Pssstt...update!

 

Time for an update, but I won’t keep you long, you busy people!

My Sibling Revelry Project, which I first mentioned back in the fall, has picked up considerable momentum. If you haven’t tuned in, I would love for you to follow along and see what’s new.

A recap: The Sibling Revelry Project is an ongoing photography project that captures the spirit of siblinghood through images and interviews. I meet with siblings of all ages and backgrounds in their natural environments to highlight the unique stories and universal truths of siblinghood.

In the last few months I have featured siblings ranging in age from 4 months to 92 years…including two sets of twins, several pairs of youngsters, and a set of five adult siblings. Though each group has been different, undeniably timeless (and hilarious) themes keep emerging.

Case in point: the conversation below between these charming whippersnappers. (Raise your hand if you know a sibling who does this, too!)

 

Speaking of bringing something to attention…

I’m thrilled to share that I have been nominated for an exciting award for my work on the Sibling Revelry Project. The Iris Awards are annual awards hosted by Mom 2.0 Summit to recognize achievements and creativity in the Internet’s vast world of parenting content. I’ve been nominated in the Best Photography category. Only past attendees of Mom 2.0 or Dad 2.0 conferences are eligible to vote, so I’m not even asking you to click anything. Just join me in celebrating the nomination!

This week I’ll be in Orlando for the Mom 2.0 Summit and the Iris Awards…connecting and learning and celebrating the industry. I plan to be spreading the world about the Sibling Revelry Project and finding ways to expand this project. There’s so much on the horizon, y’all! I hope you will tune in and follow along on Instagram or Facebook.

And if you want to talk details or sponsorship opportunities, shoot me an email!

Thanks, as always, for your enthusiasm and support!

Liz

Oh January.

Where do I even begin? I think I'll just share what’s happening in my small slice of the world… Here's what I’m seeing: Solidarity. Pride. Vigilance. Beautiful people. The power of showing up.

Here's what I’m doing: I’m surrounding myself with people who care about what’s happening, who are taking thoughtful actions, and who can broaden my experience and perspective.

Here's what I’m learning: One of the most important questions I can ask myself right now is “Why now?” Why was the Women's March on Austin my 14-year-old daughter's first march and mine too? Sure, I’ve been an informed voter and an appalled citizen before this year, but why am I getting off the sofa now? And second...Why was every march last week--across the entire globe--deemed peaceful? I'm grateful they were safe, but we have to ask why so many police officers wore pink hats and not riot gear like they often bring to other marches. I don't have easy answers. But I am thinking about all this, and I know reflection is critical for me and many others if we want to move forward with a broader understanding and an increased ability to advocate. Now that I know the power of showing up, I need to show up for more.

Here's what I can’t stop thinking about: Stop Asking What the Women's March is "About." "I march because I just don’t want to stay healthy, I want all women in this country to stay healthy. Especially those who, due to economic disadvantage and poor access to healthcare, are more susceptible to not being healthy. I march because a “pussy” isn’t a grabbable object... It is not something that in one breath you can desire and in the next take away safe, affordable care from. It’s a part of the human body that requires medical attention like any other part of you. It’s why you’re here, and it deserves more respect than ignorant, controlling, punishing regulation."

To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation.  "He volunteered stories of other letters: a woman in Minnesota writing about her monthly expenses, a dad writing to say that his son had befriended an illegal immigrant and that the experience had flipped his own bigotry on its head. He talked about a guy who wrote recently to say how joyful he was that the Obama administration was about to end."

If you’re like me and struggling to find light these days, I can share that so far the only antidote to my fear and outrage has been action. And I mean more than just sharing articles on Facebook. I am new to this, but here are some organizations that are helping me speak up and show up in effective ways.

Indivisible Austin. Inspired by Indivisible: A Practical Guide For Resisting the Trump Agenda they are uniting Austin’s six congressional districts to defeat Donald Trump’s policies.

Women's March: the next steps. 10 actions for the first 100 days.

Daily Action. Resisting extremism, one phone call at a time.

And if all else fails, spread the love and buy an early Valentine's Day gift. May I suggest a gift/donation to one of these organizations? Fewer calories than chocolate or champagne…

Planned Parenthood Human Rights Campaign Sierra Club ACLU

That's all I got. If you have sunshine to share, I would love to hear it!

See you out there!

👊🏼Liz

 

One week

Well THAT was a really long 7 days. Painfully long. Painful in a million ways that I never could have predicted. Not because I am in the business of predicting presidential elections but because I couldn’t have guessed how personal the loss would feel.

On Wednesday morning I woke after a few hours of sleep and spent the day grieving and raging and texting WTF WTF WTF over and over again. I huddled up with my tightest group of friends and we shared our anger and fears—for the basic respect and fundamental rights of dear friends and distant strangers. We watched as pundits and peers gleefully mocked that fear and called us fucking crybabies. “Get over it. Move on! Fair is fair is fair.”

On Friday morning, after yet another sleepless night, I stood at the elementary school Veterans Day celebration and barely held back tears. The flag raising, the singing, the honorable guests, the hundreds of kids taking so much pride in their young voices. I wish it had felt therapeutic and hopeful, but I was awash in despair. One nation indivisible…yeah right. Our principal asked everyone to join in singing This Land is Your Land, and I found secret pleasure in knowing we were sharing beautiful words originally written as a protest anthem. “As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?”

On Sunday as the news rolled in of the incoming cabinet appointments I couldn’t bear to even make eye contact with people who weren’t openly horrified by the hourly developments. I tried the phone--I can do the phone! I tried to talk about benign things like Thanksgiving menus and travel schedules, but I found myself melting down in front of my teenager and needing her support for a change. “I cannot put on a fucking happy face. I cannot fake this, for anyone!”

On Monday I remembered something that my 12-year old said late last week. The whole family had been talking about the election, and my husband and I were trying to balance our outrage with reassuring, parental perspective. My son thought for a moment and said, “Maybe this is like a vaccine. Maybe the country needs a dose of this specific kind of evil to build up really powerful antibodies.”  My God. Maybe so.

And now here is Tuesday. Today I woke up, not necessarily rested, but renewed in a surprising and palpable way. The fog has lifted enough that I called my senators. I made donations. I mapped out a plan for ways our family can not only make a bigger impact on our community but gain new insight and stretch our comfort zone. It’s been a long week, but I know the road ahead is even longer. Today, finally, I’m feeling focused and relentless. It’s time to work.

 

The Sibling Revelry Project

The sibling dynamic has always fascinated me...I've talked about it, read about it, written about it, photographed about it, hashtagged about it, you name it. As long as I can remember it's been a topic that resonated on a very deep level with me. (Typical Middle Child/Only Girl behavior? Hello observant, empathetic negotiator.)

When my husband and I started a family back in 2002, I hoped a sibling would soon follow. My dream, as I wrote years later, went something like this...

"I never wanted a child. I always wanted children.

Siblings, confidantes, compadres, chums. Tattlers, teachers, accomplices, antagonists. Rivals, secret-keepers, scapegoats and partners-in-crime. Mentors and tormentors.

I wanted wagon pullers, swing pushers, fort builders and sand-castle destroyers. I wanted a full table, too many backpacks, and commas on our Christmas card.

I wanted a firstborn, a middle, a baby. I wanted to marvel at both the reliable and the shattered stereotypes. I wanted shifting alliances and third wheels. Teamwork and the circling of wagons.

For better or worse, I wanted individual players in the ultimate team sport. Sharing the same space, fighting for the same oxygen. Believe it or not, I wanted splash fights, inane arguments, thrown elbows in the hallway, imaginary Do Not Cross or Else! lines..."

So here I am. Living and breathing and observing siblinghood every day. I'm fully immersed in the battles over time, energy and oxygen. It's not always pretty, but it's usually entertaining and sometimes enlightening.

To celebrate these lifelong relationships, I'm launching a new project that aims to capture the heart and humor of siblinghood. The Sibling Revelry Project is starting on Instagram and I hope you'll follow along and see where we go. (@siblingrevelryproject).

I'm planning to photograph a wide range of siblings young and not-so young, so send me ideas and please spread the news ... I swear it's not tattling!

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The legend lives on

 

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So, this awesome photo-op happened the other day. If you don’t live in Austin you might be wondering what I’m doing cozying up with a statuesque guy in a bra and thong undies. Hell, if you DO live in Austin you might be wondering the same thing. Or you might be wondering…why does Liz get to do ALL OF THE COOL THINGS?

Well, in this case it boils down to being in the right place at the right time and being an aggressively friendly neighbor. (I can’t help it—and by the way would you like to help me organize the next block party?) It started a few nights ago when my husband and I were out walking the dog. We took our usual loop and passed a white-haired neighbor as he was climbing out of his truck. He flagged us down and asked, “Hey, do y’all remember Leslie?” Because we’ve lived in Austin for nearly 20 years, we didn’t return his question with a blank stare.

Of course we know Leslie! Well, knew him. Or rather, knew of him. Everyone did.

Leslie Cochran was a local legend—a cross-dressing homeless man who was especially fond of barely-there thongs, sparkly tiaras and feathered boas. He ran for mayor three times and claimed to have coined the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. He certainly embraced the motto and was adored all over town. Leslie spent a lot of time on 6th Street, flashing skin and entertaining the party-going masses with his stories and his charm. For a tip, he would pose for photos and usually give unsolicited advice. When he died in 2012 a large crowd gathered at Auditorium Shores—many wearing thongs and boas—to celebrate his very large life.

Now the party lives on. It turns out that our neighbor Bob was collecting signatures to “Put Leslie back on the streets” with a sculpture that would reside on a downtown bench near Leslie’s old stomping grounds. Bob is a retired architect and current sculptor. He told us that the Leslie project was not just a petition, but a reality in the works. And by in the works, I mean Leslie was in his backyard right at that moment. I didn’t hesitate: Can we see him??

Bob was happy to oblige, and we got an impromptu tour of the lush garden that his wife maintains. We spotted Leslie’s arms and legs lounging on the covered porch, and we learned that at this stage of a project, Bob stores most of his larger sculptures as disassembled pieces. Looming nearby was another half-built masterpiece: an imposing depiction of Stephen F. Austin. From the waist down, The Father of Texas stood with one leg bent powerfully in front of him, the tail of his frontiersman coat blowing behind him with bold authority. And in a perfect moment of too-awesome-to-be-true, there was Leslie’s armless body…propped up against Austin’s thigh, wearing a bra and smiling as big as Texas.

Bob assembled Leslie with care so that my husband and I could take turns posing with him. As you can see, I was downright giddy by this point. There’s just something magnetic about Leslie, even in statue form. Bob captured it all, right down to his stilettos.

If the project gets approved and funded, Austinites and tourists will always be able to hang out with Leslie and grab a photo with the legend. I can’t think of anything weirder or greater.

 

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Need I say more?

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My friends and I are all riffing on the same theme today... Go visit their blogs and see what kind of brilliance and hilarity they found in hindsight.

Two Cannoli

Genie in a Blog

Smacksy

Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

The Mama Bird Diaries

Midlife Mixtape

When Did I Get Like This?

Arnebya

Up Popped A Fox

The Flying Chalupa

Suburban Scrawl

Gifts

 

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This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Some observations after Week 1 of braces

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So, last week I got braces. These are not to be confused with the braces I had at age 8 to fix a few wily teeth growing in odd places, or the braces I had at age 15 to straighten my entire mouth. No, these grown-up braces are to correct everything that my teeth have been doing over the last 29 years. (Hint: they have been very busy!)

I will spare you the details, but in a nutshell I’m now correcting problems like alignment and migration issues, which honestly sounds like my teeth are ready to retire to Boca Raton. I opted for lingual braces, which are metal brackets that attach behind the teeth because I was swayed by the promise of “hidden braces.” Nobody needs to know!

On the plus side, the lingual braces will work magic on my teeth and I don’t have to look like a teenager when I smile. On the downside, there is a major adjustment period while my tongue learns to speak properly with sharp metal objects infringing on its personal space. Supposedly it takes a week or so to adjust but I must be a slow learner because I'm not there yet. It’s been a very long week, my friends. Or as I like to say, my frienths.

My observations so far:

1. The “nobody has to know” is exactly true as long as I don’t talk. Otherwise I sound like I have a lisp AND a mouth full of marbles.

2. Some orthodontists call these braces incognito braces, which sounds very cool and James Bond-like. But I can’t even say the words CIA or spy without spraying myself in the face. So...not very cool at all.

3. I would like to temporarily change my name to Kate because hard letters are much easier to say. “Hi, my name is Lith” is getting so annoying.

4. Also annoying: My kids, who keep asking, "Can I call you Brace Face? What about Metal Mouth? Is it funny yet? What about now?" No and no and no and no.

5. The braces might be the best diet ever because it’s such a hassle to eat that I would almost rather starve to death. A 5-minute snack requires 45 minutes of brushing/flossing/waterpikking nonsense. Math has never been my strong suit, but even I know that’s a raw deal.

6. Having a work-from-home job is a big perk when you are self conscious about every word you say. Until... you have an outside meeting and must explain the new speech impediment. My boss was super supportive and said, “Oh thank God! I thought you had been drinking!”

7. For years my kids and I have been making fun of the way Ed Sheeran pronounces sixth when he sings “Under the lamppost back on 6th Street...” but now I’m convinced he has incognito braces too. Nobody needs to know, Ed! (But now we all do!)

8. My entire vocabulary has suffered. I’m avoiding all kinds of difficult “S” words and resorting to simple, toddler-like conversation. When trying to explain how I thought a recent event in the news could be a “slippery slope for the Supreme Court”...I instead opted for “Ugh. Bad.” Insufficient is now lame. Unconscionable is now mean. Luckily, all my favorite cuss words have hard sounds and have been unaffected.

9. To help buffer the pain, my orthodontist gave me all kinds of wax and goo to put on the brackets. These work pretty well, but I also found that a square of Dove chocolate gets stuck on the brackets just as easily, so I might as well leave it there to enjoy for hours and hours.

10. The Dove chocolate (#9) is sort of ruining my new diet plan (#5) but like I said...it’s been that kind of week, my frienths.

2016.02.LeoLiz Can you tell who has the braces (brathes)?

Peace and joy and other favorites

I hope this time of year brings you many words of joy. Words like...

No assembly required Dishwasher safe Batteries included One size fits all

And also,

I love you Please Thank you Hooray I love it Yes No thank you See you soon It's perfect You're welcome Come over I remember I love you, too

Thank you for reading my words here this year. I hope to bring you even more in 2016! xoxo

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Photo credit: Bonnie Berry Photography

Goodness

Like a lot of families, we try to incorporate volunteering into our lives--to support our community and to teach our kids by example. As a family we have done countless school fundraisers and charity races. We’ve collected blankets for animals and coats for kids. We've hosted bake sales for needy families and planted trees for needy parks. Every one of those projects was worthwhile and engaging, but this year we decided to switch things up. Instead of one-time projects we wanted to offer a steady stream of goodwill. We wanted an ongoing commitment that our family could do together and feel a real sense of investment.

It sounded simple enough because of course a city the size of Austin has plenty of needs. Then we factored in our kids’ age range and our busy family life and it wasn’t so easy after all.

So we started researching and began with this wish list:

1. Something meaningful to us.

2. Something that works with our family schedule.

3. Something that lets us work with friends.

Y’all, I’m happy to say we found a match!

It’s only been a couple months, but it already feels so great. Once a month we meet some friends (another family of 5) at Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We make sandwiches for the homeless and load up one of the trucks that goes out for delivery 365 days a year. When our schedules allow, we hope to make some of the delivery runs, too. A few incredible stats: Mobile Loaves & Fishes has 16 trucks and more than 18,000 volunteers in 5 cities and 4 states. They have served nearly 3.9 million meals to the homeless. That’s too many sandwiches to count!

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The organization has also created a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive environment for the chronically homeless. We have worked out at the Community First Village and, like the truck ministry, it is full of family-friendly volunteer opportunities. In fact, one of MLF’s greatest strengths as an organization is how systematic and accessible they are. It’s so easy to volunteer that it takes away any obstacles or excuses.

Working with friends has been a huge perk. Our kids love seeing their friends in this type of setting. Sure, they joke around some, but they also take their jobs very seriously and try to out-awesome each other with their volunteer skills. As a bonus, with two families we have more flexibility if a kid gets sick or someone has a conflict.

And is the project meaningful for our family? Yes. Unfortunately, homelessness is a part of our daily landscape. We live in the middle of the city, a few blocks from an intersection that has at least one guy standing on the corner at all times of the day.

We use this intersection several times a day and for the past couple of years, a man named Eddie has been there almost every day. Eddie is there when we drive to ballet, to soccer, to art class. He’s there when we go to the grocery store, when we go for a run, when we go eat at a restaurant. Our kids see him when he’s cheerfully waving to all the drivers, when he’s yelling at a bystander’s dog, and when he’s stumbling up and down the curb with a bottle in his hand.

Countless times the kids have asked why nobody is helping Eddie. I’m usually at a loss for words. “Maybe people are trying...maybe he has a hard time accepting help...maybe he’s fighting some demons we don’t know about.”

Since we started helping Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the kids have a new question: “Do you think Eddie will get this sandwich tonight?” Maybe. I hope so. And if not this Eddie, then it will certainly help another Eddie we haven’t met.

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*   *   *  *  *

The holiday season is a great time of year to support your community, but it’s also a great time to commit to supporting it year-round. I hope you find something valuable that works for you and your family!

Other Austin organizations we love and support:

The Trail Foundation Austin Parks Foundation Little Helping Hands Austin Pets Alive

What's up, November?

   

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Seems like just yesterday we were wondering where September went and now BAM...what happened to October??

Life's been busy, y'all! A few things I've been doing, reading, talking about or just generally enjoying...

* Hiking with my family and telling others how to make it easy and fun. (Hints: Never call it hiking and always bring treats.) Read more about it at The Queso, which incidentally has all kinds of awesomeness planned this month. Tune in!

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* This week REI won my heart (again) when they announced their #OptOutside campaign, in which they will close their doors on Black Friday and encourage employees and the public to spend the day outside with family. Can I get an Amen?

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* Even though the weather in Austin has been cool (ish) lately, my camera and I have been recreating the heat of summer with our friends at Fine & Folded. They sell delightful (and super practical!) hand fans that are a purse essential for 9 months out of the year in Texas. Check them out...You're going to want some of these.

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* I was so excited to have one of my photos featured in the November issue of The Sun, a literary magazine that I have read and admired for decades. When my kids saw it they said, "Oh darn, it's on the last page, Mom..." I said, "YES! That's where everybody turns first!" The whole issue is dedicated to parenthood and family life. As always, it's full of thoughtful, humorous and unforgettable personal stories.

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* My friend Kacie of MamaCasePrints, who is a rockstar T-shirt designer and mom of two, has the most amazing new member of her family: Emma the Labrador service dog. Two years ago Kacie's son Eddy (now almost 4 years old) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This year, thanks to special T-shirt sales and donations, Eddy has Emma by his side to detect dangerous dips in his blood sugar levels. She has been a game changer for their family and it's only just the beginning. Every single time I read a post about Emma I get chills. Follow them on Instagram and you'll fall in love with their story.

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* My new favorite gift is a custom poem from the talented crew at Typewriter Rodeo. This group of writers has been entertaining events for years by setting up a table and working their magic on the spot. Now they are also offering custom poems for birthdays and special holidays. Here's just one brilliant example of their work. Find them on Facebook for more! (Click image to enlarge and read poem.)

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Other that, I've been throwing together Halloween costumes, trying to track down a cookbook from the library that I lost before I even made it to the kitchen, and texting my friends inane things like this. What have YOU been up to?

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Optimism in Overdrive

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Parenting requires a huge dose of optimism. Who else but the glass-half-full crowd would dare bring children into a world fraught with injustices, Kardashians and high-fructose syrup? It can be an uphill battle to keep focused on the bright side.

I have a naturally Pollyanna personality, but I still need frequent reminders to help stay the course. I seek them out in stories, images, blips of conversation. I’m a heat-seeking missile when it comes to examples of the power of positive thinking.

Last week a reminder came from an icon in the world of optimism. I had the great pleasure to meet Bert Jacobs, co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist of the Life is Good Company. Jacobs was in Austin to wow a crowd of 7,000 at the Texas Conference for Women. His speech was everything you’d hope it would be: energizing, inspiring, tear-jerking and funny.

Afterwards I had the opportunity for a quick interview with him, and I went straight to the topic closest to my heart: family life.

Me: Cynicism seems a little too cool in our culture right now. How do we raise children to be optimists? Bert Jacobs: Tell your kids to look through history and find us the great pessimists. Find us the great cynics. You’ll be done with your assignment in 10 minutes. Then go through and find the great optimists, and you can do it for the next 3 years. Every hero you’ve ever had was an optimist, because they see things before they happen. In order to be optimistic, you have to be open-minded and ambitious.

My work is focused on the “small moments that tell the big stories of family life.” What’s one small moment in your life that tells your big story? I would say my mom at the dinner table saying, “Tell me something good that happened today.” That could look on a given day like a very small thing, but it changed our lives. It changed the trajectory of our whole path. It led us to greater business. It led us to a great kids foundation. And look how lucky we are, doing all the things we are doing. All from one thing that Mom said at the dinner table. The interesting thing is...and it’s not even in the book...is that she had huge challenges in her 20s. My mom was put in a mental institute and was told that she would never amount to anything or have a family. So I think her heightened appreciation for life, and never taking a day for granted, and teaching us “Tell me something good” came from a place where she was really challenged.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? A stuntman. I was a typical boy.

I went home and told the kids about my day, and we had a lively discussion about great people in history, about how we can all inject more optimism into our lives, and how (high five!) we are already doing the dinnertime sharing ritual, although ours comes in the form of “What are you thankful for?”

The interview and the conversations that followed with my family were both such lovely gifts. I enjoy any opportunity to talk with the kids about my inspirations as a parent and our goals as a family. The entire day was a great reminder that one small conversation can make an impression well beyond the people who initially shared it.

Knowing the power of that ripple effect, I have to admit one thing, my friends: I kept the stuntman detail to myself. The kids don’t need to know everything. I’m optimistic, not crazy.

The evolution of keeping secrets

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Have you noticed that as kids grow, it gets trickier to have a private conversation with your spouse? Even if it’s not a particularly adult topic, you never know what kids are going to retain and repeat. And who wants to be responsible for spoiling a surprise party because your 6-year-old overheard you ordering the cake?

It’s not much easier as they get older. Somehow my children are deaf to repeated requests to Get off the computer NOW and set the table, yet the moment I try to dish about the latest nonsense on the neighborhood listserv, the kids are all ears. I also find myself censoring many topics that I simply don’t want to explain. I know, for example, that the second they hear me gushing about an Amy Schumer video they will head straight to their pal Google. And as funny as Amy is, I really don’t want to be the parent who introduces the 5th grade class to “The Last Fuckable Day.”

Over the years, our coping strategies have evolved from adorable language play to ever-changing passwords and hazy, unfinished discussions. They are imperfect strategies at best and (surprise) the kids are adapting faster than we are. Who knows what’s next...I’m just hoping my husband and I don’t have to take an Espionage 101 class or get on Snapchat just to exchange crude jokes.

Age 1: Spelling. “It’s time to start her B-A-T-H...”

Age 2: Blundered sign language. “I’m spelling shot, not shop! We’re going to the pediatrician for crying out loud.”

Age 3: Pig Latin. “Oh I can’t stand that busybody neighbor! She is such an itchbay.”

Age 4: Vaguespeak. “I heard you-know-who is looking for another job doing you-know-what in you-know-where.”

Age 5: Using big, semi-foreign words. “Remember that overseas spousal rendezvous, sans chicos, we talked about? Call su madre and let’s make that happen.”

Age 6: Kitchen whispering. “Shh...They are being so sweet. Don’t breathe or they will start fighting again.”

Age 7: Facial gestures.  “No...(eyebrow raise) that was Santa who bought that gift for him, not us.”

Age 8: Advanced facial gestures. “...” (slightly wrinkled forehead, imperceptible shake of the head.)

Age 9: Emails. “We need to talk about gift ideas. Log on to Amazon and check my cart. Then destroy all evidence of this email!”

Age 10: Texts. “You wouldn’t believe the ducking day I’ve had!” ... “Ugh, autocorrect!”

Age 11: Texts with auto preview disabled. “Oh, another group text arrived? Why am I laughing already? Call it a hunch.”

Age 12: Babysitters. “We just paid $60 to walk three blocks to a restaurant and discuss parent-teacher conferences.”

Age 13: Pillow talk. “Hey, wake up. I’m not done talking about...oh wait, never mind. I can’t even remember now.”

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How do you sneak in adult-friendly conversations at your house? Any tricks to share?

Business expenses

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So, I’ve been a freelance writer for 18 years, which means the last time I wore “office clothes” was back in the Ally McBeal years.

I’ve grown quite happy with my home-office uniform of t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. When I have a meeting, I throw on a nice shirt and boots, then I actually blow-dry my hair. You know, I get fancy.

Last year I took a contract job that involves spending time with wonderful people who, get this, often wear suits and heels. And unlike the hipster guys who frequent local coffee shops, they wear their suits without irony.

At first I was a little worried my wardrobe could not compete with this new professional scene, yet I didn't run out to the mall right away. If there’s one thing I resent it’s having to buy clothes that can’t be multi-purposed into everyday attire or a date night outfit. With a few tweaks and a couple simple purchases, I made it work out...and so far I have not been kicked out of the grown-up club.

I might be stingy when it comes to buying professional clothes, but there are other business expenses that I never mind investing in. Like conferences. I love conferences! I try to attend at least two every year, and even then I wish I could fit more into my budget and schedule.

Because here’s the thing: these events are always worth the investment. Although I’m not the kind of person who uses acronyms like R.O.I, I get a total boost every time I attend a great conference.

The best conferences inspire and educate me. They surround me with smart, talented people. They reunite me with friends who are like my virtual co-workers. They encourage me to meet new people and practice putting myself and my work out into the world. Great conferences energize me in a non-quantifiable way that always leaves me ready to take the next step in my career. They are worth every penny and every hour.

Do you agree? Or want to test my theory? Join me at the Texas Conference for Women on October 15th! I’m giving away one free ticket and I would love for you to sit with me at the bloggers’ table.

The conference line-up is incredible: a full day of workshops and speakers, including my Boyhood crush and Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette; Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts; and Candy Chang, TED speaker and creator of the “BEFORE I DIE...” street art movement. Wow!

If you want to win a ticket and join me at the conference, share this post on Facebook and tag my FB page (Elizabeth McGuire, writer/photographer) or tweet the link and tag me @ewmcguire. I will choose a random winner on Thursday, September 17th at midnight.

If you don’t win a ticket, don’t worry...I have a super secret password that will get you $10 off the ticket price. You can purchase tickets here and use the password TXBG15.

Oh, and guess what? You absolutely don’t have to invest in a suit to join us. Pretty sure I will be wearing my dressy jeans and professional boots. I hope to see you there!

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Note: My dog likes the way I dress because I'm almost always properly attired to take him for a walk.

Back to School Reboot

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Well hey it’s back to school and I don’t know about you, but our first week lasted approximately 87 days. Or so it seems.

Every year the optimist in me approaches the new school year with enthusiasm, and by the first Friday I want to stab my eyes out with the kids’ freshly sharpened pencils. Transitions are fun like that.

That said, in my years of parenting school-age kids I have learned a few things about coping with the first weeks of school.

1. Don’t volunteer for anything at Parent Night. After hearing the presentations by the principal and teachers, you will be drunk with enthusiasm. Don’t volunteer while under the influence! Give yourself a grace period. Trust me, the teachers and PTA will still want your help after the first week.

2. Make more routines and fewer rules. Instead of hard-and-fast rules, such as no screen time during the school week, we try to focus on fluid, helpful routines. Every day when you get home, hang up your backpack, empty your lunchbox and wash your hands...pretty much exactly what you do when you walk in your classroom. Screens are a maybe...only after homework and only on non-activity days. Bedtime routines are fixed but times shift depending on the after school activities, with ultimate veto power held by parents.

3. Decline all but critical invitations. My kids have had so much unstructured time during the summer that school schedules completely drain them. We don’t add anything extra into the family mix at first. Sorry, early September birthdays...but we are probably going to pass. (Especially if it’s a party that ends in Cheeze. Who am I kidding? This is great year-round advice.)

4. Make lunches before dinner. I can’t actually vouch for this tip, but it’s one of our goals this year. The post-dinner cleaning and lunch-making is such a buzzkill in our house that it can turn a perfectly nice evening into a major grouchfest. The chore might still be a drag, but at least it won’t be a drag at the very end of the night.

5. Schedule the date nights immediately. Five days into our school year and suddenly 90 percent of our spousal conversations are centered around calendars and carpools. If I’m not careful, Thanksgiving will be here before we remember to enjoy each other.

6. Plan a weekday pizza night. This is a year-round thing for us. Once a week we order pizza and (this part is critical) always make sure there is enough for the next day’s school lunches. A win-win!

What helps you get through the back-to-school transition?

 

 

Vacation re-entry

 

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Vacation re-entry is a bitch. Especially when you leave the cool mountains of Colorado for the fiery urban sauna of home. Oh Austin, I'm trying to love you again but right now I'm deep in the stages of grief.

1. Denial. Noooo. This can't be that bad, can it? Sure vacation is over, but it's still summer. I like summer. I like home. I like real life. I like routines and chores. I like heat. Wait, what?

2. Anger. What in holy hell have I done? How did I get home and why is it 1,000 freaking degrees in the shade? Why are my kids asking me for meals or wanting to be taken to the pool? Why am I expected to open the bulging credit card bills that arrived while we were gone? Why do I feel so cramped? Are there suddenly more people in my family? We have spent two solid weeks together! How much more Together Time do they all expect?

3. Bargaining. Maybe if I don't unpack and don't do laundry we can just tack on another trip that leaves tomorrow. Maybe Hubs and I can alternate working while the other drives. We only saw a little snow in Colorado...we really should find some place colder this time. Alaska! Icebergs! I would cancel vacations for the next two years just to get a few more days of fun right now.

4. Depression. I will never be as happy as I was that one day last week, running down the mountain in long sleeves. Or that morning I drank 3 cups of coffee under a rainbow sunrise. Or that night of the outdoor concert when we stretched out at the base of a mountain, the sky changing colors every few minutes, the kids rolling down nearby hills, the wine and laughter with friends mingling into a perfect harmony.

5. Acceptance. If I can't be on vacation, I might as well be earning money toward the next one. School starts soon, and that means more hours in the day to work. Oh joy. But honestly, do I want to be the friend who complains about her vacation hangover? Don't we all hate that person? Ok fine. I'm home. I'm unpacked. I'm dealing. I'll just leave it at that.

 

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How are you surviving the last gasp of summer, my friends? I'm sending y'all strength and air-conditioned vibes!

Things you can do while the kids are at Camp Grandma

 

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1. Go swimming on a whim. At night. Without refereeing the rules of The Splash Game.

2. Empty the kids’ closets of annoying T-shirts, crappy toys the kids won at some arcade party, and half the artwork they brought home from school this spring.

3. Empty the office of annoying emails, crappy pencils the kids left when they stole the good pens, and half the paperwork they sent home from school this spring.

4. Finish every conversation with your spouse, even the one you started 8 months ago.

5. Eat every meal at a restaurant.

6. Run a dishwasher loaded only with coffee mugs. (See above.)

7. Think your own thoughts.

8. Make out in the middle of the afternoon.

9. Binge watch a full season of a kid-unfriendly show.

10. Linger everywhere you go. Or rush. Either way, it’s your decision.

11. Sleep late. Or wake up early. Again, your call.

12. FaceTime the kids. Pretend that y’all are totally bored without them.

13. Get 8 hours of work done in only 3.

14. FaceTime them again. Pretend you don’t miss them and that it’s no big deal one kid doesn’t want to talk to you.

15. Make their beds and tidy their rooms, even though 5 days ago you swore up and down that it was their job for now on, every day, for the rest of their lives.

16. Buy fresh milk and apples.

17. Check the clock. Again.

18. Squeeze their guts when they return.

19. Squeeze Grandma harder.