Gratitude for Beginners · holidays · The Street

All American Family

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Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Tired of the SEO-optimized click-bait titles and bored by breathless Black Friday pre-sale announcements?

Me too. 

Add in 24/7 race-to-the-bottom political news and it’s tempting to just give-in to the sky-is-falling-so-might-as-well-get-used-to-it voice in my head and trudge silently toward December.  Tempting, but that’s an excuse to not do this Thanksgiving post I’ve committed to.  And I absolutely believe in Yoda’s “do or do not, there is no try” attitude-is-everything philosophy.  So I write.  My topic — giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

I am giving thanks to family – my family.

This year, Thanksgiving itself will be a very small gathering.  The reasons are many.  The larger local family is adjusting to a new marriage and the restructuring this brings.  With new additions to guest lists and newlywed hosts at the helm, we could sense the anxiety and ambivalence of having a really large group for dinner and graciously excused ourselves.

Our parents are also not joining us this year. My father’s worsening dementia makes it difficult for him to enjoy gatherings.  The disease makes it increasingly hard for him to have a conversation, and that plus the noise and unfamiliar surroundings causes him to withdraw. I will instead have a Thanksgiving lunch with him at his facility.  David’s mom is unable to travel by air, is unable to drive herself here, and is too far away for us to drive her to us and back.  FaceTime will have to do.

So it will be David and me, our son and one other adult, someone who consistently and passionately works (and it can be work) to remain involved in our 12 year old’s life.  He will be with us for a few days over Thanksgiving, and we are so glad that he will be here.  He is family.

He is as family as it gets in my world.  He continues to choose by his actions to be involved, to listen, to make spending time with us a priority.  He wants to.  Not many adults show that dedication and loyalty.

What defines your family?

David’s and my family is not defined by blood, it is defined by commitment.  Our family is defined by trust and support.  We care about, care for and look out for each other.

Big picture — families, however they form, are a reflection of the effort its members put into maintaining and encouraging them.  Their spirit and relevance are a direct result of a concerted effort.  Most importantly, families are worth celebrating, especially those families that do not fit neatly into a traditional definition, are seldom acknowledged, and sometimes marginalized.  These diverse & modern families are American families too.

Who will your family include this Thanksgiving? Will there be new members, whether because of relationship or circumstance changes?  Or, are you about to “be that newbie” in someone else’s family? Either way, let’s all plan to not just try, but to do — and take one definite action step that will demonstrate the importance of your family to you and how glad you are to be a part of your family this year.  Someday, they might be all the family you’ve got — and, as it turns out, all the family you’ll need.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Real Weddings

Ashton and Jordan

September 23rd, 2017

Ashton and Jordan
Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography

 

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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography
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Ashton and Jordan | Heather Nguyen Photography

Who Proposed To Whom?
Jordan proposed to me, Ashton 😊

How Did You Get Engaged?
Jordan planned the proposal out weeks in advance. There was a hike that I had wanted to try out for quite some time. It was May 14th, 2016. Jordan planned for a couple close friends to join us on our hike up the Malibu mountains. Once we reached the top with the stunning view of the pacific ocean at our backs, Jordan got down on one knee, and made a me a promise. A promise that he will always love and take care of me, to always put me first, and to always make life an adventure. With these promises, he asked if I would spend the rest of my life with him. I cried, threw the ring on my finger, and jumped into his arms with a resounding yes!

Wedding Date?
September 23, 2017

Venue? 
Portola Inn, Atascadero

Coordinator?
Peggy O’Malley at the Portola Inn, Atascadero

Catering?
Flora & Fauna Fine Foods

Cake?
Sass Catering

Cake Topper?
Wedding Decor – A Shop On Etsy

Photographer?
Heather Nguyen Photography 😊

Dj? 
Kramer Events

Florist?
Sprigs Floral

Hair/Makeup? 
Friends And Bridesmaid

 Anything Else You’d Like To Add?
Our day was absolutely perfect! Everything went according to plan and every single vendor was a delight to work with. It was a stress free day full of love and laughter. 😊

A girl dreams of her wedding day and I can truly say it was the wedding I had always dreamt of. ♥ Thank you Heather for capturing such a beautiful day for us!

Life Planning · The Street

Your FIRST MONEY meeting

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This is advice “for the rest of your life” – ah yes…that part…the part after your wedding.  And as important as your wedding is (or was), this topic is so much more critical to your long term happiness.  I promise, stick with me through my “Money Meetings” blog posts and you will:

  • create a basic money management system
  • create & implement a realistic budget, and
  • set some longer term goals along with a plan to fund them.

Most of what’s written for recently engaged and newlywed couples is so generic and overly-simplified that you’ll forget about it the moment you are done reading.  Not mine – I suggest specific action steps to get you started. And, though obviously not the only way to approach these financial challenges, I provide what I believe to be “a good way”, and a proven way.  Also, everyone’s personal situation is unique, and your specifics are obviously not a part of this “one-way” communication. So, take what you need, modify if you want, but DO IT.

As a Registered Life Planner, I’ve had an opportunity to work with many couples entering, modifying and exiting relationships of varying types – and never has a person said that the time spent discussing shared and individual goals, finances and budgets was not time well spent.

STEP ONE:  Please forward this or print it out and hand it to your significant other as a way of introducing the meeting and making sure you both start with a shared understanding.  You must both be open to the idea of discussing your financial future.  If you can not agree to discuss, I suggest hiring a counselor / CFP / Registered Life Planner to provide guidance to get you started.

And no, it is not “too late” if you have been living together for awhile already, or if you married one or more years ago and are now just getting around to this.  Now is always a good time. 

STEP TWO:   Agree on a specific day/time/location to discuss your finances for one hour.

This can be over a glass (bottle) of wine, coffee, tea — probably on a weekend, with privacy, and few distractions [cell phones and pets are uninvited].  Planning to discuss  while laying in bed just before going to sleep is bad.  Why an hour?  Having a specific amount of time will keep the meeting from creating too much anxiety and will, hopefully, keep you more-or-less on task.

STEP THREE:  You are going to write some stuff down — you need a dedicated resource to document these meetings.  Flip a coin for who takes notes first [there are 6 meetings, so you’ll get equal turns].  You are writing down, at a minimum:  date & time of meeting, agreements reached, commitments made (to each other and to yourselves), unanswered questions to research, to-do’s for next meeting & date and time of next meeting.  Yes, this is old school – I am requesting a college ruled, bound binder, not your phone’s note taking app.  No need to go get a “budget binder” or some overly-structured pre-formatted “system”.  You can do that later if you decide together that you want one.

The goal of meeting #1:  Agree on the framework you will use to manage your finances as a couple for the next year.  

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Why a year?  First, the topic of money may be emotionally charged for one or the both of you, and agreeing on an open ended commitment to an arrangement that may be both new, and a bit unnerving, makes it less likely you will reach agreement.  Keeping the door open to change by placing a one-year deadline on this will help.  And it is a good pattern to begin now regardless — by that I mean having regularly scheduled times to discuss & modify family “stuff” like money, budgets & long term goals that otherwise often don’t ever get discussed.  [Annual financial reviews are a great idea, and regular mini-meetings can help to course-correct before issues get too big, but I will address in meeting 6.]

I also am providing three basic “framework” options from which you will choose (though there are many variations that could work just fine):

Option A.  “Individual Account Option”  You each maintain separate checking/savings accounts into which paychecks are deposited.  You each fund a “joint account” with a specific amount on a recurring basis to pay “joint” expenses, paying individual expenses from your individual accounts

Option B.  “Joint Account Option”  You create joint checking & savings accounts into which all paychecks are deposited.  All expenses are paid from these accounts.

Option C.  “Hybrid Account Option”  You create joint checking & savings accounts into which all paychecks are deposited.  Joint expenses are paid from this account, as well as individual “allowances” you each receive from which you pay individual expenses and personal expenditures of your choosing.

Now notice – you are not discussing individual expense items right now – that’s a future meeting.  Your goal is to agree on and create just the framework that you both will use, for the next year, for transactingmonitoring and reviewing family income and expenses.

Now that you know the primary goal of this first meeting, here are important details:

Start your meeting by expressing to each other:

1.  your biggest fears about money;

2.  your aspirations for you as a couple regarding financial goals – 5 to 10 years out;

3.  what you believe you do well when it comes to managing money;

4.  what is the first weakness/past mistake that comes to mind when it comes to money and budgets.

This may or may not provide some previously unknown information, but it is intended to help you focus your thoughts and connect with each other.  There is no one “in charge” of this process – it is a shared responsibility at this point.  Listen with an intent to understand, not to reply, and no interrupting.

Then outline together what is happening with your cash now right now.  Just a quick summary of what happens currently with the money coming into the “family unit” [paychecks] & how bills are paid — both bills that may have both of your names on them as well as bills that have only one name on them — ALL bills. This is to make sure you both have the same mental picture of the “flow of things”.  Discuss “the why” of this arrangement, and your individual thoughts on how it is working and what could be done to improve this. This might provide some insight into why you each prefer one of the three checking account options over the other two, and may help create a shared vision as a couple.

Now you may (happily) find that you can easily agree on option A, B, or C, but often there will be some disagreement, particularly if talking about money is new to one or both of you or if there is a large difference in individual incomes and/or expenses (student loans, health related expenses, extended family obligations).

NOTE:  If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable during this — or any — money meeting:  Immediately announce that you are feeling this way & remind each other that neither of you [ and none of us – N O N E ! ]  is without issues when it comes to money.  {see points #1 & 4 above} Whether difficult or not, it is beyond important to know each other’s financial situation and pain-points when it comes to money.  Just get your “stuff” on the table – knowing it will be received with kindness and handled with care.

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That is it for meeting #1!  Next up – figuring out a budget.  Don’t let this meeting end without making sure you’ve agreed on what needs to be done next — your personal action steps.  New accounts need to be opened? Names added to existing ones? New checks ordered/debit cards requested (or destroyed!).  What information do you each need to bring to the next [budget] meeting?  And just when is the next meeting anyway?  And since it is all written down in your Money Meetings Binder, you both know just where to look if you forget… .

And remember – the goal of marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.

Questions or comments, please send them to me at derek@tsfavors.com.

 

Real Weddings

Shannon & Brent

Who proposed to whom? Brent proposed to me.

How did you get engaged? We had been happily living in sin together for two years and we were packing for a January weekend away at our favorite little hotel in Philadelphia. He was acting so oddly, I could see him perspiring a little bit on his face, pacing around our bedroom and I thought, Hmmmmmmmm, something is up. I was in our closet grabbing clothes to pack and I turned around to put them in my bag, and he was standing right behind me. He said, I can’t wait until we get to Philadelphia, I wanted everything to be perfect, but I can’t wait. I’m sorry. He pulled out a little vintage ring holder from his pocket, opened it up… and said, I love you, will you marry me? And of course, I said yes. Standing in our little closet, in our little bedroom, in our little house, it was perfect.

Wedding date? June 10, 2017

Venue? Sombrero Beach, Marathon Key, Florida

Coordinator? Moi

Catering? We had dinner reservations for two after our ceremony at the Butterfly Cafe on Marathon Key.

Cake? No thank you. Key Lime Pie!

Cake Topper? LOTS OF WHIPPED CREAM!

Photographer? Oh we chose a cute, quirky couple that took all of the pictures

DJ? No DJ, we were serenaded by ocean waves, the island wind, seagulls… and some little boy chasing after an eel swimming around in the reef just off to our right.

Florist? Me again! I decided that I would make my own bouquet out of crepe paper flowers.

Hair/Makeup? Me: Thanks to mother nature I had some fresh sunshine on my face, a few loose curls and mascara and done. He: Thanks to poor judgement with head protection and the sun, he was sporting a mean tan line.

Anything else you’d like to say?
A little history of us. We met when we were in 2nd grade. We graduated high school together in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. He driving his 1989 Trans Am and sporting a moustache, that could be mistaken for a dirty lip and I with my acid washed jeans and hair lacquered half way up to Jesus. Yes, my friends, it was 1990. We never dated in high school, he hung out with much cooler people (upperclassmen) than I. He had no time for me, and even hung out with my older brother! Ahhh unrequited love. He reconnected with me in 2010 through the magic of Facebook. I was in the Navy in Virginia Beach and he was living in Pennsylvania, we were both newly divorced. He sent a message to me and I thought Go pound sand buddy, you lost your chance a long time ago. But he wore me down and I decided it wouldn’t hurt to be friendly. Besides, it was more than a little flattering that he was interested in me. But I was busy finding myself again after my divorce and wasn’t interested in any sort of relationship. So, we were just friends for a few years and dated other people. I finally retired from the Navy in 2012 and moved to New York to be near family and to figure out the next chapter of my life, about 3 hours away from Brent in Pennsylvania. We were still friends, communicating through text messages… eventually that turned into phone conversations that started lasting longer and longer each time we talked. We eventually decided that he would come visit me in New York, so he drove up to visit me early in January 2013. He stepped out of his car, thankfully not the 1989 Trans Am, and it was the first time we had seen each other since we had graduated in 1990. We spent the day together driving around the area where I was living, visited with my parents, and we went out to eat – our first date.  When he left the next day, we knew that was it. I knew I had finally met the person who set my soul on fire and made me feel deep comfort all at once, this was the love I had hoped for all my life. And he felt the same way. Yippeeeeeeee! I moved to Pennsylvania the following month to go back to school for Graphic Design and to live happily, in sin, ever after. 🙂

Gratitude for Beginners · LGBTQ · The Street

Why We Love June (and you should, too!)

It’s our wedding anniversary month (!),

It’s Father’s Day & I have two amazing sons (!!),  and…


…it’s Pride month!   Happy Pride!


 

Plenty to celebrate, and since Taylor Street is all about celebrating, we love June!

There is a common thread to these celebrations, and to all celebrations — and that is the sense of community each promotes.   There is a sense of belonging and acceptance — and love — that is created when you and I take time to honor tradition, our families, our respect for one-another.  And while modern families are increasingly diverse, at their core they remain much the same…

 

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So we are going to share stories of people and their celebrations — of all types — this next year.  Why?  We will support the sense of community, celebrate its members, and strengthen our collective bond.  Because, as Lin -Manuel Miranda said in his amazing acceptance speech, “Love is love”, nothing here is promised – not one day.

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#loveislove #NoH8 #lovewins #LGBTPride #Pride

 

 

The Street

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” -The Wizard of Oz –

Awwwh – always have loved that quote!  To celebrate Father’s Day, we have pulled together a few gift ideas for you.  Some are DIY, some are more affordable than others, and a few are available personalized.  We carry a number of these, and I’ve provided links to those we don’t.  Gift, card, or hug (or all three!) – go spread some love this Father’s Day.

FATHER’S DAY PICNIC

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$ – up to you  Pack a picnic lunch using whatever you have at home, include a frisbee or a football, and head out to one of Dad’s favorite locations — or maybe it’s just into the back yard!

SUPER HERO SOCKSMV-CAS-GRY-SC__24822.1474580927

$21.60   Do you know Dad’s favorite super hero?  We’ve got an awesome selection so dad can be even more super than he already is…

DARTH VADER & SON 

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$9-hardcover, $2 – Kindle   My favorite part of this re-imagining of the Dark Lord as involved parent – Take your child to work day…on the Death Star.  Available on Amazon here.  Books that are fun for both kids and adults are hard to find…Jeffrey Brown did it with this.

PERSONALIZED PHOTO KEEPSAKE BOX

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$27.00   This keepsake box lid holds a 3 X 5 photo and purchase includes engraving. Keeps treasures safe & sound.

WALL MOUNT BOTTLE OPENER 

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$29.95   Useful, well-made, and a great addition to basement pub.

FAMILY PORTRAIT

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$ – varies  I found this project by Alexandra Hedin on Design Sponge.  It is amazing.  We are going to try this at our home, following the directions she has provided here.  I will take some pictures as we go and show you the end product.

Wishing all the dads a Happy Father’s Day!

 

The Street

Holidays! It will be fun and you’ll love it!

We spent the last weekend getting ourselves ready for Christmas. Putting up the tree, decorating and putting lights outside the house. We moved to the new house a little over a month ago so we are a less about the outside this year. Watch out 2017! We can already see our neighbors like a little competition. This year, for us, simple was best – a string of fun multi-colored lights. Big bulbs! Old school.

I love the holidays. I love Christmas, the decorating, the baking – all of it. I LOVE IT! It takes me back to two distinct memories. My visual merchandising days at Saks in my twenties many, many moons ago because HELLO it’s all about decorating!  The other is holidays with my parents. When I was a little kid my mother decorated for every holiday or season. That’s probably where I got the decorating bug. And, I loved decorating the tree with them. The whole ritual of getting the tree, lighting the tree and decorating the tree. Being together.

Can you hear the holiday music in the background “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Lights are twinkling, people are happy, everything is festive.

This year it’s all about red. I drive my husband and our son crazy because  I do a theme every year. Every year our son, whose now 11, says “Do I have to help? You’ll just redecorate the tree after!” and every year I fain shock and say “Yes!  It will be fun and you’ll love it!” Ah, the joyful memories he will have of dad repositioning all the bulbs. My husband just rolls his eyes.

Times are tough; still I treat you to a lovely evening, and I get smart-alek BACKTALK“.
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford | ‘Mommie Dearest’

 

It really is all about the memories. I remember as a kid going with my dad to cut our tree down in upstate New York. He’d pull me on the sled and then pull me and the tree back on the sled. I wonder how much fun that really was for him? I am sure I complained just as much as my son does. What do I remember; the tree, the sled, my dad and love. We always had huge trees decorated with colored lights, lots of tinsel and gold or silver garland that looked like feather boas. Well, to a young gay boy they looked like feather boas!

We stress ourselves out at holidays over this and that and in the end it’s about the moments in-between. The ones that stick. The ones that light up at the smell of baking cookies and fireplace crackles.

Who knows how my son will remember these moments of his dads and the holidays. I’ll bet he won’t forget the love that surrounded them.

How do you decorate for the holidays?

 

The Street

The In-Laws

I am an Uncle. It didn’t really hit me until I was married. Derek and I have been a family for 10 years now and I have always been considered a part of my (now) husband’s family right from the start. Not once did I ever feel like an outsider. But, when we got married I noticed a change. Not in them. They have all stayed the same. It was me. I changed. I didn’t realize until after we were married what I was holding back. I had a wall up that kept me from fully jumping on the “we are all one big family” bandwagon. It all became so clear to me once we were visiting my husband’s brother and family over the fourth of July.

Just before that, right after the wedding, Derek’s sister and I were kidding around by text calling each other sister-in-law and brother-in-law but, to be honest I was so giddy from just being married that I did not realize how significant that moment really was.

On the 4th of July we traveled down the coast to visit Derek’s brother Ryan, his wife and daughters. They have a huge Fourth of July party every year and we had never been. They invited us to come down when they came to our wedding. We had never really spent any time with them at all since we have been a couple and I admit I was a little nervous about it.

They, along with their neighbors, throw this big July 4th celebration. Water ballon fights, BBQ, music, the whole nine yards. It was a fantastic time. But, the moment that stood out for me was the moment his daughters, Megan and Melissa, doused me with water balloons and called me Uncle David. I can’t for the life of me remember the exact way it was used but I remember hearing those two words “Uncle David”. I still get goose bumps every time I think of it. It was probably no big deal to them. They were having a blast and in the moment I was happy to engage and get them back with a few water balloons I had in my hands. The moment was significant. I was an uncle.

Now, who knows. They may have always thought of me that way. I did not ask and I am OK if they did or didn’t, but I felt different in that moment. Going forward, I am an uncle — their uncle — and not just to 2, but to 5 kids. [Well, kinda, 2 are still kids; the rest are adults.]

I started to think about what that has meant to me. Derek and I were together for 10 years before we were married. We pretty much kept to ourselves, as a family, with occasional visits until his mother passed away two years ago and we moved in next door to his sister. Why did I keep my distance from family emersion until I was actually married to Derek? Partly ,I believe, it’s a mechanism of safety. Could have something to do with being an only child. A hold over from a past where relationships came and went for whatever reason.

What struck me the most about this revelation was what I had been missing. I had raised my shields and kept my distance from family politics and engagements. I allowed myself to think that his family did not see me as a member of the family but, as “Derek’s gay lover with a kid”. I did that — not them. I placed my own internal homophobia on them and now I’ve decided to let that go.

So here I am on the other side. A husband, father, brother in-law and uncle.

The Street

Two Dad’s? No Problem

School Registration

 

Sometimes it’s the small stuff.

This past week our son brought home yet another school form for us to complete with the same information we’ve provided too many times before.  [Why not request this information digitally,  password protect it, and then update on an as-needed basis… different discussion for another time].  I have lined out “mother” every time before with varying degrees of frustration.

This time I got angry.  This time was different.  After all, we do live in California, we expect better.  But it’s also because despite recent strides in marriage equality, we are witnessing just how quickly progress can be rolled-back and countered.

This time IT was not “just a little thing”, or a “meaningless detail”.  IT is part of the same continuum on which both North Carolina’s and Mississippi’s recent discriminatory and bigoted legislative maneuvers sit.  While a very great distance separates this form’s lazy and parochial typeset from these new state laws, a gateway to learned hate and discriminatory behavior is right there on the page, and I could not ignore it this time.

Not long after I snapped a picture of the form, our son noticed the image sitting on my screen and asked me why it was there.  I was both glad for the opportunity and bothered by the need to have something to explain.  When I had finished, he seemed satisfied, and said, “hmmm, why doesn’t it just say parent or guardian”?  That is a good question.  Or why does it assume there are two parents?  Why doesn’t it just simply ask for emergency contacts and let me define their relationship via another blank?

This form has no doubt been pulled out and photocopied many many times, and given the perpetually overworked public school staff, I continue to feel a need to limit my concerns and objections.  But learning does not happen only inside the classroom.  Waiting silently to be treated differently is unacceptable.

For LGBTQ families, being treated with fairness and simple dignity are issues that show-up in big and small ways every day.  It was our experience planning our wedding that prompted David and me to open Taylor Street Favors.  Much like our son’s form, signing up for wedding sites or shopping online usually required one of us to be listed as “the bride”.  Same-sex couple selections were buried in drop-drowns — if at all — and were limited in selection or accented with rainbows.

We are so not about rainbows for our wedding.

We knew we could do better – and we are.  Taylor Street is a site where no one is excluded.  We welcome and support those who treat others with respect, regardless of gender, race, sexual-orientation, or religious affiliation.  Discriminating on the basis of who we love is wrong.  Excluding a family because there are two moms or two dads is wrong.

I’m sending a note along with a copy of the form to the school’s principal and asking her to look into what can be done to have the district revise its forms.  As Ellen Degeneres said earlier this week, this is not politics, this is human rights.

We deserve better.