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.

 

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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.

Teach Your Children The Value of Showing Appreciation

“Thank you.” Saying it is truly magic. Those two simple words can lift someone’s spirit, foster relationships, instill feelings of belonging, infuse an awareness of appreciation, improve happiness, and strengthen emotional well-being. And the magic happens for BOTH the person showing gratitude and the person on the receiving end.

When you say thank you, you feel good and your perception of gratitude increases. When you hear a sincere thank you, your happiness increases and you are more likely to show gratitude to others. It’s a lovely, warm-fuzzy, positive cycle.

So when you invest the time and make the effort to teach your child the value of appreciation and thankfulness, you will arm them with emotional strength that will improve their quality of life, now and in the future.

Here are my top tips to teach children how to show appreciation.

  1. Be sure “thank you” is said at home

Courtesy begins at home. Make “thank you” a commonly used phrase within the walls of your house. Parents who verbalize appreciation to other adults and the children in the home are setting an example. You can remind your kids to say “thank you” all you want but unless they hear you say “thanks” and see you show appreciation, it won’t matter much. Your child pays much closer attention to your behavior than she does to your advice, so practice what you preach. Say “thank you” often, even for small things.

  1. Prompt your child to say “thank you” if he or she forgets

When you give your child his lunch, sippy cup, toy, or anything, pleasantly remind him to say “thank you Mommy” if he doesn’t remember himself. It takes a bit of dedication on your part (and sometimes for a while) but the end result is that the consistent reminders will eventually plant in his brain and he will say “thank you” himself without the prompting.

  1. Recognize everyday courtesies

Most people make an effort to express their thanks for gifts, favors, awards and such but it is important to show appreciation for the everyday courtesies. Help your children recognize when someone does something nice for them, like share a snack or to allow them to pass in a room. If you are with your child, you should say thank you first and encourage your little one to say the same. Speak openly about seeing the kind actions of others. Soon your little darling will notice the civility in others on her own and show appreciation for it.

  1. Practice random acts of kindness

You don’t have to have a reason to do something nice for someone, like share some tea, send a nice text, or make dinner. But sometimes an event like a holiday, birthday, end of the school year, or International Siblings Day can give us a little motivation. My daughter loves to bake and so we are in the kitchen often, which mean we often have a little something sweet around the house. We have made it a habit to always make enough to share with someone outside of our house: a neighbor, a classmate, a teacher, a coach or friend. My little lady takes such joy in sharing and delivering the treat. But I think my joy in watching her is greater.

  1. Write thank you notes

While a thank you message sent via email or text is great, nothing shows you really care like a handwritten note. Even if your child is too young to write, a little scribble still counts. You can fill in a simple “Thank you for helping me/for the birthday gift/for being my teacher/for thinking of me” message if necessary. If you encourage this nicety early, your child will have it as part of his civility arsenal throughout life. And the art of the thank you note always draws a positive reaction and will always benefit your child now matter how old he is.

As a licensed etiquette trainer one of my favorite things to do is host children’s manner’s training sessions. Ask me about it at +1-868-757-1017 or laura@pearl-strategies.com

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THIS ALSO WAS PUBLISHED IN THE JULY 2017 CARE MAGAZINE DISTRIBUTED WITH TRINIDAD & TOBAGO GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER.

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.

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

Giving thanks for family

The older I get the more I realize how amazing my parents were. How did they manage eight children? My sanity limit is tested with my two kids. Thank you, Mother and Daddy, for teaching us that people are good unless proven differently. Thank you for instilling in me the confidence that can only be had when you know that you have unconditional support and love. Thank you for teaching me about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Thank you for teaching me faith, hope, stick-to-it-ness, optimism and the value of hard work. I love you and am thankful for you on this day and every day.