Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Mother's Day, Make a Difference When You Honor Your Mom

For our family, Mother's Day is an important day to celebrate not just our moms, or me (though I certainly do like it that everyone has to go along wherever my whims take us that day), but it is a day to honor both Zinashi's and Elvie's first moms. We never forget who came before us; they are still our girls' moms and always will be.

I find it hard to find something to do to truly celebrate who our childrens' mothers are, but this year I think that I've found just the thing, and it all has to do with a connection that Jarod made months ago when he heard about an organization Samahope. We feel strongly that children who can remain with their families should, and in our minds, there are two things that are key to family preservation, particularly as it relates to Zinashi's story: clean water and medical care. On World Water Day, I posted about an opportunity to bring clean water to a village in Ethiopia, and today, I'm here to tell you more about how we will honor our girls' moms this Mother's Day by bringing medical care to moms and kids in need, through the work of Samahope.

honoryourmom collage

Samahope is a non-profit organization that uses crowdfunding to provide funds for doctors to give life-saving medical care to both mothers and children. The doctors Samahope partners with work in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America, as well as right here in the city we call home, San Francisco.  These doctors do everything from correcting birth defects to providing safe birth services to helping families cope with trauma (ahem, right up our alley). And while you can give to these amazing doctors anytime during the year, there's an extra special way you can do it for Mother's Day, all while honoring your mom and giving her something special to remember.


It's called #HonorYourMom, and it allows you to share a photo, have Samahope create a special dedication page just for your mom, plus send her something special in the mail for Mother's Day. It's super easy to do, and it will give your mom something wonderful while giving another mom medical treatment for herself or for her children. Here's how it works:

1. Go to the #HonorYourMom page and upload a childhood photo (or any photo your mom will love) of you and your mom.

2. Donate to a mom in need.

3. Sit back and let Samahope take care of the rest. Your mom will get to visit the special dedication page, plus she will receive something in the mail.

Really, it's a win-win. Or maybe, in my case, it would be a win-win-win. I know that I don't need more stuff - in fact we are in the middle of a spring cleanout right now, with bags by the door ready for donation. But I still want a fun memory, and one of my favorite things is to give something to someone who needs it. I'm guessing the same might be true for you or your mom. I think my mom would agree that it's true for her, which is why, in addition to honoring Zinashi's and Elvie's moms, I'm about to upload this photo to #HonorYourMom and give her the gift that I would want to get.  (Hint, hint Jarod, Zinashi, and Elvie.)

mom and me
I'm not sure which I like better, Mom's hair or her Laura Ingalls style blouse.

Mother's Day is May 11, so you've got a little time to find your favorite (by which I mean most embarrassing) photo of you and your mom. Join the fun, and join in the cause. #HonorYourMom and give to another mom at the same time. Win-win. Get on over there and do it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Giveaway: Zinashi's Book Recommendation

A couple of weeks ago, we gave away one of Elvie's favorite books, and this week I thought it would be fun to give away one of Zinashi's. I asked her which book was her favorite, and she said, "I don't have one only favorite! All the ones on my shelf are my favorite!" While I'd like to give someone a copy of every single book on her shelf, I am just not that flush with cash. (Or, um, at all flush with cash.) So I asked her which book she thought a lot of different kinds of people would like to read, and she chose this one immediately:

zinashi and her book

She said that she likes it because it is poems, and they are funny, and that is why other people will probably like it, too. If you would like to win a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, please leave a comment telling Zinashi a joke. You have until this Friday, April 26, at 8pm PDT to enter.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Of Pascha and Miracles

of pascha and miracles

At the beginning of Great Lent, I asked you if you would be on Zinashi's team for the season of Lent, to pray or send good thoughts her way. Many of you responded and said that you would, and it has touched me so much to know that so many of you are pulling for my beloved girl. Today was Pascha - Easter to most of you - and thus the end of the Lenten season. 

It has been a hard season. I think it needed to be. We have been pushed and stretched and reached our wit's end sometimes, but that has led to some good things. We learned a bit better when to push Zinashi to do things she'd rather not and when to hold back. We worked to connect better and to find treatment that works better for her. I come out of this season grateful that it's over, but thankful for the lessons, and most of all, thankful for the glimpses of healing I've seen in Zinashi. On Pascha night, we saw something that, to us, was extraordinary.

Zinashi has always had trouble sleeping. In the beginning, we swaddled her like a little baby and walked and rocked and swayed her to sleep, for two and a half hours most nights. We got help through neuro modulation technique, and it got better, but it's never been easy. She's needed an extensive bedtime routine, and it is very rare that she falls asleep when we are not at home, except in a car, and then only when she is exhausted; she is hypervigilant, and will keep herself awake as long as it's necessary to get to where she is comfortable and feels safe.

For us as Orthodox Christians, Easter is called Pascha, and the service to celebrate it is in the middle of the night. Last night, ours started at 11:30pm and was over around 2:30am. Zinashi loves Pascha - there is a big feast at the end, and she can stay up late. For a kid who is hypervigilant, this is a dream come true, to be allowed to be awake and keep watch to make sure that the world remains as it should be. Every year, she has stayed wide awake through the whole thing, only drifting off to sleep on the car ride home.

But this year was different.

This year, we saw telltale signs of exhaustion and dysregulation around 1am, and Jarod picked her up to hold her. She snuggled into his shoulder, and she fell asleep. That in and of itself was a shock - she never does that, not ever. But there is more. When she was drifting off, Zinashi asked Jarod to wake her for communion and the feast afterwards, and he promised it would. She double checked to make sure he would do it, and he said yes. So when it came time for communion, we gently tried to wake her, but we couldn't wake her up. We tried a little harder, tried different methods that usually work, but nothing woke her, not even a little bit. She was asleep in the way that she only ever sleeps at home, completely relaxed and at rest. We couldn't believe it. It never happens, not ever. She is always too anxious. Always.

But there she was, on jackets on the wood floor at the back of the church, fully asleep. For the first time, my first baby, who I swaddled and rocked like a newborn when she was three years old because she could not settle to sleep, fell asleep easily without her bedtime routine and without the benefit of the sway of a vehicle. And then she stayed asleep, the way she would in her own bed at home. Honestly, it was a miracle. I still can't believe it. 

To all of you who have been on Zinashi's team this Lent, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. You make miracles. You really, really do.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Giveaway WINNER! Denman Brush

You know that feeling that comes when you've had too much going on, and you still have more to do, and really you'd rather do nothing? I'm feeling that. So I'm going to skip the text and let the pictures do the talking.

brush drawing 1

brush drawing 2

brush drawing 3

brush drawing 4

brush drawing 5

brush drawing 6

brush drawing 7

Congratulations, Kristen Olsen! You are the winner of the Denman brush! Please use the email link in the right sidebar to send me your address, and I will get it sent to you as soon as possible. Thanks to everyone for entering! I can't wait to hear from you all again for our next giveaway. See you Monday? I hope I will!

Now, it's time for a power nap. ZzZzZzZzZzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My New Little Project: Berbere Makes It Better

When we adopted Zinashi, she was three years old, and she had been eating injera her whole life. We spent a month with her in Addis Ababa and ate injera and shiro or firfir every single day. It is her home food. In the beginning, we fed her every bite. It was nourishing in more ways than one, and it is also Ethiopian tradition to feed one another. After she got more comfortable with us, she started to feed us, too. It is part of Zinashi's home culture, and now part of our family culture.

shiro face
Eating with Zinashi in Addis Ababa.

When we brought Zinashi back to the States with us, we committed to eating Ethiopian food at least once a week. While we sometimes went longer than that, we did pretty well. It helped that there were Ethiopians and Eritreans at church, and they often brought injera and wot to the meal we shared each Sunday after liturgy. We also became regulars at an Ethiopian restaurant. It was good. And then we moved.

When we came to San Francisco, we found a church with Ethiopians and Eritreans in the congregation, so the flow of church lunch injera continued, and we found a restaurant to go to as well. For a long time, we went to the restaurant every week. While I could cook wots at home, I did not know how to make injera, so I just worked the weekly restaurant meal into our budget.

food is home
Injera and wot at our usual spot in San Francisco.

But then Elvie arrived, and time and budget became an issue, and we didn't go as often. It didn't take long for it to become apparent to me that this was unacceptable. Ethiopian food is home food for Zinashi, and when she eats it, she feels better. We need to have it regularly.

So I learned to make injera, and now we order teff flour in 25-pound quantities. We make injera every Sunday, and sometimes a second time during the week. With the leftover injera, we make firfir. Ethiopian food is a regular part of our lives. It is delicious and it is healing.

injera 5
Injera and wot at home.

In addition to the teff for injera, the other thing you must always have in order to make Ethiopian food is berbere. It is the Ethiopian spice. It is a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and much more. Many Ethiopian cooks have their own special blend. We purchase ours through Brundo, and we don't just use it in Ethiopian food. I add it to roasted potatoes, to chili, to sauteed vegetables, to nearly every savory dish I make. It lends a familiarity to our food, and it is delicious. Berbere makes so many things better.

I've had the idea for quite some time to make shirts that say, "Berbere makes it better," with the dual meaning that it makes the flavor of our food better, but it also makes homesick hearts better. Originally, I thought I'd do a limited run of shirts and tote bags, which I would order through a local screen printer and ship out myself.

But then I had to be honest with myself: we do not have a ton of extra room in our budget for ordering shirts, and I am not good at getting things packaged and to the post office. I still wanted to do it, though, so I started paying attention to artists I follow on Instagram and who was printing their work if they didn't have their own online shop. I checked into a few options and decided to use Society6. This morning, I set up our little shop. You can now order shirts, mugs, art prints, and more with my message:

berbere makes it better, in ethiopian colors
In Ethiopian colors - the mug is my favorite option.

berbere makes it better

In black and white, in case you are into something a little more basic.

We will be giving half of the proceeds each month to charities that support family preservation in Ethiopia, and the other half will be used for our trip to Ethiopia to visit the girls' families in the fall. Frankly, our profit on each item isn't huge (that's the drawback of using a service like this instead of doing it ourselves), but it's something, and I hope that what I've designed will be something that some of you will like as well. Food isn't love, but food can show love, and, in our house at least, I truly believe that berbere makes it better.

Sidebar link to come. For now, click here to browse and order.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Writing Tools for Zinashi from ARK Therapeutic

Way back last week when I announced the Monday giveaway and reviewed the ARK Therapeutic products that Elvie has been using, I told you that I would review what Zinashi has been using later in the week. I'm not sure how the rest of you define a week, but apparently my week has more days in it than usual. I apologize for the delay.

For Zinashi, I ordered ARK's Tran-Quill Pencil Kit and also received ARK's Butter Grip to use with it. I wasn't sure how Zinashi would feel about a vibrating pencil, as she is usually sensory sensitive, but I thought we'd give it a shot, because sometimes she needs extra sensory input (usually accomplished by bouncing or otherwise wiggling, which is not so good for finishing copywork in a timely manner).

copywork drudgery

The results regarding the vibration feature were mixed - sometimes she wanted it on and seemed to do well with it, and others she didn't. However, she loved everything else about the writing kit. It has a nice grip even without the Butter Grip on it, and there is a tip you can screw onto the top that can be chewed on - she has chewed up several pencils, so I figured that she would benefit from this, and she does. The pencil also seems to be a nice weight for her to hold - I'm not sure how else to describe it except that it just seems like the weight balances the pencil in her hand better.

Were I to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have ordered the vibrating model for Zinashi. She simply doesn't that feature enough. However, Elvie is learning to scribble a bit, and I think that she may do really well with the vibration on, so that won't go to waste at all. The kit comes with extra pencils and chewable tips, plus a pencil sharpener and a case so we can keep it all together. The case has actually been one of my favorite parts - things that are small often disappear in our house, and I really like having a case that isn't huge, but still holds everything, that I can tuck away in our homeschool drawer.

As for the Butter Grips, I think these are an item that we will use more with Elvie. Zinashi has pretty good grip already, and she felt like it was too cumbersome for her. I tried it and liked it, but Zinashi is a girl who is not fond of change, so I think the way it changed how she held her hand while writing really bothered her. I did notice, however, that if I had her write with the Butter Grip on for awhile and then had her switch back to the pencil on its own, she would have much better handwriting afterwards. It was like the difference in grip trained her to focus her energies on writing, and she continued with that focus even when she wasn't adjusting for the grip difference anymore. At some point I might try requiring her to use it for part of her copywork each day, but for now that's not a battle I'm willing to attempt to fight. I think she's happy about that, and she doesn't even mind sharing this tool with Elvie.

guess which fairy tale we read today

Overall, we really like all the products we got from ARK Therapeutic. Their customer service has been excellent, and they were truly a joy to work with. I've got a few things on my list that I'd like to have for the girls, and I will be ordering from them again.

Now through April 30, save 15% when you order from ARK Therapeutic! Use the code MAGNOLIA15 at checkout.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Giveaway: The Brush That Changed Our Lives

Styling my curly girls' hair is kind of a big deal. There are expectations to be met - mine, my girls', and anyone on the street who might have an opinion about African hair. I do not think that I need to be living up to everyone's expectations in every way, as that would be impossible, but the way I care for my girls' hair sends a message about my priorities for their care overall and my respect for their heritage and culture. I went out one time with Zinashi's hair looking a bit bedraggled after a bad day, and I did not get off easy. Hair is important.

baby bighair
Elvie does her own bedhead.

Many people take the view that natural hair is much harder to care for than hair that has been relaxed or non-curly hair. I have to say that I disagree. The total time I spend doing each of my girls' hair is no more than I spend on my own hair; it's just concentrated time, particularly in Zinashi's case. When we do hair, we are doing hair. And then, if I put in a style, we're done for the week...or two weeks...or even three weeks. We might add a little moisture at night, but honestly - when it's done, it's done. Sweet freedom.

by the shore
Little twists are versatile, and this round lasted for a total of four weeks. YES.

The biggest challenge, for me, as a woman with mostly straight, oily hair, has been learning how to work with hair that is basically my hair's polar opposite. We've gone through a lot of different products and tools and tried a lot of different techniques. Different things work on each of my girls' hair since they have different curl types, but there are two things that I use for both of them, that work brilliantly for both, that have honest-to-goodness changed our lives when it comes to doing hair.

always more sister love
The same products for these two different heads of curls? Fabulous!

The first thing is this detangler from Shea Moisture. Reviews on this are mixed, but since it works for both my girls, I highly recommend it as something to try. The one caveat is that we use it ONLY as a detangler, not as our leave in conditioner. I think that people who don't like it are trying to use it for both, and it really doesn't do both for us. But it detangles beautifully. As long as I can get this product, I will not use anything else. People suggest other things, and I go, "Oh, thanks for the recommendation!" while inside I am thinking, "No way." Because do you know how many detanglers I've tried? I don't even want to say. I've probably spent at least $100 trying to find one that would work for us. To find one that works for both of my girls is sort of like finding the Holy Grail.

And now, for the thing that has changed our lives even more than the detangler: our trusty brush. I also spent quite a lot of money trying to find a good detangling tool. I got wide tooth combs, combs with specially shaped teeth, brushes that had a frillion good reviews on natural hair sites, and...no luck. Detangling time was torturous. It took forever. I hated it, and my girls hated it, and I needed something else. So I got back to basics and just ordered this beautiful, classic brush, which turned out to be just the thing we needed, and is what I'm giving away this week.

This, my friends, is the nine-row Denman Classic Styling Brush. It's an icon, a legend, a...brush that has cut our detangling time by at least 50% and made it a lot more comfortable. I really don't know what it is about this brush that makes it work better than the rest. Is it the nylon bristles? The fact that I can get through more hair at once than other brushes we've used? The sturdy handle? I have no idea. But it works brilliantly for us, and I'd like to give one to one of you.

To win, leave a comment telling me your favorite hair product, for yourself or for someone else's hair that you care for, and tell why it's your fave. As usual, you have until Friday at 8pm PDT to enter.

Good luck!

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