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Author Archives: connoisseur of kid stuff

The Next Adventure (Part 1)


We are right in the middle of moving.  For the first time in 16.5 years, when we left San Francisco with our beautiful 7 month old baby and headed to Southern California for the BIG Opportunity.  The one that never panned out and may possibly be fodder for a book or memoire at some point.  But not today.  Today, is the same as the last three weeks have been.  It is full of boxes and newspapers.  And memories.  And more paperwork than should be legal.  And it is all getting packed.

Growing up an Army Brat, this is no strange deal to me.  Having packed an average of every two years until I was 27, I am surprised at how soothing I actually find the process.  I am almost sad we didn’t do it several times in the in-between as there is no substitute to moving when it comes to major cleaning out.

But my kids.  They are not sure of this new animal “packing” and it’s partner in crime, “moving”.  Resistance is starting to surface, even with the love of the new house and the adventures that it holds.  Even though they go to a charter school where they will continue again in the fall. Even though many friends live closer to the new house.  Even though many friends that live close to the old house have grown distant.  They still cling to this old beach house as the only home they have ever known and I can see that it is hard for them to fathom that there will ever be a night at the new address that doesn’t feel like a sleepover or like we are visiting family.  With colors for their new rooms picked out they seem unsure that their beds will actually go “there” and “there”.

And so during this very crazy period of upheaval, I try to remember patience.  I remind myself that while I know all will be fine, they are not so sure.  More treats. More friends.  More movies. More breaks.  Slowly but surely we are creeping forward.


Kasey Elizabeth Stroke

Hold on folks, this one is going to be a little bumpy. You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog posts kind of came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. And I knew that I would have to write about it but it took some time to get there. Leading up to a couple of weeks ago, my life had already been a little chaotic. Life going in so many directions that is seems fated that I would have been just home from a great business meeting when I called my mom to share the news.

But she had news of her own.

My family lives about 2000 miles away from me which most of the time I don’t give much thought to. Having grown up an Army brat, living far away from both of my grandmothers (sometimes across an entire ocean) I took it for granted that I would most likely live away from my parents as an adult. I was never really by choice. It just kind of was.

However, that Wednesday afternoon, two weeks ago, I would have given anything to live “right there”. My cousins each have children that are similar in age to my own. Our first children were born within 6 weeks of each other (there are three of us – my sister had her son later.) Our second children are further apart in age, with Kasey Elizabeth Stroke bringing up the end of the sibling pairs. Kasey was a blessing to my cousin Michael and his wife Robin, who were both a little bit older when she was conceived. And Kasey was born with Down’s Syndrome.

If you think that means that she couldn’t do what other kids did, she certainly never got the memo. Whatever she was delayed in learning physically, she made up for with sheer force when she did learn how. She was a toddler when her father (my cousin) died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Her sister and my oldest daughter are a Facebook success stories. All the time, I hear about how Facebook is terrible for teens. (And there are some compelling arguments, for sure.) But in this case, these two kind of discovered each other and forged a long distance friendship that ultimately has brought our two families closer. Kit came out here a couple of years ago and we shared our Southern California lifestyle. It was during that stay that I witnessed first hand the strength of the bond of the women my cousin had left behind. While second-hand clothes shopping on Melrose, Kit called her mom and they just chatted. Like they were friends. Then her baby sister got on the phone, and Kit lit up talking to her and telling her how much she missed her. I witnessed this scene over and over again in the less than two weeks Kit was with us. Truth be told, I was a little envious.

Eager to return the hospitality, when we went to Indiana to spend Christmas with my parents a year and a half ago, Kit invited Hayley to stay with her family for a few days which was great. When Hayley came back to my parents’ house, Kasey threw a fit. She did everything at full throttle to include loving. And she made it known she wanted Hayley to stay. With them.

With this relationship developing, I became Facebook friends with my “cousin-in-law?” and we began sharing comments about each other’s day-to-day. Things I wouldn’t have any way to know otherwise. Like when one of the girls were sick. Or they were participating in a Down’s Syndrome Fundraiser. She is one of those people I keep in mind when I think my day is hard. She is on, 24 – 7.

Two weeks ago today, Kasey choked on a piece of bread at the dinner table. Robin, a preschool director (CPR and Heimlich Maneuver trained), was unable to dislodge the bread. Kasey was taken by ambulance to one of the finest children’s hospitals in the United States. Less than 24 hours later, they pronounced her brain-dead.

As my mother shared this news, I argued back. Unable to believe. Unable to accept. Unable to do anything from 2000 miles away.

I could only get news. The news that Kasey was going to be a donor. That Kit was a wreck. That Robin was somehow holding up. I sent an email requesting prayers from my own church’s prayer line. I asked that all pray for a miracle, still unable to reconcile the inevitable.

That Saturday I read the most beautiful Facebook posting – one I hope to never read again. Filled with grace that I cannot conceive of, Kasey’s mother shared the news that Kasey’s kidneys and livers had been the ultimate gift to three lives. And that Kasey had made her final journey home where her father would be greeting her with open arms.

I was unable to make the calling and the funeral that were held several days later. I so wanted to be there even though I knew my presence would change nothing. As I write this, I know I have to conclude it. I held off writing it because I didn’t want it to be preachy about keeping perspective. Being grateful. Loving your kids. I realize now why I delayed putting the words down. It’s conclusion / purpose is simply to acknowledge this little girl’s life. And to say good-bye. I couldn’t do that until today. And I couldn’t write anything else until I had taken care of this.

Kasey Elizabeth, because of distance, we did not see each other often. But I will miss your mother’s Facebook posts about funny things you said or did that day. Pics of you with your Hannah Montana wig. I will miss the joy and pride on your sister’s face in pics that she posts of her at her latest cheerleading competition with you by her side. I will miss how you gave your grandmother a run for her money (like I gave your great-grandmother a run for her money before you). And I will miss that you always held out for your own way and refused to be ignored. Your sister has said several times in the past week or so that we now have an angel watching over us. I believe that to be true. Love and peace.

Come to Paradise Perks on Sat. May 19th!!!!


Not in the habit of blatant advertising or shameless promotion of activities in which my family is involved – but hey, there’s a first time for everything!  With that in mind, I am thrilled to start this wild abandonment of my own rules by promoting this awesome event this weekend.  On Sat., May 19th, Paradise Perks in Irvine will be hosting a fundraising event for the OCHSA Relay for Life Team.  The Relay For Life Team has organized an evening of musical performances by OCHSA students.  A $5 donation at the door, gets you 4 hours of great performances from 6:00 – 10:00 pm.  In addition to great coffee drinks and snacks, Paradise Perks has a light cafe menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches.

OCHSA Visual Arts Students are also donating works that will be sold that night with proceeds being donated to the team.

In short, this is a great family night, date venue, friends’ night out – whatever you want to make it.  And of course, it is for a great cause!  So win win win all the way around.

OCHSA Filmmakers Continue to Make Their Mark on the Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase

The Newport Beach Film Festival is here again.  While time just doesn’t permit that I get to see many of the 450 films being shown during the almost two-week stint, I always get excited that it’s going on – it makes Newport Beach seem artsy and cultured.  And I like that in a town.

My favorite part of the Film Festival is the Youth Film Showcase sponsored by Volcom.  I like it so much that I wrote about it last year for Coast Kids magazine.  I know that part of my affinity to the Youth Film Showcase in addition to the caliber of its films, is that it’s founder, Whitney Ellis, is an alumnus of the school to which both of my children attend.  She is actually part of the reason my kids attend that school.  My family attended the first Newport Youth Film Showcase almost a decade ago (okay – that is scary!) at which Newport Beach Film Festival CEO, Greg Schwenk, introduced the audience to Whitney.  He told the story behind how she approached him to include youth in the newly established Newport Beach Film Festival. He told her funding was the problem.  Schwenk then introduced Richard Woolcott, CEO of Volcom, who spoke about how Whitney approached him and Volcom to sponsor the youth portion of the film festival (at the time of writing this blog, I am still trying to confirm that Volcom is sponsoring the event again this year.).  Woolcott, who happens to love film, agreed that Volcom would become the sole sponsor.  Then Whitney spoke.  She was one of the most articulate and motivated 17 year olds I had ever had the pleasure of hearing.  And I thought, wow, if this school is producing kids that can accomplish things like this, I need to look into it!

This year, however, I am even more excited because not one but TWO of my oldest daughter’s friends / classmates have films that will be presented in the Youth Film Showcase this coming Sunday.  I am sorry, but that is just COOL!  So through my daughter, I forwarded some questions to these young filmmakers about themselves and their creations.  Tomorrow we will trek over to the Fashion Island Cinemas (April 29th, 12:00 noon – the show is free – get there early) to see the showcase ourselves, but today, big shout out and congrats to Dena O’Dell and Christian Flashman!  Both young filmmakers chose to use their medium to portray people of inspiration – those that have faced or are facing adversity and continue to greet each day with passion.

Dena’s film, “Breathe Easy” is about her friend, Carly Lindmeier, who has cystic fibrosis.  Moved by her friend’s need to take 28 pills and 3 breathing treatments a day in order to manage her pain and health while still maintaining the lifestyle of a “regular” teen, O’Dell captures Carly’s regiment treatment, but more importantly, her drive to spread social awareness and medical advocacy.  Originally a school assignment , the film took Dena about two months to complete.  Making movies since age nine, Dena was originally drawn to the medium from her computer software at the time.  Nobody else really knew how to use it, so Dena set forth to learn the film editing programs.  Her passion for the process and what she could accomplish with it, landed her a spot in the Film and Television conservatory at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA) where she is currently a junior.  While the Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase is the first festival to which Dena has submitted work, the film has also been accepted into the Archer Film Festival where it will be shown in May. (Note: The Archer Film Festival is focused on empowering women in the film industry – pretty cool, check the link!)

Film and Television Conservatory classmate, Christian Flashman is also new to the Film Festival circuit.  His first festival submission, “Big Fish Little Pond“, documents local artist Gavin Heath.  Originally a South African surfer with promise of making it big in the sport, Heath was forced to leave South Africa in a state of emergency.  Now a resident of Laguna Beach, he is an artisan favorite creating tribal influence glass sculptures that reflect his longing for his home country.  Flashman’s original artistic interest was in comic books.  However, a film editing class in 8th grade changed that path, feeding a new passion to direct films and leading him to  OCHSA to embark on his filmmaking journey.  The Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase is the first festival to which he has submitted work.  Flashman is currently waiting to hear if his work has also been accepted into the LA Film Festival.

Can’t wait to see them tomorrow.  Congrats and good luck to Dena and Christian!

My Little Chat with Dame Julie Andrews Edwards

I had hoped for a small interview with Dame Julie Andrews Edwards.  One in which I could ask her what is her favorite movie that she is in? (I am hard pressed to answer that one because I love them all.)  If there is a particular message she wants to share with kids and their parents through her books?  How cool is it to be working with her daughter on this book series? If she has a movie project on which she is working?  What is her favorite kind of tea?  No, seriously, I really don’t know that I would ask much more than that, because the truth is, it has been asked.  And I know how to get around on Google and can probably find the answers to any question I could come up with.

So really, I just wanted a chance to talk to her. Because it was her movies that hold special childhood memories of getting to stay up really late to watch with my sister and my mother.  “The Sound of Music” that inspired hours of pretending that I was Liesl in the backyard, singing “You Are 16” while circling the fishpond.  And listening to my dad’s stories of swimming with the real Von Trapp kids who did make it off of those musical hills and into the United States where they settled in New Hampshire and swam in a swimming hole that my dad also liked.

My Julie Andrews memories also come from when I was 21 living in London and working as a nanny.  Could I have had movie that I loved more than “Mary Poppins”?  My only beef with film was that she set the bar so incredibly high (Because to me, she really was Mary Poppins).  But Sara, the two-year old in my care, and I would watch and sing.  And cuddle.  One day we were walking home from the market and it was cold, dark and rainy.  In London, the wind whips down certain streets.  We had just turned a corner and it caught Sara’s umbrella and lifted her a few inches off the sidewalk before she landed on her bum.  I was sure she was going to cry and I wasn’t sure how I was going to pick her up as I was carrying massive package of diapers and other bags of whatnot.  I looked at her sitting a little stunned on the ground, she looked up and smiled excitedly.  “I blew away like all the bad nannies!”  Grateful that I had not blown away  too for she would certainly have looked at me with a new regard (bad nanny), we walked home, spit spot.

It was a surprise that my kids have also had the chance to love Julie Andrews.  Of course they were going to watch my favorites with me, but she won them over with their own favorites as Queen Clarisse Renaldi of Genovia in “The Princess Diaries” movies.  Different from my own childhood, technology allowed my kids watch those movies over and over and over again.

When I was running a couple of bookstores I became aware that Julie Andrews is also an accomplished author.  Who has written children’s literary classics!  We are not talking the usual stars cashing in on their name to write (or have a ghostwriter write) some fluff.  “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” is … really great.

So “interview” might be too loose of a word.  I wanted to hang with Dame Julie Andrews Edwards.  Swap some stories.  Chew the fat.  And last night I got my chance.

Yesterday at 5:30 at A Whale of A Tale, we joined the line of 200+ people, all with a golden ticket, standing through lots of wind, and rain that teased, threatening to come down in buckets but never making it past a couple of minutes of fast drops. The doors were closed, opening just before 6:00 to let 4 – 5 people in at a time to have their new copy of “The Very Fairy Princess, Here Comes the Flower Girl” signed by the legendary Dame Julie Andrews Edwards.  Ten minutes after the doors opened, the kids went and counted – 17-18 groups of people ahead of us.  She was speaking to each person.  Graciously.  Just as you would expect.  I asked the kids if they knew what they were going to say when they got up there.  No, they said, but 17 – 18 groups ahead of us was going to leave them plenty of time to think about it.  Mind you, these are kids that act and write and have goals of being accomplished artists of various means down the road.  These are kids who have had the chance to meet some big name authors and conduct their own interviews with kids who have starred in movies.  These are kids who went their whole 6th grade year with a student / friend who was in a highly acclaimed Oscar-winning movie sitting next to them in their class.  I was confident they would have fun clever things to say.  As would I.

Moving towards the front of the line, we could see her through the window.  And she was beautiful. She looked like she just stepped out of Genovia and I was mildly surprised she was not donning a tiara.  She was engaging each person in a small conversation.  We moved forward.  Traded our tickets for books.  And then it was our turn to be standing opposite of her at the signing table.  She thanked the girls for coming.  They stood there with the mouths open and nodded.  She asked them their names.  They pulled it together enough to answer.  Correctly, I might add.  It turns out she has a daughter who shares the same name as mine.  Nothing.  Nothing clever comes to mind to respond.  I say something about Princess Mia also having the same name as if Julie Andrews doesn’t know this.  I took what could have been a personal moment… and made it lame.  I really don’t remember what else was said.  But the truth of the matter is that the two 7th grade girls, my friend Liz, and I, were all way to star struck to say anything clever.  Between the four of us, all we could muster was to stand there and smile and nod.  And then it was over; the people behind us in line moved up.

And my little chat with Dame Julie Andrews Edwards is tucked away in my forever memories because it was…awesome!!

Happy Monday!


OC Toy Tales, second edition, posted over at OC Family this afternoon.  Check it out for a sweet giveaway for high school kids preparing for standardized tests!

Preview on my big activity (therefore review) this week.  Headed over to A Whale of A Tale in Irvine on Wednesday, April 25th for a book signing by Dame Julie Andrews Edwards.  She will be signing her new book, “The Very Fairy Princess  Here Comes the Flower Girl!” The event requires a pre-purchased ticket for the cost of the book.  On the day of the event, you can exchange your ticket for a copy of the book and get in line.  If the tickets are sold out, you can still call the store and ask to have a book signed for you.  Call the store at (949) 854-8288 for details.

To the Arctic, a Cast of Polar Bears that Will Warm Your Heart

I am a huge fan of local (Laguna Beach) film company, MacGillivary Freeman Films.  While they produce films that cover a vast number of different topics (from climbing Mt. Everest to underwater sealife to exotic lands) each film obviously originates from the same voice.  For me, the commonality to this film company’s films (the ones that I have seen) is that in addition to always having incredible cinematography, the films capture a part of humankind and it’s relationship with each other and the animal kingdom that evokes compassion.  The message is a sense of universal oneness.  Each film experience is richly satisfying and rewarding while also thought-provoking and in some cases worrying.

Last weekend I was able to take my 12-year-old to a pre-screening of To The Arctic: 3D,  a co-production from Warner Brothers Pictures, MacGillivary Freeman Films and IMAX Corporation, released in tandum with MacGillivary Freeman Film’s new campaign , One World One Ocean, a 20 year  multi-platform project utilizing a variety of media in order to create awareness of the ocean’s importance to the world.  I was excited to sit back and let the giant screen delude me into thinking that I was on the North Pole with the seemingly huggable polar bears.  And the film delivered – it was stunning!  Not “Oh, that was really pretty!”  Stun-NING!!: So intensely vivid one’s mouth automatically drops open as one’s eyes race to each corner of the screen trying to absorb the entire shot before it changes.  Lush waterfalls carried from giant ice formations to water so blue it seems fake.  Aerial shots of herds of animals so vast, it seems as though they must cover the entire planet.  Playful shots of polar bear mothers and cubs that are reminiscent on one’s own family time.  It is the film’s eye candy that is so enjoyable.  Because the message, while enchantingly delivered from the queen of the mamas herself, Meryl Streep, is quite different from the delightful images.

The lush waterfalls are indicative of a polar ice cap that is melting at a higher rate than ever before due to the warming of the earth caused by greenhouse gases made from the human consumption of fossil fuel.  The figure given indicated that if the ice cap continues to melt at its current rate, it will be gone – GONE! – by the middle of THIS century.  Herds of animals are dwindling in size due to the longer summers and shorter winters.  Much of the polar bears’ days are spent trying to find food from a disappearing food source caused by the melting of the ice.  And one of the most disturbing facts of the film, that in addition to seeking food, mother polar bears are also protecting their cubs from being a food source for male polar bears who will eat them when no other food source is available.

So you might wonder is this a message for families with kids?  You betcha!  One of the most well done things about MacGillivary Freeman Films is the delivery of the message. While to the point and never dumbied down, it is tangible for kids, maybe even more so than adults.  Kids want to help!  They want to save the bears – they don’t need convincing.  All they need is some direction in how their day to day lifestyle can effect the environment and they are on it.  And that is exactly how To The Arctic 3D ends with – “Hey, this is what is going on.  This is why something needs to be done and things need to change.  This is what needs to be done.  This is what you can do.  Here is the information.  Let’s do it!”  Producer Shaun MacGillivray, said “One World One Ocean is all about inspiring people to care about and protect ocean environments, and with this educational campaign released in tandem with the film, we hope to highlight the significance of the Arctic as a critical marine environment that deserves our attention and protection.”   Educational materials relating to the film are available online and through the museums and theaters showing the film.

 I can’t think of a better Earth Day message.  As the trailer says, “Nothing is stronger than the power of hope.”


To the Arctic 3D releases today, April 20th, exclusively in IMAX theaters