Category Archives: Smile

Growing a love for gardening one community at a time

I was volunteering in my son’s classroom, when his teacher asked me help a few students do some weeding in the school garden. She handed me an example of what to look for, and I thanked her, as I am as far from a “green thumb” as one can get.

My shortcomings in gardening mattered little, as the children themselves schooled me on the finer points of tending to their little plot of various flowers and produce. I thought about how fortunate they were to be part of a educational community that values the importance of learning where our food comes from and teaching future generations to care for and respect the Earth.

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The benefits of spending time outdoors working in the soil are evident, and one Chicago-based woman has made it her mission to show the world that anyone can be a gardener — no matter where they live or their level of experience. Researching for this blog has even started to convince me I might have a shot!

Natasha Nicholes, saw the empty plots of land in her Chicago neighborhood as opportunities. From one small, West Pullman community garden plot started in 2016, the We Sow We Grow project was born. Today, Nicholes spreads her enthusiasm about gardening beyond the reaches of Illinois and has indeed launched a movement to make gardeners out of all of us. Continue reading

Announcing the Blogging For Better Facebook page

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Last fall, I started a campaign known as Blogging for Better (#bloggingforbetter) as a way of raising awareness and money for various nonprofits. My dream was to bring together a network of bloggers, writers and influencers and use our collective platform to champion those smaller, grassroots organizations which don’t always have the time or money to engage on social media.

Since September, we have raised hundreds of dollars for foundations serving victims of sexual violence, homeless families, children in need of speech services, our veterans and much more.

Though, we still have a long way to go in terms of raising the amount of money I believe these organizations deserve, I am proud of how much this movement has grown over the past nine months.

To support our the efforts of Blogging For Better (#bloggingforbetter), I am excited to announce we are launching a public Facebook page. This page will serve as one-stop place to find all of the great content about our various nonprofits, as well as a home for inspirational stories and ways you can help your community.

In a time when social media can often leave us feeling sad, angry or defeated, Blogging For Better (#bloggingforbetter) will serve to bring some hope and good will to the digital world.

I invite you to like our page, comment on our posts, and share our content.  Also, please feel free to comment on this post with any suggestions or ideas on what type of stories you’d like to hear more about.

Here’s to blogging for better.

“The Sandlot” mom is spot on about free play

“The Sandlot” will always be a film dear to my heart. When the movie was released in 1993, I was 10 years old, around the same age as the rag-tag group of baseball-loving kids enjoying the freedom and joy of summer in the early 1960s.

Though I was never a boy, nor much of a baseball lover, and only knew about the 60s from my parents, every time I watched “The Sandlot,” I felt a deep sense of nostalgia for a simpler time when my biggest concern was the summer ending too fast.

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Even after I was long past those childhood days, my viewing of “The Sandlot” always centered on the action of the kids. They were the heart of the movie, and the kid in me loved to share in their triumphs and defeats. The adults were little more than supporting roles, serving as background for the real action.

Then, my husband and I decided to watch the movie with our two boys. Continue reading

Foundation seeks to make play possible for all kids

We all know how important play is for childhood development, and, few things are as magical as watching a child’s face light up when exploring a favorite toy.

For special needs children, however, toys designed for neuro-typical and physically-typical kids, often fail to meet their fundamental need for play.

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The Gerlach family wants to make the world a more inclusive one for all children. Children, like their son Benjamin, who was born at only 25 weeks old on June 30, 2012. Along with his brother Colin and sister Ava, Ben spent 4-5 months in the NICU.

Once discharged, Ben’s challenges would continue. He relied on a feeding tube, had limited motor ability, visual impairment and was nonverbal. The Gerlachs knew he would have a tough road ahead of him.

Four years later, Ben passed away of respiratory failure on May 2, 2016. Though his life was brief, and often difficult, the Gerlachs were blessed with a happy, thriving child, thanks to the support of friends, family, doctors, therapists and more, who helped him live his best life.

The Gerlachs wanted to honor their sons memory, and honor those heroes who helped him along the way. To do so, they launched the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation to bring adaptive toys to deserving children and to help spread acceptance of kids with all abilities. Continue reading

Richard Scarry’s “Mother Cat’s Busy Day” is my life

Have you ever read a book, and thought this is my life?

I do, all the time. And those moments of finding yourself in a story are often found in the most surprising places, like a Richard Scarry book.

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Mother Cat’s Busy Day sat on a bookshelf in my childhood bedroom.  Since the book was published after I was already too old to read it, I believe this was a recent requirement of my parents who wanted some children’s books in the house for when their grandchildren were visiting.

As my family was visiting my parents over the Passover holiday, the selection of kids book came in handy. I picked up the copy of Mother Cat’s Busy Day, thinking this would be a cute book to read to my kids.

What I did not expect was how hilariously relatable this book would be.  Continue reading

An invader in the womb, and other extraordinary journeys into motherhood

For many, the path to motherhood is unusual, often marked by difficulty and fueled by hope. As someone who experienced a traumatic birth with my second child, I understand how these experiences shape how we parent and who we are as moms.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I asked my Facebook community to share the extraordinary ways they came into motherhood. These women embody the beauty, grace, love and faith that is being a mom.

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An invader in the womb

Like many couples, Mikenzie, who runs the Facebook page, Me and all my boys, and her husband struggled with infertility. When an IVF cycle helped her become pregnant with twins, the couple was excited their dreams of having a family were realized.

The dream turned into a nightmare, when, during her four-month checkup, a mass was found on one of the sonograms.

Continue reading

If your child struggles in school, cut yourself some slack and stop the self-blaming

Here we are, many of us in the middle of Spring Break, heading into one, or just getting ready to enjoy a long weekend with our families. Many of us are eagerly awaiting to get our kids back in school and back to the routine. I for one, have a child who needs the steady structure of school, and actually, for the most part, is happy to be there. For others however, school can be a source of dread and anxiety.

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You might struggle every day just to get your child out of bed. You beg and plead, hoping for a day when they happily get on the bus.

You might be dealing with a newly diagnosed learning challenge and an I.E.P. (individualized education plan). Your mind is a tangle of questions, worries, and wondering what this all means.

You might spend so much time with the principal, guidance counselor and other specialist that you feel you know them better than your own family. You might secretly envy other parents whose children are never cited for disciplinary problems, for being a distraction or for being unfit for the classroom. Continue reading

Five tips for surviving Passover with picky kids

Passover is almost here, and, for many Jewish families, that means stress. Before the holiday begins, lots of cleaning and cooking must be done to prepare for the eight-day-long festival. Here’s where I’ll admit, I don’t tidy up to the extent of other Jewish families, and I’m fortunate my mother is the one who cooks for and hosts the family seders, or ritual meals which mark the start of the holiday.

Whether you vacuum and scrub every inch of your home, or barely clean at all, if you are a family who observes the holiday, there is one thing which can cause lots of anxiety: figuring out how to get through eight whole days of no bread, no “real” pasta, no pizza and all the other yeasty foods most picky eaters love.

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If you already have healthy, adventurous eaters, Passover is probably not much of a challenge. Kids who love to eat their vegetables and fruit as well as most proteins are going to be fine this holiday as they are at any other. Count your blessings and enjoy.

For those of us whose children are a bit more selective about their food choices, Passover is the most difficult holiday to get through. Though the Passover-friendly food market has grown, and it is amazing how people have managed to produce everything from cereal to cookies, the holiday can still be hard for kids who only eat a limited amount of food.

We parents need to do what we have to to get ourselves and our kids through the holiday, and not like the stress of food ruin anyone’s experience. To help you make the best of the restrictions, here are my tips for surviving Passover with your picky eater. Continue reading

Son’s incredible progress inspires couple to help other families get much needed speech services

Pam first noticed something different about her son, Joshua, when he was 18 months old. Though he was a perfectly healthy baby, she knew he was unlike other kids in his age group.

“We were in play groups with other kids around the same age,” she recalls. “When we went to their houses, Joshua would play with their toys but never showed any interest in the other kids. They would play with each other, hopping around from one toy to another. But Joshua would focus on one toy the entire time. The other kids were starting to form words or to have some semblance of communication with their parents, and Joshua just wasn’t.”

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Like many new parents, Pam, and her husband, Joe, chalked these differences up to Joshua’s unique personality and speed of development. They assumed Joshua’s desire to play with one toy for hours at a time or his avoidance of eye contact was just his quirky behavior, and nothing to be too concerned about.

At their son’s two-year checkup, however, the pediatrician suggested Joe and Pam have Joshua evaluated, and after several appointments, interviews and therapy, a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed their son with moderate autism.

Continue reading

Trust me, other parents get it, too

I often wear sneakers when going anywhere with my children. You never know when you might need to swiftly move in to grab a child out of a dangerous or problematic situation, or, in the case of my youngest, the desire to be at the center of everything.

Neither of my children are wallflowers, so I was far from surprised, when my little one attempted to go on stage during the local elementary school talent show.

Trust Me, Other Parents Get It, Too

My family joined others in the packed cafeteria/performance space to cheer on our little stars in the making. As I learned the evening before, fifty acts would grace the stage, making it a long night, especially for those parents of older kids, who would be performing later in the show.

Smartly, my husband convinced me we should take two cars. I was hopeful both of my kids would make it through the show, but I had to be realistic when it came to our almost four-year-old.

At first, I was delighted by my youngest’s behavior. He calmly sat with the other children, eating a snack, and watching the acts on stage. Occasionally, he would get up to walk around, but caused no more disruptions than any of the other children in attendance.

As the the night wore on, however, the restlessness kicked in. My youngest made several attempts to play the piano, which was located just to the side of the stage. Perhaps he was inspired by his brother, who had just played the piano earlier in the show. Continue reading