Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's The Most Wonderful Time... To Make a Difference (With Operation Christmas Child)

Operation Christmas Child is on my mind all year long.  When I spot classic novels in the Target dollar section in springtime, I scoop them up.  And when my daughters receive goodie bags at a summer birthday party, I squirrel the good stuff away.  I truly believe every little bit makes a difference.

I wish I could remember and thank whomever shared the very first post I saw about Operation Christmas Child on Facebook several years ago.  That's when I learned how this incredible program collects shoeboxes filled with gifts for a child who will receive nothing else on Christmas morning.  Nothing else.

That fall, I found the world's two most ginormous shoeboxes (one from each of my young girls) and packed them to the brim.  I've often wondered who those shoeboxes made smile more- me or the children who received them.  Selfishly, I'm pretty sure it was me.  The following year I wanted to pack more and more shoeboxes, but my heart was bigger than my checkbook.

I've never been good at asking for money (from anyone other than my mom).  When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2001 I was required to raise several thousand dollars for Brigham & Women's Hospital, who gave me my bib number.  Embarrassed to fundraise, I donated the money myself.  Years later, I regret doing that.  Had I worked up the hutzpah to ask for help, I'd likely have raised much more for the institution than the very minimum I was able to provide.  I wanted to make up for that.

So, sharing my first experience with Operation Christmas Child with my few but loyal readers and asking them to help me collect the goodies to help me pack more boxes made all the difference in the world.

While visiting family in New England this summer I came across The Legend of the Starfish for the very first time.

A vacationing businessman was walking a long a beach when he saw a young boy.  Along the seashore, there were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned.  The boy walked slowly along the shore, occasionally reaching down to toss the beached starfish back into the ocean.  The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to him and said, "I have been watching what you are doing, son.  You have a good heart, and I know that you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around the world and how many starfish are dying on those beaches everyday?  Surely such an industrious and kind-hearted boy like yourself could find something better to do with your time.  Do you really think what you are doing is going to make a difference?"  The boy looked at the man, and then he looked down at the starfish by his feet.  He picked up the starfish and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean he said, "it makes a difference to that one". (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977)

In life there are so many that need saving, and unfortunately not enough ways to save them.  But sometimes even the smallest effort can make an enormous difference.

Which, brings me back to Operation Christmas Child.  Here's the deal.

If you guys send me the goodies, I will purchase the plastic reusable shoebox size bins, pack them, wrap them and pay the $7 donation suggested per box for shipping.  You can send as many or as few items as you'd like.  You can shop at The Dollar Store or Barney's.  You can shop alone for peace and quiet or shop with your children to teach them a bit about the real spirit of giving.  You can even skip the shopping all together by making a homemade craft or a monetary donation (or both).

Some housekeeping:

- Click here to learn more about Operation Christmas Child.

- Each shoebox will be labeled with the sex and age of the child it is intended for (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14). In the past, I have received the least for the older children.  There is no collection for infants.

- There is a suggested donation list on the website.  I've included the standard stuff like crayons, coloring books, pens, pencil sharpeners and notepads.  People have also gotten really creative by donating wildflower seeds, aprons and glow-in-the-dark stars.  Sidewalk chalk, yo-yos, and jump ropes.  Or you can go the practical route with socks, undies, toothbrushes and soap.  Go crazy.  Shoebox-size crazy.

- Yes, I can take PayPal donations.  Personal checks are also wonderful.  I will save those funds until the end of the collection period and use them to buy whatever we are lacking.  Then I'll send you a photo of how far I helped your money go.

- Collection Week ends on November 23rd, which means my five and seven year old elves and I must have EVERYTHING packed, wrapped, labeled and ready to deliver by then.

Once the collection is over, I will provide an update like this one of how many boxes we were able to send and where in the world they went.  All that's left for you to do is take a moment on Christmas morning, I hope, to think of the child who will receive your gift and the smile it is sure to put upon his or her face.

If you have any questions or would like address information, please email me at  I am also happy to help you find a local chapter where you can donate on your own.

I hope to hear from friends, family and strangers.  But most of all I hope that however you choose to spend your holiday season, a moment or two will be spent saving a starfish.

PS. There are 98 days until Christmas but only 62 until Collection Week begins!  So let me be the first to say... Happy Holidays!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Hardest Breakup Letter I've Ever Had To Write

Frankly, this is something I should have done a long time ago.  It's been on my mind for years, but whenever I looked back upon all that we have been through together, I just didn't have the heart.

You have provided for me a tremendously invaluable security.  When I was a scared little girl, you were my comfort zone.  You were there for the very first steps I ever took.  And when I fell, as we all do, you caught my fall.  You were my coziest pajamas and hot cocoa on a cold winter's night and my breath of fresh air on a much needed summertime adventure.  Somehow you taught me all there was to know about being a young child, for which I can never repay you.

As I moved into my incredibly difficult and awkward teenage years, again you were right there beside me, never letting go of my hand.  You saw everything from my ugliest hairstyle to my very first kiss (and some other firsts I don't care to mention) but loved me anyway.  There isn't a doubt in my mind that I loved you just as much.

It wasn't until my graduation from high school that things really began to change between us.  The more you protected me, the more I needed to take my own risks.  The more I replied upon your shelter, the more I needed to spread my own wings.  In a way it's like the stronger our connection grew, the more it confined me.  And I needed to break free.

It wasn't until we took time apart, several years in fact, that I saw and felt what I'd been missing.  What I'd thought was all I ever needed turned out to be nothing but the pitter-patter of a childhood crush compared to the true love I uncovered when I left.  Still, I tried.  I'd return to you every once in a while, for a holiday or special occasion, but it just wasn't the same.

They say that if you really love something, you need to let it go.  If it comes back to you, it is yours to keep.  But if it doesn't, it was never meant to be.  That's how I know my decision to leave was the best one for me.

The miles between us are far greater than I ever expected.  (There are 2,982 of them, to be exact.)  And my memories with you are irreplaceable.  I undoubtedly flourished with you... You helped mold me into the woman, wife and mother that I am today.  And it is for exactly that reason that I will never be back.

Leaving you was one of the more difficult break-up decisions I've ever had to make, but I couldn't be more grateful for it.  Thank you, my dear hometown, for being all that you are and all that you will never be.

Love, Me

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

7 Parenting Rules I Flat Out Refuse To Follow

Rules, rules, rules.  Every day is something new.

We need to drink more milk.  Eat less sugar.  Get more sleep.  Spend less time on our devices.  Exercise more.  And drink less alcohol, unless it's red wine, in which case 1.5 glasses per evening with a well-balanced dinner is good for you.

I don't mind being inundated with recommendations from doctors or even self-proclaimed "experts" telling me how to stay a healthy adult.  What I do mind, however, is being boldly told what I should and shouldn't do with my children.

Before you go having a temper tantrum, I fully recognize the hypocrisy I described.  I just don't care.

My concern is that we've become such a hypersensitive and hypercritical society that we almost get off on telling others what they should and should not do.  I live in Los Angeles where seemingly anyone with a heartbeat can add "expert" or "of the stars" to their name just because they want to.  I've learned to take every bit advice with a grain of salt.

So, here are 7 of the most popular parenting rules that I refuse to follow.

1) Don't say "awesome job".

Experts believe that using exclamations like "awesome job" and "good work" too frequently can lead to a child feeling as though they've let you down when they aren't, well... awesome.  Others suggest that such phrases can lead to a child performing well only to receive praise.

I believe if my daughter does so well that I am truly compelled to tell her she's done an awesome job, she deserves to hear it.  This goes for anything from coloring within the lines to scoring a 1600 on the SATs (which I pray are as irrelevant as Vanilla Ice is now by the time she is old enough to take them).  Squashing or suppressing my own excitement about the feat may lead to her doing the same, potentially causing way more harm.

2) Don't be a best friend.

I've vacillated back and forth on this one, but often find myself telling each of my daughters she is my best friend.  And I mean it.  Is she the best friend I call hysterically crying after a vicious argument with my spouse?  No.  And she certainly isn't the one with whom I want to share all my deepest, darkest secrets.  But I do want to be that friend to her.

I want her to know that she can tell me anything at anytime.  I want her to know I will support her, guide her, believe in her and love her no matter what.  I want to be there for her during the most difficult and most joyful moments of her life, whether or not she is there for mine.  To me, that's what being a best friend is all about.

3) Don't let your child watch more than (some tiny number) minutes of television daily.

Our pediatrician didn't want my children to see a frame of television before they were two years old and no more than twenty minutes a day for some time after that.  For me this was as difficult to accomplish as standing atop the Empire State Building while balancing a couch on one hand and a grand piano on the other.  Never going to happen.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children watch an average of 6 hours and 32 minutes of television daily, which I agree is complete blasphemy.  But somewhere between 20 and 392 minutes, there is a middle-ground.  And in some homes watching an excess of television is significantly safer and healthier than a more dangerous alternative.

At only seven years old my daughter begged me to bring her to a museum exhibit dedicated to the fall of Pompeii.  When we finally saw the gallery, clearly intended for adults, she listened to the headphone guided tour more intently than she has ever listened to me.  When I asked what first intrigued her about Pompeii, she said it was an episode of The Magic School Bus.

I've come to accept that the right programming can open corridors in my daughter's brain that I'd never have thought to travel with her.

4) Don't let your child know if you are on a diet.

I get it.  As a woman who has struggled with body image issues, I want very much to teach my daughters to rock incredible self-esteem while confidently living healthy and fulfilling lives.  Part of that lesson, without a doubt, is about assuming responsibility for your own body.

My kids eat McDonald's, love cherry Slurpees and can kill a sleeve of Oreos faster than you can read this article.  I don't prohibit nor do I even frown upon letting them eat (almost) whatever they want, as long as some kind of balance is struck.  That said, I want to be honest about how such habits can impact their bodies in the long term.  So if we go on vacation and I indulge with reckless abandon, I don't mind them knowing that I have to deal with those consequences.

How can letting my daughters see me commit to eating healthier meals, drinking more water and exercising more routinely for a few weeks in the hope of achieving a healthy goal be a bad thing?

5) Don't say "hurry up".

Experts believe repeatedly telling a child to "hurry up" raises their stress level and flusters them (potentially creating further delays) while "let's hurry" sends the message that you and your child are on the same team.

Here's the deal.  My daughter and I are on vastly different teams.  I am the Yankees to her Red Sox.  We may be in the same league, but she will do whatever she needs to win one over on me and I will do the same to her.

Getting out the door on time isn't about bonding.  It is about time management and responsibility, two things I hardly expect her to have mastered before the second grade.  In fact, I've hardly mastered those things myself.  So I let getting to places in a timely fashion be all about the task at hand and save the team playing for when it matters most.

6) Don't give financial rewards.

Using financial rewards for my 7.5 year old has proven incredibly beneficial.  She receives a whopping two dollars for a perfect spelling test or one dollar if she gets only one word wrong.  She also receives one dollar if she is awarded "Student of the Day" in her karate class.

Is her motivation for studying more about earning a buck toward an expensive Lego set than it is about furthering her education?  Absolutely.  But she masters her spelling words and gains a lot more from her karate class than she would otherwise.

7) Don't kiss on the lips.

Experts say kissing a child on the lips can "confuse" them.  I firmly believe that any child who grows up in a sexually healthy home understands the difference between a kiss from a lover and a kiss from a loved one.  Of course if my daughter ever seems "confused", startled or embarrassed by my quick peck on her lips, I'll stop.  But until then, we both pucker up!

While I assume you'll go nit-picking over these opinions for something to complain about (because that's what we do these days) keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule.  I don't support crash diets nor would I let my child diet unless it were medically necessary.  I don't allow television marathons and I don't chat with my daughter like I would an old friend while consuming exactly 1.5 glasses of red wine over a healthy dinner.

I do, however, live by my own set of rules (or at least one mutually agreed upon between myself and my husband) and think you should do the same.  But, I promise not to make that a rule.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Most Beautiful Lesson You'll Learn About Today's Ugly Society May Come From My 7yo

Call it a race war, class war, social war or just a war launched against anyone with a look or belief system different than your own.  No matter the nomenclature, it is impossible for any American to deny the terrifying state of our broken society.

I remember learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in elementary school.  I remember how the images I saw of water fountains assigned to only whites confused me as the water fountains in our school were for anyone that was thirsty.

Years later, after more in depth lessons taught me not only of segregation but of the numerous souls killed merely for the color of their skin, I was so thankful that my own children would be born into a colorblind world.  I too believed in Dr. King’s dream, and considered it a dream fulfilled.  Until recently.

Earlier this month I listened to an interview with a city official presiding not far from where the Sandra Bland incident took place.  How shocked I was to learn many funeral homes in that community are still segregated.  The idea that a business intended to respectfully and compassionately deal with death could turn a body (and soul) away based upon the color of it's skin made my stomach turn.

Instantly, I thought of my two children.

As the daughters of a woman obsessed with pop culture, I wondered how (or even if) my girls comprehend the constant news and water-cooler talk around them.  Between our home televisions, car stereos, multiple tablets, cell phones and even those little monitors now popping up on gas station pumps, the news is impossible to escape.  Then while driving through Los Angeles my eldest, age 7, had the most fascinating response to an Ant-Man billboard.  “It’s time for a superhero that turns from a man into a woman”, she said.

There is certainly a chance that her timing was merely coincidence, that the media’s saturation of yet another timely news story like Caitlyn Jenner’s had nothing to do with her statement.  But I so wanted to believe otherwise.

Last week while on family vacation we visited a New England splash pad packed with young kids looking to beat the heat, one of which was in a wheelchair.  Of the many potential playmates in the park that day, the same 7 year old who’d reacted so profoundly to the Ant-Man billboard chose to play almost exclusively with the girl in the wheelchair.

Credit: Karri-Leigh Mastrangelo
As the park radiated with laughter and cheer, much of which came from this duo, it was clear my daughter chose her new friend not because she felt badly for her, but because she was fun.  I saw a big difference between the two girls.  My daughter did not.

Somehow, this vision brought my scattered feelings about today’s world full circle.

Instead of crying over the resurgence of discrimination in our country, I am choosing to focus on (and hopefully spread) the just-as-present resurgence of acceptance and compassion.

It may be naïve for me to believe that for every person spreading hate in our world, there is another spreading love.  But, my young daughter gives me that hope.

For if my soon-to-be second grader has learned to look right through a person’s exterior, be it colored, disfigured or noticeably different in any of the millions of ways possible, to see straight to their soul- you can too.

Just maybe, by my sharing her story, she’s helped to teach you how.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Here's What Your Kids SHOULD Be Doing This Summer

Once the temperature heats up, social media becomes a hot spot for summer reading lists.  I've seen everything from collections of simple beach reads to heavy page-turners that you won't be able to put down for 96 hours straight.

What I have yet to see, unfortunately, is a list of fresh and interesting picture books for young children.  Whether to educate, inspire or just bring about a good giggle, here are some books I highly recommend you try out with your children this summer.

Click here to hop on over to The Mid to check out my list!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why Stranger Isn't Always A Bad Word: My (Long Overdue) Operation Christmas Child 2014 Update

“How can a God exist when there is so much famine in the world?”

A Pastor once told me that for those questioning their faith, this is a concern most commonly voiced.  His response was quite simple.

The earth is filled with abundance.  There is more than enough to go around.  God did his job.  Now it is the responsibility of the people to share those gifts appropriately.

This post has been a long time coming, ever since I started collecting donations for my most recent Operation Christmas Child Project in the summer of 2014.  I knew that August, nearly one year ago, that our work would leave a much larger footprint than ever before.  How did I know?  One word.


I began contributing to Operation Christmas Child as an individual after my daughters were born.  Then in 2012 I decided to use this blog as a platform to collect donations from families and friends.  The response was overwhelming, not in size per say, but in the relationships I had with those that contributed.  I heard from people that had been out of touch for over a decade, sometimes two.  But there was always a direct personal connection.  If we were playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but with me as Kevin Bacon, everyone would have connected within one degree.  So boring.

So last year, that all changed.

First I heard from Melanie Mascari, a woman from my hometown area who’s employer, SARAH Tuxis (a non-profit agency that provides creative supports for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and their families), educates their staff about one charitable project each month.  It is completely up to the employee whether or not they choose to contribute, but the opportunity is there.  When Melissa asked me if she could share my blog post with her co-workers as part of their monthly iniative, I almost fell off my feet.  When I large box then arrived at my doorstep with donations from SARAH Tuxis, I peed my pants.  A little.

Next I heard from a former cast member (and friend) who had shared the project with some of her co-workers who wanted to contribute.  Then another woman who was dating a guy she wasn’t too sure about, but was happy to hear he wanted to send the biggest monetary donation I’d ever received.  She and I went shopping together (on his dime) and took photos of all we were able to purchase with his help.  Their relationship may not have lasted, but the impact of his gifts certainly did.

Gifts from strangers.

Come November, as with every year, our spare bedroom turned into Santa’s Workshop.  My daughters helped me sort through all of the products we had received, and spend the monetary donations to fill in the holes of what we lacked.  That work, while exhausting, has proven more and more meaningful (and emotional) each year.  In the end, we donated nearly 100 shoeboxes PACKED with goodies for children who would receive nothing else on Christmas morning.

When completing the paperwork for each box and paying it’s shipping cost (which I incur personally), I am able to track the packages.  In 2012, our boxes went to Panama.  In 2013, they went to Madagascar.  In 2014, they went to the Philippines.  (My 7yo is a huge Manny Pacquaio fan, so this news was a big hit.)

Next month, I will begin taking contributions for the 2015 collection.

Got a drawer full of (unopened) soaps and shampoos from hotels?  I’ll take ‘em.

Tired of the unnecessary crap kids receive in goodie bags these days?  Send it my way.

Whether you want to shop alone for a moment of peace and quiet or with your kids to teach a lesson about social responsibility, go for it.  Whether you want to write a check or save a tree by clicking on PayPal instead, that works too.  Or, if times are tight and you want simply to make a handmade holiday card, that is the very best gift of all.

There is something for everyone.

(Isn’t that what abundance is all about anyway?)

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s project so memorable that it took me months to collect my thoughts on it well enough to share.

And, to you, thank you for reading.

Monday, June 29, 2015

3 Mistakes My Mother Made With Me (Sorry, Mom) That I Don't Want To Make With My Daughters

Of all the things I do for my daughters, I wonder how many will actually be remembered.

Don't get me wrong.  Everything I do, from stroking their feverish foreheads all night to slaving for hours over cake pops that will never look a thing like they do on Pinterest, is done completely out of love.  I don't keep a tally nor do I leave Post-It Note reminders of the moments I hope will be remembered.  Still, I wonder.  And here's why.

My daughters and I recently planted Venus Fly Trap and Sundew Savage seeds into a terrarium complete with red and blue LED lights.  As we read aloud about everything from the most fertile soil to seedlings that would eventually become carnivores, my husband entered the room and asked if my mother did as much stuff with me as I do with my 5 and 7 year olds.  While I know for sure that she did, I can recall only a select few times.

I can, however, remember in great detail the few things she did that really upset me.  For example:

1)         I come from a large family full of hockey players.  Boys learned as babies how to ice skate with chairs on homemade, backyard rinks before moving up to peewee leagues, high school state championships and Division I collegiate teams.  So, growing up in a home where the smell of a musty hockey bag was just as familiar as that of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, it should come as no surprise that I (literally) wanted a piece of the game.  But no sooner did I tell my parents that I wanted to be an ice hockey goalie than my mother put me in skates of my own.  Unfortunately though, they were figure skates.  Those frilly lessons were very short-lived.  Eventually I gave up not only on pestering my parents, but on dreaming to play the sport.  That is, until I entered my freshman year at Boston College just as they were developing their women's team.  I remind my mother to this day that had I been allowed to play, allowed to pursue my dream, I just may have had a chance at a scholarship.  She responds, very adamantly I might add, that what we'd have saved in my tuition, we'd have spent in my dental bills.  (Touché, Mom. Touché.)

2)         I was a very private teenager, or at least I tried to be. My mother was the kind that almost always knew exactly what was happening in my life without my having to say a word, so much so that I prided myself on her being incorrect.  So when my very first junior high yearbook came home with what I considered insanely personal inscriptions from all my friends, I begged her not to read them.  Little did I know at the time that begging the parent of a teenager not to do something almost always guarantees that they will do just that.  Immediately.  Therefore when I found her reading the messages, which couldn't have been any more racy than Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I was mortified.  To this day, I have vowed not to do the same to my daughter (or at least not to get caught).

3)         When my brother was a senior at boarding school, my parents helped he and his friends put together a winter break co-ed ski trip.  I remember vividly hearing my mother put the security deposit for a condo on her credit card while making arrangements for my brother to have her four-wheel drive vehicle for the trek.  As a much better student and a mere fraction of the trouble my brother was, I anxiously awaited the day my parents would offer me the same arrangement.  So when time came to plan a similar getaway for my friends, I was shocked to learn there'd be no such offering.  Determined to know why, I asked my mother repeatedly for an explanation as to how my brother could receive such preferential treatment.  Frustrated with my persistence and at the end of her rope, my mother finally screamed her frighteningly honest answer.  "Because your brother can't get pregnant!"  (Go ahead.  Gasp.)

I do honestly believe the sweetest moments shared with my mother are the ones that shaped me into the mother and woman I am today.  However, they've really all merged to become more the memory of one happy, inspired childhood than a collection of individually blessed experiences.  Sadly, it's the ugly ones that still stand out.

No one wants to be remembered more for their weaknesses than their strengths.  In parenting, especially for a good parent (and my mother was an amazing one), I can imagine no greater injustice.

I'd like to say that I learned from (what I deemed as) my mother's mistakes, especially the few described above.  I'd also like to believe I will never make a similar decision that will hurt or haunt my daughter into adulthood, but I know that will never happen.  In fact, I don't want it to happen.  For if it does, I've likely failed her in some way.

So please, will one of you remind my daughter of that when she is a teenager?