Monday, January 28, 2013

Giveaway!: Adoption-Themed Children's Book

This past Christmas, my mom gave my girls a fabulous new book called Penguin and Pinecone by Selina Yoon.     

Selina's book has quickly become a favorite in our household for an unexpected reason:  it clearly illustrates the love a birth parent has for his/her biological child who was placed for adoption.

In summary, the book is about a penguin who discovers a pinecone. He then learns that the pinecone cannot flourish being in the penguin's environment which is cold and snowy, so Penguin lovingly decides to take Pinecone on a journey to a forest. Penguin creates a "cozy nest of the softest pine needles" for Pinecone, puts a scarf around it, and leaves the pinecone, saying, "You will always be in my heart." Time passes and Penguin decides to return to Pinecone to see if Pinecone had "grown big and strong like Penguin." It turns out that Pinecone had grown into a tall, healthy tree. Penguin and Pinecone happily hug and play together before separating again.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Selina. 

Rachel: Salina, tell me about yourself, personally and professionally.  

Salina:  I am a wife and mother of two young boys. My husband is a painter and an art instructor at a college. I work at home as a book designer, format engineer, author and illustrator. It's a long list of things,… but all of these skills are necessary to create novelty books which I am most experienced with, with about 200 published titles. Picture books are actually quite new for me

R:  I was given a copy of your children's book Penguin and Pinecone: A Friendship Story this past Christmas, and I was surprised that though the book isn't deemed an adoption-themed book, it features strong adoption themes. Did you intend, when writing and illustrating the book, to hint at adoption?

S:  The short answer is no, not at all.

In fact, when I first thought of making a pine cone a character in the book, I really wondered if my agent would support the idea. It's brown and prickly, and not very cute. (The scarf helps, don't you think?) Could I possibly pull off showing any kind of love and affection between a pine cone and a penguin and make it believable? That was the big question. But my children would remind me that this isn't as far fetched as it seems. My kids would bring home little objects… like a sea shell, a rock, and once even a pine cone, and name it (usually, the name was simply the object's name with a "y" at the end… Shell-y, Rock-y, Pinecone-y), then keep it safe and warm in a box with a little scrap of fleece over it. So this reassured me that a child's natural sensibilities to love something was not limited to cute, furry things.

I selected a pine cone (and not some other random object) to be Penguin's friend for several reasons. I wanted an object that wasn't necessarily cute. It's not fluffy, or fuzzy, or bright. It's not soft, or cuddly, or even alive. (well… mine shivers and sneezes, of course!) A pine cone looks like something one would leave on the ground. But not Penguin. A child often has a way of seeing the beauty in simple things.

And Penguin has the heart of a child. So in my mind, I was thinking that children would identify with Penguin. It was later when it occurred to me that this may relate to adoptive families, and the child is actually Pinecone.

Another reason that I selected a pine cone is that it had the ability to transform into something new. I can show much time passing by simply showing a pine cone and then later a tree in a matter of a few pages.

One last important reason was its environment. I wanted the object to come from a home unfamiliar to Penguin, someplace uniquely different. Penguin's world is cold (white and blue). And Pinecone's world is warm (yellow, brown and green). These contrasting worlds emphasized their differences further, but they were connected by their love.

R:  During the course of the book, Penguin and Pinecone are separated twice. The first time is when both are younger (and smaller, symbolizing that growth will take place), and then again when both are grown. How is the first separation different than the second?
S:  The first separation is harder and sadder. There's uncertainty, fear, and a feeling of loss. I think readers can sense this sadness when Penguin leaves Pinecone in the forest in the nest he made out of the softest pine needles he could find surrounded by rocks placed in the shape of a heart. Penguin doesn't say much, but we feel his love and his sorrow.

The second separation is sad, but there's no longer uncertainty or fear. The reunion brings joy, relief and even hope for the future. Penguin sees what a beautiful and magnificent tree that Pinecone had become, and with this knowledge, he is happy and satisfied. He's helped this little Pinecone become what it had meant to be. Pinecone has a place in this world… much like Penguin has on the ice. He goes back home, but he keeps Pinecone in his thoughts. They may be physically apart, but they remain together in their hearts.

R:  My favorite part of the book has to be the end. You write, "Penguin and Pinecone may have been far apart, but they always stayed in each other's hearts. When you give grows." Though I picked up on the book's adoption themes, given my own situation as an adoptive mother, your book could be applied to any number of life situations. Please share your hopes for Penguin and Pinecone. Which friendships, as the subtitle suggests, or relationships, do you think this book will apply to?

S:  I think what makes Penguin and Pinecone's story so special is that everyone connects with the story in a different way based on their own personal experiences. At first, I connected with Penguin as my own son. He's quite loving and nurturing. I imagined how he'd go through great lengths to keep his friend safe. And then I connected to Penguin as a parent--- and the sacrifices we make for our children for their well being. Loving them means we'll have to let them go one day--- to college, or wherever their adult lives take them. I hope Penguin's story brings comfort to those who's loved ones are far away…. whetherthrough adoption, your family or friends who live out of state or have moved away, or your husband who is overseas.
R:   Finally, what is coming up for you? And how can my readers connect with you and your work?
S:  Penguin has more stories to tell! The next book in this series is PENGUIN on VACATION, releasing in April. This, too, relates to long-distance friendships, but with a different message. And I have just completed Penguin's third book titled PENGUIN in LOVE, for release in Spring 2014. Penguin will have a love interest in this one, just in time for Valentine's Day.
Connect to Penguin's blog
Connect to Salina's webpage

One winner (US resident only) will receive a copy of Penguin and Pinecone.

Entry dates:  1/28-2/1 (at noon, central standard time)

Ways to enter:  You may enter to win up to five times (one entry per comment)

1:  Check out all of Salina's books and leave a comment telling me which one might be your next purchase.

2:  Post  Penguin and Pinecone's book trailer on your FB wall and leave a comment sharing that you did so.  

3:  Share Salina's website on your FB wall and leave a comment sharing you did so.

4:  Leave a comment stating what has been the most diffcult "goodbye" you have faced on your adoption journey thus far.

5:  Share this giveaway via e/m, FB, or Twitter; leave a comment sharing that you did so.

The winner will be posted on Feb 1; winner is chosen via; winner is responsible for e-mailing me his/her address within 48 hours to claim his/her prize (whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com).  If the winner doesn't message me within 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Newly Discovered Adoption-Themed Films

In my book due out very, very soon, I list gobs of resources, including films, which highlight adoption.   Recently, I had the pleasure of viewing a few films I wanted to share with you---hopefully to keep you entertained during these colder months.  

I've always been a Dolly Parton fan, starting with my favorite film of hers Steel Magnolias, and recently, while DVRing some films to watch during this LONG winter, I found The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.   The description seemed quite interesting (11 year old girl learns she's adopted and grows to believe Dolly Parton is her biological mother.  She runs away from home to a Dolly concert, hoping to discover the truth about her adoption).   This is an excellent film for adults, and I think teenage kids would also find it fabulous.  It reminds me a lot of Juno in its acting and filming style, though more serious and not as witty as Juno.      

I also found Oranges and Sunshine.    This film is about the thousands of children who were deported (stolen from their biological parents) and placed in abusive situations (slave-like conditions) and whose stories are discovered by a social worker.  The social worker makes it her mission to tell the truth about the deportations and reunite the adult "orphans" with their biological families.     Deeply moving film, and based on true events.   There is a lot of (detailed) discussion of abuse, so I don't recommend it for children or young teens.

Finally, I've only partially watched The Kid Who Loved Christmas.  It's an older film and features an African American couple who is adopting a young man from foster care.  While in the process of adopting the boy, tragedy strikes the family.     There are some famous actors in the film:  Vanessa Williams, Sammy Davis Jr., and Della Reese.    The film is rather cheesy at times, but the message is still strong.

I recommend ordering these films from your local library, and sometimes if your library doesn't carry a film, they will purchase it for the library system upon patron request. 

Please share what your favorite adoption-themed films are! 

Monday, January 21, 2013

BABY MAKES THREE! (and Happy MLK Day!)

I had scheduled this blog post some time ago....but I have a little something to add to it....

On my birthday, our son was born!   Yes, that's two girls and one boy, each just 2 years apart. 


We are tired and joyful.  :)   Our girls are WONDERFUL big sisters, holding their brother, kissing him, pulling his binky in and out and in and out of his mouth, taking his hat on and off.

I cannot believe we have THREE children.    I know some of you with larger families are laughing right now----just wait, Rachel.   :)   

We've been asked how we can adopt SO many kids (three is "so many"?) and "are you done yet?"  Finally, we get, "You FINALLY got a boy."    First, love doesn't divide or deplete with more children, it grows and multiplies.     And secondly, I have no idea if we are "done" yet or not.    That's up to God.    He's the one who prompted us to adopt again so soon, who got our paperwork to us just in time, who guided us through every step, who is blessing us now.     We are thrilled to have a son, but as with both our previous adoptions, we were open to either sex and a child of any race.   God chooses our child for us, and I'd say He's done a pretty fantastic job.


So now, I've got three little ones and a book to finish (soooo close).  

My joy is full!


And now, the original blog post.

I've always had a slight connection to MLK because we share the same birthday (January 15).  :)

I hope you take a moment today to watch, with your family, MLK's famous speech.   It's deeply moving and thought-provoking. 

I'm so thankful for those who fought for my children long before they were ever born. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Building Creativity

As a child, I spent many hours illustrating books I wrote, arranging my funky eraser and pencil collections, using stencils, coloring, creating with sand and water, and much more.   The possibilities were endless!    I am certain that the abundance of free time and a few supplies helped foster my creative side.

As winter continues (which can be rather harsh, dreary, unpredictable, and draining here in the Midwest), consider evaluating the art supplies in your home and purchasing some items that not only boost creativity, but diversity as well.

My girls each received a box of Crayola's Multicultural Crayons for Christmas.     The colors include white, peaches, browns, and black.     Finally, your child doesn't have to choose between sheer black, bright white, and "peach."     As your children use these Crayons, you can read stories such as The Crayon Box That Talked and Shades of People.    

I'm a huge fan of Eeboo products, especially their story cards and matching games, especially this one:  I Never Forget a Face.    We play with the cards face up since my girls are only 4 and 2.   We talk about the countries the individuals are from, and I can even share with them my limited exposure to foreign language.      The Eeboo website even has a category labeled "multicultural" which displays all their diverse products.  

I also love Melissa and Doug products which are offering increasingly diverse art supplies like sticker books, coloring pages, magnetic dress-up dolls, and more.     For great deals, visit their online outlet store, buy some of their products at Kohl's (with a coupon, of course!), or at stores like Marshalls and TJMaxx (where I typically find the best prices). 

If you, like many of us, are feeling a bit financially strapped after Christmas, consider all the free or very-cheap supply options.  
  • Save cardboard boxes for stacking/building or art projects.  Cardboard makes an excellent canvas for bean-art.   Simply buy a bag of mixed beans, dump loads of glue on a piece of cardboard, and create your own mosaic.    Another option?  We had a huge appliance box.   We unfolded it out, put it on our basement floor, and colored on it whenever we felt like it.   It was large enough that many kids could color it at one time.      I also found that our local dollar store carries brown paper on a roll which can be equally as fun for kids.
  • Anything can become fun.   Wrapping paper or toilet paper cardboard inner-rolls, bubble wrap (stomping?), a long piece of ribbon (my girls love each holding an end and running around the house with it), yarn (the other day my kids and their friend took a whole thing of yarn and wrapped the interior of the house and each other in it; and all it took for clean up was a pair of scissors and a little time; we then cut it into little pieces to make play spaghetti).    
  • Clean out your kitchen drawers or office and find loads of items that can be used to craft.    I created a sensory box for my kids some time ago, and it's one of their favorite activities.  Simply gather odd and end ribbon, twine, jar lids, fabric, etc. and pile into a box.    It's awesome for young kids to explore different textures, and older kids will enjoy utilizing the materials in a variety of ways, including dress-up.    
  • Dress up.    Ask your friends and family to search their closets for unused clothing and accessories that is child-friendly.   If their children have outgrown Halloween costumes, flower girl dresses, etc., consider those as well.      Wash all the items, inspect them for safety, and then place in a box.   My girls love being "like Daddy" and wearing his ties.
  • Hit the dollar store.    Art supplies, though not always consistently available, are considerably cheaper.   Coloring books tend to be just $1, finger paint for $3, and teacher supplies (which my oldest loves) for $1-$3.      

For ideas on staying crafty all winter long, check out one of my favorite blogs:  The Artful Parent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happy B-day to Moi!

I'm the big 3-1 today!  

I feel like two people.  

One of me is a kid. I love to do art projects, dream, do yoga in the grass on a sunny day, visit the zoo, drink hot chocolate, nap, read, dance like crazy to "Call Me Maybe," and paint my toenails Superman blue (with glitter).    I still think some really immature jokes are funny.   I get bored easily.   If I could, I would eat donuts and cheese fries every single day.   I love stickers and glittery Hallmark cards.    I LOVE the beach.   I like poetry written for kids (none of this stuff we English teachers are supposed to like).    Occasionally, a student will still tell me I look SO much like Mandy Moore or Julia Stiles.  

The other of me is this adult woman .   I don't know when that transition happened.   What, what?    I am a wife, mother, college teacher, writer.  I own a house.   I cook and wash dishes and pay bills and fold laundry.  I stress about illness and finances and balancing being a mom/wife with being an individual.   I facilitate an adoptive mom group (which is made up of real grown-up women).    I like to read about Black history and adoption and nutrition.   I intentionally exercise every day.   I roll my eyes at most of the crap "kids these days" find amusing (meaning 99% of what is on MTV---Teen Mom being the exception because I LOVE that show).    I drink dry, red wine (because it's healthy, not because I love the taste).    I shop in the women's section (so-long Juniors....) of the store because the clothes fit me better.     Some people call me "ma'am" at the store!   (WHAT?!?)   And sometimes I don't get carded when I buy wine (are you kidding me???).    I drive a minivan.  (Did seriously just share that?)   I care about politics and policies.  I research vaccines and schooling methods.    I become more and more like my mom everyday (which isn't a bad thing). 

2013 is full of possibilities for our family.  We are waiting to adopt a third child.  My book is coming out.    We're enjoying our new house and are making gradual and fabulous changes to it.   We're learning more about finances via Dave Ramsey.   We are becoming more active in our church.   My adoptive mom group is growing by the month. 

I'm incredibly, incredibly blessed.      It's overwhelming. 

So today, I'm going to celebrate.   And reflect.  And act like a little bit of both my kid-self and my adult-self.     And I hope to never lose either of those, because both are fabulous, necessary, and oh-so-fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More "What Not to Say" Sayings

Adoptive families frequently have interactions with those who are can't figure out the right thing to say, so they either blurt out an adoption cliche or stereotype (to appear as though they understand adoption). 

So, here's a list of a few things I'd prefer people do not say to my family or in general:

1:  "Biracial" or "Mixed" "kids are sooooo cute."     Um, ok.      So white kids aren't "sooooo cute" too?   And what about African American children?   Colorism, what what?

2:  "Children who are adopted are special."  All children are special for who they are, not because of how they came to be part of a family.

3:  To continue on the previous comment:  "Children who are adopted are special because they were chosen."    Here's the deal.   Adoptive parents adopt because they want more kids.    It's actually a selfish decision to adopt (and I don't mean selfish in a bad way, just an honest way) in most cases.   The choice was too adopt.   The child, more than likely, had no choice in being placed for adoption and the family he/she was adopted into.    Additionally, children shouldn't be burdened with feeling guilt or obligation to be thankful to their adoptive family or be pushed to feel they have to earn the love they've been blessed with because of their "chosen" status.

I know many people don't know what to say when they encounter an adoptive family.  My advice:  keep it short, genuine, and simple.

I recently read in a magazine that when given a compliment, women should simply say "thank you" instead of dismissing the compliment or explaining why they don't deserve attention or recognition.  This advice can easily be applied to adoption.    


And don't lean on stereotypes or cliches.    

It's like when something horrible happens to someone and a Christian says, "It must be the Lord's will."   Um, not helpful.     Or, "Everything happens for a reason."  Not comforting.  

Adoptive families really are just regular families.  The parents wanted to be parents and did so via adoption.  There are a number of reasons people adopt.     No two adoptions are alike.  

Think before you speak.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Winter BLAHS!

Christmas is over, but winter is FAR from over, especially here in the Midwest.     You might be dreading putting away the Christmas decor (no more sparkly-fun?) and putting yourself on both a physical and financial diet.      However, there is hope!  

With two little ladies at home, I'm always looking for ways to make the winter months more pleasant for all of us.    Here are some fabulous, new books to inspire you:

Show Me a Story:  40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children's Storytelling  (excellent variety of ideas to inspire story-telling and sharing; fab illustrations!)

Fed Up with Frenzy:  Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World  (love the "slow parenting" concept)

Unbored:  The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun  (great for grade school age kids)

Julie Andrews' Treasury For All Seasons:  Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year   (gorgeous illustrations, excellent diversity---subjects and holidays and celebrations, great for a span of ages and interests)

Other ideas for making winter more pleasant:

1:  Get out all the kids' toys.  Yep, all of them.   Now, divide the toys into three piles, making sure to have a variety of toys in each pile.  For example, don't put all the puzzles or all the toy cars into one pile.    Once you have your three piles, place each pile into a large bin or basket.  Rotate the toys weekly, meaning, only have one bin out at a time.    If you have a range of ages in your household, be sure to make sure the "common toys" are safe for younger ones.  Older ones can keep their special toys and smaller-parts toys in their rooms.      Getting out a new bin of toys is very exciting for my little ones and cuts down dramatically on toy-clutter and toy-boredom.    Too many toys is overwhelming for young ones.

2:  Use that unused space!     For example, we have a HUGE basement, but it's not finished which means it's not the most inspirational place to play.  However, with some leftover carpet pieces (cleverly pieced together), we turned 1/3 of our basement into a play area of the kids.    All the big toys go downstairs like the mini-trampoline, the basketball goal, the Barbie house, etc.    It's usually a disaster down there, but I don't care because we can come upstairs and our guests never see the mess!   An unfinished basement is also awesome for ride-on toys, especially when it's very hot or cold outside or it's raining.   

Where is your unused space?   It can even be a walk-in closet.  Or can you have kids room-share and then turn a bedroom into a play room?   Do you have a home with two living rooms?  Convert one into a play area.    Get creative!   

Our new home had a "bonus" room intended to be a dining room, but we didn't want to eating areas, especially since the second room was closed off from the family living area.  We converted the dining room into what we call the Art Room.  It's painted in crazy colors, features our collection of black girl artwork, and hosts a toy kitchen, all the girls' board books, and tons of art supplies.  We threw in a side-of-the-road-coffee-table (someone was throwing a solid wood, but scratched up coffee table away, so we snagged it) and mismatched chairs---perfect for art projects!   

3:  Make a list of possibilities and display it somewhere.     When the kids say, "I'm bored," go to the list!   On our list includes:

---visit the dollar store
---get hot chocolate at the bookstore
---go to the library (free!)
---arrange a play date
---visit the children's museum ($50 a year gets us a family membership!)
---have a dance party
---do yoga (we have these yoga cards which are fab!)
---make a music video
---do an art project
---play dress-up
---play with water toys (like the Aqua Doodle Mat)
---paint (which is a BIG deal in our house)
---picnic in the living room

Also, for stay-at-home parents,

1:  Search Facebook for a local swap-and-sell page and start selling unused, unwanted stuff.   Winter is a great time to purge and organize!   (Think of getting rid of all those unwanted Christmas gifts!) Or, start pricing your yard-sale items for spring.

2:  Arrange a swap party where you and your friends can swap unused, unwanted items, and then donate all the leftovers!

3:  Do charity work.  I know this can be very challenging with little ones at home, but maybe it's a simple as making cards and mailing them to those who need encouragement.    Collect magazines from friends and family and take them to a local nursing home.    Make a meal for a foster family.    Don't think you have to do something major or devote 20 hours a week to make a difference.

4:  Rearrange the furniture.   If you are sick of your great indoors looking as it does, change it up!   The kids will like helping you move furniture around.    Painting and decluttering are the cheapest ways to make a huge difference in the look of a room.

5:  Learn something new.   Order books from your library on a subject you've always wanted to learn more about such as photography, yoga, nutrition, etc.

6:  Write articles.  If you are an expert on a subject, start pitching article ideas to online and print publications.  A great way to get started building your writing resume is to write guest blog posts for free.  Once you get a few under your belt, start pitching to smaller publications.   As you get jobs, being pitching to major publications.     I have made as much as $300 on articles that have taken me an hour or less to write.   :)      Just make sure you LOVE writing and that you are actually good at it before putting forth the effort.       Another option is to start a blog.

Do share!  How do you bust winter boredom?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hair, oh Hair! (And Skin, Too)

Happy 2013, readers!

I've written about hair off and on in the past, mostly because Black hair is a big deal.

Currently, we have a good hair routine in place that I'd like to share with you.    And in my book due out this month, I'll share even more hair and skin adventures, tips, and resources, including my favorite hair blog (where I wrote a guest post in 2012). 

Washing & Rinsing:  We wash the girls' hair about every three weeks with Kinky Curly's Come Clean Shampoo which we get at Target.   Alternatively, I also co-wash (conditioner wash) their hair with Trader Joe's Tea Tree Conditioner (which is about 3x the price on Amazon as it is in-store, but if you don't have a TJ's near you, you might have to purchase it online).     We rinse the girls hair about every week and a half with a mix of 2T of apple cider vinegar and 8 oz of water (this removes product build-up)---as recommended by CHVC blog.    

De-tangling and Moisturizing:    I created a mix of oils (olive, jojoba, vitamin E) and aloe vera juice (which you can drink, by the way, to relieve constipation) in a spray bottle to dampen the girls' hair.  Then I moisturize with my own mix of shea butter, coconut oil, and almond essential oil (our scent of choice) to their hair.    It also helps their hair stay nice and shiny!     I get the jojoba and vitamin E oil from Trader Joe's, the shea butter from a local beauty supply store, the coconut oil from Wal-Mart, the olive oil from Aldi, and the almond essential oil from Rainbow Meadow

Product Organization:  I purchased a shower caddy in clearance at Kohl's (meant for college students to haul their bath products to and from their dorm showers) which works perfectly for us!   It's made of durable plastic, so it can easily be cleaned and can carry the weight of many products.   This is where we keep their detangling and rattail combs, rubber bands (sorted by bright colors and dark brown), clippers (for removing rubber bands), clips (to hold excess hair while styling), etc.   I love that this item has a handle!   Plus, I can keep the caddy beside me as I style, and because it doesn't have holes in the bottom, if a product should leak or spill, there's no mess on my furniture.

Accessory Organization:  We sort the girls' barrettes by type and size in recycled applesauce and jelly jars.   Because they are clear, I can send the girls to get the correct jar while I'm in the middle of styling.  :)        Bows and headbands go on our homemade hair organizer which is simply a canvas with chosen fabric stapled over it snugly and ribbon-of-choice stapled over the fabric.     This looks beautiful and can be hung up or can lean against a wall in a closet.   

Styling:  My go-to style that has dramatically impacted Miss E's hair growth is two-strand twisting.   Baby E has fine, shiny, long and non-kinky hair, so it doesn't hold twist styles.   I'm still trying to figure out what works best for her.    We still love rocking 'fros occasionally!

Skin:   Miss E has eczema, so we struggle to keep her skin healthy.   #1 rule:  find out what causes the eczema and eliminate it or decrease it.  For Miss E, it's milk.     #2:  short, lukewarm baths that occur 1-2 times a week in the winter.   #3:  healthy diet.   #4:  moisturize.  After much trial and error, we use Avalon Organics Aloe Lotion purchased from Vitacost online.    I add a few drops of almond essential oil for scent.     In the tub, the girls wash with our babysitter's homemade peppermint soap which contains no crappy ingredients

Overall,  my philosophy is this:  your skin is your biggest organ, and it's porous.  Why put things on it, which your body essentially absorbs and "digests," that are known to cause cancer?    When we think about how many products so many Black children are laden with, due to their specialized skin and hair needs, isn't it important to make sure they are "digesting" healthy products?