Educators Weigh In: How to Raise Successful Children


Teachers give advice on how to raise successful children | The Champagne Supernova

Is there a magic formula for how to raise successful children?

What are the common denominators for children who flourish versus those who fail?

In my life, I’ve witnessed some children grow into successful, contributing adults and others  fall into the trenches and never seem to recover.

In this post here, I wrote about an adolescent friend who came from a background of abuse, neglect, and poverty. While unfortunate, it was no surprise she grew into an adult who couldn’t overcome her rough upbringing and has already taken steps to repeat the sad cycle with her own children.

On the other hand, we also know children who seemingly came from loving and supportive homes (while not knowing what goes on behind closed doors) who also managed to fall off track.

We’ve also heard of the kids who, despite terrible upbringings, beat the odds and manage to become adults who are financially secure leaders.

As the working mother of two very young girls, I often wonder “what gives?”

And while my children will ultimately make their own decisions, I want to arm them with the best resources and emotional support possible to ensure those decisions are good ones.

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

Although there is no such thing as a parenting expert, which I wrote about here, and no absolute way to prevent parenting screw-ups, there must be some commonalities in parenting styles that pushes children toward success.

To learn these denominators, I enlisted the help of four longtime educators.

These educators have taught a range of age groups between preschool and high school and have a combined total of one hundred fifty years of experience.

Yes.

150 years.

ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS.

150 years > My five years of experience in winging it with raising my children.

150 years > My observations of the 18 years my parents raised me.

150 years > My own 35 years of life experience.

These educators have taught children with special needs, troubled youth, and teen moms.

They have also taught children who were go-getters and natural born leaders.

They have students who have been murdered during violent acts and other students who became CEOs.

Most importantly, these educators have been around long enough to see which students have failed and which have succeeded.

What gives?

We already know that kids whose parents read to them are more likely to succeed.

I wanted something more than that.

I wanted to dig deeper.

Based on their observations, I have compiled these denominators of success that are not always included in lists from parenting magazines, the Internet, and Dr. Phil.

If you want your child to have a better chance at succeeding…

1. Let them Fail. Children will never learn important life lessons when their parents constantly fix grades, do their homework (e.g. “Daddy-Did-It-Science-Fair-Projects”), meddle in their social problems (absent bullying or safety issues), have a fit about not making a sports team, and pout about not being elected to student government office. Children need to learn from their own failures. While it can be hard for parents to watch this happen, sometimes it’s the only way.

2. Encourage them to Self-Advocate. If your child gets a poor score on an exam or project, encourage them to ask the teacher why. If your child is shy, have them read the assignment back to you and explain where they may have gone wrong. Then ask what the teacher’s exact feedback was. Often, these discussions are eye-opening for both the parent and student. The worst thing a parent can do is contact a teacher and accuse the teacher of being unfair or demanding a complete explanation the second the grade appears. Let your child take ownership of the problem and figure out a solution. Of course, if both of you look at the assignment and honestly do not understand, a calmly written email that is non-accusatory works best.

3. Let Teenagers be Teenagers. They do stupid things. They date the “wrong” people. They forget things. Their brains have not fully developed and they do not think clearly. As long as being stupid doesn’t cause bodily injury or trouble with the law, accept that it happens. When it does happen, give appropriate consequences, but not with a life-long label.

4. Limit Social Media and Electronics. Things like social media and texting have hurt the way children interact with each other and with adults. Encourage your children to have emotional intelligence. This means picking up the phone or sending a good “old fashioned” card to a friend for their birthday instead of a text. Teach them to resolve problems in person and not over email or publicly through Facebook. For those who do have social media, know all of their passwords and continuously monitor their profiles. Set firm times on when to unplug electronics in the evenings before bed.

5. Show an Interest in their School, Education, and Interests. Make the time to attend Open House, parent-teacher meetings, school plays, science fairs, field trips, and sporting events. Consider joining the PTA. While this can be more difficult for working parents, make it a priority to show your children that their education and interests are important.

6. Do Not Live Vicariously Through Your Children. Just because you dreamed of being a star quarterback does not mean your son wants to sweat and hang out in the locker room. If your son wants to take theater, so be it. If your daughter wants to play football, make sure she has a chance to do so. Their dreams are theirs; your dreams are yours. See also:

7. Do Not Push Them into Classes. No matter how intelligent your child is, if they say they are not ready for high school classes in middle school or college classes in high school, then let it go. Research is now showing that neither really help and many of these students burn out before they get to college. No matter how ready younger students are academically, very few are ready emotionally. More colleges are saying, “That’s nice you had Spanish I and II in middle school, we still want two years in high school.” Instead of pushing college courses to save money, encourage children to take something that interests them that they will never again get the chance to explore.

8. Have Clear, Concise Rules. Stick to these rules with clear, fair punishment. Children need consistent boundaries.

9. Provide the Presence of Caring Adults. In the age of the Modern Family, this looks like different things. It can be caring parents, grandparents, friends’ parents, coaches, teachers, or church leaders. These adults need to be there to listen, provide guidance, and set developmentally-appropriate expectations. Notably, children who have supportive adults in their lives often have better vocabularies and increased senses of trust.

10. Be Open with Them. Talk about sex, alcohol, drugs, and other difficult subjects. Talk about this some more. If you don’t, their friends will.

11. Exhibit Mutual Respect. While parents need to remember that they are not their children’s friends, they need to give them respect and dignity. Children who feel a sense of respect from their parents will often have respect for themselves.

12. Teach Them Compassion for Others. Successful children are emotionally intelligent. They had adults who taught them that their actions can impact other people and life isn’t “all about them.” They are able to verbally express themselves well to both adults and peers. They are considerate of other peoples’ feelings and do not put others down to make themselves feel better (we know this doesn’t work anyway.)

13. Let Them Decide Where to go to College. You are a third generation Gator, but the fashion marketing program at FSU is better; get over it and let the child go to FSU.

14. Do Not Involve Them in your Divorce. It is not their fault your relationship failed, but they blame themselves. You must love your children more than you dislike your former spouse. Keep them out of the drama. Show respect to the other parent. Be an adult.

15. Provide Them with Coping Skills. Many adults and family members do not like children. A child must learn to cope with that person and when a child knows they matter to somebody, they cope in spite of the negative vibe. This can lead to success because they learn positive ways to cope at an early age. You don’t want them turning to things like alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity to cope with life’s trials.

16. Give Them Access to Experiences. Successful children often have access to experiences beyond the classroom. They are involved in sporting teams, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, 4-H, vacations, and cultural experiences. This does not always require tons of money. Young kids can learn as much exploring the beaches of free, local parks as they can on lavish vacations.

There you have it. Common factors of success that have been observed by educators with 150 years of experience. 

Cheers to you for wanting to raise children that will succeed. Cheers to their success.

 

    Life: The Playing Field is Not Equal


    Life is not always fair and we are not always on equal playing fields | The Champagne Supernova

    We are not all on equal playing fields.

    Life isn’t always fair and, for some, it will never be fair.

    I observed this pretty early.

    The summer between 7th and 8th grade, my parents moved me and my younger sister from private to public school in my hometown of DeLand, Florida.

    Speaking from experience, the middle school years can be especially tough for adolescent girls. Probably tougher than high school. Already trying to figure out who I was and navigate my way through the world, I was now faced with starting from scratch at a new school where I didn’t know a soul.

    I was terrified and didn’t want to be “The New Girl.”

    The week before school started, I had my parents take me to the local mall so I could find a trendy Yaga t-shirt (which was actually too big) and Vans shoes (that looked ridiculous on my skinny legs) so I had something to wear on the first day that screamed, “I’M COOL. BE MY FRIEND.”

    The first day of eighth grade was a success, mainly because I met a girl named Michelle in homeroom.

    Introduced herself, acquainted me to other classmates, and made me feel at home. By lunchtime, we were already exchanging notes in class (we had three together!) and talking about which boys we thought were cute and how we hope we didn’t have to “dress out” in P.E. since it was just the first day.

    Michelle and I instantly became best friends. We would even sign our notes “BFFLAENMW” which is middle school shorthand for “Best Friends For Life and Eternity No Matter What.”

    It was the beginning of a serious friendship.

    Michelle had tons of amazing qualities. She was smart (way smarter than me) and easily caught on to complicated algebraic equations I could never understand, even if I was armed with a fancy calculator.

    Michelle wanted to be a doctor when she grew up.

    Not only was she hilarious, but she was also socially gifted and could easily navigate a conversation with a diverse array of groups that included the skaters, jocks, “hicks,” teen moms (yes, we had some), and even the faculty.

    Everyone knew and liked Michelle.

    As the school year progressed, I started seeing things that were unusual.

    One of five children, Michelle’s parents were divorced and her mother had sole custody of all of them. One had special needs. Michelle’s mom had a medical condition that apparently precluded her from working and she was on Disability. Michelle’s dad lived in Ohio but kept in touch.

    Michelle didn’t have a landline at her house. Her mother couldn’t afford one and these were the days before cellular phones, so if I needed her to call me, she would have to walk to the convenience store near her house and call from a pay phone.

    She routinely came to school wearing clothes that were either stained or were what she wore the day before.

    Her shoes had holes in them, exposing her equally-holed socks.

    While Michelle was open to going to other peoples’ houses (the logistics had to be planned days in advance because of the phone situation), she was guarded about having anyone come home with her.

    My first glimpse into her housing situation came one day in English when a boy, who happened to be one of her neighbors, embarrassed her in front of the entire class by loudly declaring that her house was “disgusting.”

    Like a scene from a movie, Michelle literally ran out of the classroom mortified and hysterical.

    Apparently what her neighbor said had struck a nerve.

    (I subsequently saw her house when my parents drove her home from school one day. It was a two-story yellow dilapidated wood frame house with a wrap-around front porch littered with trash, clothing, and old furniture. Michelle’s family was poor beyond comprehension. Not long after, the house was condemned by the local government as unfit for human occupancy.)

    As time went on, Michelle confessed that her mother was mentally and physically abusive. The stains on her clothes were usually remnants of food and beverages Michelle’s mother would sinisterly throw on Michelle and her siblings as they left for school. Through tears, Michelle confided that her mother routinely said unthinkable things to her.

    I should have had an abortion when I was pregnant with you.

    You’re garbage, so eat this garbage off the floor.

    I wish you were dead. 

    There were many times when Michelle would come to school with bruises and her face would be swollen from crying.

    Sometimes she would tell the truth about what prompted the tears, and other times she would make excuses.

    Toward the end of the school year, Michelle moved to Ohio to live with her dad. Though I was broken hearted for losing the other half of my BFFLAENMW, Michelle’s relocation was for the best.

    Eventually, life got in the way and Michelle and I lost touch.

    For whatever reason, Michelle returned to live with her mother our junior year of high school. By that time, I had a new group of friends with similar interests and backgrounds as me.

    While I tried to include Michelle in my established life and friendship circle, it appeared we had too many differences. My friends and I were active in student government, service clubs, honors societies, and preparing for college. Michelle was interested in skipping class and smoking in the school bathrooms.

    Things changed. We changed.

    One summer when I was home from college, I took a part time job hostessing at a popular restaurant. To my surprise, Michelle was also working there as a waitress.

    Like our middle school days, Michelle showed me the ropes and got me acquainted with the staff.

    I remembered why I had been instantly attracted to her charisma and sense of humor so many years before.

    As the weeks went on and during work breaks, Michelle and I were able to slowly catch up on happenings of the last few years. She dropped out of high school when she got pregnant following a one-night stand. The State declared her an unfit mother and took the child away. She was arrested on multiple drug-related and prostitution charges (she claimed she was set up). She had been in several abusive relationships and was living with a man two decades her senior in the outskirts of town.

    She thought she might be pregnant.

    Michelle still had a lot of animosity over the strained relationship with her mother. The physical and mental abuse never stopped and was driven primarily by her mother’s own self-loathing, which she projected onto her children. All of Michelle’s brothers and sisters had significant emotional and developmental problems.

    Michelle told me that her mother was addicted to crack cocaine and living in a shed behind a friend’s house.

    The type of shed someone would use to store things like ladders, paint, and lawn equipment.

    Michelle was having a hard time and we again lost touch after I returned to college when summer was over.

    Fast forward fifteen years.

    My knowledge about Michelle’s whereabouts is limited to Facebook posts and digging around on the Internet.

    Michelle has had four children taken away from her and has been incarcerated more times than I can count. She’s been hooked on drugs and her once beautiful smile has fallen victim to addictions like nicotine and methamphetamine. According to one family member, Michelle has significant problems with depression and has been Baker Acted multiple times.

    Michelle was good and smart and kind and ambitious.

    However.

    Based on her upbringing, Michelle never stood a chance.

    There is a school of thought that in America, the land of opportunities, everyone has an equal chance to learn, lead, and to be successful.

    “All you have to do is work really, really hard and success will naturally come!”

    A belief that we are all on the same playing field with the same opportunities.

    It’s not true.

    We are not all on the same playing field.

    Kids whose parents are doing drugs and physically abusing them are not on the same playing field as kids who come from a loving, stable household.

    Kids whose parents mentally torture them are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents are ready and able to provide emotional support.

    Kids whose parents live in and perpetuate an environment of cyclical poverty are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents provide basic needs such as food, shelter, electricity and clothing. (Let alone the kids of parents who are able to provide the lavish comforts of country clubs, exotic vacations, and prestigious boarding schools.)

    Kids whose parents don’t care what they are doing and who they were hanging out with are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents observe their friendships and hold them responsible for making wise decisions.

    Kids whose parents show no interest in academic success are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents help them do their homework and hold them accountable when they earn poor grades.

    Kids who are emotionally and physically abandoned are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents are exposing them to books, hobbies, and spirituality.

    The playing fields aren’t always even and this disparity makes a huge difference in the long run.

    Michelle is proof of that. Based on her upbringing and short of a miracle, she never stood a chance of being the doctor she wanted to be.

    She never stood a chance at much of anything.

    All of us know a Michelle. I have known and observed many Michelles, both personally and in my career. If the dice were rolled differently and I was born into a different family, I could have been a Michelle. So could you.

    Sure, there are always outliers. The people who overcome unimaginable adversity and go on to be contributing members of society.

    But that is not the norm.

    In the United States, 21% of all children live below the federal poverty line. Nearly 700,000 are abused annually. More than 8 million children live with at least one parent who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs.

    Persistently poor children are 13% less likely to finish high school and 43% less likely to complete college as their peers.

    If you have parents who gave a damn about you and met your basic needs, then you’re lucky.

    Does this mean that kids who come from families that are intact and financially responsible should be punished for things they cannot control?

    No.

    But it does mean that we should want to see disadvantaged kids succeed, even if it means they are receiving assistance or special privileges to push them along the way.

    It does mean that before we judge someone’s outcome, we should seek to understand the bigger picture of how they got there to begin with.

    It does mean that we feel sincere compassion and empathy for other peoples’ unfortunate circumstances.

    Cheers.

     

      Crying Uncle: Showing Up and Asking for Help


      How to Have the Courage to Ask for Help and Seek Therapy | The Champagne Supernova

      Have you ever had a secret you were ashamed of and didn’t want anyone to ever know?

      I have.

      But I don’t care about the secret anymore. It needs to be out in the open. I want it to be okay and for others to do the same thing I did and feel good about it.

      No more shame.

      As background, I went through a rough bout with the baby blues following the birth of my oldest daughter in 2012.

      Crying all the time. Hot flashes. Feeling lonely. Wondering if I was crazy. Becoming a person I didn’t recognize.

      I called my baby blues The Gremlins and wrote about them here.

      Once they became a distant memory, I never wanted to see The Gremlins again. Not ever.

      My second pregnancy started out rough. While I didn’t have the morning sickness that I experienced with my first daughter, I became an insomniac as soon as I  discovered a positive pregnancy test.

      I never had trouble sleeping before, but I saw a pink “plus” sign and suddenly had to learn to survive on 4-5 hours of sleep.

      This was on top of caring for a toddler, managing a household, and having a stressful career as an attorney.

      Now I can see why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

      (I continue to struggle with insomnia to this day.)

      Then came the tipping point.

      I vividly remember sitting in front of my computer at work, three months pregnant and exhausted from lack of sleep, and making up my mind that while I couldn’t predict whether The Gremlins would creep up on me again, I was going to be prepared if they did.

      I wasn’t going to die on that mountain.

      It was time for me to do myself a favor and take control of the situation.

      I got on the Internet and did some Google searches.

      “Downtown Tampa” “Family therapy” “Female Therapist.”

      I kept scrolling down the search engine results page until I arrived at the photograph of a nice middle-aged woman named Ann Witt. The picture was taken outside and I thought she looked welcoming and had a pretty smile. (I completely judged a book by the cover. Thankfully, it worked out.)

      I called Ann, made an appointment, and saw her twice a month through the duration of my pregnancy.

      Ann provided me with resources on how to manage stress and respond to hormonal changes. She provided tips on how I could respond to feelings of hopelessness. She helped me create a schedule for after the birth of my daughter that would help me keep my focus off my feelings, if the situation warranted. She gave me the idea of hiring a Mother’s Helper to take the pressure off by assisting with cooking and household chores.

      I didn’t meet The Gremlins following the birth of my second daughter. I’ll never know whether its because I went to therapy and used what I learned or because I didn’t have the same hormonal surge that I had during the first pregnancy.

      I’ll never know but it doesn’t matter.

      Know what?

      I still go back to Ann every so often for some brain-picking and fine-tuning.

      In fact, Ann also served as a career coach by encouraging me to start a “Mom Blog” (The Champagne Supernova!) and making a LeaderShift by finding part time employment so I could have more time for my family. I don’t know that either of those would have come to fruition without the nudge.

      (I still remember when she threw out the idea of a Mom Blog, I thought it was nuts. Until that point, I thought mom bloggers were middle-aged women who lived in America’s Breadbasket sitting around in their pajamas and curlers all day writing about shepherd’s pie and homemade aromatherapy oils. Not me!)

      The therapy helped. A lot.

      But here’s the thing.

      I was scared to tell people I was going to therapy.

      It even took me a while to tell my own husband.

      Therapy has a stigma.

      You’re crazy.

      Can’t control your own life.

      Something is wrong with you.

      You have mental issues.

      I was ashamed and didn’t want people knowing about it. Even if these people were my close friends and family members. Not because they were not dear to me, but because I told myself lies that I would be perceived as weak and would be rejected.

      Then came a point where I had the opportunity to share my experience with other people who were going through rough times.

      Divorce. Death. Anxiety. Depression. Post Traumatic Stress.

      I told them my story.

      They called a therapist. They got the help they needed.

      Look.

      Life can be brutal.

      We need to be able to lean in with others without feeling judged.

      We need to start being vulnerable and we need to start showing up. Nobody wants fake and everyone, deep down, knows who the fake people are. People want real. 

      Does this mean we need to be Debbie Downer and constantly air the dark sides of our lives on the Internet and real life? No.

      It does mean that we should create a zone where people show up with each other and are not be afraid to be vulnerable?

      We need to be able to acknowledge, without shame, that we are experiencing a rough time in our marriage. We need to be able to say that we are having issues with our self-image. We need to be able to be honest about feeling lonely and insecure. We need to be able to talk about not feeling a sense of purpose in our careers. We need to be able to discuss problems we’re having with our children. We need to be able to own up about having poor money management. We need to be able to be honest when we are having difficulty overcoming grief.

      We need to be able to admit to seeing a freaking therapist.

      We need to be able to ask each other for help.

      Sometimes in life, you must unashamedly “Cry Uncle.” And if you do, its perfectly okay. You will still be loved.

      Courage asks for help. Weakness does nothing.

      Cheers!

       

        There are No Parenting Experts


        There's no such thing as a parenting expert | The Champagne Supernova

        Last year, I met an older man while I was on a layover at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

        Shook my hand.

        Asked me what I did for a living and what I was returning to in Tampa.

        I explained I was an attorney who blogged and did freelance writing on the side.

        He handed me his business card.

        Below his name was the title Parenting Expert.

        At the time, my then four-year-old daughter was in the throes of having inconsolable tantrums and I wanted his advice.

        Running into this guy was like hitting the lottery.

        Wide eyed, I asked, How old are your kids?

        I don’t have children.

        Bear hunting, I thought, He must have said bear hunting expert. Or patenting. He’s a patenting expert.

        Oh, I must have misunderstood. I thought you told me you were a parenting expert. What did you say you did for work?

        You heard right, I’m a parenting expert.

        But you don’t have children?

        He looked at his watch, said he needed to use the restroom, and walked away.

        Excuse me for assuming that one had to be a parent to be considered an expert in the arena!

        I know a secret.

        You know the people who consider themselves parenting “experts”?

        They don’t exist.

        The internet articles that profess the “Do’s and Don’ts” of child rearing?

        While offering useful advice, they’re mostly garbage.

        The people who sit on panels giving other people advice about how they should raise their kids because they are well-studied “experts” and, therefore, know much better than you do?

        They’re full of it.

        So are the people who don’t have children who hold themselves out to the public as parenting experts.

        There is no such thing as a parenting expert. Everyone is trying to determine how to nurture mother nature. Everyone is just trying to figure it out.

        I’ll tell you a personal story.

        My oldest daughter, now five, has a lot of grit. She says what’s on her mind and likes to do what she wants to do, when she wants to do it. It can be difficult for her to control her emotions (She get it from her Mama…) and raising her has been challenging.

        (Another personal sub-story: when I was pregnant with her, I prayed that God would give me a spitfire instead of a wallflower. I absolutely got what I wished for.)

        When my daughter was two, she started having inconsolable tantrums.

        Some of them lasted for hours.

        She would frequently wake up in the morning and hysterically sob without any known reasons. Her teachers often complained the tantrums disrupted the entire class and would be triggered for silly reasons, one of them being that a classmate simply made eye contact with her. Sometimes during the tantrums, my daughter would become so enraged that she would bang her head on the ground. The tantrums were making her sick and sometimes she would get so worked up that she would vomit.

        There was once a time where my daughter was having such a bad tantrum at daycare during drop off that I had to toss her over my shoulder and carry her all the way back to my car kicking and screaming. In the two-minute trek between the classroom and the parking lot, I received text messages from three different friends who witnessed the ordeal and were offering their compassion.

        Stay strong! Been there and it’s the pits. 

        I sat in my car and sobbed to myself.

        Why is she doing this? Where have I failed along the way?

        My husband and I fruitlessly tried everything we could imagine to stop the tantrums.

        Google searches. Appointments with her pediatrician. Meetings with teachers and guidance counselors. Asking other parents. Calling my mom and grandmother. Reaching out to nannies and caregivers with extensive childcare experience. Reading parenting books.

        We heard and read the same piece of advice from the “experts” over and over again.

        She’s a smart girl who is trying to control the family with the tantrums. You must completely ignore them and they will go away. If you coddle her and give attention to the tantrums, they will indefinitely continue. It is critical that you pay them no mind and be patient. She’ll eventually grow out of it. 

        So that’s what we did.

        We ignored the tantrums.

        But they got worse.

        One day, during an hour-long tantrum that was triggered by something ridiculous, I defeatedly got down on my daughter’s level, looked her in the face, told her I loved her, and gave her a hug.

        The tantrum stopped almost immediately.

        We did a few more modifications, such as an earlier bedtime and implementing a strict “time-out” policy but, in sum, the major catalyst for the tantrums ending involved simply getting down on her physical level (e.g., my hands and knees) and hugging her.

        This was exactly what all the “experts” told us not to do.

        Here’s the deal.

        Nobody really knows what they are doing.

        All children are different. Just because something works for 99.9% of the population doesn’t mean it is a perfect fit for your child.

        Unless you have a rule-following “kid in a box,” you have to do everything you can do until you solve the problem.

        Even if it means doing what the “experts” tell you not to do.

        One of my friends compared parenting to a scratch-off ticket. You just have to keep trying different options until you hit the jackpot.

        And here’s another thing.

        Don’t feel like you are a bad parent just because your kid’s behavior stinks.

        Keep doing your best and it will probably stop.

        Speaking from experience, I felt like a failure that my husband and I couldn’t quickly get a handle on my daughter’s emotions.

        My negative thoughts began snowballing into irrational catastrophes.

        What if she’s nuts? What if this continues and she gets kicked out of school? What if this behavior rubs off on her little sister? What if, what if, what if?

        WhatifwhatifwhatifWHATIF?

        I was going crazy.

        For nothing.

        The tantrums eventually subsided. Don’t get me wrong, she still occasionally has them, but they are age appropriate we are usually able to stop it and notice a correlation to lack of sleep the night before.

        Girl needs her beauty rest.

        Thank God we didn’t rely on the “experts.”

        You know your child better than anyone else. Go with what feels right in your gut.

        Cheers!

         

          The Last Bad Act: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss


          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          This picture of Mario Simoes personifies his spirit. Antisana, Ecuador, February 20, 2016.

          How often have we judged someone by the last bad act they committed?

          Remembered their life ending in an act of rage?

          Rolled our eyes as we read newspaper articles or watched TV shows about someone who “snapped” and dismissed them as being crazy?

          Labeled that person for the one last despicable thing they did in their otherwise extremely rich life?

          My law school classmate and friend, Mario Simoes, recently died following a shootout with police.

          These events happened in my hometown of DeLand, Florida.

          According to news reports, Mario drove to his wife’s law firm in his Mercedes-Benz and, intoxicated, began shooting at the building. When police arrived in response to a 911 call, Mario embarked on a high-speed chase with the police on DeLand’s back roads, reaching speeds of 100 m.p.h. His vehicle became disabled after he struck a couple who was leaving a Lowe’s home improvement store (luckily, neither of these individuals were injured).

          Police purportedly advised Mario to “drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun” for two minutes until they opened fire, as they believed he was reloading his gun in the vehicle. He was killed.

          Mario was 45 years old.

          I have known Mario for over a decade and, while we lost touch over the years, he was not the type of person I ever imagined would do something like this.

          He’s actually one of the last people.

          The shooting was all over the local news.

          Just another crazy man with a gun who appeared to be on a murder-suicide mission.

          Newspaper articles claim Mario and his wife, also an attorney, were having marital problems and she moved out of their home the week before. Engulfed in despair, he showed up at their shared law practice with a gun and began shooting at the exterior windows from his vehicle.

          These events are shocking.

          I have been emotionally tied to Mario and his wife, Kim, since mid 2006 when they adopted my family dog, Scout.

          Mario wasn’t just someguyIwenttolawschoolwith.

          He was special and we were connected.

          As background, my parents got divorced when I was in law school and moved to places where they could not have pets. My sister and I were students and unable to care for a dog. This left us with needing to find a new home for our family dog, a rat terrier named Scout.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Scout when he was roughly ten years old.

          We got Scout in 1998 when he was ten weeks old. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school and we put in all the work and training that comes with having a puppy.

          Scout was a great dog and we loved him. When deciding on his new living situation, we thought long and hard about who would take him. One of my best friends, who was living in New York City, offered to adopt him. Like most young and ambitious New Yorkers, she worked long hours and my gut told me that she and Scout would not work out. Another friend asked her mother to take him, but the mother was having health issues and it was not the perfect fit. None of our options felt right, but dropping him off at the Humane Society was never an option because we wanted to maintain control over where he would go.

          One day after my law school contracts class was over, I ran into Mario in the outdoor study area. Knowing that he was a huge dog lover, I went out on a limb and blabbered: “Hey Mario, do you and Kim want another dog?”

          Whatever, all he can do is say no, I thought to myself.

          I explained the situation with needing to re-home Scout and Mario immediately took an interest, despite already having four dogs at home and despite that he never laid his eyes on Scout.

          This worked out perfectly. Mario and his wife lived in my hometown and Mario coordinated a time for my dad to bring Scout to their house to meet Kim. She would decide whether Scout could stay there, as Mario was away at law school in Gainesville and she would be Scout’s primary caretaker until Mario graduated.

          In sum, Mario and Kim ended up adopting Scout and they gave him a wonderful life. In fact, they gave Scout a better life than my family would have given him if he never needed to leave our home in the first place. Mario and Kim lived in a beautiful house on a large piece of property where Scout had plenty of room to run around. He had four new doggie brothers and sisters to keep him company while Kim was working during the day. He had a swimming pool and an air conditioned dog house that was fancier than some peoples’ real houses. He got to travel to cool places like the Bahamas on the Simoes’ private plane.

          Scout had it made.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Flight tickets Mario made with Scout’s picture. He nicknamed Scout “Nubby” because his short tail resembled a nub.

          After graduation, Mario and I kept in touch. He constantly updated me about Scout and how much he, Kim, and the other dogs were all enjoying him. Then, in August of 2014, Mario informed me that Scout passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 16. He had a long and fulfilling life, and Mario and Kim were sure going to miss him.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Mario and me at law school graduation in December of 2007.

          When reading Mario’s message of Scout’s death, I felt a mix of sadness and gratitude. Sadness about the loss, but gratitude about Mario and Kim’s kindness in welcoming Scout into their home during my family’s own time of grief over the end of my parents’ marriage.

          As the years passed, Mario and I would occasionally touch base with each other on social media. I followed his adventures that included flying his plane to exotic cities and embarking on high-stakes adventures.

          Mario was more than an attorney, husband, and friend. His story is remarkable.

          Born in Venezuela, Mario relocated to Portugal with his family as a child and eventually graduated 1st in his class at the Portuguese Air Force Academy. He began his career as a military pilot and, later, as a commercial pilot for a major airline. He graduated 2nd in our law school class of 208 graduates at the University of Florida. He was an exceptional writer, which was especially impressive considering English was not his first language. He was a member of The Florida Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

          Mario was also an accomplished mountain climber. He recently completed the “Seven Summits Challenge” by climbing to the top of the seven highest places on Earth. In addition to Mt. Everest, Mario climbed to the top of the highest mountain in each of the six other continents: Puncak Jaya in New Guinea, Vinson in Antarctica, Elbrus in Europe, Aconcagua in South America, Denali in North America, and Kilimanjaro in Africa.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Mario and his guide at The Matterhorn.

          His next adventure was going to be the Explorers Grand Slam, which involved skiing to both the North and South Poles. He was supposed to start this challenge in April of 2017, when he would be flown to a block of ice in Norway, 70 miles from the North Pole, where he would ski over difficult terrain until he reached the pole.

          Mario didn’t make it to April.

          In the week preceding his death, Mario published a series of daunting status updates on his Facebook account.

          March 14, 2017, at 5:24 p.m.:

          It’s scary what a smile can hide.

          March 14, 2017, at 8:11 p.m.:

          I have descended to a very dark place. 

          I believe Mario’s last status updates were cries for help.

          I did not reach out to him because I did not see the status updates until after he died, but I am not sure whether or how I would have responded if I would have seen them before it was too late.

          I can tell you how I will respond in the future.

          I will reach out to people who need it. I will not be deterred by the fear of prying into someone’s personal life. I will show people who I love that I love them. I will tell them that I care. I will give them compassion even if it is not convenient.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Mario and law school friends getting ready for a pre-dinner flight.

          People are people. We all have struggles. I haven’t seen Mario or Kim in nearly a decade and certainly don’t know the inner workings of their marriage but, based on my own experience, marriage can be really hard.

          Life can be hard.

          Love can be hard.

          It is painful to think that Mario, despite all of his worldly experiences and possessions, spent the last days of his life in, as he described it, “a very dark place.”

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          Photograph of Mario’s dogs that he uploaded to Facebook six days before he died.

          I don’t know the man who shot up his wife’s law firm and fled from police.

          Nobody knows that man.

          It wasn’t Mario.

          The Mario I love and remember adopted and cared for my dog in my family’s time of crisis. He was a true friend who was respected among our peers. He was adventurous, kind, smart, ambitious and authentic.

          That is the man I will choose to remember.

          The Mario I knew was not the man who shot at his wife’s law office and he was not the man who was killed by police officers.

          That is not the man I will remember.

          I refuse to remember him by his last bad act.

          Mario made his final ascent into the clouds on March 19, 2017. I hope that flight was more beautiful than the view from Mt. Everest, more satisfying than time with his beloved dogs, and filled him with all the love and warmth he ever lacked.

          Mario Simoes: Choosing to Remember Love in a Time of Loss | The Champagne Supernova

          This picture of Mario is hauntingly beautiful and is exactly how I envision him entering the light.

          Godspeed, Mario. You were a treasure who will be missed.

          Cheers to you.

            I Am Retarded: The Extraordinary Life of Mary Janak


            Aunt Mary riding her rocking horse at the age of 2.

            Mary Judith Janak was born on April 19, 1962, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Martha Rybar Rees Janak, an elementary school teacher, and Stephen Benton Elkins Janak, a mill worker. She had two older half-sisters, Ann and Judy Rees, who were fraternal twins.

            She was my Aunt.

            Aunt Mary and my grandmother shortly after her birth in 1962.

            On October 25, 1987, Aunt Mary was found dead in the bedroom of a group home where she lived in Portage, Pennsylvania. She died from complications associated with Type I diabetes, a disease she struggled with since she was diagnosed at the age of two.

            Her life was not easy.

            She was always “different.”

            Aunt Mary in 1963.

            When she was in kindergarten, Aunt Mary’s IQ tested at 56. My grandmother called her psychiatrist friend, Frank Chianise, M.D. The conversation went something like this:

            Is she toilet trained?

            Yes.

            Can she tie her shoes?

            Yes.

            Can she dress herself?

            Yes.

            He responded, A 56 IQ is an imbecile and they are incapable of doing any of that. She may have a low sugar day, but she is not a 56 IQ.

            And that was that.

            Aunt Mary went on to live a life of trials and adversity.

            I was only five years old when she died and have very few personal memories of her.

            I remember my mother and father driving us from Florida to Pennsylvania one summer to visit my grandparents and Aunt Mary. I vaguely recall Aunt Mary excitedly approaching me and my younger sister on the steps of my grandparents’ house and hugging us when we arrived. I remember Aunt Mary was missing knuckles on some of her fingers, a condition that often accompanies those like her who had pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism, a rare genetic malady where the affected individual has skeletal abnormalities.

            I remember Aunt Mary routinely pricking her finger with a needle and then wiping the blood on a small strip of paper that she stuck into a little machine.

            The news of Aunt Mary’s death is another “standout” memory from my childhood. My family was living in the small town of Palm Coast on Florida’s east coast, and I remember my mother standing in the kitchen nook talking on the phone with whomever broke the horrible news. The look on her face was a mix of despair and shock, as Aunt Mary’s passing was truly unexpected.

            Yes, she had diabetes, but nobody expected her to die. Not at that age.

            Those are all the things my young mind remembers about Aunt Mary.

            It wasn’t until later in my life that I learned Aunt Mary was “slow” and had mental handicaps.

            Aunt Mary in grade school for the 1973-74 year.

            To my five year-old self, she was no different than anybody else.

            Though she only lived to be twenty-five, Aunt Mary’s life was extraordinary.

            She was a legend.

            It’s fair to say that every single person who ever encountered Aunt Mary has their own favorite story about her.

            She had attributes that so many of us lack.

            She saw her self worth and defended it.

            My grandmother thought it was important for Aunt Mary to live as independently as possible despite her disabilities. When Aunt Mary was in her early twenties, my grandmother moved her into a group home for the handicapped in Mylo Park, a suburb of Ebensburg in southwest Pennsylvania.

            One of the staff members at the group home, a college graduate, decided it would be beneficial for Aunt Mary to wear a medal around her neck that read:

            “I am Retarded.”

            (While offensive, this term was widely used in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s to describe a person who is cognitively impaired.)

            That way, the staff member reasoned, if Aunt Mary ventured into town and found herself in a conundrum, whoever she approached would know she had a handicap and could try to help her.

            Aunt Mary was having none of this “I am Retarded” medal business and suggested that the staff member should wear a medal around her neck that read:

            “I am Ordinary.”

            Aunt Mary had self respect, spoke up for herself, and put the staff member right in her place.

            With her ordinary self.

            Aunt Mary didn’t end up wearing that stupid medal.

            Aunt Mary (right) at a local pool with a friend.

            She met obstacles with wit and creativity. 

            Aunt Mary was routinely mocked about her physical appearance.

            When she was in high school, Aunt Mary came home crying several days in a row. She told my grandmother that one of the popular jocks, a well-known athlete named Scott, was teasing her and calling her “Moonwalker” in front of all the other kids in the hallways. (This name calling was likely triggered by the fact that Aunt Mary walked with an awkward gait and, because of that, wore corrective shoes.)

            Hurt and frustrated, Aunt Mary asked my grandmother if there was something she could to do help.

            My grandmother told Aunt Mary she couldn’t stop the names and she would need to ignore it until Billy moved along and bullied someone else.

            “Sticks and stones.”

            Several days later, the phone rang at my grandparents’ house.

            Is this Mrs. Banda?

            Yes it is.

            This is Scott’s mother. I’m calling because Mary started a rumor at school that she’s pregnant and Scott is the father. You need to tell her to stop spreading lies.  

            My grandmother internally screamed “YES!” and mentally gave Aunt Mary a high-five.

            Well, my grandmother said, If you tell Scott to stop calling Mary a moonwalker, than I’ll ask her to stop telling people she’s pregnant with his child.

            That was the end of it.

            From that point forward, Scott left Aunt Mary alone.

            Instead of feeling sorry for herself and waiting for the storm of Scott’s browbeating to pass, Aunt Mary took matters into her own hands.

            She knew what she wanted and went after it.

            Aunt Mary was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Perfect timing, because she was alive when they won four Super Bowls championships.

            Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Mary was absolutely not a bandwagon or fair-weather fan. Win or lose, she would have proudly waved her Terrible Towel, an iconic symbol of their fan base. Her bedroom was adorned with Steeler paraphernalia.

            Bobble heads. Pennants. T-Shirts.

            Aunt Mary had a particular crush on Jack Ham, a well-known linebacker who played for the Steelers between 1971 and 1982.  Like Aunt Mary, Ham was born and raised in Johnstown and went to the same Catholic high school as my mother and her twin sister, although they were seven years younger than him.

            He was a big deal and a celebrity. Such a big deal that he was subsequently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

            One evening my grandmother’s phone rang.

            A young man’s voice was on the other end.

            Hi, is Mary there?

            No, she’s not, may I take a message?

            Yes, this is Jack Ham. Do you know when she’ll be home?

            Oh my goodness, Jack, it’s so nice of you to call. Mary is a huge fan of yours. She’s not here right now because she’s over at a dance being held by The Association for Retarded Citizens. Do you want to leave a message and I’ll have her call you back?

            Mr. Ham didn’t want to leave a message and he never called back.

            Who knows why he was calling.

            To this day, nobody knows whether Aunt Mary somehow tracked down his number, called him, and he was returning the call or if she was sending him letters for which he was responding with a call.

            We will never know.

            All we do know is that she was fearless and unintimidated.

            How many of us would have the guts to contact our celebrity crush?

            Our world is consumed with labels.

            Everybody has one.

            Autistic. Depressed. Little Person. Rich and Poor. Anxious. ADD. Schizophrenic. Tomboy. Bimbo. Immigrant. Fat. Republican or Democrat. Druggie. Bookworm. Nerd. Dyslexic. Emotional. Socialist. Adulterer. Disabled. Alcoholic. Obsessive-Compulsive.

            Retarded. 

            Aunt Mary didn’t allow her label to limit her. She didn’t care what other people thought about her and lived her life by her own terms.

            She generally did what she wanted, when she wanted to do it.

            There is a special freedom that comes with not responding to what other people think.

            With not being consumed by what the world has labeled us.

            Like Aunt Mary, the freedom comes with seeing and defending your own self-worth.

            It comes with meeting obstacles with humor and creativity.

            That comes with knowing what you want and going after it.

            Like most handicapped individuals, Aunt Mary had a great personality. She was a happy person who shared easily and was friendly and kind. She had a moral code, lived by it, and expected that it be reciprocated. Mean people confused her perception that life was beautiful.

            Her funeral viewing lasted two full days. My grandmother was amazed at the many young and old people who came to say goodbye to Aunt Mary, many in tears.

            One in particular stands out. Linda, the University of Pittsburgh basketball star player who came to view Aunt Mary who said: My best friend died.

            Aunt Mary had the freedom that so many of us lack and her life was cut short so we could appreciate her and learn from her.

            She saw that being ordinary was so much worse than any other label.

            Cheers to you, Aunt Mary.

            I love you and will see you again.

            Me (left) and my sister with Aunt Mary the summer before she died.

            I don’t know why but I love this photo more than any other. My Aunt Mary laughing with her grandfather (my great-grandfather) Stephen Rybar in the late 1970s.

            Aunt Mary at her high school graduation.

            Aunt Mary loved to swim. Here she is sliding into the water at BethCo Pines, a pool for high-ranking mill workers and their families, in the 1970s.

              Five Best Things About Growing Up in a Small Town


               

              DeLand’s main street, Woodland Boulevard, in the 1960s

              Well I was born in a small town / And I live in a small town / Probably die in a small town / Oh, those small communities. 

              Educated in a small town / Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town / Used to daydream in that small town / Another boring romantic that’s me. 

              No I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me / Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town / And people let me be just what I want to be. 

              – John Mellencamp, Small Town (1985) 

              I can relate.

              I was born in the small Florida town of Eustis before my family moved to the even smaller town of Palm Coast before finally relocating us to the small town of DeLand, which I consider home.

              Wedged between Daytona Beach and Orlando, DeLand is the county seat of Volusia County. As of the 2010 census, DeLand had a population of 27,031. It was the filming location of the 1999 Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy. Notable DeLand natives include baseball player, Chipper Jones, and singer-songwriter, Terence Trent D’Arby (Wish me, love, a wishing well…).

              Founded in 1876, the city, formerly known as the settlement of “Persimmon Hollow,” was named by its founder, Henry A. DeLand, a wealthy businessman from New York who made his fortune in the baking soda industry. A savvy businessman, DeLand believed the area had strong agricultural potential and he wanted to embark on a citrus operation with the new town as the center of activity. Henry DeLand also had a large role in starting Stetson University, which is also located in DeLand.

              Early Florida map that includes DeLand, taken from the Florida State Archives.

              When I was growing up, DeLand had only one public high school.  Accordingly, everyone who was in the same age group pretty much knew everybody else. There were a little over 400 people who graduated with my class and after graduation, the majority of my classmates either enrolled in the local community college, joined the military, or immediately entered the work force.

              DeLand also didn’t have any shopping malls. If you needed a new outfit, you had to convince your mother (or a friend who had a car) to drive you to either Daytona Beach or Sanford. Otherwise, you were committed to shopping at a strip mall that had a TJ Maxx and Bealls (or an Outlooks if you had a little extra cash to spend.)

              Keep in mind, these were the days before online shopping.

              It didn’t matter because most of us didn’t have “fancy” clothes anyway. For instance, until I went to college, I never heard of Lilly Pulitzer (“you mean people actually pay $150 for a cotton dress?!”) and thought Louis Vuitton was pronounced “Lewis.”

              High school parties usually happened in the woods, and the only way you could get to the party is if you were friends with someone who had a truck with four-wheel-drive. There was plenty of camouflage, cowboy boots, and Wrangler jeans.

              The Athens Theatre, built in 1921.

              I loved growing up in that little town. And while I’m sure kids who grew up in the big towns enjoyed the perks those towns had to offer, I didn’t know any different, but I wouldn’t have had it another way.

              The best things about growing up in a small town:

              Your Hometown Friends Will Always be your Ride or Dies. It doesn’t matter if you go months without talking to each other (life is busy, yo!), your hometown pals will always and forever be your best. freaking. friends. They remember when you got grounded for wrecking the car. They know what you looked like with prepubescent acne and braces. They talked you out of buying that ugly prom dress from Wet Seal. They cried with you when your tenth-grade crush was spotted at the movies with another girl.

              The Top Five Perks about Growing up in a Small Town | The Champagne Supernova

              Me and a longtime friend, Brandie, in 1996.

              You’re Never a Stranger. Walking around in your hometown is like an episode of Cheers. Everyone knows your name. You can’t even pump gas without running into your middle school P.E. coach, church minister, and hairdresser. Unlike larger cities where everyone is a number, when you grow up in a small town, everyone knows each other and looks out for each other.

              You Enjoy Small Town Traditions. Restaurants and stores were usually empty on Friday nights because everyone was at the high school football game. Local schools were closed the day before the homecoming football game because there was a huge parade. Neighbors and other citizens woke up early to claim their spaces along the parade route with lawn chairs. There were contests for which classes and clubs made the best parade floats. The prize was bragging rights until the following year. It was like Friday Night Lights minus the drama.

              You Recognize and Value Authenticity. There was little pretense in my small town. Mostly everyone was on the same middle-class level and nobody (from what I recall) was overly concerned about things like social climbing and money. Being from that background and having parents who instilled those things, you seek out and recognize them in other people. You have the ability to smell another person’s B.S. from a mile away.

              Life is Simple in a Small Town. As there aren’t many options of what to do on evenings and on the weekends, you’re left to your own creative devices. Big decisions centered around whether you wanted to buy chips and candy from the Handy Way or the 7-11. Not having to be on “choice overload” is nice.

              When I was growing up, my friends and I jokingly referred to DeLand as “DeadLand.” We felt there wasn’t enough opportunity in the small town and couldn’t wait until graduation so we could “get out of dodge” and start anew somewhere else.

              My parents moved away from DeLand when I was in law school and going home didn’t feel like “home” anymore once there was no longer an actual home to return to.

              Sure, I was always welcome to stay at my friends’ parents’ houses, but it wasn’t the same. I’ve driven past my childhood home several times and, even though the renters are trying to take care of it, it doesn’t look “the same” without my Dad’s car in the driveway or my Mom’s flower pots outside.

              The saying about not knowing what you have until it’s gone is true.

              Cheers!

                Happiness: problems vs. PROBLEMS


                How to cope with your problems | The Champagne Supernova

                We all have difficult days and need to be reminded that what we consider problems are not problems.

                At all.

                Or even close.

                My husband was out of town traveling for work (and leisure) for the last week and I’ve been on my own with my two young daughters, ages 2 and 4. Sure they are (overall) good and sure I’ve transitioned from full-time to part-time employment, but dealing with getting lunch made, everyone dressed and out of the house in the morning, driving the kids to school and myself to work, doing pickup and attending extracurricular activities, then returning home and making dinner and getting everyone bathed and in the sack are exhausting.

                Not to mention that on the mornings I have to wash and blow-dry my hair, it’s like the world has been turned upside down.

                (Curly haired people, you know what I’m talking about!)

                Pepper all of this with occasional tantrums, backtalk, and refusal to put on their socks and allow you to brush their hair in the mornings. Now add dealing with demanding clients at work, getting stuck at lengthy stop lights when you’re in a hurry, and a rude toll booth lady (this happened to me two weeks ago at the Tampa Airport, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

                It can be worse. Way worse.

                You or your spouse got laid off at work and you can’t pay the mortgage. Your parents got divorced or you’re going through one yourself. Your child consistently gets bad reports at school and was recommended to undergo behavioral therapy. A loved one is dabbling with illegal drugs. Your cousin was caught plagiarizing and might be kicked out of school.

                You likely know people who are going through these things.

                It can still be worse.

                Much worse.

                In my career as an attorney, I’ve seen incomprehensible tragedy.

                Children who have been sexually abused by their own parents.

                Young kids who accidentally drowned in the family swimming school while their parents were upstairs napping.

                People whose lives were cut short in car accidents by other drivers who simply weren’t paying attention to the road.

                I’ve had to review thousands of photographs of murder scenes, motor vehicle accidents, and autopsy reports. While doing so, I’ve thought about the people in those photographs and about how they had lives with dreams, goals, and other people who loved them.

                Those are real problems. Not the “problems” you have. Those aren’t real problems. 

                Because here’s the thing to remember when you’re feeling frustrated.

                There are problems and then there are PROBLEMS. 

                It all comes down to perspective.

                God is amazing at giving reality checks.

                I was recently stressed about something meaningless and stupid. Sure, to me it was a problem, but it really wasn’t a PROBLEM.

                That same day, I met a man who was suffering late stage colon cancer. Having been through chemotherapy and radiation several years before, he thoughtfully decided to let the disease make its natural progression after it returned from being in remission. The man told me he had no purpose to live because, twenty years ago, his daughter was murdered by her husband in a domestic violence dispute, and he felt he had no reason to fight for his life.

                As he told me his story, I sat in my chair and wondered if I would have the mental capacity to survive something so horrific. If and how I could continue if someone I loved so deeply was taken away from me. How I would cope if I had a terminal illness. How my current “problems” will pass, but how this guy deals with ongoing torment.

                Those are real problems.

                I was going through problems and this man had PROBLEMS. 

                So did the people I described in my cases above. 

                Sure, our lives aren’t perfect and sometimes it’s difficult getting through the tribulations of everyday life.

                It’s easy to get stressed out about deadlines at the office, but at least you have a job.

                Sure, you can get upset when your child gets a bad report card, but at least your child is healthy.

                It’s annoying when your spouse doesn’t clean up after himself, but at least you have an overall good sense of partnership.

                Waiting in the carpool line is monotonous, but at least you have a car and your kids are able to attend school.

                One or both of your parents is still alive. You have friends and people in your life who love and support you. You have the cognitive ability to read books, watch movies, and carry a conversation. You don’t need help performing standard activities of daily living. You live in a country that isn’t torn by war and aren’t afraid to go to sleep each night. You have food and clean water.

                You’ve got it pretty dang good. 

                This is not to say that I don’t have bad days and that I don’t get frustrated.

                I’m not Polyanna, I promise.

                But when the hard times are happening and I’m in the middle of a super stressful moment that I know will eventually pass, I try my hardest to remember that my problems aren’t PROBLEMS.

                And that makes me grateful for my problems. 

                But if you’re reading this and you do have PROBLEMS, then drop me a note. I will pray for you (promise!) and I hope you have people who can support you and see you through them.

                Cheers.

                  Sprouts Farmers Market: Open for Business in Tampa


                  Sprouts Farmers Market open in Tampa Bay | The Champagne Supernova

                  Holy Cow! Me and Ole Bessie from Dakin Dairy Farms, a featured dairy product available at Sprouts Farmers Market.

                  Sprouts Farmers Market proudly sponsored this post. 

                  I gotta tell you.

                  I routinely work for large and small brands promoting their products in exchange for compensation.

                  Hey, the blog ain’t gonna pay for itself. Either will my ombre.

                  Sure, I would never push a product or service that I didn’t legitimately like.

                  Then, I was introduced to Sprouts Farmers Market and fell in love.

                  Never heard of them until two months ago when someone from their public relations team asked me to use my mom blogger skillz to help generate enthusiasm about them coming to Tampa and, specifically, their grand opening in Carrollwood.

                  (The Carrollwood Store enjoyed it’s grand opening today, February 22, 2017, and a location will open in South Tampa in May of 2017.)

                  I researched the company, felt their mission to make healthy, organic foods more affordable for families using local farmers and businesses, was in line with my own values and agreed. But I had never been to a Sprouts Farmers Market until yesterday when I attended a sneak peek for bloggers.

                  And I fell in love.

                  In case you missed my other posts, Sprouts Farmers Market is an organic niche grocery store chain that is based in Phoenix. It opened it’s very first Florida store in Carrollwood located at 15110 N. Dale Mabry Highway.

                  When I arrived, the store was immaculate and each department was easy to find, so I didn’t have to try to figure out where to go. (The interior is around half the size of a Publix or Sweetbay).

                  I took a tour and learned that Sprouts’ fresh produce department made up a quarter of Sprouts‘ total business, with the store carrying nearly 200 organic varieties. Best of all, the prices are roughly 25% less than conventional grocery stores because of the strong relationship Sprouts has with local farmers. For instance, I noticed customers can grab a carton of strawberries for $1 each and a pound of ground beef for $1.99 this week.

                  Pretty incredible.

                  My favorite area of the store was the cosmetics, wellness, and vitamin department. Most of the products were cruelty-free, vegan, and did not contain toxins like sulfates, parabens, mineral oil, and artificial fragrances. (I’m all into safer skincare.) Even Sprouts’ brand products smelled delicious and were reasonably priced.

                  Sprouts open for business in Florida | The Champagne Supernova

                  Collection of soaps and other natural beauty products in Sprouts’ cosmetics department

                  I purchased Sprouts’ brand shampoo for the girls’ and enjoyed bath time tonight when they got to use it for the first time. Smelled amazing.

                  Other features that I love about Sprouts is the fresh juice bar, the delicious salad bar (that even contains pre-made wedge salads, certainly unique), and the enormous selection of craft beer, many of it coming from breweries local to Tampa Bay.

                  Sprouts Farmers Market is now in Florida | The Champagne Supernova

                  Ready-to-go wedge salad in Sprouts’ fresh salad bar.

                  Sprouts Farmers Market makes fresh juices that are healthy | The Champagne Supernova

                  Collection of fresh juices made fresh daily.

                  Sprouts Farmers Market has a large collection of local beers | The Champagne Supernova

                  I’ll take all of them. Along with an IV to pump it directly into my blood stream after this crazy week at work.

                  If I didn’t have to pick up my kids from school, I easily could have spent a couple hours in the store checking out all of their delicious foods and unique brands.

                  I’m so excited to support this business and hope you’ll feel the same way. Check it out this weekend.

                  For additional savings, check out Sprouts’ Mobile Coupon program, which makes it even easier to save on Sprouts’ already low prices. All you have to do is download the Sprouts app for Android or iPhone, create an account, digitally clip your coupons, then scan the barcode when you checkout. Easy, peasy. Here is the link.

                  Cheers!

                    Healthy Living: How to Save Money


                    How to save money by shopping at Sprouts | The Champagne Supernova

                    This post is sponsored with pride by Sprouts Farmers Market.

                    Eating healthy, wholesome foods can be expensive.

                    With the low price of value meals at popular fast food chains, it’s no wonder so many Americans are out of shape and not feeling their best.

                    Fortunately, Sprouts Farmers Market makes it possible to save money while eating well.

                    After all, “you work hard for the money… so hard for it, honey!”

                    Saving money is easy, and here’s how to do it:

                    Join Opening Day Fun. The brand-spanking new Carrollwood location of Sprouts Farmers Market will open to the general public on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, bright and early at 7 a.m. 

                    The first 200 shoppers in line (yes, there will likely be a line!) will receive a coupon for 20% off their entire purchase. Don’t worry, the line won’t be that bad because everyone waiting in line before the doors open will receive muffins and coffee samples. Further, every 15th customer at checkout will receive a coupon book of Sprouts savings.

                    Deals of the Month. Each month, Sprouts puts out a “Deals of the Month” flyer with additional promotions and coupons. These deals are often seasonally themed and have interesting recipes and tips. You can get these flyers near the entrance of your local Sprouts.

                    Subscribe to the Email List.  Stay up to date on Sprouts’ weekly specials by joining their email list, which you can do here. When signing up for their email list, don’t forget to register to win a cool new bike.

                    Tips for how to save money by shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market | The Champagne Supernova

                    Sprouts Brand Items. (These are my absolute favorite). Sprouts offers a private label brand which provides an easy, more clearly labeled and affordable way to purchase organic and healthy products. This private label brand offers a great selection of organic and natural products, as well as vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO varieties.

                    Bulk Bins. Fortunately for your wallet, bulk items don’t have the marketing or expensive packaging costs built into the pricing like your conventional brand items. There are tons of available bulk items including several varieties of nuts, beans, fruit, and dried rice… even chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sprouts also carries 100 assortments of bulk spices for the baking enthusiast.

                    Read the Weekly Circular. Every week, Sprouts shares details regarding promotional items in a weekly advertising circular. The circular contains clear images, prices, and product descriptions to assist customers in creating their shopping lists. These ads run for eight days, so when they “double up” on Wednesday, the week of distribution, it’s called “Double Ad Wednesday.”

                    How to save money by shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market | The Champagne Supernova

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