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Dear Cracker Barrel


A West Coast Girl Meets a Southern Dining Staple: A Love Story

by Darrah Belle


Thirty-something years ago, I was born in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Encino. Aside from moving to New England for two years in my early-twenties, I’ve lived in Los Angeles my whole life. Not unlike Sarah Jessica Parker’s rendition of a single New Yorker obsessed with her city, I’d take a baseball bat to anybody who had negative stuff to say about my hometown. That being said, I can and do deconstruct it quite frequently.

About eight years ago, I was hit with a flash fever of interest in the South, after writing a review of wine heiress Linda Mondavi’s Atlanta spa, 29 Spa at the Mansion on Peachtree. That flash fever spread and became a total-body obsession with all things Southern.

When I think of the South, I think of Cracker Barrel, a famous casual family restaurant with an adjoining “Old Country Store” not unlike the general stores you saw as a kid on “Little House on the Prairie,” where local folks got goods on a tab. Cracker Barrel is a place you might see Dixie Carter choosing an Easter dress for her grandchild.

When I think of the South, I also think of their famed southern hospitality, fanciful southern belles, and culture of kindness, shabby-chic décor, strong sense of patriotism, national pride, and stubborn streak. It is a vastly different place from anything I’ve known.

With eyes as wide—and molasses slow—as a Savannah, Georgia yawn I observe judgeless and from a distance, ways of life totally foreign from mine: hunting, fishing, wearing fur, barbecue and political conservatism. I appreciate that most men there who identify strongly with their masculinity are using their hands daily. Men drive trucks to haul stuff, not to raise the rims. Driving in Nashville, taking in the gorgeous Vanderbilt campus, you’ll see many references to a unified sense of Christian faith, something Los Angeles prides itself on not having.

The South is a hodgepodge of interesting people and things that leave me feeling all warm, buzzy, comforted, wholesome, quirky, and curious.

For the last couple years, I’ve visited at least two southern states each year. Last year, I visited San Antonio, Texas and Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville has become an annual tradition). This year, I hope to visit North Carolina and South Carolina, having already enjoyed Nashville earlier this summer.

It’s hard to believe but I only just discovered Cracker Barrel in 2015. It was a fateful day, when my partner drove us into the parking lot one rainy night after a long travel day in Texas. I told him I’d wait in the car. It was late, plus I don’t like eating when I’m wet. He was adamant that I’d love the place.

Begrudgingly, I gathered my scarf and hat and coat and pride and lagged far behind in the giant parking lot until I reached the restaurant’s front porch. Outside most Cracker Barrel’s, visitors are greeted by two-dozen oversize wood rocking chairs that sit aside several small tables adorned with checkers games. Quaintly, the checkerboard is made of a rug!

I felt like I’d maybe fallen down a velvet-lined gingham-print rabbit hole. “WHAT!?” I exclaimed.

A smile stretched across his face.

Like Goldilocks, I began testing each rocking chair to find the one that was jusssst right. They even had tiny doll-size ones for toddlers that fit my little daughter perfectly! He had to drag me inside. When you enter Cracker Barrel, there is a ubiquitous sign in the foyer alluding to their welcome policy.


After paying $2M in 2006 to end a lawsuit, this sign and its message were added to every store and menu

A little history on Cracker Barrel: Founded in 1969 by Danny Evins, its first store was in Lebanon, Tennessee, which remains the company’s headquarters. Its name references old-time country stores where people played checkers atop barrels used to carry crackers and other wares. The chain’s stores were at first positioned near Interstate Highway exits in the Southeastern and Midwestern US, but it has expanded across the country. As of 2012, there are 639 stores in 43 states.

Controversies (why that sign exists): During the 1990s, the company was the subject of controversy for its official stance against gay and lesbian employees and for discriminatory practices against African American and female employees. A US Department of Justice investigation found that Cracker Barrel discriminated against minority customers; patrons complained of racially segregated seating and service quality. In an agreement with the USDOJ, Cracker Barrel has implemented non-discrimination policies and pledged to focus on improving minority representation and civic involvement, particularly in the black community.

In early 1991, an intra-company memo called for employees to be dismissed if they did not display “normal heterosexual values.” It was reversed two months later and in 2002 sexual orientation was added to the company’s sexual discrimination policy.

Reparations: The terms of the 2006 lawsuit included new equal opportunity training; the creation of a new system to log, investigate, and resolve complaints of discrimination; and the publicizing of its non-discrimination policies.

Since the early 2000s, Cracker Barrel has provided training and resources to minority employees. As of 2002, minorities made up 23 percent of the company’s employees, including over 11 percent of its management and executives.

The company has been praised for its gender diversity, particularly on its board of directors. Three of its 11 members are women. CEO, Sandra Cochran, is the second woman in Tennessee to hold that office in a publicly traded company.

Part of the reason I mention all of this is because I’ve been told more than a few times by Angelenos that Cracker Barrel is “racist.” That the South is “racist.” That me flirting with moving there = turning a blind eye to a checkered history much dirtier than the games innocently displayed outside their stores.


When I was younger, I was a militant vegetarian. A staunch feminist. A persuasive liberal. A “progressive.”

I considered myself “tolerant” and yet, I was quite intolerant of anybody who disagreed with me. I remember penning an essay in my psych class about how much I hated intolerance. My teacher noted my hypocrisy.

I bring this up because my own politics have changed since having a child and living a more “straight” life. I stopped being a cookie cutter pro-choice, pro-gay, anti-Republican feminist and I started thinking, policy by policy, situation by situation about the world as it presented itself to me. I stopped being predictable.

In this process, I’ve come to realize how truly intolerant I’ve been to people who live differently than me. While flaring up like a rash at protesters outside a gay and lesbian rally, I failed to see how I was part of the problem. I failed to see that I was the other side of that intolerant coin.

Now, I look at it like this. How can I ask conservatives to “accept” my life choices, if I don’t accept theirs? How can I ask people to stop trying to change me when I am trying to change them?

I have no idea how they were raised, what they believe and why, what a day in their life looks like, really, or why they are pro-Military, for example. Why they are pro-life, for example. Why their religion is so engrained in their culture and family and community, not unlike the way driving a luxury car in a designer dress to a movie premiere is a spiritual experience to an Angeleno.

I believed in my self-righteousness for so long that it blinded me.

What does this have to do with Cracker Barrel? While I can’t stand behind discrimination, obviously, what I can get behind is change. Transformation. What I can support is strong roots that allow the trees to sway. When I was a feminist, I wanted everything and everybody to change yesterday. After all, they had been wrong for so long! What I didn’t take into consideration was that everybody didn’t and couldn’t think like me. Whether age, geography, religion, nationality, life experience or simply different mindsets came into play, I wasn’t always going to win.

Something happened when I took a step back and began looking at life through a different lens. Yes, I can still be an activist. Yes, I can still protest, fundraise, spread awareness on social media, curate conversations, write blog posts, and engage friends and family in dialogue about politics and gender issues, but I don’t have to convince anybody of anything and I can keep my views to myself sometimes! I don’t have to “save” the world.

Another point to mention is that there is a reverence for others and their unique passageway through life that comes along with true tolerance. I actually learn so much more when I shut my mouth and listen.


Me and my sleepy angel outside Cracker Barrel

Visiting Iowa in 2011, I went to the Iowa State Fair where prized livestock are fawned over like satin gloves at Bloomies. Normally, I would never enter a gigantic room with caged animals I knew were about to die. It would be too much for me and I’d no doubt lecture whoever owned these animals and probably get kicked out.

That day, though, I decided to experience the Midwest as natives do. I watched these heaving, dehydrated, visibly exhausted and miserable pigs laid flat in small pens and I offered my love to the pigs without judgment of their owners. I recognized that I could not end animal slaughter that summer day in Iowa.

I spoke at length with a dairy farmer about her treatment of cows, unable to help myself from asking about the ethics of their entrapment. What I saw was that she was kinder to these animals that any vegan has ever been to me. These cows were harmonious. I wasn’t going to change her mind. She didn’t have to change mine. But she did open it.


For these reasons, I can eat at Cracker Barrel with a clean conscience. Because I respect the South. I don’t have to agree with everything that happens there to love it.

So, let’s get back to my first time at Cracker Barrel!

At each table, you can happily play peg solitaire. This particular peg solitaire board has a snarky rating system. So, while you await the complimentary cornbread and biscuits you find out whether:

  • One Peg = You’re a Genius
  • Two Pegs = You’re Pretty Smart
  • Three Pegs = You’re Just Average
  • Four Pegs or More = Just Plain Dumb



I NEVER get less than two pegs. I’ll settle for “pretty smart,” I guess. (Unless anybody knows how to WIN this game?)


Before getting wound up about losing, and just before my sweetie dials up a cheat sheet on his iPhone, the food comes!


As a pescetarian (I eat fish and the rest of me is a vegetarian, hence pescetarian!) my favorite pick off the Fancy Fixin’s menu is the Grilled Rainbow Trout. It comes with baby carrots and steak fries. I love getting the vegetarian vegetable soup first as an appetizer. If I haven’t stuffed my face with too many bottomless biscuits, then I can actually enjoy my meal.


Lemon Pepper Grilled Rainbow Trout–Off the Fancy Fixin’s Menu!

There’s a summer menu, that includes:


Campfire Grilled Chicken and Veggie Dinner with Baby Carrots, Potatoes & Corn on the Cob


Peach cobbler is my dessert of choice


Carrot cake is really scrumptious, too!

Cracker Barrel serves traditional Southern cuisine, ie: Comfort Food!


Their seasonal menu includes pumpkin spice pancakes!

On the way out, I perused the Old Country Store and picked out some cute eyelet dresses for Daisy, and snagged a few scented candles, cutesy signs and picked up a Blake Shelton CD. We returned two more times—that week.


So far, I’ve visited Cracker Barrel’s in: Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, Nevada, and Utah. What I love so much is that it is like being transported into a different era, a different time in space, a different stage is set and I am nowhere near Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon to hear guests speaking about God, about family, about tradition, about local gatherings, about church, about the Old Country Store and what’s in it that day, about their food (without mention of fat or calories).

It’s for those reasons and so many more, not the least of which are the local relics and old time black & white photos of the owner’s family pinned to the wall, that I enjoy being transported to an unfamiliar, yet achingly fulfilling locale. And I’ll never apologize for it. Not when it’s compared to Denny’s (seriously, people?) or when it’s called out on its past. (God knows, I have my own past.)


Having fun at Cracker Barrel!

Cracker Barrel is like that one friend who you just can’t get mad at. When you look at her all you see is her beauty and how fun she is, and all of the shit she did wrong before just melts away. Like that time in the Nashville location by the Opryland Hotel, when the woman bussing our table threw a handful of napkins in my face. I just smile to myself. Maybe she was having a bad day.

That’s how Cracker Barrel has taught me true tolerance. Through my stomach.


Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

Married To A Man Who’s Married To His Work

What happens when you find the man of your dreams, and his dreams of success eat up most of the relationship real estate?


Unfortunately, workaholics don’t come with an off switch

Editor’s Note: This article is my point of view as the partner of a male workaholic.The feminist in me feels obliged to acknowledge that no doubt women are workaholics too! But, I’m not talking about them in this piece. Wanted to clear that up ahead of time. xo

 By Darrah Belle

 The most commonly accepted word to describe men who spend the majority of their time working, even to the detriment of other areas in their life, is workaholic. This word tends to describe a man who works long hours, ignoring the concept of balance, in favor of meeting his professional goals and dreams. There is a level of obsession and compulsion that differentiates him from somebody who works long hours to make ends meet or somebody who is simply ambitious.

When you’re in a romantic relationship with a workaholic, you have to figure out for yourself whether your desire for a successful man trumps your level of need for physical and emotional attention, time and affection, or if it’s possible to help him find the right balance to satisfy you both.

My partner Richard is a successful talent agent. He has co-owned his agency for over 25 years. Those around him are equally driven. His passion for what he does and what he creates with his clients is incomparable. Let’s just say his calling found him in his early-twenties and they’ve danced together seamlessly for decades.

I’ve been more whimsical career-wise, and while at times very ambitious, I’ve had probably a hundred jobs and some of them I downright hated. I’ve always been a good writer. But before committing to it as a career, I first tried my hand at acting, modeling, singing, voice-overs, and a slew of jobs like retail sales, babysitting, public relations, massage therapy, radio co-hosting, waitressing, and even being a dominatrix for two days, before realizing that I wanted to switch gears and work in hospitality. Whew! I’m breathy just writing that.

I’ve finally enrolled in school and completed my first class in a two-year college-level certification program. I am SO excited! Especially because career clarity was harder for me to reach. (Or perhaps I needed to have faith that it would come in its own divine time?) It feels so right. I’m super grateful.

Before finding that clarity, motherhood found me. And, it’s my ultimate. My daughter is my everything! I prioritize her without question. Being a mother is the most important role I’ll ever play. Being Daisy’s mom is my calling on the most deep and profound level. I am built to take care of her and she is designed to need it from me. It’s a match made in heaven! For some time, trying to pinpoint a career while being 100% devoted to motherhood seemed like a fork in the road already littered with utensils.

Luckily, after much prayer and after doing some sweat-laden, ninja-type feng shui, I cast off enough old energy to find the truth coiled within me.

Back to Richard and me. In April, we planned a weekend getaway to Las Vegas in the form of a family-friendly jaunt to Sin City. There is an annual rockabilly weekend called Viva Las Vegas that has become a family tradition. They have a rockin’ vintage car show and ballrooms toppling over with vintage clothes, accessories and even baby clothes with a retro bent.

Richard had been working a ton lately and we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to spend some real, dedicated time together doing something we both love: shopping!

Unfortunately, workaholics don’t come with an off switch. And much to many men’s chagrin, neither do women’s needs. My need to connect, cuddle, talk, and spend uninterrupted time together wasn’t met. Sure, there were times when we had a meal and his phone wasn’t on the table, in it’s usual slot to the right of his fork. Sure, we had an afternoon where he didn’t post on Facebook for an hour. But, for the most part, we used our downtime to engage in separate activities: I napped while he gambled; I watched baby while he made work calls; we both updated our social media at the end of the night while laying side-by-side in silence in a giant hotel bed.

When you’re in a long-term relationship it’s difficult to undo certain habits, even with the best of intentions. I am working on being a more direct communicator and I’m practicing it by asking him for more one-on-one time without our cellular devices attached to our hip. I take responsibility for using my phone in bed too. It’s such a mood-kill!


Me and Sara Bareilles (Photo bomb by Darren Criss)

Earlier this summer, Richard made his directorial debut as the creative director and co-producer of The Little Mermaid In Concert Live to Film at The Hollywood Bowl. What a thrilling three nights celebrating him and his latest accomplishment! It was also fabulous to meet the likes of John Stamos (sweetheart!), Rebel Wilson (quieter than I expected!), and to engage in authentic conversation with Tony-award nominee Sara Bareilles, who starred as Ariel. I got to meet the original voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson. Everybody was in awesome spirits and having the time of their lives. Some stars even wrote Richard afterward and declared the project to be among the best in their memorable careers.


Two Rebel Girls

But, what really struck me was how much I truly enjoyed dressing up each night. The first night, I was retro-Ariel. Donning a vintage dress and crazy seashell hat from the 1950s, I rushed into the Bowl on opening night glowing like a lit cigarette. The second night, I was a goddess-y mermaid, wearing a flowy blue dress with spaghetti straps and a complicated feathery contraption on my head that I later learned was called a “fascinator.” The third and final night was my favorite, as I discovered my alter ego, “Bubbles,” a space mermaid. Bubbles wore a cropped pink bob with blunt bangs paired with a long flowing yellow dress. I had major contouring and stunning eye makeup courtesy of Joseph Adivari and Chantel Sewell.


Meet Bubbles!

However, before the show’s debut, I had morphed into somebody very distant from the mysterious and decadent, if shallow, “Bubbles.” Who I’d metamorphosed into was a nagging, irritable and unhappy wife figure. I was lonely and dissatisfied with how much time Richard wasn’t spending with me. In fact, watching the Tony’s recently made me wonder: How does Hamilton star Lin Manuel Miranda’s wife Vanessa Nadal do it? 


Me with Alan Menken, composer of The Little Mermaid

Let me clarify: Richard is always busy. His mind is always going. His foot is always tapping. His phone is always on. Always. My last words most nights is: “Please turn the ringer off.” But, this was different somehow. TLM was an all-consuming project. And, instead of sharing in his excitement and even stress, I found myself leaning into resentment.

He did his best to carve out a couple evenings a week to spend with baby and me. He tried to isolate at least one weekend day for a family outing to an amusement park or the mall or even a date night. Mostly though, he wanted to talk about the show and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t.

I know that a man’s identity is closely tied into his work. Those two things are often braided, so if his work life is going well, he feels happy and content. If not, then his confidence takes a hit. I want Richard to feel good and to meet his calling. I want to honor his purpose and also be considerate of the place in him where the braid of self and work is woven. I also want to honor my own needs, and I need him to as well. That intersection in our partnership is where we are still finding our way.


The three nights of The Little Mermaid at the Bowl were blissful and satisfying to me: a woman who wanted for so long to be an actress and eventually surrendered my will to God’s will. I grieved a while back for not succeeding in acting to the superstardom level I had dreamed of as a child. I unburdened myself from the mountains of failure that I had carried since I was a teen.

Having the opportunity to support Richard without feeling like I was an outsider, or a wannabe or a struggling actor felt really good. (Because I had felt like one for many years.) Instead, I felt whole and real and that I was exactly where I belonged. I was able to express myself in costume, and as a support system for the man I love. I was able to cultivate relationships with strangers in the cast who I can now call friends and who genuinely want to know me more. That felt really good!


Sometimes a girl just needs to twirl!

I was also able to mingle with some of my readers, who complimented me on recent blog posts, and told me how important they were, while describing the personal ways in which my words inspire, encourage and comfort them. That felt really good!

There’s no fancy bow to wrap the unique gift of being with a workaholic, and the heartbreak and understanding and ongoing process it takes to make our relationship last. But it is a gift. No relationship is perfect. Everybody has something! Or else, there’d be no friction!

After the last curtain call, Richard planned a 9-day family voyage to Shanghai, China. We went for the opening of Shanghai Disneyland and stayed at the Four Seasons and Disneyland Hotel. It was a special and unique trip. I’d never been to China, and incidentally, because of something called a HeHe doll, China was obsessed with my daughter!


What came first: The Daisy or the HeHe Doll?

Despite what social media and television may have you believe, every relationship has its struggles. Sometimes you just have to don Mickey Mouse ears, count your blessings and send more love into the world. That’s what we did, and we’re happier for it!

…Follow Your Bliss xoxo

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12310606_10153273537971344_998845647534177497_nDarrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

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How Dealing With Change Changes As You Get Older

change-good-now-how-get-employeesChange is an inevitable part of life. We lose jobs, move away from our childhood home, break hearts, make new friends, break more hearts, graduate and flutter out of the nest. Sometimes, all by the time we’re in our late teens!

But how we treat ourselves and others changes as we shed old skin and adopt (hopefully!) better, more mature and more ethical life practices.

When I moved away from home the day I turned eighteen, I was completely gripped by the stronghold of a full-on methamphetamine addiction. My relationship with my parents was wrought with metaphorical termites, who had gnawed at the foundation for so long, it was collapsing before our eyes. And we were seemingly helpless to stop it. I was a scared, lost, confused, addicted teen and my folks were two survivors in their own rights, who had never put their own Humpty Dumpty’s back together again. They did their best, I guess, but never learned how to parent four children well enough so that they weren’t fleeing–first chance they got–at the sight of another, more promising structure.

The “more promising structure” was my then-boyfriend’s mother’s rented two-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park, California.

In fact, there my boyfriend stood, brown-skinned and stoned while I swirled like a whirling dervish, balmy, clammy, pupils dilated, mind racing, heart outpacing it, hopping up and down the stairs looking for a canister of protein powder. I was fixating on this food item that I most likely threw out with the hundred dollar bill my mom found in the junk pile of my bedroom. I had started packing at midnight and by 2 in the afternoon on the day of my birth plus 18 years, I was ready to conquer the world! If only I could find that fucking protein powder!

My mother spent the evening attempting to rile up my father enough to stop me (that was never going to happen—he wanted us kids to leave since we were young). So she cried. In that ugly tan leather chair with her legs swirled up on the ugly tan ottoman whose brass buttons left indents in your legs and she looked sick.

“Do you see what you’re doing to your mother?” My father asked, trying to sneak in one last jab before I left. One last trip to Guilt and Manipulation Island, where he owned a massive chunk of land.

“I’m not angry at what you’re doing,” my mother interjected. “I’m angry at how you’re doing it.”

aliceI’ve never fully understood what she meant but I’ve never forgotten her saying it.

Was there a kinder, more generous, more grateful way that I could’ve moved out of the house? Of course. Firstly, I could have done it on a day that wasn’t my birthday. If only for the cake alone!

But we make choices, often times, with the set of tools we have at the time we make the choice. Simple as that. And knowing that enables me to have compassion for people who wrong me and trespass my boundaries over and over again, like my parents have to this day.

Our choices affect our changes. My ability to handle change has improved so much since I was that little girl, aimless and scared to the bone. Even though I thought I knew everything back then (ha ha) I’ve had the good fortune of unlearning many lies and societal untruths. I’ve been able to discover for myself what feels right. What fits in the puzzle of my soul. By taking intentional and devoted time for myself, I’ve become a better version of myself, earned self-respect, healed wounds and even gained the respect of others, which means so much!

Before attending 12-step programs I crumbled in the face of uncertainty and drama. In fact, my life was wrought with drama.

Conflict was so difficult for me to confront that I would often times lie or disappear or accept other people’s versions of what I had done.

Other people’s realities became my reality because I wasn’t solid enough in my own life and I didn’t know what my truths were or how to express them.

It was fight or flight mode all the time. Unable to de-escalate a situation or even explain myself, I found myself turning mole hills into mountains. Minuscule interactions became fights. I heard myself lie more times than I’d like to admit. Situations were black or white. Relationships were on or off and my heart was open or closed.

Again, our choices affect our changes. I quit jobs without having another job to replace it. I slept with somebody without even discussing what our future would be. I gossiped relentlessly about people that I cared about. I would ask for advice when I knew the answer because I didn’t want to face my own inner truths. Despite making Cardinal Rules, I encroached on my own boundaries and did what I wanted even though the consequences brought shame and darkness into my life.

I lived a reckless and self sabotaging life and I left a whirlwind of wreckage in my wake. This is not a good way to collect people who care about you. In fact, people were somewhat disposable to me because I was somewhat disposable to myself.

I think the opposite of demons is grace. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

she+wears+her+demons+with+graceBecause my third-eye was not open and my spiritual practice was unclear, change affected me in a radical way. Especially when I wasn’t the one initiating the change! And because change was so scary, I often initiated change in a haphazard and clumsy way, negatively affecting those around me.

Without excuse, I admit, I’m a work in progress and it has taken me awhile to realize that I have value and others have value, whether they can help me or not. We are all intrinsically linked and it is important—now as much as ever—to remember that we are spiritual creatures here on this earth despite our skin color or our ability to understand our effect on other people.

Time is a great healer and it’s also a great truth teller, as Katy Perry might attest to.

When we get to know ourselves better and with the natural course of time, how we approach change (both self-engineered and not) changes.

When you’re younger, you burn bridges, break bonds and try to bury your past mistakes in favor of a more manicured version of reality.

But as you grow older you realize that life is a continuum. You *will* see people you have wronged. You can make amends. You can turn down the drama several notches and view change in a more positive light. You can cultivate change into a more positive experience, filled with hopefulness and faith.

If you’re lucky, towns are small, memories are short, and hearts are big. Keep the good people close and watch magic grow where once there was only ashes.

…Follow Your Bliss xoxo

“She Wears Her Demons with Grace” sketch by:

Did you find this post insightful or interesting? Have your own thoughts on Change, Family and Addiction? Leave your comment below. 

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Darrah Le Montre is a writer and journalist and devoted mom. Her work has been published by Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Fix and nudie blog SuicideGirls.

FROZEN: A Story About Fertility

rena-strober-egg-789x526Guest writer Rena Strober on freezing her eggs and starting a conversation


[Editor’s note: With Nora Ephron-esque comedic flair, Rena Strober takes heart-wrenching choices and makes them funny! There are many ways to be a mother and various avenues into motherhood. This week, Strober lets us witness her unfolding journey. Enjoy!]

By Rena Strober

Another Mothers’ Day has come and gone. What did I get for this holiday celebrating motherhood? Nothing. It was just another day when I didn’t receive anything from my six frozen eggs, tucked comfortably in a fertility freezer in Encino. I don’t mean to sound needy, but I do check in on them from time to time, and I have made sure they’re sung to sleep to the Frozen soundtrack four times a week. And I do pay their rent! A little gratitude isn’t too much to ask for, is it?

Technically, I’m not a mother of children, but I like to consider myself a mother of other things: I mother my career, I mother a basil plant I recently bought at Trader Joe’s and I mother that spider I didn’t kill in my shower on Tuesday. Instead I let him remain on the empty bottle of body wash where I assume he was reading about the all-natural ingredients. Only a good mother would offer organic body wash. And his life.

But over the past few years, the pang of wanting to mother a child hits me multiple times a week. It hits me as I teach seven-year-old children to sing. It hits me at 4:54 AM when I’m up contemplating all my life’s choices. And it definitely hits me when my niece asks “Auntie Rena, why don’t you have kids?” (Why are kids so honest!?)

Two years ago, I had been sitting in LA traffic when NPR aired a show featuring a book about women in their 30s who were dating the wrong men and rushing motherhood before they were ready. I pulled my car over next to the La Brea Tar Pits and listened intently to every word. I was in my mid-30s; I always knew NPR was for liberals like me, but this time I felt like Terry Gross was talking directly to me.

A girl from my weekly Happy Hour group is the anesthesiologist for a well-known fertility doctor; after three $5 glasses of Chardonnay one night, she told me it was time. The next day I made an appointment with Dr. Boostenfar at HRC Fertility. Mostly because his name made me giggle, but I had also heard amazing things about him.

What’s worse than a first date from JDate? An initial evaluation with a fertility specialist. I bit my nails and picked my polish off because of nerves. What if I found out I can’t have kids, that my eggs are already fried and the only way to enjoy them is in a breakfast burrito? I feared that, although people assume I’m 27, my insides are truer to my real age. Which is, let’s just say, higher.

So I did what I could do: I made sure I looked extra young that day. On my way to the doctor, I listened to the Disney Pandora station and belted out “Part of Your World” (from “The Little Mermaid”) and “Chim Chimminy” (from “Mary Poppins”); I pulled my hair into a pony tail, put on an ironic hip t-shirt from Los Feliz and grabbed pink lip gloss from CVS. Maybe my outsides could trick my insides into looking younger too.

“Wow, you don’t look your age, Rena,” the doctor commented before the exam. “But let’s get in there and see how healthy you are and if you’re a candidate for egg freezing.”

I never thought I’d never find a position more uncomfortable than first date sex but then I had my first ultrasound…without the dinner and drinks. My robe was shapeless and opened in the front, my legs were spread in the most ungraceful position and this “nice doctor” was in no way looking for a “nice Jewish girl.”

After poking around a lot, Dr. B. spoke. “Oh, actually, you look your age on the inside.” What was he doing, counting the rings? Ok, this dose of reality – that although I could act and dress younger, my reproductive organs would tell their own story – shot me into panic mode. “I want to do this, and do this as soon as possible,” I realized. We scheduled my procedure for three weeks later.

The hardest thing to swallow about this whole process was the ”egg-surance” – the extraction and the storage is not cheap, and as an actor in LA, I didn’t have thousands of extra dollars sitting in a savings account. But I did have plenty of chutzpah.

The most expensive part of the process is paying for the medication: $4,000 for the hormones and shots. And so, I turned to the network of women I had collected over the years.

I put together an email telling my personal story of wanting to be a mother but not being in the right place in my life to do it. I spoke of egg freezing and how it has come so far. I then asked that if anyone had leftover fertility medication or knew anyone who had recently been through IVF and that I would trade a personal song and/or latte for whatever drugs they had.

What happened next was nothing short of a Hannukah miracle. The 25 emails turned into 50 which turned into 250, forwarded around the country. All of a sudden I was getting emails from strangers, women who connected to my story and wanted to help.

The next weekend I set out with a Starbucks card and and open heart and made my way around Los Angeles collecting needles, Follistum, Menopur and even alcohol pads. Each door I knocked on led to 20 minutes of honest chat with women about their fertility experiences. Some of these amazing women found success – we talked as a baby sat on the floor next to us. Others never got pregnant but were happy to share their leftover drugs with me. It was a beautiful, deep, feminine bond like none I’ve ever known.

Two weeks later I started with the shots; six days after that, I had six little eggs gently removed from my ovaries and placed in a freezer in Encino.

For the past two Mothers’ Days, as I ordered roses for my own mom, I sat and thought about my eggs– my tiny chances or ”Olafs,” as I like to call them – sitting in a freezer and waiting for the thaw.

Perhaps I’ll use them soon, or maybe they’ll remain frozen forever. But either way, I feel so good about my decision. And beyond my personal experience and because of it, I believe now more than ever that it’s time that fertility and the advances in modern reproductive science become part of our daily conversation. If nothing else, it brings women closer together and for that I am grateful.

This story first appeared at Grok Nation.
MG_7738Rena Strober is a native New Yorker currently living and working in Los Angeles. She made her Broadway debut in Les Miserables and went on to perform on and Off-Broadway for a decade. Some shows included Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty & The Beast, Reefer Madness, Bat Boy and more. She is currently recurring on Disney’s “Liv & Maddie” and has guest starred on “Shameless,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Adult Swim.” Rena is also well known for her voice work on Disney’s “Penn Zero,” “Ever After High,” “Sailor Moon” and dozens of video games including Fire Emblem Fates, Republique and Zero Escape. When she’s not working as an actor, Rena teaches voice at the Academy of Music for the Blind and is their director of Outreach. Learn more about Rena at: Follow her on Twitter.