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!

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."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enjoying: Payoff in the Present

I practically waited by the door the other night for Brett to come home, my time card punched before my shift was over, my patience allotment all used up. My kids needed every inch of me that day—my arms to hold them, my energy to clean up after them, my constant attention to read that book and answer that question and pull that stool away, pour that milk, sign that paper, lock those pantry doors again. By the end of the day, I was tired and frustrated that all these ideas I’ve had remain dormant—no time or energy to feed them, or maybe even more frustrating, just pure unwillingness to act on them. I had work to do, and so the changing of the guards commenced. I passed Brett the baton of the frazzled remains of the day, apologized for the state of the kitchen and kissed the kids goodbye. There were toys on the floor and dishes in the sink, and Nella and Dash both cried for me as I walked out.

For a few hours, I breathed and thought and wrote, nurturing my own needs instead of juggling the demands of all of theirs, and it felt good. I ate by myself that night, quietly writing between bites and watching the sun set from my window in the restaurant. We needed milk, so I stopped at the store on the way home and used it as an excuse to wander—smell candles, sample lotion, peruse books, scout out flashy fall nail polish displays on the store end cap.

By the time I rolled back in the driveway, it was well past dark. And though I opened the door to the exact same scene I had left earlier—dishes still in the sink, toys on the floor, three kids just as needy—it felt different, my weariness softened by the perspective reentry gives. It was home—the bath toys that made it out of the tub and into the hallway, the ice cube melting on the kitchen tile in front of the refrigerator where Dash no doubt tampered with the water dispenser again, the homework that needed to be checked, the lunches that needed to be made, the excited little gasp I heard from the living room--a reaction to my arrival, arms that reached up to me with a "Hold you," and the other two that ran to follow her lead. We stood in the kitchen, all entangled in a giant hug of octopus arms, and I soaked up their little needs like super hero fuel.

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Sometimes I think I rely too much on the beautiful moments of motherhood to make the hard ones "worth it." And even though the beautiful far outweighs the hard (listen, I have a black belt in finding good moments), what if it didn't? If babies didn't sleep soundly on chests or ever stop waking up in the night, if toddlers didn't say "I love you" back or reach up to hold your hand, if daughters never smiled and curled up in your lap at night just like how you imagined they would when you dreamed of them, if sons never asked you to help them ride a bike or read a book or hold them when they're scared, if research and routines and therapists never delivered the breakthroughs you believed in, if teenagers never said "I'm sorry," if tough love never brought her back home, if you never stopped feeling this tired or unequipped or so completely removed from how you thought it would look, if it never got's still worth it. Right now.

Loving, even when it's hard, is the payoff in parenting. Not our kids shelling out beautiful moments or loving us back or being good or becoming something different from what they are right now. The flip side to the hard parts of parenthood isn't shinier or easier--it's just clearer. Like coming home to the same needs and messes and volume and stressses that you left a bit earlier but seeing them for what they are--something you get to be a part of.

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So while I picked moments that might look shiny to share, know that they aren't what made parenting good or beautiful or worth it this week. They just gave us something to smile about.


Hide and Go Seek.
I swear he'd hide for half an hour, silent and waiting, if that's how long it took for me to find him.

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Mermaid Tails.

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This Face.

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This Kiss.

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Predictable Rain Fun. 
Same time every day.

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Woodstock Traffic Jam

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Watching Brett Point the Leaf Blower at the Kids
...because gas fumes and power tools are fun safe toys, and we're responsible like that.

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Nanny Skills

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Spontaneous Witching Hour Get-Out-of-the-House Adventures

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The Westminster Trot
Am I right or am I right? See, look.

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All Three in a Pic.
Stroller seat belt for the win.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Bedroom for Two Sisters

For years, I shared a room with my sister when I was young--one big bed, two dressers and a shared closet that was mostly empty because every piece of clothing we owned covered the floor which, on rare occasions, displayed purple shag carpet that looked like thick yarn. If our room had a tagline, it was, "Why do you guys even have dressers?"

Because of my childhood--or maybe it was Marsha, Jan and Cindy--"sister," to me, is synonymous with shared room. And the moment I discovered Nella would be a girl, I started planning it out in my head--the big bed they'd share, the clothes they'd fight over, the Bop and Tiger Beat magazines I'd let slide because tweens gotta be tweens. For a short irrational moment after Nella was born, I let those dreams deflate. Pardon my silliness. But of course they'll share a room and of course they'll fight over clothes (Just did. Purple ballerina dress. Nella won.), and of course they'll buy Tiger Beat because however else will they drive their mother crazy?

This is the room I dreamed for them. Some stuff we made, some stuff we gathered from other places in the house, and some stuff we bought, stretching dollars as far as we could and mixing discount with a few splurges (let's call them thoughtful investments) to create a playful, homey nook that makes us all very happy.

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"You Can" Letters D.I.Y. 

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This room was originally an office. We added built-in bookshelves and a corner closet to transform it to a bedroom when I was pregnant with Lainey. The bonus is that we created a lot of great storage space, but the trade-off is that we limited our possibilities for furniture arrangement. We chose furniture carefully, opting for a discount bed frame so that we could afford my favorite thing about this room: the quilt.

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The quilt is made from seven years of baby clothes, maternity jeans, Halloween costumes, hats and nursery fabrics from all three kids. My dear friend Rebecca of Vintage Giggles designed and sewed it and included all these sweet details--pockets and buttons and straps and collars--to create a timeless gift for our family, one that's already initiated nights of storytelling ("That square right there? That was your birthday dress. You wore that when..."). You can read the story of this quilt and find answers to more questions about it on Vintage Giggles' blog this week.

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Other room details (including personalized cloud pillows which many people asked about on Instagram) can be found at the end of this post.

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Hair Accessory/Jewelry Box: The Adorned Adobe

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(saw a retro "Imagine" pennant in a Land of Nod display and fell in love with it. Couldn't find it anywhere, so we made one with felt) 

One of my favorite things about decorating kids' rooms is that the stuff they love--the toys and dolls, the stuffed animals and book illustrations and even the things they wear like their favorite sneakers or rain boots--works great as decor and naturally adds personality and whimsy.

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Print details at end of post

I fell in love with these pillows as soon as I saw them--reminds me of something my sister and I would have had in our room. Except they'd be on the floor instead of the bed and covered with clothes.

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The other thing I love about this room--and it took me a long time to master this with kids--is it's really easy to keep clean. Everything has a place, and if it doesn't, then something has to go before we make room for something new. I am by no means a naturally organized person, so when I figure something out like this, I want to jump up and down and drag anyone who might come into my house into the room and say, "Look! See? CLEAN."

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Look at that teeny tiny pocket on this quilt. Vintage Giggles is genious, I tell you! 

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Music was a must-have for this room because we need accompaniment for our bed-jumping and teenybopper tunes for sleepovers and, most important, a constant stream of Carpenters and Andy Williams to go with the little twinkly tree that will be hauled in at Christmas. We opted for an inexpensive record player because there's something fun and tactile and memory-making about picking out records and watching them spin. Plus--chipmunk voice mode is hilarious--a childhood must. Nella likes to run the record player herself, but the stool--as you see--causes problems.

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"Trouble Trouble" is a favorite bedroom soundtrack.

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My friend Annie Flavin, who moonlights as a poet, shares my affinity for saddle shoes on kids, cozy quilts, children's literature and getting sentimental about dreams and motherhood and making the best of life. We texted back and forth the day the girls' bed arrived, and she knew how much I had looked forward to this sisters room thing. "Did you set the bed up yet? Send me a picture." She shared my enthusiasm and yet remembered that this was a dream I stumbled over for a bit in the beginning. The night my girls enjoyed their first sleep in their new bed, she sent me a gift--a poem she wrote. And then our friend Tammi turned it into art, and now it's hanging on the girls' wall, and I couldn't love it more.

This Beautiful Life

There will be beds in the room;
there will be one bed.

There will be a girl in our home;
there will be two girls.

They will
look like
and be like
and ooze life like
I thought I had imagined.

Only it is different.
Only it is better.

Only my soul
knows that
the bed and
the girls--
oh goodness, the girls--
are exactly
what I needed
to break open and build
this beautiful life.

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I cannot wait for the memories my girls will make in this room. And, as all brothers should, Dash will squeeze in bed between them for bedtime stories and make fun of all the Taylor Swift songs they know by heart.  It's going to be fun.

Room Details:

Bed frame: (currently not available in white)
Heritage quilt: Vintage Giggles
Cloud Name Pillows and Heart Pillow Garland: Gray Moon
Wall Prints: Pooping Rabbit, Irena Sophia and Gingiber
Hot Air Balloon Mobile: Schylling
Lamp, mirror and mushroom pillowcase: thrifted
Retro fan and (Ralph Lauren) polka dot sheets: Homegoods
Owl Hanging: Darlybird
Tiny Photo Hangers: Target (in store)

*Several have asked about how the room sharing is going, particularly for nighttime. It took a while to get Nella used to the bed, and I spent a few nights sleeping horizontal at the bottom of the bed to make sure she stayed in it. We ended up using a very thin specially-made coconut mattress that a friend loaned us (small size that only takes up half of the bed) because she likes the hard surface (usually if she crawled out of bed, it was because she wanted to sleep on the floor). We keep the mattress under the bed during the day and slip it over the mattress on her side at night. She's doing much better and hardly wakes up anymore. When it comes to transitions, I rely on "Patience, Grasshopper." 


Tomorrow's Grandparents Day (Hoorah, Hooray! Hugs to all the grandmas and grandpas!).

I took my research notes from watching my own grandparents and made a little guide over on eHow...How to be a Grandparent. Click below to read.

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