Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

We made it to Grandma's house, and with reasonably limited difficulty. We endured broken airport elevators (stroller + carry ons + escalators = broken limbs), a plane the size of a Smart car, and the airline failing to produce two seats next to one another for me and my little one. (After boarding the entire plane while my little one and I waited on the sidelines, waiting with bated breath to see if we would even make it to Grandma's house, the ladies behind the counter worked some kind of magic and conjured two seats with a shared armrest in the front of the plane).

And all of this without a nap!

It was, of course, completely worth the minimal hassle and we are already snugly installed at Grandma's house, adjusting to the slow, Midwestern rhythm. We have many people to see this week, cookies to bake and stories to tell. And so this Mama is taking the week off, to play, to bake and to collect a whole new set of childhood memories.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving, Mamas! See you next week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Small Miracles

The winter edition of Small magazine has arrived in my inbox and, as usual, it does not disappoint. Packed with delicate illustrations, arresting photography, reviews of unique and unexpected books and, of course, some fun ideas, you'll want to set aside some time to flip through it.

Some highlights:

Dreamy, sartorial images from The Black Apple.

A review of the classic and decidedly macabre fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, retold with depth and affection by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by the deceptively simple work of Jen Corace. Her haunting images are a perfect fit for this creepy tale.

Playful, ethereal photography by Steven Visneau.

And a festive craft idea to help you ring in the new year with all the flair of a comedia del arte troup: confetti eggs, brought to you by the inspired woman behind maya made.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hunger in America

I received some very touching emails in response to my Hunger Artists post, about hunger in America's schools, specifically the school for the arts where my mother teaches. Several people even offered to send money to buy snacks for my mom's classroom, which is unbelievably kind.

Sadly, my mother's school is not the only one in this country dealing with kids distracted by their growling stomachs. Earlier this week, the Agriculture Department reported that in 2007--that's prior to the current economic downturn--close to 700,000 kids in America went hungry. That figure is up more than 50 percent from 2006, and probably much smaller than the number for 2008 will be. These figures are heartbreaking. And shameful.

The theme running throughout the emails I received was "How can I help?"

There are a few terrific organizations out there, who make a real difference for struggling people across this country, like Feed America and Save the Children. Additionally, most churches and synagogues have food collection baskets, which are a simple way to make sure your assistance goes to help your own community. Being aware of this issue and how it affects your community, your school district is the first step in combating the problem. If you're determined to affect change, band together with a few like-minded Mamas and brainstorm about ways to help. I believe unequivocally that motherhood is the mother of invention. Get a few smart, determined Mamas together and there's just about nothing that's impossible.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Give a Little Bit

We all know that giving feels better than getting. But in a season filled with extended shopping hours and every kind of abundance, how do you bring a little balance into focus for your kids?

I've written before about volunteering as a family. And Cookie Magazine has put together a terrific online guide to help families get started. The benefits of family volunteering are just about innumerable. Volunteering gives kids a real sense of accomplishment, while also offering them a new perspective. Perhaps best of all, it teaches kids (and adults!) that they can effect change in their world simply by giving of themselves, something that no amount of hours in front of a Wii will ever accomplish.

It isn't about feeling guilty, or making less merry at this time of year. On the contrary, it's about spreading the joy of the season just a little farther. You'll make some meaningful holiday memories for your family, and maybe for someone else's, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recipes That Will Make You Thankful

I'm a sucker for most holidays and Thanksgiving is among my favorites. I love everything about this holiday, the food, the family, even the football. Last year, I searved my first Thanksgiving dinner and, despite the amount of work, it was incredibly fun. It was fun to play Holiday Hostess in my own home, lay a beautiful table and cook a delicious meal for my appreciative houseguests.

This year, we're going to grandma's house. But that doesn't mean I'm not still busy searching new and delicious recipes to add some sparkle to our holiday menu!

Oprah has collected some celebrity chef recipes that you'll be thankful for, like these Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis from Giada De Laurentiis to get your party started. Mark Bittman's Bacon-Nut Stuffing sounds like heaven in a serving dish. Giada's Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale are a great way to bring a side dish front and center. And David Waltuck (the wizard behind the divine Chanterelle) offers up a Pumpkin Mousse with Crunchy Gingersnaps and Maple Creme Fraiche that I swear is bringing happy tears to my eyes.

If any of you decide to serve all four of these on your holiday table, can we skip grandma's and have dinner at your house? We'll help with the dishes!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hunger Artists

My mother is a teacher. She teaches high school English at a school for the arts in Northwest Ohio. Her students span the socioeconomic spectrum. And the halls between classes are an artist's palette of colors and hues. Diversity reigns at this school; it is celebrated. These kids can dance, sing and act. (Remember Fame? Yeah, kinda like that.) It is a vibrant place.

And yet, these kids are also facing real inequities, the school serving as a to-scale stand-in for our country as a whole, now chin-deep in recession. Perhaps the most debilitating of these inequities--and arguably the most heartbreaking--is hunger. A large percentage of the students at this school qualify for the government sponsored "free lunch" program. And for many of these kids, especially in this time of crisis in our country, this is the only meal they eat.

I know this because my mother is a phenomenal teacher. She's the teacher whose room the kids want to hang out in after class. She's the Michelle Pfeiffer character in "Dangerous Minds" (only she was never a Marine). She pushes these kids to succeed, to learn for learning's sake. They learn to trust her, to respect her and, ultimately, a few learn to truly trust and respect themselves. These kids, many of them, are brutally honest with her.

But her job is a lot harder when these kids arrive in the morning, with growling stomachs, tired because they haven't eaten. How bad is it really? Well, she has several students this year who, she says, only talk about food. They write essays about it. About mashed potatoes and ribs and biscuits. They write essays about Taco Bell. Many ask her daily if she has any crackers, or snacks in her room, grateful for even a two-pack of Saltines you get free with a salad or soup and often throw away.

Her school does not currently participate in the government sponsored "free breakfast" program that many other schools utilize, but there is some discussion about it. In today's New York Times there's an article, by Javier C. Hernandez, about a new twist some New York City schools are putting on the "free breakfast" program.

That these programs exist is both encouraging and discouraging. It is some kind of relief to know that there are resources available and people willing to help when our most vulnerable citizens are not getting enough to eat. But it is also shocking and sad to know that, almost a decade in to the 21st century, we cannot feed our children.

I know that this issue is complex, that it is a disease with multiple causes. I know that it is politically charged and that some feel compelled to point fingers and place blame. But while this goes on, there are children arriving at schools across the country with empty, growling stomachs. There are children writing essays about eating the kind of meal many of us take for granted on a daily basis.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we do well to acknowledge every way in which we are blessed, to take nothing for granted, if only for a day. And we do good by making some room at our proverbial tables, for those with less. Charity makes us human and feeds our souls.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Full Blown

My favorite job ever (besides my current position as full time Mama) was one I worked many years ago, in my hometown, at the Toledo Museum of Art. (Yes, Toledo, Ohio has an art museum. And it is surprisingly terrific. I can say this with confidence, having spent countless hours since then inside the hallowed walls of the Met, the Louvre, the MoMA, etc., etc.). I was paid minimum wage to watch over a small gallery store, packed to the gills with the work of some very talented regional artists: Ethereal photographs of endless cornfields threatened by menacing skies, whimsical pop art like painted bicycles and mixed media murals, hand thrown pottery, delicate jewelry and, the belle of Toledo's ball, hand blown glass in just about every shape or color imaginable.

Toledo, located in Northwest Ohio, spent the bulk of the 20th century known as the "Glass City." And the Toledo Museum of Art is a direct and lasting consequence of this glass boom. The Museum was started by glass magnate Edward Drummond Libbey, and it carries on the Toledo glass tradition, highlighting this utilitarian, changeable, delicate yet durable medium. It was there, in that small gallery store in Ohio, that I learned to appreciate the beauty of hand blown glass. I have a small collection of blown glass ornaments that hang every year on my Christmas tree, sparkling in the lights, shining against the green branches, proud of their status as unique, singular works of art.

Nostalgic, I searched and found a few lovely hand blown works of art that I thought I'd share with you.

From AskesisArts Etsy shop.

From Lokiglasswork's Etsy shop.

From AllGlassDesigns, also on Etsy.

And from James Yarrito, one of my favorite Toledo artists, who I was fortunate enough to meet through my work at the museum.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finali Design Winners!

Congratulations Stace and Jennifer L! You ladies are the lucky winners of this fabulous Finali Design giveaway, Sugar & Spice and Mommy Mommy collections respectively. I can't wait to send you your winnings so please, email me your information and I'll have these pretty cards off to you!

Thank you, Ali, for the generous giveaway!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pants On Fire

"My daughter is a compulsive liar," my friend said to me last week. She was speaking about her kindergartner, whom we'll call Lucy.


"I was at a parent-teacher conference and Lucy's teacher asked if we had a snake."

It seems that during a classroom discussion about reptiles (or pets?), Lucy's teacher asked if anyone had a snake for a pet. Lucy raised her hand. When pressed further by the teacher, Lucy told the class that she has a pet snake, named Sparkle, who lives in a drawer.

"Would you bring in a picture to show the class?" Lucy's teacher asked.

"Umm, Sparkle doesn't really like to have her picture taken," Lucy explained. No cheap paparazzi shots for Sparkle!

My friend was horrified. I laughed. I told her I didn't think it was a big deal. And I admitted to her that I told my entire 4th grade class that I had a cousin who lived in Paris. (Hey, I was just a girl in Northwest Ohio looking for a little street cred!) My point was that I don't think she's raising a con artist, that Lucy's fib sounded more like a wish than a conscious effort to deceive.

A day or two later, I was flipping through the November issue of Parenting Magazine and came across this article, by Juliette Guilbert, about the big fibs our little people tell and why, in many cases, it isn't cause for grave concern. Guilbert breaks things down by age and discusses the types of lies each age group usually tells and how to handle it every step of the way. And she relates some great advice on raising honest kids from some childhood development experts.

Sparkle the reclusive snake has likely already coiled herself up in a forgotten corner of Lucy's memory. Lucy remains a vibrant, sweet and (mostly) honest kid. But the story of their brief, imagined cohabitation will be a funny one to tell the grandkids someday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Finali Design Giveaway!

Remember the delicate greetings of Finali Design? Well, this Seattle Mama is not only a talented artist, but she's also a lovely person. And generous, to boot! She's offering not one, but two sets of her custom design greeting cards to two lucky Mama's Cup readers.

Printed on quality card stock, these silhouette greetings are "just right for a note or sweet enough to frame." Up for grabs are the "Mommy Mommy" and the "Sugar & Spice" collections. You'll be the only Mama on your block whose greetings are this unique.

Post a comment here and I'll draw two winners at random. You have until 5:00PM Eastern Time tomorrow to enter. Good luck, Mamas! And don't forget to tell your friends.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Books, Books, Books!

Just in case you missed it over the weekend, I am drawing your attention to yesterday's New York Times biannual section devoted entirely to children's books. The section includes a list of the Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2008, a list of books to spark the imagination, a whimsically illustrated introduction to poetry and a book about a cat who discovers and embraces his own form of feline Taoism.

It is a compiled treasure that you will have fun unpacking, searching for your little one's next favorite book. And don't forget, books make great gifts, too!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oh Deer

I'm having a blast finding unique and creative holiday items and sharing them with all of you. This "bedazzled deer" set of greeting cards is from the lovely little Etsy shop Wren & Chickadee. All of the handcrafted items in this virtual shop are created by a Mama and her daughter.
Don't forget to check out her blog as well, Creature Comforts, a favorite destination of mine that never, ever fails to inspire.
Happy weekend!

Hand Me Downs

I always say that all of my best information in life comes from other Mamas. A beautiful Mama I know recently introduced me to, and it is fast becoming a favorite site of mine! is like "classifieds for moms." It's a place to buy, sell, give away or donate to charity everything from your old maternity jeans to that exersaucer taking up more storage space than you can spare. They find the best listings on the web, combine them with their own and the result is a virtual tag sale that you can shop in your slippers.

Happy shopping, selling and donating!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

'Tis the Season

The holidays are officially right around the corner. As you begin making your lists, consider buying some gifts that will give twice as much. Unicef has some lovely, fair trade items on their site that are very affordable. Get the most out of your gift giving this year by purchasing with a purpose.
Kapula candles from South Africa.

Silk dove ornaments from India.

A kid-friendly cookbook filled with recipes from around the globe.

Wrap up your surprises with some charitable paper and matching tags.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Brand New Day

This morning, my little one, privy to my hours of NPR listening, is happily padding around the downstairs of our house saying "Barack Obama, Barack Obama." It is a chorus finding a global voice.

Obama said, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

McCain said, "I call on all believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here."

And Time has compiled the thoughts of world leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and French President Nicholas Sarkozy on this historic win.

Indeed, everyone, it seems, has something to say on the dawn of this new day. And you, Mamas? What do you have to say?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Make History and Lasagna

Tonight, as families gather to watch the returns, anticipation will rule. But a family still needs to eat, right? How does a Thousand Layer Lasagna sound? Like it might get you through the polls closing on the west coast?

It's a vegetarian recipe from the inspired 101 Cookbooks, but it would be easy enough to add some meat to it, if you felt compelled to do so. Then, crack open a bottle of Montepulciano for the grown ups and watch the future unfold.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Early Registration

The teacher-bloggers over at eensies have come up with some cute ideas to get your kids involved in the excitement tomorrow when you head out to vote. My favorite? Help them make buttons that say "I'll be voting in 2020" (or whatever year they'll be of age) that they can wear to the polling place with you.

Any other great ideas you Mamas are employing to get your kids involved?

On the Verge

Tomorrow, history will be made. Tomorrow, we will go to the polls in record numbers. Tomorrow, we will decide the future. Tomorrow, this country will either elect our first African-American president, or our first female Vice President.

If you're not clear on your polling place, find it here.

Then get out there and make history, Mamas!