05 November 2009

parting is such sweet sorrow

after some consideration, I am "shutting down" this blog. it's been ages since I actually updated and with my hectic life, sitting down to blog is just another thing on my way too long "to do" list. friends and family can keep in touch via facebook.

20 July 2009

Joubert Syndrome Conference

Tilly in the outfit we won at the conference silent auction
The embroidery is from the Joubert Syndrome logo:
"The Faith to believe, the Hope to dream, and the Love to see it through"

Sorry it has been so long since my last update... just got back from my first Joubert Syndrome Foundation conference in Cincinnati and wow! I have never been so inspired and comforted. It was amazing to be in a room full of people that truly know what you are going through! I have never felt such unconditional love and acceptance. Both Tilly and I made some amazing new friends who will be with us for the rest of our lives. I am physically and emotionally wiped out but I promise I will post more including great info I learned and some photos! Until then, take care!

01 July 2009

Hello darlin', it's been a long time...

I am sorry for the long leave of absence...my life has taken some very unexpected twists and turns in the last month/six weeks. I took some time to work through things and I believe I am back on track. I know that I am speaking a bit in code; however, I don't want to say too much as things on the 'net are always "out there" and can sometimes come back to haunt you. Suffice to say that I am mending a broken heart and though the finality of the relationship ending was a bit surreal, I am truly finding the rainbow after the thunderstorm....

One of the biggest things I have decided is to eliminate all the negativity from my life. I am making better choices as to whom I spend my time with and I am so much happier. I am also choosing to ignore attempts to drag me down. The past is truly the past and I am moving forward. No reason to get stuck on the hamster wheel of analyzing, worrying and wondering. Everything happens for a reason. I know that there is a plan for me that though I may not understand, is being revealed. Oh and karma is alive and well, too! :)

The beauty of my situation is that I have really bonded with some amazingly strong women who I am so very lucky to call friends now. These are women who are not only smart, funny, and such positive human beings but whom are also incredible mothers with like values. (J: I can't believe you actually used the term "stepford mothers"!!!)

It's a new beginning...for Fiona, for Tilly, and for myself... we are embracing the change - new experiences, new friendships, new environments. What a beautiful time it truly is!

20 May 2009

some much needed R&R...

Things have been very stressful lately.... been working on getting Matilda qualified for social security benefits so that the secondary insurance can kick in and relieve some of the medical bills piling up along with setting up a million other appointments and therapy sessions. Loads of other things going on that I am not quite ready to fully discuss... Needless to say that when my Mother proposed a beach getaway with the girls, I was excited. Fortunately, she is being generous and footing the bill as it just isn't feasible any other way. So, I am off to regroup, rejuvenate and hopefully come back better than ever... hold down the fort while I am gone, friends. :)

14 May 2009

what an honour!

A little while back I was asked to become the "green spokesperson" of sorts for my home state, Tennessee. I had joined a great site, The Green Parent, and Jenn Savedge, its founder, asked me to put together some resources for being in Tennessee. I just found out that my information was published to the site. Check it out here. Please spend some time taking a look around the fabulous blog and consider joining the fantastic network of green parents!

13 May 2009

busy bee...

Sorry I have been away from your blogs for so long...I am going to take some "me time" and get caught up soon.

I have had a very excuse though. Over the last week or so, I have been functioning in "Mama Bear" mode. We have been waiting for our lackluster neurologist to notify us of Matilda's MRI and vision test results. After relentless pushing, we received an "official" diagnosis for her - Joubert Syndrome - which is more accurate than her Dandy Walker Syndrome working diagnosis. While it seems odd to say, I am so thrilled and relieved to have a name to put with what we have been going through as a family. Now we are able to fully take advantage of the wonderful support systems and information available to the families of Joubert Syndrome children.

I am currently working on a new blog "Matilda Matters" dedicated just to our journey thus far. It will also share her day to day activities. I thought it appropriate to create a separate blog because the nature of it will be so different from this blog. I hope you will visit this other blog, too.

Until then, take care and have a fabulous week!

04 May 2009

An Eco-Friendly 4th! :)

During my hiatus from blogging, Fiona turned 4! For her birthday, we splurged and went on a family holiday to Disney World with some of our closest friends, The Katzmans (more to come soon). Though we had a blast celebrating, Fiona still really wanted to have a gathering at the park with her friends.

We decided to keep it low key and simple. Fiona's past birthday parties have taken place at a local park and at Ijams Nature Center. This year, she wanted to go to a park we had been frequenting more and more lately, Anchor Park. When asked what "theme" she wanted, she chose one of her favourite things - kitty cats.

As we began planning for the party, we knew we wanted to make it earth friendly. We started with the invitations... rather than purchase the invites, we made them from art supplies that Fiona already had. The invitations became a project for the whole family complete with assembly line precision. While I would really love to get to "present-free parties" (children these days simply have too much!), I didn't think Fiona was quite old enough to understand the concept. So instead, we talked to her about doing a project that would help someone else. After much discussion, we came up with the idea of collecting cat food for the homeless kitties at our local Humane Society. We added to the bottom of the invitation "please bring a bag of Purina brand cat or kitten food to be donated to the Humane Society".

After we distributed the party invites, we began on the "nuts and bolts" of the party. Paper plates, napkins, decorations, etc. create most of the waste at any party. So instead of items that would clutter up the landfill, we worked hard at finding earth-friendly alternatives.

For plates, I found a great option...VerTerra's biodegradable palm-leaf plates! The plates were a great conversation piece and looked beautiful on the tables!

VerTerra's plates:

* can be used in the microwave, oven and refrigerator
* made from 100% renewable plant matter - fallen palm leaves (not even harvested!)
* no chemicals, dyes, or waxes
* completely biodegradable and compostable - they will biodegrade in 20 - 60 days
* are made by a fair labour company that treats its workers with respect

For cups, I purchased Preserve's recycled tumblers... The tumblers are made with 100% recycled plastic, study and reusuable, BPA-free, and able to be recycled wherever #5 plastics are accepted.

For napkins, I bought Seventh Generations's recycled napkins and stamped them with kitty cat faces. We didn't need cutlery as our menu consisted of all finger foods.

The park has pretty strict guidelines about no banners, signs, etc. but we managed to delicately hang up a simple homemade banner. The banner was inspired by Lucie's blog.

The park itself always provides enough entertainment - kids just love being outdoors - but we planned a few activities. First, we decided to give each guest their own birdhouse to decorate and take home. (My friend recently decorated a birdhouse with her daughter and she told me that after they hung it up, they found 11 little eggs in the house!) We thought that the bird - cat relationship tied in loosely with the theme. Next, we created a "pin the tail on the cat" board for each guest to see who could come closest. Both activities were well received as seen in the pictures below. I couldn't believe how dilligent all the guests were with decorating their birdhouses.

The birthday girl

Friend, Olivia, creating a masterpiece

A house any bird would be proud to inhabit

Mid-game - before the victor had been declared

Refreshments consisted of typical kiddie fare - organic fruit & vegetables, cheese & crackers, juice, and pizza. Instead of a store bought cake, Fiona asked me to make her cupcakes again this year. I tinkered with the idea of a kitty cat face, but decided to do a simple paw print made with Cadbury chocolate buttons (from England - one of Fi's favourites) and chocolate chips.

one batch of cupcakes

For goody bags, I ordered reusuable linen drawstring bags I found online. Each guest received a Yummy Earth organic lollipop, a couple of Endangered Species chocolates, a cute little Buzzy Seeds sensitive plant that I found in the $1.00 bin at Target (again, a stretch with the cat theme but a kind of "cat nip") and a reusuable cat-themed cloth napkin, made by Fiona's "Gigi" (my Mom).

the goody bags were a huge hit!

After the festivities were over, the children continued to play together - enjoying the beauty of the day and the park's beautiful environment. The party ended on a high note with a train racing by blowing its whistle.

skipping stones at the lake was a favourite, unplanned, activity!

here are just a few of the guests who loved being close to the water

It was another fabulous birthday celebration for our Fiona. From the beautiful weather, to the outpouring of support for our cat food collection, and sweet compliments on the party being both original and environmentally-friendly - a good time was had by all! I will soon post pictures of Fiona delivering the donations to the Humane Society. Until then, I hope you will consider incorporating earth-friendly ideas and products into your next gathering.

If you would like to learn more about green parties, please visit the links below.

Eco Child's Play blog

Not Quite Crunchy Parent goodie bag ideas

Kiwi Magazine Birthday Party Ideas

03 May 2009

Future Hope Project

Sorry I have been away so long...I will get caught up this week with some great blogs to come - our holiday in Disney, Fiona's eco-friendly 4th birthday, etc. But first, a very important project I MUST share with you.

My friend, GinSpaghetti, is an amazing woman involved in some life saving and awe inspiring projects. I have learned so much and grown by simply reading her blog. She recently shared with her readers a great drive to help mothers in Uganda provide the essentials for their babies, The Future Hope Project. Individuals, schools, and church groups are encouraged to collect care packages.

Items to be collected:

3 cloth diapers
6 diaper pins
2 plastic diaper covers
1 receiving blanket
1 small travel size baby powder
1 pacifier
1 bar of baby soap

All you need to do to participate is the gather the items above and put them in a gallon size zip lock bag, include $5.00 to help with shipping charges. To learn more about the organization please visit their site. I whole-heartedly support their efforts and will be taking both of my girls to purchase items to help.

As if you need any other incentive, both Gin and her friend, Abbie, are running contests to encourage participation. By promoting the project and participating, you can be entered to win a $25.00 Barnes and Noble gift card and/or a wonderful item created by the women in Uganda.

I hope you will participate. What a better way to honour your mother or the fact that you are a mother than by providing for a woman in need?

04 April 2009

'quackers' for consignment

As environmentally friendly as I try to be, I have to admit I was a bit prejudice about used clothing. My dear Lucie has always had good luck at thrift stores. Her place is mostly furnished with great finds. Yet, whenever I would go into a charity shop, I only managed to find outdated clothing that always seemed to smell. Plus, I never really had patience for "digging". Don't get me wrong, I have always donated clothing but I just never 'closed the loop' and purchased used items. Alas, I have seen the light!

What made me see the error of my clothing snobbery ways? Duck Duck Goose! For those who are unfamiliar with DDK, a little background... Duck Duck Goose is a nation-wide "upscale" consignment sale of new and gently-used baby and children's items including clothing, toys, books, shoes, etc. The sellers receive 70% of the sale price of their item. Most events have a 1/2 day on the last day. DDK is extremely well organized and the organizers are selective of the items that they allow to go into the sale.

Here in Knoxville, the event is held each spring and fall. The sale has gained popularity and beginning last year, Duck Duck Goose was able to fill an abandoned grocery store - 25,000 square feet of items! A friend of mine is working the event this year and told me that I simply had to see it to believe it. On Thursday afternoon, I dropped the kids off with Marcus and I headed out to the old Food City to see what all the hype was.

I was overwhelmed by the site that greeted me! (photos above courtesy of DDK facebook site.) As far as the eye could see, racks and racks of clothing all nicely arranged by size. Toys that looked like they had never been played with! Boppy pillows, Baby Bjorns, jogging strollers, crib sets...you name it, they had it! All in perfect condition!

I first meandered over to Matilda's size section and dug in straight away. I could not believe the bargains I found. Gymboree, Gap, Old Navy, Lily Pulitzer, Strasberg, all the name brands were on the racks and at a fraction of their retail price. Now I would never pay Gymboree prices but a $5.00 dress? Not even Target can beat that! Again, the items were in mint condition! Here is a picture of some of the bargains I found.

I next ventured over to Fiona's size but unfortunately, the selection dwindled here. It makes sense though as older children truly play and are harder on their clothing. I did still manage to find a couple of Gap dresses for her.

Then over to the toy section where I scored big time! I found a Fur Real grey and white 11 inch kitten for $2.00. Fiona is crazy about her little Fur Real cat so I was so excited when I found this long hair grey model. Similar models of this cat retail for $59.00 and I snagged it for $2.00 with batteries!!!

Four hours later (yes, I am a lot more patient after having 2 children and "digging" was actually cathartic!)... I walked out with 19 items having to only part with $85.00 - not too shabby, eh?

Consignment just makes sense...

* Children grow out of clothing so quickly, why pay full retail? It makes good economical sense!
* When you consign, you keep items out of the waste stream.
* Buying items at consignment reduces our impact on limited resources.
* Shopping at consignment and thrift stores supports your local economy.
* Many of the used clothing stores do support very worthy charitable causes.

So as you can see, I am a changed woman and am now singing the praises of consignment! I only wish I had known about it when I had Fiona. I could have saved a lot of money by outfitting the nursery and getting all the 'essential' baby gear.

Before you head out to the mall or big box store, why don't you try your neighborhood consignment or thrift store. The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops allows you to search for shops in your area here. Happy (re) consuming!

01 April 2009

Fi says the darnedest things

Not too long ago, Lu and Amber gifted me with a fabulous book where I have captured some of the inciteful and downright silly things that Fiona has come out with. My friend, LeeAnne, has a great section on her blog devoted to the "wit and wisdom" of her 4 year old, Maggie. Fiona has really started sharing some hilarious things that are on her mind lately so for today's post, I thought I would share. I hope you get a giggle out of them as well. Happy Hump Day!

* When asked whether to give her friend the Cars birthday card featuring Lightening McQueen or the Spiderman card, Fi pointed to the Cars card and exclaimed "That one, John McCain!" (even funnier because we are strictly Obama household!)

* When Daddy told her that she had to follow directions when they got to Ijams Nature Center and no negotiating to stay longer, "No, Dad-dy Negotiator" (to the tune of the Priceline Negotiator jingle).

* As Mummy was driving (apparently too fast) on 640 through the construction ups and downs, "Mummy, this is just like the elephants at Dollywood!"

* This morning when she noticed a worm crawling toward a puddle of water "Mummy, it's like the wormie is going to the beach!"

* Imitating her Daddy's British accent, "We say banana and Daddy's says "Baw-naw-naw", We say "water", Daddy's says "wawter". Daddy calls ladybugs, ladybirds!"

* "Do we ride an escalator up to Heaven or a baligator (elevator)?"

* We now have a jar with a tin foil top with two black ants in them because as mentioned before "ants are our friend" and we can't just have one ant because he would get lonely.

"God is the boss of us because he is beigger than everyone. We have to do what he says. When the hand on God's watch is at the 5, it is snack time."

I would love to hear some of your children's funny sayings, so please share!

23 March 2009

prize winning pig :)

I got some great news today...I received my first blog award! Sweet LeeAnne bestowed this fine honour on me and I couldn't be more chuffed. So to keep the love going, I will follow the rules and pay it forward. First, I will sharing 7 things I love and then follow up by passing the award to 7 folks whose blog I enjoy reading.

1) My family. Okay, so that seems a given but I this had to be the top of my list. My life has taken some unexpected turns and I have had some rough times along the way but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Though my husband sometimes drives me mad (like when he leaves the lights on all over the house), there is no one on this planet that is better suited for me. He is truly the "yang" to my "yin". Marcus is the most patient and most loving husband and father and I am so thankful for him. I adore my two girls and can't imagine life without them. I love that they are the best (and sometimes worst!) parts of Marcus and myself. Both of them constantly make me laugh, cry, and have every emotion in between. I had always wanted to be a mother but I never imagined it would be this fabulous. I just wish time would go by more slowly so that I could enjoy them even more.

2) Reading. Though it has become harder for me to make time to read since having children, I still enjoy escaping to far off lands, learning about another culture, or growing as a person while reading a good book. I find myself reading more autobiographies and non-fiction these days but every once and a while I will come across some good fiction. Fortunately, Fiona also loves books. We curl up every night as a family (Tilly included) and read at least 4 books to Fiona. If she has an opportunity to have a "treat", she usually picks a book. I even catch her "reading" to her fuzzy friends (stuffed animals) in her room.

3) African culture. I became interested in African art work and culture during my university days studying cultural anthropology. I had several friends who were in the Peace Corps who sent me beautiful batik pieces and jewelry. I love the bright fabrics, the zest for life as displayed through dancing and song, and the diversity of languages and traditions. When I met Marcus and he told me he was born in Nigeria and had lived in several African countries including Ghana and Sierre Leone, I knew we were destined to be together. Our home is a myriad of our two individual collections and includes masks, carvings, and other art work. I love African music also. Marcus and I have gone to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of our favourite "groups" several times. Someday I hope to travel to Africa to see the beauty for myself.

4) Dancing. There is nothing more exhilirating than just letting loose and dancing! I don't care if I am good at it, I just like to do it. It is a great stress reliever and surprisingly good exercise. I am usually one of the first folks on the dance floor at a party. I love dancing around the house with the girls. This apparently is another thing Fiona gets from me as she loves to dance also. I caught her by herself doing the "Alex dance" the other morning while she was watching Madagascar. Yes, she likes to "move it, move it" too!

5) Traveling. Perhaps traveling is "in my blood". I grew up in a military family where we moved around a lot. Until I went to high school, I had not been to the same school twice! I have lived in every part of the United States and have probably traveled to the rest of the states. I also had the fortune to live in Spain and England also. I think traveling is very important for people. It gives you great empathy and insight and helps us understand those who are "different". It is hard to be prejudice when you have seen another person's plight. You also quickly learn that we are more alike than we are not alike. This is another Marcus and I had in common when we met. He grew up moving around also and he shared the opinion that our children should be well traveled. Already Fiona has traveled to Canada and England as well as several other countries during several cruises. She adapts well to her environment and is willing to try new foods. Hopefully, Matilda will be this way as well.

6) Friends. As a military brat, I had always dreamed of having long lasting friendships. I wanted to meet those people that you go on vacations with, that your children grow up with, and with whom you can just be yourself. Unfortunately, where we live the city is very 'insular' - if you aren't born and raised here, it is hard to 'fit in'. A lot of people are also focused on "keeping up with the Joneses" and work hard to impress. While we had met some people, it just never really "clicked". Plus, it is amazing to see that no matter what age you might be, some women have not really grown out of the high school mentality of two is company, three is a crowd. I don't want just one friend, I want a variety of friends from different backgrounds from which I can explore different sides of my personality. After several years, we have finally met some great friends - nice families where the husbands get along, the wives get along, and the children get along smashingly! (I use the plural because yes, more than two can get along without petty jealousy and feeling threatened.) Those kind of people who you can count on in a heartbeat to be there. The kind that can drop in unexpectedly and you don't care if they see the hair tumbleweeds blowing along your floors because you know they won't judge you for it. Friends that you can tell your most initimate secrets to and know they won't repeat it. It is refreshing to have them in our lives.

7) Outdoors. I love the environment. I love sitting on my front step and watching a line of ants crawl up the porch. I love hearing the woodpecker in the tree. I love collecting pine cones and walnuts with Fiona. I love feeling the wind on my face. I love the crispness of the air. It does something for your soul. The most miserable I have ever been in my life was when I had my most recent job. I was stuck in a grey walled cubicle with no windows or access to fresh air. My friends and I would take our lunch outside and soak every ounce up that we could. We even snuck out for walks just to feel alive! We have been given the most beautiful gift of all - this beautiful planet and all the life contained in it. I hope that both of my girls will have the same opportunities I have had to enjoy it.

So now that I have rambled on about my loves...here are the folks to whom I bestowed my Kreative Blogger award.

1) Ann - Ann makes me laugh like no other. We "met" via our common interest in the environment and our live of Barack Obama. She has a gift with her storytelling. When I need some cheering up, I can pop over and see the hilarity of the every day. Plus she throws a mean Virtual Girl's Night Out!

2) Shannon - another "crunchy mom" whom I learn from every day. She is a mom of two who is trying to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle also. Though we haven't met in person, we have a lot in common. She loves books, is a transplanted Southern girl and has even lived in England!

3) Ginspaghetti - one of the neatest women on the planet! I somehow found my way to her site and can't miss a single posting! Not only does she work in non-profit but she is a true activist in her personal life. I have learned about some fantastic charities from her blog. She is a great "mom" to her dogs and to some children in far off lands. I know she will raise the best children when she has her own family some day. I am a better person for knowing her.

4) Jen - where do I begin? Jen is so talented it just isn't fair! Not only does create masterpieces from recycled goods but she has some of the most beautiful photographs you will ever lay your eyes upon. Again, she is a guru when it comes to green living and raising an eco-friendly family. She truly "walks the walk" and I hope that I can be 1/10th the mother she is to her wonderful children.

5) Dawn - such a compassionate soul! She has given me support with her uplifting and encouraging words. Another talented photographer whose pictures transport me to sunny lands far away. I look forward to getting to know her even better!

6) Lucie - Lu is my cousin-in-law of sorts..she has been dating my cousin for several years now and I absolutely love her! Lu was the person that got me into the blogosphere. Lucie is a talented artist and one of the most fascinating young women you will ever meet. She is originally from France and has a zest for life like no other! She has been learning more about compassionate and sustainable living and has even taught this old dog a few new tricks.

7) Lu 'n Am - this fab site is run by Lucie (mentioned above) and Amber. Amber and Lucie have been friends for a while as Amber dates Lucie's brother. I have had the pleasure of meeting Amber in person and she truly lights up the room with her beautiful spirit. Though I am a bit partial to this site since the authors asked me to be a guest writer, the blog dedicated to sustainable, creative, and green living is one of the best out there. These young women work hard to bring their readers information on how to reuse and recyle. They are both so crafty and creative that I often shake my head at their pure genius. I am a forever fan!

If you see your name above and want to play along, please pay it forward. Write a blog entry about seven things you love, and award seven friends whose blogs you love reading. Don't forget to provide links to the blogs!

14 March 2009

Mummy according to Fiona

I have seen this little questionnaire of sorts going around Facebook and the internet so I thought I would interview Fiona. It is so interesting to see how you are through the eyes of your children. Here are her answers - unedited, unfiltered...

Mummy according to Fiona, age 3 3/4 (next month is her birthday!)

1. What is something mummy always says to you? I love you.

2. What makes mummy happy? being kind to the Earth

3. What makes mummy sad? When people say "I don't like you and I don't want to play with you".

4. How does your mummy make you laugh? by tickling me and saying "whoa, Nelly!"

5. What was your mummy like as a child? she used to play with her two dolls (there is a picture of me at age 5 with Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy)

6. How old is your mummy? I don't know

7. How tall is your mummy? I don't know

8. What is her favorite thing to do? drink soda and say "I love you!"

9. What does mummy do when you're not around? she calls me and says I'll be right there in a minute when I get done at the grocery store.

10. If your mummy becomes famous, what will it be for? I don't know..what is famous?

11. What is your mummy really good at? making magic (???)

12. What is your mum not very good at? throwing pretend food up in the air and catching it

13. What does your mummy do for her job? she takes books to school and writes her name in them

14. What is your mummy's favorite food? mac and cheese that she eats with her little girl

15. What makes you proud of your mummy? being nice

16. If your mummy were a cartoon character, who would she be? Robinhood

17. What do you and your mummy do together? play outside, read books

18. How are you and your mummy the same? both have blonde hair and blue eyes (I like her definition of "blonde"!)

19. How are you and your mummy different? we wear different clothes

20. How do you know your mummy loves you? she says "I love you, Fifi" all the time

21. Where is your mummy's favorite place to go? to the ice cream place with Fifi, to Jason's Deli, and to the bookstore

09 March 2009

the zoo dilemma

Fiona bonding with a camel - look at the smile on her face!

The Stapletons are a family of animal lovers. We adore our "furry children" (Lulu dog, Biko and Molly cat, and Kelly the Fighting Fish) and often "rescue" worms after rainstorms, help ducks cross busy roads, etc. As a parent, I am guilty of imposing my values on my children. One of those values is avoiding the exploitation of animals for our entertainment. Right or wrong on my part, Fiona and Matilda will not attend a circus. (Read why here). I prefer to have the girls observe animals in their natural environment. This is why I love Ijams Nature Center. However, what do you I when you want to expose my children to animals that aren't found in East Tennessee?

Like a lot of animal lovers and environmentalists, I have mixed feelings about zoos. There are pros and cons to zoos:

Pros include:
* opportunity for children to see animals that they wouldn't normally get to see
* creates a connection for people with the animal world which helps in conservation
* protects endangered species through captive breeding programs
* educates the public about various species

Cons include:
* animals are taken away from the 'natural environment' - polar bears in warm climates, zebras not given ample room to roam and run
* natural instincts to hunt and gather are eliminated as an "unnatural diet" is fed to them
* shorter life expectancy in captivity
* fewer offspring produced in captivity
* boredom for the animals

After much debating and considering all the pros and cons, we have taken Fiona to the zoo on many occasions. Though the conditions are not ideal at the Knoxville Zoo and there are many exhibits I voluntarily skip - namely the gorillas, chimps, bears, and tigers - due to the number of times that I have witnessed distressed and bored behavior, the Zoo does provide an opportunity for us to learn. For instance, I never knew that rhinos have one "dung pile" that they visit as a community.

Fiona often comes back and wants to learn more about a particular animal she saw during our visit. Yesterday, we went to the zoo with her friend, Anabel. Fiona was fascinated by the behavior of the meerkats. Here they are watching the meerkat groom himself/herself? and then doing their best meerkat imitation. We are learning more about the social lives of meerkats and are looking into getting the series, Meerkat Manor. If it weren't for our outing, Fiona would have never been exposed to these loveable creatures.

We are also planning a trip to Disney in April for Fiona's 4th birthday. Fiona was excited to learn that there was a whole theme park devoted to animals - Animal Kingdom. Again, I have had mixed feelings about this childhood "rite of passage". Yet, I have learned that in this particular area, Disney has really worked hard on behalf of the animals there. While I was reading up on this, I came across The Green Parent blog who has some excellent posts about 'going green at Disney' and 'animal conservation at Disney'.

Maybe I am just trying to justify our visits to these places but I do believe that places like zoos and safari parks have benefits that are worth exploring. Of course, there is nothing like observing animals in their natural environment and hopefully, some day we will be able to take our children to far off lands to see giraffes roaming freely. Until then, we will settle for what we can and will make sure that we educate our girls that these conditions are not ideal for the animals.

What are your thoughts on the subject? I would love to hear from you!

Links to make you think:
Nature Watch's Fact Sheet on Zoos
Disney Animal Kingdom

26 February 2009

rough patch...

You'll have to forgive the "bummer" nature of this post but I really need this space to vent...

It has been a roller coaster week for me. As many of you know, my infant daughter, Matilda "Tilly", was born with health issues. She spent a month in Children's Hospital and has already had surgery - a fundoplication - and was fitted for a g-tube. It seems that with "special needs" children (and it has taken a while for me to truly embrace that label), it is always one step forward, two steps back.

Tilly is doing very well with her feedings. We have discontinued any tube feeding, including her overnight feed. She is taking all her bottles and has even been introduced to rice cereal with the aim of starting purees soon. GREAT!

However, we are still addressing a few areas of major concern:
* her vision/eyes
* her "developmental delays"
* her dexterity
* her strength

Last week we went to the pediatric opthamologist. I have been concerned with Tilly's eyes every since birth. For the first month, she didn't open her eyes hardly at all. Now she has 'droopy eyelids' which we now know is a condition called ptosis, her pupils are fixed (don't dilate) and a lazy eye which all effect her vision. Most likely this is caused by nerve paralysis possibly brought on by birth trauma. The pediatric opthamologist told us that her eye anatomy is good. We have to patch her eyes alternatively 2 hours each day. She hates being a pirate! He wanted to see her back to see if the nerves recover or if it is a permanent condition.

This week we went for our neurologist check up. The doctor immediately said her eyes concerned him (duh!). He is unsure how much she can see and or how clearly the images are for her. So he ordered a MRI and a VER - visual evoke response test and an ERG - electroretinography test to see how much stimulus is reaching her brain and if the information is being passed along. The MRI is to get to the bottom of her condition. We originally were told she had Dandy Walker Syndrome - however, now he does not think this may be the case. She definitely has a congenital brain condition but he is unsure of a diagnosis.

I am delighted that we will finally get some answers and to know what we are dealing with but at the same time, I am terrified. I have researched these tests and have found references to Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis. Again, I am conflicted because while those conditions have a lot of research and information that has been conducted, they can also lead to a shortened life span for those afflicted with the condition.
The other bit of news came on Thursday when I took Tilly to have her physical therapy evaluation. We have been receiving home health therapy sessions and are now moving to the rehab center on an outpatient basis. After our evaluation using the Peabody Development Motor Scales, I learned that my 5 1/2 month old is developmentally at 2 months.

I knew in my heart that she wasn't where she needed to be. She still doesn't "push up" on her arms when placed on her tummy, she doesn't roll over, and can't sit up. She doesn't grasp toys or play with her toes. She is still working just to hold her head up consistently. But actually hearing it said out loud - that she is developmentally delayed - hit me like a ton of bricks.
It sounds silly but all those "normal things" you do to celebrate your baby's life are odd for me. I can't keep a baby book because she isn't hitting those milestones. What do you put in the first month pages? Ummm, didn't open her eyes, had 4 seizures, could only visit her in a sterile hospital environment... ??? You can't talk about her "coming home" outfit after her birth because she didn't get to "come home". How do I fill out that she is going to roll over probably at 8 months not as 3?
The other odd thing is trying to explain it to strangers. People see Tilly in her car seat asleep when we are out and she doesn't appear to have anything "wrong" with her. Even when she is awake we constantly hear "Oh, bless her heart, she is trying to wake up" or "she is about half asleep". "Every time I see that baby, she is asleep? Is that all she ever does?" No, it's her eye condition - she is fully awake but just can't open her eyes all the way. Rather than making them feel bad, I just don't say anything.
If I am holding her and her head is floppy, I know people are thinking "she should be doing this or that"... I wonder if people think I am a neglectful parent because my child is not where she is supposed to be. How do you explain? Do you explain? I don't want to make people uncomfortable...most of the time, I just smile and then cry silently to myself because I am reminded again that she is not "normal".

One of my other frustrations is not knowing exactly what the future holds or having realistic expectations for Tilly. There are so many unknowns that I can't prepare myself mentally for what lays ahead. With children, we are always looking to the future - planning for their college fund, imagining their first day of kindergarten, etc. I don't know what exactly Tilly will be able to do in her future.

So many of our friends and friends of our extended family have been supportive. They have cut all of us slack as we struggle through this. Fiona has acted out recently because Tilly is getting so much attention. You know how kids are - any attention is better than no attention! It is hard to make Fiona understand that she is loved as much as Tilly but that her sister just needs some extra help now. There are so many people that are kind and compassionate having empathy for our plight and understanding that we, as a family, have good days and bad days because of this situation. Friends of my parents have sent cards, put on us on their prayer lists at church, and called to check on us. It means a lot. I guess I, too, am more empathetic because of our situation. I tend now to overlook things and "not sweat the small stuff" because I know there are bigger things to worry about. I tried to be more compassionate even with those I don't know because I never know what is going on in that stranger's life. S/He, too, may be silently struggling.

While it sounds like I am in a funk about all this, I do truly know how blessed we are. Matilda is so much better off than we imagined. She smiles, coos, and "talks" constantly. She even laughs out loud. She will get better - she is progressing. I believe she will be able to enjoy a quality life. She is fortunate to be receiving such good medical care and is getting all of her needs addressed so early on. I only need to look around one of the waiting rooms at her many doctor's office appointments to see how lucky we are to have a baby who is 'well off'. She isn't dependent on breathing tubes. She is alert and conscious of her surroundings. She has a family that adores her and can't imagine life without her.

The physical therapy evaluator told me the other day (after I broke down in sobs in front of her), "Honey, God gives children with special needs to Mommies and Daddies that can handle it and take good care of them". She was very kind. So now I am re-focusing and looking upon this situation as a gift. God trusted us enough, thought of us as "good enough" to handle all of Tilly's challenges. I guess you can say, we have won the baby lottery.

22 February 2009

innocence celebrated

(photo from Children on the Green)

One of the things I love about having children is rediscovering the innocence. At this young age, most children are devoid of cruelty, racist attitudes and our adult cynicism. Fiona loves her friends and on any given day she announces to me that she is going to "marry Anabel" or wants to have Tyler, Douglas, Ian and/or Nicholas over to spend the night and "sleep in my bed". I smile as I realize that soon she will be "tainted" by society and all its judgments. I am sure those of you that have children have sweet memories of your children walking hand in hand with friends from all different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Wouldn't it be a better world if society didn't 'get to them' and tarnish that innocence?

Really there is a point to my ramble today... I guess I have been thinking about these things because Fiona had friends over on Saturday afternoon. The group was a mix of girls and boys. Having two girls, I am always amazed at how truly different the genders are - they play differently, they communicate differently, etc. It starts so early! I delight in seeing Fiona "get tough" with the boys. Fortunately, the girls rubbed off on the boys, too, as demonstrated in this photo...
The girls, of course, wanted to dress up as princesses. It was sweet when Nicholas requested a Belle costume because he, too, wanted to be pretty. After a little digging, we found costumes for both Nicholas (a sweet fairy) and Ian (pretty flower girl). Look at the smile on Nicholas and isn't Ian so poised?!? They enjoyed it so much, they cried when they had to take them off. We laughed that Ian's little brother, Charley - not yet 2 -, wanted no part of the festivities.
Nicholas and Ian's behavior is not unusual.

Apparently, loads of boys don tiaras, boas, and frilly costumes during their preschool years as they learn about gender roles and what is acceptable. I think it's interesting that we think nothing of a girl being a 'tom boy' (my daughter included) but it gets a bit 'troublesome' when the shoe (or glass slipper?!?) is on the other foot. I have no doubt that Ian and Nicholas will grow up to be "men's men" and break the hearts of many women the world over. But for now, I will smile at the memory of all them twirling in my living room singing "Bippiddi-Boppidi Boo".

18 February 2009

Fifi le Chef

I have a good friend who read Gary Chapman's book "The Five Love Languages" and was chatting with me about how getting to know child's "type" can help you be a better parent. I was intrigued so I read up on it and decided that Fiona is definitely a "quality time" kinda girl. She is happiest when Marcus and/or myself give her undivided attention and listen to her extravagant stories.

Now cynics may say "well, don't ALL children love quality time with their parents?!?" to which I say "yes". However, as I read through the other love languages, I found that Fiona is most motivated and rewarded with an outing with her family or a promise to "do something" together.

Knowing this, we have been finding new activities that we can share with Fiona. One of the things she loves to do the most is "cook". While I am definitely NOT the cook in the family, I have even jumped right in and have enjoyed spending time with Fiona in this way. Our favourite thing to make is muffins. Chocolate chip muffins, strawberry cheesecake, orange cranberry, you name it, we mix 'em up. She loves to bake with her Gigi and has made some wicked good cookies and a nice cake when she has visited. The other night, Marcus was making dinner and Fiona wanted to help. Marcus found a great job for her - "snapping asparagus" to put in our chicken, asparagus risotto.

According to the UK website Kids and Nutrition, getting children involved in cooking:

*encourages healthy eating habits and fostering a love of good eating (The American Heart Association includes family cooking sessions on its list of "Top Ten Ways to Help Children Develop Healthy Habits.")

*helps to set their children up for the future

*teaching responsibility and sharing domestic tasks

* helps with "fussy/picky" eaters as children will usually eat something they have cooked

Other benefits:

* encourages the development of basic motor skills, coordination, and the importance of process

* is an opportunity for mathematical learning and scientific method

* introduces different cultures based on the type of food your prepare

Personally, I know that having Fiona help us cook has indeed introduced her to foods she probably wouldn't try on her own. I have tried numerous times in vain to get her to eat asparagus to no avail. Imagine my surprise when I popped into the kitchen and found her chewing on raw asparagus stalks. She even wanted to take some for lunch the next day!

She also "opens up" when we cook. She is more likely to talk to me about her school day and share her thoughts and feelings.

Cooking with Fiona is always fun. We are even considering taking her to our local Young Chefs Academy. If you have little ones, I would love to share with you a few links I found which contain child friendly recipes. Bon apetit! :)

Fruit and Veggies More Matters
BBC's Cooking with Children recipes
Easy Recipes for Kids
Kids Cooking Activities
Kid Food: Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals for Kids

13 February 2009

Happy "Valentime's" Day!

I actually think Valentine's Day is over-rated. So much pressure put on people to "show their love" during this one day of the year. It is really nothing but an opportunity for Hallmark, Stover's and the floral industry to make a mint. Really I am a romantic at heart but wouldn't it mean more if your loved one bought you a plant (something that lasts and helps the environment!) home one random day to surprise you rather than mortgage the house for those sterile red roses that are only going to be thrown away?

Alas, I am not completely cynical because I am now re-discovering the joy of Valentine's Day through my little Fiona. She was so excited to bring home her decorated tissue box yesterday to read through the notes. Amongst all the Transformer and Hello Kitty themed sentiments, I am sure Fiona's Valentine's stuck out. Why? Because, once again, we used the occasion to educate and spread our message of protecting the environment....

Fiona gave Endangered Species line of Valentine's Day card. The valentine's are printed on Green Seal certified paper using 30% post consumer recycled paper. The cards feature precious animals with messages such as:

* You make my heart leap.. (featuring the tree frog)
* You’re my mane squeeze. (featuring the lion)
* A little birdie said you should be mine. (featuring the sandhill crane)
* Have a grrrrrreat Valentine’s Day. (featuring the grizzly bear)

and also contained some fun facts about the animal featured. Each card was accompanied by a Endangered Species milk chocolate love bite.

Fiona loved giving the cards because she is an animal lover and they had corny/goofy jokes. She also liked that the cards were "kind to the Earth". I loved them because giving them spread a good message AND supported a great company. Endangered Species Chocolate gives back 10% of their profits to help support species, habitat and humanity. All of their chocolate is also 100% ethically traded from shade grown cacao grown on small family-owned properties. While I wish that they would give a bigger percentage of their profits, it still beats Hershey's hands down, eh?

I hope next time you have an occasion to give chocolate (birthday goody bags?, etc.), you will consider Endangered Species Chocolate.

05 February 2009

Fabulous "fuzzy friends"

I tend not to buy stuffed animals/cuddly toys/"fuzzy friends" (as my Fiona calls them) for my girls but I just couldn't resist scooping up one for little Matilda recently on a trip to Target. Whilst we were strolling down the aisles looking for eco-friendly birthday presents for Fiona's upcoming birthday parties, I spied the new My Natural all-natural toy line from miYim organic toys.

I have seen miYim toys before and even added a few of their toys to my registry from Babies 'r Us. However, their line of organic toys previously out on the market were a bit pricey. The new line of My Natural toys are green AND affordable!

I snagged the cute little owl for Matilda (pictured second from the left above). It was definitely a hit with this eco baby! The cost of this new environmentally friendly friend - $4.99!!! The line has a variety of sizes - smaller friends and bigger friends dressed in natural clothing - all reasonably priced for parents on a budget!

So why are the Stapletons fans of the My Natural line? Well, My Natural toys are:

* 100% non-toxic - made from all natural cotton
* coloured using low eco-impact dye process - PureWaterWash technique
* minerals and soy colouring (dyed using plants!)
* the company is a supporter of fair labor ethics

I did a little research and found out that the line was released in Great Britain late last year. The toys were well received not only for the environmentally friendly properties but also because they are kind to baby's sensitive skin and good for allergy and asthma sufferers. In the US, Target has the rights to sell the line exclusively in their stores. Unfortunately, they are not yet available on Target.com.

Several other green parents with blogs have reviewed the dog and bunny and the overwhelming consensus is a big "green thumbs up" for the new My Natural toy line. I have several upcoming baby showers and I believe this product will find its way into my usual green baby gift basket.

Look for the toys in a Target near year and let me know what you think!

21 January 2009

shout out for eco books!

As a parent, I am always searching for ways to reinforce green values with my children. (I know some of it is sinking in because the other day I heard Fiona telling "Gigi" (my mother) how we don't leave on lights because it's "not kind to the Earth".)

Fortunately, the green movement is picking up speed and you are beginning to see green products, eco-themed books, and even reusuable shopping bags almost everywhere. Whilst trying to find environmentally friendly gifts for my girls, I was delighted to discover a series of books over the holidays.

Little Green Books are produced by the literary group Simon & Schuster. The "green books for green readers" are not only contain green themes, the books truly practice what they preach, so to speak. Books are:

* made from 100% postconsumer waste recycled paper
* printed with 100% vegetable-based ink
* Forest Stewardship Council certified (responsible use of forest resources)

For Christmas, I purchased Little Panda for Matilda from Target. Little Panda is a sweet, simple, "board" book for infants. It cloth pages tell the story of a panda who loves to eat bamboo, play with his friend, Little Monkey, and make funny faces. The cover is made with recycled fleece and is soft enough to find its way into baby's mouth. Tilly just loves cuddling the book and the black and white panda keeps her attention.

I was delighted to find today that Little Green books has a series of books for older children as well. Whilst grabbing a few things at Kroger, I came across The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle.

From the website, this book is "told from the point of view of a free-spirited plastic bottle, kids can share in the daily experiences and inner thoughts of the bottle through his personal journal." Lately Fiona has really been excited about learning recycling and really enjoys helping us sort the items in our recycling bin. I thought the book would be a perfect "surprise/treat" for her.

She was thrilled when I gave it to her! We had to read it 3 times in row. I was afraid that the technical jargon might be a little over her head (the book is for children ages 4-8) but the book tells the "science" behind recycling in a very whimsical way. She loved learning the new words which we were able to reinforce with the glossary from the back.

Not only are the books a valuable resource, the SimonLittleGreen.com website has fantastic tips, activities and games for children, teachers, and parents. I absolutely love the green activity sheet and will probably use some of the games for Fiona's birthday in April.

According to the website the books may be found in most major bookstores but as I said earlier, I found the girls' books in major retail chains. Every parent who wants to raise their child/ren 'green' will love these books!

20 January 2009

yes we did!

what a joyous, monumental day!

09 January 2009

parting is such sweet sorrow :(

Happy belated New Year! The Stapletons had a good New Year despite several bouts of illness. Fiona caught a cold and passed it on to her sister. Poor Tilly ended up with RSV - yeck! Thank goodness she avoided a hospital stay and just ended up a bit listless with a very chesty, congested cough.

In the New Year, Marcus and I have vowed to get back to the days of entertaining. We used to have friends over loads before the kids but it seems over the last few years, our lives have changed and our soirees became few and far between. So it was good to get out and socialize this evening.

Mrs. Tracy - the guest of honor!

Tonight Marcus watched Tilly so that Fiona and I (as he dubbed us, the "party girls") could attend a going away party for one of our favourite teachers at Fiona's school. It was with mixed emotions that we attended the gathering. On one hand, we were excited to be spending time with Mrs. Tracy and some of the other nice families at Goddard and yet, the occasion - Tracy's leaving - was very hard for us to accept.

Mrs. Tracy was Fiona's teacher in her previous class. Her sweet nature, positive outlook, and nurturing soul always lit up the room. Under her direction, Fiona truly thrived and grew. It was truly an honor to be included in her send off!

It was nice to be able to chat and get to know some of the other families better as well. We are fortunate that so many fascinating families attend Goddard. Unfortunately, with the craziness of pick up and drop off, we aren't always able to visit properly. Tonight was a great opportunity to mix and mingle. Of course, the kids got along smashingly!

We are thankful for Mrs. Tracy and for the impact she has had on our family. We will truly miss her but are glad that she is just going to North Carolina. We will see her again!

We love Mr. Chad!!

Lisa and little Charley

Nicolas and Ian being SUCH sweet boys!

Fiona and Anabel take a ride