Top 5 Moments & Lessons at Top Blogueras Retreat 2013: UNited & UNdefeated

 

Laurita's Lumia_20130918_055

Above photo courtesy of Myrna Calderón.

 

 

I’m not going to lie to you. (You should know that by now!) The past few weeks for me have involved stress, tears, joy, excitement, more tears, and fears of developing a hernia. That’s usually what happens when I get sandwiched between conferences.

But I did it. I managed to attend the LATISM ’13 conference exactly a week after experiencing my first Hispana Leadership Summit in Orlando– and I also was honored to be invited to attend the second annual LATISM Top Blogueras Retreat in-between!

When it comes to attending conferences, my philosophy has evolved over time. I used to engage in the practice of grabbing an agenda first-thing, then circling and highlighting all of the sessions I wanted to attend.

I have long since abandoned that practice, because the idea of planning ahead for anything just seems ludicrous to me now. There’s the plan, and then there’s reality. 

The reality, I’ve learned, is the far better plan! 

Such was the recurring theme of my five nights in New York City. So, without further ado, I’m sharing some experiences and lessons I acquired during the first part of my adventure, The Top Blogueras Retreat and visit to the United Nations.

 

 

1. Eating out in New York with 100 of your hermanas is, in fact, material for a sit-com. 

During our first night together after all the Top Blogueras arrived, we headed over to Havana Central in Times Square– I think. Because I don’t think any of us knew for sure where we were going, LOL! We had to take taxis in very small groups, obviously, so when I got to the restaurant, I thought, “this isn’t too crowded. Maybe not everyone is here.”

About a half-hour later, our posse was still arriving– in droves. We took over the entire back section of the restaurant. It was awesome. 

Everyone is cramped at these long tables, everyone is talking at once, and it’s doubtful that any of us were actually listening to each other. We were just way too excited to all be together, and in one of Manhattan’s hottest restaurants, no less! 

That night, in my mind, was the perfect way to herald our arrival in New York City– Cuban food, drinks, girlfriends, and chatter. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

 

2. Whether you attend the official conference sessions or not, you will get advice, you will get schooled, and you will get “tough love.” 

I barely had time, between stopping in the hallways to chat and catch up with amigas, to attend every session during the retreat. But, no worries! This event is all about Latina empowerment– and all about putting yourself and your needs first. For me, I needed those one-on-one chats, where the person I need to speak with has my full attention, and I can ask questions and we’re engaging each other. 

I got some sound, personalized advice from a financial guru right out in the hall (thanks, Francesca, for pulling me aside for that invaluable opportunity!), and he turned out to be an amazing man who is, himself, using his social power to effect positive change in the world. I’ll never forget my conversation with him.

During the retreat, one of my fellow health blogueras, Laura Termini, pulled me aside (that happened to me a lot last week!) and gave me some hard advice that I really needed to hear. She encouraged me to seize my potential and truly put it to use for the good of my mission. I can never thank her enough for lighting a fire under my feet! 😉

 

 

3. The United Nations is a global force for good that we all should be connecting and engaging with. They are awesome. 

When I heard we were getting an exclusive tour of the United Nations headquarters, I thought for sure it would be a stuffy, uninspired building with official seals stamped everywhere.

I could never have imagined it would be so beautiful, like visiting a museum or art gallery. The works of art that adorn these halls and majestic meeting rooms are an amazing testimony to the multicultural, multi-national mission that the U.N. promotes. Many works– ranging from paintings to murals, from tapestries to sculptures– have been donated by member nations. 

During an increasingly-hostile political climate in the U.S., which is seeing escalating vitriol towards people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it was so reassuring to see firsthand how the U.N. embraces and promotes diversity, even in its décor.

 

4. International organizations, including the U.N., not only need to hear from us– they want to hear from us! 

During our briefing with officials that work with the U.N. at the Ford Foundation headquarters, we listened to speakers discuss the diverse issues that the U.N. is particularly concerned about– access to food, water, health care for all; education; sustainability, etc.

They repeatedly encouraged us to Tweet the U.N., especially during this week, which is the Social Good Summit and the U.N. is convening in New York City. The hashtag is #2030NOW, and the U.N. wants to motivate users to Tweet what they’d like to see happen by the year 2030.

I’m using my voice and my platform to make the public aware of how many Ob-Gyns are pressuring expectant parents of child with spina bifida or another condition, to abortThis is WRONG. When a parent makes an informed decision based on the perceived best interest of his/her family, that is one thing; but when a medical doctor entrusted with the care of mother and baby is insensitive to the vulnerable position that family is in, that is pure, unadulterated manipulation. Parents have the right to get impartial, objective but compassionate information from their health care providers about spina bifida, and all of their options. 

The fact that many medical doctors (Ob-Gyns, specifically, who will only deliver a baby and not go on to “treat” him/her) still push an aggressive agenda of eugenic abortion is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy, not from a pro-life or pro-choice perspective, but rather because the family is being deprived of knowing what’s possible for this child. 

So, if you agree that doctors coercing a family to abort is wrong, please join me in Tweeting and using the hashtag #2030Now to try to bring an end to eugenic abortions (in the U.S., too!) 

 

5. When you’re with familia, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing! You’ll have fun doing it. 

The Top Blogueras and the LATISM Sports Tennis Team were invited to the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center (home of the U.S. Open!) to meet and play with a group of kids with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Unfortunately, due to several buses breaking down, the children weren’t able to meet with us. :(

We were devastated that we all missed out on the opportunity to get together for some fun, but we did have some undisputed fun on the train ride over to the tennis center! 😉

Check out this short instagram video to see what I mean.

 

 

 

Well, that’s all for now in this edition of Holdin’ Out for a Hero. Please stay tuned as I’ll be working on another recap on the conference itself! Thanks a million, LATISM, for believing in me and choosing me to be among so many ladies that I admire and respect!

Hugs,

 

Laurita ♥

The Family Who Christmases Together

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive some compensation.

 

Growing up, I embraced my biculturalism– that is, that of being Latina and living in the U.S.– particularly during the holidays. And why wouldn’t I embrace it? For starters, Latinos tend to extend the Christmas season through at least the first week of January, ending on Epiphany, or “Three Kings Day.”

Being an only child, I looked forward to spending many of my Christmases with my extended family in Puerto Rico. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents filled the house, as did food and music, and lots of love, laughter and mirth.

In the past few years, it’s getting increasingly difficult to spend Christmas as a family. With airline ticket prices skyrocketing, and also because I wanted to spend Christmas Day this year somewhere “chilly,” my family opted not to visit Puerto Rico for la Navidad.

That was hard, but I don’t regret it. My parents and I made a roadtrip with stops in Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina. We spent two nights in the historic Charleston, made notorious by the Civil War, before heading up to see our dear friends in Charlotte.

This is to say, we spent the greater part of Christmas week riding in a cramped SUV, stopping multiple times along the way, yearning for any weather that was at least a few degrees colder than Orlando– which was not hard to find.

I stayed up late Christmas night, watching the classic, maybe even cliché “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with the fireplace flickering away in our pre-Civil War room in the bed and breakfast in Charleston. I can’t imagine a more idyllic way to spend the night that has been immortalized in so many black-and-white classics.

The following day, we met up with our friends, who cooked for us and showered us with love and attention. We even celebrated my birthday– again!

My family has never been one to find a tradition and stick with it– except perhaps for our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants style, as we demonstrated by not booking anything in advance. (It practically gave some of our friends a heart attack!) We march– or rush frantically– to the beat of our own drum, making our own last-minute plans along the way.

Whether it’s an American-style Christmas Eve with the fireplace crackling, or a Puerto Rican-style Noche Buena with coquito and pernil, and música, we make it special in our own way.

What never changes is our sense of solidarity, and our desire to make Christmas a time we spend together, even when we’re apart from most of the family.

I guess that’s where I get my belief that the family that Christmases together, does indeed stay together

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

A Week of {Global} Community Awareness

“Think Globally, Act Locally.”                                                                                                                –René Dubos, microbiologist, experimental pathologist, environmentalist, humanist, & Pulitzer Prize winner    

“For Jesus Himself testified, that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”       John 4:44, King James Bible 

It has been a very overwhelming, yet encouraging past few weeks for this often-weary activist.

Several projects and events I’ve wanted to put into action during the Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida season, are finally seeing the light of day.

Two events in particular are taking place this coming week which I am very proud to be a part of: The Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida Twitter Party (the first of its kind!) on Wednesday, October 17th, and Cocktails & Bites: A Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida Pre-Event, happening in my town of Orlando.

Both events have caused me to reflect on what it means to have a supportive community backing me up– both online and off; both locally and globally.

To me, it means the world. Every single person involved in this multi-tiered effort to raise awareness and funds, whether it be by donating, sharing a link, inviting friends to either event, blogging or Tweeting about it, or simply being there to offer moral support when things don’t go exactly as planned (when do they ever?), — is greatly appreciated and thanked. I mean it. 

One person I need to thank from the bottom of my heart for her tireless (literally– she goes to bed late working on this!) efforts is my friend, blogger and multicultural family expert, Chantilly Patiño. While we followed each other on social media sites and have been in many mutual “circles” for a long time, I first officially connected with Chantilly when she offered to take the reins last October for the Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida Blog Carnival, which raised money and awareness for the Walk-N-Roll, and included the partnership of over 25 blogs and organizations.

Now, Chantilly has been burning the midnight oil for several weeks, while planning an awesome Twitter party for The Cause and working on all the graphics, sponsorships, and other coordinations that go along with it! (Read her wonderful post about this on Multicultural Familia.)

Then, on October 7th, together we launched a Facebook group, the Spina Bifida Advocacy Network, in the hopes of bringing together people within and outside of the “spina bifida community” for a common goal– awareness. This group is already nearly 500 members strong, and it is to Chantilly’s credit that she suggested I create a group in the first place.

I could never begin to thank Chantilly for all she has done– long before we even met in person this year, at Hispanicize, where she moderated the “Blogging for a Cause” panel my friends Lisa, Eliana and I were on.) But I know she does this because she has become truly passionate about The Cause!

After I published a post on NBC Latino promoting Spina Bifida Awareness Month (thank you, Adrian Carrasquillo, for your support with this!), I received several Facebook messages from people in the Spina Bifida community– and by “community,” I mean from the state of Georgia, and from as far as New Zealand and Scotland. I also received a message from a young woman in Central Florida with Spina Bifida, whom I’ve never met. The zip codes may have differed greatly, but the underlying message was the same– “We need more awareness.

So, whether we rally more people for The Cause locally, nationally, or globally, rest assured I will continue to fight the good fight, as long as I have fabulous people like Chantilly– and Ramu, Diane, Ericka and Amjid— cheering me on and helping me do the work. 😉

To find out more about the local and online events I’m hosting this week, you can also visit the Facebook event pages: 

The Walk-N-Roll Twitter Party for Spina Bifida

Cocktails & Bites A Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida Pre-Event 

Education is a Never-Ending Process

One of the things I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the most since I began blogging three years ago is how much I’ve learned. I’m continually amazed at all the knowledge I’ve acquired, especially in the two years since I graduated college.

Of course, I like to attend many conferences for bloggers and social media enthusiasts in order to learn, but I’ve realized that the learning doesn’t stop once a conference session is over and I step out into the hallway. It goes much deeper than that.

During the past three years of my life, I’ve learned a lot about relationships and friendships. I’ve learned about loyalty. I’ve learned about honesty and integrity, and how important it is to have all these qualities in order to be respected in the realm of social media.

Many children and teenagers are currently in the process of going back to school, beginning a new grade, meeting new people, and maybe even getting acquainted with a new academic institution. I learned a great many lessons within the walls of my schools and colleges, but I learned a great deal more from my interactions with many people. 

I can vividly remember shopping with my Mami for school supplies, carefully reading her my teacher’s list of requirements. I would get so excited about buying new notebooks, binders, pencils, pens, and loose-leaf paper. And, of course, every year I was interested in a different “theme” for my supplies. One year it was pink unicorns, another year it was Latino heartthrobs. 

But one particular memory stands out in my mind– one that remained consistent from one year to the next: my anticipation. With the plastic wrap still on my loose-leaf paper, and my dividers still not clearly labeled, the coming year held all the possibility and hope that only a year that hasn’t been lived yet can hold. 

 

When I graduated from the University of Central Florida, I had to choose between attending the ceremony or attending the BlogHer Conference. Of course-- I chose BlogHer, but I brought my cap along! :)

 

Now, long after having graduated, I miss the structure of my education, how my day was planned out according to each class and the assignments I had. I miss the daily interactions with peers who I didn’t always like, but that I now miss not getting to know better. 

Yes, I even miss scrambling to get to class on time when the warning bell has rung, and feeling my heart pound and the adrenaline rush when fearing I wouldn’t be able to find my homework. 

I miss the constant motivation of getting work done– that each assignment would guarantee us a grade– An “A” was a true reward, an “F” a true punishment, and anything in between was simply subject to personal interpretation. But I miss knowing that every action taken had a direct result; that nothing was overlooked or taken for granted. 

That’s not always so in the world of social media. Many times, we’ll spend hours a day writing a post, then promoting it on twenty different social outlets or pages, only to find a handful of people will actually read it. There’s no guarantee of either reward or punishment for a job well done or a job botched up. 

But life changes without the “structure.” We adapt to the changes in our environment, in our daily routine. We make our own rules, then rewrite them. We learn to live without the “back to school” rush. 

We learn. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Britax (follow on Twitter) and I will be compensated. I am a member of the Britax Latina Advisory Board. All ideas and opinions are my own. 


My Top 5 Take-Aways from CFLBlogCon

When the speakers for Central Florida Blogger Conference (CFLBlogCon) set out to create their unique presentations, each speaker was asked to provide a list of “take-aways,” or what we expected each attendee would take away from our sessions.

Last Saturday, I arrived at the Orlando Science Center with a combination of a caffeine high and butterflies in my stomach, as I anticipated speaking at my “Blogging for a Cause” session. To be honest, given my anxiety level at the time, I didn’t have remarkably high expectations for what I thought I would get out of CFLBlogCon.

I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised!

One of the conference organizers, Katy Widrick delivers some heartfelt words to kick off the day in the Orlando Science Center Cinedome.

 

Aside from my own session, which (*AHEM*) was pretty darn awesome ;), I was able to take advantage of many other great seminars and workshops. Among my favorites were:


Noticing a pattern? While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed blogging to raise the public’s awareness of spina bifida, there are other platforms out there that I can earn money with, and as long as I love blogging and want to continue to do this, I have to figure out a business plan! 

These were just a few of the sessions I enjoyed. Equally valuable to me were the networking opportunities between sessions, the amazing keynote speech by Lou Mongello, and the chance to branch out and learn about topics I wouldn’t normally consider. 

Keynote speaker Lou Mongello was totally channeling Jerry Maguire during his speech as he encouraged attendees to pursue financial success while still doing what they love.

 

So, here are just a few things I was able to “take away” myself from the conference; lessons I hope will stick and allow me to grow as a professional and as a person: 

 

  • It’s okay to make money as a blogger. It may sound silly, or even arbitrary, but I can’t stress enough the confusion and internal conflict that this one issue has evoked in me. I’ve been conflicted as to how to go about it and still maintain my authenticity in your eyes– my readers’ eyes. But I learned there are many different ways to skin this cat, and what works for one blogger may not work for another. 
  • There are no natural-born “experts.” No, this wasn’t stated per se during the conference, but it dawned on me after several hours of hearing different speakers talk about how they worked hard to acquire their skills and “expertise.” We can all be experts at one thing or another. It just takes time, commitment to the craft, and lots of patience. 
  • Most bloggers are eager to connect with other bloggers and help each other out. While yes, I have noticed a little bit of a “cutthroat” trend in this business, for the most part I’ve found that my fellow bloggers are more than eager to have you contact them with questions and pleas for help. There seems to be an unspoken “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” code of mutual loyalty in the blogosphere. So, while your favors might not always be paid in money, they will eventually be paid in an action, such as a promotional plug or by helping you with a technical aspect of blogging you might not understand. 
  • Cultivating a “following” for your blog or social media outlets is more often than not a “hit-or-miss” strategy, as evidenced by the variety of advice– sometimes conflicting– from the different presenters. I also caught on to this during the Blogger Breakout session, during which bloggers were encouraged to hang out with other bloggers in their niche. I chose the non-profit writers, and met some pretty fantastic people. But one of the main concerns brought up was how to engage their community beyond just reading their posts. I found it to be a very thought-provoking conversation that challenged me to think of creative solutions to the everyday struggles of being a cause or non-profit blogger.

Kudos to the CFLBlogCon team for thinking of everything-- and everyone.

  • Blogger conferences attract many incredibly talented photographers! It’s hardly a secret that blogging and photography often seem to be inextricably intertwined. My photography abilities are definitely lacking finesse and practice, but I’m so glad two amazing photographers were on hand on Saturday to make us all look professional and poised! A special thank-you goes out to Jim Hobart of Macbeth Photography, who took complimentary professional headshots (see mine!) of all the attendees! It was definitely a great opportunity to update my professional persona. I have to add that Jim was also my professor at UCF for Introduction to Advertising! It really is incredible to see that what goes around, comes around. For my final advertising project, the assignment was to design an ad about yourself, and think about how you would like to see yourself advertised. One of the last slides of my presentation on Saturday happened to be that ad! I continue to use it because it really gets to the heart of who I am, and what I fight for. Thanks, Jim, once again, for inspiring me a few years ago!

    One of my new headshots, courtesy of the über-talented Jim Hobart of Macbeth Photography. Check out his awesome work at MacbethPhoto.com!

Another photographer who is equally worthy of mention is my friend Josh Murdock, a Valencia College professor, a digital media guru, and fellow spina bifida cause activist. Thank you so much, Josh for taking beautiful photos capturing the day’s events! Here are a few he took during my session. Again, I’m so grateful that you took such great-quality photos of a special moment for me! 

One of the photos taken by Josh Murdock of my session. See more photos at: http://facebook.com/ProfessorJosh.

So, there you have it! Five things I loved about CFLBlogCon and that I learned from. Also, without further ado, here’s a direct link to the PDF of my presentation for anyone who might be interested. 

And here’s…the video! It’s not the best quality because I literally set my laptop on the table to “look up” at me. But alas, here it is. 

 

 

I’m now so excited to feel more connected to the Central Florida blogger community. While it’s important to put your name out there and try to be a success, it’s all the more important to build each other up and encourage each other as professionals, as valuable assets to the constantly-growing industry, and– as friends

Bess Auer is the lovely and fantastic founder of CFLBlogCon. Thanks Bess, for starting all this and inviting me to be a part of it!

Nick Lagalante of TimeDog is seriously one of the coolest guys you'll ever meet. It was great catching up with you!

I have absolute confidence that next year will be even more EPIC

And maybe just a little more prehistoric! 

Love, 

Laurita ♥

 

 

 

The Woman in the Mirror: A BlogHer ’12 Fashion Show Recap

When I published the *now-somewhat-infamous* post “Standing on my Own Two Feet,” little did I imagine that, only months later, I would again be confronting my deeply-rooted self-esteem issues– on the runway.

God certainly has a wicked sense of humor. No, seriously.

It does seem like it’s been ages, but it was only a month ago when Elisa Camahort Page contacted me and made me the most ironic proposition in my life. Elisa asked me, Laurita, who had only months ago ranted publicly about my disdain for shoe shopping, to participate in a fashion show. I had suddenly discovered an F-word that I had always hated. Fashion. 

That word alone could bring to mind all the anger, resentment, and pain I felt at the fashion industry in singling out basically everyone whose bodies do not conform to the “standards” that are so pervasive in the mainstream media today.

My hatred for the fashion industry might seem irrational, and yet it is not entirely unfounded. I have, since early childhood, dealt with a lot of body image issues that are related to having spina bifida (see this post!).

Now, accepting or refusing Elisa’s invitation would mean my sense of vanity (yes, I do have a keen sense of vanity!) would be clashing against my sense of self-preservation in an epic battle of emotions. The scene of the battle? A huge ballroom at the Hilton New York.

So, it would be me against myself in this scenario!

When Darlene called me and we spoke for the first time, I hounded her with questions about the initial fitting and rehearsal, and “Do you think you’d be able to get shoes in my size?”

I’m nothing if not a raging cynic when it comes to the shoe department.

She assured me they’d be able to find some shoes for me to wear that night. Still, I worried, stressed, and yes, even cried about it, struggling to come to terms with my desire, and really, my need, to overcome this fear that had been plaguing me ever since I can remember.

To hear me worry about it, you would think that I have never wanted to be on stage. And yet, I graduated from a theatre program in high school and have always been in love with the performing arts. So, why was this any different? Well, in theatre, for the most part, you are being judged on an entire performance, not exclusively on your appearance.

And yes, even in theatre (sorry, I meant especially in theatre!), there were many moments when my self-confidence gave way and I failed to see my true potential, my true beauty. 

These are not easy habits to break, people.

To make a very long story a little bit shorter, I did eventually say yes to Elisa, to Darlene, to Kathryn, to all of the other ladies participating, and, in effect– to myself. 

A part of me felt that if I didn’t say yes, I would be forced to look at myself as a separate person, one to be pitied because of her self-hate. (Yes, pathetically I do this sometimes. When I’m in an episode of wallowing in self-pity, I tend to see myself as a separate entity and only then do I realize that this person is very much worth loving, worth valuing, just like all my loved ones are worth loving and valuing.)

The day of the fitting was one of the most exciting– and most liberating– days of my life. I had just arrived in Manhattan that afternoon, and the prospect of meeting not only the fashion show organizers, but the other women in the show, and actually trying on outfits that I might be wearing, was almost more than I could handle!

As soon as I walked into the penthouse suite of the hotel, I immediately found myself surrounded by new friends. It was so awesome, like being inducted into a secret sorority, without the hazing and overt discrimination. I was accepted. I was welcome.

They were looking forward to meeting me. 

That fitting session went by very quickly, what with all the giggles and “practice strutting” we engaged in. And yes, Darlene had found shoes that fit me…cute, black, sparkly ballerina slippers from 6pm.com. (Thanks for the loaner!)

Oh yes, my biggest fear, staring at me with several pairs of...heels.

Two days later, the day of the fashion show, hair washed and still wet, face clean, I found myself in one of those tell-tale hairdressing chairs, waiting to be *attended to* by a Paul Mitchell stylist.

I had no idea what she was going to do to me and that scared the hell out of me. 

My biggest fear, hair-wise, is that she’d somehow try to bring out the Puerto Rican waves I’d been trying to tame with keratin for years now. Her supervisor’s first words to me were, “How would you feel about going curly?”

You gotta be freakin’ kidding me. 

Then, my next thought was, “Well, if I come out looking like a white Beyoncé for one night, then so be it. When at BlogHer…” So I sat back, took my glasses off, and went with the flow.

As I rattled on to several people (I was all parts excited, nervous, and simply curious about these people who worked in the high fashion/beauty industry), I remember taking a look at my surroundings and still not believing where I was, and what I was about to do.

I was living an aspiring Manhattan model’s dream! 

I really didn’t feel I was worthy of it all, since I knew zilch about fashion.

Then, suddenly, she was finished with me. I looked in the mirror and saw…

 

For about 30 seconds, I wanted to run. And then, I loved it. Maybe it wasn’t me, at least not yet. But I liked who I saw. I felt attracted to the woman I saw staring back at me.

My fellow models agreed I looked hot. For now, that would satisfy my hungry vanity.

I was then directed to a nearby room, where makeup artists from Elizabeth Arden awaited us, weapons of mass concealer in hand. I was really getting pumped up now!

By this time, Mami had popped in to check on how things were going, and laughed in amazement at my transformation. She, too, loved the temporary change in coiffure.

When I saw the makeup complete, I then understood the hair. It was perfect harmony between my face and hair.

Me and my makeup artist-- she was amazing!!

 

As I changed backstage into a KamaliCulture animal print dress I would never, ever have tried on (God really pushed the envelope with this one!) and the miraculous pair of cute black shoes I was praying would remain on during the entire show, I grew anxious as I peeked through the curtain at the multiplying crowd. My ever-doting parents were in a row close to the stage.

Here I am being photographed by the Elizabeth Arden people!

Finally loving it!! :D

Good. Close enough so they can catch me if I stumble off the stage. 

Hands cold and sweaty, heart pounding, as if echoing the techno beat that had been playing for about 20 minutes, I saw the other girls lining up backstage, behind me, who would be first, and I said a final quick prayer.

I rolled out onstage in my wheelchair, stopping at the start of the runway, as if uncertain of what to do next. I smiled graciously at the cheering crowd. Then, as the slow party intro gave way to rap music, I stood up and strutted down the runway.

Everyone roared and cheered.

I wish I could say I recall recognizing the faces of people other than my parents, but all I can remember is the love I felt, emanating from the people who love me who were there to cheer me on.

It was glorious.

The really big downside was having to wait in the wings for the final walk down the runway with all the models, because I wasn’t able to see all the others when they had their turn. I’ve since watched the video (there are two parts), and I doubt I’ve seen it for the last time, though. Everyone was amazing. Everyone shined.

Several of the bloggers modeled with a dog, also dressed in haute couture. What I shame I couldn’t see the posh pups from where I was waiting!

As I readied myself for that final strut, I could feel my left shoe beginning to give way. I had made absolute sure that I had secured it the first time; now I found myself wishing I had done more to avoid a footwear malfunction.  Never mind; I was out of time. We were already out on stage.

Oh crap. My shoe slipped right off, and one of the girls behind me picked it up and handed it to me.

I wanted to throw myself on the floor in a toddleresque fit in the middle of the stage. 

Instead, I smiled at her, took the shoe, and shrugged and smiled at the audience, modeling the shoe in my hand.  My size-4 foot exposed, I strutted back along with the others.

After the show ended, and while I changed backstage into my civilian clothes, I nearly had a breakdown. Tears stung my eyes, because, while I felt defeated, being the only one among the girls that had happened to, I couldn’t counter my Mami’s arguments that I looked and performed fabulously.

I was really struggling to come to terms with feeling so secure of myself, for the first time in my life. Being admired so publicly for my looks wasn’t something I was used to, and I was grabbing at any excuse to compare myself to the other girls.

Then, I glanced around the room I was in, at the women I was with. Ladies of all shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, senses of style, ages, and levels of self-assurance. Kathryn and Darlene had really done it. And Elisa wanted me to be a part of it.

I should be proud right now, dammit! 

And all the girls had said I looked beautiful, cute, gorgeous, hot, fabulous, not *despite* or *save the fact that*.

I just was, and still am. Period. 

The truth is, no matter what negative self-criticism I tried to conjure up, there simply was no arguing with the woman in the mirror, who looked back at me with love, acceptance, and confidence.

At the end of the day, she is the *only one* worth listening to. 

I lovingly dedicate this post to all the rock stars who made this happen:

The Organizers 

 

Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer co-founder

Kathryn Finney, BlogHer Editor-At-Large and founder of The Budget Fashionista

Darlene Gillard Jones, fashion stylist and PR agent

 

The Models

 

Sabrina Enyullata of Slice of Lemon

Stacy Jill Calvert of StacyJillCalvert.com

Erin Bailey of Scandalous Beauty Online

Sally McGraw of Already Pretty

Christina Brown of LoveBrownSugar

Heather Barmore of Poliogue

Christina McMenemy of A Mommy Story

Maria Niles of BlogHer and @marianiles

Marcy Swingle of Gastrochic

CeCe Olisa of Big Girl Blog

Reagan Breinholt of Hairdresser on Fire Blog

Grace Atwood of Stripes and Sequins

Alissa Wilson of Stylish Curves

Rhoda Vickers of Southern Hospitality Blog

Monique Maestas-Gower of BlogHer

Christine Koh of BostonMamas

Claire Sulmers of Fashion Bomb Daily

Jenni Radosevich of I Spy DIY

Pauline Campos of Aspiring Mama and Girl Body Pride

Erin Kotecki Vest of Queen of Spain

 

Erin of Queen of Spain, Stacy of StacyJillCalvert.com, and Pauline of Aspiring Mama and Girl Body Pride pose with me after the show. Love. These. Women.

Special thanks go out to my hair stylists and my makeup artist, whose names I wish I had written down. And a very special shout-out goes out to Francine Gingras and Courtney Weiss working on behalf of Elizabeth Arden, who amazingly took the time to listen to my story with such intent and enthusiasm that it still moves me to tears. Both have since reached out to me via E-mail, and those gestures have meant a lot to me.

To Rose and Larrel, the former who helped me get dressed backstage, and the latter who handled my chair when I wasn’t using it– thanks so much for taking the time to help a neophyte model, who most likely annoyed you with questions and doubts! I truly appreciate all that you did for me, for all of us.

With Rose and Larrel, who went above and beyond what any staff members at fashion shows should be expected to do! ;)

Words alone cannot express the sheer pride and joy I felt at meeting you all and getting the opportunity to share in this experience with each of you. Please see the linky widget below this paragraph, where I hope you’ll share your own recap links! (Check out some more pics here on the Elizabeth Arden Facebook page.)  :)

 

This experience was made possible by the sponsorship and support of PetSmart, Elizabeth Arden,  6pm.com, and Paul Mitchell.

 

 

Summer of Blogs

Why did I decide to title my post “Summer of Blogs”? Well, because it seems that, lately, my entire life is revolving around what I’m doing or what I’m not doing with my blogs!

Earlier this month, I survived a near-disaster with Holdin’ Out for a Hero when, in a desperate attempt to re-design, I deleted WordPress. Smart, huh? Thank God I was able to contact my web host and they were very patient and understanding, and got my site restored.

I’m looking into some upcoming changes for this site, that will hopefully be well-received by my readers! But first, I need to learn a little bit more about how exactly to go about this, so I don’t get my site into trouble again. 😉

Also, by God’s grace, I’m attending the BlogHer ’12 conference next week– in New York City!!! (Can I get a *woot woot*?) And– I leave for NYC tomorrow afternoon! (Can you say, “packing panic attack mode”?)

 

I'm going to Sparkle at BlogHer '12

In spite of all the stress, lack of sleep, and constant worries (health setbacks that I’ve already written about, plus the silly stuff!), I can’t imagine a sweeter time in my life than the present. 

Besides going to BlogHer in NYC, I’ll be extended the trip for a few more days to visit a country I’ve never seen before– Canada!! That’s right, I’m crossing the northern border this time, and, more specifically, I’ll be staying in a city I’ve always dreamed of visiting– Montreal, which is in the French-speaking province of Quebec. (C’est magnifique!) 

Needless to say, I’m super excited about this unexpected twist in my summer plans. 

Another “unexpected twist” I’ll have to deal with when I return is starting physical therapy. I know, I know, I promised you guys I’d get this all squared away soon! But finding a place that’s close to home and is covered by my insurance, etc., is easier said than done. I don’t want to jump into this headfirst (actually, one shouldn’t jump into anything headfirst, unless, of course, you’re Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps!). This is important, and I take it very seriously. So, I need to do a little more research. 

Finally, I’m still reveling in the awesome news that I’ve been invited to take part in a fun,  fabulous new event during BlogHer– a fashion show featuring 18 bloggers as models!! Yep, that’s right. I’ll be strutting my stuff on the runway, not slipping on recently-waxed floors. At least, that is the hope. My goal is to always show people that I don’t have a “disability” (except in the respect that everyone has challenges!), but rather that I have many abilities, among them, my world-renowned sense of style. Okay, maybe not “world-renowned”– still, it’s definitely there! 

If you’re attending the BlogHer ’12 conference this week, I’d love for you to be there, cheering me on, along with my fellow fab models! I haven’t met a single one of them in person, but from our recent online exchanges, I can already tell we’ll end up being friends. 

 So, this is basically what’s left of my summer, in a big, fat nutshell– colossal Web site mishaps, crunch-time, for BlogHer ’12, couture, and Canada. 

All this totally beats dealing with sunburn and sand in my shoes. 

 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

 

**Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by BRITAX, and I will be compensated for this post.

 

 

 

 

Safety is in the Eye of the Beholder: Britax G3 Convertible Car Seats

Disclaimer:  I am not receiving compensation of any kind for this post. All thoughts, ideas and opinions are my own. 

As a blogger who writes about spina bifida and other special needs-related issues, I get a lot of E-mails with questions from parents who want to make the best decisions for their kids’ health and safety. I couldn’t even begin to describe the litany of concerns these parents have, just like my own parents did (and still do!).

At least there’s one area in life that won’t keep them up at night: car safety. With Britax’s new G3 Convertible Car Seats, the peace of mind parents will get is visible.

Check out the new technology that will help keep your child safe and secure in the car:

  • The ADVOCATE® 70-G3, the PAVILION 70-G3, and the BOULEVARD 70-G3 all feature BRITAX HUGS™ Chest Pads with SafeCell technology®. These pads are affixed to the seat shell, allowing your child to be securely strapped in. They also help to minimize forward movement in the event of a crash. (Just look for the honeycomb design on the pads!)
  • The new EZ-Buckle System is designed to make it easier for you to get your child ready for travel. In addition to the aforementioned seat models, this system can also be found on the MARATHONTM 70-G3.
  • Additionally, the ROUNDABOUT® 55 features new labeling, identifying BRITAX’s energy-absorbing Versa-Tether, whose webbing anchors the top of the car seat to the vehicle, and reduces crash impact.

The SafeCell technology is just one of the ways BRITAX has improved its seats.


  • All seats sport a rigid shell with deep side walls lined with energy-absorbing foam. This provides protection from side impact.

 

All these new features should put any parent at ease, knowing that his or her child is safe. But, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself!

 

–Laurita :)

Keeping Them Close: BRITAX Baby Carriers

Disclaimer: I am not receiving compensation of any kind for this post. All thoughts, ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

If you’re a parent or a caregiver of children, you no doubt understand the need to have your priorities in check. Maintaining a close watch on your kids is certainly at the top of the priority list!

That’s why BRITAX designed a baby carrier that will not only keep your child safe– it will    provide back support to help keep you safe, too.

The new baby carrier by BRITAX provides not only back and shoulder support, but offers waist support too, which allows for the weight to be distributed, further alleviating some of the back and shoulder discomfort often associated with most baby carriers. BRITAX’s CarryLong System includes a padded waist belt and shoulder straps, so carrying your child for long periods of time is no problem!

This new design supports infants and toddlers from 8 pounds to up to 32 pounds, making it easy for you to carry your little one when his or her legs get tired.

BRITAX's new baby carrier ensures back, waist and shoulder support for you and ultimate safety for baby.

 

Thanks to Britax, those long, painful days spent at the theme park, at the mall, or on the go, are a thing of the past– and you can get back to the priorities in life that matter most. :)

 

 

–Laurita