Disneyland: Still Magical

When I was a kid we did the same thing every summer. We got in the car and drove from Tucson across the border to Sonora, Mexico and kept driving through the stifling 100 degree heat until we got to San Carlos. It was hot and dry just like Tucson, but with a beautiful beach and lots of friends and family.

A couple of times, though, we did something different. Something so different that it still seems magical. Instead of driving south, we hopped on the interstate and headed west. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I went to Disneyland, but I can remember the photo that has since been lost, from that trip. My mom is hugging me and you can see the whale’s mouth from Pinnochio in the background.

I’ve been back many times since, but to me it’s just as magical. Sharing Disneyland with my kids has been a much different experience. We don’t drive across the desert to get there. We hop on the freeway and a mere 40 minutes later we’re at our destination.

For them, it’s not a very special thing we do every 5 years. When they were little we had an annual pass. We would go to Disneyland and hang out for an afternoon. Now that they are in school we don’t go as often, which makes it that much more special when we do go.

I think this last visit was just as magical for them as it was for me. We hadn’t gone for a while and the trip was a complete surprise. Thanks to run Disney, I was able to participate in the Disneyland Half Marathon. And thanks to Disneyland, I was able to get passes to take my husband and two boys to the park on Saturday.

Now, spending the day walking around Disneyland wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do the day before a half marathon, but it was great for my family. It was the first time my youngest could go on all the rides and had enough energy to last most of the day.

It was also our first time on the new Star Tours. We love Star Wars so for us it was fantastic. It’s in 3D, which I don’t usually like, but it’s very well done here, and there are 54 variations so the two times we went we had different beginning, middle, and endings. Just watching the boys laugh and hoot and holler made it that much more exciting.  If that wasn’t enough, their dreams came true when they were pulled out of the crowd to do the Jedi Training Academy. Even my younger, shyer son battled Darth Vader and both boys were awesome.

I don’t know if Disneyland will hold the same magical place in their childhood as it did for me, but I know they’ll have some great memories.

Here are some pictures from the day.

My older son battling Darth Vader
My baby taking on Darth Vader


Gluten-Free burger and sweet potato fries at the Hungry Bear Restaurant (Here’s more on gluten-free at Disneyland)



Today I wanted to tell you about a new website called MomsLA. It was founded by Me, Elise of Elise’s Ramblings, and Sarah Auerswald of Mar Vista Mom and it launched this week. We wanted to create a site where people can go and find out what the Mom Bloggers in Los Angeles are saying about their city, their lives, and the issues that are important to them.

We have some fantastic bloggers on board and we can’t wait to hear what they have to say. We’ve already had some interesting posts up on MomsLA including my story today about my visit to the Medical Marijuana clinic.

Check out MomsLA and let us know what you think.

Life After Haiti

One year ago today, my friend Lorraine got some terrible news. The girl she was trying to adopt from Haiti was near the epicenter of a devastating earthquake. The American women who run the orphanage where the girl lived sent frantic messages in the following days. They were running out of food and water. They feared looters would come into the now vulnerable compound.

They, like many of the adoptive families, took action and contacted everyone they could think of to help get the children out of the country. Several days later, Lorraine brought her daughter, Samantha, home to start her new life in Playa Vista, California.

It seemed like a perfect and happy ending, but really it was just the beginning of their new life together. “Nothing could have prepared me,” Lorraine said. “Her needs are so different than my other children.”

Lorraine and her husband Damien have 2 other children, ages 1 and 5, and had always wanted to adopt a child. After they had their daughter who is now 5, they started the process of adopting a girl from Haiti. They picked Haiti because of its proximity to the United States and because it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They visited Samantha’s orphanage several times, always telling her that soon she would be coming home with them. They knew it wouldn’t be a quick process, but they had no idea it would take more than 2 ½ years.

During that time, Lorraine had another baby, a boy, and when Samantha left Haiti Lorraine’s son was 1 month old. Lorraine and Damien went from having one child to 3 in a month and there was quite a lot of adjusting to do.

First, they had to get Samantha, who is now 11, to trust them. She knows she has parents in Haiti (who survived the earthquake that took the lives of 200,000 people), parents who gave her to the orphanage when she was 5-years-old because they were too poor to care for her, but part of her thinks that Lorraine and Damien took her from her birth parents. They have documents from the orphanage that Samantha’s parents wrote explaining why they had to do what they did.

Lorraine and Damien tell Samantha that you can love someone so much you’re willing to give them up so they can have a better life. “We don’t know how much she believes.”

Samantha has slowly begun to trust her new family.

Trust isn’t the only issue. The family is working hard with Samantha to get her caught up in school and teach her about concepts like the value of money and basic math skills.

As an 11-year-old, Samantha would typically be in the 4th grade. However, “When she got here she couldn’t count to 20,” said Lorraine, who stays home with her 3 kids. They sent Samantha to a private school that could transition her over time into a normal curriculum and they hired a tutor to work with her every day. “Now she’s doing 3rd grade math.”

Her improvement isn’t just academic. In 1 year, Samantha has grown 8 inches. She went from a small, malnourished girl who looked years younger to a healthy tween who looks her age.

Her age has always been in question because there are no records of her birth. She also has no baby pictures to hang alongside her adoptive siblings so Lorraine and Damien hired a police artist to do age regression drawings of what Samantha would have looked like as a baby.

“She’s really proud of them,” Lorraine said. “She really embraced the idea of what she looked like.”

Their life is more difficult than Lorraine could have imagined when they went down the road to international adoption.

“Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like,” she said. “This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done…(but) It’s worth it in the long run.”

If you’re looking for ways to help the people left in Haiti, please see my post about the Heart of Haiti project. 

Heart of Haiti

Last year’s earthquake in Haiti took the lives of more than 200,000 people. It’s an unimaginable catastrophe and its aftermath inspired people to open their pocketbooks.

A year later, there is so much work that still needs to be done, especially after the deadly cholera outbreak that has killed thousands, and the ongoing political unrest.

Heart of Haiti is working to keep money flowing into the country and empower local entrepreneurs at the same time. Macy’s is now working with Fairwinds Trading to get the work of Haitian artisans out to the world. More than 450 Haitian artisans have been featured and 4,000 to 5,000 people have made money from the project. If you buy some of the products, the artisans receive 22 percent of the retail price of anything sold.

Here are some of the beautiful products you can buy at Macy’s. 

Fairwinds Trading was created by Willa Shalit, daughter of movie critic Gene Shalit, who is fascinating by the way. Shalit created Fairwinds in 2005 to get goods from Third World countries to American consumers. She has also worked in Rwanda and Tanzania. If you’re a blogger and you’re interested in traveling to Haiti and learning about Fairwinds Trading first hand, Shalit is taking a group over on Februrary. Bloggers will meet the artisans and see where they work and the impact they are having on their communities.

I don’t know about you, but I love it when something I buy has a good cause behind it. And this definitely seems like a good cause.

I was selected for this very special “CleverHaiti” opportunity by Clever Girls Collective Blog With Integrity.
All opinions are my own.

Tragedy in Tucson

Saturday morning I was working on a post about Arizona’s new law that makes it illegal to teach Mexican-American studies in Tucson’s public schools. It is shocking, racist, and like the Arizona immigration law, horrible foreshadowing to what’s possible in a country so divided.

But then something happened that I never would have imagined in my hometown. Jared L. Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in front of a Safeway where Gifford was holding a mini town hall. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green who wanted to meet her congresswoman was killed along with a Federal Judge John M. Roll and 4 other people.

What is going on in Arizona and what is next? Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, who I consider a vocal voice of reason in the state after calling Arizona’s immigration law “racist” and initially refusing to enforce it, had a grim analysis. He said in a news conference Saturday, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately I think Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

What’s so shocking to me is not that the shooting happened in Arizona, but that it happened in Tucson. Like Rep. Raul Grijalva said on Meet the Press Sunday, Tucson has a million people, but it’s a small town.

For example, when my dad was in the hospital a couple of years ago, I called a random flower shop to order a bouquet. The woman who answered knew my brother and she was genuinely concerned for our family. Even though I oppose the state’s immigration law and am baffled by how Arizona Governor Jan Brewer got elected, whenever I go home I come back feeling good about the world.

I took my kids to Tucson 3 weeks ago to see family and friends. The weather was perfect and we had such a great time seeing all of the people we love. The friends and family I grew up with in Tucson are reasonable, generous people and I feel for the sadness and conflict they are going through. One friend said an email to me that the state is so backward, “I sometimes can’t believe I live here.”

But I can. I always thought that if Los Angeles got to be too much I could just move us home. Back to the easy life that Tucson affords. Nice people, affordable housing, and family and friends. My friends who live there say that in spite of all of the political craziness in the state, Tucson is a great place to raise a family.

That sounds hard to believe of a city in a state called the capital of hatred and bigotry by one of its own law enforcement leaders. But deep down I always felt like Tucson, my home, was the one safe place in the world left to go. But after this tragedy, I don’t think that’s true anymore.

Beyond Shelter Cancels Adopt-A-Family Program

A few years ago some friends and I adopted a family for the holidays from the organization Beyond Shelter. Each person bought a present for one family member, which consisted of a mother and her 3 children. We never found out her or her kids’ names because she was on the run from her abusive husband. She had escaped one night with her kids and as much as she could carry. We just knew her age and age of the children, including a list of things she really needed.

It was a great feeling helping out a woman in a horrible situation. My friends and I made sure to explain to our kids why we were buying toys that wouldn’t end up under our own trees. They really got into it and picked out some nice presents. We bought the mother things she really needed like pots and pans, but also a nice pair of earrings and a warm jacket. I hope we made her holidays a little special in spite of her circumstances.

I love this program so much I really wanted to do it again this year. I called up Beyond Shelter, but instead of information about this feel-good program I got some bad news and a reality check.

The Adopt-a-Family program was cancelled this year so the organization can take care of more pressing needs for families.

Beyond Shelter is undergoing an emergency campaign to help people get into housing. The financial crisis has been devastating for families and they need more than just presents under the tree.

“Where are they going to put their gifts if they don’t have a roof over their heads?” said Beyond Shelter’s Director of Community Relations and Private Donors, Maxine Moshay.

“We need to help families year round not just at the holidays,” she said. “This has been a very difficult year for everyone.”

Beyond Shelter is a non-profit that works to help the homeless get housing, acquire life skills, find work, and receive help with childcare. They used to mostly serve single mothers, but because of the financial crisis they are seeing single dads, entire families, and aunts and uncles and grandparents who have been called upon to care for children when they don’t have the resources.

“We have people who have never experienced financial problems being evicted,” she said. They have nowhere to go and no one to help them.

“We do what we can,” Moshay said. They provide hotel vouchers for families that have been evicted and try to get them into transitional housing. But there are so many more people that need help this year.

Beyond Shelter is trying to help, but it needs money. Donating cash might not be as fun as buying gifts for a mom on the run, but it’s important right now.

For more information about how you can help Beyond Shelter or to donate to the annual toy drive visit the website. Beyond Shelter also has a gift registry where you can sign up to buy essentials for families who are moving into apartments, but have no furnishings, no dishes, no drapes.

Giveaway Monday -The Go-To Mom's Parent's Guide

This morning was a tough one. I asked my 5-year-old what he wanted for breakfast and I made it for him exactly as he ordered. When I served it he said I made it wrong and he didn’t want it. He crumbled it up and dumped his breakfast on the table and started yelling and crying. I stood my ground and told him I wasn’t making him anything else and if he continued yelling and crying he had to leave the kitchen so his brother could have a quiet breakfast.

The morning just got worse and worse. I need a nanny, I thought. My son is so good for other people, but he constantly challenges me. Instead, I remembered the item that I’m giving away for Giveaway Monday is exactly what I needed this morning.

Kimberley Clayton Blaine is the Go-To Mom and her new book is “Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children.” She is a licensed child and family therapist and I stopped reading parenting books about the time I stopped nursing. I looked in the section about “Dealing with Tantrum”s and found the advice I needed for the situation, “Ignore It.” This can only be done at home, the book says, and we were at home. Instead of picking him up and taking him to Dad in the other room, like I did, I should have ignored his tantrum. I just became more frustrated when he came back into the kitchen and kept complaining about how his breakfast wasn’t the right temperature.

My child is very strong willed. I know this because he is me. Arguing back at him wasn’t the right solution, but it’s hard to remember parenting strategy at 6:30 am. The book goes on to say that “the more you try to control your child, the more resistant he’ll be.” And that’s exactly what happened.

The next time he throws a fit about food (most likely, tomorrow) I’m going to remain calm, ignore it, and wait until he’s ready to eat. It’s worked in the past.

If you live in the United States and would like to win a copy of Kimberley’s book, please leave a comment below (with your contact information) about why her book would help your family. I’ll announce a winner on Friday.

And be sure to check out The Go-To Mom’s new online series, MommyToMommy.TV.

Here is a little info about the series:
“Twice per month, Blaine (who produces and hosts the show) will team up with a different momblogger, mompreneur or celebrity guest to deliver info-tainment on the featured topic. With its fast-paced talk show style, the show is designed to entertain and inform moms about the things they care about most. The show will feature a variety of hot topics about motherhood, family, and the work/life balance so many moms juggle. Everything from how-to’s for throwing a killer birthday party for your kids, to juggling entrepreneurship and motherhood, or dealing with relationships, fertility issues, and body image—no topic will be left uncovered.”


Disclosure: I’m not being paid to write this post, in fact, I bought the book at Kimberley’s book release party.  I thought you might like it.

Congratulations, April. You are the winner of the Parent’s Guide to Emotion Coaching. Thank you for playing!

Wicked Attraction on Investigation Discovery

Make sure to watch my friend, Claire Booth, tomorrow on the Investigation Discovery channel show “Wicked Attraction.” The show is chronicling the Helzer serial murder case that rocked Northern California in the summer of 2000.

Claire, along with myself, was one of the Contra Costa Times reporters who covered the bizarre case. She wrote the book “The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion, and Murder in the name of God.”

The show airs at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30. Here is the description from Investigation Discovery:

Deadly Disciple
In the summer of 2000, a gruesome discovery is made along the Mokelumne River in Northern California. Duffel bags containing the dismembered body parts of more than one person have floated to the surface. At the same time, detectives in multiple counties search for three missing people, trying to solve a double homicide. As the evidence mounts, it’s clear that all of the crimes are connected, and a clear suspect comes into the picture. He’s a self-proclaimed prophet of God who police fear may be using promises of heaven to coerce his disciples into creating hell on earth.

The Great Momtini

I come from a sports family. My sister was a softball star, my oldest brother was a basketball and track star and my other brother continues to be an amazing tennis player and coach. And then there was me.

Sports was not my thing. I liked to read, watch TV and eat peanut butter sandwiches. Gordita was one of my nicknames, and I was definitely gordita. And not too fast. And half blind. I didn’t get glasses until the 5th grade. That was years after I started playing T-ball and came home with black eyes from not seeing the balls flying toward my face.

Needless to say, I was not a popular kid and my family is not known for sensitivity. My sister described our childhood as “Lord of the Flies.” So to make up for that, I try to be very sensitive to my two boys. I encourage them to be happy just the way they are and I try not to be critical. That was, until, one of my kids started playing basketball.

He’s 6 and from the beginning I wasn’t sure that basketball would be a good fit for him. It’s a contact sport and he’s a sweet, gentle guy, not an aggressive one.

But you need a little aggression to play basketball. You need to get the ball away from the other team and clear your way to make a basket. You need to make a basket.

“You need to try harder,” I told my son after I had shown him for the gazillionth time how to dribble while running. I was one of the assistant coaches, which I volunteered to do because I thought it would be “fun.” If you would have asked my son at the time he probably would have called it “torture.”

No, I did not bounce the basketball off of his head or call him names a la “The Great Santini,” but it brought out a competitive side I didn’t know I had.

We bought a basketball hoop and played outside after school. We practiced dribbling and shooting and we played keep away. But he didn’t really want to keep it away or get it away from me. He’s just not aggressive and in your face and neither am I, but that didn’t stop me from expecting him to be Michael Jordan (see, I don’t even know the name of a current basketball star).

After several games, I noticed something. Actually, I didn’t notice something, the other parents pointed out that my son had not made a basket during a game (all of the other kids had at that point) and they assured me that it was okay. If it was okay then why was everyone pointing out to me that it was okay?

I haven’t mentioned that this basketball program is the sweetest, most non competitive program you can imagine. The teams are parent coached and no one keeps score. They are so nice that during several games near the end of the season the ref and my son’s head coach spent quite a bit of time setting him up during the game so he would make a basket. I would hold my breath when he would take each shot and then let it out when he wouldn’t make it.

But then in the second to last game, I held my breath and when I let it out it was a scream because he made a basket. I actually started to well up.

And it was in that moment that I realized what a total ass I had been. Who cares if a 6-year-old can make a basket (now that basketball season is over, he’s making them all the time). My son is amazing and smart and good at so many things. Why did I care so much? He’s 6 for god’s sake. How did I get to be that parent?

I still don’t know, but I do know that it takes a very special person to coach children’s sports. And I am not that person.

Arizona, Why Do You Have To Make It So Difficult?

Way back in the day when I was a young reporter in Illinois, I sang “Volver, Volver” with Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos. Long story short, a colleague at the paper knew Bruce Hornsby and this got us backstage passes for the Further Festival, where Hornsby was playing that day in St. Louis. Thrilled, my friend and I flew across the bridge to get there before Los Lobos took the stage. We were too late, but backstage we found Cesar Rosas sitting alone on a stool playing the guitar. I introduced myself and said I was from Tucson and I had seen the band play at the Pima County Fair. He said he loved Tucson and told me to sit down with him. We sang the classic Mexican song, “Volver, Volver” together. I’ve since felt a bond with the band because they love Tucson like I love Tucson.

But Los Lobos won’t be going there anytime soon. The band released this statement last week.

 “We support the boycott of Arizona. The new law will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona….”

Los Lobos is forgoing a decent chunk of change by cancelling the show near Phoenix and potentially one in Tucson later in the summer. The band is willing to make the decision to support the boycott, but can I?

I already made plans to go to Tucson to see my family and friends. My kids haven’t seen my parents since Christmas and June is a good time to go; it’s not too hot (just barely 100 and bone dry) and many of the snowbirds (a.k.a. people who voted to make Arizona the laughing stock of the country) have gone to more temperate climates. I want to go because my kids love Tucson and they love their Nana and Papi. It’s not so we can stay at a fancy spa (and give a lot of tax money to the state).

Is it fair for me to keep them from their grandparents to make a point? I wrote this blog about Arizona’s new racist immigration law and I took my husband and children to march with me in the May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles. How do I teach my children that it’s important to stand up for what we believe and then cave so we can visit friends and family?I have mixed feelings about going there and spending any money. But it’s not like the state will stop operating because I’m not eating out at La Parilla Suiza, my favorite Tucson restaurant. My friends jokingly promised that we would only frequent businesses owned my illegal immigrants or we could just go to their houses and not spend any money at all.

But it’s not just the immigration law, of course. After the shame of the state voting down the Martin Luther King holiday years ago and the new immigration law, Arizona decided that the Tucson Unified School District can’t teach ethnic studies. I can understand how some people might think the new immigration law is a good thing, and that Arizona is trying to protect itself because the federal government is not. But it’s a big and ludicrous step for the Governor and legislature to go from immigration “reform” to dictating if or how schools can teach ethnic studies. Their attempt to prevent “resentment” by prohibiting schools from teaching ethnic studies is just plain racist and lacks any rational motivation.

The Tucson I knew growing up was a perfect interracial place where African Americans, Latinos and white people got along. For the record, the Tucson City Council is suing the state saying the immigration law is unconstitutional and the city’s police chief has also come out against it.

Everyone I know in Tucson, and not just my Mexican-American friends and family, is against the immigration law and the ban on ethnic studies.

Maybe I can justify my trip by thinking about this amazing story out of Arizona. One of my good friends and her husband were worried that Prop. 100, a ballot measure that would raise sales tax by 1 percent and bring millions of dollars to schools, would not pass. So they decided that when you’re handed lemons you put up a website, facebook page, and twitter account and then make lemonade. They organized 100 Stands for Education with the goal of raising awareness about the measure by getting families to put up 100 lemonade stands in one day. They fell just a few short, but the ballot measure passed.

My friend is Mexican-American and her husband is Indian-American. They did an incredible thing for kids and no one asked them for their papers. This is the Arizona that I know and one I want to share with my kids.

Just One More Point About Arizona…

I’ve talked to several people in the last week about Arizona’s immigration law, and I wrote this post for LA Moms Blog. Some people said they didn’t have a problem with the law because when a person is illegal that means he or she is doing something illegal and should be punished.

But it’s not that simple. I read this LA Times article last night about two Arizona police officers who felt so strongly that the law would inhibit them from doing their jobs that they filed separate lawsuits against the state of Arizona. And they worried about what would happen to law abiding legal citizens like them, Mexican Americans who could be mistaken for illegal.

And that’s my biggest problem with the law is that it claims to be against anyone in the country illegally, but really it hurts all Latinos in the state. Not only could a legal immigrant be unjustly questioned, but it could have many more unintended consequences such as reduced ability to fight crime.

Someone who is in the country illegally isn’t going to be as willing to talk to the police if they have information about a crime. If you don’t trust the justice system you’re not going to use it. One of the officers in the article talked about how it took years to get the people of the South Tucson neighborhood he patrols to trust him. And those years of work could be for nothing.

When I say that the law will lead to racial profiling, I’m not saying that all police are biased. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I was watching “Police Women of Maricopa County” on TLC, which is set in Phoenix. One of the deputies pulled over a man in an extended cab truck with dark tinted windows for something to do with his license plate. When she approached the driver, he accused her of pulling him over because he’s Mexican. She told him to look at the deputy to his right and look at her, that he’s Mexican and she’s Mexican. And how is she supposed to tell who’s driving the truck when the windows are so dark?

It must be incredibly offensive to be unfairly accused of racial profiling and the deputy was visibly angry. This law will make it even harder for the police to do their jobs and for people who are illegal or legal to live their lives.