My greatest lesson learned at the Kentucky Derby

My little Trini family had great timing when we arrived in Louisville, KY – just in time for the Kentucky Derby Festival. After enjoying days of fireworks, Chow Wagons, fair rides, an airshow and parade, the great Kentucky Derby raced on the first Saturday in May. While admiring the hats, horses and the “most exciting two minutes in sports” my mind raced back to when I was an 18-year old volunteer at historic Churchill Downs.

As an Oldham County High School Beta Club member (Go Colonels Go!) I had the opportunity to earn all my service hours volunteering over two days for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. It was then that I got my first REAL lesson in presenting myself.

After a previous orientation where we received uniforms that made everyone look like white-jacketed-khaki-bottomed boxes, hundreds of students from multiple schools gathered in what seemed like the basement of Churchill Downs. In there adult group leaders assessed us in a glance as they walked by, selecting boys and girls for specific jobs. We didn’t know what those jobs were until we were separated into our work groups. This was all new to me. The first day (Kentucky Oaks Day) I was selected to take tickets at the grandstands. Not a bad job. All patrons were nicely donned and mostly pleasant. But on the bus ride home I heard about the jobs my friends were selected for: ticket takers in the Infield (oh the crazy stories), other Grandstand positions (pleasant and easy), and Millionaire’s Row (oooooooohhhh they even got tips). Now, in those days Millionaire’s Row was IT. You could get no more glamourous.

So … on that bus ride home I decided to do something to improve my chances at a better position on Derby Day. The next morning, I hotrolled my hair, put a ribbon in it and put Lip Smackers lip gloss on (makeup wasn’t familiar territory back then). Later when a lady briskly walked through the throngs of students in that basement room and pointed her manicured finger at me, I was eager to know what assignment was in store for me. I followed her along with four other girls into an elevator and then into a nice room with an astounding view of the track.

“Your job is to stand at the doors for the horse owners, trainers and their guests. Ensure they have a wristband on, open the doors for them and be pleasant. That’s it.” She gave us a smile, introduced us a man in charge of the room who placed one of us at each door and left. It was a lovely day.

That experience has stuck with me for more than 20 years. Image matters. Just with a little extra effort, I was able to improve what I was able to do. Now … I’m not at all saying that appearance is the only thing that matters. It isn’t. But no one can deny that others tend to make judgments based on how your present yourself. Neat and tidy doesn’t mean high-brow fashion labels but it is the fundamental rule of presenting yourself. And it’s also important to remember that internal beauty always reflects externally.

So thank you Churchill Downs staff of 1995 for teaching me a lesson that will forever stay with me. It has, and will continue to, serve me well.

 

Fab Four Things I Learned While Living in the West Indies

For the past 12 years I’ve had the privilege of working and living more than 2400 miles away from my native land. The experiences garnered throughout these years have made me into a better person, more effective leader and aware global citizen.  Here are four fabulous lessons I learned from my time in the West Indies:

  1. Open up. Forget the A/C and open up those doors and windows. More importantly, open up yourself. Don’t close off the sun, breeze, neighbors, and all those opportunities outside. Sure …  at times it may get uncomfortable but it’s worth it. Live life with an open door, mind and heart.
  2. Being different may describe you but doesn’t define you. I appreciate the frank manner in which people in the West Indies describe others: chinee, dark, white, red, indian, shorty, tallman, blondie, thick, etc. But I most appreciate that people usually don’t take offense to those terms – it is just a description after all. While stereotypes do exist (gotta be real), I learned in a very personal way that what you do is more important that what you look like. Actions are what define us.
  3. Go brave. Whether it is donning a tiny carnival costume, exploring the islands, meeting new people or owning your own insecurities … just DO it. It took a few weeks in Trinidad & Tobago to get over years of personal limitations related to body insecurities and self-imposed inhibitions. While I’ve always been a fairly confident person, I finally felt completely comfortable with all my imperfections. I finally realized that being genuine, real, honest and relatable is what makes up real beauty and what drives greater success in life.
  4. Social currency is the most valuable kind. It is true … who you know makes a difference. Always work to build positive relationships and help others when you can. Being in a position to help others – and actually doing it – means I have a positive balance in my social currency account from which I may withdraw should I need assistance. Word of advice: You also have to know yourself. Are you a valued colleague or a sponge who appears only when you need something? No other time better uncovers the sponges than Carnival time in Trinidad & Tobago. I’m looking at you free fete and costume seekers.

The Unspoken Mom Dress Code

As I navigate through the adventures of motherhood sometimes I find myself wishing I could relive some highlights of my youth: my body (oh how I wish I had my 20-something body back), relaxing weekends (there are no days off for parents), an uninterrupted meal (family dinners are lovely but I’m always the last to finish), and my wardrobe. Recently I pulled on a pair of my old shorts and … well … fellow mothers … there are just some things we should not wear anymore. Here’s my list of top Mom Dress Code do’s and don’ts.

Do cover your tail.
Strutting through the grocery with kids in tow and your bumsie hanging out doesn’t reflect a confident, composed woman … rather it reveals more of you than what others want to see. If you have to keep pulling down your shorts or skirts, they are not the right fit. Shorts and skirts should cover your bits at the top AND the bottom.

Do not let clothes cling on you more than you child already does.
Clothing that clings to your EVERY curve, bump, and lump means it SHOWS every one of them – even the unpleasant ones. Instead wear pieces that skim only certain curves. If you wear a form-fitting top, pair it with something flowy on the bottom. If you wear something form-fitting on the bottom, pair it with a loose top. On the flip side, don’t go for tent-like shape-less clothes. Bigger clothes create a bigger visual so a little body skimming is flattering.

Do avoid peek-a-boo clothing.
While the game of peek-a-boo may be part of your everyday mom life, peek-a-boo with your clothes should not be. See-through shirts exposing your bra (or lack thereof) are just wrong and so are belly-baring tops. And, sure, it may be handy for breastfeeding, but low-cut tops and overly exposed cleavage as part of your normal attire isn’t appropriate.

Do not let your clothes say what they will about you.
As tempting as that funny “More Issues Than Vogue” t-shirt is, think twice before putting on shirts with childish statements for your school parent-teacher meeting. And please SAY NO to butt messages. Pants with anything printed on the seat are neither attractive nor appropriate for mothers. It doesn’t matter how comfy those Pink sweats are.

Do ask yourself “Can I chase my child in it?”
I love myself a gorgeous part of stilettos but I save them for a girls’ night out and instead pull on wedges or ballet flats for family activities. Also, as easy as it is to reach for the easy flip-flop slippers, trade them for low-heel sandals or trendy Converses for a more put-together look.

Do not wear vanity and other people’s judgments.
You’re a mom. You’re gonna have the occasional spit-up spot, pencil mark, lap-child wrinkles and messy-mouth smear. While you should try to stay neat and tidy, wear the imperfections with pride! There are some days when you will feel like you have it all together and there will be days when you won’t. Accept it and love yourself anyway.

Do remember who you are.
Lead by example. Remember as a mother you should be an example for your children and their friends. If you don’t want your daughter running around in a barely-there dress kept together by a string, then don’t wear it yourself. Even if you look and feel amazing in that teeny-tiny number, maybe just keep it for the bedroom.

No. 1 Take Away: If people focus on what you’re wearing more than they focus on you, you are wearing the wrong clothes. Always consider where you’ll be and who you’ll be with and make your clothing choices accordingly.

MomDressCOde6.30.2017

This also was published in June 2017 CARE Magazine distributed with Trinidad & Tobago Guardian newspaper. 

Anniversary of The Airport Chat: The start of Tony & Laura

Today is the anniversary of “The Airport Chat.” That’s what I consider to be the starting point of Tony and Laura.

On June 1, 2010 I was in the A.N.R. Robinson International Airport in Tobago trying to work magic to get Fashion Week Trinidad & Tobago (FWTT) committee members on the full flights back to Trinidad in time for events the next morning. Sitting in a corner seat in the Caribbean Airlines ticket office I noticed Tony walk in and vaguely recognized his handsome face. He saw me, sauntered over and greeted me with a big warm smile.

Tony reminded me he met me two nights before at the FWTT Launch event and turned on his famous charm. After speaking for a few minutes, I closed my laptop and invited him to sit down in the seat occupied by my workbag and luggage. We chatted about this and that for a good bit when I was called over to the check-in counter across the road. Knowing how fast you have to move to get seats on full CAL flights, I hurriedly asked him to watch my stuff and left the office.

At least 25 minutes passed when I thought “Oh my! I should really go back and get my stuff.” So I quickly walked in the ticket office.

“Hey, thanks for watching my bags. Sorry I took so long.” I said and picked up my bags and promptly walked out.

I headed back to my circle of colleagues gathered at the check-in area and felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Do you have a card?” Tony asked. “So I can contact you if I get any business leads.”

I fished for one out of my bag and gave it to him.

“When are you going to be back in Tobago?”

“Oh, I will probably come back to cool off after Fashion Week. I will definitely need it.”

“Well call me when you do so I can take you out to dinner or something.”

“OK,” I said just wanting to get back to my FWTT colleagues to discuss the latest crisis.

He leaned in to give me what I thought was the common kiss on the cheek for a goodbye.

Whaaaat? He looks like he is heading straight in. Surely he isn’t aiming for my lips. I just met this guy! And in front of everyone?

At the last second when I realized he wasn’t deterring from his straight course to my glossed-up lips, I turned my head. He caught the very edge of my mouth and cheek.

I pulled back with wide eyes.

 Maybe I imagined that. Surely he isn’t that bold.

Within the hour he sent me a text expressing how nice it was to chat with me. I responded … eight hours later. He texted again. I responded … eight hours later. (Hey … I was a busy girl.) And the cycle continued.

Now here we are five years later … married with two kids. In the simplest terms it’s been a head-spinning whirlwind.

I did ask him later if I was imagining the whole going-in-for-the-lips thing. He smiled.

“I just felt like kissing you. You should have seen your face!”

“But you JUST met me!”

“Ahhh … but I knew I loved you from the start.”

Oh darling Tony. You won my heart and gave me the every-girl dream of a guy falling in love with her at first sight.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. I love you.

Cotton Cookie Campout still reigns

It was my father’s sure-fire solution to the whole sneak-the-cookies situation. My older brother Aaron was a master at sneaking cookies and leaving the empty cookie container. One day my father had just had it.

“I bet if you were allowed to eat as many cookies as you could want, you wouldn’t be able to eat as many as you do now.”

My brother disagreed.

Several days later my father announced the Cotton Cookie Campout.

Papa_kids_TonkaTruck_may2015

Papa always treats the kids to a ride in his latest fun motorized vehicle: four-wheeler, tractor, truck or this year’s “Tonka Truck”.

My brothers and sisters and I picked out packages of store-bought cookies (a real treat since we only had homemade ones growing up) and packed them and gallons of milk for the night of the Cotton Cookie Campout. We piled into my father’s truck … yes all 10 of us … and drove to some remote “perfect location.” My brothers and father pitched the tents and built the fire and my sisters and I organized the other stuff. Then … we gorged.

Pecan Sandies, Oreos, Danish Wedding Cookies, Magic Middles (remember those?), Chips Ahoy, Ginger Snaps … the collection was amazing to my 10-year-old eyes.

“Aaahhhhh no. There are still some cookies left!” My Dad would say when one of us mentioned our bellies feeling full. He was determined to be right.

And he was. The thrill of “illegal” cookies stoked the hunger for the sugar. Once it was allowed, the consumption was just a little less sweet. My father made his point and a tradition was born.

A_Living_room_tent_may2015

The camping part now stays in Grandma’s living room. Adelaide is zonked out with her cousins.

Last night we had out 28th Annual Cotton Cookie Campout. Well … it has evolved into Cotton Cookie Campfire since no one really camps out out any more except for the occasional tent in Grandma’s living room. And the homemade cookies outnumber the store-bought varieties since we now far prefer our personal baked creations.

One thing remains the same: the night and the memories could be no sweeter.