Christmas Tree Plan B

What do you do when you close on a new home about ten seconds into the new year, yet still want to make your home festive for your kids without unpacking and repacking all of your Christmas stuff?

Keep it all packed up nicely in the garage rafters and improvise! christmas tree ornaments

-Real tree.  More like a treelet so we can keep floor space open for the bins and boxes that will likely be piling up by then. Came in its own tree stand.

-string of lights $3. We’ll donate those with the tree stand if we don’t manage to throw it in while our other stuff is getting packed on the moving truck. Everything else is paper so we can recycle it.  Waste free and pack free-yay!!

photo(114) photo(113)

-Paper garland.  The boys’ attention span matched the necessary length.  Win!

-Beloved action figures as climbing the tree count as ornaments.  They do.  It’s about what you love and right now, this is what they love.  Included in our tree are an armless GI Joe, headless Spiderman, legless Spiderman, motorcycle-less Spiderman (meaning he looks like he’s pooping in the tree), 2 Darth Vaders a Stormtrooper and an Elvis.  The joy they felt decorating this tree was incomparable, as were the sound effects.

best ornaments for kids

-My favorite part is the star decorated by my oldest, which includes the word, “Pese” with a peace sign covered in what appears to be bacon.

We rocked it.  I haven’t loved a Christmas tree this much since I was stringing the sweet 70’s candy garland on my childhood Christmas tree with my family.  I’ll be sneaking one of Spideys into my purse, marking the year with a sharpie, and whether or not we do our Plan B tree next year, I’ll be hanging this memory on our tree for years to come.

What about you? What’s your favorite holiday decorating memory?


October Gifts

I must have run my small fingers back and forth over the velvety blue ridge in the back seat of my parents’ car a thousand times.  On any other day it would have been the hotly contested “boundary line” between me and my brother that even a pinky nail dare not cross.  That day it was a place to focus and fidget and calm the fragile lump in my throat.

I was sad, but it was a confusing kind of sad. I didn’t know if I even had a right to be sad or to feel robbed, but I sure felt both of those things a whole lot.  I mean, I never met her. Heck, I wasn’t even alive yet. Right or wrong, I was shook and the news that day forever tinted the lens of my life.

My mom and dad brought my brother and me to the cemetery where they lovingly told us about our big sister in heaven. Her name was Megan. As we looked at the details of her birth certificate, they stretched snapshots of heartache and beauty into a life’s story.

They only got two days with Megan.  There was no way they could have known she had such heart problems. The sister I had always wanted was actually real, but she doesn’t get to live?  My parents had a sweet gorgeous baby, and they couldn’t bring her home? They had to bring her here? As my head was spinning picturing every person I knew losing Megan, my parents carefully chose the words for our young minds.  It’s hard to explain but I remember an overwhelming sense that my parents, amid this tremendous loss, had kind of surrendered to this absurdly complicated event. There was no hiding their devastation, and there were no words that would have made any logical sense to us. But simply, this was our truth.  We are blessed and this is what our blessings look like; some are seen, some are not. There was a steadfast assurance that she was living with God. We’d see her in heaven someday and until then, we live the life we are given. With hugs, a deep breath, and a “God is good.” we headed out.

My mind silently swirled on the way home as I traced the edge of that fuzzy seat with my fingers.  I was so heartbroken for my mom and dad.  It was a deep, aching feeling. I remember desperately wanting to know more, but I didn’t want to make them sad again with more questions. I finally blurted out something random, but quickly realized the answers weren’t making me feel better. Do they have baby funerals? What did she wear? Was she born bigger or smaller than me?  Did she look like Tommy or more like me? Where did her clothes go? What did the Grandmas do? Can you say her name again? I just wanted to know more. Anything more. More her. What a ripoff.

Three days after Megan was born, my aunt called the hospital to check on her very first niece. My mom replied, “she’s an angel.”

Determined to have a sister one way or another, I introduced myself to our angel that night in my bed. Staring at my flowered wallpaper I awkwardly said hello.  I didn’t know what to say or what to expect, but I felt sure she was listening. It didn’t hurt that she shared a birthday with my first best friend.  That had to be proof, right?  It didn’t seem right calling her my sister though.  That word seemed like a sacred title, earned over a thousand shared secrets, and we hadn’t even shared time on earth. Even without the right titles, I began to tell her more, imagining her whispering my prayers into God’s ear to give them extra oomph. Megan grew older in my mind as I grew. Would she want to be called “Meg” by now? I’d imagine her face, giving her all of the features I coveted myself like the brightest blue eyes, rich brown hair and the perfect sprinkle of freckles over her nose. Because I am a good sister, I gave her gorgeous, thick, curly hair despite our genetic predisposition for pin-like wisps. In return she gave me another place to be heard, understood. When I was happy, I had a hunch she was celebrating too. Looking at my brother’s newborn daughter’s face, I knew she had already felt the love of an aunt. When I was lonely, she made me less alone. Megan became the captain of my heavenly rally section. If I couldn’t have had her as a sister, I have loved having her as an angel.

My first due date would have been August, but like so many others, we miscarried and found ourselves praying for another chance at parenthood.  We were over the moon to get pregnant again quickly.  Shocked, really. I knew my rally captain was celebrating with all of us.  I took the fact that the baby was due near Megan’s birthday as a little high-five from heaven.

I had kind of a jerky labor.  My contractions came out of nowhere on Monday and immediately held themselves to a clockwork 10 minutes apart, quickly going to 5 minutes. Then they just stayed there forever.  Back and forth to the hospital.  Is it time? Yes. No. Yes. Maybe. No. Sure. Epidural kept going out on my right side and I was on night two of zero sleep and lots of pain.  Well, half pain/half paralyzed. Late Tuesday night, the nurse said, “You’re progressing, honey, just reaaaallllly slowly.  I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ll be ready to push until tomorrow.”  I don’t think she was expecting me to smile a huge smile. But I did.

What I had been afraid to say out loud my whole pregnancy, what we all had been afraid to say my whole pregnancy, was just a few hours away from coming true. Just before sunrise on Wednesday, October 18th, my son was born on Megan’s birthday.

I will never in my life forget the look on my parents’ faces as they entered the room to meet their grandson on their daughter’s birthday. Their sopping wet smiles were the most magnificent I had ever seen them.  Once I opened my mouth to try to speak, I couldn’t even form words. We were a blubbering heap of gratitude and joy and pain and healing and celebration. It was the most beautiful ugly cry in the history of all time. We all just smiled through our sobs. Nodding wildly. Knowing that right then, right there is where heaven met earth.

All of the hunches and hoping that she was somehow here with us were confirmed. And to witness my parents getting that gift was simply the most extraordinary experience.  Even with all of these words, I can’t express how much I wanted this for them. It was like a reward for their faith in God and themselves and each other, and for the shaky, numb footsteps they must have taken forward after they lost her. I know that few get this kind of moment and, I promise you, these people are worthy of this gift.  Not an ounce is lost on them.

I thanked God. I thanked Megan. I thanked them for my healthy, beautiful boy. I thanked them for guiding my parents from that first birthday that must have been so dark, to this one, full of light.

My son is a gift from God in heaven, but he was escorted here by my sister.  And for that, I am so deeply grateful.

pin babies

***Update:  Kind readers have suggested that oil-based Sharpies and enamel-based paints made specifically for ceramics will make these dishwasher safe. Mine made with traditional Sharpie markers were not, even after baking. I hand washed one and it was fine, but none survived the dishwasher.  I’ve seen a few tutorials for these and none mentioned troublen so I just went for it.  I shouldn’t have assumed.  I’m sorry for any wasted mugs this may have caused : )  It still helped us undo our super cranky day, so I can’t call it a total loss.

What do you get when you add a guilty conscience to two simple Pinterest ideas? An apologetic Pin Baby!

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

It was a crummy day. The boys were inside all day because I was sick. Thank God my husband played with them for a couple of hours in between work sessions while I huddled under the blankets to shake the chill. They had an “entertain yourselves” kind of a day. That’s not a bad thing, they are quite capable of doing that. But they definitely needed more of my attention than I could give today. And I had zero patience at cleanup time. Coupled with their buckets of attitude, it was all kinds of cranky. I apologized. They cleaned up. We’ll all live. But I haaaate when I take their bad choices personally. It’s like I get offended by their whines before it occurs to me to redirect them. The ping pong of furrowed eyebrows gets us nowhere, and I’m better than that. I want them to be, too. It’s one thing to have a bad day, but it’s another to end a day on a bad note. I just can’t do that. So I wanted us back at the table: the magical place that is torturous at mealtime yet super sweet at play time.

Inspired by this DIY mug idea form Dollar Store Mom, we picked up some white mugs at the thrift store last week for 59 cents each. (Pier One too – yay us!) I was going to let them draw whatever they wanted for Christmas gifts, but that would take about 3 seconds and we needed more time with Pandora and Jack Johnson if we were going to change the tide. Then I remembered this pin of fun negative space (that seems to have lost its rightful owner. If someone has the source, can you please share?-thanks). The result was a cute little Pin Baby that did the trick for this grumpy evening.

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

I don’t have a ton of supplies other than paint, but I did happen to have a bunch of these dollar store letter stickers so we did some names and peeled them off when we were done decorating. (*note: the original pin/link has the instructions for baking and curing. 350 for 30 minutes and it should be good to go.) I really wanted to do some fun color combos, but we only had 2 Sharpies, and one of them was dying. Oh well, if I had gone to Target to get more Sharpies in fun colors, I would have surely bought a pity coffee, some sort of Rubbermaid storage container and a sweater. Because I was still cold. So look at that! I saved a bundle by sticking with simplicity. Aaaaand we ran out of m’s so Michael suggested “Ma” could work instead of Mom. Resourceful. I like it.

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie MugMy little guy enjoyed the dots for one minute, and then went to town destroying the stickers and playing with Legos. He was very proud of the doodling he did on the back of the initials. I was happy to get a couple of gifts done. My six year old ditched the dots and went with coloring and a thought bubble saying, “hey”. Yup, back to normal.

What about you? Do anything creative this week?

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

Good and Messy DIY Sharpie Mug

cupcake dreams

There’s been an exciting development in our lives. It’s really big for us. A few months ago, my son walked into a bakery and picked out a cupcake. With sprinkles. One that he didn’t see his mom make. One that he ate without hearing his parents ask a bunch of questions. I’m positive that my husband and I were even more excited than he was. Strolling into a bakery without planning and telling your child to choose whatever delicious treat that catches his eye is an allergy parent’s fantasy come true.

Nutphree’s Cupcakes in Mount Prospect, IL was opened by a family with the same fantasy as mine. Every single ingredient is researched to ensure they are free of contamination of peanuts and tree nuts, and every cupcake is lovingly made there in their nut free bakery. Since I’ve been gluten free, my husband is my surrogate taste tester and he LOVES their red velvet, with the banana a close second. My son’s choice is purely based on the frosting color he’s feeling at the moment. We leave happy on many levels every time. They just started a rewards programs and um, yeah, we’ll be using that!

As much as wanting to support and promote a local business, I also want to spread the word to those who don’t have any allergies, but know someone who does. About once a month, I get a message from someone on facebook with some questions about food allergies. I usually start rambling, so hopeful to prevent at least some of the stress a special diet brings with it. Listing off favorite brands and restaurants is easy. But when someone who doesn’t have to eat this way wants to bake for someone with food allergies or celiac, it’s much harder to answer without totally discouraging them.

It is so very touching when someone wants to reach out; to be a food hero to those of us who are used to baking and schlepping our own stash everywhere (including restaurants). The intention is awesome. I wish I could just suggest a few brands and ask you to send me a piece 🙂 But the reality is that every ounce, shred, speck, and whisper of an ingredient, as well as what they have touched, must be free of contamination of your dear friend’s allergens. You have to vigilantly avoid something that may be invisible.

That’s hard. And it’s not because I question your intelligence or cleanliness. It’s because a person with allergies should only eat food that was made with the distinct intention of feeding it to someone with allergies, and in a kitchen with equipment intended for feeding a person with allergies.

That’s more complicated than it may seem.

Home kitchens are where life happens. My personal kitchen is home to one good cook (my husband), another cook, two very short ninjas, and no maid. Cooking and baking are interrupted by phone calls and breaking up fights over Ninjago thingys. I am sure that my sugar and flour and baking powder have all kissed each other via the one teaspoon that hasn’t been eaten by the dishwasher. Not to mention the dishes I’m putting away when my little guy comes in with a leaky sippy cup of milk. That’s life. That stuff happens. But that’s exactly why I wouldn’t feed anyone with additional allergies without rewashing all of my pans and tools with a brand new sponge and buying all new, unopened ingredients. No matter how pretty or delicious, a cupcake will never be worth seeing a person struggle for breath.

So it’s ok if you can’t be that committed to a cupcake. Luckily, there are some great places like Nutphree’s that are committed to feeding the allergy community. If you’re having a party and need some cupcakes, check them out.

Two more quick things. It may be tempting to “surprise” your guest with a safe treat at party time, but those of us on special diets are constantly strategizing our meals and treats. Surprises with food can be unnerving for us. Your guest may have other allergies you aren’t aware of. Or they may be working with their child on specific ways to advocate for themselves. A heads up before the party is so valuable. Believe me when I say it truly is the thought that counts. The patient, honest conversation you are willing to have with us is what we’ll still remember long after that party. This is equally true if, after our conversation, you realize that you cannot offer us a safe treat. Secondly, If you do get your hands on a safe treat for a guest with allergies or celiac, please take extra care to keep it very separate from any other food. When I bring a dish to share, I like to take out my pieces for myself and my son and put them aside before I leave the rest of my dish subject to the rogue crumbs and spoons of the buffet. Your allergic guest could have their own system. What’s crucial is that everyone gets to the important business of partying. Communication and caution is how we do that.

Thank you for reading. Please share this post if you find it helpful in any way.

P.S. Any other gems out there? Do you have a gluten-free or allergy-friendly bakery near you? I’ll start the love with some gluten free options: Swirlz Cupcakes and Sprinkles Cupcakes in Chicago, Deerfield’s at a couple of suburban locations, and Rose’s in Evanston.

baby yawns

I’m finishing up a painting when I hear Jimmy muttering from his bed.  Surely he’s not awake because he is bold and loud when he is.  His hand must have fallen asleep so I lay him back down and snuggle next to him.  Propped up on one elbow, with my other arm rubbing the pins and needles out of his hand, I can’t deny how much of this bed he suddenly occupies.  There are long, capable limbs everywhere.  The weight of his new hair is starting to quiet his cowlicks and his generally roosterish hair-do isn’t very roosterish at all.

He is fitful and anxious, but still semi-asleep.  He flips his hand over mine to stop the motion and puts my hand on his belly, laying his hand over my forearm like a dog guarding a toy.  Amused that he is in as much command asleep as he is when awake, I look down at my boy as he yawns. It was that brand new baby yawn; their nose disappears into a teeny button and they let out a whispered roar that is so scrumptious it renders you defenseless to all of the abuse they are about bring in the form of relentless servitude.  That yawn.  My giant boy did that yawn.

I look down at all the brush strokes on my sleeve and remember wearing it the night before he was born.  I had been working on a painting and could only button three buttons before my giant belly burst out.  It was January and we lived on the third floor.  I was so ready to have him that I abandoned all sense of appropriate clothing choices.

It stopped my heart.  I’m a sucker for baby yawns, but this one just struck me.  My dad nicknamed Jimmy the White Tornado and it fits him perfectly.  His white blonde hair is a blur as he flies by. Afraid of nothing, with a penchant for adrenaline rushes, at age 2.5 this boy is lightyears away from babyhood.  I have such mixed feelings when I look back on that first year.  I fell so hard in love with him because it was the most extreme year of my life.  He was my second child, but my first tornado.

My first, Michael, was born a citizen of the world, eagercopyright to enjoy his people and the constant fun they were sure to provide him.  While he certainly enjoyed our company in the world, the presence of his parents was not crucial to his happiness or navigation.  After all, life is a parade and surely someone else would pass by if he needed help, right?  He was a simple equation, an open book, and through toddlerhood, he handed out answers more frequently than problems.  Michael was our Red Solo Cup in a Pull-up.

Our second, Jimmy, on the other hand, was born the citizen of his world.  My husband and I were necessary inhabitants, essential to the minute-to-minute operations of his world but with little actual control.  He was born with skepticism and an unwavering conviction in his own feelings.  We were the befuddled gatekeepers to his world, relying heavily on hunches and hope to dodge the meltdowns.

His physical need for me truly shocked me, and it took me a long time to even realize that the term “momma’s boy” didn’t begin to cover it.  He required touch in a completely different way than I ever expected.  He wanted to be tight in my arms or swinging from the chandelier.  Many times, I would just rock and sway and keep him company in the chaos of his little body.  I wasn’t so much a respected leader as I was a court jester.  He would kick me out and beg me to come back in the same breath.  As unpredictable he seemed at times, he was pure and rich, ooey gooey love.  His unabashed joy was so infectious that it kept us on a mad dash to find it again, desperate to keep the shit and the fan in separate corners.

We have shared several hundred 3 am’s. Somewhere in there, we found some things that make his world a better place, including hardcore workouts, loads of furry animals ready to be de-fuzzed strand by strand, intense thumb-sucking, and swapping lullabies for marching bands.  Why request a soft, “rock-a-bye baby” when your mom will sing Irish drinking songs while firmly drumming your back?  The lovely therapists from Early Intervention would later shed some light on sensory processing issues, and help us make sense of our hunches.  I wanted to kiss them.  But not before I kissed Jimmy some more.  Our little tornado knows how to keep on truckin’.

So tonight, as I look down at this little big guy and I’m struck by the fact that we are so far from where we were when that yawn belonged to a newborn or even a toddler.   He is laying in the scattered proof of a contented soul: wearing the pajama pants that sat in his drawer for year, warming up to them just in time for them to become shorts, his faded blue nail polish that he sat so still for, the stuffed chipmunk next to his head whose fuzzy tail is still intact, the book he hid under the blanket, the weighted blanket at his feet because he doesn’t need it on his body tonight. All of it, he is just so much comfier in his own body.  So many nights he just couldn’t rest, and he just couldn’t release me from his white-knuckle grip.  Tonight his palms are softly open, showing off a thumb sucker’s callous because it is nowhere near his mouth.

I can’t say we are free of our 3 am rendevous, but they are 1000 times more peaceful than they were.

Sweet Jimmy, thanks for the tiny snapshot of the old you.  I’m grateful to be in your joyful twister 🙂  And I’m even more grateful that you are, indeed, asleep.

not so fast

I hear his voice from the other room–the voice that suddenly seems so old to me, even though in real time he is six.  He’s not six to me.  It still feels like I just got him, and that he miraculously and freakishly aged from a newborn to an actual person who reads in some science fictionesque measurement of time and space.  He’s new and old all at once; his voice big and small.


“I’ll be right the-”

He comes bounding in the room, looks me straight in the eye.

“How ’bout we go outside and play football?  I’ll be the official and you can be the tackler.  I’m the official because I know how to play football the best of you and Jimmy and me and Dad.  Well, Dad’s a little better but he’s at work so I will tell you who wins.” He tucks his hand up under my elbow and sweetly curls his arm around mine, “Thank you for my pancakes, Mama. They were yummy.  Can we have more pancakes for dinner?  (jumps into robot voice) Pancakes for every dinner ever!!!! (jumps out of robot voice) You can even give me spinach. Just not inside the pancakes, but I’ll eat cold spinach next to my pancakes. Mama, can I have a kids’ show? Jimmy already got a kids’ show and it’s not fair if I don’t get one too. Jack at school loves the Blackhawks.” His cheek is pressed against mine when he starts singing, “We will, we will rock you! Sing it…” I can’t see him but I know he is making his rock out face.  I mean, really, how can you not when singing that song? “What are we gonna do today?” I can feel his little stinky breath near my ear as he tries to cuddle in closer, “how ’bout we have some tea?”

I love being privilege to his loveable ramblings, especially when he is in such a cuddly mood.

But here’s the thing.

I was sitting on the toilet.

A half a dozen topics covered, including meal planning, and not once did it occur to him that it wasn’t the time or the place.

So forgive me, dear future son, who will undoubtedly beg me to trust your judgement, who will likely groan with every caution I give on your way out the door, who will insist you know just as much, if not more, than me.  Forgive me for thinking you are still brand new.  Forgive me, but you didn’t even notice that I HAD NO PANTS ON!!!

So sorry, kid, it may be hard to trust your judgement.

the boost we needed…

A big reason I started this blog was make myself accountable for the swirling ideas that keep me up at night.  The thoughts trip over themselves and I fool myself into thinking that daylight will somehow organize them and provide a moment of peace which I’ll use to put those ideas into action.  But let’s be honest, daylight is not havin’ this plan.

It’s the small tasks of emails and phone calls and writing a list that are standing in the way of the big things that will let me sleep at night.  Some of those things are stressful, like sending our food allergic son to a new school safely and the financial bag o’ fun that most people deal with.  Some of it is exciting, like the new resolve that I want to make a living through art again, and of course, the Safe Staples program.

It felt so good to get the Safe Staples program out there, because I knew I needed to start somewhere. (If you are unfamiliar with the program which gets gluten free and allergy-friendly food into food pantries, check it out here and if you’d like to hear more about the reason behind it, here you go.)  A dozen times, I had to fight the urge to “finish” it more before sharing it because my brain knows we’ll learn as we go and adjust as needed.  But now what?  Which is the next step in the many places it can go?  I’m more than a little overwhelmed at all of its possibilities.  I mean, how incredible can this be? How many families can we help?  How many safe cupcakes can we send with a child to a birthday party?  How many bellies can we fill?  How many hearts?

I know, that was total cheeseball.

But it’s true.  It feels a bit like I’m standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, afraid to look.  I know it will be as uncomfortable as it will be beautiful.  I believe in this program.  This vision and my work habits need to reconcile.  I can’t be afraid of how great it can be.  I just need to take a step. Any step.  I have been holding back out of fear of making a wrong move. So totally useless, I know.  Just when the guilt was starting to outweigh the to-do list, my incredible cousin Patti swooped in to snap me out of the standstill she didn’t even know I was in.

One of the many dreams I have for the Safe Staples program is to assist people in having their own Safe Staple food drives.  If we can’t all share a table, we can certainly share our food.  Life is about sharing what you’ve got.  Small gestures connect us and seeing a food drive box fill up, package by package, is one easy way to create a positive connection.  Why yes, I do have feathers in my hair and am currently singing folk songs.

What did Patti do?  Patti proposes to the staff at the Bright Horizons Childcare Center that she works at to make Safe Staples the beneficiary of their annual Great Kindness Challenge.  I never, ever thought to ask her to do this.  She just did.  Because I come from good people. The entire center (staff, children, parents) focuses on one task or organization and this year, at this moment, they are having the very first Safe Staples Food Drive!!!


That food drive kit I contemplated instead of sleeping actually got done!  I sent her a few docs, hit the store to take some photos, and finished a couple more documents and Patti made an info board for the families at the center.  I kept it simple, because most of these families don’t have experience with shopping for a special diet.  Maybe the food drive kit isn’t quite right.  I’m stating now that while I will post it this week, it will likely change.  Permission to fail a bit granted. We’ll adjust as we learn.  I’ll post in the Safe Staples tab and on the Safe Staples facebook page. Let me know what you think.  While I was plotting to invite others to have food drives once I had the ultimate, most perfect, food drive tool kit all complete and purty-like, Patti beat me to the punch.  Action? Way more useful than purty plans.

As if a food drive wasn’t enough, there are a whole bunch of cherries on top.  Food allergy and celiac and galactosemia and autism awareness to a huge group of families with young children? Yes, please.  The opportunity to educate kids about food allergies and how their classmates may have to deal with them?  More, please.  I brought Patti our favorite food allergy books so the teachers can read to their rooms during the week.  Regardless of the amount of food they donate, their efforts have already made an impact.

Back to the food for a minute.  I just got a text message saying they have already started filling their SECOND box of goodies.  Yahooooo!!

Now that I’ve been reminded that I’m not alone in this, I’m asking for help.  Obviously, I want folks to continue to donate directly to food pantries using the Safe Staple bag tag and sign, but there is more we can do. Here are some of the dreams I have for this program, and since my only qualification for the job is desire, I’m hoping someone may want to help:

1.  Has anyone ever started a non-profit?  I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that I would just be able to partner with an existing organization, but I realize I’ll need to do this in order for the program to grow.  I’d love to be able to be able to offer more direct help to families as well as the ability for companies and individuals to donate online. Any direction toward resources is appreciated.

2.  Does anyone know someone who works at one of the larger organizations like Feeding America or the Greater Chicago Food Depository?  I’m looking to learn more about the architecture of the food pantry supply system and how we work from the top down.

3. I want to setup a way for people to donate online, particularly by the holidays. Without an official non-profit status, another organization would have to partner with us.  Any ideas are welcome.

4.  I’d love to match make special diet families over the holidays. Personally, if I’m making a mess in the kitchen anyway, it’s not hard to make an extra safe dessert to share.  Perhaps some support groups or smaller communities can do this.

5. Partner with food companies so they can donate directly and provide coupons on our fb page and to those planning to do a food drive.  Who works for a food company like this?  Come on, this could be great for all of us.  I love to brag about community-minded companies!

6. Coupon Connection-any specialty couponing sites want to partner up so folks can donate more?

7. More food drives. Our first food drive in December of 2011 brought in almost $500 in addition to two big boxes of food from one small email and a facebook post.  I’d love to see Safe Staple food drives at every community fundraising walk and benefit that our groups have.  I’ll have the tool kit posted later this week.

If you have any ideas or can introduce me to someone who can help with any of the above, please send an email to

There’s more to this story, but I’d say we’ve been here long enough today.  A huge ginormous thank you to everyone at Bright Horizons Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.  Thanks for being open and generous and rising to the Great Kindness Challenge in so many ways!

P.S By the way, this particular Bright Horizons Child Care Center is about to open up to enrollment outside of Sears’ employees.  If you need childcare in the area, I highly recommend checking it out.  I’ve been a fan of their centers for a long time.  My godson and his brothers go to a different location so I’ve been many times and each time, it makes me want to be a kid again and belong to a community like this.  Seriously, it’s an awesome place! As a food allergy parent, I get a little giddy when I see each room with a cabinet clearly marked with an Epi-pen sign and the child’s picture who needs it. Add a menu and a constantly-updated ingredient binder posted at the entrance of the kitchen and I’m over the moon.

socks, pops, and glasses. what’s your kid karma?

“They look even to me.  It’s time to go, Bridget.”

No, they are not! How can you not see the difference?!  This sock is sooooo slanty!  And totally lower than the other one!  Agh!  And it’s loooooossssseeeeeer.  I haaaate socks. Now it’s too high. Almost.  Almost.  Maybe. Ok. That’s better.

I’d finally stand up after forever on the floor only to be assaulted by gravity, one sock daring to move a millimeter out of place. Whaaaaaaa!

God bless my mother.

A few decades later and a piece of kid karma comes served on a silver platter in the form of shoelaces.  Michael’s shoelaces must be tied super tight, and equally tight.  And then a little bit tighter.  If his blood circulation isn’t threatened, we have to start over.  As much as I should empathize as a former footwear perfectionist, I admit it puts me right on the crazy train.

God bless his mother, right?

Kid karma must be really fun for grandparents.  I imagine teenage karma is even more satisfying, but kid karma is a nice appetizer.

My parents aren’t really tally people, don’t keep a scorecard of what is owed.  They don’t hold anything over our heads.  That said,  I’m willing to bet that when my mom was “marble-hunting” after I swallowed one, she looked forward to the day when I’d have to do some toilet sorting for my own kids. So when I heard the boys giggling and Michael yells, “Ewww, Jimmy has a booger!”, I should have felt another bit of karma coming my way.  Jimmy turns to me and I see a blob coming out of his nostril.  As I grab something to wipe it, they explode with laughter because it’s actually a well-placed Corn Pop.  I go to wipe it-because I know where this can lead-when I hear the dreaded, “SNIFF!”  Sigh. Welcome to the Random Crap Up The Nose Club!

It was amazing really. The Corn Pop was big, and a two year old’s nose is so small, yet it disappeared like nothin’.  I didn’t worry.  I mean, it was from his bowl which meant it probably had a bit of milk on it.  It would break down easily, right?  I figured it would make its way out little by little.  Being a modern mom, I shared the funny news with my facebook friends and kiddie class moms.  People quickly showed their RCUTNC membership cards, warning of expansion and smell and possible surgery.  Other friends gave removal tips. A dozen tales later and I couldn’t help but think of the grandparents laughing at their kids dealing with nose treasures.

This time was small fries in the world of kid karma.  More entertaining than stressful, it was comical trying to teach Jimmy to blow his nose. It just made him sniff it up further.   I tried the Woody Woodpecker pepper method to make him sneeze, but it only managed to crack Michael and I up while Jimmy got annoyed.  A few hours later my husband comes home and simply asks him to blow his nose and he did it.  Just like that.  One try.  I’m hoping that means my husband has some decent kid karma.  That’s important.  Here’s why…

You guys, I put my parents through something awful.  So awful that it made my marble swallowing and required marble hunting look like a party; like a Pinterest party with tissue paper poofs and mason jar centerpieces.

It all started with eyeglass envy.  I don’t remember what grade I was in, maybe second? My school full of Catholic uniforms was suddenly sprinkled with incrediblyfantasictotallyradicalsoveryamazing pastel eyeglasses.  Pink ones.  Purple ones.  Holy shit!  Pink faded into purple on the same pair of glasses!  Are you kidding me?!  All of that marvelous for one lucky girl!  Oh, how I wanted to be that girl. That girl also gets an eyeglass case, and if I dared to dream, my case would be just as beautiful as my glasses. Everywhere I went- the park, grocery store, church-I was doing field research, preparing for the day when I would get to choose my very own pastel glasses.

If only I didn’t have perfect vision.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t wait for sitting too close to tv to take its toll.  I had to take matters into my own hands.   A simple, “I’m seeing double” would do the trick, no?  No.  I passed the eye test.  I didn’t even get to try on a single frame from the Wall of Happiness and Joy.  I needed to take it up a notch so I sat on the attic stairs that went into the kitchen and I practiced the “blind hands” so I could feel my way to my mom since my eyes were failing.  I told her I was seeing triple and then, because I didn’t know the right “le”word, I told her I was “seeing fives.”  Gulp.  I was all in now.

As absurd as it sounds, my mission progressed.  I was a goodie goodie good kid so lying wasn’t in character for me.  And apparently, I was a solid little actress.  Sticking to my story, I answered over and over again, “It’s very blurry. Yes, sometimes I see fives.”  There were concerned looks, some suspicious, and some hushed phone calls.  Another appointment was made.

I was in complete denial of my liar, liar, pants on fireness.  I thought if I came out and asked for glasses, everyone would think I was silly and selfish.  But needing something?  Somehow that seemed like a much better approach.  I thought I’d get the fabulous glasses to fix my super bad eyes and we’d all live happily ever after.  Genius!  Except that when parents hear that their typically good daughter’s vision is rapidly changing and she is seeing double and then FIVES?! they don’t think she needs glasses.  They think she needs a brain scan.

Yup, I unwittingly faked a brain tumor in an effort to get pink glasses that I didn’t need.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I’ve got some serious shit coming my way, don’t you think?

p.s.  Let’s hear it for the doctor who called my bluff.  And for my parents for not abandoning me in his office.

Spill it.  What do you have coming your way?

A confession and an invitation

One of my favorite things in the world is to paint my kids’ faces.  Because they look so darn full of glee when they’re all puppied out, I usually post pics to facebook, where a handful of super nice friends comment that I’m a great mommy for painting their faces.  In the interest of full disclosure, it’s sweet, but total boloney. As much as being called a nice mommy is way better than being told you suck at your life’s dream, I must confess it has nothing to do with me being nice or having artistic talent. You don’t believe me, but here’s the truth of it.

It’s not hard. I know many people are afraid of doing anything “art” related because they don’t feel qualified enough or they’re scared they’ll mess up. Art is just play and play is the path to all things good and sunshiny.  We all feel the right to play ball with our kids regardless of athletic ability, but somehow art seems much more daunting to many.  Of all things, washable paint should not be feared. This little Klutz face paint kit (approx.$15-20) gives you easy instructions and there are tons of tutorials online.  But seriously? Even if you just did a dot on their nose and a few whiskers on their cheeks, you are a champion to them.  You probably pulled off a black cat costume with a little eyeliner at some point in your life.  If you did, you are now overqualified.  I promise you, I’m relying far more on my ability to mess around than I am relying on my art degree.

There is no “right” when your artwork will likely share a canvas with boogers and ketchup.  This is not the Sistine Chapel, people. Take some pressure off.  Kids don’t need much in the way of sophisticated brush strokes to take on a character.  Simple shapes do the trick.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and kids behold themselves pretty fabulously as it is.  Their imagination does the work and a little paint is just the cherry on top.  See the pirate below?   He’s too busy being all awesome to care that his mid-painting sneeze and sleeve wipe smeared him up.

Besides all that, my motives are completely selfish.  I get way more out of it than they do.

I get to be the rockstar who brought the carnival to their living room.  All hail Mom!  Maybe she’ll bring a cotton candy machine home next!  Probably not, but who am I to squash their dreams?  Keep the thank yous comin’, kids.

Those little ones, who never stop moving?  They sit.  Almost still.  Not very still, but still for them.  I get to see their gorgeous little faces up close without the blur of constant motion they’re in the rest of the day.

Those same kids who hate to get their picture taken ask for their picture to be taken so they can admire their awesomeness over and over again.

Everything is funnier when you are looking at a kid in a painted face.  Tantrums?  Selective hearing?  Being summoned to the bathroom for wipe duty just as you are sitting down to eat?  Much easier to handle when the culprit is a painted-up dog or snake or a pirate.

If you let them paint your face you will win more mom points than you can imagine, redeemable for well, nothing really.  But you will get to feel their normally spastic little fingers gently lift up your chin as you get a close-up view of their focused eyes working so diligently on your face.  Seriously, I melt.  At some point, when they’ve brilliantly blended every color in the palette into the perfect shade of poop brown, they’ll whip out something hilarious like, “Oh, yeah, now we’re cookin’!” And because they don’t have an ounce of the insecurity we do as adults, they will look at their masterpiece and say, “You look beautiful, Mommy!”  I mean, come on?!  Totally worth it.

Here are a few tips for you Type A’s:

-If you are still worried they won’t recognize what animal they are supposed to be, tell them it’s a guessing game and they can’t look until they’re done.  Whatever their answer is, go with it.

-The kit I mentioned dries really fast and of all the stains on my kids’ clothing, face paint isn’t one of them. I have tried more eco-friendly face paint and unfortunately, it’s more like lip gloss.  It will continue to smudge and fade.

-Comes off with a washcloth of soap and water.  I use their shampoo since it doesn’t bother their eyes.  Sometimes the black is a little stubborn, especially in the eyebrows and near eyelashes, but a second washing will do the trick.

-You can mix colors right in the palette and then just swipe the top layer with a wet paper towel to reveal the original color again.

-Those makeup wedges work better than the little sponge that comes with it.  The paint brush works perfectly.  Other than that, all you need is a bowl of water and a paper towel to dry the brush after rinsing.

-When making dots for freckles or whiskers, don’t try to draw a circle.  Instead, touch the tip of the brush to the face and twist it.

-If you are shaky, rest the side of your hand on their cheek.

-Just get messy.  It’s proof of a day well spent.

Really, there is nothing to lose!  If your first attempt isn’t so great, try again.  If nothing else, they see their mom or dad experimenting and playing.  That can’t be a bad thing in my opinion so go.  Paint. Play.  And then post your pics on our facebook page so we can all applaud your fun!

Thanks for reading and can’t wait to see your pics!