6 Ideas for Getting Your Kids to Practice Guitar Between Lessons

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The word “practice” is like the word “homework” in terms of how kids will sometimes bristle when a teacher says it, no matter how the teacher says it. But while every guitar student I’ve ever taught wants to sound amazing and impress their family and friends, very few — save for a few teenage prodigies who are now better players than me! — naturally want to put in the amount of work that’s required to make meaningful improvements.

If I had a dollar for every kid who promised to practice an hour a day, and then couldn’t even get motivated to break out their guitar for five minutes between weekly lessons, I’d be able to put a down payment on a new home.

So if you’re a parent, is there anything you can do to get them to pick up their instrument when a teacher isn’t around? Do you need to go the Tiger Mom route and not let your tiny musician in training use the potty until she hits all her notes perfectly?

(We’re kidding about that last suggestion.)

Like any extracurricular activity, playing music is supposed to be an enjoyable endeavor.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas that I know have worked, which will help motivate your young ones to strum when their teacher isn’t around:

  1. Keep things consistent: As you probably know, structure is good for kids, whether they’re 3 and need a consistent bedtime every night in order to wake up well-rested, or they’re 12 and need to get their homework done before 8 p.m., because they’re less productive at night. “It’s easier for kids to settle into a routine when they have a consistent, daily time to practice,” says Michelangelo Quirinale, a guitar instructor at Brooklyn Guitar School, and father of one. “I often recommend practicing right before or after dinner since most kids’ have a lot of homework and after-school activities.”
  2. Have your teacher make a video: It’s easy to forget what you learned after your teacher leaves, whether you’re 6 or 60. I’ve found that one of the best ways to engage kids is to make a short, two-minute video that recaps what I taught during a lesson. I’ll have my students film these videos with my phone, and then send them to their parents. This keeps the lesson fresh in kids’ minds and ensures they’re practicing the right techniques.
  3. Set clear, attainable goals for practice: Sometimes parents expect their children to master an entire Beatles song after just two lessons, while other parents don’t know what to expect. Teachers have a better idea of what’s possible and can work with you to help kids set the right goals. “I usually give most kids three or for key areas to work on that usually include a warmup, a review song, and couple of new songs or techniques,” says Quirinale. “This allows them to cover all the key concepts whether they have five or 45 minutes.”
  4.  Have your teacher give them choices: If students are forced to strum the chords to a song they don’t like, they will start to think of playing their instrument as a chore — not a fun activity. To make sure your kid doesn’t get burned out, check to make sure his or her teacher is assigning them stuff they’ll enjoy doing. Of course, a little nudging might be necessary (they’re kids, after all), but practice should be somewhat fun — not just hard work. “I find that my students that practice the most take an active role with me in planning the practice routine,” says Quirinale.
  5. Try not to apply too much pressure: Maybe your little one is destined to be the next Jimi Hendrix. Or, perhaps he’ll get bored of playing guitar in a year or two. Pushing your child too hard to practice might make him resentful. So if all of these other techniques aren’t working, it may be time to revisit whether guitar is the right choice for an extracurricular activity — or if your kid needs a break for a while!
  6. Buy a guitar stand: If an instrument is stuffed away in a case, it might not occur to a child to pick it up and strum. Buying a guitar stand at a local music shop (or on Amazon Prime, etc.) will give your child a place to put their instrument when they’re done with practice — and reach for it when the mood strikes.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

For Trophy Wife’s Katy Otto, Motherhood Inspires New Creative Endeavors — and an Appreciation for Free Time

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As any new parent will tell you, having a baby shifts your world in unimaginable ways.

Yet there are some new moms, between diapers and deadlines and sleepless nights, who seem truly unstoppable in continuing their life’s journey, babe on their hip, embracing motherhood while strengthening their purpose, motivated to find new meaning in their life, work, and service.

Katy Otto is one of these women.

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Katy Otto with her son David, now 1.

When Otto, the drummer and singer of Trophy Wife, the band she shares with co-collaborator/musician friend Diane Foglizzo, isn’t busy raising her one-year-old son David with her partner, she’s busy creating art and continuing her activism for numerous issues — such as LGBT rights, gender equality, and a focus on parenting that is less about what you have and more about what you do and how you choose to live.

We interviewed Otto recently to learn more about her quest to balance working (at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania!), music (she also has her own label, Exotic Fever), and motherhood.

Check out our full Q&A  — especially if you’re a rocker mom looking for some good, gritty inspiration on getting your groove back.

Rockmommy: You’ve been a mom for a little more than a year and recently you played your first show in a while. What was the experience like?

Katy Otto: The first show I played post-birth was with my band Trophy Wife in Durham, N.C., at the Pinhook on December 11. My son David was just over six months old. The show was a bit of a drive from where my band lives in Philly, so we took David with us and dropped him off on the way at my parents’ house in Bowie, Maryland. He stayed with my folks overnight for the evening of the show.

The Pinhook was celebrating its seventh anniversary. The space is a queer punk club in the south, and it means a great deal to our band. We were honored that they invited us to play, and while we had thought about waiting a bit more to get out and play a show, this seemed like the right time to do it. I was still nursing at the time, so I pumped in the club (with a cover on) basically just in the middle of the room. It was pretty intense but felt like one of the most punk things I’ve ever done, actually. The sound guy looked a little surprised but rolled with it. Everyone was very accommodating — I stored my milk under the bar by a keg.

The show itself was incredible. We were overwhelmed by the amount of support people in Durham showed us, some even knowing our lyrics. I think it had been the longest stretch in my life I had gone not playing music in front of people since I started as a teenager. I was very nervous, but once our set started, that all evaporated. I felt very whole and like myself being able to be in my element like that, particularly with my bandmate Diane.

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Katy and David

Rockmommy: Are you still creating new music with Trophy Wife, and Diane Foglizzo?

Katy Otto: Yup! Diane and I have written four songs since our last album: two while I was pregnant and two since David’s birth. We’ve been playing out and even traveling here and there for shows. It’s been great. I’ve also been grateful for the support of my partner, family, and friends in helping to provide childcare so I can rehearse and play out. I also play in a four-piece band in Philly called Callowhill that is finalizing songs for our first full length. We have a seven inch/digital EP out.

Rockmommy: Do you think it is more challenging to keep up with the Philly rock scene you were an active participant in now that you are a parent?

Katy Otto: I am not able to go out to shows I am not playing as much, but I still feel very connected to Philly’s underground music community. I moved to Philly six years ago after living in the D.C. metro area my whole life. I am so glad I made that decision. Philadelphia is extraordinary in terms of the music, art, and activism people are involved in. I also know a number of other creative parents and recently did a series of interviews while I was on maternity leave with people on balancing parenting and creative practice. If you are interested in reading them they are here: http://www.fvckthemedia.com/issue63/frontpage

Rockmommy: Do you think mom musicians, in general, have it harder than other musicians (e.g., single men, dads, etc.)? In what ways?

Katy Otto: I don’t think anything is that cut and dry. I don’t think gender is binary. I think there are many factors at play, including the support networks people have, as well as other resources such as money. I have been fortunate in weaving together a strong web of support to allow me to continue my musical practice. I also have very understanding band mates in both of my active bands. There are some aspects of societal gender roles that have meant that, in general, I think there are more challenges for a mother even just perceptually when she is away from her child and out in the world doing things. For example, I’ve had even “progressive” male friends ask me when I’ve been at a show I am about to play if my partner Chris is “babysitting.” It really is mind boggling. I think one time I said, “Who would he be babysitting?” Dads parent their children. They don’t babysit their own children. This is an annoying kind of question, but I also think any single parent is going to obviously have a host of different challenges that I don’t have as a co-parent managing childcare and an outside life, regardless of gender.

I will say that I know a number of cis men in hetero relationships who are musicians who I have seen have a very different experience than I have. They have said to me that becoming a parent didn’t vastly impact their ability to tour, etc., or the activity of their band, but in a lot of these cases I’ve seen that that is because their female partner bears the brunt of child rearing duties. When I did my interview series, I did interview men who play in bands, but I specifically chose to speak with men who I knew where playing a very active role in their children’s lives — including some single fathers. I think the question you pose is complex and I don’t think there is a clearcut answer.

Rockmommy: How has motherhood influenced your music, or creativity in general?

Katy Otto: I view the time I have to play music now as more precious than ever, and I value it as sacred. I feel drive to be out and present in the world, doing the thing that has meant the most to me since I was a teen. I want to have both – motherhood and a creative life. I think there are also all kinds of ways to be a mother, and we can challenge that definition all the time. My bandmate recently got me an awesome book called Revolutionary Mothering. It provides a lot of excellent conversations on motherhood as experienced by queer women, women of color, and low income women. It really has challenged a lot of stereotypes I’ve seen and absorbed in the dominant culture about motherhood since I was a child. I am incredibly grateful for this book and can’t recommend it enough.

I am also only just learning how motherhood will affect my creativity, since I am new to this. It’s been hard to eke out the same space and time to create, but again I feel so grateful when I have it that I think I pour a lot into it. I am interested in building networks and relationships with other mothers and parents so we can pitch in and help each other out with child care and support as we all continue to create in the world. I want my child to be part of a beloved community of mutuality, and working towards that also seems like its own kind of creative practice. I have always felt like community organizing and social justice work, indeed political imagination in general, were urgent forms of creative practice.

I also think my interest in heavy, dissonant music has only continued to grow the older I get. So far I think motherhood has only added to that.

Rockmommy: We always like to ask rockmommies about balance — have you found a way to balance your motherhood, work, and other endeavors? Or is it something you’re still working toward?

Katy Otto: This is a constant work in progress, and I know many other mothers know much more than I do. I have not been afraid to reach out and ask for support, and I’ve been humbled and lucky to receive it. I have a partner who is very committed to an equitable sharing of childcare and other domestic work. We both work full time too, so we’re continuing to negotiate what that looks like. He is very dedicated to jiu jitsu practice, and I try to make sure he has enough time out of the house for that, too. We check in about scheduling regularly. It’s a lot to balance work, creative life, parenting, and time for our relationship with each other. A key has been the help of friends and family. David, my son, has a beautiful array of other people in his life. This feels really positive to me and right for our family.

Recently Trophy Wife played a benefit show for Decarcerate PA in Pittsburgh that offered childcare on site, in a room with sound protection. That was an incredible experience — David’s first trip as a roadie. Part of how it worked was the combination of a supportive partner who understands my need to drive across the state and play music in DIY venues, a bandmate who is incredibly accommodating to a person with a child, and a community that actively supports and welcomes parents. The show was a release for the second edition of the zine “Women in Sound” by Madeleine Campbell. She is a phenomenal human being and you should definitely check her zine out here.

Rockmommy: What is the best motherhood advice you’ve received, which is worthy of being passed along?

Katy Otto: I hold on to something that Ian MacKaye of all people told me, when I had a lengthy conversation with him while pregnant. He basically shared the idea that the single best way for me to parent was to continue being my authentic self. It’s been important for me to know that when I am living in the world as the person I’ve worked hard to be, that will help me be who my child needs. The instinct to parent is in our bones. We can make the roads by walking, as the book I mentioned Revolutionary Mothering emphasizes. We can reject blueprints and paradigms that aren’t right for us, some of which reinforce dangerous binaries and stereotypes. I continue to be inspired by so many of my friends who parent and create with beauty, imagination, and courage — and I’m particularly grateful for all the folks who allowed me to interview them for the series I mentioned before. I hope to keep adding to it, and I hope it can be part of ongoing conversations.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy

Why Rockin’ Mama — and Team Christina protégée — Alisan Porter Should Win The Voice

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I got hooked on “The Voice” in Season 2, many years back, and will never forget the anger I felt when rocker Juliet Simms was denied victory. She should have won — critics knew it, her coach CeeLo knew it — but somehow Team Blake’s Jermaine Paul snagged the big prize (of course, Jermaine is a talented singer in his own right, but many of us expected Juliet to win!).

Since then, I’ve gotten excited over a handful of candidates — the standouts in my head are Matt McAndrew (Season 7, Team Adam), Cassadee Pope (Season 3, Team Blake), Michelle Chamuel (Season 4, Team Usher), and, of course, Jordan Smith (Season 9, Team Adam). All were the kind of candidates you just knew, at first listen, would make it to the finals (and they all did!).

I wasn’t planning on watching “The Voice” past the blind auditions this year, but something — rather, someone — captivated me in a way that few other “Voice” contestants have since Juliet Simms. I’m talking about Alisan Porter. Her rich, passionate, vocals are breathtakingly piercing — and utterly inspiring.

As many music and entertainment writers have noted, Alisan’s jaw-dropping vocals on her audition cover of Linda Ronstandt’s “Blue Bayou” — as well as Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” and Aerosmith’s “Cryin’”– made her a true standout. A one in a million girl — and certainly someone who deserves the title of “The Voice” for the show’s 10th Season.

But while her voice is compelling, so is her personal story.

Alisan Porter’s entertainment career began in 1991, when the now 34-year-old mom of two scored a starring role in the movie Curly Sue. But instead of seeing her acting career take off, years later, Alisan found herself in the midst of alcohol addiction. And while she’s been sober for eight years, most of her energy up to this point has been focused on motherhood and marriage.

Should Alisan nab the victory on Tuesday night, it’ll represent a true comeback for someone who seems to truly deserve a comeback.

Another reason you should vote for Alisan Porter — either by downloading her song on iTunes, or voting for her on The Voice’s home page/app before Tuesday 10 a.m. ET — is that no one else like her has won the show. Finalist Hannah Huston (Team Pharrell) is the 20-something gal who can sing anything (kind of like Cassadee Pope … and dozens of other contestants); and country singer Adam Wakefield, while talented, is  really just another version of Team Blake Season 7 winner Craig Wayne Boyd.

My second choice for winner, Iraqi-American bluesman Laith Al-Saadi, is also a true original — with his bellowing, big voice and out-of-this-world guitar soloing ability. But the show is called “The Voice” for a reason (no offense to guitarists!). A winner should bring something unique to the collective pop-rock vocal soundscape as well as a powerful contribution to the world of popular music.

Finally, it would be nice to see a female coach actually win this thing for once — especially someone as talented and nurturing as Christina Aguilera. The female coaches have the odds stacked against them on this show, since every season has only allowed for one female spot (and, as it looks, one minority spot), while bro-mancers Adam Levine and Blake Shelton remain the big mainstays. As a side note, wild gal Miley Cyrus and R&B piano mama Alicia Keys are sliding into the new judge slots for Season 11, replacing Pharrell and Christina Aguilera, so that should shake things up a bit!

Those of you who don’t follow the show should take a few minutes to listen to Alisan Porter for yourself (just do it before Tuesday!). I’d be shocked if any person, rockmommy or not, isn’t moved by her vocals and her presence.

The Voice Season 10 Final airs Monday, May 23, 2016, at 8 p.m. on NBC. For more on how to vote and download the official app of “The Voice,” check out the show’s home page.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.

Host a Musical Play Date at Your Child’s Preschool in 5 Steps

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

For the past two years, I’ve hosted musical play dates for both of my toddler sons, now ages 2 and 3 and a half. It’s one of the BEST experiences I’ve ever had, and always a riot, as 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds all have their own adorable little quirks when it comes to experiencing music and participating in a musical play date.

Here’s the best part: While I am a guitar teacher, you don’t have to be a guitar teacher to host a musical play date!

All you need is to know how to play a few songs on guitar, and possess a lot of enthusiasm (and patience, but you probably already knew that!). Your preschooler will be so grateful and happy — and you will instantly become the coolest mom ever. Plus, you’ll feel good about contributing your musical talents and energies to a worthy cause.

Ready to get started? Follow these steps, and go!

Step #1: Pick Your Tunes. Whether you like Beyonce, Bach, or Black Flag, your toddler has widely different musical tastes (think “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). Chances are your little one’s short list includes “The Hokey Pokey,” “Ba Ba Blacksheep” or “The Wheels on the Bus.” After giving it some thought, make a set list of at least five songs.

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The set list for my 4/13/16 gigs at each of my sons’ respective schools

Step #2: Download the chords and lyrics. The good news is that most nursery rhymes and kids’ songs can be played with basic chords like G, D, and C. I use the Ultimate Guitar app on my iPhone to search for guitar chords, and use the version with the highest stars. But you can also search for sites like this one.

Step #3: Buy lots of cool shaky things. The best way to engage preschoolers in music is involve them! My favorite thing to bring to school is egg shakers because they are about $1 each (and toddlers of all ages love them). Melissa & Doug’s Band-in-a-Box set also comes with lots of cool stuff for older toddlers, like cymbals and maracas. Whatever you pick, make sure you get enough percussive pieces so everyone in the class has one to play or shake.

Step #4: Set a date. I always play my gig in the middle of April during the Week of the Young Child, but most schools are open to you playing during activity time, so long as you let them know your plans and how you intend to execute said plans. Unless you want to blast AC/DC during nap time, you’ll probably get a positive response.

Step #5: Get ready to rock. As you would with any gig, practice, practice, practice! You might know “Itsy Bitsy Spider” backwards and forwards, but if you don’t practice singing and playing it at the same time, you could find it a little tricky to perform. If you feel rushed in the morning to get ready, pack your tuner, shaky things, and set list in advance. And after you arrive at your kid’s school, relax! Take a seat and pass out the egg shakers or tambourines or whatever. And remember — even if you bomb this set, they’ll still love you for playing their favorite tunes and singing along. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t laugh at a wrong lyric or off-key performance!

Bonus tip: You might want to print out the chords and lyrics to popular kids’ songs that aren’t on your set list. My first year hosting a musical play date for my son Nathan’s school, I got a request for “The Hokey Pokey.” I was caught off guard, and ended up playing the entire tune in the key of “G” (the kids loved it anyway) and altering my voice to match the key.

Then again, nothing prepared me for my most recent musical gig at Nathan’s class, where one of the 4-year-old boys insisted I play the “Paw Patrol” theme song! Even though I hear the song at least 20 times a week, I had no clue what to play. Still, because I just smiled and went with it — strumming the key of E-minor while singing the theme song — the kids applauded and laughed!

—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.

Mother, Drum, Repeat: The NATCH’s Trish on Making it All Work

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I first met Trish and her husband Chris nearly a decade ago, right before we embarked on the Girls Rock Girls Rule 2007 tour with their band America’s Sweetheart and my band MM & The Underage Hotties. Neither of us were moms back then, so there was plenty of time to practice, play, and plan for the future.

In 2010, everything changed as Trish and Chris welcomed their daughter Myla Sol into the world. Today, they live in Vermont, dividing their time between parenting, serious work, creative endeavors (they recently launched Good Body Products, a totally organic body care product line), and two rock bands (The NATCH! and The Fantastic Partnerz).

While life has definitely changed, Trish’s musical chops certainly haven’t. Her drumming style is still snappy and tight, and her band’s sound — self-described as a cross between “The Clash, Breeders, The Minutemen, and The Police” — as cool and fluid as ever (psst, take a listen here).

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The NATCH! drummer/rockmommy Trish with her daughter Myla Sol helping out

 

Recently, we caught up with Trish as she embarked on a string of East Coast shows (they played New London, CT, on Friday 4/15, and are playing NYC on Saturday, 4/23).

The full exchange follows:

ROCKMOMMY: You’ve been playing with The NATCH! for a long time. How has being a mother shaped or influenced your music?

TRISH: Yeah, we’ve been around a bit, we toured a lot but then took a long break for [having a baby], plus our bass player, Paris, got married in Mexico but now we’re back! So, Myla Sol, my 5 1/2 year old, has been with The NATCH! since the womb, recording, touring until I was 9 months, then we did and still do the ear plugs and noise protection head phones thing.

I feel like I’ve done it all with a kid! I’ve practiced and recorded when she was nursing, played shows with her standing on the back of my seat hanging on my shoulders while I play, and let her sit on my back when I was up front singing. There have definitely been moments where I just didn’t think I could do it but we just pushed through it. What’s key is having understanding and helpful bandmates, friends, and family to make the whole thing work — if I didn’t have the supporting people around it would be very difficult or next to impossible! I am blessed.

So in The NATCH!, we all write lyrics and songs, and take turns lead singing — we love throwing everything into a pot and mixing it up NATCH style. Now that Myla is older and talks a lot she has definitely given us some silly and twisted ideas for songs. It’s been fun, challenging as hell sometimes, and really real but I was going to play music no matter what.

RM: If music is not your full-time job, how do you make time for it, while having a little one?

TRISH: Music is my half time job. I play in two bands, The NATCH! and The Fantastic Partnerz and between both bands I’m one busy mama. I also have a new business, Good Body Products, a 100% organic body care product. Everything is plant based and handmade in small batches. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My husband, Chris, is the guitar player in both bands and we’ve been playing together for over 14 years. I basically play music and make products every single day and couldn’t image a more fulfilling way to spend my life. Myla is involved with everything from helping the band with plugging in pedals and passing out set lists to then helping us tend to our medicinal herb gardens and labeling our product jars. Last year she came out with her own brand of organic body glitter gel and it was a hit at the Farmer’s Market Kids Day.

RM: How many hours a week do you practice?

TRISH: When Myla was small, it would be as long as possible, 15 mins, 30 mins and I’d be happy to get those in. Now she’s much older and I generally practice one to three hours per day and that includes partially on the kit, practice pad and just writing and then least once or twice a week with full band(s).

RM: What are your plans for Spring and Summer 2016?

TRISH: We’re going to finally release our debut CD this summer!!! We’re super psyched to finally get it out. We’ll also be playing as much as possible. We have gigs in Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, and hopefully a tour through the Midwest with our buddies in Cleveland at JIB Machine Records and Chicago.

RM: What advice do you have to other rock mommies out there, trying to find time for their craft (and maybe other things like going to the gym), while balancing work and parenthood?

TRISH: Make it part of your day no matter what. If you can carve out 30 minutes to 1 hour, do it! Just the nature of being a mom, you will rock that time so hard because it’s so coveted!

UPCOMING SHOWS: 

4/23: The NATCH! are playing Parkside Lounge, 317 E. Houston Street, NYC. 10 p.m.

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—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.

Things I Accomplished in 2015

Like most people, I’m a sucker for goal-setting around this time of year. “I’ll do this” or “I’ll do that” frequently crosses my lips each January 1st. But like an estimated 92% of Americans, I usually fall short of said resolution/goal. So while I’ve set a few modest goals (setting the bar low is the way to go, I’ve learned in my 30+ years on this planet), I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the things I accomplished in 2015:

  1. Stayed in shape. This one speaks for itself. I’m a mom of two toddlers. And while I have the benefit of working mostly in my own home, eating healthy meals and working out four times a week (when sometimes a ‘workout’ is limited to a 15-minute sprint around the block) isn’t easy. I did it!
  2. Played 2 shows in Brooklyn: Having been out of the band scene for quite a long time, playing a show was one of my BIG goals of ’15 — and I exceeded it. I had two amazing nights playing shows at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn with my friends Rew, Sharissa, Michele, Gail, Morgan, and Nora (half of whom are in my band Marisa Mini and the Underage Hotties).
  3. Finished my First novel, and started writing my second one. Yes!!! The novel I began writing in late 2009, The Year My Hair Was Red, is complete! Of course, there are major plot-revision/editing issues, so instead of putting my nose to the grind, I decided to start writing a new book. This book just popped into my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Before I knew it, I was writing and writing and …
  4. Won NANOWRIMO. I started and finished my first #Nanowrimo!
  5. Encouraged Nathan to try new foods. My older son is the pickiest eater on the planet. His diet consists of yogurt, hummus, and the occasional chicken nugget, piece of cucumber, or skinny fry. But three of those foods are now regulars. I also got him to eat shredded beets (by calling them red carrots). Next up: Pizza and grilled chicken.
  6. Spent most every Tuesday with both dudes. Two-dude Tuesday, the new lifestyle choice that kicked off in mid-2014, went full swing in 2015. January and February brought tons of snow and ice, which made #Twodudetuesday super challenging (we really got to know Elsa last winter!), but then spring and summer brought so many fun play dates and little adventures. Fall was even more exciting, with regular play dates with new friends.
  7. Got to the beach-beach 3 times. OK, technically I live at the beach, in a nice town just minutes away from slightly rough (but genuine) sand and the Long Island Sound. It looks like a beach, and almost feels like a beach. Still, going to the real beach that borders the Atlantic Ocean was a HUGE triumph for me (not to mention one of the trips was a real, actual family vacation with just the four of us). I love Montauk and I love Ocean City, different as they are.
  8. Celebrated 5 years with Zack. I’ll put it bluntly: Marriage is no f*ckin’ picnic. This year was harder than most, as the hubs and I tried to balance work and family time, while keeping the kids healthy and happy. There were lots of meltdowns. But I can’t imagine being a co-parent and wife to anyone else. I’m grateful for the marriage and family I ended up with, as well as the new Gibson SG my husband got me for our five-year mark!
  9. Ran 3 races. This represented another accomplishment in 2015! While I’ve done two Turkey trots since birthing two dudes, this year I completed my first overnight, 200-mile Ragnar Relay in Cape Cod with my buddies Heidi, Kat, Sean, Ke’Mani, Ryan & James. Then, I ran a very nostalgic Brooklyn Rock N’ Roll marathon with Kat.

I hope I do lots of great things, and accomplish great feats in 2016. But the goals I’m setting are modest. I’d like to see one live show, play 2 live shows (including one with Grandma’s Mini), give $10 a month to charity, and start using my new coffee tumbler when I go to Starbucks (to help the environment). I’d also like to run one half-marathon OR full marathon. Most important, I want to continue to work on being a better mother and wife.

How Ex-Playboy Girlfriend Holly Madison’s Memoir Sucked me “Down the Rabbit Hole”

It may come to a surprise to some of my fellow moms, but I was a HUGE fan of “Girls Next Door,” the reality TV show centered on the day-to-day lives of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (aka “Hef”) and his three live-in girlfriends — Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson. DownTheRabbitHole Cover

While I didn’t watch the show, which aired 2005-2009, regularly, when I did, I found it to be a fun, fluffy, wonderful guilty pleasure — an inside peek at a life I might’ve lived had I been just a shade blonder, gotten a boob job, and high tailed it to Los Angeles in my late teens.

As I watched each episode, I found myself increasingly drawn to Girlfriend #1 Holly Madison — formerly Holly Sue Cullen — who grew up in Oregon and Alaska. While the most serious-toned of the three blonde girlfriends, she was also the only one who seemed to aspire to having a family as well as a career. Beautiful and humble, Holly stood out from over-the-top bubbly Bridget and air-headed Kendra as someone I would enjoy spending time with over a cup of coffee.

So when I finally laid my hands on Holly Madison’s “Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny” on June 23, I simply could not put it down. I finished it in one week. This is a huge accomplishment considering I am raising two toddler sons. (I can barely find time to clean my kitchen most days, let alone read a memoir!)

There are two reasons the book sucked me in from the first page: one, it offered extraordinary insight into the inner workings of one of the most fascinating and salacious lifestyles. I found myself riveted by the descriptions of the rooms (“downscale” touches like Johnson’s baby oil in the poolside washrooms; puppy urine stains on the mansion’s staircases); the ladies who inhabited them (like the girlfriend who solicited other girlfriends for a high-end prostitution ring); and the conversations (such as Hef’s condescending way of explaining old movie plot lines or throwing a fit over Holly wearing red lipstick).

The other reason was that it struck a raw nerve in me. I’m no Playmate or pageant queen (though I was “Miss Nina” at the Baltimore Columbus Day Parade in 1992 and once runway-modeled Uzbekistani clothing for a festival in Washington, D.C.). Still, I know what it’s like to be valued for your looks, or to feel like your best asset is your beauty, a temporary gift.

Being a girlfriend to an old dude like Hef isn’t glamorous, and Holly’s memoir confirms that. Her descriptions of the post-nightclub sex orgies, in particular, are wince-worthy. And while Holly does acknowledge the perks of the Playboy girlfriend lifestyle — like a $1,000-a-week clothing budget — she spares Hef little mercy when she spotlights the ulterior motives behind his seemingly kind, friendly demeanor.

Among other things, the Playboy founder, who is now 89 to Holly’s 35, had a primary interest in keeping up an image that other men would envy. He couldn’t go without a girlfriend for even one day. In reality, says Holly, he threw immature temper tantrums and would play the girlfriends against each other (for example, by complimenting Kendra’s red lipstick just a few years after lambasting Holly for wearing it). The details are so rich and believable that I think it would be difficult for anyone to discredit her (though Kendra, perhaps out of jealousy, is trying).

One might wonder, then, how smart women like Holly or bestie Bridget (who apparently has a master’s degree) would put up with the Hef monster for years on end. Was the prospect of fame really that alluring? If we believe Holly, the answer is yes: Hef always dangled the possibility of better things — a monogamous relationship, a Playboy centerfold spread — just close enough to keep the girls loyal:

“I had to believe that there was a greater purpose for the choices I had made: whether it was to help advance my career or whether it was truly for love,” writes Madison. “And depending on the month, the week, and sometimes even the hour of the day, I would waffle back and forth between precisely why I was living a life as nothing more than ‘Girlfriend Number One’ to a man who was old enough to be my grandfather. I didn’t want to admit that I had sold a bit of my soul for the chance at fame.”

If Holly’s intent was to make me angrier at the double standards imposed on women, then she was successful. By the end of the 405-page read, I found myself almost teary-eyed, cheering on the new mom as a modern-day example of courage, strength, and beauty.

The only thing I’m still bothered by is that the tone of “Down the Rabbit Hole” is about 85% anger and 15% gratitude. Let’s not forget that being Hef’s main squeeze afforded Holly all kinds of opportunities, from celebrity status to the funds to pay off her $7,000 breast implants. Were it not for Hef and the lucky chance that reality TV would take off and make her a household name via “Girls Next Door,” Holly would have probably have left L.A. a long time ago, like most of her friends.

Unfortunately, for far too many women, fame and opportunity comes at great personal cost, whether it’s the woman who stalls childbearing to further her career (only to discover fertility challenges later on), or the woman who must pretend to be turned on by an 80-year-old man in order to have any chance at making more than a waitress’ wage.

And while Holly got her happy-ever-after ending, most women need more than a great pair of fake tits and blonde hair to elevate their careers.

I would love to see the day where a female magazine mogul were wealthy and powerful enough to afford and attract seven 20-something boyfriends. But would anyone watch a show about it? While many men are inspired by the idea of having a harem of young things to cater to their every whim, most women I know need their lady heroes to overcome major challenges and rise above, just like Holly did when she said “screw you” to mansion life.