Last night I attended a major league baseball game. The game was great and the competition was fierce. While there, I asked my husband how many players were on an MLB team. Then I started thinking about how many athletes tried but did not make the cut to be on a professional team. The competition amongst professional athletes is astronomical.

On the way home from the game, I checked my Instagram account to see the latest updates on this weekend’s Miss America state pageant competitions (I am a huge Miss America fan!) One state winner shined brighter than all of the other weekend winners. This particular girl appears to have perfected every aspect of her competition. She is second to none in my rankings. She was a double preliminary winner, smart and talented. Her dedication and pursuit of excellence is ostensible.

What would have happened if she became complacent in her competition journey? What would have happened if one of the MLB players decided that the average was good enough for him? Where would these extraordinary people have ended up in life if they were satisfied with participation trophies?

Competition matters profoundly.

Why? Life is a competition at every turn. Measuring performance matters. Without it, we are a nation of underachievers. It is time for our country and our kids to get back to winning and losing. Our fun run approach to life is weaning future generations off of guts, fortitude, discipline, risk taking, confidence and other critically important ingredients for achievement.

Today, everyone gets a trophy. Wristbands have replaced stopwatches as the new performance measure. Everyone wins. The self-esteem before score mantra has built a hand-holding fantasy culture that is leaving our children woefully unprepared for the ups and downs of life. As Bill Gates so poignantly said: “Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.”

When our society is preaching acceptance of mediocrity we need to push back and challenge our social norms. We all need to start achieving more! We all have God-given talents that are not being cultivated. Therefore, today is the day we start pushing ourselves to achieve more than mediocrity. Pushing ourselves means that we will fall down and fail sometimes. That is FINE. Get back up and try again! Why? Because you are being an example for our next generation. We need to let our kids fail more. After all, life is not a sporting event with perfect rules, regulations and without losers. The best and smartest don’t always win. Will your kids be ready for that? I ask myself, will my kids know how to overcome failure?

I have failed many times in my life. However, every time I failed, I evaluated my performance and learned from the ones who excelled past me. Then, comes the hard part… I make changes. Very successful people constantly evaluate and change with the rolling times.

Be grateful for your blessings and patient with your life. But, never be finished. Always, always continue to evolve, create and improve.

We can all learn a valuable life lesson from pageant girls and professional athletes. Their worlds are constantly becoming more competitive, but they do not cringe to the pressure of the new higher standards set before them. They transform with the changing times to remain relevant and satisfied.

We need to set the example for our children. We need to start today!

Fathers are teachers, providers, (mostly amateur) comedians, leaders and then some!

Whether he’s your biological father, or the paternal figure in your life who took the job without question. Whether he stayed at home, or worked overtime to keep the family in order. Whether he’s a firefighter or the president of Armor All products, there is a special spot in your heart reserved for the first man you loved and admired.

Here are some of the reason why we love our fathers. I’m sure you will be able to relate.

  1. He has a good sense of humor (this describes my husband to the tee.)
  2. He is a handy man (DT grew up on a farm, so he knows how to fix anything.)
  3. He is open minded (conversations with my hubby are enlighten.)
  4. He believes in you (I would not be where I am today without his support.)
  5. He is one of your best friends (truer words have never been said.)
  6. He treats your mom like a queen (better than a queen.)
  7. He is a good disciplinarian (great for me, not so fun for the kiddos sometimes:)
  8. He accepts your flaws and mistakes (love him for this.)
  9. He is dependable (I can lean on Dt for anything.)
  10. You and your dad spend quality time together (date night is highly anticipated, see point number one.)
  11. He is a role model (My hubby inspires me every day to be a better mom, entrepreneur and comedian.)
  12. He has an unselfish spirit (I know he would do anything for my kids and me.)
  13. He gives great advice (Dt’s advice is unwavering.)
  14. He is loved by everyone (he got invited to a bachelor party without really knowing the groom, his reputation proceeds him. See point number one.)
  15. He protects his family at all costs (read my blog The Merge to see the extent he will go to keep his family safe.)

We love all our dads! Happy Father’s Day!

My dad (Doug) with my son, Kosta. Happy Grandpa’s Day!

I love to entertain!

Ever since my family moved, we have been entertaining a lot. House warmings, home tours, catching up with old friends and animal appearances (we have 27 animals) have been happening quiet frequently.

I have discovered eight effective ways to make entertaining in my home easier. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Don’t get bogged down by cleaning

The thought of cleaning every inch of my house can be daunting enough to extinguish my party planning. Thankfully, a clean home doesn’t have to mean spending hours scrubbing your floors and dusting your baseboards. The one place you want to spend some time getting your clean on is in the bathroom. Guests are more likely to notice details (like dirt!) when they’re alone in a space. And, come on, you know your bathroom could use it anyway.

2. Turn down the lights, and up the music.

Ambiance is always important, and so easy to get right if you plan ahead! When it comes to lighting up your party, choose lighting that is appropriate for the time of day. For example, an afternoon lunch needs to be bright and cheerful. Even though it is day time, turn on all of your house lights. This will give your house a extra cheerful boost. During a dinner party you should use table and floor lamps, string lights, and candles are perfect for this. It’ll feel more relaxing for the guests, and hide the cleaning that got skipped over.

As for music, choose a station off of your favorite music streaming service and let it play DJ all night. Begin with the music at a comfortable volume, then continue to turn it down and let it serve as a background as more guests show up. Do the opposite and you’re at risk of guests shouting over the tunes.

3. Host with joy

Your guests may not all know each other, but they all know you. That being said, by staying talkative and relaxed throughout the evening, your guests are bound to reciprocate your good vibes.

Start trying to relax before anyone arrives — welcoming guests into your home with a smile and a relaxed demeanor will make them feel comfortable instantly. Ask how they are, and take care of their coats and bags for them. If there are other people present, be sure to introduce them before tending to other tasks.

The biggest task, of course, is keeping your cool while preparing food. Choose something simple to avoid having to scramble or show any frustration with the food. Even if you’re a bit worried your salad dressing might have too much lemon, don’t broadcast your fears and mistakes about the menu to others — it’s likely they won’t notice anyway. I always feel like airing your mistakes forces your guests to compliment you. Example, “I’m not sure how the salad dressing turned out…” Guest: “I’m sure it is going to be amazing. I think it smells good.” Don’t fish for compliments, be confident in your cooking!

4. Don’t let appetizers intimidate

When did it become normal for hors d’oeuvres to be fancy? This isn’t high tea, so don’t burn yourself out cutting the crust off of tea sandwiches, or crafting several different labor-intensive appetizers on the ends of toothpicks. Save that energy for the main course. One of my most popular appetizers is vegan chili beans. Easy!

Personally, I love to opt for a beautiful spread of vegan cheese from Miyoko’s (http://miyokoskitchen.com/). Most people cannot even tell it is vegan! Pick out 3-4 varieties, add a bowl of olives, and some crackers. In lieu of a fancy cheese board, a clean wooden cutting board works just fine.

Once you’ve got that looking nice, mess it up a bit. No one likes to be the first to dig into a beautiful spread, so take a bite of it all before anyone arrives!

5. Use place cards for special occasions

Place cards make everything feel a little bit fancier, don’t they? And also keep people from doing the awkward, “where should we sit dance.”

Make a few simple place cards with a calligraphy pen and some tent-folded cardstock to add a little extra glamor to your table.

6. Time the meal right

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH! You don’t want guests to feel like they need to sit down at the table the moment they get there. You also don’t want them to be standing around for too long before the main course is ready. When I am having guests over I try to make my food the day before. That way I’ll I need to do is warm everything up. If I must prepare food that day, then I start EXTREMELY early. If I am serving lunch at noon, I am starting to cook, setup and layout food at 6:00am.

There is nothing worse than having your guests begin to check their watches.

7. Prepare the kitchen for the aftermath

There’s no way around it — you just can’t keep your kitchen sparkling clean the entire night. And that’s ok! After all, a messy kitchen with greasy pans and used plates is surely the sign of a wonderful time. However, there are ways you can make your cleaning process a little easier on yourself.

First and foremost, do tidy up before you get started. Clear mail and other non-essentials off of the countertop, making it easier have space throughout the night and wipe up at the end of it.
Most of all, be sure the dishwasher is clean. That way, it’s ready to be loaded once the guests say their goodbyes. While you’re at it, clear the washer and dryer as well. At the end of the evening, gather up all of the table linens and toss in.

Do not clean while you are still entertaining guests. Nothing says, “time to go!!!” more so than the host doing the dishes. Enjoy your guests, spend quality time with them by having real, in-depth conversations. The dishes can wait.

Most of all, don’t stress about the cleaning. Enjoy yourself, and don’t feel any remorse by simply throwing the dishes in hot, soapy water overnight and heading straight to bed.

8. Be a master of conversation

While everyone is seated and enjoying their meal, think of all the recent activities you’ve done that may interest your companions. Have you been to an art exhibit or a festival featuring beat poets? Have you purchased something unusual at a garage sale? Did your pet dog give birth to a litter of puppies? As you can see, almost anything can be shared over dinner.

With that said, avoid anything too serious or depressing, and don’t brag about your achievements. Make an effort to draw someone out by asking questions.

Unless you are willing to have an in-depth debate on politics, avoid political one-liners. As a matter of fact, just avoid politics (I hope my husband reads this, I love you babe.)

Just remember entertaining is fun! Investing in your family and friends will always be an investment that pays off.