The perfect gift


Still hunting for thoughtful presents? Visit Oxfam and help those in need, in honor of those you love.

Oxfam has gifts for every price range, and you can choose how your recipient is notified of the donation.

The same money that could buy someone a nice sweater could also buy a school meal for a child in need, livestock to help sustain those who live off the land, a water purifier, mosquito nets, books, medical supplies, a boat, or even a replanted forest. A gift like that warms a heart more than the softest cashmere. In fact, if you give a family sheep, they can make countless sweaters each year.

Giving through Oxfam is easy. You don’t have to deal with parking or lines. Heck, you don’t even have to leave your house. You could click the link above in this very article and be done shopping in twenty minutes or less.

When you give the gift of a donation to Oxfam, you’re just like the real Santa Claus. You might not have flying reindeer, but you will touch people all over the world and share the joy of Christmas in its most sincere, genuine form.

Out with the new

Once upon a time, everything I have was new to me.

  • Everything in my closet was once new and I couldn’t wait to wear it.
  • Our car used to have that new-car smell.
  • My husband was once my new boyfriend.

I still have the same clothes I felt like a new person in when I was in the department store dressing room, the car still runs great, and my husband is as sweet and handsome as ever. The only difference is, now they’re worn and comfortable, instead of fresh and new.

What is it about new stuff that gets us so excited? We’ll enter stores with signs promising antiques and vintage goods, but who wants to shop at a store that sells worn and comfortable merchandise? Doesn’t that mean the goods are used? If I can afford new, why would I buy something used, right?

We’re probably less intrigued by our own used goods because we know the kind of care and abuse they’ve been through. We want to feel fresh and new again, so we seek out people and goods we haven’t potentially screwed up yet.

  • New clothes fit the body we have and the way we feel today. They update our personal packaging – as though we have a brand new marketing campaign.
  • A new car wouldn’t have that dent in the bumper from where you ran into a stationary object.
  • New people don’t know our faults. In fact, they only know what we tell them, and we can tell our stories and jokes for the first time all over again. We get another chance to impress.

We need to start referring to new stuff as what it is. Inexperienced.

No one wants to hire an entry-level (new) employee for a job requiring experience, so why do we like “new” so much? New hasn’t gone through the training process. New jeans are stiff, and new shoes give blisters. The insurance is even higher on new. New takes you all the way back to square one.

Before you spend a fortune on new clothes, a new car, or bestow more attention and affection on new friends, remember that new will also be old one day; and, your old will always be new to someone else.

The average dinner plate vs. your stomach

I want to give you a visual to help you better understand portion control. First, take out one of your dinner plates. Next, make a fist. Unless you have really big hands and tiny dinner plates, they will be drastically different sizes.

Your fist is roughly the size of your empty stomach. It’s very elastic (especially if you challenge it frequently by eating large portions), and it’s made to stretch to fit about a liter worth of contents. Now, picture yourself in too-tight spandex. That’s elastic too, but put too much inside it and it looks and feels uncomfortable, right?

The next time you get ready to load up a dinner plate think of your little fist-size stomach before you shovel in large bites one right after the other (without so much as time to fully chew and swallow in between).

Remember to always eat slowly so your stomach can gradually, gently stretch to accommodate your food. Your body doesn’t even know you’re eating until 20 minutes after that first bite. If you can cut back on how much you stretch your stomach at meals, your stomach will tighten back up a bit, and the rest of you will likely follow suit.

Make a habit of proper portion control and you’ll avoid that uncomfortably full feeling. Over time, you just might get away with wearing that spandex.

Is coconut oil your skin cure-all?

My skin is really sensitive and annoying. If it’s dry, it gets bumpy; 0ver-moisturized – bumpy. If I use sunscreen, it gets bumpy. My skin’s natural inclination to get bumpy in all circumstances is only exacerbated by the fact that I spend most of my life in semi-sweaty workout clothes, opening it up to all kinds of fun, funky bacteria.

Dermatologists have told me to go as basic as I can on my skin regime, but to always wear sunscreen. Basically, skip all of the chemicals, acids, etc. All the fancy promises on skin product labels usually mean more ingredients that could irritate my skin, so I have to ignore them and get the most stripped down stuff I can find.

A friend at the gym mentioned using coconut oil, from the baking section, as an anti-fungal moisturizer one day, so I decided to check it out. I love the smell of coconut, but was worried it would be overpowering, and I typically opt for lotions rather than oils so I won’t be greasy, but I decided to give it a shot.

Now, on the other side of skepticism, I am loving coconut oil.

Coconut oil has no additives – not even water, which can inflate, then later deflate your skin cells, and it’s loaded with antioxidants to combat free radicals, wrinkles and age spots. The fatty acids in coconut oil prevent fungal and bacterial infections, and it’s been found helpful in the fight against acne, psoriasis and eczema.Coconut oil even has sunscreen and deodorant capabilities without any harmful, harsh ingredients. Oh, and I don’t even notice the smell once it’s on, so I can wear my normal sprays and perfumes without the scents fighting each other.

Since coconut is a solid at room temperature, it’s less messy than other oils, and easy to travel with. I have a smaller plastic container I keep some in for that purpose. Whenever I’m about to shower, I run hot water in the sink, stop it up, and set the closed container of coconut oil in the water to melt while I bathe. Once I’m out, it’s ready for slathering all over. You can also rub it quickly in your hands to warm it up.

I’m going to look into using coconut oil for babies too, since baby oil contains mineral oil which is a petroleum byproduct. We plan to have a family, and I wouldn’t put something on my child that I wouldn’t put on myself. I’ve read of it being used as a hair moisturizer and even a tool for intimacy, so it has multiple uses in your home from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the bedroom.

If you’re in the market for a safe, gentle moisturizer for your entire body, consider trying coconut oil. If it doesn’t make me bumpy, everyone should be in the clear.

Part Two of The Mason Chronicles: Seeing-Eye Person

The summer heat is not ideal for running a dog, so the second rain comes in and provides a little relief, I grab the leash.

Watching Mason play and run in the rain takes my mind off of the actual exercise. He splashes in puddles and even manages to lap up some water while moving at full speed. His tail and ears are always high in the air like he’s having the time of his life. The only part that doesn’t make sense is his attempt to shake off the water, but how do you explain water constantly falling from the sky to a dog?

Mother Nature provided some nice, cool rain – just perfect for a run – last Thursday. The light drizzle we started off in was lovely. It wasn’t until we were almost home when things turned torrential.

It was really coming down, so I sped up to push through the last bit. I could tell Mason was having a hard time keeping up by a little pull behind me on the leash, so I turned around to shout encouragement. (Normally the words squirrel, cat or puppy will get him moving.) As I turned toward him it became obvious why he was running slowly behind me. His eyes were completely shut. I guess he wanted to keep the rain out. He was running blind, and I was his seeing-eye person.


Living up to our parents’ dreams

Raise your hand if the following has ever happened to you.

You call home and say: “Hey! Great news! I (insert accomplishment / something you’ve been working towards)!

Parent: “Oh, that’s great. You know what else you should do now?…”

All you really wanted to hear was, “That’s great! / Way to go! / We’re so proud of you! / We knew you could do it!”, and, cut. No add-ons or ways you could improve on it.

Sometimes a supportive parent adds to the weight of ambition.

It’s natural for parents to have hopes and dreams regarding what they think their children can accomplish. They see all of our potential, and they want to encourage us to achieve everything within the realm of possibility.

In addition, parents may see where they could have worked harder for their own goals, and they don’t want their children to miss the same opportunities they did. They want us to shoot higher, go farther, and have even better lives than their own; improve with each generation, right? They want more for us.

As sweet as it is for our parents to want us to ‘be all we can be ‘and ‘live out our dreams’; it equates to a lot of pressure because we don’t want to let them down.

Obviously, they aren’t intending their encouragement as a burden; but, nonetheless, it’s quite a load to carry. We never feel done b/c we’re conditioned to keep trying to reach the next level up. Face it, we could almost always be doing more.

For all the phases when they saw me grow and learn every day, it’s a bit more sporadic, and sometimes even stagnant, now. Think about it. Our parents have seen us learn everything we know, and the first twenty years were pretty exciting and filled with accomplishments. Now, most days are pretty much the same, so there’s less to report.

It’s not that I don’t want to keep striving to be better; it’s just that I don’t know how to judge how far I’ve come or how I’m doing because there’s always another step I could be taking.

As well-intentioned as encouragement from loved ones is, will there ever be a day when a call home includes the words, “You’ve become more than we ever could have dreamed. Why don’t you just sit back and feel proud of what you’ve already accomplished for a little while.”?

I’m just going to throw it out there that I’ll likely never make headlines. I see this as a positive considering some of the headlines out there. (Hello, Weiner tweeter!)

I want to keep making my parents proud, but sometimes I wish they saw a little less potential in me. Yes, it would be amazing to be a best-selling author, famous singer, the next Jillian Michaels, or a chef on the Food Network, but I’m also really okay with being (mostly) normal.

I know my parents are proud and love me no matter what I do or accomplish. I’m not questioning that at all. What I’m trying to find is a healthy balance between ambition, and enjoying life as it is presently.

When I hear all of the things my parents believe I am capable of accomplishing, it scares me. Instead of hearing it in a completely positive way – which I know is how it’s intended – I see how much farther I have to go, and am acutely aware of the possibility that it will never be fully achieved.

In order to appreciate who I am today, I need to know that it’s okay if I don’t go for the gold everyday (or, even make it to the games). As glad as I am knowing my parents think I could be great, it would be even better to hear that good will do.

Don’t call me mom

While enjoying a gorgeous day at Villa Borghese in Rome last week, I couldn’t help but cringe at an obnoxious child’s incessant whining. In stark contrast to the serene atmosphere, his complaints and smart-mouthing were practically shattering the warm sun beams.

Please Mommy. Can I? Can I? Mom. Mom. Can I? Can I? Mom! You never let me do anything! Gah! You’re so mean. I hate you, Mommy, you’re ruining my life!” “Mom…Mommy…Mama…”

Ahhhhhhh! Just kill me now! I took solace in the fact that my name wasn’t any variation of Mom. (Oh well, since I’m Katie, and not Mom, I think I’ll just be going, but you two have fun!)

I do want to be a mom though, so how can I avoid this nails-on-chalkboard exchange? The only option I can see is with a name change. I need to have my children call me something other than mom. I need a name that will add a buffer to what would otherwise be a reason to leap from the nearest tall structure.

Yes. I think I’d like my children to call me Superwoman. Wouldn’t that make even nasty phrases have a nicer ring to them? We could even change Mother’s Day to become “Superwoman’s Day.” Most moms I know are essentially Superwoman anyway, so it might actually be more appropriate.

Little babies could walk around with shirts that read, “Baby of World’s #1 Superwoman,” and they’d have the emblem below. So cute, right?

Even teenage children could be more fun.

Teenage Child: “Superwoman, you never let me have any fun!

Me: “Well, if you promise to do your chores without me having to ask, and refrain from sex until you’re 30, I’ll let you borrow my cape.

Part One of The Mason Chronicles: Why Delivery Men Fear Me

Delivery men fear me. At 5’2, 120lbs, I’m certainly not physically intimidating, but I can see the fear in their eyes just the same.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I get to the part about delivery men fearing me, it’s important that I introduce you to our dog, Mason.

Mason "Puppers" Roy

Mason is an 8.5 year old lab mix that I rescued after he was thrown off the back of a moving truck back in 2002. He was 4 months old at the time, and a total disaster. He was skinny with scabs, missing patches of hair, and a huge, funky gray mole smack dab in the middle of his head, but he was sassy, and I liked him.

We’ve been through a lot together, and he’s my baby, but we don’t always agree on his behavior. He’s got a lot of personality, and if he thinks he’s in trouble with me, he runs. Or, I’ll tell him not to sass me (yes, it’s obvious when he is sassing me), and he’ll grumble at me just like a child back-talking. He’s too smart for his own good.

Once, I left our video camera running so I could catch him getting on our couch when we weren’t home. He watched me leave, made a quick lap around the house to make sure he was alone, checked one more time out the window to verify I was completely gone, then he curled up on the couch for an afternoon nap. He knew exactly what he was doing. Unfortunately for me, you can’t show a dog a video and go, “Ha! I caught you.” Little bugger…

One of my biggest disagreements with Mason is how he responds when someone buzzes our door. Let me describe this frequent scenario so you can get a clear picture of why delivery men fear me.

What happens when the door buzzes:

Mason starts barking loudly and dashing toward the door. His bark makes him sound enormous. I take off after him saying, “No barking. Bad dog!” and try to grab him so I can put him up before he terrifies whomever is at our door. Just as I’m about to get his collar so I can drag him to the patio, he darts away from me so that my hands only end up grasping his hind quarters. As I grab him, he lets out a huge, squealing cry as though I’ve just severed a limb. I then grab his collar, put him up, return to the door, and open it with a smile to welcome our guest who is looking at me as though I’m hiding a dead animal behind whichever door is closed.

At this point you might be wondering why on earth I haven’t trained our dog better. Well, I actually did train him, and he knows what to do, but as he gets older, he just doesn’t seem to care anymore. I guess he figures that since I didn’t kill him when he ate part of the couch when he was 1; nor did I strangle him when he almost peed on my head when I didn’t want to get up from a hangover to take him out (in my defense, that was almost eight years ago – in his defense, I probably deserved it); and I didn’t ring his neck after fishing him out of the canal he fell into in New Orleans – even though it cost me some of my favorite heels and a business suit – now he figures he can probably get away with not following all of his training.

At this point, I don’t know which of us is better trained, actually.

Ventura Highway Runs Through Italy: America in concert in Naples

Madonna was right when she sang, “Music makes the people come together.”  I had the pleasure of attending an America concert (slightly different genre than Madonna) in downtown Naples, Italy last night, and it was so cool to stand and sing Ventura Highway with a bunch of Italians. It was a blast!

Who knew Italians loved America so much? As it turns out, they were huge here in the 80s, and have continued to return frequently during their over forty years of touring.

There was a great turnout, and everyone knew every line to every song. Fans showed up with vinyl they hoped to have signed, and took plenty of pictures and video from the audience.

Music is a huge part of my life, and it just makes sense to me that something so powerful would span cultures so easily.

I exist because of music. I don’t mean to sound profound and deep. Literally, my mom made eyes at my dad from the audience when he was on stage singing and playing, and the rest is music history.

A song exists for every situation or emotion that’s ever existed, and the right lyrics, with a perfect melody can enhance your feelings better than any drug ever could. Music is a universal connection.

Music can bring you up or down, and last night it was just what we needed to make us feel right at home in Italy.

One of the leads, Dewey Bunnell, was a dead ringer for my dad – looks-wise, and as an entertainer. It made me want to get my dad’s band back together again for a reunion show!

When the crowd took over to sing “Lala, la, la, lalala…” in Horse with no name, there was no language barrier. We all just swayed and sang together. I think it was what the Hilltop Singers intended when they sang, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

My life has a soundtrack, and last night it was Italians, Americans and America singing Magic.

How to look a size smaller

Do you wear your clothes inside out so the tag shows? Hopefully not; however, if the smaller size fits, you buy it in every color, right?

Have you ever been guilty of any of the following?

  • Buying an article of clothing simply because it fit in a smaller size than you normally wear.
  • Not buying an article of clothing because it fit in a larger size than you normally wear.
  • Buying a smaller size in hopes that it would fit after you lost some weight.
  • Buying a smaller size, even though it wasn’t as comfortable on as a size up, just so you could continue to claim it as “your size.”

Why do we torture ourselves by purchasing the smallest size we can fit into only to worry that we will only be able to wear it on our best (skinniest) days?

Here’s the deal: Wearing the wrong size makes you look bigger than you actually are.

The only thing other people see is how your clothes fit you. You’re the only one who knows what size you’re wearing. Others won’t know you’re wearing a smaller size than normal, but they will see if you have a muffin top spilling over the waistline of your pants, or if your top is straining at the buttons.

If your clothes are too tight, it doesn’t matter that you were able to squeeze into them. Ill-fitting clothes cheapen your appearance. Wearing the appropriate size, even if it’s a size up from what you would like to wear, will actually make you look smaller.

It may make you feel good to buy a size 4 or know that what you’re wearing is smaller than you normally wear, but – being intentionally redundant – you’re the only one who knows that.

Don’t rush out and buy clothes that are way too big, though. If they don’t fit your shape you may as well be wearing a potato sack.

Sizes vary by brand, so you’re not going to wear the same size across the board. Always try on clothes before you buy them.

A visit to a good tailor can make a huge, inexpensive difference in your wardrobe. Let out a little on one seam; take in a little on another, and voila!

Another tip is to dress from the inside-out. What I mean by that is you have to start with the right undergarments. There is no point investing in nice clothes if you’re not going to wear something nice and appropriate underneath them.

If your bra doesn’t fit you well or fit well under your outfit, you can ruin the entire effect. Your bra straps should not cut in and give you unnecessary fat rolls, and your chest should be adequately supported. A good bra will lift your breasts off of your rib cage, giving the appearance of a longer, slimmer torso.

The same goes for your underwear. There are enough options and contraptions out there now that there is no excuse for elastic cutting in, panty lines, etc.

Our bodies are changing all the time. Whether you need tummy support, a butt lift, thigh smoothing, invisible straps, etc., there is a piece of lingerie developed just for you.

A healthy diet and regular exercise will help you look and feel better, and those in conjunction with a nice wardrobe will no doubt make you look your best. However, whether you adhere to a specific diet and exercise regimen or not, any figure looks good in clothes that fit well.

Remember that your clothing size is not your identifier. I only know people by their name, and no one has ever called me by a number off my tag. The person who invented clothing sizes wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or boost someone else’s.

Love yourself enough to take pride in your overall appearance. The way you look and feel in your clothes makes a difference in how confident you appear, and confidence is your best accessory.