Review: Calm the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need by David Vienna

Calk the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You'll Ever Need by David Vienna. 112 pp. Knock Knock.

Calk the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need by David Vienna. 112 pp. Knock Knock.

Warning: In case you hadn’t guessed by the title of the book, there’s some mature language in this post.

I love lighthearted parenting books. I mean, seriously. Parents have enough to worry about on a daily basis, and it’s important to maintain a sense of humor, especially when you have a stressful job. (Don’t think parenting is stressful? I could argue with you all day, but let me just say this: it’s the only job I know where you can never clock out. Not even when you’re sleeping.)

In this book, father of twins David Vienna expands on a philosophy popularized by a blog entry of his: the CTFD Method. Basically, regardless of the issue at hand, the solution is always the same: Calm the fuck down. It sounds silly, and it is a bit, but I’m pretty sure that we all need to be reminded to calm down occasionally, especially parents.

The book is separated into sections based on age and category of problem. Each concern starts the same way: illustrating the worst possible thing that could happen if you have a certain problem with your kid. The “CTFD” section that follows each issue explains why you probably shouldn’t be worrying as much as you are. I loved the first half of each page because I have a tendency to imagine the absolute worst in every situation, and some of the overblown parental worries sounded hilariously similar to the way I think. I mean, I know it’s unrealistic, but I still can’t help but run through every negative scenario in my brain. Proof that Vienna gets this (regarding a kid who shows no interest in walking):

…If he shows no interest in learning to walk now, perhaps he’ll never learn. That means you’ll have to find one of those baby walker things in preschooler size, then kid size, then adult size. Or maybe you could just tie him to a skateboard and town him around like a pet.

He won’t make the football team because he’ll never crawl fast enough. You’re already factoring in the expense of kneepads that match his wedding tuxedo so he may proudly clomp down the aisle on all fours.

Yes, this is beyond worst-case scenario, but don’t all parents at some point or other go so far beyond what’s rational that you can’t even see the dividing line anymore? (Or is that just me? Something tells me I can’t be the only one.) This book acknowledges that worrying is normal but shows that, in most cases, calming down will help immensely because the problem probably isn’t as bad as you imagine.

I’ve heard a lot of moms complaining about the What to Expect books because they cover every problem known to man and can make parents worry about problems they didn’t even know they might have. I, on the other hand, love those books because they are so exhaustive that I’m rarely left with follow-up questions. (Of course, I check in with my pediatrician about things, but doing some background reading gives me a good idea of what’s normal.) So when I read Calm the Fuck Down, there wasn’t really any information I didn’t already possess. Here’s the sign of a good book, though: while reviewing my parental knowledge, I had such a kick-ass time that I was never bored.

All in all: Basically, this is the comic version of a What to Expect book (although, at a fraction of the length, it covers less topics). Excellent gift for a new parent or parent-to-be who has a sense of humor!

Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between You & Me by Mary Norris. 240 pp. W.W. Norton.

Between You & Me by Mary Norris. 240 pp. W.W. Norton.

I’ve got a bad habit of buying books about the history and proper usage of the English language and not reading them. I’ve got a shelf in my home library that’s attractively stacked with books like Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way and Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey. I tend to read the first few pages, enjoy them as much as I expect to, then get distracted by some work of fiction or other. I’m terrible about nonfiction, even if it’s on a topic I’m very interested in. But Between You & Me was a Goodreads win, and I’m more likely to win other titles if I read and review this one, so I had a bit more motivation than usual. Also…well, it didn’t hurt that Mary Norris is so funny. Witness the following examples and tell me you don’t want to read this book, too:

“Whom” may indeed be on the way out, but so is Venice, and we still like to go there.


Chances are that if you use the Oxford comma you brush the crumbs off your shirtfront before going out.

Between You & Me covers such topics as spelling, punctuation, and profanity in a direct and easily-understood manner. Norris makes frequent mention of the ways that style and usage vary between major publications such as The New Yorker (where she’s worked since 1978) and The New York Times. There’s even an entire chapter dedicated to pencils and pencil sharpeners! (This might sound boring to you, but if it doesn’t, we should probably be friends.)

I learned from this book, and I enjoyed myself immensely while reading it. It’s made me want to pick up my next work of nonfiction sooner than the usual schedule (which would be maybe in six months or so?). It made me want to buy, read, and annotate/highlight a style guide to learn even more. I have an advance copy, but I’m tempted to buy a finished copy — partially to support the author, but also because the advance copy doesn’t include the Recommended Reading list. (Yes, I am that much of a nerd. I want to do the background reading!)

All in all: A great read for anyone with a sense of humor who’s also interested in usage, and a particularly great graduation gift for an English major.

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling. Crown Archetype. 222 pp.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling. Crown Archetype. 222 pp.

The only thing I knew about Mindy Kaling before reading this book is that she played Kelly Kapoor on the US version of The Office, a show that’s grown on me immensely over the years. Oh! I also Twitter-stalked her one afternoon and she seemed funny. (I later learned that she wrote the Office episode where Michael burns his foot on a George Foreman grill, so I now know she’s funny.) Those two things were the driving forces behind my purchase of this book — well, that and the fact that it was cheaper than Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which is the reason I was on Amazon’s site at all that day.

I expected this to be a series of humorous anecdotes about Kaling’s life in showbiz. Yes, there are some work-related stories included, but this reads more like a quippy autobiography than a collection of essays, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Mindy portrays herself as a successful Everygirl; her writing style is mildly self-deprecating, but she still manages to remind the reader of her talent. It’s a hard balance to strike, but she manages to make herself sound impressive and relatable all at once, and that (to me) makes her immensely likable.

After reading about Mindy’s childhood, her budding love of comedy, and her triumphs (and mishaps) in the world of Hollywood, I became a fan, not just of The Office but of her. I will admit that I expected this to be a laugh-out-loud sort of memoir (closer to Aisha Tyler’s Self-Inflicted Wounds, which I also loved), and it wasn’t, but that didn’t detract from my reading experience. In fact, I couldn’t put it down because I couldn’t get enough of her dry humor and ability to make me smirk while reading. The only thing about this book that irked me — and it isn’t a big deal, but I can’t help but notice — is that the title has absolutely nothing to do with the book.

All in all: I enjoyed Kaling’s tone so much that I’m hoping to find time to check out The Mindy Project. And for someone with limited free time, that’s saying something.

Summer Reading List: Miscellaneous, Part One

Trying to wrap up my summer recap, but some of these books didn’t quite fit anywhere else, so I’ve shoved ’em all into the oh-so-clever catchall category of “Miscellaneous.” Here goes!

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Picador. 256 pp.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Picador. 256 pp.

This was a BookCon freebie, and I unexpectedly had the chance to meet the author, who was very pleasant and friendly. I hadn’t yet read the book (or heard much about it), so I didn’t have much to talk about with her. If I saw her again now, I’d ask her how difficult it was to get into the head of a guy like Nate, someone so conflicted, so inconsiderate and yet so overthinking at the same time.

The writing is pretty good, and it’s overall a decent book, but I felt at times like I was forcing myself to get through it; I didn’t find it terribly interesting. It’s worth reading if you read a lot of contemporary/literary fiction, but it’s far from one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. Thomas Dunne Books. 416 pp.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. Thomas Dunne Books. 416 pp.

Another BookCon freebie! The antics, pranks, and hazing in this book are so over-the-top that I found them unbelievable after a while. I know you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief when reading a work of fiction, but it was increasingly difficult to do that with this book. I found it impossible to accept that a principal — and a nun, no less! — would willingly allow these things to happen for as long as she did. It’s not a terrible book, but I found it unimpressive; I’m not sure why I bothered to finish it.

The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith. Quirk Books. 208 pp.

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith. Quirk Books. 208 pp.

Yet another BookCon giveaway. I stumbled into this signing line unintentionally (I hadn’t incorporated it into my schedule) and decided to stick around, and I’m glad I did. The author was a sweetheart, which was all the more impressive since I was about third-from-last in a rather long line. (Note: Every author I met at BookCon was personable, though they must have all been exhausted. Are readers/writers generally more polite people? I’d like to think so.) This book covers such topics as “Select Your Character: Your Quest Begins” (determining your personality type, strengths, and weaknesses) and “Do or Do Not, There Is No Try: Asking Her Out.” Geeky references abound (I got maybe half of them, to be honest), and it’s funny. Worth checking out if you’re looking for a nerdy version of a dating manual, or if — like me — you’re looking, not for a relationship, but an entertaining read.

Review: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2014


The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids 2014 by Bob Sehlinger & Liliane J. Opsomer with Len Testa. Keen Communications. 434 pp.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’ve got exciting news: I recently booked a trip to Disney World!!! It’ll be my fourth trip but my husband’s first. It’s also the first time we’ll vacation with our 21-month-old, and I wanted to be sure to plan a trip that would include age-appropriate activities. I figured there had to be a book about traveling to Disney World with kids, and I was right. In fact, there were several. This one seemed most suited to my needs, and it had a bunch of favorable reviews on Amazon, so I went with it (which, in case you were wondering, was an excellent decision).

This guide provides some useful preliminary information, like whether or not Disney World is the right fit for your family and whether you might benefit more from staying at a Walt Disney World property or off-site. There are sections about hotel selection, dining plans, and park ticket options. The writers give suggestions for discipline away from home as well as packing and scheduling tips. (They’re big on the afternoon nap, for instance, which is key with a toddler.) There’s also a chapter for each park, complete with a map and brief summary of all the rides.

Since I gave up a second income to be a stay at home mom, I’m reluctant to spend money on unnecessary things. So why a guidebook when I have Google? Sometimes I don’t even know what questions to ask or where to start. That’s when I turn to a book for information. (This is rare, as you will see from a quick browse through my “Nonfiction” reviews.) You’ll find Disney’s website to be an excellent overview to all that Disney has to offer, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have follow-up questions. And while you can always call Disney and ask them your questions (their phone representatives are some of the most pleasant I’ve encountered in recent years), this book covered almost everything I needed to know — and I could read it at my own pace. Sitting down with a list of questions, waiting on hold, and giving a customer service rep 100% of my attention would require at least as much time as nap time provides, if not more. It was far easier for me to read five minutes’ worth of information here and there amid the day’s spilled milk and coloring sessions. Then I made a brief list of remaining questions and got them taken care of in a phone call to Disney that lasted less than ten minutes.

This book is as detailed as they come. It was extremely helpful to have almost all of my questions answered in one place and in great detail. If you’re looking for an overview, though, don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of information this book contains: there are also multiple charts that simplify things and provide the more need-to-know stuff.

Highlights of this book:

  • strengths and weaknesses of every Disney hotel
  • chart of rides that have the potential to frighten small children
  • resort-wide list of character meals
  • ride ratings for every age group
  • multiple touring plans for each park, depending on the ages of the party’s members
  • sense of humor!

The only downfall to this book is that it’s already outdated in some aspects. Disney is in the process of switching from their quick-ride system of Fastpass to Fastpass+. The authors are shockingly well-versed in Fastpass rules and loopholes, but since Fastpass+ wasn’t up and running at the time of publication there is very little information about how it works. Disney’s doing a trial run of Fastpass+ right now (in which we’ll be taking part), but since it’s in the early experimental stages, I don’t have a good understanding of the system.

All in all: Well worth the money. I’d recommend it to anyone traveling to Disney World with kids.

Blog Tour: The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde

The Beauty Experiment

The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde. Da Capo Lifelong. 218 pp.

Witness a true rarity for me: I read a work of nonfiction! No, really.

Phoebe Baker Hyde’s The Beauty Experiment grabbed my attention right away. Its tagline is “How I skipped lipstick, ditched fashion, faced the world without concealer, and learned to love the real me.” This intrigued me on many levels, but I think I came to this book a little differently than most women might. You see, I already don’t wear makeup. Weddings and special dinners out are the only times I find myself getting made up, and even then, I don’t wear foundation or blush or eyeliner or lipliner. My idea of “putting on my face” is using a pressed powder, eyeshadow, mascara, and fairly-neutral lip gloss. And I do it for myself. How do I know this? Every time I wear makeup, my husband says, “You look nice, but I actually prefer you without any makeup.” In the moment, it stings a little bit to hear him say that, because I feel pretty and here he is, telling me that he likes me better in a way that’s…well…not this. But overall it’s nice, because I don’t have any pressing glamour expectations from him, and it lets me know that anything new I decide to try is really because I want to, and not to impress him.

That being said, I put unnecessary pressure on myself sometimes. I look at a woman with a flawlessly made up face and think, That’s a skill I don’t have, one that maybe I should have learned at some point. I know it’s silly, but I sometimes feel like less of a woman because I don’t know how to apply eyeliner and am willing to go out in public without “improving upon” my face. And this makes no sense. I’ve made a conscious decision not to buy makeup (and I love how inexpensive and brief my morning prep is!), and yet I sometimes feel badly about this decision.

In The Beauty Experiment, the author refers frequently to her “inner voice,” the often-critical one that sounded in her mind, comparing her to other women and seeing how she measured up (or, more often, fell short). Members of this blog tour were asked to choose from a list of activities and reflections instead of writing a typical review. I chose the following prompt:

Draw a timeline chronicling the development of this inner voice, adding all the influences that have combined to form it over the years. Start as a tiny girl and go all the way to now. What “injuries” or setbacks has this inner voice suffered?

Here we go (ages are estimates, of course):

  • 3 years old, maybe 4: My grandmother sent me a new dress. It was blue and white, with polka dots, and I loved it. Our town fair was coming up, and I knew that this would be the dress I wore. When the day came, I put it on — and, to my dismay, it was too big…and the day was cooler than anticipated. I insisted on wearing the dress anyway, with a long-sleeved shirt underneath, and I spent the entire day adjusting my outfit because the dress kept slipping off my shoulders. This is the first time I remember anticipating a certain look and being disappointed. No inner voice at this age, really, just a feeling of sadness that my outfit wasn’t working the way I’d wanted it to.
  • 7 years old: I got my hands on a comb, shut myself in the bathroom, and combed my hair until it looked (I thought) exactly like Ariel’s swooshy bangs in The Little Mermaid. Thinking back on this, I can guarantee that I didn’t look like Ariel; I have naturally curly hair that would never agree to do anything as reasonable as cooperate. That day, however, I was pleased as punch with my work and headed off to show my new look to my brother and cousins. I got laughed at.
  • 11 years old: At a friend’s pool party, while changing into my bathing suit with the other girls, I noticed that some of them already had breasts, hips, and (gasp!) pubic hair. I was still gangly and hair-free and thought, Should I have developed more by now? When will puberty come for me?
  • 12 years old: I got braces. And, truth be told, I was happy about it. In my mind, braces were for teenagers, those older, more glamorous creatures. Of course, when I couldn’t eat for two days, the metal in my mouth seemed far less glamorous than I’d anticipated.
  • 14 years old: I hated my braces and couldn’t wait to get them off. Super self-conscious about my teeth (and whether or not there was food stuck in my brackets), I only smiled closed-lipped in pictures until my braces were finally removed.
  • 15 years old: Acne. Need I say more?
  • 16 years old: My butt got huge, seemingly overnight. Still no boobs (actually, at thirty, the only boob sighting I’ve had was when I was nursing my son…they promptly disappeared when I weaned). Thankfully, this was the late ’90s and Jennifer Lopez was all the rage. Even though I took up much more room on the couch than I had the year before, I didn’t feel terribly fat because of my new ass(et).
  • 20 years old: I remember college as a stream of years of feeling badly about myself — which is silly in retrospect because I was in the best shape of my life, had a full-tuition scholarship and a great part-time job, and was getting kick-ass grades.
  • 22 years old: As a ballroom dance teacher, I got to (well, had to) wear skirts and dresses to work. This eliminated the grief of wearing ill-fitting trousers (tight on the butt, gaping at the waist, and too long for my short little legs) and made me feel better about myself overall. It wasn’t just the clothing, though; it was the ability to do something I loved every day and to help other people feel more comfortable doing it, too.
  • 27 years old: My wedding day. I didn’t diet but still felt slim enough. I wore enough makeup to enhance my face without hiding it. My hair looked fabulous. My skin was still a little flawed, but overall, I love the way I looked on that day.
  • 29 years old: Pregnant. Heavier than I’d ever been, but my round stomach was beautiful to me (and my husband) because it held my growing son. Miraculously, after my first trimester my skin cleared up, and it’s still looking pretty decent. (I’d like to shrink my pores a bit, though.)
  • 30 years old: I’ve lost almost all of the pregnancy weight, but my stomach still feels stretched out. My yoga pants are my most forgiving articles of clothing, so I wear them more often than I should. I know I should exercise, but I choose to read instead. I feel badly about myself when I see a young mom that’s in shape. I feel guilty about my lack of dedication but don’t do anything about it.

So that’s my timeline. The recurring theme I see is that, whenever I compare myself to other people, my opinion of myself suffers. The times when I was willing to just look at myself — to think, Here I am. This is me. I’m doing what I want to be doing, and I’m happy with my life overall. — I seem to stress less about my appearance. When I’m surrounded by other people, I do that competitive weighing-myself-against-others thing, and I always lose. Here’s the thing: I weigh 120 pounds. I know women that would kill to effortlessly be 120 pounds, and I’m unhappy with it.

I think it all comes down to setting reasonable expectations for myself and then working to attain them. I don’t judge my career, income, or relationships based on other people’s, but I do judge my appearance based on other people’s. That needs to stop.

Thanks to TLC for the chance to be part of this tour, and thanks also to Phoebe Baker Hyde for making me think about some important things.


Phoebe Baker Hyde

Phoebe Baker Hyde has written on self, place and culture for The New York TimesThe Los Angeles, and The Wall Street Journal. She holds degrees in Anthropology and English from the University of Pennsylvania and Master of Fine Arts in writing from University of California at Irvine. She currently lectures and teaches in Boston.

Find out more about Phoebe at her website, connect with her onFacebook, and follow her on Twitter.


Monday, January 20th: Overstuffed

Wednesday, January 22nd: One Frugal Girl

Thursday, January 23rd: Breezes at Dawn

Friday, January 24th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Sunday, January 26th: Diamond Cut Life

Monday, January 27th: Evolution You

Tuesday, January 28th: Jenny Ann Fraser

Wednesday, January 29th: guiltless reading

Monday, February 3rd: The School of Smock

Tuesday, February 4th: You Can Read Me Anything

Tuesday, February 4th: Imperfect People in love with a Perfect God