Viral baby photo inspired by love of Whataburger

Published: Saturday, December 27, 2014 @ 12:33 PM
Updated: Saturday, December 27, 2014 @ 12:33 PM

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While pregnant, Megan Riddle craved food from Whataburger. There was one small problem, however. At the time, Megan and her husband Tyler lived 450 miles away from the closest Whataburger.

Still, the determined couple made the trek from Iowa to Oklahoma to satisfy the pregnancy craving, according to The Des Moines Register.

When their baby Basil was born, the Riddles had moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Whataburger locations are plentiful. That inspired them to create a most unusual baby photo.

Photographer Allie Rae Zuniga captured the quirky image that quickly went viral. Instead of a burger, the baby is wrapped up like a taquito. The hashtag #whatababy accompanied the image.

Thin Mints, Tagalongs and S’mores, oh, my! 5,155 boxes of cookies sold by this Girl Scout

Published: Sunday, January 21, 2018 @ 5:52 PM

Phoebe Williams is an eighth-grader from Rogers Park, Chicago. She is a prodigy at selling Girl Scout cookies, racking up more than 5,155 boxes last year. Williams sets up a table at various stores to sell high numbers. Her hard work earned her the title "Cookie CEO."

Like a lot of Girl Scouts, Rogers Park eighth-grader Phoebe Williams is hoping to increase her year-over-year cookie sales this season.

Here’s the thing: She sold 5,155 boxes last year. (And 5,004 the year before.)

“All of my Saturdays and Sundays and after-school days that I wasn’t doing sports or student council I was out selling cookies,” Williams, 13, told me.

She also set up a cooking-selling table decorated with signs and streamers, which she carted to various stores — Jewel, Dollar Store, Walgreens — that allowed her to set up shop.

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“I’m a very competitive person,” she said. “I always want to do more. I want to sell 200 more this year than last year and see if I can put the money toward a college fund or a local food pantry. Something that gives me and the people around me a chance to experience new things.”

The proceeds from Girl Scout cookie sales are passed on to individual Girl Scout councils and troops, who then decide how to spend the money — travel opportunities, group activities, donations to a chosen cause.

“The cookie program is the largest entrepreneurship program in the country for girls,” said Nancy Wright, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. “It teaches them about financial literacy, setting budgets, reaching targets, thinking about the future. They’re running their own business.”

And Williams, by all accounts, is a boss. Her past sales figures earned her the title “Cookie CEO,” which means she spent Columbus Day at Wright’s office, along with other top sellers, shadowing the actual CEO.

“Phoebe is so well-spoken and confident,” Wright said. “One of the joys of my job is meeting these amazing young women. They’re so hungry and eager and curious. They’re just brilliant. Phoebe is brilliant.”

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Williams has six siblings — five older and one younger. Girl Scouts gives her a space to carve out her own identity and use it to set an example for others, her mom, Autumn, told me.

“She’s one of the older Girl Scouts — a lot of them lose interest by now,” Autumn Williams said. “So to see her recognize the impact she can have and make every effort to be kind and helpful and supportive to the younger girls, with absolutely zero prompting, it’s just so much fun.”

Her Cookie CEO gig also landed her in the spotlight at Allstate Arena recently, when 5,000 or so people gathered to watch Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana compete for the official Guinness World Record for most cookies dunked in milk at one time.

They clinched the record, dunking 3,236 cookies simultaneously and beating out the previous record of 1,800, which was set in India.

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Williams dropped the puck for a Chicago Wolves game that took place after the Girl Scouts event and posed for photos with Scouts and their families.

“It was wonderful to watch her in her element and see her so proud of the choices she’s making,” Autumn Williams said.

If your workplace and your social media feeds are anything like mine, you know that cookie sales are well and truly underway right now. I love Williams’ story because it’s the human side, the happy outcome, of those sugar-fueled transactions.

“Selling cookies teaches me people skills and how to be out there with strangers in a way that’s safe, but also allows me to represent myself and show people who I really am,” Williams said.

She wants to open her own diner when she’s older, where she can put some of those skills to work.

“I want to go to business school first and then get a job, so I can pay my way through culinary school and then go open up my diner,” she said. “I don’t really know where. I just want it to be a place where I have regulars, like people who I really get to know.”

I look forward to visiting.

Big brother comforts sick baby sister in heartwarming viral video

Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2018 @ 6:43 AM

Children holding hands. (Photo credit: Karolina Michalak/
Karolina Michalak/
Children holding hands. (Photo credit: Karolina Michalak/ Michalak/

A video of a boy comforting his baby sister is warming hearts across the country.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

A video shared to Facebook by mom Danielle Davis of Haughton, Louisiana, shows her son quietly rocking his sleeping sister in his arms when she wasn’t feeling well. The video was viewed more than 2 million times on Instagram.

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“The kids adore each other,” Davis told “Good Morning America.” “He can always make her laugh. They are siblings, so they have their moments of jealousy, but that’s to be had. Ninety percent of the time they really very loving toward each other.”

>> Read more trending news 

Check out the adorable clip below as 5-year-old John comforts 1-year-old Clara.

>> Click here to watch


He’s had a tough year, but 10-year-old is learning to walk again

Published: Sunday, December 31, 2018 @ 3:01 PM

Zach Pickard is almost 11 and loves Nintendo and "Impractical Jokers." Pickard is one of 144 children worldwide with rapid aging disease progeria. He recently had surgery to repair a hip socket and walk again. Pickard was an ideal patient, according to his parents.

Zach Pickard has had a rough, sometimes physically painful, year.

But because he is Zach, a tiny person with an outsize personality, a quick wit and the unflagging devotion of a new dog who is bigger than he is, you wouldn’t know it.

Some people enjoy bits and pieces of this world. Zach loves everything, all the time: magnets, making “slime,” Nintendo, “Impractical Jokers” on TV, YouTube and KFC, with which his mother says he is obsessed. His tiny voice, like that of a doll, is most often roiling with laughter as he delights in the latest verbal or practical joke he has engineered.

At 10 (he’ll be 11 in January), Zach is one of only 144 children in the world with the rapid aging disease progeria. He recently chose to have a seven-hour surgery to repair his damaged hip socket. He had been unable to walk for months, and he was restricted to a wheelchair.

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For a child who has had to adjust to a slew of limitations in his life — tiny stature, stiff joints, baldness and prominent veins — being in a wheelchair all the time was too much.

Zach’s parents knew that two other children with progeria had gone through the surgery proposed for Zach. It’s called VDRO, for varus derotation osteotomy. It tips the ball of the femur into the hip socket, where it is stabilized with plates and screws to hold the bone in the proper position.

Before the surgery, Zach’s mom introduced him to a friend of hers who was in a wheelchair. The friend and Zach discussed the limitations of wheelchair living.

Then his parents, Brandon and Tina Pickard, left the decision up to their son: Would he have surgery? Would he adapt to the wheelchair instead?

Zach chose surgery. The operation was Sept. 20 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The Pickards called the seven hours excruciating. Occasionally someone in the operating room would call the waiting room to let them know how Zach was doing, but the rest of the time, his parents sat with their fears: What if the surgeons didn’t have enough skin to stitch up? Because they are so tiny and lack reserves of body fat, children with progeria don’t have as much skin surface as other children, making grafting a near impossibility.

» Jewish and Muslim families form lasting friendship after viral photo protesting travel ban

“We were really thinking he was going to be a grumpy patient, but he turned out great,” Tina Pickard said.

While in a brace post-surgery, Zach gained a much-needed pound and a half. He is 41 inches tall and 32 pounds now. The Pickards hope that in 2018, Zach will be able to resume participation in a progeria drug trial in Boston that is exploring drugs that can add months to the lives of progeria patients.

One in four to eight million newborns have the gene mutation that causes progeria. The mutated gene causes a collection of symptoms that resemble premature aging. The average life expectancy is 13 years. The Pickards have invested in beating that number, becoming active fundraisers for the Progeria Research Foundation.

Just after Zach’s surgery, Carmen the dog arrived. She joins Zach’s guinea pig, K.C. Pickard. Carmen barks at strangers but is a friendly, mellow animal, rubbing her face against Zach to ask for head pats.

Zach rolls on the floor to be closer to Carmen, who weighs about as much as he does. In the manner of the best child-pet friends, Carmen is fascinated by everything Zach does.

Zach has been out of school and instructed at home so he doesn’t fall behind in his last year of elementary school before moving on to sixth grade and middle school. To return to school, he has to be able to independently go to the restroom. He has “land” therapy and “aqua” therapy weekly.

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The Pickards have one word for their son’s decision to have surgery, which they repeat to Zach: Brave.

For Zach, it’s a joke. What does “brave” mean?

“It means being brave,” he says, breaking into peals of giggles.

Asked whether the string of magnets he’s working on is a collar for Carmen, he grimaces.

He casts the side-eye of a soon-to-be middle school student, then glances at his big dog and the relatively short band of magnets: “She’s not a Pomeranian, you know.”

Here’s how much strength resides in that tiny body: Zach walks across the Pickard family room aided by a metal walker. He pauses, flexes his arms on the walker and lifts his feet from the floor.

His parents murmur: This is huge, they say.

And suddenly it felt like Christmas, even though it was only Dec. 18.

Jewish and Muslim families form lasting friendship after viral photo protesting travel ban

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 3:34 PM

The Bendat-Appells of Dearfield, Ill., are a rabbi, his wife and their three children. The Yildirims of Schaumburg, Ill., are a Muslim, his wife and their four kids. The two families met protesting the Trump administration travel ban in February. A photo of them together went viral, sparking a friendship through the year. The families say they plan to continue their regular get-togethers.

CHICAGO — A year ago, these two families could not have predicted they would be together this week lighting candles on a menorah.

The Bendat-Appells of Deerfield, Ill., are a Jewish rabbi and his wife, who works full-time for a Jewish organization, and their three children, who all attend a Jewish Day school on the North Shore.

The Yildirims, who live in Schaumburg, Ill., are a Muslim husband and wife and their four children, who have never set foot in a synagogue and before this year had no Jewish friends.

Yet their friendship is a reflection of what they celebrated together Sunday evening at the rabbi’s home. The ritual of lighting the menorah during the eight days of Hanukkah reminds Jewish people of how a tiny bit of oil was able to create light in the darkness for much longer than expected, just as the bond between the two families has continued to illuminate their lives, months after their chance meeting during a protest against the Trump administration’s travel ban in February at O’Hare Airport.

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At the protest, each father hoisted a child onto his shoulders — then 9-year-old Adin Bendat-Appell wearing his yarmulke, and then 7-year-old Meryem Yildirim in her hijab — and the two poster-carrying kids were captured sharing a laugh together in a Chicago Tribune photograph.

Since then, the photo has gone viral, viewed by people around the world who saw the image as a symbol of hope amid political disagreement and changing immigration policies.

The two families have enjoyed a friendship that continues months later, including joining together for a meal at the breaking of Ramadan fast, a 5K walk for peace outside the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and other celebrations.

“We do this to show that something that is smaller than you expect to be able to survive and bring light can,” said Yael Bendat-Appell, the rabbi’s wife, as she guided the children’s hands while they took turns lighting the candles.

The Muslim mother smiled as she nudged her daughters closer.

“Wow,” Amy Yildirim said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

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Both families were surprised by the attention thrust on them immediately after their photo went public.

Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, who teaches meditation for the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York, said he received dozens of Facebook comments, emails and voicemails from strangers. While there were a few negative responses from people who did not condone bonding between Jews and Muslims, most of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Bendat-Appell said he was most touched by religious Jews who wrote with the Hebrew words “Kiddush Hashem,” which means “You’re sanctifying God’s name.”

“We never did anything heroic or extraordinary,” Bendat-Appell said. “It still doesn’t feel heroic. It feels human.”

For the Yildirims, the photo’s quick popularity at first triggered anxiety. Fatih Yildirim, a longtime permanent resident of the U.S., had procrastinated becoming an official U.S. citizen for years, because he thought it was an unnecessary formality. When an executive order prohibited people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., he and his wife decided citizenship would protect him from having to leave his wife and children, who were already citizens. They worried the image of him at the protest would be used against him in his application, Amy Yildirim said.

Fatih Yildirim’s family in Turkey alerted him to international news stations using the photo and reporting that he was befriending enemies. He told his family abroad that if anyone tried to persecute them because of his photo, they should publicly disown him for their own safety. He said he has since been granted citizenship in the U.S., which helped ease the family’s concerns.

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“It’s so positive,” Fatih Yildirim said of his friendship with Rabbi Bendat-Appell. “My friends ask me to ask him questions (about the Jewish religion) sometimes.”

The families were grateful for the relationship that began to blossom the minute each father carried home the other’s contact information they exchanged at the airport. At a Shabbat dinner days later, the Bendat-Appell and Yildirim children played happily together while the adults got to know one another. They reunited several times in the months that followed, often bringing friends along to share the experience. While the adults occasionally compare notes on how biblical stories are told in each of their religions, most of their bonding is just about normal, every day topics: where they work, what the kids are doing, what ingredients are in the delicious meals they share.

The parents say they never delve too much into the details of why the families get together, because the children aren’t looking for an explanation.

On Sunday, after a quick exchange of hellos, the Yildirim children tossed off their coats and immediately ran into a playroom, where Adin, now 10, schooled the others on the rules of a game of dreidel. It didn’t take long before all the children were munching on chocolates and spinning the dreidel in hopes of it landing on the Hebrew symbol for “take it all.”

“They don’t see the other children as a label,” said Amy Yildirim. “It’s just their friends. I think that’s great.”

The Bendat-Appells and Yildirims say they plan to continue regular get-togethers, bringing in friends and family to expand the relationships whenever possible.

Yael Bendat-Appell said she feels honored that her family members were the ones captured in an image that reminds people of the humanity that continues every day in the world, even when not caught by a camera.

“It’s heartening to know that these things are happening, that people are doing such hard work to build bridges,” she said.