Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

No, no we aren't, but "We're going on a bear hunt," sounds so much cooler than "We're taking a really long car trip."

I have been preparing for this trip for months. We are going to be in the car for many many (many) hours as we drive from Connecticut to Texas. Usually we are flyers. I never worried about flying with babies, toddlers, one kid or two kids (although I have to say that the toddler years were the toughest), and for us the cost usually outweighs the inconvenience of the time it takes to drive somewhere.

But this year we are going several places along our journey, as well as taking our sweet time along the way, so with time not being a big factor, we decided to drive. We will take 2 1/2 days to drive to Terry's grandparents' homes in West Texas and visit with them for a few days, then drive 200 miles or so to meet some friends at a family resort for a few days of R&R (OK-- even a resort vacation with young kids isn't really R&R, but the kids will enjoy it, and we'll enjoy not relaxing with our friends), then driving on to Houston to spend time with my family. We'll be there for 5 days, splitting time between my dad's house and my grandmother's house, and then Terry will fly home to return to work.

Stage two of the journey is just me and the kids. I've never worried about flying alone with the kids, as I've done several times over the years when Terry left early to return to work, but this will be my first extended driving trip with me at the helm. First we'll drive from Houston to Tulsa to visit my sister (and her kids) who moved there last year (with a quick fun stopover visit to my stealth roommate). We'll stay there for 3 nights, and then begin the long x mile trip home, which I'm hoping to make in two very long days. We'll see. If the first day seems long, we'll cut it short and make it a 3-day trip.

MY SURVIVAL KIT (and asking/hoping for suggestions from you):

  1. My laptop. The kids can watch movies or video podcasts from itunes, as well as play computer games.
  2. Books and audiobooks -- of course! I picked up a cassette version of A Wrinkle in Time, read by Madeleine L'Engle, and I can't wait to listen to that. We also have the 4th in the Austin Family Chronicles series (I just reviewed the 2nd--finally--at 5 Minutes for Books HERE), and the Newbery Award winning A Ring of Endless Light. Amanda got a couple of books on CD for herself (she can plug earphones in, and we can still listen to the radio), and we also got some early Beverly Cleary for Kyle.
  3. One of my Facebook friends suggested pipe cleaners, and I think that's a fantastic idea! Quiet and not messy at all.
  4. Another Facebook friend suggested that we google Car Games. I had already thought of coming up with some on my own, but I like the idea of help.
  5. The Scratch and Sketch books might be too messy, but I'm bringing them anyway, because they will also need to be entertained while we are staying with family. However, I'm really looking forward to using the Magnetic Animal Safari Set mentioned in that post. It's really awesome.
  6. Paper, pens, crayons, dot-to-dot -- they're all in my little stash that I've been collecting.
  7. But mostly I'm just praying for patience. Lots of patience and lots of hours of quiet, well-behaved, mild-mannered children (does anyone want to swap out their children who fit that description for my adorable, yet much more energetic and chatty ones?).
It could be fun, right???

Saturday, June 27, 2009

He's Got the Moves

Kyle has got rhythm in his bones. I don't know where he got it, because I can unequivocally state that it's not from his mother, who not only lacks the natural fluid ability to move, but is also inoculated with a fair dose of inhibition that would prevent her from using the moves even if she had them.

With the untimely and surprising death of Micheal Jackson, the music was all over the radio when we were in the car yesterday, and it really set Kyle's head to bobbing.

My friend recommend that we watch the videos online, so here are some of our favorites. I can't embed them (maybe because they are legit -- oh yes, even 2 legit 2 quit -- for another little blast from the past):

Black or White
(an all-star cast, a great message, and some good moves)

Bad (good dancing all the way and of course the MJ trademark "Shamon")

These earlier ones are great tunes that set Kyle's shoulders and hips and feet in motion, but the dancing doesn't really commence until the last minute or so, because of the trend in the early 80's to incorporate a pseudo-movie plot in videos:

Billie Jean
Beat It (who doesn't LOVE that opening rif(f?)
Thriller (yes, it's an 80's pseudo-movie story video, but it's THE 80's pseudo-movie video) -- the music starts around 4:30 if you want to skip to that. I also thought that it was interesting that Michael Jackson put a disclaimer on it saying that "due to his strong personal convictions" he wants to say that the film "in no way endorses a believe in the occult."

Speaking of Thriller, this scene from 13 Going on 30 is fun:



And of course, can you even talk about Micheal Jackson 80's music without thinking of Weird Al?

Fat
Eat It

Thursday, June 25, 2009

HAGS!

HAGS -- anyone? anyone?

A cousin to LYLAS or BFF, I figured out what HAGS meant as I was reading through Amanda's yearbook -- Have a Great Summer. Ah, of course.

Yes, her school year is finally over, after dragging out following a late Labor Day and a week of snow days to make up, and then an odd Swine Flu closure. This week really was the start of summer vacation for us (although this New England weather might still think otherwise -- it was 78 today, but the cool and cloudy weather has persisted despite the official onslaught of summer).

So today they did all the important things like cleaning out their lockers and signing their yearbook. Looking through hers brought me back to when I got mine -- flipping through page by page, looking at everyone's class pictures and rating them -- feeling a flush of victory when I found myself in a candid shot, especially if I didn't look like a dork. I felt that same excitement when I saw Amanda, posing for a shot with her lunch crew, looking absolutely adorable (all of them, but especially Amanda of course).

So, since it's finally here, I feel like I can finally say to all of you:

U R
2 Sweet
2 Be
4 Gotten

HAGS!

LYLAS, Jennifer

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Swine Flu, Mr. Sandman, and Summer Blockbusters

It's been an interesting week.

The Swine Flu

On Sunday, we got a call from the district that Amanda's school was going to be closed on Monday - Wednesday, going back for their last scheduled day on Thursday, because of an increase at the school in reported flu cases (Yes, they're still in school. This week is the makeup for snow days). They can't be sure that it's the Swine Flu, because the test takes a while to come back, from what I understand, but there had been a marked increase in cases. So -- better safe than sorry, plus they hadn't been doing anything for the week before either.

Forgive my insensitivity, but it's kind of cool to be a part of an epidemic. We can say, "We remember when Amanda's school was closed back in 2009 because of the outbreak." Or not. I'm not sure how much this little blip will go down into the annals of history. I think that's because of the good job the department of health has done taking precautions such as this.

Mr. Sandman

Monday morning was thrilled not to set her alarm. I set mine a bit later. I usually wake up a bit earlier, for a number of reasons, but since Amanda wasn't going to be getting up at 6:30am, I set it for 6:00am. At 7:00am, I awoke. No alarm. No AM/PM or volume or power outtage debacle. Nope. I apparently just turned it off, or slept right through it. I can't remember it going off at all. I wouldn't call myself a morning person (because it sounds so chipper and annoying), but the truth is, I guess I am. I don't love waking up, but once I'm up, I'm wide awake and ready to go, and even on the weekends, I usually wake up naturally before 7:00am. So this was odd.

Then Kyle slept until 7:30am, which is also quite unusual (and by unusual, I mean practically unprecedented of late).

I don't know when Amanda woke up, but she likes to sleep in when she can.

Summer Blockbusters

I'm just throwing this last bit in here, because apparently we are a movie family now. I've always loved movies. I love a good story, no matter the form, and I actually enjoy most of the kids' movies too. But because of a busy schedule, and the price, we don't generally frequent the theaters.

But in the last two weeks, we've seen a LOT of movies, and since I like to hear about what's good and what's not worth wasting my time (and money) on*, I thought I'd give a report:
  1. Two weeks ago, our friends took Kyle and me to see Up! Four thumbs up. We all really enjoyed it. Honestly, the first 15 or 20 minutes was a little deep, but it even held Kyle's and William's interest (though if that bit had been at the end, they probably would have been ready to leave).
  2. Last Saturday, we were hoping to do something fun as a family, like hiking. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate, so we decided to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. There were a few d*amn's, but other than that, it was a family-friendly movie. I think that the plot was much stronger in the first one, but I did laugh aloud throughout this one.
  3. This week Monsters Vs. Aliens is showing at our town theater for $2. Since there was no school and Terry was out of town, and the kids were dying to see it, we went on Monday night. I laughed out loud many many times in this one, as did the kids.
  4. Amanda was upset (no pun intended, until now) about missing Up! so Terry mentioned that he might take her this weekend.
We'll see other movies this summer too. I feel like everyone knows about this, but inevitably someone doesn't. Most movie theater chains offer free movies one day a week at about 10:00am throughout the summer. It's worth checking into. Just look at the main site for the theaters near you (I don't think that they are in the listings). For example, here's the info page for AMC theaters (it looks like they are charging a dollar this year, which is still worth it for me).

*Speaking of previewing movies, I always check Plugged In Online for movie reviews. It gives detailed information on language, violence and thematic elements. I love that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Nightstand -- June

I'm going to be away from home on vacation and visiting family for over 2 weeks this month, and then at the end of the month, I'll be making two additional trips -- taking Amanda to camp and picking her up. I often read more than usual on a trip, but since I'll be driving for a good bit of the trip, and keeping a pretty schedule, I'm not sure how much reading I'll do. But a girl can only hope . . . .

I've already started these books:

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner
Start Where You Are by Chris Gardner
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
Eat My Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything by Simon Majumdar (almost finished with this and loving it)
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Hayworth

I hope to be able to get to these:

You'd Be So Pretty If . . .
The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Into the Beautiful North: A Novel
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier -- for Classics Bookclub in August
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) -- Because Amanda's dying to read it, and I want to read it first. We'll take this on our trip, and get a double bang for the book-packing buck.
A Thousand Splendid Suns -- It's loaded up on my Kindle, and I'm taking it with me on my trip, but honestly I have a feeling that it might keep falling to the bottom of the list.

Alternate List:

House of Sand and Fog -- maybe
Free Food for Millionaires -- maybe
The Genie Scheme -- a tween novel -- maybe
The Truth about Truman School -- maybe
Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2) -- maybe

Go see what others are reading around the blogosphere at 5 Minutes for Books' What's on Your Nightstand.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DAD -- Delightful Awesome Dude





Yes, this morning we stood with tradition and took the annual picture of the parent of the day with the kids (and in this case, Terry's FFM, Shadow).

The card that Amanda made for Terry was really sweet. On the front was an acrostic (love the acrostic) saying Delightful Awesome Dude. Since she's growing up and better able to express herself, the inside had some really nice words as well.

Our Father's Day was low-key but I think that we all enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

All the Books Amanda Read This Spring

Amanda (age 10 1/2) also joined in the Spring Reading Thing this year. Here's her report.

My original list had 13 titles, but I couldn't know which books to put on my list. I actually read 29 books.

Ms. Callapidder Days asked some questions, so here are some of my answers.
  • Did you finish reading all the books on your spring reading list? If not, why not?
  • Did you stick to your original goals or did you change your list as you went along?
I changed my list as I went along. Some of the books I wanted to read, I couldn't find at the library. I didn't read all the books on my list, but I read more books than I listed. My mom didn't let me read certain books, because she hadn't read them yet.
  • What was your favorite book that you read this spring? Least favorite? Why?
I liked most of the books I read. I starred * the books that I really liked. I started some books, but didn't finish them if I didn't like them, so they aren't on the list.
  • Did you discover a new author or genre this spring? Did you love them? Not love them?
I discovered Caroline Cooney. I really like her books.
  • What was your favorite thing about the challenge?
I liked seeing how many books I read in the Spring. I know I could've read more.

I didn't make links to the books, but if you want to check them out, you can search amazon.



By Wendy Mass:
*11 Birthdays (2 times)
Mango-Shaped Place

Nutmegs -- state book award
Archer's Quest
*Code Orange (Caroline Cooney)
Pieces of Georgia (aloud with mom)
Year of the Dog
*Double Identity

Others:
*The Moon by Night
Shadows of Diamonds (Caroline Cooney)
*Wanted (Caroline Cooney)
The Incredible Journey
News For Dogs
Violet Raines Got Struck by Lightning
*Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Hotel for Dogs
Savvy
Wings
*Trial by Journal
Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism
Molly Moon Stops the World
Molly Moon's Incredible Time Travel Adventure
*Molly Moon, Micky Minus and the Mind Machine
*Sea Legs
Wolf Brother
Penderwicks on Gardam Street
*Schooled
Eragon
The Wanderer (almost finished)

I also listened to a lot of books. The last couple of weeks, I listened more than I read, because Mom got *The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (the brand-new Percy Jackson book). I also listened to The Chosen One, Chasing Vermeer, and the *Hunger Games.

What I Read This Spring


Whew. I thought that I had a few dry spells this spring, and would have guessed that I didn't read as much as I have during the previous challenges at Callapidder Days. I think that I may be wrong. I think that I may have read the most. I do think that regular reading strengthens my reading muscles, meaning the more I read the faster I can read.

Katrina asked a few questions that we could include in our round-up, and I've addressed a few of them.

Did you stick to your original goals or did you change your list as you went along?

I mostly stuck to it, but I did switch some books out, and I added a lot of books. Part of this is because of my book-reviewing at 5 Minutes for Books. I am offered books that I'd like to read, and I can't wait 3 months to finish other books on my list. I like this flexibility.

My original list had 12 novels. I actually read 15 (linked below to my reviews). I had 3 memoirs on my list, but actually read 5 (reviews below). I had 6 children's/YA books on my list and read 9 (but a different 6). I read more non-fiction than I have in a while. There were 7 on my list (which was ambitious), but I read 10.

What was your favorite book that you read this spring? Least favorite? Why?
Did you discover a new author or genre this spring? Did you love them? Not love them?

I loved all the books I starred below*, but specifically discovered three new fiction authors I will enjoy reading more of: Thrity Umrigar, Katherine Center, and Mahbod Seraji.

As far as genre, for the first time in a long while, I read some crime fiction (The Scarecrow, linked below), and though it had all the elements of a good thriller, I didn't really enjoy it too much. I also started another book in the same genre, but couldn't get into it. I wonder if my reading tastes have changed.

All of the titles below are linked to my review (or in a few cases, the amazon page). A few of them have a giveaway that is still open, if you'd like to enter!

MEMOIR/BIOGRAPHY

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
*The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal
Bittersweet: Lessons from my Mother's Kitchen (I did not care for this book. I reviewed it on amazon, so you can read my review there. Others liked it, so you might still want to check it out)
*Outcasts United
Crazy for the Storm -- Giveaway


FICTION

Cutting for Stone
Things I Want My Daughters to Know
Sea Changes
Life Without Summer
Four Wives
The Great Gatsby
*Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
A Single Thread
Dating Da Vinci
The Spare Wife
*The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
*Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center
Rose House
The Scarecrow -- Giveaway
Maynard & Jennica

NON-FICTION (mostly parenting) -- I was surprised at how much non-fiction I read

Why Women Should Rule the World
Clutter-Free Christianity: What God Really Desires for You
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
What to Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your Child
*Free-Range Kids
Empowering Youth
*Dear Mom: everything your teenaged daughter wants you to Know, but will never tell you
*The Purpose of Boys
Making Work at Home Work
Digitally Daunted -- Giveaway

CHILDREN'S LIT

11 Birthdays
Pieces of Georgia
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
*The Moon by Night
*Uglies
Also Known As Harper
Wings
Dessert First
*The Young Unicorns (reading this aloud with Amanda -- about 2/3 finished)

You can follow me on twitter @jenndon or subscribe to my feed.



Friday, June 19, 2009

Sleepover

Amanda's in 5th grade, and this has been the year of the sleepover party. She's been to at least four this school-year. The mother successfully managed to get them to actually sleep by midnight or so at the first one, but the last three -- not so much.

At Amanda's well-child check-ups her doctor specifically asks about sleepovers. She believes that they should not be a common thing, because sleep deficits cause kids to get sick more easily, and they need good sleep to grow and develop properly, and sleeping doesn't generally occur at sleepovers.

Wednesday night I had a sleepover. My husband was going to be out of town, so I asked two of my friends if they wanted to come over and watch some movies and have some fun. I think that we were all taken back in time to our own junior high days. Our activities were not much different even though many (many) years have passed since our own sleepover days.

6:00pm -- Friends arrive. We compose delicious salad for us, bake frozen pizza for my kids. They eat inside, we eat out on the deck.

7:00pm -- Send my kids to the basement to watch TV and play Wii. We played "Name that Tune" as we scanned through the XM music stations on Direct TV (70's, 80's, 90's, the Blend and Love Songs). Lee watched way too much MTV growing up, and trounced us firmly on this game. We also watched the funny "literal translation" 80's videos that Dawn posted.

8:00pm -- Kyle, 5, joined our singing and dancing efforts, while Amanda, 10, cringed in embarrassment over the behavior of the old people. I don't know if you all know this, but the ONE thing that a mother is not allowed to do is dance. It's true. Try it at home with your tween.

9:00pm -- Since my kids are tucked in bed, it's time to start the movie. We watched Breakfast At Tiffany's which none of us had seen. Audrey Hepburn was gorgeous (as the iconically flighty Holly Golightly) and George Peppard was dreamy.

10:00pm -- Already starting to flag, we make coffee, eat desserts, and prepare Nicole's delicious hot dip.

11:00pm -- Confident that we can do it, we start the second movie, Mamma Mia, which is a perfect late-night chick flick, even though there was a little crying at Slipping Through My Fingers -- again. There was also lots of laughing, ogling (Pierce Brosnan is also quite dreamy), and singing.

1:30am -- We head to bed, but unfortunately Lee has gotten her second wind. So we talk. And laugh. And laugh some more.

3:00am -- Lights out for good.

6:30am -- Morning comes, and since we are moms, not tweens, we have responsibilities. Lee has to go home to help get her kids off to school, and I have to get Amanda off.

8:00am -- Nicole awakens. Even though she has no responsibilities, old age won't allow her to sleep past this time.

9:00am -- Lee returns with Kyle's best buddy, and we all have breakfast.

11:00am -- The party's over.

It was SO fun. If you haven't had a grown-up sleepover, I highly recommend it. I think that Lee and Nicole napped on Thursday. I did not, but I went to sleep at 8:30pm!

I guess it really isn't a proper sleepover without a little sleep deficit. Good thing I'm fully grown, huh?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back in the Groove

I had been feeling a bit out of the reading groove, because I wasn't connecting with the novels I was trying to read. Anyway -- I got over it, and in addition to that, I've posted quite a few reviews over at 5 Minutes for Books that I'd love for you to check out.

There's a lot more that I have finished but need to write up (and then they need to wait in the queue to be published because of my fantastic reviewing team!).

REVIEWS:

Outcasts United
-- an inspiring true story
A few picture books by Jane Yolen
Dating Da Vinci -- light mom lit

GIVEAWAYS:

I Spy A to Z -- a great new book especially for preschoolers
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (plus two other thrillers)
Crazy for the Storm, Start Where You Are & Coop
3 books including Digitally Daunted and Purpose of Boys

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thank You Notes from Kids

I'm horrible at this particular parenting responsibility. Really I am. In my family we never wrote nor expected thank you notes for gifts, so I'm really bad about it, but I do want to train my children in this lost art.

For the first time, I feel like I handled a child's birthday thank you notes quickly, personally, and efficiently. It's been just over 2 weeks since Kyle's party, and almost all the thank you notes went out in the mail this week. Whew.


I composed each thank you note in Word. I typed up what you see. Here's the sample that he was working on when I snapped the picture (also -- GREAT idea for a birthday gift. It's from our good friend, and she offered to take the boys to the movie as the gift. Fun, memorable, and no more toys!):

Dear William,

Thanks for taking me to the Up! movie for my birthday present. It was so funny.


Then I left the whole page that would blank and spaced to the bottom.





We had discussed the sign off, because I usually wrote "Love," or "Thanks again" depending on who it was to, so I asked Kyle how to sign off on his best buddy's, and he came up with this all on his own:


Friends forever we will always be--

____________________________


You got it, he had to sign his name on the blank line, but that was all the writing I made him do. I told him to draw a picture. The picture ideally had the item in question on it, but sometimes he drew a picture of him and his friend, and that was okay too. The picture for this note is in his own words "The movie and the word Up, with four heads: William's mommy, you, me, and William."

Getting thank you notes done? Cheaply, personally, and relatively quickly? That works for me!


Want more ideas from moms who have it more together than I do? Check out Works for Me Wednesday each week at We are THAT Family.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids' Picks: More Poetry & Percy Jackson

Thanks to the Children's Classics -- Poetry roundup, Kyle and I got back on the poetry kick. We're both enjoying it.

When we went to the library last week, we browsed the poetry section, and selected a couple of poetry books out. It was sad, because the librarian said, "Most of those books don't get checked out very often unless someone has a project. And poetry is great. It's so good for kids. Keep reading it." I think that we will.

The one we've really enjoyed is Margaret Wise Brown's Mouse of My Heart (which is apparently out of print). It's illustrated by Loretta Krupinski, and the drawings are amazing. It's mostly poems with a few poetic stories included as well.

Amanda, the reading wonder as mentioned in the Kids' Pick post* over at 5 Minutes for Books, has actually been listening more than reading the last couple of weeks (*Be sure to check out the other participants' recommendations for this month via the comment section).

She enjoys audiobooks, and so I routinely browse that section of the library when I'm there. I saw that The Last Olympian, grabbed it, and asked the librarian, "Isn't this the new one?"

"Yes," she smiled. "I don't think it's even been checked out yet. We just shelved it."

When I gave it to Amanda, I got a huge smile and a tight hug. This latest Rick Riordan book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series just came out, and has of course been in high demand, so she was happy to score a copy in any form. So, when she has downtime, she's bene listening to it instead of reading. She's finished listening to all 10 discs in less than two weeks (with two very busy weekends in the midst). "This book was really good," says my budding critic.


Mom extracts more info asking, "Was it good as an audiobook?" "Mmm-hmmm" she answers in the affirmative. Perhaps I should put the finishing touches on my post at night when she's more alert?

Her friend had a birthday coming up and said she wanted books. Knowing Amanda's love of audiobooks and the novelty of them, I asked her if she listened to audiobooks, and she did, which made Amanda mention that her great mom got the newest Percy Jackson audiobook for her, at which time she found out that Haley had not read any of them.

When we got home, I asked Amanda if she'd like to get her those books. I said, "She read the Harry Potter books, right? Do you think that they are similar -- like if someone liked Harry Potter, they'd like Percy Jackson?"

Her response was immediate, "No, I think that they are just like the best books ever, and everyone would like them. Like who wouldn't like these books?"

Well okay then. I thought that we could maybe get her the first couple of books. I'm not the kind of mom who spends $25 plus on birthday gifts. Many do (as I can see when we receive gifts), but I think that a thoughtful gift that is $10 to $15 is fine. That's why I was SO happy to find this great deal on amazon: The first 3 books in the series, boxed, for under $12! Since Haley's a good friend, we got her the fourth one too, making an excellent gift for her best friend for under $20.

So, I think that I'm safe to say that she's recommending the Percy Jackson series from Rick Riordan if there are any tweens who haven't read them (I haven't read them myself, but I heard from the librarian when the first novel was gaining popularity that it was sort of complex -- language-wise, I think -- and she didn't recommend it for younger kids. I'd say age 10 or 11 and up).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hungry much?

I have a friend who likes food a bit (the fact that she's tall and thin in spite of this love of food could be irksome, but I'll skip over that tidbit). When I say that she likes food, I mean she likes to eat food, yes, but she likes to look at food on websites, in cooking magazines, and online. She also likes to talk about food. At least once a week when we are chatting on the phone, she'll ask "What are you making for dinner?" or tell me about a fantastic dish that she cooked or ate at a restaurant.

She shares her love of cooking with her kids, and in fact her daughter was recently a finalist in a recipe contest.

So, she did what any reasonable person would do -- she started a blog.

She posts at least once a week (not too much to overwhelm you, but enough to keep you interested). Lately she's been writing about using up the bounty from her garden, and knowing that she has a sweet tooth and one daughter in particular who has the urge to bake, I'm sure that there will always be sweets there as well (and remember, we've decided not to hate her because she likes baked goods and is thin).

So please let me introduce to you: foodie plus 4.

Go over and read a few of her posts. New bloggers (well ALL bloggers) love comments, so if you like what you see let her know. Then bookmark her site or subscribe to her feed and go back again and again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't Say It. . . .

Amanda, my fifth-grade daughter, does not enjoy math. She thinks it's hard. With some of the "new math" that we have to do as homework, sometimes it feels hard to me. I know how to do division, but the boxes method? And let's not even talk about the different ways she's taught to understand how to sum fractions. I know my way to do it, but when they are learning a new technique, they have to at least try it out, which leaves me rather unhelpful as I try to decipher the process.

I recently learned, while attending a very informative event for PBS Parents, that studies have shown that while parents are careful to always encourage their reluctant readers -- even if they were (or are) reluctant readers themselves -- the same is not true for math.

Parents state these words much more freely: “Math is hard,” or “I didn’t like math either.” We say it, and they hear it. It validates their struggle, and they lose their motivation to overcome that which is difficult for them.

Uh-oh — guilty.

Keep reading the rest of my post at 5 Minutes for Mom. . . .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

A few random thoughts that can't fill a whole post:

  1. This is the first day of Kyle's summer. The first Wednesday that he hasn't had school. To celebrate, he's played lots of Wii, some computer, and watched TV. And he's pajama'd.
  2. I am wearing the mom equivalent of pajamas -- a long sleeved T-shirt (because for the second day in a row it's cool and cloudy), track pants and slippers. I've celebrated by working on some book reviews that aren't coming along so well for some reason, chatting on the phone, and decluttering a giant dump zone.
  3. Also -- getting my bathroom ready for the remodel. Yes, the one week break in between doing the kids' bath and the powder room and our bathroom turned into more than a month. Should I be surprised? But I think I'm ready, and I think that I'm going to be happy with the results. And if not, I'll at least be happy it's done. Demolition should start later this week or on Monday.
  4. When I was at Target recently, I picked up two card games to play with the kids. We finally tried out the first one yesterday. Amanda, Kyle, and I played Slamwich. It's marked six and up, but it looked like newly-turned-five Kyle would be able to play. There's a variation where you take out one of the more complicated steps, and he played just fine. This is a game of speed and reaction, so it should be no surprise that the 10-year-old beat her mother and her little brother. However, Kyle thought it was all hilarious, and laughed and laughed, whether he was winning (never) or losing (pretty much the whole game). I'm looking forward to playing the other one, Scrabble Slam!, with Amanda this afternoon and perhaps even seeing how Kyle's word-making ability progresses this summer.
  5. I'm in a little reading slump lately. I mean, not slumpy as compared to people who don't read. In fact, I've probably read 200 pages in the last 3 days, but it hasn't been very satisfying. I keep switching back and forth between two novels and a memoir, and a non-fiction parenting book (okay Free-Range Kids HAS been hilarious and quite satisfying). I may break down and give myself an hour to get further in the stories, or start yet another book that promises to hold my attention.
What's new with you?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Children's Poetry

I think that I've written about this book before when it was Kyle's "Kids' Pick", but since the Children's Classics topic this month is poetry, I have to post again about this favorite anthology of mine (and Kyle's).

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry is recently published, but in my mind you can't get more "classic" than the authors included here: Bill Martin, Jr., Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Margaret Wise Brown, Mother Goose, Jack Prelutsky and Judith Viorst.

This is such a fun and beautiful book. The bright colors you see on the cover continue throughout the book. The book not only contains wonderful poems, but also great art by Lois Ehlert and Steven Kellogg among others.

Do you like children's poetry? Are there certain poets or anthologies that you'd recommend? Leave a comment with your suggestion (or a link to your post) over at the 5 Minutes for Books' Children's Classic carnival today.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Kyle had his preschool graduation ceremony today, and there was a slide show at the end with pictures of the kids throughout the year. At the end it said, "College graduating class of 2026," and that really hit me.

It's hard saying goodbye to the teachers who have played such a big role in his life the last two years.



Because the school is right in the middle of 3 different school districts (which each have different elementary schools), the children there will be going to at least six different Kindergartens. I find it hard to say goodbye to the parents as well, who have watched Kyle grow up, and whose children we have watched grow up.

I'm sure that we'll keep in touch with a few, and I'm hoping to organize a few park playdates this summer, but things will never be the same.

In related sibling news, Amanda's soccer team placed first in the tournament this weekend. In this age of "everyone gets a medal," this one actually says "Champion," so they are extra proud.



We had four games over Saturday and Sunday, and thankfully beautiful weather to enjoy while we were watching. Amanda scored a goal, and made a save as goalie, so she did her part. Amanda has been fortunate to have the same coach for the last four years. His daughter is on her team, and he's coached each year. He's obviously coached them to their full potential (not only did they place first in the tournament, but they were undefeated for the tournament and for the whole season) -- but what's more, he's done so in a caring and supportive way -- helping them to be competitive, yet acknowledging their limits, and accepting each girl for her own ability.




Unfortunately, it appears that we are saying goodbye to this coach and this team as well. Several of the girls will be on the competitive travel team, including the coach's daughter, so he will be moving on to other things. And again, it's hard to say goodbye to the coach with whom we've been pleased, but also to the girls and the parents who have stayed together for the most part over the years.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

In the Stacks

That phrase brings back memories. I didn't hang out in my college library all that much, but there really were densely packed, rarely viewed stacks and stacks of books.

Bookstore stacks are a little better -- not tall and closed in, but shorter, brighter (except for in the uber-awesome Powell's City of Books in Portland, which did feel similar to library stacks, but I still loved).

Most of my book browsing is done online these days, either at amazon.com or as I peruse my fellow booklovers' blogs.

Here are my recent reviews that posted at 5 Minutes for Books (and not so recent, as it seems it's once-again been a few weeks since I've posted):
  • Please don't miss my review of Rooftops of Tehran. It's one of my favorite reads of the year. There's a guest post going up Sunday from the author as well that will give even more insight into the lovely story and the intriguing author.
  • We did a podcast with author Katherine Center, and it's my favorite podcast yet. Even if you haven't read Everyone is Beautiful, if you want insight into how an author writes, or if you wonder about the role of women/mothers, please listen.
  • The Chosen One audiobook was excellent. Amanda just enjoyed it as well. It's a great YA book, but also an excellent selection for adults. I loved this book (you can win one of 3 copies in our Summer Fun Giveaway too).

Other Giveaways to Enter:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

15 in 15

I've participated in Booking Through Thursday a time or two, but I saw Carrie's post for this week, and I had to jump in as well:

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

Since it's supposed to be quick, I won't take the time to find links. I like links, because I always want to check out books that people mention. But you can open amazon.com in a new window and then search if you'd like.

Starting my 15 minutes now at 3:25 -- no particular order:

  1. My Own Country by Abraham Verghese
  2. The Color Code (nutrition)
  3. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
  4. The Kite Runner by Kholeid Hosseni
  5. Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss
  6. Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel
  7. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (I really enjoyed it and it renewed my love for reading children's lit)
  8. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  9. Every Mother is a Daughter by Perri and Sheila Klass
  10. Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond
  11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  12. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards (from childhood and sharing with my own children)
  13. the Little House books (from childhood)
  14. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
That was only 10 minutes, but since it was supposed to be quick, I'm not going to keep thinking. This is a pretty good representation I think of books that I really enjoy or end up recommending to people over and over again.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Group Party



In Kyle's preschool, there are three of them with birthdays in a 5 day period. Last year, Kyle's party was one weekend, and the two other boys each had one the next weekend. That's a lot of partying. So, this year we were trying to coordinate, and one of the moms stated her envy about our great location -- the town park where I had it last year and planned to have it again this year. The subject came up about doing all three of them together, and inviting the whole (large) preschool class as a sort of end-of-school bash.

At first I wondered if it would be like a dreaded group project -- you know, where someone slacked (they might be saying that about me, actually), someone was too exuberant wanting to meet-up all the time, and someone else micro-managed.

In actuality, it was totally great. There was a big crowd. About 25 kids came, plus some of their siblings and parents. It was a real blow-out. The weather was great, and with a division of labor, it really wasn't too much work at all.

We knew that each birthday boy would want his own cake (pictured above). I made Kyle's. I may have read about this way to make a Lego cake somewhere long ago, but I was basically winging it. I used 2 boxes of cake mix, poured about an inch or two of batter in 3 different loaf pans, and made a tray of mini muffins. Then we frosted the loves, and frosted the mini-muffins, and put them on top. Kyle's one request was that the cake had sprinkles, so I added some blue sugar crystals, stacked them somewhat precariously, and there you have it. It was a big hit.


Because there are 24 kids in the class and each birthday boy invited a few other guests, we split the list up. In each invitation we put in a note, "You can honor all three birthday boys by bringing a gift for ___________." A few people brought gifts for all three, but they probably would have attended all three anyway.

My house is now overrun with all manner of five-year-old boy toys, and he was thrilled to receive all of them: lots of K'nex car-building sets (are Legos totally out??), moon sand, a neat magnetic atlas book, a Playmobil set, tinker toys, a fun phonics game, some cute little Mario Kart cars, Hot Wheels and more.



We got him a bike. It's about time. Amanda wanted me to tell you that he totally ignores it and doesn't ride it and only wants to play Wii, but I'm giving him some more time.

Everyone is Beautiful bookclub

This is the first time we've done a contemporary novel as opposed to a classic, and there are some exciting things going on -- a tweet-up, some prizes and more. Check out the main post at 5 Minutes for Books for more info.

I enjoyed Katherine Center's novel Everyone Is Beautiful. As Dawn described in her original review, I did finish it quickly. The story really pulled me along. I laughed, I welled up with emotion -- it was great.

I wanted to address two of the questions below, as suggested by Dawn. I'll just use them as a jumping off point:

  1. How did you relate to Lanie's character? Beyond just the mom/young children connections, did you feel any type of kinship with her?

  2. What did you think about Lanie's pursuit of a new definition of herself, with her workout routine and photography interest? Is there something you'd love to pursue in your own life?
I am not sure how much I related to Lanie's character, but I related to her situation, and I admired her resolve to get out of her situation. Let me amend that: I related to a couple of her situations.

Lanie moves from Texas to Boston, and almost five years ago, I moved from Texas to Connecticut. Like Lanie, there were things that I missed about "home," but I was also determined to make it work. I think that my situation was a little better, because we moved into a little home on a beautiful piece of property, so that I would sit out on my front porch, gazing out at the lush trees, and think "This is my house? I really live here?"

In my front yard in Houston, there was no place to sit, and who wants to sit outside in Houston anyway? If I looked out the windows of my foyer, I'd see a not-always-so-well-manicured lawn, some oak trees that the builder had planted (which had actually grown a surprising amount), and lots of white concrete -- the driveway crossing over the sidewalks and flowing into the concrete street. I could sit on my back deck and gaze at the pool, or take a dip, which I did enjoy, but I enjoyed the change to a more rural Connecticut (just as Lanie enjoyed living and walking within the city streets of Boston).

The second situation that I related to was needing to have her own thing, her own time. But in this, we are most different. For one thing, I only had one child for 5 1/2 years. When Kyle came along, Amanda was practically grown. I was never lost and mired in that 3 under 5 situation. I also knew, instinctively perhaps, that I had to have "my own thing." Unlike Lanie, I didn't really find or need a specific talent, as she found with her photography. I just needed time. I was home full-time with a new baby, and I had a supportive husband who encouraged me to meet with my monthly neighborhood book club, my monthly scrapbooking group, to attend an evening Bible Study once a week. Those were all "my things," and I knew that I needed them.

For Lanie, for whatever reason (perhaps the fact that it took sheer focus to simply survive the 3 under 5 situation), she got lost. Or perhaps she had been involved in something other than motherhood in her "old life" in Houston, but the move was a shock to her.

One thing that I loved about this novel, is that Katherine Center just got people. That's what was beautiful to me about the novel. So, also per the discussion questions, I have a question for Katherine, that I hope to ask her either on the conference call or the tweet-up: "Is there a way in which the experience of motherhood is the same for everyone? Or is everyone's experience different?" In the novel, we really only explore two moms, Lanie and her wealthy mom-to-an-only-child friend Amanda. I thought that they were quite different, so I'd like to explore that a bit more. I think that would be a good topic to discuss on the tweet-up on Wednesday night at 10pm Eastern.

It also leads to thoughts in my head about fatherhood, or husbandry (not animal care, but you know, the act of being husband). Nelson, Lanie's husband Peter, Lanie's father, and Amanda's husband Grey. Now that I think about it, I think that she said a lot about the male role in all of this.

If you have questions about Twitter, let me know. Anyone can do it!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Read Together -- June



So, are you reading together? Feel free to add a link within the comment sections, or give us a little report or set a new goal.

For us, we are doing well, I think. It seems that Amanda and I have managed to squeeze in time to read a book aloud. It happens most consistently for 15 - 20 minutes in the morning, but there are other times when we read a few pages. A few weeks ago, we started The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle. We're just going to keep plugging along. I'd like to finish it this month, and I think that we will. I don't have another book in mind, and I'm not sure that we'll start one, because we leave July 3 for a two-week long trip** to Texas. I do plan to listen to some audiobooks**.

I might make her join in with Kyle and me on the Little House books. She stubbornly continues to insist that she doesn't like those books, but I think that she would enjoy the later ones (which aren't the ones I'm reading to Kyle anyway). But Kyle and I enjoying Little House in the Big Woods anyway. We sort of stalled the last couple of weeks (and it's not because of what he learned), but I want to pick it back up again.

**Speaking of trips -- I just posted a review for a great couple of activity sets from Peter Pauper Press over at 5 Minutes for Books. Enter to win a Scratch and Sketch book of your choice.

**And speaking of audiobooks, Amanda is listening to The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, which I just listened to a couple of weeks ago, so we are "reading" that together as well. We'll be giving away 3 copies of that audiobook later this week at 5 Minutes for Books, so keep your eye on all of our Summer Fun Giveaways.