JB&A recommends

See my recommendations for awesome products and services I’ve personally used and loved. They may include sensory/therapy toys and equipment, books, decor and more!

  • Let me introduce you to Zulily

    there's a purple plastic mailing envelope with the word Zulily written in white script. in the top left corner, lying on top of the package, are two pairs of folded pants

    “Thanks, it’s from Zulily!”

    OK, so I definitely said this at least 20 times this past weekend at my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower. My purse, my jean jacket, my shoes, even the Scout bag I wrapped my gift in were all from Zulily. So what the heck is this site?

    Last year, I started partnering with Zulily as an affiliate. Simply put, when you buy items through the link on my website and social media, I receive a commission at no cost to you. It’s a way to support my small business as I continue to grow Joyful, Brave & Awesome!

    The best part is you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on leggings or Tupperware to support me. (But guess what? You can often find both leggings and Tupperware on Zulily if you feel like you are missing out!)

    Anyway, here are some answers to some of the most common Zulily questions, along with my number one tip for shopping on the site:

    What is Zulily? How does it work?

    Usually, so-called “flash sale” sites fill their warehouse with discounted products from brands, and then sell the product. Zulily keeps prices low – we’re talking sometimes even 70% off – by ordering product from brands AFTER a sale ends. Then, all your orders are consolidated at Zulily warehouses and shipped out. In short: longer shipping = lower prices!

    Do I need to pay for a membership?

    Nope! Membership is free – you just need to sign up for an account. Once you do, you can start browsing for savings right away. And if you’re worried about too many emails, you can choose exactly how many emails you receive from Zulily, whether its daily, weekly, monthly, or not at all!

    What’s an event?

    Zulily calls its sales “events”. Usually these last 72 hours. Zulily launches over 120 events EVERY DAY! Sounds overwhelming, but honestly the way the site is set up, it makes total sense. And you have me sharing some of my favorite #ZulilyFinds that I think resonate best with my readers. If there’s a certain type of product you are interested in, feel free to reach out to me!

    Wait, shipping isn’t “free two-day”?

    No, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to score free shipping. When you order on Zulily, you qualify for free shipping on any subsequent orders the rest of that day. Friday and Saturday orders score free shipping through Sunday! So if you buy something Friday morning, for example, you can keep ordering items up through Sunday evening for no extra shipping charge. Also, some items qualify for free shipping automatically.

    My best advice is to plan ahead: Use Zulily for items you do not need immediately, but rather items you know you’ll need sometime in the next few months. Our family’s birthdays all fall around the holidays. I start Christmas shopping using Zulily in the summer, so by the time Thanksgiving arrives I’m all done with shopping and the gifts are all safely stored in my house. Same goes for those “just in case” gifts to stock up on for last-minute parties, etc. Also, when I see a great deal on clothing or shoes a size or two larger than what JB is currently wearing, I’ll stock up. That way I know I’m ready should we have a sudden growth spurt! (The photo accompanying this post is of just this. They were having a major end-of-season sale on boys sweatpants, so I bought several pairs of the next size so we are ready for the fall.)

    What are you looking to save on in the next few months? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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  • My favorite books of 2021 so far

    straw beach bag with books, a picnic blanket and a hat, spread out on a green lawn

    Affiliate links are used in this post. As an Amazon affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

    Guys, I’m writing this from the library – THE LIBRARY! If that’s not a sign that things are returning to normal, than I don’t know what is!

    Anyway, today I’m going to be discussing books, specifically my five favorite books of 2021 so far. There’s quite a range of tones here, but honestly hasn’t this year been an emotional rollercoaster anyway? It makes sense that the books I’ve read would match (or counteract) that same unpredictability.

    Here are my favorite books from the first half of 2021.

    Favorite novel: Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (also available through Book of the Month

    Hockey. Suspense. YA romance. A socioeconomic examination of the opioid crisis on Native reservations in the early 2000s. While these may not all be genres/topics you are necessarily looking for in a book, the combination is what makes The Fire Keeper’s Daughter my favorite fiction read of 2021 so far. The plot is intricately woven and complicated, to say the least, but know three things. First, Daunis, the protagonist, is one of the strongest, best-written main characters I’ve encountered in years. Second, trigger warnings abound, so proceed with caution and do your research before reading if you have certain topics you need to avoid. And third, Barack and Michelle Obama will be adapting this book into a Netflix TV show!

    Favorite children’s book: What is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner
    I spoke about this book a little bit a few weeks ago in my post about switching churches. I didn’t learn about Rachel Held Evans until after she died in 2019, but I wish I had known her. When she passed away, her friend Matthew Paul Turner (one of my favorite children’s book authors) was asked to finish this story she had started. This book they co-created is an incredible, inspiring celebration of the concept of God, especially for young children. Throughout the story, we meet characters of different ethnicities and races, a child with a wheelchair, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The story switches pronouns for God along the way – sometimes God is He, sometimes She, sometimes They. I love this book so very much, and if you are a friend of mine with a young child, I’m probably going to talk your ear off about this book at least once in the next few months!

    Favorite poetry book: What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer
    I’m as shocked as you are that I’m listing a poetry book here. I normally don’t “do” poetry. Heck, one of the main reasons I wasn’t an English major was that, despite my love of writing, I didn’t want to have to study poetry! Kate Baer’s work is different, however. Her poetry tackles motherhood, body image, feminism, mental health and more in a raw, powerful way. Her “Erasure” series of poems is my favorite. In these, she takes online comments she’s received and blacks out select words, using the words remaining to form uplifting messages out of the hate. Baer’s second book, I Hope This Finds You Well, comes out this fall, and I’ve already preordered it!

    Favorite nonfiction book: Getting It Done When You’re Depressed (Second Edition) by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston (also available on Zulily)
    How much do I love this book? So much that I bought it twice, in e-book and paperback formats, so it’s always with me. I’m currently rereading it, and I’m getting even more out of it the second time around. The authors have an incredible talent for putting in words different aspects of depression that I always assumed were just my own unique weaknesses. I feel seen and understood in a way no other book has ever made me feel. My favorite feature of this book is that each chapter also has a script portion for you to share with loved ones when you are depressed and don’t know how to put your specific experience into words.

    Favorite cookbook: Everyday Dinners by Jessica Merchant
    Confession: I own the hardcover and e-book copies of this book, too. Jessica Merchant is the Pittsburgh-based founder of my favorite cooking blog, How Sweet Eats. In her latest cookbook, she focuses on easy weeknight meals that you can (but don’t have to) prep for in advance. Because let’s be real – I’m never going to prepare a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday. It just isn’t my style, although I admire all you folks who swear by it. Like Merchant, I would much rather preparing components of a meal here and there in pockets of free time throughout the week. So far, my favorite recipes are the Cajun-Lime Sweet Potato Salad and the Chicken Romano Meatballs. Seriously, I dream about both of these dishes. I’m planning on making several more recipes from this book over these next few days during the holiday weekend!

    What has your favorite book been so far in 2021? I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you want to expand your family’s summer reading selection, I’ll be sharing recommendations for young readers in the next week or two, including some FREE printables! (Admit it, you love free stuff!)


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  • An exciting new partnership!

    “Can you start a website where you curate all these awesome finds?” my son’s therapist asked me half-jokingly (I think) last year.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I often cope with JB’s diagnosis by shopping. I’m always hoping there’s a certain toy or piece of equipment that can help him develop skills a bit more easily, or make this therapy sessions more fun for him.

     I am thrilled to announce I am now an affiliate partner of Zulily.com – my favorite online retailer! 

    Without a doubt, Zulily has been my top source for therapy (whether speech, occupational, physical or feeding therapy) and sensory items for JB. It is also where I’ve found the best selection of toys and books featuring people with disabilities.

    In addition, I do most of my holiday shopping – birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Christmas, Easter – on Zulily. Since the pandemic, I’ve also been doing most of my own clothing shopping on Zulily. (Their shoes and plus-size offerings are especially fantastic.)

    See the photo above? Those are all Zulily purchases I was able to grab in a three-minute mad dash through my house. Even the area rug is from Zulily.

    Over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing some of my favorite Zulily finds both here on the blog and on social media. I’ll also be sharing suggestions from Jessica N. Turner, one of my favorite bloggers out there and a big career inspiration to me.

    Is there anything in particular you are looking to purchase right now that you could use help finding? Let me know!

    Please note: I know I sound like I’m doing an infomercial for Zulily, but this is not a sponsored post. If you buy something through the affiliate links used in this post, I may be compensated, but other than that, I’m just an [over]eager fan who loves a good sale.

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  • Using milestones to measure our children and ourselves

    Affiliate links are used in this post. As an Amazon affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

    When I was little, I loved looking through my baby book. As the firstborn child, my book was obviously meticulously filled out with each and every detail about my first year or so. (#SorryNotSorry, dearest younger siblings!) I couldn’t believe I was ever that tiny, or my parents were so young, or hairstyles and eyeglasses were so big – long live the 1980s!

    When I was pregnant with JB, my husband and I purchased a baby book called When We Became Three. It had all sorts of cute prompts about how we met, what our first date was like, who attended our wedding, what my pregnancy cravings were, etc., all the way up to the baby’s second or third year.

    I stopped filling the book out when JB was about four months old. It was clear that the categories and questions no longer applied to the “Three” that “We” had become.

    From the moment they are born, our kids are literally measured against other children, as we are given not just their height and weight in inches and pounds, respectfully, but also as percentages compared to other children their age.

    Then the developmental milestone questions start. Each pediatrician appointment those first few months (and years) is filled with questions like “Is s/he grasping toys?” or “Is s/he making consonant and vowel sounds?”.

    If a child doesn’t meet certain milestones, additional assessments may be made, including a variety of formal tests that literally break down the child’s emotional, intellectual, social, physical and developmental progress in terms of age. Imagine getting an official medical document saying your several-year-old child has the social skills of a several-month-old infant, for example. Guess what? It feels like a slap in the face, and a giant F written in red pen across your forehead. “YOU HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT,” that document screams, no matter how many times doctors, therapists, and loved ones tell you “it’s just how they have to write it” or “it needs to be an objective assessment”.

    Yes, I get that they need to use consistent measurements in these reports. That’s how science works; I am aware of this. It is not some big conspiracy to make us millennial parents feel triggered. But I also get that it’s pretty likely the medical professional who came up with these reports, just like the professional who coined the term “failure to thrive”, wasn’t an insecure new parent already trying to keep their head above water during this terrifying new chapter of their life.

    Every time I need to fill out new patient forms for JB, I’m faced with pages of these same milestone questions: “Can your child speak in complete sentences? When did your child first smile? At what age did your child begin eating solid foods? When did your child quote The Office for the first time?” (Okay, that last one was obviously made up, but I definitely WILL be returning to JB’s baby book to mark that momentous occasion when it happens!)

    Some parents of disabled kids like using the term “inchstones” – as opposed to “milestones” – to describe the small but significant steps of progress their children make. I don’t personally use this word, because I feel like it unintentionally does the opposite and minimizes disabled kids’ efforts under the guise of being “cutesy”.

    I do, however love the idea of celebrating a child’s individual achievements and timelines. For our family, that meant texting family, friends and former therapists when JB showed us he could identify animals and colors. It meant taking photos and cheering when he started bearing weight on his legs without trunk support. It means telling him every day how proud we are of his hard work and determination.

    We have made it a priority to fill JB’s bookcase with stories of characters accomplishing things at their own pace through perseverance. Here are a few of our family’s favorite picture books on this topic:


    Well, that’s my rant about milestones. I completely understand that none of the above scenarios are intended to shame parents. However, realizing something is not meant to be taken personally, and not actually taking it personally, are two very different things. So I guess one of my 2021 resolutions is going to be not seeing “FAILURE AS A PARENT” whenever I fill out forms or answer physicians’ questions. Because “learning to give myself some credit” is one milestone I’ve been meaning to check off in my own baby book for almost 35 years now!

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  • Months in review: March and April 2020

    It feels weird using the word “awesome” to describe these past two months in the Twilight Zone known as quarantine. It feels so weird, in fact, that I actually started writing this piece for March, and then chickened out, feeling that it would be tone deaf and too frivolous. So, for the time being, let’s just call this “Months in Review”.

    I think we could all use some entertainment suggestions right now. Here is a super-sized list of things that either distracted me or made me feel a little more like “me” over the past two months, even with all of the craziness going on. (You’ll notice there are no books on this list. I’m putting together a special post on favorite reads later this month.)

    What I’ve been watching:

    Some Good News: John Krasinski is a national treasure. The latest proof of this indisputable fact is a gem of a weekly YouTube series entitled Some Good News, in which Jim Halpert himself shares uplifting videos and stories and makes people’s dreams come true through a mix of celebrity appearances, charitable donations, and awesome events like prom and graduation. Keep making your fellow attractive Polish New Englanders proud, JKras!

    Community:  Community is finally on Netflix, folks! This super snarky, bizarre sitcom is perfect for quarantine binge watching, because almost every episode parodies a different pop culture genre. You don’t have to watch every episode, or the episodes in order, either. Note: It is a little strange rewatching it now knowing where several of the actors are now. Donald Glover (Troy) is halfway to an EGOT, and the Simba to Beyonce’s Nala. Meanwhile, Joel McHale hosted the absolutely horrifying Tiger King “bonus” episode. (Do not watch that episode. It is far more disturbing that the rest of the series, through no fault of Joel McHale.)

    What I’ve been listening to:

    Niall Horan, Heartbreak Weather: I don’t know much about the guys from One Direction, but I do know two things: 1) Backstreet Boys are still the greatest boy band of all times; and 2) Niall Horan is my favorite 1D member. I absolutely adore this album. It is the perfect blend of 1980’s pop and 2000’s singer/songwriter guitar ballads.

    Mandy Moore, Silver Landings: I’m kind of glad This Is Us finished for the season early on in this quarantine, because I don’t think I could handle that fictional emotional rollercoaster on top of this real-world craziness. Mandy Moore’s Silver Landings album has been a great soundtrack during this time, though. Listening to these songs feels like wearing a flowy dress and floppy hat, and walking through how I picture southern California.

    What I’m playing:

    The Sims 4: Hi, I’m Megan, and I’ve been obsessed with The Sims on and off again for about 20 years (oddly about the same amount of time I’ve been listening to Mandy Moore’s music). When I saw Sims 4 was on sale for only $4.99 last month, I knew I had to have it. If you are unfamiliar with the franchise, I’ll put it bluntly: This is a computer game where you create and control people and relationships in a borderline-creepy godlike fashion. Some people think it’s funny to make their Sims miserable and suffer. Others (okay, I) always dress their Sims in trendy outfits they themselves would be way too self-conscious to wear, and get a strange sense of satisfaction whenever the characters exercise or do laundry or wash dishes or get a promotion. (See, I’m being indirectly productive!)

    The New York Times Crossword: For my birthday this January, I treated myself to a digital New York Times subscription, complete with the crossword puzzle add-on. Best. Gift. Ever. I love having the puzzles right on my phone to work on if I need a momentary break from the gift/curse of toddler TV programming. And, like the pride I get from my athletic Sims’ achievements, I also feel like I’m getting a bit smarter each time I complete a puzzle!

    What has been giving you a much-needed break during these past few months? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

    And finally, a note to all those who are on the front lines: Thank you. Thank you so much for your bravery, selflessness and resolve. You are the awesome ones right now.

    (Please note: There are affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

    Image credit: Pexels 

  • Demystifying disabilities

    (Please note: This post was written before I knew about author/activist Emily Ladau’s incredible book Demystifying Disability. The similar post title is a complete coincidence. I highly recommend reading her book and following her on social media!)

    A few weeks ago, a college friend reached out to me on Facebook with the sweetest message. She wanted to know if I had any recommendations for how she and her young children should best engage with kids with disabilities in a way that is respectful and supportive.

    First of all, I’d just like to thank this friend, and others who have asked me similar questions. Seriously, though, the fact that parents want their children to know about and celebrate differences is absolutely reassuring to me, as I prepare to send JB off to preschool next month. It gives me hope that kids are becoming more accepting of and comfortable with people not exactly like them.

    As for what to say when meeting someone with a disability, (child or adult), I’m quickly learning everyone is different at what they appreciate or don’t appreciate. But so far, I’ve been amazed by how well my friends and their kids have come to accept and embrace JB!

    It’s funny, but there are two different – and totally appropriate – reactions kids typically have to learning about JB, whether it’s his wheelchair, his feeding tube, his hand and head movements, or his lack of talking:

    1. The kid shrugs and says “Oh,” and moves on to another topic or walks away.
    2. The kid says, “Oh,” and then asks an amazing follow-up question like “Does he drink Magic Formula like Boss Baby?” (In case you were wondering this same question: Yes, JB gets formula, and I guess it’s kind of magic in the fact that it gives him all of his nutrition. No, he doesn’t drink it. And no, fortunately JB – unlike Boss Baby – doesn’t sound like Alec Baldwin!)

    I find my friends and I have the best luck explaining it in the terms of showing what’s different between the children but what also is the same. So if the child asks why JB doesn’t walk, we answer, “His legs aren’t strong enough yet to walk like you do, but he has this cool chair that helps him get around. Isn’t it cool how many ways there are to move and explore?”

    Or if they point to JB’s feeding tube, we’ll say, “That’s how he gets his food in his belly. It’s like how you’re eating your sandwich by mouth and it goes into your stomach. Isn’t it amazing how many ways there are to eat?”

    This way they see what’s different but also what they have in common.

    The main thing is to explain there’s nothing to be afraid of – kids with disabilities are still just that – KIDS. They enjoy dinosaurs, Disney movies, hockey, stickers, iPads and other things just like other children.

    I promised my friend I’d compile a list of some of my favorite children’s picture books that explain disabilities in easy, approachable language. I also thought I’d share this list on the blog, as it is holiday shopping season and people are looking for great gift ideas. Enjoy!

    1. Daniel’s New Friend by Becky Friedman: This story recaps the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode of the same name. It introduces Chrissie, a new character who uses leg braces and crutches. I love this book and TV episode because they show Daniel and his friends showing curiosity in their friend’s equipment, then moving on to get back to playing. They don’t completely ignore the difference, but rather it’s acknowledged, and then accepted. (Side note: This story is also included in the collection Daniel Tiger’s 5 Minute Stories.)
    2. Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor: “Why would a Supreme Court Justice write about kids with disabilities?” I know that was my first thought when I heard about this book. It turns out that Justice Sotomayor had diabetes starting at a young age, but her classmates never asked her questions about it. She wanted children to know that curiosity and questions are good, and that disabilities and chronic health issues can be respected and talked about. There are a variety of disabilities and differences mentioned in this book, such as asthma, blindness, deafness, autism, food allergies and dyslexia. Also, the illustrations are incredibly beautiful.
    3. We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio: This book is a spinoff of the New York Times Bestseller Wonder. It follows Auggie, a young boy with facial differences, and his dog, Daisy, as they go on adventures. The message of the entire Wonder collection is to “Choose Kind”, and frankly we could all use that reminder. If you want to hear a sample of We’re All Wonders, check out this video of Luis from Sesame Street reading it aloud.
    4. We’re Different, We’re the Same and We’re Wonderful by Bobbi Jane Kates: This Sesame Street book first published in 1992 discusses differences of all kinds, without ever using words like nationality, race, gender, religion or disability. Are the illustrations a little dated and cheesy? Yup, but that’s part of its charm!

    I’d love to hear your favorite books for helping explain differences – whether disabilities, gender, religion, race, etc. – to children. Feel free to share your recommendations!

    Please note: These opinions are all entirely my own, and I have not been compensated to review any of these books. That being said, there are Amazon affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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  • Have JB, will travel: On the road this holiday weekend

    “Twenty bazillion travelers are expected to hit the roads this Thanksgiving weekend, according to the latest report from ZZZ…”

    Back in the day, (the “day” being my 20s), a big part of my job was writing/editing/distributing press releases that started just like this!

    While I no longer work for “ZZZ” (clever pseudonym, I know), I still feel a sense of nostalgia for pre-kid road trips. Back then, our biggest concern was giving the dog his anti-nausea meds before he got in the car.

    Today’s packing list looks a bit different:

    • IV pole for the feeding tube pump? Check.
    • Enough cans of formula for the entire length of the trip, plus extra? Check.
    • Medicines, syringes, bottled water and feeding bags? Check, check, check and check.
    • The actual kid? Check.

    I’m fortunate that most of our family live close by. When we do travel, though, there are several items that are CRUCIAL for making the trip with JB easier. Here are several indispensable products we swear by for traveling with our special needs toddler. Even if you don’t have a child with a feeding tube or wheelchair, I bet they’d be helpful for your little ones, too.

    • Skip Hop insulated bottle bags: I have an unspoken rule that if I see one of these bags on sale, I buy it. No matter what. I LOVE these mini coolers. While meant to keep bottles chilled (with the enclosed ice pack), we use them to store JB’s feeding pump and bag during the day. These bags have a great buckle handle, making it easy to attach to a stroller, car seat, high chair, etc.
    • Skip Hop stroller organizer (no longer available, but see similar model here) : Most strollers come with at least one cupholder for the grownups. Unfortunately, those cupholders are usually plastic and appropriately have giant “No hot beverages!” warnings. Enter this bag. It works with any stroller – including JB’s wheelchair stroller – and includes an insulated cupholder just screaming for me to finally put my latte safely down and free up my hand. Fact: I’m a much better mommy when I have my coffee with me.
    • Columbia diaper bag backpack: This backpack has been with us since we went to the hospital to have Baby JB. Since then, it’s withstood almost three years of JB, including daycare, playgroup, road trips, amusement parks, nature walks, playgrounds, the beach, and more. It’s fantastic: Super durable, tons of storage, and ultra comfortable. The only downside? Several of our friends have the same one because we all keep recommending it to one another!
    • Bright Starts Beaming Buggie: Behold, the little firefly that has made every overnight trip and hospital stay a whole light brighter. This toy seems simple: a cute little plastic bug that plays music and lights up. But it also has a waves/white noise option, which we use to help JB feel more at home wherever we are. It clips on to the pack-and-play or crib with ease, and is much easier to pack than a traditional white noise or music machine.
    • Wildkin nap mat: Consider this a “starter sleeping bag”. JB loves this all-in-one mat, blanket and pillow. It’s easy to roll up and bring when visiting family and friends, and it gives JB a familiar setting for his nap. Apparently it’s pretty comfy, too, considering we have photos of my dad napping next to it at a family function!
    • Blender Bottles: This one goes out to my fellow formula-feeding moms out there. These are the perfect way to mix a day’s worth of formula with minimal dishes to wash! Great for travel or everyday.
    • Car headrest hooks: Someone in a “tubie parent” Facebook group recommended these simple hooks. They are so simple, but so useful! We hang JB’s feeding tube pump bag (see: Skip Hop Bottle Bag above!) from these during car rides. You can also use them to hang car trash bags, headphones, purses, shopping bags, and probably 100 other things I can’t think of right now.

    So far, we’ve only traveled domestically by car on our trips with JB. Air travel and international travel are completely different ball games, from what I’ve read and seen. We’re not that brave yet, but I am hopeful that over the next few years travel will become more accessible to disabled travelers and their caregivers.

    What are your road trip must-haves? I’d love to hear!

    Note: This photo is of our dog, not JB. It obviously was taken while the car was safely parked. We would never allow our dog to stick his head out the window while the car was moving. We also would never leave our dog in a parked car unattended. 

    These opinions are all entirely my own, and I have not been compensated to review any of these products. That being said, there are Amazon affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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  • The seaweed is always greener

    We’ve been somewhat strategic about the children’s TV shows JB watches. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with screen time; I just don’t want him knowing who Caillou or Peppa Pig is, out of fear that he’ll start wanting to watch them and I’ll have to listen to them. Better to stick with nostalgic favorites: Muppet Babies, Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. (Some may call this selfish, but I call it self-preservation.) There’s one newer show, however, that JB can’t get enough of – Splash and Bubbles – and as a result, he’s completely, utterly fascinated with ocean life. Latching on to his love of all things underwater, our family recently took a day trip to Boston’s New England Aquarium.

    Before heading to the aquarium, we did a bit of research about what to expect. Is the aquarium handicapped accessible? Could we bring his stroller and feeding pump? Would there be quiet places to take a break if JB was getting overstimulated? The answer to all of these questions, luckily, was a resounding yes! I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was by the New England Aquarium’s attention to detail regarding accessibility and inclusion.

    When we arrived, we were able to borrow a free sensory kit from KultureCity, filled with fidget toys, noise-cancelling headphones, some picture communication cards, and other helpful items. We didn’t end up using the kit, but knowing it was there if we needed it was a huge relief.

    Regarding wheelchair accessibility, I was pleasantly surprised by how much JB could see and experience from his seat. Many parks and museums have guardrails placed right at JB’s eye level, making it hard for him to see or interact with the attraction. The focal point of the New England aquarium, however, is a central tank extending four floors tall, with floor to ceiling viewing windows, and a ramp spiraling around it. As a result, you can see the animals (and occasional scuba divers) from almost any angle. Even better, JB was able to get very close to the glass, immersing him in the experience.

    In one of my favorite moments of the entire visit, a sea turtle swam right up to the glass, and JB started smiling and waving. JB then began making a “muh-muh-muh” sound and signing “more, more, more!” It was an interaction I’ll never forget.

    (I could make some type of joke about how this turtle helped JB come out of his shell, but I’m too mature for that kind of nonsense.)

    JB had another memorable animal encounter at the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank. An aquarium guide, seeing JB in his wheelchair unable to reach the tank, brought a hermit crab in a small container over to him, so JB would be able to see and touch the crab like the other visitors. It was probably just a small moment for the employee, but this inclusion meant the world to us, and to JB.

    Before we left the aquarium, we obviously had to visit the gift shop. (I’m a firm believer that it isn’t an actual museum/zoo/aquarium/theme park visit unless you visit the gift shop.)

    “We are not buying him another toy today, no matter what,” I vowed all morning, citing the mountains of toys already taking over our home.

    My husband and sister both smiled, knowing I would never actually uphold this promise. Sure enough, we ended our visit with a brand-new “wildlife rescue kit,” basically a doctor’s kit and a stuffed animal (JB chose a sea lion) inside a cute little pet carrier. I have to admit, though, it was a smart purchase – he plays with it almost every day. So look out, we may have a future veterinarian on our hands!

    Joyfully recommended…

    One way we’ve been encouraging JB’s “under the sea” interest is through picture books. Here are some of our family’s favorites:

    • An Anthology of Intriguing Animals: This book ticks off boxes for everyone in our home. Gorgeous book design inside and out (for me)? Check! Interesting animal facts (for my science teacher husband)? Check! Cool photos of animals both underwater and on land (for JB)? Check!
    • Manfish: If you had told me pre-parenthood that one day I’d list a biography of Jacques Cousteau as one of my favorite children’s books, I would have called you crazy. But this book is so breathtakingly beautiful, I would willingly hang up the pages as artwork around my home.
    • Three Little Words: Imagine the adorable, uplifting “just keep swimming” spirit of Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, combined with soothing watercolor illustrations of the beloved Pixar fish. Three Little Words will brighten your day no matter how bad the world may seem. 

    (There are Amazon affiliate links in the above post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

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  • Favorite feeding therapy finds

    Yes, I know this post’s title is somewhat of a tongue twister. That’s intentional, because a huge part of feeding therapy is working that tongue!

    In today’s post, I’m focusing on JB’s feeding therapy: How he learns to eat, what gear he uses and the incredible progress he’s made. (Please note: this is about our unique experience – every child’s case is different, and one approach isn’t necessarily better or worse than another. Also, I am not even remotely a medical professional, despite watching Grey’s Anatomy until McDreamy died.)

    It turns out that people with JB’s genetic syndrome have an 80 percent chance of experiencing feeding issues, usually requiring a feeding tube at some point to provide calories and nutrition. Doctors believe it’s related to the hypotonia – as everything from chewing to swallowing to digesting requires muscles.

    While JB still receives almost all of his nutrition and hydration through his feeding tube, he’s working on increasing how much he can eat and drink by mouth. As he improves, the hope is that he’ll consume more orally and less by tube.

    JB sees a feeding therapist weekly. She is a speech language pathologist (SLP) who specializes in swallowing disorders. In each session, JB, his therapist and I work on a variety of aspects of eating and drinking:

    • Sensory experience: Feeling, smelling, tasting and playing with the food;
    • Hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills: Bringing the spoon to his mouth, picking up little pieces of food, drinking out of a cup;
    • Chewing and swallowing: Taking small enough bites/sips that he can chew and swallow without gagging or vomiting, strengthening his jaw muscles, moving food with his tongue, closing his lips around a spoon rather than scraping food off the spoon with his front teeth.

    People often ask me how someone learns to eat. Well, it takes a lot of time, though JB is making great strides, especially as he continues to gain strength in his head, neck and torso. Since starting with his feeding therapist last summer, he’s gone from occasionally having a teaspoon or two of pureed baby food to eating almost an entire jar of baby food, a dozen yogurt melts, 2 ounces of water, or even an entire cookie! Here is a list of some of some products that have helped on this journey.

    • ezpz cups and spoons: JB’s feeding therapist recommended the ezpz tiny cup when we started re-introducing him to sipping water. The cup is weighted and textured on the bottom, for increased stability. And the top is flexible, so we can direct the water into his mouth more easily. The ezpz tiny spoons are designed to help encourage lip closure (and they are adorable). The best part about ezpz’s products is that every item is tested and approved by special needs therapists – including feeding therapists – to ensure children of all abilities can benefit from the products. (Note: the green cup and red spoon in the photo are ezpz products.)
    • Ark Therapeutic Z-vibe kit: The Z-vibe is a vibrating sensory tool similar to an electric toothbrush. It’s the width of a pencil with different attachments for working the tongue, teeth, jaw and lips. JB uses it mainly to self soothe himself when he’s in sensory overload – he chews on one of the textured tips and instantly calms. He also sometimes uses the spoon attachments in feeding therapy.
    • Ark Therapeutic Grabbers: Yup, there’s a repeat brand on this list, because Ark Therapeutic is just that awesome! If you’ve ever wondered what the “P”-shaped teethers JB is chomping away on in photos, they are these guys. They are made in the USA and come in a range of textures, colors and firmnesses to help build chewing and biting strength while also providing oral sensory input. I just ordered several more of these last night, as they are perfect for keeping in diaper bags, the car, his stroller, etc. Sometimes we even use these in feeding therapy to dip into food.
    • Colgate Kids Powered Toothbrush: One of the best tips we’ve ever received from JB’s OT (occupational therapist) was to get him an electric toothbrush. Because of his positive associations with the Z-vibe, he thinks brushing his teeth is fun, too. (It doesn’t hurt that we get ones with little characters and bright colors!) For many kids with developmental or sensory issues (and their parents), brushing teeth can be one of the worst experiences, so we are fortunate that for now, he doesn’t mind it.
    • OXO TOT Transitions open cup trainer: This was the cup that helped JB learn to drink water! JB still doesn’t have the strength to sip from a straw or work against the resistance in many children’s cups (after all, the resistance is what makes those cups “spill-proof”), but a completely open cup can be a mess. This cup has a plastic disc on top to hold some of the water back, while allowing water to still flow freely through the sides without any resistance. We have three of these cups and absolutely adore them!
    • Bumkins waterproof bibs: Feeding therapy is messy – very messy. Cute cotton or muslin bibs just don’t do it when it comes to the serious splash-zone conditions, but we’ve had only good luck with Bumkins waterproof bibs. The best part? I can satisfy my 80’s/90’s nostalgia with the characters and patterns! We have Superman, Nintendo and Lion King ones so far. (See the Simba one pictured above.)

    Do you have any questions about feeding therapy? Feel free to ask away in the comments, or on the Joyful, Brave & Awesome Facebook page.

    (As with all my posts, these opinions are all entirely my own, and I have not been compensated to review any of these products. That being said, there are affiliate links in the above post. If you purchase from an affiliate, I may be compensated.)

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