Monday, August 31, 2009

MyBrownBaby Goes Road Trippin' With Betty Crocker and General Mills

I’m back from the General Mills Eat and Greet, and I’m still swooning over the awesome time I had learning about the history of one of the largest food companies in the world, touring its Minnesota headquarters, meeting company executives, and trying out new products. I super heart cooking and creating in the kitchen, so really, all General Mills had to do was let me stand in the Betty Crocker kitchens for, like, a minute, and I would have been happy. But oh, did they do so much more. Here’s my recap:

After checking into the spacious and comfy Sheraton Minneapolis West Hotel, General Mills kicked off the Eat & Greet with a tour of the rustic Mill City Museum, set in the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, once the epicenter of the world’s flour milling industry. There’s lots of touching history here; at its peak, the mill was the most technologically advanced and productive mill in the world, grinding enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread daily. That flour was made at the hands of laborers who often put in long backbreaking days and nights running the machines, lifting 100+ lbs of flour, and enduring endless danger under constant threat of explosions and fires (indeed, 18 people died in a huge explosion in 1878). But that mill kept the city going, and helped put Minnesota on the map. An interactive, multi-story exhibit documenting life in the factory really moved me, as it reminded me of my parents, both factory workers who long toiled on assembly lines (my mom at Estee Lauder, my dad at Entenmann’s) for questionable pay and little gratitude. Listening to the stories of the workers (as told in the exhibit) reminded me to say another “thank you” to my mom and dad for working so hard in order to provide my brother and I with an incredible life.

Okay, so how come I didn’t know that General Mills has that many products all up and through my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator? Seriously: Yoplait, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Progresso, FiberOne bars, Pillsbury biscuits, rolls, pie crusts and cookies, Haagen-Dazs, Betty Crocker cake mix, Gold All-Purpose Flour, and Old El Paso taco kits are all General Mills products that STAY in my pantry/refrigerator, and these are just a TIP of the products this company produces. I seriously never paid attention to this until we were invited to tour the Betty Crocker Kitchens, where reps stood at the ready to have us taste some of their new products. But first, a few words about the Betty Crocker Kitchens: Absolutely beautiful. Spacious. Bright. Sunny. Cheery. Everything you’d ever want in a kitchen, plus granite, state-of-the-art appliances, and a view to die for. Here, a picture of the beautiful Sheena and her son (who somehow manages to be even juicier in person than he is on his mommy's incredible website, MommyDaddyBlog) standing outside the kitchen; Trix and Lucky standing in the kitchen, and; me, trying really hard not to drool on the counters and appliances.

There was plenty of tasting going on at the Eat and Greet; Chex, Progresso, Cascadian Fam, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Nature Valley, FiberOne, Muir Glen, and the cereal division had stations set up with new products for us to try. The cereals, including the new Sprinkles Cookie Crisps, were pretty awesome (though I still have a hard time wrapping myself around feeding my kids all that sugar so early in the morning). And I was pleasantly surprised to see all the products that FiberOne makes, including pancakes, which have a nice amount of, well, fiber, to justify treating the fam to pancake breakfasts a little more often. But the products that absolutely stole my heart were Muir Glen’s organic canned tomatoes (sampled in a delicious chopped tomato tapenade with goat cheese, olives and fresh basil, these tomatoes are produced like a fine wine; sign up for the Muir Glen Connoisseurs Club and get special tomato reserves delivered to your home, plus lots of great recipes ). I also loved the frozen Yoplait Smoothies mix (fresh fruit and Yoplait yogurt bits + a little orange juice makes Denene a very happy girl!), and the Simply Delicious cookies (chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies with 0 trans fat and made only with ingredients that actually belong in cookies—milk, sugar, butter and flour. What a concept! And ridiculous, addictively yummy). Oh, and check out Melanie from MelADramaticMommy trying yogurt for the first time ever! Lucky for Mel, her first was the Crème Caramel Yoplait Delight (which totally shouldn’t count because it tastes more like a rich dessert than yogurt, but we won’t nitpick!).

I scored a Lucky Charms t-shirt and a Hamburger Helper Helping Hand pin for Lila, a Pillbury Dough Boy “Hug Me” shirt and Green Giant keychain for Mari, and a Betty Crocker Kids Cook! cookbook for my collection from the General Mills gift shop (they sell all of General Mills’ products at DEEP discount prices; I swear, I’d do ALL my grocery shopping in there!) before we headed to the General Mills Photography Studios, where a super gifted staff literally works magic to make finished recipes come to life for use in General Mills’ various publications. There were lots of useful tips here—from how to light food for the best picture, to how to make dishes look authentic. I appreciated that the food stylists use only real food from the recipes in their pictures, instead of the obligatory glue/fake food/trickery that all-too-many stylists use to make food pictures look good. I also wanted to grab a cart and go shopping in the studio’s prop room, which had virtually anything and everything you’d ever need too cook and entertain.

You know me: I’m going to notice if there are (or aren’t any people of color in the room. I can’t help myself. But I figure if I’m going to support a company so wholly, I need to know that that company supports me wholly, too. I was glad to sit and chat with Kim Bow Sundy, who handles General Mills' diversity and marketing, over lunch, and was delighted to hear that General Mills actually conducts focus groups with people of color to figure out what we like and what we don’t like, and that from those focus groups the company realized that African Americans really appreciate companies who give back (so true!). So it created, a charitable organization that celebrates everyday people making a difference in their communities. The chosen ones win cash and donations to their favorite charities. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that both Shirley Dollard, the director of the Betty Crocker Kitchens and Kim Nelson, the president of General Mills’ snack division are both black women—though I resisted running up to both of them and hugging them silly for their accomplishments, I sure did giggle a lot when I listened to them speak. Go ‘head, General Mills!

And just for kicks, I had to include some pictures of Trix, who for some reason decided to vogue for mama while I was kickin' it with the cereal reps. Silly rabbit!

I am grateful to General Mills and Coyne Public Relations for inviting MyBrownBaby to this informative and fun event; I appreciate all that they did to make us bloggers feel welcomed and special. I also want to send a special shout out to all my new thrifty bloggy buddies—Jane4Girls, CouponSista, NorthernCheapskate, and $5DollarDinners, and MummyDeals for encouraging me to learn how to make coupons and sales slash my grocery bill, and CookingWithAmy for inspiring me to cook simple, delicious food. Y’all. Rock. Same goes for Integrated Mother, MomInTheCity and MelADramaticMommy, sisterfriends who make me happy.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Last Chance to Vote For MyBrownBaby In the Black Web Awards!

These are the last few days to vote for MyBrownBaby in the Black Weblog Awards! I'm up in two categories: Best Parenting and Family Blog, and Best Blog Design, and I need you to do me a solid: Swing on over to the Black Weblog Awards and vote for your girl; your vote will go toward bringing a huge and prestigious honor to MyBrownBaby—an honor for which I will be most grateful. All you have to do is CLICK HERE to vote, give your name and email addy, and vote for MyBrownBaby in the "Best Blog Design" category and the "Best Parenting and Family Blog" category. PLEASE be sure to validate your vote by clicking on the confirmation link that'll be sent to your email addy; your vote will not be counted if you don't validate—and you can only vote once. I thank you in advance for your support.

You can vote through August 31, 2009, but I would really appreciate it if you just clicked on over and voted today. Like right now. While it's on your mind.


But wait—there's more!

These are also the final days you'll be able to vote to make my sister-in-law Angelou, founder of the environmental non-profit Greening Youth Foundation, a Cox Conserves Hero. If she wins, she'll get a $5,000 grant that she'll use to expand Greening Youth's programming, which already touches the lives of a diverse crowd of elementary school-aged kids who participate in her in-class projects, school-wide recycling programs, and after-school environmental club. That's to say that Angelou wouldn't be the only winner here—children all across Georgia would gain from her honor.

Do Angelou and me a solid: Vote for her at

You can vote through August 31, 2009. But I'd appreciate it if you just went on ahead and hooked a sistah up right now while it's on your mind. CLICK HERE TO MAKE ANGELOU A NATIONAL HERO!

Thank you for all you do to support MyBrownBaby! Next week, look for the blow-by-blow on my visit to the General Mills headquarters and the Betty Crocker Kitchens. (Here's a little nugget to hold you over until Monday: The PRESIDENT of General Mills' snack division AND the manager of the prestigious Betty Crocker Kitchens are both sistahs—way to go with the diversity, General Mills... we see you!)

Have a fantastic weekend!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MyBrownBaby Is On the Way To the Betty Crocker Kitchens With General Mills

Okay, but seriously—how stoked am I to be one of the 50 bloggers invited to the General Mills Eat & Greet in Minneapolis? Yup: The packaged goods giant behind legendary brands like Cheerios, Haagen-Dazs, Pillsbury, Gold Medal, Green Giant, Yoplait and Betty Crocker will be opening it's headquarter doors today and tomorrow to MyBrownBaby and a legion of food, frugal living, lifestyle and mom bloggers who will get to sample the company's latest products, tour it's new photo studio, visit with members of the General Mills team, and prance around in the legendary Betty Crocker Kitchens. I'm looking forward to lots of commiserating, eating, exploring, and good times with an incredible group of women, including my blogging buddies Sheena of Mommy Daddy Blog, Mel of Mel... A Dramatic Mommy, Michelle of The Integrated Mother, and Kim of Mom in the City, as well as a plethora of bloggers I'm looking forward to getting to know.

But time out: The Betty Crocker Kitchens, dude. Understand me when I tell you? I. Am. Down. Right. Giddy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, a closet foodie whose favorite room in the house is... yes... the kitchen. (Hey—I love to create and explore over a hot stove. Don't judge me.) The Betty Crocker Kitchens facility includes 19 kitchens decked out like authentic American kitchens; there's also a 375-square foot walk-in refrigerator, a 222-square foot walk-in freezer and more than 1,500-linear feet of cabinets and storage rooms, including a walk-in pantry and enough room to house America's largest corporate cookbook library, with more than 9,000 cookbooks. A 50-seat conference room with a complete kitchen station gives visitors an up close view of staff presentations and cooking demonstrations in the kitchens, where nearly 50,000 tests are conducted annually.

I can't wait to dive in. And I'm not leaving without a Betty Crocker cookbook to add to the collection of cookbooks I've collected during my travels over the years.

Want to see what we're up to in Minneapolis over the next few days? Follow me and my blogging buddies on Twitter at @mybrownbaby, @mominthecity, @mommydaddyblog, @adramaticmommy, and @integratedmom, or check out tweets under the hashtag #eatandgreet.

Minneapolis! (Yes, that was a nod to the almighty Janet Jackson's Escapade. Don't let me mess around and run into Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Get it.)

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

MyBrownBaby on the Today show: Tips for Beating the Back-to-School Blues

One of my favorite writing gigs is my job as a columnist, contributing editor and Mom Squad member at Parenting magazine. The last office job I held before I became a work-at-home southerner was in Parenting's Manhattan offices, where I toiled as the features editor, assigning and editing the Ages & Stages section and some of the main features, and coordinating and writing the annual mom-tested gift guide (which earned me the affectionate title, "Big," because, like the Tom Hanks character in the hit movie, I played with toys for a living). When Nick and I decided to head South for more peaceful writing pastures, Parenting graciously hooked a girl up with the Reality Check column, which, under the capable hands of editor-in-chief Susan Kane, is now called, "Ask Denene." Every month, I give advice to more than two million moms looking for help handling their tricky, sticky parenting dilemmas; you can check out my columns in both monthly editions of Parenting—the Early Years, for moms with kids from newborns to age five, and the School Years, for moms with children ages five to 12. If you haven't given Parenting a good read lately, it's time for you to take a second look; the stories are beautifully written, super informative, and told from a heartfelt mom-to-mom perspective. There's no stuffiness here—the advice is down-to-earth and relatable.

Occasionally, Parenting brings those stories to television, and invites me to speak on the magazine's behalf in interviews on various TV shows. Yesterday, I got to mix it up with the Today show's Matt Lauer in a segment that kicked off the popular news program's "Back-to-school" series; we tackled how to help your kids shake the back-to-school jitters. Check it out:

To read Parenting's feature on conquering the back-to-school blues and other great Parenting stories, click HERE.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Green Poop, Motrin, and Healthcare Reform: Do the Right Thing, Already

The girl had a stomachache and was vomiting and for some reason, her poop was neon green, and so it only made sense to take her to the doctor, right? And so we get there and the doctor gives us the worse case scenario (appendicitis) and the most likely (stomach virus), and tells us to run with the most likely, and so we do. Prescription in hand, my baby and I make a detour to the bathroom, where she lets out two more loads—one from each end, both green—before we head out the doctor's office and back to the house. Girlfriend gets a fever. The doctor told us to expect this. But I forgot to ask if I could give her fever-lowering Motrin with the anti-vomiting prescription. And this is where it got dicey.

And super expensive.

I dial up the on-call nurse, and make the mistake of mentioning the two green loads Lila left back at the doctor's office, and by the time we finish up our conversation, the nurse is insisting that I take my baby to the emergency room because the "most likely" my doctor diagnosed earlier in the day really could be "the worst case scenario" and she's not going to tell me whether the Motrin can be used with the prescription because she doesn't want to chance it and "you shouldn't either," she says.

Now you have to understand that it's 10 p.m. on a school night and Lila just wants to sleep and I'm not really feeling the ER thing, but this nurse has me feeling some kinda ways so I wrap my baby up and pile her in the car and drive across town and sit in that stupid ER room for an hour—Lila sweaty and sleepy and curled up on my lap—waiting to hear the ER doctor tell me my kid's got "worst case scenario." When the ER doctor finally gets around to Lila, she listens to me describe baby girl's symptoms, what my doctor said about them earlier, and doc's course of treatment, and then the ER lady laughs—literally laughs!—at the nurse's insistence that I bring Lila to the ER.

"It's not the worst case scenario," she says, rolling her eyes. "Give her some Motrin for the fever. She's fine."

The bill for that ER visit, kids? More than $300.

My insurance, which cost double that each month, covered a small fraction of the cost—roughly the equivalent of the discount you get in the grocery story with a coupon from the Sunday paper. Despite all the claims of the vaunted "competition" in the marketplace, when we tried to switch to another company that was offering a cheaper alternative, Nick was denied because of his "pre-existing condition"—high blood pressure (this for a guy who works out almost seven days a week, takes medication to control his condition, and hasn't been seriously sick a day in his life).

And don't get me started on how many thousands we ended up paying—and still owe!—in hospital/x-ray/rehab fees for a couple of football injuries Mazi suffered earlier this year.


Um, I don't know about you and yours up in your house, but 'round my way, all up in my house? The health care system is B.R.O.K.E.N. You can't tell me that paying over $300 to find out if I can mix Motrin with an anti-vomiting pill is okay. Or that paying almost $700 a month for health insurance and STILL being bombarded with health care charges and fees when we actually USE the services of a doctor is okay. Or that a family that works just as hard—if not harder—than Nick and I do but can't afford ANY insurance should be forced to sit and watch and worry while their child passes green vomit and poop—or worse—with no viable way to get help for their baby. Don't get me wrong: The Millner/Chiles household is blessed to have enough cash on hand for some kind of insurance, but we are compassionate people in the unique position of being able to see up close the many holes and flaws in the system.

I say all of this to make the point that the ongoing debate surrounding healthcare reform shouldn't be about death panels or raucous town hall meetings or coverage for illegal immigrants or abortion or government intervention or Sarah Palin or
dumb ass Glenn Beck or Republicans or Democrats or Socialism or Hitler or President Obama's standings in the latest polls. Making changes to our broke down healthcare system is about mothers and fathers and babies and hardworking families and compassion and being fair. It's about doing what's right by Americans, and demanding that these fat cat insurance companies stop running game on us. It's about holding our elected representatives accountable, so that they'll stop caving into a sorry few, and recognize that the masses aren't as dumb as cable news will have us believe.

It's about doing something because what we have right now is just dead wrong.

I mean, I'm just sayin'.

If you have questions about healthcare reform, or want to know more about what's in the plan, rather than who got shouted down at the latest town hall meeting, has you covered. The advocacy group for moms and children put together a resource page for its Healthcare Truth Squad, and is sending moms to town hall meetings across the country—in red capes!—to educate rather than agitate Americans looking for honest dialogue and true reform. Check out their in-depth myth-busting resource page HERE.

Editor's Note: I respect that not everyone agrees with my stance on this—it's your right, and you are welcome to post your opinions in the comment section. I only ask that you A) be respectful, and B) know what you're talking about and be ready to disagree without being disagreeable. I don't suffer fools easily, and I'm NOT one of those ninnies who allow people to shout and yell and act the fool all up in her space. Post away, but be clear: Say something foul/stupid/off-topic, and your comment will be erased.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Shameless MyBrownBaby Self-Promotion: "Never Make the Same Mistake Twice."

Yup, I wrote it.

I figured I'd just put it on out there because I keep getting Facebook messages, emails, and phone calls from my people asking, "Girl, is that you holding Nene's hand in the commercials?!"

The answer: Yes, that is me in the promos for an upcoming episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, in which Nene and I are discussing her memoir, the book I helped her write. Never Make the Same Mistake Twice: Lessons On Love and Life Learned the Hard Way, hit bookstores on Tuesday, smack dab in the middle of the explosive second season of Bravo's Atlanta Housewives franchise. Hate it or love it, The Real Housewives of Atlanta is appointment TV, and Nene's cut-throat, in-your-face, keepin'-it-real antics with castmates Kim Zolciak, Sheree Whitfield, Kandi Burress and Lisa Hartwell are downright addictive.

For all the smack Nene talks on RHOA, though, she really brings it in the pages of "Mistake," in which she exposes her dark past as a stripper, a domestic abuse victim, and the illegitimate daughter of parents who gave her up for adoption and kept her paternal lineage a secret. Sensational as her backstory is, it's also poignant, and definitely helps to explain Nene's journey toward becoming the reality show sensation she is today. Yes, she goes after Kim and Sheree in her book, but those two chapters are but a small part of her incredible story, which we crafted as a revealing tell-all to help inspire women facing the same challenges Nene dealt with as a teenager and young single mother.

For sure, it's a good story, told in Nene's signature, raw voice, but written in a way that brings honor to her story. (Come on, now: You know I'm not going to co-sign on any bull.) To see an excerpt, click HERE.

Never Make the Same Mistake Twice comes on the heels of my book with Steve Harvey, the New York Times best-selling advice book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. My 17th and 18th books, a novel for tweens and a picture book I penned with Holly Robinson Peete, hit stores next Spring.

As for my appearance on RHOA, I'm not sure which episode I'll be on, or how it'll be edited, or if I'll look like a complete idiot when it's shown, so say a prayer that mama preserves at least a modicum of class when I make my reality show debut. And even if I do look like Bobo the Fool, at the very least, let's hope the "Nene's Writing a Book" storyline makes "Never Make the Same Mistake Twice" a bestseller, because mama's gotta send three brown babies to Yale.

Don't play. Pray.


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Swimming With the Fishes at the Georgia Aquarium

I challenged Mari and Lila to read 10 books during their summer vacation, with the promise I'd take them each on a mommy-and-me date wherever they wanted if they completed their assignments before it was time to head back to school. I'm so proud to say that my girls not only made their deadlines, but read a few extra books, just for kicks. As her prize, Lila chose the zoo, which we'll be visiting in the coming weeks. Mari chose the Georgia Aquarium, a veritable ocean of colorful, exotic fish and other water-loving creatures that live in some 8 million gallons of water in this Atlanta attraction—the world's largest aquarium. We visited a few weeks ago, before school started, and the girls and I had a blast—fingering the starfish and anemone, watching the whale sharks stalk the waters above our heads, marveling at the playful, twirling Beluga Whales, hunting for neon pink fish and colorful frogs, and making fish faces at the alligators. Of course, I took my camera along; I not only wanted to document the fantastic time I spent with my girls, but the incredible colors and textures and beauty that can be found under the sea. Here, a few of my favorite shots (taken with my Nikon D50, with a Nikon DX 55-200 mm lens, which I'm slowly, but surely, learning how to use properly):

If you're ever in the area, the Georgia Aquarium is a great day excursion for the kids. Admission is $35 for adults, $26 for kids ages 3 to 12, and $30.25 for seniors—more if you want to add in extra exhibits and guided tours. For more information on the aquarium and its programming, click HERE.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dang, Am I REALLY This Old? Seriously?

See, this is just all kinds of wrong.

I go to the mailbox and this is there—a detailed listing of how much cash I can expect to get from the Social Security Administration when I retire, and how much the hubs and babies can expect if I go on to the great office in the sky, um, prematurely.

The breakdown of my Social Security benefits started showing up a few years ago, which was foul enough. But now the doggone thing is coming more regularly than my Pottery Barn catalogues. And you know Pottery Barn believes in sending some catalogues on the regular.

I mean, I appreciate the info, SSA. But the constant reminder that I’m A) getting old; B) that I’m going to die; and, C) that I’ll be a broke ass if I manage to live past age 62 just doesn’t feel as warm and fuzzy as the Pierce 4-piece Suede Chaise Sectional in the PB book.

I’m good if the Social Security Administration saves a tree or two and keeps these little notices in the files until I’m ready for the info and actually, like, ask for it.

I mean, I’m just sayin’.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Time To Shine: What I Love Most About Me

My girl Akilah over at EXECUMAMA challenged me to write a letter to myself, listing all the reasons why I love me. My letter is almost a week in the making. It did not come easy to me. See, I was always the nerdy one—the girl who buried her head in books and got lost in music and daydreamed behind closed doors. Because I couldn’t find the words. Because I was uncomfortable looking others in the eye. Because I’d been taught that children were supposed to see and not be seen, and it never, ever quite wore off.

I owned the quiet—peace, be still. Head down, nose to the grind.

It took me a long time to look up—to face myself in the mirror and appreciate what I saw. It was a guy friend of mine (a buddy, not a love interest) who literally held a mirror to my face. “Look at you,” he demanded. My face was so close to the glass I could see a cloud of my breath steam on my reflection. “You are beautiful, Denene. I can see it; why can’t you?”

I was all right, I guess. Never been one to brag.

But today, I will. Because Akilah asked me to. And because she’s right: Sometimes, you gotta remind yourself exactly what it is that you love about you. Here goes:

I love my eyes and my lips and my smile, and especially my chocolate skin. Understand that this is relatively new. Growing up, I avoided the sun like the plague—it makes you black, you know. Where I come from, being anything darker than a paper bag put you smack dab in the friend zone—and even further down the boyfriend chain if your hair was short and kinky. Which explains, in part, why I didn’t get my first kiss until damn near college. Fools. These days, I’m all, “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” and I really couldn’t care less if you don’t appreciate it. It looks great with a smoky eye and a subtle red Bobbi Brown lip gloss, but I like it best bare—clean, simple, flawless.

I love my butt. This is big. Not my ass, but the fact that I truly love it—finally. Like my dark skin, my butt was a sin ‘round my way. If you couldn’t fit it in some Jordache or some Lees, it was too big for most of the guys I grew up with in Long Island, New York. (Mind you, had I grown up around some black boys in, say, Brooklyn, I’d have been knocked up by age 14.) For years, I tried my best to camouflage it—I tied sweaters around my waist and wore baggy pants and long, bulky sweaters, a desperate attempt to shrink it any way I could. Of course, it never worked. There’s no hiding this thing. But these days, it’s all about the booty (with nods to J-Lo, Beyonce), and there are companies that actually sell pants and skirts and dresses with stretchy fabric and accurate waist-to-booty ratios that make sense for women with hourglass figures (Banana Republic, Anthropologie, PZI, AppleBottom jeans). All of a sudden, my booty is in vogue and in properly sized clothing. What’s not to love?!

I love my sense of humor. I got jokes. I don’t know where this comes from. It’s that sarcastic, dry, witty thing. It is what it is. And it makes people laugh. I love to make people laugh. It's good for their souls. It's good for mine.

I love that I'm generous. I don't have a lot, but what I do have, I give freely. Because it's the right thing to do. Understand, I'm not talking about cash (though if I have it and you need it, you got it); I'm talking about my time and sweat. I'm a pretty good listener—a pretty good comforter. And I'm usually always ready to dig in. I get that from my parents, I think. I watched my mom go above and beyond in church and with her friends, who were equally generous. My Dad is the same way. I can't tell you how many times I saw him fix a stray kid's bike, or replace the neighbor's heater, or change a stranger's tire. I love that about him, and anyone who knows me knows my Dad is my hero. I love his helpfulness, and so I help, too. Ask and you will receive.

I love my ambition and drive. It got me a scholarship to college, when my parents couldn’t afford tuition. It got me a great gig right out of college, in one of the largest news gathering organizations in the world. It got me to a high-paying position as a political reporter at one of the then-largest newspapers in the country, at the tender age of 23. It got me a column at Parenting magazine, and 18 book deals, including a No. 1 New York Times best seller. What’s most special about my ambition and drive, though, is that I don’t use mine like weapons; I don’t feel like I have to stomp all over someone else to succeed. Quite the contrary, even as I’m doing what I can to be better at what I do, I’m constantly looking for ways to help others get in the game. I am blessed, no doubt, because of this. I’m sure of it.

I can truly look at myself in the mirror today and appreciate what I see.

Indeed, I love me some Denene.

And I’m going to work harder to love me even more.

What are you doing to love you?

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Friday, August 14, 2009


Oh yeah—MyBrownBaby is a finalist in the Black Weblog Awards! I'm up in two categories: Best Parenting and Family Blog, and Best Blog Design. This is a tremendous honor, considering how many wonderful and beautiful black blogs are out there in the blogosphere; I'm quite proud to be counted among the best of them, and I have each of you to thank. I put all my lil' business on this blog, never sure if it will be accepted with the love, introspection, and respect in which it is given, only to awaken each morning to insight, support, and respect from you, my loyal readers. You motivate and inspire me to reach higher and be better and do it all fearlessly. Thank you for that!

I also thank you for your votes, which made me a Black Weblog Awards finalist.

Now, I need you to do me another solid: Swing on over the Black Weblog Awards and vote for your girl one mo' gin. This time, your vote will go toward bringing a huge and prestigious honor to MyBrownBaby—an honor for which I will be most grateful. All you have to do is CLICK HERE to vote, give your name and email addy, and vote for MyBrownBaby in the "Best Blog Design" category and the "Best Parenting and Family Blog" category. PLEASE be sure to validate your vote by clicking on the confirmation link that'll be sent to your email addy; your vote will not be counted if you don't validate—and you can only vote once. I thank you in advance for your support.

You can vote through August 31, 2009, but I would really appreciate it if you just clicked on over and voted today. Like right now. While it's on your mind.


Have a fantastic weekend!

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

MyBrownBaby MOM OF THE WEEK: Danyele Easterhaus

I met today's MyBrownBaby Mom of the Week through the comment junkie website, The Secret is in the Sauce; we were comment neighbors that day, and though I can't remember who visited who first, I became an instant fan of her site—A Thorn Among Roses. It is there that Danyele Easterhaus, mom of four beautiful girls—one, a brown girl pie named Jada—writes and photo journals about her parenting journey and her family's wonderful life. I absolutely adore her stories about her girls, who are so stinkin' cute and sassy and funny and nutty, they're addictive. And while it isn't the focus of her blog, I especially love that Danyele really does think about the impact of raising Jada in an all-white household, and ponders often what she can do better as a mom to make sure her beautiful, brown baby lives an authentic, God-fearing life, confident in who she is—and sure that she is loved beyond measure. One post in particular that truly moved me was SADNESS, in which Danyele chronicles the heartbreak she felt when her then-3-year-old brown baby told her she wanted her skin to look like that of her white sister, Brooke. While Danyele struggled with what to say, Brooke said some really wise words that most grown folk wouldn't have been able to conjure up: "Jada, God made you and He loves you. He does it all right the very first time." Couldn't you just reach through the screen and squeeze her? Out of the mouths of babes, I tell you. Well, that kind of wisdom comes from solid parenting—and Danyele is a heck of a mom. After you read more about her, go on over to A Thorn Among Roses and give her some MyBrownBaby love! Without further ado, our MyBrownBaby Mom of the Week:

My name is… Danyele Easterhaus…or mommaof4wife2r.

I live in… Indiana…and there’s more than corn in Indiana, I promise!

My brown babies are… Well, now isn’t that an intriguing question! I have only one brown baby girlie and three vanilla girlies. My brown baby is Jada, #3 of 4 girlie pies. Jada is 4, and is fashion savvy, opinionated, sweet and cute, loving, playful, poignant, girly, and fancy. Paige is 14…in high school…too pretty for her own good, but doesn’t know it. She’s kind hearted, gentle, a softball rockstar, dedicated and just plain fun. Brooke, 6, is starting kindergarten…vivacious, witty, smart, keen and hilarious.
And Sofia, 18 months, is amazingly tiny, cute, smiley, witty, strong willed, loving, and a miracle.

I make a living… changing diapers, loving hubs and the girlie pies, cooking and shopping, doing coffee time with my teenage daughter, leading Bible studies for teen girls, cleaning (when it’s convenient), laughing and crying, guiding and directing and teaching my kiddos to love and respect. Oh, and I don’t get a paycheck… I’m a stay-at-home mom now—retired from automotive engineering.

The last time my kids cracked me up… Are you serious? My kids constantly crack me up…read my blog. It could be jada screaming at b

The last book I read with my kids was… Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, with b and jk; My Big Animal Book, with Sofia, and; our Bible study book and Bible with Paige.

My favorite place to take them is… on our “alone time” getaways with each of our girlies each week. And it’s different for each one. For Paige, it’s coffee and shopping. We chat and laugh…and I try really hard to embarrass her and I often succeed. Time alone is just precious and super fun! Brooke’s favorite place is the pet store, but I love taking her to the playground or on bike rides. She is so full of energy and creativity that she just “goes” and has a blast. Jada’s favorite thing is definitely french fries. I love that girl. Anything we do, she wants fries first, and I love a girl with priorities. We end up at the park or at the bookstore, but for her, the french fries are the important part. Sofia is still little, but I love spending time alone cuddling her and reading books, and if we’re out and about, it’s definitely playing at the park. We do life as a family, so I love just all of us being together—in the back yard, playing softball or soccer, or at the park. When we are together, life is better.

My proudest mom moment was… When I saw the face of each of my girlies for the very first time, I just couldn’t believe they were mine…each of them have their own story and their own “first sight,” but they are all my proudest moment as their momma.

My most embarrassing mommy moment was the time when… so many to choose from and I must only choose one. Hmmmm. Maybe when I laughed so hard, I peed myself in front of about 75 women on a retreat. I wasn’t mortified, but everyone there remembers me as the peeing girl.

The thing I most want my children to know is… Apologize. Love. Praise. Laugh. Serve. Humble yourself. And pray always. God is passionate about you…he will never leave you…you will never be alone.

The one family tradition I hope my kids continue when they grow up is… eating dinner together every night at the table. It seems to be a lost art these days. For birthdays, we always make homemade cakes and make our own decorations.

If I could invent one thing to make being a mom easier, it would be… a big red flashing sign that said, “(Insert your kid's name here) don’t do that. It’s against the rules and you WILL be busted. Step away from the temptation. Step away from the temptation.” And, of course, if they didn’t, a little water spritz or something could nail them in the face and they would get their second chance before I would have to constantly bust them and put them in time out. I would still do the discipline, but they would get the warning—big flashing lights and spritz is a good warning.

The best invention for kids ever is… For babies, definitely The Bumbo. Ingenious and cute! For preschool/elementary kiddos—cereal bars. That means a few minutes of extra sleep some days. And I can take every wink I can get! For teens—cell phones. Good and bad, I’ll take it all. I love texting my girl, Paige when she’s away and I can keep tabs with her. Hate all the nonsense that goes along with it, but Paige is a no drama girl, so it’s been fine.

The kid snack I’m most likely to get busted eating is… Sadly, cheerios. I love those dumb things. And since I have my own “mommy food stash”; I don’t need to sneak their goodies (because they don’t get any candy) unless, of course, it’s Halloween or Easter and then it’s totally free game.

The most important life lesson I want my kids to learn is… the choices you make don’t affect just you, they affect everyone else around you. Don’t fall for the lie the world sells on this one; everything you do is important. Every word. Every deed. Every action and every inaction. Fearlessly be yourself.

The one thing no one knows about me is… I am a motor head. I love old cars. I still have my first car—a 1966 Mustang. I rebuilt the motor and got her back into shape. Oh, and I’m a total daddy’s girl…still.

The thing I lost as a mom that I wish I could get back is… quiet time for study and reading and sewing and sitting and scrapbooking. But I am in a season right now {keep saying it, danyele…keep saying it}. The day will come when the girlies are older and I will again have my own quiet time, and then, I will probably want more girlie time. Ok, so maybe it’s my waistline. i miss my body…and I know two of them are adopted, but seriously, I gained way more weight with them than the pregnancies!

My “I’d Rather Be…” bumper sticker would say… laying on the beach with a Diet Coke in my hand, donned with a pretty pink umbrella in the foam cup…watching my family play in the sand and surf. (I’d be skinny too and wearing a really great bathing suit).

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wordless Wednesday—Maxwell's "Bad Habits" Video

This video, Maxwell's "Bad Habits," from his new album BLACKsummer'snight, makes me feel some kinda ways. I'll refrain from telling you exactly what kinda way that is, seeing as this is a family blog and all. But you'll know instantly once you take a looksie. *fans self and clutches pearls* Um, is it getting hot in here? Can somebody get me some Evian? Somebody?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday SmackDown (Update): We CLEANED the Girls' Rooms, and An Hour Later, They're STILL Clean!

I'm exhausted.
And I still haven't showered today.
And I have absolutely NO idea what I'm cooking for dinner.
Hell, there's nothing in the refrigerator TO cook.

But Lila's room is clean. And so is Maggie's.

And Gretchen and I are STILL standing. Your prayers/virtual support/ha' mercy Jesuses and our elbow grease/tenacity/need-to-rid-our-houses-of-the-heebies helped turn these...

Lila's Mess

Maggie's Mess

...into these!

Lila's Miracle

Maggie's Miracle

Gretchen hauled out 10 bags altogether—six for the Goodwill, and four more for the garbage man. She found lost library books. A plastic rat (which she thought was real). And lots of little notes Lila and Maggie were writing to one another in a "secret" stash of little random papers. And she finished it all—the cleaning and the Goodwill drop-off—by 2 p.m., with her adorable son, Charlie, age 3, fast on her heels (show-off!). She stopped by to see my handiwork at about 4:30, looking all cute and whatnot. With make-up and stuff. Seriously? Gretchen is no joke.

And now, Maggie can actually sleep on her bed, find her books, do homework at her beautiful desk, and open her closet sans embarrassment. (Of course, Charlie found a few good uses for some old Maggie toys. His room may actually be Gretchen's final frontier.)

Charlie's Room

I filled a huge 50-gallon bag with junk, and another smaller bag with stuff headed for the Salvation Army, moved out Lila's desk (which she NEVER uses anyway), and replaced it with her dresser, previously in the overcrowded, super junky closet. The closet is now spotless (I had size 2 clothes in that bad boy; Lila is a size 7. Yeah.), you can actually see Lila's bed, her play kitchen is organized, and there's nothing on the floor. I left intact her copious amounts of play "schoolwork" and her really weird collection of internet facts about former presidents (don't ask).

And while I was very happy to (finally!) find my black Kenneth Cole stiletto boots, I'm ticked that it's too late for it; thinking I'd never find it's mate (after an exhaustive search a few months ago), I threw the other one in the garbage.

And I may have to call in the CDC to help me figure out what's making all of this garbage stick to the bottom of this garbage can. Yeah.

Of course, the girls were over the moon when they saw their newly-cleaned digs.

How long do you Maggie and Lila's rooms will stay this way?

I'm thinking, maybe... I don't know... until at least 9 p.m. tonight.

At least.

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