Friday, January 9, 2015

Thank You, Emily Saliers...

Just because I took some time off from writing over the holidays doesn't mean I was any less spastic in thinking of things I wanted to share.  We overnighted at Disneyland and got stranded on the side of a mountain in the snow.  Then my husband ran out to the grocery store and came home with a new pet, shortly before a two inch cut made my home look like a murder scene landed us in the emergency room.  No shortage of material.

But when I finally sat down to blog, I struggled with where to begin.  Then I remembered a quote from my favorite singer-songwriter, the Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers.

You have to laugh at yourself, because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't.


A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption.  One goes to live with a family in Egypt and is named Amal.  The other is adopted by a family in Spain and they name him Juan.

Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother.  Delighted to receive the photo, the woman tells her husband that she wishes she also had one of Amal.

"But they are twins", he says. "If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

I'm excited to be back in action next week and hope you will join me.  Until then, have fun blowing your New Year's Resolutions.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How Does Trista Sutter Stay So Darn Positive? It's All About Her Grateful Heart

When I first met Trista Sutter, she and her husband Ryan were appearing on a television special to introduce their son Max to the world.  I was quite pregnant with my first daughter at the time and she gave me some invaluably calming (solicited!) advice for new parenthood.  I was so grateful for the connection, as I was one of many new faces she'd see that day.

Somehow our friendship grew, and years later when I considered starting this blog, one of my first phone calls was to her.  Trista's encouragement is part of what brought me here to you.  So again, I was grateful for her.

Then a couple of years ago Trista called seeking my input, wanting a story she could share in her book Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart It became clear to me in an instant.

Gratefulness Breeds Gratefulness

But in a world where negativity, brutality and hate abound, how are we to remain positive?  And for those of us who struggle getting there, is feeling grateful one day a week enough?  For Trista, the answer is quite simple.  No.  (Although, I'm sure her positive side would say it's a start...)  Her book, coming out in paperback on December 30th, teaches how the daily practice of having a grateful heart is life-changing not only for the beholder but for those in her wake.

I wasn't so sure I was buying it.  So when I had the chance to chat with her more about the book, I jumped.  Here's what she had to say.

Q: Opening our lives up to the public leaves us very vulnerable to criticism.  This is risk you’ve taken many times and endured some harsh comments as a result.  Still, I see you kill haters with kindness.  Tell me about a time you just couldn't do it.

It happens constantly.  I have to consciously focus on not letting them bring me down.  When I was named the Bachelorette, my name was dragged through the mud.  One reporter said that I was setting back the women’s movement.  I was called a slut and a whore.  That was hard because I was coming from such a genuine place of wanting to find love, but I just had to sit there and take it.  It really hurt me a lot. To this day, I feel my blood boil thinking about it.  Those haters, the reporters, I hope watching the show actually changed their opinion.

Q: Being the Bachelorette can be seen one of two ways.  Either you're a slut, or you're applauded for taking the reigns.  Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I love encouraging women to be strong, independent, individualistic women.  I love encouraging women to be who they are, stand up for themselves, and feel proud to be a woman.  So if that makes me a feminist, then fine.  But I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into that word, because there is a negative connotation that comes along with it.

Q: In the book you offer take home advice for finding gratefulness, called “Happily Ever Actions”.  And, you give options for each one, like a choose your own adventure.  Is there something you’ve learned since the book was published that you’d like to add?

I can’t tell you how many readers have shared their tips with me since going to print.  A meeting I was at earlier today was setting a mission statement for the school that my kids go to.  The woman leading the meeting asked if anyone had a mission statement for their family.   I had never thought of that, but I think it's a great idea.  It tells people who you are, what your values are and who you want to be.  Now I want to do that with Ryan and the kids, have it framed, and keep it in a prominent place in our home.  You write a fire escape plan, why wouldn’t you write a mission statement?  And, of course, having a grateful heart would be part of ours.

Q: Tell me about Glory Haus.

I had some Glory Haus picture frames that a friend had given me as a gift.  I've always been really passionate about the gift industry.  I’d love to open a gift boutique some day.  And I thought how cool it would be for people to have visual reminders in their home to embrace gratefulness.  We were able to make it happen, and called it the Grateful Heart Collection.  It includes pictures frames, magnets, wall art, pillowcases, jewelry that is handmade by women in Haiti who are trying to support themselves, and "favorite part of the day" jars.

Q: It’s easy for people to be grateful at the holidays, but many need a gentle push throughout the rest of the year.  What’s the must-have item you recommend for the person wanting to embrace gratefulness everyday?

That’s easy.  The magnets.  My favorite says simply “inspire gratitude”.  They are small, and if you stick them on the refrigerator, the entire family will see them throughout the day.

Q: The Bachelor franchise is such a tight knit family that once you are part of it, it's almost impossible to leave (even if you try).  In the book, I love how you acknowledge the show getting you to where you are, but then move on to way more important things in your life.  How do you keep the balance of being "Trista from The Bachelorette", but way more than that,  "Trista the wife, mother, author, designer"?

Priorities.  That’s number one.  But it’s also who I surround myself with and where we live, making a conscious decision to come here and be in a small community.  I can’t walk around saying "I was on The Bachelorette".  It’s obnoxious.  Being isolated makes us more real.  My priority for me right now is my family.  That’s my hope for my future.  To focus on my family, to keep them happy and create good people, to encourage my kids to embrace nature and gratitude. 

Well, Trista, I think you found your mission statement.  You just need to put it in print.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Can't Tell You What This Is Really About Because It Will Ruin The Ending, But I Guarantee It's Worth The Quick Read

Yesterday I took my first grader to get her hair cut.  While I sat in the spinning chair beside her, with my youngest in my lap, we were treated to way more than the look on my daughter Emilia's face as her long locks fell to the floor.

An elderly woman entered the salon, supported by her granddaughter, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties.  "We are going to a wedding tomorrow", she said, "and my grandmother wants to look beautiful".

The elderly woman said very little, but smiled consistently as the stylist trimmed her snow white hair.  Having supported her physically through the door, the granddaughter now helped her loved one emotionally.  As she spoke tenderly about the nuptials they were about to celebrate, I could not help but be filled with joy for the bride, groom and their families.  At the same time (somewhat selfishly) I was also reminded of my own wedding, which neither of my grandmothers lived to attend.

I was very close with both of my grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother lived across the street from me for most of my childhood and I saw her on a near daily basis.  In fact, my daughter Emilia is named after her.  (For those of you who remember my grandmother as Jeannette, you are correct.  But, that was her middle name.  She went by Jeannette only to differentiate herself because Emilia was a popular name in her German family.)  My paternal grandmother, Angelina, lived in the next town over.  The Italian (read: big) side of my family gathered there every Sunday for pasta, the pool and more pasta.

Unfortunately, I lost both of my grandmothers before our wedding day, although my husband and I were gifted the time to celebrate our engagement with my mother's mom.

Still, as I stared longing at the lovely grandma in the salon, my heart filled with joy for her and those who would be with her this coming weekend.

Once her trim was completed, she smiled gratefully and took those ironic "baby steps" toward the door.  I wished her a wonderful time at the wedding.  She, her granddaughter and the stylist simply smiled back.

Once her client had left, the stylist came to me.

"She isn't going to a wedding", she said.  "She has advanced Alzheimer's and the only way she will allow her hair to be cut is if she believes she is headed to a big event.  Every time it is something new... a wedding, a holiday party, a graduation."

In that moment, I was overcome with so much emotion.  But mostly I was happy for that little old woman, who gets to celebrate momentous occasions over and over again in her mind- even if only for a moment.  While I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult it is to care for someone struggling with this terrible disease, I hope her loved ones can appreciate the beauty of that moment as much as I did.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What You Should Learn From "The Soup" Calling My Sister A Bad Parent

Today's social media and networking websites challenge us to describe ourselves in a very brief bio, offering a mere couple hundred characters in which to sum up decades of life.  Though nearly an impossible feat, I finally settled upon a few key phrases, choosing to focus on my career as a reality television producer, passion for writing and lifeblood as a mother.  Then, I ran out of characters.  Let's face it.  The rush of today's society can be very limiting in that way.

Still, it was those three descriptions that came to a head yesterday in a way I never expected.

My sister, Jeni Elizabeth, is a very well established personal and network wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles.  She has a nearly impeccable reputation both in her career and her life as a mother and step-mother.  Her ability to balance a strenuous work schedule with a loving home and two very young children is admirable, to say the least.

That's why when Joel McHale and his team at The Soup took a major stab at her parenting skills, it was impossible for me to stay tight-lipped.  Here's how it all went down.

Yesterday morning, the Facebook page for E's television show The Soup teased a clip from the daytime talk show The Real, for which my sister is the Lead Stylist.  In a brief segment featuring fun products, Jeni walked my 8 month old nephew, Tyler, out onto the stage wearing a soft onesie with a mop on the front of it.  When placing him down to crawl, he cried.  Not a shocker.

Within moments, the clip had been viewed thousands of times and hundreds of faceless strangers began lashing out against her.  Later last night when The Soup aired on national television, host Joel McHale's guest, actor Will Arnett, introduced a revolutionary product inspired by my nephew, called "Baby Attached to the End of a Weed Whacker".  At that point she made the decision to temporarily shut down her personal website, which was inundated with terrible insults.

My issue isn't with The Real, The Soup or even Will Arnett.  My greatest concern is that had The Soup let that clip air just two seconds longer, they would have seen this:

As a television producer myself, I could not be more well-versed in the art of editing.  I spent nearly 5 years with The Bachelor, a franchise best known for making people look crazier than they claim to be.  Still for me, this crossed a line.

Though I never met previous Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis, I was outraged by the remarks he made when asked by a member of the press if a gay man should be The Bachelor.  I immediately found and listened to the raw audio of the interview before jumping to conclusions.  Maybe, just maybe, had the news clip aired a moment longer, the result would have been way different.  (Let's just say in that situation, the media got it right.)

I know better than to believe all that I see on television, see in tabloids or read online.  In fact, I take so much with a grain of salt that I should be concerned about my health.

My only hope, for the next victim's sake, is that everyone else does the same.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Want To Pass Recipes, Not Anxiety, On To My Daughters

I wasn’t an anxious child.  Or if I was, I certainly don’t remember feeling that way.  I remember having a lot of friends, getting good grades and wanting for (almost) nothing.

I don’t remember having difficulty sleeping or eating.  Like many teenagers, I had some body image issues, but they were not debilitating.  I was happy and carefree, as young children should be.

It wasn’t until right after college that I began to struggle with anxiety.  I was living on my own for the very first time and was very particular about the condition of my apartment.  I kept an insanely regimented workout schedule (like, 5am in the snow, regimented) that was way more about my commitment than my weight loss.  And, admittedly, I was very critical of the decisions made by family and friends with which I didn’t agree.

I will never forget the moment when it all hit me.  I’d had some girl friends over for a viewing party (who knows what show we were watching, but seeing as this was in the late 90’s, we were definitely ahead of the time).  Several pizzas and bottles of cheap wine later, while cleaning up, I noticed a large pool of grease that’d seeped through a cardboard box and onto my table.  That was it.  That was the moment.

Though never in my life having (intentionally) purged, I ran to the bathroom quite sick.  I recollect little else from the night other than feeling the need for a shower, a good cry and a sleep aid.

For some people, sadly, that night may not seem so out of the ordinary.  But for anyone who knew me in high school or college, this is hardly how I believe to be remembered.  More importantly, who gives a shit how anyone else remembered me (or didn’t).  The above may seem miniscule to you, but it was gargantuan to me.  I knew something was wrong.

Thankfully, I had a strong support system around me.  The moment I waved a little white flag, I was encouraged to seek professional help to better understand what was happening.  And I did.

Over the years, I have learned to manage or at least cope with my anxiety.  There are days, of course, that are far more difficult for me than others.  Like with anything, there is an ebb and flow.  For me, it is a part of life.

It should not, however, be a part of life for my daughter.  Goddamnit.

One of the greatest gifts of being a parent is passing the best of one generation, and those before it, on to the next.  Names, traditions and recipes are just a few of the many beautiful things we pass on to our children.  No one wants to think about the other stuff… I know what those things are for my family just as you do for yours, try as we may to hide them.

Then just last night, I saw my daughter holding that very same pizza box.  The situation was entirely different, of course.  But in her eyes I saw myself, looking at the grease stain.

It is hard to describe exactly how I felt in that moment, but it was one of my most vulnerable as a parent thus far.  My heart broke, as guilt set in for the weakness I've potentially passed from my heart and mind onto hers.

But a split second later, I realized that in that weakness, there is a great ability to grow… and grow.

Oh how I look forward to doing that, together.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Joan Lunden's People Magazine Cover Makes Me Happy... Then Mad... Then Happy... Then (You Get The Point)

When I was in elementary school, Joan Lunden was the face of Good Morning, America,  and my grandfather was always telling me how much we looked alike.  I never knew how to take that, as there was a big age discrepancy, ultimately I think I enjoyed being compared to someone famous.

But, my grandfather couldn't leave it at that.  At some point in the early 1980's, he felt the need to let Joan know exactly how much she reminded him of his favorite granddaughter.  (OK, I added the favorite part.  What grandkid wouldn't?)

Shortly afterward, I received this in the mail:

Well, not exactly that.  Mine is packed away at my mother's house in a trunk full of memorabilia.  I found this one on the internet (sorry, Beth).  But it was the very same headshot, addressed to me.  Correct spelling, and all.

I've often thought of that photo.  I had yet to complete even one decade of my life, and had no idea where the road would take me.  Had someone told me at the time that I'd become a bit of a journalist myself, I'd have laughed.  It's so true what they say... You really never know.

I certainly never expected this.

And have stopped in my tracks every time I have seen it thus far.  Though, not for the all the reasons you may imagine.

My father was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was in the ninth grade.  I will never forget being told that he had a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit, or the mumble like a parent in Charlie Brown that played in the background afterward.

Very, very long story short, my father battled cancer for just over 3 years.  Ultimately his brain cancer went into his bones, which is a pain I wish onto no one.  He was unconscious on the day I graduated from high school, and died less than a month later.

My father died in 1994.  That was 20 years ago.  Cancer research and treatment have come so far since then that the disease is no longer an immediate death sentence, or a death sentence at all.  And while breast cancer is very different from bone cancer, I cannot help but wonder how my father's prognosis could have changed had he been diagnosed now.  I'm not saying he'd have lived to be a centurion, but I doubt he'd have died before his forty-fifth birthday.  He could have been given some of his life back.  Maybe he'd have met one of his two daughter's husbands... or even a grandchild.

Just maybe.

When I see that photo of Joan, the newer one, I am filled with hope for her.  I am filled with a hope that those battling cancer get to live the rest of their lives, happy and healthy, in honor of those who didn't.  In honor of my Dad.