Monday, July 18, 2016

Our Turbo-Charged Kia Optima Trip to NASA

A friend of mine works with NASA in Houston, and when she invited me down for a tour, I said YES without hesitation, and we set the date. My six-year-old son is the perfect age to start appreciating space travel, and we were excited about it. My husband was on a fishing trip in Colorado with his dad, anyway, so my son and I hit the open highway by ourselves.

Ready for launch.
The very kind people at Kia lent me a turbo-charged 2016 Optima for our trip from Austin to Houston, and they dropped it off at my driveway the day before we left. I could get used to that kind of service; they spoil me. The car was a deep, gorgeous red that Kia calls "Remington Red" and it sparkled in the sun. It was easy to fit my son's Britax Parkway SGL booster seat in the back, and the trunk had plenty of space for our luggage for the overnight trip.

As we neared Houston around rush hour, the traffic picked up significantly, and we were stuck crawling through downtown for a while. The Optima's nav system kept me apprised of the bottlenecks, and we had a comfortable and cool ride. Heading southeast from downtown, we aimed for the Clear Lake area, where my friend Sean lives with her family. I suddenly remembered that when my sister lived in Clear Lake, I had said aloud, "I will never live in Texas. It's way too hot here." Famous last words, since I moved to Austin nine years later.

The next morning, we started our tour at 9 AM with a friend of Sean's who leads outreach for NASA, and she took us through some of the most fantastic parts of the NASA complex. We started at the Apollo Mission Control Center, where we spotted Gene Kranz, the leader of the team that contributed to saving the astronauts of Apollo 13. We got to see the inside of the current Mission Control, just as t they were getting ready for a landing. The Saturn V was another highlight - it's over 36 stories tall (it's displayed horizontally in a giant building) and is one of only three in existence. And lastly, in Building 9 we crawled up into a space capsule.

My son was completely immersed. He knew how lucky we were to get this inside tour, and both of us were awestruck.

At the NASA gift shop, we picked up a rocket ship pen for my dad, a moon vehicle building set for my son, and some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for my nieces to try.

Apollo Mission Control, I'm on the red phone. 

When we returned home, my son opened up his book about the first astronauts to land on the moon, and we relived our experience all over again.


The Optima looks good under the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin.


- 40 mpg on the highway: it kicked my SUV's tail on gas mileage

- Body design: I would put this sedan next to just about any other and it would come out on or near the top. Its lines are smooth and clean, and the panoramic sunroof adds glamour.

- Paddle shifters: by now, you know I have a love affair with them.

- Navigation screen: colorful, fun, and easy to use

- Paint job: the red is deep and rich, unlike some of the orange-y red I have seen on other brands

- Safety: the 360-degree camera helps to navigate even the tightest spots, and the blind spot, lane departure, and forward collision warnings help keep the driver alert

- Warranty: every Kia has a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain (the engine and transmission), which I find more and more impressive with every Kia I drive


Monday, June 13, 2016

Featured on the Today Show Parents site: How to Raise a Good Man

On Friday, the Today Show Parenting team published my essay on sexual assault and what I want my son to know. One gentlemen misconstrued this as a post against men, but that is far from true. The key is that I surround myself with good men who know how to be strong in the gentlest and kindest ways. I am teaching my son to the best of my ability those skills too.

I am a survivor.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Then came the stars

Last week, a controversial blogger shared a link about a camp for transgender kids and called it "child abuse". He said that it was the parents who made the children gay or transgender.
Some of his fans chimed in "Yeah, we should send transgender kids to camp. Camps with ovens." Friends, they were making jokes about the Holocaust. I tried to reason with them with all of the kindness I could muster, to no avail. "I thought it was funny, so eat me" was one response. It made me feel physically ill.
I have always told my son that there are more good people in the world than bad, and I hold onto that when bad things happen. But sometimes, if I get online and read what some unhappy, cruel, messed-up people say, it makes me wonder if I'm right. So I went offline for three full days until I started feeling hope again.
When I came back, I had made a decision. I'm not going to let hate win. I am never, ever going to let hate win. There are good people in this world doing great things all the time.
I am holding all of the victims at Pulse in Orlando and their families and friends in my heart tonight. I'm holding ALL of us in our hearts tonight, because this affects every person who knows that dozens of our citizens were killed in an act of hate.
We cannot let hate win. We will NOT let hate win. It's going to take all of us working together to shun hate speech and people in power who use hate to mobilize their platforms, and both sides of the gun debate must come together. We have had enough hate. We cannot combat it with more. We have to find love. Find it, grab onto it, and let it spread. Somehow.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Features - and a special Mazda drive!

I can't believe school is out for the summer! We are looking forward to a friend- and family-filled funfest. In the meantime, here are a few links and information on what I have been up to.

* I was featured at the Today Show Parents site this month, with an essay about how motherhood made me stronger:

* And I had the chance to feature my dear friend and Listen To Your Mother co-producer Leigh Ann Torres at LiveMom:

* Last, but not least, I wrote a blog post about my friend Jennifer and her husband Brian, and what they do to manage their family's finances:

A huge thank you to Mazda and DriveShop for sending  me an CX-3 to drive for a week. It was fun, zippy, and had some great safety features. It's categorized as a crossover, and feels like a compact SUV but hugs the curves like a sports car. Car and Driver gave it an excellent rating in its class, and several other sites agreed.

What I loved:

* The heads-up display, especially the speed limit posting reminder that turns red if you're speeding (believe me, this is something I need)

* Mazda radar cruise control to ensure that the car is a safe distance from the one in front of it

* Fuel economy: WOW. I typically drive a gas-eating full-size, V8 SUV. The CX-3 is very economy-minded.

* At first, the dial controls on the console threw me off - but once I got used to them, I enjoyed the ability to change the channels and do everything I wanted to do without leaning over to push any buttons.

* Sport mode and paddle shifters - for a sports-car enthusiast like me, this was fun.

At around $20,000, this car is an easy choice for a young professional, student, or retiree - the back has plenty of room for legs but the car seats don't fit as snugly as some of the larger SUVs and non-hatchback sedans. Well done, Mazda.


Friday, April 22, 2016

The lobster bride

I was to be married in a strapless gown within a matter of weeks, and my skin was a pasty, uneven color. So I did what any bride before spray tans might have done: I booked a series of appointments at a tanning salon.

I bought into the hype that tanning beds "give you a nice base tan so you don't burn" and "it's no more harmful than the sun" in my youthful ignorance. My best friend in college had a tanning bed at her parents' house in Dayton, and when we visited, we sunned ourselves in it. Wrinkles, schminkles. We were 20.

The tanning sessions I had booked for my wedding were relaxing and comfortable; I had my hot pink googles and a bandeau bikini, and I settled into my clamshell. My brain registered mild panic just a little bit before I closed the coffin-like lid, but once I closed my eyes, I was fine.

On my last appointment before the wedding, with seven days to go, I felt good about my tan and all of the planning. The centerpieces were ready, my dress was perfect, flowers were ordered, and I was taking it all pretty well, all things considered. I relaxed into the tanning bed and settled in for my 15 minutes of what I thought, at the time, was innocent skin enhancement. I thought it was a good idea, at the time.

When I woke up, 30 minutes later, I sat up quickly and looked in the mirror. My skin was bright red. I jumped up, threw on my clothes, and ran into the reception area.

“My timer didn’t go off!” I said, breathlessly.

“Oh,” said the young woman at the front desk. “I guess the timer is broken.”

I stared at her through raccoon eyes.

The damage was done, and there wasn’t much I could do. My skin hurt to the touch, and my eye sockets were trimmed in a lovely shade of pale. A day later, I woke up and looked in the mirror through still-groggy vision, and saw something that would strike fear into the heart of any bride-to-be: my lips had blistered. MY. LIPS. HAD. BLISTERED.

Panic mode set in and I dialed a local dermatologist with scarlet fingers. I explained the situation and begged them to fit me in that day, and they took pity on me. When the doctor saw my predicament, he pursed his lips and refrained from comment until the end of the appointment, when he gave me a prescription for oral steroids and told me to stay away from tanning beds.

I gave him a look that said, if I ever get near one again, please put me in a straitjacket.

The blisters healed just in time for the wedding, and the rest of my skin had faded to a fresh pink. I was the epitome of the blushing bride. Or the bride in blush. Luckily, the pictures didn’t betray my embarrassment. The Great Tanning Bed Incident of 2000 was barely ahead of the Great Sun-In Orange Hair Embarrassment of 1986, but it definitely takes the trophy.

Maybe the Great Tanning Bed Incident was a harbinger of doom for the marriage - it failed after four years. I should have seen that as a sign; there is a fortune cookie somewhere that says, "Burn skin in tanning bed, don't get married."

These days, I can't even look at a tanning bed, and I wear a hat and sunscreen and often, a rash guard if I’m out in the sun. I can’t undo the years of baby oil, and the laughable SPF 4 (FOUR!) Coppertone suntan lotion, and the tanning beds, but I can be smarter these days. That’s what middle age does for you.

* * *

This is part of a blog hop led by the illustrious Nancy Kho of Midlife Mixtape. If you love music and smart writing, she is your woman. Go and check out some of the posts on this topic at my friends' sites - they will be sure to have some fun stories about what seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Genie in a Blog

Monday, April 11, 2016

Best of 2015-2016

Best of 2015-2016!

I was named a Voice of the Year for the past two years, and in 2014 I had the honor of reading my piece on stage. I had practiced it so much that I stripped the emotion out of it - the pieces that made it real and human. I was so nervous about breaking down on stage in front of a thousand or more people that I whipped through it fast and straight. If I could do it again, I'd be me, the way I feel in my heart.

So it's that time again, and BlogHer is taking nominations for the 2016 VOTY awards, for pieces published between January 15 and today. Do you have a favorite piece of mine in the last year that you loved? If so, please nominate it at this link. (All could be considered for written work over 700 words, or Impact for the pieces that are about a particular cause): 

Here are my favorite pieces from the last year:

At Scribbles and Crumbs, the Scars that Remind Me  

At the Today Show Parenting site, The "Bad" Bedtime Habit I Love, and a letter to my son's best buddy on the eve of kindergarten. 

At Good Housekeeping, two essays - one about my experience with domestic violence and a reported piece on what it's like to be a mother of a daughter in an abusive relationship. 

At Woman's Day, one piece of parenting advice: listen to your instincts.  

At Cosmopolitan, my revelation about what caused my eating disorder

At Brain, Child, Faking Bravery (parenting with anxiety)

At The Washington Post, four essays. The first one about learning how to stop splurging on unncessary stuff for my son; the second about teaching our kids not to be bullies when they see bullying behavior in the news; the third about mothering a boy post-feminist upbringing; and the fourth on learning how to rebuild my life after divorce

At Scary Mommy, musings on what I think about when I see a pregnant woman. 

At BonBon Break, Dear Other Woman: Thank You, and an essay about sexual assault and harassment and the cost of silence

At VProud, my story of emerging from fire without the scars of the burn but with the force of a phoenix.

Thank you for your support!


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Kia Sportage 2017: a pleasant surprise with great value

I must admit that I have been, in the past, a car snob when it came to Hyundai and Kia. I believed the old thinking that Kia and Hyundai surely makes cheap cars that fall apart.

I’m standing here before you to tell you that I stand corrected. And I'm feeling pretty sheepish about it.

For the last week, I have been driving a 2017 Kia Sportage (a big thank you to DriveShop for the loaner!). My husband and son and I drove up to Dallas for the DFW Auto show, and I found that the Kia of today is not the Kia of ten years ago. Or, at least, perhaps the perception is changing. In fact, while I was at the auto show, my family toured around Dallas in it, and two people at two different venues asked my husband if the Kia was his and remarked that it was a sharp-looking vehicle.

Did you know that Kia offers a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the drivetrain? Hyundai, Kia’s sister company, promotes the same service for their cars, and I spoke with a Hyundai representative at the show in Dallas. He said to me, “If we thought the cars would break down before 100,000 miles, we could never offer this kind of warranty. It would cost us a fortune. We believe in our cars and they have proven themselves over time.”

Good point. He also reminded me that back in the 80s, Toyota was considered a cheap Japanese car and many people maligned it as a throwaway car. With a market share of 15%* (just behind Ford and GM) in the U.S. and luxury brand Lexus in its wheelhouse, Toyota is no longer considered to be the generic brand. Perhaps Hyundai and Kia are the Toyota of the 21st century.

The Sportage, considered a Crossover Utility Vehicle, or CUV, weighs more than 3700 pounds, giving it plenty of sticking power taking curvy roads. It's comfortable and the navigation stands up to just about anything on the market.

The lowdown on the stats, for gearheads like me:
MSRP: From $22,990
MPG: Up to 22 city / 29 highway
Horsepower: 181 to 240 hp
Towing capacity: 2,000 lbs
Engine: 2.0 L 4-cylinder, 2.4 L 4-cylinder

Here’s what I like about the Sportage: 
* Zippy acceleration and smooth braking.
* Paddle shifters - I haven’t really needed to use them, but they’re fun to play with. I can squint my eyes and pretend I’m in a Ferrari when I’m flipping the paddles.
* Plenty of head room and leg room in the front and the back.
* Simple, intuitive controls.
* Super easy to park in just about any space.
* Excellent camera views and collision warnings.
* Seat warmers AND coolers (perfect for Texas summers)
* Spectacular panoramic sunroof.

Here’s what I’d like for Kia to consider revising and/or improving:
* The driver can choose from three drive modes: Normal, Eco, and Turbo. They rotate through the cycle with the push of a button, and if you want to switch to Turbo, for instance, it could be two pushes of a button instead of one. That might seem minor, but when you need Turbo mode, I find you generally need it fast.

* The doors unlock as soon as the driver puts the car in park. As a cautious woman, I prefer to have full control over the locks, in case I am in a situation in which I feel uncomfortable and need for the locks to stay engaged.

* Conversely, I would like for the car to unlock the driver door when I approach the vehicle with the keys in proximity. The SUV I drive now does that, but the Sportage requires pushing the button on the driver-side handle to unlock. This may be a personal preference, or what I’m used to.

* I had to review the manual to figure out how to use the middle seat belt, and ended up putting the car seat on the driver’s side instead. The safest part of the car for a child – well, for anyone, I suppose – is in the middle of the car, and it’s a little more difficult to place the seat in the center.

Overall, I had a lot of fun driving this car. Certainly, much more fun than I expected, and in this price range, a very good value. I had a chance to drive Kia's luxury sedan, the K900 (made famous by the endorsement of Labron James, who bought one with his own money and then agreed to be a spokesperson for it), which starts at $50K+.  Now THAT car is sweet. More on that one later.

More details on the Kia Sportage at Car and Driver.

* All photos from, because they are better photographers than I am.

* From

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