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When Dreams Collide

There are moments in life when you realize, “Wow, this is it, this is what I’ve always wanted! It’s really happening!”  Those moments can become a swirling mixture of emotions: elation, fear, relief, sadness, a sense of time running out and at the same time a sense of time standing still.

Last night was one of those moments for me.

I received the official gavel and historic copy of Robert’s Rules of Order as the incoming President of the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a goal I set in recent years, but has its foundation in my mother’s two terms as President of the Miami Ballet Society in my girlhood.  Watching my mother and her friends working hard to put together galas and fundraisers to bring wonderful ballets to our city, I knew that one day I wanted to do something similar.  Decades later I’m in a different city and working with a different organization for a different cause, but I’m thrilled nonetheless to serve with an equally dedicated group of women.  It is a dream come true.

This, however, was not my first, nor my only dream.  I lived out my first dream in my first career, as a television journalist.  Although when I first embarked on the career, I had planned on going all the way to the networks, I ended up changing career tracks — dazzled by an opportunity that came my way literally on the same day as a job offer from a Salinas TV station — and took a wild ride on the Silicon Valley wave instead.

So somehow it seemed quite fitting that the chosen Woman of Vision and guest speaker on the night that I reached my “mid-life dream” of becoming President of the Junior League would be Washington DC’s NBC News4’s Barbara Harrison.  A 30+-years news veteran who has used her local fame to raise awareness about important women’s and children’s issues such as prenatal care and permanent homes for foster children.  We’ve reached out to her a few times for a few different events, and though she has always graciously wanted to be there, her schedule has not allowed her to.  And yet, miraculously, somehow this worked out.  Even though it conflicted with the White House Correspondent’s Dinner — our invitation came in first!  (Tell me something greater was not at work here!)

So there I was, on an evening where I was beginning to launch into one of my big (mid-life) goals, sitting next to a woman who was the very embodiement of one of my previous (young-life) goals.  A goal achieved, yes, for indeed I did become a reporter and anchor, but a goal I ultimately traded in for different goals — the excitement of something completely different, seeing what this “Web stuff” was going to be all about, and later, choosing to be a stay-at-home mother.

In our brief time together before the official part of the evening began, we discussed what the League does and the role of community service.  This drifted into an exchange where Barbara explained that she would’ve love to have been part of an organization like the Junior League, but her work schedule doesn’t allow it, and I explained that I understood completely what that was like having been there myself once, and that those of us in organizations like the League appreciate people in the media who help elevate the issues.  Which led to my offhand remark about having left journalism for Silicon Valley and her saying something of the effect, “Oh my, I think more of us wished we had had the opportunity to do that!”  And though she probably didn’t realize it, in one fell swoop, she made me remember once again, just how lucky I was.  For as we discussed the consolidating world of journalism and the downward pressure on salaries and the impact of new technologies on journalism and how that is currently impacting so many people in the field, I realized that even if I had stayed in television journalism, the dream I had as a sixteen-year-old would’ve looked very different in today’s reality.

Yes, there were so many wonderful, swirling emotions last night.  The honor I felt in being allowed to serve an organization I love so much in this capacity.  The pride I felt as my husband took the honorary “First Husband’s Frying Pan” (since he’ll probably be cooking a lot of meals on his own) in a good-natured show of support.  The flash of panic, “Am I really ready for this?”  And then the calm peace that comes when a dream is realized, and you know that you should enjoy this moment and drink it all in, for soon it won’t be long until it is time to aspire to yet a bigger one.

I’m Fat

They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?  was the title of a 1989 episode of a TV show called Designing Women. In the episode the character played by Delta Burke, Suzanne Sugarbaker, always proud of her beauty queen looks, realized that she was now seen as “the fat girl” by her friends at a high school reunion.  She was awarded the “Most Changed” trophy at her fifteen year reunion, as  a snark at her physical appearance, and she accepted the award with a lovely speech letting everyone know that she was going to take it as a testimony of how she has changed from shallow beauty to a woman of intellectual and emotional substance rather than the hurtful comment on her weight gain it was originally intended.

I remember reading an article about this particular episode a long time ago, because the episode was written specifically to address Burke’s real-life weight gain.  She was a gorgeous, sexy slender woman when hired, and her weight gain became a problem on set between Burke and the show’s producers/writers.  Burke’s weight gain was due to a combination of physical and psychological issues and the more she felt pressured about it, the worse it got.  Since then, her weight has see-sawed and she has launched a line of plus-sized clothing.  At some point she shifted from running from her weight to trying to help others who were heavy feel better about it.

I’m outing myself as a fat woman.  I have been terrified of old friends seeing photos of me online in the shape I am in currently and I have decided to end the terror now.  I’m not happy with my current appearance, but it is what it is.  I continue to struggle and work on it and I’m proud of myself for the things I don’t let it affect and pissed at myself for the things I do let it affect.  I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends online over the past year and I’ve decided if I’m going to be genuine, I’m going to have to have to stop hiding.  Yes, some are going to say/think unkind things.  There is a certain ex-boyfriend out there who will certainly do so and probably thank God he didn’t marry me after all.  There’s a reason why he’s an ex.

But as I’ve come to learn over the past year, most of us really don’t give a damn how any of us look these days, we’re just glad to reconnect about the common experiences we had growing up together and then the experiences we’ve had apart in geography but yet in common in experience as we’ve moved through those milestones in our careers and personal lives.   I am so much more than my outer shell, I always have been, and I always will be.  We all are.  No matter how thin I get again, I will never look at anyone’s physical appearance the same way again. 

The Journey

All my life I have struggled with body image.  Growing up in Miami surrounded by half-clothed people, how could I not?  When I was 105 pounds in high school, I was always self-conscious of my not-perfectly-flat stomach.  Heck, I guess it started even before that, it started when I was in ballet class at Martha Mahr studio, where we were required to wear a thin, black elastic around our waist so she could see if our stomach bulged at all beyond the elastic.  I did not win the genetic lottery when it came to stomach muscles, even at my thinnest, I never had that perfectly taut stomach.  I stopped wearing bikinis for the most part at age 11.  I wanted to go wind surfing with friends in high school on Hobie Beach, but I was constantly terrified of how I would look to others in my swimsuit.  Do you have any idea of how much I would kill to have that figure and weight again these days?  That weight would not be realistic for me as a grown woman now, but I wish I could shake that insecure girl by the shoulders and say “get out there and enjoy life!  Put on that bathing suit and have fun!” I still hate wearing a bathing suit now and have many more reasons to be self-conscious, but I refuse to let my insecurity get in the way of my kids having fun at the pool and the beach, so I boldly go forth in my swimdress in public where I would not have taken my 105-pound-self before 20 years ago.

In college, I had my highs and lows, but I had to get my high down quickly as I was there to be a broadcast journalist and we know fatties were not allowed on TV — in the age of Oprah we’re a little more forgiving now. 

I was so afraid of the Freshman Fifteen that I actually lost weight my first semester. But I gained a little my sophomore year.  All it took was a comment from my steady boyfriend about his “mother being concerned about (my) weight” for me to go into a tailspin about it.  I lost the weight thanks to a very stringent diet and doctor-prescribed pills.  By my senior year I was anchoring the morning news and reporting for the evening news.

In my early twenties, I realize now that I managed to date a series of guys who wanted me to be their trophy girlfriend and who terrorized me about any incremental weight gain — a 5-10 pound weight gain was enough to threaten our relationship.  And I’m ashamed to admit that I allowed myself to buy into that.  I’m much too smart and always have been much too smart to fall victim to that.  But I did.  And I regret it.  Fortunately I never married any of those men and I was wise enough to always have a certain threshold which I would not cross — you can only step so far until I cry foul. 

In 1995 I was in a terrible hit and run accident that knocked both my knee caps out of place, cracked my ribs, nearly dislocated my neck, gave me very bad whiplash, and a prominent bruise from the seat belt that was looked like a purple beauty sash – Miss Car Accident 1995.  My car caught on fire and I was fortunate that one of the witnesses to the accident was a nurse who ran over and helped me.  I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and for the first 20 minutes or so my brain was so scrambled that I wasn’t sure what year it was, I was off by 10 years.   This accident ultimately led to three knee surgeries over a two-year period and chronic neck and back pain and the beginning of a history of migraine headaches.  This accident, naturally, derailed my walking program and did lead to weight gain.  I still have residual effects from the accident and can be perfectly fine and then one false move and can have knee pain for weeks.

One very positive thing about this accident — it in a way, led to JavaDad (still at this point, just a childhood friend) and I getting together as a couple — although it took a while.  When the pain meds would wear off in the middle of the night, 3am to be exact, and my chest would spasm with pain, he would let me call him in Miami to help keep myself calm until the next set of pain meds kicked in.  He had, already, by this point, told me he loved me, but we couldn’t quite get our act together to be in the same state yet, so we didn’t end up dating until three years after the fact.  But the act of devotion of talking to me on the phone at 6am his time while I was in pain, meant a lot to me Our wedding, 2002After the car accident, my weight went up and down, more health issues have come and gone, including two very difficult pregnancies and my son stretching my stomach muscles 5 inches apart (I need to get that surgically repaired) and my trigeminal neuralgiaBut the biggest struggle has been with my mind. I still hate thinking of myself as a fat woman.
 I tried to hide from it.  But then I had to accept it.  And I had to stop letting  it stop me from doing things. 

Which I have, except when it comes to dealing with people from my past. I never thought a fat woman could rise to the top of the Junior League, but these wonderful women saw that I am more than my weight and the League is not about appearances despite all jokes about cardigans and pearls — we are about developing the potential of WOMEN, not judging body types.  I have made many wonderful friends here in Virginia who have never made me feel conscious of my weight (although yes, I have met some women who did discriminate against me due to my weight).  But I have always been afraid of “what will people back home think” if they saw me now? Well, I don’t know.  I’m a woman whose had a successful career (two, in fact), married a childhood friend who has loved me at 105 pounds and has loved me at significantly more than that, has two fantastic kids, is involved in her community, edited a book, lauched a blog, and tries to be good to her friends and family.  And struggles with her weight.  What do the people back home think?  I’ve decided to let go of the terror and let it be.  I will no longer hold back on posting photos and sharing videos.  If you are my friend, you’ll now know that I struggle, but you’ll already know that I’m so much more than what the camera sees.  I suspect you struggle with something, too.  And you know what, I wouldn’t be any less of a friend to you for it — whether you are balding, divorced, never married, fat, too skinny, never had kids, unemployed or whatever other thing you might fear being judged for in this society where we can judge each other for so many things by the time you reach our age, take a deep breath and let it go.  Whatever it is, accept it and then move on and make the best of your situation and your life.  I’m refusing to let terror hold me back any more — I hate to think of the opportunities and joys I’ve squandered already and I refuse to anymore. 

And for everyone who is thin or athletic, I hope the next time you see a fat person riding a bike, going for a walk, working out at the gym, you’ll silently think, “Good for you for being out there and doing it!”

And JavaDad, I love you.  Thanks for loving me through thick and thin (or thin and thick).

Guest blogger: Louie’s Kids — Fighting Childhood Obesity

Today I’m pleased to have my first guest blogger, Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie’s Kids.  I met Louis only a week ago when he spoke at the Junior League Mid-Atlantic Conference and his speech about watching his morbidly obese father’s decline after having a stroke, and then how he and his organization work with kids and their families today to change not only the numbers on the scale, but their attitudes toward food, toward exercises, and toward themselves through nutritional counseling, exercise programs, mental counseling and mentoring, was inspiring and life-changing.  He’s a man on a mission and you can’t help but get swept away when you listen to him.  Today, DC Metro Moms is having a special “Topic Tuesday” about Children of the Recession, and you will find my own post listed there.  I’ve asked Louis to write about his organization and about the challenges the kids he work with face during the recession.
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louies-kidsRunning a non-profit organization that works with kids struggling with obesity is certainly not easy, but there are many instances when it comes with rewards.
Louieskids.org is in it’s 9th year. We have been identifying treatment programs for low-income children and their families from all over the country these past many years. The idea was always to create a sustainable program that could be replicated again and again. Finally with Fit Club, an after-school program for Title I school children (a Title I school is one that 90% or more of its population are on free or reduced lunch) we have developed such a program — and it’s working. National statistics tell us that 50% of kids in Title I schools across the nation are overweight or obese. These are our kids, the ones our organization reaches out to time and again. 
 
Our home base is in Charleston, SC and the obesity epidemic is clearly evident here in Title I schools. So with the help of a pretty fantastic staff we’re in our first year and the results have been pretty amazing. Combining fitness inspired to get kids interested in fitness at all, having real conversations about nutrition and lastly, and most importantly, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (group therapy) to identify behaviors around food we are getting kids empowered and giving them a new lease on their lives. Auja Ravenel certainly knows it works. Introduced to us as a 288 lb. 6th grader, Auja lived the program withus for the past 8 months and has lost an unbelievable 46 lbs. Her Mom, desperate for help and willing to do anything, also began to live the lifestyle recommended in our program and she, too, lost weight — to the tune of 35 lbs. It gets better …not only are both Auja and her Mom relearning the way they eat, move and talk, but Auja’s test scores have improved. Her Measure of Academic Preparedness exams revealed a 50% improvement from last year to this year. Her principal’s convinced it’s her new self-assuredness and we’re pretty convinced too that her having spent this time learning that she’s no different from many other kids around her, making some friends and relearning how she eats as well as how she handles stress in general, will help her succeed in the long term.
 
It’s been great for this one child and on average 70% of the kids from the program, but I’m reminded, sometimes daily, that these kids we’re talking about, the ones from the Title I school districts, many with one parent homes, with Medicaid as their only insurance option, we’re reminded that many of them have a big road to travel. Just this past Saturday when out with a group of kids on a walking and swimming exercise regimen, I mentioned to another of our kids how it looks as though she’s lost more weight. I was surprised by her response and am still reeling a bit from it; she said “yeah my Mom’s struggling to pay for groceries right now (her Mom’s a single Mom, a nurse’s assistant in a local hospital with one other teen child about to enter college) and we all have to eat smaller portions.” 

Hearing from any of our kids that smaller portions are what’s being served is typically music to my ears, but I also know that when the economy tanks as it is and continues to that our kids and their parents are often left to make poor food choices. and not by choice. This statement from an 11 year old kid struggling to not only lose some weight but make some friends and not “stand out” has been with me every since she said it. We can certainly make a lot of inroads with these kids and kids like them all over the country but we can’t change the fate of their parents’ financial situation and continue to keep our fingers crossed that they, their parents, and their communities around them will support the lessons their learning that will ultimately change the course of their lives. These are the kids of the recession and were just hoping to continue to live and work out mission …fighting obesity one child at a time!
 
Louis Yuhasz is Founder of  Louie’s Kids a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that raises funds to help treat childhood obesity, which afflicts 25 million American children today. For more information about Louie’s Kids, go to www.louies.kids.org.

Children of the Recession: We Have to Act NOW to Save a Generation

I wept.

After not allowing myself, a former television reporter, to watch the news for weeks because I found the doom and gloom about the economy too stressful, I watched several CBS news clips from the Children of the Recession series online, and when I watched as an emergency room pediatric nurse practitioner showed the x-rays clearly depicting the multiple injuries of a young child — TWO broken arms, TWO fractured legs, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.  And neither could the reporter on the story. 

There is a marked rise in child abuse in the country and it is being attributed to the stresses related to the economy.  But that is only one of the many ways that our most precious resource in this country is being harmed.   As you can see in other segments in the network-wide series by CBS, children are being harmed psychologically, they are not receiving the medical care they need, they are ending up homeless or separated from families.  This is not the life any of us dreamed of for our children, or for anyone’s children.

What are we going to do about it?

Yes, I said we.

Your children and my children may be in their warm beds tonight with healthy food in their bellies, but they are going to school with children who are not.  What are we going to do about it?

With one out of ten children not being able to get the medical care they need or delaying routine visits, a child near ours is sick and getting sicker.  What are we going to do about it?

With jobless rates around the country anywhere from 7% and higher, a child near ours has one, maybe two parents unemployed and is living in a house full of stress, worry, and maybe worse — violence.  What are we going to do about it?

Families are spread further apart, governmental support systems such as social workers, homeless shelters and state- or county-funded counseling programs have all suffered cutbacks — there are more problems and fewer safety nets.

Non-profit organizations, often dependent upon grants, individual donations and corporate sponsorships are all scrambling to survive as well.  They, too, are trying to help more, but with fewer resources.

As a society we have the ability to more connected than ever with every form of technology imaginable.  But are we using it to help this youngest generation through this tough time?  Are we using it to match needs with solutions?  All it takes is the right person at the right moment and you can change a child’s life.  Do it often enough, and you just may change an entire generation.

At a conference this weekend, I heard that my generation, Generation X, is characterized by a “belief in survival” and jaded by growing up in the shadow of nuclear weapons, divorce, AIDS, and crack cocaine.  What a legacy.  Let’s try to create something better for this generation.  Let’s not let their young lives be forever shaped by the economy, but rather teach them the lessons of compassion and community and doing the right thing.

Through my affiliation with the Silicon Valley Moms/DC Metro Moms, I was able to participate on a conference call with Katie Couric, senior producer Katie Boyle, producer Tony Maciulis, and Sonya McNair, VP of Communications.  During this call, she let us know CBS News (The Early Show, Evening, and Face the Nation) is shining a light on the issues, through a network-wide look at Children of the Recession this week as well as through weekly segments over the next several weeks.  When one blogger asked if she found the task depressing, she said, “I feel it is really important work and I feel there is not enough of this kind of journalism going on…  and I feel it is  higher calling for all of us and yes it is very upsetting and heart-breaking and depressing but the only way that we are going to get these families help is to expose the problem and so I think we feel like there is a higher purpose here and that is why I think we feel really motivated and excited.  I haven’t felt this proud of my work in a long time because we can have an impact.  And that is why we need your help — we can’t do it alone in this fragmented media culture, like my colon cancer work, it can’t be a one-shot deal, we have to keep pounding away at it and be committed to it and keep reminding people.  We’re doing something that ultimately will be impactful and hopefully, really helpful to people.”

I’m no longer a television reporter, and I’m certainly not as powerful as a national network, but what I, a mom and a blogger, can do is this, I will tell you of programs and initiatives as I know of them and either highlight them myself, or invite them to guest blog here.  You are also always free to post comments or email me about groups/initiatives/ideas you think should be put out there.   Will you join me, in looking for ways to help — small or large?   Will you help get out the word on the GOOD things that can happen in these turbulent times?

I hope so.  Because the next time I weep, I hope it is with joy.

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  • I know of two programs that are packing non-perishable “weekend lunches” for children who are on the free hot lunch program at school in Fairfax County — because these kids may not get lunches on weekends otherwise.  These two groups are working “under the radar” right now.  If you are interested in helping them, email me or post here telling me you are interested and I will contact you.
  • Louie’s Kids, which helps fight childhood obesity, is just $10,000 short of its goal to bring it’s successful Fit Club Program to a school in Alexandria.  Read about their compelling program and success and see if you know someone who can help them in the final stretch.  Duke University reports that with parents having to buy lower-cost foods, we may see a huge increase in childhood obesity.
  • The Junior League of Northern Virginia (of which I am a member and a leader, in the interest of full disclosure) focuses on helping children in Northern Virginia succeed.  We have many programs, including Back-to-School Health Fairs (immunizations, physicals and backpacks jam-packed with school supplies), an innovative My Life photography program and Kids Can character-based program in local homeless shelters, and the Kids in the Kitchen nutrition program to help fight childhood obesity.  We’re always looking for new members, community partners, sponsors, and donors.
  • Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter (of which I am on the Community Advisory Board), a Fairfax County shelter run by Shelter House, Inc. is always looking for volunteers, community partners, sponsors and donors.  This shelter has done amazing work in “rapid rehousing” for homeless families, but the need continues to grow in these tough economic times.
  • The faith-based community is “filling in the gaps” — look to your own faith home (church, temple, mosque, etc.) to see what they are doing and how you can get involved.

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Silicon Valley Moms Post and Round Up: http://www.svmoms.com/2009/05/silicon-valley-moms-group-katie-couric-children-recession.html

Good Stuff… Chef Spike Mendelsohn, DC Metro Moms Bloggers and Quaker

Chef Spike with the DC Metro Mom Bloggers.

Chef Spike with the DC Metro Mom Bloggers.

Good Stuff Eatery  is the name of the restaurant Chef Spike Mendelsohn, of Bravo’s reality show Top Chef, launched in Washington DC last year, and it was the setting of the realization of my own good “stuff” — I have been invited to be a part of the DC Metro Moms Blog.  (More on that in a minute…)

The concept behind Good Stuff Eatery (303 Pennsylvania Ave, SE) is a place to get a good burger and shake — Chef Spike wanted to develop a restaurant that had a menu he could eventually replicate into a chain of restaurants.  The burgers include a portobello burger and a turkey burger and bunless versions as well, and there is a salad menu (called “wedges”).  But the real highlight of the menu are the “hand-spun shakes” which are based on a custard that is made each morning with a fancy $30,000 machine.  With names like “Toasted Marshmallow” and “Milky Way Malt” how could a girl resist?  She couldn’t!  So this is what a Milky Way Malt looks like:

Yummmm

Yummmm

If you order nothing else, order a shake!  Warning — they are so rich and so thick,  you may not be able to finish it.  They are THAT good! 

Apparently expansion plans first include more DC spots and then other metropolitan areas… so when I asked him if he’d consider NORTHERN VIRGINIA, Chef Spike said, “Tell me a good spot and I’ll consider it!”  So listen up Northern Virginians… start posting here if you want to see a Good Stuff Eatery near us — I’ll make sure he sees it!

Yeah, yeah, enough about the FOOD, what about SPIKE?!  He was so frenetic on Top Chef that I was expecting him to be even MORE so at his own restaurant.  Quite the opposite.  He was very laid back, almost blending into the walls in his black Vans t-shirt and his quiet demeanor.  Several of us weren’t even sure at first it was him — we all (JavaDad, cover your ears/eyes) thought he was actually much cuter in person than on TV (or as one blogger remarked, “he looked scruffier on TV”).  He’s brash on his TV appearances, and yet, surrounded by 25 female bloggers in his own restaurant, he was soft-spoken, very polite, quietly asking each of us if we were enjoying our meals.  He very patiently indulged us in our requests for photos.  I approached him with a request to help out the Junior League with our Kids in the Kitchen initiative, by possibly appearing as a celebrity chef and teaching kids (and their parents) how to cook delicious food in a healthy way, and he immediately lit up.  Chef Spike, you see, is spokesperson for Quaker, who sponsored our dinner for the evening, gave us swag bags with Life cereal and granola bars (one of which JavaGirl has already greedily consumed) AND generously made a donation to the Capital Area Food Bank in honor of the DC Metro Moms Blog group.  In my journalism days, I never could’ve accepted such generosity — as a blogger, this is a first.  All I can say is THANK YOU! 

And just who ARE these DC Metro Mom Blog women (okay, there are actually a few MEN in the group, too, but only the women showed up)?  Well — this is a group I’ve had my eye on since I began this blog — actually I first new about their parent organization, the Silicon Valley Moms Blog thanks to one of the first bloggers (besides my brother-in-law) who I first started following, Plain Jane Mom (she has no idea who I am — probably thinks I’m a stalker who emails her every few months with blog questions, but she’s been immensely helpful to me, for which I am eternally grateful).  There are about 50 of them in the DC group and they have blogs on a variety of topics – parenting, entertainment, technology, law, and  more – and they range in experience from new bloggers to blogging before blogging was called blogging.  When I launched Caffeine and a Prayer, one of my goals was to one day build this site up enough to be worthy of contributing to their site — and I’m honored that they’ve allowed me to join their group.  I’ll be contributing twice a month (or more, if they let me!), so please hop on over there to read my stuff as well as the terrific writing these women (and men) have.   Monday night was the first time I got to meet them in person and I can tell you, well, okay, first they are LOUD (LOL!) but they are warm and wonderful and lively and fantastic!  I have never been welcomed so quickly and so warmly by a group as I have by this one.   Please be sure to visit their sites — all listed in the DC Metro Moms About Us section.