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Kasey Elizabeth Stroke

Hold on folks, this one is going to be a little bumpy. You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog posts kind of came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. And I knew that I would have to write about it but it took some time to get there. Leading up to a couple of weeks ago, my life had already been a little chaotic. Life going in so many directions that is seems fated that I would have been just home from a great business meeting when I called my mom to share the news.

But she had news of her own.

My family lives about 2000 miles away from me which most of the time I don’t give much thought to. Having grown up an Army brat, living far away from both of my grandmothers (sometimes across an entire ocean) I took it for granted that I would most likely live away from my parents as an adult. I was never really by choice. It just kind of was.

However, that Wednesday afternoon, two weeks ago, I would have given anything to live “right there”. My cousins each have children that are similar in age to my own. Our first children were born within 6 weeks of each other (there are three of us – my sister had her son later.) Our second children are further apart in age, with Kasey Elizabeth Stroke bringing up the end of the sibling pairs. Kasey was a blessing to my cousin Michael and his wife Robin, who were both a little bit older when she was conceived. And Kasey was born with Down’s Syndrome.

If you think that means that she couldn’t do what other kids did, she certainly never got the memo. Whatever she was delayed in learning physically, she made up for with sheer force when she did learn how. She was a toddler when her father (my cousin) died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Her sister and my oldest daughter are a Facebook success stories. All the time, I hear about how Facebook is terrible for teens. (And there are some compelling arguments, for sure.) But in this case, these two kind of discovered each other and forged a long distance friendship that ultimately has brought our two families closer. Kit came out here a couple of years ago and we shared our Southern California lifestyle. It was during that stay that I witnessed first hand the strength of the bond of the women my cousin had left behind. While second-hand clothes shopping on Melrose, Kit called her mom and they just chatted. Like they were friends. Then her baby sister got on the phone, and Kit lit up talking to her and telling her how much she missed her. I witnessed this scene over and over again in the less than two weeks Kit was with us. Truth be told, I was a little envious.

Eager to return the hospitality, when we went to Indiana to spend Christmas with my parents a year and a half ago, Kit invited Hayley to stay with her family for a few days which was great. When Hayley came back to my parents’ house, Kasey threw a fit. She did everything at full throttle to include loving. And she made it known she wanted Hayley to stay. With them.

With this relationship developing, I became Facebook friends with my “cousin-in-law?” and we began sharing comments about each other’s day-to-day. Things I wouldn’t have any way to know otherwise. Like when one of the girls were sick. Or they were participating in a Down’s Syndrome Fundraiser. She is one of those people I keep in mind when I think my day is hard. She is on, 24 – 7.

Two weeks ago today, Kasey choked on a piece of bread at the dinner table. Robin, a preschool director (CPR and Heimlich Maneuver trained), was unable to dislodge the bread. Kasey was taken by ambulance to one of the finest children’s hospitals in the United States. Less than 24 hours later, they pronounced her brain-dead.

As my mother shared this news, I argued back. Unable to believe. Unable to accept. Unable to do anything from 2000 miles away.

I could only get news. The news that Kasey was going to be a donor. That Kit was a wreck. That Robin was somehow holding up. I sent an email requesting prayers from my own church’s prayer line. I asked that all pray for a miracle, still unable to reconcile the inevitable.

That Saturday I read the most beautiful Facebook posting – one I hope to never read again. Filled with grace that I cannot conceive of, Kasey’s mother shared the news that Kasey’s kidneys and livers had been the ultimate gift to three lives. And that Kasey had made her final journey home where her father would be greeting her with open arms.

I was unable to make the calling and the funeral that were held several days later. I so wanted to be there even though I knew my presence would change nothing. As I write this, I know I have to conclude it. I held off writing it because I didn’t want it to be preachy about keeping perspective. Being grateful. Loving your kids. I realize now why I delayed putting the words down. It’s conclusion / purpose is simply to acknowledge this little girl’s life. And to say good-bye. I couldn’t do that until today. And I couldn’t write anything else until I had taken care of this.

Kasey Elizabeth, because of distance, we did not see each other often. But I will miss your mother’s Facebook posts about funny things you said or did that day. Pics of you with your Hannah Montana wig. I will miss the joy and pride on your sister’s face in pics that she posts of her at her latest cheerleading competition with you by her side. I will miss how you gave your grandmother a run for her money (like I gave your great-grandmother a run for her money before you). And I will miss that you always held out for your own way and refused to be ignored. Your sister has said several times in the past week or so that we now have an angel watching over us. I believe that to be true. Love and peace.


OCHSA Filmmakers Continue to Make Their Mark on the Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase

The Newport Beach Film Festival is here again.  While time just doesn’t permit that I get to see many of the 450 films being shown during the almost two-week stint, I always get excited that it’s going on – it makes Newport Beach seem artsy and cultured.  And I like that in a town.

My favorite part of the Film Festival is the Youth Film Showcase sponsored by Volcom.  I like it so much that I wrote about it last year for Coast Kids magazine.  I know that part of my affinity to the Youth Film Showcase in addition to the caliber of its films, is that it’s founder, Whitney Ellis, is an alumnus of the school to which both of my children attend.  She is actually part of the reason my kids attend that school.  My family attended the first Newport Youth Film Showcase almost a decade ago (okay – that is scary!) at which Newport Beach Film Festival CEO, Greg Schwenk, introduced the audience to Whitney.  He told the story behind how she approached him to include youth in the newly established Newport Beach Film Festival. He told her funding was the problem.  Schwenk then introduced Richard Woolcott, CEO of Volcom, who spoke about how Whitney approached him and Volcom to sponsor the youth portion of the film festival (at the time of writing this blog, I am still trying to confirm that Volcom is sponsoring the event again this year.).  Woolcott, who happens to love film, agreed that Volcom would become the sole sponsor.  Then Whitney spoke.  She was one of the most articulate and motivated 17 year olds I had ever had the pleasure of hearing.  And I thought, wow, if this school is producing kids that can accomplish things like this, I need to look into it!

This year, however, I am even more excited because not one but TWO of my oldest daughter’s friends / classmates have films that will be presented in the Youth Film Showcase this coming Sunday.  I am sorry, but that is just COOL!  So through my daughter, I forwarded some questions to these young filmmakers about themselves and their creations.  Tomorrow we will trek over to the Fashion Island Cinemas (April 29th, 12:00 noon – the show is free – get there early) to see the showcase ourselves, but today, big shout out and congrats to Dena O’Dell and Christian Flashman!  Both young filmmakers chose to use their medium to portray people of inspiration – those that have faced or are facing adversity and continue to greet each day with passion.

Dena’s film, “Breathe Easy” is about her friend, Carly Lindmeier, who has cystic fibrosis.  Moved by her friend’s need to take 28 pills and 3 breathing treatments a day in order to manage her pain and health while still maintaining the lifestyle of a “regular” teen, O’Dell captures Carly’s regiment treatment, but more importantly, her drive to spread social awareness and medical advocacy.  Originally a school assignment , the film took Dena about two months to complete.  Making movies since age nine, Dena was originally drawn to the medium from her computer software at the time.  Nobody else really knew how to use it, so Dena set forth to learn the film editing programs.  Her passion for the process and what she could accomplish with it, landed her a spot in the Film and Television conservatory at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA) where she is currently a junior.  While the Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase is the first festival to which Dena has submitted work, the film has also been accepted into the Archer Film Festival where it will be shown in May. (Note: The Archer Film Festival is focused on empowering women in the film industry – pretty cool, check the link!)

Film and Television Conservatory classmate, Christian Flashman is also new to the Film Festival circuit.  His first festival submission, “Big Fish Little Pond“, documents local artist Gavin Heath.  Originally a South African surfer with promise of making it big in the sport, Heath was forced to leave South Africa in a state of emergency.  Now a resident of Laguna Beach, he is an artisan favorite creating tribal influence glass sculptures that reflect his longing for his home country.  Flashman’s original artistic interest was in comic books.  However, a film editing class in 8th grade changed that path, feeding a new passion to direct films and leading him to  OCHSA to embark on his filmmaking journey.  The Newport Beach Youth Film Showcase is the first festival to which he has submitted work.  Flashman is currently waiting to hear if his work has also been accepted into the LA Film Festival.

Can’t wait to see them tomorrow.  Congrats and good luck to Dena and Christian!

Changing Things Up


(above is the profile pic I took of myself with my iphone for OC Toy Tales)


Howdy, Friends!  It has been awhile.  Too long for sure.  Let me explain.

Over the last couple of months, I have been in conversation with OC Family about doing a toy review blog.  I am excited to say OC Toy Tales launch is imminent!  It just took longer to pull it all together than I thought it would.  So while I was working things out with OC Family, I considered letting this blog go.  However, something weird happened!  During my hiatus, this site got traction.  All of a sudden, I was a top find in several categories on Google search, and even though I wasn’t writing, I was being read.  So, kidstuffilove is staying put which is great, as I love it so.  What is the point of this post?  To say “Hi, Dear Reader”, “Thanks for reading!” and “More content is coming.  Good content.  Great kidstuff.  And links to the OC Family blog where I will have some great giveaways!”  Hang tight, I am almost there.


Always Looking for the Joy!

About six months ago, I wrote a post about loving to provide kids with the opportunity to make a difference through their own efforts.  The post featured my daughter’s participation in Relay for Life.  And it was at the Costa Mesa’s 2011 Relay for Life that we saw Jessica Joy Rees for the first time.  Jessica (Jessie) had recently been diagnosed with brain cancer.  She was the same age as the girls I had with me.

Several months after that, my Facebook friend and one of the Costa Mesa Relay’s organizers, Robin, posted a link to Jessie’s own page where she was quickly gaining fans to help spread her message of NEGU – Never Ever Give Up.  As an advocate of kids making a difference, I fanned her page and was rewarded on a daily basis with updates about her condition, support she received from her friends and her family.  And about how with two brain tumors and chemo, this kid was out to make a difference in the 50,000+ lives of the pediatric cancer patients in this country.  She and her parents had started the NEGU Foundation (Never Ever Give Up) in an effort to raise money for Jessie’s Joy Jars.  These Joy Jars come with a NEGU t-shirt and can be filled with all sorts of goodies – things to do at the hospital.  Things that let these kids know that someone cares.

Jessie’s amazing vision and her dedication inspired numerous people locally and worldwide.  Fans to her page span the globe.  Eva Longoria spent an afternoon with Jessie, filling Joy Jars.  Local news featured her story and linked to her page.  John Tesh signed on to do a benefit concert for NEGU at the St. Regis(later this month).  Momentum was building.  And Jessie and her dad challanged her Facebook fans to help build her fan base from the 20,000+ she has to 50,000+ this year – one person for every pediatric cancer patient.

Yesterday Jessie’s parents posted the very sad news that Jessie had lost her battle with cancer.  The outpouring on her page has been incredible.  And her fans honored her by reaching out and asking people to fan her page in hopes of helping her reach the goal she made.  The result?  By the time I went to bed last night, the goal had been met – over 30,000 people fanned her page in the last 24 hours.

And now the real work – turning those fans into workers, completing Jessie’s real task.  Putting 50,000 Joy Jars in 50,000 little hands.  Check out the site (it has been inundated in the last day, it might be hard getting on – bookmark it and come back!) and see how you can help.  Become a fan.  Buy a Joy Jar.  Become a corporate sponsor.  If you are a store, hold a Joy Jar day and work with the organization to fill jars at your store one day.   If you work with a group that wants community hours, have them contact NEGU to fill joy jars!  If you are a manufacturer and have closeout product, donate to the Joy Jars.  So many great ways to become involved and share the Joy.  Thank you, Jessie, for the world of difference you have made!  NEGU!

New Year’s Resolution – Shopping Locally

Okay, okay – busted!  I did not finish my advent countdown of independent retailers before Christmas day.  A million and one excuses including 4000 miles of holiday travel, holidays with 18 other extended family members, and many holiday cookie to eat.  But I am back, I have received boxes of samples of new specialty goods to stash in the back of my car when I hit the road again.  And I am so excited for the new retail year (of which, I promise to keep talking about awesome local shops!)!

As I continue to organize, fill out my calendar, plan for New York’s Toy Fair next month, etcetera, I ran across a really cool blog about a new movement called Cash Mobs – organized to gain attention and sales for independent retailers!  Great read – drop me a note if you are motivated to join forces in supporting our local mom and pops.  Love it!

Happy New Year!  Happy Shopping!  Here’s to 2012!

It’s 10:00 am and I Have Found a New Favorite Store!


Getting ready to head out and do some more of my own holiday shopping.  Writing orders with stores for the past few weeks and heading to sales meetings out-of-town mean that I am a little behind the 8-ball so to speak.  But my daughter is knocking her list down in a quick stride.  You know what I like about how she shops? – she looks at an item and finds its value based in how much the recipient will enjoy it, NOT how much the price tag says it’s worth.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

We were out and about this morning for a performance that she had at a little gathering of independents at the Pelican Courtyard Fleamarket and we stumbled upon this great shop called Winnow just off of PCH in Newport Beach.  It was full of artisan products, decor, ornaments, home accessories.  There was so much cool stuff and while some was a little pricey, most was really reasonable.  The selection of ornaments was fun – lots of hand crafted animals made from felt or other natural materials.  Purchasing some of them benefited small charities worldwide.  My daughter bought a variety of handmade soaps that she thought some of the ladies on her list would enjoy.  There was a small corner of some great knit baby toys by Yellow Label Kids, a great line of products that are made from around the world.  The focus of the line is to make sure that the individuals who craft the products are paid fair wages according to the Fair Trade standards, and that the products they create are environmentally sound.  The topper is that the products are adorable.

Learned So Much – Couldn’t Wait to Share!

Had a great 3 days in Vegas.  At sales meetings.  (Of course, there was some time to do a little damage to my wallet, too.  But that’s a whole nother blog.)

Overall message from the other reps that I met and got to listen to, is that our independent stores across the country are hurting.  And while economy is a factor – it’s an indirect factor.  Because people are earning less, they are shopping for the deal – and the deal is on Amazon.  So, this is an interesting fact – some of the manufacturers reported that sales were down in the specialty markets (your local mom and pop toy shops – you know – the ones with free gift wrapping, and the playdates where you bring the kids for a fun afternoon activity) but the new category, “internet sales”, were up enough that the overall sales were not only NOT down for the year, in most cases, they were UP!  Which means that we as a country are not really buying less (at least in the specialty toy category), we are buying different.  We are buying shortsightedly.

I am not going to say I never shop on Amazon and nobody else should either.  I am just going to say, we should think first.  I, too, have kids who tell me they need a book the night before they need it.  And jumping on Amazon to order it and knowing that they will only have one class without is an amazing thing.  The fact that I don’t have to chase all over town looking for said title when I really have other things to do, is even better.  I do get it.  I guess what I am saying is that if we don’t figure out a way to balance our purchasing power, we are actually going to end up with way fewer choices.  Like when you do all of your Christmas toy shopping on Amazon, don’t be surprised if you find your local toy shop gone in January when you need a cute, thoughtful, unique, birthday gift in a pinch.  Sure you can buy a Target gift card on your way to the celebration.  That’s always fun to watch being opened at the party.  (Another case for why there should be a sarcastic font.)  And that is the thought that just keeps me writing about this topic – we could wake up one day and find that all of our cute stores are gone with our choices to shop online, or at Target, Walmart or Costco.  It really could happen.

And if that is not a scary enough thought to make you consider where you buy – check out this story!  Amazon is giving customers $ rewards for going into brick and mortar stores and using their phones to scan bar codes and send the data back to Amazon.  While I am sure it is legal, in my book, there are some major moral red flags.  I cannot even imagine having the gall to do that in someone’s store.  Someone who spends hours planning the purchases, paying employees, rent, marketing, etc. Wow!  Just wow!

So for now, thank goodness there are some awesome stores to do your holiday shopping!  And one of my favorite places to stroll and find cute things is Newport Beach’s Balboa Island.  Recognized on many national lists of where to go to see stunning Christmas lights, this is a win/win locale!  Great sights, great stores, fun restaurants – memorable family holiday outing.  Remember, I owe you two stores today.  Balboa Island is an easy place to write about because 99% of the stores on Marine Ave. are independently owned.

One of my favorites is Even Sisters.

The store has been around forever, and has had various owners (some of the most recent owners, Katie and Helen, are still around and working in the store on days that they are not pursuing new ventures such as grandkids and pet photography enhancements) the most recent owner, Corie, has kept the store stocked with great surfwear lines, fun jewelry, and unique gifts.  The cow is still out front (if you aren’t familiar with the store, check it out, and you will get what I am talking about), and it is usually filled with local customers who frequently know each other and stop their browsing for a little while to catch up.  Right now, the store has an incredible selection of Tom’s shoes.  And I am happy to write about Tom’s cause their business ideology is pretty great – buy a pair of shoes and another pair is automatically donated to someone who is currently going without shoes in a third world country.  Combine that fact with the fashion forward styles of shoes they offer and you can see why they are so popular (yes, both of my kids started out the school year with a new pair!)  Even Sisters has all the styles with the holiday perfect sparkly variety front and center – check it out!

And in the same block, another fav – Our Gang’s General Store.

Jill, the owner, keeps this tiny two lane store stocked from top to bottom with best sellers in more categories than you can believe she can cram in there- always displayed in a fun and inviting way.  From early activities for babies to cute flags with quotes about happy hour, it’s in there!  She has been known for over a decade for her selection of wind ups, including numerous vintage styles.  She also carries a small selection of quirky book titles.  A couple of years ago Santa purchased from her store the “How to Behave and Why” title and left it under our tree.  Games, cards, plush, party favors, Balboa mementos – truly something fun and unique for everyone on your list!  Featured toy – the newest version of Bucky Cube – very powerful magnet set that you can manipulate in incredible ways.  Great fidgety toy for the teens (and maybe even a stocking stuffer for the husband).

Even Sisters, 207 Marine Ave, Newport Beach (949) 673-2130

Our Gang’s General Store, 217 1/2 Marine Ave., Newport Beach  (949) 675-0666