Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Refocus

I've been missing from this blog for a while. I had a series of frustrating experiences and some rejections in new things I've tried to do.

It made me think about what I actually like to do and what I'm maybe actually good at. Being a mother to my three children is certainly one of them. But being a mother can be exhausting and sometimes I just didn't want to sit down and blog about it when the day was done.

But what I have liked without fail for the last thirty years (probably more), is books. Specifically children's books. I'm known as a book nerd and am often asked for book recommendations for kids of lots of different ages. So I started a new blog with a focus on children's books, literacy, reading, and writing. It is something I'm always passionate about, always doing, and always want to talk about.

So if you have kids and want them to read. Or if you like reading kids' books. Come and follow me here:

Tesseract Books

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Edible Playdough (and a Couple More Summer Savers)

Between a very messy exploding homemade playdough incident and the older girls leaving some store bought playdough out and the baby choking on it, a few months ago I declared loudly that we were never doing playdough ever again! And I stuck with it for a while too.

We're coming to the end of summer and Daddy went out of town and we're bored. So I tried something that had always grossed me out a little, but the kids loved it: edible playdough. Rolling stuff around in your hands and then eating it sounded icky to me. But let's be honest, that's how my three-year-old eats most of her food right now anyway, especially bread and muffins. And not only did we not have to worry about the baby picking some up off the floor and eating it, we could give him some to play with.

There are variations on this all over the internet. Microwave 3 large marshmallows and around 2 Tbsp. peanut butter for 10 seconds. Mix them together and slowly add powdered sugar until it forms a dough. (I think I added a little too much and ours turned out a little crumbly, but it still worked.) I tasted it before it got smooshed in kids' hands and it wasn't too bad. I doubled the recipe and it gave both of my girls plenty to play with.

Here's the baby with his playdough. We didn't give him much and he ate most of it. He was pleased to be doing the same activity as his sisters.

The six-year-old made a dinosaur egg in a nest and a footprint. She also made a turtle, a volcano, and a snowman.

The three-year-old cheeseball spent the whole time making a huge cake. She rolls up little balls and smashes them on top of each other until she has a layered cake.

Their hands were greasy at the end, but they had fun and they actually didn't eat that much of it. Plus nothing exploded and no one choked. So I'd call it a success.

We've been doing a couple of other things that have kept us from going too stir crazy inside this summer. We have Wii Zumba games and my girls loves to do it and it gets a lot of energy out. And on the other end of the spectrum, we've been doing Cosmic Kids Yoga videos on YouTube. It's a British lady in full body sweater jumper things and she tells kooky stories with the yoga movements. It gets them moving but also relaxes them.

What are you doing to get through the last days or weeks of summer?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Multiple Choice

Yesterday I let my girls have a picnic in the dark at the end of the hall. Why did I do that?

a) I'm just a super awesome, cool mom.
b) The baby was asleep in the front room and I didn't want them waking him up.
c) The power went out.

Answer: B

But I got the cool points associated with answer A anyway.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Read Aloud Books: The Boxcar Children

When I was young I read so much, that I often got through more than one book a day. Some nights I even waited till everyone was asleep and took a pillow and blanket and made a bed in the bathtub and read for hours. (I never had my own room so I couldn't just keep a light on in the bedroom.)

One of my favorites was The Boxcar Children. I read all 19 originals and many more in the series that now has 130 books. My favorite was the first one. I liked to imagine that I would be as resourceful and independent as the Alden children if I found myself parentless.

Today I finished reading the original book aloud to my children. They're watching the movie (yes, there's a movie now) on Netflix. When it's done we're going to compare the book to the movie and my six-year-old, who loves opinion writing, is going to write about which version she likes better and why.

My children seem to love the book as much as I did. I found the Alden children more patronizing that anything this time around. (Oh, please can I hem the tablecloth begs Violet. Oh, Benny! the other three children laugh at Benny's antics. He's five, but acts like a toddler. It is oh so wholesome and the children sound like what an adult would like children to be rather than what they actually are.)

But who am I to deprive my kids of a story I loved, and a potential series with enough books to last them 130 days of reading if any of them end up reading as much as I did?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Unsolicited Parenting Advice

Unsolicited parenting advice is always awesome--especially coming from strangers.

One that stands out in my mind is a young woman who worked at a store in the mall telling me my baby's cry meant she was hungry--she had learned what different baby cries meant on Oprah. What made it really awesome is that I knew what my own child's cry meant without having ever watched Oprah. But for some reason I thought I'd try to finish buying my stuff before I whipped out a boob to feed her.

But really, the best unsolicited parenting advice my husband and I have ever received was last night. While checking out at a store (why does it always happen at the check out counter?), my almost one year old was chewing on the bag of bread. A couple behind us told my husband that the best way to stop kids from biting stuff was to rub the inside of their cheeks with some bourbon.

Yeah...because we're going to go right home and try that one out. I could not make stuff like that up if I tried. People telling me that my baby is hungry makes me want to punch them. But advice that involves putting alcohol in a baby's mouth is so ridiculous that I actually can laugh at it.

What's the best unsolicited parenting advice you've ever received?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dear Dog "Parent"

Dear Dog "Parent,"

My Facebook newsfeed was recently drenched with pictures of your dog and words of your worry because of her scary surgery. She got spayed.

I acknowledge that each person's worries and fears and problems are real for them. But it is hard to care much when between pictures of your dog is a picture of a three-year-old boy I know who is fighting a rare childhood cancer. He has climbed up a sculpture and is about to jump down into his dad's arms. He is getting a chance to play before he is hooked up to IVs again; before another blood transfusion that will hopefully bring his white blood cell count up high enough for him to undergo another surgery to remove another tumor.

Admittedly, that picture puts my own worries into perspective as well. But forgive me if I say a prayer for that boy instead of your dog.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Summer 2015 List

Our summer break starts next week! With my first child exiting Kindergarten, we can all really use the break. The two little ones and I can use a break from the car line and the oldest is excited to spend more time with family. The month of June is going to be really exciting with a visit from an aunt and two cousins and then later from Grandma and Grandpa.

As always, I've made a list of fun things to do. But this summer we need to make a conscious effort to keep up with reading, writing, and math for our soon to be first grader. I'm new at that--any suggestions?

Here's my list of summer fun for our family:

Super Fun Days
The Beach
Downtown Disney
The Gulf Coast
Orlando Science Center
The Zoo
Mini Golf

Closer to Home Fun
Family Bike Ride
Picnic at the Park
Splash Pad
Swimming Pool
Farmer’s Market

Playing Outside
Run Through the Sprinklers
Play with Water Table
Water Balloons
Hula Hoops
Sidewalk Chalk
Blow Bubbles

Rainy Days
Mosaic Art (w/ torn up paper)
Learn about Sea Animals
Write Letters
Pillow Fort and a Movie
Dance in the Rain

Summer Foods
Homemade Icees
Pizza on the Grill
Homemade Ice Cream
Jello Popsicles

Summer Learning
Sea Animals
Florida Animals
Thunder and Lightning
Learn to Tell Time

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day

I know that Mother's Day can be a sensitive time for some people. Women who want to be mothers but can't be. Children, no matter their age, who have lost their mother or whose mothers are not part of their life for whatever reason. Mothers who feel guilty for not being as good a mother as they wanted to be.

Not everyone who wants to be a mother can be. And not everyone has the kind of relationship they want to have with their mother. But I do believe that Mother's Day can be a celebration of all women. A mother is someone who loves, cares for, and nurtures. And though my own mother takes the top spot, many other women have loved, cared for, and nurtured me through the years.

My mother bore me, raised me, taught me, and has always loved me no matter what.

Many of my aunts have given me that extra long hug when I needed it and been there for me to talk to through my childhood and my adulthood.

My sisters have listened to me and helped me through the experience of being a mother myself. I can't imagine that journey without them.

My good friends have been listened to me, laughed and cried with me, and watched out for me for many years.

My husband's mother and grandmothers have been amazing grandmothers to my children.

And for that mom guilt, this is my favorite quote about motherhood.

"There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. ... What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply." - M. Russell Ballard

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week. And I don't really appreciate my child's teacher. Nothing so bad has ever happened that I've considered having her changed to another class (mostly because I think that would be harder on my child than just staying in the class she's in).

There's been nothing really big--just lots of little things that have frustrated me. The teacher is not great at communicating with me. I ask direct questions and get responses that don't even acknowledge the questions. When my daughter pretends to read to a class of kids, she yells at her fake audience to calm down and that everyone will get a chance to see the picture and if you don't sit down you're going to have to move your color! (Their color is the system of showing their behavior that day.) Last week my daughter came home without a homework packet. I e-mailed the teacher to tell her and asked her to put one in my daughter's folder the next day. The teacher e-mailed back that she most definitely put a homework packet in the folder. Ummm... So mistakes happen, things get overlooked, I wasn't the least bit upset about it being forgotten. Until I felt we were being accused of losing it. How about a simple, "I'm sorry. I wonder what happened to it? I'll be sure to give her a new one tomorrow."

Anyway. Just lots of little things over the course of a school year.

Now regardless of my feelings about them personally, teachers have a hard job. They do something I would never attempt. They don't get paid enough. But whatever happened to a reminder about Teacher Appreciation Week and letting each parent/child decide how they want to celebrate their teacher? Why isn't a homemade card from my child enough? And even if you make some suggestions, having a certain thing we're supposed to do each day creates anxiety in a Kindergartener if she's not doing the same thing as everyone else. Is this a way to help us feel better about the fact that teacher's don't get paid enough?

I'm not buying a plant or flower for her teacher. And honestly, does she want 18 plants on her desk on Thursday?

My daughter will fill out the My Teacher is a Star Because... paper. She can wear blue on Friday. And I'll do her teacher another favor by waiting until after Teacher Appreciation Week to send back my honest teacher evaluation that she asked for. (Which she claims is anonymous but how can it be if my options are sending it in my child's folder or e-mailing it back?)

I look at this list as Mother's Day approaches and I'm thinking we need to change it to Mother's Week. Because let's be honest, teacher's are great, even the so-so ones like my daughter's do a lot of work. But mothers do a lot more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Break at Home

My daughter asked me what season came next and I  told her summer. It's already so hot here in Florida that I completely forgot about spring. It's still happening on the calendar and spring break is coming up. As usual, we're staying home for spring break. But I want to try to make it fun for the kids and to keep my sanity (and the TV off). So I have a flexible plan for outings and fun things we'll do over the break. The students get this Friday off plus all of next week, so I have six days to fill with something besides our normal daily schedule (which the Kindergartener declares is "boring!" every time she hears what we did while she was at school).

Day One: Summer clothes shopping!
Okay, the exclamation point might be a bit much. The kids will kind of like doing it because they get to look at all the toys at the consignment shop while I find clothes for them. And I'll have fun up until the point that the baby is no longer happy in the stroller. So after a morning spent shopping, we'll all be good for some downtime in the afternoon.

Day Two: Library, Read-a-Thon, and Movie Night
In the morning we'll go to the library and fill up on new books and movies. In the afternoon we'll throw out all the pillows and blankets on the family room floor and read our new books. Do they have read-a-thons in school anymore? I think some Twizzlers will be necessary. Since we'll all be lounging around anyway, that will be a good night for a movie.

Day Three: Splash Pad Day
We'll tell friends that we're going to be there, but with or without them, we'll be there. When we come home, Mom will be exhausted even if no one else is, so we'll relax in the afternoon.

Day Four: Orlando Science Museum
We have a year pass so it's free--minus the stress of the drive of downtown and parking our van in the parking garage. The girl's could spend all day there, so we'll stay as long as the baby will let us.

Day Five: Cooking Day
The girls want to make homemade peanut butter. I want to try lemonade slushies. It will be good to have a day at home after a day at the museum.

Day Six: Picnic at the Park
We have a park close by. I hardly ever take the kids alone (it's too hot and crowded by the time school gets out). A simple picnic will make this outing seem extra fun--especially if juice boxes are involved.

Ideas for the rest of the time:
Play games
Play with toys (what a crazy idea)
Color or paint
Water table outside (and invite new neighbor girl)
Sidewalk chalk
Make new playdough
Mosaic art

Am I the only one who has to plan out school breaks or risk turning my kids into TV zombies?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Outfits and Independence

I was recently part of a conversation with other mothers about whether or not to let your children choose their own outfits. Most people agreed that if they saw a child wearing a strange outfit they just assumed they chose it themselves and thought it was cute. But when it came to letting their own kids go around like that, they worried about people judging them as a mother. One brought up a good point that her son has no sense of what goes together and frankly doesn't care, but she guides what he wears to avoid one more reason for kids in his class to make fun of him.

My three-year-old loves picking her own outfits. Her whole life is a game of dress up. I think her philosophy is that if she likes it, it goes with anything else she likes. And an outfit like the one below draws smiles now, but I probably would discourage something like this in a few years when she's going to school.

The conversation made me think about how little my daughters know about fashion because of how little I know. I thought they weren't influenced by me because I had no fashion to influence on them. And then my Kindergartener chose her tie dye school shirt and wanted to tie it up with a hair elastic. All she's missing is stirrup pants. (And to be super cool, she should be wearing two different socks on each foot.) I've heard the 80s are happening again (or happened, am I too late?).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tiny Monsters

What do you see in this picture? Beauty or terror?

For my three-year-old, walking through a butterfly rainforest was terrifying. Anything that moved scared her. Instead of being awed by the colors, she screamed at every butterfly she saw, certain that it was going to hurt her. No amount of reasoning or soothing could convince her otherwise. She finished our brief time in the exhibit in Daddy's arms, squeezing her eyes closed and hiding her face in his shoulder. Which was probably good because we passed a small dog on the lap of an old man in a motorized wheelchair at the end. And we all know how terrifying lap dogs are.

Wait, you didn't know that? In her world, they are. She ran away from a stone turtle on someone's lawn till she realized it was "just pretend." The huge T-Rex skeleton? Cool. Butterflies? Terrifying. She's also very afraid of monsters and wakes up screaming some nights because of monsters (aka shadows on the wall). I've tried telling her that there are no such thing as monsters.

Then one morning she told me that the night before she found tiny monsters on her pillow--so she smashed them! It's made me think. Should I stop trying to convince her that monsters aren't real? Because to her they absolutely are. That strange shadow on the wall at night is without a doubt a monster. And in a different guise, there are monsters that she will face in the world. Maybe it would work better to help her believe that she can beat the monsters in her life. If you see a monster, you face it, you smash it, because you are brave and you are stronger than the monsters you will face, both real and imagined.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Dear Storytime Librarian,

It is possible to read a story and carry your voice so a group of kids can hear you without using a high-pitched nasally half scream that terrifies my baby. I'd love to keep bringing my kids to storytime, but I don't want to scare my baby every week.

Thank you,
Concerned Mom

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Some Favorite Picture Books

To get kids excited about reading, it helps to have books they love. Here's a list of some favorites around our house.

Anything by Mo Willems. If you don't know who Knuffle Bunny is, if you're not friends with Elephant and Piggie, and if you've never had to stop the Pigeon from driving the bus, you're missing out. We love everything by Mo Willems. We always stop at his spot on the library shelf to see if there's anything new by him--or old favorites. A less known Mo Willems that my girls love is Leonardo the Terrible Monster.

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently is a charming story about a boy who fights off dragons with his brother and friend. One of my girls has chosen this book every single night since we got it from the library.

Press Here by Herve Tullet was another favorite library find. Press the button and fun things happen with the dots on the page. I was surprised at how much my five year old loved reading and playing with this book. In an age where she's familiar with tablets and things really do change with the touch of a button, she had fun imagining along with this book.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. This book is best read by daddy with lots of enthusiasm. When she was only two, my daughter could recite this book along with him.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is my favorite picture book ever. My boy will be Max for Halloween some year.

Other books my kids love:

Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Snowy Day by Ezra Zack Keats
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin
No, David! by David Shannon
Robert Munsch books
Look and Find books

What are some of your family's favorite picture books?

Monday, January 26, 2015

7 Tips for Raising a Reader

About a quarter of American adults don't read a single book in a year (statistic found here). My mom had six children--every single one of us are readers. We have very different reading tastes and some of us read more than others. I was the biggest book nerd and the one that went on to get a college degree in reading books (also known as an English major). But 100% of us read books as adults. That's no accident.

So how do you raise a reader? Some kids are drawn to books. I pretended to read before I learned how to read. As a child I would literally stay up for hours reading books under the covers. But for those who aren't, here are some things I've learned from how my mom raised me and how I'm raising my kids.

1. Own books. Your kids won't read much if there aren't books around. Books can be expensive, but they don't have to be. Yard sales, thrift stores, and library sales are a great place to find books for a dollar or two, often less for kids' books.

2. Let your kids touch the books. I certainly have books that are more expensive and that I keep up high, but for the most part, I let my kids handle books--even my books. Teach them from an early age how to treat books, but don't make books off limits for little hands. Of course, you should wait until they're old enough to know not to try to eat the book, but other than that, let them at it.

3. Read aloud to them. Read to babies, toddlers, and school aged kids. Read books as a family. My mom did this one really well--most days we sat together through a chapter of Little House on the Prairie or some other family-friendly classic. Once, my dad read a book to the family. Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series to my oldest daughter before she turned two.

4. Give books as gifts. In the months leading up to Christmas, I look for books on sale or nice used books. Each child gets a stack of new books for Christmas. A present is exciting.

5. Visit the library. Even better than cheap, library books are free. Story times can be fun, but we go for the books. I let my girls browse the shelves and pick out things that appeal to them. I also look for things I think they'll enjoy. My oldest has recently discovered (by going to school) that some people speak a different language, so I found a book that has lots of different ways to say hello.

6. Create a reading space. We read everywhere, but we have a reading room (we're lucky now, but it can be a corner or a nook--once our books were at the end of the hall). In this same vein, create certain times for reading. Besides reading throughout the day, each girl gets to choose a book to have read to them before bedtime.

7. And last of all--READ. As in you, the parent. You don't have to read as much as I do, but don't be that statistic. Not everyone loves fiction, but find a topic that interests you, that will help you in your career or hobby. Read how to books, read magazines, read cookbooks, read newspapers. My dad was not a big reader, but he loved his Louis L'Amour and even though that's not my usual style, I read every single one he had while I was growing up. I cherish two Louis L'Amour books I have from his collection. Let your kids see you reading and talk about what you read.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Table Manners

We've been working on getting our children to say please and thank you more. So my husband has been saying, "Thank you for this awesome dinner you made, Mommy!" at dinner. I've tried to remember to thank him and the children for any help they did in getting dinner on the table.

It started catching on! All on her own, tonight my five year old said:

"Thank you for the awesome dinner, Mommy. I mean, it's not really that cool of a dinner, you know, but..."

Time to work on tact.

P.S. It was pasta salad. So it was not the most awesome dinner, but it was dinner. And her definition of an awesome dinner would actually be hot dogs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Paper Towns

I read Paper Towns because I've read John Green before. I like picking up books without knowing what they're about. And I loved the cover. Even though some of his other books are set in Florida, I was surprised to find that this one is set in Orlando and included many places I'm familiar with.

On the surface it's typical John Green fare--geeky high school boy is in love with hot, slightly crazy girl who does off the wall things and thus drives normal boy crazy. But I liked how the book reflected on how we see each other, how we construct other people to be who we want them to be.

On a road trip the characters play a game where they look in the cars around them on the highway and make up stories about the people inside them. Then one of the character says that the stories they make up tell you more about the storyteller than about the person in the other car. How we see others reflects who we are.

It reminded me a little bit of my daughter asking me who my mom was. I told her it was her grandma--I thought she already knew that. But she persisted, "No. Who was your mom when you were a little girl?" Grandma was grandma to her. And she could see her as her mom's mom, but couldn't imagine that she had once been a mom of young kids.

I do recommend this book, but fair warning--it is like hanging out with teenage boys and thus there is some crude talk. This is also the second book I've read in just the past few weeks that is being turned into a movie without me knowing that when I started it. So if you're going to see the movie, definitely read the book first.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Best Books of 2014

Ten minutes before midnight on December 31, 2014, I finished reading my 50th book of the year. I haven't read that many books since 2011. I didn't think I was going to make it, but the fireworks and music from other people's parties kept the baby awake, so I had time to read. Yes, I'm super cool.

Here are some of my favorite books from the year.

Best Read:
All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
I read this for book club and had no idea what to expect. It was excellent and surprising. I highly recommend it. (I tried reading another Julie Berry book and couldn't get into it. I don't know if this one is way better than her other work or if I was unfortunate enough to pick one that isn't as good as her others.)

Best Reread:
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
I chose this for book club and enjoyed it again. I like Shannon Hale and I maintain that this is her best work.

Best Fairy Tale Retelling:
The Girls at the Kingfisher's Club by Genevieve Valentine
I love retellings of classic stories and fairy tales. But it's not often that I come across one as original as this one. Twelve Dancing Princesses makes 1920s speakeasies.

Best Older YA Read:
Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez
A fun thriller with some excellent writing.

Best Younger YA Read:
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
A father goes out to get milk for his kids' cereal and comes back with a silly story of what took him so long. I read this on my own, but look forward to reading it aloud to my kids sometime.

Best Nonfiction:
What If? by Randall Munroe
Scientific answers to ridiculous hypothetical questions. I'm not even that into science and I enjoyed it. I think someone who really enjoys and understands science would appreciate it even more.

Other Books I'd Recommend:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

What were your favorite reads of 2014? I'm always looking for recommendations.