A Fifth Harmony fan decided to rename herself after Camila Cabello — and she’s equally as inspiring as the “Sledgehammer” singer.

Camila recently posted a photo on her Instagram with Camila Joe, a transgender Harmonizer she met last year. Camila Joe had told the singer she gave her the courage to transition. Her name was Joey at the time, but her new name is a nod to the woman who she looks up to.

“She told me she was going to go by the name of Camila Joe and I kinda lost it with excitement,” Camila wrote on Instagram. “I don’t know your Twitter but I just wanted to say how proud I am of you.”

She also applauded Camila Joe on being true to herself.

“There’s a light in someone’s eyes when they become who they want to be,” she wrote in the caption. “Today you lit up the whole room.”

With these two, twice the Camila means twice the fierceness.


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The most popular YouTube stars make videos for thousands (and sometimes millions) of subscribers. Now, some of them are speaking to a different kind of audience: a younger version of themselves.

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, YouTube has kicked off its #DearMe campaign to encourage women to upload video letters to their younger selves. The platform compiled responses from YouTube stars like Hannah Hart and Michelle Phan in a video where they share stories of growing up and give advice to help empower teen girls.

“Don’t be afraid of being afraid,” Grace Helbig said in the video.

“All those amazing different qualities you have, no one else has,” said Lilly Singh, known as IISuperwomanII on YouTube.

Whether they discuss friendship and bullies or race and confidence, all of the women want their younger selves to know they are special. According to Bunny Meyer, who is also known as grav3yardgirl online, they are irreplaceable.

“There is not one person on the face of the planet who can replace you.”

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Can you imagine a black and white-robed Catholic monk walking the red carpet at the Oscars? A slim be-jeweled woman would approach him with a microphone, saying to the camera, “Why, it’s Father Thomas Keating!” Then, turning to him, “Please tell us who designed your robe. And I love that twisted rope sash. It’ so … so … Catholic!”

And on Monday morning TV, his attire would be described as “pure, classic, clean lines,” words that actually describe Father Thomas Keating’s lifestyle. All kidding aside, this almost happened.

There IS a film featuring this Catholic abbot: Thomas Keating, A Rising Tide of Silence. It was lovingly produced and directed by photographer Peter C. Jones, Keating’s nephew. And Jones’ film (his first) was good enough to be among the seven documentaries from which the five Oscar finalists were chosen.


Jones, a New Yorker adjusting to L.A., says, We’ve been well received everywhere we’ve shown the film. And we’ll go anywhere. When we were invited to the 2013 Aspen FilmFest, their large theater sold out. When the film concluded and people learned Father Thomas was in the audience, he got a three-minute ovation. And we won the Audience Award.

Father Keating’s story, from age five to age 88, compelled me to watch the film twice. Though it is Jones’ tribute to his uncle, he doesn’t whitewash anything. Thomas hurts a good many people along the way, not the least being his family. Like any life, it isn’t all pretty.

Fr. Thomas and Peter Jones/Photo by Charlotte Frieze

As a young man from a close-knit, privileged New York family, he chose to leave, for good, all he’d ever known and loved. For what? For the silent, uncomfortable, friendless life of a monk–cloistered, watched, and disciplined according to unchanging tradition.

Taking his camera inside shrouded monasteries, Jones interviews monks who had lived and prayed alongside Keating. I had to wonder what could compel a person to make such a dismal choice. Looking back in time to answer that, Thomas says, “All I wanted was just to talk to God.”


He tells his own story:

At five, I had a serious illness. I heard adults in the next room wondering whether I’d live. I took this very seriously, and at my first Mass bargained with God: ‘If you’ll let me live to 21, I’ll become a priest’. After that, I’d skip out early in the morning before school and go to Mass. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, so I never told them.

Later, I went to Yale and made all D’s the first semester. I wasn’t studying! I’d read Tolstoy, who challenged Christianity, accusing it of mistakes. So I researched mistakes in the history of the church. It was a matter of life and death for me!

I looked around the Yale Library for a book and found, by happy chance, a four-volume set of homilies by church fathers from Christianity’s earliest centuries. They verified what I’d perceived Christianity to be about yet was not being followed in our tradition.

I finally cut out all movies, radio, operas, dating. I had something to do that was much more interesting. I just wanted to talk about God. I remember coming out of a chapel at Yale after kneeling for an hour. I sat on a curb and said, “I wish I could just die!

I didn’t want to go anywhere or experience anything else. It’s like reaching the end of a journey. That was the moment I really changed completely and my values became completely opposite to those of my beleaguered father.

His father, Cletus Keating, was a successful maritime lawyer in New York City. Upon hearing they were losing their son for good, he, his wife and remaining children, Anne and Marshall, were devastated. All but Thomas stayed put in the city. (Anne was Director Jones’ mother and Marshall is my brother-in-law.)

Thomas continued:

I broke communication with everyone I knew, went into a Trappist monastery and prayed for my family daily. I felt the more austere the life, the sooner I would achieve the contemplative life I sought. I spent the next five to six years observing almost total silence. I couldn’t leave. My only communication was with two abbots, neither of whom could give you any friendship or equality.

Keating’s grandmother wrote him from her sick bed:

I miss you so much. I’m lying here in bed, and I said to the nurse, ‘If my grandson doesn’t come home, won’t you please just throw me out the window?’

Unable to respond, Thomas prayed harder for those he’d left behind.

Rewarding his diligence, superiors made him Abbot of a second monastery. But some monks departed, complaining about his overarching strictness. Undisturbed, church fathers elevated him with the title of Abbot for Life in a third monastery, St. Joseph’s, in Spencer, MA.

With more responsibility and travel, Thomas oversaw all Catholic monasteries in North and South America. He wrote, met and mingled with leaders of the world’s great religions, and was frequently asked to speak. His lanky frame, the twinkle in his kind eyes won favor everywhere he went,


Father Thomas with HH Dalai Lama/ Photo Credit TK-RTS

We see him sharing the stage with the Dalai Lama, with philosopher Ken Wilbur, meeting with groups of Muslim Imams and Jewish Rabbis. Some commented about him:

He’s had a tremendous influence, maybe more than any Christian, on world religious dialogue. (a Muslim Imam)

He’s a transformative figure, more than most people recognize, certainly more than the church recognizes. (a Jewish Rabbi.)


A Younger Father Thomas / Photo Credit: Ocean Sun Creative

Yes, he transformed, becoming more ecumenical, more universal. He sees God in the Big Bang, in quantum physics, in Jungian psychology. He sees Eastern meditation as congruent with his Centering Prayer, both leading to union with the Divine. He wanted other Catholic monks to see the bigger picture, too.

“But Father Thomas’ ideas deeply divided his monastery,” says Jones. “Finally, he had a dream in which he was hanging wallpaper but it wouldn’t stick. He recognized this represented his futility, so he asked for a straw vote. When it came in divided 50-50, he resigned almost immediately, leaving the monastery and his position. He said he didn’t want to be disruptive. He retired to a Snowmass, Colorado, mountain house loaned by friends. He loves it up there.”

“I live with eagles who also like solitude,” the monk has said. But his life is not silent now. He founded a monastery in Snowmass, St. Benedict’s, that’s become a hub for world religious meetings, classes, and outreach programs to many states. Check the calendar at www.contemplativeoutreach.org


Fr. Thomas at St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, CO/Photo: TK-RTS

The day after watching this film, I decided to wear three layers to keep warm indoors. Starting with a thin undergarment, I added my usual white cotton turtleneck (I have nine). The third layer was a navy lightweight wool turtleneck. Something told me to pull the white turtleneck’s collar out over that of the navy blue one. I’d never done that, but I liked the look … pure, classic, clean lines. Strangely, I wore that for the next seven days. What was this priestly effect Father Thomas had had on me? Hmm …

Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence will be introduced as streaming video within two months.
For DVDs and those with Spanish or Portuguese subtitles, go to www.contemplativeoutreach.org/product/thomas-keating-rising-tide-silence

Each time I get stuck in a given area of my life, for example : stuck in my relationship with someone, or stuck with less money coming in, or I start feeling that something, all!, is not fair, or that I am not good enough, or I am tired and just don’t have the energy to do what I want to do… In any of those cases, usually when I contact my mentor, he asks the same question:

Rakel, in what area of your life are you not loving yourself? In what area of your life is your exchange with the world off?

And usually, yes… There is an area that I’m not taking care of myself, an area where I am perceiving myself with very low value and that has an impact on the way I exchange with others.

In the healing work I’ve been doing in the last seven years I have observed that energy doesn’t work in the logical pattern of the mind. For example, even if I feel I’m doing all it takes to make money flow into my life — but in the other hand I’m not loving myself in the way I relate with my partner, this exchange with my partner can show up in the area of money even if it doesn’t seem related. Because when it comes to energy, all is related.

So the faster you find what I like to call the blind spot of self-love in your life (that space within where you are not loving yourself and are not really aware of it), the faster you can make changes, adjustments, and the sooner energy can start to flow in all areas of your life.

When your exchange with the world comes from a place of self-love you can immediately feel it. You feel uplifted, radiant, you attract the right people for the right task into your life, everything seems to align in the right way. When your exchange with the world is not flowing as you would like, you have recurring physical and emotional indicators. Look for them. Personally I can feel it in my chest — it closes in, bringing my shoulders forward. In my thought patterns, I can suddenly see myself as a victim, or feel a lot of anger, or just try to figure everything out with my mind, thinking and thinking and thinking without finding a solution. It’s an exhausting process.

And this is applicable to everything in your life. Not one thing or one area is out of the reach of the flow of energy. Because we are all basically energy. And I’m not being “new agy woo woo” here. All is energy, it’s simple physics.

A few people have asked me, does self-love mean self-importance or the ego? I say no. Self-love is not about activating or nourishing the ego that wants power and control. Self-love is activating the power of love in you through the opening of your heart center. Many techniques, gestures or actions can help you do that.

To make a pause to become aware of my breath has proven to be the most effective and fast way to open my heart center. I have found that is the most reliable way of doing it. Each time I get out of sync with the world I breathe and my exchange turns on again. A little shift takes place producing huge effects. So I’m able to create and see the value in my work, charge fairly for it, align myself with the relationship that I want, share creatively with my daughter, expand the creation time. When I breath consciously it all starts to flow.

So I am inviting you to check in with yourself if there is any area in your life where you need an adjustment in the way you are exchanging with the world, and start bringing balance into it through your own breath. If you don’t know any specific breathing technique you can help yourself with this Pranayama Yoga one that I am sharing for free here. Your breath is your most vital expression of your creative energy. You can use it to connect what needs to be connected in that area where you are not quite loving yourself.

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Rakel Sosa has been practicing and teaching Rajadhiraja Yoga for 20 years and was trained by Master Healer David Elliott as a Pranayama Breathwork healer. She has been working in private and group sessions in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, United States and Venezuela since 2010. She is the co-author of Blooming Together, an Audio Pregnancy Program designed to enhance the well being of babies and expectant mothers. Rakel earned a master’s degree in Communication from The Sorbonne University in Paris. She worked as a journalist for 11 years for Radio France International covering social and political issues around the world. Today as a filmmaker and healer she uses her professional skills for promoting self-realization and well-being.

“Fashion says that you can be somebody different” is how the “Dior and I” trailer begins. And that is exactly what Raf Simons proves, in the new documentary that chronicles the designer’s first few months as creative director at Christian Dior.

The film, which premiered to much critical acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, follows Simmons as he prepares for his first couture show with the storied French design house. It’s a fashion movie, so of course a little drama ensues (cue people getting stuck in an elevator and dresses not arriving on time), but it also offers a rare look into the elusive, exclusive world of haute couture.

We don’t want to jump the gun here, but we have a strong feeling that this is going to go on the roster of must-see flicks for the fashion (and even non-fashion) obsessed. Besides, who doesn’t like seeing pretty things being made?

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Duff Goldman is a Food Network staple, bringing his Charm City Cakes into people’s homes and serving as a judge on numerous competitions. But did you know his first time on television was actually a spectacular failure?

We sat down with the cake whiz to get his answers to questions ranging from those notorious cake fails to his thoughts on the best types of wedding cakes. He also gives us a little insight into his hometown of Baltimore and opens up about his new show cooking with kids.

So if you want to learn about it all, watch the video above!

For more great food, drink and travel videos make sure to check out Potluck Video’s website, head over to our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter

Of all the breads that can be baked, babka is by far the prettiest. Its braided layers present what has been rolled inside, which is usually the wonderful gift of chocolate — though sometimes cinnamon, nuts and fruit make their way in there, too. The dough used to bake babka is a version of brioche, which is the butteriest bread of all.

Babka has a strong Eastern European Jewish heritage, but has made its home in North America, too. We’re ever so thankful that it made the transatlantic journey, because life without babka just wouldn’t be as sweet. Just look at these beautiful breads and tell us you don’t agree:

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The Islamic State is evil. But that’s no reason for America to go to war again in the Middle East. Or for Congress to approve years more of conflict.

The president requested formal legal authority to war against ISIS–more than six months after dropping the first bomb on the self-proclaimed caliphate. USA Today headlined an article on the administration request: “Obama Ready to Take the Fight to Islamic State.” Just what has Washington been doing for the last half year?

The congressional debate will focus on limits to presidential authority. The administration wants to do most anything without admitting as much to the American people. Some Democrats advocate a more restrictive resolution, while many Republicans endorse untrammeled executive power. All to defend a gaggle of frenemies from a far weaker foe unable to seriously threaten America. Washington has rushed into war in a fit of pique.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has gone through several incarnations dating back to 1999. The group achieved notoriety during the Iraq war, before fading. ISIL recently revived in Iraq and then became a potent opposition force in Syria.

For a long time the Obama administration ignored the group’s gains, recognizing that ISIL was more about insurgency than terrorism, and was targeting Middle Eastern countries, not the U.S. Moreover, Washington could do little to resolve the underlying causes of the group’s rise: sectarianism in Iraq and civil war in Syria.

The administration reversed course when the group’s advances threatened Kurdistan’s capital of Erbil and Iraq’s Yazidi community. Ironically, Washington had not responded a decade ago to attacks on Iraq’s Christian community or more recently to violence against religious minorities in Syria. Even so, the mission seemed limited, until the beheading of two American hostages transformed administration policy.

Now President Obama claims the Islamic State “poses a threat to the people and stability of Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East and to U.S. national security.” Yes to the first two and possibly the third, but these are not reasons for America to go to war. Exactly how is U.S. security at risk? The president argued that ISIS creates “a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland.” How can a few thousand insurgents, locked in bitter combat with several Middle Eastern nations, threaten the rest of the world, and especially the globe’s superpower? The most serious danger may be Western jihadists cycling back home–but most of them joined after Washington made the sectarian Islamic war all about America.

The administration created yet another pseudo-coalition of roughly 60 nations and the European Union, with U.S. forces responsible for around 85 percent of the airstrikes. While the American-led campaign has had some defensive successes–for instance, halting ISIL’s attacks on Kurdistan’s Erbil and Syria’s Kobani–the radical movement seems no closer to defeat. Despite sizable personnel losses, the Islamic State remains in control of most of the territory it seized before the U.S. offensive. “ISIL is going to lose,” declared the president. But you wouldn’t know it from results on the ground.

In fact, Washington gave the group a recruiting bonanza. Estimated at around 10,000 mid-summer, the Islamic State’s fighting cadre jumped to 20,000 or 30,000 after the U.S. entered the conflict. And now, reported the Associated Press, foreign fighters continue to join “in unprecedented numbers.” Moreover, while the Islamic State once was almost entirely isolated, formerly antagonistic groups such the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, since have endorsed ISIL.

In seeking congressional authority the administration is playing on emotions, highlighting ISIL’s crimes, including targeting “innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence.” Of course, some of America’s Middle Eastern allies, such as Saudi Arabia, engage in barbaric practices. And plenty of foreign governments, a number friends of Washington, are little better than ISIL. But never mind.

Moreover, U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller’s killing “fueled congressional outrage and renewed calls to defeat” the organization, reported USA Today. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) declared: “Her death will only strengthen our resolve to destroy these depraved barbarians.” Yet her tragic fate actually demonstrates ISIL’s limited reach. The only U.S. citizens harmed by the Islamic State are those who voluntarily traveled to a war zone.

Of course, the president paints ISIL’s threats much more broadly. However, the Islamic State’s expansive ambitions are the group’s chief weakness. It wants to be a government, but while the organization would be a wealthy terrorist group, it is a poorly-funded nation state, and its performance has suffered accordingly.

The longer the “caliphate” has existed in cities like Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, the less popular ISIL has become. In particular, repression has generated opposition, as previously happened with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

During its first incarnation in Iraq ISIL’s brutality cost popular backing and working relationships with other insurgents. Leading jihadi groups and theorists, even some linked to or supportive of al-Qaeda, are denouncing the organization again. Syrians call Islamic State fighters “foreign occupiers.” In Mosul, reported USA Today, ISIL fighters “face increasing opposition from residents chafing under the harsh laws being imposed there.” Even many who once welcomed the Islamic State now are thought to favor its overthrow. The gruesome execution video of the Jordanian pilot created widespread demands for revenge among that nation’s majority Muslim population, most Sunnis like ISIL’s fighters.

The group has succeeded so far only because of others’ failings. In Syria a civil war destroyed the political order. The so-called moderates are weak and tend to surrender, along with their U.S.-supplied weapons, to the Islamic State. In Iraq the sectarian Shia central government spawned a corresponding Sunni counter-reaction. Despite the desperate need for reconciliation, Shia militias continue to murder Sunnis; in fact, the former were blamed for executing an important moderate Sunni leader in Baghdad a couple weeks ago, sparking a Sunni parliamentary boycott and threat to withdraw from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s unity government.

The Islamic State found the going much tougher once it moved beyond select areas of Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the movement has targeted nations with a million or more men under arms. Protecting ISIL from the full attentions of this formidable collection of enemies is, paradoxically, Washington. Because the U.S. took over other nations’ defense duties, Turkey has remained studiously aloof. Morocco and the United Arab Emirates have quit flying missions against Islamic State. The Iraqi government has continued mistreat Sunnis, driving many of them toward ISIL. America’s “allies” are enjoying a very cheap ride even though it is their security at risk.

In fact, some of these countries have scaled back their participation to pressure the U.S. to advance their agenda. For instance, Turkey fields an army of 400,000 men, 2500 tanks, 3600 armored personnel carriers, and 7800 artillery pieces, as well as an air force with 350 combat aircraft and 60 helicopters. Instead of using that military abundance, Ankara insists that Washington act in its stead against Syria’s Bashar Assad–and eliminate the strongest bulwark against the Islamic State.

Perhaps the only good news is that ISIL is bound to weaken. Allied action, aided by oil price declines, has cut the group’s funding, which already is stretched by its nominal responsibilities as a state. Brutal repression, growing economic hardship, and lack of government services have angered those conquered. The bounty of American weaponry captured in Iraq will diminish without maintenance and spare parts. Military stalemate may slow the flow of volunteers.

Unfortunately, the proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force would further entangle America in sectarian war without addressing the reasons for ISIL’s success. Indeed, declared presidential press secretary Josh Earnest, the measure was “intentionally fuzzy” so as to maintain the president’s “flexibility,” since “we believe it’s important that there aren’t overly burdensome constraints” on the executive.

The measure would repeal the 2002 AUMF regarding Iraq, but leave in place the 2001 AUMF, directed against al-Qaeda, under which the administration improbably claimed authority to attack the Islamic State, a different group which had nothing to do with 9/11 and which has not attacked America. Despite his criticism of the 2001 AUMF for “keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing,” the president would leave it in place for a future administration to similarly misuse.

Moreover, the new measure would be a dangerous expansion of executive power. First, the administration requested authority to wage at least three more years of war. In December Secretary of State John Kerry also urged “provisions for extension” of such a limit. If ISIL really is such a dire threat to the U.S., can’t the world’s greatest power win more quickly? America spent three and a half years in World War II and less than two years in World War I. Yet the U.S. is incapable of defeating a motley crew of radicals surrounded by enemies, outmanned 30, 40, or 50 to one, massively out-gunned, and busy making enemies among their own people?

Second, there is no geographic limit. Today the U.S. is operating in Iraq and Syria. The new AUMF would authorize combat anywhere. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and the Gulf already are on ISIL’s target list. The administration could declare most anywhere else to be a battleground as well. Yet if there was good cause to expand U.S. activities, legislators no doubt would respond favorably to a future presidential request.

Third, the measure does not limit war to the Islamic State. Also included are “any closely related successor entity” and “associated persons or forces,” meaning ISIL’s allies, defined as “fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” That would cover almost any Syrian opposition group, from the al-Nusra Front to so-called moderates, as well as Sunni tribes, former Baathists, and anyone else opposed to the Shia-majority government in Iraq. Washington could attack forces which subsequently broke with the Islamic State, even if they did so because they didn’t want to combat America.

Also included could be national groups claiming “loyalty” to ISIL, which already exist in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and are likely to show up in one form or another elsewhere in the Mideast, Africa, and Asia. Such affiliates only need threaten one of three score coalition partners, most in name only; in Libya militants professing their allegiance to the Islamic State just killed 21 Egyptian Copts, triggering a retaliatory attack by Cairo. The potential daisy chain is long: In Foreign Policy Ryan Goodman pointed out how the administration used AUMF 2001 to justify airstrikes on Syria’s Khorasan Group which was linked to the al-Nusra Front which was linked to al-Qaeda.

Fourth, the resolution bars only “enduring offensive ground operations,” like the lengthy conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, suggested the president. However, the current operation is described as a matter of America’s “inherent right of individual and collective self-defense” even though ISIL did not attack America. Moreover, most “offensive ground operations” can be redefined as a means to defend someone somewhere. Government actions which start out temporary have a tendency to become “enduring.” The administration already has used bait and switch tactics on the American people–citing the plight of the Yazidis while organizing a lengthy regional war.

The resolution would ratify the current U.S. presence in Iraq, 2,630 personnel already there for training and advising the Iraqi military, and protecting the U.S. embassy. Another 4000 soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team are being deployed to Kuwait, ready for action elsewhere. The president’s transmittal letter exempted a variety of activities from any limit–rescue operations, actions against ISIL leadership, intelligence work, “missions to enable kinetic strikes,” and “other forms of advice and assistance.” Americans in these pursuits easily could be drawn into conflict. Islamic State forces recently captured much of the town of al-Baghdadi, only a few miles from Ayn al-Asad Air Base where more than 300 Marine Corps trainers are stationed. That facility has been subject to mortar attacks and small assaults. These could be merely the beginning.

Fifth, instead of turning the war over to threatened Arab states, the new AUMF would assure Washington’s “allies” that they need not worry about their own defense for the next three or possibly more years. The resolution even authorizes war against “associated” groups which threaten “coalition partners,” irrespective of the military balance. Instead of intervening temporarily to blunt the Islamic State’s momentum and give time for surrounding states to act, the administration plans to create a herd of long-term military dependents. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) even wishes to authorize war on Syria, which has not threatened America. Indeed, if he and the other neoconservative and hyper-nationalist hawks have their way, there will be no limits to presidential action.

Seeking congressional authority made sense–six months ago. Doing so now looks like an attempt to prolong U.S. participation in yet another unnecessary Middle Eastern war. Again the administration claims the mantle of peacemaker while extending old conflicts and initiating new ones. About the only benefit of a congressional vote would be to mandate transparency and accountability. But there’s little reason to expect the administration to comply and the Congress to force compliance.

The president’s proposal is a bad idea. If Congress truly is concerned about legality, it should enforce the 2001 AUMF, which does not permit new misadventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. Any new measure should sharply limit military operations. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Congress “to avoid any undue restraints on the commander-in-chief’s choices.” But the Constitution gives the basic decision over war and peace to Congress. Legislators should end old wars rather than rationalize new ones.

“My house is like a zoo on Saturday mornings,” says Erin Black.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Erin is an Emmy-winning costume designer.

So consider yourself warned and enter at your own risk to meet her husband, Eric, who is trying to feed Emmett, the nearly 12-month-old baby, who thinks food is something that should not go into his mouth today or ever.

Introduce yourself to Tessa (3), Quinn (6) and Lyla (she says she’s 113, but Quinn declares that she’s actually 8) who are playing at putting on their hats, coats and boots. They’re off to services at the synagogue; they’re excited because they get to walk in the snow.

Erin stays behind; Emmett hasn’t learned to sleep through the night, so she’s taking advantage of the fact that he finally has closed his big, bright eyes for a second.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Eric and Emmett eating breakfast.

Four children are more than two handfuls but you’d never know it from watching Erin, an unflappable and energetic Emmy-winning costume designer for Sesame Street.

Erin, a tall, polite woman with auburn hair and the patience of a saint, handles them all with the certitude of a CEO commanding a Fortune 500 company.

Although she does not come from a large family, her child-caring skills come naturally. She and her younger brother grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the city where the aw-shucks-cute kids overalls are made.

Her mother had a sewing machine, and Erin couldn’t wait to try it out.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Quinn is an energetic 6.

“She wouldn’t let me touch it,” Erin says. “When I was in fourth grade and she wasn’t home, I taught myself to sew by reading the directions. My first real project was a Cabbage Patch doll.”

By the time she was in high school, Erin was the stage manager for school plays.

“Most of my job consisted of ironing clothes,” she says, “but I thought it was really cool.”

She considered sewing a skill, not a career, and when it came time for college, she decided she wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She took a work-study job making costumes for the drama department’s productions.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lyla Tov Monsters scare bad dreams away.

“As I got close to graduation, I decided that I didn’t want my life to be totally about kids,” she says and laughs. “I decided to postpone that reality by going to graduate school.”

After earning a master of fine arts degree in costume design, she started working for Sesame Street. She met Eric, who worked on the show’s production team, the first day on the job. They married a decade ago.

Erin has to be prompted to mention the two Emmys she won while there.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tessa, 3, wants to be in the picture.

“Where do I keep them? They are in the garage,” she says, adding that that’s where she stores her costume supplies.

It pains Eric to hear her say this; he thinks they should be prominently displayed.

They are only daytime Emmys, she insists, and she won them as part of a team. There were no red carpet or paparazzi when they were presented. And she didn’t wear a designer ballgown. It was a luncheon, for goodness sakes.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lyla with her creations.

After Lyla and Quinn was born, Erin took a break from the show, eventually taking a full-time job as an instructor in technical theatre at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

When the two became four, she returned to Sesame Street, working on select projects. It was she who designed the distinctive distinguished blue suit for Walter in the 2011 movie The Muppets.

In her spare time — is there such a thing? — she began doing creative projects with Lyla.

The most tangible and tactile result is Lyla Tov Monsters, a series of snuggly stuffed dolls designed to scare away bad dreams.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The monsters began as a mother-daughter project.

“Lyla designed the first monster at 3,” Erin says, adding that it was made in her basement on the Kenmore sewing machine her grandmother gave her for her college graduation. “It was a gift for her daddy. She didn’t know how to sew, so we made it together.”

Soon, they were selling Lyla Tov Monsters at craft fairs, and when the venture took off, they financed it through a couple of Kickstarter campaigns.

“It’s not so much about making money,” Erin says. “We are at the break-even point now. It’s about teaching Lyla about giving to others. A percentage of the profits is donated to a charity of her choice.”

Lyla is taking it in stride: She was thrilled to receive the Toy and Game Inventors Excellence award in 2014 for Young Inventor of the Year. During her acceptance speech in Chicago, she was so poised that she didn’t need to hug a Lyla Tov Monster.


Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Erin’s happy right where she is.

For many costumer designers, the ultimate goal is Broadway or Hollywood, but Erin, who is 41, is happy right where she is.

“I like doing wildly imaginative costumes,” she says.

Her work with Lyla has taught her that she still likes teaching. Just the other day, she had a group of Lyla’s third-grade classmates from P.S. 85 over to make costumes for a production the first graders were putting on.

But she doesn’t see herself returning to the classroom any time soon.

“Right now,” she says, “it’s hard to think beyond changing the next dirty diaper.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com; nruhling on Instagram.
Copyright 2015 by Nancy A. Ruhling

Matt and Ilene have been together for nearly two years, during which time they had a now 1-year-old son and have another baby on the way. But their relationship deteriorated about six months in, according to Ilene. “Matt started accusing me of cheating on him. I did not see it coming at all,” says the 20-year-old who’s 7 1/2 months pregnant. “Matt thinks I’m sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, his friend and half the town. I think Matt is crazy and delusional.”

Matt admits that he consistently accuses Ilene of infidelity, has spit in her face, and that he has called her “slut,” “whore,” and “pig.” He says, “I am almost 100 percent sure that Ilene has cheated on me with two different people,” and he also thinks she’s pregnant with someone else’s child. “I can’t get past the fact that she may have cheated on me and is hiding it,” he explains.

But Ilene says she has never been unfaithful. “The most hurtful thing Matt does is that he turns to my son and he will say, ‘I know your mommy is a whore.’ He’ll say that he’s sorry for choosing someone like me to be his mother,” she says in the video above.

Why does Ilene stay with him, and how does Matt explain his behavior? Watch the video above and tune in to this episode of Dr. Phil on Tuesday.

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