Friday, November 21, 2014

Gifts that Give Back

I'll be bringing several gift guides to the blog in the next few weeks and wanted to start with my favorite one. This year, I've learned of several new companies and organizations that are making a big impact with their products and the thoughtful way they run their businesses and accomplish their missions. I'm thankful for the experience this year of seeing one of these companies' impact up close in Rwanda where I was able to spend time with artisans and hear how the work they're thrilled to create has helped sustain their families and change the outcome of their story. I've realized how great our purchasing power is and how the enjoyment we share of shopping for our families and friends can gain meaning when we support causes that need our help. Not every single thing we buy is fair trade certified or gives back, but we are definitely more aware of thoughtful shopping habits and try to find ways to support causes when we can. It certainly helps, especially during the holidays, when there are so many beautiful and unique gifts available to us that give back. These are some of my current favorite giveback gifts to make the holidays more meaningful.

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1. To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. Their message and inspiration is applicable to everyone--that you are worthy of love, that your story is important and that your life matters. They focus on community and aim to connect those who are struggling with the help they need. Their store is full of hip products with positive messages--the sales of which help fund their mission. I love this baseball tee and everything it stands for.

2. Franklin Brush Print from Sevenly. If you don't know about Sevenly yet, you should. They've raised over $4 million to date for a number of different charities by donating $7 from every item sold to a designated charity that changes every week. They have supported Down syndrome causes on several occasions as well as anti-bullying, adoption, global health and many more. Their products include an incredible collection of t-shirts as well as prints and accessories ranging from toys to tech gadgets. This week, they are donating $7 from every item sold to Exodus Cry, an organization that combats sex trafficking and restores the lives of survivors. I love this simple yet modern print: "Well Done is Better than Well Said."

3. Northern Fair Isle Hat from Echo Design. This shop is full of beautiful gift items that feature great design and patterns. From November 17 to December 17, for every hat, muffler, outerwear and pair of gloves you buy, they will donate two comparable items to one of three regional foster care programs. As their mission states, "Echo Design values the powerful impact family makes in the lives of children and young adults." If I lived where it was cold, I'd be pulling this colorful beauty over my head every day.

4. Leather Kindle Case from Unicef Market. This weathered leathered is dreamy and makes this Kindle case a great gift for him or her. Unicef's Market site features an impressive selection of beautiful gifts (their leather bags are gorgeous and unique) for everyone in your family, and purchases help fund the work they do to save and protect the world's most vulnerable children. This gorgeous Kindle case from West Africa is fairly priced and can provide 14 doses of measles vaccine to protect children from this deadly disease.

5. Collection 21 Hooded Towel Set from Vintage Giggles. My friends started this company right here in Naples and continue to make beautiful gifts for babies. The three bathroom hooks next to our tub feature Vintage Giggles hooded towels--all which have held up to frequent use and wash beautifully. This year, Vintage Giggles designed the Collection 21 towel set--featuring simple pastels that work for boy or girl--with 21% of proceeds from every sale donated to the National Down Syndrome Society to help continue their mission of creating a culture that accepts, includes and offers opportunities to individuals with Down syndrome.

6. Knit Arm Warmers from Noonday Collection which provides pathways out of poverty for the vulnerable. I traveled to Rwanda with Noonday this past summer to meet artisans and see the way Noonday is helping to transform their lives with employment opportunities. Noonday has formed partnerships in many countries, from Guatemala to Vietnam. These darling arm warmers are 100% Alpaca and handmade in Peru.

7. The Able Scarf from Live FashionABLE. Live FashionABLE's mission is to create sustainable business for Africans so they aren't dependent upon charity but instead earn the dignity of a job. They focus primarily on empowering women, knowing that statistics show she will have a life-changing impact on her family and community. My beautiful friend, Erin Loechner, designed this Able Scarf, handwoven in Ethiopia from Ethiopian cotton and screen printed with handwritten statements that unite and empower all women across the globe.

8. The Chloe Blouse from Cooper & Ella. My favorite blouses. My friend Kara started Cooper & Ella in 2013 and continues to make the most flattering blouses for women with beautiful details like this season's cut-outs featured in this Chloe Blouse. This year, Cooper & Ella made a commitment to give back with their sales and launched Empower, a partnership with the Hope Foundation School in Bangalore. With each and every Cooper & Ella item purchased, one hot nutritious meal is donated to a child in need.

My favorite giveback choice for our family this year is International Justice Mission. Since traveling with them to Rwanda in July, visiting their field office, hearing first-hand stories from clients they helped rescue and following along on their social media sites as they report rescues that we get to help fund, their mission has become near and dear to my heart. IJM is a global organization that protects the poor from violence and seeks justice by holding slave owners, sex traffickers, rapists and criminals accountable in court. IJM was named 1 of 10 non-profits "making a difference" by U.S. News and World Report. One of their current taglines that showed up in the subject line of my e-mail box the other day was simple and powerful: "What would you do to save your family?" Because in many parts of the world, this means mothers like us--willing to do anything to save their families--take jobs where they are enslaved and their children are used for hard labor, sex and dangerous jobs. IJM is doing great work in changing this. I follow their Twitter and Instagram accounts and celebrate every reported victory: "9 victims were rescued from a street-based prostitution network that sold girls and young girls...THIS WEEK THEY LIVE IN FREEDOM." "Two girls rescued from sex trafficking in Cebu, Philippines and one suspect arrested. These girls are now safe." "Last week, nearly 100 people got their rightful land restored to them in Gulu, Uganda. Let's join them in celebration!" Taking care of our babies and keeping our families safe is nothing where we live compared to the choices and sacrifices mothers and fathers are making in other countries. Supporting IJM is one small thing we can do to create big impact for these families.

Be a part of their great work this year by shopping their gift catalogue. I love making gift baskets for close family members every year, and this year we're including donation cards from IJM. It's easy--you choose the gift and increment, pay for it and IJM will send you a card to give the recipient, letting them know that a gift was made in their honor to protect the vulnerable and rescue the oppressed.

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This is also a great way to include kids in giving. While not all of the depth of IJM subject matter is appropriate for kids, there's so much they do to make lives better for vulnerable children. Their gift guide offers many opportunities for kids to give, and saving change or donating a few allowance dollars to something like "Sponsor a child survivor in primary school"--a $30 gift package--can be a meaningful (and relatable) experience that helps teach kids about giving and the deeper message that we are all connected.

I've encouraged my friends to consider including IJM giving cards in their holiday gifts this year as well, and I know that those who receive these will appreciate the deeper meaning in their gifts.It makes holiday cheer all the better, you know?

Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Goodnight Moon: Bedtime Routines with Seventh Generation

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This bedtime post is sponsored by Seventh Generation. We love their products, their commitment to protecting our environment and their mission to make the world a safe and comfy place for our kids.

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I've always been a morning person, clanking coffee cups and cleaning the kitchen well before anyone's awake (they're not always too happy about that). I'm ready to get moving early, taking advantage of my sharpest self--writing, tackling projects, cleaning--the earlier the better. I used to save more tasks for the evening, but with three kids and crazy busy days now, nights are spent quietly winding down--relaxing and retreating with my family. Getting ready for bed is a ceremony in itself, a window of the day where we are fully present--what's done is done, and what didn't get finished gets moved to tomorrow.

Bedtime is one of my favorite rituals with babies and one of the first memorized routines for all of my kids. I remember when Lainey was barely crawling, we headed into her room to start the bedtime routine, and she went right to the pajama drawer--knew which one it was--and pulled out a sleeper. Dash is no different. As soon as the sun disappears and we make our way to the bathtub to start the routine, he follows right along, knowing what comes next. Jammies, bottle, book, sound machine, bed.

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He doesn't let us put him to bed without touching his mobile. Every night, we hoist him up and he touches each character (surprisingly, very gently) and slides the felt balls up and down their string.

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I want everything as comfy and cozy as possible for bedtime. On the few occasions we returned home late with sleeping kids in the car, I've risked waking them up to slip them into sleepers because jeans to bed--no can do.

With three kids and seven years of parenting under my belt, I've slowly narrowed down the products we use for our kids after trying out a lot of things and taking suggestions from other moms. We have our favorite soft blankets, smell-good soap, safe cleaning products and comfy jammies. I love discovering new products and the ways companies are helping us raise our babies with comfort and safety in mind, and they've made great leaps from the days when our parents raised us. "They sure didn't make them like that when you were kids," my parents have said a number of times. "We strapped a plastic box in the car and called it a carseat!"

We've loved Seventh Generation's cleaning products for a while now due to their commitment to safe ingredients, and after trying their new Touch of Cloth™ Diapers, we've added them to our favorites and into our bedtime routine.

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Touch of Cloth™ Diapers are the first and only disposable diapers made with completely clean cotton fibers, free of fragrances, lotions and petroleum based plastics. The outside of the diapers are soft to touch--as soft as cloth--because they're made with unbleached cotton and other plant based materials, replacing a layer typically made from petroleum based plastic. They fit snugly, are super-absorbent, and I love that they are pure white--as simple as the cotton they're made from. I tried cloth diapering with Nella, and I couldn't keep up with it, but these diapers are a nice compromise and work well for our family.

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Seventh Generation's mission in designing products lines right up there with our parenting mission: "we must build new ways of caring for ourselves, and the world around us."  We'll take any reminder--even diapers--that the best things often lie in simplicity.

To many more comfy and cozy nights ahead.

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Thank you, Seventh Generation for sponsoring this post, and thank you readers for checking out the sponsors that make great products and services our family enjoys, and help make supporting this blog a little easier.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Enjoying: Shopkins and Mitten State

You're out, Rainbow Loom. Done. I'm sorry, but she's moved on to the new cheap crap that's "gone viral" among elementary cheap crap enthusiasts. Actually, I'd like to take a moment to thank Heidi for her kind introduction of Shopkins to our home. Since words don't exactly convey tone, let me note my sarcasm.

Two weeks ago, we walked into Heidi's house, empty handed and content with life. When we left, Lainey was clutching two tiny plastic toys in one palm and a receipt-looking list of "all the other ones I need to collect" in the other. "Oh by the way," Heidi said as she walked us to the door, "She can keep those two Shopkins."

"What's a Shopkin?" I asked.

And then she cackled this devilish little laugh that I didn't like one bit. "Oh don't worry. You'll know really soon. You'll be buying them--"

"I don't think so," I laughed.

"Yes, you will. You can thank me later." More cackling. Evil smile.

It took me two days. Two days before finding myself where the cheap crap hides in a tiny section of a Target toy aisle. "So can I get one?" Lainey asked, all puppy dog eyes and you're-the-best-mom. I tried to think of something I owed her for, some great job she just did, some promise I had made her to justify buying it, but I had nothing. Just puppy dog eyes and a tiny shrink wrapped plastic grocery basket with two "mystery Shopkins" inside.

That's where I started to cave. They had to make them a mystery, didn't they? I don't even know a bakery Shopkin from a toiletry Shopkin (these are real things), and suddenly I have to know which ones are inside this basket.

"Let's get two," I heard coming out of my mouth before I could stop myself.

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It's been two weeks now, and there is a pile of Shopkins on the girls' dresser. They have invaded our home and permeated our way of living, making their way to friends' houses, sneaking into backpacks, initiating tears: "DASH TOOK MY SHOPKIN! CREAMY BUN BUN IS MISSING!"

We stopped at Heidi's the other day, and I didn't notice Lainey snuck a few in her pocket. I was going to play it cool, keep it on the downlow, deny that I caved if it came to it because we have a long and funny history of Heidi teasing me for all the ways I cave when I swear "my kid is never doing _________."

"Sooooo," Heidi said, pouring me a cup of coffee. "Thought you weren't going to be buying Shopkins now, did you?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked, holding my game face.

"Don't lie to me," she laughed, "Lainey just dumped her pockets and told me you took her to Target. You caved!" Cackle, cackle. "You CAVED!!"

"I hate you."

The Shopkins collector guide goes wherever we go now, and each new Shopkin is carefully accounted for with pencil marks and little numbers Lainey scrawls next to each that correspond to the order in which they're acquired (perhaps her kids will have beautiful tooth charts someday). As all brilliant cheap crap making goes, there is a ranking system for value--a small colored dot next to each available Shopkin on the collector's guide, denoting whether it's "common", "rare" or "ultra rare." I'm assuming these titles are randomly given, if not just to amuse parents with escalated fits--fits I've seen in just the two weeks we've known what a Shopkin is. "Nella can't have that one! Gran Jam is ultra rare." I've also decided this is a great way to get my kids to do things. "You might want to try that broccolli. It's ultra rare." or "Here, put this dress on. It's ultra rare."

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Because I strongly believe in paying it forward, I found great joy in passing along a couple of Shopkins to Lainey's friends who came home with us yesterday. As they gathered their backpacks and tied their shoes when their dad came to pick them up, I ran to get the tiny shopping baskets. "Don't forget your Shopkins!" I said with a coy smile.

"Shopkins?" The dad raised his eyebrow. "What's that?"

"Oh, I'll let the girls tell you all about it," I added, suppressing a wink. Forward. Paid.

Someday my kids will smile over memories of Christmases past and all the junk that they loved. Shopkins might be their Cabbage Patch.  And I love it. What can I say, she's a TSL like her mama. That's Tiny Shit Lover for those who don't speak miniature awesome.


This week, enjoying:

A Quick Trip to Michigan
...this past weekend to celebrate my dad who was being honored by the medical staff at his hospital for the work he does. Out of all the things I could be proud of for how my parents are introduced, I will remember this one: "Rik is an innovative contributor to the culture of warmth and kindness." They should make that a degree you can get in college. "I have a bachelor's in Innovative Warmth and Kindness Contribution." "I'm the Vice President of Warmth and Kindness Development." "I head up the Strategic Partnerships for Warmth and Kindness Innovation." Because that, my friends, is important work.

It was indeed a special night, shared by family and made notable by his colleagues who wanted us to hear their stories of how my dad was there for them or helped them through something. I couldn't help but think about how important it is for those who serve and help people to be helped and served themselves. Organizations and hospitals, doctors and nurses, teachers and caregivers all working every day to help and heal others--they do their best work when they are helping and healing each other at the same time. "He's helped us heal our patients and ourselves."

It was a night of powerful stories, ones that certainly inspired those who were present to innovatively contribute to their own culture of warmth and kindness. Amen, amen, amen.

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The bonus of the weekend came from a heaping helping of family and holiday cheer. Siblings. Nieces. Thrifting. Tiny snow flurries. Cozy bars, safe from the outside cold, where we told story after story after story. Christmas shops with Christmas music.

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My $10 thrifted coat, thank you.

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We are not First Take kinda people. We are 6th or 7th shot for Maybe A Decent Picture kinda people.

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And a shout-out to my nephews.

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More Enjoying...

Coming Home to Find I'm Not the Only One Who Caves for Toys 

Brett claims they were at the entrance of Wynn Dixie and that Nella fell so hard in love, he "couldn't help himself."

"We're a bunch of softies," I said.

"Weak," he added.

"Let's read some parenting books and call it a night. Tomorrow we'll teach some lessons."

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Insert thrifted score photo. Michigan Salvation Armys know how to bring it.

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HAPPY HUMP DAY! Holiday Cheerometer's reading highish.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My 80's Child Christmas Gift List

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The gift lists and giving guides have begun, and after spending the weekend with my brother and sister and recalling childhood holiday memories, I can't help but kick it back to the Ghost of Christmas Past--my childhood list of the coolest holiday gifts of the 80's. If you roller skated in your basement to the Pointer Sisters and know who Teddy Ruxpin is, see how many of these you remember, asked for or jumped around on Christmas morning to celebrate.

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1. Pogo Ball. I forgot about the pogo ball until a month ago when I accidentally landed on it online. I remember the grip it took to stay on this thing. Keeping a pogo ball between your legs was like doing Kegals with your feet.

2. New York Seltzer. Perfect stocking stuffer. We used to ride our banana seat bikes up to Paul’s Wine Cellar after school just for the thrill of the Very Adult Act of Buying a Seltzer with Your Own Change. Svelte little glass bottle. Trendy labels. Fizzy adultish drink in delicious cool flavors like cream soda and peach. If you were awesome, you’d mix cream soda with peach for a fusion of fizzy flavor, pour it over ice in a glass and say to your cousin who watched you “this is on the rocks.” You were 8. But you thought you were 20 and a character on Dynasty.

3. Pound Puppies. I helped my dad with one of his sermons when I was seven years old. It involved standing on the pulpit while he preached a message about raising kids and how the Bible is the instruction manual for doing so. I conquered some major stage fright in the process, and my dad surprised me afterwards by taking me to the toy store where I picked out the Toy of the Moment—a pound puppy, packaged in a cardboard doghouse. I named him Rusty for his reddish orange color, clung to him through my parents’ divorce and later passed him on to a girl I met at summer camp who needed him more than I did. Fact #1: there’s nothing cooler than Pound Puppies. Fact #2: I did a happy dance the other day when I saw Target brought them back—exactly as I remember them.

4. Neon Rubber Bracelets. Coolness in second grade was measured purely by how many neon bracelets you had up your arm-bonus if you linked two and twisted them together all infinity-like. My friend Scott’s sister Dena worked at Merry Go Round, had spiked hair and a tail, wore black and had an enviable collection of these babies on her forearm.

5. Keypers. We weren’t old enough to put anything hide-worthy in here, but still—creatures with keys to open them is a fascinating concept, no matter the decade. I watched the YouTube commercial for these, and it made me all weird and sentimental. Brought all the feelings back—like digging up the girl I was when I first saw this commercial.

6. Water Ring Toss. If I had a nickel for every water ring I landed on a peg, I could buy the carpal tunnel device that fixes the pinched nerve you get from playing this game. Was an awesome travel toy. Still an awesome travel toy.

7. Popples. Tell me you remember Popples. When the world seems too overwhelming and I want to curl up into a pocket and disappear, I call it Poppleing. I’m sorry. Pardon me while I Popple. It’s just too much. I’m tempted to pay the inflated price on eBay just so my kids can know the great joy of a Popple and Poppleing.

8. Mr. Professor Calculator. Those fancy scientific calculators can suck it. Because everyone knows there’s only one king in calculator land, and it’s Mr. Professor. I owe it solely to Mr. Professor for passing first, second and third grade math.

9. Jelly Shoes.The purple ones. They make me smile—reminds me of summer, backyard sprinklers, new bathing suits, orange creamsicles, Mackinac Island, feeling too cool for school.

10. Kissing Koolers. Watermelon was my favorite followed by Cherry Cola. I can still remember pulling the cap off a new stick and admiring the swirly-colored cream that passed as Chapstick to my mom but was grown-up lipstick to me. They tasted as good as they smelled. You can still buy old ones on eBay, but I can only imagine how they’ve held up—much like the old Avon makeup stacked up on shelves at the Flamingo Island flea market up the street. Maybelline, if you’re listening, bring back Kissing Koolers for 2015 stockings!

11. Exclamation Perfume. In my mind, Kelly Kapowsky wore Exclamation. Enough said.

12. Lip Lickers Tins. I get overly excited about my memories of finding Lip Lickers in our stockings. I remember having to choose what new Christmas gifts we’d take with us to visit my grandparents after Christmas morning and going right for the Lip Lickers. Duh. Those little cousins watching us slide that tin open and smearing strawberry goop on our lips all Christy Brinkley like? We were so cool.

13. Simon. When I taught fifth grade, I could memorize all 22 kids’ names on the first day of school in five minutes flat, and I owe it all to Simon. All those years of sharpening my memory with Blue. Blue, Red. Blue, Red, Green. Blue, Red, Green, Green. Blue, Red, Green, Green, Yellow.

14. Sweet Secrets. I see these and I’m a kid again. Watching Today’s Special. Hoping I’ll find some Sweet Secrets in my stocking so I can stuff them in my backpack and show them off at school recess.

15. Trapper Keeper. The Trapper Keeper gave you so many ways to express yourself. What kind of student were you? A solid color Trapper classic girl? A horse-in-the-meadow Trapper dreamer girl? A cats and kittens Trapper cutesy girl? Or was it Lisa Frank and rainbows Trapper all the way? (Choose the latter! Choose the latter!) Trappers were for collecting cool folders that you may or may not have used to organize your school stuff, covering with holographic stickers, and annoying your teachers by lifting the Velcro flap over and over—the loudest Velcro pull apart sound in the history of mankind.

16. Lite Brite. You had to turn the lights off while you played this for ultimate coolness.You can still buy Lite Brite today although they’ve been stripped of their 80s coolness factors like many other “new and improved” toys from our childhood. The lights are LED now, the device is smaller, the bulbs are safer, you don’t have to plug it into a wall. I liked the monstrous contraption that had the danger factor way better.

17. Shirt Tales Lunch Box. Pammy Panda and Bogey the Orangutan were my jam.

18. Cabbage Patch Preemies. If you had one, you remember her name, the day you got it, how it happened. Receiving your Cabbage Patch was a rite of passage. The first round, a yarn-haired kid version; the second, a bald-headed Preemie. I shall call you Glennis Williamina and you shall be my Cabbage Patch.

19. The Babysitters Club. If you grew up in the 80’s, you have an equivalent Baby Sitter’s Club persona. I was a Kristy but wanted to be a Stacey. Also Ann Martin is a literary hero. I’m sure that woman has a whole army of reluctant readers turned book inhalers to her name.

20. Monchichi. Cutest monkey ever. And they still make them. The baby ones with the pacifiers are the cutest.

21. Eastland Loafers. My sister had the laces twirl down to perfection. And still available today. Just ditch the socks and peg your pants.

22. Perfection. Speaking of perfection, this game. Love stress? Dream of deadlines? Thrive on someone breathing down your neck to finish something RIGHT THIS SECOND?  Perfection is totally for you.

23. Garbage Pail Kids. I have no idea how we got away with collecting these with a pastor dad and a Gosh-is-a-bad-word mom. A Google image search had me wincing the other day. Seriously. Guys, the world is not going to hell in a hand basket. We’ve moved on from Garbage Pail Kids. Progress! Morality!

24. Esprit Sweatshirt. Preferably purple, pink or pale blue.

25. Plastic Charm Necklace. No precious metals needed. The jingle-jangle of plastic toilet/sneaker/lipstick/whistle charm was music to my ears. Any why yes, that's the same retainer from my teen years, and it still fits.

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26. Porcupine Pencil Sharpener. We got them for Christmas. Mine was light blue. My sister’s was pink. They sat on our desks, and we owned Barnard Elementary.

27. Six Months to Live. My sister got hooked on sad adolescent novels for a while. It was not unusual to walk into her bedroom and find her sobbing on her bed, curled up with a Lurlene McDaniels book. We passed this one around for a while. Pushin' emotional bruises, diggin' deep, forcing ourselves to suck the sad sap out of life. Whatever, we were stronger for it.

Honorable Mention
: Scratch and Sniff Stickers, Puffy Stickers (the blue metallic gel ones that you could push and watch the blue stuff change colors), Safety Pins bedazzled with tiny colored beads for your tennis shoe laces, White Keds. 4-color Pens.

Alright, 80s babies. I know you remember some of these and more. Tell me, tell me.


Fun stuff for this week:

1. I'm contributing Setting a Sweet Kids Table for Thanksgiving over on eHow.

2. ...and 10 Smart Ways to Find Deals when Shopping for Kids over on eHow.

3. My friend's beautiful essay, To What End?, on chasing our dreams and balancing motherhood (really loved this).

4. Sam and Mattie's Teen Zombie Movie Kickstarter. Help support two teens with big dreams. Loved this.

5. Heard this short food essay on the radio the other day, and it took me away. Pure poetry. It also inspired me to make beans, cornbread and cucumber salad last night. Hit play and listen to her talk about the joy of slow food.

Monday, November 17, 2014

All the Holiday Glitter: Pear Tree Greetings

This post is sponsored by Pear Tree Greetings. We like the way they make holidays festive and pretty. 

Prepare your mailboxes! Hang tiny twinkly lights inside them, pipe in Nat King Cole from itty bitty speakers and dangle some spruce sprigs from the door. Mailboxes are the venue, after all, for the best Christmas party of the year--the place where all your friends and family from near and far will soon gather, their faces and celebrations and all their love from 2014 tucked into envelopes and sealed with pretty stamps and curly penmanship and address labels handpicked for this very occasion.

My mail lady is my best friend this time of year. I wait for her arrival and run to the mailbox to see what holiday cards (we call them "holiday mailers"--and we say it in a British accent) have arrived. Sometimes I save them to open late at night, when the kids are asleep and I've found a cozy spot on the couch with a glass of wine, a candle and the Carpenters streaming from the kitchen. Sometimes I open them right away, eager to see new pictures of friends. I'm a bit of a card junkie, I admit--enthused by all the silly details--the pictures, the colors, the font, the simplicity, the glitter, the curved edges, the way the paper feels in my hand. Most certainly what's most important isn't the product but the love in it--the heartfelt "Merry Christmas, We Miss You. Love Brent and Joann." But I do love a good card, and after years of photographing families and designing that very special gift that often serves as the only opportunity in one year to get the family together for a photo, I have a little extra appreciation for a beautiful holiday card.

With work, three kids, school drop off and dinner plans, I also appreciate any opportunity to make holiday tasks simpler, easier, more streamlined. Pear Tree Greetings does just that. You bring your family, your photos and your wish to create something beautiful to Pear Tree's site, and they finish the job for you, giving you an incredible selection of beautiful Christmas cards to customize in a matter of minutes. Cards are printed on heavy premium paper with a variety of envelope colors and styles to choose from. Their award-winning designs are unique and offer you exactly what you want from simple and classic to funky and modern. Flat, folded, tri-fold, laser cut, foil, rounded edge--you name it, they have it.

I love this colorful modern collage style that gives you the opportunity to use several different photos.

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And this book style card is a stunner--definitely one I'd call Heidi with a, "Dude, did you get the Dashners' card yet? So cute!"
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This peek-through laser-cut card is another favorite, simple yet unique.
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And if you want to have fun and go a little out of the box, how about New Year's cards? This resolution card made me smile. I want to print 100 different resolutions and make a collage from them.

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Our holiday cards aren't just to mail out. They've become an important part of our family memories with all of our cards from past years preserved in albums that will be passed down to the kids. I love the artful way we can express love for our family and friends through a simple card, and Pear Tree does a beautiful job of capturing that in their products.

We have yet to wrangle up the family for our annual Christmas card photo this year, but I did play around with some of last year's photos.
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Pear Tree Greetings is giving one of our readers a $100 gift code (expires 12/31/14) to use toward their holiday cards with free shipping. Click over to Pear Tree Greetings, pick a favorite card design and share your favorite card design in a comment on this post. Winner will be randomly selected and announced in next Monday's post (11/24/14). See terms and conditions HERE.

All this talk of Christmas cards has me excited now. Time to order stamps and pick out what Christmas movie we'll watch while I address envelopes (last year was Family Stone).

Thank you Pear Tree Greetings for sponsoring this post and for all the holiday glitter.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

All the Shores, All the Castles: The Thing I've Learned About Accepting Babies Growing Older

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"We are children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We're willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea." ~Pema Chodron

"Mom! Mom! Maaaaaahhh-ummmmmm! Come here!"

I know that Mom. Its distinct tone, volume and urgency mean one thing: Dash is doing something he shouldn't be doing. Despite her persistence, I can tell it's slightly less urgent than a danger call, so I walk instead of run to her bedroom. At this point, what's another scribble on the wall or an attempt to change his own diaper. I'm practically at the "Here's a wipe, help yourself" stage anyway.

I walk in the room and for one tiny second, I panic. Lainey's baby book is open on the bed, several pages torn--some completely detached from the book, pictures strewn about, a baby announcement crumpled and tossed aside, an envelope, a birthday invitation, a Christmas card, a kindergarten drawing all removed from their vault and scattered on the floor, their value insignificant to a little brother whose manifesto is Explore the World, No Holds Barred!

He looks up, deer in the headlights, pauses for his famous "So what ya gonna do about this?" staredown, and then he grins--devilishly, deliciously, Dashly.

I relax. I am frustrated by the mess but not devastated by his choice of curiosity direction. I put a lot of time into that baby book, its binding stretched into an obtuse angle from all the extra pages I slipped in, especially the first two years, of every new thing she said and saw and did and amazed me with. It's no wonder it grabbed his attention.

"Oh no no no, baby," I gently scold as I scoop up the baby book and begin collecting its lost treasures from the floor. "That's very special. That's sister's book--you have one too. We're gentle to our special books."

It takes me a while to patch everything back together and tape the ripped pages in place and in doing so I peruse Year One, full of letters to my daughter and documented facts that expand well beyond the provided lines of the "I am 9 Months, Watch Me Grow!" page. Looking at the microscopic handwriting that curls around the sides of pages, I can practically feel my desperation--Write fast! Write it all! Remember everything! Time is slipping!

I am 9 Months, Watch Me Grow!

You recognize where noises come from now, and you turn to look.
You point to the eyes on your stuffed animals.
A lady at Doc's restaurant came over to talk to you last week, and when she said "Bye!" you looked right at her and said "Ba."
You take a phone and hold it up to your ear--smart girl!
You started crawling (February 8).
You use drawer pulls to pull yourself up to a standing position.

...and it goes on. And on. And on. For one month of memories.

I flip through a few more pages to find a tooth chart with every line of "Dates Teeth First Appeared" not only filled in but--I kid you not--accurately cross-referenced with corresponding numbers on a full mouth diagram. There is an asterisk next to Tooth #13 and a follow-up note at the bottom of the page: "Daddy found this tooth and Mommy missed it. First time that's happened."

I have one thing to say about all of this: Holy. Shit. 

Okay, so I was a bit of a mom nerd (was/am--tomato/tomahto) and apparently had a heck of a lot of time back then. But there's more to this story, a learned experience that comes not only from having three kids and less time but from new understanding about how I want to raise my kids, how my motherhood brain ticks, how I want my motherhood brain to tick.

My emotional genealogy has the odds stacked against it: a legacy of feely feelers on both sides of my family--moms who mourned baby days gone, preachers who spun lessons from their family tales and made congregations weep from the sentimentality of it all, cryers who attribute their inherited sap gene to the family name--we're CRY-dermans for God's sake--and proud of it.

Understanding the joy of motherhood and having an acute awareness of how precious these baby days are came before I even had children because I watched and listened to my own mother. She still describes her reaction to a recurring dream that we are little again as palpable heartache--"When I wake up and realize it was just a dream--that those days are gone--I can barely catch my breath."

I have seized the day and sucked the marrow out of the baby days like they're a last supper, and somewhere along the way, I got tired of feeling like they were. Like I'd never hug my baby at 20 months and 16 days old again.

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There is a difference between having an awareness that time is fleeting and having anxiety that time is fleeting, and the latter is born out of the same fear of scarcity that makes women panicky for their opportunities in life. There are only so many chances--get it because another woman will. There are only so many baby days--soak them in because you'll never feel this happiness again. Lies, lies, fear and lies.

The truth is, time is moving just as quickly as it moved 100 years ago--as quickly as it moved for our mothers and their mothers and their mother's mothers--60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day.

Last year, after accepting that we were done having kids, cleaning the baby clothes out of the attic and tucking Lainey's kindergarten projects in a safe place to save forever, I challenged myself on the language I use and the terminology that folds over and over in my mind and heart when reflecting on my kids' childhood. They'll never be this little again. Time is fleeting. We're done with 6-9 months clothes. Toddler days are over, soak up the preschool ones! Never, fleeting, done, over. Scarcity much? I've worked hard to replace these words with powerful, progressive ones in my motherhood vocabulary--growing, moving, learning, blooming--and take great pride and pleasure in the opportunity of forward movement, the gift of time and more time.

I am sentimental. I always will be. As the great Chinese philosophers said, "You can drain the sap from a young tree, but still a sapling she'll be." Okay, I made that up. There's an ache in my heart though--as it probably exists in yours too--for the way I yearn to hang on to who my babies are right now. I will always take lots of pictures, keep baby books and hug my littles with a thought to my future self who'll miss this very moment on this very day. I can understand a bit of the emptiness my mother feels when awakening from a dream and realizing we are not with her, attached to her, holding her hand and nestling into her neck where we will stay for a long but very short time before we are not there. After three kids, I know now more than ever just how quickly time and baby talk and that first pair of Stride Rites lasts. But my awareness is less desperate now. Less babyhood hoarder, more "well this is nice." Just the other day, Brett gave a little tug on Dash's pajamas to stretch them into prolonged wearability and noted, "Seriously, Dash was a baby for what--like, three days?" I calmly smiled, a strategy in my self therapy for accepting time. "That he was," I replied.

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I think about that Pema Chodron quote the other night as I walk with my kids on the beach. The sky is cloudless, the gulf is wild, the air is thick with the taste of salt. We walk first on the dry, softer sand where footprints last longer, but the adventure of the water calls them and they are soon skimming the sea foam with their feet, the tiny imprints of them quickly washed away by the tide.

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Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.

Each of my kids finds their rhythm and place along the shore. Lainey runs ahead, practicing her cartwheels, the silhouette of her kicking feet against ombre sky outlined by the sun's glow. Nella switches predictably from close and protected by my side to confident bursts of exploration--right into the water, right toward the waves. "Be careful!" I shout while I worry while I smile while I beam while I trust. Dash, no doubt, heads for the rocks where he climbs and falls and climbs again.

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I am wary of the current. I am watchful of their movements. I am content in this moment, on this beach, with these babies, these children, these people.

I don't ever want to be stuck at the base of a sandcastle, so sad that it's washing out to sea, that I don't notice what's happening. The tides! They move! They take that sand and push it up the coast and throw it upon new shores for new castles. I want to move with the tide. I want to swim with my children. I want to celebrate all the shores, all the castles. Over time, tides trace the outline of shores that shape continents.

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I want my children to know that I love them not because I remember when their left lateral incisor came in but because I walked with them up the coast. Because I cheered for them when they moved a little quicker than my desired pace. Because I swam with them when the seas got rough.

My incentive for enjoying these beautiful days of having kids close to my side is not "Time is short" but rather "Time is forever."

I am a sandcastle builder. I am a shore traveler. I am a mom.

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I slide Lainey's baby book, now taped and patched and full of a bit more character--as if crazy mom who documented fingernail growth wasn't character enough--back onto the shelf next to Nella's and Dash's. I am thankful for the memories they hold, preserved in loose pages that fall out and get tucked back in where they belong.

As for documenting the important stuff, I've figured that one out too.

Dash's Tooth Chart:

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