An Open Letter to American Girl: An Update

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dolls

Just over a month ago I posted an open letter to American Girl following the company’s decision to retire several of their historical dolls, including Cecile, one of two African – American dolls, and Ivy, the only Asian doll.  My letter was seen by thousands of people and I received numerous comments across all social media platforms.  Most of the comments were very supportive and even those of you that disagreed with me did so respectfully (for the most part) and I thank you for that.   A lot of you asked me to provide an update should I actually hear from American Girl (“AG”).  Well, I have heard from AG and I have some thoughts.

American Girl reached out to me personally to discuss my concerns about the inclusion/marketing of ethnic dolls within their product offerings and I sincerely appreciate their efforts.  Clearly they do understand how important it is to respond to their customers; keeping in mind that thousands of their current and potential shoppers read the letter.  Was there anything revealed that made me see things differently? No. Was there anything in our discussions that made me feel better about the situation?  Not really.  Ultimately, AG defended the diversity of their dolls across all products lines and assured me that with the release of the new historical line this fall, there would be a more ethnically balanced representation of different eras in our country’s history.

In regard to the Girl of the Year doll, I’m not sure that the company understands the importance of getting this right.  While I was not told “no,” they would not ever produce another Girl of the Year of color;  I was also not told “yes,” that they would. While I understand that they can’t accommodate every customer by producing a doll in every ethnicity, I also understand that this is a process.  You have to start somewhere.  Everyone knows that Girl of the Year is the face of American Girl and their most buzzed about product.  Sure, they offer ethnic dolls in other lines, but to not offer an ethnically diverse line of Girl of the Year dolls is kind of like saying “Yes, you can come to my party and I will accommodate you, but I’m not going to actually invite you.”   AG has to let brown girls be the star of the show sometimes if it wants to maintain and grow its customer base.

Probably, the best result of this whole thing is that the company is using my letter to start internal conversations about the issue of diversity.  This, to me, is major because absolutely nothing can ever be accomplished without constructive dialogue.  Obviously, I want that dialogue to lead somewhere and the only way to judge if there has been any progress is to see movement on the part of the company.  Therefore, I will still be keeping my eye on AG, but this time with my credit card held firmly in my pocket. No more teas, excursions or shopping sprees.  At least for now. I am using this opportunity to teach my girls how to be smart consumers. I want them to understand that they don’t need these dolls. They are a luxury that they can definitely do without.  Children are never too young to learn about their spending power and that companies really only pay attention to one thing…money.

Thank you all, again for reading, sharing and commenting (including those of you who disagreed with me – a healthy, respectful debate is a good thing). Also, thank you again American Girl for taking the time to respond.  Hopefully, I will be able to dine in that pink, black and silver dining room on Michigan Avenue again in the future.  I really want you to do right by all of these beautiful, brown American girls.

 

For When You Feel Like You Are Falling Apart

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For When You Feel Like You Are Falling Apart

Dena is a gifted and inspirational writer. Lately, I have been feeling the weight of my every day life, quite heavily. You know, nothing in particular, but just everything. This post helped me to put it all into perspective. I hope that you enjoy it.

Centering Down

This has been one of those weeks where I’ve felt a bit like I’m coming apart. Mainly because I’ve been struggling with my yearly grass pollen induced sinus infection. Add to that a handful of ongoing middle aged maladies that I’ve accumulated in the past couple of years and my once strong, healthy self seems to be unravelling around me.

Now I know this is dramatic. Illness seems to have that effect on me.

But there are times when we truly do feel as if we are falling apart.

When a parent dies.

Or the marriage breaks up.

Or the test results come back and the news is so, so bad.

Maybe it is not even something obvious. The hardships of life can build up and take their toll until the combined effect is enough to have us coming apart at the seams.

In these moments we can feel as…

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Bringing Back Children’s Book Clubs

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As if I don’t have enough going on keeping up with dance intensives, track meets, play dates and such; I decided that this summer I wanted my girls to be a part of a summer book club.  Not a reading incentive club like so many libraries and schools sponsor now,  but a real old-fashioned book club. Back in the day – the good old 90’s – when my son was younger, one of our favorite toy stores that carried mostly educational items would sponsor summer book clubs.  Twice during the summer the facilitator would introduce a new book and the participants would read the assigned reading then meet each week to discuss the book.  Although he was an avid reader, initially he was not a fan of the idea of getting together with a bunch of strangers to talk about characters, plot lines and settings.  However, after the first couple of meetings, he was hooked.  He made new friends; was introduced to new genres; and he genuinely had a good time.  This is what I wanted for my girls, but unfortunately that store went out of business years ago,  just as this type of book club has fallen by the wayside.  So, since I couldn’t find one, I figured I’d start one.

I turned to Thing 1’s Girl Scout troop to recruit participants and most, if not all, of the girls (and their moms) said “yes”.  Today was our first book club meeting and this was our first book club selection (click on the photo to learn more about the book):

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han

Honestly, I was a bit nervous before the girls got to our house.  It didn’t help that I lost our copy of the book somewhere between finishing it and the meeting.  I know that it’s somewhere in the house, I just don’t know where.  Kinda makes you wonder what the inside of my house looks like, doesn’t it?  Anyway, as you know, 3rd grade girls can be unpredictable.  I knew that my daughter had enjoyed the book, but I had no idea if the others did, too.  Would they be talkative?  Would they be bored? Would they even bother coming to the meeting?  They did, in fact come to the meeting. Yes, they were ready to talk and no, they were definitely not bored.  The response that I received from these delightful little ladies was pure joy.

This had to be the most lively book club meeting that I have ever been to in my life.  They came prepared by actually having read the discussion guide that I had posted on our Facebook group (I will post the discussion guide here  if you would like to share this book with a group of young readers of your own). Talkative?  They were actually fighting over who got to answer questions during our discussion.  They volunteered to read out loud and actually acted out scenes from the book.  No prompting from me at all.  There was an abundance of enthusiasm in the room and I was ecstatic!

Book Clubs are supposed to encourage  and develop a love of reading by allowing children to delve deeper into a story.  On the contrary, reading incentive programs that reward reading a certain number of books in a certain amount of time do not address comprehension or enjoyment.  In fact, they can have the exact opposite effect by emphasizing speed over depth.  Often, in order to win a prize, children will read books that are below their reading level, therefore not building their vocabulary or their level of understanding.  In a time when schools are pushing the importance of reading comprehension these reading incentive programs seem to be counterproductive.

Call me “old – fashioned” or “old school’ or what ever you want, but what I saw here today was a group of kids enjoying each other through reading.  The fact that they actually learned something was a bonus. We need to bring back real book clubs and encourage our children to have fun with books. Today was awesome and I think that I will be smiling about this all week. 🙂

We Must be Super Sciency

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Audra and science

Today we started a new science module for the summer.  My girls love science, but I was planning to keep it simple. We began by going over some basic terms (observe, analyze, infer, etc.) then we reviewed the scientific method.  They had been asking (every. single. day.) when we were going to get started on the science workbooks that I bought for them, but, if I’m going to keep it really real here, science required more input from me than I was willing to give.  I just wasn’t ready, but eventually I got there and we are easing into it.

A little ways into the lesson Thing 1 excitedly asks “Do we get to take a science test?” Her face looked like she had just asked me if we get to go Disney World.

“Uumm, no, ” I replied, slightly taken aback.  “You want to take a test over science?”  I looked at Thing 2, who was animatedly nodding in agreement and I was suddenly sure that I was being set up for something because this was unnatural.

“YES! I LOVE ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT STUFF I LIKE!” Thing 2 yelled. She yells when she is excited.

Just then her sister, Thing 2, chimed in, laughing and grinning while waving her arms in the air, and said “Well, not a test, but a experiment! YES! YES!”

By now they both were on their feet jumping around dancing and skipping.  I tell you it was straight out of some weird sci-fi movie and I was s-c-a-r-e-d.

“We could do something splatuous and all explodey!!!” Thing 2, continued.

Huh???

“YES, IT DEFINITELY MUST EXPLODE!!!”  Thing 1 was yelling again.

“Then there will be all of this smoke and dust around.” Thing 2 was lost in this wistful gaze that I can only describe as , well, weird.

As they continued creating their science experiment fantasy, I sat there with my cup of iced coffee wondering if anyone else’s kids are as freaking crazy as my own.  No, probably not.  Obviously, somehow I was straddling the line between reality and an alternate universe.  One where kids like science, vegetables, clean bedrooms and brushing their teeth.  I don’t even know what “splatuous” means.  I googled it and even Google hasn’t heard of it. She’s using words that even Google doesn’t know.  I was dazed and confused for a bit, but when I heard mention of pink lab coats with their names embroidered in silver stitching, I knew that I had to regain control of the situation.

“Girls. Girls! GIRLS!”

They stopped twirling and looked at me. I think that I must have looked stupid, not sharing in the merriment, and all.

“I really just want the two of you to complete the first page in the workbook.”

They sat down, opened the books and stared.  Then Thing 2 turned to me and said “This is it?  This is soooo easy.”

They were disappointed, but they finished the page, excused themselves and left me there to wallow in my inadequacies.

Never in my life did I think that I would be judged  so harshly for my ability (or lack thereof) to provide a stimulating and entertaining science experience over summer vacation.  And what kind of comeback was there for me to use? “Do you ungrateful brats know how lucky you are to have a mother that even buys you science workbooks for the summer?”  Doesn’t work does it?

However, I am determined to rebound from this temporary setback.  This Mom Fail, if you will.  I will dig deep to create a summer science module that will satisfy even these two crazy girls in their quest to be “super sciency” – sans pink lab coats with silvery embroidery, of course. Yes, I will include an experiment or two, although I seriously doubt that it will be “splatuous” and “explodey”.  But first, I’m going to go to bed and then I’m going to get up and drink coffee…and then I’m going to pray.

Recipe Wednesday: Ginger Asparagus

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How’s your summer going? Vacationing? Relaxing?  Kids bored yet?  Mine haven’t said that…yet. Anyway, we’re really busy and I have been looking for some quick dinner ideas that the family will like, but won’t keep me in the kitchen too long. This recipe for Ginger Asparagus is one of those recipes.  I usually pair this dish with salmon or steak and I’m in and out of the kitchen in no time.

market Asparagus recipe

 

Ginger Asparagus

3/4 c. rice vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons sugar

1 pound fresh asparagus

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine vinegar and ginger in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Boil 7 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.  Remove from heat, and stir in sugar. Set aside.

Cut off tough ends of the asparagus.  Place asparagus in a large skillet; add cold water to cover.  Bring to boil; remove from heat. Plunge asparagus onto cold water to stop the cooking process; drain. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter.

Combine vegetable oil and remaining 4 ingredients, stirring well; drizzle over asparagus; cover and chill.  Makes 4 servings.

 

Easy peasy! Okay, back to your regularly scheduled summer activities. 🙂

 

That Voice You Hear is My Conscience

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

 

 

What if others could hear your struggles with your conscience?  That tug of war between what you think you should do and what your really want to do. Or, sorting out words that shouldn’t even be roaming around your head let alone said out loud.  What if people could hear you thinking “Can I say this?  That’s probably inappropriate no matter how true.”  I have recently decided that I need to keep a thesaurus handy for those moments when my appropriate words fail me and my conscience is on mute.

I was sitting next to Thing 2 while she practiced her piano and she was being particularly goofy.  She was complaining about having to repeatedly  play each song so many times; stopping and starting and stopping and starting.   Usually this is not the case and she willingly practices without much urging, but this particular night was not that easy.  I reminded her that if she would just sit down and focus, she could get it over with in no time.  Still she dilly – dallied.  Suddenly she stopped, looked at me and said “You hear that voice?  That’s my conscienence.”

“Your conscienence?  Do you mean your conscience?” I asked.

“Yes, my conscience.”

For a minute I wondered if she really thought that her conscience is supposed to be heard outside of her head.  I also wondered if she might be hearing voices and losing her mind.  Then she said “It says focus! focus! and then I focus on my piano playing.”  That was about the time that I realized that I heard it, too and looked up to see her sister, Thing 1, standing on the stairs whispering “Focus! Focus!”  Not your conscience at all, girlie.  Just a sister who wants you to get done with piano practice because she desperately wants to play mermaids with you.

Lately, I have been pretty much consumed by a few situations where what I want to do is vastly different from what I believe I should do.  I have always been one to be governed by doing the right thing.  Rise above it all and take the high road. Yep, that’s me in a nut shell. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to question my motives and if, in fact, what appears to be right is really right.  Here’s the thing – sometimes when you do something just because you think it’s the right thing to do, you end up sacrificing so much of yourself that it doesn’t benefit anyone.  You feel drained, unappreciated, bitter and angry. Often no one even notices how it’s affecting you, including you.  It’s after you step out of the situation that you feel relief from pressure that you don’t even realize that you’re under.

Admitting all of this to a friend or a loved one who has grown to expect a certain response from you isn’t always easy.  In fact, it might even feel a bit like you’re failing someone who has come to depend on you.  You’re not.  I’m not.   I’ve had to learn this for myself.  Of course, there are times when doing the right thing is absolutely necessary, regardless of how you or I might feel about it.  However, I’ve had to learn that at times, what I’m listening to isn’t my conscience at all, but some crazy notion that I have to be more than I really am.  I don’t. There will be times when what I say and do may seem to be selfish or self-serving and it might actually be true.  I’m okay with that because for the first time in my adult life, I’m okay with not needing to be everything to everyone in my life. I have absolutely nothing to prove.  I’m 47-years-old and I’d say that it’s about time.

 

Between Us: My Dad Doesn’t Like Me

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One of my favorite bloggers, Simone over at Life Inspired has written a very lovely and honest piece about her relationship with her own father. I found this to be really beautiful, although not exactly what one might expect. A reminder that parent/child relationships are not perfect, but they are ours to own. Thanks for sharing Simone.

Life Inspired

dad imaged photo credit: freeimages.com

My dad doesn’t like me.  I know he loves me— but like me—not so much.  No, this is not a conclusion that I have come to based on the current state of our relationship.  He actually said it.  He doesn’t like me.

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Recipe Wednesday: Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bars

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What are you doing this afternoon?  Nothing, you say? Entertaining your children? Here’s something that you can do.  You can surprise your family by making these Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bars. They are really easy and quick (because I’m all about easy and quick) to make. Afterward, your kids will rejoice and you will be a super hero.  I promise.

 

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bars

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bars

 

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bars

16 oz. package yellow cake mix                                                                          1 t. vanilla extract

1/3 c. butter, softened                                                                                        1 c. chopped pecans

2 eggs, divided                                                                                                   8 oz. package chocolate covered toffee baking bits (can use plain toffee also)

14 – oz. can sweetened condensed milk

 

Combine cake mix, butter and one (1) egg in a bowl; mix until crumbly.  Pat into a greased 13×9 baking pan.  Combine condensed milk, remaining egg, and vanilla in a separate bowl; stir until well blended. Stir in pecans and toffee baking bits.  Spread evenly over cake mix mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Makes one dozen.

Happy Wednesday! 🙂

Why Are You Having Another Child at Your Age?

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So, have you breathed a sigh of relied since the end of the school year has finally come?  Or are you one of the parents that dread the end of school because you will soon have to deal with what to do with the kids over summer break?  Over the past two weeks I have been crazy busy with end of school activities and preparing for Thing 1’s ballet recital (non-stop rehearsals), which are both now over.  Thank heavens for tender mercies.  Next comes a few days of relaxing before the “Mom, I’m bored!” kicks in.   Personally, I think a little boredom can be good for you because it encourages creativity.  We’ll just see how creative we all become over the next few months.

Last night, while catching up on email that I neglected over that past few days, I came across a note from a reader looking for my perspective on having children later in life and the negativity from others that can often come with it.  While I am not an advice column/blog, this is a topic that I can definitely relate to, seeing as I had my last child at the age of 41.  While the reader wants to remain anonymous, she asked that I respond publicly because “I am sure that I am not the only person who has dealt with this.”  No, you’re not.  Here is an excerpt of her e-mail:

“Lisa, I am a 43-year-old mother of 3, expecting my 4th child this August.  Both my husband (also 43) and I are over joyed, but it seems like we are the only ones.  Family and friends are always reminding us how old we will be when these kids are teenagers implying that we are selfish and should stop.  Doctors are constantly warning us of the dangers [birth defects] of having children later in life. Money isn’t always plentiful, but somehow we make it without asking for anyone’s help. My family thinks we are thoughtless. ”

“…I just don’t understand why so many people have so many opinions on our choice to have more children!”

First of all, let me say congratulations on the impending birth of your new son or daughter!  As my husband always says “There’s nothing like new life.”  When we told everyone that we were expecting our fifth and last child, I’d say that shock was the most common response we received. This was followed closely by the question “Why are you having another child at your age?”  Then there was the comment “You guys need a new hobby.” Or, “Can’t you just watch t.v.?”   Oh, wait!  Let’s not forget “Have you ever heard of birth control?” People would say to my husband “Man, you’re going to have to work until you’re 80 – years – old!”  While this may not be too far from the truth, it’s not exactly the thing to say to a man expecting another child.  Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a friend asked my husband what type medicinal assistance he was using to be able to…ahem…produce these children in his late forties (after all, she was our second in 18 months).  To say that Big Poppa was offended would be an understatement. It was then that we stopped socializing.

I’m sorry that what should be such a happy time for you and your husband is turning out to be stressful. However, the thing to remember is most people who ask these questions genuinely mean well.  They are just thoughtless.   In all honesty, we did not intentionally get pregnant with our last child.  She was a glorious and wonderful surprise which meant that we had to readjust our thinking, also.  Could we have used more supportive commentary from others?  Definitely, but all of the negativity made us draw closer to one another.  We were like-minded and that was all that mattered.

Likewise with how we handled the physicians.  Keep in mind that doctors are trying to cover their own behind, so to speak.  Should anything go wrong during your pregnancy and birth of your child they want to be sure that they have told you every possible scenario at least twice so that you don’t blame them for the outcome.  While we understood why the doctors were so insistent on getting this information across to us, we got tired of hearing it.  As you know, us Moms of Advanced Age (or MAA, as I like to refer to it)  have special doctors and ramped up schedules all designed to remind us just how old we really are. I’m only kidding a bit here.  Somewhere  at the end of my second trimester, Big Poppa made it clear to my high risk specialist that we indeed knew of all the risk associated with having children at our age and requested that he cease with this line of conversation.  It took a couple of reminders, but he finally got the message.

The truth is that you can’t stop people from talking.  However, you can put distance between you and the talkers.  You need to build your support group with people who are providing positive feedback, while not getting caught up in the negativity yourself.  Soon your new son or daughter will be here and this will all be a distant memory.  Looking back, I recognize that most of what was being said was out of concern for our well-being.  I believe that the same is probably true for you.  So, try to relax and enjoy these next few months before your new little one arrives.  Avoid the naysayers and give a lot of people the benefit of the doubt because soon they will be celebrating with you.  I hope this helped and thank you for stopping by. 🙂

 

Lisa

 

Inclusion

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Inclusion

Virginia (“Ginni”) Rometty is the current and first ever female Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IBM.  I’d bet that she probably knows a thing or two about inclusion seeing that she’s a girl in a world dominated by boys. Sticking up for what you believe in is never fun nor is it easy, but in the end it feels good because it’s just the right thing to do.  I think that counts for a lot.