With Education We Prosper

I can’t believe it was already a week ago that I had the opportunity to join a conference call with the Malala Fund, including Malala Yousafzai herself.

She was a delight to listen to – and there were so many great questions submitted by fellow online influencers (and their kiddos) – I just soaked it all in.

Education for girls – and all children – around the world.

It got me thinking about what my education means to me.

I attended many different schools growing up, mostly because we moved a lot. But even when things settled down, I transitioned from public to private and back to public again to finish off my 12 years of education.

And in that 12 years I learned a lot.
(Understatement of the year?)

More than just letters and numbers. I learned nuance and friendship. Reason, deduction and leadership. Fine arts and performance. So many fundamental bits and skills that make me who I am today.

And who would I be without this education?

Because of it, I attended college. I graduated. I traveled.

I’ve supported business growth. I’ve created and managed my own business. I’ve written and published books – and I plan to write more.

I put an emphasis on education for my son, and for my cousin’s children.

So, who would I be without this education?!

A women with no degree, with no business experience, with no understanding of what it means to encourage the next generation of my family to learn every single thing they can, so they can prosper.

I am just one woman. I impact what and who I can.

Now – imagine all those young women and girls (66 million) – and children all over the world – who are denied an education.

With one, imagine what they could accomplish.
Imagine how the world could change – and prosper.

Malala Fund Education FirstHE NAMED ME MALALA is an intimate portrait of Malala Yousafzai, who was wounded when Taliban gunmen opened fire on her and her friends’ school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

The then 15-year-old teenager, who had been targeted for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education in her region of Swat Valley in Pakistan, was shot in the head, sparking international media outrage.  An educational activist in Pakistan, Yousafzai has since emerged as a leading campaigner for the rights of children worldwide and in December 2014, became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

I had the opportunity to prescreen this documentary as a part of my attendance to the 2015 Blogalicious conference. Check out the trailer. Pledge to see the movie (opens in LA and NY on Oct 2; everywhere else on Oct 9). It’ll make you think.

Let’s Do This “Stronger Family” Thing

I can remember being in her office 5 years ago thinking about this exact thing. I may have even said it out loud. Her focus is family and child development, so it makes sense. It took a while, but we made it.

We (meaning the extended family unit) have been concerned with some new…and recurring old…behaviors from the kid. This year, things seem to be getting further beyond the boundary of what’s okay. We’ve all taken the time to share our hearts with the kid in regards to what we would hope for him and from him – and the behaviors continue.

It was time to get some help.

I have no problem admitting defeat. (It may take me a little longer to get there than others, but I will eventually get to the point where I realize that asking for help is the best next step.)

And maybe defeat isn’t the right word. It sounds so final. Rather, I should say: “I have no problem getting an outside opinion that will challenge me to think about new options and opportunities for continued growth.”

I scheduled an appointment with a counselor that I had worked with previously.

It was back in 2010, when I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I needed someone who wasn’t family or a close friend to help me think through reasonable next steps for my life. I could unpack my thoughts and she would challenge me with various logical next steps, and I could trust that her advice or recommendations weren’t tainted with the mud of my past or the torture of my present.

I told the kid that we had an appointment with a doctor who would help us be a stronger family.

He liked that idea. I do too.

Opportunity to Prescreen “He Named Me Malala” at #BYOE15

I had the opportunity to prescreen “He Named Me Malala” as a part of the 2015 Blogalicious conference.

In an effort to be completely transparent…

[ENTER CONFESSION] I was excited about seeing the event on the conference schedule, but not because I knew tons about Malala and her story. It was really because I knew I should know more about her and her story. Snippets along the way as news unfolded wasn’t enough for me to feel like I could sit there and honor the opportunity to prescreen the documentary.

So, I did my homework – or at least, as much as I could in the time that I had.

Which is why, as I was waiting for my shuttle to downtown Baltimore very late Tuesday night, I started pulling up and reading as many articles as I could find about Malala, her history and her impact.

(It helps that I was the second to last person on the shuttle to be dropped off. Frustrating, yes – because I was tired and had had a very long day. But in my own way, I was – am – thankful for a solid chunk of quiet time to get the research completed before sitting down in the theater.)

And it was helpful, because I didn’t find myself getting stuck on the details of the film or the history, but instead focused on the connections, relationships and growth.

As mom to the kid, I couldn’t help but zero in on the bond between Malala and her father, and how that relationship has encouraged Malala to grow into the strong and courageous woman she is today.

jab's plethora on Instagram - He Named Me MalalaAs parents, we have the chance to tend the hearts of our young ones – and even in the most trying of times, we can encourage them towards positive growth. And how proud are we when they, like Malala, choose to follow their passion and pursue what’s right?

In my journey as a parent, those are the times when my breath is taken away by how much joy lives in my heart as I see the kid grow towards good.

Excited to be an Ambassador for this film. Have you seen the trailer? If not, you should. See it here. And plan to see the film in October when it opens (LA and NY on Oct 2; everywhere else on Oct 9).

Even more excited to be attending a conference call with the Malala Fund Team and Malala Yousafazi here in the near future.

Stay tuned for an update on that experience!

Glass Prize from Mom & Dad

My parents, who are celebrating their 24th wedding anniversary this week (*cheers*), just came home from a romantic getaway to Staunton, Virginia – and they brought home a gift for me!

It was reminiscent of times back in middle school when my parents left me with friends so that they could get away. There was always the oddness of staying with friends and knowing their parents were in charge. And upon my parent’s return, the inevitable prize (to make up for the oddness of the days passed), as if to say: we didn’t take you with us, but at least we got you this.

Let’s take a minute and enjoy the surprise that the gift was for me – and not the kid. I’ll take my prizes where and when I can get them. He gets plenty.

In an oversized brown gift bag with many layers of paper and bubble wrap, I found a beautiful piece of glass. It was a…um…ball with a stick at the end?!

Ah, thanks, mom and dad.

Thankfully, it was packaged with some information. As I was reading about the Art Glass Watering Ball, they unfolded their story about visiting Sunspots Studio and watching live glass blowing. And not just seeing the artist at work, but seeing other customers getting the opportunity to blow their own glass pieces.

Side note: Glassblowers can not work during thunderstorms, so you should call ahead to ensure an artist is in the studio if you’re planning to visit. (Who knew?!)

I think it’s an interesting opportunity: watching art as it’s created by the artist. It’s not exactly entertainment. It’s more than that. It’s the opportunity to learn the craft. In Asheville, at the Arts & Crafts Festival, I heard that there’s an area near the river where you can walk through working studios.

I don’t know if I would be pleased to have people walking around or too distracted to actually get anything done. I used to paint and create mixed media art, but I haven’t done it in a really long time. I’ve been focusing on digital arts like writing and photography lately. The idea that somebody would come and watch and potentially ask questions and potentially interrupt the creative flow has me curious. Would I love it? Would their insertion in the process of creation be evident?

I’m intrigued by this idea that you can pop in on an artist and watch them at work. I can’t wait to visit more working studios myself.

And in the meantime I will enjoy my absolutely beautiful glass watering ball and hope that it does a better job maintaining life in the plant I call Ani. An afternoon of re-potting for this straggly plant is on the way!

Ani, the plant, Needs Water

Disclaimer: This post was in no way sponsored. And even if it was, the opinion would still still be all mine.

Black Bean Dip with Roasted Red Peppers

I was a little grumpy. I’m not gonna deny it. I really had hoped we were eating out or going grocery shopping, because I didn’t want to try and figure out what I was going to be able to throw together from the remnants in the house. I wanted it to be easy. And I really wanted good food. Like fancy food. Not just a plain omelet with cheese.

So with that in mind, I rummaged through the options to see what I could throw together as an appetizer (because fancy food experiences start with fatty-nibbles of some kind), and I found black beans. Hmmm…a spicy or cheesy bean dip might be nice, I thought to myself.

Note that I have never made a bean dip.
So much for easy.

I did a quick search for black bean dips and landed on this one. I didn’t have all the ingredients, but as you know, most of the time, all I need is a framework, and then I’m good to go (and I’ll work with whatever I have in the house).


1 tbsp avocado oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes cut into fourths
3/4 cup (in a jar) roasted red pepper, cut into thick slices
1 heaping tsp of crushed garlic
2 tbsp Adobo with Cumin 2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cans of Goya Black Beans, rinsed

In a saucepan, heat the oil on medium-high. Add the onions. Let them cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes and red pepper. Keep it moving so that everything gets a chance to heat through and get tender. Add the garlic (you don’t want to add it too early so that it doesn’t burn), Adobo and lemon juice. Give it a good mix and then let it all cook down together. It will be pretty soupy. Don’t stress. You’ll need that fluid in the food processor.

Side note: I use Trader Joe’s Crushed Garlic because it makes my life easy. I suspect that what I used would be equivalent to 2 or 3 cloves of fresh garlic.

Trader Joe's Crushed Garlic

Total cook time is about 10 minutes. You want everything tender (not burned) and the flavors at peak. Add everything from the pot into a food processor. Add the beans and processes those little guys into oblivion.

I have a small-ish processor, so I added 1 can of beans at a time so that my little trooper of a machine wouldn’t get overwhelmed. The onion-pepper-lemon mixture was juicy enough that I didn’t need to add any additional liquid to the mixture (I had some leftover salsa on standby for this purpose).

Instead, I used the salsa as a garnish.
So, it was easy. And it was yummy-goodness.

*Disclaimer: I tend to throw things together without measuring them. That’s how my Grandma did it, and I picked up that habit along the way. I’ve spent enough time in the kitchen actually measuring ingredients enough to be able to make exact-guesstaments, which is what you get typically when I write up a recipe. Cooking is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Use what you have and whatever tastes good to you. Remember, I can’t tell you what makes your mouth happy.

36 Questions Date Night

Last night was date night with #TheHandsomeOne. With budgets being tight – it is the end of the month, after all – we decided on a night in to tackle the infamous list of 36 questions. Have you see the list? It’s an activity that’s supposed to help you feel closer to the other person. I suppose it would work between any two people, but it’s a recommendation for couples.

Armed with 2 bottles of wine, 8 pizza roll-ups and 36 questions, we jumped into the night. Note that it did take us all night. He thought it was a 45 minute exercise. I had read a story where the couple took over 3 hours. Let’s say that I was a little more prepared for the time commitment. We started around 9pm and finished up a quarter after midnight.

36 Questions. Some more intimate than others. For me, some had immediate answers; others were harder to answer. There was one that I flat out said: “I don’t even know how to answer this one.” And even though we’ve been together for 9 months, and we’re both extremely communicative people, it was nice to step back and get to know each other (even more).

Some of the questions sparked conversation that developed away from the list: “If this is how you think and I think different, how will we bridge the gap as our future unfolds?” Trying to develop a preemptive strategy for the differences of opinion that are sure to come, that will try to tear us apart.

For me, it was a night of relationship maintenance. A check-in, of sorts. As couple development goes, we’re doing fine. We’d just like to keep it that way. Open communication. A practice in vulnerability. An exchange of trust. All of these things certainly help to keep a relationship between two people healthy and fresh.

We decided that it may be worthwhile to set aside a time each year to revisit the list. Keeping our minds and hearts open to the fact that as individuals time and experience will change us – and a periodic check-in will keep us ahead of the curve.

Pillsbury Saves Date Night

It was date night. I made sangria. I pulled out and cleaned up my all-time favorite glasses (the ones that I purchased in Israel when I was 16). I decided to make personal pizzas. It was going to be perfect.

But when the pizza came out of the oven and I took a look and the crust, I knew something serious was amiss. I pulled a bit off from the corner to taste-test, and I knew that I had made a serious error. It tasted old: medicinal and starchy. Not the kind of flavor to spark intimate feelings for a serious date night.

He didn’t believe me. He gave me that infinitely-patient look that says, “Oh, woman, you’re too hard on yourself.” He took a taste, wrinkled his nose, and agreed that I was right.

“I can head out,” he offered, “and pick up something for dinner.”

I heard him, but was unwilling to listen. Of all the nights to fail in the kitchen, date night was not the night. And I didn’t want to spend money out when he had just recently purchased so many great things for us to eat. I just needed to think around the problem. The toppings were good; too good to stay on top of the crust. Sausage and pepperoni. Zucchini and basil freshly picked from the garden earlier in the day. I didn’t want to let them go. But should I mix them in with pasta? Pull out bread to make pizza toast?

And then I remembered.

He had gotten some Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for us to make pigs in blankets later in the week. I could section off the toppings and use them as filling instead.

15 minutes dinner was officially done.
Date night saved.

Sampling at Tyler’s

Dinner with Mom at Tyler’s in Apex, NC…again.

Tyler’s seems to be our go-to lately. It’s close by, offers great food and friendly staff and there’s beer. Lots and lots of beer.

(And if you check-in on Foursquare, you can enjoy a FREE order of Garlic Fries. Totally yummy and you can vanquish any hint of vampires with your breath afterward. What’s not to love?!

Anyone in the mood for a kiss?)

Meet the lineup: Great Lakes Imperial Smoked Porter (Ohio), 21st Amendment Sneak Attack (California), Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted (Scotland)

I love taking time to peruse through the various beers that Tyler’s has available in the moment – and depending on my mood, I will read through each description carefully and then pick one, or I will pester the Waiter/Waitress with questions and/or ask for a recommendation. Some are better than others with their responses.

And this evening, our Waiter offered some really great – and diverse – suggestions, and even offered to let me sample: try before I buy, as it were.

The samples rocked. And thankfully, there was enough in each glass that mom and I both enjoyed a couple mouthfuls to really get a feel and taste for the brews. (Although her lower lip did tremble a bit after the Porter…she was NOT a fan.)

I choose the Sneak Attack, which was spiced with Cardamom. Aromatic and full of flavor, I knew that it would make me happy with every sip.

The Porter was heavy on the smoked taste…serious bacon flavor – a little too heavy for my mood this evening. And the Harviestoun…well, my favorite part was the title, Bitter & Twisted.

Not pictured: Dogfish Head Theobroma

The sample of Theobroma came out a little later as the beer conversation developed. He was kind enough to bring out a sample for each of us. Think Aztec cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, chilies, honey and annatto in a 9% ABV light-colored beer.

It totally threw me for a loop.
It was delicious.

I’m ordering it next time (with fingers crossed that it will still be on the menu). You should join me!

Oh, Wait. I’ll Eat The Spinach.

I took the kid to Subway this evening. I had a gift card and totally felt like eating out and not paying for it.

He ordered an Italian BMT with spinach – and then decided to eat two leaves and pull the rest out. I asked him to please not waste his food and to consider the fact that his spicy meats were covering up the spinach “taste” anyway.

He didn’t think too much of my idea until I mentioned the fact that I had gotten us 3 cookies to share for dessert, but if he wasn’t going to eat all of his dinner…

He tells me, “Mom, I’ll eat just one more,” and pops a leaf of spinach into his mouth.

I answered back, “And that’s just enough for one bite of cookie,” and I broke off a small (SMALL) piece of cookie and placed it in front of him.

His response: “Aw, man…”

And suddenly, my idea of the spinach being “lost” in his sandwich anyway was utter brilliance, and it was gone just like that.

This kid…he just still doesn’t appreciate who he’s dealing with.

Stuck in the “Lost” Place

This post is the dark, twisted reality of fear that creeps into my existence with Autism.

It’s a rabbit trail from the post: The Most Important Life Skill.

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It’s probably one of the scariest feelings I’ve faced as a mother – knowing that my kid is stuck in a “lost” place, knowing that he’s trapped within the confines of his mind and struggling to convey what he’s thinking, knowing that balling his fists and clenching his teeth are among his only outlets in this “lost” place.

I’ve told him a hundred times, balled fists and clenched teeth don’t really give me the details that I need to help him.

But it doesn’t matter. He may hear me in the “lost” place, but he doesn’t understand. It’s very much like when Queen Elinor, after she’s been turned into a bear, slips out of her own mind and into the mind of a real bear (from Brave).

Merida loses her for those moments, and it’s scares her to think that she’s lost her mother to the creature within.

I know that fear.

Want to see inside my naked soul? I’m scared to death that during one of these “lost” moments, I will indeed lose my son to the creature within. Autism will take him into the darkness and I will be left with balled hands, clenched fists and eyes that don’t recognize me.

And, sadly, I know this fear affects me when I’m working to help him get “unstuck.” I’m louder, more shrill. I react, and then have to apologize. I am at my most unimpressive form of human nature. I am a mom scared about losing her child, trying to help her child overcome the battle in his own mind, within his own nature.

Of all the times not to be functioning at my best, and yet this is who I am when trying desperately to reach him, to find him in the “lost” place and encourage him to fight his way back.

And don’t for a second think it’s an easy, Skip to My Lou through the woods. No, darling. It’s much harder and more difficult than that. When I look at him, fighting to come back from the “lost” place, I know that for him, it would just be easier to stay, to give up, to give in – to just be done.

And knowing that I’m his cheerleader?! Me: a desperate, shrill, often reactive, probably disheveled woman pretending not to be on the verge of possibly losing her son…well, maybe at this point you can understand my fear of the whole situation.

[And let me also say – before the darkness becomes overwhelming – these are among the moments I’m thankful that I’m a woman of faith. I need to believe that there’s someone bigger, more capable, more loving than I am who will help guide me through these parenting trials, give me the patience that I so desperately need to rise above my own selfishness and fill me with a heart of unquenchable love for this little boy in my care.]

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