Monday, September 29, 2014

Enjoying: The State You're In

I feel like it would be doing a disservice to my blog—or at least the archives of 2014—if I didn’t properly light my fall on fire in a post this year. Wouldn’t want those other years to feel superior or anything, so let it be said that the fall freak flag has been raised, clusters of shellacked gourds line the counters, “Warm Tobacco Pipe” candles flicker in the living room, and just yesterday I took the first Florida fall excursion. We don’t have apple orchards or pumpkin patches or streets lined with golden maples, but I’ll be damned we have a Homegoods that sells faux birch bark candles and fuzzy owl knickknacks and hand towels emblazoned with scarlet leaves. And yesterday, I pushed my cart between those aisles of autumn splendor just as I might, say, push a stroller down an acorn-scattered path, and I breathed in the air conditioning like it was an apple-scented breeze. “Hail to Fall!” I shouted as I swung from the rug racks and climbed to the peak of a toss pillow pile, raising a clearance cornucopia above my head as the store’s inhabitants repeated the fall chant and then joined me in the candle section for a synchronized flash mob cart dance to the tune of John Coltrane’s “Autumn Serenade.” It was beautiful, I tell you. And festive. And all in my imagination. But someday, if the world keeps on the upturned path (we’re headed toward better, right?), these imaginative dreams will happen all the time.

So there. Fall has been recognized for 2014.

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Nothing says cozy fall like rat decals and a make-believe spider infestation.

Every so often, I get an e-mail or comment from—well, let’s just call them blog fans—who, after reading some sort of “I miss something about the Midwest” rambling of mine, string together the most colorful of words in the English language to say something like, “Why do you hate Florida so much, you ungrateful b@*#!?” (that’s actually a real e-mail). Which always gives me a little chuckle, first because cussing can be really funny—especially when it’s typed in ALL CAPS and signed by anonymous screen names­­, but also because ­­­I find it humorous that these insightful people have managed to look past the fact that loving something—like, say, motherhood—while yet professing disappointment for its shadows—like, say, fits or hard days or seeing your children struggle—doesn’t so much mean that you hate that thing but rather that your love for it is well-seasoned with the reality that the best things in life come with a flipside. We say howdy to the flipsides in life, and usually that acknowledgment is enough to keep them from getting to us. If we didn’t acknowledge them, they might get mad and stick around until we did.

But really. Clearly, we hate Florida so much that we drag our kids to the beach and take pictures of the repulsive landscape.

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This blue sky actually pisses me off.

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To love where you live or what you do for a living or the people you spend your life with doesn’t mean you have to like everything about them. It just means that you see through the parts that you don’t love and know that there’s more than enough good to make up for them. That goes for states and jobs and parents and kids and husbands and wives and friends.

This scene? We’re good, Florida. We’re good.

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A little Enjoying post early this week as Wednesday starts Down syndrome awareness month, and we’ll kick it off right.


Finding frogs after the rain. 
And when we catch one, it always leads to us telling Lainey the story again about the time a frog jumped on her face when she was little, and how she lost her mind.

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The Boxcar Children.
Well maybe not a boxcar, but still--a box. The best toy money can't buy. Brett bragged all night about how he rigged up a real doorknob and how the window he cut was way cooler than mine because his opens and shuts.

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Alright, I'll give him the window. But the doorknob fell off this morning, thank you very much.

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Shared Loves.
One of my favorite things to do with her--draw side-by-side. I help her draw faces because she's "not really good at eyes, Mom," and she picks out all the colors for my pictures because choosing colors for anything--bridal bouquets, nursery walls, polka dot shirts on rough sketches of girls in a notebook--is one of the great perks in life, and I'll let her have the pleasure. I love to watch how serious she gets over a Pacific Blue vs. Caribbean Green decision. I'm hoping that when hard things come our way, hitting the table with a sketch book, drawing manual and a pile of colored pencils is always a way out--or at least closer to each other.

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Seastar Wonder.
She's breaking through her timidness for a lot of things in life right now. Scooching closer to centipedes on the ground to get a good look at their tiny legs. Joining crowds of friends without huddling so close to me. Climbing the big slide at the park and sailing down without a spotter. Stretching her hand out to hold a seastar--intrigued, not frightened, by the wiggly feet that tickle her palm. And just when I'm about to jump to some sentimental and super celebratory Down syndrome achievement proclamation, I remember that this is life and we are all the same. Constantly breaking through our timidness of the world, pulling back when we need more time, and reemerging when we feel safe and curious and brave. I see myself in her all the time.

But I'm still sentimental and super celebratory. So yay, Nella! Cartwheel. High five. Knuckles.

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Welcome, Barbie.
I never played with Barbies growing up, and Lainey didn't seem interested in anything but baby dolls. Though I never officially opposed them, maybe I got a little uppity about our Barbielessness and made it our thing. I mean--their unrealistic body proportions, their plasticness, whatever. I went total elitist with it, and I admit it. Thing is, Nella has found the few forlorn Barbies that were passed down to us and, despite their boob-to-waist ratio and dreamhouse obsessions, she looked past all that to see dolls that needed love. Nella is to Barbie as Jesus was to Zaccheus. (That was just to meet my monthly Bible-trivia-from-the-past quota, a little thing I have goin' with myself to prove I still got it.)

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Sometimes we hear her in her room,excitedly talking, voice raising, little phrases rolling off her tongue with such inflection: Oh, Okay! Hi! Thank you! Here it is! Brett's usually first to the scene, and he whispers for me to come quick. And as we peek around the door frame, careful so she doesn't see us, we find her with the Barbies. Two of them held up, one in each hand, to face each other. She swings their hair and makes them bob back and forth when she talks for them. She gives them a voice when they can't speak for themselves. Which is exactly what we try to do for her.

So, Barbies? Bring 'em on. We took her to get a new one this weekend. Kid you not, she named the newest member Poop. Poop has the cutest polka-dot skinny jeans. Just sayin'.

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My Happy Place.
This scene. Restores, renews, straightens out and brings all the "I don't knows" right home. This I know. This is home, peace, comfort and motivation all in one.

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This is pretty cute too.

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A Giving Opportunity for You
There are two days left to September, and though I joke about how fulfilling a good cup of cider or fall craft can be, I can't think of a more meaningful way to close out this month than to help give families the basic human rights so many of us enjoy every day, without thought--safety and the freedom from violence. We're talking 6-year-olds walking to school without being hurt. I've written about International Justice Mission and had a backstage pass to the incredible work they're doing around the world when we visited their Rwanda field office in July. We met Jamie and heard her story and saw firsthand how the work of IJM saved her life. IJM is doing good, important work. They're rescuing children and families who are being abused and enslaved, they're enforcing justice and they're teaching communities around the globe how to sustain these systems of justice on their own. We signed up to be Freedom Partners in July--a small $24/month donation that helps IJM continue their work in rescuing victims of violence across the globe--and we continue to follow the work of IJM, getting updates of rescues and justice victories we're helping to support every week. Generous IJM donors have committed to doubling your monthly giving all year long when you sign up to become an IJM Freedom Partner in September. Your bill from one night out at a restaurant could make a double impact on protecting the poor if you sign up today.


And on that note, goodnight. Happy almost October. You know what that means?  The last quarter. Live it up, bring it home...from whatever state you're loving. 

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Enjoying: Call Your Mother Cherry Pie

I've decided that quilts are the common denominator of summer and fall, and since we are Day Two into fall (pause for exuberant interpretive dance), I figured what better way to celebrate this invisible seasonal transition in Florida than to haul a cozy quilt down to the beach. Comfy and warm and cozy and also bright and colorful and free. Both seasons represented well.

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Seems equivalent fractions now, but just wait until we add a few more pumpkins to our doorstep and some mulling spices to our cider and some tights to our legs.

Cozy up. We're Enjoying...

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A few more pics from last week's Chicago trip:

The Conveyer Belt
FYI: Letting your kids get their own suitcase off the conveyer belt? I might as well have given her the keys to my car and 50 bucks for a fun night.

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John Lennon visits The Bean.

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Birds in the Park. 
At which point I think it necessary to admit that I've only recently discovered that Mary Poppins was not singing, "Feed the Birds, TOPPINS a bag," but tuppence. Because tuppence, unlike toppins, is actually a real word.

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Hide and Seek
Counting to 10 with Grace. Someone's peeking.

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The American Girl Cafe.
The girls had never been to an American Girl store which is basically like an entire city of dolls. The lunch was just precious--little high chairs for the dolls and tiny cups and saucers served right along with the big ones for the humans.

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I ate two cinnamon rolls because Bitty Baby passed on hers.

More Summer

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These books that Nella's obsessed with: Kiki and Coco in Paris and Lulu and Pip. She brings them to us a few times a day to read to her. The photos are so beautiful--and engaging!

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And the beginning of fall.
Our first pie of the season.

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I've been making this cherry pie for years with my mom. It's a verbal recipe we share and any time either of us makes it, we call to go over the recipe (I think we pretend we don't remember). I'm sharing it here but it won't keep me from calling her next time I make it. And the next time. Because that's what this cherry pie is.

Call Your Mother Cherry Pie

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This recipe is for a single crust. Double this for a top and bottom crust. I've actually been tripling it lately to have plenty enough dough to work with for some good crust fluting on the edge.  I roll out any leftover dough, sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on it and bake for an extra treat.

1 c. flour
1/2 c. Crisco
1/4 c. milk
1/4 tsp. salt

2 cans tart cherries in water (keep all the water from one can and drain about half from the other)
(Fresh tart cherries are great but seasonal. I use 2 cans of Oregon tart cherries--not dark--in water)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tbsp. flour

Preheat oven to 425°. Mix your filling first and set aside. For the crust, add the flour, Crisco and salt into a large bowl. Using a fork or pastry blender, press the Crisco into the flour mixture until it makes pea-size pieces. Slowly add the milk and fold into the rest of the crust.

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Don't overwork it. If it's too moist, sprinkle in a little more flour. When dough is well mixed, take out half (for bottom crust), form into a ball and place on floured surface (don't be shy with the flour). To do this exactly like my mom, at this point you take the edge of your hand and karate chop the dough ball lightly a few times across to get it ready for rolling. Using a rolling pin, roll from the middle of the dough out, turning as you can so that the dough keeps a circular shape as it flattens. Sprinkle more flour if the rolling pin sticks. Continue to roll until your dough is flattened and will fit a 9-inch pie pan. To easily transfer it to the pan, slip a thin metal spatula underneath it, folding the dough circle in half and then into quarters. Transfer to pie pan and unfold. Pour your filling into the bottom crust and add a few pads of butter on top before you add the top crust. Roll out the second half of the dough mix as you did the bottom crust and transfer to top of pie. Trim off edges and pinch together the top and bottom crust with flutes. Cut some vent designs (I make a little feather) and using a pastry brush, brush a little milk on the top of pie crust and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for ten minutes on 425° and then drop heat to 375° for 40-45 more minutes, until your crust is as brown as you'd like. Let pie cool for 15-20 minutes.



And speaking of call your mother, I called my mama for some music lesson tips as I was working on this little piece for eHow this week.
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Changing the Face of Beauty

Sorry for the radio silence last week. Life got busy, Brett was out of town for a bit and every time I sat down to write a post, some pressing matter called, “Mommmmmm!”

Last weekend, we took a quick trip to Chicago to support the work of my friend Katie’s campaign, Changing the Face of Beauty. I met Katie in San Diego last year when she and her daughter Grace came to Everybody Plays with a big “Thank you” to Infantino and Step 2 for representing true beauty with all its faces in their advertising. Katie’s extremely passionate about the media representing all the different forms of beautiful–so much that she started Changing the Face of Beauty after her daughter Grace was born with Down syndrome, and has since worked tirelessly to encourage retailers and big companies to include people of all abilities in their ads. Considering 20% of American families with children have some kind of special need represented in their home, this is a great way for companies to say, simply, “We see you.”

Let me tell you how I came to understand how that feels. Without knowing I needed it, I saw a Pampers commercial the year after Nella was born. “Every baby is a little miracle” was its tagline, and in sixty seconds, Pampers managed to give a virtual hug to as many unique families as it is possible to squeeze into a one-minute slot. Single moms, biracial couples, adoptive families, in Vitro stories, you name it. I was one year into the special needs game and doing just fine, thank you—no need for special commercials or acknowledgment from ads, I thought—and then I watched that commercial. At the 22 second mark, it came: “Hi. We see you. We know you’re there.” An almond-eyed baby, cradled over her father’s shoulder as he kissed her cheek and Pampers' ultimate message at the end of the commercial: “Every baby is a little miracle. To celebrate, support and protect.” Watch it. You’ll feel it too.

I lost it. Like a stodgy old aunt who doesn’t do hugs but melts and loves it when someone doesn’t care and squeezes her anyway, I put my guard down and accepted that hug. I cried, I rewound, I hit play and play again, I texted the link to my family and posted that baby on Facebook where other parents of all the unique special babies represented in it said, “Thank you, Pampers. You saw us too.” To be seen is the most primal human need, and to see someone is the most precious gift you can give. It took half a second of a commercial for Pampers to see a whole lot of families out there, and in doing so they made a giant family of loyal friends.

It’s not just about being seen. More important, it’s about changing the standard of beauty to what it really means so that all of our children are presented with a realistic representation of the amazing human body and its diversified forms of beauty. Slowly, the media has begun to come around to show that beauty is multi-faceted and comes in different hues and sizes and ages and abilities, and a few companies have done an incredible job to illustrate this in their advertising (yay Dove!). What that means for my children is that the media-saturated world, by which they can’t help but be subconsciously influenced, broadens the definition of beautiful and perfect and acceptable so that they don’t judge themselves or anyone around them if they don’t meet a size 2/straight white teeth/flawless hair/porcelain skin/All A's standard.

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With such a significantly present force in our society, the media has the power to desensitize stereotypes and normalize what is--frankly--already normal, for people who might need help seeing that so that one day, twenty years from now, when my daughter walks into an office to apply for a job, "Sure, I'll give you an interview" might be a little easier for someone to say. Or "Do you want to play with us?" effortlessly rolls off some kid's tongue on the playground. Because Down syndrome, along with a lot of other beautifuls, has been represented in the world around them: This is normal. This is beautiful. 

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Last week, it was pretty special sharing the efforts of some passionate moms and businesses with my children and to watch how things are changing, slowly but surely, to reflect more beauty, more love and a more realistic representation of people and the wonderful things that make them unique.

You--as a mom, as a dad, as a grandma or grandpa, as a business owner, as an employee, as a creative, as a consumer (ahem, that means all of you)--have a voice in the advertising world. Speak up!

Thank you so much to Changing the Face of Beauty and to The Mighty Acorn Foundation for making this all happen. You're good at seeing people.

All of the clothing and shoes from this shoot will be up for auction on November 1 with proceeds benefiting The Mighty Acorn Foundation and Gigi's Playhouse of Oak Forest (I'll remind readers when it's up if you're interested in purchasing). The companies who participated in this shoot will be provided look books featuring inclusion in advertising to help spread the word at trade shows and to their consumers.

And this one's going in a frame. (Thank you, Katie.)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Snacking with NatureBox

This post is sponsored by NatureBox.

One of my favorite movies as a kid was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, partly because Willy Wonka was fascinatingly creepy but also because there’s nothing more fantastic to a child than an imaginary world of endless candy. And not just gumdrops and chocolate bars—we’re talking creative candy. I mean, everlasting gobstoppers? Brilliant.

Then you get older and watch the movie and realize that this amazing world of candy isn't all it's cracked up to be. For starters: cavities, sugar content, hydrogenated oil. This disappointment was recently fixed with our introduction to NatureBox, also known as Willy Wonka for Real People—a giant selection of delicious, healthy snacks that are sent to your home—healthy equivalents to the everlasting gobstopper. Like sriracha roasted cashews, banana bread granola, salt and pepper lentil loops.

Let me tell you how this works with our family.

Brett pulls a chair up to the computer while I’m snack browsing on the NatureBox site and gets way more involved than usual in my online shopping. He gets very excited about cheddar and onion sunflower kernels while I root for citrus kick almonds and lemon tea biscuits. We settle on five choices, compromising on things we know the kids will like.

They like the Granny Smith Apple Circles because they're tasty and make cool glasses.

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NatureBox snacks have been great additions to my kids’ lunch boxes. I try to get beyond the old sandwich, Pirate’s Booty and grapes routine, and NatureBox has provided some healthy variety to my kids’ snacks. They ate Granny Smith Apple Circles and Barbecue Kettle Corn and had milk and Lemon Tea Biscuits for an after school snack. And the Soft Baked Cherry Granola turned our plain yogurt into a much more interesting treat.

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NatureBox works as a subscription service that offers you the ability to discover and enjoy healthy snacks on a monthly basis, and it’s all conveniently delivered directly to your doorstop with free shipping (as little as $15.95 a month). Plus, for every box of snacks that’s delivered, NatureBox donates one meal through Feeding America to help the hungry. Every month, you get to select 5 different snacks (3-5 servings per snack) from over 100 to choose from. All products are made from wholesome ingredients with strict quality standards: no high fructose corn syrup, no partially hydrogenated oils, no trans fats, no artificial sweeteners, no artificial flavors, no artificial colors. You can narrow your search to nut-free, gluten-conscious, vegan, etc.

If you join NatureBox today, you get a free sample box of some of their most loved snacks. Click on this link to get started (free trial is available for new and US subscribers only. Not valid on gift subscriptions and may not be combined with any other offers).

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Willy Wonka has a little golden ticket giveaway for you too. Two winners will each win a free 6-month subscription to NatureBox. Enter the giveaway by browsing what snacks NatureBox has to offer and then comment on this post what snack you'd like to try. Please include a contact e-mail address so that you can be notified once you win (open to US readers only. Must have a US shipping address. Contest will remain open for one week). I will remove all comments with e-mails from site once giveaway has closed. See Giveaway Terms and Conditions here.

Cheer up, Charlie! Happy Snacking!

Note: Giveaway winners have been selected and comments have now been closed for this post. 

This post is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of NatureBox.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bad Middles, Good Stories

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Last night, the kids crawled up on the couch with me to listen to the reading of a brand new book. All three attempted to climb into my lap at once which commenced a short brawl, but it was quickly solved with an awkward arm reach that pulled each of them close and made them all feel like my favorite. I was one page into the book when Lainey interrupted.

"Wait--does it have a bad middle?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know, in the middle of a story when something bad happens."

I smiled. Ah yes, second grade writing curriculum. My girl's learning about narrative writing and the arc of a good story--a problematic middle that gets worked out in the end.

"Oh, I get it," I answered. "Well, I think the little girl in this story gets lost. Do you want me to read it to see if the problem gets fixed?"

She nestled in a little closer. "Okay."

We finished the book with Story Arc Detector oh high alert for problem and solution: Girl gets lost. Girl finds her way home.

Though we might not learn the most important life lessons at school (--except the quadratic equation. Thank God for the quadratic equation because I use it every day.), I decided this one's a pretty good one to remember, and I'm tucking it away to remind my kids later when their hearts feel a little broken: Good stories have bad middles. When life hands over some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, you have to remember it's just a middle. And you're writing a good story. And when it's your story that has a bad middle, you get to be a part of writing the ending. Of making sure that the bad middle has a purpose and a resolution and a character that finds her way home.

The idea of a life full of bad middles for my kids makes my insides twist, but when I think about it as a life full of good endings, that's not so bad. They'll be the authors of so many good stories. As a writer, that makes me proud. As a mother, that makes me happy.

I'm prepared for the next heartbreak, my parenting talk cued and ready: "Baby, this is just a bad middle in your big story. We'll help you fix it and you'll write a good ending."