intervention, but thank you for the concern.  There is a baby in there.  A baby that likes specifically Palermo's sausage pizza.
  2. We are not finding out if it a boy or girl.  Well, eventually we will in, say, October.  Adventure parenting.
  3. Yes, October 3rd to be exact.  Hopefully I don't have a real overachiever in there who comes out too early to ensure I go back to work just before Christmas instead of waiting until the end of the year.
  4. I have not read "What to Expect When You're Expecting."  I have heard the alternate title of that book is "101 Ways You Are Killing Your Baby by Eating and Breathing," so I think I am good without it.
  5. Cravings? Yes.  They are very specific and generally good for one meal only.  And extremely difficult to predict.