Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Gift Giving Guide for Procrastinators!

Last minute gift-buying... It's what I do best! When I hear about these ladies who are like DONE with gift-giving in October I feel bad that they don't even know the rush of a packed mall in December and the thrill of procrastination gift finding! Exhilarating... Am I right?!

Agree to disagree?

After studying the Tiny Prints website for a good while, I present to you my top finds... Items I'm proudly (really!) gifting this Christmas! Be sure to check for Tiny Prints coupon codes here, as they're usually running pretty great deals. Until tomorrow, a ton of items are 40% with the code JOYTOYOU. In this post, prices listed are original prices.

Check order placement dates here to ensure Christmas delivery!

The Mom/Grandma Gift:
Personalized Notepad & Matching Note Cards, $14.99 each
These are just a sweet little personalized gift for the lady in your life who still loves to pen a good letter or write a lovely thank you note. With so many designs to choose from, you're sure to find one that your mom or grandma will love. The note cards are printed on thick, high quality card stock- they're very high-end looking- I know my momma is gonna love these!

The Couple Gift:
Custom Photo/Year Zinc Keepsake Ornament, $34.99
By logging on to Facebook and dragging a photo of my brother and his boyfriend Hector on to my computer, I was able to create this truly beautiful keepsake ornament of them. It comes nestled in a sweet little pouch for safe storage and the weight of the ornament gives it that super high quality feel. I'm really happy with this gift and can't wait to see it on their tree!

I got Shawn and I a different style Bracket Metal Ornament, $29.99 to hang on our own tree- and I love it!


 
 
The Newlyweds:
Custom Letterpress & Thank You Cards (20) $87.99 & Photo Stamps (20), $27.99
Since my brother is hella fancy, I decided to splurge on these crazy nice letterpress cards. If there's one person I know who will appreciate them, it's him. The photo stamps are just the cherry on top!

The Teacher Gift:
Personalized Name Notebooks, $14.99
I'm really happy with how quickly these shipped and how great they look. These are the perfect teacher gift, either on there own or in a cute little gift basket.


 
The Spouse Gift:
Acrylic Photo Block, $49.99
These are absolutely beautiful and way over-exceeded my expectations. Not only are they quick and easy to create online, the finished product is just fabulous- everyone who sees it just loves it. It's a unique way to showcase a special photo or collage and has some nice weight to it... This is the 3rd one I've ordered! Since Shawn and I are going simple on Christmas gifts for each other this year, I'll be gifting him this as a little reminder of all the fun we had for our Christmas photo shoot this year... In a way I'm hoping offers it to me, because man would it look great on my office desk!






Now that we have some gifts checked off the list... Don't forget the amazing custom wrapping paper you can create through Tiny Prints. Not only can you easily upload your fave images in to a prearranged graphic (with loads to choose from), but you can add your families names as well! I am so stoked with how ours turned out- the glossy paper is super thick, the images print beautifully and I swear if people tear our beloved Christmas photos, I'm gonna be pissed! I can't wait to see people open our gifts!

 
Have an awesome Christmas or whatever else you celebrate! I hope it's filled with love, cheer, no family politics and a ton of great presents!

xoxo,
kenna

While I was compensated for this post, these are my true thoughts and #feelings on the product, swear.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Cards from The Perfect Family!


For the past 3 years I've partnered up with Tiny Prints to help force me in to one of my 2 blog posts of the year. The one where I show off our Christmas mantel and amazing Tiny Prints Christmas cards...

Oh how I love decorating a Christmas mantel... Don't we all?

The one thing I think we can all agree on is that Christmas cards on the other hand, are a total pain in the ass. The process of getting family photos taken is awful, it's OK to just openly admit it already. I am convinced no one hates it as much as my 7 year old son Cormac however. He has some sort of PTSD from years past I assume. At the very mention of Christmas card photos, he turns from a sweet, cooperative child in to some sort of rebel alien force I can not talk any common sense or good bribe in to.

About a month ago when I started mentioning that Tiny Prints wanted to work with me on a Christmas post again, he started turning. In my head I was like, "You got this Kenna. YOU. ARE. THE. PARENT." But no matter how many all caps and periods between words you tell yourself... If a kid doesn't want to take photos, no matter how good you sell it... They will not take photos (without a dumb face anyway).

So I had to get tricky. Sneaky. Creative. I had to dig in to my deep deep soul of manipulation and WOW the family with a new idea. A new way of doing Christmas photos. One that I not only knew would make them agree to smiles galore, but one that would leave Shawn and I laughing. Because everything is better if you can laugh your way through it, I said!

Enter: Ironic Christmas Card Photos from The Perfect Family.

You know the photos. You know the card. We've all gotten THE CARD. The one that makes you vomit and ask aloud, "How are we EVEN friends with these people?!". You may have even sent it. Possibly as recent as last year. You may be oblivious to it's obnoxiousness, or you may bathe in it like I do, knowing how awesome your family looks on that beautiful matte finish, round-edged card.

This year, I pitched the idea to Shawn: the 4 of us, on a beach, in crisp white shirts & denim, being, WAIT FOR IT: super in-love and all-around perfect. I thought it was enough. The idea made me laugh just thinking about it, I figured it was a clear winner. I texted my BFF. I said, "How funny is this idea?!..." She said, "It needs something more." I told Shawn... "It needs something more..." He said, "McDonald's. It needs us eating McDonald's." Juxtaposition. What a beautiful idea.

We told the kids. I waited for Cormac's response. He was confused. I felt like a winner already.
Cormac: "So wait, we can eat a McRib during the photo shoot? What if I get messy?"
Awesome Parents: "We welcome the mess. The messier, the better."
Cormac: "This is weird."
Awesome Parents [high fiving]: "We ARE weird!"

Next thing I had to do was get a friend to take the pics. It's not like I needed a professional. It's not the clarity of the photos I'm sending out, it's the idea. I ran it by my friend at work, "What if I take your kids Christmas card pics, and you take ours?" She was in.

As the day approached Shawn kept reminding me of all of the things we could do to make our cards even funnier. "Frolic in the ocean!" he said. I hate the ocean but I had to admit, it had me laughing. He took it farther, "If I carry you in to the ocean, you can't get mad, it's for the good of the Christmas cards." I felt like suddenly I was being manipulated. What a weird feeling.

We made it to the beach the day before Thanksgiving and waited for Golden Hour. We laughed, we ate cold McDonald's. We got wet. We confused our children. It was the most stress-free family "photo session" we've ever had. I don't know how we'll ever top this next year.

But I'm willing to try.
Merry Christmas,
The Perfect Family

PS- If you normally get a card from us, I'm getting them out this week! Shawn offered to address them but- hello- I am way to perfect for his handwriting.

These are probably my favorite just because they capture the juxtaposition so well... Matching white shirts, denim and... McDonald's. They're the most simple and to the point. #BLESSED.
A note telling the people how amazing and blessed you are is super important when sending The Perfect Family Christmas cards. Ours brags about our awesomely athletic children and the fact that Shawn & I didn't even need marriage counseling this year!
"What a Wonderful Life" braces the front of our tri-fold card which is complete with 15 pictures."Merry Everything!" along with our names & ages for every family member- this whole back panel really had me cracking up. I think it's about time we start implementing ages for all.

Photo stamps where you're making out with your husband on a beach are par for the course with a card like this!
This card is part of the Baby2Baby collection I've talked about at the bottom of this post. Of all the cards, it's definitely the nicest and most normal with it's beautiful shimmer card-stock and beveled edge design which Christmas card dreams are made of! Besides the McRib on Cormac's face and Shawn's shirt, and wet hair/sand on my cheek we look awesome... Way to be perfect Birdie.


Custom stamps and an address labeling reading "Joy, Peace and Love" are really the only way to seal off cards like these. AMIRIGHT!


PHOTO SHOOT
Taken by Bianca Serle
Photo Novice










 

If you're considering ordering last minute Christmas Cards I can assure you Tiny Prints cards are quick, easy and have a ton of options to choose from. They are some of the least expensive and highest quality cards you'll find. I made 4 different versions of cards this year, well- because I could. As you can see, they range from funny to downright annoying (think tri-fold). Each card is a different price and quality, and in total seriousness, the one thing I love about the "Peace & Love" card is that it's part of the Baby2Baby campaign. Why not help a family in need while getting yourself some Christmas cards! In total Perfect Family style, it feels like a win-win.

Be sure to check shipping dates before you place your order, so you can choose the right method of delivery for Christmas.

And definitely don't forget to use a coupon code, which can be found here!

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Super Tradish Christmas Mantel for Tiny Prints


So that it doesn't appear that my blog is dead and buried, I've decided to break my Tiny Prints collab in to 3 different blog posts: 1) Christmas mantel decor, 2) Gift-Giving Guide and 3) our Christmas cards. Oh roll your eyes already, they're all going to be amazing dammit.

Every year I take great joy is decorating our mantel for Christmas but this is the first year I've gone with traditional colors... So unlike me! In keeping with always being inspired by a super random item, I saw that green checkered place mat (upper left corner) at Target and felt it just had to be incorporated in to the mantel decor. A little mounting tape and wa-lah... Who doesn't love a stylish place mat hanging on their wall? RIGHT!

I've re-purposed the back side of what once was my wooden Miss Party Mom convetion-booth sign yet again as a new Christmas piece. The "FA LA LA" letters were in the $3 isle at Target and I added some mini wooden rounds to give it that Camp Christmas feel that's so hot right now. Prior to this, I've used the sign for Birdie's 4th birthday and Thanksgiving 2015. It always feels good for me to get use out of my old party stuff... Like that 3 years wasn't a total waste of my time and money. (The sign was originally made by Ten23Designs who can laser cut pretty much anything.)

As with so many parties I've thrown, wrapping paper is one of my go-to items for decorating (great for table runners and photo backdrops as well). It's cheap, disposable and it gives you a big bang for your buck. I knew I wanted to do plaid wrapping on the mantel backdrop, so it was just about finding one I liked. This one is from Target... I swear Target needs to pay me.

As with most of my decorating, I like things nice and full. If I see a space I think I can maximize with decor, I search the house and fill the empty spot. That's how the globes & luggage got there.


 
In 2013 when I first partnered with Tiny Prints, String Dearie made me this adorable custom  "O'Briens" banner. I've used it on our Christmas mantel twice now and it's one of my favorite holiday pieces. Get yourself one already!

The red truck comes from the $3 Target isle and the rest of the items I've had for years (every one is a gift that I cherish!)


 

Tiny Prints pillows are some of my fave items on their site. They're always right on trend and provide that pop of color for a great price (using a coupon code of course!). This is my second year with our Tiny Prints Christmas stockings. While I didn't use the kid's from last year (they didn't match), I do love Shawn and I's stockings. They're a perfect size, great quality and I love being able to personalize them.


Tune in for another 2016 Christmas blog post... Coming soon!
xoxo,
kenna

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Love, Hate, Separation & Determination... 10 YEARS as O'Briens

10 years people- this is some Special Edition next level blogging right here! 


As per ush, I don’t exactly feel ready to write the ol’ anniversary post I’ve been putting out for 4 years now. (Is it safe to say it's "annual" yet?) I mean who is ever really ready to write about their marriage?! Well besides Bey that is. Can you say #trennnding?!

If this is your first year reading the “anniversary post”, you may want to consider venturing back to my first marriage post where after 7 years of marriage I attempted to break down why Shawn and I got married in 19 days, as well as all of the struggles that came with that decision. (LOTS of cute courthouse wedding pics in that post if I don't say so myself). That blog got a great response... Hence posting again in year 8 and 9... Something’s got to keep the blog afloat, amiright?! I’m not going to go in to any of the reasons behind the “married-in-19-days” story in this post, so if you want the full effect just stop now and go back and start at the beginning. We’ve been married 10 years now so I can hardly blame anything as of late on 19 days.

**************************************************************************************************************

One of the hardest parts about gathering the courage to write yet another marriage post is that first and foremost, I didn’t want to relive a lot of the last year. Followed by it's harder to blog when you work full time- #1 just the time involved in writing the post, #2 because these people you work with might actually read your blog (I mean who can resist a blog with a marriage title… They don’t call it click-bate for nothing!). I personally like to picture all of my co-workers leading A+ lives at home and would only hope they've conjured up that same thought for me?! (Is that what they call "wishful thinking"?)

Seriously, in my most perfectionistic way, I had every intention of getting to our big 10 year anniversary and publishing my whopping twice yearly blog saying simply, “Shawn and I fixed everything, we had an amazing year 9 since admitting to all of our issues and we plan to adopt a set of twins from the foster care system and implement world peace.” But you know… World peace is overrated when you can spend your time arguing over Target's bathrooms.

I digress. Last year, in my 3rd annual post “Because Marriage is Hard, Even After 9 Years” I blogged a couple weeks after our anniversary and candidly admitted I didn’t feel like writing about what I felt was a struggling marriage stuck in an on/off cycle of marriage therapy for years with little resolve. It’s been an entire year since that post and while I feel like we’ve had some of our biggest highs as a couple… It was a year filled with some incredibly hard times as we tried to navigate another move, Shawn taking some time off from full-time ministry and my re-entry in to a career.

I can honestly say I was pretty uncomfortable in not only my marriage but my own skin this time last year. I couldn’t find my footing anywhere. I felt like an outsider in every aspect of life, from being a wife, to running a small business with Miss Party Mom, all the way to motherhood. Nothing was coming naturally to me and it left me feeling anxious beyond belief.

Because of this and other things on Shawn’s end that only he can really speak to… We decided to put in to action a move out of Santa Barbara, a road trip across the country and essentially some [more] huge life changes. We’d come to the conclusion that more change was our only saving grace to get our marriage back on solid ground. And so we began. We began quitting jobs, packing up again and planning for another future where we could find our footing, for the 2nd time in two years. 


I remember new Santa Barbara friends saying, “Do you see a pattern here? You can’t just pack up when things get hard...” and other well reasoned thoughts about us leaving another town. The thing is, as I blogged about here- I just knew Santa Barbara wasn’t a good fit on so many levels. I knew that as hard as another move was going to be, uprooting Cormac from an elementary school he loved, saying goodbye to a new set of friends, another church, a steady income… I felt on every level I could possibly feel, that a move back to LA had to happen. That we needed to cut our losses, swallow our pride and admit our hastiness with that move all together. There were countless reasons for going “home”, the two biggest being we needed family support with raising the kids and I was ready to go back to work. LA just felt like the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

While fighting and packing and packing and fighting Shawn and I somehow decided to plan a road trip across the country, something we always dreamed of but never had the vacation time to do. Regardless of both of us being aware of our rocky marriage, a summer of travel was one thing we could agree on. As crazy as it sounds, road trips are where we function best. Even while we were planning the 6 week CA-FL and back trip, I knew ultimately that it would be a big ol’ bandage on an infection that had taken root in our marriage. An infection that smelled of bitterness, resentment, misunderstanding, and at times, anger and a dash of hate (for good measure). In a weird way, I was ready for the Band-Aid. I knew we could not only survive 6 weeks traveling the country, but thrive, before going back to reality.

  
The bandage would be the means to an end and it worked, without fail, as it was intended to. We saw the country as a family in our 1959 Chevy wagon and Shawn and I had moments of laughter, fun, adventure and bonding. But when we came home, back to reality: to unemployment and bills and a dwindling savings account… We came back to… The infection!

Damn that infection… The bandage was so good I’d almost forgotten it was there.

But there it sat, ready for treatment, ready for some magical RX. Ready for someone to acknowledge that something wasn’t right and the fighting and the silent treatment and the walls… They had to give. The infection had taken over and the Band-Aids were all gone. The store wouldn’t even sell them to us anymore.

So after weeks of settling in to our new home in LA, with yelling and anger and downright awful communication… After so much thought it hurt... Shawn and I decided to try a short term separation.  (Every good friend of mine I didn’t tell is currently all WTFFF!!? Sorry the Christians are like WTHHH!!?). I really don’t want that last sentence to come across blasé like I think separating is some mild thing. No, nothing about that decision was easy. It was mind blowing hard. Like I don’t even know how people survive a divorce hard. Telling the kids was the worst thing either of us has ever done. I felt like my chest was literally caving in some days at the thought of us not living in the same house- at the thought of ruining two thriving children. But like our move back to LA, we knew that separating was crucial to the marriage surviving.

I’m sure some people didn’t get the separation. I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking maybe there could have been another way- that God doesn’t desire marriages to separate. Personally I felt the separation was a turning point for us and a gift from God. Trust me, I get the irony that Shawn left Santa Barbara as a pastor, and a few months later we were separated. I’m not here to convince anyone, Christian or otherwise it’s what they should do if they’re in a struggling marriage- or that any of things Shawn and I do are for anyone else! We march to the beat of our own drum and that beat isn’t going to be for A LOT of people.

With the separation, there was no more showing off the Band-Aide as the solution. When someone moves out, it’s for the world to see that things have gone to shit and you’re not even remotely interested in faking it anymore. No one separates because they’re doing great. They separate because they feel like the space might be the only thing that can save them. We separated because we couldn’t be in front of the kids without yelling and blaming and speaking condescendingly to each other.

In the midst of the separation, our friend (who happens to currently be our pastor) showed up, quite literally, on our door step. It’s funny because in the course of our marriage we’ve had younger couples ask us to “mentor” them or provide marriage insight/counseling and I’d always say NO NO NO… We are not professionals; we don’t have a right to tell anyone about their marriage- you need a certified MFT (Marriage Family Therapist) to help guide you. And while I still hold to that in so many ways… It turns out when you’re in the midst of crisis, what’s most important is that you just have someone to listen to you. All great advice aside… Our friend just listened to us. While I yelled at him outside a Starbucks that he wasn’t going to dare tell me I couldn’t get a divorce because I was a Christian! and lots of other awesome things I’m very proud of… He listened first, prayed second and gave some light advice third.

When I had felt like he’d done all the listening I needed him to do, I turned to the advice. His advice was to go to a marriage boot camp called Relationship Lifeline for 4 days. I didn’t like the advice so I said no. I cried no. I told him I was done with counseling, NO.

I went home, cried some more, told God no 100 times… And woke up the next morning and got all of the info we needed for this so-called "boot camp".

With a new goal in mind of attending what I could only imagine as a "super serious 4 day marriage retreat", we decided we would remain separated until it was over. While Shawn saw the kids daily, obviously nothing about any of it was easy. The kids would cry at night. I would get frustrated. It was a reality check to say the very least. We kept communication simple knowing we didn’t currently have a foundation for anything deep at that point. We scheduled a couple of date nights with nice distractions like movies, and went to church as a family on Sundays. Essentially we were waiting in limbo for the miraculous boot camp. In my head I had conjured up a retreat weekend with cucumber water and group sessions where you talk about every fight you’ve ever had and how you did it wrong and practice new ways of doing it right. That sounded about right.

The boot camp ended up being about me. About little ol’ individual me and why I am the way I am, and how I got here. I don’t even really know what Shawn took out of it because by the end, I didn’t really care- as long as he got something. I got everything out of it. It was 4 of the hardest days of my life, digging up things from my childhood that I’d buried so far down I needed a jackhammer to access. I learned about my triggers and how uncomfortable anger makes me. I learned that I have walls that I put up to help me cope and that once the walls are up you’re going to need to do some sort of American Ninja Warrior moves to scale them. I learned that Shawn and I still had so much love, but had let the last 2 years of stress bury on top of all of the love. The boot camp was like removing rubble from an earthquake only to find a sweet baby still alive under it all. 


We came home and Shawn moved back in. 

**************************************************************************************************************

Nothing with us is ever going to be perfect, or dare I even say, “easy”. We’re both strong headed, opinionated and quick to be right. We have different ways about spending money (he thinks food is important, I think home decorating is important), different ways about spending time, etc. The boot camp helped us learn about each other on a level I don’t know if most couples know their spouses on. I know that sounds braggy, but I truly don’t know how a person would ever get to know their spouse this intimately without going to something along these lines, forcing yourself to uncover and share things about your formative years and how they’ve shaped you in to the adult you are. Walking through meditation and forgiveness exercises and letting go of things you've been holding on to for years.

While I credit the "retreat" to steering us back towards the lighthouse, I also credit our role reversal. Me returning to a career and Shawn taking on the role as stay at home parent has been a huge eye opener on both sides. To completely switch roles in a marriage is a very interesting concept, one I'll admit I was hesitant to consider. For me to go from dishes and laundry to the stress of sole income earner… And have Shawn go from breadwinner to dishes and laundry and parenting that little devil sweetheart Birdie… I don’t know that we’d ever have gotten a taste of “the other side” without quite literally trading places.

Every year I write this I have some sort of marital advice based on our own experiences that I like to share. In the past it’s been to stop making excuses if you're having problems and go to marriage counseling... Break frame- I know! I am not going to tell you to sign up for a relationship boot camp- that is something you can gather info on and see if it's a fit for you. I'm also not here to tell you not to get a divorce or make you feel ashamed if you have divorced. If anyone understands how hard it can be, it's us. There are instances marriage is longer workable, and I get that.

But I do have this idea/analogy that keeps coming to me lately. Maybe it is because our kids are learning Spanish, but one day this concept came to me and I cannot seem to shake it.

When you get married, you’ve chosen, intentionally or not, to learn a new language. When Shawn and I first married we were thrilled we could say hello to each other in the new language… Baby steps! Yay!

But eventually you get bored with “hello” and desire to learn to speak in sentences. You haven’t yet learned the new language so you begin to speak in the language you know- because hello- language learning takes time! But the other person- they don’t for the life of them understand what you’re trying to say. They look at you puzzled and rather confused. And in your head, you’re confused- because you’re making complete sense to you!

Your spouse then responds in their language, but it leaves you downright frustrated…. WHY CAN’T THEY JUST RESPOND IN MY LANGUAGE?!

Because newsflash, they don’t know your language. IT IS FOREIGN TO THEM. Have you ever tried communicating to someone who doesn’t speak your language? Contrary to popular belief, speaking louder doesn't in fact work.

You don't know theirs, they don't know yours: a new language must be formed!

And you both need to CHOOSE to learn the new language. You have to work at it, maybe even taking evening classes if it’s not coming naturally! You have to figure out the proper grammar, syntax and pronunciation in order to become fluent. This is going to be easier for some than it is for others, but if you work at it, chances are- you will eventually learn it. At times, your accent will be terrible- so terrible you will have to take classes again… Because your native tongue is sneaking through! The new language has to be both of yours… A new way of communicating you never desired/imagined you'd have to learn! But you can learn it. If Shawn and I can attempt learning it- TRUST ME: YOU CAN TOO.

So in a nutshell, if you’re struggling with communication… It’s time to buy Rosetta Stone. What?

Speaking of languages we do not speak, we are headed down to Mexico this weekend for our 10 Year Anniversary. We married on a Wednesday morning in 2006 and headed down that weekend to Puerta Nuevo- and we’re going back! We got the first of MANY items we’ve since had stolen as a married couple on that trip (our camera) and so we plan to take lots of photos this time. (Follow our Mex-Adventure on IG here.)

Interesting fact about celebrating 10 years… When we married I clearly remember saying prior to our courthouse wedding, “At 10 years- do you PROMISE we can do a huge vow renewal with a fancy dress and all of our friends?” And of course, Shawn, beaming with nothing but ignorant bliss said, “Yes! Of course!”

Through the years I have even said, “At 10 years- we’re going to have a huge vow renewal. It’s going to be epic!”

And now, we are here at 10 years… And I can’t think of a less wise thing to do than to go in to debt over a vow renewal that I would be getting only due to cashing in on some blindly made promise 10 years before. And no matter how much I love parties and decorating and an MPM comeback… I love the fact that I’ve learned that it’s not worth it to push it. That we would suffer the effects of such an expense and the time invested in it for far longer than a night of great dancing with friends. That going to Mexico for 3 days is celebrating within our current means, even if it’d not what I had planned 10 years ago.

Plus, our mega 15 year vow renewal wouldn’t be nearly as special… RIGHT?!

My last little story is about a conversation I had with a hairstylist in TN who was doing my hair for a friend's wedding I was recently in. The hair stylist was a new-ish bride and after mentioning that I was approaching a 10 year anniversary she said, "You know what I hate? I hate when people say, 'Love isn’t supposed to be this hard'". I looked in that sweet girl's face and said, "Well that is some straight bull shit. 'Love' and marriage can be extremely hard... But hard doesn’t have to mean impossible." 

I truly feel like I have never loved Shawn as much as I do now. I have never enjoyed his company as much as I do now. We have never communicated as well as we are right now. And to get to this current place of contentment in our marriage, we had to go through some harrrrrd times. 

Because hard doesn’t have to mean impossible!


xoxo,
kenna

Friday, January 1, 2016

Re-Entering the Workplace After Being a SAHM (and A Couple Things I Learned in The Process)


One of the things I've always valued about Mattel was the holiday break in between Christmas and New Years. What a great way to refuel your employees. I love being home with my kids during their school break... And I love being able to fit in a much needed blog post! The ability to hit up all of the post Christmas sales doesn't suck either!

The reason I've decided to write this post is not to say, "Hey look at me, I got an awesome job..." but to encourage any woman (or man!) out there who are thinking about going back in to the work place after taking a long break to raise children. And to debunk the myth that I was just handed this job out of mid air. I want to actually explain how hard I worked to make this happen, and how every prayer I said was answered- and then more.

First off, when I decided to go back to work about 7 or 8 months ago, it is not something I did because I believed in my ability to land some amazing job back in my old field of toy design- I will touch on my mountains of insecurities soon! It was because financially we were in a place were I needed to make an income. After a lot of thought my husband was leaving his job in Santa Barbara and we weren't sure where his next job was coming from. We'd lived modestly (on a youth pastor's salary) for our 9 years of marriage, but in order to do any of the things we actually wanted to do (like family vacations or send our kids to college) we realized I really needed to start looking to get back in to a career, for immediate as well as future needs. At first, I'm not going to lie, it was a daunting thought to me for so many reasons. Although I never set out to be a SAHM, I didn't hate it. I mean, it definitely didn't come as naturally for me as some of my other mom friends, but the thought of giving it up still stung. As a flight attendant my own mom was gone a lot working to provide for us so I'll admit I had pre-conceived ideas that I'd never see my kids again if I went back to a career. On top of that I'm a Christian and we all know the Proverbs 31 woman did not go to work every day... OH WAIT, YES SHE DID. I digress... Despite so many thoughts, I forged on and began brainstorming different career paths.

*Just to touch on my party planning business, Miss Party Mom Event Planning... It was a great run. I'm sure if you've followed me for any amount of time you know how much I enjoyed it. From filming for Nickelodeon, to an article in American Baby Magazine and numerous online features across all the party sites... It was a ton of fun and gave me so much creativity while staying home with the kids. For our family though, there came a point when I needed to make real money and I will be there first to admit, party planning is a hard industry to do that in. Plus, in all transparency... The messes drove Shawn nuts. And messes/chaos/putting things away for days after throwing a party are inevitable- ask any party planner! Bottom line, I really don't know how married woman planning parties do it... It was NOT working for us anymore!*

In brainstorming different career ideas, the first thing I acknowledged was that I never disliked designing fashion dolls for Mattel...And that I've always had a place in my heart for Barbie. Landing the job when I was 20 years old, after 2 years of college was a dream come true. I'd put in a few years in high school and college interning for Mattel and after graduating with an AA in Fashion Design, I pretty much said, "Now can I have a job designing for Barbie?" and to my disbelief they interviewed me and handed me a temp position as an Associate Designer. I worked my way up to Senior Designer and left there when I was 25. I designed concepts, features and fashions for Barbie, My Scene, Mary Kate & Ashley and more. Ultimately I was young, naive (and didn't realize how good I had it) and I left to open up a clothing store with my best friend Kelsey. There are no regrets with that, opening BFF Vintage Clothing were some of the best years of my life. But in deciding to return to work, Mattel was at the top of my list.

Upon telling a hand full of people that I was looking to return to work, I started doing a little panic dance in my head where I told myself all too often, "You're not good enough. You're too old. You don't have the right skill set anymore... The industry has passed you by" and so on. Even though early on I received tons of great encouragement and advice, if anyone mentioned something I needed to brush up on, I clung to it. During this crazy time (Shawn and I were moving counties, leaving a job- i.e.: financial security, pulling our son out of a school we loved and pretty much in all of this- having a hard time in life) I began seeing a therapist in Santa Barbara. I started to tell the therapist about how when I got moved back to LA I'd like to go back to work full time in to a career, but how this-this-and this reason, prevented me from doing so. Each appointment he told me that I needed to focus on my strengths and stop dwelling on my weaknesses. He said all the therapist cliches, "You ARE enough Kenna... Let's say it together... 'I AM ENOUGH'... Do you believe that?" HA! No I didn't believe that. He'd obviously never designed a toy before. I wasn't very receptive to his positivity until he asked me to list my strengths as a toy designer and bring them in next session. So I did. "Ideation, 3D Design, Trend Forecasting, Fashion Design, etc.". I thought he was pretty much an idiot because all I could do was think about my weaknesses- how behind I was on Photoshop and Illustrator and how my drawing skills were never the best... Why couldn't we just focus on that for a minute? I would argue with him that I had let this industry pass me by and that I probably needed to go back to school and get a degree of some sort to have a chance to go back to designing fashion dolls. But instead he told me to start taking the strengths that I identified and using them to sell myself in my resume. And so I did.

As soon as we got back from our road trip and settled in to our house in LA, I began searching for a job. Every morning I devoted the first 2 hours of the day to trolling every job website I could find. Incase you're not aware, LA is the hub of the toy industry. I sent emails to old colleagues and used LinkedIn to network as much as possible. I Facebook friended anyone I knew from Mattel. I tweaked my resume for each job I applied for and wrote new cover letters with each resume- I probably had 20 different resumes at one point. Within a week of being home from the trip I had (with the help of a friend) put together an online portfolio showcasing all of my work and had announced I was back in LA and seriously looking for a job. It's times like this you figure out who will help you, who will even take the time to look your resume over and give you some advice. During this time, the previous VP of Barbie Design responded to a Facebook status I wrote about being on the job hunt. From that point until the day I landed my job, she encouraged me in my job search. She sent me every job opportunity she came across and before interviews would prep me with any advice she had for that particular company. I will always be grateful for the time she invested in me and all of the wisdom she imparted and hope one day I can do the same for someone else.

The entire process of re-establishing myself back in to a career took about 2.5 months. Even as I type that I'm like, dang... That happened quickly, lucky you. However, while I was waiting out that time... It seriously felt like an eternity. We were eating through savings and I had unbelievable anxiety. I don't wish any of it went differently because it lead me to my current position... But I did learn a few things that I want to share. The first, and most important in my opinion, is to surround yourself with people that are rooting for you and pushing you towards your goal. I started taking advice from a lot of people, anyone really. Some that took me down the wrong path (unknowing on both sides) and some that spurred me on to make another call, or send another email. I don't know if my sister even knows how huge of an encouragement she was to me during this time, but she was literally my lifeline. If I sent out a resume and they didn't get back to me she'd say, "Their loss! Anyone would be lucky to have you, you're amazing!" To this day I still think about how powerful her daily words and texts of affirmation were to me. So, if you're looking for a job- get yourself a support system, like ASAP. Find a mentor like I was lucky enough to have with my old VP. Because unless you're THE most employable human on the planet- nothing will break your spirit more than looking for a job. The rejection is intense, and often if you're sending out resumes via job finding websites.

In all the advice, welcomed and unwelcomed I had wrapped my head around 2 things, #1- everyone getting hired in the toy industry had a 4 year degree now. #2, their skill set was a heavy illustration hand and advanced graphic design skills... Neither of which I possess. So, as I mentioned I was in self-doubt mode. One thing that I had forgotten about however, was the natural ability to get shit done, which I now know isn't something that can be taught. You either have it or you don't... and thank you Jesus, I have it. If you can get someone to recognize it in you, you're beyond grateful.

After about 2 months I'd had two phone interviews, a few phone chats with recruiters, a coffee "meet-up" (I can't even call it an interview) and two actual interviews. I was at a stand still and wondering how any SAHP ever goes back to work after raising kids... I was starting to get so bitter at Corporate America because I knew I'd be an asset to the toy industry, but explaining a 9 year break was A LOT harder than I ever imagined.

I may not have had a million interviews, but I did settle on this amazing
romper as my go-to interview piece! I mean, priorities right?
Around this time I was convinced I needed to do something to up my skill set so I could up my resume. My friend and her husband came over to talk to me about next steps in the job search and after an hour, they had pulled up an online graphic design course located in LA for me to look in to. When I first saw the price, I thought there was no way in hell that was happening. But you know what they say... Sometimes you need to invest money in order to make money! I thought about it for an entire week and then I asked my mom for a loan to prevent us from tapping in to more savings. My mom has always been my biggest supporter and she was happy to help me out. I started the 3 week graphic design course, commuting every day to downtown LA, an hour and a half each way. The class was intense- certain things I picked right up, and other things were so hard I was wondering if I'd retain any of it. During the 3 weeks, I missed both of my kids first days of school as I was gone from 6:45am-6:00pm. But I was learning so much good stuff- things I had wanted to learn for literally 10 years. I updated my resume (with the help of another friend) and was working late nights to constantly upgrade my online portfolio.

Earlier I mentioned that surrounding yourself with encouraging people during your job hunt is a must. The second thing I want to touch on is taking any opportunity that comes your way. No matter how much it might seem like it'd a dead end... You never know where it might take you. This next story is going to tell you exactly why!

A couple weeks in to my graphic design class, I got an email from a Mattel email address... I stepped out of class (strict no cell phone policy!) and opened that email within 5 seconds of getting it. To my total let down it was a PR company Mattel had hired, not someone responding to my resume as I was hoping for. The email wasn't exactly "to me"... But more like to any LA "mom blogger" that blogged to the PR company's desired niche. The email simply asked if I would be interested in attending a Barbie concert at the LA Paladium in exchange for a blog post about where to purchase tickets. Because I get so many of these offers a week for anything you can think of that one does not actually need... I wrote the offer off at first. I really didn't want to drive to Downtown on a weekend after driving there to class so often. However, I couldn't stop thinking about it because it WAS a Barbie concert. So I emailed back and asked if any Mattel employees might be attending the event. I was told probably not, as the agency had been hired to put it on and Mattel employees would not be working the event. At that point I figured I'd do the blog post and get my name on the will call list and if I decided to make it, great. After a couple days I had rounded up a crew of 4 year olds and thought, hey- we're broke and this is a fun free event for me to take Birdie, my niece and another 4 year old to... WHY the heck not?

We'll get back to the concert...

By the end of my second week of class, a toy company that I had already interviewed with called me back for a 3rd interview, with their CEO. The agreed to my asking price, which was highly motivating and gave me back some of my long lost confidence. They asked me if I would be ready to accept an offer if they made one- I was thrilled. The job wasn't totally ideal because it was a crazy commute, but regardless of that, YES I was ready. I was recommended to them by my old VP who had great things to say about the company so I was willing to make the commute in order to get my foot back in the door in the toy industry. Mattel hadn't gotten back to me at this point and so I felt I had to move on from the idea of going back there.

Back to Concert Day. We got dressed to impress, met up with our friends and were ready to have a blast... We arrived to walk down a hot pink carpet with photo opps galore and drinks like "Barbie Pink Lemonade"... I was so glad I made the decision to go... Birdie and Co. seemed to be having the best day ever. Little did I know deciding to attend was maybe the smartest decision I'd ever make!



An hour in to the concert, drooling over the beautiful Zendaya and dancing our 4 year old (and thirty-something) butts off to a routine we were learning from a choreographer, I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to stare at my old friend and colleague, who was now the current VP of Barbie Design... And pretty much the one person in the entire world I'd want to run in to. I was literally in shock. I think I even said, "You're not supposed to be here, I asked!" which she probably thought was incredibly odd. I told her how I'd blogged for the PR agency in order to get free tickets to attend and from there we caught up on everything, including how I'd been trying to get an interview at Mattel and now was looking in to taking a job at another toy company. From there things just began to happen. A Mattel recruiter contacted me that Monday which gave me hope and anxiety all at once. I'd wrapped my head around the other job and felt really hopeful about it. Although Mattel was my first choice, I also didn't want to miss the other opportunity by waiting on Mattel.

I told the recruiter on a Monday that I had an important interview that Friday at 3pm so anything Mattel was going to do interview wise, had to be done before then. Talk about a time crunch and putting pressure on the one company you're dying to get in at!

That Friday morning around 10:00am, I accepted an offer with Mattel after interviewing with a 2 people I already knew and had the utmost respect for. I immediately called the other company and let them know I'd accepted another offer. A few people disagreed with my choice to not go to that third interview but you know what, I did what I felt was right. I was handed exactly what I wanted and to me there was no reason to go and fake interest with another company when I had what I set out to get- a job as a Project Designer for Barbie. A dream come true in my book.

For weeks (and even now) I was in awe of how things came together- I felt like I was walking on clouds, like it had to be too good to be true. I couldn't get over how God answered every prayer, down to the exact position on the exact brand. I believe He paved a way for everything to happen exactly how I desired, because He delights in giving us our desires. All the tears shed and anxiety in the process and yet the entire time I felt Him saying, "Wait on me Kenna, my timing is perfect." I recently remembered back to a low point when another toy company never got back to me after what I felt was a perfect phone interview, or the one that did and told me about the salary which was 1/2 of what I was asking. I re-discovered in this process of looking for a job again what true determination looks like and how pushing through rejection sucks big time- but is so worth it.

I've never felt more gratitude than these last few months of being back at Mattel. Jumping back in to a job that I feel I was created for... There are days I feel like I never left. And the things that used to drive me nuts about Corporate America, like meetings... I feel almost honored to get a meeting notice now. I adore my manager and ironically have had framed Barbie illustrations drawn by my Senior Director in my home for over 10 years. How amazing that the artist in our house would one day be my boss and the colleague I had a great connection to in my previous life at Mattel, would one day be my VP!

In terms of switching roles with Shawn as the financial provider of the house, we've had a pretty easy transition which has surprised me. If anything, "trading places" has given him the ability to see how staying home with the kids is an actual J.O.B. and for me to feel the pressure of being the one to earn our income... It's no joke! It's been great for us in understanding each other. Shawn's been freed up to work on his doctorate, he enjoys cooking our meals, helping with homework and taking the kids to sports and dance practice. I no longer have to stress over cooking, which I've always hated... And I'm able to get the adult stimulation I'd been missing for years. For me to get up every morning and care about being fashionable again and put makeup on... It's done wonders.

Of course, the kids miss me and there are days Cormac will say, "I wish I saw you more"... But you know what, they said that when Shawn worked full time too. It's life. Someone's got to work. Our weekends are spent as a family and I'm much more choosy about what I do in my family hours because I know it's more limited now.

The last little nugget of advice I want to give is this: love where you're at in life, don't take it for granted! I was recently at the Manhattan Beach mall on a lunch break from work and I saw this group of cute moms wrangling their toddlers near the water fountain. I just stopped and stared at them, like... Wow, how sweet is this? I wanted to walk up and say to them, "I hope you're enjoying this time because you're making me miss it"... But of course I didn't, I'm not that crazy. But you know, there are some days I do miss it. But when I had "it", all I could think about was working full time again and how I didn't want to chase the toddler in the mall anymore- I wanted to come to the mall on a lunch break... Alone. Oh irony, you're so silly! So this time of returning to the work place has taught me to be content. Happy in whatever the current situation is... Because honestly, both roles- raising kids at home or working- BOTH are equally important. Neither one is more fulfilling in my book, just different. And you have to decide which is for you, which lends more to your family dynamic... Maybe there's a few years where one role is for you, and then you switch over. It's an ebb and flow, marriage and raising children. You're constantly navigating how to make it work the best possible way.

All in all, The O'Briens are on the up and up. It's been probably the hardest year of our marriage (maybe I'll blog about that next) but we've made huge changes and persevered. I'm incredibly thankful to each and every person who helped us end 2015 on a high note... I truly hope you know who you are.

Blessings Upon You in 2016!

xoxo,
Kenna

" "