Playing It Forward with Step2 this Holiday Season!

One of the things I’ve loved most about working with Step2 for the last four years is what a generous and genuine company they are. And by that, I mean I’ve seen firsthand many, many times how they place the highest value in real connection and bringing families together.

I was really hoping to continue a fun little project that Step2 created a few years ago called Play It Forward for the holiday season, and I was not disappointed this year! Not only did Step2 donated several new turbo coupe interceptor foot-to-floor police cars to the Streetsboro, Ohio police department, along with a check for $10,000 – they then gave us bloggers free reign to choose our own recipients to “play it forward” to this holiday season!

I’ve had the extreme honor of getting to choose recipients the last couple of years to benefit Step2’s generosity – in 2014, we gifted an amazing Thomas the Tank Engine toddler bed to a local nonprofit that helps provide housing for low-income families, and in 2015, I gave a cute table and chairs set to a friend who was having a tough season, for her kids’ new playroom.

When this year rolled around, I was so thrilled when Step2 said we could again choose a toy to gift to whomever we wanted. As in past years, I deliberated a bit and asked Evan to weigh in. And it didn’t take long to settle on a dear friend of mine. I asked her what her kids might like most…and they were so excited to choose the new Jumbo Art Easel!

My friend Emily is one of those rare people who believes in and looks for the best in everyone. She is always willing to listen and learn from others, and she has such a giving heart. (If you’ve read my book, you got to read about Emily’s big heart and desire for deep connection in Chapter 18!) And she is always quick to lift others up – I have so many messages from Emily with words of affirmation and encouragement and kindness.

Not only does she devote her love to her family, but she is a teacher at an alternative high school and she is constantly looking for ways to engage her students and get them dreaming bigger, working harder and thinking beyond themselves. Each year, she applies for an educational grant (School and Community Outreach by Educators Grants, or SCORE, with the Illinois Education Association) to involve her students with a community project…Several times last year with the grant money, Emily was able to take a group of girls from her classes to serve dinner at a local homeless shelter for women and children.

So we were thrilled to put this awesome toy together for her son, who is 3, and daughter, who is 6 months – such perfect ages to enjoy creating with this Art Easel for a long time! Brenna was getting over a bout of sickness on delivery day, so she stayed in her PJs while Connor and took this to surprise Emily’s family with.

Check out that excitement!

I’m truly so happy to be able to “Play It Forward” to others who are making the world a better place 🙂 Merry Christmas, Emily and family!

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

What I’m Into (November 2016)

November crept in this year, turning from unseasonably warm to decently chilly over night. We enjoyed the lasting warmth, taking full advantage by playing outside as much as possible! Then we finally got out hats and thick coats this week – just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving.

We’ve been really enjoying these past couple of months. We’re settled into a school routine, and feeling much more active in our little community as the kids get more involved with activities. Connor’s playing basketball and loving Cub Scouts. Both kids got great reports at parent-teacher conferences recently, and at Brenna’s IEP annual review, the special ed coordinator mentioned a spring meeting to discuss her transition into kindergarten. I nearly started crying on the spot! Not because of the thought of letting go for all-day school…but because I still get so emotional thinking about how far she’s come and where she is today, especially around this time of year. Brenna will turn five next month, and it’s a birthday milestone that is hitting me hard.

I haven’t written much about what we’ve been reading, loving and recent favorite moments lately…so here we go!


After hitting a bit of a reading slump last month, I’ve found some really good reads to get into. One of my favorites has been Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, which is a memoir that tells of JD’s childhood in the Appalachian region and how he eventually made his way to Yale Law School despite a lot of odds stacked against him. I’ve also just finished and enjoyed Deep Work by Cal Newport and the novel 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

And now I’m in the middle of some future releases that I have the honor of getting to read and endorse; I can’t wait to share these upcoming books with you!

As for the kids, we are in the thick of the Cam Jansen series, which Connor discovered thanks to his 1st grade teacher and now loves. Brenna’s preferences lie with the Berenstain Bears right now – always classic 🙂

“Our primary problem as Christian women is not that we lack self-worth, not that we lack a sense of significance or purpose. It’s that we lack awe.” This post by Jen Wilkin is a really poignant reminder about seeking to marvel at God and to love our neighbor rather than constantly trying to build ourselves up.

Our kids needs us – just not always all to themselves. I love this post from my friend Ginger Newingham reminding us not to forget about our own passions and mission as moms…because our kids need to see us serving and loving all around us.

“Quite simply, we don’t want our parental worries to hinder her from living boldly and experiencing new feelings and activities. We have realized well-meaning parents sometimes limit their children because of their own fears; instead, we hope to allow our daughter to amaze us because of the person she is and can become.” I wrote an article for a site called Headspace about what our family has learned about not letting “What Ifs” run our lives….


Getting in a lot of time outdoors before the cold weather hit – with Minnie helping to stay cozy of course!

The excitement of seeing my book in the New Release section of the Arlington Heights (IL) library!img_7020.jpg

Brenna was so excited to go to Daddy’s family’s hunting cabin last weekend…but naturally, she was most thrilled with her themed ensemble! We call this look “Deer Season Chic” 🙂

Recently, I signed, sealed and delivered (OK, more like packaged up and mailed off) an incredible 260 copies of my book that a fellow ichthyosis mom purchased as gifts for her children’s school staff for Christmas – what an amazing blessing! I’m just so grateful for loving support like this!

What an honor to get to share our family’s story during the Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon benefiting our local children’s hospital. Every year, we look forward to this event – and we were beyond excited to hear that the radiothon raised more than $175,000 this year! Connor and Brenna both got to talk on air – Connor read off the number to call in, and Brenna encouraged listeners to “Call now to help kids like me!”

Evan and I also got a fancy night out at a philanthropy dinner for the hospital!

Happy Thanksgiving this week to you all! May you enjoy the laughter of family and loved ones, and peaceful days in front of the cozy fire on this long holiday weekend!
My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.