Diversity in Our Media Library

Over the past week we have had a lot of social media messages about what we can do to help make the world around us less racist and more positive. I was very quickly overwhelmed by the lists of 100 or 75 things I could do as a white person. The one item I want to focus on is being a good parent. I want to raise my sons to be kind, and inclusive, and respectful of all of their friends. However, many times our voice as a parent is over shadowed by the media our children are consuming.

For example, my family growing up taught me to be very modest and that any sexual activity should be saved for marriage. However, the media I consumed had the opposite message. I watched shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek and The OC which told us the norm for adolescence that everyone was drinking too much and having sex at 15. It took me a long time as an adult to navigate the messages into my own personal beliefs of what the rules of relationships and sexuality should be. I think we often forget that the media we allow our children to consume are parenting and teaching tools. Especially in the 90’s, I don’t think our parents we’re thinking too hard about it.

My personal background has a pretty extensive education in ESL and multicultural literacy. At a training I attended, we went through an activity where you analyzed how inclusive and diverse your library was. As an EL or ESL educator this is very important for building literacy, but it’s also important for building perspective and social norms in our own homes. I wanted to share an activity with everyone to help focus our energy toward positive change into our homes.

The first step of the activity is to pull every book off your bookshelf who has characters who don’t share your identity. They have a different race, or religion, or speak a different language, or are from another country. How big is your stack? This is a sampling of our stack, but even with 2-3 missing, I was disappointed considering my background. However, I have a preschooler and an infant, so many book characters are still animals who don’t present an obvious race.

The next step is to separate the books into two stacks. One with those diverse characters as the main character, and the other has those characters as supporting characters.

Now make a third stack, how many of those characters are a stereotype? Set the stereotypes aside. You can’t unteach a stereotype. The one’s that bothered me the most were in older children’s books. If you dig enough in Dr. Seuss or Richard Scarry books, you’ll probably find one. The one I found is from 2015. These subtle images are what create social norms, and you have to look for them, and remove them.

You can do this same activity with movies or video games. Every purchase you make of books or movies shapes how your children will view the world around them. What is their perspective of social normalcy or appropriateness? Are we as parents unintentionally reinforcing racist, sexist, or otherwise problematic messages with our media? I’ve noticed a lot of media for older boys presents women as pretty or smart, but rarely both. Or if they are both, they’re hyper sexual. (Think Laura Croft circa the 2000’s). Yikes.

This exercise of seeing what we’re consuming and how it is shaping our families perspectives is a good way to analyze if we’re truly practicing what we’re preaching. Are we creating a world for our children that is as diverse and respectful and kind as we want the larger world to be as they grow?

Below are a few lists of media at various age levels that are known for their inclusive attitudes and diversity. It is not formatted well. Keep in mind that these are titles that appealed to me or interested my son. I am absolutely open to suggestions! Especially with so many streaming services and formats to consume media, the options are almost limitless.

Television:

Netflix- Glitch Techs, Motown Magic,

Disney – Mira, Royal Detective and Diary of a Future President, Doc McStuffins,

Nickelodeon- Casagrandes, The Loud House, Go Diego Go and Dora the Explorer, Ni Hao, Kai- Lan, Blaze and the Monster Machines,

PBS- Molly of Denali, Odd Squad, Sesame Street

Hulu – Marvel’s Runaways

Books –

These are listed as my top ten, with younger titles first getting older as you go down.

Last Stop On Market Street: De La Pena, Matt

Princess Hair -  BRDBK by Sharee Miller (Hardcover) - image 1 of 1

Cover art

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. audiobook cover art

March: Book One: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell ...

Inside Out & Back Again

Eleanor & Park

The Hate U Give

Amazon.com: The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon, Nicola) (9780553496680 ...

Films

This one became a worm hole when I was doing research. A great resource I’m linking for you for media consumption is Common Sense Media. They do a great job of helping to navigate the different options and helping find resources for inclusivity and diversity, but they also compiled lists like “movies to empower young black women” and “movies to teach kindness” or “best youtube channels for minecraft” It’s a fantastic online resource and they have tons of resources for educators as well.

Why I left Education

I was drawn to write this because a former colleague of mine, a fellow damn good educator, posted on Facebook the amazing gifts she made for her graduating students. Another colleague commented, “…and that’s why you’re teacher of the year!!” For whatever reason my knee jerk reaction was defensive. “She shouldn’t have to pay a penny to be good at teaching!” And “those have nothing to do with how great of an educator she is!!” But you know what they do represent? How much she loves her students and her job. I instead sent my Texan well wishes and thought, “bless her heart.”

I have been an educator in my soul probably my entire life. While growing up I probably would have just said I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make the world better. I went through phases of wanting to be a marine biologist or a graphic designer, but in my last semester of my English degree, I knew I going to make young scholars into free thinking stewards of the Earth! Somehow through classic literature.

The day I received my keys to my classroom. So enthusiastic. So naive.

I loved being a teacher. I was the one with the well decorated classroom with themed bulletin boards and a constant collage of well done student work. I spent hours creating my lesson plans, hours grading writing thoroughly with a rubric and feedback, and hours one on one with troubled students who needed someone to give them positivity.

I wouldn’t trade a day of what I gave my students while teaching. However, anyone who has spent a day in the classroom knows that most of being an educator has nothing to do with the lessons or the students.

Did I mention I was also a color guard director? I loved it! So did my offspring in my belly. He still loves a good horn line.

I was a damn good teacher. That’s not ego, it’s a fact. I was given teacher of the month on multiple occasions. I was promoted after 2 1/2 years to curriculum specialist for our English department. For clarification, many districts call this position a teaching coach or curriculum coach. I worked to the ends of my sanity for my colleagues to improve our curriculum and streamline tasks like data collection and novel check out. I was observing classrooms with enthusiasm and finding meaningful trainings for my department. I was constantly looking for resources for our English Language Learners, which if we’re being transparent, all students are developing academic English. That’s a topic for another day.

The problem with education, is that it’s full of people who are full of a lot of love. You don’t go into teaching for the money, despite the multiple degrees you probably have and the continuous training you acquire, often out of your own pocket. When you love what you do and who you’re teaching like I did, you continuously give. You give time. You give money. You give your love. At the end of the year, after you’ve cleaned out your classroom and turned in your keys, what have you received in return? The answer is little more than personal fulfillment.

After five years in the same district in East Houston, my husband took a job in California and we relocated. I was able to transfer my teaching credential and was hired at a small charter school in Santa Ana, CA. It’s a lot of paperwork and minutia, but it was worth it because this is what I was meant for!

Switching campus cultures is an experience. I went from a school where I owned the curriculum (the only section in our department I had never written or edited was AP English Language) to teaching at a school with absolutely no curriculum. No scope and sequence. No data collection. No interactive streamlined Google Classroom lessons with eight different add on education apps. I spent two months creating meaningful content for my students and doing my best to create connection with them so they would want to do my much more rigorous work. The teacher before me was what we called a “packet pusher”, I refused. I was going to be amazing, damn it.

So when I went to the hospital at 22 weeks pregnant and had to inform the campus I wasn’t returning that school year, I did as I do as a passionate educator and sat on my laptop in the antepartum wing of HOAG and put an entire semester of work including summer reading in Google Classroom, for on level and Pre AP sections of freshman English. I was so proud of it. I knew they would be learning and developing their language skills. I knew it was awesome. I expected some kind of at least thank you. The response email from the department head was, “This isn’t really freshman level work, it’s really over their heads. We’ll take care of things. You just focus on resting!” I never heard back from anyone outside of administration.

It didn’t matter. My effort and passion and love for my craft didn’t matter.

My students made me a meme once. I still find it HILARIOUS.

I knew deep down, especially because I had been on hiring committees and replaced teachers as a curriculum specialist, that there would always be someone else to do the work. To check the check boxes. To data dig. To color the name plates at in-service. To copy the lesson plans. To burn the candle at all ends for the one chance ONE lost student would progress. No matter how hard I loved education, it would go on without me.

I applied for probably 20-25 English positions after Owen was old enough to go to daycare. I had five interviews. Two of them I learned had hired first year teachers to fill the positions. Twice the same district interviewed me and gave me GLOWING rejection emails to hire newer teachers that had been substitutes. I was told by many in my Twitter teaching family I had to sub to get hired. Sub pay averages 100-150$ a day.

I decided instead that I’d had enough. I was over proving myself. I was over giving so much of myself to feel like nothing but a cog in the machine. I didn’t get a degree in English, work to get not one but two state certifications to teach, and work my soul to its limit to “make a difference” to make 125$ a day, put my fragile infant in daycare to MAYBE get a position teaching.

I’ve heard one too many educators compare teaching to an abusive relationship. The exchanges of “but I love it” and “it’s what I was meant for” over shadowed by administration subtly hinting “if you loved me you would…” The ellipses, if you’ve taught you know, are full of self sacrifice.

It shouldn’t be that way. So until we decide as a society to divide the work of creating a productive and educated nation between parent and student and educator and to compensate all educators fairly for their level of education and offering of self service. I’m done.

Right now I’m putting a minimal amount of effort into an Etsy shop while homeschooling my son. I’ll probably, inevitably, end up in technical writing for a company with good benefits. That’s what English majors do, edit or teach.

An additional note: For all of my fellow passionate educators who worked their sanity to pieces this semester working remotely- I see you and the hard work you’ve done and I have an immense amount of respect for you. I hope you’re taking care of yourselves as much as you do your students.

A need for silver linings

The current status of the world is one of uncertainty and fear. Today is officially Star Wars day and after watching many protests last week, I have the words of Yoda on repeat in my head. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” There are many people in my circle who are either scared, angry, or suffering through some pretty big life changes. My natural reaction to an abundance of negativity is to deflect it with positivity.

In 2012, I attempted suicide. This isn’t something I ever discuss, because I am always worried someone else will try and take on the negativity I was feeling at that time, and take responsibility for it. I firmly believe that no one is responsible for your feelings except you. The choices I was making and the feelings I was expressing were my own, and no one else’s. I was in a personal space where I was extremely unhappy with who I was as a person, and it wasn’t overnight that I learned how to cope with seeing my past and my own sense of self as something positive. However, I am sharing this because in the time that I was recovering from my low point I learned several silver linings that I wanted to share for anyone feeling like they’re in their own low point during this uneasy time. They’re my mantras and my coping mechanisms for when things start to feel hard or uncertain.

  1. Everything is temporary. The only constant in life is change.
  2. The state of the world, or your world, will always be the way you choose to look at it.
  3. For every bad and terrible and horrible thing in the world, there will always be a positive, wonderful, and good one.
  4. You can choose to surround yourself with those who bring positivity into your life. You don’t owe anyone a relationship or a friendship if it brings you down or holds you back.

When I was home alone with Owen, and had been rejected from one too many teaching positions, I felt myself starting to feel some of the really intrusive, negative, pretty awful things about myself that I felt back in 2012, some of that was PPD. These are feelings that now I can’t help but mentally project on my close people who are trying to navigate the difficult space the world is in now. About that same time, we were unboxing some of our stuff that had been in storage in Texas. I found my scrapbook gift from my bridesmaids on the day of my wedding. They had each written me a letter to read while we got ready before the ceremony. I, as I do, got distracted from my task of unpacking and started to read them all. Over and over again, my closest circle of trusted friends described me as positive. I know that I made the choice to keep them close to me for a reason. I needed to see myself through their lens for a moment in order to refocus my mental energy, hence why number four on my above list is important.

I CAN be an overwhelming, emotional, and wallowing energy suck, I think we all share that capacity. However, if we focus some of our silver linings and share them with each other, we can hopefully keep some of our sanity as the world returns to its new normal. Sometimes that’s a zoom happy hour, sometimes its a Chalk Walk masterpiece, or a painted rock left on a trail, sometimes its a package you weren’t expecting from friends you can’t wait to share queso with again (ok maybe that was just one of my silver linings from last week), or that the beach is just “closed” and not CLOSED, or maybe just the right song comes on a random playlist. No matter what boat you’re on during this storm, I hope you’re finding or sharing some silver linings to guide you through.

For the most Extra of Extroverts – How to make the most of isolation

Recently, things went from “hey, maybe we should be aware of our hygiene habits” to “stay home and don’t socialize” VERY quickly. As I scroll through my social media I see a large amount of fear, anger, frustration, boredom, and anxiety. We all want want to wrap up our most vulnerable people in a safe bubble and spray the idiots out partying in the eyes with lysol. I, however, am in a strange place of comfort and positivity and encouragement, not just because I am a perpetually happy person but because this time last year, I was doing this EXACT same thing.

Me. Having a great time on bed rest. We clocked 49 days. Go Us!

Okay, not exactly… But for anyone feeling like they’re going to explode from boredom and lack of human contact and loss of freedom. I FEEL YOU. Last year, this month, I was on antepartum bed rest unable to leave the hospital. Medically mandated social distancing. I was terrified and anxious and under stimulated and spending a LOT of time on social media. So because I have been there in the trenches of the yellow wallpaper, I want to give y’all my top five tips for how to get through this whole “don’t leave your house” situation without having a breakdown.

First – Stick to a routine. Start it by getting up and getting ready every day. We will all likely be on shelter in place for at least a month. 30 days is how long it takes to create a habit. What productive and positive habits do you want to have in 30 days? Do you want permanent sweatpants and clogged pores? Take care of yourself and facilitate good habits. Plus the feeling of a good shower and being your best self is SO rewarding.

Second – Go outside and be a part of the world around you. The sun alone has a healing effect. Even if you just picnic a cup of coffee and your breakfast on your front stoop, give yourself some fresh air and take in your surroundings. During antepartum, when I was first admitted to the hospital, I was allowed to go on walks with my husband in a wheelchair to go outside. We would go to the hospital cafeteria and get ice cream and watch the boats in the harbor. It was my favorite part of my day. You know what one of my worst days was? The day they told me I couldn’t leave my room anymore. The world’s greatest authors all write about the majesty of nature because we’re meant to be in it. Go outside and be present in it.

Third – Do something that makes you happy. Many people are working and/or trying to teach from home. We want the reward of producing results and checkboxes of productivity. However, when you can’t leave your space and you’re feeling a loss of control, it is so much more important to feed your soul with joy. For me, its creative projects, usually with my Cricut these days. In the hospital I did macrame, colored, and did crafts with my older son when my family came to visit. So pick something joyous and DO IT. Game night, creative projects, back yard olympics, garage cross fit, just be joyful in your activity.

Fourth – Surround yourself with positive content. I thought that my antepartum stay was a great time to binge catch up on four seasons of Game of Thrones. It was a terrible decision. When you watch a show or movie you, as a normal human, internalize the feelings and lives of the characters. When there is already a heavy amount of emotion going on during your normal day to day, you can’t handle the extra drama, it will absolutely make you more depressed and anxious. This includes the news. I suggest stand-up specials (Trevor Noah was my favorite on bed rest), comedy shows and movies, and of course only the funniest of memes. Give me all of the literary references! I live for them. Your emotions need the same balance the rest of your life does, so give them positivity to balance the heavy weight of the current world.

This is actually a terrible example because I was watching “Fried Green Tomatoes”

Fifth – Use social media for socializing in positive ways. Don’t spend all of your down time mindlessly scrolling. Choose people you want to reach out to. Schedule virtual happy hours with friends, do the Instagram challenges with colleagues (especially the funny ones), play games like Words with Friends or Draw Something. Make sure your social media interactions are meaningful and create feelings of real connection. It is so easy as an outgoing, extroverted person to click on and respond to everything we see online (I still struggle with this). If you choose to focus on only creating true connection with followers, you’ll find that it feels less like mindless media screen time and more like real friendship.

Those are the five. I could have rambled for a sixth paragraph about food, but because everyone has their own complicated relationship with food, I will leave you to navigate your stash of Pirate’s Booty, leftover Valentine’s candy, and alcohol on your own terms. I just hope whatever you have is better than the ‘avocado toast’ I enjoyed in the hospital.

Smile. Choose Kindness. Wash Your Hands. Stay Home.

This too shall pass.

Smile. Choose Kindness. Wash your hands

So I was trying to decide what design to do next, and my husband pointed out to me that my “Bring it in, I’m a Hugger” tee didn’t exactly age well…

So I decided to do a redesign on it.

I want to share the spirit of spreading positivity and choosing kindness over fear and panic. For all of my other Cricut/Silhouette makers, I am linking a copy of the .jpg file for my new Choose Kindness shirt so if you would like to make your own during this time of social distancing, you can! I just ask you tag me @newett_mama on instagram or twitter when you make it. I can also email you the .svg file, I just couldn’t add it through Word Press.

If you’d like to purchase the shirt through my Etsy shop, the link is below. Shirt and Vinyl colors are fully customizable, just shoot me a message with what you’d like.

Washing Toys

Before I get started, go wash your hands and wipe down your cell phone.

Okay cool, let’s get started. There is a lot of hype and fear when it comes to protecting our family from germs and bacteria lately. I shared on my instagram stories how and how often to clean our toys and keep our children’s belongings clean. I wanted to also share the information on my blog so you don’t have to click through my voice if you don’t want to.

Types of Cleaners

When it comes to cleaning your home, there are usually two major categories of products you can go to, chemical based and natural. Bleach and ammonia, usually found in products from Clorox or Lysol are chemical based. These products are better for disinfecting food prep areas or bathrooms because of the types of bacteria or mold that can be found. Listeria, E Coli, and Staph are the big ones that need a chemical in order to really be disinfected. However, for toys and areas used by our children, those harsher chemicals really aren’t necessary. The bacteria and viruses related to common colds or the flu can be sanitized with a white vinegar solution.

Why not rubbing alcohol? It’s highly flammable, even diluted. If we’re talking about disinfecting common surfaces, its probably fine, but since this conversation will predominantly be about objects that your children could be putting in their mouths, we want to ease on the side of caution when it comes to toxic chemicals. Even ‘natural’ cleaners sometimes have fragrances in them that might not be great for your children. My sons get eczema easily, so I try to avoid anything too harsh for their skin like fragrance or extra softeners.

I choose a white vinegar solution after reading through the internet because its naturally occurring and won’t damage most materials. 50% water and 50% white vinegar in a spray bottle or sink should eliminate the basic bacteria and viruses most likely to come in contact with your home. You can add some citrus or oils if you really hate the smell.

Types of Toys

Plastic teethers can go in the dishwasher by themselves to be disinfected. Some newer dishwashers even have a sanitation setting. They can also be soaked in hot water and vinegar and then air dried.

Bath toys need to be dried out and then they can also go in the dishwasher or soaked in a vinegar solution. Make sure anything that is made of foam or absorbent material is cleaned more often and doesn’t get mildew.

Mixed material toys with fabrics can go in the washing machine, but using a garment bag or even a pillowcase will prevent the toys from losing parts or getting damaged. This includes dolls that have plastic arms and legs and then soft bodies.

Fabric toys in the garment bag ready to be washed!

Plastic figurines and cars can be soaked or wiped down with the vinegar solution. Check your hot wheels, if they’re older then you need to check if they have metal bottoms. The metal can rust or corrode if soaked too long, so a quick wipe down will help protect those metal parts. Barbies or other dolls with hair can be wiped or soaked. The best advice I found for their hair was to soak it in fabric softener and hot water after washing to detangle it and make it smell better.

Food toys go two directions. Felt food can go in the washing machine just like other fabric based toys. Wooden toys need to be wiped with a vinegar solution and then air dried. Be careful not to soak them so you don’t break down the paint or wood.

Frequency of Cleaning

Use your best judgement, obviously. Baby toys, especially the ones that travel in your bag need to be cleaned weekly. My suggestion, throw them in the dishwasher on a Sunday night when you’re getting ready for the week!

Bath toys need to be cleaned biweekly. They’re not clean and mold/mildew free just because you bathe every night. Don’t believe me? Google images of bath toys that have been cut open. It isn’t pretty.

Anytime your kiddos are sick, give the toys a rinse. After a playdate? Give them a rinse. Cousins are the grossest. I’m being sarcastic, but with over 40 first cousins, I shared everything growing up, even germs. Wipe down toys when you do your usual toilet scrubbing/dusting. Every other month it’s probably a good idea to clean out old toys and give the ones still getting love a good cleaning.

Public Spaces/Disneyland

I didn’t share these suggestions on Instagram, but I am adding them since our recent trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Wash your hands often, obviously. Here are some silly photos of songs that works with how long you should be washing. I went to the website Wash Your Lyrics and generated some popular Disney tunes that worked well, have fun making your own!

Keep hand sanitizer on hand for when you get off a ride, clip it to your belt loop or bag. The queues and ropes and “oh crap” handles are probably covered in germs. I watched some moms wipe them with wipes, but my heart cringed at the idea of the trash waste involved if EVERYONE did that for EVERY ride.

If you have an infant, wipe your changing mat and the station before and after you change a diaper. You know what makes a good sanitation wipe? Hand sanitizer on a damp paper towel. Also, Disneyland always has the toilet paper holders where your little can reach up and play with them. Rotate them so they can’t reach them.

Wash your hands after you go to the restroom and before you sit down to eat, OBVIOUSLY, but also wash them after you finish eating. You probably, absent minded, wiped your mouth or your nose and didn’t even think about it. Your children? They mined at least 50 boogers, coated them in applesauce and mac and cheese, and then shared them with a sibling.

As always, if you feel sick, stay home. Do what the CDC tells you to. Don’t panic buy. And of course, do what feels right for your family. The best parent for your child is you.

I’m a Hugger.

From kindergarten to fifth grade, I lived with my maternal grandma with my mom and older brother. My G-ma was an amazing woman. She was one of seven children. She had seven children of her own. I was the youngest of 27 grandchildren and I’m not sure anyone has count anymore of the great and great-great-grandchildren. The total number of decedents of Geraldine Doris Canion (Harper, Hendricks, Heathcock, Pace) is definitely over 100. Her running gag was that when God spoke and said “Go and replenish the Earth” she took him literally.

She had an amazing sense of wit and humor. Grandma never knew a stranger, and upon meeting she would throw her arms open and say something to the extent of “Oh honey, we hug around here!” or “Don’t be a stranger, I’m a hugger!” Some people don’t particularly like physical contact. That’s okay. Grandma was going to hug you anyway.

I don’t know many people anymore who invade your space with happiness the way she did. She wasn’t a petit lady, (she’d phrase it that she had a lot more to love) so when she hugged you, she engulfed you in a laugh and a good squeeze.

Hugging is scientifically good for you. It releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Those are all the feel good chemicals our brain produces, for the non-science minded readers. Hugs also lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and create social bonds.I genuinely believe people were happier around my grandmother because she did show her positivity with hugs.

I am a hugger, and this Valentine’s day I want to challenge all of you to embrace your inner G-ma and give someone who needs it a hug. Not just family, or close friends, but someone who could use a physical reaching out for reassurance. Yes, even a good side hug if you’re worried about the HR representatives of the world.

To promote this culture of sharing physical positivity, I am selling both vinyl decals and T-shirts with my “Bring it in, I’m a hugger” graphic, especially with what my son calls “Love Day” just around the corner. His school promotes Valentine’s as a day we share love and affection to everyone who matters to us, not just one special ‘Valentine’ and I love that idea! Let’s spread some love.

Decals will be 5$ for a 3.25 inch, and 10$ for a 5 inch. Shirts will be 20$. They are a ladies cut v-neck with 100% soft cotton. They are hand screen printed, so expect slight handmade imperfections. If you want a men’s cut, just let me know! They are of course, red, like my G-ma would have requested. If you order by Wednesday the 12th, I can have them to you by Valentines! Link to purchase here.

Now get to hugging. You’d be surprised at how even giving the hug can bring about happiness.

Affirmation Tattoos

When I was teaching I worked in a low income suburb of Houston. My students did not have much, the campus was 100% free lunch. Some didn’t always have running water or electricity. Some weren’t always sure where their parents were. For the most part though, it was a lot of students whose parents worked really hard and just weren’t home enough to help them feel secure and successful, but they were trying.

Many of my students struggled with coping mechanisms for feeling overwhelmed and insecure. So many students just needed someone to tell them they were interesting or cool or funny or smart, which is why as a mom I try and tell my sons as often as possible. When I was trying to come up with what I wanted to produce for Practiced Positivity, temporary tattoos were one of my first ideas.

Back when I was teaching, if one of my lectures was particularly boring, especially with freshmen or sophomores, you could catch students writing on their skin. If you were an adolescent once, you probably did this too. I noticed though, that too often it was images or lyrics that represented that this person was struggling. They were writing on themselves for affirmation or validation of the crap they were honestly too young and ill-equipped to be dealing with.

So I’ve designed a set of temporary tattoos to help those that are in need of a physical reminder that things are going to be better and they’re going to be okay. While it was my adolescent students who inspired me, sometimes we all need a temporary, “Psst I believe in you!” while we persevere through something rough. Sometimes it’s strength through the loss of someone or something, sometimes we need strength through a difficult or lengthy task, sometimes we just need affirmation that we matter, but the physicality gives you ownership of that positive voice.

Links to purchase are below. Options are a full sheet for 10$. Individuals are 2$ for 3″ print and 1$ for 2″ print.

Etsy Shop Link

Printable PDF or SVG for 5$- Tattoo paper is available through Amazon. Customization also available! Just email me at ashley.newett@gmail.com

Year One in California

Now what?

A tiny bit over a year ago, we moved to California. Saturday, we celebrated Owen being 9 months old by having a crawfish boil and enjoying the company of friends old and new. The in between of the two milestones feels overwhelming. How could so much have happened in such a small frame of time?

I spent a lot of time listening and trying to be in the moment, but I was also distracted by the constant compare and contrast in my head between what we have here versus what we had back in Texas. The presence of cajun food probably didn’t help. However, I am finally in a place where my heart has healed enough from the past year to allow myself to feel and be happy.

For my family, California was obviously the best choice for us. We walk to pizza night with our boys on Fridays with Nana and Papa. We’re 10 minutes from the beach and an hour to the snow. Our older son is getting a fantastic Montessori education, two blocks down from our home. I walk him to and from school every day. We have 8 young children on our cul-de-sac to become life long playmates, four of which are the children of my husband’s childhood playmates. My in laws live four houses down and pop in randomly with extra formula from Costco or chocolate croissants from C’est Si Bon. I left Owen’s 9 month check up with him in the 45th percentile for growth and a pat on the back for having a perfect baby, despite him being 11 weeks early. To say life is now picturesque or ideal for our family is an understatement. (Oh, did I mention we now also have Disney Land resident Passes?)

But as for my journey…

It’s been hard. Insert an expletive or two in there. If you gave me one of those stress tests with the checkboxes of big life events from the past year, I’d have at least 80% checked. Big move, career change, hospital bed rest, premature baby, financial strain… but the biggest strain on my heart, after it was all said and done, has been my personal crisis. Who am I? As a Californian? As a stay at home mom? Who am I if I don’t teach? Who am I as a mom of two? Who am I as Cameron’s wife? What kind of person do I want to be here, or am I somehow supposed to somehow feel and be the same person I was a year ago?

Finally, I would say since we got back from our first trip to Texas since we moved, I am starting to come to terms with the unknown. I’m letting go, like peeling duct tape off a sunburn, of the anger and resentment and fear of the future.

After applying for every English teaching position in Orange County and getting some of the loveliest rejections, I’ve thrown in the towel and turned my focus toward the creative again. It is hard to have been hired the day of an interview for literally every other job I’ve had, and then have radio silence for months.

One of my favorite mugs from @sophieandlili and a source of internal motivation… that and caffeine of course.

Ten years ago, I was accepted into the Savanna College of Art and Design. I was full of naivety. I was going to be an advertising designer and work on campaigns like Truth or Red and save the world from nicotine and cure HIV with my creativity. However, my parents talked me out of going. I instead majored in English. I went to Texas State down the road. It was a safe choice. I hope I inspired one or two out of the approximately 700 hundred students I had, but my heart just isn’t in teaching anymore. Now, after MUCH introspection I’m starting my own business.

My mom listened to my ideas while I rambled over and over on the phone (moms are good at that) and she decided I could be successful. She admitted she felt bad that I never went to art school and encouraged me to get started. Later this week I’ll pick up a starter set of screen printing equipment.

Her call was a baby push. And I know, if I want to do this project right, it’s going to take baby steps. Delayed gratification. Planning and budgeting. Time. So right now, a year of California behind us, 9 months of Owen being our miracle, and finally something for me to feel pride in – I’m starting the business plan for Practiced Positivity, a custom screen printing and vinyl shop. Its my project, my contribution to our family, and hopefully a future for me here.

Food Tradition Versus the Millennials

It’s Fall!!!!!! When we look back on our favorite food memories, they likely start here. Pies, tamales, challah. They reign supreme in our taste buds beginning in October. Growing up, my mom cooked all the time. It was her way of being a present mom for us while working full time. During the week, we had a home cooked meal. Pot pies, casseroles, fried chicken, etc. The change in temperature has my taste buds getting retrospective.

When my mom came to visit in August, we had a wonderful time. We went to the beach, played with the boys, and got some good mom and daughter talks in. There is a moment, however, that is still sticking out to me. My momma, with all her southern well meaning, opened my refrigerator and said, “Store bought cookie dough? Tsk. You know how to make it.”

She’s right. I do. That doesn’t mean that in the moment I didn’t argue with her inside my head trying to justify my purchase. “BUT I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME” being the largest argument against taking the time to make her recipe of mini M&M cookies for my son. Then, last week I started putting together recipes for apple pie to feature on my instagram. (Because it’s fall.) I texted my mom and asked if she had an apple pie filling recipe. She texted back, “No, I just use the canned stuff.”

It got me thinking about food traditions and my cohort of friends. We’re all around 30, educated, and many of us between first and third generation American. Yet how many of us can cook? Second, how many of us can actually cook the meals our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents made? Third, why can’t we as a collective of self righteous foodie door dash dining millennials make a decent personally culturally relevant meal? We love food. We created a culture that photographs their meals before eating and thrive on easy access to different cuisines, so why aren’t we cooking?

Personally, I know most of my family’s food traditions come from a place of poverty. Not in a negative way, but both of my baby boomer parents will tell you quite boldly that they were raised by products of the depression. Quality ingredients were substituted for cheaper versions, meals were pared down, convenience began to override flavor. This is where the disconnect begins between our traditions and us, our parents’ influence on our food identity. Hence, my dad using store bought pie crust for his apple pie rather than teaching me how to make it, which he was taught to do by his mother.

I learned to cook for the most part in San Antonio, Texas. First thought may lead you to think of the city as its stereotypes. White and Hispanic. Rodeos and the Alamo. Lots of tacos and enchiladas. My perspective is different because I lived there, but what many people forget is that San Antonio was, at least in the early 2000’s during my adolescence, home to a handful of operating Air Force bases. Many of my friends brought different cultures and foods and perspectives because they were military brats. Rene’s parents were from Trinidad & Tobago and Panama. Elisa, Naomi, and Stephanie are Mexican-American, but Stephanie’s parents had been stationed in Japan when she was young. Jamie is third generation Italian-American. Eating dinner at their homes and having their parents fuel us during all of our late night school projects, I was exposed to so many more flavors than just my mom’s southern repertoire. I asked those close friends, who I thankfully still have a strong friendship with, about their experiences with food traditions and why or why not they still have a relationship with them to try and figure out the disconnect between our culture and our ability to cook within it.

When I first moved to San Antonio in 2002, one first the first friends I connected with was Rene, who lived in my neighborhood and shared my loved of ska music and general nerdiness. When arriving to Rene’s house you removed your shoes, you said hello to BOTH parents, and usually we were asked by Rene’s mom if we did our homework. On a very rare occasion I was asked if I would like to stay for dinner. It was spiced chicken, rice, and fried plantains. I remember it being SO delicious. Thinking back to our youth, I asked Rene if he could cook like his mom. Rene very honestly told me he did like a lot of immigrant kids and wanted to assimilate, so those home cooked, traditional meals weren’t valued back then.

While teaching in East Houston, I attended many trainings for ESL (English as a Second Language). I was taught that the first thing immigrants lose is their clothing, then their language, and last their food. It is a strange lens to see my close friends as sharing the same experience as my former students, but over and over again I hear that parents are the ones encouraging assimilation and not sharing food tradition, especially if they weren’t Hispanic or female. My male, Asian students from Houston were rarely even allowed in the kitchen. I have no idea how they’re feeding themselves now that they’re in college.

Our friend Jamie echoed the sentiment about her first generation Italian- American dad. While she would have loved to learn everything her grandparents had made, Jamie’s grandparents passed away when she was very young and her father wasn’t encouraged to learn to cook. Culinary identity, especially in Southern European culture, is feminine. Jamie admittedly “grasped at straws” for Italian cultural identity because of the loss of the family’s beloved pasta recipes. What’s left for the Feola’s today? One marinara and meatball recipe, and folklore of gnocchi.

Now, not everyone has their parents to thank for their loss of food culture. We now live in a much more health and nutrition conscious environment. I seriously doubt any immigrant grandmas counted a calorie or would dare limit themselves to a something as restrictive as the keto diet. Nowadays, an awareness of the connection of thyroid and diet, fertility and diet, anxiety/depression and diet have forced many of us to save beloved family recipes for special occasions. Considering the average family size has dropped from 3.7 people to 3.1 since 1970 and younger generations are waiting longer and longer to marry, even a perfectly mastered family recipe designed to feed a family of eight only finds itself applicable on a few occasions annually.

Unfortunately as millennials, we’re more isolated, career focused, and perhaps more convenience minded than even our parents. Our baby boomer parental units may have served us Kid Kuisine and invented instant cookie dough, but they certainly didn’t have Amazon PrimeNow or Uber Eats. Can we take former traditions, and adapt them for our own purposes?

I chose to make my own filling because I don’t trust the ingredients in the can of apples at my local supermarket. Plus, everyone knows that food made with less processing has more flavor. The closer you are to the source of your food, the better it is. Neither of my parents had an off hand recipe for the filling, I used memory and good old Pinterest to add the spices needed for my all American dessert.

Personally, I don’t have a direct connection to my family’s culture outside of the United States and neither does my husband. My family was raised on southern frying, baking, and casseroles. I know I don’t want to pass on everything I learned because of my own focus on health avoiding preservatives and additives. What our family wants to pass on is a love of food and a love of being in the kitchen. From there what we all need to ask is: What can we positively pass on to the next generation without losing what was sacred? The answer to me is not an erasure of the past, but a rewriting, like a cover song of a classic rerecorded with a modern tone.

My pie turned out to be a nod to my mom’s crust, without the crisco. The filling full of the same spices my parents added, without the corn syrup. I’m hoping we can undo the easy outs of the baby boomer generation and focus on creating a more positive relationship with the roots of our food. Perhaps we will learn to cook through Pinterest and other tools of the internet and find our own food identity in the recipes of others. Let us remix the flavors of the past by meal planning our way through carne asada, curried chicken, and kugel.