Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Busy Black Woman Holiday Gift Guide (2019)

One never knows how a seemingly random idea can turn into a major project. On Christmas morning last year, I decided to take a few photos of the gifts I had bought from some local and small businesses, just on a whim. I thought I had gotten some cool stuff, and wanted to share those finds with my friends and followers. Then I posted some photos and this index to the blog, with no real plan for any next steps.

Then at some point during the past year, I decided to make my personal support of small, Black, women-owned, and local businesses a theme of the blog and on its Instagram page. If you happen to follow me on either my personal or blog pages, then you know that I have a seemingly endless supply of tee shirts (not including the ones associated with this blog, but I digress). In addition to the usual randomness, I use the IG page to follow many entrepreneurs, and have been blessed to connect with several of them in real life.

So as the 2019 Holiday Season comes to a close, I wanted to take time again to provide an index of gifts and companies that were featured in the Busy Black Woman Holiday Giving Guide. As always, whenever I have big plans, life happens, but what else is new? However, this year I thought ahead...What would the Oprah do (#WWTOD)?

Well, without my own magazine, staff, or an unlimited budget, I began posting my finds in on my social media in November until I was done with my shopping. The fact that I didn't finish posting until Christmas Eve notwithstanding, my hope is that you will use this as a year-long reference to answer the elusive 'how-do-I-support-Black-businesses' question. .

Get Your Paper Together
At some point this year, the major retailers finally got the notice that families of color might like to see Santa rendered in our likeness. I know that probably annoys some folks (Meghan 'Santa-is-white-and-Jesus-too' Kelly), but check it, Santa is whomever dons the suit. If you were lucky enough to score a roll or two of mainstream retail Santa paper, that's great; otherwise, place your orders now with Copper and Brass Paper Goods or Midnight Reflections. You will note that both Santas made appearances throughout the Gift Guide this year. I plan to add Clarence Claus from Greentop Gifts to my stash for the sake of variety, and you can also check out Etsy to see a few other whimsical multicultural options.

You Get a Box!
I still roll with the Izzy and Liv Brown Sugar Box, which expanded this year to include two children's boxes and a men's box. I haven't signed up with any other subscriptions yet, but the Because of Them We Can Box is topping my list for my now tween Niece. If you are a sorority sister, there are the Ivy Storehouse Box, the Dear Delta Box, and the Finer Things Box...and now that this has become a thing, I'm sure you will find something therein to fit your needs accordingly.

Stylin' and Profilin'
I featured hometown shirts on the IG page since DC finally hit the big leagues by winning the Stanley Cup, the WNBA Championships, and the World Series this year. I have always been proud to showcase hometown pride, so here are a few of my favorites: Ask Me Tees, Bailiwick Clothing, Check It Enterprises, CrankRock, I'm So DC (the hardest working sister in the urrea), and On Us Tees. Get one (or more)!

I want to shout out my Spelman Sisters who helped me to *bling* it during my Reunion weekend: Ourglass Apparel, SpelHouse Swag, and DiviniCo (who designed our class tee).

Lighting the Way
Candles are the new thing in small business, so now that the Kid is a little older, I have been excited to discover new and unique scent combinations. On our holiday trip to NYC, I discovered the honey-rich scents of Lomar Farms made from beeswax. I received some incense from the Posh Candle Company in an Izzy and Liv box, so I decided to try the candles, and in addition to the intense scents, the names are most intriguing. I also shopped with KSM Candle Company in Baltimore and Isabis this year.

Books, Puzzles and Notes
After attending the East of the River Book Festival last year (so sad to miss it this time), I have been excited to collect books from new and emerging authors for the young people in my life. I also made a point of shopping at the independent bookstores, such as Mahogany Books in DC and Grandma's Place in Harlem, which yielded some offerings I might not have found otherwise. Some highlights include The Nutcracker in Harlem, The Undefeated, Hair Love, She Stood for Freedom, and A is for Ancestors.

I stocked up on some puzzles for the upcoming Winter birthday party season from Puzzle Huddle, but I also discovered Little Likes Kids, so I can change things up a bit with games now. For the preteen girls, I think these stickers and journals by Oh So Paper are cute. For the folks who are organized and like to plan things, might I recommend the Arrivista Planner, and my cousin who can teach you some techniques for using it.

Looking Good Girl
Continuing with the tradition that began with Madame C.J. Walker, the market for Black-owned hair care products has expanded from online retail and neighborhood beauty supply to the mainstream. I know that people feel some kind of way about the ethnic hair care aisle, but thanks to brands like Jane Carter, Oyin Handmade, Design Essentials, and Thank God I'm Natural, there are companies like The Lip Bar on the cosmetic aisle at Target. Mented Cosmetics is now available at the Herald Square Macy's and of course Fenty Beauty and Pat McGrath are available at Sephora.

Great products and tools are still available online, such as the Grace Eleyae sleep cap, the Felicia Leatherwood detangler brush (or one of the knock-offs), and the Puff Cuff. Of course, local stores and small pop ups are great for finding products such as Hunny Bunny, Play Pits, and Oasis Soul.

You Wear it Well
What is a pop up without jewelry? This year, I have been breaking out of my comfort zone to embrace new textures and bolder patterns, so Beaded Souls, Hair Free Girl, and Me Two Designs happen to be a few of the jewelry designers whose pieces I've added to my daily rotation. I just discovered Amber Poitier this holiday, so I will be looking to add a few of her pieces in the future.

Here is an index of the other businesses I patronized at some point in the year:
Anna + Pookie
Bags by Sistah PG
Bases Loaded Authentic Clothing and Kaps (B.L.A.C.K.) 
Brown Girl Beauty Co-op
BZB International 
Capital City Mambo Sauce
Chat's Liquors
Crowned Charms
Diggin Her Roots Boutique
Heeey SugaFoot! 
Here's the Scoop Ice Cream
Homemade Healing
Ivy's Tea Company
Jacq's Dolls
Jaida A Photography
Jazzabon Creations 
NiLu Gift Shop
Petals, Ribbons and Beyond
Sweet Mossie's Stew Pots
TruGlory Greetings
Unique Aksents
Vegan Skin by Paul Joseph 
Vintage Glam Tea Party & Co.
Yvonne Ex

The Nile List is an effort that was started by one of my Spelman Sisters this year to provide an online guide of Black Businesses, so you should assume that my list isn't nearly as comprehensive...but you get the point. Happy Shopping!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Only Life You Have

Nothing impacts your perspective on life like having a close friend or relative die. This year, I've lost one of each within weeks of each other. So I am ending this year in a place of emotional turmoil.

I will dedicate some time to write about my friend in a separate piece. I can say a little about my cousin here, and then expand on how all of this has left me reeling at a time when I feel like I am on the precipice of something big. I had hoped that for all of the unrealized promise of 2019 (projects that I started, but didn't complete), I could simply get back on track and take off. I could return to my #HBCUJustGive interview series and publish those articles in February. I could schedule the photo shoot that I kept rescheduling because I didn't have enough models or creative imagination. I could revisit the #BlackonBroadway series that I didn't finish last March. I could plan to go to my college Homecoming, right after I help plan my 30th high school reunion. I could make some progress on getting rid of the clutter that has engulfed my house.

I could get to everything because tomorrow is another day. So I thought.

My cousin used to be very close to my Mom because she was only a few years younger when she came up to DC to live with my grandmother and attend high school. Her son and I are six months apart in age. She came up from the country (Fredericksburg VA) to family gatherings and sang at my parents' 40th Anniversary Party. She was a prolific Facebook poster...much like the older people we joke about who unwittingly spread viruses by challenging us to share memes about Jesus. I never minded that though. She was the sweetest person, and I will miss her sense of eternal optimism.

When she passed the week before Thanksgiving, it was a shock, especially since I found out on social media. Sadly, that is how we announce tragic news these days. If you're lucky, someone might include you on a group text in advance. Which is how I found out about my girlfriend--no less shocking, even though I had been prepared to face the unimaginable with a 9th hour flu shot and a summons to her bedside while she was still conscious.

I am NOT okay. I have played the straight woman for days, stoically relating the news because doing so while bawling my eyes out seems unnecessarily dramatic. I hadn't allowed myself to cry because Black women know better...our tears don't influence judges, juries, police officers, public opinion polls, or Senate committee members. So we save them for the shower or for church when someone gets the spirit.

Instead, we indulge in destructive personal behaviors like emotional eating, solitary drinking, not talking, and excessive spending. Therefore, at this, the worst time of year, I am guilty of all four. I had ice cream earlier, and I just finished off a bag of chips. I am drinking whisky by myself while my family sleeps, and I don't know how much I spent on Christmas presents. I don't want to talk to anybody about how I feel, even though I know that I should. And for added TMI, I haven't showered. I'm sleeping too much. My solution for trying to find some form of consolation is to write a rambling piece about my grieving process, such as it is.

I am not okay. I am thinking about my cousin, whom I just lost last month and I am trying to wrap my head around what that means. What does it mean to lose someone who has known you since the day you were born, someone to whom you promised to post a picture of from your parents' hippie Afro-centric wedding but never got the chance to do so because you assumed that you had tomorrow...until you didn't. What does it mean to visit your friend on her deathbed, knowing the ultimate outcome of her situation, but not believing it because you just cannot bring yourself to accept the truth? What does it mean to have plans in your head to make sure that she wouldn't be alone for Christmas, then to learn that you were too late?

I will pull my shit together eventually, but right now, I AM NOT OKAY.

Yet, I am fortified by the faith that my grandmothers sang about from the old-school mourners bench and those never-ending prayer circles. My hope is built on nothing less. My all is on the altar. For every mountain, I will lift up mine eyes and shake myself out of this (sleep it off). I will reach out to my cousin's siblings and find the words that I have been searching for and maybe those will be comforting or incredibly awkward enough to be hilarious so that no one walks away feeling some kind of way. I will do whatever task I am given to honor my girl, because she was my sister, and not just someone I've known since I used to look up to her when we were kids. This ain't nothing more than I can bear.

But more importantly, I will tackle my undone or incomplete projects, not only because tomorrow is not promised, but because I don't want the world to know how messy I really am unless I have no other choice (that is my vanity expressed through my tipsiness). I got a world to conquer in this next decade. I am not sad about whatever I didn't get to do in the 20-aught-teens, because I accept those were the choices I made, and in some cases the cards I was dealt. Everything in its season...so whether it is more traveling, cleaning my house, raising this headstrong girl-child, drinking more water/eating more salad, or really seeing this Busy Black Woman project become a profitable business venture, I pray that I am blessed with more time.

This is it y'all. My cousin's gift was singing, which she got to do in different parts of the world. My girl's gift was being a badass and brilliant and bossy (I've got stories). But we've only been given a lifetime to share ourselves with the world, so what are YOU waiting for?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Kiss Lizzo's Fat Azz

Now that I have your attention, let's talk about the subject that set the Twitters all ablaze this week. Lizzo went to an L.A. Lakers game and caused quite a stir with her outfit. (She also was named TIME Magazine's Entertainer of the Year, but we'll address that later.)

Some of you didn't like it seeing her booty out, so you shared that displeasure with the world via social media. Then others of you felt the need to call out that first group for fat-shaming, which they denied, so then the rest of the day was spent thinking out load about fatness, Blackness, and loudness in public spaces... instead of the topic du jour (which is what Nancy Pelosi really had for lunch).

So let's discuss this in a civil manner: Should Lizzo have gone to the game wearing an outfit that exposed her buttocks? Should she have been more sensitive to the presence of children in attendance? Should she have brought some kind of cover-up to protect the seat from her butt sweat? Should she have performed a more tasteful adagio instead of twerking when her song came on? Should she give a flying fig about what any of us think?

Lizzo is gonna do Lizzo whether that is at a Lakers game or giving a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR or walking the red carpet carrying an expensive coin purse to hold the precise number of fux she should give about our opinions. This is the same woman who posed like this for her album cover:

Shoot, she was over-dressed for that NPR performance, given that the only dress code for public radio is whatever the hell is clean and doesn't need much ironing (just like college) since no one but the doorman is going to remember anyway. So why would anyone expect her to wear jeans and a tee shirt to a basketball game?

There were kids present. Yes, but that's not much of a concern when the Laker Girls hit the floor, or is that NOT an ass-cheek I see peeking out from under that teeny-weeny skort?

You don't see Rihanna dressed like that at a game. No, you tend to see folks dressed like Spike Lee at these games. On the other hand, we have seen RiRi dressed in as little or less than Lizzo and nobody ever has time to blog about that...

What about her bare ass on that dirty seat (or is it her dirty ass on that uncovered seat)?

Of course she was doing the most. But as I have come to suspect that Lizzo is as much performance artist as she is a performer, this stunt ranks up there with Lady Gaga's drunken panty raid at the Yankees' clubhouse back in 2010. Whenever a celebrity is going out to be seen at a public event, the point is for them to be seen. We are supposed to see them get escorted to their floor seats. We are supposed to wonder who the people are seated near them. We are supposed to notice what they are or aren't wearing. Appropriateness is not really the point.

But let's pivot to the subject of fat-shaming and how predictable it is to denounce it publicly even as we privately talk shit about people's weight, how they look in their clothes, or try to make polite excuses about our discomfort. Last month we were cheering Lizzo on for being so bold and brash and unbothered. This summer she performed on stage in prime-time at the VMAs with an inflatable ass in a thong (backed up by several dancers dressed leggings with the butt cheeks cut out). I don't know if this backlash means that the novelty has worn off, but it does suggest that we aren't quite as evolved as we claim to be about body positivity.

Thus, I will start by addressing my own hypocrisy. I have laughed at fat jokes, especially when the fat person is telling the joke and playing the clown. But it is wrong, and I cringe whenever I think back on my own casual cruelty. In the moment, however, it felt more like a reprieve from my own insecurities--for being too smart, too weird, too tall, too high yellow, too whatever made me vulnerable to ridicule. To the extent that Lizzo became our unapologetic heroine and role model of imperfection, we were here for it. Until we weren't. We're uncomfortable with Lizzo prancing around like some skinny hot chick because fat people are not supposed to feel good about themselves--we want them to make us feel good about ourselves.

So cut the crap, because Lizzo has been showing her ass all year. Listen to this interview she gave to Terry Gross (which I heard in real time when it aired) and tell me if this sounds like someone who isn't deliberately attempting to prove a point. No different than what Megan Thee Stallion or Normani have been doing this year, and I can't imagine that they would face the same level of criticism (because they wouldn't). And if you sit through the entire 8-minute response she posted on her Instagram (ignore the headline), trust she ain't crying from humiliation. She did what she did and I'm not mad at her.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

50 Years of Sunny Days

Note: I began working on this piece last month when the 50th Anniversary special aired, but I got busy with a few other projects and had planned to return to it before the end of the year. Sadly, the death of puppeteer Caroll Spinney is what prompted me to finish it today. This piece will serve as an appreciation of his wonderful work as well as my nostalgic homage to the show. Enjoy.

We watched the Sesame Street 50th Anniversary special last month and I will just confess up front that at first, I was WAY more excited than the Kid. Of course, she was into it for all of the characters that she loves, but was unfazed by my random call outs and tweets at seeing favorite veteran Muppets and humans until a certain frog appeared:

The highlight of the night came when I tweeted this picture to Holly Robinson Peete and she responded! After the Kid watched the special again the following weekend, she has been a tad obsessed: watching the new season and learning the new songs; forcing us to listen to their version of kid songs in the car to and from school; and binging classic clips on YouTube. She re-enacted this memorable cartoon by going to our refrigerator to 'buy' a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. (She has also been hovering over me as I try to write this because she likes to see Kermit dance.)

In case it wasn't clear by now, I LOVE Sesame Street. I grew up watching it on PBS along with The Electric Company and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood in a dedicated block of weekday morning programming. Even after I outgrew the show, I found reasons to watch it until I went away to college. If you wanted to ruin my day, preempt any one of those shows for a pledge drive. Another way was to be at someone's house with a poor UHF signal or whose parents weren't into public television.

There is so much to say about this beloved show, so many wonderful memories to share, and then there is the bittersweet realization that with the show reaching its 50th season, many of the people who helped to bring the magic all of these years are passing on. The most painful indicator of this fact came with the death of Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life.

When I received that news, my heart sank...then it burst. My initial reaction was sadness because we had just seen Spinney in the Celebration special. I know that he had retired but it was not clear until I saw him in a wheelchair, just how physically demanding it had been for him to portray Big Bird for all of these years. (Please, take the time to watch this fascinating documentary about his career and keep the tissues handy.) He had developed a condition called dystonia which I can only imagine was exacerbated by the decades he spent in that costume. However, my sadness melted away when I reflected on the fact that his life's joy had been this work, so on the same day that the show was honored by the Kennedy Center, it was fitting that he slipped away to where the air is sweet.

The Hub and I have differing opinions about the value of nostalgia. He isn't all that contemplative about the past while I am clearly game to revisit memories of my youth whenever the spirit hits. I had been waiting all year for some kind of spectacular salute to the show that literally has touched millions of children around the globe. I expected more than an hour of blink-and-you-missed-it cameos and walk-ons. I wanted to see the now-grown children who actually appeared on the show (no offense to Joseph-Gordon Levitt, but I checked his IMDb). I wanted an In Memorium segment like the award shows. I would have even settled for an imaginative behind-the-Muppets spoof (it would have been great to reveal some of the 'real' personalities of certain lesser characters like the angry blue restaurant patron).

I wanted more, but that has been my lament since the show moved to HBO. I love the old Sesame Street; I appreciate aspects of its current incarnation. While the move to HBO makes fiscal sense, it has resulted in a dialing back on the educational content in favor of more entertainment. Sure, kids still can get the basics, but there was a lot more substance to the show when it was an hour long. I get that there is a lot more competition in children's programming and a limited window of time to make lasting impressions on young viewers, but I'm not sure that it has been wise to rely more on non-human characters to illustrate very human problems and situations.

Take death, for example. I was a kid when Will Lee, the actor who portrayed Mr. Hooper, died. I had a vague understanding of what death meant at the time, but it was definitely much clearer when the show took the time to explain it. Ironically, it was this unforgettable segment with Big Bird engaged in a discussion with the humans who calmly and deliberately take the time to explain the concept to him. It is hard to look at that clip and not get a little dust in the eye, especially in light of Spinney's death. The actors who portrayed David (Northern Calloway) and Olivia (Alaina Reed) are also deceased, and all of the other now-older humans apparently moved off the street (presumably into a retirement home somewhere up-state).

And I guess that's why the Hub will shrug if when he reads this because change is inevitable. The Kid loves Sesame Street exactly as it is. She has no idea that there once was a time when there was only one female Muppet that was not a fairy named Abby or when everyone thought Snuffleupagus was imaginary. It is possible that her sensitivity to other children was made possible by Julia, the Muppet depicted with autism. In her world, no one debates the living arrangements or the sexual orientation of Bert and Ernie. She probably won't even notice that Big Bird sounds different.

No, it's not her Busy Black Mama's Sesame Street, but that is a good thing. This is her childhood, and hopefully she will be able to share her love for this show with her children some day. In order to remain relevant, the show has had to evolve to appeal to its core audience. Just like the retired cast of humans, some of those old Muppets like Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, and Roosevelt Franklin moved into the Furchester Estates (storage) to make way for Rudy, Gonger, and Segi. As much as we love the typewriter guy and the pinball machine 2-D animated segments, we can't expect for kids born in this century to understand those references. If they get lost, they know how to use GPS. Yet, the very technology that necessitated changes to the format and pacing of the show are what keep it alive and appealing to both of us--so thank you HBO, YouTube, streaming on demand, and digital music downloads.

And thanks again to Caroll Spinney. It will be emotional for me to watch the new season knowing that my Big Bird is gone. But it is heartening to know that to my daughter, who happens to prefer Oscar, his beloved characters will live on.