He's the Best. FIGHT ME.

Continuing with this story, first I need to clarify that the competition cheer that Alexis participates in is ... different. It's a non-profit organization and its goal is to make athletics affordable and accessible. The "franchise" started out in Michigan and is relatively new in Pennsylvania, but it's definitely growing. It's growing because it doesn't cost a zillion dollars. It has all of the challenges and many of the perks of expensive elite competitive cheer gyms, but we pay $50/month for the privilege of participating.

That's what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned. Privilege. Alexis has no idea how good she has it, so I try to give her small glimpses. I'm eternally grateful that she doesn't totally "get it," but giving her an opportunity to see that some high schoolers have to miss cheer practice because they have to go to work to pay for cheer practice is good. Besides, the kid is totally devoted to dance. She could not possibly do all of the dance things she wants to do AND cheer if it weren't for this program. It's only two hours per week and fits with her schedule while not costing all of the money.

So, we have a great coach, but we don't have jackets at the end of competitions. There are no "free" t-shirts, but the routines are difficult. The bow is cheap, the hair isn't as big (...because it's their real hair), they make do with whatever shoes they have, but they still look "put together." The girls who participate are far more diverse than what I've seen with other gyms, and that's not just about what you can see. The socio-economic backgrounds are varied. The levels of commitment are varied. These aren't girls who are spending their every waking moment fighting to be the best.

Because sometimes they're waging other battles.

Without getting into details of peoples' personal lives, let's leave it at one girl lost her mother to cancer this year. Another is part of an effort to start a new life in a new country. There's a girl who has survived the unthinkable. There are multiple girls who won't ever have the resources to go to college. None of it matters. The playing field is leveled when they're on the mat.

Together, they're focused on getting to Nationals and doing well while they're there.

But first they have to raise the money to pay for the trip.

So, back to that day spent standing outside Walmart begging strangers for money. It's always a good little project that results in good things. Mila yelling on behalf of her sister upped the game a good deal this year. But then we left and we totally missed the best part.

I wasn't there for it, but the story goes that a man started to walk past the girls who were on the later shift. They did their thing and asked for a donation and said man was all, "Sure!"

He dropped $900 in their little bucket. No questions asked. He just reached into his pocket and grabbed some kindness then passed it on to some girls who could use some kindness.

It was Juju Smith-Schuster. As in, THAT Juju.

Just imagine how generous he would have been if Mila had been the one holding the bucket.


Power In Numbers

May is like December, except that there aren't presents waiting for me under the tree. THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THIS MONTH. I'm exhausted just from looking at my calendar and I haven't hit the worst of it yet.

Saturday was packed wall-to-wall with Kid Stuff. Alexis had a cheer fundraiser, Mila had dance class, Alexis had a dance class, and Alexis had dance recital rehearsal. All of those things took place at different parts of town, so basically I spent 4 hours driving to 5 hours worth of activities. It's nearly the end of all of the things, so we just need to survive the finales, so to speak.

Except cheer. Cheer is just getting started, really. Nationals aren't until the end of July. They are in Orlando this year, which HAHAHAHA. ALL OF THE MONEY. There are a billion fundraisers to help with that sort of thing, but this is one of those times when it super stinks that we don't have family nearby. It's really hard to sell hoagies to people who live 6-10 hours away, you know? Alas, Alexis is stuck focusing on the couple of events that aren't best directed towards family. Events like the one Saturday where I made her stand outside a Walmart and beg for money.

That's a thing, for the record. It's called "Canning" and it's a sanctioned Walmart activity. Non-profits can sign up for the privelege of blocking the doors and begging for donations. It seems like a terrible idea, but we've done it every year for cheer. Every year Alexis has pulled in around $30/hour for her efforts. See also: WORTH IT.

In previous years, Mila has sometimes joined in on the fun. There's not really anything in it for her, except that this year she gets to go to Nationals and then run across the street to Disney World. So, there's totally something in it for her this time. Thus, I instructed Miss Mila that she HAD to help her sister this year. Cute little kids are *ka-ching* when it comes to begging for money, you know.

Let me just tell you, Mila yelling, "WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE A DONATION SO MY SISTER CAN WIN A CHEER COMPETITION?" is the cutest stinking thing you've ever seen. Truly. And she yelled it at the top of her lungs for a good hour. How do you say "No" to that? YOU DON'T. Strangers far and wide felt obligated to drop their spare change and help a bunch of girls get to Orlando.

There's more to this story, but I'll finish it tomorrow. It requires ... focus. In the meantime, let's just enjoy the fact that Alexis and Mila are one heck of a team when they decide to work together. Here's to hoping they continue to use their superpowers for good rather than evil.



Strawberry Nesquik Brownies

While I haven't made cake using a box mix in ... a REALLY long time, I never quite let go of my boxed brownies habit. I tried a few times but always failed miserably at making them from scratch. They were always a little too cake-like or not quite chocolatey enough or just a general failure.


I have Alexis to thank for this. She made fun of me for my boxed habit, so I set out to conquer a from-scratch recipe. But ... I couldn't let it be a chocolate thing. Instead I made strawberry brownies because I could. And because we all agreed it seemed like a good idea. And because I had Strawberry Nesquik that needed to be used.


(They work with Chocolate Nesquik, too. I have proven it.)

Strawberry Nesquik Brownies

1 1/2 cups melted butter (unsalted)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Strawberry Nesquik
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease a 9" x 13" pan.

3. Pour the melted butter, vegetable oil, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Stir. Add the eggs and almond extract and stir some more.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, Strawberry Nesquik, baking powder, and salt.

5. Stir the dry ingredients into the moist ingredients. You don't need an electric mixer for this. A fork or spatula works just fine.

6. Spread the strawberry brownie stuff in the pan and smooth out. Top with the white chocolate chips.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

8. They are surprisingly good warm, but even better after they've cooled.