Making Magic and Harnessing Pixie Dust

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When my son was 5, my husband and I took him on a baseball spring training trip to Florida for two weeks. Six baseball parks and eight games later, it was truly one of the best vacations I have ever had. We had so much fun exploring different ballparks and cities around the state with my parents, and we’re hoping to do that again for the cactus league in Arizona one of these days.

One of the games we attended was the Astros vs the Braves at the Wide World of Sports ballpark, and we stayed at the All-Star Resort, which has a baseball-diamond-shaped pool and a miniature football field on the hotel property. Our son thought he was in paradise.

When we returned home, he told everyone he had been to Disney World. To this day, he doesn’t know about all the rides and food and fun at the Magic Kingdom.

But he’s about to find out.

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Next week, we are headed to Orlando to stay at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, which is right across the street from Disney Springs. And Monday - my birthday! - we will be at the Magic Kingdom, soaking up all of the magic for my son’s first visit there. He’s 9, so I think it’s the perfect age to both appreciate and remember this trip.

At the beginning of 2017, I told my husband that one of my big goals for 2018 was to bring our son to Disney World while he was still young enough to believe in the magic. All I asked for last year for Christmas was to take this trip this year, so you can imagine how excited I am.

One of the reasons we picked the Wyndham is because although it’s an official Walt Disney World Resort, which means we get Extra Magic Hours, Fast Pass+ access, round-trip bus transportation to the park, character breakfasts, and a Disney store in the lobby. However, the value and quality is a great match for our family’s budget. We looked at all of the options, and this resort gives us the most for our hard-earned money.

The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista is the closest property to Disney Springs, which is a fun place to eat with 62 dining options (!), 100+ places to shop, movies, a Christmas tree trail, a holiday scavenger hunt, bowling, live music, and soon, a giant NBA experience that my son is going to love.

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Some of the things I’m excited about:

  1. We can walk to Disney Springs from our hotel over a new pedestrian bridge.

  2. At the Oasis Aquatic Center and Grill, there is a giant rock waterfall and a 189,000-gallon heated pool, an elevated hot tub overlooking the lake and pool area, and a smaller cool down pool with additional loungers. 

  3. Meeting up with the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista’s “Fun Director” who helps kids and their parents contribute to the tile memory wall and search for “Hidden Mickeys.

  4. 24/7 access to snacks at the Sun Dial Lobby Restaurant, Eclipse Lounge, a Dominos Pizza Kiosk. All the foooooooooooooood.

  5. My son is going to go nuts over the hotel’s Video Arcade/Game Room. The arcade includes air hockey, driving games, and crane games, which will make him very happy.

Stay tuned! I’ll tell you about all of the highlights on my social channels: @KristinVShaw on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sponsor notes: Chrysler is providing us with a brand-new Pacifica Hybrid for our drive, the Wyndham is hosting our stay, and Disney has sponsored two of our three tickets to the park. It’s a dream come true, really.

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Miranda Dauphinee: She's Brave, Cultivating Space for Women

Miranda Dauphinee is a recently-widowed mom to four kids, living right outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. A native of the beautiful state of Vermont, Miranda says she was always a “wuss” about the snow, so she followed her parents to North Carolina about 15 years ago.

I met Miranda through the writing community, and as we started exchanging stories, we realized how much we both value the importance of openness, honesty, and bravery. Here’s more about Miranda, the nonprofit she started, and the She’s Brave event, coming up in early 2019:

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What is your job, what is your title, and what do you love about your job? 

MIRANDA: I guess you could say I’ve got a few titles - Mom, first and foremost. And I’m also a certified holistic health coach. But my biggest job right now is serving as the executive director for a nonprofit organization that my friend Shaunna Rushing and I co-founded back in 2015.  

Tell us about your personal story of pain and redemption.  

MIRANDA: Ah, redemption. The goal we all chase after - or at least the one I chased after for many years. Over the last year, I’ve realized that redemption doesn’t always look like what we think it might. I wanted redemption of my story to look like sticking my pain in a beautifully wrapped box, tied with a bow - a Cinderella story of overcoming obstacles and turning into a beautiful, graceful princess, but that hasn’t happened.

I don’t know what redemption will look like for me, but I know that it looks so much different than I expected. In 2010 I married my husband, and realized within weeks that I had walked into something tumultuous. I didn’t have a clue he struggled with addiction while we dated, but I figured it out pretty quickly into our marriage.

Alcohol made him extremely volatile, so there were a lot of painful things I endured over the years. He was a pastor at the time, so this made it extremely hard for me to feel safe asking for help. I’d describe our marriage like being stuck on a high speed train barreling towards a cliff. Many times I felt like he was heading towards absolute destruction and there was nothing I could do but hang on and pray for something to save us. People often wonder why women don’t just leave volatile relationships. The hard part of situations like mine is that it’s never as easy as just walking away. In fact, it can be near impossible to do that. There were so many ups and downs, betrayals and heartache during that time.  

We were abandoned by our church, and some of our friends. In January of 2015, right after we separated, I found out that I was expecting our last child. I was in shock; my life was in absolute shambles and I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into this wreck of a family situation. In April of that year, he admitted himself to an inpatient treatment facility a couple hours away and began the hard work of getting sober. I moved to be closer when I was 8 months pregnant, and after 6 months of living in a sober living house, he moved into my home and we began the work of reconciliation. I thought I’d found my redemption.

But it wasn’t an easy road, and neither of us knew where to start or how to fix just how broken we were. Our struggles at that time were overwhelming and it was an extremely isolating time in my life. We even tried living in a tiny beach town for a year, with hopes of finding healing, but he eventually relapsed. I couldn’t bear keeping us in such a volatile situation again so I left. There is no easy way for a stay at home mom of 4 to up and leave an abusive marriage, but we stayed with friends and in hotels for weeks until I was able to get into a house back in Charlotte near family.

In May, my husband passed away extremely unexpectedly. I am still waiting for the final autopsy results, and all I know is that it was due to complications with chronic alcoholism. He was living with his parents at the time of his death, and I have so many unanswered questions. Right now, we are all just walking this journey of grief and I’m trying to make sense of my own complicated feelings while helping my children make sense of theirs.  

What do you wish you knew 10 years ago? 

MIRANDA: To trust MYSELF and stop living in fear of what other people think. I spent so many years looking to everyone else to validate my worth, my feelings, my emotions, my suspicions, my gut instinct - it has taken me too many years to realize that I already have access to the answers I need. I don’t need anyone else’s permission to do what I know deep down. Women are conditioned to believe we are too emotional and dramatic to have access to internal knowledge - it’s not true! I believe a woman’s emotions and intuition is one of her most powerful tools - it’s just flipping the script and realizing that those things can actually guide us in our most difficult times if we sit still and trust ourselves.  

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How many kids do you have, and what are their ages?  

MIRANDA: I have 4. My oldest, Logan, is almost 18. Then there is Beckett, 7. Declan is 5 and Harper, my daughter, just turned 3. I also am a mommy to a sweet baby girl that I lost in my 2nd trimester back in 2012. We named her Lilia, which in Hebrew means what belongs to me, belongs to God.

What is your idea of a perfect day with your family? 

MIRANDA: No fighting! We actually are big lovers of the beach and I loved that year we lived about a four-minute walk from the ocean. Any day that I get to soak up the sunshine and watch my kids play in the salt water is me living my very best life.  

If you had 24 hours to yourself, how would you spend it? 

MIRANDA: I’d catch up on a little sleep. And then I’d probably spend the day reading and writing. It’s a dream of mine to write a book one day, but I can never find the time in between the schedules of all the kids.  

What do you like best about your life? What would you change, if you could? 

MIRANDA: I love being a mother; it is my greatest joy. It’s also my greatest challenge, but I was definitely the girl in high school doodling the names of my future children. (None of those names made the final cut, by the way…) My kids and I have walked a hard road together and sometimes I wish I could change that but in truth, taking the pain of the last 9 years away would mean I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have my youngest children. There is a lot of anxiety for me about my future and how I’ll manage providing for everyone alone so I think if I could change that, I would.  

What’s one piece of unsolicited advice you’d give to a new mom? A single mom?  

MIRANDA: Again, trust yourself. A mother’s instinct is real. And in this day of social media and constant information overload, we can worry ourselves crazy that we are doing all the wrong things. Ask for help when you need it and don’t be ashamed if you do. The truth is, we are all drowning from time to time and everyone needs help.

Single motherhood can feel like the most thankless job ever. Keep your head up, and know you are doing hard and holy work. Most single moms I know parent with very little support and it can feel like the weight of the world rests on your shoulders. You may have to fight to find your community, the people who will not just be there emotionally for you but with physical, hands on help too. Keep looking for them. You’ll need people. Even the most amazing mamas can’t do it all. Give yourself some grace and keep showing up for yourself and your kids. You’re a superhero in ways you don’t even know. You will feel as though everyone has forgotten you sometimes, so carve out a few minutes here and there to do what feeds your soul. It will make you a better person and parent.

What is the best thing one mom can do for another? 

MIRANDA: Support her! No mom shaming, I think we are all trying to do the very best that we can for our kids. We’ll all have different approaches to life and parenthood and showing a little support and solidarity with another mama goes such a long way.  

What might we be surprised to learn about you? 

MIRANDA: I went to college to pursue vocal performance, and even got a scholarship. Once I got there though, I realized I was nowhere near as talented as the others and couldn’t hack music theory so I flaked out. Changed my major about 12 times.   

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Do you have any charitable organizations you like to work with/ donate to/ volunteer for?  

MIRANDA: Nourish Women’s Collective is the organization my friend Shaunna and I co-founded, so that’s the big one! Also Together Rising is one my favorite nonprofits to donate to.

What is your secret talent? 

MIRANDA: This was a hard question! I love to try my hand at allll the things and can do a passable/good job at many things. But developing ONE talent that I’m an expert at is really hard for me. I can’t focus on one thing for too long or I’ll get bored and side tracked by something else that looks a little more exciting. I’ve wanted to pursue so many career opportunities because of this.  

Tell me why someone should consider going to She’s Brave: 

MIRANDA: It gets better each year! She’s Brave is my very favorite day of the year. It’s a day unlike any other I’ve experienced - a true gathering of women who show up ready to have some real and genuine conversations. If you’re tired of women’s events that have more fluff than substance, you might just be our people. We always dig into the meaty stuff, the difficult things and topics other people stay away from because we know that when you bring that stuff into the light, shame can’t exist for long. We want our attendees to walk away feeling like they’ve left some junk behind, can move forward feeling a little lighter and a little more confident in who they are.  

What inspired you to launch She’s Brave?  

MIRANDA: I’ve wanted to put together a conference that addressed the hard stuff women face when I became a pastor’s wife. I was frustrated by how shallow so many things directed at women were. But when my friend and I accidentally started a nonprofit (Nourish Women’s Collective) we just went for it. We started gathering a few groups of women in our area to share a meal together and word spread quickly.  

We began expanding outside our area and into other states and decided to legally become a 501c3. This year we are announcing a big, new initiative for NWC that will include giving back to women in a very personal way for us. Shaunna and I share the same vision and passion for freeing women of the feelings of unworthiness and toxic shame and we couldn’t wait to bring hundreds of similarly minded women together to do just that. That first year we didn’t know what we were doing, and had never planned an event before. We just had a dream and we went for it. We got in touch with Glennon Doyle’s agent because why not, and pitched our conference to her. She agreed to keynote and came back for year two as well! This year we will hear from Ruthie Lindsey, Omkari Williams and Colleen Odegaard.  

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How did you and your business partner meet, and how did you decide to go into business together?  

MIRANDA: Shaunna and I actually met at the church where my husband was pastoring at the time. We got to know each other through a church small group, but I knew she was the kind of friend to keep around for life when I went through my second trimester miscarriage. We hadn’t even known each other that long, but she was one of the few people who instinctively understood how I needed to be cared for during that time.

And as my marriage to my husband struggled and fell apart, she was always there to be my support. She saw me through some of the absolute most difficult times of my life.

In 2015, we both were fed up with what felt like surface level friendships from church and were ready for something different. We wanted to create a place where women could come together without fear of being judged because they didn’t fit into a specific mold. To us, the table signified a place of community and belonging. A few friends agreed to host dinner groups at their homes and word quickly spread. By 2017 we had over 20 dinner groups throughout North Carolina and into other states. Over 250 women were a part of our community and each conference we hosted over 300 women.

We hear it over and over again but we’ve found that women are desperate for this kind of community - we all long to be seen, heard and accepted. We want to be able to sit down over a meal and tell someone that life isn’t always ‘fine’ and know that we will be received with open arms and love. Shaunna and I work hard to cultivate that space for women - we are constantly learning and growing and changing and are really looking forward to what is coming for our organization this upcoming year.  

What’s your short-term goal? Long-term goal?  

MIRANDA: My short term goal is to be fully present with my children right now as they process their trauma and grief. There is so much to get done, and I have to stop myself sometimes and make sure I check in with them. Long term, I hope to continue sharing my story with the world in hopes that it helps even one person. I spent so much time trying to soak up words from other women who had walked a similar path as I was walking, so I know how valuable it is to share your story. I really hope to write a book or find speaking opportunities that will encourage women who are feeling scared and alone in unhealthy situations. 

Intrigued? Click here to learn more about Miranda’s event, She’s Brave.


 

 

Tell Alexa to Donate to Toys for Tots this Holiday Season

On Giving TuesdayAmazon.com launched a super easy way for customers to donate a toy to a to Toys for Tots via Alexa by saying, “Alexa, donate to Toys for Tots.” That’s it.

This is the first time that customers can donate a product to a charity via voice shopping and better yet, Amazon will be matching customer donations throughout the end of the year – toy for toy – doubling customers’ contributions!

Watch this video to see how simple (and satisfying!) it is:

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Amazon is adding some unique features for customers with a conscience, enabling them to donate in several ways, and to charities who register with Amazon Pay to have two options that will allow their supporters to make donations using the information in their Amazon accounts:

  • Donations on Alexa devices, when donors speak ("Alexa, I want to make a donation")

  • Donations directly on their website, when donors click the “Donate with Amazon” button

For more information, read their press release here.

Are you helping to mentor the next generation... and letting them teach you, too?

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Did you know? Having a negative attitude about aging takes an average of 7 years off your life.

I was about 12 or 13 when my dad turned 40. It was a big celebration, with black balloons and jokes about old folks’ homes and bottles of Geritol. I remember thinking about how far away 40 seemed and wondering what my life was going to be like when I was “that old”.  

As it turns out, 40 arrived almost eight years ago, and it has been the best decade of my life.

I’m 47. And I’m owning it.

I’m more confident, more sure of where I’m going in life (or maybe I’m more content to not know where exactly I’m going), and with more perspective. I appreciate my life.

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If you think about the phrases people use to describe someone’s ability (or lack of) to accomplish something, we focus on age quite a bit. Have you ever said these words?

He is too young to understand this issue.

She is too old to be trying to run a marathon.

He is too old to hire for this job.

They are too young to start their own company.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now, at 29 years old, the youngest congresswoman in history. How many times would you guess that she was asked why she thought she could do the job at her age? Probably too many to count.

Seeing my own mother (now 73) embracing life and constantly on the lookout for new things to learn, I can see how one stays current and relevant. She doesn’t listen to anyone who says, “I’m too old to learn that” as she navigates social media, new iPad apps, and creative new techniques in calligraphy and painting. She taught me how to keep trying new things and mentored me through childhood, young adulthood, and now motherhood.

For every woman out there, no matter her age, there should be other women who take her under their wing to mentor, love, and encourage her. Typically, people think of mentors as our elders: those who have been there before us. And they assume that means that mentors have to be older.

I had the chance to return the favor for my mom when she was having trouble with a new boss who second-guessed everything she did. Mom had been doing her job for two decades by then, and it was frustrating and demoralizing for her to be treated as though she didn’t know what she was doing by her much younger boss. By role playing, we had a chance to practice what she might say to her boss to communicate clearly; it gave me time to think about how I might have fumbled similar situations in the past and learned from it. My mom trusted me enough to let me lead her.

My younger sister, the mothers in my community with children the same age but may be younger than I am, and people who worked for me or with me have been excellent mentors in various situations. Even my babysitter, who is now 16, has taught me about pursuing one’s dreams in a way that is pure and determined. Her focus on family, friends, and community and the way she weaves helping others into her life’s work at such a young age inspires me.  

As we age, we have the privilege of fostering relationships that open doors for the next generation, and I want to be part of that. Through the sharing of our time, mentoring can be the fuel to change lives. Cross-generational mentoring can serve in building our future and the future of our kids.

What would YOU do if you knew you were going to live to be 100? No one knows, of course, when their time on Earth is up; what we do know is that kids born today have a life expectancy nearing a century. What used to be the final third of a lifetime is now smack dab in the middle and hitting your stride. I’m thinking about how that time will be spent. Helping to lay the groundwork for the next generation sounds pretty worthwhile, to me.

This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.

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Austin Parks Foundation's Rock & Recycle for the Second Year at ACL

 Photo: ACL Facebook page

Photo: ACL Facebook page

Do you know how many people attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Tx? A lot. As in, HALF A MILLION PEOPLE lot. And that many people consuming that many foods and drinks generate a lot of trash and recyclables.

In order to clean up the act (pun intended) of the festival, Austin Parks Foundation (APF) is presenting Rock & Recycle during both weekends of ACL Fest at Zilker Park. Rock & Recycle encourages festival attendees to pick up a bag of recyclables from the grounds in exchange for a specially designed ACL Fest line-up tee. Divert It! enlists volunteers to encourage and educate fans by helping them compost, recycle and send less waste to landfills.

These programs are made possible by a team of 300+ volunteers. Volunteers spread the word about the Rock & Recycle mission and encourage fans to get involved. PLUS all volunteers get to enjoy the festival before or after their shift! Applications for greening volunteers are still open at this link, and then click on “Become a Member”.

“As the official partner and beneficiary of ACL Fest, we’re thrilled to have a larger presence at the festival presenting Rock & Recycle and DivertIt!, ” said Colin Wallis, CEO of Austin Parks Foundation. “Through these programs, we have an opportunity to educate and involve festival goers in greening efforts both at the festival and within the city. The thousands of festival goers and dedicated volunteers who aid in festival upkeep are an integral part of making recycling accessible in all of Austin’s parks and green spaces.”

Rock & Recycle has been ACL Fest’s signature greening program for many years, while Divert It! is a newer sustainability program focused on composting, which APF is also proud to present. In addition to receiving a commemorative ACL Fest t-shirt designed by local artists, participants in the Rock & Recycle program also earn a chance to win a Fairdale bike and two 3-day tickets to ACL Fest 2019. Plus, APF will set aside $5 per participant for the Recycling in Parks initiative, which aims to provide recycling in all of Austin’s more than 300 parks. Divert It! enlists volunteers to encourage and educate fans by helping them compost, recycle, and send less waste to landfills. Rock & Recycle and Divert It! are made possible by a team of more than 300 volunteers. APF invites festival attendees to join their sustainability efforts.

 Photo: ACL Facebook page

Photo: ACL Facebook page

This year, APF is partnering with the following organizations focused on environment, public space, and community engagement:

●      Recycling Tour: In partnership with HOPE (of the HOPE outdoor gallery), APF is placing 12 artist-designed recycling bins throughout the park. Festival attendees can visit each of the 12 bins to learn a little about APF’s recycling efforts, ACL’s greening programs, and more.

●      Keep Austin Beautiful Relays: Keep Austin Beautiful will teach fans about how litter travels fast in our urban watershed, as well as how to properly recycle and compost with a fun relay race activity.

●      Don’t Mess With Texas: TXDOT’s signature litter abatement campaign will have bins on-site to remind festival attendees that our parks, trails, and green spaces are no place for litter.

●      Kammok Lounge: This local Austin brand, focused on community and the great outdoors, promotes access to thriving public green spaces and will host festival goers in a shady hammock lounge in partnership with NIDO structures.

●      Live Painting with HOPE: The artists that design the 12 recycling tour bins, and special Rock & Recycle line-up tees will be on site each day of the festival. Fans can stop by to watch the masters work!

In 2017, over 300 volunteers participated in the Rock & Recycle program and more than 3,000 Fest attendees engaged with APF’s activities. Thanks to these efforts, APF was able to contribute $16,455 to their Recycling in Parks initiative.

For the past 13 years, APF has been the presenting partner and primary beneficiary of ACL Fest. The festival has contributed more than $30 million to Austin’s parks system, making necessary improvements possible to parks, pools, rec centers, trails, and greenbelts. Through the partnership between APF and ACL Fest, major renovations have been made to beloved spaces in the city, including Auditorium Shores, Republic Square, and more.

For more information on Rock & Recycle and Austin Parks Foundation’s programs during ACL Fest 2018, visit www.austinparks.org/aclfest.

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Want to raise kids who are open minded? Hand them a map.

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In my son’s room, there are two world maps – one large paper atlas of the world, longitudinal and latitudinal lines criss-crossing the flattened globe; and one, a laminated, cartoonish version with small pictures of animals and names in whimsical font. The second one arrived with a dry-erase marker, and my son and his friends have put that to use, “decorating” it with toilet humor words and adding the word “butt” to random locations from sea to shining sea. It’s a map only an 8-year-old could love.

But underneath the scribbles and the silly defamation of country names, there is learning going on, and discussions begun. He has learned where China sits in relation to the US on the map, and knows that Togo is a real country. He knows that Alaska looks like it is part of Canada, connecting us with our neighbors to the north.

He hasn’t traveled out of the country, yet, but that is my goal for him… to see and experience other cultures outside of his own. I want him to understand that the US is not an isolated island at the top of the food chain and that all the other countries in the world are significant in their own ways. To me, it’s important that he learn why we are all interconnected and how his heritage includes ancestors who came to America after traveling far and wide.

“Travel changes you,” said the late world-traveling chef Anthony Bourdain. “As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”

Travel isn’t cheap, though, and not all families have the means to take their kids on a whirlwind 10-country trip to Europe in the summer. Some families can’t even afford to take their kids out of their home city.

Perhaps it’s enough to learn and dream and place pins on a map in your bedroom for all the places you wish you could go. And perhaps it’s not. It’s definitely not enough for the next generation to understand that we are not the star country on Earth and all the others, simply bit players.

Bourdain realized this more than most, and he made it his mission to educate through travel journalism. Immersing himself in the local ways of life through food, he showed the world, and especially his biggest fan base in America, how to open their collective eyes to the rich tapestries of people much different from ourselves. When I was a kid, it was a National Geographic subscription that gave me dreams of global travel. Bourdain was a National Geographic issue come to life.

Even within the United States, each state has a flavor different from the one next door, especially from region to region. Louisiana, for example, has a lexicon unlike any other. In New Orleans, the state’s most colorful city, the French Cajun influence manifests in food, street signs, and even the way the city is sectioned into parishes. Massachusetts is steeped in early Americana and history. Wyoming bears traces of the old Wild West.

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa look similar on the surface but have differing views on family, politics, and conservation. Indeed, the Midwest “fly over states” contain much of the farmland and grain Americans consume every day. If city kids don’t have a chance to see the lush beauty of a field of tall corn stalks in July or rolls of hay at harvest, they may think those who live there are only nameless, faceless farmers.

Back when my great-grandparents moved to America, Italians were considered second-class citizens. They banded together in communities where they felt safe and insulated themselves from those who hated them. They had it easy compared to the Black community, however, which was trying to climb out of the hole slavery had created for them.

My grandparents’ generation – even, in some parts, my parents’ generation – saw “whites only” water fountains and segregation. In some parts of the country, the resentment and fear of change hasn’t yet disappeared. When parents don’t give their kids a chance to open their minds to other people and cultures, racism festers like an open wound. It stays raw and painful, and the children raised with those feelings learn to fear and hate, too.

Fear of the unknown is a primary reason people lash out against others, and that drives parents to pass those fears down to their kids. “Frightened people become angry people—as history teaches us again and again,” Bourdain said.

Even if you don’t have the disposable funds to travel, get your kids a map. Get a subscription to National Geographic (or go to the library and get them there). Learn a language together. Host an exchange student.

Consider stretching your kids’ minds by exposing them to different accents, languages, foods, sights, and sounds. Be uncomfortable. Listen. Watch. Learn. Introduce yourself to people along the way. Take the advice of the locals. The earlier, the better. Because if we introduce children to people, places, and things different from what they know, they will be less afraid. They will be more understanding. And they’ll be more likely to reach out across any divide and improve the world for the next generation.

Our back-to-school to-do list: Sleep in. Throw water balloons. Eat ice cream.

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Some of my friends' children are already in school, their bright and shiny faces posing with memorable first-day-of-school signs. I have seen the posts from parents who are excited for school to start so they can get back on track. As a working mom, I get it. There's no question that it's easier to get things done when the kids are on a predictable schedule (with bus service!).

Here, we have a few days left of summer, and the air feels...well, it's hot, of course, because it's Texas. And underneath the heat that will stretch on to October, the swirling atmosphere of pencils, papers, and books is picking up energy.

I don't feel ready for it to sweep us into fall. 

We have not bought a new backpack - last year's works just fine. We haven't gone to the mall for clothes shopping; he has plenty of clothes that fit (for now). We have done no school shopping, which is thanks in part to the fact that my son's school offers back-to-school supply packets for all of the kids to pre-purchase. It's brilliant, actually, so thanks to whomever came up with this idea.

I admit, it's easy for me to be casual about the return to school with an only child. We just returned from our annual stay with my family in my hometown in Indiana, where we spent hours on the road, driving across the Midwest. We landed at beaches in Michigan where my son could dig a hole up to his waist in the sand, we ate ice cream at every stop, and enjoyed priceless, quality time with my parents, my sister and her family, and friends from as far back as kindergarten. We're still unpacking, honestly. My heart is still there, immersed in memories. 

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It's impossible to keep the new school from starting, or for time to stop marching on, faster and faster and faster as I watch my son grow. It was a startling awakening this morning when I dropped a vase on the kitchen floor and stepped into my son’s flip-flops to protect my feet from broken glass; they fit me.

In some ways, maybe it feels to me that if I embrace the next chapter, I'm hastening it to my door. And I don't want to speed the year along any more than it does. 

Instead of early bedtimes and cursive practice or math facts, I'm opting to squeeze every last moment from this amazing summer. You don't have to tell me that at almost 9, we are at the halfway point for our summers with our son at home. For a few more years, perhaps, he'll want to still play with us, snuggle with us, and spend time with us above everyone else. 

You'll find us at the local ice cream shop down the street. Or maybe we’re jumping in the lake. Walking to the park. Sleeping in, when we can. Throwing water balloons.

And when Wednesday arrives, I’ll paste a smile on my face and brace myself for the beginning of the next hill of this roller coaster. We’ll take pictures and commemorate the kickoff of another sprint through the school year. He’ll be excited to see his friends, maybe a little nervous, and as he walks away from me and into his classroom, I’ll probably be thinking about how much I loved this summer, and pray for another one just like it next year.

Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
— Bryan Adams

 

  

Christopher Robin is in Theaters Next Week! These Printable Activity Sheets Will Help Get You Ready.

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When I was a kid, I loved Winnie the Pooh. Well, actually, I loved Eeyore. For some reason, his forlorn demeanor made me want to envelop him in my arms and hug the sunshine back into him. My son, on the other hand, likes Tigger. No surprise for an 8-year-old boy, right? 

Next week, we're looking forward to the opening of Disney's new movie, Christopher Robin, which brings all of the characters to life! It will be in theaters August 3. 

In the new live action adventure, the young boy who shared countless adventures with his stuffed animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood has grown up and lost sight of what’s important in life. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin rediscover the joys of family life, the value of friendship and to appreciate the simple pleasure in life once again.

Check out the sweet trailer: 

We can't wait to see it! In the meantime, Disney provided some fun coloring pages and activity sheets to share. Print and enjoy. 

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My son's big summer adventure is on the TODAY Parenting team page!

He is no longer the tiny boy who gripped my neck before preschool for a time, refusing to enter the room. We would sit outside the door and talk and I would hold him until he was ready. I had the unfettered luxury of doing that, then.

He’s big and small at the same time, and he reaches milestones faster than I can keep up.

This summer, he’ll be taking a trip with my husband on a father-son fly fishing trip a few states away from where we live. His grandfather will be there and two of his great-uncles, and they will dote on him and love having him there with them. It’s a rite of passage; my husband started traveling with his dad on this annual week-long fishing trip when he was 8 as well.

Read the full story on the TODAY Parenting team page!

My son's summer adventure is about to begin and I'm the one who needs to be brave

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Dream Kitchen Goes High Tech with LG and Best Buy

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When I bought my first house, it was a modest bungalow out in a newly-developed area north of Atlanta, Georgia. It was cookie-cutter and ready-made for us to move in, my then-boyfriend and I, and it felt like home. I was young – still in my mid-20s – and I had a lot to learn.

One of my first big decisions was to buy a couch, a washer and a dryer, and a refrigerator. I have to tell you, it was my dream growing up to have a refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser, and I was determined to have that for myself in my new grown-up life. I was so excited to pick out my own appliance with my own money.

Now, 20 years and a few houses later, I have not on the refrigerator I always wanted, but I have a kitchen where I love to talk to my family (and watch my husband cook – lucky me!)  and a small but effective laundry closet where the sounds of the washer and dryer are so rhythmic that my little boy used to laugh and dance to it.

That little boy is now 8 – nearing 9 – and one of the phrases he uses to describe himself is “always hungry”. Now my dream is to not only have an ice maker and water dispenser, but a window that will reveal what’s inside without him standing there allowing the cool air to deplete, putting all of our groceries at risk.

At the Mom 2 Summit a few weeks ago, I spent some time with the representatives for Best Buy, and they had my dream fridge on site: the LG Instaview Door-in-Door. Their whole kitchen setup was displayed in matte black, which is LG’s new exclusive collection. It’s stainless steel with a low-gloss matte finish that reminds me of the new automotive matte paint jobs. Of course it does, if you know my passion for cars.  

Yes, the LG units are envy-inducing sleek. And they’re also tech-savvy: these LG smart kitchen appliances are wi-fi and voice-enabled, allowing you to control your kitchen appliances remotely, from changing settings, to checking the status, or turning them on or off. These smart appliances would make my life easier, for sure. Especially that little knocking-on-the-glass feature to let me see what’s inside without letting all the good, cold air out.

Maybe the next model can make dinner for us, too. A woman can dream, right?

LG washers and dryers with SmartThinQ® technology will change the way you do laundry. You can start and stop wash cycles remotely, get updates when laundry is done and even receive reminders about scheduled maintenance.

If you have an Amazon Echo, or Google Home Alexa (or Hey Google) can interact with your appliances and help you run a more efficient household.

Here’s just a few examples of LG’s Smart Appliance Capabilities:

Refrigerator

  • "Alexa, turn on ice plus for my party tonight"

Range

  • "Hey Google, how much time is left on the range?"
  • (Or use your SmartThinQ app to check the time remaining)

Dishwasher

  • Receive a notification that the cycle has finished

If you’re in the market, you may be interested in these offers from Best Buy (which is, incidentally, where I bought that first refrigerator, washer, and dryer so many years ago):

Summer Kitchen Bundle (5/10 – 7/11)

  • Purchase a 4-piece Kitchen Bundle and receive up to $400 INSTANT rebate.  LG and LG Studio models are eligible for this offer.
  • The offer covers both Memorial Day and Independence Day.

LG Ultimate Laundry Room Rebate (5/10 – 7/11)

  • Purchase a qualifying laundry bundle and receive up to a $400 rebate

Drop in at your nearest Best Buy or visit BestBuy.com to learn more about these LG Matte Black Kitchen Appliances. The next time I need to heat up the oven and I’m racing home to make dinner, I can call it in remotely. Now, that’s what I call smart.

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The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card

And the winners are...

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When I was called up to the stage at #Mom2Summit, I had no idea what to say. I truly thought that one of my fellow nominees with much bigger fan bases would win the Iris Award, so I made myself content with the honor of being in their company. When I reached the microphone, I said that I'm just lucky to do what I love.

I do feel lucky. I dreamed of being a writer since I was a kid, so I still want to pinch myself sometimes. But even when you get to pursue your dreams on a national platform, it's still work that consumes you, and constantly thinking about how to improve, and finding ways to be as open and thoughtful as possible. It's worth the time to be the best I can be, and there is always room to be better.

I love working with a team made up of women who not only value what I do, they encourage and support me and my writing and they care for my words in a way that speaks to the parenting themes of their site.

Yes, there will always be people who don't believe in you, don't value you, and would rather see you fall. Don't spend your valuable time worrying how to win them over. Let your work speak for itself and focus on those who lift you up, elevate you, motivate you, and inspire you.

Thank you TODAY Parents for featuring me on your site after the Mom 2.0 Summit Iris Awards. I feel so grateful to have the support of the TODAY Parents team along with all of YOU.

https://www.today.com/…/iris-awards-mom-2-0-honor-best-mom-…

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