What I Learned Watching The Girls Next Door as a Grown Woman

Originally appearing on Huffpost on October 1, 2017.

After being bombarded with Hugh Hefner’s death on my newsfeed, I decided to revisit one of my favorite shows as a 16-year-old, The Girls Next Door, for a nice nostalgic venture down memory lane last Friday evening. Within ten minutes of settling into the first episode of the series, my expectations of a fond recall quickly turned into unexpected disgust. It had been about a decade since I actually watched an episode of The Girls Next Door, which wrapped production in 2010. Watching the show became increasingly unsettling as a 28-year-old grown woman living in a society where women’s rights are constantly in jeopardy of being modified. These are the following observations made while watching the first five episodes of season one.

 

1. Kendra Wilkinson appeared to be the most genuine and the only one with a somewhat healthy sense of self-esteem.

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Truth be told, Kendra was my least favorite girlfriend up until I rewatched the show. Now I realize her portrayed genuineness and excitability is something that only a 20-year-old experiencing the unthinkable for the first time could express.

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The Reason Behind Millennial Summer Nostalgica

Originally published on Huffpost on 7/27/2016

IMG_7900_2 (1)Being an adult with unavoidable responsibilities, the majority of summertime is spent at work with occasional PTO sprinkled throughout the season. Whenever I pass a group of children riding their bicycles home from the local pool while driving home from work, pangs of nostalgia hit me harder than a Buzzfeed article recapping the best pop songs of summer 1999.

My childhood summers look drastically different compared to what today’s children will one day fondly reflect on when they reach the age to be plagued by nostalgia. While I am one of those widely frowned upon millennial who could operate a computer before being able to double knot her shoelaces, being born in May of 1989 allowed me to enjoy an entire decade of life without being tethered to mobile and social technology.  
My twin-home backyard, only 10 feet by 10 feet, was an incubator of my creativity. My
Fisher-Price red and yellow ‘Super Sandbox’ served as a sanctuary where I sat for hours with plastic buckets and old pasta strainers making up stories. After brushing off the grains of sand that could always be felt for hours afterwards, I would close the foldable sides of the sandbox to convert the lid into a personal stage where I belted out The Little Mermaid and Annie songs until my parents told me to give our neighbors a reprieve from live entertainment.

691313796_tpWhen the heat became too much, my Little Tykes Paddling Pool (identical to the one in my Fisher Price Doll House), was set up ready to provide sweet relief with ice cold hose water. Throughout the summer, my mother repurposed empty ketchup bottles and over worn plastic cups as pool toys, along with the specially designated pool Barbie dolls.

Other days, after a sufficient amount of soapy, bubble mix had drenched my clothes and coated my fingers while trying to fish out the thin, not-quite-tall-enough wand inside of the bottle, it was time to rinse off in the sprinkler, creating a whole new level of fun. Laying my belly on the wet grass, I would get eye level to the sprinkler then scream with delight as the water pressure tickled my freckle-kissed skin. I alternated between awkwardly jumping through the shooting water feeling like a ballerina and catching the shooting water in my mouth. After sunset, I spent that hour before bedtime collecting lighting bugs in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked through the lid. Catching the flickering lights was often a challenge, often inducing laughter brought from the tickling sensation of the fluttering bugs wiggling inside my cupped hands.

When I was old enough to cross the street without adult supervision, a good portion of summer days and nights were spent in taking part in constant activity with other kids on my block. It was during that time I learned about hand games and card games. I learned the pain that is inflicted when flinching prematurely during a game of slapises, and how much it hurt to be the table during the arm wrestling portion of a fierce game of Down By the Banks.

11223951_10155925962625063_5036220573801237829_n The soles of our flip flops were worn out from running during intense games of Freedom, and the only worry during a game of Red Rover was if our arm chain was strong enough as the biggest kid from the other team came charging forward. Head on collisions with each other to the point of needing ice packs were common while scrambling to catch a ball during a fierce game of Suey (or depending on your neighborhood, Wall Ball).


Every one of us has childhood summer memories that will be cherished long after growth spurts and puberty. And each generation can argue why their era was different and more preferred. Will the children of today one day reminisce about how summer of 2016 was spent searching for super imposed cartoons around their neighborhood while playing
Pokemon Go?

Perhaps my fellow millennials, especially those born around 1987-1992, and I experienced the gift of a unique hybrid summertime consisting of old-fashion fun along with technology available at the end of the 21st century. 10400480_43596165062_3566_nOur childhood summers felt endless with days blurring together because days were filled with every kind of activity imaginable. Outdoor freedom of hopping on bicycles without worrying about texting our parents to check in once arriving at our destination.

The ability to occasionally over-indulge on video games and cartoons, eventually boring ourselves to find another activity rather than having to be policed by screen time concerns. For a brief period in time in a pre-9/11 and texting world but post-dial up households and Gameboy systems, my generation was made of the children that straddle this brief time, truly providing the best of both worlds.




Roller Derby: Much More Than Skating

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Last weekend, a spectacular gathering of sportsmanship, community, and innovation came together for a weekend-long event in the most unsuspecting place. At a sports center tucked away in Bucks County, Feasterville to be exact, that’s 45 minute drive from the heart of Philadelphia, the roller derby community gathered for the 10th annual East Coast Roller Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) produced by Philly Roller Girls and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).  

In just over a 48 hour span, 44 roller derby bouts were played across three different rinks providing non-stop game viewing. Athletes and their fan base took planes, trains and automobiles to get to the event- literally. The variety of accents and dialects that could be heard during the weekend were plentiful-and included travelers who journeyed from Canada, England, Australia and beyond.  

For many, the Roller Derby strikes thoughts of the Ellen Page, Whip It, film. But for the hundreds of attendees that participated at ECDX, in addition to the thousands who listened to the bouts from home via online streaming, roller derby is a way of life.

As a disclaimer, I am not a roller derby player. Nor do I lack any coordination that would allow me to function on wheels.The sport appeared on my radar back in 2012, when my co-worker, Erica, began talking about her involvement with the sport.

IMG_8429Over time Erica (known as Double H in the derby world), became one of my best friends, and I began to hear all about this female-dominated sport that has been continuously growing around the globe. Through it, she shared about the amazing friendships created through the sport, and her own derby-themed love story.  My 1st time watching roller derby was 2013, when she asked me to attend a bout she was announcing so that I could keep an eye oh her young son. While babysitting, I took in everything that was going around me. The derby names everyone goes by(some of them still make me blush), passionate fans waving handmade signs while screaming their hearts out, and women who willingly lace up skates to participate in a game where it is a strong possibility to end up with a bodily injury. Still even knowing that the impact looks worse than it actually is, I wince and get concerned when I watch Erica get knocked around on skates. Being a spectator of roller derby is not for the faint of heart.

Since that initial experience, I have evolved from derby babysitter to multimedia volunteer for ECDX. 2016 marked my 4th time at the event, making it  my most engaged involvement. Throughout the weekend, I worked with the legion of ECDX volunteers who put their blood, sweat, tears and talents into the annual event.

Most, if not all, people who made ECDX possible sacrificed hours of their personal lives to bring the event to life- encompassing multi-faceted roles including photographers, announcers, referees, merchandisers, broadcasters, recreational planners, and maintenance. To say that their dedication to making the experience a memorable one is a labor of love is an understatement.

Throughout the weekend, I was able to work alongside another creative mind, an event volunteer and skater named Taco Cat, to capture video and photography. Each day, we worked on producing and posting short 30-90 second video clips for fans following along on Facebook. Additionally, we worked on producing Facebook Live reports throughout the weekend, all made possible by using an iRig microphone and my iPhone 6s Plus.  You can check out some of my favorite shots and video clips below, and also by liking the ECDX Facebook page.

 

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Redefining a Mother’s Love

Originally published on Huffington Post

Happy-Mothers-Day-716527Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.

The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.

Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.

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Severing The Ties That Bind

Originally published on Huffington Post

Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.

 

detail-of-left-mirror-car-while-driving-on-a-rainy-day-highway_e126zjuh__S0011Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.

 

At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.

 

51Zu5zbzWDLWithout a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.

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5th Grade, Filming & Fancy Footwork

 

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A few hours each month I find myself transported back to a time warp, where the chairs are smaller, the voices squeaker and the smell much sweatier. The 5th grade has not changed much since I was in during the 1999-2000 school year. Except none of the kids are blasting Nsync, trading Pokemon card or watching As Told By Ginger.

12783571_10153937280828698_7589761860778496392_oThey may have iPads and texting- but never will they be able to bask in perfecting the ultimate AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) Away Message and profile.

Anyway- there is a reason I’m back in the classroom besides nostalgia. I have partnered with Dancing Classrooms Philly to create original video content to showcase the impact their programs has on middle school students.

As a non-profit organization, Dancing Classroom Philly brings dancing lessons into 5th and 8th grade classrooms through in-school residency programs twice a week for a duration of 2 1/2 months. And the students getting more great workout learning dances ranging from the waltz to the rumba. Social interactions including eye contact, emotional intelligence, body contact and teamwork are all part of the program’s educational experiencE. 

12768130_10153917210298698_4055273941892517245_o Through the grant funded by The Philadelphia Foundation, I have been able to capture the spring residencies of the students at four Philadelphia area schools. By creating exciting video projects, my goal is to show how Dancing Classrooms Philly helps build confidence and break down social barriers in our schools and communities- while spreading the word why #ArtEdWorks!

This has been such fun freelance project and really allows me to use a medium of storytelling that I haven’t been using lately. Here is a sneak peak of a bit of the footage I captured during the 1st week of lessons back in February!

 

 

Untangling Myself from an Emotional Rock Bottom

Originally published on Elephant Journal on 1/28/2016.

 

RG-Mermaid-2Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.

A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.

Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.

Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom. Continue reading

33 Articles Published in 365 Days

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For me, 2015 can be described as wordy – literally! Over the past 365 days, I have had 33 essays published across multiple outlets- 20 syndicated and 13 original. Having the opportunity to allow my work to be introduced to new readers has been the best thing to happen this year.

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365 in 365- Kinda, Sorta, Let Me Explain

il_570xN.483656551_25qxAlmost exactly a year ago, I had decided to embark in an ambitious endeavor of completing 365 things 365 days. At the time, it was a creative way for me to continue to try new things while regaining a new life balance, something that was lacking in 2014. The original list was full of mini road trips, photography projects, wish list items and many, many, many random to-dos

Forgive me if this sounds cliche, but there is no other phrase that can describe why all of the items on the list did not get completed. The unexpected happened in my life early in the year, placing me on a winding path for the rest of the year. Instead of focusing on this list that was sure to bring me enlightenment, circumstances caused me to rise to the occasion at work, where I had barely been for four months. An unintended Master’s class was upon me, expanding my industry knowledge and skills sets in a baptism by fire way. Somehow I blinked, and 2015 is in the final stages. In total, 95 items have been completed on the original 365 list. Yet there is no doubt that over the past year, the amount of new experiences, purchases, projects and skills developed total that target number of 365.

doallthethingsWhile all of the items are not included on here, each one has impacted who I am. From discovering my uncanny ability to multitask high priority tasks, to exploring my strengths as a professional, the direction of my future is clearer now than I had anticipated it would be this time last year. In respects to my writing, in 2015 I have had 33 essays published including 20 syndicated pieces and 13 original. My mind is still reeling about that reality. The gratitude I have in my heart for the opportunity to share my stories to help others feel less alone cannot even begin to be explained. Personally, the items that were completed (both planned and spontaneous) served as additional crumbs of insight leading me the path of learning more about myself. Self acceptance and inner peace is still a daily struggle, but maintaining an undistorted viewpoint has become more manageable.

To check out my favorite moments of 2015, including a photo gallery, click here!

To check out a photo gallery of my favorite photographs that I’ve snapped in 2015, click here! 

To check out all of the 33 articles I’ve had published in 2015, click here! 

Below are the list of the 90 items checked off the list, as well as a few of the additions: Continue reading

Why I Choose To Celebrate Christmas Without My Family

Originally posted on Bustle on 12/24/2015

bcd95f70-8be4-0133-9fe4-0e7c926a42afListening to all the Christmas songs that were impossible to escape on the radio this past month, I realized something for the first time in my 26 years: about 95 percent of holiday songs focus on home. “Baby please come home,” “I’ll be home for Christmas,” “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” yada, yada yada. But what happens when there’s no longer a home to return to? How do you deal with that, during a holiday that is supposed to serve as a magnet for families to reunite?

The rented roof over my head is a sanctuary for me and my ginger tabby cat, Annie (who was a Christmas present from a friend two years ago). And about 30 minutes away from my rental, the brick twin-home where I spent my entire childhood still stands. My parents still live in it. But over the past two years, the walls and people inside them have continually become more foreign to me.

Physical and mental illness have turned the mother I grew up with into someone more unpredictable than a roulette wheel. When I return for a visit, acid reflux, rather than a sense of familiarity and peace, tends to be the main feeling I experience. However, it’s more painful to see the ways that the unhappiness and unhealthiness have taken a toll on my father, who never gets an opportunity to jump off my mother’s roller coaster.

For years, I felt that as their only child, it was my responsibility to drag my parents, kicking and screaming, towards happiness. But two years ago, after hitting my own breaking point, I made the conscious decision to stop trying. Doing this required setting new, healthier boundaries that pushed me to figure out new ways to approach many different situations and relationships — including the holiday season.

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 6.31.36 PMLast year marked the first holiday season in 25 years that I spent without my parents. Though the logical part of me knew that I was better off spending Christmas away from two people who were completely miserable, the emotional side felt my heart strings tighten with every mention of family during the month of December. Truthfully, the entire ordeal felt as if I was wearing a new sweater that wasn’t yet worn in.

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