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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My 4yo Has Some Powerful Advice For The World

Both of my daughters love to read.  But the youngest, now four and a half, will only read aloud and in private.  I love hearing her little voice and the beautiful stories she creates, but must use my ninja skills in doing so.

Well, I put them to good use yesterday, and couldn't be more proud of the result.  Take a listen...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I Hid a Horrific Photo of My Daughter From Facebook (But Posted It Here)

I am not good at accepting constructive criticism, but I do love calling myself out on my own inconsistencies.  I usually view them as growth, as long as they don't both occur within a 24-hour period.  So when my husband and I brought our daughters to get their ears pierced in the end of last week, I knew this post was coming.

It was almost two and a half years ago that my eldest asked me twice within one week if she could get her ears pierced.  This was my post (and inner dialogue) that resulted:

"Now, she has also asked if she can be a waitress when she grows up, if she can take xylophone lessons and if she can go back to her old preschool because the new one doesn’t have naptime, but I didn’t take any of those inquiries seriously, as she asked only once.  I have learned from experience that once she asks twice, I will have an easier time refusing an intravenous Diet Coke drip than I will her requests."

Even more thankful for her "inconsistencies" than I am for my own, I was lucky this request was fleeting.  It was sort of like a supermarket meltdown.  Agonizing and seemingly endless in the moment, but in hindsight, over in a flash.  Phew.

But my second child... she is a whole-nother bag of tricks.  And when she started asking me for "ear holes" four months ago, I knew I wouldn't get off that easy.

I still feel the same way I did in October of 2012.  "It's the idea of making our babies grow up faster than they need to that makes me uncomfortable.  Joking that your baby has diva tendencies is one thing… forcing them upon her is another.  To pierce or not to pierce?  Either way, I feel her slipping away already.  Thank God she’ll need me to help wipe her bum later this afternoon… That’s always a decent reminder that we’ve got a looong way to go."

But, my baby isn't a baby anymore.  She is four and a half, the exact age her sister was at the time of my first post on this subject.  And to say she has a mind of her own is an understatement.  She has a voice, and we heard it.

The photo story that unfolded on my husband's Facebook was adorable.

She was so excited at the start...

Until a bit of fear set in...

But in the end, she was a BIG GIRL!

The problem with this tale, as with many told on Facebook, is that it didn't tell the whole story.  My husband managed to get a photo just as the second piercing when through the lobe, and the sheer TERROR on my daughter's face led me to say/scream that he'd be in huge trouble if he posted the picture.  He didn't.  But in retrospect, I am ok with putting it out there, because I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned.

Sometimes the things we desire most cause us the greatest pain to achieve... but if we overcome, they bring the greatest beauty.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Our Tooth Fairy Doesn't Give "Hundos", But She Gives Big in Other Ways. (Hint: It's Operation X-Mas Time!)

It was an apple, at her Nonna's house.

For weeks, Emilia had wondered where she would be and what she would be eating when her very first tooth came out.  So when it finally happened, after a long but exciting day at a the science museum, we noted all the important details.

Then I took immediately to Facebook, of course, to ask what the going rate for a first tooth is these days. See, months before Emilia's best friend had told the entire Kindergarten about a "hundy" the Tooth Fairy had gifted for her first one. I panicked a little, as my daughter has an incredible memory for a 6 year old, and I was fearful she'd hurt that her Fairy shorted her.  Our fairy doesn't give Benjamins.

A bunch of Facebook chatter (thanks, ladies!) and a trip to the craft store later, I was ready.

(It's all about the pixie dust, People.)

And $10 under the pillow.  Not bad, right?

Problem is, exactly two weeks later, Emilia lost her 2nd tooth (worth only 5 bucks).  And a third is hanging on by a thread. 

Let's face it... Emilia will receive more from the Tooth Fairy in a 4 week period than many children around the world will receive all year.

But, you can help change that.

Several years ago, I began giving two shoeboxes chock full of goodies to Operation Christmas Child, with Samaritan's purse.  I gave one box from each of my two children, that would be gifted to a child that would receive nothing else on Christmas morning.  The boxes are shipped all around the world.

I loved participating in the collection, but wanted to give more.  Once I'd imagined the smile of an ill or poverty-stricken child opening the box, I wanted to give more. And more. But, sadly, I couldn't do it alone.

For the last two years, I have asked my family, friends and readers to help me collect items for Operation Christmas Child.  The deal is... you guys send me the goodies, and I buy the plastic (reusable) shoebox size bins, pack them, wrap them, and pay the $7 donation per box. 

You can send as few or as many items as you'd like.  You can shop at the Dollar Store or Bloomies.  You can send a homemade craft.  You can collect all the soaps and shampoos at hotels you visit throughout the year and them and send them my way.  You can also send items from home that have never been used.  I promise.  I won't judge.

Or, if shopping isn't your bag, you can make a financial contribution.  I save them until the end of packing season, when I pool the donations and fill in the holes of what we need most.  I will also send you a photo of how far I helped your money go.

Whether you help me help others this coming holiday season or choose another outlet is completely up to you.  I only ask one thing.  When you gift your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors or friends, please take a moment to think about those that having nothing, but hopefully, hope.

(Then take a couple of those dolla' bills yo, and put 'em to good use.)

Now, some housekeeping.

* Click here to check out Operation Christmas Child.

* Each shoebox I pack will be labeled with the sex of the child and an age range: 2-4, 5-9, 10-14.  I  typically receive the fewest donations for the older children.

* There’s a list of suggested items (and what not to include) on their website.  I have included personal items like soap, toothpaste & toothbrush, shampoo, combs, band aids, socks, underwear, flip flops, sunglasses, clothing and sun hats.  Or something a little more fun like flashcards, toy cars, crayons, stickers, a yo-yo, a jump rope, puzzles, coloring books, sidewalk chalk or a personal holiday card.  The possibilities are endless, and stores like Big Lots are a great resource.

* Please keep in mind that the items must fit in a standard size shoe box, so it is difficult to include large items (like full size basketballs).

* Yes, I can take PayPal donations, and will provide you with a photo of the items "you" purchased.

* If you have a question or would like to donate, please email me directly at for address information. Or, I can help you find a local chapter where you can donate on your own.

* Collection Week ENDS on November 24th, so please don’t delay!

2013 Collection

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From That #StillbornPhoto to The #ALSIceBucketChallenge and #RIPRobinWilliams, I've Had It

In the end of last week, I was brought to tears every time I read the story of a Northern California couple who received criticism for posting beautifully agonizing photos of their stillborn baby online.

Then, I spent part of the weekend paying tribute to Mr. Sullivan, the dear old man with a thick Irish brogue, who spent the last several weeks of his life with ALS in agony on a Hospice bed beside my cancer-stricken father who rested (seemingly) without an iota of pain.

Now Monday night, I am in tears once again, distraught over Robin Williams' lost battle with depression, addiction and unimaginable emotional pain.

Granted, I've used a lot of Kleenex, but hopefully not for naught.

I guarantee that thousands of people who saw this photo heard, forcibly or not, the too-often muted cry from the parents of stillborn children.

I can also guarantee that while no where near thousands of people watched me scream "oh shit" in front of my young children after pouring a very icy bucket of water over my head, I am hopeful that even one was brought to explore the movement.

And now, as I browse my Twitter feed and see the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline practically on loop, I guarantee that countless people will scroll straight past the number in an effort to find yet another celebrity response to today's tragedy.

It was exactly one year ago that a dear friend, one who touched many of you, took her own life in a way very similar to Mr. Williams.

For days afterward, I saw condolences, tributes and promises in post after post on social media.  Her life (and death) left an exquisite (designer) footprint on the world.  I can only imagine that which will be left by Robin Williams.

The only problem is, footprints fade...

I guarantee that photo of the stillborn baby won't return to my news feed until someone who checks their Facebook as often as I get an oil change logs in and starts sharing things as current as the first Sharknado.

And while the ALS Foundation has reported 1,000% increase in charitable donations in the last several weeks, let's face it... you are super unlikely to donate next year.

As for the Suicide Lifeline, or statistics on depression and addiction, they aren't going anywhere.  God only knows what starlet, icon or friend will be next to succumb to either of those terrible diseases, but one thing is for sure.  It will happen.  Too soon.

I can't speak for you,  but I know my world is constantly changing.  I am forever striving to be better, stronger, faster and more efficient.  Some would say I'm damn good at it, but I'm not so sure.

It is in moments like this that I truly fear how having so much at our fingertips leaves us with so little to leave behind in our footprint.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If You Read Only One Thing I'll Ever Write, Let This Be It

I need to start off with an honest disclaimer that this story is not my own.  A very wise Minister shared it with me, and I must share this very paraphrased version with you.  
(Though I've a talent or two, I'm sorry a photographic memory is not one of them.)

Many years ago, a mother lost her only son in a gang related shooting.  An innocent victim, he was the unlucky target of a deadly initiation process.  Thankfully, the young perpetrator was caught by authorities and convicted.  At his sentencing, the victim's mother stood in the courtroom and shouted repeatedly, "I am going to kill you".

Months later, the still-grieving woman found herself visiting the shooter in prison.  Unsure of her intention, or even whether or not she would speak, she felt compelled to look into the eyes of the boy who had taken her son's life so prematurely.

Again and again she visited, often bringing him toiletries or baked goods.  With no other visitors, the boy was completely alone.  In many ways, so was she.

Years went on and eventually the boy, who'd since become a man, was nearing his release date. "What's your plan?", she asked fearfully.  His answer, simply "I don't have one", was unacceptable to her.  She knew where his poor planning had landed them both.

So on the day of his departure, the woman took her son's murderer to live in her home.  Helping him get back on his feet was better (and safer) than leaving him to face the world with no support, she thought.  As time went on, he proved to be helpful, responsible and committed to becoming a better man.  So through a friend, she was able to find him employment.  Eventually he saved some money, got an apartment and packed up to set out on his own.

But before he did, he reminded her.  "I remember that day, in the courtroom.  You screamed over and over again, 'I am going to kill you'".

"I did", the woman said, "I killed you with kindness".

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Daughter Ruined My Husband's Birthday Surprise (And Made Me a Better Person Because of It)

I thought renting a classic car was the perfect birthday gift for my husband.  We were headed down to Orange County to spend the day celebrating my niece’s birthday.  We could drive down there with the top down, maybe cruise the beach, and return both refreshed and sun-kissed.  Or, at least I thought that was the way things would turn out.

Granted we got on the road to pickup the 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic a bit later than I’d hoped, but it’d be a quick transition from the safe seatbelts of our own car to those of the rental.  In fact, I’d passed on the 1965 Mustang in exchange for this beauty only because of the owner's promise that it had functioning seatbelts.

Let’s face it.  Any self-respecting, minivan-driving mama knows where this is headed (even though I will never drive one of those God forsaken things).

The car didn’t have working seatbelts.  And my daughters, who are 4 and 6, have been conditioned to NEVER ride in a car without being buckled in.  In fact, for years my eldest would say “buckle me” when she wanted to cuddle snuggly.  They are hardwired.  So when my youngest saw us trying to safely rig a broken waist belt into something the CHIPs wouldn’t lock us up for, she melted down like Erik Estrada in a nightmare over losing his hair.

The renting agent reassured us that because seatbelts were not required by law when the car was designed, it was legal to drive without them.  But regardless of whether or not I was okay with that excuse, my 4 year old wasn’t.

Fifteen minutes later, I found myself urgently releasing her from a makeshift seatbelt even MacGyver would love in order to get her out of the car before vomiting on it’s 50 year old interior.  She had worked herself up so such and extent that singing no amount of Disney songs was going to calm her.  Off to Plan B.

We returned the Dynamic, hopped back into our own car, and drove down to Orange County not in the silence of frustration or huffs of anger, but to the continued meltdown of a still unsettled toddler.  Her lengthy reaction was unlike anything I’d see her experience before, heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.

Ultimately, she fell asleep moments before arriving at the party.  My eldest and I, more than fashionably late, rushed in to celebrate.  Twenty minutes later, my husband carried our youngest into the party, looking refreshed and like nothing had ever happened.  In fact, she’d had the best disco nap of anyone.

The rest of the day was sweet and uneventful, especially compared to our morning.  Clearly we hadn’t ended up with the beautiful day I’d dreamed up, but it was beautiful in another kind of way.

I was reminded that everyone has good days, and bad.  The key is to keep on driving forward.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How A No-Homework Curriculum Changed My Parenting (*tear*)

It seems like just weeks ago that we attended Back to School Night.  The positive energy was palpable as dozens of parents, both veterans or virgins (to the school, of course), saw the future of their sun-kissed shoulders fade in exchange for the refreshing change of a more regimented weekly schedule.  Once our Headmaster turned on her microphone, we quickly hushed as though being graded on manners at a school assembly from our teen years.  Clearly there was an important announcement to come.

After a great amount of research and consideration (blah, blah, blah), the kindergarten through fourth grade curriculum would no longer include daily homework assignments.  Once in fifth grade, the practice would be slowly introduced, in preparation for middle school.

There was an audible reaction from the crowd, though I am to this day unsure if it was of relief or concern.  With a kindergartener and preschooler, our family really wouldn’t be impacted by the drastic move just yet.  Still, I was impressed with the progressive nature of the decision and looked forward to learning more about it’s justification.  That said, I’ve since learned other families were unimpressed with such an important announcement coming at the start of a school year, when the opportunity to change institutions as a result was pretty much nonexistent.

Next up was a preview of Vicki Abeles’ documentary Race to Nowhere: Transforming Education from the Ground Up which we were all encouraged to watch in full (I recommend the same to you), and a list of suggested resources.  My husband and I not only watched the film, but also purchased literature written by some of the experts featured within it.

We were ready.  We were ready to let our children be children, while committing to knowing enough about their current curriculum that we’d be able to supplement their lessons with real life assignments at home.  When they studied fractions, we’d bake a cake to practice measuring ingredients.  When they had a lesson on the constellations, we’d break out a telescope and learn a thing or two ourselves.

I (nervously) anticipated stepping up to the challenge and being more involved, while noting that the decrease in my daughter’s workload may result in an increase in mine.  What I wasn’t expecting was how beautiful and rewarding the experience would be...

A couple of months ago my kindergartener began a unit on the lifecycle of the butterfly.

I was immediately reminded of the butterfly nursery that Santa had put under our tree and I’d stored away, likely to be forgotten by New Year’s Day.  We broke it out and I mailed in a postcard requesting live caterpillars.  (Now, that’s a check off the good ole bucket list.)  Shortly after, this arrived.

Every morning afterwards, the girls would awake with anticipation, hoping for this:

Each day, we spoke about the caterpillars development, photographed their progression, and reported back to teachers about what was happening.  Eventually, the hard work paid off.

We kept the butterflies for about two weeks, giving them fresh flowers and sugar water along the way.  Then, we said goodbye.

It was sad and beautiful at the same time.  I guess letting go always is.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Breaking Tradition Can Be The Best Tradition

Is tradition for all Americans synonymous with bulk, or is that only in my house?

I consider myself a pretty sentimental woman, who didn’t fall far from the tree.  I’ve often written about special things from my childhood safeguarded by my mother long ago that my daughters are now lucky enough to enjoy, like my first ever Barbie Dream House.  But several years into parenting myself, I’ve already accumulated bins of goodies… I mean crap… I mean goodies… Geez, I don’t even know what it is anymore.

There is a fine line between holding onto items for sentimental reason and because you deserve a spot on the season premiere of Hoarders.  Similarly, between real tradition and yet another excuse for excess.  Here’s an example.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I had a very traditional wedding.  We stated our vows in a magnificent Roman Catholic church before an enormous group of family and friends.  I walked the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon, someone special read Corinthians 13:4 “love is patient, love is kind” and after kissing the bride everyone, we celebrated at a reception fit for a bridal magazine (IMHO).

Meanwhile, the UPS delivery man was hitting our small apartment on a daily basis.  Yet another “tradition” we followed was to register for formal dining china, service for 12.  “Lenox Hannah Platinum” it was called.  Dainty, beautiful, and a decade later still in it’s original packaging in my mother’s basement.

There are several downsides to living on the opposite coast as most of family.  We miss way more big events than we’d like, it is impossible to keep everyone happy at the holidays and unless you plan, like, 10 years ahead, it is impossible to empty all your crap out of your parents house before you leave.  Joe and I planned on spending two years in San Diego, not over a decade in Los Angeles.

Fast forward to last month when my frustrated family finally hired a moving company to bring some cumbersome furniture, my wedding china and a significant amount of crap to Los Angeles.  (Let’s just say that if Kodak would refund me for all the photos I've developed of people I no longer recognize, I’d have gone to college for free.)

I freaked.  I don’t have a curio cabinet.  I don’t have an attic.  I don’t have a basement.  I don’t even have a freaking garage.  What the hell was I going to do with my wedding china?


My daughters thought the china was the prettiest, "fanciest" thing they had ever seen, and BEGGED me to let them eat on it.  So, I did what any self-proclaimed fun mother would do.  We used paper towel rolls, glitter spray paint and fairy stickers to invite my sister and niece to a very fancy party.

We ate chicken nuggets, pizza, macaroni and cheese (and some veggies) on this:

The girls wore makeup and my sister and I wore Louboutins (obviously).  We made toasts with sparkling lemonade under twinkling lights and kept our elbows off the table.  And in the end, we broke an old-school "tradition" to create a new tradition of our own.  Our first fancy party will certainly not be the last.

So thank you, nearly 11 years later, to everyone who purchased a piece of my beautiful wedding china.  This will never be forgotten.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I See London, I See France... I (Don't Want to) See Beyonce in Her Underpants

Of the many powerful women who have graced the cover of TIME magazine in it’s near century existence, only one was in her underwear.

Beyonce Knowles-Carter is a wonderful choice for the cover of this year's "100 Most Influential People" issue, hitting stands this week.  In addition to having sold over 118 million records in her solo career (and another 60 million with the girl group Destiny's Child), she has won 17 Grammy Awards and been nominated for a Golden Globe for her stellar role in Dreamgirls.  Add to that dossier her credits as fashion designer, social activist, working mother and self-proclaimed "modern day feminist", and it is impossible to find her undeserving of the title.  Why, then, is the often politically and fiscally skewed magazine showcasing only her sex appeal on their dramatic cover?

I've taken a look back at many issues of TIME featuring women on their covers, including this one published less than a month after I was born.

Clearly we've come a long way since the mid-1970's, but likely too far.  While Sheryl Sandberg's 2013 cover below may have played on the 1980's Pantene "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" advertising campaign, I'm (somewhat) surprised we didn't have to see her in the shower.

Even this 2006 cover of country music sensation the Dixie Chicks demonstrates their gritty attitude and strong views on patriotism, but not without highlighting their toned physique and crazy sexuality.

None of us needs to be told that sex sells, but what we may benefit from is a reminder that so do other things.  I prefer the Dixie Chicks image over any other that I researched because of the balance it strikes between sexuality and strength.  It doesn't ignore the appeal of their feminine bodies, but uses them as a pedestal on which to exhibit other qualities that complete their character.

Many years ago, my mother started a fine tradition of saving important television news clips on VHS in a collection for her children as a keepsake.  Little could she have known back then that the same clips she rushed to chronicle in real time would later become available at the click of a mouse, but the sentiment was perfect.  I have since started saving important print media for my own children (both girls), as while the digital copies will be easy to reprint for all of eternity, nothing can replace the feel of a half-century old newspaper.

At first I was tempted to toss Beyonce's TIME cover, but have since had a change of heart.  Raising strong, well-balanced, emotionally secure women (and perhaps continuing on the road to become one myself) isn't about shielding ourselves from messages that upset or offend our ideal.  Instead, it is about embracing those differences in opinion and educating ourselves and others about them so one can truly become influential.

Rock on, Sasha Fierce.