Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” lit a fire under my ass

I’ve reviewed a lot of books in the past few years, but never has an author seemed to look inside me and shine a light on the web of ego and dreams tangled up in there.

Big Magic cover on carpoolcandy.com

The book came from the publisher “creatively” wrapped in paper with pretty ribbon

That’s what I felt like while reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new non-fiction book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which is out this week. I jumped at the chance to review her new book because I’m a big fan of her writing.

Her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray Love, sparked both lovers and haters of her work, although, being on the love side, I don’t really understand the hate. Sure, it was self-indulgent, but aren’t most memoirs? Whether you bought into the journey, you can’t deny Gilbert’s talent. Her writing is personal, insightful, honest and funny.

Gilbert is able to see a situation, turn it over in her mind a few thousand times and then write about it so honestly and specifically,that even if the situation doesn’t apply completely, you can’t help but recognize yourself.

Elizabeth Gilbert on carpoolcandy.com

Big Magic is a must-read for writers, as it speaks to why we subject ourselves to the uncertainty, rejection, and criticism that comes with sharing your thoughts in public. Not to mention the love of art in lieu of a fat paycheck.

But it’s also for anyone who has creative desires of any kind and isn’t fulfilling them.

She uses an example of a friend who skated as a child and loved it, but quit when she became a teenager and realized she wasn’t going to the Olympics. She went on to become a successful businesswoman who was happily married with kids, but started to feel down and in a rut. After some soul-searching she remembered how skating used to make her feel and decided to get back on the ice.

She could have been intimidated by her age, by taking lessons with a bunch of 9-year-olds watching, by the cold, by lack of personal time….by what others would think. But none of that was enough to prevent her from getting up early to skate for an hour before work a few times a week. The feeling she got from being on the ice again carried over into the rest of her life and she felt joy and ease she hadn’t felt in years.

She hasn’t won any medals, and she’s still skating.

So what are you afraid of doing? What activity have you always wanted to try or tried once and left behind? There are a million excuses not to pick it up, and Gilbert lists them all in the book. But those excuses are hiding fear.

I’ll admit something I haven’t out loud much before: I have an idea for a screenplay.

Just writing this is making me queasy. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my dreams so publicly.

I’ve had the idea for about 10 years and have created characters, scenes and even dialog in my mind, but haven’t been able to commit to it because I’m afraid.

Afraid of failure and success. Afraid it won’t be as good as I want it to be. Afraid I have no business writing a screenplay. I’m no Brooklyn hipster or Hollywood phenom. I’m just a working mom driving carpool.

But Liz told me I have a voice and it needs to be heard. She hasn’t promised my work will be read, liked, produced and released. She just says I have to write it. For me. Because every year that goes by that I don’t write it, I feel like I’ve failed myself.

It would feel really good to get it all out of my head and onto paper (or a PDF file, you get the point.) I’ve spent more time in the last year on it than ever before and I actually have most of Act 1 down and an outline for Acts 2 and 3.

Writing desk on carpoolcandy.com

I spent a weekend alone in NYC last spring working on the screenplay.

But now I need to fully commit. To make room for this project, instead of waiting for free time to work on it. I’m a busy gal so there are lots of great reasons not to work on my story. Helping kids, cooking dinner, volunteering at school, reading for my book club and work. And how about just being dog tired after a busy week and preferring to lay on the couch eating cookies while watching Orange is the New Black?

But Liz has made me realize it’s fear keeping me from the page. And I can’t let fear win.

Big Magic has great stories and tips on how to tap into whatever creative gig you’re into. I gave the book a great review, which you can read here.  I’m not alone in feeling the power of this book, it just hit number one on the NY Times bestseller list.

What are you afraid of?  Be brave and tell me in the comments.  Then commit to punching fear in the face and getting started on your journey to a more creative life!

What shock looks like: pulling off a surprise party

There’s nothing better than planning a surprise party, committing to the white lies you tell to make it happen, and then pulling it off.

Our friends, Tami and Chris, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in August. They are very special people who do so much for others, they kinda make you feel inadequate.

The happy couple in Paris 2015

The happy couple in Paris 2015

They’re generous with their time and willing to share anything they have with people they love– and that’s a large group. Just one example is their commitment to fostering children. They’ve cared for and stayed close with at least 6 kids in the last 3 years. They’ve also been wonderful to my kids– taking special care to understand and build a relationship with each one– and many of their friends’ kids.

They wanted to celebrate their milestone anniversary in August with a party, but after a change of heart, decided to take a trip to Paris instead. They had a terrific time but I knew they were a little disappointed to let the party idea go. So I didn’t let it go. I emailed a few of their friends and cooked up a plan to do a Sunday brunch at my house with a bunch of local families.

Not one friend hesitated for a second, in fact all jumped in to help bring food, set up, and clean up…. and help keep Tami and Chris in the dark. I sent an evite and told everyone NOT TO TELL THEIR KIDS.

Kids would surely blow the surprise– not intentionally, but almost certainly– if they were burdened with the information. Kristin Wiig expressed it best in her hilarious SNL character “lady who can’t keep a surprise,” which you can check out here.


I surprised Wilson for his 30th and again for his 35th birthdays and he didn’t have a clue. It’s very satisfying.

I did actually break the no kids rule and told Aden — who proved yet again that he is a vault. (Like Kristin Wiig , I HAD to tell SOMEONE or I would burst. Of course Wilson knew, but he doest get excited about such things.) Jacob and Eli both believed the lie I told Tami– that we were having an early birthday brunch for Eli with my mother and a few other friends.

She completely bought it. Why wouldn’t she? Her anniversary was in August, and it was a believable lie. The more I thought about the perfect plan, the giddier I became. I’m a party nerd and the days leading up  to the event I was more excited than I should have been about an adult party.

But understand that Tami is one of those people who knows everything– a busybody in the best way, her son once called her “a compulsive intervener,” because she has to be involved in it all.

So the thought of blowing her mind and gathering so many people they love in one room– well, I was hardly able to contain my enthusiasm.

There were a few close calls, but as everyone patiently waited on my back porch for them to show today, it was clear from their 30 minute tardiness that they had no clue what was going on.

surprise anniversary party on carpoolcandy.com

The look on their faces, including their son Avery in front: “What is happening?”

They walked in the back of the house and everyone yelled “SURPRISE! HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!”  and they looked at us in complete confusion. It took several minutes as they walked closer to this crowd of eager faces, to figure out this was a party for them.


Then, happy, excited, and perhaps overwhelmed.

After the initial shock, everyone got down to eating– it was a delicious potluck spread, including of course, cake.

surprise anniversary party on carpoolcandy.com

As we cut the cake, Tami spoke about what a great decision it was to move to our town because of the friends they made. It is kind of funny how where you live can change who you are as a family.

Tami and I agree we picked exactly the right town.

surprise anniversary party on carpoolcandy.com

Those two love birds smooched for the crowd, and everyone went home feeling like 25 years of marriage is a great thing to celebrate.

Have you ever pulled off a surprise? Tell me about it in the comments.

Emmys 2015: the year of heat and history

It was a night of sweat and sweeps at the 67th annual Emmy awards! Those poor, pampered TV stars spent all day getting made up and coiffed only to melt in steamy L.A. temps Sunday night.

emmys-logo on carpoolcandy.com

The always-in-need-of-a-sandwich Giuliana Rancic claimed it was 106 degrees on the red carpet, prompting Allison Janney to swipe the sweat from her brow and declare them the Bikram Emmys.

But the show must go on so the stars persevered as they perspired down the carpet, fanning themselves and taking swigs of water from bottles held by eager publicists.

Who glistened:

–January Jones  aka Betty Draper was anything but 60’s conservative in a bright emerald green strapless jumpsuit with flared pants and pleated sash. She won the night IMHO. Three words: Fab U Lous.

Emmy fashion

John Shearer/WireImage.com

— I loved Taraji P. Henson‘s Alexander Wang dress. The black sheath had metal chain-link straps and a long sheer, patterned skirt. Edgy and different. Straight hair,  simple makeup, and little jewelry completed the minimal look. And her cheekbones are insane.

–Another winner for me was “Downton Abbey’s”  Joanne Froggatt (Anna) in a
romantic pink J. Mandel gown with black trim and cutouts and dramatic black chiffon trains on each side.  Perfect for her shape and complimented by long Juliet tresses with flowers pinned in. Unlike anything else on the carpet.

–If I were to ever hire a stylist, it would be whomever dresses Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Her simple black sheath with angular one shoulder top and big dramatic diamond earrings were simple, chic and looked amazing.

— I wasn’t sure if I liked Amy Schumer’s Zac Posen grey/green strapless dress and messy hair but it grew on me. She was very boobular and had no problem adjusting the girls on live TV. She also proudly told Ryan Seacrest she weighed  “a buck fifty” which made me love her even more.

–“Orphan Black” star Tatiana Masleny had a notable look in a very low cut white tuxedo suit.  Sexy, simple, sophisticated, sublime.

Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black” got voted best body by many style watchers in a Calvin Klein green halter dress with cutouts and a bare back. I loved her long blond hair too.

–Another gal I can count on to kill it on the carpet is “Modern Family‘s”  Sarah Hyland, who looked gorgeous in a burgundy Zac Posen off the shoulder sheath  with cutouts, a low back, and a flared bottom that hugged her in all the right places. She paired the dress with cool bejeweled dangling earrings and a Hollywood tan. Very glam.

Kerry Washington was channeling 1980’s Diana Ross in a beaded silver metallic mesh dress with shoulder pads and a sexy slit up her leg. It  looked like Halston but was actually Marc Jacobs and fit her beautifully.

–Probably the most shocking arrival was Lady Gaga, who seemed to be taking her role as Hollywood actress seriously in a very sedate but classic black off the shoulder sheath and Jean Harlow hair and makeup.

As for the men, there weren’t any standouts but Seth Meyers reminded me of Dean Martin in his navy tailored tux, and Anthony Andrews of “Blackish” looked svelte and handsome in his classic black tuxedo.  John Stamos doesn’t look like he should be starring in a show as a grandpa– he never seems to age. Great tux,  great dimples.

Who let the heat affect their fashion sense: 

Andy Samberg’s wife, musician Joanna Newsom’s ensemble was bizarro. My 12 year old son asked why she had a ring stuck on the top of her dress and I had no good answer for the giant appliqué on top and gauzy fringe curtains on the bottom. In different colors of pink. The Jane Eyre hairstyle didn’t help.

Emmy fashion 2015

–“Happyish” star Kathryn Hahn‘s dress had a flattering shape, but the flowered velvet looked like a carpetbagger purse, and the style brought the Chiquita banana lady to mind. At least her hair looked pretty.

“Mad Men” star and fashionista Kiernan Shipka had an oops with this yellow embroidered Barbie ballet dancer dress on top and black cigarette pants on the bottom. Huh?

Emmys fashion 2015

Getty / Jason Merritt

–The gorgeous Nazanin Boniadi of “Homeland” wore a weird white long dress with a nude side panel that looked more Olympic skater than Hollywood couture.   One side long sleeve sheath, one side sleeveless, flowy panel. It was like two different dresses sewn together. No good.

–It was disappointing to see model and fashion show host Heidi Klum make the mistake of choosing  a canary yellow Versace with way too much going on.  It was short, it was long, it was sheer, and embroidered. It had one long flared sleeve and one spaghetti strap. She should tell her stylist Auf Wiedersehen!

For more Emmy fashion click here and here.

After sweating on the red carpet, the stars had to sweat it out inside to see who took home a statue. Several shows swept the night, winning in several categories and making for repetitive speeches. Here are my highlights…..

The goofy and talented Andy Samberg did a great job hosting. He was funny, just the right amount of bitchy, and comfortable in the role. His opening bit was a pre-recorded music video that managed to acknowledge almost every TV show  ever produced and poke fun at the industry. I LOL-ed quite a few times and the audience seemed to get him.

Andy Samberg hosts emmys 2015


Viola Davis became the first African American woman to win for lead actress in a drama for “How to Get Away with Murder.”  In a tearful acceptance speech,  Davis said “the only thing that separates women of color from anybody else is opportunity.” She went on to thank all the writers and producers creating roles for black women on TV and for redefining “what it means to be beautiful, sexy leading women.”

The brilliant Allison Janney also made history taking home an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in “Mom.” She is now tied with Ed Asner for most performance Emmy wins, with seven.

Game of Thrones” won best drama but leading actor went to the long suffering Jon Hamm, who had been nominated for his role in “Mad Men” since its first season in 2007 but never won. He earned that standing ovation.

HBO’s “Veep”  won for best comedy and also swept the best writing, actress and supporting actor awards.

Olive Kittredge won best mini-series, director, writers, actor (Richard Jenkins,) supporting actor (Bill Murray,) and actress– for the least vane celebrity in L.A. —Frances McDormand. With no make up or hairstyle, her speech was short and sweet: “My colleagues have thanked everyone. We are all here for the power of a story well told, sometimes that’s enough. Thank you.” I told Wilson we must watch it this week to see what all the fuss is about.

Jon Stewart’s team of writers on “The Daily Show” won their 9th and final Emmy with Jon at the helm. TDS also nabbed best director, and variety series. That’s a tough category, going up against Letterman, Schumer, Colbert, John Oliver, etc.  I love “TDS”  and already miss Jon, but I think Jimmy Fallon needs some props. He’s killing it every night with original skits, songs, games, and social media. Maybe next year Jimmy. You’ve got my vote.

Inside Amy Schumer won for best writing which made me really happy. Schumer’s speech was random, funny, and spontaneous like she is. I love her. Authentic. Hysterical. Smart. Girl power. Finally.

Other remarkable moments included Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski getting weepy as Tracy Morgan came on to give the last award of the night. He explained what he’d been through since a terrible car accident last year but he looked good and got a few jokes in.

Jimmy Kimmel had one of the funniest moments of the night making Jeffrey Tambor really work for his Best Actor in a drama award for Amazon’s “Transparent”. Before Kimmel read the nominations, he dared the Emmy producers to stop him from peeking at the envelope before he announced the nominees. He saw the winner’s name and then proceeded to cut the name out of the card, put it in his mouth and chew it up, claiming he could now choose whichever winner he wanted. (He picked Tambor.)

Show runner Jill Soloway won for best director of a comedy series for Transparent and took the opportunity to advocate for trangender civil rights in her acceptance speech.

Amy Poehler is quickly becoming the Susan Lucci of primetime, losing for the 16th time. She’s apparently been nominated for writing and acting in “SNL”  and “Parks and Rec” but has NEVER WON. How is this possible??  In anticipation of the loss, she donned a hoodie and sunglasses and slumped down in her seat when they announced the nominees. Buzzfeed called her the best loser of all time. Her day will come.

emmys 2015

She was beat by six-time winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won for Veep for the fourth year in a row. I’m kicking myself that I’ve never been able to stay with that show. Every time I watch it I laugh. I’ll try again. In her acceptance speech, Louis-Dreyfus shouted out thanks and kudos to her fellow nominees, saying ” I love powerful, funny women.”

Me too Julia, me too.

What were your favorite Emmy moments? Tell me in the comments.

London with kids: balancing culture and fun (part 1)

Last month, I took Aden to London for a week with my friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat.  It was a terrific trip, but as I posted a few weeks ago, the boys will remember the funny moments probably more than the tourist spots.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Checking out Big Ben and Parliament buildings in Westminster.

There is so much to do and see in London, we had to try to force some culture down the throats of those little sports nuts! Without kids in tow, we probably could have jammed 3-4 sights into each day, but with kids you must pace yourself and keep expectations low or you’re doomed. We kept it to about 2 major activities per day, which worked well.

London is one of the easiest cities to navigate. There is no language barrier, the subway and bus systems are amazing, and they basically spoon feed you information. To ride the Underground, you will need to purchase an Oyster card and add money to it in machines at the station.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Waiting for the tube in the ultra clean underground

The streets are well-marked, and every tourist attraction and tube stop has a plethora of helpful signs (like MIND THE GAP.)

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Those thoughtful English don’t want you to step off the curb and get squashed since they drive on the other side of the road.

On our first day, we took the Underground to Westminster and walked around. As soon as you exit the tube station, you’re standing in front of Big Ben, and the Parliament buildings are in the next few blocks. Westminster Abbey is also very close. We wanted to look inside and maybe even get a tour but there was a long line to get in and we feared the boys would wilt if we started the day waiting on line to see a church.

Instead, we walked a few blocks to the Churchill War Rooms. This was an easier sell because — although the rooms open up to an extensive museum on former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s life — the word “museum” is absent and therefore made the activity much more palatable.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

When you enter the museum, you go underground to walk through the actual bunker of rooms Churchill and his men used during World War II, sometimes not emerging for weeks at a time.

Churchill War rooms London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

There’s a situation room decorated with maps, sleeping quarters and a kitchen, all preserved to look exactly as it had in the 1940’s.

Churchill War rooms London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Each number you dialed on this period phone started a recording of a person who knew Churhcill commenting on his personality and leadership skills. I had to help Aden dial!

The interactive museum is very kid-friendly and full of memorabilia and historical exhibits. You don’t have to be a war buff to be fascinated by Churchill’s life, and we wandered around the place for at least two hours without much complaint from the peanut gallery.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The Eye is in the background

Now we were feeling ambitious so we crossed the Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. The giant, slow-moving ferris wheel is a total tourist trap but one of the highlights of the vacation for all of us.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

It’s fun to be up so high for such a long time, and you can see the layout of the city from every angle, which made explaining our locations easier for the rest of the trip.

London Eye with kids on carpoolcandy.com

People on the next car brought snacks and champagne and looked like they were on a party ride (note to self for next time!)

We didn't go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

We didn’t go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

When you buy your ticket for the Eye there are several other attractions you can combine with it to get more for your money. There’s Madame Toussoud’s Wax Museum (we skipped because we have in NYC)  and a London Dungeon tour that is supposed to scare the crap out of you– no thanks– so we chose to add the London Aquarium. 

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Aden loved the sharks swimming below our feet….

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

…and the touch tank.

Aden is an animal-lover and expert so we’ve visited zoos and aquariums in many cities. I’d say the aquarium in London has a lot to offer in variety, but it’s not a standout. It’s located near the Eye and several other tourist spots and probably great for little kids, but you could definitely skip it if you’re not into fish.

London Aquarium with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Was this sea turtle waving hello?!

On Day 2 we headed for the Tower of London— a must see.  It’s an original  stone castle/village that dates back to the 11th century and has been used as a royal palace, a fortress, a vault for the crown jewels, a zoo, and a prison. Now it’s a historical landmark where you can learn about England’s often dark and bloody history.    
Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

I highly recommend you take a tour given by the Yoeman Warders — an extremely elite crew of guards that are presently serving at her Majesty’s service.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

They provide all the history, gossip and literally gory details of English royalty and culture as they take you through some of the main buildings.

Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The Yeoman telling us about the Bloody Tower (left) where many executions took place and two young princes were believed to have been murdered.

MaryEllen and I found our guide informative and funny, and the history lesson fascinating. The boys thought there was too much standing and found the tour a snore. But it’s worth persevering!

After the hour-long tour, we visited the Crown Jewels exhibit. Seeing millions of dollars of blinged out crowns, scepters and jewelry was cool, even for boys. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, but I bought post cards to show Wilson in hopes he’d be inspired.

crown jewels Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

You could easily spend a whole day at the Tower of London — there are many buildings and exhibits to wander through….

Tower of London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

A real torture rack where they separated the bodies of traitors by stretching their limbs!

…but the boys were getting antsy so we let them stand in the main square and watch the British soldiers guarding the jewels.  The boys stood for nearly 30 minutes waiting for the guards– as stiff as toy soldiers– to show any humanity.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

A facial expression or sneeze made the boys giddy, but they were really hoping for one of the guards to switch his rifle from one shoulder to the other.


You just never know what will engage a kid.

Stay tuned for my next post to see how we engaged the boys the rest of the week!

Shout out again to our friends, Raquel and Chris, who opened their flat to us and helped us plan our daily itineraries.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Cheers to Raquel, our Julie McCoy of London!

All they asked for in exchange was some boxes of Aunt Jemima’s Complete Pancake Mix, which is unavailable in the U.K. Who knew?!


Remembering 9/11: where I was that day

I knew today was September 11th but I got the kids up and off to school like it was any other day. When I returned from the bus stop, the TV was on and the victims’ relatives were reading the names of those they lost on that horrific day 11 years ago.

I was weeping within minutes. Even for the tenth time, hearing the names breaks my heart and brings me right back to that Manhattan day. It was a gorgeous, crisp autumn morning and the sky was remarkably clear and blue, before it exploded into fire and smoke and misery.

No one will ever forget where they were that day when the world was forever changed.

I was living in Manhattan, working at Fox News, and Jacob was a year old. I was so grateful that Wilson was working uptown. He had walked down many stairs from his office to escape the chaos after the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

In 2001, his office shut down and he eventually walked home with the throngs of confused, frightened people crowding the streets. I didn’t see him much that week and when I finally got home, I was obsessed with watching the news coverage, trying (in vain) to make sense of what happened…trying to feel the pain I had forced myself to numb while at work.


After the towers fell, I basically lived at my desk for a week as we tried to tell the most shocking, tragic, and intense story of our lives.

One memory seared in my mind is when we lost contact with our reporter– Rick Leventhal– and his cameraman and sat truck operator after the first tower collapsed. In standard operating procedure, we had sent them downtown to cover the story as soon as the planes hit the towers.

But when the tower collapsed, all we saw was a huge plume of brown smoke envelop Rick as he was getting ready to report live. We could hear screaming and then the cameraman dropped the camera on the ground but eerily left it recording on the live feed to the newsroom (not on air.)

We stared in horror as we saw the sidewalk view of a street filled with smoke and ash, and then the feed went to black and we lost contact with the crew.

I don’t remember how long it was before we heard from the crew, and there was a lot of silent guilt for sending them into unspeakable danger and uncertainty.  After what seemed like agonizing hours, we found out they were safe after hunkering down in a nearby building.

It was the most relief I remember feeling covering any news story.

When I was able to get out of the office to catch a few hours of sleep, I could smell the ash and smoke in the air and saw the glazed, damaged looks of my fellow New Yorkers.

I remember seeing the “missing” flyers posted all over the city, and making trips to CVS to get contact lens solution, wipes, rubber gloves to bring to our local fire house to feel like we were doing something to help.

There are so many stories about the thousands of people touched by the attack. For the 10th anniversary, I wrote a series of articles for AOL’s Patch.com. I interviewed a New Jersey man who lost his brother-in-law and was so moved by the experience that when he retired a few years later, he started a fund to support people in crisis in his local community and support cultural events that bring people together.

TJ hargrave on carpoolcandy.com

T.J. was a child actor who had a regular part on “Guiding Light” in the early 80’s. Kevin Bacon took over the role after he left. He was also in several TV movies and ads.

You can read about TJ Hargrave– who was at his office at Cantor Fitzgerald when he died– and his brother-in-law’s inspiring story here. One of TJ’s daughters read his name this morning at the World Trade Center Memorial. I’m sure he would be so proud of her courage.

I also had the opportunity to interview several South Orange, New Jersey firefighters last year — some of whom filled in at a Brooklyn fire house in the days following the attack. They tell a compelling tale with some chilling details about their experience in New York and what it’s like for them and their families to face risk every day. That story is here.


I always feel helpless when watching the families of 9/11 victims grieving. But reading these stories is a way to keep the memories of those we lost– and those who risked their lives to help– alive.

One thing we can do is never forget.

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

Last week, our family was invited to spend nine glorious days at our friends’ house on Long Beach Island. LBI is the ultimate Jersey shore experience: beautiful beaches, the old-fashioned Fantasy Island amusement park, plenty of lobster shacks, and enough salt water taffy and fudge to put you into a diabetic stupor.

All boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

The main crew

Our friends, Tony and Carmela*, have three boys, plus our three boys, and half the week we added a friend, to make 7.  That’s SEVEN BOYS, between the ages of 8 and 15.

Throw in two husbands and that’s a lotta testosterone.

When you have that many boys gaggled together, it attracts other boys, like a flashmob. We spent time with a couple of other families whose boys were eager to join our pack, ballooning our numbers up to 9 or 10 boys at a time.

beach football in LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Not great odds for the ladies to have influence. So what happens when you’re traveling with that many boys? Let’s just say it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything quickly. Getting them up and out for any activity other than Xbox or mini golf is like herding cats, or trying to move sandbags off a couch.

There were too many of them. Their group power and loud voices were often too strong to fight. So Carmela and I did what mothers of boys do: kept them fed and aimed for only one activity per day. We survived, but it was certainly a unique experience as you can see below.

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

All boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

….the surface of every bedroom floor is covered in Under Armour and Nike Elite socks.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..you need a group rate at Mr. Tee’s and the only morning they rise before 10am is mini-golf tournament day.

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..they insist on swimming in the ocean after the lifeguards have blown their last whistle, despite the crazy current and worried look on Carmela’s face.

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

swimming on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..ESPN is on 24/7 and double speak on fantasy football trades is flying.

boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……more than half your party leaves a gorgeous beach day to watch the Mets defend a 7-game winning streak.

water park boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..no one wants to stop at any of the scores of t-shirt shops and craft stores you pass as you run to the water park for the second time in 5 days.

……the boys drink nearly two cases of Gatorade in a week

…..you drink 10 bottles of wine, and almost finish bottles of vodka and gin in a week. (Remember: SEVEN BOYS!)

water park boys vacation on LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…… you rent 3 paddle boards for two hours and the boys immediately take off into the bay without life jackets, a map or a plan for return.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Serious game of beach Boggle

…..the interest in any activity is heightened by competition, be it football, cards, Boggle, or who gets the outdoor shower first.

…..no one goes to bed before 1130pm, purely out of pride, even if they’re falling asleep in their clothes while thumbing a game controller.

late night snack at Chicken and the Egg LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……one of the highlights of the trip is playing football on the beach at midnight and then ordering more chicken wings than will ever be eaten at Chicken and the Egg diner at 1245am.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

…..you take about 200 photos and not one has all boys smiling or looking at the camera at the same time.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Never figured out what this gross spongy thing was….

….they squeal in horror if you dare put red sauce on their pasta or spill ice cream on their favorite shirt…. but they have no problem wiping greasy, sticky hands on their shorts in lieu of a napkin… or carrying some disgusting piece of black, slimy moss crawling with bugs and crabs across a beach.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

……you can be jammed into a narrow house, switch sleeping arrangements every night, and basically spend every minute together for nine days without any hair pulling, crying, or drama.

boys vacation LBI on carpoolcandy.com

Truth is, I’d do it again, quicker than they can deny dripping pee on the toilet seat. I love me some boys.

Special shoutout and thanks to Tony and Carmela for their hospitality. Hope your summer vaca was equally fun!


*names changed in hopes we’ll get invited back!

Our brilliant trip to London (in photos)

I’m back from a week across the pond and already missing London. When Jacob was 12 I took him to Paris with a friend and her son, so I promised Aden and Eli I would take them somewhere special when they turned 12 and this year was Aden’s turn.

I had not been to London since a family trip when I was 8 and was eager to see it as an adult. My friend, Raquel, has been living in London as an ex-pat for four years with her husband and 9-year-old son. She was gracious enough to invite us to stay with her in her North London apartment for a week. My friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat– Aden’s pal-  joined Aden and me on our English adventure.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

At the Tate Museum looking at St Paul’s Cathedral

I’m a researcher so I bought a guidebook and map and was online for hours in the weeks leading up to the trip, trying to plan the best itinerary and find great places to eat near all the sights we wanted to see. But like the saying “man plans and God laughs,” I planned and the kids laughed. I quickly learned it was better to keep expectations low and go with the flow or I would end up very frustrated.

We chose a daytime flight because we figured the boys would be too excited to sleep on the plane and then the first day in London would be spent sleeping (that’s what happened when we flew overnight to Paris) so we arrived in the evening.

Flying to London on carpoolcandy.com

The boys were great travelers and with the help of iPads, a well-stocked snack bag,  and a deck of cards, they managed the 12 hour journey with little complaint.

The first day we were all a bit groggy and got a late start. I tried not to be impatient despite my eagerness to seize the day in a new city. Rushing 12-year-old boys to go see historical sights in a foreign land is not advisable. Better they move at their own pace and eat a hearty breakfast.

Big Ben London on carpoolcandy.com

Our first day was rainy so we decided to go to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. We took the Underground to Westminster and as soon as we stepped out, we were in awe of Big Ben.

It was starting to feel real for the boys, who even agreed to dodge raindrops to pose for several pictures.

London phone booth on carpoolcandy.com

(We had to)

Big Ben London on carpoolcandy.com

We hit several tourist sights the first day and were impressed with the boys’ stamina.

Having an apartment to return to every evening was a huge bonus.

North London apartment on carpoolcandy.com

Raquel and Jonas (and MaryEllen) on the balcony of their London flat

We had space to move, there were several bathrooms, and we had friendly faces eager to hear about our adventures and help plan our next destinations.

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

Hanging with Jonas

One of the best parts of the trip was watching Aden soak in a new culture. We took several rides on the top of the famous red double-decker buses, where he always wanted to sit in the front seat to check out the city. His eyes were wide open and his curiosity buzzing as he commented on the architecture, cars, and people.

London bus on carpoolcandy.com

Riding a red double decker bus

Wilson has indulged me twice, supporting these one-on-one trips and I am grateful. As I explained to him, most of our family life is spent playing, watching, and talking about sports. I live in a virtual ESPN Zone.

I didn’t grow up in a house with sports fans and rarely watched a game on TV. I have a mild interest in sports from a pop culture perspective and I love watching my boys play. But it’s not my thing, and they know it. So they don’t strike up conversations about college football stats in the car or call me in the middle of the day to discuss a Mets trade. Only Wilson makes those daily connections.

So I wanted to do something with each of my boys that took them completely out of their scene, and exposed them to a new environment that would open their minds about their place in the world. These trips allow us to share new experiences– learning about history, seeing amazing sights and eating different  food– while building memories that hopefully they’ll look back on warmly.

One day on the trip we were on the Overground and missed our stop. The boys correctly said we needed to get off at the next stop, but MaryEllen and I doubted them and looked up at the map to see which stop we missed, and in the confusion the doors closed and the boys were standing on the platform outside, and we were locked inside the Tube!

London with kids on carpoolcandy.com

The boys on the Overground right after surviving 10 minutes alone on a London platform

Luckily we had already discussed what to do if this ever happened and they knew to stay put until we returned. But that didn’t stop MaryEllen and I from screaming “STAY THERE!” ten times as the train pulled away. There were 3 or 4 people in the car staring at us– the irresponsible, loud, stupid Americans–  aghast… as we burst into giggles. Parenting skills at their finest, we left our children at a tube stop in a foreign country.

We got back to the boys within 10 minutes and they were also laughing hysterically and didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the trip. It was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to them.

Abbey Road Studios in London on carpoolcandy.com

Abbey Road Studios in North London

Raquel happens to live across the street from the famous Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles made magic. All day and night tourists come to graffiti the walls outside the building and take photos on the iconic cross walk, like the cover of the Abbey Road album.


One night, in the cover of darkness, we went down to the studio in our pajamas  and spray painted our names on the wall.

Graffiti on Abbey Road studios wall on carpoolcandy.com

It felt naughty and thrilling all at once.

Graffiti on Abbey Road studios wall on carpoolcandy.com

We also got incredibly fortunate when we got bumped up to business class on the flight home. It was the most luxurious 7.5 hours of Aden’s life, as he stretched out on a cozy bed, watching movies and ordering snacks from an eager flight attendant.

FLying business class with kids on carpoolcandy.com

We did a lot of amazing things in London– as you will read in my next post– but it’s the funny and unexpected adventures that they’ll remember, more than the Crown Jewels or Picassos at the Tate Modern.

I’m cool with that.

Huge thanks to Raquel, Chris, and Jonas for being terrific hosts and enhancing our trip! Stay tuned for the next post about all the fun things we did and many more pix.