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!


Monday, December 21, 2015

A Tiny Prints Inspired "Bright and Cheery" Christmas!

When Tiny Prints contacted me again this year to collaborate on a Christmas inspo post I was honored and overwhelmed all at once. I took a little while to think about it because as most of you know I’ve gone back to work full time, as a Project Designer for Barbie, back at Mattel Toys. This has been a real shift for me in what I’m able to accomplish creatively outside of work and just how much free time I have compared to this time last year when my life revolved around chasing after the kids, planning parties and crafting/blogging in my spare time.

(See my last years "Black, White & Gold Christmas" Tiny Prints post here...)

When I went on the Tiny Prints website to see if anything “spoke” to me, I was immediately drawn in by their fresh Christmas color palettes and unique card designs and holiday d├ęcor… SOLD! I couldn’t stop thinking about all the different card options and I loved the idea of offbeat Christmas colors like coral, turquoise, mint and peach. I love that Tiny Prints offers matching envelope liners, return address labels and custom photo stamps to really bring the entire look together. 

What really sold me were the new custom name stockings for our entire family. I became obsessed with the idea of finally updating our stockings and I’m so happy I did, I love the way they turned out! Stockings that are cute and high quality, with our names on them… What more could you ask for!?

I got around to styling our Christmas mantel a couple of weeks ago- one of my pure joys in life! I looked to Pinterest for some inspiration and came across a photo backdrop made out of ribbons that I thought would translate to a mantel backdrop quite nicely! I got out the ol’ ribbon bin and started pulling out anything bright and cheery, my 2015 Christmas theme. After so many depressing things have gone on in the world these last couple of months, I figured a bright and cheery Christmas is exactly what we needed. Nothing cheers me up more than woodland animals and kitschy pieces, so I gathered everything I had in this feel and brought them all together to live on my mantel for the month! They're simply loving the reunion.

I happened to have a wreath from years past that I knew would tie all the bright colors together, and I hit up Target for some cute felt ornaments to hang on the blacks pom-poms that I had draping across our white bricks. 

Our Tiny Prints Christmas cards came and I was even more blown away by their quality than last year. If you haven’t used Tiny Prints before, they print on thick card stock that has a bit of a texture to it, making it look almost canvas like. I was a little concerned how our card with only one photo would print, since the card itself relied on great photo quality instead of a cute graphic backdrop… And it was stunning! The card with two photos was a real crowd pleaser, all of my designer friends simply loved the scalloped edging... It's all in the details, am I right?! I was so proud to mail out our cards this year!

Aside from the mantel, we have another section of the house wear I switch out our decor for the holidays, and that is on top of our credenza. Like so many of us I have been collecting Santa pics of my kids every year since they were born. Every Christmas it brings the biggest smile to my face to see the kid's and their planned out/ color coordinated Christmas outfits sitting on the big jolly guy's lap... This year I let Cormac skip the traditions-old bow tie which was a total drag (for me) but my little surf/skate rat was fighting for shorts so I had to give in somewhere!

Seeing the Tiny Prints holiday inspired pillows made me giddy to place my order as we have these two chairs, one on each side of the credenza that I love to put holiday pillows on. I love the quality of these pillows- the colors are bright, the fabric is thick and they just look fabulous. You can even choose the wording on a few of the designs... I actually did the Merry, Merry, Merry one on my own! Each design they have is a nice modern twist on Christmas pillows! 

Notice our last years acrylic photo block there on the left... LOVE this piece. Such a great gift, I actually ordered two of these this year as gifts- they're really fun alternative to a picture frame... I can't wait to give the two I got away as presents! 

To go along with decorating the house this year, I got in to making “Ugly Christmas Sweaters” for a couple of parties Cormac and I were attending. At first, like everyone else I hit multiple thrift shops to see if I could score anything downright horrendous to wear. I came up empty handed and I’m convinced no ugly Christmas sweaters last more than a day in a thrift shop now, since this theme has become so freaking popular in the last 10 years. As a side note, I heard about a new theme this year, “Christmas Onesie Party”… Freaking genius and why haven’t I been invited to one already? I can most definitely fit in to a kid's size XL onesie, I tried one on at Target the other day just in case an invite were to come my way...


For mine, I decapitated a moose ornament (kids not happy about this decision, FYI) and sewed him closed at the neck. Then I got some brown and tan felt and created somewhat of a tree stump look to “mount the moose head to”… Get it? I took a brown Sharpee and lightly drew in some tree rings on the tan part of the trunk. I then cut off a few gold glitter branches and hot glued them on- I could have sewn them but I figured there’s no way this thing is surviving a wash, so why waste time on sewing when hot glue will do the trick. To make the moose head cute (you didn't really think I'd be making something actually ugly, did you?) I added some earrings and a bow to her head. I topped the design off with a couple of fake tree branches and a red ornament just for some much needed gaudiness...

For Cormac’s I took an argyle sweater he had and crafted a Santa out of felt to add to it. To make the Santa, I cut a face shape out of cream felt, 2 pink felt circles for the cheeks, one smaller pink felt oval for the nose, two blue felt circles layered on top of two bigger black felt circles and a two small white accent marks created the eyes. For the mouth I cut a lips-like shape out of red and gave a white smile line for some contrast. I gave him a Santa hat out of red felt trimmed with white felt and Cormac found a bag of bells in my craft room so I added one to the end of the Santa hat! I took white batting and created the eyebrows, mustache and beard… And last but not least I took gold wire and twisted up some specs for ol’ Santa to see… When all was said and done I hot glued it on to the sweater and he got some great compliments at his school party! All in all, neither sweater cost me a penny and I maybe invested an hour total... WIN.NING.

Believe it or not, I am about to be off of work for 7 days! In this time I'm hoping to get a blog post up on how I ended up back at Mattel and what the transition has been like for our family... I have it all written in my head, I just need some time to get it on the computer!

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas or other holiday if that's what you're celebrating. As a Christian, I am proud to celebrate Christmas... However, I don't say Christmas to offend anyone else, there is never spite in my Christmas wish or my Christmas cards... If you celebrate Hanukkah- blessings upon you! If you like to say "holidays" because you don't believe in Christ... That's fine by me man! I wish you an amazing season regardless of what you believe!

Thanks for reading the laziest blogger who ever blogged, blog.


Everything I have said in this blog post is my own thoughts and words... However, I have been compensated for this post... DUH.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hey Los Angeles... It's a Barbie Rock N' Royals Concert!

I know, I know. I put a blog out and you're thinking why the heck isn't this blog about the final days of the road trip... I've seen the comments about wanting closure on the trip and it's just so huge of a subject I can't even handle it right now. Hoping eventually I'll get to our final days on the road, what coming home was like and maybe even a blog on how to road trip the country with kids in 7.5 weeks. I'd love to get to all of those posts and if I wasn't taking a class and looking for a full time job I'd be all over it!

In the meantime... May I have a minute of your time for something far more shallow? You see, sometimes when you're "a blogger" you get offered sweet perks in exchange for blog/social media shout outs... And THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIMES.

I get lots of emails for free stuff. I even got offered one of those toilet seats with the small insert for kids in exchange for a blog post but I decided to spare you all and you're welcome. I usually say no because I don't want to bog down my readers with annoying posts on random crap... BUT. Bare with me because when I came across this I knew I had to sell out to the blogging-gods.

Think Barbie and The Rockers in 2015. If you're younger than 30 that means nothing to you. And if you're in your 30's and you didn't love Barbie and the Rockers... I probably don't even like you. Pretty much what we're talking here is Barbie Rock N' Royals, aka Barbie wishing she was still in Barbie and The Rockers, aka... Barbie Live with her homegirls in LA rocking out and being all kinds of wild and fun. I mean seriously how do you resist that when you have a 4 year old girl and used to design Barbie dolls and were slightly obsessed with Barbie and the Rockers? You can't resist that. It's a proven fact. I am the proof.

Anyway. We can't wait!! Birdie and I are gonna rock the house. 
If you decide to go too- hit me up! More info and link to purchase tickets is below! 
Thanks for getting this far in the post.

Timed to the launch of Barbie’s new movie, Barbie in Rock ‘n Royals, which is available now, Barbie and Zendaya are encouraging kids to “Raise Their Voices” in a first of its kind experience including up-and-coming musical and dance acts!
During this rockin’ music experience, Barbie fans in the Los Angeles area will have the opportunity to:

·         LIVE performance – Enjoy songs from the movie including, “Raise Our Voices,” “What if I Shine,” and “Brand New Song” from surprise guests
·         Super Style Zone – Get rock star ready with Glamzies and Glitzies who will be providing hair jewelry and flash tattoos
·         VH1 Rock Star Zone –  Jam out with guitars, drums, flutes & more with teachers from VH1 Save The Music
·         Be Super Dance Zone – Twist and shake along with professional dance choreographers 
For tickets to the Rock ‘N Royals Concert Experience, visit All ticket sales will benefit VH1 Save The Music.

Saturday, September 26
12 PM  


Hollywood Palladium
6215 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90028

Sunday, July 26, 2015

O'Briens Going For Broke: Loosing Some & Winning Some!

So much to blog and always feeling behind which is so frustrating since I had real intentions of blogging this trip thoroughly!! I’m mainly just going to share some general road tripping woes and feelings stuff.

Hot Springs, Arkansas (going to blog about Arkansas more at some point!)
In the spirit of always “keeping it real” (social media’s current favorite term that’s starting to drive me real nuts)… After Shawn’s mom (aka Nana) left this past Thursday- joining us for 4 days of the trip, the kids started feeling REALLY homesick. It’s been somewhat of an ongoing theme throughout the trip, but it’s always been a quick and easy fix as kids are resilient and easily distractible. It’s also fluctuated between the two but after Nana’s departure it hit Cormac hard that we weren’t going home at the same speed as her (aka, a plane).

 At the Christ of the Ozarks in Arkansas, a place their Nana had visited as a kid!
He took pretty much a day of solace to cope with the thought of another week on the road. Lots of tears involved. I mean, at 6 weeks in… Who can blame him, really? Trying to explain that we’re at the tail end of our trip and there’s only a week left was a frail attempt that no longer worked. We were toying around with a few different routes home, possibly to see another set of friends and add a few days, but have decided against it in the spirit of keeping our timeline… And so our son doesn’t end up in the loony bin at 6 years old.

As of lately on the road… Let’s see, we did Branson, Missouri for 4 days. I felt like an idiot because I had never heard of Branson before. And now I cannot figure out how I’d missed out on this huge part of American tourism.  It’s an entire town completely dedicated to tourists who are looking for some good, clean fun. And I mean clean… like finding liquor in this place is a task. Branson is a weird place, I’m not gonna lie. The only way I can describe it is like a dry Las Vegas for old people and kids. Someone else called it Geriatric Vegas. That works too. Not that Shawn and I didn’t have fun- we totally had a blast. Mainly because it was so random and unusual to the type of fun we’d normally set out to have that we enjoyed every moment knowing we may never see the place again.

The essence of Branson.

Watching the Grand Country Jubilee (four men who had so many outfit changes their act could easily translate to West Hollywood given some song changes) perform lots of mainly patriotic songs (and a great YMCA- case in point) was nothing short of amazing. People were literally raising their hands worship style and waaaait for it… fist pumping (!) to God Bless America… Definitely an experience! It was MERICA! at it’s absolute finest… GOD AND COUNTRY baby!

We stayed at The Grand Country Resort and half of the fun with this place was the buffet... The all-inclusive-all-you-can-eat buffet. Biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak any time you want (if you haven't read about my chicken fried steak mishap from our last road trip- DO IT). There wasn’t a fit person to be found within miles of this place. Shawn and I included- I mean we’ve been sitting in a car for 6 weeks we’ve obviously lost all muscle retention. We lost our minds on this buffet and don’t you dare judge because you would have too, just trust me. We began revolving our days and activities around meal times- everything coming in second to loading up a plate with mashed potatoes and gravy. I’ve never cared so much about food in my life, like I’m pretty sure I had a dream about the rolls… And in the dream I saw Shawn as a Southerner… It wasn’t pretty.

This is an actual stock Grand Country Dining photo. You're welcome.

After leaving Branson we headed for Kansas and stayed our first night at a State Park (El Dorado). For a state park we were super impressed: clean enough bathrooms and camping right on the lake. I guess we were feeling really safe and lax because for the first time on the entire trip we decided not to lock everything we owned up (who are we kidding, I never lock anything ever- hence having two cars stolen with the keys in them... FOOL ME ONCE Kenna! Anyway, Shawn usually bolts the place up). There were few campers around us and we’d met our neighbors who were very sweet. So we left things out that turns out we'd come to regret! Shawn woke up first to get breakfast started and he said, “Kenna I think we got our pan and spatula stolen!”. At first I was thinking what a strange thing to steal, they must have been hard up for eggs or something… But when Birdie and I came back from the bathroom Shawn’s list had grown… It became like a scavenger hunt to find items. All in all, our cooler full of food (and our Ozark mountain jelly we never got to try and yes I’m really pissed about that one), 3 fishing polls (one of which was Birdie’s recent birthday present from Shawn), a chair and some cookware were taken. I’m sure they’d have taken the stove if it weren’t so loud to pack up. These thieves were ballsy as they stole stuff while we were sleeping in a tent with no rain guard in the middle of the camp. I’m kind of shocked I didn’t wake up since I’m such a light sleeper but in a way I’m glad I didn’t because I’m nuts and already know my whole fight or flight response and let’s just say “flight” isn’t in my wheel house (takes off gold hoops and walks towards thieves carrying cooler yelling, “AHHH HELLS NAH…”).

The only redeeming factor to getting our campsite robbed was that we got to experience the generosity of our neighbors (who also had a lantern and beer taken from their cooler) who came over and insisted we take a pan, spatula and a chair to replace ours. These people had next to nothing as they were actually living at the campground with their 3 kids for the summer to get back on their two feet. They were so bummed that on our first night in Kansas we’d had that experience. It was heartwarming to see strangers lend a helping hand and reminded us that there’s bad and good people everywhere.

We arrived at the KOA campground in Salina, Kansas for the KKOA car show (KOA for the KKOA- confusing, I know) on Friday the 24th of July. This campground was perfect, probably my favorite of the entire trip. If you’ve never camped a KOA- it’s a very different experience from a State or National Park. It’s a well-monitored campground, clean beyond clean (sometimes you feel like you’re not ‘truly camping’), and there are amenities like showers, laundry, parks, pool, rec room and more. This KOA was really fun because it was only 4 miles from the car show, hence it was a campground full of old cars- a mini car show in a way. We made friends right away as we were camping next to another family with kids. Birdie made a little camp bestie named Danielle who she longed to play with while stuck at the car show. One of the things I love most about camping is meeting people from all over who you’d never otherwise met. Getting to be social with total strangers is so freeing- that “blank slate” feeling is the best. They don’t know your baggage! No really, they have no clue. And you can kind of act normal for a couple days and fool the entire campground in to thinking you’ve got things together!

Birdie & Danielle
The KKOA car show was a huge turn out and a great show overall. It was fun to see 2,000+ cars that we hadn’t seen before. After going to West Coast Kustoms and Ventura Nationals for years, we’ve gotten used to seeing the same old cars (literally) and faces. The pro of that is that we have a little “crowd” we hang out with and so things like parking or packing lunch isn’t something we think about. It’s always just family style food, parking near friends, etc. Getting to the KKOA, we couldn’t have gotten in to an in-crowd if we tried. Not that people weren’t friendly, everyone seemed very sweet and welcoming- we just didn’t know many people… We did have a few “fans” from Shawn’s thread on the HAMB so that was fun to have people come up and chat us up who’ve followed our journey online... We love our fans!!! (I’ve always wanted to say that so just give it to me.)

This is my pick of the show- 58' Chevy Convertible called the Rag Doll. I love the clean look and super sweet interior!

One great thing about the car show was that it was next to a waterpark. Praise God for that water park because in 100+ degree heat, we were desperate for something to cool us down. As warned, the heat was insane. This whole “heat index” thing is terribly annoying! You’re looking at your weather app like, “HOW IS IT ONLY 97 FLIPPING DEGREES AND I’M THIS ANGRY?!” Well, add the humidity factor in to that 97 degrees and I’m not quite sure it could have actually gotten any hotter, like it appeared to me that we were physically melting... However that could have just been me.

I’ve had a few “rough days” on the trip where I’ve felt like if there was a bridge nearby I might decide to use it. Car Show, pre-water park I was having a bridge moment. The heat paired with the kids paired with the heat and kids… I was borderline crazy mommy. You know her right? Please tell me if you're a mom, you’ve been her at least once. If not, try a 7 week road trip with two kids in ungodly heat… You WILL discover your inner crazy mommy I promise you.

We had a great time at the water park and couldn’t believe it was only $4.00 each to get in… We mentioned this price to Kansas locals and they said when it first opened residents were furious at the prices! We got a good laugh out of that since a water park like that would be about $20.00 a head in California… The perks of the mid-west!

Another huge perk of the trip was that the wagon was entered in to a contest put on by a Kansas local hot rod & kustom photographer, RoyBoy Productions for a "People’s Choice" Young Blood Award that he gives out every year. The guidelines are you must be below age 35 and have a bitchin' old car. Shawn got news of it and entered us and we immediately hit up social media for votes. We had a good feeling about winning but were still beyond happy to hear our names announced at the Young Blood party on Saturday night at the Paramount Bar in Salina, KS. Travis, the owner or RoyBoy Productions, shared our entire story before calling Shawn up on stage to give him our $500 cash prize. People clapped. Shawn gave an acceptance speech giving yours truly a huge shout out. Women went wild. The people clapped some more. It was pretty awesome. For the first time in a long time I felt really proud of us, like we’d set out to do this crazy-ass trip and here we were 6 weeks later, almost done with it- winning $500 and pumping people up with our story about putting 11,000 miles on a 1959 Chevy wagon during the summer of 2015. It was kind of a surreal moment. Until the kids started pushing each other off of bar stools and then I realized our kids were sitting at a bar at 9pm at night and that's weird.

Shawn on the right, Travis from RoyBoy Productions in the middle and Gus on the left, winner of Travis's Favorite Car Pick.

There it is. You’re caught up. We spent today (Sunday, July 26th) at the car show and water park again and tonight we’re at a Best Western somewhere in Kansas living the high life. Our plan is just to “head west” and hope to see the ocean again in the next week.

xo road trip or die xo


Sunday, July 19, 2015

O'Briens Going For Broke... On Florida Theme Parks!

From CA - FL... That was the goal! To catch you up, we did our first route going from CA, NV, AZ, UT, CO, NA, IA to IL (using Chicago as our first stop so Shawn could go to Seminary for his Doctorate program)... And then headed downwards from IL to FL using IN, OH, KY, TN, NC, SC & GA. We took 26 days total to get to Florida for Disney World to celebrate Birdie's 4th birthday as the climax to this crazy adventure. 5 of those days being with friends near Chicago, 4 days with friends in Ohio, 4 more with friends in TN and the rest camping and a couple of motels... 

*If you're new to the blog, you can search "O'Briens Going for Broke" in the search bar for the other blog posts on our Summer 2015, 7 week cross-country road trip.

Birdie's thrilled to be in the Sunshine State!
Upon crossing the FL border we had a situation with the Florida state bird: the wasp. A 3" midnight black wasp entered in to the wagon through my window, first hitting my wrist, while driving on the highway. Let me tell you I'd have paid good money to have us on video trying to handle the removal of the wasp. First Cormac screamed, "There's a huge bee in the car!"... Then Birdie spotted it a few inches from her at the bottom of her window and began panicking... Then Shawn started yelling at the top of his lungs, "KILL IT! KILLLL IIIIIT!", which unfortunately I knew was directed at me. But I couldn't find anything to kill it with. All I had near me was Birdie's all-time favorite baby doll, and I couldn't bring myself to damage her image of sweet baby Coco. So I did what any almost 35 year old mother with a baby blanket would do. I sacrificed it. I grabbed it, jumped over the front seat in to the back and then attempted to smother the life out of that wasp. After a valiant 40 or so second smoother... I began to roll down the window, trying to kick the now suffocated wasp out of the car. AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT THE DAMN THING WAS STILL ALIVE. 

Screaming ensued. Louder, more high pitched screaming. From all four humans. I clamped the blanket back down and went for round two. I pressed harder and Shawn began to roll down the back window while simultaneously driving so I could get it out... It was like all hands on deck at this point. It was pretty much life or death or at least that's how we handled it. We got the window down and I then took my blanket and let the entire thing fly out of the window like I was waving a flag. I did this for like 20 seconds to make sure the wasp was out. To ongoing cars we must have looked like a ship of fools. If only they knew we really were.

After the wasp was definitely out we rolled up the windows for a bit to ensure our safety. But it was like 95 and humid so that couldn't last for long. We prepared to roll them back down when Birdie started showing signs of PTSD, wasp edition. She would not let her window go down. So we baked a little more than normal to protect our poor daughter from her newfound fear of wasps.

Our first stop in Florida was Saint Augustine which is was awesome. We were able to get in to the castle for free because we bought a National Parks pass at the beginning of the trip... Turns out the castle at Saint Augustine is owned by the National Parks! Loved reading all of the history and looking out at the ocean... What a gorgeous place, totally want to go back some day.


After leaving Saint Augustine we headed to Daytona Beach which Shawn really wanted to see because of all of the car racing history. A few times on the trip we've answered locals questions about the car and upon learning about the road trip they've let us in to said tourist spot for free... This was one of those times! We cruised down the sand at Daytona Beach and the kids enjoyed time back at the beach.

In between Daytona and getting to Disney World we stayed at a friend's home an hour outside of Orlando. They had kids our exact kids ages and it was a great stop with two amazing home prepared meals! After tons of eating out we were so stoked on home cooked southern food!

A few days before getting to Disney World we got a call from a friend in Los Angeles saying he had a family connection to Disney World park hopper passes and that he'd like to put us in touch with them. Due to my slightly cynical nature I was thinking, "too good to be true", pretty much until it was true. A Disney dream come true is what it ended up being.

Initially we were planning to get to our Disney Resort and do one day at Magic Kingdom and the other two days lounging at the pool and eating free resort food. I was fully prepared to lie to my kids and tell them the pool area was a Disney water park. Heck, with that Mickey logo on the towels... They'd have bought it!

However, we were able to enjoy all four parks after meeting up with our friend's cousin who got us in for free! It was truly a once in a life time opportunity and we were totally those parents who reminded our kids multiple times a day, "You were only supposed to go to Magic Kingdom FOR ONE DAY... Do you understand how lucky you are?!"


One of my favorite parts of our Disney World experience was Cormac getting to take part in the Star Wars "Jedi Training" at Hollywood Studios. Because we weren't planning to go to this park we hadn't researched any of it. So imagine our surprise when we heard about this awesome little "academy" they put on for little Star Wars fans! However when we went to sign him up we realized we were in way over our head and that other parents had signed their kids up like um... months ago! So we were stuck with the "alternate" list and just kept showing up to every session until the last one when they called his name! He was truly beaming. He understood that he might not get in so when he did he was just beyond stoked. We loved watching him take part in something he is so in to... Plus the fact that it was really well done and kind of a hilarious show!

Birdie was fairly low-maintence for with her requests for what she wanted to do at Disney World, however she did know that there were a few rides she wanted nothing to do with, like the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom... And after seeing Cormac's pale white face after getting off of the ride, I figured Birdie had done her research.

The one thing she was so in to was taking pics with Disney characters. Which you would think would be a simple task... Not so fast!! Somehow, and I truly blame Shawn... We waited in a line for AN HOUR under the assumption we were seeing the Ice Queens of Arendele only to get in to the castle and find Rapunzal and Cinderella. Whomp, whooomp... I mean with all do respect to these classic princesses who have earned the rhinestones in their tiaras... Just not exactly who we had in mind! "Where the hell are the Anna & Elsa?!" was pretty much the sentiment given by all four O'Briens. Cormac refused to take pics with either one and Birdie, well... I think the photos of her enthusiasm speak for themselves. 

After this fiasco let's just say we headed straight for the Frozen Summer Musical... We may have not gotten a photo with the Ice Queens but by golly we sang our hearts out with them!

Birdie really loved Mickey & Minnie and that Minnie gave her a kiss on both cheeks- she was star struck I think!
After leaving Disney World and the awesome Pop Century Resort, we headed to Gatorland (also in Orlando) which was super fun... We ate gator (not a huge fan), "wrestled gator" and saw so many gators I was seeing them in my sleep... Totally fun for kids and even adults. The thought of a two gators getting in a swamp fight kept my entertained for hours. Is that twisted?

Totally a real gator! Mouth was taped shut if that makes you think we're less stupid.

All in all Florida was a blast, hotter than I ever imagined but totally worth it, especially given the extra time at Disney World. Thank you to Amanda, Doug and Mike for the huge hookup... And our friend Sherman for putting it together!! We are forever grateful.

I'm going to be blogging more this week as my mother-in-law just joined us for a leg of the trip! Being as though my kids are so happy she's here they've forgotten who I am... I'll finally have some time on my hands to get some adventures up!!!

xo road trip or die xo