Storytelling in Portland: I Rocked the Mic Ya’ll!

For those who have followed my blog for awhile already know that I love storytelling.

Before we left Chicago, I was trying to immerse myself into the storytelling community and in Portland I’m trying to do the same.

StorytellerSaturday night Hubby and I went to a storytelling event, where a new friend of mine was to grace the stage. A cool thing about this event was that all proceeds went to Rahab’s Sisters, which is a group that helps women in Portland who are affected by the sex industry, domestic violence, drugs and homelessness.

The other cool thing was that it was at a church, Saint David of Wales Episcopal Church, and there was a keg. A keg in the church. That’s way better than the grape juice at communion. I wanted to take a picture of the keg, but couldn’t get a good one on the sly and didn’t want people to think I was documenting them partaking in libations in the house of the Lord.

Anyway, when we arrived, they asked us if we wanted to share a story. I hadn’t told a story since last May, and had nothing prepared, so just laughed it off, pretending I was too shy to get in front of the crowd. (Hilarious, right?) But I got away with it because people here don’t know me or anything about my love of storytelling.

Soon it was showtime and my pal Kerry Cohen was up first. She poignantly spoke of the time she got married and how her autistic son processed it all. She nailed it. I began to get an itch, should I put my name in the basket? If so, what story should I tell? Could I wing something?

The other storytellers were Brian Benson, who had a hilarious tale of getting high with his dad on a ski trip. Liz Fischer Greenhill told us of a summer at art camp, where her cabinmates were either insane or mean girls and she found solace in a pig. Melea Seward, who helped organize the event, talked of the life and death of her no-nonsense grandma. Gloria Harrison spoke of white knuckling it through an anxiety attack while camping with her twin boys. The night was Joshua Kingsley’s storytelling debut and we learned about his upbringing in Idaho by parents who struggled with mental illness.

A kicka*s Bluegrass band called TaborGrass played at the church.

A very talented Bluegrass band called TaborGrass played at the church.

Early in the evening the event’s host, the Rev. Sara Fischer, asked for open-mic submissions, saying that person would present after the intermission. Hmmm, should I? I asked Hubby and he asked if I had anything prepared. I shook my head no and he goes, “well that’ll be brave.”

When Fischer announced only one person had signed up for the open mic, I thought well, if I put my name in I have a 50/50 chance that I’ll be called. So I put my name in.

“What story are you going to tell?” Hubby asked.

“Remember that time in Atlanta when we were walking down the street and these guys were heckling us for being an interracial couple?”

Blank stare. He didn’t remember.

“OK, what about the time on Michigan Avenue and that homeless guy came up to us and…”

Another blank stare.

“Why don’t you tell Down With Brown? That’s a good one.”

“Yeahhhh,” I was losing confidence. I didn’t want to tell Down With Brown here, I felt like sharing something else. But Hubby had a good point, Down With Brown was safe, I knew that one.

This interracial piece was half-baked at best. I was torn, then I got frustrated and did what spouses tend to do. I blamed Hubby. “See? I wish I hadn’t even told you because now I don’t know what to do.”

I walked back to our seats and thought it through. I looked up the piece I wrote on interracial marriages for The Huffington Post. After scanning it over, I decided I should tell the story I want to tell and there’s no need for me to have it perfect because the story was MY story.

It was announced that instead of drawing one volunteer’s name out of the basket, they would feature us both. Welp, so much for 50 percent.

The first open mic chic went and she was good, really good. The piece didn’t sound rehearsed, but her beautiful descriptive words made it clear, she was a gifted story teller. Then all too soon when the Rev. Fischer asked: Is Melanie Coffee here?

I briefly considered staying seated. Again, no one here really knows me. But I stood up and got in front of the crowd. Looking down at their expectant faces, I told the audience how throwing my name in the basket seemed like a good idea at the time, but now, not so much. Inside I reminded myself that I still didn’t even know at what point to end the story.

I adjusted the microphone, and began. I talked about meeting Hubby in college and some of the obstacles we had from some of his white friends and more from my black ones. I told of post-college pitfalls like the time we were heckled in Atlanta and when one of his colleagues made a racist joke, Hubby told the room that his wife was black.

Then I spoke of the time a seemingly homeless black man on Michigan Avenue approached us, pointing saying “You guys! You guys!” and I was bracing for an onslaught of vile, racist verbiage when he said: You guys … are a beautiful couple, I can see the love all over you.”

The crowd chuckled in relief, seeming to feel the same relief I felt that day when that man saw Hubby and me.

A little voice in my head whispered: “Now.”

So I curtsied, making it clear my story had ended. The crowd applauded.

 

 

*Illustration by Calvin C. Chan via Rosenfeld Media.

Posted in Storytelling, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My Gift For International Women’s Day: 4 Proven Tips for Entrepreneurs

Today is International Women’s Day, a day where there are thousands of events throughout the world to uplift, inspire and honor the achievements of the greater sex.

Kidding (kinda) on the “greater” part, but I thought today would be a perfect time to tell you about an experience I had earlier this week with a bunch of Portland women.

womendayWe all know that the business world is dominated by men and their prevalence grows with each rung that’s climbed on that ladder of success. This creates a need for a network of women who can support and help each other navigate their professional landscape. Though there can never be an equivalent for the Good Ol’ Boys network for us ladies, this place I experienced on Tuesday was close.

Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of The Link, a network of accomplished women in the Pacific Northwest. The group had an event at the Portland Golf Club where the keynote speaker was Lisa Sedlar, CEO of Green Zebra Grocery, which is like a hybrid between Whole Foods and a mini-mart.

I was a little nervous heading to this event, as I didn’t know what to expect. Any concerns on whether I’d have a good evening were quickly washed away while walking through the golf club’s parking lot. A petite, long-haired bespeckled woman near me was trotting along in her high heels when she turned to me and asked: Are you going to The Link? We chatted the rest of the way inside.

I picked up my name badge at the front table and was quickly swept up and introduced to all kinds of amazing women, the founder of The Link, vice presidents, lawyers, senior account executives, directors, activists, and several entrepreneurs whose ages ranged from early 30s to mid-60s. It was a great room to be in. Then it came time for Sedlar to speak.

Green Zebra's CEO Lisa Sedlar gave me great advice.

Green Zebra’s CEO Lisa Sedlar gave me great advice.

She talked about the early part of her career where she worked a salad bar, then later going to culinary school and moving on to become a chef fixing up tasty delights alongside folks like Julia Child, Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless. Eventually she began working in grocery stores and then left her job as CEO of New Seasons, (which is like Whole Foods, but with less pretension and better pricing.) and founded Green Zebra Grocery.

Her talk focused on kernels of truth. She spoke of how it’s important to know your own kernel of truth and to keep your eye on the prize. As a start-up there’s many ups and downs throughout the day, but it’s essential, especially when you are in the middle of what Sedlar called the “vortex” of challenges whirring around you, look up and stay focused on that your goal, your kernel.

She also talked about being a good listener and trying to find the other person’s kernel of truth because it can solve problems or lead to new ideas. And the lessons are everywhere, for example, a stripper and a preacher have the same kernel of truth. When you look people in the eye, you get more money. Other advice she had was to:

  • Trust your gut. Your instincts are heightened when you’re starting your own business, so trust them.
  • Fix mistakes early. It can be hard, but make short-term and tough decisions that need to be made for long-term benefits.
  • Double-down on your top performers. Focusing your efforts on your top people will reap a heap of benefits, work with them to figure out what you can do to help them be successful.
  • Enjoy it. Sedlar’s mom reminded her that having her own store had been a dream of hers, so even though it was hard, she needed to make sure she enjoyed it.

For me, the last one resonated the most. I wanted to be a journalist since I was 16 and that’s what I became and for about 15 years I loved it, even would have done my job for free. Then things changed, I changed and I no longer enjoyed it.

Since moving to Portland, I’ve shied away from freelancing assignments because I wanted to focus on getting us settled. That adjustment is taking much longer than I thought, so I’ve slowly been taking assignments. I talked to Sedlar after her speech to get more ideas on how to “enjoy it” because it is hard for me to step back and savor the successes. She told me to get a dry erase board or something similar and hang it so that I can see it every day. On the board, I am to list recent accomplishments. That way I can be like, yeah, that’s right. I recently finished a kick-ass story on the affordable care act or some such.

I’ve heard about writing positive aspirations and all that jazz, but my cynicism stands in the way of that being a remotely beneficial technique. But writing down things I’ve done? I can do that.

I’m already looking forward to what I’ll learn at The Link’s next event. What about you, what’s your kernel of truth? Do you know?

 

*Image from International Women’s Day

Posted in Women, Work, Working Moms | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Portland Coffee Shops: Finding A New Place To Call Home

I’m looking for a new writing home. That perfect little nook that inspires creativity and has the comforts of home, but the seats are firm enough to keep me awake when I get too sleepy. It can’t be pretentious, nor too grungy. It needn’t be quiet like a library, but have a nice, non-distracting hum.

I had that place in Chicago, it was the now-shuttered Cafe de Luca in Wicker Park. Since we’ve picked up and moved to Portland, it’s time for me to find my writing home here. I thought I’d bring you along with me as I check out coffee shops, small bistros and other spots that could vie for the prestigious title of Melanie’s Writing Home.

20140224_113605

My first stop is Crema Coffee +Bakery. This has been in the Buckman neighborhood in Southeast Portland since 2004. It’s trendy. It’s got burnt orange walls, cement floor, exposed gray ducts, the gray complements the light wood throughout much of the bakery. There’s also a fair amount of local art on the walls, which seems to be the prerequisite for all coffee shops.

I love this sign on the cash register

I love this sign on the cash register

By its clientele, I’d say it’s a good Portland spot. Most of the groups are represented here. There’s the typical multicolored-and-matted-haired people, the mid-50s set who consider a blue button-up shirt, scarf, starched jeans and loafers, their casual wear. And then my favorite is the guy who looks like an ex-con, with pearcings, tattoos and a permanent I’m A Bad Ass scowl. But in reality he’s probably the head of a super-successful start-up.

The menu here is simple, quiches, various rolls and sweets, sandwiches, soups and a full coffee bar. And it’s good. I ordered a vanilla latte and the quiche with mixed green salad.

The quiche was beautifully hardy, with bacon, asparagus, zucchini, onion, potato and cheese all on a flaky crust. Then the salad was awesome, I wish they’d bottle up that strangely-thick balsamic vinaigrette dressing because I seriously want to lick the plate it’s sooo good. However I believe even by Portland standards, doing that would be too weird.

QuichebyShesWrite

Is this place my writing home? Not sure yet. I really like it, Though, it’s a little too streamlined for my messy tastes and the music is quite loud. It’s not blaring like a club, but a little loud for writing. Or maybe this is just a day where I’m easily distracted and the music, regardless of how smooth-sounding, is making it hard to focus my spchindling mind.

20140224_120129 (1)

I was confused by the random pillows that sat on some of the wooden benches. Then I realized, they were for the bony-butted white folks. Since I carry such a pillow with me at all times, I didn’t need to use theirs.

One thing that’s here that I haven’t seen elsewhere is I see two people writing. Not on their laptops like the rest of us jamokes, but writing in a notebook. This is my favorite way to write, but I don’t do it near enough. It’s neat to see these two ladies actually writing. Because of the long continuous movement of their hands, it seems like they’re actually writing sentences instead of a To Do and/or grocery list.

I probably should stop staring at them now since it’s kinda rude.

All in all, Crema Coffee and Bakery is a good spot and I think it makes for a great litmus test in my venture to find my home away from home.

I’m looking forward to the next stop. Do you have a favorite place to write, read or just be?

Posted in Portland, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Braving the ice, wind and snow for the Portland Auto Show

Anyone who knows me well, knows I love cars. This weekend we decided to fight the elements of snow, wind and rain and hit up Portland’s Auto Show.

We’d been planning to go to the auto show with another family for awhile. Then Snowmageddon, as the locals are calling it, hit and the city shut down. For reals. In Chicago on a normal winter this would have been called a Thursday in February, but not here.

It's snowing! (Sorta.)

It’s snowing! (Sorta.)

The morning of the auto show I got a text from the authorities saying “Portland strongly urges all residents to stay indoors today and not travel due to ice.” I started to have second thoughts on going.

I talked to Hubby, who also was on the fence. However our friend was hell bent on attending. We agreed that the families didn’t have to go together, but Hubby and I still wanted to see the cars. (He too is a car fan.)

So we piled in the car. I said a prayer, hopeful that this would not turn into a trip we’d regret and we very slowly hit the road. Much of the highway was caked in ice and slush and I admit, I had the chicken brake on the whole time. That’s saying something because I’m known to drive my car like I stole something.

Soon we started to see the misfortunes of other drivers, a big truck perpendicular to a steep embankment, an empty taxi whose front fender was in the shape of a deep V, and then the tell-tale tracks of tires swerving off the road and abruptly ending in the ditch.

But we made it to the auto show and started off on the second floor called the “Luxury Loft.” Luxury indeed, there were Benzs, BMWs and Bentleys, oh my! I started with the drooling over the BMWs, where they had their new 4 series. Then I moved onto the Lexus area, where there was a beautiful, inches-from-the-ground concept car designed by Five Axis called the Lexus Project GS350 F Sport. The Lexus rep told us it had hydraulics so that when you drive it, it would rise up so as not to scrape the streets. In a word, it was Fierce!

 

This beautiful concept car is a Lexus Project GS350 F Sport.

This beautiful concept car is a Lexus Project GS350 F Sport. Hilarious in that I didn’t notice until just now that one of our guys also slipped past the “barriers” and touched this one too.

I soon found myself sitting in the Lexus hybrid. I admit, especially here in Portland, I feel a little bad driving a gas guzzling, carbon dioxide belching big SUV, but with kids have gotten used to the extra space and room. So much that, as I’ve said before, it’s like another room in my house.

So not wanting to give up the added room, while wanting to be a little greener, the hybrid SUVs speak to me. Specifically that 2014 RX Hybrid (Ahem, Lexus, I’m talking to you guys…)

Next it was time for me to drool over the Mercedes. At that time the five kids had taken to running around the ballroom finding the coolest cars, so I didn’t get to sit in one, but I did ogle a lot.

Ooo la la!

Ooo la la!

Ethan loved the Mercedes’ so much, he took to hugging some of them.

 

He's not the only one who loves this Mercedes.

He’s not the only one who loves this Mercedes.

Then came my favorite car in the entire world: The Lamborghini. If I were to come into a sick amount of money, this would be my first irresponsible buy. I’d get it in black. In fact I’d get the Aventador LP 700-4.

 The Lambo

But back to reality, at the auto show there was a beautiful white 2014 Huracan. It, along with the Rolls Royces and Bentleys were cordoned off with a metal fence of sorts. However that didn’t stop 3-year-old Ethan and his 2-year-old friend from blazing through. The security breech caused the guard to have a coronary, but my friend rescued the cars from our little guys and their grubby fingers.

 

A beautiful Bentely.

A beautiful Bentely.

We later ventured down to the main floor to check out the Toyotas, Fords, Hondas, Volkswagens and other cars you normally see on the roadways. Since I’ve driven a Jeep for the past 10 years, I had to go check them out. I gotta say I was disappointed in the new Jeep Cherokee, the redesign, particularly the headlights made it look more like a Hyundai instead of a Jeep.

I was obnoxiously excited to try the hands-free lift gate.

I was obnoxiously excited to try the hands-free lift gate.

My first car was a Ford Escort, so I had to go see what Ford was up to. I’ve long been intrigued by that commercial that shows how you can open the liftgate with just a kick of your leg. That’s the Ford Escape and I pulled aside a sales rep to ask if I could give it a try. I failed the first couple times as I was waving my foot back and forth and then I got the hang of it. Just extend your leg under the back of the Escape and it opens. Extend your leg again and it closes. So handy. I hope it becomes a trend with other vehicles.

All too soon it was time to go. So we packed up the kids, headed back to our respective SUVs and hit the slushy road home.

*To check out my little guy’s funny experience on a Honda motorcycle, check out my Facebook page. And if you haven’t already, while you’re there go ahead and hit “Like.” Thanks!

 

 

Posted in News, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

5 Reasons to Decrease Your Children’s TV Time in 2014

You’ve made your own New Years resolutions, but you might want to set some for your children as well. The television is an enticing entertainment option for young ones, but too much television time has the potential to cause issues in several areas. And know that you’re not alone in your struggle of figuring out the balance new documentbetween television time and peeling your kids away from the TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that the average child spends a total of seven hours per day with entertainment mediasuch as televisions, computers, and video game consoles. Their recommended entertainment media usage is two hours per day for children older than 2, and none at all for 2 and under.

Bad Influences

Your children are influenced by the world around them in many ways. If the television forms the bulk of their playtime, even more so than the time you spend with them, then it’s going to be a significant factor in their development. Parental controls on televisions and video game consoles allow you to limit the rating of shows that children watch, but even seemingly innocent programs may show risky behavior in a thrilling or positive light. You want to reinforce positive social shows, instead of those that glamorize violence, bullying, drugs, stealing, smoking, and other detrimental behaviors. Allowing your child to watch only shows that focus on learning such as Sesame Street, Cyberchase, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, is ideal.

Behavioral Issues

The University of Michigan compared the results of studies seeking to link violence in television with adverse behavior in children. The majority of studies they examined answered that there is a link between television violence and behavioral issues, such as antisocial behavior and desensitization, in children. These behaviors manifest as bullying or aggression. Spending time interacting family, friends, and classmates helps to bring positive social influences to the table. Even playing online games adds an element of socialization that the television can’t touch, if your child doesn’t have the opportunity for a great deal of in-person play time.

Child Obesity

It’s not hard to see how failing to limit your child’s TV time can lead to childhood obesity. If they’re choosing the television over physical exercise every time, it’s easy for even a moderately unhealthy diet to add on weight. Boston’s Children’s Hospital published the results of its research study, which found that television watching had the biggest negative effect on those children they studied. The combination of a sedentary activity with persistent advertising for junk food during the shows is considered to be a major factor in why television watching is more harmful to a child than using a computer or a smartphone. Cut down on your children’s television watching time, and you’ll also open up more hours to spend together as a family. Use the time productively by going to a zoo, park, or another fun outdoor activity to get everyone off the couch and physically active.

Sleep Issues

Pediatrics journal published research that found a correlation between watching TV or using other entertainment media and sleep issues. In particular, 38 percent of the studied children had delayed sleep-onset latency, according to The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Creating a daily routine right before bed that doesn’t involve watching TV will not only help your little one fall asleep faster, but sleep better too. Instead, read a bedtime story, play a board game, or opt for a warm bath before tucking your child into bed.

How to Limit Television Time

These days, many devices such as digital cable boxes and smart TVs have parent controls built directly into the hardware. If you run a computer to a television monitor for streaming media entertainment, look into parental control software options to easily limit your child’s TV time. Talk with your kids about how much television is appropriate, and try to get them to follow their limits without hitting the parental control barrier.

 

Written by Brett Masey, who grew up as a kid of missionary parents and now works for a global food relief program. The father of three lives in Phoenix.

Posted in Parenting, TV | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Ruffling a Few Feathers About The Lack of School Funding

We all believe that children are our future. We all feel like education is important. And yet our schools are terribly underfunded.

Image by Stock Monkeys.

Image by Stock Monkeys.

I’m not in the business of getting into a back-and-forth about school funding formulas, Common Core standards, tax breaks for corporations, school bonds, bickering legislators and all that jazz. All worthy issues, but, just not gonna get into it here.

All I know is that when we were in suburban Chicago, Logan’s kindergarten class had 18 students and four iPads. There was extra reading support, ESL support and other awesome services.

Then we came to Portland. One of my neighbors warned me of the local elementary school, saying the quality was sub-par because of the big class sizes and outdated technology. Naturally, I freaked. No one wants to send their kid to a “bad school.”

I put my journalism cap on (well, actually I don’t think it ever comes off, maybe I just straightened it a bit.) We headed over to the school for a self-guided summer tour. I ran into the principal and got a chance to grill him for a good 30 minutes about the school: Its goals, challenges, what he’d like to see from parents, the school’s racial and economic background and how the differences between the haves and havenots play out in daily school life.

Two big things about the school shocked me. One, Logan’s class has 26 kids and everyone was celebrating that as a good thing, saying it was a “small” class. It’s all a matter of perspective. Oregon has the nation’s third-largest average class size.

The second shocker was the old computer lab. It’s filled with old desktop computers that appear to be circa 2002. Did I mention Intel is like, 5 miles up the street? Anyway, on Back to School Night, I approached a woman I thought was with the school’s booster club and we had a meeting of the minds on school funding. Turns out she was school district board member. We’re now buds.

I quickly learned that my direct approach can be startling to the kind ol’ folks here in the Pacific Northwest. Especially when you’re talking about education. At a neighborhood block party a few months ago, I was trying to understand the education system from a teacher’s standpoint, so asked some of my neighbors who teach at a different school why the funding was so poor and what they thought would help fix the problems.

I got quite the chilly reception, then a complete freeze out. Got it. Lesson learned.

So I got involved with the booster club, have helped raise money and am just trying to get a grasp of how things operate here.

A couple days ago, the aforementioned board member sent me an invite to an education town hall on school funding that featured five state legislators: Sen. Bruce Starr and Reps. Jeff Barker, John Davis, Joe Gallegos and Ben Unger. I scrambled for a sitter (Hubby was working late) and went.

State Reps. Ben Unger, Joe Gallegos, Jeff Barker, John Davis and state Sen. Bruce Starr speak at an education town hall.

State Reps. Ben Unger, Joe Gallegos, Jeff Barker, John Davis and state Sen. Bruce Starr speak at an education town hall.

I swear to you, I had all the intention of just listening to what folks had to say. I even sat on the far side of the room so I could watch both the legislators and the crowd. After an hour and a half, I had learned a lot about what various people thought we should do and opinions on failures past and present. But then I started to twitch, especially with the thank yous for coming out and the thank yous for having us.

Huffing to myself I think, I am paying a babysitter a pretty penny, I want to come away with something meaty. I once-again straightened up that journalism cap and formulated my question. Being how politicians like to speechify, I also decide to give them a time limit.

When I raised my hand to speak, the district’s superintendent, who was the moderator, called on me.

“I have a question that I’d like for each of you to answer in less than one minute. I’m new here from Chicago, so I’m not as nice as as you folks and I will cut you off.” (Earlier the superintendent said each person would be limited to a three minute intro and he let them yammer on and on. And on.)

“What bill that relates to school funding has the best chance of being passed?” I asked. “To help you save on your time, you can just give me the bill number because I’m writing it down. What are its biggest challenges and how can we help, other than to call your local legislator?”

The room fell silent.

So I go, “Who wants to go first?”

There was some slight stammering, but they found their footing. Most of the politicians pointed to a bill to be floated by Rep. Gallegos, which from my understanding is to review how the state is implementing its various assessments such as standardized testing and benchmarks related to Common Core. According to the audience and legislators, that process is rife with error and expensive inefficiency. Others on the panel also talked about increasing funding of the Career and Technical Education program.

Nothing earth-shattering, I know and I was chomping at the bit to ask follow-ups. But these measures are more steps in the much-needed right direction.

According to an Education Week analysis, Oregon’s public schools are ranked 42 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Clearly, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Views of the London Eye

The London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel along the River Thames in London. We took a ride on it while visiting this great city over the holidays.

The structure is 443 feet tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet.

Standing underneath the structure that is 443 feet tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet.

 

20131228_151734

While I’m far from being any kind of photographer, I have found that I’m often intrigued by lines, patterns and curves and how they intersect. The London Eye gave me many opportunities to watch these three characteristics dance.

LondonEye

 

Right before leaving the area alongside the Thames River, I turned around for one last goodbye to the London Eye. I look forward to the next time we meet.

London-Eye-Night

 

 

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Achieving Martin Luther King’s Dream: Are you doing your part?

Today is Martin Luther King Day, when we look back on a courageous man and the movement for equality. Has King’s dream been realized? No, it hasn’t.

Interlocking fingers with my son.

Me and my son.

Yes, we have a black president, and as monumental as that is, it doesn’t mean we’ve achieved his dream. We are much, much closer than we’ve ever been, but still not there. Not when we’ve got a justice system that unfairly metes out “justice” from racial profiling in arrests to sentencing laws that are ridiculously harsher on people of color than whites.

Not when my Hispanic friends who were born in this country are assumed to be undocumented.

Not when people in my new town of Portland make assumptions that I can’t afford something, that I’m a single mom or that the white man next to me can’t possibly be my husband.

But today, is a day that we honor King and what he stood for. In his “I Have A Dream” speech he said: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

And that’s true. Even though America is not where King would want it to be, it’s getting there. Just like the latest technological gadgets, we get better with each generation.

As parents, we’ve got to raise our kids to be open-minded citizens of the world. I’ve written before about conversations I’ve had with my son on race. This is the one that developed into a piece that won me a Voices of the Year honor, for which I’m forever grateful and for the thoughtful conversations it’s sparked.

My son and I continue to talk about race when it comes up, or if I spot an opportunity to widen his horizons. I don’t beat him over the head with it, but I do aim to raise self-awareness and give him confidence and understanding of who he is, a 6-year-old African-American, Norwegian football-loving plane enthusiast who hates doing his homework.

On this day, I’m hopeful that we are reminded that our work is not done. One of the greatest things we can do is to raise mindful children by acknowledging and respecting each other’s differences while showing through love and acceptance that we are all equal parts of the human race.

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

4 Health Resolutions Moms should Make (and Keep) in 2014

A mom faces distinctive challenges when it comes to health. Often, the decisions she makes for herself, she ends up making for the whole family. If mom cuts back on salt intake, for example, then so does everyone who eats the foods she cooks. With a new year already in full swing, consider some health conscious choices you can make to keep the whole family safe and happy in 2014.

It’s a New Attitude

Mental health often is overlooked in the “I want to get healthy†equation. A mom who focuses on her mental well-being will spread that positive mojo to everyone in the house. Start a breakfast game where everyone comes up with one positive thought before leaving the table — maybe a goal for the day or just a nice sentiment to start each individual on the right path.

Making a resolution.Healthline recommends the Positive Thinking app to inspire the right attitude. This tool provides inspirational thoughts to share with those you love. Elbert Hubbard said, “Positive anything is better than negative nothing.â€

And How About that Salt

A single teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sodium is a necessary part of your diet, but always in moderation. Too much increases blood volume and puts pressure on your arteries. Think of stretching out your favorite sweater. It will rebound for a while, but eventually lose its shape permanently. When that happens, you end up with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure.

On average, a person can eat around 2,300 mg of sodium a day, but less is better. Teach your family the importance of reading labels on packaged products. The University of North Carolina Medical School offers a chart that shows sodium levels found in common foods. Print it out and post it for everyone to see.

Eating habits are something kids learn from their parents. A mom who resolves to cut back on sodium not only improves her health, but also provides kids with an education they will take with them into adulthood.

Get Moving

It is a little cliché, but increasing physical activity is always a good choice for a new goal, especially if you are going to do it family style. Maybe Santa brought everyone new bikes last year or introduced some family fun with Wii fitness. The kids will love either of these options whenever they wail, “Mom, we’re bored!” Get the spouse training with you for a 5K run using Active.com’s Couch-to-5K app ($1.99 for iOS and Android).

Take a closer look at your personal pains and vow to spend more time doing strength-training exercises to improve your flexibility and focus on problem areas. For example, Laser Spine Institute offers exercise recommendations for those who suffer from chronic back pain.

The Ultimate Soda Challenge

There is a lot of debate about the health consequences of drinking soda, but most people agree there are better ways to quench your thirst. For 2014, take the ultimate soda challenge and eliminate the fizz from your life. Start by refusing to buy soda at the grocery store. If your family wants a carbonated drink, they will have to bypass you to get it.

Shift the focus to water instead. Create a chart and put it on the refrigerator that shows how much water you drink each day. It should be at least eight glasses per day. It will serve as a reminder for the rest of the crew that soda is out and water is in this new year. Have the kids help you infuse water with yummy flavors like fresh lemons or cucumbers — whatever healthy additions their tastebuds crave!

 

*Written by Katie Dylan, a mother of three who is a freelance lifestyle and finances writer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

An American Family in London

Just as England is known for its ubiquitous love of pubs, our family is known for the same thing. And when we went to the UK for Christmas, it was like a match made in Heaven.

There’s something special about pubs. It’s like the community’s place of gathering, where you make new friends, catch up with old ones and simply connect with each other beyond the screens of our gadgets.

In Chicago we had our favorites and once I organized a train pub crawl with our friends. Now that we’re in Portland, we’re plugging into the prolific pub scene here. But the pubs in England, were storied.

Inside The Crown, an English pub that dates back to the 1300s.

Inside The Crown, an English pub that dates back to the 1300s.

The main one in my sister-in-law’s town was called The Crown and dated back to the 1300s. It was pretty cool to walk into a place to imbibe where people have been imbibing for centuries. Centuries!

And it looked just like a regular pub, lots of wood, some stone, people lining the bar, having a good time. What surprised me most about The Crown was that when I walked in, no music was playing. In America it seems like pubs either have music or TVs going, not that The Crown was quiet, it was just the sound of chatter.

The other thing was that dogs were inside. Not roaming about like packs of wolves, but people who were walking their dogs, could bring them inside while they had a pint and no one blinked an eye. It was kinda neat.

While The Crown was great,  when we were in London, we stumbled upon another gem. After a day of walking around much of London, checking out Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Hill, etc. we were pooped and wanted a place just to chill and eat.

Riding the London Eye. Ethan passed out while we were in line.

Riding the London Eye. Ethan passed out while we were in line.

The folks at our amazing hotel, Tower Grand Bridge, told Hubby about a pub across the street called Princess of Prussia, so we decided to check it out.

GrannyLivingroom

Granny’s living room.

We walked in, the place was quiet with the aforementioned no music and only a few patrons at the bar. Going farther back into the place, there was a larger room that looked like an English granny’s living room, except with a bunch of tables and chairs. I laid a sleeping Ethan down on a bench in the room, and the rest of us settled in.

We ordered a round of drinks and that’s when Hubby found out the kitchen didn’t open for another hour…. Ugh, we did NOT have the energy to drag our tired bodies elsewhere so we decided hang until the kitchen opened.

Then a few more patrons trickled in and one of them turned on the jukebox. (When it’s a fancy, new fangled one, is it still called a jukebox?) A couple of buzzed guys at the bar were singing along to the tunes and then Hubby (whom, I should mention, was once a DJ) got all inspired and began picking out songs.

The high-tech "juke box."

The high-tech “juke box.”

Soon the buzzed blokes at the bar were singing a little louder and one was slightly girating to the beat. Well, almost to the beat.

Meanwhile, since Hubby was picking a lot of our favorites, and it felt like we were in someone’s home, we did what we do in our own home. We danced. The more we danced, the wilder we got and soon all three of us were shaking it full-out in the granny-styled living room.

More people came into the bar, they were understandably amused by this dancing family of crazy Americans. We took a break from the dance floor to and some of the patrons came up and introduced themselves.

One was a guy who worked in the music industry and after talking about our love of music, he showed us a picture of him hanging out with Amy Winehouse. Another was an avid West Ham United fan, who after chatting with us for awhile gave Logan a bundle of these big ticket stubs from previous games. He clearly cherished these and saved them for quite some time. It was incredibly kind.

And that’s the great thing about pubs, you never know what new friends you’re going to make.

 

Werk. It.

Jammin.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment