Easter Basket Fill-Up

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It’s official: The Peeps are out, so it’s time to get a head start on Easter. If you are a regular reader here, you know that curating lists of cool tiny shit is my jam. I take this job seriously and spend far too much time searching high and low for the coolest stuff kids will love that stands out from the regular ‘ol trinkets lining the store aisles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff–Dash is completely infatuated with Chapsticks, so he’s getting a pre-packaged plastic egg full of Bonne Bells, and he’s going to love it. I love filling baskets with treasures that will last and things my kids will really love and play with, so I dig, dig, dig for the good stuff. Also, I have a thing for children’s literature, I love to tuck a new book in my kids’ Easter basket, and this list gives me the excuse to gush about my newest kid book loves. With no further ado, here’s my Top 20 Picks for Easter Basket Goodies:

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1. Over and Under the Pond. Published just this week, this book is perfect for spring. A work of art and a magic combination of author and illustrator, this follow-up book to Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt disguises a wealth of information as sheer poetry. From “light-dappled leaves on shore” to drowsy turtles and scuttling crayfish, this story paints a picture from sunrise to sunset of all the happenings hidden in pond life and is a joy to read out loud.

2. Love Is. With sweet illustrations and simple but powerful text, this book describes the cycle of love in motherhood through the story of a little girl who finds a tiny duckling, raises it and eventually has to let it go. Try and not cry with your kids snuggled next to you–their feet poking out of footie jammies they’re too quickly outgrowing–while you read this part: “Love is nudging, gently tugging, coaxing baby from the nest. It’s getting to the edge and hoping, letting nature do the rest.”

3. Little People, Big Dreams: Frida Kahlo. If you don’t know this series, you need to. The stories of all the great thinkers and dreamers and doers of the past, presented in kid form, with fun illustrations and the important lessons highlighted: “Frida Kahlo taught the world to wave goodbye to bad things and say ‘Viva la vida…’ ‘Live life.'”

4. The Littlest Family’s Big Day. Emily Winfield Martin is one of my favorite children’s authors and illustrators (Have you seen The Wonderful Things You Will Be? Gah!). Long after you read the text on each page of this story, you’ll still be studying the pictures, pointing out every sweet little detail that brings this story to life. Let’s just say there’s a woodland creature party at the end and tiny gnomes are singing campfire songs, squirrels wearing itty bitty hoodies are roasting marshmallows, and a garland of firefly jars lights the scene. I can’t even.

5. Things to Do. This brand new book from Chronicle (Chronicle ALWAYS delivers. Always.) makes me want to be a teacher again. Its poetry and gorgeous soft illustrations makes it perfect to stand alone simply as a favorite book to read out loud, but there’s more–literacy lessons and word patterns and a buffet of beautiful adjectives and juicy verbs that help kids learn how to recognize and write good sentences. A great take on perspective: “Things to do if you are an acorn. Wear a bumpy, round cap and a starched brown coat. Grow, plump, ripen, snap from your stem… Or “Things to do if you are rain. Polka dot sidewalks. Freckle windowpanes. Whoosh down gutter spouts. Gurgle into drains. Patter ’round the porch in slippers of gray.” COME ON. This is beautiful.

Alright, alright, I’ll stop gushing about kids’ books. Moving on…

6. We Go Together Pop-Up Notecards from Chronicle. Technically, it’s still from Chronicle, so we’re blurring the line of books here. This is definitely one of those gifts you get for your kid but kind of hope they forget about it so you can claim ownership. But, for the sake of Easter baskets, let’s say you’re buying these because you know your kid will love them and be more inclined to write sweet notes to their friends and grandparents. Trust me, they will when they see how cool these are. The outside of every notecard begins the same: “We Go Together Like…”, but the real magic lies inside…a pop-up of the cutest pairs–salt & pepper, milk & cookies, coffee & donuts…Adorable.

7. Unicorn Snot. Lainey found this in a cute boutique in Vail, and I pretended to be all “Oh, you don’t need that…” but really I was all “Put that back, you’re getting it in your Easter basket.” It’s a shimmer glitter gel they can put in their hair or on their face to get all Ariana Grande (wait, does Ariana Grande sparkle? I don’t know, but I’m guessing she does because she’s Ariana Grande.). Cool enough on its own, but then they named it “Unicorn Snot” to be even cooler and get more sales.

8. Dress-Up Bath Tub Stickers. Always on the hunt for cool tub toys that are age appropriate, I love these and know Nella will too.

9. Manhattan Toy Baby Doll in Bunny Sleeper. The doll itself is adorable–simple design, sweet little features, cute stripey pajamas. And then they went and tucked her in a bunny sleeper. You win, Manhattan Toy. YOU WIN. Easter baskets are begging for this baby.

10. Rainbow Clip-In Hair Extensions Set. My girls are going to lose their shit. I’m just sayin’. (I’m giving these to them early because we are going to Weeki Wachee next week, and mermaid theaters call for mermaid hair.) They clip in nice and tight with real wig clips. Let’s just say I may have ordered an extra set for….*cough*me*cough*.

11. Wood Tetris Game. This is my recommendation for the year. In fact, I’ve recommended it to three of my friends after we fell in love with it, and they all bought it and came back to me saying, “Oh my God, I love this, I’m buying it for gifts forever now.” Buy two because we have races to see who can finish theirs first, and that’s what makes it fun (Lainey’s getting GOOD). We keep them on our kitchen barstools, and they get used ALL the time. Neighbors who stop by too.

12. Prismacolor Colored Pencil Set. I always love to tuck an art supply in the Easter basket, and these colored pencils are the best of the best. They come in a cute little tin too. Want a cute bunny coloring book to go with it? The cover design on this one is kind of awful, but the coloring pages inside are really cute.

13. Bunny PJ’s. I got these for the kids for spring jammies and then loved them so much (snug, super soft, cute and inexpensive), I called Heidi to tell her about them because friends tell friends about cute kid jammies. Yesterday she called me after they arrived with, “Holy crap, you weren’t kidding. These are amazing!”

14. Hatchable Pet Chick. You can never go wrong with an egg that hatches a fake rubbery chick. Always a win.

15. Folkmanis Chick Finger Puppet and Bunny Finger Puppet. Folkmanis makes the best puppets, and their finger puppets are my favorite–totally lifelike but tiny and cute. Their chick and bunny has “Easter Basket Approved” stamped all over it.

16. Hatley Bird Umbrella for Kids. Welcome spring with a pretty new umbrella for your kids. This one’s covered in vibrant birds, and everything Hatley makes is meant to last (even through Dash).

17. Masha and Her Sisters Board Book. Okay I lied, another book. And it’s from Chronicle too. This one’s good for the littlest tykes–a board book. But the cutest board book ever–a matryoshka doll.

18. KrazyStraws Personalized Name Straw (THE BOMB!). For $5, you can have your kids’ name stretched into a krazy straw (a little more for names over 6 letters). Not only will your kid love it, it makes for some adorable pictures. And if you have multiple kids, you can ditch the name tags on the baskets and have these straws tucked in each one to identify whose basket is whose.

19. Snake-in-a-Can Prank Jelly Beans. So, this was supposed to go in Dash’s Easter basket but got pulled out early because I’m married to a prankster. My mom is visiting, we offered her some jellybeans, and–oh my God, I died. Never not funny. Unless you give it to someone with congestive heart failure. Don’t do that.

20. Beanboozled Jelly Bean Game. No better way to celebrate “Christ is Risen” than deciding if your jelly bean flavor is booger or juicy pear.  This game brings howls of laughter (and possibly gagging) every time we play it. Great for preteen Easter baskets.

*Also, if you’re looking for a book to tuck in the basket of a little bit older kid, we’re reading Flying Lessons right now, a collection of short stories published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. I couldn’t love this book more. It introduces so many wonderful themes and conversation starters on uniqueness from skin color to social class and celebrates how we are all more alike than different.

Shoes for College Dreams

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For the past three years, our friends at Born Shoes have teamed up with us to support Ruby’s Rainbow during our 3-21 Pledge. They fluently speak the language of “what makes a mom feel good ” when it comes to shoes, but they know that what really makes a mom feel good is knowing that there is a world of opportunities and love waiting for her child. For kids with Down syndrome, opportunities past high school have been limited, but we’re working hard to change that.

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When Born Shoes heard about Ruby’s Rainbow, they immediately jumped to action: “How can we help? What can we do? We make beautiful shoes! We’ll give them away to help!”

Today, they join us in supporting this year’s pledge (read yesterday’s post if you need to catch up!). Donate $21 or more to the pledge to help fund scholarships for people with Down syndrome to pursue higher education dreams, and you could win an entire spring wardrobe of Born shoes.

How do you enter? It’s easy.

1. Donate $21 or more to Ruby’s Rainbow’s 3-21 Pledge.
2. Enter your e-mail below.

Kelle Hampton & Ruby’s Rainbow

TWO readers who donate will win an entire spring shoe collection (up to 5 pairs of Born shoes from bornshoes.com online product offering). Can you enter if you donated yesterday? YES! Just enter your e-mail in the giveaway if you’ve already donated $21 or more, and you’re in.

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Psssst…today’s International Women’s Day, and I know some beautiful women with Down syndrome who’ve already sent their applications in to Ruby’s Rainbow. Your donation is a celebration of them, their capabilities, and a step toward “Congratulations, you’ve been awarded a scholarship toward your dreams.”

Dreams Brought to Life Again: 3-21 Pledge

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It’s 10:15 on Saturday night, and Brett and I have just realized we are the only ones left in the restaurant where we came for a date but ended up being seated next to a couple we haven’t seen in years. I taught fifth grade to two of their six children who are now all grown up, and for the past three hours, we’ve talked about the all-consuming task of raising children, specifically the crucial teenage years leading up to the tipping point, when every effort you’ve made–from driving them to soccer games, to following through with those broken curfew consequences–finally pays off and they metamorphose into flight. “Mom? It’s me. I got the job!“I met somebody.” “I got an offer in California. Can you help me move?”

“All these years,” my friend says, “and, boy, do we have stories. But after six kids and only two left to graduate, we’re almost there. They’re out there…making it.”

It starts from the second we fold up that hospital receiving blanket and tuck it in the keepsake box, and it never ends–preparing our kids for this “bigness” that the world holds for them; tucking lessons of discipline and resilience in their belt, granting them experiences, exposing them to the world so that one day when they pack up all the Christmas ornaments I’ve been saving for them all these years and the bedding we bought for their first apartment, hug us goodbye and drive away, we can wave and cry and miss them and yet know that there is more for them out there in the world than there is at home. That all the prerequisite courses of being an adult we gave them prepared them for something bigger.

Rewind to last November. I’m in Washington D.C. with my friend Liz from Ruby’s Rainbow, visiting a group of students with Down syndrome attending George Mason University’s Mason LIFE program for students with intellectual disabilities.

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We have spent an entire day following the students in the program, attending classes with them, visiting their dorm rooms, accompanying them for their weekly independent grocery shopping trip and talking with their professors and student mentors.

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I am inspired and hopeful and yet a little bit emotionally raw, as I often am in these situations, simply because I love these people so much. I love my daughter, I love that she’s opened up my world to the heart of this community, and I feel the love I feel for Nella in every person I meet. And I know behind every student I’m following–watching her raise her hand in class to answer a professor’s question…

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…or compare juice prices at the grocery store…

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…or talk about what she wants to do when she graduates–“disability advocacy policy in the education field,” as my friend Madison tells me…

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…is a mom, like me, who once held her baby, stunned with a diagnosis, wondering if the world we all prepare our kids to be a part of is big enough for her child.

I get to spend time with several of these moms on our trip, stashing advice from the ones who’ve been on this road longer than me and huddling close to the ones who are right there with me. I sit next to one of them–Emily, a new mom of a 9-month old baby girl at home–during an award ceremony where our friend Liz, the founder of Ruby’s Rainbow, is being recognized for her work granting scholarships to people with Down syndrome. Also being recognized is Mark Hubler, a 52-year old man with Down syndrome who attended college on a Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship, graduated last year and is traveling the country as a motivational speaker now. We spent the evening with him the night before at dinner, scooting our chairs closer to him and howling with laughter from the stories he told; and now Emily and I sit side by side in the audience as he walks to the podium to speak. He unfolds his paper while the first slide of his presentation appears on the screen–a black and white photo of a baby with familiar almond eyes in a high chair–and begins.

“When I was born in 1964, doctors told my parents, ‘Put Mark in an institution.’ But my parents said, ‘Heck, no.’ My parents gave me the opportunity to be part of a family.”

I feel it again–all the worries I keep buried and this surge of love for Nella so overwhelming that it damn near breaks me–and tears begin to spill as the screen scrolls from baby photos to teenager photos and finally a picture of Mark, 51 years old, in cap and gown, holding his college diploma, smiling while John Lennon’s “Imagine” plays overhead and Mark bellows into the microphone, “We need real jobs! We can do it! We can do it!” I cannot stop the tears as the room fills with applause and Mark holds his hands in the air in victory, and all I can think is how his mother is somewhere in this crowd watching, and how her heart must be completely wrung out with pride–how in 52 years, you can go from a small world that had no place for your son to a wide and welcoming one because you fought hard and never stopped believing.

Eight years ago, right now, we were getting ready to celebrate our first World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. We celebrated it on the beach, in a dedication ceremony with our friends and family. We cried, lit sky lanterns, set them free into the sky and promised to be the village that Nella needed to thrive. She was tiny. She wore pearls and the gown my mother sewed, and as we held her close to us on the beach that night, we were still sad and scared and overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown.

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We know so much more now, and I cry less because I’m worried and more because I’m grateful–inspired by the possibilities for her life.

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For the last two years, I’ve asked you to help us in supporting an organization that is close to my heart but more importantly, one that is changing the future for people with Down syndrome from “Your road stops here” to “There is more.” And today, I ask you again to join me in support as Ruby’s Rainbow begins their two week 3-21 Pledge in preparation for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day on March 21. Last year, Ruby’s Rainbow was able to grant 35 new scholarships with your support for a total of 109 scholarships–and that’s after just 5 years of being off the ground.

What is Ruby’s Rainbow? Ruby’s Rainbow is an organization that grants scholarships to adults with Down syndrome who are seeking post-secondary education, enrichment or vocational classes, not only helping these individuals live a better life with more opportunities, but creating awareness of their capabilities. Are these programs working? YES. Oh my goodness, yes. Not only are employment rates dramatically improving for individuals with Down syndrome who graduate from these college programs, but their social skills, life skills, confidence and overall quality of life has drastically been made better. I’ve talked to numerous parents of kids in college programs and Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship recipients who say they’ve never seen their child happier–thriving, contributing, hanging out with friends, saying yes to new opportunities. I’ve followed these students in their classes and watched them interact with their peers, interviewed their professors and mentors, and have a resounding “Yes! This is changing the future.” The once very limited world of opportunities available to these individuals is expanding, and so is their happiness.

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And what Ruby’s Rainbow is doing for the hopes of new parents? It’s life changing. Take it from the parents of baby Walt who fought a very brave battle but passed away last August. His parents continue to support Ruby’s Rainbow and advocate for people with Down syndrome (a $5,000 Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship will be awarded this year in Walt’s honor):

While I sat in silence by Walt’s bedside, I came across Ruby’s Rainbow through an Instagram hashtag. I quickly realized as a parent of a child with a little extra and at that moment, a child who was in critical care, I wanted more than anything to give my Walt hope and a future. I wanted more than anything for him to be healthy and happy. I wanted more than anything for him to be able to go to college. I wanted more than anything for our Walt to be independent and have self-worth. That was the moment Ruby’s Rainbow became a piece of our Walt’s hope and his future.

Every child deserves the pursuit of something bigger–learning more, taking risks, making friends, chasing dreams…

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And you can help.

Take the 3-21 Pledge

1. Donate $21–more if you can, less if it’s a tight time–to Ruby’s Rainbow.
2. Pledge to be kind to people of all abilities.
3. Share the pledge with THREE friends, asking them to do the same.

Social media has given us so many opportunities to raise awareness and invite people to feel more than their own story, and sharing is a big component of Ruby’s Rainbow’s success with their mission. If you’re a parent of a child with Down syndrome, here’s how you can share the pledge:

“Friends and family, f you’re ever wondering how you can help parents of kids with special needs feel supported and loved, how you can help make the world a more accepting place for our kids, I have something you can do. It would mean a lot to us if you donated $21 to Ruby’s Rainbow. For our child and his peers, it grants them the opportunity to dreams we all want for our kids. For your child, it grants him a college experience that includes knowing someone with Down syndrome.”

For me? Well, if you’ve been reading, you know our story. But, in a nutshell, it looks like this:

Thanks to Ruby’s Rainbow and the work of others who continue to fight for more opportunities…

These dreams that I thought I had to put to rest the minute my child was bornI can put to life again.

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For the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing on my social media channels, along with Ruby’s Rainbow, more inspiring clips and stories of the work of Ruby’s Rainbow from our friends. Please help us make these next two weeks Ruby’s Rainbow’s best pledge year ever. They have so much more work to do–and applications already coming in from kids like mine who want to learn more so that one day, moms like me can pick up the phone and hear, “Mom? It’s me. I got the job.”

$21. For the price of a bouquet of roses, a new book, a dinner entree…you can make a difference in someone’s future. Donate Now.

Special thanks to Heather Rodriguez Photography for providing the beautiful photos in this post.