From skate gear to formal wear: how my teen boys clean up with style

This post is sponsored by Mirum in partnership with AXE and Walmart.

I love the social skills my boys learn in cotillion. But formal interactions and dancing with girls, as well as getting dressed up in formal-wear, can be intimidating for a tween. And shifting gears from dropping in on the half-pipe to learning the fox-trot can make any kid anxious. How do I help my boys go from skate-mode to gentleman-mode with style? Axe makes it easy with products and scents that make them feel confident.

Finding my footing after divorce

 This post is in collaboration with TIAA to empower women experiencing divorce, encouraging them to take control of their financial future.

Over the past three months I went through the process of sitting for my licensing exams to be a marriage and family therapist.

You may be thinking . . . wasn’t she already licensed? Yes, I was. I was in private practice for over a decade, before I had kids, and before I started a blog.

I loved being in private practice. I liked my colleagues, I liked that the job was challenging and cerebral, and I loved that I could set my own hours and work part-time for a decent wage. One of the things that drew me to this career was that I thought it would be very compatible with motherhood. I thought I could see a part-time caseload during my husband’s off days, while staying home with the kids.

This worked out well when Jafta was a baby.  And then baby #2 came. She slept about 2 hours at a time. She nursed 24-7. I was a mess physically and emotionally. I was tired all the time. I was plagued with post-partum anxiety that made me even more of a catastrophizer than I already am (which is a lot.) I was a ball of nerves all the time. I no longer felt like getting dressed and going to work was a nice reprieve. Now, it felt like a complete and total charade. I was a stressed sleep-walker in a professional pantsuit. Underneath my blazer, I had a bulky maternity bra and leaky boobs. I struggled to stay awake as my clients talked about their life. I showed up to class with spit-up stains on my shirt. I felt like a sham.

In addition to feeling more frazzled in session, I really struggled to keep up with returning phone calls and setting appointments during the week.  Once I had my third child, I could barely find the time to call back the referrals I got. The few long-standing clients I saw after her arrival were hard for me. I felt like my brain was in short-circuit mode. I just couldn’t get my head into a space where I could really be present with clients. I am an introvert, and motherhood was draining any energy I had that I could previously devote to my job. By the time child number four arrived, I decided I needed to close up shop. At least for a while. I cleaned out my office and decided to devote more time to blogging. I made a decent income from the blog, but my husband was really the breadwinner. My income from blogging was a supplement to his steady paycheck that supported our family.

And then I made a mistake that I would later come to regret: I didn’t renew my license.

It wasn’t intentional. I always planned to keep my license and thought it was a job that I could go back to someday. But life was happening all around me, and one year, we moved and I forgot to update my address with my licensing board, and I missed the mail-in renewal. I didn’t realize this until two years later, and by that point, my license had been canceled. All because I wasn’t staying diligent. I was busy being a mom, and I was abdicating the career stuff to my husband.

Fast-forward to a few years later, I found myself in the position of getting a divorce. The regret of letting my license lapse was now even more painful, because I needed to find a way to support myself beyond the supplemental income of my blog. I needed to become a breadwinner in my own right, and going back into practice, especially now that my kids are older and require less emotional energy, would have been a perfect transition. But I didn’t have the option.

I called the board and they informed me I would have to sit for my exams again. MFT exams are notoriously difficult, with very low pass rates, but I was grateful that at least my two years of grad school and three years of internships did not need to be repeated. So I set out and started studying. It was time for me to take control of my financial future.  (TIAA offers some wonderful resources here.)

Taking these exams again was a humbling experience but it was also empowering. It was humbling because I had been a supervisor and a professor. I had taught some of the subjects on the exam. But at the same time, while I was out of practice, certain laws had changed and a new diagnostic manual had been published with a lot of changes – so I was truly behind. I failed my first practice test. I had my work cut out for me.

But it was also empowering because I knew that I was working toward a career option, one that I was grateful to have. While I always wanted to be a mom, I am so glad that I also recognized that nothing is ever certain, and had the sense to study for a career in my early adulthood instead of assuming I would just stay home and let my husband support me. Even though that was my reality for a few years, I’m glad I had a backup.

In September I took the first of the two exams and passed, and then last week I took the second and passed. It has been a huge relief. I’m not sure I will go right back into private practice but I am so glad that I have it as an option.

I had the chance to take part in a conversation led by TIAA about rebuilding after a divorce. It’s a topic I feel passionately about, because I know how much finances can be a strain in that process . . . especially for women. In this video, I talk about the process of finding my financial footing after divorce.

Whether or not you are going through a divorce, I would encourage every woman to make sure she has a clear picture of her financial portfolio and plans for the future. TIAA has some amazing resources to help with that endeavor on their website – check it out to learn more about how you can take control of your financial future.


How to help teens deal with problem skin

This post is sponsored by CHOC Children’s

The teen years can be difficult. From social issues to heartbreaks to school stress, it’s a lot to handle. And then you add the roller-coaster of shifting hormones . . . it’s no wonder teens can struggle with self-esteem. Acne can be another frustrating hallmark of this phase of life and can affect self-confidence for many kids. I talked with Dr. Priya Mody, a pediatrician from CHOC Children’s, to hear an expert opinion on how to help our kids deal with problematic skin issues.

Simply put, teens are more prone to acne than their younger siblings or their parents. Acne occurs when the hair follicles are plugged with an oil called sebum.

“Hormones, that teenagers can have in excess during puberty, increase that oil production, which means more acne,” Dr. Mody explains. “That’s why girls tend to get it around their period, and boys tend to get it when they start going through growth spurts when they’re around 14, 15, and 16 years old.”

I asked Dr. Mody about the best products for kids to use. She explained that many times, kids come in to her office after they have already tried over-the-counter medications. “There’s a lot of different options out there, so sometimes it is confusing for the parents and kids,” she says. “Washes that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid tend to be the best because they kill bacteria and remove the dead skin that clogged the pores. There are also on-the-spot treatments that contain these same ingredients, that you can apply to decrease inflammation and prevent pimples from coming back.”

In terms of which active ingredient to choose (benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid), Dr. Mody suggests that it’s a matter of trial and error. “Unfortunately for kids, an over-the-counter product that works for one teen, doesn’t necessarily work for another. I typically tell them to start with one and if it doesn’t work, go to the other. I don’t usually give specific brand names, but instead,  looking for a nice light wash that the kids can use to wash their faces in the morning and at night or after sports. I like that salicylic acid doesn’t dry out the skin, but it takes longer to take effect. Kids often want something that’s quicker, and benzoyl peroxide tends to work better, but it can be drying.”

Dr. Mody warns that many acne treatments can dry out the skin, so it’s important to find a good oil-free moisturizer. “After you put on any acne treatment, apply an oil-free moisturizer on top of it to prevent dry skin. If your body thinks your skin is too dry, it produces more oil, and then the acne can get worse.” The point is not to dry the skin out completely, she explains. It’s to get that bacteria off and then keep it moisturized.

I also asked about toners or pre-moistened pads with medication on it that seem to be heavily marketed to teens. Dr. Mody recommends caution with these because sometimes kids can think that the more they scrub their face, the better their acne will be. “Sometimes it’ll make it worse because it dries out the skin more and actually irritates the skin,” she says. “I recommended they do one or the other. If it is a light toner, then that’s fine, but they have to just lightly dab their face with it. Sometimes with cleansing pads, kids just start scrubbing and scrubbing, their face gets more inflamed, their skin dries out, and then that will make the acne worse.” She also warns that toners and pads are not a quick substitute for washing the face, although they can be great in a pinch in situations like after gym class or sports. “Sometimes maybe that’s all they can do. They can have them in their backpack and just kind of clean off the oil on their face. But when they get home, they should wash their face again.”

I was interested to hear her advice on that tricky combo of eczema and acne that plagues some teens. She acknowledged this can be more difficult to treat because they already have dry skin. “Teens with eczema already have dry skin, and acne medication can worsen the eczema. There is an over-the-counter option called Differin that has adapalene, and it tends to not dry out the skin as much as a lot of other topical retinoids or benzoyl peroxide.” She also emphasized that kids with eczema need to make sure they are wearing sun protection to prevent further drying of their skin.

In terms of how to know it’s time for a prescription acne medication, Dr. Mody says that usually happens after they have tried several different  over-the-counter options and nothing has worked.

“Kids will tell you, ‘Oh, I’ve done Proactiv. I’ve done Clearasil. I’ve done Neutrogena,” and then by that time they’re frustrated. That’s when we do prescriptions. There are combinations out there with benzoyl peroxide and then a topical antibiotic cream, like clindamycin or erythromycin. Sometimes those combo creams work well because it’ll kill bacteria pretty quickly.” In harder cases, Dr. Mody will look at retinoids like Retin-A, or oral antibiotic for really problematic issues like cystic acne.

She stresses that the important thing is to let the kids know that it’s going to take time. It can be discouraging for kids who have already tried a lot of options to be patient. As teens are prone to do, they want instant results.

“When they come back in and say, ‘This didn’t work,’ I ask them, ‘Why didn’t it work?’ and they say, “I tried it for a week.” I have to remind them to allow the medication time to take effect. You have to keep it up for six weeks. You have to be persistent. Sometimes, acne may get worse before it gets better.” It can be discouraging for kids who have already tried a lot of options to be patient. As teens are prone to do, they want instant results.

In terms of more holistic approaches to acne, Dr. Mody suggests taking 30 to 40 milligrams of zinc per day. She also recommends tea tree oil just for spot treatment, and even apple cider vinegar diluted at a one to three ratio with water as an anti-inflammatory wash. She also suggests paying attention to diet. “There have been studies suggesting that carbohydrates, refined sugars, and some milk products have been shown to increase inflammation, which could worsen acne,” she says.

Acne doesn’t always warrants a trip to a dermatologist. Dr. Mody encourages parents to first discuss treatment options with their child’s pediatrician or primary care physician. “Sometimes I bring it up before my patients do,” says Dr. Mody. “A teenager’s  self-esteem can be really affected by acne. Kids or teens with moderate to severe acne can be depressed or have low self-esteem or anxiety. Fixing the acne can improve their self-esteem and sometimes their depression.

Turning the garage into a tween homework/gaming space

This post is sponsored by Tarkett NA.
In the ongoing saga of updating my house . . . this week I tackled the garage. Unfortunately, home prices in Southern California are at a premium, which means that we have to use every square inch of space that we’ve got. As a family of four kids, finding the space for instruments and desks can be a challenge, not to mention the suitcases, sleeping bags, and random crap one needs to store. So I don’t park my car in the garage, and have wanted to turn it into a music/homework/gaming room with ample storage.
During the second story addition process, the garage basically became a construction zone. It was full of tools and drywall and cans of paint. It was filthy and things were in piles – you couldn’t even walk around. Now that we are nearing the end of construction, I decided it was time to reclaim this space.
In order to do that, I had to address the floors. They were an old, cheap peel-and-stick tile. They were starting to pop up and the sheen was looking gummy and old.  I wanted to cover it with luxury vinyl plank like I have in the rest of the house. I’m obsessed with this surface. It looks like real wood, it’s easy to float over an existing floor, and it’s insanely durable. It also gives the look of real wood.
I decided to go with Tarkett’s ProGen line of Luxury Vinyl Plank. They are waterproof – perfect for a room that will get a lot of outdoor exposure. I also love the look. The planks are long at  7″ x 60″ so they really do look like wood. And I loved the colorways that they had available. I went with Alder Cashmere in Arbor White for a beachy, white-washed look.
It is a click-and-lock system that can be floated over existing tile, which save me a lot of time and mess because I did not have to pull up the old stick-down tile. We just went right over it.
The click and lock system was so simple to install. I hired two guys to install it for me and they were done with the entire garage in 3 hours. Such a fast makeover!
This little corner is the homework corner, where the kids can work on their computers. I also have a big storage locked that I need to paint. These will be the next projects for our garage space.
This corner is where I keep tools. It’s divided from the homework corner by some bookshelves that just out into the center of the room so that we can have a little seperation.
I am loving how the floor looks. I would not mind this throughout the rest of the house. It’s such a modern, bright color.
This space will be where the kids can have their own tv and xbox, and a hang room for when they have friends over. But there is still plenty of storage with wall-to-wall wardrobes, and space for suitcases just above them.

I feel like we gained a whole new room! And the kids have been out here with friends every day since.

Progress on the kitchen/living room remodel

My kitchen remodel has definitely been a “hurry up and wait” process. I did a structural remodel when I moved in almost two years ago, moving the cabinets around to create an island and open up the kitchen to the rest of the room. Here is what it looked like before:

Rather than an island, the original kitchen had a wall with pantries and a refrigerator. The result is that I couldn’t see anyone in the living room while I was in the kitchen . . . so the kids ended up plopping on the floor of the kitchen when I was in there working.  I wanted to create an island, and move the fridge to the other wall, to give this house a more open concept.  I painted the cabinets white, and then used the same countertop surface I used in our previous house: white laminate over exposed plywood.

Then, slowly but surely over the past year I’ve been dressing it up and getting it to the place I wanted it to be. I installed some fun mid-century globe lights that I’m really loving.

I also pulled out one of the cabinet banks and replaced it with a wine fridge from NewAir.

I’ve always wanted a wine fridge but it seemed like one of those unattainable luxuries – which is kind of silly because they are fairly reasonable. It stores 29 bottles and keeps the whites chilled and the reds at an optimum temperature. I am loving it so far.

Another upgrade was a new matte-black faucet, and then painting all of the previously stainless cabinet pulls matte black. I had to take them all off and had them powder-coated but I feel like it makes the space much more modern.

And last, I got a new rug for the seating area just next to the kitchen, to help divide them as separate spaces and also make the room a bit cozier. It’s a new print from Lorena Canals. I have one of their rugs in India’s room and became obsessed with the brand because all of their rugs are washable . . . when they get dirty you just pull them up and pop them in the washing machine. They started doing nursery rugs but now have some really fun full-sized modern patterns. I loved the subtle geometric design on this one.


There is still a little work to do. I’m currently obsessing over what backsplash tile to use, and just ordered these modern white stools to replace the yellow ones. I also need to find a window shade with a pop of color . . . any ideas for me?