Paralympic Ups & Downs

140310jk-jallen-002While we’re asleep here in the U.S., the Paralympic skiers are competing,  leaving everything on the course. I’ve been a bit sleep-deprived this week, as I’m compelled to check my phone and Facebook every time I wake up in the wee hours of the morning!

This morning I was met with updates that hit me in the heart — 18-year old Stephanie Jallen’s Super G bronze (her first Paralympic medal!) — and then in the gut: two more scary crashes during the women’s mono-skiing Super G. The U.S. Team in particular has had several crashes in competition so far, and I am so incredibly relieved to know that Alana Nichols, Stephani Victor and Tyler Walker are all healing and on a good path to recovery. I’m in awe, as I watch from afar their strength and spirit and the support of the team, coaches, friends and fans from around the world. Let’s all continue to send prayers and positive energy to Alana, Stephani, Tyler, and to all the athletes!

Stephanie Jallen competing in Super G

Stephanie Jallen competing in Super G


Laurie Stephens, who took Bronze in the Super G

Stephani Victor, competing in Super G

I love my husband’s morning (my time) updates from Sochi, but today stood out, when he told me he cried (twice) during Stephanie Jallen’s award ceremony. After skiing with Stephanie at The Ski Spectacular event in Breckenridge — when she was only 9 or 10 — Joe was so excited to be there in person for her first medal.


Stephanie was born with a rare birth defect called CHILDS — Congenital Hemidysplasia with Ichthyosiform Erythroderma and Limb Defects Syndrome. CHILDS is a chromosomal disorder that affects the entire left side of the body, leaving Jallen with only one leg and one fully developed arm. Instructors initially wanted to put Stephanie in a mono-ski, but she insisted on learning to ski standing up.

From today’s USA Daily: “This is absolutely incredible,” Jallen said. “It’s something I only dreamed about. I have never been a bigger believer that dreams come true than right now. I’ve imagined it for the last nine years of my life, and in my very first run in the Paralympic Games I score a bronze.”

Take note: this is not the last time you’ll hear her name!140310jk-jallen-a-001140310jk-jallen-002140310jk-jallen-001


Breaking Barriers in Sochi

140307jk-openingceremony-001At the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony today, “breaking the ice” was an apt theme for breaking down barriers and breaking down stereotypes — not only for athletes competing in the Paralympics, but for people around the world.

I don’t want to cloud the competition and the focus on the athletes with political posturing, but I’d be remiss not to say that I  hope this “breaking the ice” metaphor can also extend to the situation with Ukraine. According to my husband, who was at the Ceremony, one of the most moving moments was “hearing the place go nuts for the solo Ukrainian athlete.” Even for those of us who were watching on TV, we felt that energy too.

And as my friend — and unofficial, Facebook-fan-favorite, Olympic & Paralympic commentator — John Carideo posted yesterday, “I think [the Ukrainian athletes] coming into the stadium, under their own flag would be the most powerful unifying message that could be sent.” Agreed. Let’s hope that’s a small step towards peace.

Following are some images from Joe Kusumoto that capture the power and grace of the Opening Ceremony — just a teaser for the power and grace that will follow from the 587 athletes competing on the snow and ice over the next nine days.140307jk-openingceremony-002





I’ll leave you today with an excerpt from IPC President Sir Philip Craven’s Opening Ceremony speech:

Thirty-four years ago when the old Soviet Union declined the opportunity to stage the 1980 Paralympic Games in Moscow, the prospect of Russia staging its first Paralympic Games was nothing but a dream. But dreams do come true, and since winning the Games seven years ago, this part of Russia has undergone a monumental transformation. However, the biggest transformation for this country is still yet to come. In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier free environment for athletes and officials to enjoy, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier free minds, too.

And to the athletes, he said:

You have here superb sporting venues to express your amazing talents and live up to the Paralympic values of determination and courage, inspiration and equality. Together you are the catalysts for change. United as one, you have the ability to change perceptions and alter attitudes like no other. You arrive here as the best prepared athletes ever to attend a Paralympic Winter Games. You will leave as role models, heroes, pioneers and most of all, Proud Paralympians.

Paralympic Primer – Sochi 2014

140305jk-sochi-002It’s simple: I’m passionate about The Paralympic Games.

I worked as a press officer for U.S. Paralympics Swimming in Athens and Beijing, and for the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team in Torino. When pregnant in 2010, I stayed involved by writing a few blogs for Women’s Adventure Magazine from Vancouver. My photographer husband and I have been so lucky to be part of this movement – and really, this extended family – together. He’s been shooting the Paralympics since Athens and is currently in Sochi capturing these amazing athletes in action.

For those not close to the Paralympics, though, there remains quite a bit of confusion (even for some of my closest friends and family.) So, on the eve of the Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony, I’d like to offer a quick overview to get everyone in the Paralympic spirit!

First off, a few fast facts:

  • The Paralympic Winter Games take place March 7-16, at the same venues as the Olympics, in Sochi.
  • The name “Paralympics” is not about “paraplegia.” It combines the Greek preposition “para” (meaning beside/alongside) and “Olympic.” The Olympics and the Paralympics are separate, but exist side by side.
  • I often hear people mistakenly say “Para-Olympics” – don’t do it; it’s the “Paralympics.”
  • 700 athletes from 45 countries will compete in Sochi. It is poised to be the biggest Paralympic Winter Games ever, with 200 more athletes compared to Vancouver, and competitors from four new countries represented.
  • It is an elite competition, akin to the Olympics, with 72 medal events.
  • Athletes will compete in five sports: Alpine Skiing, Para-Snowboarding (making its Paralympic debut at Sochi), Nordic Skiing (including biathalon and cross-country skiing), Wheelchair Curling and Sled Hockey.
  • The six disciplines include: Amputee; Cerebral Palsy (including traumatic brain injury or stroke, which affect muscle control, balance or coordination); Visually Impaired/“VI” (ranging from partial sight to total blindness); Wheelchair (including athletes with spinal cord injuries, as well as some with lower limb amputations or polio); Intellectual Disability (those who have a significant impairment in intellectual functioning with associated limitations in adaptive behavior); Les Autres (including people with a mobility impairment, e.g. Dwarfism, Multiple Sclerosis, that is not included in the other categories.)

140305jk-sochi-003Where to Watch

While I’ve heard many complaints about the lack of primetime coverage, I have to say I’m personally thrilled to see this year’s broadcast line-up. It continues to grow every year, and slowly but surely, I believe that the Paralympics will get the attention it deserves.

In the next week and a half, NBC Olympics and the USOC will broadcast an unprecedented 52 hours of coverage (27 of which will be live) for the Sochi Paralympic Games.

  • First chance to watch: Friday, March 7, 11:00am ET, Opening Ceremony on NBCSN
  • Complete broadcast schedule is here (Scroll down the page, where it’s not segmented out by sport, and where you’ll see some more reasonable viewing hours – e.g. the Sled Hockey game times, as well as Daily Paralympic Coverage.)
  • will also live stream all events
Alana Nichols competing in Vancouver (Joe Kusumoto Photography)

Alana Nichols competing in Vancouver (Joe Kusumoto Photography)

Want to Read / See More?

In case you’re interested in learning more -and for those of you who said your kids were asking questions! – here are a few more links to start with.

  • Story I wrote from Vancouver about Danelle Umstead, a visually impaired skier, whose husband is her racing guide.
  • Story I wrote from Vancouver about Alana Nichols, a two-sport phenom in Alpine Skiing and Wheelchair Basketball (summer games), who recently played a Paul Rudd prank on Conan O’Brien (hysterical – absolutely worth watching!)
  • Link to shots from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympic Games from my husband, Joe Kusumoto.
  • Additional resources from U.S. Paralympics.

I promote what I love. And I truly hope that more people are able to hear the stories, witness the athleticism and get an opportunity to connect – even if in small ways – with the Paralympians and the Paralympic Movement.

Why the Flu Made Me a Better Mom

The flu arrived on Christmas Eve; it hit me hard, knocked me down and still refuses to leave. I don’t remember the last time I was so sick: fever and chills, aches and coughs… all of that dreaded “crud.” Needless to say, the last week has been horrible.

It’s also been sweet — a  blessing in disguise.

On one of my worst days, as I was laying on the couch cycling through all the PBS morning cartoons with my three and a half year old daughter Maggie, I texted my mom that I felt guilty for all the TV and iPad time. She replied right away with “No guilt! Feel better!” But I wasn’t convinced to let go of the guilt until I was putting Maggie to bed that evening. As I curled up next to her and started drifting off to sleep myself, I realized what a calm, relaxing and fun couple of days we’d had. Sure, we missed out on a few get-togethers and gorgeous ski days, but because I was sick, I was forced to do nothing. To rest. To just be. And to just be together.

So while the flu made me miserable, it also made me a better mom, and brought joy to my daughter. Here’s why.


One: I didn’t yell or raise my voice. I simply couldn’t; my voice was gone. Surprisingly, I only had her to ask her to do something once — get your PJs on, come eat dinner, brush your teeth — and she listened. The whisper worked and didn’t allow impatience or frustration to creep in. And while it was often a struggle to “use my words” and actually speak, bedtime books read in a whisper turned out to have quite a calming effect, on all of us.

Two: I slowed down. Mentally and physically. A simple task like taking the garbage out to the dumpster tapped all the energy reserves of my aching, chilled, weak body. But as we sauntered up the driveway, all bundled up in ski pants and winter gear, not once did Maggie whine that I was going too fast. I was taking my time, and moving at her pace, something I frequently fail to do when I’m rushing from one thing to the next. (I always try to remind myself of this Hands Free Momma blog post, “The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up!” which is such a great read if you missed it!)

Three: I slowed down some more. And actually stopped. I don’t think screen time equals quality time, but when a parent (or in our case, both parents!) is down and out, movies, cartoons and apps are a fantastic option to get through the day! But what I realized this week was that it is rare for me to actually sit still and watch an entire movie. This week was one of the first times I actually sat still long enough to watch an entire movie with Maggie… or in several cases, a couple back to back, like our Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 marathon (she loves those “immions” — not a typo, that’s what she calls them.) When I’m healthy and full of energy, I find myself constantly puttering or cleaning or doing… instead of just playing. Make dinner, do the dishes, tidy the toys, put the laundry in the dryer, finish an email… all part of the endless list of chores and responsibilities that inevitably distract me from spending true quality time with Maggie. The flu forced me to stop. I simply ran out of batteries and there’s no question that we all benefited from the lack of inertia.

Four: I played on her level. The Dayquil/Theraflu/Mucinex-induced fog left only a small amount of brain space to get through the day. I had no choice but to live in the moment, and that was so incredibly freeing. When we made it out to the swings one afternoon, I watched her flop off backwards and lie on her back quietly looking up. So I let my exhausted body do the same; gazing up at a blue-gray sky that was threatening snow was comforting, peaceful and felt like a thing of the past… childlike daydreaming that I don’t let my adult self experience nearly enough. I wish I could say that I always do that, but the sad reality is I don’t. I let my to-do lists distract me from these amazing moments with my little nugget — my happy, curious, adventurous, hysterical kid who, by the way, is growing up way too quickly.

IMG_1923Five: I let her eat cookies. And pie. And whipped cream. And hot cocoa. And “coconuts” (her name for our favorite holiday treat: milk chocolate covered almonds.) It’s not that she’s deprived of sweets. It’s that my head is usually rationalizing healthy food choices over sugary treats. But when I was sick, I simply didn’t have the ooomph to hold tightly to my own “should’s.” Not only was I fine with her indulging, but I loved the resulting sugar-induced “hop on mom” tickle fests, even though I was about as lively as a rag doll.

Six: I let her stay up late. Even though she wasn’t napping (that’s nothing new) and was waking up early and was probably fighting off whatever sickies had nabbed us, it required so much less effort — and was so much more satisfying and fun! — to watch her and my husband play contentedly with the new Christmas Legos than to try to rally the troops to bed. No question, vacation is made for exceptions and extra family time and extra fun, but I wonder if that would’ve been as obvious to me if I hadn’t been forced to slow down and observe, shedding the need to control.

Seven: I was content being a homebody. I’m not one to sit at home. Especially when I’m off work and hanging with Maggie, I like to do stuff. We’re always running around, doing chores, going to the pool or skiing or meeting friends… And when we’re out and about, she’s such a trooper, always chiming in from the back of the car “I don’t want to go home — can we go somewhere else?” But this week, I had no choice but to stay at home. I relished it. And so did she. We were never in a rush to go anywhere or do anything, so had all the time in the world to play Legos, work on our new family puzzle, hang around in our PJs and build forts (even if I immediately ended up flat on the floor, resting and beat once it was built!)

For a few days in a row, the first thing Maggie would say to me when she woke up in the morning was: “Are you feeling better mommy?”

The answer is yes. I feel amazing — not yet physically, but my heart is full. I feel so blessed and so appreciative of my  family and this amazing little girl who teaches me so much every day. And if I can’t have my mom nearby to take care of me when I’m sick, a sweet three-year old is certainly a fine replacement.

Slowly on the mend, I’ve caught myself falling back into old patterns, but by simply being conscious of the shift, I know I’ll have the strength to keep the good stuff going. As we head into the new year, I hope none of you get the flu. But I do hope you have the chance to slow down, and just be… whether it’s with your kids, your partner, your human and furry friends, or even just with yourself. Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!

2013 Favorite Kids Books

In honor of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day — Saturday, December 7 — let’s talk kids books! These days, with a 3 1/2 year old who loves reading as much as I do, I’m enamored by children’s books as much as I am my own fictional escapes.

I’d typically work up to my favorite, but in case you don’t read this whole blog, I want to make sure you do not miss this spectacular wordless picture book by Aaron Becker — Journey. If you buy one children’s book this holiday season, make it this one!


This illustration recently graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review. The author sells signed giclee prints from his web site, which are worth checking out!

What first hooked me on this book was the book trailer (watch it here.) Named one of the Notable Children’s Books for 2013 by The New York Times, and recently dubbed “a wordless masterpiece” that is “both timely and timeless” (The Huffington Post) Journey is the story of a lonely girl who uses her red marker to outline a magical door opening to adventure. She draws a boat, a hot air balloon and a magic carpet as she navigates this other world. When she visits a steam punk-esque castle, she narrowly escapes the bad guys and frees a purple caged bird who later helps her out of captivity by returning her lost marker. (Spoiler alert: the purple bird is drawn by a boy with his own marker, who she befriends both in their pretend, drawing world, as well as in “real” life.)

It’s Harold & The Purple Crayon meets Imagine a Night. It’s “The Imagination Book” (as my daughter calls it.) It’s “story breathing” (the name of the author’s website and Twitter handle) at its finest. While probably most appropriate for the 2-6 year old set, this would be a joy at any age; I was even thinking it would make a unique gift for a graduate (think Oh The Places You’ll Go) … or even a wedding gift for a couple, as the boy and girl find, save and enjoy each other through a shared world  they’ve created.

Clearly I’m obsessed with Journey, but yes, there are other books in the sea, and several other picks worth sharing:

When it Snows, Richard Collingridge — reminiscent of The Polar Express, the classic illustrations are like an “ethereal Norman Rockwell” (as my husband said) that match a moody, cozy story perfect for snowy winter days. After wondrous adventures with bigger-than-life snowmen and rides on polar bears, the story finishes with:24732-img4

“I see thousands of elves…and other magical creatures…and I can go there every day…because my favorite book takes me there.”

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown — I love the book description: “Are you bored with being so proper? Do you want to have more fun? Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.”

Me… Jane, Patrick McDonnell — a story of the young Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee. (I bought this a few months ago and wrapped it up for Christmas. Not sure who will be more excited to open it – me or the little nugget!)

From "Me... Jane"

From “Me… Jane”

The Day the Crayons Quit, Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers — a box of crayons goes on strike. This fun book teaches us that crayons have feelings too — perfect for toddlers who are learning their own emotions and how to express feelings.

This Moose Belongs to Me, Oliver Jeffers — OK, this was from 2012, but I love how quirky it is, so I couldn’t resist including it here. That moose you think is your pet…? That you call Marcel…? Well, that lady over there who feeds it apples (don’t do this at home, kids!) calls him Rodrigo… and she thinks he’s her pet ( : Great illustrations, funny, and it teaches us to respect what is wild.

If You Want to See a Whale, Julie Fogliano – I’m ending with a book that is equally beautiful and timeless as Journey. Fogliano (author of And Then It’s Spring — another favorite!) has done it again with poetic words that match simple yet inspiring illustrations. We bought this one at an indie bookstore in Gloucester, Mass. after whale watching this summer (where yes, we actually saw whales!) We’d read this almost every night before bed, then after turning the lights, we’d take turns coming up with our own endings to the ‘If you want to watch a whale…’ sentence. This is one of those books that is a supreme catalyst for imagination, and one I’d highly recommend, especially for all you east coasters.

From "If You Want to See a Whale"

From “If You Want to See a Whale”

Stay tuned later this month for my must-have reccomendations when building a library for your kiddo.

And, if you’ve made it this far, then you’re definitely a book lover — for yourself and your kids — so please excuse a brief public service announcement: as you consider your purchasing options, please think about supporting your local independent bookstores (and toy stores…and libraries… ) While you may be able to get it cheaper online, those extra few dollars can go a long way in preserving the cozy, inspiring, community hubs that our indie shops offer. I simply cannot imagine a world without indie bookstores… can you?

A big thanks to the below stores for nurturing my daughter’s love of reading!

2013 Favorite Reads

It’s been a couple of years since I posted an end of year book list. But lately, I’ve found so much contentment in good reads, it’s time to share a few recommendations again.

This list isn’t in any particular order, nor are the books necessarily published in ’13. With more limited time these days, it’s harder to stay on top of all the new ones; I’m constantly catching up! I also realize in writing this that I’ve read so little nonfiction this year… so all my picks are fiction. Here are my favorites:9780770437855_custom-0fec8d6bec6f0261063ff3be14ce66895270b9a5-s6-c30

The Dinner, Herman Koch — edgy, sharp, often disturbing… this is a unique novel that I didn’t really appreciate until after I was finished. Publishers dubbed it as a European Gone Girl, but I actually think it’s more appropriate to liken it to Defending Jacob, as one Goodreads reviewer (“Noeleen”) pointed out. (Just saw that this is being made into a movie to be directed by Cate Blanchett.)

Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian — I rarely disagree with recommendations from RJ Julia owner Roxanne and once again, she doesn’t disappoint. In her review, she points to a comment on the back of the book: “many love stories end in marriage, rare is the story that begins with one.” I picked this up3StagesPBCover a few years back and finally got around to reading it this year — it’s modern, relevant and feels so real. I loved everything about it, including this quote: “To a man, talk is work; to a woman, it’s reward.” (If you like this, also try Let the Great World Spin and Rules of Civility… two of my other all-time favorites..)

Wool, Hugh Howey — dystopic fiction doesn’t usually make my list, but I’ll make an exception here because Hugh’s back story is equally intriguing as the book. In March, he explained his path to a huge publishing deal in an article for IndieReader, which endeared me to him as an author. While I won’t necessarily read everything he writes, I’m a huge fan of his humility and authenticity as an author.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman — once again, not my usual fare, but after a few recommendati9780062255655_custom-edf574a766e8d0912ecde8211555ca96c266ae1d-s6-c30ons from simpatico readers, I had to give it a shot. I went into this with only a minimal impression of Gaiman (author of Coraline) but now I want more. He’s a creative genius who tests the boundaries of imagination, and I want to explore his other books, both those for adults and kids.

The Light between Oceans, M. L. Stedman — for me, “light” reading doesn’t mean mindless, light subject matter; it means unobtrusive, decent writing that pushes along a compelling story. The Light between Oceans falls into that category: the writing didn’t blow me away, but the story kept my attention and I enjoyed reading it.

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple — smart, sassy and whacky… this book was a winner. I think it was over-hyped for a lot of people, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air to find a book that was both well written and funny.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, Anthony Marra — I wish I had jotted down the character names from the start, 9780770436407_custom-77ecfa8847f465932cc1ea4b3ea0f626c0c7a23d-s6-c30because I’d occasionally lose track of who was who ( I blame myself and late night reading…  not the author.) This was a dense read (Chechnya mid-90s to 2004) but it was really well done and the writing was sharp. With all the layers to the plot, I think this would make a good book club read… the kind of story you need to talk about afterwards.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green — when recently asked by a friend what I thought about The Fault in Our Stars, I said I “appreciated” it (vs. “loved” it, the reaction of so many other readers.) Maybe it was the topic (teenagers with cancer) that was just too hard for me… but I do love the author (his wit and humanity shine through his writing) so I would recommend the book with unwavering enthusiasm.

As always, would love to hear what you’re reading and loving! And… stay tuned for my favorite children’s books, which I’ll post next week — after I present at The Next Page’s ‘Best of the Best 2013