Monday, July 28, 2014

Getting Out of the Taco, Taco, Spaghetti Dinner Rut: Blue Apron to the Rescue

This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

Here’s the thing about meals in our house—I really do like to cook. I like the ritual of cooking and the senses it involves—the sounds of knife to cutting board, water boiling, vegetables sizzling; the bright red of a ripe tomato, the crisp green of fresh snap peas; wafting scents of basil and rosemary, garlic and onion. I like when cooking involves the entire family—kids standing on chairs, reaching to help; Brett and I sipping a little wine, discussing our day while we stir. It’s how I want our kitchen to look at meal time, but too often I’m flinging together a hodge podge of ingredients to just make do because I failed to conquer Phase 1 and 2 of meal prep—deciding what to cook and having the ingredients on hand.

So when I discovered Blue Apron, I was all YES PLEASE. This has our family’s name all over it. We still get to chop and simmer and enjoy the kitchen rituals of meal prep, but Blue Apron does the thinking and the shopping for us. All the fresh ingredients for chef-designed recipes are sent to our home in a refrigerated box along with easy-to-follow photo instructions for preparation. All we have to do is make it and eat it.

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My favorite thing about Blue Apron is that we receive the exact proportions of everything we need so that there’s no waste. And by everything, I mean EVERYthing—spices, condiments, a few tablespoons of this and that—it’s all there, perfectly measured, no trips to the grocery store. And all the amazing things that I never knew I wanted to make? Well, now I know.

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Like shrimp summer rolls with spicy peanut sauce. I had something similar from a food truck in New York City in April and have been dreaming about them ever since. These arrived in our Blue Apron meal box last week and were fresh and delicious and far easier to make than I would have imagined.

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Lainey loved helping me fill the rice paper and roll them up, and we were so stoked about the finished product, we ran a couple rolls over to the neighbors so they’d be all “These are amazing, you are such an amazing cook!” Why, thank you.

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Last week’s oven fried chicken meal was another family favorite—Dash cleaned his plate completely. The vegetable side was delicious. Combining fresh corn and green beans and basil may seem simple enough, but when I’m reaching for the same ‘ol corn on the cob side dish, I need someone to climb in my head and tell me “combine this corn with green beans and basil” for me to do it.

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So, how does Blue Apron work? You get exact proportions of everything you need for three chef-designed meals a week sent to your home for either 2, 4 or 6 people at $9.99 a meal. Meals arrive in a refrigerated box, so even if you aren’t home when it’s delivered, everything stays fresh. Blue Apron is available nationwide and ships free to 80% of the country. There’s no commitment—you can skip or cancel Blue Apron service at any time.

Blue Apron has extended a kind discount offer for readers—the first 250 readers will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order.

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Happy Eats. Happy Family.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Enjoying: Coming Home

Jet lag has officially subsided, made easier by the fact that I strategically planned every minute of sleep on the flight back so that it would line up as perfectly close as possible to Ready to Roll when I got home. I forgot that Ready to Roll includes three kids waking up at 7 and all asking for French toast at the very same time, but whatever. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I was home for all of seven minutes before friends wanted to know about Africa.

So give me the two sentence summary. What did you take away from your trip? Do you feel changed? Was it what you expected? Was coming home weird? How do you feel?

To that, I can say, it was beautiful—all of it. I learned a lot, I felt a lot, I came home with a lot to think about. I don’t know what it all is, but whatever it may be, I’m thankful for the experience and so grateful for the new friends I met. I like visuals, so I imagine bringing home all the love of Rwanda in a tall glass—let’s call it a chalice because I like that word—pouring it into our life, stirring it all together and hoping the flavor shows up in how we love. I will write more about this later--it's simmering.

We’ve been quietly enjoying home life this week before packing up and road trippin’ up to Michigan this weekend. Brett has to work, so we have good friends going with us and FaceTime to fill in the gaps. We've been counting down the days for this trip since summer began, so there will be a few cartwheels tomorrow morning before we pull out of the driveway.

In the midst of travel and unpacking and packing up again, we’ve found plenty of little things to enjoy, a few left over from the other side of the world and many right here at home.

Enjoying...

The Kigali Fabric Market
I don't even sew, and it still felt like a candy shop--hundreds of colorful patterns folded up in stacks that lined the street and samples neatly hung from rafters so that every square inch of shop space was draped with color and art and culture. Let's just say Joann's fell back in the fabric race.

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Open Air Bowling
On our last night in Rwanda, we went bowling with a group of teenage IJM clients. The bowling alley was beautiful--open to the outside, full of sunshine, colorfully decorated. After the first turn knocked a few pins down, we were delighted to see at the end of the lane a man's hands reaching down and quickly replacing the pins.

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Our farewell dinner completed our week--under twinkly lights and a purple sky, we hugged, praised attempts to say goodbye in each others' language and thanked our new friends for sharing their precious stories. It closed as beautifully as it began, and by the time I boarded the plane to go home, I had our first e-mail from my kids' new pen pals.

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Coming Home
I pictured slow motion running, a field of daisies, open arms and a movie soundtrack playing, but it went down more like I slipped in while they were sleeping and restrained myself from waking them all up to kiss them. The next morning though? The best. Coming home is just as much a journey and meaningful destination as the places to which we travel.

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Pick-up Sticks
Have you played pick-up sticks? Yeah, but have you played it on a dog?

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Kitchen Scenes
Little hands on big shoulders. Never gets old.

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Memory Quilt
More on this quilt and some room redos later, but this week I picked up the memory quilt I commissioned my friend to make, and it hasn't stopped feeling like Christmas since. She transformed 82 pieces of my kids' baby clothes, maternity favorites, an apron, two hats, a baby sling, a crib pillow and eight years of memories that were hard to let go into this most beautiful keepsake quilt. The story-telling has already begun--"This was your first birthday dress." "That was your Dorothy Halloween costume." "That dress was so huge on you, but I wanted you to wear it so bad, I took you out on your first shopping trip in it, and it swallowed you whole."

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If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...
If you invite a papa to come help with the kids while you're gone, you just might come home to handmade presents.

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Summer adventure awaits.

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Fun favorites from on and off the road to come...

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And some contributor articles last week for eHow if you're interested:

7 Ways to Decorate Your Kids' Room with Cardboard Letters

...and...

Creating an Indoor Camping Adventure

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Believe I Can Make Good Things Happen: Learning As We Practice

Well, we’re officially past the halfway point on our trip.

We’ve eaten spicy goat meat, finally nailed the pronunciation of the Rwandan greeting “amakuru”, spent an afternoon in a beautiful village where artisans taught us how to wash clothes and sort beans and designed accessories alongside new friends. I’ve fallen in love with an African coffee drink made from espresso, cocoa and spicy ginger, and “Next time I’m in Rwanda” has officially been added to things I say.

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As a rookie international traveler, I felt an overwhelming sense of “just listen” preparing for this trip. Be kind and listen--take in, learn and say as little as possible because you hardly know anything.  I believe in people and the power of stories and the way that connecting these two together can make good things happen, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid that I might not express this experience and these stories as respectfully and beautifully as they deserve to be told. I’m far from an expert on any of the themes of this trip—African culture, Rwanda’s past, poverty, justice, empowerment, economic sustainability—and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or written something and looked back to think, “Shit, wait. That didn’t come out right.” Given these two facts, I’m not a great candidate for a story-telling trip to Africa to draw attention to the important issues of women empowerment, justice and economic sustainability.

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Photo credit: Paige Knudsen

Thankfully, Noonday doesn’t believe the lie so many of us tell ourselves—that in order to lend our voice to a cause or make an intention or believe that we can have anything to do with positive change, we have to be experts and can never make mistakes. And in order to help the vulnerable, we have to be plain and simple--definitely not women who care about shoes or highlights or the right nail polish color.

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Photo credit: Paige Knudsen

Here’s my mantra on this trip: I believe I can make good things happen. 

My first tendency is to write that sentence as “I believe I can be involved in making good things happen” or “I believe I can help others make good things happen” or "I believe I can try to make good things happen" because—you know—humility. But after spending only four days listening to these phenomenal against-all-odds stories of women who made intentions and believed in them and showed up to make things happen, I realize how dangerous dream disclaimers are and how important it is to make powerful intentions, to believe in those intentions and to take actions to make them happen.

Yesterday, we had lunch with Jamie, a 14-year-old IJM client who believed her future was hopeless when IJM took on her case two years ago. At the time, Jamie was in the hospital recovering from a burn trauma that forced doctors to amputate her legs below her knees. With no family to care for her, Jamie believed she would never walk again, that she would never go to school and that no one would ever love her or take care of her. Brigette, one of IJM’s after care therapists who worked with Jamie, admits she had absolutely no idea how they’d find a place for Jamie to live or find a way for her to walk again, “I knew it would be nearly impossible, but—” she says, “I told her, ‘You will walk again. You will go to school again.’” Brigette believed she could make good things happen.

IJM prosecuted the perpetrators who victimized Jamie, found a rehabilitation center to care for her, partnered with donors to cover the cost of prosthetics and paid for her to attend a special school for students with disabilities where she’s currently living. And yesterday, we walked with Jamie. We listened as she told us about her dreams of becoming an orthopedic doctor so she can help other children like her. Jamie believes she can make good things happen.

If doubts of success or the reality of not having the resources or fear of making promises that couldn’t be met kept IJM's case workers from fighting for Jamie, she wouldn’t be walking today.

So many women this week have admitted that they’ve had doubts and fears about their dreams as they made them. Artisans didn’t believe they’d ever find a job, IJM victims didn’t think anyone would want to help them, IJM staff didn’t know if they’d be able to find resources, Noonday wasn’t sure if they’d be able to build a company that could sustain artisans with business and writers questioned if anyone would ever want to read what they had to say.

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Mama Ariel sewed this outfit herself with a sewing machine she was recently able to purchase for her home now that she has a job. She was so excited to take us to her bedroom to show us her sewing machine.

Baraka, another IJM Rwanda therapist, admitted yesterday that when IJM Rwanda began developing an after care plan for helping victims of sexual assault, there was so much they didn’t know. “It was new. We were learning as we practiced.”

I grabbed a pen and scribbled it in my notebook: It was new. We were learning as we practiced.

Great things happen when we stop believing that we have to know everything before we make an intention and just start practicing. When we let go of:

I can’t because it’s not possible…
I can’t because I have no experience…
I can’t because it’s an arrogant goal…
I can’t because I don’t know what I’m doing…
I can’t because people will think…
I can’t because it’s never been done before…
I can’t because I don’t have the resources…

I believe I can make good things happen. Period.

There are so many intentions in my own life that I’ve been putting off because I think I need to be an expert first or have everything figured out—ways to be a better advocate for special needs, ways to discover and deepen my faith, ways to connect with and empower other women, ways to fix some things that are broken, ways to use my voice and actions. Good things don't happen for those who wait--they happen for those who start working.

The good work I’ve seen happening in this country this week has given me much to think about. There are so many brave women—in every culture and with multiple challenges—who are making good things happen and are learning as they practice.

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Photo Credit: Paige Knudsen

I’m still not an expert on justice or economic sustainability or women empowerment, but I do know enough to know it’s something I want to support. I’ve begun by signing our family up to be freedom partners for IJM—to commit to a small monthly donation to support the incredible work they are doing because I believe it’s important. I've seen it in action.

Please take a moment to check it out—put your doubts and fears and disclaimers aside.

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I believe I can make good things happen. And I’m so thankful for the stories of the incredible strong women I’ve met on this trip who believe this too—who believe it so much, they’re living it every day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

To Tell a Better Story

Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. ~Anais Nin

If Anais Nin was correct, then folks, there’s a galaxy up in here—new worlds exploding with every hand I’ve held since arriving, every hug I’ve received, every story I’ve heard.

This country is brimming with stories, and while the beauty of the landscape here is quite breathtaking, it’s the stories that reside in the people here—the stories they are so proud to tell—that truly give this country its beauty. Yesterday, we heard the most painful ones—the stories of the past, the atrocities of the genocide, the memories of survivors that are retold almost in a whisper, the pain still unmistakably present. We walked through the church at Ntrama where only 20 years ago 5,000 Rwandans—men, women, children, babies—were slaughtered. Their skulls and bones are lined up on shelves in the back of the church, the clothes they were wearing hanging from rafters above broken windows and walls demolished by grenades. The agony so many people in this country have faced is incomprehensible, and the past can never be forgotten.

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But it can be rewritten, and in just our short time here so far, we’ve seen an incredible glimpse of a beautiful story that is being rewritten, page by page.

I couldn’t help but remember a song today—a song I haven’t thought about in a long time, but it was meaningful to me a few years ago—Sara Groves’ Add to the Beauty.

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are…
It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find its worth…
And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story…

The people of Rwanda are telling a better story, finding redemption in forgiveness, love, community and determination like I’ve never witnessed before in my life.

And today?  Good heavens. Let me tell you about a better story. And you might as well go get a cup of coffee.

We were welcomed this morning by the team at Rwanda’s International Justice Mission office (which I’ll call IJM for the rest of this post) where Chantal, the field office director, began with her own personal story. She told us how she dreamed as a little girl of becoming a lawyer someday because of the injustice she witnessed but soon lost interest in justice because, as she described, “I thought it was an illusion.” She ran from her dream but over time decided to rewrite her story, returning to pursuing justice, graduating from law school and working with IJM where, in Rwanda, they are currently rescuing victims of child sexual violence and helping to rehabilitate and empower their families. She told us that 10% of Rwandan girls reported having been victims of sexual abuse within the past year in 2009 and that sexual violence on the way to school is among the main deterrents keeping girls from getting an education here.  Not the bus schedule, not tuition fees, not a curriculum they don’t agree with—we’re talking babies’ lives.

We learned about the work IJM is doing—the children they’ve rescued, the perpetrators brought to justice, the statistics that are slowly getting better because someone intervened and spoke up for the voiceless, telling them that injustices against them would not be tolerated because they’re so worthy of more. We heard about a better story being written for these children and their families.

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces…
It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find its worth…

Two of IJM’s clients are Noonday artisans, one of whom lost her husband and needed help fighting to keep her home and one who found her neighbor sexually assaulting her 6-year-old daughter four years ago. That’s right, I said six. Neither of these women could afford a lawyer on their own and were helpless in pursuing justice and consequently in feeling safe. IJM intervened, provided lawyers, brought the perpetrators to justice and granted assistance and counseling to victims and helped them find work with Noonday’s sewing co-op so they could provide for their families.

We met these women today with their friends, and between the hills and rooftops of the city--in a large sunlit space scattered with shiny black sewing machines and whiteboards on the wall displaying welcome messages—we found redemption. Souls that have found their worth.

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Empowerment is one of those words like authentic, organic or brave—thrown around and overused so that the real cases of authenticity and bravery and empowerment are lost in the shuffle. But what we saw today was true empowerment—women with purpose, women who’ve healed, women who aren’t letting someone else rewrite their story but who are given hope and tools and opportunities so that they can rewrite their own.

Something I’ll never forget? Walking off the bus today in front of the Noonday co-up and into the arms of artisans who lined up to welcome us, so proud to show us their work and tell us their stories. We designed accessories together this afternoon—American writers, Rwandan artisans, united sisters in creativity and laughter and our hopes to be heard and seen; for someone to recognize our soul’s worth.

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For all the times I thought Project Runway would be a fun experience (that is, of course, if they ran a glue-gun-instead-of-sewing-machine season, which, I’m first in line if they do), I can tell you for certain—today kicked its ass. For one, I’d love to see Tim Gunn start a sewing challenge with dancing.

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Want a peek at today?

Noonday Collection music: artisan song

Our stories are never over. While our past cannot be erased, it can be rewritten. And we’re never alone in that process—we find redemption in community when writing our own stories, and we become community for others writing theirs.

One of IJM’s staff members, Melissa, introduced our day with these words this morning: “There are little girls all over the world who are told no one cares about you, no one knows, no one’s listening, you’re never going to be helped. That’s simply not true. We’re listening.”

And by following along on this trip, you’re listening too. Thank you for that.

You can continue to receive updates for our Style for Justice trip by signing up here.

And if you’d like to learn more about what Noonday Collection and IJM are doing to create opportunity, empower people around the globe and to be more involved in this mission, please click below.


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Friday, July 11, 2014

Head Wound

I’m currently mid flights right now, the shortest flight under my belt and the first learned travel lesson behind me. I brought an eye pillow, dabbed a little eucalyptus oil on it, tipped my head back on the flight and assumed the passed out traveler position while thinking to myself, “Best. Idea. Ever.” Let’s just jump to the punch line: Easy on the eucalyptus oil around the eyes, okay? You’d think I’d know this from the bathtub incident.

Speaking of incidents (news anchor transition), let’s take it back a few days where (insert dramatic super serious news anchor voice): a tumble off the bed rendered a scary evening.

Fact is, our little incident wasn’t fun but also wasn’t near as dramatic as a news anchor would spin it. And by news anchor, I mean myself two seconds after Nella fell off the bed and cracked her head open. Like many other “if this ever happened” scenarios I’ve played out in my head, the scary-but-not-life-threatening-child-injury scenario always has my imaginary self as this amazingly calm and comforting rock in crisis, unruffled by the scene, focused on the important tasks and speaking calming affirmations that could later be printed in What to Say to Your Children During a Crisis how-to guides which apparently will not be part of my next book. There’s that girl, and then there’s what I actually did. Which was see a pool of blood and freak the freak out. I kissed, I rocked, I summoned the most assuring “It’s okay baby” I had, but I also spoke in threes, sending an already concerned big sister into panic mode.

Like:
She’s bleeding, she’s bleeding, she’s bleeding. 
Get my phone, get my phone, get my phone. 
We have to go to the hospital. We have to go to the hospital. We have to go to the hospital.

Listen, my fight or flight mode got jacked, but reflection’s given me some what-not-to-do pointers.
Three head staples later (which, by the way, I assumed was hospital lingo for some head-friendly not-really-staples wound fixers, but no—they’re staples—like, construction grade staples contractors use on 2x4’s), our ridiculously resilient tough cookie was chasing Dash around the kitchen island (“Stop running! We don’t need another injury!”) and galloping a stick horse down the hallway.

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I made it 3 kids and 7 years of parenting without an ER visit, but I gotta tell ya, I was getting a little nervous wondering what that first ER trip would look like when it happened. Let’s just get it over with. And we did. And three staples is better than a broken arm.

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Later that night after high-fiving Frankenstein for her bravery and impressive new head accessories and putting her to bed , I followed up with Lainey to talk to her about what happened.

“I was worried,” I admitted, “but everything turned out fine. I’m sorry if I made you more worried. Mommy’s going to try and breathe and be calmer next time. That was a little scary, wasn’t it?”

She showed me the drawing she made while we were gone—a picture of her and Nella playing together. I folded it and slipped it into Nella’s keepsake book, a reminder of that one time we survived. One of many.

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In the meantime, I’ll work on my fight or flight skills.

Speaking of flight (said the news anchor transitioning to the next story)…

My gate’s boarding.

Catch you in Rwanda.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretty Little Things, Pretty Big Impact

I'm officially packed and ready to leave for Africa later this week, anxious to experience the beauty in Rwanda and meet people whose lives have been changed by a cycle of empowerment that, from what I've seen so far, is truly inspiring.

I hosted a Noonday Trunk Show at the end of the year last year and met Amy, one of Noonday Collection's ambassadors, who was here on vacation and made time to spend an evening with me and some friends. Amy began her career with Noonday as an opportunity to connect and supplement her single-income family but, as she says, "As a mom of two little girls who will grow up in a generation of women so much more globally-minded than my own upbringing, I wanted to give them the opportunity early on to see firsthand how we can give and connect to others across the world. And I wanted the opportunity to actually learn that for myself."

It's not just a win/win situation. It's like win to the third power, a consumer opportunity that helps support not only the careers of artisans around the world who come from vulnerable communities but also women in our own communities who are building their careers as ambassadors. And then there's us, of course, the ones who get to buy and wear the pretty and know that there's a meaningful story and cause behind that necklace, that gorgeous bag, those beautiful earrings that will prompt someone to ask, "Where did you get those?" "Funny you should ask," you'll answer. And then you'll get to share more of the story. Math has never been my strong suit, but I'm pretty sure our exponent just grew.

While we're in Rwanda, we'll be learning a lot about empowerment both through spending time with Noonday artisans and hearing their stories and through getting an up-close look at what International Justice Mission is doing in Rwanda. But we'll also get to experience the process of how these Noonday products are made and see the talent and love that goes into them.

Look how pretty--Noonday bags made in Rwanda by the women we're going to meet
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And--thrilled about this part--we get to work side by side with the artisans to create a new Noonday collection of goods that will be revealed at a nationwide trunk show this August.

So, how can you share the mission of this #StyleforJustice trip and come along with us?

1. Follow along with our Rwanda trip participants as we share about what we are learning--how Noonday and IJM are creating opportunities of empowerment across the globe. You can sign up for trip updates here (and there's a generous giveaway being offered, so enter to win). I'll be blogging from Rwanda next week.

2. Sign up to host a trunk show on August 7th--Noonday Collection's first nationwide trunk show.

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All you have to do is gather some friends and neighbors, put out some treats and enjoy your company while you shop handcrafted goods, learn more about what Noonday is doing and all while being part of the bigger global mission of women empowering women.  The new collection of items we create with the Rwandan artisans will be revealed at this trunk show, and attendees will have the chance to vote on what designs will be produced.

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Amy shared with me how working with Noonday has enriched her own life--"It's given me sisterhood, a sense of pride, connection and an opportunity to provide for my family." "The amazing thing about Noonday," she adds, "is that the artisans--the women across the world who are making our jewelry--are blessed with those exact same opportunities through their work."

There's an empowerment movement happening through all of these connections, and it's creating a big impact.

And now I need to make a big impact on my house and my to do list before Friday.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Go Fourth...and Prosper

I'm realizing that the go-and-do-and-see part of our summer is all scheduled toward the end of summer, so we've subconsciously balanced it with some nice laid-back laziness (my early bedtime has earned me the nickname Grandma K)--hence June's less frequent posts. In terms of the Fourth, that means less "Go big or go home" and more just "stay home."

No worries. We accessorize it all up with some patriotic flair.

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Also. This just in. New sequel to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: If you give a kid a stick flag...he's going to want to poke someone's eye out with it.

Along with celebrating our 'merican pride, we did summery fourthish things.

Watermelon? Check.

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Barbecue? Check.

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Water, fireworks, friends? Check, check, check.

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(mister-sister shenanigans)
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And this one got her baby fix. If the baby cries and you take him from her, there is hell to pay. Hell, I tell you.

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I've tended to lean towards "it's worth it" when it comes to dragging the family out to make holiday memories--parades and fireworks shows, wagon trains and big crowds. I casually mentioned to Brett Friday morning though, "Want to hit the parade?", and we both paused for all of three seconds before laughing. We kept going back and forth between thigh sweat/calming screaming babies after gun blasts/walking two miles from parking spot and staying in our pajamas/drinking coffee/watching the kids play from the comfort of our kitchen. Tough choice, I know. But, hello? Star spangled temporary tats. It's almost like a parade, but without the thigh sweat.
We won.

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Now for the new week. Giddy up, summer!