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Is What You’re Doing Making You Happy?

By August 16, 2017 About me, Advice, General

A lot of people ask: Are you doing what makes you happy? But I wonder if we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe we should ask: Is what you’re doing making you happy?  I don’t mean your job or career.  Sure, there’s value in doing something that you find rewarding.  But I’m talking about your general mentality in life.

When I was younger; just starting out on my own, a lot of people said I had an attitude problem. That made me so mad! But they were right. I just couldn’t see it.

The problem wasn’t my “personality” – it was how I came off to others. I had been surrounded by so much negativity for so long that it had become my “normal”.  My mother and step-monster were slowly smothering me with poison and I didn’t even know it. I was the proverbial frog in hot water.

Are you surrounded by negative people? We call them “toxic” these days.

One thing that we should all recognize about toxic people is that they have chosen to be like that. My mother wasn’t always a pit of negativity. Life dealt her some tough cards and she decided to flip the table and have a tantrum. For 30 plus years. And still going. I fully believe that these kinds of people are also aware of their weight on others – but that’s another post…

I decided to follow a different path.

When I was in college, I met a girl who was always bubbly and happy.  She practically giggled her words out.  When I moved away after a few years, I decided that I wanted to be like that girl.  I wanted other people to enjoy being around me.

So first – I had to change how I talked.  Even about something as mundane as the weather.  It seems silly to tell our children that they’re “not allowed” to use words like “hate”, but I think we should teach them that it is a very strong and very dark word and it should be used sparingly.  As a young adult, I had to almost completely strike it from my vocabulary.  I had to tell my point of view from a different angle.

Instead of saying, “I hate winter!” I learned to say, “I prefer summer.”  Instead of saying, “The service was terrible.” I began to say things like, “I wish the service was a little better.”  Instead of saying, “The food was bad.” I changed to, “I didn’t care for what I ordered.”

In changing how I said things, I also began to change my mindset.  I started to consciously choose happiness.  I would choose to smile…to greet others with a smile and a kind word.

Additionally, I began to put the negativity into perspective.  I remembered how lonely I had been when my children were young.  How starved for adult companionship I had been.  Sometimes, the store cashier was the only adult I talked to all day.  So I began to make a point to be as nice as I can to everyone.

Unfortunately, everyone didn’t learn this message.  My mother is a toxic person.  She chooses to think, feel and say negative things and counters them with, “I’m not a nice person,” as if it’s a joke.  Maybe long ago it really wasn’t how she actually felt.  But by years of embracing that pessimism, she has become bitter and sad and lonely.

So the decision for how to deal with this falls to me.  I don’t have to buy-into her toxicity.  I can walk away or otherwise distance myself from it.  Because she is my mother and because she has chosen to allow alcohol to blur her sensibility; I have chosen to love her anyway – while keeping her gloom in perspective and at an arm’s length.

My mother lives about 1,400 miles from me.  In order to preserve the relationship between us, I call her most days after work, Monday through Friday.  If I feel like I just can’t handle the sadness and disparity, I can either not call or make an excuse to keep the conversation short.

Now – a couple of notes –

Note #1 – Did you notice how I said she had chosen to allow alcohol to blur her sensibilities.  That’s not an accident – a typo or a slip – that is 100% how I feel.  She didn’t go to a doctor one time and come home with the diagnosis of alcoholic.  People who get cancer don’t come home as cancer-holics.  And they don’t keep feeding the cancer cells because they “just can’t stop”.

Cancer isn’t a choice.  Alcoholism is.

Note #2 – Did you catch the line about giving an excuse to get off the phone?  I’m not above lying.  It’s for my own mental health and self-preservation.  To that end, I have come to understand and remember the following rules:

  1. It’s all about her.
  2. Don’t mention friends.
    • This will lead to a tangent that includes how it “must be nice” because she “doesn’t have any”
    • It may even lead to a conversation about her only friend who died
  3. Don’t mention fun things
    • This will lead to a conversation about how she never gets to do anything
  4. Never mention that you have hurt yourself, broken something, gotten an incorrect doctor bill, gotten a high doctor bill, or otherwise have had something happen to you
    • Whatever happened to you is not as bad as this one time something 1000 times worse happened to her
    • See #1
  5. Do not mention grocery shopping.
    • She can’t even afford toilet paper and she eats 11¢ hotdogs!
  6. Never mention my oldest son by name.
    • He is almost 22 years old. He used the F word on Facebook and when she commented on the post, he commented back that she would never see another one of his posts.  She was “very hurt”.  So, any mention of his name is an invitation to retell the whole story.  With tears if I’m super-lucky.  {Insert eye roll here}
  7. Never, ever, ever mention anything having to do with money.
    • See #5 and #1

And so, with these rules in mind, I have to select what I say carefully.  If I’m having dinner with a friend, or having my oldest son come over for dinner, I will usually just say I’m going home and I don’t know what I’m having for dinner – probably leftovers.

So what’s the point of all of this?  It’s just this: Is what you’re doing working for you?  Are you angry that no one is there for you; but you don’t know how to foster a healthy friendship or other relationship?  Are you nasty to the only people you do see?  Are you judgy about perfectly normal behaviors like women wearing makeup and perfume or coloring their hair and painting their nails?  Are you creating your own unhappiness?

If you’re not happy, ask yourself if there is one thing you can change.  Maybe it’s something you can just change for a day or two – like letting the radio keep playing when the alarm goes off and singing along while you get ready for the day.  Not going anywhere?  Take a long shower.  Take extra long on your hair or makeup.  Don’t usually primp?  Just this once, do it.  Window shop and greet everyone you see.  Say, “Hi. How are you?”  And actually wait for their responses.  Remember things that once made you happy.  Your first kiss, the first time you drove a car, someone giving you a compliment…and look down and smile a secret smile to yourself.  Keep smiling when you look up again.

Be nice.  Always.  And ask yourself, every day, “Is what I’m doing creating happiness?”

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You can be anything you dream of…. Oh, but not that.

By July 2, 2017 About me, Advice, General

What do you want to be when you grow up?  It’s a question we ask children, young adults, even ourselves.  It’s a dragon we all have to slay.  What will I do with my life?  What will I be?

Of course, when we ask young children what they want to be when they grow up, it’s cute when their answers are pro-football player, ballerina, astronaut, president.  We laugh about it as we repeat it.  “Said he wants to be a football player.  Isn’t that cute?”

Here’s a new question. When did we become so jaded? So disbelieving? So doubtful.

We tell those kids, “You can be anything you want to be.” But do we believe it?

We don’t tell them, outright, that they can’t do it.  But we start to make it sound less and less possible.  Eventually we make comments even to them.  “Well, maybe you should pick something a little more plausible.”  Counselors in school want to know what career path they’re going to follow.  When someone announces that they’re going to Hollywood or New York to make their band famous, the counselors get that look on their faces.  And they say, “Well, maybe you should pick a couple of things to “fall back on”.

Many people start to say things to their children like, “It will take a lot of work to be a football player.” But they really mean is, “I don’t think you will work hard enough.”  These people believe that their kid will never make it big.  Whatever the lofty goal is – those goals that only the best become – they honestly believe that those dreams are for “other” people.  They say, “You can be anything.” But they mean, “You can be anything ordinary.”

“It has to be someone’s kid.”

I ask, “Why not your kid?”  It has to be someone’s kid.  What excludes your child?

I have always taught my children that they really can be anything they want.  However, I have always also told them that some things take a lot more work and dedication than others.  With my belief in my children, I have also had the dedication myself to do whatever they needed me to do.

My son wanted to be professional hockey player.  He was not the best.  (Nor the worst.)

I told him that he could absolutely still go pro.  But it would come at a cost.  He would need to have year-round training.  He would need to skate before and after school, even when his team was not.  He would need to work harder than everyone else.  He would need to be the first one on the ice and the last one off.  He would have very little time for socialization.  However, he would still need to keep his studies on track.

In the end, he decided that he loves to play hockey; but that he did not want to put that much work, dedication and sacrifice into it.  That’s ok with me because above all – it needed to be his decision.  To play, to not play; to become the best, or to just enjoy the game with his friends.  It all needed to always be up to him.

Do I really believe he could have made it to the NHL?  Absolutely.  But not without a lot of hard, hard work.

One of his coaches once said, in a parent meeting, “None of our kids are ever going to go to the NHL. We’re just here to have fun.”  What a terrible attitude!  It’s great to have fun and have that be the priority in kids’ sports.  But again, someone’s kid has to make it.  Why not ours?  Imagine what could be done if that coach had said, “I want this season to be fun; but I’m also going to challenge your kids to be the best of the best. I’ll teach them to work together as a team and we’ll work on fundamentals. I think any of our kids could go pro if he works hard enough!”

Most people who reach professional status in any area have the full support of someone.  Usually their parents.  Look at the Olympians.  Do you think any swimmer, runner or gymnast got there without a lot of parent hours?  Those parents are driving their children to practices before school, taking them to a second practice after school, helping them with homework at night.  They are planning everything around training.  They are helping their young athletes eat right and get good nutrition, even when the constant running makes it hard.  They are making sure their children sleep enough, even though they might be losing out on their own sleep.  They are in the gym watching the failures, at the ice rink while their child practices, by the pool day in and day out.  If the parents weren’t dedicated to helping their child reach those goals; those children just wouldn’t.

Here is a perfect example:  My father was a professional trumpet player in the Army Forces Command Band stationed at Ft. McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia.  He grew up playing trumpet and was a very dedicated musician.  When he was in high school, he won the John Philip Sousa Award which recognizes superior musicianship, dependability, loyalty, and cooperation.  By the time he was 30, he was a successful musician in the Forced Command Band and played piano and guitar as well.   He even wrote two full-band marches – with the help of friends and colleagues.  The first, “Freedom’s Guardian” became the band’s “official march” and the second, “The Red Piping” was also played on occasion.  Unfortunately, that same year, he got cancer and died within six months.

Years later, one of his very close friends and fellow musicians told me this, “I don’t think that your dad was just very talented.  He was a very hard worker.  He practiced his craft as often as he could.  That’s what made him the best.”

So next time you ask a child what he’s going to be when he grows up, make sure you don’t dismiss his answer.

You never know.  He or she could do it.  And you should believe in that dream and help it come true!

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How To Raise Your Children To Be Your Friends

By April 14, 2017 About me, Advice

 

How to raise your children to be your friends

I’m sure this post will set some people off.  And I’m ok with that.  For some reason, there is a large group of people who believe that treating children in a negative way that they would never treat another person is somehow “good for them”.

I think that treating children with respect – from the time they are old enough to understand respect – is the way to create a healthy, positive relationship that will endure the trials you will all suffer as they grow.

I’d like to take a little bit of time to tell you why I believe these behaviors and ideas are completely wrong and share how I was able to raise three great kids who have grown to be my friends and who actually like me.

Your job is to be their parent

I’ll start in my own teenhood back in the 80’s.  My family had moved to this tiny little town when I was 13.  I was the oldest and I felt utterly alone.  Some people would come and go as friendly; but I had no deep friendships.

I was a good kid – never had a lot of interest in promiscuity or smoking and drinking, and certainly never drugs.  When I was a younger teen – 14 to 15, I would tell my mother that I was going to [where ever] and that I’d be back around [a given time].  My mother would say something like, “Be safe.” And I’d be on my way.

Now, if you are one of those people who were friendly; please know that I am forever grateful for the amount of friendship you gave.  Looking back on my own situation and knowing that my mother was often not home, I would never ever allow one of my own children to spend a lot of time with someone who had almost no parent supervision at any time.  I don’t blame anyone.  It is what it is.

But, back to the story.

So, eventually, during my 15th year, my twice-widowed mother met her 3rd husband.  He was a lunatic and a tyrant.  I was suddenly not allowed to do anything.

I never went to the movies in high school.

I never went on a “date” in high school.

I ate lunch by myself because I was so intimidated by the friendships that were formed on the hallway benches.  Friendships that I could neither understand nor participate in.

I spent every night at home in my bedroom.  I needed more than a parent.  I needed a friend.

So – on that happy note, let’s talk about the good stuff!

Just before I graduated from high school, I met this really cute guy.  I was 18 by then and this cute guy was 24.  He would come and pick me up and we would just GO.  To the movies (the movie – Navy Seals – was bad and the floor was sticky).  To the beach.  To his house.  Where ever we wanted.

By the time we hit our third “date”, we had our kids named.  We got married when I was 21 and welcomed the first of those pre-named children when I was 23. 

Nick was such a great baby.  Oh, of course, we had the same struggles as you young moms and dads are having now.  I was a breastfeeding mom and a stay-home mom.  It was exhausting.  And then, when Nick was 9 months old, we found out that we were going to have our second child!!  (Oops J)

So, when my first baby was only 18 months old, we welcomed Rachel and things got….um….well, this was adulting and parenting for REAL, y’all!

Rachel was a crier screamer.  I mean a SCREAMER.  She would roll on to her tummy and scream and rub her face into the crib sheet until her nose was raw.  I tried everything.  I held her, I swaddled her, I rocked her, I put her in my sling and “wore” her.  I walked her, I tried the swing.  White noise, rock and roll.  Fed her, changed her.  Put clothes on, took clothes off.

Nothing. Worked.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention I had a toddler too?!  Yeah.  Super-fun.  Sometimes, my husband would come home from work and we’d ALL be crying.

Well, eventually Rachel stopped screaming.  Then came the terrible twos and threes.  (At the same time).  The only thing was – they weren’t terrible!

In fact, I loved this age.  They were old enough to be able to tell me what they needed or wanted.  We could have conversations.  And I loved how they soaked up knowledge so readily.  They craved it.  They wanted to know about everything.  What was it?  Where did it come from?  What caused it?

We went to the park for picnics.  We went to the library.  We went on trips to museums and zoos.  We read books in forts that we made out of the couch cushions.  We made pancakes and waffles and a mess.

A couple more years later and Benjamin was on the way.  And we did everything all over again, all the while navigating the new minefield known as “school” for the older two.

School was a disaster

Of course, there were challenges.  In 2002, my husband had to go to Iraq for over a year.  When he got back, he and I were often at each other’s throats.  He was always angry.  I got pregnant again, but miscarried.  I wanted to try again.  He didn’t.  I didn’t know how we would heal.  But we did.

If you have read my previous posts, you know that school was an unqualified disaster for my older two children.  Nick was dyslexic, but we weren’t sure about that until 5th grade.  Rachel had a horrible condition called hyperhidrosis which caused her body temperature system to be completely non-regulatory.   (Which is probably why she screamed as a baby.)  Rachel also had an “eye-convergence disability” which caused her to see double doing anything close-up.  You know like reading and writing?!  And we didn’t know about either of these problems until she was in 4th grade.

As a side note – my children were able to slip through the cracks with these problems largely due to the fact that many states’ grading systems consist of a vague number or letter system such as 1’s 2’s and 3’s or S, U, N (Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory and Needs Improvement).  True A-F letter grading would have identified to everyone exactly how far behind these children were.  What was worse was that I knew something was wrong, but when I asked about it, the teachers said things like, “Well, I’ve seen worse.”

But again, that’s a post for another day.

Little Ben entered school and my days staying home ended.  I got various jobs.  Nothing noteworthy.  I had gone back to school when Nick was having his school troubles and now had a teaching degree.  But the field was saturated and teachers with more experience were being let go.  Worse, I was beginning to realize that politics had ruined education.  There was no more time to satiate the hunger of minds that were ravenous for more learning.  It had become about teaching to the test.  Interest in the subject matter no longer had any place.  And education was not the place for me.

So day by day we did the things that families do.  We had been a family who ate dinner together most nights.  And now, as they all began to get older and be involved in more activities, dinner was later; or on the run.  But whenever we could, we still set the table and sat down together.  We still folded our hands and asked for a blessing on more than that food on that night…I mean, sure, that’s what the words are – “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.” – But surely God was blessing so much more.

Always talking and listening

My boys played sports.  Primarily hockey.  Ben also played soccer and football.  This gave us a lot of time to talk while we were driving to games.  So that’s what we did.  We talked about school.  I never admonished them much for what I call “light swearing”.  After all, “darn” and “damn” really mean the same thing and we gave those words their meaning.  Using the Lord’s name and “heavy swearing” were forbidden.

So we could talk about whatever they wanted.  I gave advice, gently.  I never judged; but I always made sure that they understood a couple of things.  First, they were free to think that girl in third period was a werido.  Sure, she might be pretty strange.  But, you don’t know what’s happening inside her world.  Maybe she’s a little weird because she has no one in her life that she can count on.  So, you don’t have to be her friend.  But you should be friendly.  A smile and a kind word can change a person’s day – or even their life.  And second, you treat everyone with respect.  Always.

Nick and I always felt like we had to have each other’s back.  As he got older, he became a comfort to me when things went wrong.  I always knew I could count on a hug from him when I was feeling inadequate.  I asked him tonight why he thinks we’re so close.  He said it’s because we’re so much alike.  I suppose that’s true.  We are the oldest.  The experiment.  The one who had the hardest time when the family moved.  The one who had to figure it out.

Your job is to be whatever they need you to be

Rachel and I also became very close.  When she was in 5th grade, she began “eye therapy” to train her eyes to be able to overcome the double-vision.  It was an hour and a half away and we went once a week.  We listened to books on tape.  She told me her fears, her dreams.  She was starting to have a hard time in school.

Remember when I said that I hate it when people say “You shouldn’t be your child’s friend”?  Well, I believe that, as a parent, you need to give your child whatever they need.  And at that time, and even now that she’s almost 20, what she needed most was a friend.

I remember how it felt to not have friends.  To be that person looking at others and wishing you could be their friend, but not trusting anyone enough to try.

So, we spend a lot of time together.  We have similar interests and hobbies.  And, more and more, she is becoming an adult-child-friend.  I respect that she is an adult.  She has begun to make friends that are healthy for her.  (As opposed to picking the ones who used her or ones that had risky lifestyles.)

The Five Key Things

One – Kids aren’t mini-adults.

They don’t have the life experience that adults have, they don’t have the maturity adults (are to supposed to) have, and they don’t have the reasoning skills adults have.

Further, some children, like my oldest, have trouble finding the right words to explain themselves – especially in a sudden misunderstanding.

Two – Remember when YOU were a kid.

I have told my kids for years, “I used to BE a kid.”  I almost always said this jokingly.  However, it is so true.  I remember being in elementary school.  I remember being in middle school and high school.  I remember being a young adult.  USE that to relate to your kids.

Three – Talk.  And Listen.

About the important stuff.  About the trivial stuff.  Make sure your kids know that they can come to you – and then when they DO, make sure you’re there.  Play games, go to movies, share funny memes.  Talk about school, about boys and girls, about friends and enemies.  Just make sure to take the time to be with them.

Four – Embrace Technology.

A lot of parents don’t see any reason to use the new apps that the kids are using.  They don’t care what the hot new thing is.  My mother is one of the baby boomers guilty of not wanting to learn to text and/or use a cell phone.  Guess what?  She barely knows her grandchildren because that’s how they communicate.  And, she doesn’t make it better by shaming them about their use of technology.

It’s also irresponsible as a parent.  You should know what your children – even older teens and frankly young adults, in my opinion – are up to on their phones.  What are they using and why?  If you don’t know, you’re opening doors that lead to heaven knows where.  Now, if you’re thinking, “I just won’t get my child a phone.”  I believe that to be a naive solution.  You want your child to be able to call you and you want to be able to reach your child.  You may want to consider a service such as Disney’s Circle.  I don’t know a lot about it; but it is a technology management tool.

Five – Respect.

Treat your children with at least the same amount of respect you would give to your co-workers.  Treat them with the respect that you would expect them to return to you.  To the the world.

Respect brings up one last point that I want to make.  Embarrassing your kids on purpose.  Because you think it’s so funny.  It’s not funny.  When they go to school and they already feel like everyone’s laughing at them…(maybe everyone really isn’t.  Maybe everyone really is)…But when it feels like everyone is laughing and their own parents are making fun of them too…guess what?  It’s really, really not funny.

Do you think your child’s friends are going to just let the scene you made go, without comment?  Are you crazy?!  That is the sort of thing that can last for months.  Or longer.  “Remember when Jenny’s mom ________?!”

That sort of behavior is severely lacking in respect (not to mention maturity).  Trust me, if you’re going for something your child will remember, this is NOT the way to go.

So, that’s all I have for you today friends.  I hope you enjoyed seeing a piece of my life.

Till next time 🙂

 

 

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How You Can Make Money With Your Blog In As Little As 20 Minutes! …and other lies you’ve heard.

By April 2, 2017 About me, Advice, General

Hello friends,

**Disclaimer:  Please read the following post with humor in mind.  While some of it is 100% true; this is not meant to make you give up if you are attempting a blog and it is not an indication that I have given up.

Well, an interesting thing happened this week.  After working on creating this blog for almost 11 weeks – almost three months – I had to finally admit it.  This is anything but easy.  If you have seen the many posts out there that say you can start a blog and make money with it in ____________(insert small amount of time here); you are not alone.

Now, I’m not about to say that these people are lying.  Maybe it all did come together for them fairly easily and quickly.  But, for the rest of us there is one certainty.  It’s going to be a lot of learning and a lot of good, hard work.

Building the site and writing the posts? Easy peasy.  But learning how to get followers and then how to get money…holy moly.

What is Google analytics?!  I couldn’t even SPELL that on Monday!  Google Adsense?  How are a bunch of Instagram followers going to help me?  What is Canva?  I actually just learned this today.  How do you like the graphics on this post?  Nice, eh?!  I just opened it and started “playing”.  That’s the only way to learn, I suppose.

What’s a custom 404 page?  Why do I want one? Need one?  What are breadcrumbs? What’s pagination?  (Sounds like a band.)  Discus?  Commentluv?

What are social bookmarking sites?  Do I need those?  Why?  What are digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us?  Do I need media management tools?  Hootsuite and Buffer?  Are they free?  What are they for?  Who are they for?

Should I do a newsletter?  Isn’t the blog kinda the same thing?  Why do I need a newsletter to send to people who are reading the blog?

There’s something called “blogging networks”….yeah, networks of blogging, I guess.  No idea.  There’s blogengage, blokube, bizsugar, inbound.  I haven’t had time to go check them out.  Not sure what the idea is at all.  One more bullet on the points of no return.

And then, all of the advice says I have to have a “niche”…I can’t have a few things – like stamping, cooking, books, travel, etc….Nope.  You have to pick ONE thing and that has to be your specialty.

Well, guess what?!  Nobody lives their life doing just one thing.  I have lots to share and I hope that people will follow me because they never know what to expect.  I’m like a box of freaking chocolate.

One thing that completely stresses me out is that I’m supposed to have pictures to go with everything.  I guess I’ll have to take one of me crying for this post.  And then I have to post it on Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram – but I still don’t know where all the people who see me crying go to drop off their money!!  Seriously, though; there are some sites that offer free pics (ahem, not THAT kind of free pics!).  One is Canva and another is Pixabay.  But if you search “free pictures”, you’ll get tons of sites that will want you to pay!!  How does free = pay?  What the heck?!

By now I’m thinking, this is like the slowest “Get rich quick” scheme I’ve ever done!  Just kidding.

So friends, I hope you don’t get discouraged.  It’s not that this stuff can’t be learned; but I think “hitting the bigtime” is more about having all of the pieces fall together at just the right time and I think a little luck goes into it as well.

For me, it’s been a case of: “What can I learn today?”  And I like that – to a degree.  I read a book about teaching young students a while ago and the writer said that, in order for students to remain challenged and engaged, the “puzzle”, i.e. the work or the task, had to be “solvable”.  In other words, if the children were not ready, then the lesson would not sink in and they would become frustrated and give up.  It’s the same with anything in life…video games, learning to drive, learning a foreign language and, yes, blogging.

Thankfully, there are tons of “mentors” out there that will help you.  You just have to find them.  I think I have found a couple – maybe as many as a few.  I look forward to continuing to nurture these new relationships and to learn from what they can tell me.

Till next time…..stay hopeful!

K

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My Recommended High School – Adult Book List

By February 1, 2017 About me, Advice, General, Lists

Hello friends!  Happy February!  Let’s start the month out with my final book list!  I have given these books a lot of thought.  I’m interested in what you think too, so make sure to find the comment button below and share your takes on these and other good books.

One more thing…did you find the Bloglovin button to the right of this post?  Click on it and you will be able to get updates every time I post!

I hope you enjoy the list.  Have a great Wednesday!

  1. The Giver – So, in case you didn’t see my middle school list, I’m going to start with this one which is also on my middle school list. This is another book that I STRONGLY caution parents of.  When my oldest son was in middle school – all three grades – he would not have been able to handle reading this book.  In fact, I don’t think he would have been ready for it even as a high school senior.  Oh, he could have read it; certainly.  But he would not have understood all of the themes and the more serious undertones would have been lost.
  • This book is an example of what were to happen if everyone was really “equal”. It’s a great opportunity to start a conversation about what “equal” means.  In this utopian society, they have manufactured “equal”, and in doing so they have had to end true freedom.  It is only when the young protagonist of the story begins to see things as they really are that things can become what they should be again.
  1. To Kill A Mockingbird – Odds are you probably had to read this book at some point in your life. If you didn’t, then your children probably did.  This book contains the themes of racism, black/white crime, rape, ethics, integrity and social classes.  It is set in Alabama during the Great Depression.  There is little I can say without giving away the ending.  It is a must read!
  1. Cheaper By The Dozen – This is the true story of the Gilbreth family, written by two of the children. and Mrs. Gilbreth were time and motion study engineers – or efficiency experts – in Montclair, New Jersey.  Mrs. Gilbreth was the first woman in her field.  The couple studied how to make things run faster and more efficiently.  The story, however, is about their family of 12 children and how their father and mother handled them efficiently.  It is funny and smart.
  1. Belles On Their Toes – This is the next chapter of the Gilbreth’s life story. After tragedy strikes, the family must move on.  Again, funny and smart; but with an emotional resonance.
  1. The Great Gatsby – Ah, the Great Gatsby. Have you ever seen the movie “Catch me if you can” about a boy who learns to lie so convincingly that he spends time being paid as an airline pilot and a doctor?  That reminds me of Gatsby.  Who is he?  What does he do?  No one really knows.  Is he just one of the greatest con men ever?  If you haven’t read this book; you are cheating yourself.  It is very thought-provoking, but also written so well that you can just envision the 1920’s glamour.  You can almost smell the cigarette smoke mixed with champagne and you can imagine the silky feel of the satin dresses and the weight of the costume jewelry.
  1. The Scarlet Letter – It is a little astounding when a work from the 1800’s withstands the test of time so well as to be relevant in today’s society; if only in a figurative manner. This book is about so much more than adultery.  It is about having class when those around you don’t.  It is about having the integrity to accept that you have done something wrong without dragging others down.  It is about living the rest of your life with dignity, in spite of your transgressions.  While the heroine, if she can be called that, keeps her silence; the secret eats away at her lover until he can bare it no more.  Again, if you haven’t read this one, you’re cheating yourself.
  1. When the Wind Blows and The Lake House by James Patterson – These books have 0% learning quality. Ok, they make you think a little.  Just because science can do something, doesn’t mean we should.  How do you treat others, even when you don’t understand them?  Those are a couple of themes.  Patterson introduces us to the world of Maximum Ride in these books.  He later wrote the “Max” series for young adults.  My kids enjoyed that series.  I thought they were a little over-indulgent on the writer’s part.  These first two books are amazing.  Could not put them down.  I downloaded them to my permanent library on my Kindle.
  1. Stephen King: The Stand – This book is the absolute best book I have ever read. Hands down.  And I’ve read it about 5 times.  It is a bit daunting at first…after all, it’s well over a thousand pages long.  However, this tale of the end of human civilization as we know it and the war between good and evil is epic.  It is terrifiying; not in the way that King’s supernatural horror stories are terrifying; but rather because you know that it’s a little too realistic.  We all know there is evil in the world.  We try to deny it; but in the end, we know.  And, in The Stand, we learn that there are different kinds of evil; but they all come together as one ultimate evil.  Whether you believe in God or not; this book is amazing.  And, speaking of believing, Mother Abigail says, “…it don’t matter…He believes in you!”
  1. Twilight Series – I know, I know. I can’t believe I’m going from The Stand to Twilight.  A lot of people will argue this one.  The fact is this: it was entertaining and easy to read from the first book to the fourth book.  It was clever story-telling (explaining Bella’s injuries and absences).  And it was dusted with a couple of mentions of classic books, which intrigued the literary student in me.  Yes, Bella and Edward’s love is a bit obsessive at first.  However, I especially love Edward’s commitment to waiting until after marriage.  Not many culturally acceptable icons in today’s society could get away with such “prudish” behavior!  Bravo!
  1. Angels and Demons – Dan Brown wrote many books based on Italian geography, art and architecture. I read this book before I read The DaVinci Code. I was a fan from the start.  These books made me want to go to Italy.  I want to go and see this art and these fountains and sculptures.  I want to walk the streets and travel the canals.  The writing in these books makes you feel like you are there while making you want to actually go there at the same time.  The stories, while centered in Italy and around the famous sites, are not really about those sites…which makes it doubly interesting.  Instead, they are about ancient symbols – what they mean, where they came from and who used them.  I highly recommend all of Brown’s books.
  1. No Fear Shakespeare – I wanted to include this on my list, even though it’s actually a series of books. Every Shakespearean play is available in Sparknotes: No Fear editions. These books take the original play and put it line-by-line on the right side, while putting the modern English version, also line-by-line, on the left side!  These books make it so that one can actually enjoy the plays.  You don’t have to take a class and have an instructor tell you what some of the long-outdated phrases mean.  Here, you can read for yourself.  And, if you are taking the class, I completely defend your right to proudly carry this book right into class with you.  You see, if you’re smart, you can read the commentary and you can either agree with it or argue with it.  A good teacher will recognize the intelligence in a student who reads the commentary as someone else’s opinion and forms his or her own opinion in spite of reading this.
  1. No Fear Canterbury Tales – The same applies here. This is just one book for all of the “tales”; but Chaucer, like Shakespeare, is hard to understand. This book makes it much more enjoyable.  My favorite “tale” is the Wife of Bath.  She has seen a lot; been married several times and traveled a lot.  She is smart and not afraid to show it.  She is also a bit manipulative, which, given the time period of this “tale”, cracks me up.
  1. Eragon – This is on my “going to read” list. My oldest son enjoyed the series. It begins when a teenage boy finds what he thinks is a stone; but is a dragon egg.  The dragon hatches from the egg and that is the beginning of a cat and mouse game while the boy, Eragon and his dragon evade capture.  The book is followed by three more:  Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance.
  1. Dean Koontz’s series: Frankenstein – This is a five book series that re-imagines the Frankenstein tale. Viktor Frankenstein has found a way to live to our modern era, where he continues to create live “monsters”. However, these “monsters” develop a sense of cognizance that Frankenstein never expected.  In fact, they have developed “souls”.  And, so, his dream of creating a new master race is sabotaged by that power that no one truly understands: Love.
  1. The Metamorphosis– This story is going to be the strangest you have read. The main character is a traveling salesman who wakes to find himself transformed into an insect.  The entire story is about his acceptance of his fate and how his family handles him, now that he is a burden.  This novella is full of symbolism.  Perhaps Gregor is sick of his job not paying him what he thinks he is worth.  He feels like he is a burden to everyone around him and like he will never be able to pull his own weight or have a job that he finds worthy.  This transformation is the result of the ugliness inside manifesting itself on the outside.  Gregor hates himself, so it is no wonder that he sees that hatred reflected in his family’s eyes as they look at him with dread and horror at what he has become.
  1. The Yellow Wallpaper – This is a short story written at the turn of the 20th It is about a woman whose husband locks her in a room with yellow wallpaper and treats her like she is mad. When the woman eventually becomes mad, is it because she always was mad, or is it because her husband treated her that way?  I believe this story to be a story of nature vs. nurture.  However, scholars say this is a story about the oppression of women.  I just don’t see that.  Read it for yourself!  You can comment below and let me know what you think!!
  1. Tuesdays with Morrie– I admit that I haven’t read this since my early 20’s. However, I really loved the stories that Morrie shares with his visitor, and of course, all of us through the book.  The themes are so relevant throughout time: Love, loss, death, depression, right and wrong, and survival and happiness.
  1. The Left Behind series – For the Christian reader, this series is a lesson in two men’s opinion about what will happen during the “end times” of the world. There is a great debate about whether God’s chosen will be “raptured” before the tribulation begins or whether they will have to endure the tribulation. The books are fiction, but are well written and provide an enormous amount of information which can prompt the reader to look into getting more information.  The stories are also emotional and touching.  The first 10 books were amazing.  The net two books – 11 and 12 – started to seem a little too drawn out for my taste.  I did not even know about books 13 – 16 until I looked up information for this post.  Yay!  More books to read!
  1. The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child – I will be, at some point, writing a post that will specifically deal with dyslexia. This book, however, was life-changing for my family. My older son was a very smart preschooler; albeit stubborn.  I never, in a million years, would have thought that he wouldn’t catch on when he began reading instruction in school.  Yet, by the time he finished 2nd grade, I found myself arguing with the teachers and administration that something was wrong.  Dyslexia, as author Robert Frank, Ph.D. writes, is more than slow and mixed up reading.  Frank himself is dyslexic and he talks about the many problems that have nothing to do with reading.  I believe every adult should read this book – and every educator should read it twice.  As I am writing this, I have skimmed through the book.  In ten minutes I have read enough of my marked and underlined pages that I’m heartbroken all over again.  Check back for my complete post on this in the future.
  1. Thirteen Reasons Why – I have not yet read this one. It was recommended by a friend. It is a story about a girl who commits suicide, but creates cassette tapes for each of 13 people whom she says drove her to her death.  I think, reading the synopsis of this story, that it gives people a look into a lot of what is going on in the world of teens.  Each person who received a tape had to deal with their part in driving someone to their death.  In the end, each of them could choose to do something different and to make a positive impact on others instead.
  1. Legend series – Again, I have not read this series, but my youngest son loved it. In fact, for once, I can’t even tell you what it’s about. Let’s see what Wiki says……..Looks like an alternate reality/dystopian society in the future.  There is a gap between rich and poor and a war has broken out.  (Sounds like Hunger Games, no?)  There appears to be elements of a plague and conspiracy as well.  I’ll look for your ideas on this one, readers.  Did you read it?  What did you think?!  Tell me in the comments section.
  1. Things Fall Apart – This one is on the list as a NEVER read! My children had to read this story as a required reading.  It is an African (I think) book and the first problem is that the names are incomprehensible as well as too close to one another.  For example: Okonkwo, Unoka and Umuofia as well as Ekwefi and Ezinma to name a few.  The writing is wordy and too involved and the point is lost in the text.  By the time you wade through all of it, you just don’t care what the bottom line is.  If you are a teacher thinking of using this for your curriculum, I urge you to look at other options.  Your students will not love this book.
  1. Into the Wild – This is another one on my NEVER read list. This is a non-fiction story of Chris McCandless. It was originally written as an article and, honestly, should have been left as an article.  There really isn’t enough “story” for a book.  Here’s what it was about:  This idiot who grew up in the suburbs in Virginia and who studied at Emory University, decided to give away all his possessions, stop talking to his loving family give away his college fund and hitchhike to Alaska.  He had read about survival in the wild and thought that this “book knowledge” would be enough.  Long story, short.  He was wrong.  He died.  He was stupid.  I think it is often on required reading because it represents adventure.  All of my kids thought it represented enormous selfishness and stupidity.

 

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My Favorite Middle School Books

By January 26, 2017 Advice, General, Lists

Welcome back, friends!  This is a continuation of my lists.  Today’s list contains books for the middle grades.  I have advised caution with some of these books; but please don’t take them off your child’s reading list forever!  Exercise caution if appropriate; but these books can be revisited when your child is in high school, or even after!  🙂

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia – Many people don’t realize that there is a book that comes before “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”. However, I think this is the best book of them all!!  It’s called “The Magician’s Nephew” and it tells the tale of where the wardrobe came from.  In my opinion, it lets the reader know where the magic came from.  Simply reading about the children who escape through the enchanted armoire leaves the reader to question how this could be.
  2. The Harry Potter series – I am currently reading this series for about the fourth time. I simply love that it is written so well as to keep me entertained, but that I don’t have to think too much about it.  The characters are so well written that readers can really relate to them.  One of these days, I will have the chance to go visit Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Florida.  Don’t worry, friends, I’ll take you along for the adventure!
  3. Gulliver’s Travels – Speaking of adventures, this is a great tale about point of view. Who is the giant?  When Gulliver lands on Lilliput, he is the giant; but when he lands on Brobdingnag, he is surrounded by giants.  Further, what does it mean to be a “good” person?  Does one’s ability to do good or do evil depend upon his situation and the points of view of others?
  4. The Indian In The Cupboard – This is a fun story about a magical cupboard (ok, you’re starting to see that I like magic)……that brings toys to life. The boy, Omri, puts a toy Indian inside and the Indian becomes his constant companion.  However, there are tests when other toys are also introduced to the cupboard.  The toys don’t always get along and eventually Omri has to make a series of decisions to keep the peace.
  5. Stone Fox – This is a sad tale about a boy whose grandfather is about to lose his farm to unpaid taxes. The boy enters a sled dog race to try to win $500.  The story is full of rich characters and nail-biting action.
  6. Jason’s Gold – This is a story about a teenager in the late 1800’s who discovers that there is gold in Alaska and so he treks from Washington State to Alaska, enduring freezing temperatures, near starvation and terrain that seems impassable. Of all the people who sought their fortune in Alaska at the turn of the century, who would succeed?
  7. The Red Badge of Courage (Classic Starts Collection) – First, let me say that if you look up “Classic Starts Collection”, there are many of these classics that have been abridged (shortened & simplified) for younger readers. I am very satisfied with these renditions of the stories!  As far as The Red Badge goes: My oldest son once made a remark about an injury someone had received at war and how it made that person “entitled”.  I encouraged him to read this book.  The young Henry finds himself in battle and he runs.  He is so ashamed.  He wishes for a wound – something that will make up for his cowardice.  This book shows the emotions that run through soldiers’ heads and hearts.  Of course, it is only natural to want to run.  But their job is to stay.
  8. The Devil’s Arithmetic – Hannah is a modern girl celebrating the Jewish Passover with her family. Hannah hates the traditions and the symbolism.  She is tired of hearing the stories her relatives tell.  According to tradition, Hannah symbolically opens the door for the prophet Elijah to enter.  However, when she turns around, everything has changed.  She is now called “Chaya” (pronounced Kie-ah) and she has been transported to Nazi Germany.  Soon, her entire village is relocated and Hannah tries to warn the others.  They think she has cholera and is saying these things because of the fever.  At the camp, Chaya meets another girl, Rivka.  One selfless act sends Chaya back to the modern day; but she is changed forever.
  • Parents should take their children’s maturity level into consideration here, as well as any special circumstances. My father died when I was a little girl and, if I had read this story as a 6th grader, I would not have handled it well.  The themes of death, murder, mistreatment, starvation, etc., can be difficult for immature or very emotional middle school students.
  1. Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl – Many of us know the story of Anne Frank. It is just fascinating to read what is happening in her own words.  She talks about boys she likes, things she misses doing and what she looks forward to in the future which she never sees.
  • Again, my warning above is the same. This book deals more with the hiding aspect of Anne’s life, as she did not write once she was transported out of the annex.  However, an emotional young person will still be affected by this sad story.
  1. The Secret Garden – Ok, so enough sad stories. This is a magical story which has nothing to do with “magic”; but rather, the magic of friendship. Poor Mary Lennox was always unhappy.  And why not? Cholera had killed everyone in her house; leaving her to fend for herself.  She is sent to live with an uncle she has never met in a giant house.  If anyone is more negative than Mary, it is her uncle.  But, as Mary begins to wander around, she finds a secret and unkempt part of the gardens as well as an unlikely friend.  Together, they rebuild more than the garden.
  2. The Outsiders – This is a book about a couple of rival gangs in the 1960’s. I think mostly it gives kids today a good look at some of the things that were going on in that era. For example, smoking and drinking were much more socially acceptable, even for teens.  There are many slang terms of the time that are used.  Other themes include gang violence and death.
  3. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) – This is a great book series for anyone who likes Greek Mythology. It has a tie-over to Roman Mythology as well, with The Heroes of Olympus – the first book being “The Lost Hero”. These books are full of action.  I couldn’t put them down!
  4. The Cay – Ah, young boss, I know you’re blind, but climb up that tree and get me a coconut! If you’ve never read this tale, you’re missing out. It’s an adventure set on an island where only a young boy, blinded in the shipwreck that landed him there, and a Curacao man have been marooned.  The story is about learning to survive, depending on yourself and building friendship.
  5. Holes – A boy who is always in trouble is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp where they each have to dig one hole a day, every day. It is said that the digging is to help them build character; but Stanley begins to think there is more to the story than they are being told. Not only is there more to the “holes” scenario; there is more to his friendship with a boy called Zero than any of them suspect.  Oh, and this book also introduces kids to Palindromes!  What’s that?  Never odd or even.  It’s a word or phrase which reads the same – beginning to end, or end to beginning.
  6. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – It’s another story about mice that have human characteristics…why do we love mice so much?! J Well, in this story, Mrs. Frisby needs help because her son is sick.  She discovers the rats that live in a bush and who have a human-like community.  They’ve tapped into the electricity to have heat and lights.  They have everything!  It’s a story about working together to achieve goals and to help one another out.
  7. The Giver – This is another book that I STRONGLY caution parents of. When my oldest son was in middle school – all three grades – he would not have been able to handle reading this book. In fact, I don’t think he would have been ready for it even as a high school senior.  Oh, he could have read it; certainly.  But he would not have understood all of the themes and the more serious undertones would have been lost.
  • This book is an example of what were to happen if everyone was really “equal”. It’s a great opportunity to start a conversation about what “equal” means.  In this utopian society, they have manufactured “equal”, and in doing so they have had to end true freedom.  It is only when the young protagonist of the story begins to see things as they really are that things can become what they should be again.
  • Some things to bring up with your child – What if scientists could make it so that no one was ever a thief or a murderer again? Remember in Jurassic Park, when they made all the dinosaurs female so they couldn’t reproduce?  But somehow, some of them shifted gender and they did?  Nature found a way.  Now imagine if we thought we could “cure” bad behavior scientifically.  Would nature, eventually, find a way?
  1. Warriors/Seekers/ Survivors series by Erin Hunter (Grade 4-9) – I admit, I’ve never read a single book in these series. However, my oldest son, who struggled with reading, loved them! Warriors is about cats, Seekers is about bears and Survivors is about dogs.  They are written with plain enough text that reluctant readers are not struggling with decoding issues and can just enjoy the books.
  2. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi– This is a sweet story of a mongoose who is adopted by a family living in India. A pair of cobras threatens the family and Rikki Tikki Tavi defeats them and then stays to guard against any further snakes.
  3. Bridge to Terabithia – This is a book about a couple of kids who become friends, but one of the children has an accident and dies. The story goes on to tell about the other child and how he comes to accept his friend’s death. Again, these are themes that parents should be aware of; but not necessarily avoid.
  4. The Hunger Games series – These books are well written and easy to read; but I have to admit that I was tempted to leave them off my list. I was so angered by the ending that I threw the book across the room. Why?  Well, you’ll have to read to see.  However, I will say that many of the same themes recur here.  Mistreatment, an alternate society, torture and death.

**The Book Thief – I’m adding this as a bonus book.  It showed up on nearly every list that I looked at when I was researching these books to make sure that I remembered them properly.  I have not ever read it, but I promise to do so and report back to you all!

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My Favorite Elementary Book List

By January 25, 2017 Advice, General, Lists

Hi there!  So, you’ve come back to see what I’ve picked for elementary school reading…or maybe this is your first visit to my blog.  If this is the case, I encourage you to take a look at my previous list for babies through preschoolers.

Of course, many of the books on that list can be enjoyed for years into elementary school; either read by a parent, or read by the child as he or she becomes able.

The books I have chosen here are followed by their “AR” level.  If you have not yet been introduced to AR, let me give you a brief look.  This system is based on the idea that school years are broken down into 9 month periods for each grade.  As such, a book that is a 1.1 would be at a level that a child could read the book himself after one month of first grade.  If a book is listed as 1.9, a child should be able to read the book by the end of first grade.

A note of caution:  The AR system only takes into account the comprehension of the words themselves.  It doesn’t really take the subject matter into account.  I have made some points about this with some books on my lists for elementary, middle and high schoolers.  The AR system only covers up to 7.9 – which is fitting, because a child going into 8th grade and beyond should have the comprehension and word decoding skills to read any text.

And so, let’s get started!

  1. Katy and The Big Snow (2.9) – This was my husband’s favorite book when he was young and I’m so happy to see it on popular book lists. The book personifies the snowplow (Katy) and tells of her adventures when a great snow buries the town.
  2. The Velveteen Rabbit (4.9) – This is a popular book about a toy rabbit that eventually comes to life. However, there is so much more to talk to your children about!  Before Penicillin was invented in 1928, Scarlet Fever was deadly.  It was standard practice for people to burn bedclothes and toys in an effort to get rid of any bacteria that remained.  Today, Scarlet Fever is simply Strep Throat with a rash on the trunk and sometimes arms.  It is easily treated with our modern antibiotics.
  3. The Rainbow Fish (3.3) – This is a book about sharing. I encourage parents to read it and discuss it with their children.  Does your child always have to share?  We, as adults, don’t share our cars, our “toys” (four-wheelers and boats).  Why is this fish forced to give another fish a piece of himself (one of his shiny scales) just because the other fish likes it?  Is that ok?  It’s a great opportunity to discuss what is expected in society and when it’s ok to say no.
  4. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (2.8) – Like Katy, this is a story of a steam shovel that is personified. The overly confident steam shovel digs a hole for the new town hall but forgot to build an exit ramp and can’t get out.  The town decides that Mike Mulligan can be the janitor and the steam shovel can be converted into a boiler to heat the building.
  5. Tacky and the Winter Games (3) – Tacky the penguin and his friends have started an Olympic team to represent Nice Icy Land.  The antics in this story are just silly.  It’s a fun story to read around the time of the Winter Olympic games.
  6. The Magic Tree House collection & Research Guides – Ok, I fell in love with this series when my oldest children were in elementary school. I still have books 1-43.  These books are pure fiction, but then the research guides add learning to the stories.  Kids can learn more about volcanoes, dolphins, medieval times, and more.
  7. Charlotte’s Web (4.4) – Ok, everyone knows this one, since it was made into a movie. So, this is a good opportunity for young children to read a book and then watch a movie and then discuss what was different about each.  What changes did they like or dislike?  You, as an adult, can talk about how some things – like a frown or a raised eyebrow – can be done better on screen – but that a good writer can make you imagine that look without the screen!
  8. Johnny Tremain (5.9) – This is a historical fiction book set at the beginning of the revolutionary war. It teaches older elementary students the places and events involved with the revolution, such as the Boston Tea Party and some concepts that began in that era such as apprentices and courting.  This book is a good book to read to an older elementary school child; but he or she will probably not want to read it alone until middle school.
  9. Miss Nelson is Missing (2.6) – Ah, Miss Nelson…if you don’t recognize this one, you might be living under a rock. Miss Nelson is, like, the sweetest, most amazing teacher ever.  But her students walk all over her.  So, one day a substitute comes and she is the meanest, most horrible substitute ever.  When Miss Nelson finally returns, her class is very grateful and never misbehaves again.
  10. Clifford the Big Red Dog (1.3) – Who doesn’t love Clifford! I think my whole family mourned when John Ritter – Clifford’s original voice actor – passed away!  These books are as fun to read as the Clifford show is to watch.
  11. Kittens are like that/Puppies are like that (2) – I remember these from my own childhood. Any book that can withstain the test of time, is worth taking a look at.  Plus, kittens and puppies!
  12. Junie B. Jones (2.6) – These books burst onto the scene right around the time my daughter, who is now 19, was beginning school. She loved the plucky little Junie and it was hilarious to see situations through the eyes of a child her age.
  13. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (3) – This is another one from my childhood. It’s an early chapter book that is great for boys and girls alike.
  14. Al Capone Does My Shirts (3.5) – This book was one that my 16 year old read when he was in 5th I had never heard of it before then.  It is a really neat book that takes a look at the people whose families lived on the Alcatraz island when they worked there.  I admit, I had never given any thought to the people who worked at the prison and where they might live.  I certainly never thought of the island as an actual community!
  15. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (5.2) – These books are great for young boys. A lot of books were really aimed towards girls for a long time and it’s exciting to see such a dedication to writing “boy” books.
  16. I survived series – My children never got to read these. I sent a couple to my nephew for Christmas after a quick read in Barnes & Noble.  They take true events (Pompeii, Mt. St. Helens, the sinking of the Titanic) and put a youngster in the middle of the situation to tell the story.
  17. Chrysanthemum (3.3) – This story talks about a kid who is getting made fun of for her name.  At first, she is ashamed of her name, but in the end she learns to love the uniqueness of it.  I love this book because Chrysanthemum isn’t made out to be a victim.  She feels bad at first, but she learns to overcome it.
  18. Ralph S. Mouse series (5.1) – Again, from my era.  These are cute books about a mouse who can do “human” things.
  19. Stuart Little (6) – This book crossed my path before I had kids. I thought it was so cute.  Then the movie followed.  Again, this is a good opportunity to read a book and then let your child see the movie and discuss the likenesses and differences.
  20. Textbooks – Ok, you probably think I’m crazy for this one. I’m not.  There are a lot of nice things about textbooks.  Number one, you know it will be age-appropriate and on the reading level that your child can understand.  Number two, the stories are generally short and allow your child to find things that he or she is interested in to look for more information on.  Number three, the choices are endless!  If you look up “4th grade history textbook” on Amazon, you will see all the choices.  Some of them are less than a  dollar!!

So there you go readers!  Enjoy!!!  🙂

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My Family’s Favorite Books For Babies – Preschoolers

By January 21, 2017 Advice, General, Lists

Hello there, friends!

I started thinking about my favorite books, and I found what some of you probably already know:  There are too many!  I’ve decided to break the list down into segments.  And so, today, infants through preschool.  The great thing about kids before they start school is that they love repetition.  My mother always said that “repetition breeds contempt”, but I disagree.  Repetition creates comfort.  You know what to expect with repetition.  It’s like eating macaroni and cheese on a cold rainy day.

So, a lot of these books use the power of repetition.  That’s good for the child, because he or she will begin to “read” the book.  It’s good for parents, because at the end of a long day, the last thing you want is a super-wordy book that you have to think a lot about while reading.

**Here’s a tip:  try changing up key words after you’ve read the same book many times.  It breaks the monotony for you as the reader, and it keeps your child on her toes as well.  Does she know which word it should have been?  Example:  Goodnight moon and the blue balloon.  Your child should exclaim, “NO NO!  It’s the RED balloon!”  J  This also makes kids think of books and reading as fun!

Also, even if you only have time once every other week or once a month – take your kids to the library!!  They learn to be quiet.  They learn to pick out new books.  They learn to love the same old books.  My mother took me every week and, pretty often, I picked a book about a girl at the ocean.  I think it was called “By the Seashore.”  Great memories! J

And so, on to the list.  I didn’t just want to make a 1,2,3 list.  I wanted to tell you about every single book that I chose.  This is another reason why the list is broken into parts.

  1. Goodnight Moon. As mentioned above, this is a great book for repetition.  It only has one line per page, so it’s a quick read if your child wants a second book.  Another fun thing about this book is that the mouse is hiding in a different spot on each image.
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Another book with lots of repetition.  You get to have fun watching the caterpillar “eat” through the foods on each page.  At the end, you child learns what happens to fat little caterpillars after they zip into their cocoons!  At last, a beautiful butterfly emerges. J
  3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Seuss’s ABC. These two are alphabet books.  I adore Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, hands down; but Dr. Seuss’s ABC is also fun.  The only drawback with Dr. Seuss’s ABC is that my very imaginative daughter was scared of some of the drawings…especially the Z representative: The ZizzerZazzerZuzz.
  4. Go, Dog, Go! And The Berenstain’s B Book. Ok, very repetitive.  But great books that your child will remember.  My adult children and I still quote Go, Dog, Go!  If one of us says “Do you like my hat?”, it’s all over!  One or more of the rest of us will answer, “No, I do not.”  And then we will all say, “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” – even if no one is going anywhere!
  • Also, funny story about the B Book. That was my very favorite book as a child.  My mother donated it to my high school library.  I worked as a senior in the library and I “stole” the book back.  Still have it.  Still know if by heart.  J
  1. Berenstain’s Old Hat New Hat and Inside Outside Upside Down. These books teach opposites and also help kids who have trouble with conceptual words like over and under.  As adults, we think it’s completely obvious which place is under the table and which place is over the table, but for a two year old, it might just be very confusing.
  2. Big Dog, Little Dog. I’m pretty fond of this one as well.  My sister was the “little dog” and I was the “big dog” while we were growing up.  She had some pretty unique challenges and this was our theme book.  Again, this book looks at opposites.
  3. The Little Engine That Could. This gets away from the silliness and repetition and actually tells a story.  Most people will recognize the story of the train that wasn’t really what was needed but she gave it her best try and succeeded.  This is such a great story to tell about believing in yourself and always trying your best.
  4. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, (and all similar books by Laura Joffe Numeroff). These books again tell a story.  They also use a twist on repetition –  sort of a wind up, wind down formula.  It is genius and works for children of all ages.  My daughter did a book report on “If You Give A Moose A Muffin” in third grade – so we were still enjoying the books at that age.
  5. Click Clack Moo. Cows That Type. This is one you may not have heard of.  It’s a cute story of cows who write letters to the farmer.
  6. The Princess Who Never Laughed. Good luck finding this one.  It is a “Goofy” story with Goofy (Mickey Mouse) as the main character.  However, it teaches the very valuable lesson that you can’t use the same solution to every problem.
  7. The Day It Rained Hearts. My daughter loved this book; and, truthfully, at 19, it’s probably still on her shelf!
  8. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Another repetitive book; but also a bit of a tongue twister.  Fun to read and to recite.  Remember, when your child learns to recite these books, she’s also learning to memorize things and that will help with poetry recitation in High School as well as becoming a valuable study skill!
  9. Snowmen at Night. This is a great imaginative tale of what the snowmen do after dark.
  10. Tacky the Penguin. This is a tale of one penguin who wouldn’t “conform” to what the rest of the penguins thought he should look and act like.
  11. The “Froggy” books. These books are simply adorable.  They take the same tact as Berenstains – lots of situational stories – i.e. Froggy’s First Kiss, First Dentist Appointment, etc.
  12. Any good compilation of Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales. I once met a young girl whose parents didn’t believe in exposing her to nursery rhymes or fairy tales.  Imagine a child growing up having no idea about Goldie Locks.  Then, when hearing that Earth has what scientists have dubbed the “Goldilocks Effect” (It’s just right for human habitation), she would have no idea what they were talking about.  These old tales permeate everything in our culture.  Don’t rob your kids of this knowledge!
  13. The Going to Bed Book.   It’s about going to bed.  You’ll want this one.  Because sometimes, a quick, easy, “just-go-to-sleep” book is the order of the day.
  14. Beatrix Potter Books of Peter Rabbit
  15. Winnie the Pooh Stories
  16. Curious George

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Top 10 Parenting Tricks — Babies – Adult

By January 19, 2017 About me, Advice, General, Lists
  1. Feeding a toddler:  Have you ever served spaghetti and had to take the time to cut it for your small child?  If you have more than one – mine were 18 months apart – by the time you cut up their food, yours is cold.  Plus, cutting spaghetti is a pain in the neck!  SO….put it in a blender.  Pulse the blade a couple of times and the spaghetti and sauce are perfectly mixed and the noodles are cut perfectly.  Just pour it on their plate!
  • Still feeling a toddler: Have you ever cut French toast or pancakes for a little one?  Also a pain!  Use a pizza slicer!!  You can cut the pieces faster than with a fork and knife.  You can even cut strips of the French toast so that they can “dip” it in syrup.  Fun food becomes eaten food!
  1. Reading to your children: You should read books that are a little past their reading abilities, in my opinion, at least until they are out of elementary school.  For a list of some of my favorites, come back tomorrow.  When you read to young children who have not yet begun to read, or who are just learning to read; make sure that you are sitting (or lying) side by side and that your child can see the book as well.  Point to the words as you read them.  This will help your child understand that we read from left to right and even help him begin to learn some letter recognition skills and phonics skills.  As your child progresses, keep reading books that are a little higher than his reading level.
  • Again, come back tomorrow for a list of my favorites. Remember – don’t shun the classics!  There are many abridged and kid-friendly versions of many of the classics available.  If you don’t have time to read aloud every night, invest in some books on tape/cd/digital media.  Or visit your library.  Audio versions of books are a great way to enhance the written word.  Also, if your children have struggles in reading, whether vision related, or just not catching on as fast as their peers, these books on tape can be a life-saver.
  1. School issues: If you are unfortunate enough to have a child that is struggling in school, let me first say, “I’m so sorry”.  There is nothing worse than when the child who you know is smart and inquisitive cannot seem to “get it” at school.  What’s worse, your child’s teacher may not be a big help.  (**A note here – if you are a teacher, I am sure you always do everything in your power for all of your students.  But every now and again, there is a situation where the teacher is the one who doesn’t seem to “get it”.)
  • Buy the school’s textbooks – including teacher’s editions, if you can afford them. I’m not saying you should let your child copy all of the answers out of the teacher’s edition of the textbooks.  Children who struggle in school often give up at an early age.  Do you really think they forgot their math book again?  They don’t want to even try because they are spending all that time doing the homework and it’s still wrong and they get an F.  If they leave their math book at school, they still get an F.  They’re actually learning to manage their time pretty well!!  (Just kidding.)
  • If you have the teacher’s edition – especially in math – it not only has the answers for you to check your child’s work; it also offers examples of how to teach the concepts. Maybe the teacher explained it a different way than the book.  Maybe the book way is the way your child is going to “get it”.  That’s the important part.  For other subjects, like spelling, grammar and reading; it helps to have extra worksheets in case your child is a “misplacer”.
  • **Another tip here – have workbooks for spelling and grammar spiral bound at a local printing shop. It only costs a couple of dollars and then it makes it super easy for you to make copies of those “missing” worksheets instead of having to ask the teacher for them.  Also, if you have a teacher who “won’t accept late work”, then your child will never do those “missing” worksheets.  This means he is not held accountable and also that he has missed that skill which he needs to learn.  If you have the capability to copy them yourself, you can require the child to do the work, even if the teacher won’t take it.  Also, you have all of the worksheets to review before a test.
  • For reading, science and history, having a book which your child owns and can highlight will help him comprehend and remember important information. It also teaches him a valuable study skill for when he is in high school and college.
  • One last thing: if something seems like it is wrong, trust your instincts. One thing that I never thought of was my daughter’s eyesight.  The school does eye exams.  I never knew that those eye exams did not really include close-up vision.  Make sure both your child’s close AND far vision are tested.  Sometimes children have good vision; but their eyes (like with my daughter) don’t work together.  For my daughter, this meant she saw double all the time.
  1. In sickness and in health:  If you or your child has a cold, try plain old Advil.  It has a fever reducer, but also an anti-inflammatory agent.  It will bring the swelling in the sinuses down and allow for clearer breathing and no icky side effects of feeling drowsy or loopy.
  • While a kid is sick, put mouthwash in a small spritz bottle and spray the toothbrush with it after each use. They won’t re-infect themselves and the germs won’t jump to another’s toothbrush.  I used mouthwash to clean sports mouth guards and pacifiers as well.  Just use caution with pacifiers – you should rinse them before giving them to a little one.
  1. Have a child who’s old enough to play in the fast-food play area, but another who isn’t quite walking yet? Bring a walker into the restaurant.  Your child will be able to move around without crawling on the filthy floor.
  1. At the beach or pool: Take an inflatable pool to the beach with you.  You can fill it with a tiny bit of water for your baby to splash in and if nap time comes, you can dump the water out and use it as a clean place for her to sleep.
  • Get sand off your bodies very quickly with baby powder. Sprinkle it on and the sand wipes away.
  1. Make your own baby food from the food you buy for yourselves anyway. Rice Krispies can be put in a blender or food processor until a powder is formed for “rice cereal”; the same can be done with Mini Wheats for “wheat cereal” and Cheerios for “oat cereal”.  You can do the same for basic foods as your child is ready.  Add a little water to banana and blend.  Boil carrots and apples until soft and then blend.  Sweet potatoes, spinach, pears, and eventually meats, anything you make for yourself, you can blend the basic food for a baby.  As the child gets older, allow more texture by not blending it so much.  Store leftovers by putting them in ice cube trays until frozen and then putting in labeled Ziploc bags.
  1. Use Johnson & Johnson “Baby Bath” as “Bubble Bath” for babies – through adults. I use this for bubble baths several nights a week, myself.  It is gentle enough that it won’t cause bladder/ uninary tract infections and it makes pretty good bubbles!
  • Got bath toys? Use a hot glue gun to seal the holes in them.  Otherwise, they get moldy and will eventually get your kiddo (and maybe you) sick!
  1. To prevent toddlers from trying to climb out of the child seat in the grocery cart, tie their shoes together. They will not be able to bring one foot up to begin climbing.
  1. Use Crayola “window crayons” to write on practically anything. You can write messages on counters – I used to circle the crumbs that people couldn’t seem to “find”.  You can write IN the sink – I used to write, “Put it in the dishwasher!”  And you can write on mirrors – positive messages, reminders, etc.  It all stays until washed with soap and water.  Running water in the sink will not wash it away!!  You can also write on windows and cars!!  Hehe

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