Piano Hands

I started taking piano lessons when I was 7. The deal was that I would commit to this untilI turned 18. I agreed with all enthusiasm because when you’re 7, you just don’t consider the commitment. 

We discovered my teacher Aldo, in a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Keyboard Galleria- the owner seemed more used car salesman than piano man. Aldo wasn’t your typical piano teacher. He wore a leather jacket and had incredibly long black hair that he wore loose. He was my teacher for all 11 years. At the recitals, you could always tell who also was taking lessons from Aldo, they had the best technique, the best rhythm. 
I was lucky that I had a talent for music, I can sight read most pieces and my technique is the result of doing Hanon exercises with quarters on my hands. I didn’t always want to practice. Two hours a day EVERYDAY is rough on anyone. But I did it. I didn’t really have a social life in high school. Add club soccer and high school sports (track, cross country, soccer) and I didn’t have a lot of free time. 

When I went away for college- that’s when I realized what an amazing gift my parents had given me. They pushed me to stick with it when I wanted to quit. They filmed every single recital, talent show, and performance. They supported me 110%. Even after the Galleria told me I could order sheet music on my dad’s account. 

As a junior at UCSC, living at the liberal arts college, I had access to their music center pianos. But it was the after hours nights in the dining hall at Porter College where I would play like a phantom of the dining hall. I was battling insomnia and some depression and so I found solace in music. The campus security would leave the door unlocked for me, usually stopped in to listen for awhile. 
It’s been 26 years since I had my first lesson. 
My two kids view the piano as part jungle gym, part noise machine. They are 2 and 9 months. I had these fantasies that I would play for them while they fell asleep to Yann Tiersen lullabies. The reality is that I can’t really play uninterrupted for any period of time. I’d like to think that being a parent myself, I’d hold my kids to their commitments. But if I hadn’t been able to pick up piano, if I hadn’t had a talent for music, would I still have stuck with it? 

Even though I’m capable of teaching my own kids how to play, I think they’d be inspired by someone else. Someone they can’t sass. A teacher is a role model- a music teacher should inspire one to play more. I love that my kiddos gravitate towards the piano. I love that they push the keys down with their little fingers to hear a satisfying plink of hammer hitting string. Will they both want lessons? Or will neither? 

All I know is that I’m looking forward to getting my piano back. ​


Don Ward : Grandfather

Today is a day dedicated to paying tribute to my grandfather Don Ward. As his granddaughter, I was privileged to see a different side of him. His softer side. Grandpa Don could be silly and energetic, he could be solemn, he could drop a mean beat and spin rhymes. There was no one like him. And this gave him a special place in the heart of the people he met.

In the early years of my life, my grandparents were present at as many piano recitals, soccer games, and other major events that were important to me, my brother and my cousins. At family gatherings, Grandpa Don was always at the center of the action. He frequently whirled me into dancing around the kitchen. I was a clumsy partner- never as intuitive as my grandmother was, even after I was tricked into doing cotillion. His booming voice was larger than life. I can still hear him calling my name- “Para Saige”. He was always making a play on words like that. When I was 9, he and grandma came to spend Halloween with us. That was the year I dressed up as Ginger Rogers. A person that I probably would have never known about if not for his influence in my life. I got a lot of confused questions about my costume that year.


My high school graduation 2002

My grandfather was never more himself than when we were camping. Discovered during my mom’s 14th summer, I can’t imagine Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park without thinking about him. We would drive up separately but inevitably see the Commander motorhome on the road as we drove up to northern California every summer. Once we had set up our campsites, Grandpa would take us on a walk in Stout Grove, or begin setting up a campfire. At night, he would tell us the story of Falling Rock, or the creepy story of seeing mysterious people on the side of the road while driving in Iowa, or sing songs with Grandma by the fire. The rangers would come through the campground to invite us to their campfire talks and would spend at least an hour in our site, singing songs with my grandparents. It became tradition for Grandpa to offer 25cents to the first person to see a banana slug. Its no wonder that my brother and I are alumni of UC Santa Cruz, home of the banana slug, named Sammy.

He was always the first up in the mornings, drinking his coffee black, two or more sugars, sitting by the campfire. Eventually he would go for a walk- foraging for wood left behind by people who had checked out. We grandkids got in on the action as well- sometimes returning from our mission with questionably acquired firewood. We would take a day trip up the Smith River, putting in with inner tubes, kayaks, and Grandpa’s challenger boat. He would sit on the edge of the boat with his feet in the water, casting a line occasionally. I can’t remember if he ever caught anything. Fishing was something he liked to do to relax.

When I was 12 or 13, my mom and grandma went on a train trip. My brother went to visit our Grandma Charlotte and I stayed with Grandpa. He took me deep sea fishing even though I am no fisherwoman- as evidence by the fact that we did not come home with any fish that day. But I remember him giving me a pole to use, teaching me to tie a lure on my line. I sat there on the boat, tying on my lure for maybe 20 min. When I went to cast……the line stopped and the lure kept going- lost to the depths of the ocean. I looked at Grandpa, terrified he would be angry that I lost his lure. But he let out a great booming laugh, tied another one on, and continued to fish.

We did a bunch of other things that week. He took me snorkeling at The Cove in La Jolla. He told me that he used to take frozen peas and fish for garibaldi, throwing them back because they’re protected. He had told me that garibaldi were territorial and will charge if you get too close. What he neglected to mention was that they only were territorial with other fish. So there I was snorkeling, avoiding the ubiquitous garibaldi, thinking I would be attacked by these golden undersea sentinels. We went to The Wave, a tiny waterpark in Vista. He floated in the lazy river while I went down waterslide after waterslide. One of his favorite meals was curry fan; a triad of rice, curry seasoned ground beef and peas, and since I had recently learned to make it, I cooked dinner for us one night. “Make it spicy,” he said, as I shook in drops of Mongolian Fire oil. I might have needed a couple glasses of water that evening.


That summer was the year Moonlight did My Fair Lady. So I accompanied him to the casting calls, and helped call lines during rehearsals. Growing up around musical theater meant going to see shows at the now closed Starlight Amphitheatre, Moonlight Amphitheatre, Avo Playhouse, Prado Theater, Lawrence Welk Resort and many others. We would go backstage to meet the actors, my grandfather introducing us to everyone, and he would show us the sets. It was like being in another world.


When I turned 21, I went to Hawaii with my grandparents. For many years, they had been going to the Big Island and staying at the Kona Tiki Inn for a few weeks. I was invited to join them after a particularly rough break up. Going to Hawaii with my grandparents is one of my favorite memories. My grandpa is not a great swimmer, but he loved to snorkel. We went to a beach everyday where he would snorkel and I would play in the waves, floating with Grandma in the aqua colored water. Grandpa got the inn owners to give us ham and we fed the eels that lived beneath the sea wall. We would have contests, to see who could talk about nothing the longest. Grandpa always won. That trip was restorative for me, a wonderful memory of seeing grandpa and grandma relaxed and happy in their Hawaii best.

In 2008, I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with my degree in Art history, and promptly lost my job due to budget cuts and the recession. My grandparents opened their home to me and I moved to Cardiff at the end of August. I was working at the Starbucks at the bottom of the hill. Grandpa was delighted that he now had direct access to free coffee, which I brought home to him every week. On the occasion that he would come visit me at work, he always ordered hot chocolate no whip cream.

It was an amazing experience to live with my grandparents. Perhaps what I cherish the most are the stories. Grandpa liked to watch old movies. When I watched them with him, he would tell me about working with some of the stars. Or tell me stories about the movies themselves and the actors. My favorite stories were about him and my grandmother. He loved to tell me about how they met, when he courted her, their first official gig with Mae West. I cherish those evenings to this day. I miss watching TCM with him. After a showing of JFK, he told me what life was like, living through that time in our history. I miss watching baseball with him while I teased him about how boring it was. He loved Christmas. I remember my grandma was out one day in early December and he was so excited that he enlisted my help in getting out the Christmas china. He loved Christmas music and we would listen and sing along.


It was a tiny little things that made him My grandpa. The way he matched his socks to his clothing, his insistence on getting a cream puff at the fair every time we went, his storytelling, the recording of him reading Happy Birthday to You, his love of ice cream and cherry pie. He was vibrant, funny, warm, and caring. I am so lucky to have known him as well as I did. I’m grateful that he got a chance to meet my two children. And make a mark on their lives.







Bullet Journaling and Meal Planning


In junior high, my history class did all of our work in what was termed “interactive notebooks.”  Interactive notebooks had classroom/reading notes on the right side and a visual aid on the left side. It gave us a chance to be creative and visually learn about the topics at hand.  Who knew that 20 years later Bullet Journaling- would be the adulting version?

Maybe one of my biggest challenges as homemaker is my grocery shopping and meal planning.  Of course, meal planning has the added challenge of finding the meals that Mr. S and Obi Wan will eat. Also, I cook with the intent of eating the leftovers or freezing a portion for later. Anyone on a budget or into meal prep can tell you that there are great recipes for meal prep and cooking in bulk can help cut costs. Plus, once its made, you don’t have to cook for several days afterwards.

Here’s where I have found bullet journaling to be helpful. My journal records all the meals I make that have the highest success rate. This means that I have a page that lists all the most popular meals I make. I have broken things down by meals, protein, and style of dish.


Miscellaneous covers the dishes I may not want to categorize due to variables like protein and veggies.  So, now that I have my family favorites in one place, I can put it into the calendar and I then know what needs to go on my shopping list. The next section in my journal is broken down by stores. Here in Mission Valley,  we are centrally located to the 4 stores that I shop at:

  • Costco
  • Trader Joes
  • Target
  • Ralphs

I have broken down the staples that I get at each store.  Costco is a beautiful mecca of bulk coffee, toilet paper, formula, diapers and wipes. As my son’s appetite grows with him, I find myself going through bread, tortillas, cheese, blueberries, goldfish and apple sauce pouches with alarming rapidity. img_8861Costco is my favorite place to go for these things because the prices are just a better value. Costco also has the added bonus of providing my perpetually hungry toddler with a variety of new foods to try. It’s a nice way to see what my kid will or will not eat (spoiler: he enjoys smoked salmon but not panko crusted chicken nuggets, that maverick) The downside is that he shrieks at me until we hit every one. Or I distract him with gigantic stuffed bears.  My big purchase at Costco for meal planning is the chicken breast. They are in individual sections and a good value at 2.99/lb.  I will sometimes separate a couple packages and prep some freezer meals and then just freeze the rest for defrosting as inspiration strikes.

The next section is where I put my shopping list. This way I can look back at what I bought and adjust future lists accordingly. I have become so forgetful img_8864-1due to lack of sleep and maybe a couple of soccer induced concussions. Keeping it in one area helps keep me organized which is something I struggle with.  In the front of my notebook is an area where I can store receipts for the month and examine my spending.

The last section is really up to you how you want to structure it. With fall coming up, I head my “meal calendar” with the weather forecast. The second temperatures drop, I am pulling out my crockpot to make delicious stews, soups and perfecting my macaroni and cheese recipe. Also, I usually only plan meals

img_8866three days in advance. I can’t go further because I almost always change my mind about what I’m going to cook based on how the week is going. Additionally, if you are trying to cook “clean” i.e. no processed foods, you should be buying ingredients fresh as you can get them. I know this isn’t always realistic with kids but it’s just good practice to buy fresh for the health of the household. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime Now if you can’t get out of the house. At the end of the day, however you cook is up to you. No judgment from me.

Hopefully you found this to be helpful in case some of the more elaborate bullet journals are too much. There’s no right or wrong way to do it!

p.s.I love the Papermate InkJoy pens for journaling. Great action and colors.


Going back to work…

I have been out of the workforce for a mere three years but it might as well be a decade- the job search is still ongoing.  Early on, I didn’t have a strict idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, until my cousin wisely pointed out that marine biology was not the study of swimming with dolphins.  As an adult I can understand that that kind of job goal is problematic on several fronts.

When I was 17, my mom gave me her Pentax K1000. It came with a fixed 50mm lens, a 70-300mm lens and a basic flash. The K1000 is an entirely manual 35mm film camera. IMG_7680Today it would be considered a fossil in this rich landscape of DSLRs and fancy smartphone cameras and apps.  It had a light meter in the viewfinder that helped teach me about aperture and shutter speed. I spent the summer clicking away while camping with my family.

Beginning in my senior year of high school, I started taking any photography class I could and had my first glimmer of a career goal- a surf photographer. I had recently discovered Gidget and surfing and my head was full of Moondoggie, tans, bikinis and tropical destinations.

It was naive of me to think that it would be that simple.  Not only is it just not realistic of a profession for a non surfer who lived in a desert- I just had no idea what it took to build your own business.

On some counts, being a successful professional photographer has nothing to do with the actual photography part and everything to do with your business management and marketing skills. Social Media has revolutionized the ability for an artist to reach their target audience. Creativity has crept into almost all aspects of the business marketing model. I went to school for Art History, knowing I wanted to do something creative professionally just not sure how it would manifest itself.  Part of me wishes I had been a tad more realistic and minored in business or marketing.

Like a lot of my generation, we were told to go to college, get our degrees, and the jobs would just fall in our laps if we were willing to work hard for it. I graduated during the recession and no dream jobs materialized. Didn’t mean that I got discouraged- I just got a job. I found something to be motivated about in a place that hired me. I was passionate about the hats at the hat shop I worked at- despite not really being a hat wearer myself. I was passionate about opening at Starbucks (430am comes very quickly) despite not being remotely a morning person. I was passionate about helping my bosses create a social media presence for their restaurant and I definitely was passionate about their menu.

Almost 10 years later, I am in this unique position. I have my personal life in better order, but my work resume is a mess. I get to find my dream job, but it needs to now fit into a life where priorities have shifted.  And I’m learning how to tailor my resume to represent what I have to offer as a well rounded employee.

There are plenty of moms who love being a stay at home mom. There are moms who wish they could be stay at home moms. I think life as a mom should be about balance. I need to feel like I am engaging with my kids and be there to see them grow and develop. I also want to be fulfilled outside of motherhood, contribute financially to the future of my family while also stretching my creative chops and jumping into challenges head on. I’d like to not only be “Mommy” but also, “professional photographer and writer”.


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How my post partum depression led to a fit second pregnancy

There are a lot of super slender ladies with belly bumps and advice on how to have a fit pregnancy. The mom who at six months pregnant just looks like she had a large burrito is especially mind boggling to me. Each body is different and if you already had a good exercise routine before your pregnancy, chances are, you know what you need to do to stay healthy throughout your 9 months and recover after baby is born. 

I was not that mom. 6 months before my wedding I tore my ACL and meniscus in an indoor soccer game, putting me on the couch until I could get the opinion of an orthopedic doctor regarding surgery. I was lucky and determined to stay in shape for the wedding. Instead of surgery I got physical therapy and worked my butt off for 4 months to be able to walk down the aisle and enjoy our Aruban honeymoon. 

A month after the wedding, a thin blue line appeared on a pregnancy test and I was faced with a whole new challenge. My first pregnancy was tough. I was nauseous, dizzy, in danger of fainting and  incredibly depressed. I abandoned workouts because I was struggling and decided to eat my way through my pregnancy once the constant nausea passed. 

My last trimester

In my last trimester I must’ve gained 40 or 50 pounds. All these other moms were discussing losing their baby weight by breastfeeding and here I was, experiencing supply issues, still struggling with depression, and continuing to gain weight. I remember having a breakdown at Chico’s when the sales associate was trying to help me find something- anything- that I would like to wear. New clothes weren’t the answer, even though I fit into nothing in my closet. 

When Obi was 3 months I made it back to the soccer field but my knees weren’t used to so much weight and the pain was excruciating. A month went by and the pain subsided. Breastfeeding got easier but the depression got worse and the anxiety led to panic attacks and complete breakdowns at pumpkin patches and ramen restaurants. 

At 4 and a half months, Obi decided he wanted formula instead of breastmilk and  I was relieved. And ashamed. But I went to see my doctor and discussed my emotional issues and he diagnosed me with post partum depression. Things changed drastically after I started taking anti depressants and Xanax for the anxiety. I had control of my emotions and with regular soccer games, a Y membership and better grasp on my own abilities as a mom, I started to feel better and more in control of my emotions. 

When I discovered that I was pregnant again, I knew that I couldn’t let things deteriorate. I have a toddler relying on me and couldn’t allow my depression to get the better of me. Since I didn’t want to risk the health of Baby #2 I decided that eating right and regular exercise would have to be my anti depressant, until I could discuss my options with my doctor. 

The YMCA offers a free program called Kickstarter that allows you to meet with a trainer to set an exercise plan. Although I played soccer through my first trimester, I knew that I would have to stop. So I met with Dale at the Toby Wells Y and we set an exercise plan I could do throughout the pregnancy. 

Weight Room at the Toby Wells Y

After 20-60 minutes of cardio, I do 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each of these machines:

  • Chest press
  • Shoulder press
  • Lat pull down
  • Lat row
  • Pectoral Fly
  • Deltoid Fly
  • Squats on a Total Gym incline machine
  • Adductor (inner thigh)
  • Abductor (outer quad/hips

the abductor machine
my workout worksheet

Additionally, I add leg lifts and planks at home when I have time. I have also added lap swimming if my knees or back are hurting too much. 

Now, my OB/gyn isn’t fixated on my weight, although I felt I was overweight, and he is supportive of my exercise routine. And I have seen results: I have lost 20lbs in 5 months. The baby is healthy, with a strong heartbeat and growing on track. 

Post partum depression is a serious issue though, and I plan to go to the group support that is offered through my hospital, and will breastfeed as long as I can before I go back on my medications. At the end of the day I need to be healthy and happy as much as my kids need to be, right? 

The New Tupperware Party

Being a stay at home mom sometimes means no personal income to speak of and that can be frustrating. Luckily, with the versatility of Facebook, a new trend of businesses have cropped up that has allowed a lot of moms to stay at home and continue to earn a living, or at least make some extra cash. They come in the form of online (Facebook hosted) parties. Some of these businesses are well known: Jamberry nail wraps, Origami Owl jewelry, LulaRoe clothing, Scentsy, and 31 bags and totes. These companies require an initial start up investment cost and then each independent sales consultant  earns a percentage of their sales. 

The ladies who “host” these parties receive a hostess gift at either a fraction of the cost or for free at the end of the party. I have been lucky enough to win a mystery hostess gift through Origami Owl.  The parties are fun, usually invoking participation with games, survey posts and general social media interaction between the sales consultant  and party attendees. The best part? You can attend these parties without leaving your home. 

I am hosting a 31 Party this week and wanted to get to know my consultant and the company 31 a little more.  

Leah Hunter has been selling with 31 for almost 3 years now. She got involved with the company during her husband’s second deployment. She had a part time job but wanted another way to earn an income while spending time with her kids. 

What is 31? 

Thirty-One is a faith based company that focuses on celebrating, encouraging and rewarding women. We offer products such as our famous Large Utility Tote and Lunch Break Thermal to our recently launched jewelry line, JK by Thirty-One, and our purse line, Jewell by Thirty-One.

​In addition to celebrating and empowering women, Thirty-One supports girls and families through Thirty-One Gives. We have partnered with Charities such as Girl Talk, Ronald McDonald House and just this year we will be working with Children’s Network Hospitals.

The name Thirty-One is based off Proverbs Chapter 31. When Thirty-One was formed, the goal was to help women by providing them with an opportunity to run their own business. Thirty-One is committed to providing women with a fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding experience – one person, one party, one encounter at a time. It’s about building relationships – the products speak for themselves.

What are the top selling items? 

Some of our top selling items are the Large Utility Tote, Thermal Tote, Family Fun Thermal, Fold N’ File, Hanging All About the Benjamins wallet, Everything Crossbody, Traveler Case, Oh-Snap Bin, and our Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote. Our new canvas wall art is sure to be a big hit this fall!

 How does it all work? 

Thirty-One is simple. Once you sign up to become a consultant, you are part of the Thirty-One family. As a consultant you are not required to have inventory on hand and many people have a successful, online party only business. It is your business so you are able to make it what you want – a full time career or a hobby to get out of the house a couple nights a week.

​As an Independent Consultant you earn 25% of your personal volume. In other words, any product you sell (hostess benefits not included) you will earn 25% off of it. As you build your team and support others in owning their own business, your earnings will change.  

What’s your favorite product? 

I have to pick just 1 product?! My favorite would have to be the Large Utility Tote. It can be used for SO many things! I have one for our pool items, one for grocery shopping, one to hold miscellaneous items in my truck, one for taking multiple items back and forth to work. The list could go on and on.

How do you become an independent consultant? 

Joining the Thirty-One family is easy. Find the consultant you would like to sign up under, if you had one, by going to their website. For example, my website is http://www.mythirtyone.com/leahhunter. You would scroll down to the bottom of the web page and click on ‘Join My Team’. From there it’s entering all the information needed to set up your account and personal webpage. The cost of the enrollment kit is $99.00 (US) plus tax and shipping and handling. The enrollment kit features over $400.00 worth of products and contains everything you will need to start your own business. The support provided by Thirty-One’s Home Office and other Thirty-One women is something I have never experienced. Joining the ThirtyOne family has been one of the best decisions I have made and would encourage anyone who is thinking about it to take the next step.

So check out the products and see if you can find that tote you need for your kids or yourself, and consider whether becoming an independent consultant is right for you! 

A Day at the Santee Y

IMG_4549In the summer months, finding activities that don’t overheat both me or Obi are a challenge. No one is happy being sweaty and hot.  So today we decided to venture out to East County Santee to check out the YMCA there. They have an aquatics center that is amazing with a 1ft 6 in deep wading pool, water park style playground complete with mini water slides just tame enough for Obi to go down with adult assistance.

We haven’t scheduled swim lessons yet because Obi still isn’t sure about pools and places where he can’t touch the bottom. I would hate to spend the money and have an uncooperative toddler that wouldn’t end up learning anything anyways. Anyone experience this first hand?

So with a backpack full of snacks, swim diapers and other “necessary” items, we headed east into warmer territory to check out this mini aquatic park.  If you are a member of the YMCA in San Diego, this qualifies you to entry at all San Diego YMCAs. I love the Y. The one time initiation fee is $50 and for a Family 1 memebership its $65 per month, which is automatically deducted on the 15th or 16th of each month.

This includes childcare for up to 2 hours while you work out- or just go take a shower without phantom baby cries.   At most of the Ys in San Diego, they offer a baby room for kiddos 0-12 months. This is nice because it’s quieter, the ratio of caregiver to child is much more ideal (think 2:2 or 2:3) and they will call you if your child requires your attention (diaper change or will not stop crying). They will feed your child if you provide a pre-mixed or pre-pumped bottle of formula or breastmilk.  Once your child is a solid walker, they move into the Kids Place, a wild raucous room of children of all ages and toys for all ages.  YMCA official website Each Y has their own ChildWatch hours so make sure you check your local Y.

This was my main motivation for joining. As a stay at home mom, I rarely get time to myself to use the restroom, much less time to go workout and/or shower. I struggled to get back into shape and in addition, struggled with post partum depression and anxiety. The Y gave me a place to go to work off my panic attacks or inexplicable sadness.

Today, the Y gave me and my crazy toddler a place to go and cool off in water that was not too deep and fun enough that he didn’t want to leave.  There are two lines into the Aquatic center. One for non-members where you pay a fee of $20, sign a waiver for children under 18 and receive a magenta wristband (I’m sure the colors change every season). And a second for members where they scan your membership and give you orange wristbands. It was a nonexistant line really, so we walked right in.

The best advice I can give you is to arrive right when it opens to snag a lounge chair in the shade. The interactive pool area is open 9am-11:55am, 12:30pm-3:25pm, and 4pm-6:55pm. Always check their calendar or call before you go in case there is a swim event going and you get turned away or it is too crowded. Click the link to the schedule valid thru September 5th, 2016.

Aquatics Schedule for the Cameron Family YMCA

10123 Riverwalk Dr. Santee, CA 92071