The Opportunity to Speak

2017, Creating Change, Family, grief, Joy, loss, Lucas, Parenting, Toby

We are overwhelmed with emotion from the last 24 hrs. When we started rallying the troops, nearly seven weeks ago, we had no idea the imprint we could make.

This petition is out there and making strides because of the initial efforts of Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley, and their children who died. We are standing behind this petition and making an effort to try and push for local, state, and national representatives to listen to WHY this is important.

Seven weeks ago I saw an opportunity to use the platform we have been building in Toby’s memory as a way to educate other’s about the lives of grieving parents, by supporting the Farley-Kluger Initiative to amend FMLA.

Two weeks ago, Jennifer Tomazik from WPXI-Channel 11 called. She told me that she had been reading my blog and had been referred to us from a friend who told her about what we were trying to do. She asked if we’d be willing to talk to her – about our family, Toby, and the bill to amend FMLA – because she saw a story that the community and families in our region could relate to, and hopefully help.

This was a big decision for us. Don’t get me wrong, we have been talking and sharing and advocating in support of others, but this opens our lives and our son’s lives to the world. We all know how social media is – it can be a powerful tool. It’s frightening to be so open and so vulnerable.

Over the past 24 hours our phones, email, the blog and social media have been flooded by amazing people who have shared our story, advocated for others to read and sign the petition, and offered their support. It has been remarkable and overwhelming.

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Yesterday when we sat down to talk with Jennifer, that discussion opened wounds wide-open and the emotions for Toby have come flooding back. Dan and I sat together and watched the segment last night, with Luke yelling at the TV “that’s me and Toby!” We’ve read a lot (not all) of the notes and comments that have been sent to us. We’ve cried as we watched Toby’s beautiful face on TV and online and we’ve shaken our heads in amazement as to the amount of people that have taken time out of their day to listen to our story, offer their support for Toby’s death and our family’s grief, and also sign and share the petition.

Again, THANK YOU – to every one of you that have done something. Those words, thank you, will never be enough, but it is your words, support and actions that help us know that what we are doing is making a difference and that Toby’s life, although too short, will make a difference in the lives of others.

Toby Stern

I wanted to give a little update on the Foundation, because there have been some questions and inquiries over the past day. We have spent the last three months talking with other non-profits, professionals that assist in creating non-profits, board members of non-profits and continually soaking up all this information. This is a big decision for us and an educational one, at that. We want to make sure that however we decide to proceed, that we are comfortable with it and that it is reflecting what Dan and I, as Toby’s parents, want the foundation to be and grow into. There are a lot of moving parts at this point and once we are ready, we will gladly share all of that with you. There will be opportunities to help, volunteer, donate, fund-raise, and most importantly share with your networks. The Little Fox | Toby’s Foundation is taking shape and we look forward to its launch in the near future.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank WPXI-Channel 11 and Jennifer Tomazik. Thank you for taking the time to learn about our family, about our circumstance and most importantly about Toby. Your efforts to talk with us and share our message turned into a beautiful tribute to our son and an amazing platform for the Farley-Kluger Initiative. Also, you’ve extended your resources for help on future endeavors and interest in supporting The Little Fox, and for that Dan, Lucas and I are so grateful.

WPXI Visit_July 20 2017

We hope by way of WPXI’s story, more doors will open to connect with the media and interest is peaked to support the efforts of the Farly-Kluger Initiative. We welcome the opportunity to speak with anyone about this grassroots effort and our family’s story.

Before I go, I’d like to ask for three things from our readers:

  1. If you have not signed the petition to amend FMLA, please visit: www.farleykluger.com and do so today.
  2. If you have already signed the petition and would be willing to take 10 minutes to write a letter to your local representative, please visit my blog post from last week here: https://ourhappyplaceandco.com/2017/07/13/next-steps-farley-kluger-initiative/
  3. If you are not doing so already, take a moment and “follow” our website/blog. At the bottom of the website there is a little [+] button; click that and then click the blue “Follow Our Happy Place & Co.”

 

Here is the link to the segment that aired yesterday, July 20, on WPXI-Pittsburgh’s Channel 11.

http://www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/local-family-petitioning-law-to-include-parents-grieving-loss-of-child/566361587

 

2017 Innovative Educator Award

2017, Dan, Family, Joy, Marriage, Parenting

With Father’s Day this past weekend I was thinking about what I wanted to write about my amazing husband and even more amazing father to our boys.

Last Tuesday, Dan received the Michel J. Farrell Chair in Honor of Thomas N. Southard’s Innovative Educator Award by Shady Side Academy and my excitement and pride for him were the exact words I was looking for to describe the incredible man he is.

For those that have the privilege of knowing Dan, or Mr. Stern, you know how infectious his personality is. He exudes what it means to be a positive role model. The children that he has taught, since beginning his teaching career eleven years ago at Shady Side Academy, have embraced our family because of the support, encouragement, and positivity that Dan has given each school year, each summer at camp, each year that he’s moved dormers back into the dorms, each day he’s stepped foot into school, or out the door onto campus.

This year has been especially hard, having to return to the classroom after our son Toby died, but he did it. Each day and week was not as easy or tolerable as other years, but he persisted, with grace and professionalism because of the gift he has, because of his dedication to his students. He has more patience than many and his ability to turn a situation at a breaking point into the most amazing learning experience is something that I admire most about this man.

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I have had the pleasure of spending moments in his classroom each year and the energy and joyful passion that each third grade class has held, continues to grow, year by year.

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Moving Up Day is always a special one in our house because after the day is done I get to hear about who he saw – what parents stopped in, what students came to say “goodbye” and what lifers came back and spent time laughing and reminiscing in his classroom. Whether we are attending an SSA function on one of the campuses or enjoying the city of Pittsburgh, we are continually stopped by parents, grandparents, boarders, faculty, camp counselors and students who always greet Dan with a hug, and handshake and a smile. “Hi, Mr. Stern!” I can see it in their faces, they are truly grateful for the positive impact my husband has had on their lives. He smiles, laughs, and can remember every single one of their names. Every single one. That is a gift.

moving up day 2017 1

He is a modest man, he will not make a big fuss about this award. So I will. He deserves the fuss. He deserves the acknowledgement. He deserves the “Congratulations.”

Shady Side Academy – to the administration, faculty, staff, dorm community – our friends who have become family – to the families that have supported Dan, the legacy families of SSA whose children have all gone through Mr. Stern’s Third Grade Classroom – Thank You! Thank You for acknowledging this amazing teacher’s talents and for encouraging him to continue with his passion and cheering him on along the way.

Dan, the roles and projects that you have taken on, even started at the Academy, since you began teaching in 2007 are woven into every chapter of our life. I have watched you, year by year, continue to succeed, learn, grow and open the door for others – students and faculty – that you have been a role model for.

graduation 2008

You are the best example of a husband and father and Lucas and Toby are so very lucky to have you as their dad. I am blessed to stand by your side as you continue to “knock it out of the park” and show me how to take chances, go for it, and even if it’s not the right fit – have fun while you’re doing it! Luke will have a million high-fives for you and our precious Toby is looking down from Heaven, smiling, saying “Hey, that’s my Dad! He’s the best!”

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When receiving the award, these words were used to describe Dan, “to be an innovative teacher means to be a motivating teacher.” That could not be more spot on.

Congratulations on the recognition of your excellence, dedication and service to the students of Shady Side Academy and other Pittsburgh families with whom you have crossed paths over the last eleven years!

Cheers to the next decade of teaching!

 

 

http://www.shadysideacademy.org/page.cfm?p=17035

Happy FIRST Birthday, Toby! 

2017, Family, Joy, Toby

Dear Toby, 
Happy First Birthday, sweetheart!! I woke up today wanting to run to your room to sing you happy birthday and kiss your chubby cheeks. I’m sure Luke would be right at our feet jumping to grab you and singing with us. 

We have spent nine months talking about you in between the sorrow, but in between the tears we’ve been imagining the milestones, too. Your first time rolling over. Clapping. Pulling yourself up. Holding your favorite toy for the first time. Sitting up. Eating fruit – would you like bananas? We know from experience that Luke was not a big fan at first! Reaching for your toes and sucking on your fingers. We know that you are doing all these things in Heaven and we’re cheering you on here, on Earth. Even the ones that will be coming soon – your first steps! Your first words, probably dada, but I’m hoping for mama at a close second. Your favorite books or songs – give us signs to what those are and we’ll read them and sing them for you. 

Your brother adores the ground that daddy walks on. I have a feeling, from the bond that we shared, you may have been the one to be my shadow, my sidekick. But there would be no denying you were your fathers son. Identical twin, down to the natural hawk your hair had, from the moment it was brushed after a bath. You are so beautiful. 

You were the one that made us a family of four. You came into our family with such ease and – JOY! There’s no other word to describe it. You fit right into the mix from the day you were born and we continue to have moments, with each passing week, where that joy and synergy of our family of four is present in our home. 


We are so proud of you, Toby, for everything you did for our family and everything you continue to do as a messenger of Heaven for people here on Earth. 

Today, on your birthday, we will sing, have cake, light candles, have mass said in your name, cry, hug, celebrate and remember that perfect little boy that made us parents again. Made Lucas a brother. Made our family whole. 


We love you, Toby! Happy Birthday, my sweet boy! Today is your day – do something amazing. Enjoy your cake! Smile for mommy, daddy, Luke and the rest of your family and friends who celebrate your life and thank God for the 12 weeks you were here on Earth. 

More hugs and kisses than 12 months could hold – 

love, Mommy 

Easter Morning in Heaven 

2017, faith, Family, grief, Home, Joy, loss, Lucas, Marriage, Toby

Last Sunday as we sat in church for Palm Sunday mass, I was overcome with emotion thinking of what Heaven would be like for Easter and what beautiful sites Toby would see this week. 

Can you imagine, seeing Jesus’ face on Easter morning? I cannot, but the thought of my beautiful son having the honor to be in His presence this morning, it takes my breath away. 

We were gifted a tree in rememberence of Toby in the fall and planted it in our front yard. It has grown a few inches through the winter and the past few weeks the buds have been forming. Yesterday, a few of them bloomed. I thought it was so fitting that the flowers on his tree first bloomed during Easter week. These magnolia flowers, with maroon, pink and white on their petals are simply beautiful and to me are a glimpse from Toby of the beauty of Heaven. 


This is Luke’s third Easter and each year I’ve enjoyed buying him a cute tie for his Easter outfit. I cried shopping this year because I wished I was buying two ties. I should have just bought two, and I was mad when I got home that I didn’t. When I was pulling Luke’s Easter basket out of the closet I found his tie from his first easter, so I took that out for Toby. 

We had bought Luke a basket with his initial on it for his first easter. This year I grabbed a small basket from Target for Toby, but when I was putting them together last night, I was again regretting not having one made that was special for Toby. I remembered that I had fabric I had found through the winter, but had not used yet. It matched the basket I had for him, so we improvised and made him his own. Fox and all. 


Yesterday while walking back from the park, Luke picked a dandilion and immediately said “Toby’s really going to love to see this.” We looked down at him, smiling. Yes, he will, buddy. He loves to see you playing and having fun. 

Our one son is not here and my heart breaks daily to see his sweet face and smile with him. We try to do things to make him a part of everything that we do and fully present in those special days and moments. I can’t imagine not including him in all these moments. Maybe, in a way, they comfort our hearts. But my hope is that he can see us and smile at what we are doing for him. 

With Luke being sick this weekend, he was up before the sun again today. But, sitting in the living room, with only the tv on this morning, I was able to watch the sun rise outside our window. It rose through the two houses across the street, but more beautifully, from where I was sitting, it was directly above Toby’s tree in the front yard. 


This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was truly beautiful. Another sign of Easter Sunday. 

While we are all celebrating, singing hymns at mass today, or praying in our homes, there are many empty chairs around our tables. Those that have just left their families and those that have been gone for some time, but are missed just as much. Our hearts ache for them to be here, but remember, they are at the table with Him today. They get to see His face first this morning. Wow, can you even imagine what a beautiful sight that must be? 

He is not here. For He is risen, as He said. –Matthew 28:6

Wishing you and your families a beautiful, healthy, and blessed Easter holiday. 

Blessings, 

The Stern Family 

Katie, Dan, Lucas & Toby 

Bringing Home Baby

Family, Home, Joy, Lucas, Toby

As I first time mom, I remember wondering if I should be reading every book and taking every piece of advice that anyone had to offer. The pressure is a little overwhelming, isn’t it?

The new post on Pittsburgh Moms Blog talks about my scenario for bringing both boys home from the hospital. To say the least, it’s night and day.

Bringing Home Baby 

A Love Affair with Photography

Family, Joy, Lifestyle, Lucas, Toby

One of my passions is photography. I still have my Nikon 35mm camera that I used through high school and part of college. But, these days my phone is attached to my hip, along with my family, so my camera on my phone has become my number one source of life photos – and that’s OK! With technology these days, the major updates to phone versions usually entail enhancement of their cameras so by paying attention to a few key details, from angles you’re shooting to apps you’re using for editing, you can capture those unmissable moments. Below, I’ve compiled my top nine photography tips for professional-looking photos using your cell phone.

luke-and-toby

One of my favorite pictures of our boys, Luke & Toby. Taken early July 2016.

  1. Clean your lens

If you’re like me, my phone goes everywhere with me. Take a second before snapping and wipe off the camera lens. Phones collect dirt (it’s gross) and are oily and smudgy from fingerprints.

  1. Just use your camera (not the in-app one)

Some apps compress your photos when taken in them, so don’t use them if you want to be able to print the photo one day. I’d also recommend sticking with the normal setting on your phone and editing or adding filters later. Another tip, the camera will expose more accurately when you use a full frame, and again, if you want to print photos, you won’t have issues with sizing.

  1. Don’t zoom in.

The digital zoom on any phone is far inferior to the optical zoom of a quality SLR lens that is designed to NOT diminish the quality of the photo when zooming is needed. My recommendation is taking with photo without zooming at all, get as close as you can to your subject, don’t worry about the atmosphere surrounding your subject – sometimes that gives an even deeper meaning to the photo. Like I said with the filters earlier, if you need to crop later, you can edit your original photo.

  1. Take as many shots as you need.

You’re not using film here, so take as many shots as you want/need to. Use the “favorites” button in your iPhone photos app to pull out the best photos, then delete the ones you don’t want. It takes a few more minutes, but it frees up space on your phone. (I’m completely guilty of NOT following this tip – but, it really will help in storage).

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Our niece, Addy, trying out Luke’s “dohn deere dractor” with Toby’s fox on Christmas morning

  1. Understand the settings on your camera.

Let’s be honest, if you’re relaying on your phone as you’re main source of photos, you should probably understand the settings and options. I keep my HDR on “auto” and turn “off” my live photos. If I want a video, I’ll use that feature. Again, helps a good bit with space.

  1. Angles

Play with your angles. Don’t just sit there and take photos of your subject from one point of view. Move around and take pictures from multiple angles. Doing this captures light and shadows in different ways and highlights your subject too.

Another tip – take photos of people without posing or staging. Some of the best photos I’ve taken of our family have been right in the moment of whatever was happening.

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Lucas and Evelyn (both almost 2) at Hayley’s baptism lunch. Loving the, freshly husked, Simmons Farm Corn.

  1. Follow the Light

Lighting is the most important thing to pay attention to when taking a photography, and with any phone camera that is even more the case. Find a window, go outside, and embrace the natural light. Artificial lights leave an orange tone on your photos, so turn them off. From this post, you know I love my iPhone’s camera but I HATE the flash. I never use it. It is just terrible. Most phone cameras now-a-days are built to do well in low-light, so I’d keep the “auto” flash off.

  1. Use an app (after)

My top picks are VSCO, Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug), PicStitch, these are some of my favorites. I also use boomerang – because I have a little one that’s into sports and doesn’t stay still. I do use the filters in Instagram, but I try to do that sparingly. Did you know the hashtag #nofilter attracts more likes on lifestyle photography than any other?

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Toby at two months old

  1. Print Your Photos + Buy the Storage

My parents have dozens of albums at their house that we love digging out and looking through. Up until a few years ago, I printed very few of the 100’s of photos I had taken, unless it was for a work project or client. I started using Chatbooks when Luke was born and I subscribed to their Photo Book Series (highly recommend) and I don’t even have to think about it. Once my next album fills from my Instagram posts I get an email and can add, edit or rearrange in the next book going to print. Also, I’ve had great luck using Walmart to print all types of photos and photobooks. I made this really nice picture collage for Dan’s 30 birthday and printed the photos in wallet size, which was perfect for any kind of photo. The size worked perfectly and allowed me to use more photos and not have to trim anything down to fit in the frame.

I can’t suggest this enough – invest. in. storage. We take photos everyday of our lives. They capture moments and are there to remind us of people and times that are so important to us. What would you do if you lost those? I know I’d be crushed. There are so many options to file storage in this day in age. Some are free, some are not. Do your research and backup your files. We recently started using Google Photos – it’s so easy, especially with the app. I’ve also found that they do some pretty cool things with your photos while storing them – create videos, add animation, make albums – and you can see all of that when you’re signed into Google.

Those are my top nine tips. Did I miss anything? Do you have suggestions on shooting with your phone cameras?

**The photos in this post are all my own. This post is not sponsored and am offering only my opinions on any brand featured here.

Our 2017 Jar of Joy

2017, faith, Family, Home, Joy, Toby

We decided we needed to do something to brighten our days, since we’ve been in a bit of a funk since the New Year began. We have created a “Joy Jar” for our house. Some people say “happiness” or “blessings” but since we lost a huge part of our hearts and family, nearly 5 months ago, that didn’t seem to fit.

Our goal is to write down 1 thing a week that has brought us joy – a moment, an experience, a thought, a person, something we said to someone that was positive or brought a smile, or something we got to eat (this is more for Luke, but I’m sure we can all relate).

2017 Joy Jar & writing station


Im hopeful that with the accumulation of these we can start to physically see some of the joy that is present in our life. My constant prayer is that we can start to see and experience again the beauty that we are blessed with every day.

Who’s with us? We’d love to see and hear how you or your families experience joy or what brings you joy during each day. If you want, please share with us. We can all help each other be more aware of what is in our lives.

Find joy in your journey. No matter what path you are on. Embrace it. Count it. Write it down. Share it.

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​Ps – I created my first Instagram video talking about our Joy Jar. Yikes! How scary to see and hear yourself. I may need to test out some of those wonderful filters.