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[This guest post comes from Margaret Barton-Ross, a volunteer cook at Camp Ten Trees in the Pacific Northwest. Please make her feel welcome and spread the word about this great camp for LGBT families.]

It had never been my lifelong dream to cook in a summer camp, but after my daughter spent several summers volunteering her time to cook for the two week program known as Camp Ten Trees, I began to think it would be an interesting thing to do. And it had been a long time dream of mine to “drive” an industrial size Hobart mixer.

Camp Ten Trees has that very mixer in its kitchen. In August of 2008, I realized my dream of driving the mixer and was part of the kitchen staff at Camp Ten Trees.

I have long been a supporter of this non profit camp located in northwestern Washington. Camps tend to be special places to those who attend them. Camp Ten Trees has become much more than that for many of the campers who return year after year. The camp strives to develop “a camp community that honors creativity, individual choice, and community living.”

This camp exists to provide a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LBTGQ) youth and their allies and for children of LBTGQ families. Camp Ten Trees has become home for these children and youth. Many of them say they spend fifty one weeks a year in the world, waiting for one week in the summer when they get to come home. For them, camp is home because they are safe and, after all, isn’t that what a home should be?

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Brenda, Francis and Abigail are three transgender immigrants who fled Mexico to start new lives in the city of Los Angeles. After suffering mental and physical abuse in their home country, the three women made their ways to the United States, each eventually seeking political asylum.  But for each of these women, leaving home was only the first step. Transgender immigrants have an even harder time surviving in a new country because of issues caused by transphobia. Once in the United States, obstacles like discrimination, loneliness, and addiction continued, and in some cases continue, to stand in their way.  While some members of this community struggle against these obstacles, others are becoming advocates and activists, thereby proving what it truly means to be an American.

Crossing Over is the story of these three strong, transgender women who immigrated to escape a lifetime of sexual and mental abuse, and found that if they wanted a better life, they’d have to fight for it.

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I am totally over the moon for My Family!™ a company founded in 2010 by Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke to address the needs of children in the LGBT community. In an effort to spread the word about their books, I asked Cheril to whip a little something up for me to share with you and she consented, resulting in the following interview with My Family!™ author Claudia Eicker-Harris. (Make sure you check out the endnote for this post to get the discount code for My Family!™ products offered especially for Laurustina.com readers.)

1.       Your new book Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales targets babies to pre-school aged children. What is it that attracted you to writing for this group? They are so open and accepting when they’re little and when they start asking questions they want honest, straightforward answers. As long as you tell them the truth, they’re happy with your answers. I think it’s this simple honesty that I love and that I have tried to reflect in the book.

2.       What do you think motivates children to read? I think children (and all humans actually) have an inherent thirst for knowledge and want to be independent thinkers. Reading gives them the freedom to choose, the freedom to learn and to think for themselves.

3.       Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication with My Family? I initially self-published ‘Meet the Families’ on Kindle as ‘I know Children’ under a pseudonym. I then sent the link to a few LGBT sites to get some publicity and to see what the reception was like. My Family picked it up and contacted me to see if I could get them in touch with the author, which was actually me! We bonded immediately and we haven’t looked back since! It’s been really amazing to work with such like-minded people who are so enthusiastic about my work as well as theirs.

4.       What is Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales about? The series about two field mice who travel the world in the author’s (my) luggage and meet all sorts of children and families. They are totally non-judgmental and merely state facts and tell us who they have met. In this way they introduce children and adults to a variety of families in a simple and non-biased way.

5.       Do you anticipate writing for older age groups? Yes, but probably not for adults.

6.       How do you think books that showcase children with a trans parent help children understand? I think books like this will give parents an opportunity to open the doors to discussion. Very young children may not necessarily walk away with a full understanding, but will certainly have a foundation of knowledge and insight on which to build their future understanding. Even if they don’t understand, children will begin the all-important journey to acceptance.  

7.       Do transgender people still struggle more than others in the South African LGBT community? There are very few publicly transgender people. Generally they keep to their own communities. I think it is very difficult for them to integrate into broader society.

8.       When did you first realize you wanted to write LGBT-inclusive books for children? It’s not very unique, I’m afraid. I’ve always been a writer, but until my wife gave birth to our baby girl, Eva, I hadn’t ever written for children, only for corporate companies and for theatre. I started telling Eva stories at night and I realised that they had an effect on her; when her friends started listening to the stories and enjoying them too, I decided to start writing them down.

9.       Do you have a job outside of writing children’s books or is this the only work you do? This is all I do now, although I do write, edit and proofread educational text books, which I still see as children’s literature. I love doing both! I am still a partner in Creative Directions – the event company that my wife and I started 11 years ago, but am not actively involved in the day to day running of the business.

10.    Where can our readers find out more about you? www.claudiaeicker-harris.com

My Family's array of multi-cultural products give children of same-sex parents a sense of normalcy, while promoting the celebration of our differences and the importance of family values. For a limited time (through July 31st) Laurustina.com readers can receive a 20% discount on My Family!™ products (including free shipping within the continental US) by entering the promo code "trans". I especially love their coloring books . I encourage you to check out their site, share it with other LGBT families and support their vision by adding some of their books to your shelves.

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[Today's post brought to you by The Man Dan, curator of The Chucklehut.]

Given this opportunity to speak to a larger world of larger matters, all that comes to my mind is the small stuff.  It seems right for these times when more people are living more simply, making do with less.  In that spirit, maybe it would be useful if I did a little kitchen talk about the small stuff.  Plus I could throw in some Fortuitous Pork for good measure.  That ought to do the trick.  

The key to making satisfying home cuisine (as opposed to merely palatable domiciliary sustenance) is flavor and variety.  Let’s take flavor first.  Flavor comes in small packages, and with small steps.  Brown the meat before roasting it; make stock out of $5 Costco chicken carcasses and cook rice with it.  Herbs and spices matter, too.  A little lasts a long time, and god knows good herbs make a world of difference.  Flavors pop.  Different ingredients take center stage. One smart turn can turn an old standby into something that really stands out.

All this is only part of what was going through my mind as I slapped together a quick supper a few weeks ago.  It was like a celebration of the small stuff.  You can make it if you like; better yet, you might-could gin up your own version.  It's not so much a recipe as a strategy.  These are good days to be strategic.  

I call this "Fortuitous Pork."  You are free, as ever, to rebrand.  

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