This is What Depression Looks Like

I lived two lives for more than a decade.

From the time I was in seventh grade until my early 20s, there was the me that everybody knew — the happy, funny, outgoing Lauren — and the me I hid from the world — the introverted, sad Lauren that, if left alone too long, got lost in the dark recesses of her mind.

Here’s the thing, though: I always felt like both lives were the real me. I never felt like I was putting on a show for my family and friends. I truly was as happy as I was sad. As loving as I was self-loathing. The difference was that I knew others wouldn’t want to know the sad version of me. My unhappiness, my eating disorder, my suicidal tendencies would only make others uncomfortable.

When I was 23, a series of events and mistakes led me to the darkest place I’d ever been. So dark, in fact, that I was no longer able to separate my two selves and my relationship began to suffer. Stephen urged me to get help.

I didn’t want to see a therapist. I didn’t want to open old wounds. I didn’t want to invite a stranger into my life to analyze and judge me. But, more than anything, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help.

But, I loved Stephen so much more than I loved myself, and so I consulted Google. On a page full of “Baton Rouge therapists,” I found the friendliest looking woman, swallowed my pride, and called.

Voicemail.

That’s it. I tried.

An hour later, she called back.

Dammit.

As my rational side knew she would be, Brittany was fantastic. She listened intently. She offered practical suggestions for dealing with anxiety. And she told me what I needed — but certainly never wanted — to hear: I had major depression.

Of course I did. I’d always suspected I did but maintained a “this couldn’t happen to me” mentality. Admitting I had a mental illness felt like admitting I was crazy. And admitting I couldn’t manage “my crazy,” as I called it, by myself. It felt like losing my power.

But, admitting all of that, realizing that my daily thoughts of suicide were not normal, and accepting that I did, in fact, have depression, was empowering in its own right. It was owning my crazy. I was able to face my demons head-on with the help of my pretty little friend, Pristiq.

It didn’t get better overnight. Just as depression isn’t a headache, anti-depressants aren’t ibuprofen. But, it did get better as the medicine helped increase my brain’s serotonin.

Once it got better, I was able to get off the medication. And then, my relationship became long distance and it got so, so much worse. I cried myself to sleep every night. I gained 80 pounds in a year. And I got back on my medicine.

That’s the thing society doesn’t seem to understand: depression is a disorder. Often (as I suspect in my case), it’s genetic. It doesn’t just go away forever like a virus your body has fought off. Stephen and I have been living together for three years, and I have countless other blessings in my life. But, it’s still a struggle. Every. Damn. Day.

But, I now know I have the support of friends, family and the love of my life. I know exactly what is happening when a suicidal thought starts creeping into my head — and exactly how to squash it. I know the mantras to keep my crazy in check. I know the workouts — not the foods — that relieve the most stress and produce the most endorphins. I now know how to manage my depression by doing things I love like writing and reading and spending time with Stephen.

That’s all I’m doing, though: managing it. I’m not cured because I’m happy. It’s something I’ll manage my entire life. But, it will never manage me again.

Am I terrified that opening up like this will hurt me professionally? Of course. I know the stigmas. For the longest time, the stigmas are what kept me from getting the help I needed. But, when I told my first boss, she was nothing short of incredible. She increased her mentorship of me but made sure to never relieve my responsibilities. When an asshole at my last job told both my supervisors — and all my coworkers — that I was suicidal, I thought it was the end of the world. But, my boss actually started being nicer to me. (There’s a silver lining to everything, right?) Fortunately, in my current job, I feel safe and am confident that my colleagues will only support me.

Regardless, I have to talk about it. Because, until society understands the realities of depression and mental illness as a whole, the stigmas will continue. I will still be told to “just get over it.” “Friends” will still consider it to be a juicy bit of gossip. And those undiagnosed will continue to suffer in silence.

 

If you suspect you may have depression or a mental illness, please tell your family or friends. If you’re too afraid to do that, seek out a therapist (most are covered under most health insurances). If that’s out of the question, go online for resources. Hell, message me. I’m in no way qualified to give you advice, but I can listen and help you find the resources and help you need. But, please, don’t continue to suffer. There’s a whole life worth living. A day worth seizing. And it’s up to you to take control.

To be honest, sometimes the depression has control and it feels impossible to seek help in any form. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the ones you love. Had Stephen not, essentially, forced me into therapy, who knows where I’d be. If you think someone you love may suffer from depression or a mental illness, be kind. Love them. Support them. And help them get help.

5 Tips to Maximize Your Social Presence on a (Time) Budget

In an ideal world, every business, from a mom-and-pop to the international grocery powerhouse you hate to need, would have at least one dedicated full-time social media manager. Or, since we’re talking in ideal terms, a multi-person social media and external communications team. But, a quick glance at the room temperature coffee by your keyboard, and the sudden realization that you’ve been sitting in your less-than-ergonomic office chair for the past two hours with the posture of Notre Dame’s guardian will indicate that this is far from an ideal world.

While every business owner may not be able to afford a social media manager, every business does need a web presence. If you’re basically your business’s entire C-Suite, just go for the bare necessities: a website and a Facebook page to provide your company information, including who you are and what you do. (A website may sound daunting, but plenty of sites like WordPress, Weebly and Wix make the web — and alliteration — easy.) You want to provide a resource for your customers and potential customers to access when they need your phone number, address and hours, as well as any other pertinent information, rather than making them rely on a possibly incorrect and probably out-of-date third party website for your information.

(If creating this basic web presence is still too time consuming or overwhelming for you, hire a freelancer. You can hire someone from Fiverr or a similar site, or a local teenager. Chances are, 95% of your patron’s children could set these up in about 10 minutes without breaking a sweat.)

If you can swing just a few more hours per week to maintain a social presence, you’ll be able to engage your current customers, inform your potential customers, and create a brand awareness in your community. It may seem scary, but if my hunt-and-peck typist of a father can maintain a consistent Facebook presence, so can you.

1. Know your audience.
Who are your current customers? What kind of customers do you want to attract? If you’re a business owner, you probably know the answer to that question already. But, your audience on social media could be drastically different, especially across different platforms. For example, you could be very popular among middle-aged women on Facebook and 13-18 year-old males on Twitter, but your main customer base is actually senior citizen veterans. Most sites, Facebook and Twitter included, will provide you the analytics of your platform audience.

The content you post should largely hinge on your audience, both current and desired, and the platform. But, I’ll elaborate on those later. If your customer base actually is senior citizen veterans, patriotic posts may be your thing. But, if you want to attract a younger audience, you’ll likely need to be a little more irreverent, and definitely more casual. Taylor Swift is a fantastic example of knowing her audience.

2. Know your platform
If you don’t understand Snapchat, chances are you shouldn’t be on it right now. Having a strong social presence takes time and, if you don’t have much of that to spare, it’s vital that you don’t spread yourself too thin. A Twitter account with one post every four months can look just as bad, if not worse, than no Twitter account at all. So, before you start creating accounts in every social medium, step back and consider 1) what that particular platform can do for your business, and 2) how much time you’ll be able to devote to it. If you’re not sure where to begin, I’ve broken it down below, but this is also a good place to begin.

Facebook: We’ve all heard that kids and teens aren’t on Facebook anymore because their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles have profiles. But, that means that everyone else is on Facebook. The social giant averages almost 1 billion (yes, “billion” with a B!) unique visitors every month. Get on Facebook. Try to post once every day, but no more than three times each day. No one likes their newsfeed to be saturated with whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

Twitter: Roughly 310,000,000 unique monthly visitors. Twitter is a fantastic venue for releasing news quickly, but if you’re not posting often and regularly, or you’re not posting relevant information, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Twitter may also not be for you. If you sell a product or own a boutique, for instance, Pinterest or Instagram may suit you better than Twitter because of the visual opportunities.

Instagram: If you can tell a visually compelling story, Instagram provides a much less needy audience (est. 100,000,000 unique visitors every month). Like Facebook, you don’t want to post too much, but you can also get away with only posting a few times a week. But, because Instagram only allows picture posts, think long and hard over what you would share.

Pinterest: Pinterest is a wonderful site if you have the time to devote to it. It isn’t demanding in the sense that you should post X times a day. But, you do want to have carefully curated boards. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library doesn’t sell a product (like many companies on the site), but they have several pin boards that provide resources and ideas for anyone who visits their page. The platform has 250,000,000 unique monthly visitors, and they’re mostly women.

Snapchat and Tumblr: If you’re reading this in sincerity, then, no, you probably don’t have time for either of these.

3. Know your voice.
Social media is beautifully casual, and it’s almost expected for most brands to be just as casual. (Unless you’re a bank or something else kind of boring. If that’s the case … break the mold!) But, beyond your cool, casual tone, who are you? What sets you apart? Are you funny? Snarky? Inspirational? Witty? Informative? Thought-provoking? You don’t have to be just one thing all the time, but you do need to be consistent.

It’s also a good idea to have a second set of eyes review all posts to avoid making a list of social media don’ts. If you’re using Hootsuite, there is an option built-in to require posts to be reviewed before it goes live.

4. Know your strategy.
It’s immeasurably helpful to have a social media strategy to reference and to make sure everyone is on the same page. Much of the three previous points tie into this, but a good strategy will outline several key factors:
Who will post?
How often will you post, and to which platforms?
What will your content be?
What are your goals? Growth? Sales? Loyalty? Brand Awareness?
How will you track your progress? (Again, many sites provide analytics.)

Hootsuite University provides many resources to get you started. (As does a Google search.)

5. Know your plan.
Technically, I mean more that you should plan ahead, but I obviously had a theme going and didn’t want to break it.

If you only have a little bit of time every week to dedicate to social, make it easy on yourself. Take a few hours every Monday to plan each post for the week. These posts should be exact, so that you can just copy and paste when you’re ready. Sites like Hootsuite and Buffer allow you to schedule your posts, so once you’ve planned everything on Monday, you don’t technically have to do anything the rest of the week.

Pictures and videos tend to perform better across all platforms, but they’re exceptions to the scheduling rule. Facebook has built-in scheduler to make your life easier, but Twitter doesn’t. If you do plan to schedule your posts on Twitter, my preference is to post photos and videos directly from Twitter. But, Hootsuite does allow you schedule photo posts.

If you have any other tips that I failed to mention, or have comments or questions, feel free to let me know in the comments section below or reach out to me directly.

Life Lessons I Learned from My Father

I have always been a Daddy’s Girl. As a child, he was my protector, my provider and my teddy bear. For the 28 years I’ve been on this Earth, we’ve had a very one-sided relationship — he constantly gives, and never asks for anything in return.

Today, I’m looking back at some of the most invaluable things he’s given me throughout my life, and hoping to pay his kindness forward by sharing them with you.

5 Things My Father Taught Me

  1. Never be too proud to say “I’m sorry.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched my father humble himself to apologize to those he’s wronged. And those he hasn’t. I’ve seen take responsibility in almost every argument with my mother, apologizing for the role he played as soon as he calmed down. He’s apologized to me as we’ve fought about politics, religion and what we want to watch on tv that night. But, perhaps the best apology I’ve ever heard him make was to someone he will never meet. He was on the phone with a customer service agent and was furious with whatever injustice the company had served him. He. Went. Off. He raged at the customer service agent until his face was red and slammed the phone down to hang up. Ten minutes later, he picked up the phone, called the company back, requested to speak with the same agent, and apologized most sincerely. To this day, I always remember that moment when I’m struggling to humble myself and apologize.
  2. Stay strong in your convictions. For every argument my father and I have about politics, (he a diehard, blue-collar Republican and I a roaring, feminist Democrat), my father apologizes. But, and this is key, he only apologizes for hurting me or fighting with me. He has never once apologized for his beliefs. He has never once changed his beliefs. When I present him with evidence that contradicts something he believes in, he cedes my point, but doesn’t change sides. Think of that what you will, but the man stands firm, and I respect that.
  3. Respect others. Throughout our disagreements, I know my father respects me. He even respects the boyfriend, who, on more than one occasion, has been a little too verbose about his liberal beliefs in a house full of conservatives. My father will enthusiastically debate us without ever insulting us. Of course, it’s easy for him to be respectful of his daughter. Where he truly shines, though, is speaking with others outside of the family. As I mentioned, he has very strong convictions about a number of issues, people and their choices. But, when faced with a stranger who represents the antithesis of every belief my father holds dear, he still treats that person with kindness, love and respect.

    The Brown Family. From Left to Right: Nathan Brown, Lauren Brown, Gary Brown, Elise Brown, Stephen Brown, Gayle Brown, Cory Brown
  4. Give until it hurts. And then give some more. In the best of times, my family was middle class, but we certainly had our share of struggles. For most of my life, our clothes were hand-me-downs, handmade or from Goodwill. (To be clear, those handmade clothes my mother stitched were probably some of the highest quality clothes we ever had growing up. They had to be to make it through five kids.) But, even in the toughest times, my mother and father gave ten percent of every paycheck to their church. The gave food to the homeless shelter. They “adopted” children in Africa. They prepared meals for those in their church who were sick, experienced a loss or had a baby. They bought Christmas gifts for those less fortunate than them. For richer or poorer, my parents gave. They both grew up in homes where money was scarce, and they worked hard for every cent they brought home. But they always knew they were blessed, and that others were struggling more.
  5. Take care of your family. As made obvious in number 4, my parents are givers. As much as they give to others, they give to their children tenfold. Even as each of the five children has grown into adulthood, my parents have supported us in any and every way they can. When I was fresh out of college and couldn’t find a job to save my life, my parents made sure I knew I would always have a room in their house. If my parents had $10 in their bank account, but I was short on rent money, there would somehow be $50 extra dollars in my bank account the next day. When my sister and I ran out of gas halfway between New Orleans and Shreveport, my father already in his car to come rescue us when a policeman helped us out. When I ran out of gas (yes, there’s a pattern here) on my way to work in high school and my phone had died, I looked up through tear-blurred eyes to see my father running across the interstate to my truck. And, my parents have instilled that familial duty in all of us. When one of my brothers had a crisis, every member of the family, no matter where they lived, left their bed at 2 a.m. to be by his side. And, throughout my struggles in adulthood — not being able to find a job, moving cities, trying to leave a toxic workplace — each of my four siblings has assured me, time and time again, that if I ever need anything, they will come running.

 

Of course, my father’s taught me other things, as well — how to change a tire, how to find a stud, how to cook red beans and rice — but these five things are perhaps the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned.

What has your father taught you?

Hair Styles That Are The Kat’s Meow

When I moved to Houston, I avoided trying a new hair salon for months because I had loved my salon in Baton Rouge so much and was terrified of a botched job.

Sure enough, the first salon I tried six months after moving here gave me Anna Wintour when I’d asked for Jennifer Lawrence. Then, a friend introduced me to the beautiful, magical Instagram feed of Rina Dee, a stylist at Kat’s Meow.

Rina took my hair’s virginity and helped me pass for something of a cool kid with stunning purple ombre hair, and then gave me hair so perfectly white it rivaled the Mother of Dragons.

 

Kat’s Meow, decorated in vintage hair salon dryers, curlers and hair pins, sits on a block in Midtown that celebrates vintage culture. This fun area is full of rockabilly-style restaurants, bars and shops, letting you step back in time with a small community of friendly faces adorned with beehives and pomade. “Once I found the Rockabilly scene here in Houston, I knew I found my tribe,” shared owner Crissy Salazar. “The style of the era is something that can’t be topped.”

But, it’s not just the time travel that makes Kat’s Meow so special — it’s the expertise, as well. Rina, known on Instagram for her transformative iterations of mermaid hair and colorings worthy of anime, recently led a conference course on Iro Iro semipermanent hair colors. As a product educator, the brand tapped her to teach local beauty professionals about the relatively new vibrant color line.

All of the stylists are Redken certified and specialize in vintage styling. Don’t let the vintage decor and specializations fool you, though. “Even though we do a lot of vintage styling, our stylists are up to date with all the current trends,” Crissy said. “More than anything else we really specialize in corrective color. So, if for some reason another salon or friend didn’t quite get that hair color right, give us a call. We can fix it for ya.”

Crissy and her husband, Edgar, opened Kat’s Meow Salon and Big Kat’s Barbershop side-by-side in February 2011. “This style is our style. [Rockabilly is] something we both have been into for many many moons,” Crissy shared. “We felt that our love for the vintage culture would make a unique backdrop for our shop. Even if a vintage styled ‘do is not what you want, everyone seems to love the environment. It’s different and unique, yet familiar.”

Kat’s Meow takes appointments, but Big Kat’s doesn’t — men wait outside the barber shop for up to two hours to get the perfect pompadour. You sign your name to the list, then head to Double Trouble or Natachees for a quick drink or bite, or take advantage of the shop’s free beer while you wait.

Whatever the wait, though, it’s worth it to get the best vintage ‘dos and colored tresses in Houston.

The Top 5 Mother’s Day Gifts

If you’re like me, then every year, around this time, you start wondering what you can possibly get your mom for Mother’s Day that will be … sufficient.

Sure, there’s flowers. But, she gets those for every other occasion, not to mention the probability that your father and/or siblings are planning on a bouquet, as well. So, what’s out there that’s not cliche or tacky, that she doesn’t already have and that somehow manages to convey how much you love and appreciate her?

Don’t worry, friends; I’ve got you covered. I always strive to get my parents gifts that are beautiful, personal and cherishable. I’m kind of a gift whisperer. So, I’ve gathered my top 5 gift choices for Mother’s Day — no matter what your mom’s interests are, she’d love at least one of these!

Perfume

I’ve recently fallen in love with Jo Malone’s fragrances. Each scent is beautiful, flattering and complements her other scents. You can wear the Peony & Blush Suede cologne with the English Pear & Freesia hand lotion and smell absolutely divine, not cacophonous as you might when mixing other scents.

Miracle Serum

Ok, maybe “miracle serum” is a big claim, but, honestly, this is one of my favorite products in the world. Designed for all skin types, Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair is meant to combat signs of aging (don’t tell your mom), but it does so much more! It actually repairs skin to also fight dryness and dullness, and is our go-to medicine for small burns. It instantly soothes the sting after you got too close to the oven and helps skin heal faster.

A Classic

My mother has always loved Waterford Crystal, but has never gotten any for herself. In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Waterford factory in Ireland. She asked me to bring her back some crystal; I, not knowing a thing about crystal, got her a thimble. As an adult, I can appreciate the beauty of classic pieces, and better know what she’ll be able to love and admire for years.

Jewelry

I know I promised no cliches, but what’s better than a beautiful piece of jewelry that’s unique to your mom? Mark & Graham is one of my favorite sites for gifts because they offer free personalization. Whether you want a monogram on a suitcase, children’s names on a necklace or the family name on a bocce ball set, the site is full of wonderful, personable gifts.

The Perfect Purse

One of the beauties, I’m sure, of having your children all grown up is that you no longer have to tote around their diapers, snacks, crayons, toys and more. Another beauty is that your grown up children can get you real gifts (instead of sweet, adorable handmade cards), like this beautiful Rebecca Minkoff Clutch. Nothing says “my kids are all grown up” quite like an extremely impractical, un-motherly, stylish clutch.

 

What about you? What are you planning to get your mom this Mother’s Day?

5 Easy Ways to Instantly Feel Better

Whether you’ve been a fitness freak for 20 years or have a long-term monogamous relationship with your couch, some times, you just don’t feel up to your best.

Maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe it’s that time of the month. Or, maybe your boss has it out for you today. No matter how hard you try, or don’t, not every day is perfect.

But, luckily, you have the power to seize the day. Any day.

Here are my tried-and-true, fail-safe ways to instantly feel better, no matter what’s going on.

  1. Drink more water. Whenever I’m dragging, unable to focus or just not up to my best, a huge glass of ice water feels magical. More often than not, we have those feelings when we’re dehydrated. Chugging water will nourish your body, helping it to function better, recharge your brain cells, improve your mood and reduce headaches and migraines. It baffles me that some people literally drink no water during the day. You should be drinking at least half your body weight in ounces. (For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should drink 70 ounces of water.) Once you’ve worked up to that amount, try to drink a gallon of water every day. Your body will thank you for it.
  2. Go for a walk. Taking a walk is one of my favorite ways to spend my lunch break. It gives me time to myself to think and reflect, or just listen to music. While my brain is, more or less, resting during a walk, my skin and body are supercharging thanks to the natural vitamin D in sunlight. Experts suggest spending at least 15 minutes in the sun every day, without sunglasses for adequate vitamin D exposure and absorption. Not to mention, a quick 30-minute walk will put you a couple of thousand steps closer to your daily goal!
  3. Read in bed. Ending your evening with a good book instead of a tv show or a game on your phone will calm your mind and let your body know it’s time for bed. This will not only ensure you get a better night’s sleep, and, therefore, help you feel better during the day ahead, but can also help you destress and decompress after a long, hard day. The improvements in your vocabulary and concentration are just a bonus.
  4. Make a list. There’s a reason therapists, motivational speakers and wellness coaches constantly encourage people to use positive affirmations — they work. When you’re feeling low, saying these kinds of statements to yourself can boost your mood and your confidence to help you feel better. Make a list of all your positive attributes and what you like most about yourself as reminders of how awesome you are. Start with thinks like, “I’m kind to others,” “I’m strong,” and “I’m a hard-worker” and go from there. When I make these lists, I tend to make them specific to how I’m feeling at the moment. If my pants are fitting quite right, I focus on body-positive statements.
  5. Play with your pooch. Studies have shown that dog owners are as emotionally close to their dogs as they are to their closest family members. Spending time with your cat or dog can lower your stress levels, give you comfort, get you moving, boost your confidence and combat loneliness. As if you needed an excuse for kitten cuddles or puppy kisses.

What about you? What’s your go-to method of improving your mind, your mood or your day?

Our Valentine’s Day Tradition

For most couples, Valentine’s Day is filled with flowers, chocolates, fancy dinner reservations and sweet nothings.

Honestly, though, I’ve never seen the point of any of that.

Aside from my “boyfriend” in 7th grade (our relationship basically only extended as far as holding hands in art class), I never had a beau to celebrate Valentine’s Day with until Stephen came along. Any relationships I had conveniently started after the contrived holiday, and ended before the next year’s iteration.

For me, Valentine’s Day was always celebrated with my family (just as an excuse to get chocolate, really) or my girlfriends. So, when it came time for mine and Stephen’s first Valentine’s Day together, nearly a year into our relationship, I wanted zero fuss.

I wanted to spend time together, sure, but all I really wanted to do was eat take-out and watch a far-from-sappy movie. Though I didn’t want to technically celebrate, I knew I’d be mad as hell if he didn’t get me a present.

So, that year, we ordered Chinese food from 9 Dragon, a delicious and far under-priced staple of LSU students, watched Fight Club, and got each other small gifts.

Those soon became tradition. Every year, we’d order 9 Dragon, watch a non-sappy movie (we’ve seen Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained and Deadpool), and get each other small, often handmade gifts. We managed to keep the tradition even when our relationship became long-distance:

Long Distance Dating

Now that we live in Houston, we’ve switched restaurants, but the other traditions remain alive and well.

This year, we’re still debating whether to head back to Ambassadors, where we went last year, or to order take-out from Auntie Chang’s, our new favorite. We’re on the fence between watching Kill Bill or a Batman movie.

But, no matter what we decide, we’ll be spending Valentine’s Day at home, on the couch, with each other. Because you don’t need one day a year to show someone how much you love them. You show them every day by spending time with them, putting up with their crazy, and doing things for them.

Every time Stephen cooks me dinner, he shows me how much he loves me. Every time, however rarely, I play video games with him, I show him how much I love him.

We show each other love every single day. We don’t need Hallmark cards and overpriced flowers to do it for us.

What about you? What are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day? How do you choose to celebrate it, or not?

On Childish Delights

I have lived for a little more than one-quarter of a century. To some, that’s the blink of an eye. To me, it is literally a lifetime.

In our society, I am technically an adult. As such, I can do certain adulty things like order wine in a restaurant or accrue massive credit card debt. (I’m experienced in both.)

While those and other things – namely realizing how close my 10-year reunion is – make me feel old, I still, at any given moment, completely surrender myself to the whims, amusement and utter excitement of my inner child. This, I think, is one of my most endearing qualities, and one that is absolutely essential to a happy life.

It’s like getting on an airplane for a business trip. Once you sit down, you can pull out reading material, work or feverishly send emails hoping the flight attendant doesn’t see.

View of Sky from Plane

Or, you can put your head up. Feel your body tighten with excitement (and the change in cabin pressure) when the plane begins to move, rolling down the tarmac at 200 mph. You can look out the window as you lift off, defying human limitations with every foot you rise. You can see what not even birds see, jetting toward the sky, your vision obscured by white fog until you burst through it, revealing a ground of cotton candy clouds and a sky with every shade of orange, pink, purple and blue this side of Heaven, blending together to illustrate just how beautiful our world is.

Or, you can keep your head down and miss life.

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Brunch and Babies

Brunch, I think, is one of those small joys in life reserved for catching up with girlfriends and pretending that it makes you Upper-East-Side classy. It’s a time for laughter, indulgence, and maybe a little drinking before noon without guilt.

And then, someone brings a baby into your sacred brunch restaurant. Yes, babies are adorable and pudgy and make your ovaries yearn for a life yet to come. But they also cry. And scream. And their adorable little noses run and get their cute pudgy faces crusty. And they throw hashbrowns on the floor. And, though they sit in a perfectly clean restaurant, under the gaze of a watchful mother, somehow their little fingers end up grimy and sticky, and dirt inevitably makes its way under their fingernails. And they look up at you, all big eyes, toothless smile, dirty fingers and snot-encrusted face.

Yeah, they’re cute. But you’re still silently judging their mother for desecrating brunch.

But, brunch is still brunch. It’s a beautiful, magical time that, whether with girlfriends or by yourself, allows you to escape the pain, sadness and complexities that may wait for you in real life.

It’s for healing and discovering and forgetting and indulging. And, if you believe hard enough, it’s two hours a week when calories don’t count.

Blackberry Grits and Mimosa at Another Broken Egg

My favorite food at my favorite brunch place (a classification that qualifies it to compete for the coveted title of my most favorite thing of all) is cinnamon roll french toast. Way too sticky and sweet for a meal when calories do count, it’s how I hope Heaven tastes.

Said most favorite brunch place is in Baton Rouge, and I have yet to discover an adequate Houston replacement. So, take to the comments below and tell me your favorite brunch places and meals.

Top 10 Dives in Upper Kirby

I’ve been living in the Upper Kirby neighborhood of Houston for just over a year and, I have to admit, it falls quite short of my old neighborhood near LSU in terms of affordable, casual restaurants. (Honestly, though. What could I expect? The offshoot of Houston’s most affluent neighborhood is just not going to have the same kind of restaurants as a college area.)

But, being the kind of person who neither cares for nor can afford fancy afford, I’ve scoured the neighborhood for suitable replacements to my Baton Rouge stomping grounds. These 10 restaurants, in no particular order (except for No. 1, obvs), are the only places I frequent now.

*Side note: for the sake of this post, a “dive” is a place with cheap and good food, lackluster decor, probably not a lot of parking, and maybe shares a building with several other businesses.

10. Mainely Sandwiches
Location: South Shepherd, between West Alabama and Richmond
This is a yummy North Atlantic Coast-themed soup and sandwich shop, with a special focus (obviously) on Maine lobster. Their sandwich rolls are delicious, but the bread is probably the best part. It’s like butter, melting in your mouth.
Try: Lobster Roll, Crab Roll, and definitely the Lobster Bisque

9. McElroy’s Pub
Location: S. Sandman St (off of Richmond, right around S. Shepherd)
Go for the drinks, stay for the fun. McElroy’s boasts friendly staff, a fun jukebox, and your standard go-to bar games of pool and darts. It’s super chill with a comfy, rich and warm atmosphere. Be careful not to lose track of time in your relaxation!
Try: The Best Pint of Guinness in Houston
8. Blue Fish House
Location: Richmond, just east of the Kirby intersection
Blue Fish is a great place for Stephen and me to hop over to when we just don’t feel like cooking. It’s right across the street from our apartment, has a large menu, and is super affordable. It’s not going to be the best sushi you’ve ever had, but it is really good, especially considering the price you pay. (Not a lot.)
Try: Volcano Roll and Vegetable Croquette
7. Hunan Village
Location: S. Shepherd, between West Alabama and Richmond
A relatively small Chinese restaurant with fast and friendly service, Hunan is one of our favorite places to order in when we’re feeling a carby feast. Great egg rolls and crab wontons (my favorites at any restaurant), and excellent hot and sour soup.
Try: General Tsao’s Chicken, Hot and Sour Soup, Crab Wontons
6. Luna Pizzeria
Location: Richmond and Kirby
A relatively small pizzeria with an even smaller menu, Luna has perfected their specialties: good food and a fun atmosphere. The restaurant is littered with throwback table games to keep you entertained while you’re waiting on your food.
Try: Spicy Andouille Pizza (Super yum!)
5. Avalon Diner
Location: Westheimer, just East of the Kirby intersection
Though they now have multiple locations throughout the Houston area, the OG, 80-year-old diner on Wertheimer is always packed with people and personality. Have a burger and an old-fashioned milkshake, sit back, and enjoy the charm with a big side helping of people-watching.
Try: Milkshake (any flavor; they’re all good), Breakfast Sandwich and Waffle
4. Dino’s Den
Location: Richmond, between Kirby and Greenbriar
An ideal spot for Happy Hour, Dino’s has stiff drinks, loads of friendly faces, and even a charging station. You may miss it at first, because there’s no sign at the moment, but just look for the painted dinosaurs next to Blue Fish House.
Try: Honeydew Mimosas and the yummy Sunday Feature Food (though that changes week to week)
3. Star Pizza
Location: Norfolk, just West of S. Shepherd (near Richmond)
Star Pizza is basically a Houston institution. All of their pizzas are made to order (which may make the service slow from time to time) and completely delicious. Their marinara and dough are made from scratch daily, and the toppings are fresh and delicious. Eat there or take it home, either way it’s completely delicious.
Try: Anything, really. But, especially the Deep Dish Starburst (pictured above), and the Hand Tossed Chicken Alfredo (pictured below).
2. Hobbit Cafe
Location: Richmond, between Kirby and S. Shepherd, nestled behind Blue Fish
This adorable little restaurant is a converted house with dining throughout the rooms of the house and, as you can imagine, decorated with all kinds of Lord of the Rings memorabilia. We expected more of a British pub when we went, but the menu has a great assortment of (mostly American) food.
Try: Boudin Burger, Quesadilla and Chicken Salad
1. BB’s Cafe
Location: Richmond, between Buffalo Speedway and Levy Park
This is my favorite. My absolute favorite. BB’s is the first place in Houston where I had “Oh. My. Goodness.” good food. It’s an exquisite blend of Tex-Mex and Cajun, and is, honestly, the best food I’ve had in a while. Go. Now.
Try: Crawfish Quesadillas (these are eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head good) and the South Texas Fire poboy