Struggle Properly – My Journey in the Salimpour Belly Dance Program

Dear Readers,

This post is a pretty big deal. I began My High-Maintenance Life in 2011 with a story called: “Disenchantment” or “Beauty School Wasn’t What I Thought it Would Be.” Since then, I have written about everything from my dogs having fleas to raising kids, to relationships coming apart and coming together. More recently, I wrote about my one of my most favorite pastimes: belly dancing.

Jamie Lewis, one of my “sisters in dance” as we say (because once you share the stage, you share a unique bond), is taking her dance hobby to the next level. Three levels, to be more precise. Jamie has the privilege of studying under world-renowned belly dance instructors, so when she asked me if she could write a guest post about her journey, I said an emphatic, “Hell YES!” More belly dance on my blog? You bet. And, any chance I can get to help promote the amazingly disciplined art of belly dance through a personal story, I’m all over it. So, here is Jamie’s story and my very first guest post, ever. Because, what Jamie is doing is a pretty big deal.

With love (and shimmies),


Struggle Properly – My Journey in the Salimpour Belly Dance Program

by Jamie Lewis

I clearly remember the very first time I took a class with Suhaila Salimpoura highly acclaimed performer, teacher, and belly dance choreographer who revolutionized belly dance by combining her extensive classical dance training in jazz, tap, and ballet with the Middle Eastern dance passed on by her mother, Jamila Salimpour. (Click here for more information about Suhaila and the Salimpour Legacy). That first class was a mixed level workshop at the first Essence of Belly Dance Festival hosted by Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance in Atlanta Georgia, and all I could think was, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

I went to the workshop because my instructor at the time told me I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with Suhaila. I had never played finger cymbals before; I was horrible at it, and they are not optional in a Salimpour class, so there I was clanking away while trying to keep up with very physically demanding dance drills, and feeling completely overwhelmed. Suhaila had these “I survived” tank tops at the merchandise table, and on day one of this workshop, I thought they were cute, but by the end of the last day, those shirts were a badge of honor. I made it to the end of the workshop, and was proud to be one of only about 25 dancers still going out of the roughly 200 that had originally started what had been the hardest weekend workshop I had ever experienced.

Jamie (second from left) and the GA Salimpour Collective with Suhaila Salimpour

Fast-forward a couple of years to the first certification workshop in Atlanta for Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Level 1. The certification program in the Salimpour School of Dance is a technique-driven curriculum in belly dance, which allows a dancer to progress technically, so she can then go forward and dance with any stylization imaginable – Oriental, Turkish, Fusion. The options are endless. There are two tracks of study in the program: the Suhaila Format focuses on technique and the muscular contractions responsible for the movement, and the Jamila Format is driven by the step families of belly dance and the connection to the music.

I had left the multi-level workshop at Essence of Belly Dance 1 feeling so energized that I eagerly signed up for the Level 1 certification workshop, only to find myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” halfway through day one of three. The warm-up alone was more challenging than the regular belly dance classes I was taking. In the Salimpour Format, everything is broken down into the exact muscles that are responsible for each movement with precise timing and direction, versus the normal follow-me approach where you essentially just dance along with the teacher. I know I am not alone in this self-reflection, that I am not the only dancer that has asked herself mid-workshop, “Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through all this for a hobby? Why the Salimpour Format?”

Time and time again the voice in my head answers, “Because you can. You have the strength in your body to do this, and the courage to struggle properly when you are challenged.”

It has been five years since my first Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Level 1, and as I work toward my Suhaila Level 3 and Jamila Level 2 certifications, I can honestly say I haven’t found anything in belly dance that challenges me as much as the Salimpour Certification Program. I also haven’t found anything that has given me as much return on the investment of my time and energy as studying belly dance and working my way through the certification program at the Salimpour School.

For every moment I have logged on the dance floor, I have gained so much more than just a new step or a fun combo – I have gained the knowledge that I am strong; I have gained self-discipline; I have gained a calm in the eye of the storm, and place to go when the mundane troubles of the day are just too much; I have gained a teacher and mentor that encourages me to keep going and pushes me when I need it; and I have gained an amazing “family” – both in my sisters in the Georgia Salimpour Collective, and in the global network of Salimpour dancers who are always there with love and support – other dancers who have also found their home in the Salimpour School. This connection with the other dancers in the certification program is something very special, and what makes this school stand out above the rest.

Suhaila Level 2 “Survivors” post-rehearsal, July 2016 (Jamie is back row, center next to Suhaila)

Suhaila always tells us that if we do the work, we will make progress as a dancer, and it is true, but that growth isn’t isolated to my dance life, it spills over into my professional and personal life as well – making me a more well-rounded person on and off the dance floor.  The beauty of the program is that every dancer’s journey is her own, whether you are content to stay at Level 1 or you want to go all the way to Level 5 and gain a teaching certificate. I haven’t decided what my final destination is yet, but I know I’m enjoying the journey.

Jamie Lewis is an SL2 and JL1 dancer in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the Georgia Salimpour Collective, and is currently working on SL3 and JL2 certification. She hopes that her personal story about the certification program will help other dancers who are considering the format, but are on the fence about making the time and financial commitment.

The Hipster Urban Mountain Man: A Mullet for the Millennium

There is a current fashion statement that fascinates me greatly. I see it at restaurants, churches, festivals, the grocery store…just about everywhere I go. After careful observation, analysis, and bafflement (“Why?” I keep saying out loud. “I just don’t get the attraction to this exhibit.”). Then, one night while observing this trend at a trendy restaurant, it hit me: The hipster beard with a clean-cut hairstyle is the equivalent of the 80s mullet.

Popular 80s Mullet and Copstache

In the 80s, the mullet made the bold statement: “Business in the front, party in the back!” most often accompanied by the also-famous-in-the-eighties “copstache,” a cut-off-sleeve rock band t-shirt, cut-off, too-short jean shorts, and a can of Busch Light.

Today, the hipster beard and shaved haircut makes the mullet statement in reverse. It gets right down to why these men are here: “Party in the front, business in the back.”

Unlike the mullet – which attempted to convey intelligence, aptitude, and respectability at first impression, saving the rowdier partier persona for when you got to know the gentlemen better outside of the office environment – the hipster beard gets right to point, pulls no punches: “I’m here for the party.” Flat out. “I might be college-educated, hold a steady, respectable, high-paying, artsy position writing copy for an advertising agency, but, when I’m not wearing overpriced business-casual work attire, I’m a laid-back, craft beer-drinking, painted-on-skinny-jeans-wearing, tattooed kind of guy with an abundance of woolly facial hair.”

Party in the front. Business in the back.

“Does he comb that beard?” my boyfriend asks, quizzically. “Does he get food stuck in it? Does his girlfriend like it?”

I would not, I tell him. Nope. I don’t understand the sex appeal, but most of the mullet-bearded men I see are standing next to attractive-looking women who are dressed nicely, and don’t appear to be as hipster as their guys. Opposites attract? The bad-boy fetish, perhaps?

I like beards. I have always liked beards. In fact, my dad grew one shortly after I was born and the first time I ever saw him in person without one, I was in my twenties. It was the night he decided to shave his face completely “just to see what I look like.” I walked in the door at my parents’ house, saw Dad sitting on the couch with his naked face and blurted, “OH MY GOD. WHERE IS YOUR BEARD?”

You can wear Christmas on your face.

I like goatees. I like scruff. I like the five o’clock shadow. But, holy cow, I do NOT like the my-beard-is-so-bushy-I-can-decorate-it-for-Christmas-or-hide-a-small-furry-animal-in-it visage. Why? How do you even kiss a guy with that much facial hair? Doesn’t it rub all over your face like wire scrubbing burnt food off a frying pan?

Animal disguised as a beard or beard disguised as a small animal?

Another variation of the accompanying hairstyle to the mullet-beard – the shaved head with longer hair over the top coiffure, pompadour style – is just as confusing.
“What is that?” my boyfriend keeps asking me each time we see it, both of us staring at the hair in question. “Why is all that shaved on the sides but the top is so long and poufy?”

His fifteen-year-old daughter gets it – at least the swoopy hairstyle part. She has even suggested that her dad grow his hair out just like that. “It’s awesome,” she swoons. “I love it when guys have really great hair.”

That’s exactly how I felt when I first saw Jon Bon Jovi and John Cougar and Steven Tyler and all the guys from Def Leppard and Poison when I was 15.

Maybe we’re getting older. Maybe we don’t get the cool twenties and thirties hair and fashion anymore. Just like our parents didn’t get the whole mullet phenomenon. Or parachute pants.

Every generation has its fashion statements and faux pas. Evidently, we are running out of original ideas, so today’s hipsters have been forced to recycle the 80s mullet by wearing it in reverse. I guess they’ve made it cool again to have short and long on your head all at the same time. Although I don’t fully understand it, at least they have much better taste in beer than their 80s predecessors. I’ll give ‘em that.

Belly Dancers Eat Cupcakes, and 7 More Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Us


After my first belly dance class with one of Atlanta’s premier professional belly dancers, a surprising thing happened: she ate a cupcake.

One of my classmates had brought snacks to the three-hour workshop and set them up on the cafe tables in the back of our rehearsal room for all to partake. Our instructor spotted a tray of desserts and made her way over to the table while the rest of us were putting on our shoes. She held up a cupcake and announced to the room, “This looks like the last cupcake. If anyone wants it, I’ll fight ya for it!” She laughed out loud.

Nobody rose to the challenge, so she took a bite of the chocolate cupcake with fluffy white frosting and proclaimed, “OH, YUM!”

That’s when it hit me: belly dancers eat real food.

One of my belly dance performances at Nicola's Lebanese Restaurant, Atlanta.

One of my belly dance performances at Nicola’s Lebanese Restaurant, Atlanta.

They are not (at least the ones I’ve met) women who only pretend to eat; starving themselves because they have to look good baring their midriffs. In fact, one of the wonderful things about belly dancing is that you don’t really want to be so skinny that nothing jiggles when you dance. Seriously – belly dancers are voluptuous, curvy women. Some of them are even, dare I say…plump. All of them are beautiful.

I have been dancing all of my life – from ballet and pointe to jazz, tap, hip-hop, ballroom, and even country – but, never have I felt so beautiful as a woman in all of my performances as I do when I belly dance. I eat, too, and none of the other belly dancers seem to judge me for it.

  1. Belly dancing is an EMPOWERING experience.
    I have seen women of all body types, all sizes, and all ages (from size 2 to 22; from 16 to 90 years old) perform belly dance routines and look beautiful doing it. I have seen women from beginners to professionals command an audience with either their skill level, enthusiasm, or often both. And by “command an audience” I mean people of all ages, male and female, cheering and clapping; completely captivated.

    In my own experience, performing is a rush of adrenaline, excitement, empowerment, and so much FUN. When I am shaking what my mama gave me (and a little extra, since I honestly can’t control myself when it comes to dark chocolate or a bag of potato chips) I can’t stop smiling. I feel like the most beautiful and talented woman on the floor – just like every single one of my sisters in dance with whom I am shimmying. That is quite an empowering experience, for sure.

  2. Belly dancers are not strippers.
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out to dinner or at a party with my boyfriend and the husband of an acquaintance says, “Oh, belly dancing, huh?” Wink. Elbow my boyfriend for emphasis. “Does she dance for you at home?” or “Heyyyy…maybe after a few drinks you can show us some of your moves.”

    My significant other, does not like these comments, as you can imagine. I totally get that. Neither do I. But, honestly, it’s not their fault – aside from the obvious reasons that men should not objectify women – most people (women included) really have no idea what belly dancing is.  So, they just assume because we are wearing fringe and beads and shaking and shimmying that we must be strippers. If people knew how difficult it was to get into and out of some of our costumes, they would never make that mistake. From what I have seen, strippers’ costumes come off rather easily. Not so much for a belly dancer who is often safety-pinned into her outfit to prevent things from falling off.

    I once took lessons from a professional belly dancer who told us before every show, “We are all good girls from good families.” She was right. Or at the very least, we are all girls and women who have worked very hard at perfecting our choreography and technique, because after all, belly dancing is a centuries-old art, not an act of seduction. In fact, in its origins to the Middle East, Egypt, Africa, and the Mediterranean, belly dancing was often performed by women for other women. Leave it to Americans to turn it into something that objectifies women in a negative way.

  3. Belly dancers are serious entertainers.
    My current instructor, a college-degreed, extremely hard-working and talented performer, takes her art very seriously. She balances swords on her head, and plays the zills. She practices hours at a time; teaches all levels of dancers; performs several nights a week; sews her own costumes; and is committed to sharing her passion for belly dance with people like me – a woman who is excited to be able to continue doing something she loves no matter how old she gets. My instructor also eats fire, which is not something just anyone can master.
  4. Belly dancing does not have minimum or maximum height requirements.
    Putting on stage makeup makes me happy.

    Stage makeup selfie.

    As a result of missing the height requirement by a mere six inches, I gave up my dream of becoming a Radio City Rockette 20 years ago. I found belly dancing in my late thirties, when I had no prospect of growing any taller. Thankfully, there is no height requirement for belly dancing; five feet is totally acceptable.

  5. Belly dance classes are friendly, welcoming environments in which women support each other.
    I have heard frightening stories from friends who take exercise classes at the local gym. Apparently, the “regulars” don’t like it when a newcomer stands anywhere she pleases, unknowingly obliterating the space of a regular. The regulars are always like, “How dare she stand in the front row. She has only been here one other time!” On occasion, arguments ensue as the women become competitive with each other.

    I have never had an argument or heard of one taking place at a belly dance class. In fact, you might be surprised to learn I have met very few divas in belly dancing – they seem to be more the exception than the norm. For the most part, the women I have danced with over the years have been enthusiastic about offering costume and makeup tips; willing to help when I am having trouble with a combination; and generous with snacks during long rehearsals or a lengthy backstage wait.

    For many of us, belly dance class is the most fun hour of our week. We are happy to be there. We start smiling as soon as the music begins and we start shimmying. There is even a move called the “choo-choo shimmy.” It really is as fun as it sounds, and you can’t keep from smiling or feeling happy when you are choo-choo shimmying around the room!

  6. Belly dancing is a great workout, but I never think I am actually exercising.
    I have to admit, when I have the choice between sleeping 30 minutes longer or getting out of bed to exercise before my day begins, I choose sleep every time. I used to belong to a gym. If I actually got myself through the front door a couple times a week, I beelined to an elliptical machine, set the program for 20 minutes, and spent 19 minutes wondering how long I had left to go.

    Not so with belly dancing. I change into my dance clothes, grab my water bottle, and sometimes spend more than an hour in traffic just to be on time for my one-hour class. I can’t wait to get there, and I’m always surprised at how quickly the hour goes by. Do I actually get a good workout, you are wondering? Let’s put it this way…the best shape I have ever been in after giving birth to my daughter was when I was belly dancing at least four times a week, just 30 to 45 minutes at a time. It is a great cardio workout, and does wonders for toning and strengthening your abs, arms, and legs.


    The Purple Hafla, a tribute to Prince, Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance – photo by Anthony R. Socci

  7. You can belly dance just about anywhere. No equipment needed.
    Because I work and volunteer and have to help children with homework, make lunches and dinners, and get my ten-year-old to bed at a reasonable hour, it’s not always easy to get to a belly dance class during the week. Thankfully, I can belly dance in my office or my living room – or wherever I can sneak in a quick 30-minutes of practice drills. DVDs, online classes, or just turning on my favorite Spotify Belly Dance station, allows me to belly dance wherever and whenever I get the urge. That’s how I managed to belly dance four or five times a week when my daughter was a baby.

If you are a woman, at any stage of life, and you are looking to find your tribe of positive, uplifting, inspiring people, try belly dancing. You might be surprised to find that the benefits you receive – both physical and emotional – spill into every other area of your life. And that’s the real frosting on the cupcake.

Check out some of my favorite Atlanta Belly Dancers, Studios, and Costumes:
Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance
Karma Karmelita
Aziza Nawal
Miss Belly Dance

Panic Strikes the Department of Agriculture

Our homemade Socci Sauce, a family tradition.

Our homemade Socci Sauce, a family tradition.

Yesterday, I had to contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture to find answers to questions like:

  • How does one go about getting a homemade food product inspected so it meets the safety requirements for public sale and consumption?
  • Is it OK to use a catering kitchen to make our product, or do we need to rent a commercial kitchen?
  • What are the safety regulations involved in canning tomato sauce?

Generally, I wanted to learn what it takes to get Socci Sauce from a local church bazaar and festival market to the gourmet food store and restaurant market.

After several phone calls to the Department of Agriculture and recounting my spiel (“Hi, my name is Karla. We make pasta sauce and we want to find out what we need to do to meet all the food safety and labeling requirements to sell our sauce to stores and restaurants…”) to several different people who passed me off to more people, I finally got to a very nice woman whom I’ll call “Roberta” just in case someone from the Department of Agriculture or Health Department reads this and is shocked. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble.

Let me say, this may quite possibly be one of the best examples of irony. Ever.

Here is what happened:

I’m sitting at my desk with my father next to me and Albie behind me at his desk. I make the phone call to the Department of Agriculture, get transferred around five times, then speak to Roberta.

I repeat my inquiry and Roberta replies in a rapid-paced, Southern drawl – which is an oxymoron. Clearly she has been asked these questions about food regulations before and is an expert at answering them. I attempt to take notes as quickly as she is speaking, while simultaneously interpreting her accent. My dad watches as I scrawl on the paper between us.

  • UGA must review
  • Is it “shelf stable”?
  • Ph test – 24 hours
  • Might have to take class
  • Licensed kitchen?
  • Business plan
  • Health dept.
  • Letter from kitchen; letter from Health dept.

Suddenly, I hear a commotion in the background and Ms. Roberta abruptly stops her recitation of food handling requirements and says, “Hold on a minute, please.”

“I’m on hold,” I inform Dad and Albie. I wait with the phone still pressed to my left ear, pen poised in my right hand. The commotion on the other end of the line continues. Apparently, putting me on hold means setting the phone down on the desk.

“Well, get it out of here! I don’t want that in here with me!” I hear Roberta saying to her coworkers.

“Kill it!” I hear. Then, slamming noises like someone is hitting the wall with a shoe. Laughter. Panic. Movement.

I hear muffled sounds and then Roberta’s voice again. “Oh, for cryin’ out loud, just let me get it.” More commotion.

“Did you kill it?” Roberta asks a minute later. Laughter. Voices I can’t understand.

“Oh my God,” I say to Dad and Albie. “They are trying to kill a bug!”

“Are you serious?!” Dad says, incredulously. “The Department of Agriculture has a bug?”

“Apparently,” I say. “It sounds like they are all chasing it around the room with a shoe.”

The three of us are laughing. I am wiping tears from my eyes. We all wait while the commotion continues for several more minutes. I am wondering if Roberta forgot about me.

Then, I hear movement closer to the phone, papers rustling, and a voice on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry about that. Where were we?” says Ms. Roberta in her most professional tone.

“Did you kill it?” I reply.

Unable to contain herself, Ms. Roberta bursts out in a high-pitched cackle and calls out to her colleagues, “She asked if we killed it! I thought she was on hold! She asked if we killed the bug!”

Then, to me she says, “It was one of those water bugs, you know? When it’s cold outside they just come inside. I mean they spray for ‘em, but they find a way in. I had to put it out of its misery!” She laughs again. She is clearly amused by the situation and proud of herself for being brave enough to kill it.

My stomach muscles hurt from laughing. We continue our conversation about food handling protocol and Roberta says she will send me an email with all the details I need to get Socci Sauce “up to code” with the Health Department. She tells me to call her if I have any questions at all and she will be happy to assist us.

Unlike the Department of Agriculture, we do not have any bugs in our kitchen, so I think we are off to a good start.

My Breastfeeding Rant

This morning I woke up early so I could take my daughter to before-school chorus rehearsal. It wouldn’t have been so bad getting up an hour earlier than usual if I had actually gone to bed at a reasonable time. Instead, Albie and I stayed up watching Sisters – the hilariously funny movie with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Then, we talked about the movie, then let the dogs out, then talked about how I had to get up ridiculously early, then went to bed around 2:00 am.

So, after dropping my daughter off at school at 7:40 am, I decided I would just “lay down for 10 minutes” since I only had four and a half hours of sleep.

That’s when I had this dream:

I was angrily writing a Facebook post about the importance of breastfeeding in public. I had somehow heard that a woman I knew was breastfeeding her baby on a bench in a park and she was harassed for her indecency. “Dream Me” decided to take a stand against all the breastfeeding bullies in the world and fired off a short exposition about the importance of nursing in public.

I saw myself typing the post.

“I don’t usually use Facebook to get up on a pedestal, but today I can’t just sit by and let another injustice occur. Breastfeeding is totally natural and acceptable and it is just our own hangup as Americans that we find it offensive. People breastfeed in Europe all the time and nobody gets upset. Thank you. I’m off my pedestal.”

When I woke from my short, informative nap, I decided this must be an issue my subconscious (unconscious?) mind feels very strongly about. My conscious mind does, too. I just didn’t realize it was at the top of my list of causes at this point in time since I have no plans to breastfeed again in this lifetime. Ever. I already did that 10 years ago for 17 months. I did it in public and in private – because a hungry baby has no idea where you are and frankly, doesn’t care.

Kind of like my dogs. They don’t care who’s around when I roll out their food containers. They just want to eat.

Please don’t get upset that I compared my dogs to children. Then I’ll have to dream about ranting about how pets are part of the family and should be treated with the utmost respect.

(Here’s the trailer for Sisters, in case you want to check it out. You’re welcome.)

How My Mother Became a Criminal

It’s official. The police have finally caught up with her. My mother was caught red-handed doing something that the Gwinnett County Police Department had to deal with more than 28,000 times in the past year. Maybe she thought it would never happen to her. Maybe she thought she could talk her way out of it. Maybe she thought she would never get caught.

But, on July 6th, 2015, she was careless. She made a mistake that she may regret for the rest of her life. Gwinnett County Police responded to the criminal activity that took place at my home, while my mother was present. I was out of town when I received the phone call. Here’s how it all happened, in my own words.

Warning: due to graphic nature, the following content may not be suitable for all readers.

Our view of the beach.

Our view of the beach.

I’m walking along the beach. I can feel the soft, white sand beneath my toes. I hear the rush of the waves as they drift over my feet and I smell the salty air. The sun feels hot on my face, my shoulders, and fills me with a sense of peace. I am totally relaxed as I smile at my boyfriend. He squeezes my hand and says, “This is the life.” Yes, yes it is. A beach vacation is one of my favorite things in this life. And, just like every other beach vacation we have taken together, this one is perfect.

After a few hours of collecting seashells, paddle boarding, kayaking, and swimming in the warm gulf waters, we return to our chairs. As I reach for my book in the beach bag, I see my phone tucked into the pocket of my shorts. “I wonder what time it is,” I say to my sweetheart. “Not that I care, really.” I shield my eyes from the sun and look at my phone.

Blissfully unaware, before we got the call.

Blissfully unaware, before we got the call.

1 missed call and 1 voicemail from EMC Security

1 missed call from the Gwinnett County Police Department

6 missed calls and 3 voicemails from my mother

“Oh my God,” I say out loud.

“What?” Albie asks from the chair next to me.

“Our house burned down,” I tell him.

What?” he says, a bit more emphatically than the first time.

She Burned Down the House?

“I have missed calls and voicemails from the security company, the police department, and my mother – in that order. She must have burned down the house.”

“I’m sure she didn’t burn down the house,” Albie reassures me. “She doesn’t even like to cook.”

“Good point,” I realize. My mom, who is watching our house and our two dogs, hates to cook. She wouldn’t be using anything but the microwave and the coffee pot. Unless she put aluminum foil in the microwave, she probably hasn’t set the place on fire.

My mom's usual, laid-back dog-watching approach.

My mom’s usual, laid-back dog-watching approach.

“What did she say?” Albie asks me.

“I don’t know,” I reply, holding the phone in my hand like I’m not sure what to do next.

“Well…why don’t you listen to your voicemail?” he suggests, sweetly.

“Oh, right!” I suddenly return to my senses and press play. First, it’s the security company.

Hello, Ms. Somers, this is EMC Security. The alarm at your home is going off and we’re trying to reach you. Please call us back as soon as possible. 

The time on the call is from almost two hours ago. I look at Albie and say, “It’s the alarm company. See if they called you. Somebody broke in. Oh my God. The dogs.”

Albie digs his phone out of the beach bag. The alarm company, the police department, and my mother have called him, too. Surely some major catastrophe has ensued and we’re out here frolicking on the beach nearly 400 miles away. My mother always warned me of the consequences of being frivolous and carefree; now she was part of the aftermath of my irresponsible decision to go to the beach.

I decided she should be innocent until proven guilty, so I listened to the voicemails on speakerphone so Albie could hear, too.

The first one said: Oh jeez. Karla! I just came in the house and the alarm won’t shut off…hang on, the security company is calling me. I’ll call you back.

Her second voicemail (in a panicked voice): What’s the password for the security company? You left me two pages of instructions about when to feed the dogs and let them in and give them treats but you DIDN’T TELL ME THE PASSWORD FOR THE ALARM. CALL ME BACK!

Her third voicemail (with a cheerful tone): Never mind. The police came and I told them it was a false alarm, and the company reset it so it would stop going off. I’m sure your father did something to it when he left last night that made me set it off this morning. OK. Hope you’re having a good time. How’s the weather? The dogs are fine. The police officer was really nice. His name was John or Jerry, I think. Yeah, that’s it – Officer Jerry. He was so nice. Very friendly. So, everything is fine. OK. Have fun! Love you. Bye!

I look over at Albie. “OK,” he says, raising his eyebrows. “So…want to go back in the water?”

Dad and Friedrich have everything under control.

Dad and Friedrich have everything under control.

We made it through the rest of our beach vacation without incident. No more phone calls from the police department or security company. And, the ones to and from my mom were primarily to see how the dogs were doing without us.

The Official Police Report

About three weeks later, The Letter came. It was from the Gwinnett County Police Department. It was printed on police department letterhead and an official case number had been assigned.

The letter informed me that, “Police officers responded to an alarm activation at [my address]. The officers found no sign of criminal activity and ruled this to be a false alarm.” Whew. That was close. However, “The Alarm Systems Ordinance requires that charges be assessed to false alarm calls.” Busted.

A fee schedule followed this official notification. Fortunately, my “first offense” is complimentary. Isn’t that nice? After that, though, if my mother becomes a repeat offender within the same calendar year, we will be subjected to fines starting at $25.00 and possibly exceeding $500.00 with the issuance of a citation. Of course, I can appeal in writing along with remittance of my fine within 15 days.

Next, and here’s where it really gets good, my mother may register for and attend – are you ready for this? – ALARM AWARENESS SCHOOL. Yes, there really is such a thing. Hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars at work for the greater good of preventing such future criminal activity.

The letter goes on to announce that if you successfully complete Alarm Awareness School, offered by the Crime Prevention Unit, you will be given a credit for a future false alarm.

So, I’m wondering what they actually teach you at this Alarm Awareness School. Clearly, it is not very effective if they have to issue a credit for a future false alarm upon completion of the class. So much for preventing recurring criminal activity.

The dogs reacting to the news that Grandma is facing criminal charges.

The dogs reacting to the news that Grandma is facing criminal charges.

I call my mother to deliver the bad news. “Mom,” I say, “We received a letter from the police department. You’re in trouble.”

“What?” she asks, nonchalantly. “What did I do now?”

“Remember when you set off the alarm a few weeks ago? Well, you have to pay a fine.”

“Are you serious?” she asks me, sounding annoyed. “Officer Jerry told me it was no problem, and he said to call if I needed anything, and now they sent you a fine? For what?”

“Five hundred dollars,” I say into the phone. “And, you have to attend Alarm Awareness School.”

My mother makes noises on the other end of the phone. She is getting really upset now, and I feel bad. I laugh out loud.

“Why are you laughing? Karla? Are you for real, or are you bullshitting me?” I just keep laughing.

“Seriously, did you get a letter from the police department?”

“Yes, Mom. I did. But you don’t have to pay this time. The first one’s free. But you have to go to Alarm Awareness School and learn how to operate my alarm correctly.”

“Right. Tell your father he’s the one that should go. I’m sure it’s his fault it went off. I didn’t have any problems with it before he stopped over.”

I smile to myself and think about how much I love my parents for taking care of our home and our dogs while we were at the beach.

This is the life.

Daily Dog Photos: Friedrich Finds a Puddle

After four days of rain, our backyard becomes equipped with two large mud puddles deep enough for a dog lie in. Feeling a bit overheated after his morning walk, Friedrich decided to cool off in one of those puddles. Now, he desperately wants to come inside, but instead, he will get a cold-water hose-down before he is allowed back in the house.

Consequences are tough – even when you’re a dog.

What puddle?

What puddle?

Alright! I did it. I was in the puddle.

Alright! I did it. I was in the puddle.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Can I come in now? Please?

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Can I come in now? Please?

Aw, come on! LET. ME. IN.

Aw, come on! LET. ME. IN.

Fine. Let's get this bath thing over with.

Fine. Let’s get this bath thing over with.

Enough with the cold water already! And stop spraying me in the face, please.

Enough with the cold water already! And stop spraying me in the face, please.

I'm so humiliated.

I’m so humiliated.

I can't even look at you right now.

I can’t even look at you right now.

Can we just go back inside the damn house?

Can we just go back inside the damn house?

(Maya) I'll let you in, Fred! I just can't reach the door handle.

(Maya) I’ll let you in, Fred! I just can’t reach the door handle.

(Maya) That was hard to watch. I'm being good though. (Fred is too exhausted to speak.)

(Maya) That was hard to watch. I’m being good though. (Fred is too exhausted and ashamed to speak.)

A Week in My (High-Maintenance) Life or What It’s Like to Be Me

Although at some point in your life you have probably wondered what it’s like to be someone else – like a celebrity (but not Bruce Jenner), a famous guitarist, the queen of England, or if you’re like me, a Rockette – I am guessing you have never really wondered what it is like to be me. I want to tell you anyway.

My High-Maintenance Life isn’t just some fancy title I made up for my blog, but rather it is an accurate description of what my life is really like. Let me give you an example or two, because you’re probably saying,

“Oh, Karla. My life is just as high-maintenance as yours. Everyone’s is.” And, you might be right.


But honestly, if you can top the list of things that have taken place in my life in just the last week and a half, by all means, let me know and I’ll write about your crazy life instead of mine for a change.

In the past week and a half I have:

  • applied to 38 jobs
  • written 37 cover letters
  • called the CEO of a company an asshole in one such cover letter (he was self-proclaimed, so I thought it was totally acceptable)
  • received a response from the guy I called an asshole along with an invitation to officially apply for a position with his company and decided he is not an asshole anymore, especially if he hires me
  • received one job offer and respectfully declined on account of creative differences (I am a writer. It’s to be expected. No hard feelings.)
  • sat through three meetings
  • attempted to understand the oh-so-simple, user-friendly United States Post Office bulk mailing regulations for a graphic design project
  • packed 16 nutritious lunches
  • cooked 11 nutritious dinners
  • ate leftovers from nutritious dinners for lunch (11 times)
  • wiped muddy paw prints off the kitchen floor three times
  • let my dogs in and out the back door 82 times
  • sprayed dogs with the water bottle for barking and jumping on the front window 38 times
    Antonia, Maya and Friedrich coping with their high-maintenance lives.

    Antonia, Maya and Friedrich coping with their high-maintenance lives.


  • picked up four bags of dog poop (even from the mean neighbor’s yard)
  • attended two curriculum nights at two different schools
  • got caught in two torrential downpours with lightning, thunder, and no umbrella
  • mopped floor of flooded bathroom after an upstairs toilet overflowed
  • mopped floor of kitchen which is under the upstairs toilet that overflowed and marveled at how much water was dripping from the kitchen ceiling onto the floor below after just one toilet flush
  • washed five loads of laundry, including towels from bathroom and kitchen floors
  • purchased eight bottles of hand-sanitizing soap online
  • read 13 self-improvement/relationship/positive thinking/self-love articles
  • told myself I looked fat in three outfits
  • snuck chocolate from my secret stash in the garage fridge (although it isn’t really secret – everyone else just forgot about it)
  • finished box of chocolates and hid the evidence under wine bottles in the recycle bin
  • contemplated the number of wine bottles in the recycle bin (only three, so therefore I do not drink too much during the week. Do beer bottles count?)
  • ran 4.5 miles, but not all at once
  • walked the dogs 3 miles, but not all at once
  • stood at my desk for a total of 6 hours per day, totaling about 48 hours because my friend Theresa told me that “sitting is the new smoking”
  • answered the door 26 times, so I could say, “Antonia is still finishing her homework. She’ll be outside as soon as she is ready. You don’t have to ring the doorbell anymore today. Thank you!”

So there you go. Even if you haven’t wondered what it is like to be me, you now have a glimpse into a day in the life of a high-maintenance one. Although, I suppose it could be even more insane. I wonder what Bruce, I mean, Catilyn Jenner, is up to this week.

The Elf is Out of the Closet

Antonia read my blog. The Elf on the Shelf is out of the closet.

I was out walking the dogs and when I returned, there was my almost-nine-year-old daughter standing in the den with her hands on her hips, waiting for me to walk through the door. When I did, she glared at me, smirking.

“What?” I asked her.

“Mom…” she began in the tone of voice she uses when I catch her doing something she isn’t supposed to do. Then she paused, as if she didn’t know what to say next.

“What?” I asked again. “What did you do?”

“No, nothing,” she replied, hands still on her hips. I stood there in my ski jacket with the dog still on his leash.

“What’s going on?” I prompted her again, looking around the room for incriminating evidence.

“I just read My High-Maintenance Life,” Antonia informed me.

“Oh?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

“Yeah,” she replied. “Turns out that YOU moved the elf!”

Still believing in the magic!

Still believing in the magic!

“What? No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did, Mom.”

“What did you read?” I asked.

“The dog biscuits,” said Antonia.

“Yeah, well, we just helped her,” I said in an attempt to keep the magic alive. “Before that, she moved on her own.”

“Mom,” Antonia said in her best you-can’t-fool-me voice, “I read your blog. She didn’t move on her own. And, you really tripped over the dog getting her out of my room?”

I laughed. “Yup. I really tripped over the dog.”

She laughed, too, then asked, “So, where did you put her when you told me Santa took her back to the North Pole?” She made air quotes around “Santa” as she said it.

I panicked. Do I admit the lie, or try to cover it up. Suddenly, our roles were reversed and I was dumbstruck. I felt a twinge of sadness (even though I really hate that stupid elf), because I felt like my sweet, little girl was suddenly getting older before my eyes.

Wasn’t it like a minute ago that she believed everything I told her about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the monsters in the closet, Jingles the Elf? And, if she knew the truth about Jingles, wouldn’t she – in her smart, little mind that works overtime connecting bits and pieces of information – figure out the truth about Santa, the Easter Bunny and all the other magical beings that cause so much stress in every parent’s late night, holy-cow-I-forgot-to-put-money-under-the-pillow hours?

And, if that’s the case, that she no longer believes in the magic, like next week she is going to be asking for the car keys and introducing me to her leather jacket-wearing, too-many-piercings boyfriend who says, “Yo. ‘Sup, Ms. S?” when he sees me and holds out his knuckles to fist pump. And I am totally not ready for that. Ever.

“She went back to the North Pole with Santa,” I said to Antonia, “just like I told you.”

“Mom,” she insisted, “no she didn’t. If you don’t tell me where she is, I’ll go read it!” She stared at me for a second, and when I didn’t reply, she marched back down the hall to her laptop. A few minutes later, she reappeared in the kitchen. “She’s in your closet behind a wicked basket!” she announced, loudly.*

I laughed out loud. “Wicker basket. She’s behind a wicker basket.”

“Well, go get her!” Antonia shouted.

“Later,” I said. “My hands are all wet. I’ll get her later.”

She went back down the hall and then I heard her little footsteps coming back to the kitchen. “Mom?”

“Yes, Antonia?”

“I don’t care that you moved the elf. I really just care that she moved. That’s all. It’s still fun.” My daughter smiled at me.

“Yes, it is,” I said smiling back at her.

“I have an idea, though, for next Christmas,” said Antonia.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Next year, Emma and I are going to hide the elf and let you and Albie find her!”

“That’s a great idea, Antonia,” I told my sweet, young daughter.

I went back to washing dishes, smiling to myself. Maybe the leather-jacketed boyfriend is still a few years away after all.

*Author’s Note: Antonia recounted this story to her dance teacher, informing her that, “My mom hid the elf behind a liquor bottle!” All the other moms looked at me and laughed out loud. I corrected the story and assured them it was a wicker basket. Although, I can see the confusion, as some of my wine bottles have wicker around them.

Elves in the Off-Season…What Happens After Christmas

December 18th – 24th:

elfsnowangelAfter the elf ate dog biscuits, she made a snow angel in flour; became crunchy after I washed the flour off her back;


passed out next to a wine bottle; elfbystarclimbed another Christmas tree (we had two); climbed a wall divider; and made it to her final resting place on the fireplace mantel. It was there she sat on December 24th with a note to Antonia that said:elfonpanel

Dear Antonia,

 elfletterThis is my last visit before Santa comes! It has been fun being your elf this year. My reports to the North Pole have been mostly good, so there’s a good chance Santa will bring you something nice! Keep being a good little girl and a good student!

Merry Christmas!


Jingles the Elf

P.S. Get some better cookies and I’ll come back next year.

On Christmas Eve, I explain to Antonia that Jingles will not be coming back again since Santa was going to be arriving instead. “She had to go back to the North Pole and help with the toys,” I tell Antonia.

“Oh,” Antonia says sullenly. “Will she be back next year?”

“That depends,” I reply. “Sometimes elves get reassigned to other kids, so we won’t know until next Christmas.”

Antonia ponders this for a minute then asks, “Mama? Does Jingles just leave in spirit or her body goes away, too?”

“Well…I’m not really sure. But, I know she doesn’t move anymore after this.”



Antonia is clearly bothered by this information. “So, I’ll still get to keep her in my closet, but she just won’t move around the house?”

“I guess so,” I tell my sweet daughter.

That night, I completely forget about our conversation, and as we are filling stockings and parking a new purple and orange bike by the tree, I grab the elf off the mantel and stuff her on a shelf in the closet behind a wicker basket.

Christmas Day:

Antonia is all excited to find her new bicycle in front of the fireplace and all the goodies in her stocking, but in the midst of it all realizes that Jingles is nowhere to be found. She doesn’t say much about it to Albie or me, but once the grandparents arrive, Albie overhears her telling one of them, “Apparently, Santa didn’t just take her spirit, he took her whole body back to the North Pole!”

Apparently, that’s what happens to elves in the off-season.