Orlando Moms who Rock: Kristina Brownell

Moms who Rock highlights Orlando moms doing their thing. This week’s spotlight is on Kristina Brownell an Orlando mom, marketing manager, and jewelry maker.

Kristina Brownell headed to Orlando in 2003 to finish up school at UCF.  And as many an Orlandoan will tell you, she didn’t ever picture staying here.  In her senior year she did a marketing internship at a construction company.  They offered her a job to stay on after graduation, about the best news a college senior could receive.  As a graduation gift, her mother took her on a trip to Hawaii to visit family and learn more about her heritage.  And as many a Hawaiian visitor will tell you, she immediately pictured staying there.  As soon as she got back to Orlando she started planning her move.  She quit her new marketing job, started applying to jobs in Hawaii, and made plans for a very big adventure.   

Just before she headed out west, her two best friends came for a weekend visit.  They begged her not to leave and promised to move to Orlando.  Excited about the opportunity to live with her besties and have the time of her life, she agreed to postpone her move for six months.  She asked her her job back and her boss agreed.  And then, as fate would have it, a couple months later at work she met her future husband, Randy.  Randy and Kristina have twin girls, Audrey and Parker, turning three this January.  Kristina is a marketing & graphics manager for a commercial architecture firm and also the creative force behind Rockhaus Metals, a minimalist jewelry line.  When we met, I was blown away by Kristina’s energy, creativity, and confidence.  But she spoke honestly about the huge adjustment of becoming a mom.  I found myself nodding along to so much of what she was saying. The new mom struggle always feels lonely, until I hear a fellow mama saying so many of the thing I’ve felt too.

 

On finding out she was pregnant with twins:

“It was totally unexpected.  And it was our very first ultrasound at 8 weeks.  And of course you don’t know what you’re looking at on the screen.  And the doctor turns to my husband and just smiles and says ‘There’s two in there.’  My husband didn’t say anything and I started crying and laughing at the same time.  It was just so absurd.  It was a shock but probably one of the most exciting days of my life.”

On her desire to have a natural birth:

“Several weeks into the pregnancy, I started watching documentaries on pregnancy and childbirth and what to expect.  My doctor made me feel like there was a huge chance I’d have a c-section.  I didn’t have a great feeling on that and didn’t understand why [it had to be that way].  I decided I wanted to have a natural birth.  And I ended up by chance meeting another OB and ended up switching over to her because she said she would deliver drug-free if that’s what I wanted.

So that was my goal the whole time.  But of course anything can happen during childbirth especially with twins (they are high-risk.)  I went to a chiropractor and acupuncturist all through my pregnancy.  I was told I’d be induced at 38 weeks because with twins they don’t want you to carry them much longer than that.  My water broke at 37 weeks and they were born the next day.  I was able to have the natural delivery I wanted.”

On delivering twins without an epidural:

“It was one of those things, I kind of equate it to a marathon.  A lot of it, it is obviously physical and painful , but a lot of it’s mental too. We hired a doula and she was fantastic.   Unfortunately, I  had a lot of people who said I was crazy for having a natural childbirth, but it lit a fire in me even more.  I’m very fortunate there weren’t any complications during delivery.”

On having the confidence in herself to switch doctors:

“It was right about 12 weeks.  I really didn’t know a lot about childbirth before that so I didn’t have an opinion either way about how I wanted my delivery to go.  But after I started learning more about it and how I had choices about what happens that day, I just didn’t feel right anymore with my first doctor.  She was so sweet and I hated leaving her but I wanted someone who was 100% behind me and my choice.  It just felt right.”

On raising twins:

“We don’t know any other way.  As any new mom, having a newborn is difficult.  Your whole life gets turned upside down and it’s brand new and you’re trying to get to know this new human in your life.  But yeah, having two it was extremely difficult.  We were very lucky my mom came to live with us for three months.  There’s no way we could’ve done it without her.”  

On surviving the first year of motherhood:

“I was terrified of being left alone with them because it’s so hard.  You’re trying to adjust to this new life.  You’d have two screaming crying infants at the same time, but you can’t pick them both up at the same time to console them.  There would be days I’d be alone with them and one would start crying then the other would start crying then I would start crying.  The first year was survival mode.  Once they turned about nine months it started getting a little easier and by a year I felt like, ‘Ok, we got through this’ and from then on it’s been getting easier and easier.”  

On having a partner 100% of the way:

“My husband is amazing. Having two infants at once he was 100% there all hands on deck.  Every time we had to get up in the middle of the night he got up with me.  I was breastfeeding and he got them out of the crib so I could tandem feed them.  He had to go back to work but was still getting up multiple times a night to feed them with me.  I knew he would be a great dad and it’s not that it surprised me but it just makes you love that person even more.  He’s been the best partner.”

On raising toddlers:

“The girls are almost three.  They are  now just starting to play with each other and have little conversations.  Their imaginations are going wild and we love  to sit back and watch them play.  We laugh all the time because they say the most hilarious silly things.  Then we find ourselves saying something later and realize, oh I guess they got  that from us.”

“We’re at a turning point where it’s easier to take the kids out.  They’re little people now and it’s so much fun to introducing them to new things.  Just a trip to the park is the greatest thing in the entire world to them.”

On recognizing she needed a change:

“Over the summer I reached this point where I wasn’t happy with who I was at home.  I was losing my temper easily and  I wasn’t handling situations very well.  It wasn’t me.  So I decided I needed to go get some help.  I ended up going to therapy and it was really helpful being able to have somebody remind me that it’s okay and you don’t have to be perfect and to really take some time for yourself.  That was a big thing for me this summer.”

In support of therapy:

“I hate that there’s a stigma about therapy .  But it is hard work being a mom!  This is my advice: if you are struggling and you don’t feel like you can handle it, or you’re not your true self or who you used to be, you’re totally not alone.  Anyone who says they’re not struggling is lying.  There’s help out there and you can go talk to somebody.  You’ve got to heal yourself and be your best self if you’re gonna be the best mom.”

On deciding to learn to metalsmith:

“About a year and a half in as a mom, I still felt like I didn’t know who I was.  I had a great job, and of course my most important job as a mom.  But then I also just felt lost.  My husband was like, ‘You don’t do anything for yourself anymore.  You don’t have hobbies.  When you go out without the girls it’s for errands or you have dinner with friends it’s not just for you.  You need your creative outlet again.’  So somehow that led me down this road of metalsmithing.”  

Kristina had painted in the past and always had some sort of a creative outlet.  So she searched for classes online to learn to metalsmith.  And she found a woman who taught out of her home.  It was ideal, she was extremely flexible so it didn’t take time away from raising her girls.  This was a year and a half ago, and she immediately fell in love. After friends saw what she had made they pushed her to sell them.  Since the tools and equipment were expensive, she thought the sales could fund her new hobby.  Rockhaus Metals was born.  

On her first sale from a stranger:

“That was crazy.  I thought for sure I have to know this person.  It was like I’ve made it! Somebody who doesn’t know me thinks my stuff is cool.  It’s such an amazing feeling.”

On finding community in an unexpected way:

“I think the most surprising thing is the local small business, creative, and maker community that I’ve met, via other jewelers or through instagram, and the overwhelming support and friendships that I’ve made  as a result.  I never would’ve thought finding this new hobby would turn into a business and feeling so connected to people in Orlando.  That’s certainly the most fulfilling part of this.”

On when a hobby adds to the stress instead of releasing it:

“This was a whirlwind and I went really hard and put as much into it as I could.  But then it became too much. I’m a mom and wife and I have a full-time job.  At some point this summer, I started to feel overwhelmed.  I was doing too much that I couldn’t focus on and handle.  So the past few months I haven’t been working on Rockhaus quite as much.  It sucks because I love just sitting and making jewelry.  But the only time I have to do it is when the girls are sleeping, and most days by that time I’m exhausted.”

On not comparing yourself to others:   

“I stepped back a little bit.  I stopped looking at social media all the time. I didn’t realize it but it made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough.  I was comparing myself to other people and feeling like I’m not out there enough.  I had to step back and tell myself that I don’t do Rockhaus  full-time.  I need to be kinder to myself and enjoy this.  So I’ve recently started spending more time at my jewelry bench and I feel ready to get back into it.  But at a different pace.  You have to remind yourself that you can’t do everything and it’s okay.”  

It’s true we can’t do everything, but Kristina knows that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.  She’s an amazing mama who puts her family first and is finding time to follow her creative dreams as well.  Without a doubt, she’s a Mom who Rocks the Haus.  (Yes, cheesy but I had to take it.)

Want to read about other moms who rock?  Check out our interview with Laura Diaz!

KNOW A ‘MOM WHO ROCKS’ WHO SHOULD BE FEATURED?  LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Orlando Moms who Rock: Laura Diaz

Moms who Rock highlights Orlando moms doing their thing. This week’s spotlight is on Laura Diaz an Orlando mom, radio host, and proud feminist.

 

What if one night you were bored and tweeted the biggest morning radio host in town to see if he had a job open for you?  And what if he actually replied?  Seven years ago when I heard that local news anchor Laura Diaz had made the switch from TV to radio I assumed there must be more to it than that.  But as she tells the story there really wasn’t. After several years as a morning news anchor, she wanted out.  She didn’t know Johnny personally, and tweeted him out of the blue. Turns out, he knew exactly who she was and the rest, as they say, is history.  Laura got a job as a co-host on Johnny’s House and is now a staple of morning radio.  Laura and her husband Mike are parents to Norah (4) and Nash (2) living a modern family life in Central Florida.  Laura is more focused than ever on using her voice as a feminist, and making a difference for women in the community.  We sat down last week to talk about how she balances all of it, and I can tell you without a doubt that she is a bad ass mom who rocks.

Laura Diaz studied journalism in college. After graduating, she spent two tough years in a small town on the morning news. She made the move back to her hometown, Orlando and quickly made her way to an anchor position.  But it wasn’t quite what she had hoped.

On coming to her breaking point in television:

“The deadlines are very strenuous. It’s a very high stress job because you’re on multiple deadlines in a day.  The subject matter you’re reporting on is extremely depressing.  Occasionally you get your bear in a tree or something and that’s like a mental vacation for a journalist.  I was drinking way too much, taking pills to go to sleep, pills to wake up.  And I’d be drunk every day by noon it was becoming a real problem.  There was a point where my [now] husband was like ‘You need to get this under control or else I can’t marry you.’

And so she made a career switch to radio where there was a bit more lightheartedness and freedom.  Away from a scripted life at the news station she found she could be herself on and off the clock.  

The positives of being on the radio:

“By far the best part is it’s so carefree.  There’s no script.  I’m silly and carefree on the radio.  I’m me.  We talked on the show recently about who are you at work versus who are you at home?  I was like for once in my life I’m the same person at work and at home.”

This past year Laura launched Face of a Feminist, a nonprofit to empower women and girls.  I was eager to learn more on what pushed her to start it. She explained the desire to build her brand and voice outside of Johnny’s House. Laura has launched the nonprofit using all of her media and storytelling skills the best she knows how.

On starting Face of a Feminist:

“Feminism to me is so important.  It’s been an underlying theme of my life since I was a child.  It was almost not even appropriate to try and bring that on-air because it would never have gotten the time it deserves- or even the response it deserves.  I can’t just throw out two lines and expect it to make a difference.”

On raising kids as a feminist:

“It’s such a big thing and it’s a daily struggle.  I was raised in a way that feminism wasn’t supported or nurtured.  My dad was extremely conservative, very religious, and very traditional.  And so it’s hard being a mom to not just do what I saw. I’m having to everyday check myself for micro things I do whether it’s ‘Norah that’s not what a lady does’ if she burps but yet I’m not saying the same thing to my son.”

On being a feminist parenting team:

“My husband is a big feminist too.  He certainly wasn’t when I met him.  But he also has always been very open minded.  Now he’s quite possibly a bigger feminist than I am.  He’s always teaching Norah how to throw a baseball or has her out in the dirt playing and I’m the one going ‘Oh my gosh you’re getting her dirty!’  If my son is playing in the dirt it doesn’t bother me the way it does when my beautiful little girl is covered in dirt head to toe.  My husband and I are good at checking ourselves all the time on what we’re saying or doing.”

As Laura talks about her family it’s extremely clear how important they are to her and how much she values her husband.  She and Mike are an amazing team and she very much respects and praises him as an individual and a positive force in her life.  

On finding balance as co-parents:

“Mike will be like ‘Okay, Laura everything doesn’t have to be a cause.’  He’ll tell me when maybe I’m going overboard.  And maybe it’s not overboard but of course you have to make compromises for a marriage.  I’ll also tell him if maybe he’s saying or doing something that could be construed differently and he’s always receptive to it.  He’s just an amazing husband.  We also have a completely different dynamic.  I’m the breadwinner.  I work full time. I pay the bills.  I make the money.  I’m in charge of the household per se.  He is the child caretaker.  He’s on top of their immunization schedules.  He takes them to the dentist, takes them to and from school.  He takes them to extracurriculars, ice skating and piano.  The man is very much in the traditional female role and that sort of automatically keeps things where I would love them to be.  I’m showing my daughter what a woman can be.”

On chatter regarding their traditional role reversals:

“Mike is probably the only guy at school dropping and picking up.  All the moms want to know what happened.  He’ll hear whisperings ‘Oh is he a single dad?’ We just make all these assumptions in society.  ‘What’s wrong with the mom?’ I’ve even heard ‘Is she a drug addict? Is she part of the opioid crisis and now he’s left with these two kids?’ We immediately sympathize with a man who is alone with their children we never sympathize with a woman. We expect the woman to be doing all the caretaking of the children and when they’re not, something’s wrong.”  

On her favorite part of being a mom:

“I think the greatest thing of being a mom is that kids just check you so hard.  They’re like our mirror.  There’s something where if there’s a character flaw in you, you’re going to see it because they’re going to project it onto you. I love seeing their innocence. I love seeing them learn new things. I love seeing them be so loyal to me and Mike it’s the craziest thing.  I’ve so enjoyed having children even in those very dark times.  It’s all just life and I don’t see what’s the point without them.”

On the most surprising thing of being a mom:

“Probably the most surprising thing is how non-stop it is.  I mean you know a little bit but you truly have no idea just how much work it is until you’re in it.  You see movies and you talk to your friends but you see just these snippets of what it’s like. You cannot talk to me unless you have a kid about kids.  I won’t even listen to you.  You have no idea what you’re talking about.  You’re not allowed to have an opinion about raising kids unless you’ve raised a kid.”

On the hardest thing of raising kids:

“What worked with my first doesn’t work with my second. All of the tricks i learned about potty training, bedtime, mealtime…all down the tubes with my second.They’re such different kids with different likes and dislikes so that’s the hardest part for me. Starting all over again and having to learn a totally different way to parent and having to switch styles between kids. Even something as simple as my son liking characters in costume at a theme park and my daughter being mortified of them. It’s a constant balancing act with these two rugrats.”

On mom guilt:

“There’s a theory called the good enough mom from the book Freakanomics.  The theory is there’s like x amount of minutes that you spend with your child, they found over the years that they turn out just as well as the kid that has the stay at home mom. I want to say it’s like 11 minutes or something, outrageously low.  I think about that and the minutes required and how much more than that I do.  And I’m like they’re fine.  You know when your kid is suffering for your attention and you give it to them.  And anything in between that you have to do the best you can. I’m at a point where I work so much I have so many other things going on in life I physically, mentally, and emotionally I cannot handle mom guilt.  I just don’t have the capacity for it.  And so I just don’t.”

Laura has been open about having postpartum depression with both of her children.

On her mental health after Nash’s birth:

“With my first, I was able to keep a grasp with reality with my second one I completely had a mental break.  So that was totally different.  It’s all under that umbrella they call maternal mental illness now because postpartum depression is limited.  With my second I had postpartum psychosis which is extremely rare version of postpartum depression where you lose touch with reality you have a complete mental breakdown.

That was a much more severe situation where I had to be separated from my child when he was maybe three or four weeks old.  It’s weird, it has almost made me closer to my son than my daughter because I look at him now like oh my gosh there was a time I wanted to harm you.  You look at him and would cut a bitch for him…is this the same kid I didn’t even want?  I was at the point I would have adopted him out.  I was ready to give him to my sister to raise as her own.  Medicine works.  Therapy works.”

On her history of mental illness:

“I’ve been suffering from depression since I was young. It’s very much a genetic factor for me. So I should have known getting pregnant that this is something that would more likely would trigger that but you just don’t think about it and you go on with your life.  And no one wants to worry about that anyway.  But when it came with the second one I was able to recognize it right away.”

On the importance of talking about postpartum depression:

“A lot of women are just so embarrassed by it.  You don’t have to birth the baby and it’s love at first sight.  And that’s how people describe it.  It was never that way with either of my kids for me.  It was almost to be honest, disgust at first. It was like you put me through the worst pain of my life and now you’re screaming at me and now I’m exhausted and I can’t sleep because of you.  There’s a lot of resentment.  And no one talks about that.”

This year Laura has been very open about her struggle with alcohol abuse.  Laura says the responses have run the gamut from incredible support to outrageous judgement and skepticism.  But she says the majority of the responses have been positive and people that have been able to identify their own issues because of her.  

On her struggle with alcohol abuse:

“I’ve been dealing with alcohol and drug abuse since I was 14. So I have had quite the run with alcohol and drugs and I’ve done it all and abused it all.  I will never say I’m an alcoholic because I don’t think that I am. I am a binge drinker and I think I have alcohol abuse problems.  I have a problem with drinking as a way to calm emotions and things I don’t want to deal with.  And I think I just finally recognized this year when for the hundredth time I drove drunk.  And it just clicked that I have these two gorgeous children, I have this amazing husband and I have so much to live for and I need to stop acting like it’s ok if I don’t live.  And that’s how I’ve been acting for a long time.  Life to me until recently was just kind of disposable, something I had to get through every day.”

On challenging herself to stop drinking:

“I said to myself I just need to prove that I can go three months without drinking.  And then when I did that and things just so drastically improved in my life I knew I could never go back to the way it was. I’ve had plenty of drinks since but never more than two or three in one sitting.”

On why she addressed it in public:

“I decided to come out with it.  You know they say if you’re going on a diet you should tell people so they hold you accountable…same with alcohol.  You’re going to have haters that say ‘Oh you’re doing it for attention’ and I get that all the time.  To me it’s just all completely selfish here’s my problem I’m saying it out loud because I want to be called out.  And sure enough someone sees me with a drink, they say something.”  

How do you embrace life to the fullest?  When have you made a change in career or at home that affected you in a big way?

KNOW A ‘MOM WHO ROCKS’ WHO SHOULD BE FEATURED?  LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

Want to read about other moms who rock?  Check out our interview with Stephanie Forshee!

Orlando Moms who Rock: Stephanie Forshee

Moms who Rock highlights Orlando moms doing their thing. This week’s spotlight is on Stephanie Forshee an Orlando mom, hair stylist, and floral designing queen.

 

What’s one of your favorite instagrams to look at that’s just plain pretty?  For me, it’s Little Wild Bloom.  I first saw the flowers at Buttermilk Bakery and P is For Pie.  Cute little mason jars on the tables that added the perfect pop of color and whimsy to some of my favorite spaces.  And then one day a little red haired toddler started popping up in the instagram feed and I thought, well of course she’s a mom who rocks! I got to meet Owen and his mama and talk all about Little Wild Bloom, Orlando, and the mom life.

Stephanie Forshee, the brains behind Little Wild Bloom came to Orlando for the Disney College program and from there went on to hair school.  She works at Alchemy in College Park and you can hit her up there for a rad haircut.  Little Owen was born two years ago and after maternity leave she drastically cut back her time at the salon so she could be home to raise Owen. With more time on her hands she was looking for a new hobby and creative outlet.  She read about a flower farmer in Washington and everything clicked.  She already had an interest in gardening, a love of flowers, and a firm belief that she could learn anything she needed to on the internet (I agree!)  Things evolved naturally from there, Little Wild Bloom was born.

On the realization that she already knew some of the basics:

“I started playing around with flowers at home.  It seemed like a lot of the same concepts as hair, you know color, line, shape, and form.  So it was fun to see something I already knew transition to another medium.”

Once she was ready to launch her business, she reached out to P is for Pie and Buttermilk Bakery two local places she loved and asked if they’d be interested in bringing flowers into their space. Things grew organically from there.  Customers started noticing her flowers and she  booked her first wedding from someone who had seen her flowers at Buttermilk Bakery.  

On styling arrangements for her first client’s wedding:

“I got really lucky with my very first wedding it was a friend of a friend and she was very laid back. I was terrified.  But she was a gem so sweet and laid back.  We clicked and our styles clicked.  It was beautiful.”

On feeling the nerves:

“I get a littler nervous before every wedding because it’s someone’s biggest day. So I put a lot of pressure on that.”

She humbly notes that things have become much bigger than she expected.  But I’m not surprised!  Stephanie has a perfect lock on her aesthetic and she captures that all on her instagram.  Stephanie says most of her business comes from social media and word of mouth.  She’s excited to be expanding to doing even more weddings and putting her focus there.

On fitting things into the day:

“I’m in a really good stride.  The flowers are great because they can work around the schedule of the day.  So if it needs to be done during nap time or early morning or late night it’s pretty flexible in that regard.”

On farming flowers locally:

“You can actually grow flowers here in a garden to cut and they have a purpose.  I’m networking with other people who are growing to try and incorporate some locally grown something in every arrangement.  There has been a movement nationwide towards American grown flowers so you can see that trickling down here which is really exciting.  I definitely feel like even in the last six months there are more people interested in growing flowers here.”

On her favorite flowers:

“I  like texture and elements things you don’t necessarily see all the time.  I always incorporate greenery.  I like dahlias, they have lots of tones and colors.  Also, anemones – bright white with the black center. They are striking to look at.  I like things that are a little random and unexpected.

On the most surprising thing of starting this business:

“The support of people I don’t know and the community.  Getting recognized… ten years into Orlando and I didn’t feel community at first.  You meet a few people and then you realize everyone is so interconnected.  It’s a much smaller town than what it seems like at first.  There has been a surprising amount of support and excitement for something I’m excited about that you wouldn’t think everyone is excited about.”

As her business grows, so does little Owen.  Stephanie tells me about how they go everywhere together.  She delivers flowers wearing him on her back.  Owen goes to the flower shop and runs around.  She loves the perspective on life it gives him.  When we met, Owen was so sweet and well behaved.  But he did look longingly out the window the entire time.  Who could blame him?  Sit at a table and talk or head outside on a sunny day?  I’m not fooled on what sounds like more fun!

On Owen’s notoriety:

“People know Owen more than they know me.  He’s the little face of the flowers.”

On motherhood:

“It’s the best hardest thing.  He is an incredible little human.  So fun and expressive but big personality.  So it has been learning how to handle that and direct it rather than be overwhelmed by it.”

On their favorite things to do as a family:

“We like to be outside.  Anything outdoors whether that’s hiking or just digging in the dirt.  Being outside is where he is happiest.”

“When we need to recalibrate we take a step outside and get fresh air for both of us.”

On kids getting their hands dirty:

“It’s amazing how they thrive outside and in the dirt.  I love to think about how that will translate to them as they grow.”

On the challenges of making it all work:

“It’s (motherhood) all encompassing.  It’s hard to steal those moments for yourself and it’s been hard especially with running my own business and learning how to grow a business.  There have been moments where I feel like I’m doing well at one thing and not great at the other thing.  It’s hard to try to do both with equal fervor.”

On when other people weigh in:

“It’s surprising how many people have opinions about being a mom and what you should be doing and what the best thing to do is.  And no matter what you do someone else has a different strategy.  I just smile and nod at this point.  I try to warn every new mom ‘everyone’s going to tell you, you’re doing it wrong.’ Nobody can tell you the right answer.  Going with your gut is the biggest thing I’ve learned.  You can take in everyone’s advice but at the end of the day whatever works for your family is what works.”

On what works for their family:

“We’re very attachment parenting, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, all that stuff.  So we’re very attached all the time.  A couple hours here and there with Papa (daddy) is great to give me a break.”

On finding her parenting style:

“I read things and it all kept coming back to this is what feels the best for me.  It has worked out really well.  I’m sure there are moments where a different approach may have been more helpful but all in all we’ve done well with this style of parenting.”

As a wife, mother, and business owner it can be hard to find a moment to herself.  Stephanie says she steals minutes wherever she can to answer emails and let clients know she’s thinking of them and will follow up as soon as possible.  

On finding the drive to do more:

“Instagram is such an amazing place for inspiration.  So many amazing florists doing beautiful things.  To steal a few minutes and scroll through see such beautiful images and feel like okay I can do this.”

Stephanie and I commiserated on how much of a struggle the summer heat is with little ones who crave the outdoors.  She remarked that they try to get outside every morning and evening and make it through the day in between.  They love the Orlando Science Center for an indoor option that has enough space to run around.  Fingers crossed for an early Fall for all of us toddler moms.

On local favorite places:

“P is For Pie, Buttermilk Buttermilk Bakery, those are my spots around town.  And East End Market too. I feel like anywhere where they don’t give me the stink eye if my baby’s running around I’m into it.  We like Foxtail and there grassy area.  We love Owl’s Attic and Market on South too. Really like where Orlando’s heading right now there’s good stuff going on.” 

On why Orlando rocks:

“I feel like the community is strong right now and so into supporting local business and growing its identity aside from the theme parks.  And I am excited about it.  I love to talk about it now.  It’s funny to be a transplant somewhere and feel really passionate about it.  But this is my home and I’ve built a life here and I love that there’s a secret Orlando you can show people when they visit and show there’s really rad things here.” 

On how far she’s come as an Orlandoan:

“10 years ago I never would’ve expected that I would be immersed in the Orlando culture.  And now I’m lucky enough to know some of these small business owners and amazing people who are completely embedded in the community.  I never would’ve guessed that’s where I’d be.”

Have you found yourself branching out on a new path that just clicked?  Where do you go for inspiration on the internet?  Tell us your favorite spots!

Know a ‘Mom Who Rocks’ who should be featured?  Let us know in the comments below!

Orlando Moms who Rock: Bonnie Lewis

Moms who Rock highlights Orlando moms doing their thing. This week’s spotlight is on Bonnie Lewis an Orlando mom, talented sewer, and healthy living guru.

 

“My entire vision for owning my own business was that single mom or not, this kid deserves a soccer mom.  I want to be at every school function.  I want to pick him up when school ends. I want to be at soccer.  Money was not my motivating factor.  My motivating factor was time.”

When you meet Bonnie Lewis, she looks impossibly chic in the most effortless way.  And then when you compliment her outfit, she tells you she made it.  When you talk to her about sewing she’ll casually slide in that she traveled the world working for Ralph Lauren’s advertising campaigns and fashion shoots for ten years.  And in the less than five minutes it takes to tell you all that, you want to know everything about her.

Bonnie calls herself a ‘gig’ tailor and tells about her adventures traveling on photo shoots all over.  She’s unfazed when she says it and not bragging one bit.  She had been traveling non-stop for ten years when she was blessed with the news that she was pregnant.  At the time she lived in NYC and her boyfriend, and son’s father, lived on an island off the coast of Georgia.  Knowing her professional life would not suit her life as a mom, she made the move to Georgia and little Nicholas made his debut into the world.  When Nicholas was just a year old, Bonnie and Nicholas’ dad decided they were better as friends than partners.  So as a newly single mom, she moved to Orlando to be close to family.  In a new city with limited opportunities to match her professional life, she had big decisions to make.  

She took big uncertainties and turned them into big opportunities, launching one successful business after another.  Along the way she met the man of her dreams and has launched the company she always dreamed of, Common Sewing, which turns beginners into efficient makers. Bonnie is truly the answer to every one of us out there that have ever said, “I wish I knew how to sew.”  Now eight years old, Nichols is still the driving force behind every decision Bonnie makes.

On fitting clothes to the Ralph Lauren Models:

“I fitted the samples or built special samples for the images.  I’m the person that makes you think clothing actually fits models and that something is wrong with you.  Really, there’s not that much difference between them and us except for the team (photoshop, makeup, lighting, etc).”

Bonnie’s brother is a mechanical engineer that builds props for Disney.  She began her Orlando career by building out the soft goods department of his company.  

On what she learned working for her brother:

“It was a lot of hard work but it was a blessing.  It let me see that I could hire people to take a lot of the labor off my hands.  I learned I could serve a client well.  And I could have freedom.”

Eventually she was ready to start her own company, Bonnie B. Tailor.  She had Disney contracts and set up a textile design and fabrication workroom in her church. She went from hiring contract sewers to taking on a full-time team.  Things were growing steadily until in March 2016, she took on an order that was more than she bargained for.  Everything that could go wrong did.  The order was huge and they wouldn’t get paid until they delivered.  With money flowing out to pay for supplies and staff, things began to look bleak.  A look at the books made her realize she needed to do something.  

On Bonnie B. Tailor almost tanking:

“Best thing that ever happened to me.”

Common Sewing had been bubbling in her mind for ten years.  She cites that rough patch for Bonnie B. as the boot kick to her butt that she needed to get it off the ground.  

On what held her back:

“I had the materials, the 12 sewing machines. I had the studio ready.  I was just so scared of the weight of my passion to teach people to sew. I didn’t go in there. I didn’t plan lessons.”

Threatened with losing her business she got moving.  She was quick to action and not about to fail. The first Common Sewing lesson was held in July 2016.  She started by teaching a four class series.  Just one year later, Bonnie is now running Common Sewing full-time.   As for Bonnie B. Tailor?  They did complete that disastrous order and got the business back afloat. Bonnie is now in process of turning over that business to her staff.  

On empowering her staff to become business owners:

“That’s been really fun to watch.  Tailors are not compensated well.  And these are two incredibly talented, focused, hardworking women.  And they’re great people.  They have a hope for a much better quality of life not being my employee.”  

On how Common Sewing works:

“I have many layers of purpose in Common Sewing.  My mission statement is I want to bring sewing back into our lifestyle in a way that’s relevant, sustainable, and easy.  That’s all I do.  I teach very very basic lessons.  The six lessons will teach you all the skills to be a maker or a mender, upcycler, or designer and you get six cute projects.  But I walk you through the lessons with little rhyme schemes and memorization tools about what to do.”  

On why she’s passionate about teaching others to sew:

“We live in textiles.  We are all creative beings.  We all have unique bodies that do not fit into size categories.  And we all want to express ourselves authentically as ourselves.  I want people to know how to change things to fit their bodies or make things to fit their lifestyles.  I have a lot of passion for people and how they live in their textiles.”

On taking responsibility for our consumption:

“Textiles are the most underused of the most reusable resource we have.  Textiles do not need to be thrown away.  They can be reused into millions of things.  We put 15 million tons of textiles in the landfill every single year.  And that doesn’t include what we ship overseas, that’s American landfills.  That’s coming because we are over consuming and treating our clothes as disposable.  We don’t know how to fix our clothes.  We don’t want to take them to the dry cleaner to fix because it would cost more than what we paid for them.”

When Bonnie talks about preserving our planet, she’s looking out for her son.  And for my children.  And for future generations after that.  She wants to gift people with the ability to steward what we create.  And to be good stewards to our Earth.  

On what’s next for Common Sewing:

“It’s designed to reach the nation. I’m building out a program that equips and enables teachers to start their own businesses.  I want it to be available and bless more people.  Help a single mother learn how to sew and start a business out of her home.  I’m teaching them to be a teacher.  Training up teachers to bless the people in their community.”

In addition, she’s developing the program and documentation so it’s accessible nationwide.  She’s experimenting with webinars and working on a subscription nationwide for the Common Box.  Each box has one lesson that you can do at your kitchen table.  It has a variety of methods to reach each type of learner: PDFs, videos, and tutorials running live you can log in to do with a teacher via web.

Now a family of three, Nicholas, Brian, and Bonnie are very involved in their church and Nicholas’ school activities.  Nicholas loves playing sports, especially soccer.  Every night they have dinner as a family.  And on the weekends they head outdoors for bike riding, paddle boarding, and camping.  They love spending time with family and keep an eye out for local events to enjoy together.

On co-parenting in a blended family:

“Our family life is pretty wonderful for a blended family.  I married the man of my dreams.  His dad and I are great friends.  We have so much love and respect for each other.  He married the woman of his dreams.  I love his wife.  He loves my husband.  And Nicholas calls all of us his parents.  And we support and celebrate that.  So we have a really unique family life.  I won’t say it got there without effort.  We were blessed with four people who function more on goodwill.  And we love Nicholas like crazy.  But it did take work.”

P.S.  Nicholas spends the summer with his dad in Georgia. When Bonnie and I met for the interview he was heading up to Martha’s Vineyard (can I be Nicholas, please?)

On dating as a single mom:

“Internet. Advanced search. I don’t have time to ‘date date’. No time for meetups. I did not flirt in the grocery store.  I am not going to cruise my church.  It’s just not who I am.  I had a vision that I didn’t want my son to grow up in a single parent home and I was willing to do the work.  I didn’t go into internet dating blind, I read every book on the market.  Even ones I laughed at in college. My purpose was to find the man of my dreams, fall in love organically, and use the technology at hand that would let me date while Nicholas was in bed.”

On meeting her husband for their first date:

“He walked around the corner and I recognized him from his picture and it was like to me, the quality of light on the street changed.  It was like there was a shift in the atmosphere and all of the sudden where it was sunset there was a strange glow over the street.  And I was just a puddle.  All of my cool was gone.  I was just a droopy puddle waiting to have a drink with my future husband.”

On the biggest thing she does different than she thought she would:

“I thought my son would eat all organic.  I really did.  Because I love holistic nutrition and I’m very nutrition conscious.  Heck no, it’s like chicken fingers and french fries every day.  We cook dinner at home.  But he’s not going to eat [the healthy stuff.] I’m sure there are moms out there that would say otherwise and that it’s a cop out.  But he eats very differently than I thought when pregnant.”  

On how she builds in time for herself:

“I run every day.  And it’s just 30 minutes, I don’t run far or fast.  It is absolutely a stress release and it’s absolutely a meditation.  My husband and I work with each other to give each other alone time.”

On how she sets boundaries for her work schedule:

“I don’t work past 4pm.  Work one workshop at night when Brian and Nicholas are at Trail Life (like Boy Scouts).  I hire other teachers to teach the workshops because I’m very convicted that it’s not worth it.  Common Sewing is not worth more than my family.  I work in the daytime because I’ve got a purpose.  I am pushing into it.”  

On how her family is evolving:

“We became a family two years ago.  And we really enjoy doing everything together.  Now we’re giving each other grace, like my husband is an avid reader and since becoming a dad he hasn’t read a book.  Brian needs to check every now and again to just read.  So I’ll make a plan with Nicholas.  It’s new for our family to give each other alone time.  But we’re finding a lot of pleasure in that too.”

What have you always wanted to do that you’ve been too scared to act on?  What big risk have you taken that paid off in spades.  Tell us in the comments!

Bonnie’s list of must-do’s:
Food: The Sanctum Cafe, Downtown Credo, Bulla Gastrobar, Rusteak, The Dinner Party Project  
Entertainment: Timucua White House, Paddleboarding on Lake Ivanhoe and Wekiva, Blizzard Beach
Camping: Westgate River Ranch, Amelia Island
Newest out of town getaway: Boca Grande, she calls it an outdoor wonderland that’s a tiny island, half fancy resort and half nature preserve.  
Know a ‘Mom Who Rocks’ who should be featured?  Let us know!

Orlando Moms who Rock: Kristen Manieri

Kristen Manieri, photo by Roberto Gonzalez
Moms who Rock highlights Orlando moms doing their thing. This week’s spotlight is on Kristen Manieri an Orlando mom, date night expert, and overall life wisdom giver.

“There’s a lot to be said about how we can bring a level of intention and creation on how we’re being, how we’re showing up and how we’re consciously generating relationships in our life.”

Have you ever googled date night ideas to avoid the monotonous dinner and a movie?  If you did that in Orlando you probably stumbled upon Orlando Date Night Guide, a tremendous resource of ideas and suggestions.  Kristen Manieri, the site’s founder, sat down with me to chat about all things date night, mom life, and local Orlando.  I walked away inspired by the amount of intention and thoughtfulness Kristen puts into every facet of her life.  After you read this, I guarantee you will also be thinking of ways to add purpose to everything you do.

After her move to Orlando from Toronto in 2006, she was waiting on resident status and unable to work.  Kristen had a PR/event planning background and thrived while busy so she began freelance writing (unpaid) to fill her days.  Around the same time, she wrote Great Dates Orlando which became a newsletter and then blog.  Admittedly a little backwards from the norm!  

Along the way Kristen gained her residency status and began a paid freelance writing career.  All the while she kept up with Orlando Date Night Guide and noticed her following was growing.  In 2014 she took a leap to make it her full time job and has never looked back.  In 2016 she launched the Date Night Discovery Club, a monthly subscription service that delivers date ideas to your door.  And in 2017, she announced that Date Night Guide will expand on a national scale.  She’s committed to creating a community of bloggers that lift each other up.  

She and her husband Marc have been together for 15 years.  They have two daughters, Elizabeth (turning 9) and Aly (7).  She runs down the list of non-negotiables in their house: weekly date nights, quarterly getaways, and family time including date nights with their kids.  They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.

On why she started Great Dates Orlando:

“We were new to the city, I love exploring and new adventures.  We didn’t have kids yet and were looking for fun things to do.  And especially fun things to do on a budget since that was 2007 and things were starting to go down the sewer.  We needed to get creative on how we spent our money.”

On women supporting other women:

“Figuring out a way to do what I love and on a schedule I love is really the holy grail for any mom. I don’t think most moms want to give up working.  I love working. But I don’t want to work 60 hours a week I want to pick them up at school every day.  I’ve found an almost near balance of work, home, kids, and my husband.  I’m very inspired to teach people that wherever they live, here’s how I did it and you can too.”  

On the biggest lesson she’s learned running her business:

“I’m great at starting new things.  When it gets hard I start thinking I shouldn’t have done it, it isn’t meant to be.  Forcing myself to stick with it past that uncomfortable stage, that’s been incredibly eye opening to me.”

On what’s next:

“I have a lot to say about the value of tending to your relationship (friends, spouse, family).  The intentionality that you can bring to upgrading any relationship through quality time, daily doses of affection.  Those haven’t been talked about on Date Night Guide and is the next genesis of where to head.”

On favorite Orlando dates right now:

“I love all the main streets that have popped up Audobon Park, Thorton Park, College Park, and Downtown South.  It used to just be Park Avenue but now there’s all these little pockets.  You really can just park the car and explore.”

On their most recent date night:

“We spent the night downtown at Lake Eola this past weekend.  Went for dinner at the Stubborn Mule and then walking around the lake.  We love the Farmer’s Market on Sunday and like to do yoga.  But not when it’s this hot.”

On being a proud Orlandoan:

“We are just getting Orlando people to fall in love with the city themselves.  Never had to sell Orlando as a destination to people who don’t live here.  But now there’s a sense of I want to live here, I’m choosing to live here. We have a lot and a lot of people who are creating really amazing things.”

The longer we talk the more I admire what she’s doing.  She’s authentic to her mission.  She just wants everyone (including herself) to have the best relationship possible with their spouse.  In ten years of blogging that concept has only become clearer to her.  She’s spreading a gospel of connecting with your loved one and committing to coming back to one another.  And she does it without sounding remotely preachy.

Kristen believes in rituals and little moments to add depth and sweetness. She tells a beautiful story of a ritual she has with her girls, squeezing their hands three times for I love you.  And she glows when she tells me about the other day when her daughter squeezed her hand ten times and said, “I just said I love you so much I can’t even stand it.”  

On her favorite things to do as a family:

“The girls are great at restaurants. We love going out to eat with them.  We also love hiking at Lake Lotus park.  It’s all boardwalks through the park and great to go exploring.”

Kristen’s tips for a successful restaurant visit include bringing a workbook to keep the kids occupied and drawing a hard line against phones or tablets to distract them. As a mom with a toddler and infant I was both stunned and instantly hopeful hearing this that one day I’d be able to look forward to taking my kids out to eat!  

On raising little foodies:

“We’ve slowly eliminated the kids menu from their lives.  They want an elevated meal too.  That’s what we’re eating.  We tend to buy whole entrees and share. Eating out with them is a real joy since they like real food.”

On the most surprising thing about being a mom:

“How much self care is critical.  Honestly when you’re doing the birthing classes that’s what they should be teaching.  Someone should take you aside and tell you how important it is to nap or spend a day by yourself once a month.  If you’re not taking care of yourself you’re not taking care of anybody.  A resentful overwhelmed teetering on the brink of insanity mother isn’t great.  We’re already going to beat ourselves up.  Those moments are less and less when we practice self care.”

On how she makes time for self-care:

“I’m up at 5 am (yes she goes to bed early – by 9:30pm) and have two hours to meditate, journal, and exercise.  Once I have those two hours to myself, I can give myself away the whole rest of the day.  I’ve done my part.  That’s mandatory.”

On simple steps to starting your self-care routine:

“Make a list of 10 things you can do to nourish yourself when you have a break or kids are sleeping.  I could do five sun salutations, write ten things in my gratitude journal, meditate, drink a glass of water, or just take a few deep breaths.  And then keep that list handy to avoid mindlessly checking Facebook and missing your window.”

On when you stray the course from your routine:

“I’m only ever 80% on course on how to nourish myself.  Checking in, being able to do a body scan, see how you’re doing and take a break ensures you come back to your habits.  You have to stay the course long enough to relish the benefits of it so when you go off course you don’t want to be there.  On course shouldn’t feel like work.  On course is so in alignment, your best version of yourself that it’s off course that is uncomfortable.”

On how she handles mom guilt:

“I’ve gotten really good at taking stock in the quality of our time as a family.  We are not wired for happiness, our brains are built for survival.  A happy memory doesn’t serve us.  You have to wire your children for happiness.  When you’re having a happy day saying ‘I’m having such a happy day.  Aren’t you having a happy day?’ and even giving them the words, joy, euphoria, wistful.  So many ways to describe a happy day. When [mom guilt] happens I take stock and know we’ve had these quality moments.  I can quickly access that in my mind.  If it’s not there then we need to add more quality time.”

What can you do to take care of yourself today?  How can you add depth to your relationships?  Tell us in the comments how you’re elevating the quality of your life.

 

Throughout our talk Kristen mentioned several podcast and book suggestions.  I’ve listed below as resources:
On following your creative passion: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcast
On creativity and the realization that obstacles abound for us all: Linda Siversten’s Beautiful Writers Podcast
On when to quit and when to stick:  The Dip a book by Seth Godin
On raising children wired for happiness: Raising Happiness a book by Christine Carter Ph.D
Know a ‘Mom Who Rocks’ who should be featured?  Let us know in the comments below!