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On the worst night, when our 1-pound daughter was fading in the darkness of her incubator, my husband opened a book and began to read aloud.

"Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived."

He needed to say those words. I thought it was strange that he’d chosen the first book in a seven-volume series, a series that totals more than 4,000 pages, for a little girl who might not survive the night.


Juniper in the NICU. Photo by Cherie Diez. All photos used with Kelley Benham French's permission, except as noted.

"How about 'Goodnight Moon'?" I offered. "That’s a good book."

Tom saw it all more clearly than I did. He wanted Juniper, born barely viable at 23 weeks gestation, to hear a story about children who could fly. He wanted to read to her about a baby who survived the most powerful evil in the world because his mother stood by his crib and protected him with her life.

In our family, the Harry Potter books are dog-eared and worn.

My husband wanted to initiate our daughter into our tribe. My stepsons, Nat and Sam, grew up reading the books criss-cross applesauce underneath restaurant tables. They played Quidditch on rollerblades and made wands out of chopsticks and string. On their 11th birthdays, they began checking the mailbox for their invitations to Hogwarts, clinging to the hope it could all be real. J.K. Rowling’s stories, along with the Springsteen canon, made up our shared mythology.

Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers/Getty Images.

Now, as Tom held that faded book, the dust jacket long lost, he was reaching out to our daughter with a protective incantation of love and belonging.

Stories were invented to conjure meaning from randomness. They give us our history, even our identity. It made no sense that Juniper came crashing into the world 16 weeks early and the size of a kitten. It made no sense that machines could keep her alive or that she could be snatched away. It made no sense to parent a baby in a plastic box, but that was what we learned to do.

"Stories are a promise," Tom told me when he’d had time to think it through. "They are a promise that the ending is worth waiting for."

Juniper didn’t understand a word of the story, of course.

But she could tell us, by the monitor pinging at her bedside, that she loved the parts about Hermione and that she hated the gruff voice of Hagrid the half-giant.

Juniper in the NICU. Photo by Cherie Diez.

When Tom read to her, she breathed better, held her temperature better, seemed generally more content. Tom read every paragraph in a soothing, sing-song voice, and when he stopped, her oxygen levels would plummet and the alarms would blare.

"Keep reading!" the nurses would shout.

He was nearly finished with book one when Juniper had another awful night. We were rushing to the hospital when he started crying at the wheel. "What if she never hears the end of the story?" he said. "What if she never learns how it ends?"

Five years later, Juniper is a wild and joyful kindergartner. And one day this spring, while she was off at school, a large box arrived at our house.

The shipping label showed an address of Mailboxes, Etc. in Edinburgh. I waited until Juniper got home to open it.

"Is dat for me?" she asked. She didn’t notice my shaking hands.

I hadn’t told her that a month or so earlier I’d gotten a Twitter message from Jo Rowling. She said she’d heard about Juniper on an episode of Radiolab and had been jolted when she’d heard Harry’s name. She said that she’d cried and that she wanted to send us something.

When I saw the message from Rowling the first time, I screamed. Then I tried to seize the moment to tell her what she’d already given us. I’m sure I didn’t capture it.

I told her that her books brought our family together in midnight lines that snaked through Walmart, where we always bought four copies so we wouldn’t have to share. In our all-night family readings, we raced each other to finish but then slowed in the last chapters because we couldn’t stand for them to end.

When Juniper arrived and Tom started reading, those stories helped me see that being a parent wasn’t something I might get to do someday, it was something I could do right now, for however long it lasted. They helped Tom and I write the story of our own lives — of who we were in those long, wrenching months. They gave a generation of children the most powerful gift imaginable: the lessons of love and friendship and bravery and decency and the ability to apparate to a better place with the turn of a page. They gave our family its sacred text. They guided us through the dark.

I sent Rowling this photo:

Juniper, all grown up!

And now, I unwrapped Rowling’s books from the box, sent all the way from Scotland, and handed them to my daughter.

"She loves me," she said, because she already knew it. She hugged the books tight.

I opened the first book to the first page and read her what it said:

"To Juniper, The Girl Who Lived! With lots of love, J.K. Rowling."

A few months later, our own book was published. It tells the story of Juniper’s six months in that hospital, in that yawning neverland between the womb and the world. It’s about the science that made her possible and the love that saved her in the end.

Harry is in it, and Hermione and Ron and Ginny and Dobby and all the rest, because they were there with us as surely as the doctors and nurses and God himself.

When the book came out, we mailed one off to Scotland, to Rowling, signed by Juniper:

"To Jo, Who made us believe. With love and gratitude, Kelley, Tom, Juniper."

Now, our little girl sorts her chickens into the houses of Hogwarts. She voted for Hermione for president. At night, she tells me, she sees Hermione in her dreams.

Last night, we opened "Sorcerer’s Stone" and started the story all over again. This time, Juniper was old enough to follow every word.

Ahead of her lies the hippogriff and the golden snitch and the time-turner and a sprawling, dazzling world where girls are the smartest, the strangest people make the best friends, and you can’t judge someone until you see what they have seen. She will be reminded that no one gets through life alone, and children carry the strength inside them to right the world.

I hope she will remember that she has carried a bit of that magic with her, all this time.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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Woman left at the altar by her fiance decided to 'turn the day around’ and have a wedding anyway

'I didn’t want to remember the day as complete sadness.'

via Pixabay

The show must go on… and more power to her.

There are few things that feel more awful than being stranded at the altar by your spouse-to-be. That’s why people are cheering on Kayley Stead, 27, from the U.K. for turning a day of extreme disappointment into a party for her friends, family and most importantly, herself.

According to a report in The Metro, on Thursday, September 15, Stead woke up in an Airbnb with her bridemaids, having no idea that her fiance, Kallum Norton, 24, had run off early that morning. The word got to Stead’s bridesmaids at around 7 a.m. the day of the wedding.

“[A groomsman] called one of the maids of honor to explain that the groom had ‘gone.’ We were told he had left the caravan they were staying at in Oxwich Bay (the venue) at 12:30 a.m. to visit his family, who were staying in another caravan nearby and hadn’t returned. When they woke in the morning, he was not there and his car had gone,” Jordie Cullen wrote on a GoFundMe page.

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Education

How a 3,800-year-old stone tablet helped create modern legal systems

'Innocent until proven guilty' isn't that new of a concept.

Kind of looks like the Matrix code...

The modern justice system is certainly not without its flaws, however most can agree that the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is one that (when not abused) stands as the foundation of what fair due process looks like. This principle, it turns out, isn’t so modern at all. It can actually be traced all the way back to nearly 3,800 years ago.

historyLady Justice, the image of impartial fairness. Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

English barrister Sir William Garrow is known for coining the "innocent until proven guilty" phrase between the 18th and 19th century, after insisting that evidence be provided by accusers and thoroughly tested in court. But this notion, as radical as it seemed at the time, can, in fact, be credited to an ancient Babylonian king who ruled Mesopotamia.

During his reign from 1792 to 1750 B.C., Hammurabi left behind a legacy of accomplishments as a ruler and a diplomat. His most influential contribution was a series of 282 laws and regulations that were painstakingly compiled after he sent legal experts throughout his kingdom to gather existing laws, then adapted or eliminated them in order to create a universal system.

Those laws were inscribed on a large, seven-foot stone monument, and they were known as the Code of Hammurabi.

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Pop Culture

TikTok star's surprising method for finding good Chinese food is blowing people's minds

Yelp can be a helpful tool for scoping out food joints, but maybe not in the way you think.

Photo by Debbie Tea on Unsplash

Different cultures view service differently.

Content creator Freddy Wong has a brilliantly easy way to find authentic Chinese food.

As he reveals in a mega viral video that’s racked up 9.4 million views on TikTok and 7.7 million views on Twitter, the trick (assuming you live in a major metropolitan area) is to “go on Yelp and look for restaurants with 3.5 stars, and exactly 3.5 stars." Not 3. Not 4. 3.5.

He then backs up his argument with some pretty undeniable photo evidence.

First, he pulls up an image of a Yelp page from P.F. Chang’s. With only 2.5 stars, one can tell the food is “obviously bad.” Alternatively, Din Tai Fung—a globally recognized Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant—has four stars.

Sounds good right? Wrong. In this case, “too many stars” means that “too many white people like it,” indicating that the restaurant is being judged on service rather than food quality. According to Wong, if “the service is too good, the food is not as good as it could be.”

He then pulls up the Yelp page for a couple of local Chinese restaurants, both of which have 3.5 stars. The waiters at these establishments might “not pay attention to you,” he admits, adding that they might even be “rude.” But, Wong attests, “it’s going to taste better.”

@rocketjump

Why I only go to Chinese restaurants with 3.5 star ratings

♬ original sound - RocketJump

"The dumplings here are better [than Din Tai Fung's]. I've been here," he says of the 3.5 star Shanghai Dumpling House. Considering his Twitter profile boasts a “James Beard Award winning KBBQ Gourmand'' title, it seems like he knows what he’s talking about.

So, why is this 3.5 rule the “sweet spot”? As Wong explains, it all comes down to different “cultural expectations.”

“In Asia, they’re not as proactive. They’re not going to come up to you, they’re not going to just proactively give you refills, you need to flag down the waiter,” he says, noting the different interpretations of service.

"People on Yelp are insufferable,” he continues, arguing that “they're dinging all these restaurants because the service is bad,” but the food is so good that it balances out the bad service. Hence, a 3.5-star rating. His reasoning is arguably sound—people do often give absurdly scathing reviews that in no way accurately reflect a restaurant’s food quality.

“A good Yelp review doesn’t mean it’s a good restaurant — it simply means the restaurant is good at doing things that won’t hurt their online rating,” Wong said in an interview with Today, adding that “highly rated Yelp restaurants are often those with counter service and limited menus, minimizing potential negative interaction with staff.”

He also added the caveat, “I don’t have anything against those places, but I think people who only eat at the ‘highest rated’ restaurants on online review sites are only eating at the most boring restaurants.”

A ton of people in the comments seem to back Wong’s theory.

best chinese food

100% accurate, some say

TikTok

Plus, the theory seems to not be limited to just Chinese restaurants, further implying that maybe there’s more of a cultural misunderstanding, rather than any real lack of quality.

thai food near me

No drink refills but the food is fire.

TikTok

yelp reviews, yelp

2.8 is the new 5

TikTok

One of the gifts that our modern world provides is the opportunity to truly experience and appreciate other cultures. Since food is easily one of the most accessible (and enjoyable) ways to do that, perhaps we should prioritize seeking authenticity, rather than rely on a flawed and superficial rating system.

As Wong told Today, “I hope it encourages people to go out and eat more food from not only Chinese restaurants, but restaurants representing the whole world of cultural cuisines.”