American Horror Story Freakshow: Making Fear Fun


(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

American Horror Story Season Four, Freakshow, has been very eagerly anticipated (by me, at least), and, during its premiere last night, the franchise failed to disappoint. Featuring a revolving ensemble of actors and the inclusion of artists such as Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett, AHS continually reinvents itself, much to its audience’s delight.

A few aspects I enjoyed most about last season’s installment, Coven, was the campiness, humor, phenomenal acting, and intelligent dialogue the show consistently delivered. Despite the plot, the gore, and the magic, the show turned out memorable characters and quotable quotes. I’m actually ashamed to admit that I miss those characters just a little.

As always with AHS, they like to bring you somewhere, drop you off, then kick you two steps beyond your comfort zone. I watched this season’s premiere with my shirt pulled halfway up over my head, covering one eye – sometimes both – and I’ll tell you why: clowns. It wasn’t enough to feature a traveling freak show, of course, so the stakes were raised by a murderous pair of Siamese twins, a bearded lady harboring palpable sexual tension for her mistress, a man with ‘flippers’, who has, let’s say, flipped a few switches, and oh – how could I forget? An evil clown. An evil clown who shows up in your bedroom at night and slices the life right out of you.

If that’s not the stuff of nightmares, I don’t know what is.

There’s always a transition period with this series, the time you sit back with your hand partially covering your face, determining that, this, in fact, is the way it’s going to be. You have to forget the previous season, wipe away the names, the stories, and get in that moment.

And, boy, did I get in that moment, double checking the locks and taking a few quick peeks at my kids before going to bed. AHS truly takes uncomfortable to a most uncomfortable level.

What I love most is how seamlessly the show transitions from adrenaline-secreting to laugh-out-loud funny, and that no matter what’s going on (See: Sarah Paulson, with two heads, conversing with herself), you believe it. Siamese twins? Sure. A tiny dude who bites the heads off live animals? Absolutely. A three-breasted hermaphrodite? Well, why the hell not?

I’ve tried to find the moral fibers that bind the stories, the seasons, together, the lessons to be learned, but the beauty of this show is there are none. The story is always just what it is, the characters who they are, for better or worse, and the scenes, however disturbing, are created simply to be consumed, much like cocktail shrimp on a buffet table.

The best thing about this buffet, though, is that it truly has something for everyone. There’s poison enough for all. Siamese twins not your speed? Try clowns with knives. Clowns with knives don’t do it for you? How about horny carnies? Demons? Witches? Ghost musicians? Deviant psychiatrists? AHS has got it all, all the time. If one thing doesn’t trigger your sympathetic nervous system, another surely will, with breaks to rest, and laugh, of course, in between.

It’s too early to tell how this season’s plot will shake out, but you can bet your fluffy beard I’ll be watching.

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Which Came First: Technology or Helicopter Parenting, a Guest Post by Jennifer Cowart

Jen Cowart Bio picture 1Jennifer Cowart is a 40-something wife and mother of three daughters. A former elementary educator, she is a freelance journalist, photographer and blogger. She is the winner of three New England Newspaper and Press Association Awards and a Rhode Island Press Association Award. She was a member of the 2014 Listen To Your Mother cast in Providence, RI. In 2012 she, along with her daughter, was the Rhode Island winner of the White House Kids’ State Dinner/Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest. Her work can be found at and .

Follow her on Facebook.


As a new parent, and through the years that have followed, I have found myself feeling cautious about earning a reputation for being a certain type of parent. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe not everyone worries much about being stereotyped, but when you read parenting magazines and blogs, it seems that there is a name and a stigma for every parenting choice and style.

There are people who breastfeed or don’t, people who work or don’t, people who co-sleep or don’t, people who practice attachment parenting (is un-attachment parenting a “thing?”) people who are ‘free-range’ parents, and people who are deemed helicopter parents. I even recently read a criticism of parenting where the writer deemed parenting a “new religion,” and not in a good way. That was a new one for me.

As parents, if we don’t walk a perfect line of balance, we’re either too laid back or too conservative, too nice and wishy-washy, or too strict and mean. You could go crazy reading about them and choosing your stance on each type, but I think ultimately every parent must make choices as to what works for them, their kids, their beliefs, and just go with it.

I’m a particular fan of the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and although it makes me smile when I hear it, I really do believe it. You make choices, you live with those choices, and if you’re not happy, or they’re not going the way you imagined, then you adjust and make changes as you see fit. We all have our own monkeys and circuses to worry about, we don’t need to worry about what everyone else is doing. I can worry about trying not to screw up my own kids with my parenting practices, but I can’t worry about whether others will be sending their own kids to therapy down the line with theirs.

That said, I sometimes lose sleep over the helicopter parenting thing. That’s the one I worry about the most. Why? I don’t know, but I do.

Search and rescueLately,I’ve been considering the whole helicopter parenting stigma. I’ve begun to wonder if it’s something that’s been created by the amazing technology we now have, or whether it’s a parenting style that forces technology to keep up with parents’ needs.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

From baby monitors that allow parents to watch their babies sleep, to preschool webcams that allow you to see your children in their classes, to college “Hi Mom!” cams that let you to watch a live web cam of particular spots on college campuses – just in case your child walks by – we can see or be connected to our children anywhere, anytime, by technology, no matter how old they are.

When I think about these advances in technology, I wonder:

Would I have wanted to have that kind of baby monitor for peace of mind? Probably.

Would it have had the potential to make me crazy, watching for anything to happen to my baby through the night? Very possibly.

Would I have wanted to spend my precious 2.5 hours of preschool time sitting at home with my coffee, glued to my computer screen, watching my kids playing at school? Probably not.

Will I be glued to the college webcam screen, hoping for a glimpse of my 18-year-old walking on the quad? I kind of hope not.

Are we able to, or even encouraged to, keep such tabs on our kids beyond our empty nests because of technology? Or, is technology answering what they see as being our needs as over-protective parents?

Which is it?

Monitor, Keyboard, and MouseWe attended a middle school Back to School Night last year, and a similar high school open house this year where we were shown how to access the online parent portal to view our child’s records (absences, grades),  but also to log on and view their assignments – upcoming tests, quizzes, essays, projects. We were strongly encouraged to log on daily to stay abreast of their work and keep on top of that work.

Is it me, or is technology fostering too much helicopter parenting? Is that technology pushing us to do more than we should for our kids? Last year, I was shocked to be so strongly encouraged to check the website daily, and I remember thinking, “Isn’t that the student’s job? I have a job. This isn’t it.” By their second year of middle school, I just assumed we’d put this sort of responsibility on the students – not the parents – and most definitely so by their first year of high school.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe I’m not?

I never logged onto that parent portal during middle school. I actually lost my login information. Twice.

But here’s the thing: I knew when my child was absent, because she was here with me and I was taking care of her. That’s my job as her mother. I knew her grades, because she logged on to the student portal herself constantly to check and share them with me. And if she didn’t, I asked her how things were going and had a conversation. I got a progress report mid-quarter and a report card at the end of the quarter from the school, and saw the grades she’d earned.


When she stayed on top of the work.


That’s her job as a student.

This technology, some may say, allows us to support them along their educational paths. I could agree, but I wonder, does this technology allow us to override the conversation part of it? Are we able to parent and support our kids better from the screen than in person?

I don’t know the answer. I haven’t decided what I think about all this, but it’s definitely got me wondering.

I love technology; it allows me to work remotely and do a job I love, and stay in touch with people I love, but it also may not give our kids the tools to be responsible for themselves. It might also foster the problems colleges experience with parents unable to cut the apron springs. It might cause parents to get used to being over-connected.

I don’t know.

Do you?

A Definitive Guide to the Holidays: The Only One You’ll Ever Need

I know. I know. It’s the first week of October. It’s barely Halloween. You may or may not have costumes picked out, and you probably haven’t yet taken down the ‘Welcome, Spring!’ flag in your front yard.

But, since I have already received two Pottery Barn holiday catalogs (The personalized Santa sacks are already on sale. Seriously.), I figured it must be time.

So, without further ado, the only holiday guide you’ll ever need:


Am I supposed to buy my pets gifts?

Well, you do love them, don’t you? Like, enough not to feed them chicken by-product meal? Then buy them a few gifts. And a Santa hat with a chinstrap. And have some portraits taken, won’t you, you heartless fool?


Which end of the candy cane should I tackle first?

I guess it depends what kind of mood you’re in. If you’re feeling playful, I’d start with the hook. Your fellow employees, I’m sure, always get a kick out of your trout impression.


What color Christmas lights should I set up in my yard?

Here’s the rule of thumb: If there’s only one dealership in your state for the car you drive, use white only. More than one? Colored. But never mix them. And don’t use both blinking and non-blinking. That shit’s just ghetto.


Should we get an Elf on the Shelf? 

Well, let me put it to you this way: If you, say, work out at 6am for a week and then quit, no.


English: Christmas cookies (Left to right, top...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia

I enjoy making Christmas cookies. When should I start?

Honestly? Last month. Get on that.


Christmas Tree: Real or Artificial?

If you have kids, dogs, cats, rabbits, or any other type of fauna (invited or otherwise), go for artificial. If you’re a masochist who enjoys cleaning up pine needles until July, a real one.


Ooh! But I want a REAL tree. Should we tag one at the tree farm?

What are you, a freak? Go buy one at Home Depot.


When should I start listening to Christmas music?

On the car ride home from your Thanksgiving dinner. Not one moment sooner.


Will I *finally* get that Lexus with the giant red bow on it this year from Santa?

Probably not. Chances are, you’ll end up with a hangover and five pounds of leftover ham.


Gift Cards: Tacky or Terrific?

Tough question. If you like finding them on the floor of your car six months after the store has gone out of business (true story), terrific. Otherwise, tacky. Unless it’s an office gift exchange. Then it’s terrific. Especially if it’s for Chipotle.

And since we’re on the subject, should I have my Christmas shopping done already?

You’re one of those container people, aren’t you? With the containers? Lined up? On shelves? Labeled, with dates and contents written on the outside? Whatever, Overachiever. Just go away.

Nutcrackers: A legitimate component of Christmas pageantry or a way to rile up Uncle Randy after a few beers?

I can’t answer this one. To find the answer, you’ll have to look deep inside.


Should we open *just one gift* on Christmas Eve?

Why, that’s impossible! Santa doesn’t come until we’re all asleep! There shouldn’t even be one gift out there to open. Shame on you.


Christmas Caroling: Yay or Nay?

I don’t know. Do you find it awkward to be standing at your doorway, in your pajamas, in the cold, watching boogers drip down strangers’ faces as they sing Silent Night off-key? You tell me.

When should I take down my Christmas decorations?

About a month after your neighborhood association sends you that nasty email.

Life Lessons Learned by 35

Are you thirty-five? Approaching thirty-five? Looking back at thirty-five and laughing hysterically?

I’ve definitely learned a few things since I hit my 30′s, and I’m eager to share them with you.

Please visit me at Redbook, where I’m exposing a few of the raw truths of the universe, and let me know if I covered everything!

35 (number)

35 (number) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interview with Author Anika Denise and a Baking Day at Grandma’s Giveaway!

Anika_photoAnika Denise is the author of “Baking Day at Grandma’s,” (Philomel, 2014) “Bella and Stella Come Home,” (Philomel, 2010) and “Pigs Love Potatoes” (Philomel, 2007.) In 2016, HarperCollins Children’s Books will release her forthcoming title, “Monster Trucks!” Her books have been praised by Parents’ Choice Foundation, The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and the Rhode Island Center for the Book. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island. For more information about Anika’s books, visit her website at, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or visit her YouTube channel.



I have the great fortune of presenting to you today an exclusive interview with, fellow Listen to Your Mother Providence alum and children’s author Anika Denise. I’m also lucky enough to offer you a chance to win a signed copy of her newest release, Baking Day at Grandma’s, and eight gift tags for treats made and shared!



How did you come upon the idea to write Baking Day at Grandma’s?

Baking Day at Grandma’s was inspired by my grandmother and my mom. Both loved to bake. And both welcomed kids and grandkids into the kitchen while doing it. Quite a bit of the baking was done around the holidays, but we never needed an excuse to get in the kitchen and start in. My mom would visit and she’d be browsing through my cookbooks and say, “Girls, let’s try these lemon cookies!” Before you knew it, the mixer was going and the kids were covered in sugar and flour.

We always made a mess, but there was also lots of joy and laughter. My girls loved it. It got me thinking that a baking day with grandma would make a  great premise for a picture book. So, I wrote one!


Did you incorporate any personal childhood memories into the book?

rose_3_fullYes, this book is basically a love letter to my childhood. I grew up in Queens, but spent summers and holidays at my Grandma Rose’s house in the Adirondacks. My grandmother is pretty much the standard to which I hold all things domestic. She had seven children. She was excellent cook. She understood the importance of a family sitting down together each night for a meal, and she set a nice table—even if the meal was grilled cheese and tomato soup. She knew how to sew and bake, and encouraged her kids and grandkids to do both. For her, food was joy. . . and sharing food was love. I should also point out she did all this and worked for many years at the restaurant she owned with my grandfather. Whenever I’m exhausted or feeling overwhelmed with juggling mom stuff and work stuff, I think of my Grandma Rose and the grace with which she lived her life—and kept her home—and I snap out of it.

rose_2_without_borderThat’s why I wanted this book to have so much of my grandma in it—including her recipe for chocolate cake! The cubs tromp through the snow to Grandma Bear’s house; they put on aprons and help mix the batter. Grandma lets them lick the spoon… then Grandma Bear makes them hot chocolate while the cake bakes. In the end, the cubs wrap up their treats to share, not just eat. That’s a direct homage to Rosie, and all the cookies and treats she delivered in little tins to family and neighbors.


What age child do you think would enjoy this book the most?

The book is written in bouncy verse, almost like a song, so little ones ages 3-5 will enjoy hearing it read aloud. But I notice with my husband’s art, slightly older kids will pick up and read our books, too. The illustrations are lush and inviting and there’s lots to pore over and enjoy. A good friend bought the book for his wife because she loved baking with her grandma as a child. I’m a firm believer that picture books are for all-ages!



Do your own children read your books? Do they share their ideas? How are they involved with your process?

They are my first readers, generally. It helps to have a built-in test audience. Sometimes they give me feedback or ideas for making a piece better, and sometimes unwittingly they inspire an idea for a book. My second picture book, Bella and Stella Come Home, is based on my daughter. It’s about a little girl whose stuffed animal looms large in her imagination. When the girl moves to a new house, she brings her friend with her to explore, and to help her get over the newness of it all. That came right from watching my daughter hop around the empty rooms of our new house with “Spotty Dog” in tow.


Was an author what you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?

No, I wanted to be a famous actress or a pop-star. But I get stage fright and I’m tone deaf, so writing was a better choice. I wrote poetry and short stories when I was a kid, and continued to write in college, but I suppose  I never seriously considered it as a career until I met my husband Chris, a children’s book illustrator.


What do you enjoy most about being a children’s author?

Hmmm. Good question. I think it’s the process itself that makes me happiest. It can be frustrating some days, when it’s not flowing or a writing session seems more struggle than spark. But when it is working, and I hit upon something truly interesting, it’s a great feeling. Conjuring characters and stories people care about and connect with is the closest thing to magic I can think of. Storytelling is fun. I can’t imagine a better job, really.


What can we expect from you next?

Up next for me is picture book called Monster Trucks releasing in 2016 with Harper Children’s Books, as well as a fourth collaboration on a picture book with my husband Chris. It’s about a middle kid. (Middle kids need their own book.) Please also expect a novel from me in the near future, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m working on one now, and if I know you’re expecting it… well… then I have all the more motivation to finally get it done. <grin>


Now it’s your turn! To win a signed copy, please follow this link to Facebook, and click the ‘Giveaway’ tab. You will have several opportunities to enter! Valid email address required to enter, must be a US resident, giveaway ends on September 25, 2014 at 6pm ET. A winner will be drawn and the winner notified via email, Stephanie Bernaba’s Blog Facebook page, and Twitter. Winner must respond within 24 hours or a new winner will be drawn.


Baking Day Interior Copyright Christopher Denise, 2014



Philomel, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-03992-4244-1

“A rollicking, rhyming salute to the grandmother-grandchild bond. . . . While the cake is baking, there’s hot chocolate to drink and frosty windows to draw on. ‘Old-time music, soft and sweet, / Skippy notes and tapping feet. / Learning songs that Grandma sings— / When the kitchen timer rings!’ But this cake isn’t for eating; the siblings carefully decorate and wrap each piece as gifts.” –Kirkus Reviews

“This gentle story will leave children feeling warm and fuzzy. It’s perfect for individual sharing, storytime, baking time, and pretty much any time.” –School Library Journal


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