Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cell Phones for Sixth Graders?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already several weeks into ER’s middle school experience.

To handle the transition to sixth grade, I decided this was the year we were really going to get our act together.  A few weeks before school started, my sister and I waited until Tim was out of town and organized our house to such detail that when he returned, he growled when he couldn't find his nail scissors and said he felt like a house guest.  I pointed sweetly to the organized leather box of nail accessories, undeterred.  I beckoned Tim and ER into the living room so we could create a hang file system with labels for each class. It was a bonding moment. I drank a glass of wine and read the school subjects off of the class schedule while Tim made labels on a label maker. ER helped by doing high kicks and singing like Iggy Azalea.

The Having Our Act Together plan continued. ER went to school before the first day and decorated her 6th grade locker. This a thing now, in case you don’t know.  Gone are the plain Jane lockers of yore.  Now, you can buy mini locker chandeliers and shag locker rugs so your locker can rival a Kardashian bedroom.

We were completely ready for middle school until something dawned on us. Something was missing. Our sixth grader doesn't have a cell phone!

This is a big dilemma. While Tim and I tend to agree on most parenting matters, we’re having a really difficult time getting on the same page about the phone issue.  In my view, I think 11 is too young -- why rush growing up and being constantly connected? What about the mean girl stuff?  Tim doesn't get what all the fuss is about; he's a practical sort. Plus, my stepchildren already set the bar, because when they were in middle school, they came home from their mom’s with cell phones.  At first we thought it was a little excessive, but with after school activities and two households, we couldn't deny the convenience factor.

While we've been considering the options, ER has been playing me like a violin. (Very possibly, Tim is the conductor.) On ER's 10th birthday, we were on our way to dinner when the grandparent calls started ringing. I handed my phone over and said, “Answer it! Mimi’s on the phone!”

“I don’t know what to say!” she said, panicked. “I don’t have a phone!”

I handed her the phone and frowned. Tim offered a belly laugh that lasted just a little too long for my taste.

ER continued gently but consistently working on me. She came home from sleep away camp in June and announced dramatically that she was the only kid in her cabin without a cell phone. I tried tough love.

“Well, you were the only kid without a phone and you survived, and you still had fun at camp, right?” 

“I guess…” she said, throwing her head back and sighing while Tim snickered.

I began asking around. What other sixth graders had phones?  One mom told me her sixth grader didn't have a phone, but a cell phone was a good indicator that the kid had divorced parents. True for my stepchildren, but not for my daughter, so that didn't help much. Another parent admitted that they were considering GPS tracking to ensure their kid was actually in class. Considering the kid in that case, I nodded in sympathy.

For other families like us who canceled their land lines years ago, the decision was based on giving their children phones for emergencies.  Never mind that the definition of “emergency” later morphed into using the phone for clandestine sessions of Super Monkey Ball Bounce; after all, we’re all just figuring it out here. For most of us, this dilemma didn't exist when we were in sixth grade because our parents couldn't afford the gigantic radioactive bricks that were the cell phones of our day.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll cave on this one. The convenience and safety factor seem to outweigh the other issues that we’re already facing with email and modern-day social sixth graders. Mean girl stuff is going to happen whether a phone is part of the deal or not. It’s about open communication no matter what gadget your kid gets. It’s our job as parents to set limits and teach the safety and etiquette that you won't find in the instruction manual.  After all, if this is the year we’re going to get our act together, there’s probably an app for that.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Week as a Temporary Bachelorette

This week, planned and unplanned events resulted in a rare opportunity for me to stay at home alone for five full days. No kids, no husband, just Taco, our 15 pound rescue dog, and 007, our 95 year-old cat.

Most people would look forward to a week to themselves. Not me. I’m a very social creature, but mainly I don’t do well spending the night at home without another human in the house. I’m legally blind without corrective lenses, so as soon as it’s dark out, I spend a lot of time with the lights off, peering out the window, mistaking moving branches for serial killers or human-sized possums. What I lack in good vision I make up for with great hearing, so I’m constantly turning down the t.v. and panic-whispering to Taco, “Shh! Did you hear that? Is there someone at the window?” He may be a dog, but I swear he rolls his eyes at me.

So this week, I decided to think of it as an adventure. The first night I made it a point to venture out alone. I slapped on some red lipstick, featured a little cleavage, and spritzed on perfume, then went to a lovely French bistro where the only thing on the menu that would appeal to my 11-year old was bread. I thought about my daughter eating bland camp food and chuckled wickedly. When the hostess asked how many, I proudly announced, “I’ll be dining alone.”  I leaned in and lingered on the “alone” as if it was just a wee bit taboo, and there’s a possibility I may have said it in an Arianna Huffington accent.

The hostess seated me at a corner table, where I noticed I was the only one in the restaurant without a companion. Who needs a companion when you have cleavage and red lipstick? I gazed out the window pensively, as if contemplating something deep and important, when actually all I was really thinking was how freaking ridiculous the bread and butter tasted and how oh my God I didn't have to share it with a soul. I flirted with the cute blonde waiter, telling him how cold I was, and asked him if he could look for a spare scarf in the lost and found, because evidently French restaurants are also elementary schools.

He skipped back empty-handed.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he shrugged apologetically, the word “ma’am” hurling me back into reality as I realized he probably graduated with my stepson. Oops, forgot I was old for a second. Pardon moi.

At home, with the help of Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and half a Benadryl, I made it through the night in one piece. I got up early the next morning and went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. I walked right past the granola bars and Goldfish and made a beeline for the wine aisle. I tossed Brussels sprouts, organic spinach and kale salad mix in the cart. I was going to make salads and run five miles every single day!

I grabbed up two bundles of gladiolus for good measure, and topped off my findings with some sexy hot pink nail polish. (Bachelorettes have time to paint their own nails.) I also threw in a package of fried wonton salad toppers, because healthy salads need fried wontons. I'll let you guess what I ate first. If you guessed fried won tons without salad, you win. If you guessed that I threw down almost the entire package while sitting cross-legged in bed, reading a magazine and drinking coffee, you’re my husband, and you planted a nanny cam before you left town.

The second night I went to dinner and a movie with girlfriends, and came home to discover a largish whitish spider crawling on the ceiling in my bedroom. I know you’re not supposed to kill spiders because they kill mosquitoes, but there was no way I was transporting a big spider outside without assistance. I screamed a few choice words, then grabbed a bottle of Fat Hair Hairspray and sprayed him until he fell on the floor.  Once I spotted him on the floor, I promptly smooshed him with a patent nude stiletto. I wiped up his remains with a Clorox wipe, gagging and apologizing the entire time, then attempted to high five Taco, who kept his paws on the ground, looking at me with a combination of pity and horror. I recovered by painting my toenails hot pink while I watched HGTV.

The next night I met a new writer friend for happy hour. Her children are grown and out of the house, and she looks terrific. That woman is more carefree than a teenager, and her energy is contagious. I made a mental note to ship off my family more often. Afterwards, I went shopping. I’ve always said that stores should have candlelit dressing rooms and serve martinis, because women would feel great and buy a lot more, but if that can’t happen, two watermelon margaritas before shopping will do the trick. Relaxed and worry-free, I took up temporary residency in Nordstrom Rack. I was in absolutely no hurry whatsoever. Instead of rushing around in search of a specific pair of black pants for a work trip, I casually flipped through the evening dresses as if I planned on wearing fuchsia sequins on Thursday. I called my mom. She filled me in on the latest while I tried on Prada heels and sashayed down an imaginary catwalk. I watched a woman with dirty twin toddlers try to wedge her swollen feet into some unfortunate sandals while one of the kids chewed on her handbag strap. I won’t lie; I took a moment to pity her and then I went around the aisle and snickered. Shopping with kids? So last week.

The rest of the week sped past in a flash. The last night, I went to the museum and dinner with a friend, and was so tired from laughing with him that I went home and fell into bed without peeking out the window once. Around 10 pm, it started to rain. And it rained. Then it rained some more. At 2 am, I woke up to an eerie silence and realized the electricity was off. I checked Facebook and email to pass the time, then heard a noise and peered outside, only to realize the streetlights were also off, and the only thing out there was a creepy black void. By that time I was so terrified, I got dressed by the light of my phone and drove to a 24-hour diner, where I made the most of it by ordering pancakes and watching the drunks sober up while eating late night munchies.

I drove home around four o'clock. The storm had begun to pass, just as my week as a temporary bachelorette was coming to a close. I turned on the radio and switched on my daughter’s favorite station. I belted out every last word to “My Humps,” enjoying the fact that I wasn't embarrassing or annoying anyone. Sure, I missed my people, but now that I've tasted the sweet nectar of alone time, the next time I get the chance, you can bet I’ll be just fine.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Girlfriend of Your Father, Whatever the Case May Be

(This originally appeared in August of 2012. This version has been edited and revived at the request of some new friends who wanted to hear more about my adventures in step-parenting).

I began dating my husband Tim when his children were four and five. The kids were understandably shell-shocked by their parent’s divorce, and it was a rough time for them. While Tim and I were dating, I maneuvered through the process like a teenage boy with greasy popcorn hands, trying to get to second base in a crowded movie theater. Let’s just say it was a pretty awkward time.

I handled the situation by setting expectations early: I was not applying to be a substitute mother. My goal was to make it clear to the kids that they had, and would always have, a mother and a father who loved them, and I was simply an extra adult that would be there to support and protect them if they needed it.

My early relationship with my stepdaughter Stephanie was challenging to say the least. When I came onto the scene, Stephanie was in preschool, and she wasn't up for a new woman in her life. For starters, she was confused about her parent’s situation, and, like all other normal kids, wanted her parents to get back together. I was confused as well. When I was around Stephanie, she would usually greet me with a dark-eyed scowl.  Other times, she would invite me to play Barbies, or help serve her ice cream. Because it was all over the place, I was always slightly on edge around Stephanie. I worried that we would never connect. I wondered if she would smother me in my sleep. I began having nightmares that she was chasing me with a butcher knife with ice cream dripping off of it.

When Stephanie was in first grade, she became a Girl Scout Daisy. One weekend when the kids were at Tim's, the Girl Scout troop meeting was a nature hike at a local park. Tim, always encouraging my relationship with both of his children, suggested that I take Stephanie. At the time, I would have rather eaten live earthworms. I had never attended a Girl Scout meeting in my life, and wasn't sure I wanted to start by going with a kid who barely tolerated my presence, but I decided to accept the challenge.

Sensing that losing my Girl Scout meeting virginity would leave me in no shape to drive, Tim decided to drop us off at the park. As he drove off, I considered running full-force in the direction of the car, throwing my shoes at the back windshield in a wild effort to get his attention.  Instead, I held back my natural inclination to panic, and followed a much more confident Stephanie to the space where the mothers and daughters were gathering.

I quickly assessed the scene. The warm and friendly troop leader was absent, leaving another, somewhat sullen parent volunteer in charge. The other parent that I knew from work was also not there. This left me with a group of women that I didn’t know at all, so I stood on the outskirts of the group, picking at my nail polish as Stephanie and the other Daisies frolicked around.

The mother who volunteered to lead the meeting gathered the group together. I could tell right away she meant business. She stood with confidence and held three fingers up in the air. Immediately, the wild first grade mayhem stopped. The girls all stood at attention, holding three fingers in the air, facing their temporary leader. I’d been there less than half an hour and they were already busting out secret hand symbols!

“Now girls,” the mother said to the group of hypnotized Daisies, “This is a very, very dangerous trail. There are steep areas where you can fall and get hurt.”

The girls, transfixed at the thought of plunging to their deaths in Daisy vests, hung on to her every word. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and groan, knowing that this park’s tallest peak was a smidgen over three feet tall. I decided to stay positive, imagining in my play-pretend mind that after the hike, the sullen substitute troop leader would award me with a hiking pin to attach to my imaginary adult-sized Daisy vest.

 “Because we want you to be safe, I need you to listen to the rules,” the mother said, “Please get in line in groups of two. We’re going to use the Buddy System. Each girl needs to stand by their mommy..”

She paused, looked at Stephanie, looked at me, then frowned, unsure of what to say. She looked in the air, mentally scanning the Girl Scout Leader guidebook for how to appropriately address non-mommy types.

 “Or…..,” she said, carefully, waving her hand in a grand, dismissive gesture, “The girlfriend of your father, whatever the case may be.”

And with that, her pale skin turned crimson as she began nervously shuffling girls and mommies into a two-by-two line.

Knowing I didn't have the luxury of a getaway car, I stood there, fighting back the desire to laugh hysterically and sob with embarrassment all at the same time. Several of the more compassionate mothers smiled at me and shrugged. Some just grabbed their girls and got in line.

What’s funny is that Stephanie handled it like a pro. I honestly think she felt sorry for me. Kids are awesome at times like that. She grabbed my hand and led me to the line like nothing had ever happened. We started our hike, did some obligatory leaf rubbings, and returned with zero broken bones and one mildly bruised ego (mine). I had a couple of conversations with the compassionate mothers. All in all, we had a nice time.

Today Stephanie is 18, our relationship is one of of the most treasured things in my life. She’s a beautiful person, her face a lovely combination of both of her good-looking parents. She’s ridiculously intelligent and humble about it. She likes boy bands, road trips, and dancing in the rain.  Because of her appreciation for the beauty in the world, she’s an excellent photographer. She does goofy, hilarious dances when we’re in the grocery store. She helps people in need, just like her father. She can do a perfect Russian accent that makes us grip our sides with laughter. She stays up way too late, baking the best cupcakes I've ever eaten, singing beautifully to terrible pop radio songs. She’s still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, which is fine, because she has time to work it out. When I see her smile, I still see the same cute girl who stood by me as my maid of honor when I married her father.

One of these days when I get my adult-sized Daisy vest, I’ll have lots of pins. I’ll get a Naive Cookie Mom pin. I’ll have one for Patience, and it will be a rendering of the hours I spent bribing a homesick child at the Girl Scout sleepover with dark chocolate, convincing her that sleeping on an air mattress was actually worth it. But the pin I’ll put in the most prominent position will be for sticking with it despite my insecurities of dating a man with children. That one will be the “Whatever the Case May Be” pin, and I’ll wear it with pride.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Decade of The Woman

It's finally here. The 2014 Texas Democratic State Convention! 

A little over a year ago, if you had told me that I was going to be a delegate at a political convention I wouldn't have believed it for a minute. I married a political junkie. My husband is a man who chooses political shows over sports and -- I am dead serious -- enjoys watching city council meetings. For years, I struggled to keep up with him when he would start talking about policy and issues. Sure, I had big opinions. I've always had big opinions. Sure, I voted for the big elections, but when it came time for a local election, Tim would print out a list of recommendations and drive me to the polls. Tim was my political coach, and that seemed good enough for me.

A year ago, Tim said, "Something big's happening at the Capitol. We need to get down there."

I wasn't sure. Did I want to get involved? What would people think?

As the mother of a then 10-year old girl, I worried about how to talk to her about women's reproductive rights. I wondered what my coworkers might think if they found out that I was (gasp!) a Democrat. I was afraid. 

From the moment Tim and Emily Rose and I walked into the Capitol, everything changed. Tim was right; something big was happening indeed. I quickly figured out that apathy wasn't an option, and that if I didn't join the fight, radical choices would be made and I would wake up and have to explain those choices to my children. Though I walk past the Capitol almost every day, I didn't truly recognize the power of what happens in that gorgeous building. I hadn't considered that just a few miles from our house, our elected officials were taking part in something that would impact so many people without a voice, and that could impact access to cancer screenings, birth control, and reproductive healthcare. I got angry.

Of course, our story isn't unique. Our story is like so many other stories of women and men who flocked to the Capitol last summer. At times, I was overcome with emotion, because the sea of orange symbolized so much outrage and passion. I met so many women who, like me, decided enough was enough and it was time to do something. I met so many men like my husband who understand the importance of a woman's right to make decisions about her body.

Up until last summer, my knowledge of politics was little more than a School House Rock episode, but before I knew it, we were talking about "points of order" and "parliamentary inquiries" like it was common language. I work in downtown Austin, so every day, I did a little Clark Kent move, donning my work persona in the office, then quick-changing into my dirty orange t-shirt so I could run down to the Capitol for the latest news. 

I was able to spend some time in the chambers watching Senator Davis' historic and remarkable filibuster. I didn't stay long, because I was afraid that I might start yelling and get arrested. I left the Capitol around 7pm, and headed home to log on and watch from my computer. Like so many, I was blown away by what I observed, thousands upon thousands of people watching online, supporting Senator Davis and her colleagues on Facebook and Twitter. Friends from New York and Los Angeles texted me, "What is going on down there? Wendy Davis is a hero!" I have never witnessed anything so powerful.

Though the outcome was not what we wanted, something significant happened during those powerful days. The thousands of women and men yelling at the top of their lungs represents something even more remarkable -- something changed in all of us. So many of us got involved. I believe wholeheartedly that the change that took place in so many of us is big enough for us to make an even bigger difference for the lives of Texans. We just have to stick with it.

Since last summer, we jumped in head first to get involved. I have learned how to talk to my daughter about important issues, and she has grown tremendously through the process. She is teaching us as well. We challenge each other, and we push back when we don't agree. Our dialogue at home has elevated to issues that matter. We are lucky to live in Austin where so many heroic Texas Democrats are fighting for our daughter's future. 

The first time Emily Rose met Senator Davis was at an Equal Pay rally in Austin. We yanked her out of school for a real life civics lesson, and in the car on the way to the rally, Emily Rose said, "I want to write down some comments in case I'm interviewed." We talked with her about equal pay, and in response to some of the Republican women's comments about how women are not good negotiators and that they are "too busy," Emily Rose came up with a response that we loved: "Women are too busy to negotiate." After the rally, a friend of ours was asked to be interviewed, and she offered up Emily Rose. The interview didn't air (it was Fox, after all), but the reporter was lovely and it was a terrific experience to see our daughter talking about equal pay with such confidence.

From that point, Emily Rose has had many opportunities to talk about the views she is forming. As her parents, Tim and I remind her that she is free to form her own ideas about things (not that we worry that she won't!). We laugh and say that when she's a teenager, her rebellious phase will be joining the Young Republicans. But I don't see any signs of her switching ideas because she has been so blessed to meet so many Texas Democrats who are influencing her and inspiring her to stay involved. Whether current elected officials, Battleground Texas volunteers, or hopeful candidates, Emily Rose is at the point where she knows more Texas Democrats than we do. It's been fun to watch her learn and grow, all because of that big thing that happened at the Capitol one year ago this week.

A few weeks ago, Senator Davis came to Austin to speak to a huge group of Travis County volunteers working a phone bank at the Travis County Coordinated Campaign office. I was out of town on a work trip when Tim began sending me texts of Emily Rose and her girlfriends posing with Senator Davis. Later, Battleground Volunteer Madi Duffield helped teach Emily Rose how to make phone bank calls. At one point, Emily Rose and Madi talked about how it's the Year of the Woman, and from there, some of the volunteers said,  

"This is the decade of the woman."

Emily Rose has embraced this slogan. I love it so much, I'm making #decadeofthewoman a hash tag for the convention this year, and I hope it catches on! I love the fact that Emily Rose has the confidence to know that we need more women in leadership, and that we are not backing down. I also love that so many of the people I'm meeting are young, and they are getting involved, and changing the landscape of politics.

To me, this justifies every spare minute we can find to volunteer. It justifies every extra dollar we can spare to donate to campaigns to elect our Democratic sisters and brothers into office. It justifies the day I spent a lunch hour running from my office down to Greg Abbot's office to protest for equal pay. It justifies the hours my husband has spent walking the block, or the time we took to get deputized to register voters, or the time we've spent registering voters together. It justifies our family taking vacation time off not to sit on a beach and read a paperback, but to drive to Dallas for a convention and learn what it means to be a delegate for the first time. This is all worth it. I know that for any of you who are doing the same, it's worth it for you as well. We are in this together, and it's exciting!

The icing on the cake for us was Wednesday, when Senator Davis and Cecile Richards hosted a Google Hangout to mark the anniversary of the filibuster. I had taken the day off to get ready for the Convention and Filibuster Anniversary event, and I asked Emily Rose to come sit with me and watch. We submitted a question for the session, and perked up when we heard the host, Yvonne Gutierrez, asking ours. As we sat with our mouths open, Cecile Richards looked into the camera and spoke directly to Emily Rose, and when she finished, Senator Davis did the same. It was a powerful moment that I'll never forget. I was also blubbering and trying to take a video of my laptop while it was happening, so thanks to modern technology we have the full video for safekeeping thanks to Google. Whew! 

In their answers, Senator Davis and Cecile Richards offered advice that is applicable to young girls everywhere. Get involved. 11 is a great age to get involved. Make calls. Tell your friends.   

I'm excited that we're entering the Decade of the Woman, and I can't wait to embark on the adventure that awaits in just a few hours. Here's to a memorable and successful Texas Democratic State Convention! We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Farewell, Tamale House #3

It's Saturday morning, and Tim is doing what Tim does. The coffee is brewing, and he pours the first few drops of coffee into a mug, and steps outside on the porch. He looks up and surveys the day. It's his favorite day of the week, and his favorite time. Nobody else is awake.

He pets the cat. He gets dressed, fills his coffee to the top, and hops in the car. If there's a garage sale in the neighborhood, he stops by, picking up objects and examining them closely, glasses on the tip of his nose. He gets back in the car, and depending on the time, listens to Car Talk. He laughs out loud by himself. His driver's side window is down, the fresh Saturday morning breeze blowing in his face.

Every Saturday, without fail, he drives down Airport and heads for Tamale House. 

Tim barges through the screen door, that huge wall fan blowing his hair in all directions. Depending on how late it's gotten, there may be football fans in line, wearing UT orange and waiting to stock up on tacos. There are tattooed kids looking peaked, waiting patiently for some grease to soak up last night's booze. There are construction workers in work boots, grabbing up breakfast on the way to work. There are soccer moms, picking up tacos for sweaty little soccer players.

Tim's smiling his huge smile and saying good morning to the women of Tamale House. Five or six women, on their feet, speaking a mix of English and Spanish, cooking up such delightful goodness that it's like a church in there. It's like communion.

The phone is ringing off the wall and someone, usually Robert, is taking orders and writing them down. Cash only. A tip jar for the employees, and sometimes an extra collection for a friend in need. Tim's walking over to the counter with the salsa on it, and it's already a mess. Getting salsa there is a ritual. Tim eyes the big metal tray with the soggy paper towels, reaches over and grabs some plastic containers, and picks up one of the regular salsas, squeezing out a few chunky containers full. He fills one with "just the juice" for Stephanie. He pours a few of the hot ones that I am always afraid to try. He waits patiently for our order. Soon, his name is called and he grabs several brown bags. Some Saturdays, he orders so much he brings it home in a box.

Tim loves introducing Tamale House to out of town guests and people who've never heard of it. He loves telling the story of how the Chronicle once voted them the "Best Reason to Get Up Before 3pm." When he works at ACC, Tim's coworker refuses to go inside Tamale House but she will eat food Tim brings to her. Tim think that's hilarious. Tamale House isn't fancy.

Tim drives home, barges in the front door and yells, "Tamale House!"

Tim yells this same thing countless Saturdays. It's our wake up call. The kids and I stumble into the living room. We gather around the coffee table as Tim goes to the kitchen for silverware, paper towels and plates, and we sit, bleary-eyed and sleepy. Saturday begins.

The order varies depending on who is home, but at least one order of migas with cheese is always in the mix. We're convinced the migas have crack in them. Every week, the migas are the same, but they are also always different. This is hard to explain. I love them runny with large chunks of fried tortillas floating around. Every time, one of us looks at the other one and says, "Oh my God, the migas are so good today." They are always good.

It's the same for the rice. We buy it in pints and call it Crack Rice. Mix that up with the beans and throw some salsa on there, and heat up a leftover tortilla, and Tamale House has fed us breakfast and lunch, and we've hardly spent a dime.

Emily Rose eats a bean and cheese tostada, and sometimes half of a second one that I split with her. When  my stepdaughter Stephanie is home, she gets a taco plate. For several years I become obesssed with the taco salads. Matthew, my stepson, eats migas. When he gets to high school, he sleeps through breakfast and we save him leftovers.

A few years into Tim's Tamale House runs, he meets Daniel's mom. Daniel is around 7 at the time, and he's there with his mother while she works. He's fidgety. This morning, we're all together, planning a trip over to the mall for some school shopping. We ask Daniel's mom if we can take Daniel with us. His face lights up. He's shy, but he's bored, so we spend the morning together. When we drop him off later, Daniel's mom seems relived he had a place to go with people she trusts. It feels like family. Through the years, Tim keeps up with what's going on with Daniel. He's riding a bike, going to middle school, growing up. His mother is gorgeous and I wonder if Tim will run off with her not just because she has a radiant smile, but because she knows the secret to Tamale House migas. 

At some point they start selling cupcakes, as if the migas and the crispy potatoes aren't tempting enough. The cupcakes cost $1. Tim brings Emily Rose a pink cupcake every Saturday morning, the perfect compliment to her bean and cheese tostada. She eats the top off and saves a bite for me and I devour it, deciding not to feel guilty because it's Tamale House calories which totally don't count.

About a year ago, Tim stumbles onto to the pico de gallo. I'm not sure how this happens, but this is life-changing. He starts to order it in pints, so we can have the pico several more times during the week. Tim figures out that mixing that pico with mayo is the perfect sauce for fish tacos.  Matthew comes home from A&M and loves the pico so much, he takes a pint home when he goes back to school. Just like the migas and the rice, we're hooked.

Some Saturdays Tim gets busy and doesn't call ahead. One Saturday, he's standing in line and looks at his ticket and he's number 1. 

"I'm number 1!" he bellows.

"Oh, Tim," Daniels mom says, beaming, "You're ALWAYS number one at Tamale House!"

I tell Tim I'm going to make him a shirt that says that. He laughs and laughs.

A few days ago, we start to see the news about Robert Vasquez's passing. It doesn't sink in, so we drive over and see a wreath on the door and hand-written notes about his memorial and rosary, both of which we missed because we got the news too late. 

Robert's spirit must be smiling, knowing how he's missed, and knowing many lives he touched by owning and operating a place that fed so many for so many years. It's strange to think that a restaurant can give you so much, but when you eat there every week for more than ten years, it becomes a part of you. I've seen local news stories about Tamale House where they show a picture of tamales. Too bad they got that wrong; one of the funniest things about Tamale House was the fact they didn't make tamales. 

This coming Saturday, May 10 will be the first Saturday where Tim won't walk through the door to announce, "Tamale House!" Sure, we've got other options in Austin, but it really is the end of an era.

RIP, Robert Vasquez. RIP, Tamale House #3.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

52 Weeks of Gratitude, Weeks 10 and 11

For starters, I'm behind yet again. It's a good thing I'm not getting paid to write about gratitude, because I can't keep a deadline to save my soul.

For Weeks 10 and 11:  I'm going to combine weeks 10 and 11 into one, and just say that I'm grateful for technology. It's not easy for me to pull away from it. I'm working on that, because I really want to be in the present moment.  Speaking of, my good pal shared this compelling article with me about a man who announces he's getting a divorce, but it's not what you think. Give it a read; you may like it.

Striking the balance between too much technology and using it for documenting the important stuff is tough. Technology gives us the ability to snap pictures of our loved ones, capture videos of moments to share with grandparents, and hang onto moments that matter to us.  Without my gadget, I wouldn't have direct access to all kinds of music that matters to me. There's the dish-washing music (Stevie Wonder, Spanish guitar, Patty Griffin), the wake-up music (James Brown, Pharrel, the Black Keys), the writing music (shuffle all, with a lot of irritated skipping when I get to selections from Sting's dreadful "Songs from the Labryinth" where he whispers creepily for most of the album, and that bad recording of Handel's" Messiah" that I keep forgetting to delete), the running music (Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, lots of dirty rap), the dinner party music (Elliot Smith, Chet Baker, Ray LaMontagne) and the driving music (Willie, Wilco, The Decemberists). How could I possibly make it through life without all of that music?

This morning, I'm particularly grateful for the "notes" part of my phone. So often, I'm in the middle of a conversation or an eavesdropping session and I stop and jot down a note so I don't forget what happened. Usually, it's about something that at the moment, I'm sure I HAVE to write about, but I hardly ever get to it. A lot of the time, I'll go back to it weeks later and have absolutely no clue what it was about. That's funny to me, but it's also a mystery that drives me somewhat nuts.

Here are 20 examples of those notes:

1. This is like drunk dialing! I feel like I need to swallow! I swallowed and wiggled a little. It's okay? This is note I wrote to the dental assistant while doped up in the dentist's chair. There is more, and it's embarrassing. If you know my mom, ask her what I'm like when I'm doped up at the dentist. It's like a drunk confessional.
2. "Rachel, fingers were invented before forks. And you are NOT a vegetarian. You, the kid who ate RIBS her entire life!" This was a pushy mom talking to her college-aged daughter at the table next to us at dinner - I wrote down most of what they were saying in the hopes of turning this into a short story.
3. Nipples in Paris.  I have no idea what this means. I've been to Paris twice, and don't recall any nipple stories except when Tim and I went to Moulin Rouge and bought such cheap seats we were behind a large column, so the nipples on stage were greatly obstructed. Sorry, Tim! Anyway, to try to figure out this mysterious little phrase, I Googled "nipples in Paris" and hoped nobody near me was watching. Evidently Rihanna flashed her nipples on March 4. But I wrote this on January 5. Maybe I should consider a part-time job as a celebrity psychic?
4. 506 as of 2:39 - This was how many emails I had left while working on my bi-weekly email purge. I'm not very good at it, obviously.
5. "Meteoroids puncturing your spacesuit." This was a guy being interviewed on KXAN about travelling to Mars. I liked it so much, and laughed so hard at how hilariously geeky it was that I tweeted it directly to KXAN's Sally Hernandez, because she had a giggle fit live on TV when they aired the clip. Because we're ALL concerned about meteoroids puncturing our spacesuits, right?
6. Fee waived by MSR Isela. - I paid a bill late, I'm sure, and buddied up to the phone rep and asked her to waive the fee. Isela, whoever you are, thank you!
7. Patchouli and Carmex - How an elevator smelled on January 15, 2014.
8. Venture capital backers will provide insight for private companies - Notes from an intimidating training I attended for work on January 16, 2014. I learned a lot that day. I'll write about it eventually.
9. New neighbor- Rick. 6 month old baby Natalia - I'm always jotting down names of people I meet because I want to be that person who remembers names. I don't, but my phone does a nice job of it.
10. "She's a super savage, dope-smoking bitch." - Guy outside of Starbucks on January 17. He was saying this to a friend, but also kind of singing/dancing it angrily. When people are angry and sing, it reminds me of Footloose. I love a movie scene where someone is so angry that they have to go dance in a barn. Hard. This guy was angry signing/talking. It was awesome.
11. The little girl's name is ALOE! - I wrote this note to my daughter, Emily Rose, when I overheard a mom talking to her little kid. What a name! I'm only guessing we were in South Austin?
12. "You Belong to Me" in Portuguese? - I keep forgetting to buy Shazam, so we'll be at dinner and I'll have to stop and jot it down so I can research it later. I cannot find this version and it was really nice. Please let me know if you know how to find it!
13. "The Kids in the Middle, Happy." - Potential book title. I change my mind daily on book titles. I'm constantly writing down ideas for short story titles and book titles and doing nothing with it.
14. "New Sweet Boyfriend of the Mother who Dated Pricks" -  Do you stick around to watch the credits? When I lived in LA for a short time, my sister taught me that in LA, you stay for the credits. If you walk out while the credits are rolling, it's totally rude, because in LA, people you're sitting in the theater with probably made that movie or at the very least worked the craft services cart. Now, when we can, we stay for the credits. This awesome line is from the cast credits from the movie, "Her." I would LOVE to be an actor and have that on my resume!
15. "I love Phil Donahue, and I love his wife." - My friend Candace making me cry laughing at dinner. How long has it been since you thought about Phil Donahue?  And then, as it always happens, we couldn't remember the name of his wife. For a moment there, we were trying to pair him up with Connie Chung. He's actually married to Marlo Thomas, in case you're wondering. Candace says hilarious things like this so often I can't even keep up with her.
16.  How it Feels When You Don't Know the Band Because You Are too Old - Thoughts about that. Because I'm there, and it's weird.
17.  Short story with all dialogue and no descriptions. Just dialogue. - I'd like to write one of those. I'm not very good at dialogue so I'd have to sit in restaurants and steal some.
18.  Ballet Austin's "Videodance" OMG, they teach music video dance classes! For $30, you can sign up and learn the entire "Beat It" dance!  I need the courage to do this. Join me?
19. Hannah - Hannah? And her sisters? I have no idea. I really hate it when I do this.
20. "Tachyons" - A word that was used in our Friday Lunch and Learn at work. I love learning words I know nothing about. Another one that popped into my life that I've missed all these years is "germy." I'm not sure how I lived all of these years without knowing "germy," but it's one of the best words ever.

That's it for this week. I'm grateful for mah gadget. Good times.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Weeks 5-9

I am starting to resent the woman who started the 365 grateful project, which is really terrible of me, because she's amazing. I just resent her discipline, because she committed to daily documentation of her gratitude, and I can hardly knock out one post a week for this abridged project! At this point I'm already five weeks behind, but I do have things to be grateful for, so bear with me while I catch up. As planned, a little about what I'm grateful for, followed by an accompanying photo. Weeks 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

Week Five:  I am immensely grateful that my family recovered from The Plague of 2014.

It began at the end of January. I was the first one to get sick, and I tried to ignore it, but it knocked me off my feet for four straight days, and still, a month later, I am not 100%. During that time, I was a terrible, whiny patient, and Mr. Arndt did a fabulous job of taking care of me. He also got sick, and so did Emily Rose. We were a mess. If it weren't for forced bed rest, a patient and understanding boss, and terrific doctors (Dr. Eric Lambeth at Red River Family Practice and Dr. Wes Glazener, Best Pediatrician in Austin), we might have lost our minds. The only good thing that came out of this forced hiatus was it gave me the opportunity to start Downton Abbey. When the Spanish flu hit Crawley family in season 2, I was right there with them, rolling around in bed, moaning, and feeling very sorry for myself.

The photo below about sums up that experience. Pardon the hideous photo of me in the smack dab middle of being terribly sick, but this shows what kind of man I married. Sick himself, he drove to Walgreens to find just the right variety of Robitussin that doesn't make me hallucinate. The Facetime session that ensued was hilarious, because it was half of Tim's chin, and half it was a dizzying view of all of my cough syrup options. I spent the entire session complaining that they didn't have the one without "D," because I am paranoid about taking OTC drugs. It was even better because this Facetime session came with a canned Stevie Ray Vaughn that was playing at Walgreens. I would have laughed, but I couldn't because when I did, I'd cough so hard I would see stars. I'm just grateful we survived it, and thankful for everyone who put up with me during that dreadful few weeks.

Week 6:  I'm thankful for my job at InsideView. Because of where I work, I am challenged daily (in a good way). My job challenges me to work harder than I've ever worked, but working hard is different when you truly believe in what you are doing. Watching my company grow -- even when it's messy -- is one of the most exciting things about my job. When I feel frustrated, I have people who actually listen to me. When I have a suggestion that makes sense (some of them don't, for sure!), there are people who will help support those ideas and do something with them. That's extremely rewarding. When I want to grow and learn more, there are mentors. From the CEO down, I work for an organization that is filled with passion and commitment. I've made friendships there that will last a lifetime. That, and we have a guy who showed up wearing a chicken hat to work. If you ever run into this guy, ask him to do a whiteboard exercise for you. It will blow you away.

Week 7: I'm thankful for girl trips with my mom. My relationship with my mom will get an entire post devoted to her (around Mother's Day, if I plan that correctly!), but toward the end of my plague recovery, I took the train up to Dallas for a little writing time and a girl's getaway with my mom to see Sting and Paul Simon. We stayed at the coolest little boutique hotel in Dallas, the Belmont Hotel, a place so cool I almost don't want to tell you about it because I kind of hope it stays a best-kept little secret. After a glass of wine in their simple, lovely lobby bar, we had a delicious dinner at Smoke, ran into a girl from my hometown who's a writer and really fabulous. She was also there with a friend for the Sting and Paul Simon concert. We shared a cab over to the venue, and in a crazy turn of events, the usher upgraded our seats from the nosebleeds to seats that were simply perfect. I'm a happily married woman, and so is my mother, but getting that close to Sting was a thrill of a lifetime for both of us.

This pic is a bit blurry, but who cares. Paul Simon still has a great voice, but bless his heart, he looks like death warmed over. Sting, on the other hand, is doing just fine.

Week 8:  I'm Grateful for Handwritten Valentines. Mr. Arndt's birthday is on Valentine's, so we really get into Valentine's at our house. However, one of the things that I fret over is having enough time to make sure the kids have handwritten notes. They'll love the money and the candy and all of that, but I think it's especially important for kids to read -- in handwritten letters -- how much their parents care about them. I have boxes of saved handwritten letters saved. My mother in law, stepfather, mother and sister still send them, and those, among the love letters that Tim and I send each other, and the handwritten notes from my children, are my most prized possessions.

This is Emily Rose on Valentine's morning, reading the Valentine Tim and I gave her. The same day, I received a Valentine from my beautiful stepdaughter Stephanie that was so beautiful it validated every minute I've spent being her stepmother. I urge you to take the time to write one if you haven't in a while.

Week 9: I'm grateful that I get to watch my friends' kids grow up. I have friends of all ages, so many of my close friends are just now starting their families. When I married Tim, I married into an instafamily, so I've been around kids since I was in my mid-20s. Now that two of my stepchildren are at college and Emily Rose is no longer a baby, I am really enjoying watching my younger friends start their families. When they come to me for advice, I am tickled about that because I had absolutely no clue what I was doing when I started out as a parent, and often still don't, but in some ways, I feel like I can dish out a little advice here and there, and that makes me feel special. 

This is just one of many pictures of the little ones that I am watching grow up before my eyes. I love that my amazing girlfriends Amy, Amy and Joanne have started families. These two kids on the left belong to my friend Amy. We had a play date the other day, and the kids spotted the ice cream truck (one of the creepiest things ever). Amy's daughter (far left) ordered a "Two Ball Screwball," which we decided sounded more like a Mardi Gras drink than a kid's ice cream treat. Her brother (middle) loved his rainbow snow cone, but was also partially obsessed with the Two Ball Screwball. It got really funny when the kids ran off to play and my friend Amy accidentally dropped the leftover rainbow snow cone, then tried to lie to her son when he asked where it went. She's a terrible liar, but sometimes, you have to make up a little while lie to prevent a meltdown. We parents get it, no worries!

My kid (far right) loves being around these little ones because she gets to be the oldest with all of the answers. I can't look at this picture without smiling -- it's childhood innocence, pure and simple, and it makes me happy.

I'm glad I'm caught up. I have a LOT to be grateful for, and this project is great because when you are doing it, it's dedicated time to positive thought, and it's impossible not to smile when you are counting your blessings. Good times.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Confessions of a Cookie Mom

(Writer's note: this just ran in the Huffington Post's Parenting Blog, so I'm running it again here. Because I can.)
As much as I would love to tell you that I'm the kind of working mother who has her act together, it's simply not the case. I'm the mom who keeps a razor in her car because inevitably, I'll be driving to a meeting and realize I have one hairy knee, because I don't even have my act together enough to have a matching set of hairy knees. When a school party sign-up list goes up and all of the other parents work hours cutting fresh fruit into the shape of the school mascot, I sign up to bring napkins. That way, if I forget the napkins (and believe me, I will), the kids won't starve, and they can just wipe their messy little hands on their clean little pants.
It's not that I haven't tried to be the kind of mom who has her act together. When my now 18-year-old stepdaughter was in elementary school, I stepped up to be the Girl Scout Cookie Mom. Looking back, I'm pretty convinced that one of the other moms drugged me and got me to say yes, while all of the other moms laughed wickedly behind my back. After all, I was a fairly new stepparent. That alone automatically made me feel like a second class citizen, and at that point in my life, I didn't know The Secret to Being a Cookie Mom.
Now that I know the secret, I'm going to share it with you. Considering being a Cookie Mom? Grab a box of Do-Si-Dos and a glass of milk and sit down for a little lesson.
If you've been a Cookie Mom before, I will enjoy having a glass of wine with you in God's special spa retreat in heaven, because we deserve it. If you haven't been a Cookie Mom, let's start with the job description:
Wanted: Cheerful, naive sucker. Must pass a background check that rivals the FBI and CIA combined. Requirements include attending training sessions with instructors who wear Christmas sweaters in June and being willing to gain 10 pounds during Cookie Sale. Candidates must own a minivan and be proud of it. Should delight in outdated, inefficient business practices. Must have space in your home to house a minimum of 1,500 cases of cookies. Should own a dolly, a strong husband, or both. The ideal candidate will possess the physical and emotional strength to fight off their strong husband with a stick when he cracks open cases labeled for other kids and eats Thin Mints while laughing manically.
The candidate will graciously manage mothers who appear organized, but inevitably show up two hours late to pick up cookies at the same time you've stripped down to your bra and panties in the hopes of diving into a hot bath. Scheduling consideration during the Cookie Sale: Be prepared to call in sick to work at least once to cry uncontrollably while counting piles of loose change. 
I'm probably breaking some kind of Girl Scout code by revealing the truth, so to balance things out, here's a site devoted to helping new Cookie Moms get ready for the task. My favorite part: "Are you a new cookie mom? First, I want to tell you, don't panic!"
I'm telling you, the loose change alone should make you panic. I had so much money to handle I felt like Al Pacino in Scarface, minus the gritty, gangster glamour. While Pacino sat at a table with stacks of cash, I was slumped in an overstuffed Pottery Barn chair buried in nickels, dimes and quarters, shoving cookies down my gullet, scribbling illegible notes on post-its, trying to learn Accounting 101 while warding off an extended visit to our local mental health facility. But damn, I was a good stepmother! The other mothers were SO impressed by my Girl Scout spirit!
Don't get me wrong; I completely appreciate what the Girl Scouts do for our impressionable young girls. Both of my daughters had a blast doing it, and the mothers who volunteered to take on the meetings are getting extra complimentary spa treatments at God's spa retreat in heaven. The Girl Scouts teach sisterhood, female empowerment, and basic finance. During the cookie sale, girls learn about customer service (a lost art), door to door sales (that's a little scary), and how to handle rejection. Good lessons, all.
This weekend when you stroll past a cookie booth, please buy some cookies. Who cares if they're loaded with calories and ridiculously overpriced? You'll help a local troop keep a fraction of the profits, make a kid smile, but most of all, you'll make that Cookie Mom feel worthwhile. And if you're really feeling charitable, write a check for the exact amount, please. The Cookie Mom will thank you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week Four

This week, I'm thankful for my dear friend Candace. Our friendship is one of the most important things in my life.

I've known Candace since middle school, when we passed notes in Texas History class and often got in trouble for giggling. We haven't stopped laughing since. 

When we were 18, we each spent a year in Europe as exchange students. At the end of the year, we traveled through Europe by train with two other girlfriends, and together we laughed through every country. In Italy, while waiting to board a ferry, we watched young Italian sailors prank each other by holding lit cigarette lighters to each other's butts. We screamed and laughed when we checked into a hotel in Paris that had a hole in the floor that doubled as a toilet and a shower. In Greece, we cracked plates on each other's heads and took nasty shots of Ouzo, and possibly partially skinny-dipped in the Mediterranean. But don't tell our moms.

We reunited after college, randomly bumping into each other one night on 6th street, and we were attached at the hip from then on. We laughed our way through The Dating Years, especially the time we decided meeting guys in bars wasn't working, so we went to the First United Methodist Church in Austin and went to a single's Sunday School class, only to find the men there were old enough to be our grandfathers. At one point, I dated a guy who was so toxic it nearly ruined our friendship. Lucky for me, I dumped the guy and kept my friend, and she was with me through it all.

We briefly considered starting a business together, mixing up some of the most fabulous salsa on the planet. We were going to bottle it up and sell it as Blondie's Salsa. To this day, every year the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival happens, I wonder what would have happened if we'd gotten our act together and started a salsa empire. Then again, it's never too late!

Soon, life went into fast-forward. Through the years, we've celebrated graduations, birthdays and weddings. Together with our other girlfriends, we've spent many nights over glasses of wine, sitting on Candace's porch, talking through problems and working out life together. We've been there for each other as we lost loved ones. We've cried our fair share of tears together, but somehow, we always end up laughing.

As long as I've known her, I feel confident that I can speak for Candace when I say that we are both most proud of being mothers. Parenting-wise, I got a head start on Candace by falling in love with a man with children of his own, and I had the good fortune of learning about parenthood by being a stepmother. Less than a year after I had Emily Rose, Candace had Kendall, and the second generation of giggly girls entered our lives. Being mothers of girls so close in age has been one of life's biggest blessings, and the laughter has just gotten louder. 

Candace pushes me to challenge myself, reminds me to live in the moment, and is always there. When I'm being a worrywart, she sends me articles about whatever I'm worrying about. When Tim and I are being stupid married people and fighting over something ridiculous, she lends me the right book to work out our problems. Just this weekend, she took Emily Rose for a sleepover when I was too sick to get out of bed. And just a few moments ago, she sent a text that made me laugh so hard tears streamed down my face.

Candace, I'm doing this gratitude project because of course you inspired me to do it. Thank you for your friendship. Let's keep on laughing no matter what!

Friday, January 17, 2014

52 Weeks of Gratitude, Week Three

(By the way, these are in no particular order! Don't feel like you've been skipped; I have 49 weeks left!)

For Week 3 I pick this guy. This is Taco Bob.

I didn't want a dog. I've never been a dog person, and, if you ask my friends with dogs, they have had to go out of their way to make special arrangements to put their dogs up when I go to their houses because I'm scared of them. When a person on the street is walking their dog, my first inclination isn't to talk about how cute it is, or reach down and pet it. I always felt that no matter how cute the dog might be, I would be the person it would bite.

We had a cat. She wasn't particularly fun, but we didn't need another animal. We were NOT getting a dog.

When our daughter Emily Rose was approaching her 8th birthday, she asked for a gerbil. I gagged just thinking about the potential smells that a gerbil would bring to our small home, and gagged again thinking about what might happen if our old cat 007 got a hold of it.

My husband Tim always felt that kids need dogs -- that it teaches them responsibility, and that it's a great bonding experience for kids. I worried about what a dog would chew on, and dreaded the thought of being the person at happy hour who had to leave early to let the dog out. Why would we want that responsibility when we already had three kids?

Emily Rose talked to Tim about the gerbil. In the conversation, she said, "I'd like to get a gerbil because it would show you that I'm responsible enough to take care of a dog."

This yanked on my heart strings so intensely that I immediately began searching our local animal shelters and adoption services and found Austin Pets Alive, an amazing no-kill non profit run almost entirely by volunteers. Browsing their site, I stumbled onto a picture of a dog named "Patch."

Emily Rose and I went to meet Patch. The foster owner took us to her back patio where Patch waddled around with his siblings. As soon as I picked him up, it was over. The same week, we brought him home. Emily Rose named him Taco Bob.

Austin Pets Alive told us that Patch was a rat terrier/beagle mix. His little body grew into a tell-tale Dachshund hot dog shape. He has weird legs. He licks the couch continuously when he can't find a person to kiss. He goes nuts when Tim puts bacon grease on his dog food. He loves Cheeto cheese puffs, but I'm probably not supposed to admit that I give them to him. He rocks a bow tie like no other dog I've ever seen. And even though he's tiny, he barks when people approach the sidewalk. He's our little protector.

Taco Bob made me a dog person (or at least a lot closer to a dog person than I've ever been). When I travel, I miss him. I love how he greets us like we've been gone a month when we've only been gone an hour. I'm truly grateful that Taco came into our lives, and even more grateful that we never got a gerbil.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

52 Weeks of Gratitude: Week 2

Week 2 of  52 Weeks of Gratitude.

I'm grateful for my stepmother Pam. When she married my father, she didn't have children of her own. Instantly, she had two young girls to care for part time. She did it with pure love from the start. In the over 30 years I've known her, I can only remember one time when I saw her angry. She fed us, listened to us with sincere interest in our often long and rambling stories, and gave us her whole heart. She understood that we were extremely close to our mother, and she handled the often awkward position of being a step-parent with grace. She was and is a fantastic stepmother.

Today, my sister and I will drive to East Texas to attend Pam's father's funeral. It's an opportunity for us to return some of the comfort she's provided to us through the years. I'm grateful to be able to be with her today, and grateful for her presence in our lives.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

And Now, 52 Weeks of Gratitude

My beloved gal pal Candace just introduced me to the concept of the "365 Grateful Project," a project that began in 2008 by Hailey Bartholomew, a photographer who was battling depression and overcame it by focusing on gratitude. She began a project in which she took one Polaroid a day of something she felt grateful for, and by doing this for 365 days, she was able to transform relationships and experience significant personal growth. Ultimately, this project made her happy.

Happiness is the topic du jour at our house currently. Today, my husband and 10-year old daughter and I watched the documentary, "Happy." It was one of those films that sat on my "to watch" list, but because it fell in the documentary column, never got enough family votes to beat out mainstream comedies and family-friendly movies. However, it was worth the wait. Even my 10-year old, who rolled her eyes at the thought of watching a documentary, put down her gadget and paid attention. Afterwards, we discussed our thoughts on the film together. It definitely had an impact on us.

One of the themes "Happy" discusses is how we human types are motivated by extrinsic and intrinsic goals. Extrinsic goals have to do with money, image and status. Intrinsic goals are about personal growth, relationships and helping others. For those that focus heavily on extrinsic goals, they feel caught on what's referred to as a "hedonic treadmill," while those who focus on intrinsic goals are happier.

So, back to the "365 Grateful Project."  My gal pal Candace is going to do it, and asked if others would join her. She's a motivated individual who takes on such projects and completes them. I, on the other hand, start projects like this and flake out quickly. Therefore, I've decided to do my own take on the project, and begin a "52 Weeks of Gratitude" project in which I include a photo, but I also include a bit of writing, since this year I intend to write more.

Without further ado, here is Week #1 of Gratitude for 2014:

Tim and Emily Rose. 12/24/13, Dallas.

I'm grateful for my husband Tim. He's an amazing father to our kids. I can't count how many photos like this I've snapped of him through the years, where one of our three kids is cuddled up next to him. He provides them with a sense of warmth and safety. He's their rock. He's patient, fair, unwavering in his support for his children, and their biggest advocate. He's the perfect example of someone who lives their life focused on intrinsic goals, because the thing that makes him happiest is helping someone else.

When his two older kids were little, we would laugh because they could pull on his ears or yank on his hair or tug on his collar until it stretched, and Tim didn't care. When our youngest daughter grew old enough to pull on his ears and yank his hair and tug on his collar, she did it, too, and Tim would laugh his huge laugh and flash his amazing smile, filling the room with happiness.

This photo was taken this past Christmas Eve. We'd stopped by Tim's mother's house for an afternoon visit. I love how the sun is pouring in on our youngest daughter's arm, and how she managed to snuggle up in Tim's space even though there was ample seating in the room. They are listening to Tim's mother tell stories from her childhood. It fills my heart with love.