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How to Have an Awesome Summer Without Breaking the Bank

May 26, 2017

I’m often asked how I find so many cool things to do with Sophie. The answer is actually pretty simple: I look to local resources and community event calendars, find the ones Sophie would enjoy most, and then add them to my calendar and go.

I learned a lot about different events when I was the Red Tricycle San Diego city editor. And when we moved to Terre Haute, I signed up for the local parents/kids resource site and found there are tons of inexpensive family-friendly activities.

But what I’ve found both in San Diego and Terre Haute is the same. More often than not, the activities Sophie loves the most are the simplest and least expensive endeavors.

So how do YOU find cool things to do with your kids this summer? I came up with 25 fun things to do this summer that don’t involve camp, a financial loan to get through the summer months, or Pinterest-worthy crafts to do at home (because some of us aren’t the DIY type).

Whether you’re in a big city or small town, head over to Parent.co where I reveal my list of go-to ideas for summer fun.

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20 Years a College Graduate and the Road Taken

May 19, 2017

If you’d told me where I’d be 20 years after graduating college, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Twenty years is a long time. It’s just under half my entire life’s existence.

Yet here I am — 20 years to the month I graduated from San Diego State University. I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was then, and what I wanted out of my life at the time. Before I graduated college, I had two distinctly different career/life goals in mind. I wanted to either be a broadcast journalist or newspaper reporter, or go to law school in Boston.

I realized fairly quickly into my senior year of college that going to law school wasn’t in the cards for me. I liked the idea of being a lawyer, but I struggled with the LSAT and decided I didn’t love the law so much that I want to go through three more years of schooling.

To be a news reporter or producer, I needed to move away from San Diego to earn my stripes at a small town, local station or paper in order to work my way up to a larger market. That’s how it was done 20 years ago, before the Internet existed and it was possible to write news remotely for online publications. And at the time, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my home town and family to conquer the brave world of rural reporting.

So in April of 1997, I applied for my first full-time job as a publicity assistant at KPBS, the San Diego public television and radio station. I was already working at KPBS as a student assistant for a good chunk of my college years. I knew most of the staff and fellow students working there and had a deep affinity for public broadcasting even at that young age. One of my proudest professional moments was receiving the call to say I got that job.

The Tuesday after graduation, my 21-year-old self walked into the KPBS studios (still very sunburned from foolishly laying beach-side over Memorial Day weekend) and started my first full-time job as a college graduate.

I loved those early days of my career, when so many of my friends and colleagues were recent college graduates — all of us trying to find our way in life. I shared an apartment with a roommate, and I worked hard to make ends meet; even charging groceries on a credit card to save enough money for rent. There was something exciting about the blank slate ahead, when life seemed so full of possibility.

I ended up staying at KPBS for four more years, being promoted to new roles in marketing and special event management. In 2001, I moved over to San Diego State University and for the next 11 years, I embarked on a long career there that included special events, fundraising, overseeing a marketing/communications department, and later speech-writing for the university’s two presidents. In March 2012, I left my safe and secure job to be my own boss and make a full-time freelance writing career. The rest, they say, is history.

While I’ve never regretted starting my career at KPBS (and everything that’s followed), I do think about what my life would have been like if I was brave enough to leave home 20 years ago. What would have happened if I ended up in a small town (like Terre Haute, for example), working for a local news station? Would I have stayed? Moved to a larger market? Gone back to San Diego? What type of writing career would I have 20 years later?

While I’m a fan of movies like “Sliding Doors” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” that explore the road not taken; in real life, there’s no way to know for sure what would have happened. I do know that I have no complaints about where my life has taken me, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last 20 years.

I look at the person I was when I graduated college and think — while it’s been 20 long years — that girl is still very much the same as she is now. Of course, in 1997 I had way more hair and fewer pounds. But that young girl was ambitious, driven, and wanted something more/better from herself and life. I think, in many ways, I’m still like that. And while I do miss those early years of my post-college life, I believe every choice I made had a purpose. And every road I took led to the next chapter of my life.

“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”

“Bookends” — Simon and Garfunkel

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Learning About Myself Through Painting Classes

May 11, 2017

I have a confession to make. Up until last fall, I was skeptical of group painting classes where people gather together to paint the same canvas and drink wine.

I always thought there would be no way I’d attend one of those classes because I am totally not artistic in the least. And I was intimidated. Seeing that perfect painted image, I’d feel anxious, thinking there was no way I could recreate that masterpiece.

Here’s the funny part. When I was young, I spent hours watching PBS painting shows even had my own canvases and acrylics so I could recreate the art. But over the years, I lost interest in that hobby.

As many of you know, last year we moved to Terre Haute and I literally did not know a soul in my new town. I started to get to know a few local boutique owners who offered painting and craft classes. In an attempt to meet nice, local people and do something different, I dipped my toes into the crafting waters through some art classes that Sophie and did together.

Then they offered a whimsical pumpkin canvas class. Knowing how much I love pumpkins and fall and trusting/liking the instructor I’d come to know, I decided to give the painting class a try.

While I was certainly nervous and felt a bit anxious, I really enjoyed my first painting class. It was — dare I say — relaxing in many ways. I liked doing something completely different with my brain and hands that didn’t involve typing or thinking in the same way I do during the day.

Here’s a photo of my first painted canvas. And while I was critical the swirls didn’t turn on the way they looked in the model, I’m proud that I took the leap of faith and did something new.

Since then, I’ve gone on to paint several more canvases through the Painting and Pie classes offered through the local parks and recreation department. It’s an relaxing evening of painting, listening to music and eating a slice of pie at the Grand Traverse Pie Company. Since I’m not a big wine drinker, the pie is a perfect accompaniment!

One of the lessons that’s been important for me to learn is that painting is a process, and a the work cannot be “judged” until the end. What I mean is I can’t spend time criticizing my work at each step. It’s so easy to say, “That line is crooked” or “The flower is too small.”

Instead, I try very hard to simply paint in the moment. Then at the end, step back and look at the entire view. It’s amazing how the work changes from the beginning and middle to the end. And how a “flaw” transforms into part of the beautiful whole.

Here’s a few of the canvases I’ve painted over the months.

This covered bridge painting is probably my favorite.

I was most nervous to paint Rudolph. I’m still critical of the wreath and his small head.

I love this one!

The pop of the the red cardinals against the wintry birch trees adds so much.

This canvas of hot coffee in the winter morning background was in my kitchen for quite a while.

It was a perfect, rainy the evening the night I painted this one.

April showers bring May flowers!

Embracing painting has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s helped me find a new way to be creative, and I love capturing nature and the change of seasons on canvas. I’ve also given myself permission to accept that my art doesn’t have to be perfect — that itself is a great lesson to learn!

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Currently I’m …

April 12, 2017

I’m trying something new here on the blog, using the “currently” prompt. Feel free to play along in the comments, on your own blog or social media.

Currently I’m …

Inspired by …

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Power of Narrative conference in Boston and it was phenomenal. The mission of the conference — which has been taking place for 19 years — is “helping narrative journalists to strengthen their craft skills, puzzle out the complex ethics of intimate journalism, and impart the down-to-earth humanity that is the genre’s strength.” We heard speakers such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sonia Nazario (Enrique’s Journey), Sheri Fink, and so many other talented writers. It was truly inspiring to be in a room full of journalists and writers and people wanting to tell stories and do good work that makes a different in the world. It was all humbling and made me want to do better.

Thinking About …

I’ve been thinking about how spring is in full bloom (no pun intended) here in Indiana . The days are getting longer and the sun is appearing earlier and staying out later. Everything is greener — the trees are coming back to life with leaves; and flowers are blooming, even ones in our yard I’d never seen before. I really love seeing and feeling the seasons change before my eyes.

The weather is warming a bit, and this weekend we had all the windows open and enjoyed a warm (but not too warm) breeze flow through the rooms. And then yesterday, we had heavy rain and a thunder/lightening storm. It’s fascinating really, seeing the weather change so quickly.

Watching …

There’s lots of great television airing right now. I’m so excited “Better Call Saul” season three is on the air. We did a big binge-watch of season two on Netflix this past weekend. I’m also liking “The Good Fight,” which is the spin-off to “The Good Wife” on CBS Access. It’s SO good — much better than the original series. We’re also enjoying “Billions” on Showtime, and I’m struggling to get through the final season of “Bates Motel.” It’s really slow, and they probably could have written the final series in four or five episodes.

Reading …

The best book I’ve read lately is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. This book was super interesting and Vance does an amazing job of really shedding light on the Rust Belt rural middle class of America. I found the book even more relevant now that I live in Indiana and what he writes about could be a few streets away from me. It’s also been helpful to understand how President Trump was elected and what made this traditional Democratic Rest Belt community change to Republican country.

Listening to …

I listened to the Making Oprah podcast, which is a limited series about how the “Oprah Winfrey Show” began and its journey. Like so many of you, I used to come home from work and watch the show. It’s fun to revisit some of the topics and hearing Oprah herself. I’m also about to dive into the Reveal podcast, which is a series of mysteries produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

On the music front, I continue to listen to Dawes, even more so after I saw them in concert last month. They played for three hours and it was incredible!

Eating/Drinking …

I don’t have anything that exciting to report on the eating/drinking front. I’ve been making lots of meals from Plated and Home Chef. (You can read my reviews of these meal services here.) When I was in Boston, I took advantage of the restaurant selection and ordered a few seafood dishes. I do miss fresh seafood in Indiana. We still eat fish, but it’s not as abundant as it was in San Diego.

What’s currently going on in your life these days?

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The Journey Home

March 22, 2017

Have you ever thought about how many stories, songs and themes revolve around the concept of home, and finding your way home?

The theme of “The Wizard of Oz” is summed up by Dorothy when she said, “there’s no place like home.” In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the family took to their car (their only home during the Great Depression) to seek a new home in California. The movie “Beautiful Girls” sees Timothy Hutton going home for his high school reunion. In my favorite television show, “The Killing,” the main character realizes that home was not a place; but was the feeling she had with the person who knew her best.

It’s nearly impossible to count the number of songs that speak to this theme. There’s “Homeward Bound” (Simon and Garfunkel), “Two of Us” (The Beatles), “You’re My Home” (Billy Joel), and “My Way Back Home” (Dawes), just to name a few. And let’s not forget the famous adages: “Home is where the heart is,” or “home is a state of mind.”

All these references and themes make me wonder if we have all — at some point or another — tried to figure out where we belong, and where home actually exists.

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of home and that journey toward it over the last year. For nearly all my life, San Diego was home. It was the place I grew up, where my family lives, and where I made a life for myself. And then I left it all behind when we moved to Indiana to — literally — make a life and home in a new city, state and house.

One of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my life was driving four days across country, away from San Diego and toward Terre Haute. There was something incredibly freeing about knowing that all I had was the open road ahead and what was in the car with me. Even if I wanted to turn back, there was not a home to go back to (in the general sense). Our belongings were gone and the people and pets that mattered most to me were not there anymore. I don’t remember ever feeling that unconfined in my entire life — there was no going backwards; only forward, to a new idea of home.

We’ve been in Indiana going on nine months, and I’ve come to find that my core feels home. Not necessarily because of the physical structure I live in (but that helps too). It’s because my state-of-mind is here. I belong in this place — both physical and mental — with everything that symbolizes home to me.

But what has also solidified for me the idea that I’m home is how much has changed in the life I left behind. The home we lived in for 11 years does not have any resemblance of us. It’s occupied by someone else. Friends that I was close to in San Diego have also left to start life elsewhere. Restaurants we frequented every week have closed their doors. The elementary school we attended for three years has lost teachers and community members.

These observations are not meant to be depressing. They’re just symbolic of change and how life moves on, even if you’re not there. They’ve helped me realize that for me, home is not where I’m from; it’s where I am.

So what is home to me?

It’s the place where I am at peace, with myself and my surroundings. It’s where I feel calm. Home is the family I surround myself with each day, and the pets that follow me from room to room. It’s the few treasured items on my bookshelves and the music that plays while I write on this blog. And I know now, more than ever, that I am home.

“I admit that these answers that I seek
Are all to questions I’ve never known
But I pray to keep on looking for as long as I can roam
And when the world finally fulfills me
I will not forget my way back home.”

— Dawes (“My Way Back Home”)

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