Reilly’s Life on Kickstarter

Please join our Kickstarter campaign!

Reilly’s Life is an animated series aimed at children who have autism. The show will provide a forum that demonstrates to autistic children, their families, caregivers, practitioners and general audiences that they are not alone in this world and society values and appreciates their experience as autistic individuals. It is a tool in the acceptance and awareness of autistic behaviors that we hope will help society embrace autism as a rich and diverse way of living in this world. It shows some of the challenges faced by children with autism and possible solutions that may help, or at least facilitate a basic understanding of the challenges faced by Reilly.

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Reilly’s Life is created by Sinead Clancy. She is mother to a ten-year-old son with autism. After the initial diagnosis she followed the usual path of blame, anger, fear and looked for the elusive “cure.” But quickly she realized that autism was as much a part of her son as breathing and she now embraces his autistic way of being. Finding a path for him where he could co-exist in a world where autism and autistic identity is not embraced or fully understood sowed the seeds for Reilly’s Life.

Each episode will be 10 minutes of 2D animation followed by a live action bumper that shows children or adults experiencing the unique strengths and challenges of autism in the context of the episode. The show highlights the breadth and depth of autistic life while dealing with some of the common challenges and barriers children with autism face.

 The name is pulled from Sinead’s Irish roots. Someone who is enjoying life to the fullest with no worries is said to have “the life of Reilly.”

Reilly’s life, an animated show for children with autism

Today is Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism Awareness Month. My friend Sinéad Clancy has been working hard to put together a project close to her heart. Reilly’s life is an animated show for children who have autism. As the show’s script writer, I believe this project can help create awareness and acceptance for children on the spectrum. Please check out www.reillyslife.com and please share.

Thank you!

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Multicultural Books

The Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature has released its Best Multicultural Books for 2014, as complied by Dr. Claudette Shackelford McLinn, Dr. Naomi Caldwell, Dr. Sujin Huggins, Ana- Elba Pavon, Lessa K. Pelayo-Lozada, and Elsa Marston. Ranging from elementary school to high school and including fiction, non fiction and verse, the list highlights the the Center’s commitment to promoting diversity in literature.

The full list with descriptions can be found here.

Goodwill, Hope, and Fun

My previous blog was about children’s books that focus on the Nativity. Today’s post features fun Christmas books from my childhood, as well as recent books that send a message of goodwill and hope.

Christmas around the World (1961)

IMG_6126.JPGChristmas is celebrated in many ways, and this book highlights different traditions from around the globe from Austria to (the then) Yugoslavia. In Denmark, the Jul-Nisse, the “benevolent little man in the attic,”is seen by no one and “is responsible for many mischievous happenings in the house.” The children place of bowl of porridge and a pitcher of milk next to the attic door for him on Christmas Eve. In Mexico, “street vendors display hand-carved religious figures…and tapestries of religious design are used as banners.” In Brazil, “the Christmas fiesta season is solemnly heralded by an air mass at midnight on Christmas Eve…a colorful altar is set up in the Cathedral churchyard…in a fiesta atmosphere of banners.”

It’s a time-traveling trip to 29 countries through a book.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs (1973)IMG_6129.JPG

In this cheeky English tale, Father Christmas is a bit of a grumpy fellow. With no elves to be found and no Mrs. Christmas to keep him company, Fr. Christmas has to feed the reindeer, fix his sleigh, and lug the many heavy bags of presents by himself. On top of that, he has to travel through blooming cold, go down blooming chimneys filled with blooming soot, and weather snow, ice, frost, sleet, hail, rain while everyone else is enjoying their parties in warm homes. It’s not a glamorous life.

Still, Fr. Christmas gets to enjoy milk and cookies and sherry and mince pies while on the job. And when his long night is over, he sits down to a good cup of tea, enjoys a lovely pud and a good bath, has himself a good drop of ale and some lovely grub with his dog and cat. It’s not such a bad gig, after all.

While younger children probably won’t understand it, this book is lots of fun and older children who understand dry humor will enjoy this spin on Santa.

Father Christmas and His Friends by Christopher Maynard and illustrated by Colin Hawkins (1979)

In this behind-the-scenes tell-all, we learn a lot about Santa. We get an up-close and personal look at his features. For instance, he suffers from a swollen right knee; the inflammation is “local and seasonal. It is the result of having thousands of children sit and bounce on it.” We get to peek at his home, his friends (including a butler, a guardian, a chief elf, and his Spanish friend, Black Peter), and his attire. We even learn what Fr. Christmas eats for breakfast: an all-or-nothing IMG_6128.JPGsandwich.

Next, we visit the reindeer nursery and the stag bar (for adult reindeers to enjoy adult beverages), and we learn lots of reindeer facts, such as their great weakness for cherry and chocolate gateau. It’s off to the mines, the blacksmith’s workshop, and the toy workshops where quality control is performed. The traditions of carols, holly, mistletoe, candles in the window, and midnight snacks are explained. And for anyone who’s ever wondered just how Fr. Christmas manages to traverse the globe in a single night, we are privy to his sled routes, time management skills (including, perhaps, the ability to travel at the speed of light and to make time stand still), how he gets into houses (including the tricks and tools of the trade), and how he’s prepared for dogs and awake children. You’ll be reeling from all the information in this 92-page exposé!

Again, this isn’t for younger kids and it’s by no means politically correct by today’s standards (it is, after all, 35 years old). If you’re looking for a sanitized version of Santa, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a good laugh with some irreverent humor, then see if you can track down a copy.

Well-loved Carols chosen by Audrey Daly and illustrated by Peter Church (1986)IMG_6127.JPG

I love Christmas carols. Singing really is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and to spread good cheer. This little book features 19 beloved carols that are a joy to sing. From Away in a Manger to O Little Town of Bethlehem to Winter’s Snow, gather your family and friends and sing to your hearts content. The illustrations are lovely and harken to olden days.

Grace at Christmas by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

IMG_6133.JPGThis story reminds us that the Christmas spirit is about helping others, even when you’re not feeling so merry and bright.

Book description from Amazon: “Grace loves Christmas – acting out the nativity story, opening presents, celebrating with Ma, Nana and Paw-Paw. But this Christmas Nana announces they will have visitors from Trinidad. Grace is horrified! She does NOT want to share the day with another little girl she doesn’t even know. But after some wise words from Nana, Grace’s generous spirit shines through. And in the end, as they all share a special surprise, Grace thinks it could be the best Christmas ever!”

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman

IMG_6132This sweet book with perfectly adorable illustrations proves that home is where your heart it.

Book description from Scholastic: “Mortimer Mouse needs a new house — a house that’s not so cold, cramped, and dark. Where can he go? He sees a huge tree covered with twinkling lights. And next to the tree, a mouse-size house. And inside the house, a wee wooden manger just Mortimer’s size. But statue people seem to already live there! One by one, Mortimer lugs and tugs the statues out of the house — only to find them all put back in their places each evening! What is Mortimer to do? It’s not until he overhears a very special story that Mortimer realizes whose house he is sharing and where Mortimer himself belongs. It is the story of Christmas and the night the baby Jesus was born that warms Mortimer’s heart in this magical holiday offering.”

Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki and illustrated by Ivan Gantschev

IMG_6130.JPGKeeping the focus on the birth of Jesus while acknowleding the fun of Santa can be a difficult process. This book manages to balance both aspects of Christmas in a gentle, non-judgmental manner.

Book description from Barnes & Noble: “Discover the true meaning of the holidays with Santa’s Favorite Story. The forest animals are alarmed when it appears that Santa might be too tired to make his Christmas rounds, until he recounts for them the Nativity story which gives the holiday its true significance.”

The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund and illustrated by Feridun Oral

I reviewed this book last year on Good Reads with Ronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature reviews.

ThIMG_6131.JPGe Message of the Birds tugged at my heart. It is a simple, still book, but it is full of the warmth and innocence that parents so often desire for their young children’s lives. The book encompasses a single theme: let there be peace on earth.  As the birds in the rafters of the stable watched over the Baby Jesus, they “heard in his voice…the words of a song that they would carry throughout the world…It was a special song of blessing, of joy and good will.” Unfortunately, as old owl explains years later, that message has been forgotten or ignored. But Robin believes that children will listen and understand, and that the hope for a better world lies with them. So, the birds plan to carry the special message by singing to children. It’s a lot of work, full of long journeys, but the birds try their hardest. And something wonderful happens:

“They saw hands linked together—white hands, brown hands, black hands. Children everywhere were joining together. The children had heard the message of the birds, and what had started as a whisper now resounded from shining faces all over the world.”

What a wonderful thought to teach children, especially this time of year.

The illustrations are spot on.  The snowy, wintery scenes juxtaposed to the birds’ colorful plumage and children’s cheeriness bring the story alive. And in a way that only a masterful artist can manage, the pictures seem both lively and still.

During what is one of the busiest times of the year for many people, taking a break to enjoy and understand The Message of the Birds is well worth the time.

Merry Christmas and happy reading!

Christmas Books for Children

I love Christmas. I think it’s a wonderful time of sharing, caring, and hope. Fittingly, there are loads and loads of books written about this holiday and its various aspects. My family and I enjoy many of them–books about Santa, presents, reindeer and other animals, food, and traditions. It’s important to my family that we focus on the birth of Jesus, in addition to enjoying the more secular aspects of the celebrations. Here are books on the Nativity that we read or share at Christmas.

Baby’s First Nativity written by Muff Singer and illustrated by Peter Stevenson (Reader’s Digest Children’s Books Publishing)

Using simpleIMG_6053.JPG rhymes that will keep young children (ages 1-3) interested, this board book has cut-outs on the first few pages that create a peeking window. The book includes activities on each of its spreads. Shepherds in the Fields: On hills above Bethlehem, shepherds and sheep suddenly awoke from their peaceful night’s sleep. The sky was filled with angels who started to sing, “Born in a stable is Jesus, your king.” [Pretend you are a shepherd. Stretch and yawn like you are waking up.] The colors are vibrant and the illustrations are adorable.

On This Special Night written by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Simon Mendez (Scholastic)

This is a paperback book for ages 4-8. Little Kitten iIMG_6047.JPGs snuggled warm next to Mother Cat in a barn when a thirsty donkey arrives. Soon, a lamb, mice and calf join them. All are very tired from their journeys. Little Kitten wonders why the stars are shining so brightly. The other animals know. Calf smiled, his big, brown eyes shining. “Tonight is a very special night,” he said. “Something amazing is going to happen.”  “Come with us–and you’ll see it, too!” squeaked the mice. Little Kitten and Mother Cat follow the animals to see a very special baby. The illustrations are very realistic and luminous in their colors.

Silent Night, Holy Night: Book and Advent Calendar illustrated by Maja Dusíková (NorthSouth)

I adore this book. The cover is an Advent calendar, so we look at it every day. The illustrations are siIMG_6051.JPGmply beautiful, and are representations of the carol’s lyrics. For instance, Silent night, holy night features a winter wonderland scene complete with snow-covered pine trees and houses with rabbits huddling under a full moon. My favorite scene is All is calm, which shows a closer view of the houses with their trees, wreaths and candles and the back of a cat sitting on a roof enjoying the serenity. The history of the carol, which was written by Father Josef Mohr and set to music by church organist Franz Gruber in 1818, is included, as is the musical arrangement with lyrics.

Stable in Bethlehem: A Christmas Counting Book by Joy N. Hulme and illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Sterling)

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The countdown to the Nativity is told in this book for 3-5 year olds. Bethlehem awaits the birth of Jesus, and the animals are no different. Seven soft sheep are still awake and see the stars grow bright. Guarding the fold, six faithful dogs are ever alert nearby…From eastern lands, four camels come with humps and shaggy fur. The illustrations are luminous in their golden hues.

The Christmas Baby written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey (Simon & Schuster)

IMG_6055.JPGThe birth of Jesus is celebrated by the beasts in the stable and by the angels in the heavens. When the baby was born, the beasts shouted with joy. “Have you heard?” they whinnied and brayed and mooed and barked and bleated. “He is come!”  This book is for ages 2-5, and features cherub-like angels and sweet animal faces. It is also suitable as a gift for new parents, as the end of the book features a question for today’s newborns: And you–when that dear little baby was you–do you know what you did? … You smiled back at us all with God’s own smile!

The Christmas Story (A Mini Magic Color Book) written by Janet Sacks and illustrated by Luana Rinaldo (Sterling/Pinwheel Books)IMG_6050.JPG

A board book perfect for ages 1-3, who will learn colors along with the Nativity story. Each of the five spreads includes a pull-out tab that changes the character’s color. Baby Jesus is born in Bethlehem. He sleeps in a manger. Here is baby Jesus. What color is the manger with baby Jesus? [Pull the tab.] The manger is brown. Using age-appropriate language, the book is colorfully illustrated with cartoon-like images.

The First Christmas: A Pop-up Nativity Book written by Justine Swain-Smith and Marie Greenwood, illustrated by Ingela Peterson, and paper engineered by Allison Gardner (Discovery Kids Books)IMG_6048.JPG

This book is a treasure, and is possibly my youngest child’s favorite Christmas book. It is an interactive, pop-up book that comes complete with a pull-out Nativity scene and Advent calendar. The text is for older children (ages 6-10). Mary and Joseph were very happy to have found a place to rest at last. That night in the stable, Mary gave birth to her baby son. She wrapped him baby Jesus in strips of cloth to keep him warm. However, younger children will find the book enjoyable and accessible for its images and pop-ups.

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats (Penguin Putnam)IMG_6054.JPG

This paperback book for ages 3-6 is a representation of the carol. The little drummer boy spots the procession of the Three Kings and joins in.

Baby Jesus (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I am a poor boy, too (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / I have no gift to bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / That’s fit to give a king (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum) / Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) / On my drum? 

The artwork, while in muted colors, is vivid and almost other-worldly and includes patterns. The carol’s words and musical arrangement by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone are also included.

The Story of Christmas written by Patricia A. Pingry and illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (Candy Cane Press)

IMG_6052.JPGA wonderful way to introduce the Christmas story to children ages 2-5, this board book presents simple language that helps connect the biblical story to today’s celebrations. For example, Do you know why we give gifts at Christmas? We give presents because it is Jesus’ birthday. They [the Wise Men] brought presents because they loved Him. We give gifts at Christmas to show our love. The text’s font and multiple colors engage the young readers, and the illustrations are lovely.

Merry Christmas, and happy reading!

Eat Up!

Huzzah! Today is National Chocolate Day, my favorite holiday second only to Christmas. I’m kidding. I hadn’t heard of National Chocolate Day until today, but I’m willing to immerse myself fully in the spirit of the holiday._3_

Think about all the ways that chocolate makes things better:

Raisins? Yes, they’re good for you and your digestive system. However, coat them in chocolate and they’re far more palatable.

Ice cream? Yeah, yeah, we know. But with chocolate sauce on it? So much more yummy.

Cookies are fun, but chocolate chip cookies are delectable.

file000517399336A croissant? Sure, it’s buttery goodness. But a chocolate croissant is even better.

A variety of mole (mo-lay) sauces include chocolate, proving that even a meal can use chocolate’s help.

And somewhere a genius decided that pairing fermented grapes with chocolate leads to a more fragrant and decadent vino.

Of course, chocolate stands on its own virtue. As a child in England, I would look forward to my visits to the local sweet shop where I could choose from the many delicious English chocolate bars: Aero (with bubbles), After Eight (minty), Bounty (coconut), Club, Crunchie (honeycomb toffee), the original Kit Kat, Lion Bar (wafers and crisped cereal), Maltesers, Milky Bar (which was white chocolate), Penguin (biscuit), the original Twix, Yorkie (chunky), and any kind of Cadbury (Buttons, Bournville Dark, Dairy Milk, Double Decker, Flake, and Wispa). I couldn’t choose, really. It was too hard. They’re all sooo good! I also indulged in other European chocolate delights, such as Kinder and Lindor/Lindt. (By the way, did you know Kinder Eggs are banned in the USA? Yep, you know, supposed choking hazard.)

Unfortunately, I’ve not found American chocolates to be on par with European ones. Hersheys is pretty much only good for making S’mores. I do enjoy an occasional Three Musketeers, Dove, and York Peppermint Pattie, but that’s about it. American chocolate tends to include nuts (especially peanuts and almonds), and that leaves me and lots of other people unable to consume them. In fact, many of the top-selling brands, such as Reese’s, Butter Finger, and Snickers, all have nuts, along with Almond Joy, Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar, O Henry! and PayDay. Maybe Americans love nuts more than chocolate?

Along with chocolates, I also love books, so what better combination? Books about this confectionary delight include Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and perennial children’s favorite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. They’ve all been adapted into great movies, too. Another fun chocolate-themed movie is Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymous), a sweet story about Angélique, who is a top chocolatier unable to cope with the pressure and recognition. She eventually finds a way to create chocolates peacefully and finds love in the process.

Chocolates, books, and love: what a perfect trio! Happy National Chocolate Day to all, and enjoy. I know I will.

Where Are Women’s Voices?

I came across this HuffPost article by Rebecca Adams about the representation of women in commercials, both on screen and on voiceovers. Actually, the article is really about the lack of women, and how women’s voices are silenced in commercials.

I’ve thought about this topic before when I saw the 2010 commercial for Carnival Cruises. The commercial is clearly from a teen girl’s perspective, yet the voice is a grown man’s. Why?

Obviously, I don’t know the answer. Maybe the execs didn’t think a teen female voice is compelling. Maybe they thought parents wouldn’t be encouraged to buy cruise tickets based on their daughter’s view. Or, maybe they didn’t even give the gender of the voice a second thought. Perhaps it was a given that a man’s voice would represent Carnival Cruises despite the image of a young female.

Once you start looking for gender bias in commercials (or anywhere, really), it’s easy to find. Who’s the last female spokesperson for a car commercial, especially for a luxury car, that you can name? Anyone? But we have Jon Hamm for Mercedes-Benz, John Slattery and Matthew McConaughey for Lincoln, John Cusack for Chevrolet, Liev Schreiber for Infiniti, Kevin Spacey for Honda, Donald Sutherland for Volvo, Jeff Bridges for Hyundai, Steven Barr for Toyota, and Dennis Leary for Ford.

The women? Well, there’s Patricia Clarkson for BMW. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson for Lincoln, but only in conjunction with Matthew McConaughey.

Do car and ad execs think that women don’t purchase cars? Apparently not. They do think that women are good for selling cars and car products, if the women are “sexy” or “helpless.” Here’s Carbuzz’s “5 Sexist Car Commericals” post.

So, what can women and their male allies do to confront gender bias in commercials? Write, email, tweet, and post about it. Companies don’t like controversy or issues that will impact their bottom line. Make your voices heard! And you have the choice that if a company isn’t representing you, you don’t have to buy its product.

The Sounds of Laundry (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

I wrote this four years ago, but as piles of laundry await, here is its debut on The Writable Life.

Sung to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” and with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel:

Hello laundry, my old friend.
I’ve come to wash you once again
because a hamper quickly filling
left its stink while I was sleeping.
And the loads that multiplied in my hamper still remain
despite the sounds of laundry.

LaundryFor many hours I toiled alone,
GE machines of steel atop stone.
‘Neath the glare of florescent light,
I put collars in “hot” and “whites.”
When my eyes were caught by the flash of a Dreft sign
that poured inside,
and made the sounds of laundry.

And in the florescent light I saw ten thousand parents, maybe more.
Parents sorting without blinking.
Parents washing while multi-tasking.
Parents folding clothes that children always tear,
and no one dares disturb the sounds of laundry.

“Parents” said I, “You already know
laundry like disease grows.
Hear my curses that I might teach you.
Take my detergent that I might reach you.”
But my words like empty bottles fell,
and echoed in the hampers of laundry.

And the parents slaved and slaved
before the piles of laundry their kids made.
And the Dreft flashed out its warning,
in the bubbles that it was forming.
And the bubbles said, “The cries of the parents
are written on their bedroom walls
and in tears that fall.”
And was lost in the sounds of laundry.

My Couch, as Enchanting as a Spell

If you’re like most people, you think of your couch as a comfy, restful place on which you can wile away a few hours and then get on with your life.

That’s what I used to think. That is, until I realized my new couch is an anathema, a trap to suck me into a sense of oblivion and wastefulness.

Let me back up. When my husband and I first got married, we removed my lumpy college futon, complete with its forest green cover, and replaced it with a hip blue couch from a fashionable Berkeley furniture store. Sure, it cost a lot, but we were starting our married life, and what’s $700 when you’re in love?

Old Blue

Not Old Blue, but close

Old Blue served us well. It was narrow enough to fit through our Victorian building’s narrow staircase and doors. This was no small feat in an era of over-sized couch ends and wide berths. Its sleekness looked great in our cozy living room, and we hosted many parties where two people could sit on its hip, yet practical, cushions. Its arm rests were flat and not ideal for resting a tired head, but were perfect for balancing drinks. Who cared that it was difficult to clean and its back was too short for my husband’s 6′ 6″ build? It looked good, and bonus!, it had a pull-out bed where our frequent out-of-town friends would crash.

Old Blue served us faithfully, and weathered two moves, two kids, two cats, and lots of couch time. But 12 years on, Old Blue’s cushions were pilled, stained, and scratched. Its once-full middle sagged and made a disconcerting “boing” when someone sat on it. Our kids complained that it wasn’t comfy or fun. Even the cat had stopped curling on it. It was time to bid Old Blue adieu. 

In looking for our replacement, I, in my naïveté, dreamed of a couch where I could, at the end of a busy day, lay down my weary head on a full, cushiony arm rest and luxuriate in its welcoming presence.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

Here’s our current couch, New Brown.

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New Brown. Look away!!!

It looks unassuming, doesn’t it? Neutral color. Sensible IKEA price. Easy-clean fabric. Fits three adults comfortably. Wide enough to support long legs. Back rest that can manage my husband’s tall frame. Arm rests that are wide, but not obnoxiously so. The kids like it. The cat has given her seal of approval. Practical, affordable, manageable.

Don’t trust it! Look away, look away now!!!!

New Brown is not your ordinary, run of the store, couch. It is bewitching. From the moment the delivery/assembly guys left, New Brown has been casting an irresistible spell of “come hither” that beckons me, even though I know I have a list of 15 errands that I need to finish. Like a Disney witch disguised as a harmless peasant, this couch hides its evil power to lure the innocent (namely, me) and send them into a vortex of relaxation from which they will not emerge.

Once seated, I’m trapped. I cannot remove my buttocks because New Brown has charmed me. It has drawn me in and captured me. I can lie my entire length comfortably on the couch, sink into its pillowed bosom, and drift in to a peaceful sleep. I delight in its body contouring, and its spacious width, enough for me to turn. Like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, I am in an enchanted slumber.

But this enchantment is transforming me. Kids want to share the couch? No, they are relegated to the sturdy red chairs. “Go sit there. There’s no room here. Mommy needs her space.” Work to do? New Brown sings its siren song and entices me to stay enraptured in its cushiony warmth. Nothing gets done. It’s time to retire to the bedroom? I can’t escape the well-padded arm rests that prop up my head at just-the-right angle. Resistance is useless. 

New Brown has transformed me into a couch potato, and, Disney help me, it’s a spell that I can’t break.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a wonderfully comfortable IKEA couch. However, I paid for the couch and IKEA hasn’t solicited any endorsement or given any compensation for this post. Just so you know.