Category Archives: Classic Mama Alice

High Expectations, Yoda Moms + Cubicles

Navigating through my 20s without my mom is tough. I’m a girl living in a man’s world. Brothers. Dad. Boyfriend.

With the days of mourning behind me, I worried what it would be like the further and further I was away from a time when I saw my mother. Talked to her. Would I miss her more? Would I feel very far removed from her? Would I start to forget her?

Perhaps it is counterintuitive but I actually feel a calm because she is with me always influencing my decisions even when it is not apparent. Our relationship miraculously continues to evolve.

Her Latest Lesson

My mother did not build a career. In my limited understanding of the world, I considered this to be an egregious and embarrassing oversight because I have since the age of 5 regarded having a high-powered career as the ultimate achievement. Other girls dream of white dresses and fairytales but I envisioned the homes I would own all over the world.

When I would ask my mother about possible jobs around town she always said something like, “Why am I going to waste my time with that?” I took this a sign she thought she was better than everyone else.

Later when I was in college, I reflected and thought her judgment of others was a defense mechanism, and maybe even laziness or worse, lack of self-work. Time passed and I flip-flopped again. My mother was very intelligent. She could definitely work in any old cubicle around town. Something about my assumption did not add up. She had cancer so then I thought maybe that had something to do with it, but then a fulfilling career seems like a desirable distraction to me.

It was not until years later when I found myself in a cubicle that the crumbs started to lead me in the right direction. I have had pretty good jobs so far. I worked with people who became lifelong friends. I did some creative work writing and producing Web content. I traveled around the U.S. At my last job I even ditched the cube and had an office with huge windows and lots of time for afternoon tennis. Those experiences were adequate. They paid the bills. But two things. One, people telling you what to do sucks. Two, don’t let Mary Tyler Moore fool you, it’s not all co-workers who want to be friends or harbor super secret crushes for nine seasons. It’s a lot of lazy people with no ambition, crotchety bosses who take their boss’ aggression out on you and cake in the kitchen haunting every inch of your body.

Even though I consider myself lucky in many ways (experience, travel, conference tchotchkes) eventually all three of my “real-world” jobs became tedious and stifling on both the soul and the mind. Now I have heard from friends that some desk-jobs are fabulous. I have yet to make on-site visits but I believe they exist. Some people are lucky and find the right blend. Others create their own destiny. It depends on personality. I know myself so I know my expectations for what I am willing to spend my time on is high.

After my last foray (I hope literally my LAST foray) into working for someone else who chops my work into tiny little pieces, I decided my mom was actually a genius. She is absolutely right. Why am I going to spend the precious moments on my life working on projects I’m not passionate about? She spent her time with her family, cooking, eating well, reading and spending her life exploring what interested her. Yes, she did not become famous (yet) but she was the most interesting person to talk with and she consistently worked on her spirituality. By doing so she taught me to hold high expectations for my career and all the precious moments of my life.

That tricky Yoda Mom!


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Filed under Be Grateful, Classic Mama Alice, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother

The Art of Using the Postal Service: Symbols of Gratitude

When my family moved to Gardner my mother was separated from her friend Margie. I heard about her from time to time. I assume my mother and her friend commiserated over husband issues, the joys (and pitfalls) of child rearing and other life stuff. After our move their friendship of similar lifestyle and proximity needed to evolve or terminally reside in “Oh remember that friend?”

Thank you notes

At Trauma to Art's first workshop we handed out thank you notes for attending with custom comment cards (stamp included).

Luckily an evolution took place in the form of letter writing. It started when we moved in the 80s and stayed strong for decades. My mother wanted me to watch and learn. Mama Alice, subtle as always, gave me heaps and heaps of stationery and lectured me on the art of picking a proper parchment representation to encapsulate my essence. At the time I had no feasible use for such an education. These days I do.

USPS Modern Update

While I don’t have some great correspondence relationship with a friend whom moved far away, I have taken her practice and updated it. Email is a great way to keep up with all my friends so that is my mode of choice. However, I employ the USPS for a lofty task: acts of gratitude.

Once a day (usually) I write a thank you note to one of my friends. The note could be about something specific. Recently I sent out a stack thanking my friends who helped me through the process of taking a new job (if you helped and haven’t received one, trust me it’s on its way). Sometimes it is a simple ‘thinking of you’.

The Double Thank You

The double thank you is the best. When I can I include a thank you note within the thank you note as a gift so my friend can continue the postal love to another friend of theirs. My way isn’t the only way. How do you show your gratitude?

Much love,

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Filed under Be Grateful, Classic Mama Alice, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, loss, positive tradition

We Change the World Every Day

We are an ambitious people. We all have big, lofty goals. Building the foundation and working toward those goals is daunting. Nelson Mandela is famous for saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

This jewelry was made at the first Trauma to Art in-person workshop. It will be on sale with other t2a creations at the Karenna Maraj studio in Cushing Squaure, Belmont, Mass. soon! Email me for details.

While that struggle gives our lives meaning, it’s also important to acknowledge the impact of our day-to-day actions. What we eat. The words we use. How we treat one another. These things influence the world around us.

My mother’s food soapbox is a great example. In my household she led the charge when it came to healthy eating. As a result I am totally obnoxious about food. A snob. A nudge. It’s embarrassing at times. Then I look at the good that has come from my (painful) lectures. Those friends forced against their will to listen to me talk about processed food and aspartame and leafy greens actually changed their eating habits.

I can think of three change leaders off the top of my head: My best friend Caitlin. My college roommate Sana. My former boyfriend Jesse. And I know the list goes on from there. I also know their actions persist meaning they are affecting change as I write this Friday night blog post. Everyone thinks on a grand scale. Even me. I want to create pervasive American cultural traditions to remember the people we’ve lost and help the grieving. Goals are good but seeing the small picture should not be undervalued or underserved.

As a society we are quick to acknowledge and reward those with big dreams, which we should. In addition to that maybe could start to value kindness, gratitude, laughter, music, art, friendship, family, love, respect, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance… the list could go on forever. I’ll let my mother handle the rest: Alice Law – definition after the jump.

Much love,

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Filed under Classic Mama Alice, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent, positive tradition

Do People Change?

Do people change?

Do people change?

Whether people can actually change is up for hot debate. Some psychology professionals insist that lifestyle changes can inspire behavioral change. For instance someone might lose weight to prepare for a new work environment filled with fit colleagues.

Others claim that change occurs after major life events—childbirth, divorce, death of a loved one. Studies have shown major life events change our value systems resulting in new behaviors. Then of course in 1967 psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe came up with the “Life Change Units” chart to estimate how major life events can affect our health.

Academics aside, my father, an authority on several aspects of life, says that people can change over time but their personalities remain the same. My dad said as a boy my brother assembled his blocks with the keen precision of an artisan. Three decades later he’s a meticulous remodeler. And as a bald tyke I loved sparkly, lacy dresses and socializing with the whole neighborhood. True to form today my closet is packed with girlie accoutrement and strangers are merely friends I haven’t met yet.

My dad said whether people change or not, it’s more important to sympathize with another person’s feelings especially when they’re not the same as your own. Papa Joe sited my mother’s birthday as the perfect example. As he tells it, he always remembered to get my mother a nice gift. However on her 50th birthday my mother was disappointed to find my father hadn’t planned anything special. My dad’s hands flung out to his sides, index fingers up to the sky as he emphasized, “Your mother let me know she was upset.”

Change or no change, accept others. That’s straight from Papa Joe, who admitted with a chuckle, “I was married over 30 years and you’d think I’d know to book a weekend in Rockport for me and your mother. Like most people I’d like to think I’m smarter than I actually am.”

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Filed under Brother Mike, Classic Mama Alice, father, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent

Trauma to Art’s First Workshop: A Peace Sign

Peace sign to all my readers, who are the greatest and the best in the whole wide world! Tribute. 😉

When I was making my first Communion my mother and I traveled far and wide to find the right dress. We were both being really picky. Looking back since I was six I’m going to imagine we split that burden 65-35.

As the date approached, I started getting nervous I would never find the right one. One middle weekday I hopped into the front seat of our burgundy Toyota Camry. My mother had a big box wrapped in a pink (my favorite) bow! I opened up the precious package with big bug eyes. There it was. THE ONE. Sleek. Sophisticated. A lot of the other ones we’d seen had been too over the top or too cheap looking. This one said “Future Executive.”

I don’t think I ever felt I deserved to be that Future Executive until today because success to me has always been making sure my family and friends were proud of me. Tonight I will have my first Trauma to Art workshop. Trauma to Art is a work of art and a labor of love dedicated to the life my mother gave me.

I want to thank you for your readership, your insight, your guidance, your inspiration, your encouragement, your love, your time, your patience, and your generosity. Keep up the good work and I will do my very best to do the same. Let’s change this world together.

After the event we’ll post fun pictures and videos, oh, and I’ll tell you how it went!

Have a great night!

Much love,

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Filed under Classic Mama Alice, Discoveries, for fun, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, mother, parent, positive tradition, Trauma to Art (T2A)

Building Something

Someone asked me what made my mother so awesome. There are certainly things I can list.

Some of her most admiral characteristics:
1.    She never pretended to know something she didn’t.
2.    She had a great sense of humor when it came to her “personal quirks.”
3.    She wanted to help everyone and anyone even if it wasn’t reciprocated.
4.    She was generous. Even when we had very little, people were welcome in our home. When we had more, she gave more.
5.    She never stopped being a student of life.

My mother wasn’t a good mother because of those things. She had flaws just like anyone else. Not to mention she was incredibly hard on us. She loved me but dare I cross her, oh the terror. She wouldn’t yell or scream. She would give me that look of disappointment. The older I got, the more she perfected her look of disappointment and added just walking away. Looking back yelling and screaming is so much easier. Establishing a construct to represent disappointment and having the strength to walk away when her motherly instincts probably told her to lock me in the basement until I learned my lesson took a great deal of strength and conviction.

She knew I needed to go out to the world to learn those lessons for myself. Every time I find myself in a “Damn it, my mother was so right about that” I laugh. It’s certainly something we’d joke about today. I look back to those horribly chaotic and confusing years in between leaving home and building my own life with a hand to my sunken head. But eh, c’est la vie.

The fact that I am still learning lessons my mother taught me years after her lessons stopped is a testament to her integrity. That body of work is the reason she was such a great mother. One day of great mothering is meaningless without the consistent year after year track record.  I give her a 10 out of 10.

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Filed under Classic Mama Alice, for fun, giving thanks, gratitude, Lauren Muscarella, mother

Dare To Be Unpopular

Growing up there was a food rule in our house. We could pick two foods we didn’t like. After that we ate what Mama Alice and Papa Joe decided. This menu included some great foods like pesto and some undesirables ones like overdone, unseasoned broccoli and salt-free lentil soup.

My father’s response when we reminisced the other day was, “You could have salted the lentil soup yourself. It was an available condiment.” Then he motioned like he was extending an imaginary saltshaker to me and said, “Here. Have a ball for yourself.” (Aside: Have a ball for yourself is a Papa Joe signature expression.)

For most of my childhood we were meat-free with an occasional fish or poultry guest appearance. My mother made everything from scratch including some scrumptious soy burgers and tasty hummus, tabouleh feasts. This choice made my parents unpopular at home rarely and unpopular in the outside world constantly. They were bona fide weirdos. No meat? Blasphemy. No sugar? When I say freak you say show.

My Dinner

Some yummy homemade hummus aka my dinner tonight.

I watched my mother combat her in-laws, her friends, my friends’ parents, the know-it-all passerby, and her children. (Aside: Mostly we were on board but have you heard of these things called Pop Tarts? When I was 8 I wanted some of THAT!)

Unpopularity is not synonymous with isolation or segregation. Conversely it isn’t a license to feel superior. My mother struck a balance of holding onto her ideals while graciously accepting others’ right to disagree. She never pushed her ideas on anyone and she never asked for permission.

My parents’ decision by association made me unpopular. Those times spent arguing on the schoolyard about Jello containing animal bones prepared me for a lifetime of daring to be unpopular. At the same time her choice never prevented me from doing something I wanted to do. It just meant that when I was doing it I couldn’t eat until my mommy brought my tofu hot dogs to the party.

I’m so grateful my mother cared enough to bring me my ‘weird’ food. The older I get the more I see how valuable an experience that was. Daring to be unpopular empowers you to live a life you truly love. You are free to be yourself. Based on my experience and some informal independent research it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of humor and pureness of heart.


Ok maybe now that 60 percent of the population is overweight and health food is all the rage my parents are entitled to a giant “I told you so.” However, humility is a virtue Mama Alice valued dearly.


Filed under Classic Mama Alice, Lauren Muscarella, mother, parent