Friday, February 27, 2009

Home Made Love: Crazy Crabby Crab Cakes




By MARI CHILES and LILA CHILES

Mommy usually makes these on special occasions, which makes them, well, special (and expensive). She lets us crack the eggs and stir in the seasonings, and even pat them into these cute little cakes. If we’re having a small party with a handful of people, you can bet the crab cakes will be on the table, with a nice salad and some parmesan cous cous. Once she even made them for a Super Bowl party, but instead of serving them plain, she put them on toasted bread with slices of Gouda or swiss cheese melted on top and a little mayonnaise seasoned with Old Bay, fresh dill, spicy mustard, and pepper. It was so crablicious!

Ingredients:
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cans lump crabmeat
1 egg
2 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp Grey Poupon mustard
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp black pepper
a few dashes of Cayenne pepper
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Breadcrumbs to bread crab cakes
butter



Directions:
1. In a small sauté pan, sauté garlic, red pepper, and onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes; set aside to cool.
2. Shred the crabmeat with fingers to reduce lumps.
3. Put all the ingredients, save for the breadcrumbs, in a large mixing bowl; gently fold them together so that all seasoning is incorporated.
4. Scoop fist-sized amounts of the mixture into your hand and form into flat crab cakes (about 8)
5. Gently coat with breadcrumbs; if you have time, cool them in the refrigerator for one to three hours to let them set.
6. Melt some butter in a large sauté pan; once the butter is bubbling, add crab cakes; cook on both sides until golden brown.

Makes 8-10 crab cakes.

From the new MyBrownBaby series, "Home Made Love: From The Chiles Girls' Kitchen To Yours," the cookbook in which Mari and Lila share special memories behind the beloved dishes they create in our house.




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Thursday, February 26, 2009

She's Got Love And Marriage—Now What About The Baby Carriage?



By JENNIFER JOHNSON

I want kids—always have. And now that I’ve got four years of marriage, a college degree, and a burgeoning career under my belt, I’m feeling like my time is now.

Problem is, I’m only 23. And while that’s an age that some would argue is perfect for chasing little ones around, mostly people start ticking off all kinds of reasons why I should wait to have a baby:

“You’re too young!”
“You should enjoy your 20s!”
“You should enjoy your husband!”
“You should focus on your career while you’re young!”


Trust me, it’s something I keep going back and forth with myself. Part of me thinks, "There's no time like the present!" And then the other part of me replies, "Yeah, but imagine what you could do with five more years!"

I guess I should wait for my husband to finish school before we take the plunge into parenthood. Waiting another two years wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?

But some days, it feels like an eternity. Of course, it doesn’t help that everyone around me is pregnant. Actually, it’s beginning to get annoying. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for my friends, but I’m getting tired of splurging on all of their baby showers when deep down, I wish someone was throwing me one.

Well, kinda.

Want to know a secret? I think I'm afraid of the permanency of it. Once I have a child, I can never go back to not having a child. I will always be a mother. Sure, kids grow up and move out. But there's still college I'll be worrying about, then of course weddings, and then grandchildren. It'll be a never-ending cycle.

I’m not going to let this fear stop me—this is what life is all about, right?
The milestones, the worries, the joys, the fears. This is what life is made of. You’ve just got to dive in it.

As much as I'd love to join the mother club, I’m standing on the diving board, staring down at the water—anxious to take the plunge, but scared to hit the water. Some days, I think it would be so much easier if my birth control failed—just like a surprise, ya know? At least that way I'd know it was God's plan.

Fat chance of that happening, though.

So for now, while I’m straddling the line, I’ll try to use my time wisely. I’m keeping a list of things I want to do before I have kids—like taking the GRE, learning Yoga, and feeling comfortable in the kitchen (for me, cooking = death!). I’m also studying as much as I can about motherhood and pregnancy. I know I’ll never be completely prepared, no matter how many books I read or how many moms I talk to, but I’m thinking it can’t hurt. And just for kicks, I’m writing lists, like, “The Things I’ll NEVER Say To My Kids,” which I imagine will be fun to look back and laugh at when those same words I’ve sworn off eventually tumble from my lips.

As a black woman I'm also thinking a lot about the things my children will experience growing up. I imagine their lives will be a lot different than the one I lived growing up in the still racially-divided South. On top of that, being in a biracial marriage brings up a whole ‘nother set of considerations about what I want to teach my children and the kind of life I want to make for them.

Most importantly, in my quest toward motherhood, I've been picking the brains of other wonderful women already in the trenches—women who give me the good, the bad, and the ugly about motherhood. Recently, I even connected with a woman who has a child with disabilities—and her experience made me think even harder about the struggles of motherhood.

And the beauty of it, too.

A beautiful struggle.

One of these days, it’ll be mine, too.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor
Future mama Jennifer Johnson chronicles her journey toward motherhood on her blog, Baby Makin(g) Machine.



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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MyBrownBaby MOM OF THE WEEK: CHRISTIE CROWDER



One of the things I love most about blogging is the amazing network of mom friends I’ve made on the internet; I’ve met some pretty incredible women here at MyBrownBaby—smart, witty, thoughtful, talented women who constantly inspire me to be a better mom, wife, businesswoman, and, above all else, friend. Christe Crowder of My Life—A Work In Progress, definitely fits the bill; she just consistently puts a smile on my face, for no other reason but because she’s that kind of lady. She’s a wife, mother, author of “Your Big Sister’s Guide to Surviving College," a certified life coach, host of "Chatter Box," her weekly internet radio talk show, a self-described multi-tasking maniac, and… Lord, what doesn’t this woman do?! She’s currently working on her first novel, and in between conference calls, piles of laundry, endless to-do lists, never knowing the answer to “what’s for dinner,” poopy diapers and stickers on her walls and furniture, Christie swears she absolutely loves her life. MyBrownBaby does, too! Check out why:

My name is… Christie Glascoe Crowder

I live in… Smyrna, GA a suburb about 15 minutes outside of Atlanta.

My brown babies are… Kennedy, 4, and Jackson, 1—the most beautiful creatures on earth (to me).

I make a living… coaching writers/entrepreneurs, writing books, blogging, and hosting my radio show, "Chatter Box," on Blog Talk Radio.

The last time my kids cracked me up… was every second of the day. They are a constant source of belly laughs for me, from their constant impromptu performances of the theme songs to Nick Jr./Noggin shows to their nightly WWF wrestling matches, during which my son takes running starts to leap on his sister's back. My daughter grabs him up in a bear hug and throws them both into our beanbag chair. I have my hand poised and ready to call 911, but it’s still pretty funny.

The last book I read with my kids was… “Good Morning/Good Night.” I actually just read it with my daughter. She knows it by heart and has been reciting the rhyming verses since she was two. We trade off sentences when we read it together.

My favorite place to take them is… outside. They love to run and be free.

My proudest mom moment was… The day I actually made a meal that everyone liked. My daughter said "Mom, this was the best dinner ever!" I can’t cook so this was major for me! It was my first time frying fish (you don’t ever want me to fry chicken—ever!) and I didn’t burn or overcook it. Rice and broccoli accompanied it. I know, really basic right? But trust me: I can find a way to screw up cold cereal! So the fact that everything came out perfect without being scalded or overly salty was a triumph.

My most embarrassing mommy moment was the time when… My son, home sick from daycare, screamed through my entire radio show—from the moment we went live to the sign-off. Though my audience and guests were very patient and understanding, I was mortified! I just tried to ignore him and stay focused, but the more I talked and ignored him, the louder he got. All I could do was apologize over and over again. All I have to say is I LOVE that most of my fans are moms; only they could understand and empathize. Of course, when my hour-long show was up, my son fell instantly asleep. You know I was hot!

The thing I most want my children to know is… no matter what, I love them unconditionally and I will always be proud they are my children!

The one family tradition I hope my kids continue when they grow up is… laughing! Our family is big on laughter and loving each other through thick and thin. I also hope they keep playing; we have huge game nights with Taboo or Scattagories. We have also been known to have knock-down, drag-out Scrabble matches. and Spades and Phase 10 have been known to get a bit nasty (in a competitive way). Cranium and SceneIt Battle Of The Sexes matches have been quite ridiculous. Now with the introduction of the Wii into our lives, you can only imagine the mayhem—and we love every moment of the hilarity!

If I could invent one thing to make being a mom easier, it would be… a magic wand that folds clothes, makes dinner, picks up toys, and cleans bathrooms auto-magically!

The best invention for kids ever is… the in-car DVD player

The kid snack I’m most likely to get busted eating is… Fruit Snacks.

The most important life lesson I want my kids to learn is… don't sweat the small stuff and be true to yourself!

The one thing no one knows about me is… I secretly want to be a bass player in a rock band.

The thing I lost as a mom that I wish I could get back is… my fricken waistline!

My “I’d Rather Be…” bumper sticker would say… Getting A Massage or On Vacation in Maui with an unlimited supply of Mai Tai’s.




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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No Love Up In The Club For The Girls Night Out



Forgive me for being naïve, but really? Guys—GROWN men—still run up behind women—GROWN women—they don’t know and rub all up on their booties on the dance floor at the club?

Really?

I mean, I assumed that at age *whispers number in cupped hand* we’d be able to walk into a club and hear a little old school LL Cool J, Black Sheep, and Mary J., and, oh, I don’t know, be able to dance with abandon, without some random guy thinking that my ability to drop it like it’s hot gives him automatic license to attach himself to my nether regions.

But apparently, somebody forgot to give me and my girls—13 deep on our latest Girls Night Out adventure—the memo that rings, tight girlfriend dance circles, and really polite, “Thank you, I’m flattered, but I’m chilling with my girls” beg-offs would mean nothing to men looking to get their dance floor freak-on with any woman moving.

One guy, dancing thisclose to my girl, even cussed me out because I politely told him that if he wanted to dance with her, me, or any of the other women in our group, he should be a gentleman about it and just, oh, I don’t know, ask.

Me: No disrespect—we’re just chillin’ right now.

Him: Well if you didn’t want to dance you should have stayed your ass home, then.

Me: Really brother, I’m not trying to be mean, it’s just that guys have been coming up behind us all night…

Him: Whatever, swamp trailer trash beyotch.

Me: *jaw on the ground, eyebrows furled, clearly confused.* Well damn.


I should disclose that during our Girls Night Out email planning, our girl Tina asked if we should bring our husbands so we’d have someone to dance with—a suggestion that was roundly clowned right up until we sipped the last of our pomegranate martinis and walked onto the dance floor.

And then, as we cut up and got down and giggled and twisted some more, we started looking around us—noticed how jaded and bored the women looked. And how cocky and sure the men seemed—like they were clear that because the women outnumbered them doggone near three to one, they didn’t have to be bothered with such niceties as offering to buy a lady a drink, or using their grown-up words to strike up a conversation, or even taking the time to say five simple, polite words that a typical gentlemen would employ at a club: “Would you like to dance?”

It’s a shame that Old School Night couldn’t be a return to old school values, when guys and girls were both out there to enjoy the music, and moving bodies didn’t serve as an invitation to pantomimed intercourse in the middle of the dance floor. Honestly, I thought this was a phenomenon of our BET-fed, video ho-obsessed teenagers, who don’t know how to dance together without the grinding of private parts and rap video simulations.

We 30-plusses know better, though.

At least I thought we did.

Still, not all was lost: We had a helluva good time despite the roomful of fools who wouldn’t understand r-e-s-p-e-c-t if Aretha Franklin pimp slapped them with a “Respect” 8-track. That’s how we girlfriends do on Girls Night Out. And Mr. ThisClose did come back over and apologize for his ridiculous behavior and extremely hurtful words.

But I think my girls and I will take Tina’s advice the next time and bring the boys along when we hit the club—and keep our Girls Night Out adventures in venues that check pretenses, desperation, bitterness, and childish behavior at the door.

Nothing but good times.



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Monday, February 23, 2009

DADDY'S LITTLE JOCKS



By NICK CHILES

There were many joys I expected from having little girls, but I didn’t expect this one. I knew that if I played my cards right, if I managed to show my little girls just a fraction of the love that I felt in my heart, I could potentially be on the receiving end of some serious little girl adoration. But I never expected that I would be overseeing the rise of two little girl jocks. Over the past year or so, it has become increasingly apparent to me that my 9-year-old and 6-year-old daughters are gifted athletes. And what has caught me even more by surprise is the crucial role that daddies play in nurturing the athletic impulse in their daughters. I would even go out on a limb and say that in most cases the dad is probably the most important ingredient in turning little girls into top athletes.

I must admit that I get more of a thrill from watching my girls excel on the soccer field than I ever got from my own athletic conquests, or even from watching my son destroy opponents on the football field (he’s a defensive lineman, so destruction is very much part of his job description). While I expected that my son would probably be an excellent player, I had no such expectations when it came to my daughters. Perhaps some might ascribe this to some latent daddy sexism, but that would be too simple. A more apt reason would be ignorance. I didn’t really have much of an idea what went into the creation of a female athlete. I grew up around active sisters and a mother who was formerly a high school basketball player (though this was back in the 1950s, when they apparently didn’t even allow the girls to dribble, according to my mom—they could only advance the ball by passing it), but none of them ever really made sports a priority in their lives when we were younger. What’s becoming clearer to me is that most girls and their mothers will never make sports a priority without a significant push from dad. Unless they were serious jocks themselves, many mothers don’t seem to envision their daughters spending hours on end every week sweating and running and shoving and even bleeding out on a playing field. There needs to be some other presence, some additional impetus, to push the girls off the default position. In the case of most of the female athletes I see around me, that impetus is dad.



Very often, especially in the early years, we may be the only real advocates in the house for the girl as athlete. My wife Denene is clearly not sure about the future of this whole sports thing for her daughters. She didn’t play sports herself growing up and I can tell that she has no idea of the sacrifices and sometimes pain that goes into turning your body into a finely tuned instrument. At least every few months she and I face off in an intense argument about Mari and her sports participation. Mari is at the stage where others are recognizing her potential and trying to push us into committing even more of her (and our) time and energies. I know that as she and her younger sister Lila get better, the demands will only get worse—to the point where we will be forced to make some tough decisions about where it all leads. At times I grapple with self-doubt—Are we pushing her too hard? Is the time too much? Is her body in danger of breaking down (she had to stop track because of a pain in her left knee)? Would she be better off maybe trading in the cleats for ballet slippers? I never faced any of these questions with my son—the assumption was always that we all would keep pushing until someone else decided that he couldn’t go any further. But things are different with girls. I live with the ever-present fear that one day my wife will wake up and decide all this sports nonsense needs to end. And I suspect my daughter herself likely won’t be weighing in on her sports future until she’s well into adolescence—when I am trying to gauge whether I might be pushing her too hard, her response is usually to look into my eyes and tell me that she wants to do whatever I think she should do.



It’s astounding how closely their on-field personas mirror their personalities off the field. Mari is disciplined, cautious, intense and thoughtful—the kind of girl who will watch the clock as we are driving to practice and ask me every two minutes if I think she is going to be late. On the field she is a precise athlete, able to command her body to do what she wishes by the force of her will and her precocious powers of concentration and discipline. When she ran track as a 7-year-old for a local—and nationally regarded—track squad that had several runners who were among the tops in the country, she was usually one of the first to perfect some new technique the coach was trying to teach. This made her a natural for the long jump because, while every other 7-year-old would step over the line on the take-off, Mari never faulted. She was too exacting to make a mistake like that. And boy does she have heart. I was amazed the first time I realized that noise I heard while she ran around the track at practice was my little daughter crying because of the pain. But not once did she ever stop. On that day I don’t know which one was bigger—my enormous pride or the lump in my throat. She moved from track to swimming to soccer, where her discipline and attention to detail has helped her in one short year go from a beginner to an all-star and member of the traveling team.



Lila the younger is the wild child, the bold, brash warrior who will run over anyone who gets in her way. Soccer is the only sport that she has played thus far, but every time I watch her I am stunned by her fearlessness. Mind you, this is a little girl who can summon tears at home if she decides that someone is looking at her too hard, who is so tender-headed that she starts screaming when my wife just reaches for the comb. But on the soccer field she turns into a little brown bulldozer, running through anyone who gets in her way, using her speed and agility to stay away from anyone trying to catch her, utilizing her smarts to stay two steps ahead of the other team. At six, she is outplaying girls two years older than she is. My little girl is fierce.

When I read all the studies that reveal the huge impact sports has in helping girls develop a positive self-image and more self-confidence and having them delay the start of sexual activity, my conviction is renewed: I need to make sure they get a chance to run and sweat out there for as long as possible. And I’ll be right there on the sidelines, holding the towels and the water bottles, and cheering my girls on.

About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur. He's an avid sports fan, and can be found most weekends on the sidelines of football and soccer fields throughout the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, cheering quite loudly for his brown babies.


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Friday, February 20, 2009

It's A Whole New World: Disney's First African American Princess Takes A Bow



I remember dying a thousand deaths the day my Mari came home and announced she wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. I mean, I understood that the kid wasn’t trying to make any grand political statement about her caramel skin and natural hair or anything. She was three. It was all about getting dressed up in the fancy gown.

Still, I shuddered when I got the mental image of my brown baby floating down the streets of New Jersey, telling all the neighbors—and especially my African American mom friends—that she was Snow White. After all, my friends and I had practically taken a blood oath on the playgrounds of South Orange, N.J., never to let our daughters get suckered by The Mouse into thinking they needed to stand around waiting for a boy to rescue them and then invite them to a hot party. Still, my parents, who’d fed Mari’s “Snow White” habit by keeping a VHS copy of the classic movie on repeat at their house, kept feeding their granddaughter’s princess habit.

The two of them were wrecking my anti-princess flow.

I was defenseless against Mari's request to be the black Snow White.

Already a little queasy about the mission at hand, my gut tied into a million more knots when I stepped into the Disney store to buy her costume, and saw every last gown in the place had white faces plastered like a badge on the chest. I would have paid triple the price if just ONE of the gowns in that great big ol’ store featured a character that looked like my child.

Just. One.



Two daughters, one each of the Snow White, Tinkerbell, and Pocahontas costumes, and an aggressive “Independent Brown Girls Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Princesses” campaign later, the Walt Disney Company is finally coming correct. Earlier this week, it unveiled a toy line inspired by Princess Tiana, Disney’s first black princess. Tiana, voiced by Tony Award-winning actress and singer Anika Noni Rose (Lorell of “Dreamgirls”), makes her debut in Disney’s animated feature, “The Princess and the Frog” on Christmas Day, and she’s getting the full-court Disney princess treatment, beginning with this beautiful Princess Tiana doll, a line of toys, including play sets, role-play dresses and accessories, home décor, consumer electronics, school supplies and personal care products, and an assortment of story and activity books.

Come this fall, black moms—and any mom who wants to add a little color to her daughter’s Disney Princess collection—will be able to waltz into more than 220 Disney Stores in the United States and Canada to pick up a princess Halloween costume with a picture of a beautiful brown girl.

Finally.

It’s a whole new world.

Even my Mari, who’s long been over the princess thing (part age, part “Drop Squad”-style indoctrination) got geeked when she saw these pictures. “She’s so pretty!” she exclaimed. “A brown princess! Can we go see the movie?”

That’s a date, Mari.

For sure.

Here’s a sneak preview... enjoy!





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Thursday, February 19, 2009

MyBrownBaby Spotlight: Why We Love Kindred The Family Soul



Maybe I’m just getting old, but it’s hard as heck to relate to modern music these days. I mean, all you need to do is turn on a black radio station to witness the ridiculousness of lyrics that obsess on black pathology and private parts. Why, just yesterday, at around 4 p.m., while I was on my way to pick my child up from an after school activity, I heard an ode to alcoholism on the radio, with a gang of dummies shouting proudly how “tow up” they are from a day’s worth of drunken debauchery.

I guess you get what you pay for when you find talent not in small clubs or music schools or church pews, but fresh from the stack of portfolio headshots of some modeling agency somewhere. Talent be damned.

Which is what makes the singing duo Kindred The Family Soul so incredibly beautiful to me. To actually discover singers who seem like they were given their big break because of their talent is rare enough, but for Fatin and Aja to be a married couple with children and mortgages and seemingly normal, everyday lives, makes Kindred seem about as regular as Nick and me.

Too cool.

As a couple that’s been writing together for a decade, willing to allow people to peek into our relationship and share in our good days and the bad ones too, Nick and I are appreciative of the sentiments that Kindred expresses in their music, from their adoration of each other ("Where Would I Be"), to their dedication to one another, ("Rhythm of Love," and "This House"), to their recognition of the struggles of marriage and parenting ("Woman First"). Be clear: This isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill, black Hip Hop station fare; Kindred’s music is refreshingly honest, insightful, funny, head-noddingly familiar and fly. Nick and I have loved them from the beginning--quickly adopted their hit, "Far Away," as the ultimate African American married couple anthem. What black couple couldn't identify with the lyrics of this beautiful song?

I'm tired of broken street glass
Not getting no ass
Unless the baby’s sleep, but even then seems like we're trying to creep
Tired of paying taxes, sending emails and faxes
Tired of crooked cops, tired of black folk complaining that crime don't stop

I wanna go to a place where lovers go
Do the things that lovers do
No stress, a sweet caress from me to you
I wanna do the things we used to do,
Say the things we used to say
Just lay, everyday (all day)

Far away from here/far away from here/far away from here
Just jump in a taxicab, pack a bag, and get away fast.


You better tell it, Kindred.

Tell it.

To learn more about Kindred The Family Soul, click HERE. To buy their latest album, The Arrival, click HERE.



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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Brown Skin Is Beautiful—Now Put Some Make-up On It!



By DENENE MILLNER

My mother was incredibly beautiful—had this fiery red hair and high cheekbones and the smoothest, most flawless skin you ever did see. With her hair just so, she looked so much like Whitney Houston (the pre-Bobby Brown/crack-is-wack version) her co-workers on the line at Estee Lauder regularly used to ask her to bust a tune. (Um, just for the record, my mother couldn’t hold a note if someone tucked it in a Birkin bag.) She was, in a word, stunning.

What made her more beautiful to me, though, was that she was fly without make-up. She just didn’t wear a lot of it. A little mascara, some lipstick, and maybe some blush, that was it. I remember standing in the doorway, watching her blot her Fashion Fair maroon-ish red lipstick on a tissue, wishing for the day that I could slip a little of it on my lips, too. She’d smile—always that beautiful smile—and tell me, “If you want to keep that pretty skin, don’t wear make-up. Just keep your face clean and you won’t have to worry about bumps and all of that stuff.”

And, like a good daughter, I listened to my mother, because that’s what you did when you were Bettye’s child. I don’t think I wore much more than lip gloss until I was well into my sophomore year in college, and even then, I used it sparingly, and only on special occasions. And even now, as a mom with three brown babies of my own, I pretty much operate under the same philosophy: A bare face is the best face.

Well, I made the mistake of saying this to one of the most beautiful women in the world—the legendary actress Diahann Carroll. I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Ms. Carroll for Essence magazine’s annual Hollywood issue, which hit stands just in time for their Essence Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon, going down at the Beverly Hills Hotel tomorrow. In the story, she dishes on her ground-breaking career, her roles as the devilishly delicious Dominique Deveraux on my all-time favorite soap, “Dynasty,” and how she, an African American woman, survived—and prospered—in the unforgiving, extremely white American film industry.

Needless to say, the glamorous Ms. Carroll stopped me mid-sentence when I flippantly said, “I don’t really wear make-up unless it’s for special occasions. I’m mostly bare-faced unless there’s something special happening.”

She fell silent—I’m guessing so that she could make sure I heard her gasp.

“Stop thinking of it that way,” she scolded me with that magnificent voice. “Think of the person you run into. You’re taking you! And that little attention you give to you means you really like you.

“Barefaced to me,” she sniffed, “does not mean you like you. I understand taking a holiday, but you must like you. It’s important.”

I tell you, by the time I finished that interview, I was so smitten by Ms. Carroll, I was naming her as one of my favorite celebrity interviews ever—up there with Lena Horne, Ossie and Ruby Dee, and yes, even the in-persons with Idris Elba and George Clooney. Um, yeah—that says A LOT about Ms. Carroll. Anyways, after I hung up with her from our hour-long interview, I literally ran into my bathroom and dusted my face with my amazing-but-hardly-ever-used set of Bobbi Brown foundation, blush, and eye shadow, applied my trusty waterproof Maybelline mascara and eyeliner, and finished it all off with my Aveda lip tint. And then I stood back and admired the work.

And Diahann Carroll was right: I liked me.

I put on a nice top, and some hot jeans, and even traded up from my Crocs to a pair of high-heeled mules because all that work deserved something adorable to go with it. And then I walked out the door tipping—you know how it is… like I was too cute. Nick loved it. And my girls did, too.

Later, when I took my daughters to Mandarin class at Angelou’s house, she opened the door and immediately asked me where I was going. “You got make-up on,” she said. “You got a hot date or something?”

I cracked up.

And told her, simply, that if only for today, I was practicing liking me.

That one was for you, Ms. Carroll.

To read my profile tribute to the incredible Diahann Carroll, as well as my domestic violence piece on two of the stars of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, pick up the March 2009 issue of Essence.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hate It Or Love It, This Brown Girl Won't Be Conforming To Your Definition of "Black."




By CAROLYN EDGAR


When my 11-year-old daughter said she wanted to go dressed as an Oreo cookie for Halloween last year, I laughed.

“Cami. Really. Think about it.”

“What?” she asked.

An “Oreo” costume worn as social commentary would have been clever. But my daughter’s thinking was much more literal. She loves Oreos. She loves the Oreo commercial that pits Serena and Venus Williams against Eli and Peyton Manning. Why not be her favorite cookie for Halloween?

But at 11, she’s also savvy enough to know the other, derogatory meaning of that term. Understanding washed over her face while I fought to turn my guffaw to a chuckle.

“Ohhhhh.” She ended up wearing a ‘60s mod girl costume instead.

Cami has been called an Oreo often enough in her 11 years. She can't dance. She has no rhythm. GPS navigation couldn't help her find the beat. She couldn’t “code switch” to speak the street language of our Harlem neighborhood if her life depended on it. She’s tired of being told she “talks white,” but I’ve drilled it into her that no one race has a monopoly on proper grammar and diction. She has two or three black friends, but most of her friends are white.

As Cami figures out who she is, I try to stay out of the way. At four, she hated her curly hair and brown skin. Her white preschool classmates never let her play princess with them “because princesses don’t look like you.” Now, she loves her hair and skin. She is proud to be a black girl. She just refuses to let anyone else define for her what being “black” actually means. As she said recently, “I don’t have to like Lil’ Wayne to prove that I’m black!”

Cami has no patience for notions of what black people “do” and “don’t do.” She also does not require the presence of other black people to feel comfortable in a new environment. This past summer, she had her first sleep-away camp experience at a camp just outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Before deciding to send her there, I met with the camp director and asked a ton of questions about the camp, but none about the race or ethnicity of its campers.

When the director asked “Do you have any more questions?” for the third time, I realized he was expecting me to ask about the camp’s diversity. I asked the question, knowing the answer would have little bearing on my decision. Cami would be fine whether or not there were other black children at the camp. And things went pretty much as I expected. Cami had a great time at camp and made lots of new friends. The camp did have a handful of black children, but none of Cami’s new friends was black.

As Cami nears her 12th birthday, she tells me the black and Latino kids in her new school criticize her for hanging out with the white kids. She believes people should be judged for who they are, not for what they look like. She argues passionately, to me and to the kids at school, that “it shouldn’t matter” what race her friends are. I agree.

Still, I know from my own experiences that being involved in black social networks also will be important for her social development. By living in Harlem and attending a racially and economically diverse public school, Cami will gain a broad understanding of—or at least exposure to—class, and national and cultural identity issues among black Americans. But I’m a little concerned about what she may be missing by not being a bit more steeped in black culture, and how that might affect her socially.

As much as I hope and believe that we are in a time of true change, I also know that all of the things that divide black people simply will not fade away. I want Cami to continue to decide for herself who she is and who she wants to become. I want her to choose her friends based on common interests rather than common appearance. But I don’t want her to be shunned by other black kids because of those choices. I have considered joining various organizations to expose her to other black children who share her interests, but I wonder if it’s really necessary. I love her independence and her idealism, and a big part of me wants to just leave her alone.

And then there’s my 7-year-old son. I assumed he was still too young for race to be an issue—until the day he asked me how Michael Jackson got his skin to turn white, and could he do that to himself when he grows up.

I gave him a be-proud-to-be-African-American lecture on the spot, and added, "You can't do ANYTHING to look like Michael Jackson, you hear me!" Self-determination has its limits.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Carolyn Edgar is a corporate attorney based in New York City. A mom of two, she writes frequently for the New York City Moms Blog


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Monday, February 16, 2009

"Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man" Debuts At #1 On The New York Times Best Seller's List



It's every author's secret fantasy—to write a book and have it debut at the top of the New York Times best seller's list. At least this is what my husband/six-time co-author tells me. I don't know if that's really my story.

Well, maybe just a little bit.

Okay, I admit it: It is kinda the hotness to see my name at the top of the institution of record—the Bible of the book industry. (Click on the page up top to see what I'm talking about up close.)

I did a little shameless self-promotion for "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man" a month or so ago, explaining the writing process between me and Steve Harvey, the comedian-turned-relationship guru for whom I wrote the book. What I didn't tell you is that he warned me he had every intention of getting the book on the New York Times best seller's list—by telling millions of listeners about "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man" on his hit morning radio program, The Steve Harvey Morning Show, and taking it to every big television program that would have him. I give it to Steve Harvey—the man is a promotional machine.

Still, I am humbled by the success of this, our book.

And grateful.

And, above all, blessed.

Here, a little Marvin Sapp to help put to song how I feel about this, my 15th book, going big time.

Enjoy!




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Friday, February 13, 2009

Finding True Love On Valentine's Day



This is the way it seemed to always work: A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, whatever loser I was dating at the time would break up with the kid. For just the most random of reasons.

“I feel like we need to slow down and be friends.”

“You’re a great girl—I’m just not ready for you.”

“Um, it’s Tuesday.”

I’m no dummy—it was clear they didn’t want to suffer and sweat through the gift giving madness of February 14th. But then if they really knew me, they’d have figured out that I didn’t really study all the chocolate/roses/sugar-filled hearts mess anyway. I’ve always been more of an action girl—show me your love, I don’t need you to buy it and hand it to me.

I had my mom for that.

See, Bettye, in her infinite feminine wisdom, knew what kind of expectations boys with “gifts” would put on her baby girl, and she especially knew that it sucked to be on the receiving end of nothing on special occasions. And so she went out of her way to make sure that I never came up short on Valentine’s Day—would give me a gift every year to A) make me smile, and B) make it clear that I didn’t need some dumb boy to celebrate a day dedicated to celebrating love.

Love, you see, has more veins than that, and each one pumps life into the relationships we have not just with lovers, but with other human beings—mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandparents and aunties and uncles and BFFs.

And to help me understand this, my mom would give me a card and an assortment of sweet little gifts—a pack of Now & Laters (to this day, my favorite candy), a tube of lip gloss, a little Sunday purse, new ribbons for my hair. She kept up the tradition even when I was in college and into my 20s, too, taking the sting out of getting stiffed by the dumb boys I’d been dating. Chocolates, easy-to-keep-alive plants, gift certificates to Red Lobster—you name it, she got it for me. If she knew she wouldn’t see me before the holiday, she would make sure her gift would be sitting in the mailbox waiting for me. One year while I was in college, she drove over to campus to hand-deliver I Dream A World,” an incredible book featuring portraits and first-person biographies of African American women who’ve changed the world. My mom handed the book to me with very simple instructions: “Do something special, Dede—be extraordinary, so that the next time they print a book like this, you’re in it, too. I know you can do it.”

That meant more to me than any stupid box of chocolates and overpriced flowers I could have ever gotten from some man.

And now, my husband is continuing that tradition with our girls. By showing them what true love from a man looks like. By showering them with Valentine’s Day gifts (he says so that they won’t be impressed by gifts from other men). By making Valentine’s Day a special day that’s about true love—the kind that flows through those veins.

It’s a love that continues far and beyond February 14th.

Stronger than the roots of a Baobab tree.

To celebrate this year, Nick is taking his favorite girls out to their school’s Father Daughter Dance. You should see them around here, practicing for the big night, blasting Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” and giggling like crazy when he bows in front of them and puts on his formal voice and asks, “May I have this dance?” They giggle some more as they take turns falling into Daddy’s arms and twirling under his fingertips.

The joy in their eyes is the greatest gift this African American mom could ever get on Valentine’s Day—worth more than a thousand boxes of chocolate, more than a field of roses, more than the biggest diamond and the fanciest car.

My beautiful brown daughters, you see, have true love.



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Thursday, February 12, 2009

MyBrownBabyReview: "Coraline." Plus, A "Coraline" Book Giveaway!



So it’s rare that Nick and I get to the theater to see a grown-up movie—we’re usually stuck in the Saturday matinees, chewing on greasy, under salted, over-priced popcorn, suffering (or sleeping) through some god-awful kid film, each one cheesier than the last. Once in a while, though, one of the kid flicks makes us feel like the $30-plus (!) price tag makes breaking the entertainment bank well worth it.

The movie “Coraline” is well worth the price of admission—and then some.

The premise: Coraline, a smark, quirky, gloomy child, moves with her parents into a sprawling, creaky old mansion at the top of an always-rainy, forever gloomy mountain, where the insufferable tween is constantly being shushed/blown-off/asked for “just one more minute” by her writer parents. There’s never any food in the refrigerator, her parents would much rather tickle their computer keys than show their daughter the attention she craves, and the cast of nutty neighbors who live around her—including two washed-up starlets, an aged circus performer, and a cornball of a boy with a mangy black cat—are much too weird for words. When Coraline is shooed off by her dad to “explore” their new house, she discovers a creaky little child-sized door that opens up into a tunnel leading to a parallel world where everyone, especially her button-eyed “Other Mother,” spoil her beyond compare.

But everything’s not what it seems in Coraline’s “other” house; she slowly discovers that the fanciful, colorful gardens, delicious food, animated toys, and two especially her uber attentive set of “other” parents and friends are part of a make-believe world that ultimately reveals itself much more dark and sinister than her real inattentive parents and gloomy, seemingly loveless home.

“Coraline” is deliciously creepy—full of wonder and darkness and spunk and hair-raising moments that might scare the wee bits just a wee bit. They’ll be too amazed by the 3 D stop-motion animation, though, to do the full-blown “Mommy, I’m scared!” freak-out, though; the special effects are simply incredible—designed not so much for flying objects to lurch at you as much as they it is to make you feel like you’re standing in the room, peeking around the corner at the action. The colors, the movements, the action, and especially the 3-D animation is simply breathtaking—unlike anything we’d ever seen.

You absolutely must, must, must take the kids to see this one in the movie theater, where they can experience the beauty of “Coraline” on the big screen—while I’m sure the DVD will be perfectly fine, it simply will not do the artistry of this movie justice. Trust me on this: Your kids will think it’s wonderfully, weirdly fantastic, and so will you.

And once your kids are thoroughly hooked, lead them to the children’s novel by the same name—the best-selling “Coraline,” by acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman. In fact, you might want to leave a comment below for your chance to win a FREE copy of “Coraline” the novel.

I’ve got four copies.

Want one?



It’s easy to win: Simply leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 15, 2009, telling me what you’d be most happy to find in your “Other” life.

Want to boost your chances of winning? Do one or all of the following:

Do what the cool people do and follow MyBrownBaby. Just click on the "Follow This Blog" link on the right hand side of this page, and you're in. Be sure to leave a comment letting me know you've done so.

If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 15, 2009. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

Rate MyBrownBaby and leave a comment on Top Sista Sites. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment to let me know you’ve done so.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 4 entries. A winner will be chosen via Random.org, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only.

ALSO, DON’T FORGET TO TRY YOUR HAND AT WINNING A $50 Home Depot Gift Card. CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE.



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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

MyBrownBaby Contest: Win A $50 Home Depot Card AND Help Remember MLK’s “Dream”



Oh, how I love Home Depot—let me count the ways:
• It’s my go-to spot for the herbs, flowers, and vegetables Lila, Mari, and I plant in our summer container garden
• It’s where I found these AWESOME SCONCES that look super cutie hanging over my breakfast bar in the kitchen
• I found marble tiles similar to the ones shown in THIS PICTURE for $1 a piece. Seriously. I have them in the master bath and the dining room floors. Crazy.

And now, yet another reason to love Home Depot: Now through Feb. 28, The Home Depot is offering a commemorative “Dream” gift card celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When consumers purchase the collector’s edition “Dream” gift card, The Home Depot will donate five percent of all sales to the Atlanta-based Center for Civil and Human Rights, up to $1 million dollars. The donation will assist in the building of a permanent exhibition home for more than 10,000 of MLK’s personal writings and papers, among them 7,000 handwritten notes spanning from 1946 to 1968. The collection also includes drafts of his "I Have a Dream" speech, his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," other theological writings and his Nobel Peace Prize addresses. The new center, which will also commemorate the groundbreaking contributions of Atlantans and Georgians to the historic struggle for African-American freedom and equality, will cost in excess of $125 million to build, so every dime—including those collected from proceeds from the sales of the special Home Depot “Dream” gift cards—will count.

To help spread the word, Home Depot and MyBrownBaby are partnering to offer a $50 gift card to one lucky MyBrownBaby reader. Here’s how you get your chance to win: Visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights and leave a comment about something you learned by 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 15, 2009.

Want to enter more than once? Boost your chances of winning by completing one or more tasks on this list:

If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, February 15, 2009. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

Order a “Dream” gift card from Home Depot, and email a copy of your confirmation order to mybrownbabycontests@gmail.com.

Blog about MyBrownBaby and post a link to your blog entry here.

Rate MyBrownBaby and leave a comment on Top Sista Sites. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment to let me know you’ve done so.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 5 entries. A winner will be chosen via Random.org, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only; prizes will be sent directly from the contest sponsor.

ALSO, DON’T FORGET TO TRY YOUR HAND AT WINNING A GORGEOUS SET OF PICTURE FRAMES IN THE MyBrownBaby/KISHA’S KIDS CONTEST. CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE.

Well, go ahead—what are you waiting for? Those frames and that Home Depot Card aren’t going to just materialize on your table. You gotta be in it to win it!



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Finding Joy In A Black Boy Who Loves To Read




I didn’t mean to offend—I promise you this. It’s just that he’s a sweet boy and incredibly bright and engaging, and really, the book didn’t cost that much.

This is what I’d planned to say to the mother of my daughter’s classmate—a little boy who I’ve come to adore. I’d seen him in her class before, but I talked to him one-on-one for the first time at our school’s Scholastic Book Fair last year. My first conversation with King (I’m using a description of little man instead of his name, to protect the innocent) went a little something like this:

Me: Do you need help finding a book?

King: I’m not going to buy a book.

Me: Well, why not?

King: I don’t like to read.

Me: *I play-clutch my heart and die 2,000 deaths* What?! You don’t like to read? That’s the craziest thing I’ve EVER heard—a kid who doesn’t like to read! Do you know what you’re missing out on? Do you know how many great stories you don’t get to hear because you won’t pick up a book? Have you any idea…


Ten minutes and 40 great-books-I-know-a-kid-your-age-would-just-love suggestions later, King agreed to read with me the back covers of a few offerings to see if they kinda sounded like something he might slip and read if forced. He giggled at the first few pages of “The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid,” and wondered aloud how hard it would be to go a whole day without saying a word, like the kids in Andrew Clement’s “No Talking.” He even thought it would be cool to work on a school newspaper, like the lead character in Walter Dean Meyers’ “Darnell Rock Reporting.” By the time we finished talking and laughing and exploring, he was reasonably convinced that maybe, just maybe, reading wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Small problem, though: His mom, he said, hadn’t given him money to buy a book. “No problem,” I said simply. “Pick out one book, and I’ll buy it for you. All you have to do is promise me that the next time you see me, you’ll tell whether you liked it or not.”

Well let me tell you: Every time I see that little boy now, which is often because I’m always up there at that school, he’s got something to say about yet another book he’s reading. He’s into fantasy and mystery and humor books—loves the magic of the stories and how they make him laugh out loud. This child, a beautiful little 4th grade black boy, is officially in love with the written word.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I met up with King at this year’s Scholastic Book Fair and he told me he wasn’t going to purchase a book.

Me: Well why not? There’s lots of wonderful books here today.

King: My mother didn’t give me money.

Me: Well, you know the drill—go on ahead and pick out something and Ms. Denene will get it for you.

King: I can’t. My mom will get really mad if I let you do that.

He was so stiff when he said it—and he had tears in his eyes. Turns out his mom was pissed that some lady bought her kid something without her permission.

The hell? I was undone when I heard this madness; what in the world kind of mother, I fumed (on the inside, of course), would get mad at her son for accepting the gift of a book? In this day and age, when little black boys who’d much rather play Madden and watch Lil’ Wayne videos outnumber damn near 1,000 to one little black boys who get pleasure from reading?

I really had to fix my face on this one, and, at the same time, say something encouraging to King, who, by this point, was tearily watching his classmates skip out of the fair, book purchases in hand.

Me: “I’ll talk to your mom, okay?” I blurted out.

King: Really? You promise?

Me: Sure.

Yup, that was me and my big mouth in action. I'd just told the boy I was going to step to his mother and make her let me buy him a book.

Later, when I recounted the story to Nick, he was quiet for a moment. “Maybe,” he said simply, “you need to think about how you’d feel if somebody bought books for the girls without your permission after you told them you didn’t have any money to buy them. Pride, babe.”

Yup. As usual, I didn’t think of it that way. I was so focused on the high of getting a boy hooked on books that I hadn’t considered how my actions could have been misinterpreted by his mom—and how she may have thought they made her look in her son’s eyes. And for that, I was deeply sorry.

This is what I told her a few nights ago, when our kids’ class met for an evening activity. I introduced myself and told her how amazing I thought her son was, and asked her if it would be okay if I talked to him about books and, from time to time, slipped him an age-appropriate novel or two just to see what, in a 4th grade black boy’s mind, constitutes a good book. “No pressure,” I insisted. “I won’t go crazy. Just a book or two that we can discuss whenever I see him here at the school.”

“Of course you can give him books,” she said, smiling. “How could I argue with free books?”

Exactly. Who can argue with free books?

Both of us looked at King; his grin was infectious—worth every cent of the cost of his new book, times a million.



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Monday, February 9, 2009

African American Babies Need Moms Who Know Their History



By DENENE MILLNER

I found the papers when I was 12—in a metal box tucked under my parents’ bed. I wasn’t supposed to be snooping all through their personal belongings; my mother had put a lock on her door, presumably to keep my brother and I from dipping into her stash of moon pies and using her pricy, smelly lotions, and discovering her and my dad’s copy of “The Joy of Sex.” But kids are experts at getting into stuff and finding the hidden, and that little flimsy lock was no match for the wits of a curious preteen and her big brother. If we wanted to see it, it was going to get seen.

But this? This I wasn’t ready for.

BABY GIRL...
DENENE MILLNER…
HEREYBY FORMALLY ADOPTED ON THIS DAY…

My fingers trembled as I brought the paper closer to my face—as if the words would magically morph into something wholly different if I just stared at them a little harder, a little longer, a little bit more closely to my 20/20s. But the words just… wouldn’t… change.

And then, suddenly, it felt like someone had fired buckshot into my chest. The shock was almost unbearable: My mom and dad weren’t my mom and dad. My brother? Not my brother, either. None of them by blood, anyway.

To this day, I can’t tell you how I got those papers back into the metal box, how I pushed that metal back under their bed, how I convinced my legs to carry me out of their room and shut the door and lock it back and act like I’d never seen those papers.

How I managed to keep their secret—my secret—for all those years.

For years—more than 20 years—I refused to acknowledge my adoption or tell my parents I knew they’d adopted me. At first it was because I was scared they’d be mad at me for snooping, but as I grew older, that morphed into my need to protect their privacy. Maybe they didn’t want to explain to everyone coming and going why they didn’t have biological babies together, or where they found me, or why my birth parents gave me up. Maybe, I reasoned, my mom and dad feared I would search for the people who abandoned me on the stoop of that New York City orphanage—that I would find them and, in turn, reject the two people who didn’t give me blood, but who truly gave me life.

I couldn’t do that to them. To me. To us. Though my birth parents deserve praise for birthing me and having the courage to love me enough to give me away, my parents get the glory for raising me, educating me, supporting me, disciplining me, and loving me beyond measure—and doing it with an enormous amount of grace and wisdom. Despite the odds. With little money. And no help. Just them.

And love.

No, there was no need to find the birth parents—it didn’t even occur to me to do so. Not until, that is, I became pregnant with my first baby.

Not knowing, you see, wreaked havoc on my health history, which, because I don’t know who my birth parents are, is basically non-existent. From the time I’ve been old enough to go to the doctor on my own, I’ve been forced to leave the “family history” part of the stacks of first-visit papers blank, which always leads to a really awkward opening conversation with my doctors, who realize pretty early on that they’ll have to treat whatever is ailing me without the extremely valuable “family health history” tools they need to figure out what might be causing my health problems. I haven’t a clue if cancer runs in my family, or diabetes, or weight problems—hypertension, stroke, gout. You name it, it could be lurking, waiting to claim me, and I will have no clue until it taps me on the shoulder and goes to work on my system.

This was most glaring while I was pregnant; neither of my ob-gyns had the valuable information they needed to help me figure out health risks for my pregnancy and, more important, my children. They knew Nick’s family’s health and were able to keep an eye out for specific Chiles family issues. But my side of it was the big unknown—you might as well have crossed an “X” across my paperwork.

And this disturbed me greatly.

I couldn’t change this in time enough for my pregnancies, and while I still have no interest in finding out who my birth parents are (wouldn’t be able to anyway, seeing as she/he/they left me on a stoop in the middle of Manhattan) I do wish that the government would change laws to at least allow adopted kids access to their health history, even if their adoption records are sealed tighter than Ft. Knox.

This doesn’t—and shouldn’t—be your story if you know who your birth parents are you’re looking to get pregnant or are pregnant. For sure, all you have to do to gather up your family health history is to start asking questions. Ask your mother and father who has/had what in their family; hit up your aunties and uncles at the next family reunion; quiz your cousins at the next barbeque. Your play aunties might even have some info—might know what your granddaddy’s brother might have had when he passed on.

Then take that information and write it down. The March of Dimes is a fantastic resource for info on the importance of family history, and has on its website a downloadable family health questionnaire to help walk you through the information you should be gathering. Take a look at what the March of Dimes has to say about the importance of genetic testing, too, to help you see into your baby’s health future.

I didn’t have this option.

You do.

Please, don’t take it for granted.

For more information on family history, genetic testing, and pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and newborn care, please check out the March of Dimes website. This blog post was donated by MyBrownBaby to the March of Dimes as part of its March of Dimes Moms initiative.



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Friday, February 6, 2009

Home Made Love: Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwiches



To keep Christmas gift-giving simple (and affordable!), my girls and I made home made cookbooks for a few of the special folks in our lives. They turned out pretty cute, too--they were filled with my daughters' step-by-step, easy-to-follow recipes, pictures of the two of them slaving over the stove, and, of course, colorful shots of their creations looking all delicious on the plate. My favorite part of our "Home Made Love: From The Chiles Girls' Kitchen To Yours" cook book, though, was the stories; I encouraged Mari and Lila to write about the food they were cooking--to share the special memories behind the beloved dishes they chose for their project. Cooking, after all, is about memories, isn't it?

And because I'm so very proud of the girls and their "Home Made Love," I've decided to start a series called Home Made Love, in which I'll feature their recipes and memories. Here, the first in the series:


By MARI CHILES and LILA CHILES


CHAMPION CHEESESTEAK SANDWICH

These sandwiches are nice and cheesy and we really love the onions, especially when they’re sizzling in the pan. When mommy cuts up the roast beef—we get it sliced thin from the grocery store—Teddy always sits right up under her feet, waiting for a piece or two to drop his way. Teddy loves roast beef. We always manage to “accidentally” drop a few more pieces his way when Mommy’s not looking. That makes Teddy especially happy.



Plus, it keeps him from nudging mommy on the leg for more meat. Mommy loves her Teddy, but she’s not a fan of the wet-nosed nudge. She does like the cheese steak sandwiches, though, which we serve with tater tots and fruit salad.





Mommy says our sandwiches taste just as good as the Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches she used to get when she visited Philly. That was before we were born, so we haven’t tasted those. But it would be cool to visit Philly one day and try one for ourselves. One of these days, we will. In the meanwhile, we’ll have a little taste of Philly at our dinner table.

Ingredients

2 medium onions cut length-wise in half, then sliced cross-wise into thin slices
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 ½ pounds of cooked roast beef, thinly sliced and cut into strips
6 hoagie buns, about 6 inches long
butter
6 slices of American cheese

Directions

• Sauté onion in oil about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until tender.
• Stir in beef, and heat through.
• Set oven to broil; split buns and place cut-side up on cookie sheet; brush each of the faces of the bread with butter and broil 4-5 inches from the heat for 2 minutes.
• Divide beef mixture among the rolls and top with cheese; broil about one minute, until cheese is melted.

Makes 6 sandwiches.



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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taking Aim At Madison Avenue: Tell Them Pretty Brown Girls ARE NOT Hard To Find.



This, from New York magazine online, with nods to The Black Snob:

Madison Avenue is scrambling to adjust to a new era, when the most admired people in America are a black family. To reflect this reality, talent scouts are on the hunt for models who look like the Obama children, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10. “People are looking for girls who resemble them,” says Charlie Winfield, the head booker at FunnyFace Today. Tali Lev, an agent with the Gilla Roos agency, keeps links to her “Sasha” and “Malia” model lists on her desktop for easy access. “Photographers even want them for their portfolios.” Marlene Wallach, president of Wilhelmina Kids & Teens, says the First Daughters are tough subjects to match. “It’s a very specific age and a very specific ethnicity, so there aren’t that many girls that would necessarily fit the bill.”


See, this mess right here?

I mean, I’m giddy that President Obama’s deliciously beautiful daughters, Sasha and Malia, are the new standard of American little girl beauty—that the fashion industry, in its infinite wisdom (*sticks finger down throat and gags a little*) is jumping on the “black is beautiful” bandwagon now that the Obamas are America’s bellwether for all things cool, fly, and in style. But why, why, WHY must Madison Avenue’s embracing of these pretty brown girls come with a backhanded pimp slap to the faces of African American children? I mean, really? What, exactly, is so hard about finding pretty 7- and 10-year-olds with brown skin? And why are we acting as if those little girls are some kind of exotic breed of black child just because they have a white grandmother? And damn, did we really have to wait for Barack Obama to become the first black president in order for talent scouts to realize that maybe, just maybe, they should consider adding black children to their roster of models?

Having trouble finding them, Ms. Wallach? Check Brooklyn and Harlem, Atlanta and Decatur, Detroit and the South Side of Chicago, Compton and Newark and Dallas and Memphis. And every doggone city in-between. Check the playgrounds and the school yards—the malls and Sunday schools and the choir pews. You know—the same places you’d find ANY child pretty enough to “fit the bill” for your precious ad houses.

If you dare.

But just in case you “talent scouts” just can’t see yourself sitting through church service in The SWATS, MyBrownBaby is going to hip you to some game: The Black Snob, the blogger who put MyBrownBaby on to the Madison Avenue shenanigans in her poignant, must-read post about black children and beauty, is collecting pictures of scores of beautiful brown little girls and shipping them directly to Ms. Wallach and her colleagues over at Wilhelmina Kids & Teens so that they can see firsthand that pretty black girls aren’t really all that hard to find. Here’s Snob’s poignant casting call:

We at The Black Snob aren't just about complaining! We're here to help the clueless who seem to think black Americans (the kind with African, European and other mixed ancestry) are, you know, hard to find. Even if there are 40 million blacks in America (according to a 2006 US Census study) and almost all of us fit that make-up in some way, shape or form and there are millions of little girls, each cuter than the last.

So, if you know a cute little black/brown girl, working professionally as a model or is an undiscovered diamond in your family, school or neighborhood (with the parents' or guardian's permission), please submit her adorable picture to The Black Snob's "Cute Black Girls Are Everywhere, You Idiots" campaign, via email where we will happily put together a lovely post and release a press packet to the dunderheads at Wilhelmina to say, "Um ... looking for cute, little black girls? Ur doin' it wrong!"


MyBrownBaby readers: I implore you to send your pictures to Snob—help her prove the point that black IS beautiful—and quite easy to find if you bother to open your eyes and LOOK for it. Her deadline for submissions is February 8, 2009.

Say it loud!



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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New MyBrownBaby Contest: Gorgeous Kisha's Kids Picture Frames



I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even wiped the sonogram goop off my belly before I rushed to Benjamin Moore, Ikea, and Kids ‘R Us to pick out paint colors, furniture, bedspreads, and doll babies for my unborn baby, who’d happily opened wide to reveal herself a girl. I was on a mission; I needed lime green and hot pinks and a tidbit of yellow, a natural-colored crib, bed, and glider, and, to set the nursery off, something to hang up on the walls that would reflect the pretty little chocolate child who’d soon be making her debut. Finding a crib set and bed sheet with lime green and hot pink was hard enough (everything was either pink or blue—so uninspired and blah), but finding art with brown babies on it? Impossible. There was nothing. Zip. Nada. Everything with pictures of babies on them—from the framed wall art to the baby frames to the crib sheets to the growth charts and burp clothes—featured white babies. Which I guess was fine for parents who were having white babies. But this was so not going to work for my brown baby’s room. I wanted—needed!—her to see her beautiful, brown self reflected in her love-filled room. I owed her that much.

I ended up making a border of picture frames filled with pictures of her family on the wall next to her crib. But I thought it perfectly ridiculous that not one of those baby stores thought it important or practical to stock baby items with brown children on them—even though African American moms stand at the ready, fists full of cash, to decorate their nurseries in a way that reflects their families—just like any other mom excited about creating a warm, welcome environment for her child.

Almost 10 years later, it’s still tough for us African American moms to find room décor featuring black babies and kids. But one mom, Kisha Holt, is on it. Her new boutique, Kisha’s Kids, is a beautiful online store for African-American babies and children, in which she carries contemporary and vintage-inspired, high-quality kids accessories and toys featuring images of brown kids. Her motto, “See yourself! Be yourself!” is reflected in practically every item with images on them—little brown boys are dressed up life firefighters on canvas wall art and area rugs; little brown ballerinas and mermaids twinkle on picture frames, tote bags, clocks and growth charts. Artist Lizzy Rockwell created the vibrantly juicy original illustrations on Kisha’s Kids products—images that’ll allow our kids to imagine, explore, and play in living color.



Kisha is quite passionate about her mission, too. “Everything I sell is personal to me,” she writes on her website. “But it is also about your family and your need to teach our kids to be proud and find beauty in what makes us different.”

Next spring, Kisha’s Kids will expand it’s merchandise to include quality décor products for Hispanic, Native American and Asian children.

So, are you feeling lucky today? Because Keisha is going to hook up a lucky MyBrownBaby reader with a set of personalized frames—one of a brown baby in a stork, one of a brown boy swishing a basketball into the net, and one of a brown ballerina on pointe. All three will be just waiting for the perfect picture of your perfect little one. Yup.

Want the Kisha’s Kids hook-up? Here’s how you get your chance to win: Visit the Kisha’s Kids website, then come back to MyBrownBaby and leave a comment about your favorite item by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 11, 2009.

Want to enter more than once? Boost your chances of winning by completing one or more tasks on this list:

If you haven’t already, sign up for MyBrownBaby’s email updates by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 11, 2009. To be eligible, you must verify your email subscription when Feedburner sends you a verification email. Your entry will be invalid if you do not verify. If you would prefer to get MyBrownBaby updates via an MBB RSS feed, please leave a comment letting me know you’ve done so, and include an email address, as RSS subscribers are anonymous.

Order one or more items on Kisha’s Kids online boutique, and email a copy of your confirmation order to mybrownbabycontests@gmail.com.

Blog about MyBrownBaby and post a link to your blog entry here.

Fave MyBrownBaby on Technorati. After you do this, come back to MyBrownBaby to leave a comment with your Technorati user name so that I can verify it.

See? That means each of you can receive up to 5 entries. A winner will be chosen via Random.org, and contacted via email. This contest is available to U.S. mailing addresses only; prizes will be sent directly from the contest sponsor.

Well, go ahead—what are you waiting for? Those frames are begging for your cutie pie’s pictures!



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Monday, February 2, 2009

The Best Place To Find African American Children's Books And Authors Is Here



Paula Chase-Hyman.

Varian Johnson.

Don Tate.

Kelly Starling Lyons.

Carla Sarratt.

Black children’s book authors, and especially African American parents and any other moms who care about children’s literature—especially the books that chronicle stories by/about/for kids of color—should be thanking God for this Fab Five. For their dedication. Their perseverance. And their love for our beautiful babies.

Because this Fab Five, a consortium of children’s book authors and illustrators, are the brain trust behind the brilliant website, The Brown Bookshelf. The site, created in the Fall of 2007, was designed to showcase the rich selection of children’s books by and about African Americans—books that all-too-often get short shrift when it comes to mainstream media coverage, bookstore placement, and awards recognition. The site is rich with resources; you’ll find an incredible list of books for kids of every age—from picture books for infants to novels for young adults—as well as a fine list of publishers, imprints, and book review organizations dedicated to multicultural children’s literature.

And right now, as a part of its second annual “28 Days Later” campaign, the Brown Bookshelf is showcasing 28 under-promoted or little known authors and illustrators—one for each day of Black History Month. Authors like MyBrownBaby favorites Derrick Barnes, Andrea Pinkney, Deborah Gregory, Sharon Draper, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tia Williams are being profiled alongside unsung children’s book heroes like authors Evelyn Coleman and Philana Marie Boles and illustrators London Ladd and Nicole Tadgell. It’s a fascinating, insightful campaign that gives us VIP access to black authors and illustrators we would otherwise have had little chance to read about or meet.

I absolutely adore The Brown Bookshelf not only because I can find out about the latest literature for Mari and Lila's burgeoning collection of African American children’s books, but because the Fab Five did something not enough of us black authors have dared to do: Instead of complaining about the lack of diversity on book shelves and in book reviews, these five authors/illustrators did something to help change the industry. Because of them, there’s now an incredible resource for librarians and teachers looking for diverse titles. And we lovers of brown babies have instant access to this rich resource, too.

To read the wonderful “28 Days Later” profiles on The Brown Bookshelf as well as the latest in black chidren's book news, click here. To take a peek at The Brown Bookshelf’s library, click here.

And, as always, support African American children's book authors. They do what they do for little money and barely any recognition or accolades--all so that our children can see themselves reflected in the best source of entertainment any of our kids could EVER have: a book.

Happy reading!



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