Saturday, December 31, 2011

You're So Full Of...

I read my older daughter, nearly four, a story at bedtime each night and cuddle with her until she falls asleep.  This ritual can prove incredibly frustrating at times, as I have read more princess stories than the Pope has read Bible verses.  That said, at times it proves the most beautiful moment of my day- or year.

“Today was a really great day”, she said during a recent snuggle-sesh.  Her body was relaxed, her smile enormous, and her heart warm.  There was a satisfaction and fulfillment in her little voice that I rarely hear from the voice of an adult, let alone a rambunctious child.  As she fell peacefully to sleep, my mind played the moment on repeat.  The producer in me wanted to get it on tape; the mother in me knew it could not be replicated.

Of the many times my kids have gotten me to thinking about the bigger picture, this was certainly one of the most significant.

This time of year, the words “I’m so full” are spoken just frequently as the uber-generic (and now government mandated) Happy Holidays.  So full are our bellies, our mailboxes, our social calendars and our credit card bills.  At some point during the holiday season, each of us will be "so full"- but why will so few be fulfilled?

No need to read on if you are one of those looking for a quick answer to that question, as I am not.  In fact, I am believer that once you are certain you’ve found the answer, you have guaranteed that you never will.

Tonight when you make your New Year’s Resolution, keep it small enough to come just within reach, but grand enough to keep you striving.  And just every once in a while, as you partake in your bedtime ritual, remind yourself that the day could have been a great one- hopefully it was.

Happy New Year!

Christmas, December 1977

Thursday, December 8, 2011

365 Days of Christmas

T’is the season of giving, and giving back.

But in the rush to decorate, shop, wrap and address stacks of holiday cards, I can’t help but wonder… Why does the desire to give drive us 25 days a year, and not 365?

Several things motivate charitable giving.  For many, it is an urge to please others.  For some, it’s self-fulfillment.  And for a select few, it truly is the selfless desire to give back for the greater good.

Motivation aside, I have given of myself in many ways throughout the years.  Whether spending the summer as a hospital candy striper during high school or visiting orphanages in third world countries as an adult, the end result contains a common thread.  Each time, the gift that I receive is even greater than that which I have given.

Here’s a recent example.  This past weekend, I attended a Step Up Women’s Network event where professional females spent time mentoring high school freshman girls.  Each woman was paired with a teenager having career aspirations similar to her own.  I took an immediate liking to my mentee, fifteen year old Vanessa.
Photo: Amy Tierney/f8f11 Images
As a television producer, I am usually the one with tough questions, but it was Vanessa who took the reigns.  Upon her asking whom I most admire, I fumbled for an honest yet inspiring answer relatable for a teen.  She smiled gently as I responded, then paused and looked away as I lobbed the question back to her.  She replied softly not with Selena Gomez or the cast of Twilight, but simply “I am inspired by the homeless, because they have nothing, but keep on surviving”.  My heart skipped a beat, but we quickly moved on.

Vanessa was most excited to ask if I knew the cast of the Jersey Shore, and her Christmas came early when I filled her in on some of my time with them.  But it wasn’t the excitement about Pauly D or JWoww that put the greatest light in her eyes, nor in mine.

Vanessa maintains an energy of freedom, innocence, creativity and passion for learning unlike anything I have experienced in some time.  This, I learned, is what gives her light.  Her remark about the homeless was what gave me mine.  It was a gift… one I hope to carry with me for some time.

There are 16 shopping days left until Christmas, 11 until Chanukah.  I am sure that many of you will give to greater good in some way during that time.  My hope, though, is that more of you will remember to do so in the other 340-ish days of the year.

People say it is better to give than to receive… but sometimes, it isn’t.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Because Fat Isn't the New Phat

I was the fat one.

Of the 3 children in my family, I was the chubbiest.  Of my best girl friends in high school, I was the heaviest.  Of all my college roommates, I was the one that could never borrow a dress for a formal.  And of all the women in the DMV when I got my first California license, I was the one that lied (the most) about my weight.

On the outside, my ‘outside’ wasn’t a huge detriment.  I was smart, popular, and loved.  But on the inside, I was always striving for perfection in other aspects of my life so my waist size wouldn’t be the focus.  And I succeeded.  Even my keg stand abilities were above par (which may have contributed to the problem).

Now, I live and work in an environment overflowing with some of the country’s most (physically) beautiful people.  Which makes me wonder… Are issues with body image something that I surround myself with, that follow me, or that are just impossible to avoid?

Nearly ten years ago, I worked on Extreme Makeover (the surgery addition).  Day in and out, I was surrounded by people who thought a nose job or tummy tuck could save the world.  Later, I worked on the pilot for The Biggest Loser.  And the icing on the (Weight Watchers) cake was a several year stint on The Bachelor & The Bachelorette.

One might think this would cause a chubby to pop diet pills like they were French fries.  But exactly the reverse occurred.

I have seen more Crystal Light consumed than could fill Lake Superior.  I’ve seen drastic (and often dangerous) measures taken to lose weight and look good.  If I had a dollar for every time a woman told me she hadn't used the bathroom in days, I could buy Louboutin boots.  My response was always the same.  Just like the expression "you can't win if you don't play", you can't go if you don't eat.

Meanwhile, I have a closet full of amazing shoes, but am always in flip flops.  I have designer clothing still adorned with ridiculous price tags, but am always in sweats.  And when I am a “weekend warrior”, it isn’t at the gym- it’s at Chuck E. Cheese.  I've learned that (for me) beauty isn't always comfort, but comfort is always beautiful.

I have insanely curly hair that I have fought years to tame- and finally won.  My secret to success? Do nothing.  I’ve learned that if I simply towel dry my hair (without brushing it) and add a tiny bit of leave-in conditioner, I have curls even Andie Macdowell would kill for.  (God, I miss the Brat Pack…)

Bringin’ it home, my lesson is this… Fuggeddaboudit.

I know what you are saying right now. No matter how mean a glare you get from The Soprano's "Big P*$%@", you can't fuggedaboudit.  My suggestion is, just try.

When I stop obsessing about my weight, I find myself in a much happier place.  Gone are the extremes I had once taken, and in comes a more balanced, healthier, happier attitude. Granted it took a few decades, and there are still times that I stray, but it was well worth the “weight”.

So the question remains.  Are issues with body image something that I surround myself with, that follow me, or that are just impossible to avoid?  For me, the answer is a combination of all three.  The solution is a bit more challenging.  Find a way to be comfortable in yourself, and the beauty will come from there.

Funny thing is… the information on my driver’s license is no longer a lie- and I never changed it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Thanksgiving for The 80's

It would be sacrilege not to write this week about giving thanks, so here’s why I am most thankful for the 1980’s.

* I wasn’t yet tempted by plastic surgery.  I broke my arm very badly when I was six.  (Unfortunately, that wasn't in the 90’s...)  I ended up having major surgery to repair it, for which I still have a very significant scar.  I remember my father asking every so often if I wanted to visit a plastic surgeon to have the scar repaired.  I was never interested, and quite frankly never understood the suggestion.  Years later, I recognize that he, too, struggled with the enormous challenge of raising a confident daughter in an image obsessed world.  Thankfully, I believe he succeeded.

* I aspired to be a Carrington, not a Kardashian.

* I watched Sesame Street without questioning Bert & Ernie’s living situation.  My not-yet four year old daughter recently said, “Mommy, Ernie is sad because Bert isn’t sleeping in his bed”.  Be it out of innocence, chance or enlightenment, her statement was a powerful reminder that she and her sister will grow up in a society possibly even more plagued by judgment that of my own generation.

* I learned the magic of live music when it was actually live music.  I was seven when I saw Neil Diamond rock the Hartford Coliseum.  My parents passed on a night of fun (or even adult companionship) in exchange for giving my brother and me the once in a lifetime chance to hear “Heartlight” truly sung from the heart.  Of course, like any avid BOP reader, the late 80’s had me hanging’ tough with the NKOTB, but it was Neil that taught me to appreciate the spectrum.

* I fell in love with Kiefer Sutherland when he was the original badass, and let the love grow for Jack Bauer.

 * I watched every ball drop on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with my parents.  At the time, I had little appreciation for mother’s unwavering love for Dick Clark.  ("Generation Z" readers, that means she gazed upon him like the founder of the Belieber Fan Club would Justin.)  Many years later, my first job in Hollywood was on the talk show “The Other Half”, where Dick co-hosted with Mario Lopez and Danny Bonaduce.  Mario never referred to him as anything other than Mr. Clark, and the rest of the world saw him as a deity.  To this day, one of my greatest accomplishments is having introduced my mother to Dick Clark.  And I'd love to say that I dreamed of or foreshadowed it happening... but the beauty of it is, I didn't.

If there is one thing that makes me sad about the 80’s, it is the fact that they are long gone.  For me, that decade was one of happiness and innocence.  It was before responsibility and accountability set in, before I knew what stress was, and before my father was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Still, I am thankful for those times.  If there is one thing I have learned since the 1980's, it is to uncover the reason to make every moment matter, as they will all be gone too soon- just like the original BOP magazine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Make A Choice & Use Your Voice

Russell Simmons, Alec Baldwin and Jay-Z are just a few of the celebrities that have taken to the streets (or Twitter) in response to the Occupy Movement.  This is one of the great things about our country.  You can find your own voice and express it, at whatever volume you choose- but know- there may be repercussions.

Do you remember the first opinion you had on a hot topic?  This got me thinking about mine…

My father grew up in a strict Roman Catholic household.  Church was attended religiously, and quizzes on the sermon content quickly followed.  My Aunt, the eldest of six, became a nun and my father spent a short time in the seminary, but left after they withheld his Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition.

When he married my mother, a non-Catholic, his parents said they would “love Protestant grandchildren just as much”.  They raised us as Catholics, but I use that term loosely.  My father took us to church on holidays but slept through the mass while my mom stayed at home wrapping last minute Christmas gifts or hiding Easter eggs.  Really, we were fair-weather Catholics.

To my mother’s credit, she did take our religious education classes seriously.  We were Baptized, received our first Holy Communion, and started the preparation to be confirmed.  That’s when sin stepped in.

During a lesson on the topic of abortion, my brother revealed that there were circumstances in which he was (gasp) pro-choice.  I wasn’t in the classroom at the time, but I’m sure you could have heard a crucifix drop.  Hours later, my mother got a call from the church questioning how her son was raised as such in a Catholic household, and suggesting that he attend one-on-one classes.

Long story short, my parents gave their son the option to move forward, and he declined.  Anticipating I would receive the same resistance for my own views, I withdrew as well.  Neither of us was confirmed.

Looking back now, I am thankful for how my parents handled the situation.  They encouraged us to have voices, and (usually) respected us when we did.  I’m hoping to practice the same in my own family.

Our society is so quick to discriminate and condemn those who do not fit our ideal.  Be it out of prejudice, ignorance, or simple fear of change, these are debilitating habits that halt communication, education and progression- not only of individuals, but of us all. 

We live in a country where, like it or not, celebrities have the utmost impact on society.  Yet so few of them are willing to use their political or ethical voices for fear their careers will suffer.  Justified or not, Brett Ratner losing his gig to produce this year’s Oscars is only the most recent example.

Whether as a parent, teacher, friend, role model- or even a stranger- I hope you find it in your heart to open doors rather than close them.  Otherwise, you’ll never know which “choice” you may have taken away from you.

Right now, my daughter’s voices are soft, sweet and innocent.  I hope they grow to maintain that beauty, but find the strength to be bold when they want to be.  Now I just have to figure out how to encourage that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Life Lessons with My Family, Phil Rizzuto, Lionel Richie & Warren Beatty

Being Veteran’s Day, I woke up with a particularly heavy heart, remembering my maternal grandfather, who was a Marine in WW2.  Though I grew up living directly across the street from him, our time was cut short, as he passed away when I was only 6.  Still, there are invaluable lessons that I learned from him, and am reminded of by my mother.

Sometimes the briefest of moments can stay with us forever.  Here are some tiny bits of advice that have made the largest impression on me…

1.     Always offer your guest a drink.  My grandfather was an electrician, and spoke constantly of working in hot attics for hours on end without the offer of a glass of water.  Now, I am the freak bringing cold lemonade to the neighbor's gardener...

2.     Always have a firm handshake.  This came from my father, as I headed in to meet a city Mayor who would write my recommendation for acceptance to a private school.  Not sure if it's what got me in, but it did prove exceptionally useful years later while in an elevator with Phil Rizzuto at Yankee Stadium.  My brother shook his hand, and Rizzuto said, “Holy Cow! The kid’s got a grip!”  Had he shaken mine, I may have broken it.

3.     While in production, the only thing you “call in” is dead.  On one of my first producing jobs, I stood beside our Executive Producer as someone called in sick.  She lost her shit, and I learned an important lesson.  (Come to think of it, this speaks volumes about my going into labor on set of The Bachelor…)

4.     Train for life.  I kept my Freshman 15 for all four years of college.  Then post graduation, I enlisted the help of an amazing trainer to help me lose my beer gut (which had become a keg).  Erik Hajer is an Ironman Triathlete, specializing in event training.  So during our sessions, fellow gym members would often ask what I was training for.  I’d wince as he answered, “she is training for life”.  He also told me I had lips like Lionel Richie.  A year later, I was majorly insecure about my mouth, but had completed two marathons.

5.     If you let someone turn in front of you just so they will say thank you, don’t bother.  Spoken by my brother as he gave me a driving lesson at a 4-way stop sign, but very true in life.  Giving of yourself- no matter the size of the gesture- should never be for your self-gratification, but for the benefit of the recipient.

6.     Hold on to your hat.  The best part about this one is that it came from Warren Beatty.  I was at dinner with my family, while he and his wife, Annette Bening, sat behind us with their children.  Their young kids were entertained by my daughter, who even as an infant, had an eye for a good celebrity sighting.  Stopping by our table on their way out, they asked if she was our first, and when I told them our second was on the way, he offered those words.  And damn, he was right.

Chances are none of these people know the lasting effect of their words, and some never will (unless, of course, my blog gets some major play).  But despite all the lessons listed above, the most important is this… The greatest gifts you ever give may be the ones that go unrecognized, or so you’ll think.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Anti-Mom Jean Gene

The book “Thin is the New Happy”, by Valerie Frankel, should be required reading for anyone that has (or likes) a vagina.

I picked it up in haste before a cross-country flight hoping it would do one of two things… Teach me how not to raise girls with self-image issues, or knock me out before the Ambien kicked in.  Since the former is seemingly an impossibility, I considered the latter a shoe-in.  No dice.

Whether about relationships, dating, marriage, parenting, sex, career or fashion, the author had me at all of it.  The most eye opening, though, was her recount of a somewhat traumatizing closet dissection with Stacy London, television host of “What Not to Wear”.

Of the many things I learned in this chapter, the first the most profound may be a greater appreciation for my sister Jeni, who as a successful celebrity stylist, never (ok, rarely) critiques my wardrobe.  Second, came an enormous realization that you aren’t always what you wear.

Many women are born to wear Mom jeans.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I wasn’t.  Now, I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with wearing mom jeans, or driving a minivan, or dedicating your life to the coordination of a PTA bake sale.  It’s just not me.  At least, not yet.

Looking back, I realize that I was afraid of losing my identity in my pregnancies.  I always swore I wouldn’t be the woman who had her first child and went for an obvious rite of passage: the pageboy haircut.

I decided as a senior in college that I wanted a nose ring, but talked myself out of it, as I was about to start interviewing for ‘real’ jobs.  I wish I had known then that I’d end up working in an industry where piercings and tattoos are as frowned upon as a banker carrying a briefcase, but I digress… Then somehow, right after I started needing a hair elastic to securely button my jeans, (the tell-tale sign of being knocked up), time was of the essence.

It came as no shock that the piercing parlor wouldn’t poke a preggo, nor should it come as a shock to you that within days after giving birth, my nose was pierced with a tiny diamond.  Shortly after came my 2nd tattoo, designed for my first daughter, and then my 3rd tattoo, designed for my second daughter.  (I got my first when I was 18, after my dad lost his battle with cancer.)

After each of my pregnancies, I took a few months at home, and then returned back to the grind of producing reality television.  In some households, that would be out of necessity.  In some, it would be frowned upon.  In some, commendable and in others, it would be flat out unacceptable.  In my household, it is a mix of all four.

I don’t think doctors can test for the Anti-Mom Jean Gene quite yet, but the good news is that having it isn’t a death sentence.  On the contrary, pursuing the things you are passionate about will help you to raise well-rounded, well-balanced children.

The bad news is, Mom Jeans never look good… on anyone.

PS.  Jeni, as a sign of my appreciation, I promise never to wear a sports bra unless it is athletically necessary.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saved By... Elizabeth Berkley

The typical celebrity spotting for an Angelino is like the prom for an average teenager… hugely anticipated, grossly overrated and usually lacking physical interaction.  That said, every once in a while, you score.

For me, a big night in Hollywood consists of a Melrose Avenue stroll to Pinkberry, stroller and dogs in tow.  But, New England natives don’t do Chihuahuas.  In my house, each of the two dogs weighs more than both of my children, combined.  So we roll Bugaboo, Rhodesian Ridgeback and Rottweiler deep.

Not sure if it was the distraction of the waffle cone or the pomegranate seeds, but on one night I accidentally let go of Emilia’s stroller, and it toppled (ok, flipped) down a few concrete steps outside the shop.  It took only a split-second, but my life flashed before my eyes.  And if she didn’t need an ambulance, I would.

Emilia scraped her face, chipped a tooth and punctured her lip.  I screamed maniacally as she bled profusely, and the dogs stood guard.  Then, miraculously, an angel appeared- disguised as Elizabeth Berkley.

She came out of nowhere (well, actually, she came out of a pimped out BMW) bearing ice and towels.  Don’t let her role in Showgirls confuse you… the girl has maternal instinct.  She was helpful, compassionate and sincere.  And in the end, thankfully, my ego was more damaged than my daughter.

But in Hollywood, no good deed goes unnoticed, especially by your publicist.  And if you were to hear a soundtrack of the moment as it went down, it would be a mix of my screams, Emilia’s cry, and a former “Saved By The Bell” star repeating incessantly “My name is Elizabeth; My name is Elizabeth”.

I have to admit, that for days following, I wondered if a story would surface about Jessie Spano coming to the rescue of an inattentive mother craving fro-yo.  I was thankful she was there, but honestly, I couldn’t have cared less that she had an IMDB web page.  At that moment, all I cared about was my daughter.  

Looking back now, I am way more thankful for her.  She didn’t Save the Bell, but she did help save my sanity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lights, Camera... Labor

Any fan of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette knows how exciting each season premiere episode can be.  Up to 30 sexy singles gather to vie for the affection of America’s current heartthrob (or sweet heart).  The mansion is filled with glamorous people, shimmering lights, chilled drinks, an infinite amount of hope… and Chris Harrison.  But that's just what you see on camera.

Imagine the addition of a dozen camera crews, teams of producers, lighting designers, stylists, assistants… and one woman going into labor.

My first daughter was due in mid-April 2008, and for medical reasons I was scheduled to have a C-section the week prior.  Technically, I had already begun my maternity leave on the night of March 31, when DeAnna Pappas officially began her ‘journey’ as The Bachelorette.  But, my leave was short lived…

I admit that I am a control freak, and had difficulty walking away from my position on arguably the most exciting and unforgettable shoot of the season.  But on that night, the “most dramatic” rose ceremony would become historic.

I offered to work, with the understanding that I would leave the moment I felt it necessary.  My mother, a former labor and delivery nurse (and avid fan of The Bachelor), joined me.  She said it was in case of an emergency, but I knew it was more about the fun of being on set.

The night was off to an amazing start.  I was in my crew blacks, with my walkie, IFB, and a major bun in the oven.  DeAnna looked amazing, and Blaine Twilley was my favorite guy in the cast. 

Throughout my pregnancy, our show creator, Mike Fleiss, had an uncanny ability to guess exactly how far along I was, and how much weight I had gained.  It seemed almost a strange paternal instinct, and it continued that night, as he told my mom repeatedly, “3am… I want her out of here at 3am”.  So just as he predicted the breadth of my belly, he too predicted the time I would go into labor.

Night One shoots until the sun comes up, so at 2:30am, things were just getting good.  But I was starting to feel some lower back pain.  I tried to convince myself this was from being on my feet for too long, but knew my body was trying to tell me something... something big.  I packed up my bags, said my good-byes, and we were on our way back home.

We shoot way out in Ventura County, and I live in Hollywood.  So although I was a little uncomfortable, I wanted to drive because I knew we’d get there sooner.  We cruised the long, dark road back to the 101, and no sooner did I get on the freeway entrance ramp, I felt a contraction.  I kept mum, but looked at the clock.  Five minutes later, another one.  And another.  My mother asked why I kept looking at the clock, but let’s face it… she already knew.

“Once you relax and put your feet up, you’ll be fine”, she said.  She wanted to drive, but I insisted that I do it (control freak).  We arrived home just before 4am, and I woke my husband with the news.  By 4:15am, I was calling my obstetrician and on the way to the hospital.

Of course, I texted from the hospital and let everyone know what had happened.  But keep in mind that DeAnna’s journey began on March 31, so now well after midnight, it was April Fools Day, and no one believed me, until a photo of my hospital bracelet made it’s rounds.
Emilia Loren, March 2009

Hours later, Emilia Loren arrived.  And the very next day, I received the most incredible floral arrangement the nursing staff had ever seen… It was from my family at The Bachelor, and it was nothing but roses.