Welcome to 8

welcome to 8Two days before my son, R, turned 8, he declared that he didn’t believe in magic anymore. He came to this belief unexpectedly.

“Mommy,” he asked, as I sat on my bed early one morning, sleep still in my eyes. “Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

I could feel my eyes grow wide. “Why do you think that?” I asked. Asking questions, I decided, would buy me time.

“I think you’re the Tooth Fairy,” R responded. “Are you?”

“What made you think that?” I asked.

R stood in front of me in his Star Wars pajamas, all long legs and bright blond hair, with a space in his mouth where the tooth that initiated this surprising interrogation had once resided. He shrugged, mumbling something about a dollar bill. The very crinkled up dollar bill that I had indeed placed under his pillow the night before in exchange for what had now become a troublesome tooth flashed before my eyes. Perhaps the bill’s threadbare state was his indication that the Tooth Fairy in our house got around in a car instead of iridescent wings? After all, the real Tooth Fairy would have given him a crisp dollar bill or a shiny coin.

I sighed. “Yes,” I said. “I’m the Tooth Fairy.”

“I knew it!” R cried, triumphantly jumping into my bed.

After extracting a sincere promise he would never tell this news to his younger sister, he bounced out of my room to get ready for soccer practice. I had forgotten, however, to tell him not to share his conclusions with his friends. After all, not every second-grader had figured out the secret identity of the Tooth Fairy; I didn’t want my son to be the one who told everyone during recess. Nobody likes that kid.

I pulled R aside the next day to entreat him to keep this news quiet when talking to his friends, and he burst into tears.

“I didn’t want to figure it out, Mommy,” he cried, tears falling rapidly over his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to.”

Of course, I started crying, too. Uncovering the Tooth Fairy is one of those childhood milestones. We hugged each other, our tears mixing together on my shirt. After a moment, we pulled apart to look at one another, and my son laughed.

“Mommy, your face is really red!”

“So is yours!”

We hugged again. “Mommy, are you also the Binky Fairy?” R inquired, his mind fitting together puzzle pieces. (The Binky Fairy, for those without such a mythological creature, gathers a toddler’s pacifiers to bring them to newborn babies, leaving a new toy in their place. She is a helper to parents working hard to break the pacifier dependency, and she was a miraculous addition to my parenting arsenal when R was three years old.)

“Yes, I’m the Binky Fair, too,” I replied, hoping and praying he wouldn’t ask about Santa Claus. I need another Christmas with Santa Claus. “Let’s not tell your sister about that one, too, okay?”

He agreed, but only after quizzing me about what really happened to his old pacifiers and how exactly I had taken his teeth from under his pillow while he slept. Satisfied that I, and not magic, had done the work, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and offered a promise to keep his conclusions to himself.

“You know, all of this is part of growing up; it’s okay you figured it out, honey,” I added.

R smiled, wiped the tears from his face and went off to play is his room.

I was a bit shell-shocked. I hadn’t expected eight to be the year illusions were dismantled. I thought that was nine—or maybe ten.

But that’s our welcome to eight: R is growing up—too fast for us and perhaps too fast, at times, for him. But we’re here. A new year has arrived.

To my boy who fills my heart with profound joy, I say don’t rush, love; enjoy the moments as they come. Try new things, especially the ones that are hard. Laugh, listen, and be kind. Share and speak up for others. Brush your teeth. Make your bed everyday—not only when I remind you. Pick up your Legos. Be a good friend. Know your sister adores you, and use this knowledge for good. Read as many books as you can. Be curious and ask questions. Believe in yourself. Believe in magic; it really does exist, though maybe not in fairy form.

Happy birthday to my beloved son.

BRCA Testing – My Mom’s Story

This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/AstraZeneca.

“You should have your ovaries removed.”

ovarian_cancer2Sitting in her hospital bed, wrapped in blankets, my mother peered across the room at me. I’d heard this before from her. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer nearly ten years earlier, my mother had survived several extensive surgeries and countless rounds of debilitating chemotherapy. She’d lost her hair so much from the drugs that my kids were surprised when she wasn’t bald. It had been a long decade and she was worn out.

“I don’t want you ever to go through this. You don’t need your ovaries anymore—you have your kids. You should think about it.”

My mom passed away a short time later.

My mother will not be the only woman to die from ovarian cancer this year; ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. It is often diagnosed late because symptoms mirror everyday ailments. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the Unites States in 2015, and that a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 73.

Years ago, during one of my mother’s many rounds of treatment, she was approached by a research team looking at the genes that are most commonly associated with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, to see if she would be interested in being tested for those genetic markers. They were interested in my mom because approximately 15% of women with ovarian cancer also have BRCA gene mutations, and the team wanted to assess if my mom was part of that group. If so, they were running a research study in which she could enroll.

ovarian cancerThe counselor my mom spoke with explained that national guidelines call for all patients with epithelial ovarian cancer to be considered for BRCA testing, regardless of family history, age at diagnosis, or ethnicity. Despite these recommendations, every year many patients with ovarian cancer are not tested for a BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation.

The counselor also explained that testing for the gene would be helpful for my mom’s oncologist; he could use this knowledge to develop a personalized response to her cancer, one that could target the specific mutations of her disease. This could be advantageous in responding to the reoccurrences of her cancer, and we were eager for any advantage she could get.

A few weeks after my mom provided for a blood sample for the test, I sat with her in a small conference room as a genetic counselor prepared to tell her the results. My mom was facing another round of chemo, and this test was the last thing on my mind. My mom, however, was nervous. Together, we discussed what would happen if the results were positive. What would my mom’s doctor say about this? Would it change the chemo she was currently on? Would she need a different oncologist, one with more experience treating BRCA1/BRCA2-positive patients? Would I be tested? The test opened the door on an important conversation for us; we really talked about my mom’s cancer and the options—and limitations—before her. I don’t imagine this was what the research team had in mind when they approached my mom, but it was an unexpected “silver lining” for us.

The news from the counselor turned out to be straightforward: my mom hadn’t tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2. We were neither disappointed nor pleased with this news. Rather, we were grateful to have one more piece of information to move forward.

My mom survived many years past that meeting with the genetic counselor—far longer than many of her medical providers thought she would. According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, “less than 50 percent of women survive longer than five years after diagnosis.” My mom had incredible strength and resolve and that, I know, is what gave us all of those additional years together.

And as for my ovaries, I still have them. My mother’s advice was driven by a desire to prevent me from ever going through an illness like hers, not any medical advice. While her words occasionally bounces around my head, I know that removing my ovaries is a big leap, one—as with all health decisions—I would not make without consulting my doctor. Until then, I’ll be mindful of other ways to be aware of ovarian cancer—and to be healthy—including taking all the options offered to me, such as genetic testing, to find out more about my body.

To learn more about BRCA testing, visit the #beBRCAware Campaign’s Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Disclosure: I’m sharing this story about my family’s experience with BRCA testing as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and as part of the #beBRCAware Campaign. I received $150 from AstraZeneca, and any opinions expressed by me are honest and reflect my actual experience. This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/AstraZeneca.

{repost} Should You Join the PTA?

This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.

My first introduction to the PTA (or Parent Teacher Association) was through my mother’s typewriter.

Click, clack.

Click, clack.

My mother, co-president of the PTA, had volunteered to type up the recipe submissions for “Koala Kitchen,” a cookbook put together and sold by the PTA as a fundraiser for my elementary school.

join PTA

Photo Credit: Nick Amoscato via Flickr

She spent hours at the typewriter, compiling all of the pages, making sure each person’s favorite dish was included. The cookbook survives to this day, 30 years later, held together by rubber bands. The yellow cover of “Koala Kitchen” is stained from the splatters of delicious recipes, and its pages are dog-eared, indicating which treats were my family’s favorites.

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My Mom

I’ve been largely absent on Red Shutters the past few weeks, and I want to explain why.  

My beloved mother passed away on August 31. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, she survived multiple reoccurrences of the disease over the past nine and half years. This last return of her cancer, however, was too much. 

I’m working to find my way through the aftermath of losing my first best friend, the person I admired and looked up to the most. I expect that this will take a long time, and I know everything – including me – will be different now.

One step forward is to write again; I haven’t been able to capture the words and phrases that have been floating through my mind. They’ve been ephemeral, hard to grasp.

But I’m trying. So, today, I’m sharing the eulogy I wrote for my mom’s funeral. Perhaps, this way, those of you who never met my wonderful mother might get a glimpse into life of a strong and loving woman, the person I try all the time to emulate in my parenting, in my friendships, and in the way I interact with the world.


I have so many photos of my mom. I love this one because she looks so beautiful and because I remember the dress she's wearing. Yes, that's me in the photo, too. I'm perhaps about 4 years old and clearly not up for smiling.

I have so many photos of my mom. I love this one because she looks so beautiful and because I remember the dress she’s wearing. Yes, that’s me in the photo, too. I’m perhaps about 4 years old and clearly not up for smiling.

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{repost} How This Busy Mom Stays Sane By Reading Books

This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.

In the months after my first child was born eight years ago, I had a mix of feelings most new parents experience: I was elated, exhausted, scared, and joyful. I also felt a bit lost. In the journey to motherhood, part of what made me was left behind.

My life was all about feedings, diaper changing, and getting that kid to sleep through the night. I hadn’t thought or talked about much of anything else since my son had been born. What about me? Where was I?


Photo Credit: on the nightstand via photopin (license)

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{repost} Back-to-School: Time to Make the Lunches

This is a repost of an original article I wrote for BlogHer.com.

Last week, a friend who lives in Georgia posted to Facebook that school had started back up in her town. Kids were putting on new backpacks, carefully pressed dresses, and clean shirts to climb on the bus and return to the classroom. Homework, recess, and math drills had replaced days at the beach, swim lessons, and s’more making in the backyard.

In the Northeast, where I live, school doesn’t start until September, but my friend’s comment had my heart pounding and my fingers clicking over to our online family calendar. How many days did my kids have until school started?


school lunch

Photo credit: Melissa via Flickr

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What to Read Before Summer Ends (with a Giveaway!)

Are you a reader? You are in the right company! Here are 20 books from fellow gals who read that you need to grab NOW! Plus, the chance to score them all for free is a pretty sweet deal!It’s here, friends. The end of summer is upon us. I know. But that doesn’t mean you need to put your beloved books down! In fact, just the opposite. No time like the present to dig into your reading and escape the hassles and woes of Back-to-School prep and fuss. There is something to be said for hanging on to these last days of summer and making the most of them.

To embrace the end of our summer months, I teamed up with a bunch of my blogging buddies and asked the uber-important question: what book would you recommend for a last-blast at summer reading? What book would you love to share with others?

The result? We’ve blown the skies wide open and are coming to you with an entire list of great reads that you need to check out. Even better, we are giving one of you a $225 Amazon gift card along with seven of the titles on this list to read! Use the gift card to snatch up your reading wish list and dig into the books sent to your door. In short, you will be in a reader’s heaven. It’s sweet deal! [Read more…]

Highlights from BlogHer15

Good advice, right? It came my way during BlogHer15, a blogging conference for women sponsored by BlogHer and SheKnows Media last month in New York City. (NYC was a fantastic spot for the conference! So much energy!) Shared by the executive editorial director of SheKnows, it, along with other wisdom and lessons learned, was shared during a writing session at the conference. I scribbled it all down in my trusty notebook (and, since it’s 2015, I tweeted it, too), as it became one of my mantras from BlogHer15. I’m applying it my writing—and to life in general; sometimes, the best advice appears when we’re not expecting it at all.

The conference, my third BlogHer conference and my fifth blogging conference overall (read about my experiences at #BlogHer13 and #BlogHer14 here, here, and here) was a two-and-a-half days of workshops, keynotes, and social events. It’s a big, busy meeting with women (and some brave men!) from all over. The part of me that clutches to the introvert label with a serious fierceness finds gatherings like this one overwhelming, but I was lucky at BlogHer15; I had a group of wonderful friends in attendance and was able to reconnect with bloggers I had met at my first BlogHer in 2013. My friends and conference roommates—my “tribe” as it is often referred to as in the blogging world—included bloggers from California, Texas, and Massachusetts. When I first started Red Shutters back in 2008, I never expected to make such special connections. I wanted to share my words, my stories; I didn’t think about making friends, too. But I have, and these friends are a gift.

With my BlogHer roomies Melissa, Phyllis, and Cheryl, I headed to Broadway to see "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"!

With my BlogHer roomies Melissa, Phyllis, and Cheryl, I headed to Broadway to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”!

Despite the lure of my tribe, I’ll confess to being skeptical about attending BlogHer15, wavering on my decision to go until right before the event. My uncertainty came from a lot of places—namely, life and work commitments—and it found its home in that thing women do, that thing where we deny ourselves what we want because it might inconvenience others. I worried about the money and the time away from my family. But what made me go was a comment my daughter made months ago and that had been rolling around in my mind ever since. My husband was away with his friends for a weekend of skiing. My daughter, upon realizing he was traveling with other dads for the time away, asked, “Mommy, when do you go on your trip?” She’s an observant kids; moms need time away, too. So to BlogHer I went.

My other reason for hesitating to attend another big blogging conference stemmed from the push/pull I have with my blog. I love writing here on Red Shutters; it’s a privilege to share my words. But the field of blogging is changing. Media, including video and images, is increasingly supplanting writing; long-time bloggers are leaving this form of expression altogether, seeking their online lives elsewhere; and readers are scarce, visiting individual blogs less and less. As the field shifts and redefines itself, I find myself at times wondering about Red Shutters. How sustainable is it for me to keep blogging? I’ve had this site for seven years, and, while I’m much better blogger than I was back in 2008 (check out my first post to see what I mean), I’m uncertain what what the future will be, should be, for Red Shutters. That introspection, though, was one of the reasons attending a blogging conference is a good idea; it gives you ideas to consider and directs your attention to new ways forward.

Additionally, the rare time away from camp drop off, work deadlines, and laundry clears the mind to focus on—and relish in—learning and inspiration. Inspiration can be found throughout BlogHer. It’s at the podium, of course, when engaged and engaging speakers talk about issues that really matter—from racism to maternal mortality, to raising our girls to be leaders and following through on our dreams. Inspiration is also in unexpected places; it’s the conversation you have with someone while waiting to get into the bathroom or the chat you have in the elevator. It’s meeting a new person on the shuttle bus, at lunch, or over drinks at the end of a long, packed day. With three BlogHers name badges hanging in my office, I’m a veteran now, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the power of such a tremendous gathering.

I returned home from BlogHer with a stack of business cards of new bloggers to check out, a bag of swag to share with my family, and ideas—lots and lots of ideas. There are too many to share here, but I can tell you highlights of my time at BlogHer15—some meaningful, others silly, and all of them memory-making:
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And Now You Are Six

Today, in honor of my daughter’s sixth birthday, I share my birthday letter to her. Read my previous posts about her birthday here, here, here, and here.

six years oldDear G,

Today you are six years old. Six!

You are excited to be six; I too am excited, though I am also a little sad.

You’ll understand this feeling when you grow up and realize that, unlike kids, adults are less interested in getting somewhere fast—like the next birthday—and more interested in slowing down the moments so they don’t slip by so quickly. Adults hope that by doing so they can convince themselves—and everyone else!—into thinking they have more time than the daily allotment of 24 hours. They want to fill that newfound time with more of what they hold in their hearts. For me and for your Dad, too, we’d fill that time with you and your brother. That’s why I’m a little sad: we arrived at six way too fast.

You’ll like being six. It’s a lot like five—but more turbocharged, if you will. Now, you need two hands to count your age and you’re even closer to the tween years (which I am not at all ready for, so move slowly, kid). As a six-year-old, you’ll be in first grade and have homework (you might not like this but it’s good for you). You will join Girl Scouts, you’ll learn harder music for the piano, and you will ride your bike farther than ever before.

My birthday wish for you this year—and every year, I imagine—is for you to be kind and for kindness to find you, for you to be curious and for that curiosity to awaken your mind and heart, for you to be brave and for that bravery to make life rewarding, and for you to love and be loved.

Don’t let anyone make you think you can’t do things that are hard or different. Don’t stop writing stories, drawing pictures, telling funny stories, making up songs, and being you. (Please stop drawing on your comforter, though; that ink really isn’t going to come out.) Don’t ever stop climbing into my bed early in the morning to snuggle; it’s the best part of my day.

Laugh. A lot. And listen. Listen to what people say and what remains silent.

Speak up. For yourself, for friends, for people you don’t know. Some of my favorite stories about you are the ones in which a friend was sad and you comforted her, or a friend was hurt by another child and you stood up against that hurt. Keep doing that; it will make you a better person and your life will be more fulfilling.

Find joy in your body and its strengths. Run, jump, climb, skip, ski, and skate. Don’t stop moving and figuring out who are you—and who you can be.

Trust in me, your Dad, your grandmothers, your aunts and uncles, and cousins to be there for you. Your brother, too—he loves you way more than he lets on. Know that our circle of family and friends sees in you a vivaciousness and joy that is special, and that we will do whatever we can to support you.

six yearsI often describe you as a “firecracker”—full of light, a bit unexpected, and capable of producing awe. You have all of those qualities, though unlike a firecracker your impact is longer lasting. Remember that you can and do impact others. Remember that there are consequences for your actions and words, so you should make choices that represent you well and are true to who you are.

Have fun being six, G! Be a kid—play, make friends, and learn.

Most of all, know that I love you. Very, very much.

Happy birthday.


Making Ice Cream with Stonyfield and YayLabs!

One of the highlights of summer has got to be ice cream. In my family, we’re big fans, welcoming a stop by the local ice cream store for a cone after a day at the beach or on a warm afternoon (check out our ice cream bucket list here). Our small town has five spots to get ice cream or frozen yogurt in our downtown area alone, which, surprisingly, was not one of the reasons we moved here (with the way we like ice cream, you would have thought it was). As a result, we’ve been working on increasing the kids’ stamina on their bicycles so we can ride into the center of town for a cone from one of those shops. (Yes, we’re also working on increasing their cycling stamina because it’s good for them; ice cream’s our “carrot” if you will.) Interestingly, for a family of ice cream aficionados, we rarely have it in the house, instead preferring to see it as a treat to have outside the home.

This approach to ice cream eating changed this weekend, however, when, thanks to our friends at Stonyfield and YayLabs!, we made our own ice cream at home with a shake, roll, and twist.

YayLabs! sent us their the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball to try out, which has been designed to help users make ice cream anywhere—on a camping trip, at the beach, or, in our case, on our driveway. Retailing for $34.99, the ball looks a bit like a small turquoise Death Star—only instead of housing Darth Vader, it makes ice cream.* Each end of the ball opens up: one side is for the ingredients, while the other is for the salt and ice.

This weekend, I recruited my kids, R and G, to put our ice cream making skills to the test. We decided to make frozen yogurt. In one end of our Ice Cream Ball, we placed 2 cups of Stonyfield yogurt, selecting the plain whole milk kind, along with 1/3 cup of maple syrup and 2 tablespoons of vanilla. In the other end we put in ice cubes and ¾ cup of kosher salt (the directions call for rock salt, with kosher salt as an acceptable second choice). I carefully carried the ball—now heavy with possibility—outside with R and G skipping ahead. I had heard from other Stonyfield Bloggers about the importance of not throwing the ball (a temptation for all kids, big and small), for as cool looking as the ball is, it is not indestructible (just like the Death Star!). “Don’t throw the ball at your sister” is a reasonable piece of advice—Ice Cream Ball or no Ice Cream Ball.

making ice cream with stonyfield and yaylabsR and G sat on our driveway, a few feet apart from one another, pushing the ball back and forth for about 10 minutes before I joined the fun. My husband sat down on our driveway, too, and soon the four of us had our feet touching, legs spread out, and the ball was rolling from one family member to another. The kids made a game of the ice cream making, challenging each other to roll the ball back and forth between their two hands, counting the number of times the ball went from the left to the right. G’s turn got her to 110 rolls, the family record. After a few more minutes, we checked on our creation, carefully unscrewing the lid to find frozen yogurt lining the sides of the cylinder with liquid still in the center. Back to rolling we went. After another 10 to 15 minutes of back and forth, up and down the driveway, rolling and counting, counting and rolling, we declared our ice cream/fro yo ready to eat. The end result was delicious, so delicious in fact that the kids wouldn’t pose for a photo. They were too busy eating.

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

Sprinkles are a must for ice cream (and frozen yogurt) in my house!

I enjoyed the unexpected parts of this project: R and G working together (with minimal yelling), and R and G discussing how was that the salt and ice turned the yogurt into dessert (it must be science, they concluded). I also appreciated that, while ice cream can be high in sugar, our frozen yogurt was on the healthier side, using only yogurt, maple syrup, and vanilla (though richer recipes can be made with the SoftShell Ice Cream Ball). The ball is also easy to use: no parts to freeze in advance (the reason I never get around to using the ice cream machine I got for my birthday years ago). And, it’s a great activity to keep the kids occupied—though this is definitely an outdoor activity, as the ice can be messy as it melts.

So our official opinion? With our Ice Cream Ball at the ready, we may give the ice cream shops in our town some competition.

Disclosure: As a Stonyfield Blogger, I created this post in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions here are mine.

*Anytime I can make a Star Wars reference in a blog post that has nothing to do with Star Wars, it’s a good day.