Category Archives: Family

Yew Might Be a Redneck…

2014-12-07 18.53.49We’ve spent two days here trying to get a respectable Christmas tree up. First came the fluffing of the branches: assembling my mom’s old artificial tree, with bits of greenery snapping off as we go along. We have a whole grocery bag full of detached fake spruce segments now. After that, it was pretty late last night when we were trying to string the lights. I said, “If we can just put the lights and the garland on, we’ll finish decorating tomorrow.” Michael was at a birthday party by this time, and David’s and my Christmas Spirit tank was on E. Plug in first set of lights: half-dead. Second set: ditto. We threw away three sets of lights.

Today, refreshed and renewed, we bought lights and all three of us gathered ’round. The lights and the garland are now on, but just as I pulled out the first package of balls, my son said, “But Dad! Shouldn’t we try to put it on the stand before we go any further, since the clamp broke?” Me, shrilly: “What? What clamp? What?” David, calmly: “No problem. I’m going to duct tape it.” And he proceeded to do just that, as you can see. Here’s hopin’.

However, decorating has come to a complete halt, since we carefully removed every hook from the decorations last year and sealed them neatly in a zip-lock bag. If you happen to see a zip-lock bag full of hooks, please let me know. We’ve searched all the way up to the attic, but my living room floor is still fully decorated with hookless ornaments.

Merry Christmas.

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Call Me Eowyn

House of HealingThis is probably the longest stretch between posts that I’ve ever had! We have been holed up here in the House of Healing for the fall. I returned to my doctor last week to receive a clean bill of health, although I have to remain on Nexium until the Saturday before Thanksgiving. If I have problems after that, it’s swallow-the-light time. However, I feel so much better that I hope for good things.

TrubioticsRight now, I am on a kick in which I eat everything with good bacteria in it, since I have effectively killed every bit of bacteria I ever had with nuclear doses of antibiotics. Eating bacteria on purpose has never been a goal of mine before, but now I can direct you all over the grocery store for gut-gratifying foods. The pharmacist recommended a 30-day course of TruBiotics, the One a Day brand probiotic supplement, so that was step one. I already eat Fage yogurt every day, and I decided that I would also drink kefir, since I used to drink that in my ‘70s health food days. GoatLet me just say that the fruity—obviously sugary—kefir that I drank then was much more pleasant than unsweetened kefir, which is a serious assault to the taste buds. I’ve tried sweetening it up with different things that are acceptable to diabetics, but , well, *shudder*. Sauerkraut that is found in the deli section, as opposed to canned sauerkraut with vinegar, is also filled with busy little creatures.  The hot dogs I’ve eaten it with are probably not so healthful.

A few weeks ago my son went in for some minor surgery, so we’ve been worrying over him and helping as much as we can. We are all getting better here! We have had flu shots! We have excellent digestive health—barring any unexpected Ebola outbreaks! Soon we will have our fireplace tank filled with kerosene, and we will be ready for the snowy winter forecast!

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Take Heart, by Mari Fitz-Wynn

Take HeartA couple of months ago, the adult nonfiction selector in our library system came over to my desk holding a new book, pointing to the author’s name. “Is this our Mari?” she asked. I looked at the name. “Well, I know that her last name is Wynn, and she did homeschool.” We were both amazed that a woman with whom we work every day had written a book and didn’t tell us!

Some of Mari’s older children had already started a traditional school when she and her husband decided that they want to teach their kids at home. Two of her children have learning disabilities, while others are natural students, so she has covered the gamut of learning styles and teaching methods. Take Heart: 26 Steps to a Healthy Home School is a gathering of much of the wisdom and knowledge of a mother of six over a span of eighteen years.  Mari takes the 26 letters of the alphabet and discusses a home schooling topic for each one. For example, C is for character, E is for expectations, P is for pitfalls, and S is for support groups.

mari3 full (1)

Mari Fitz-Wynn

This slender volume offers practical advice on many issues, such as burnout and unit studies, but it really glows when Mari offers support and assurance. I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Mari has been a speaker at homeschool conventions, since she is probably the quietest woman I have ever met. However, she certainly has many valuable things to say! Her sweet, calm presence shines through these pages to offer guidance when younger moms might be frustrated or discouraged. Coming from a thoroughly Christian worldview, she offers prayer and scripture to lead moms through the tough times or to offer praise for the privilege of spending our lives with our children.

Testimony time! Two of Mari’s children, a son and a daughter, have worked with us at library administration. I knew them both years before I met Mari, and they are living proof of her success in childrearing. They were hard workers, kind, respectful, and reliable— everything mothers everywhere want their children to be. We sent them off with fabulous reviews. Her daughter went on to graduate school in Australia and is now an office administrator for a local health and nutrition company, and her son is finishing up his senior year in college and working as a tutor. They were both proofreaders and editors for Take Heart.

Congratulations, Mari! Beautifully done.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Treading, Shredding, But Not Much Shedding

2014-09-06 19.24.05I know that all of my readers have been breathlessly awaiting an update since my August 13th post about our new treadmill and my resolution to Spartan Up! First of all, I want to let you know that I love my new Skechers Go Walks! They fit like a glove, and they’re as cool and light as advertised. I just pull them on and I’m ready to go. No socks, no lacing. I’m not sure whether I’ll want to switch back to socks and my big ol’ walking shoes when the weather gets cooler, but we’ll see.

Along with walking, I’ve been trying to do push-ups and crunches. I figure that aerobics and these two exercises will cover all of my needs. Since I’ve been working in an office, I’ve noticed a big difference in my arms. I’m sure that this has nothing to do with the years streaking by, but my forearms have turned to moosh. The only work my forearms do now is help to support my hand while it clicks a mouse—and that’s only my right hand. If you squeeze my forearms, you get moosh and bones, that’s it. After just a few weeks of push-ups, my arms seem to have more substance.

After a week or so, I realized that I wanted to make sure that I did my push-ups correctly, since I’m doing them lady-style, that is, from the knees. I went on YouTube and searched for “push-ups women,” and found a very informative video that showed me that, yep, I’m doing it right. I’m learning a whole new lingo, though. During the demonstration, the guy instructor said, “Remember that the belly-button is engaged.” I beg your pardon? My belly-button is not engaged. If it were, it would certainly have told me so. Legally speaking, my belly-button is married to my husband’s belly-button. I’m pretty sure that’s how these things work. In any case, every time I exercise, I stay aware of my belly-button. So far, it hasn’t tried to run off and elope.

2014-09-06 19.22.29I do my crunches on the exercise ball that my sweet niece gave me a couple of years ago for Christmas, which now has squatter’s rights on the seat of our family room rocking chair. When I do give it a shock by placing it on the floor, it makes it so much easier on my back. No more excuses to avoid crunches. I do have to put it beside the sofa, though, so that I can grab the arm when I’m losing my balance. So far, I’ve only flipped over once, although it was a terrifying experience. There I am, crunching away, when suddenly I’m seeing what’s behind me, upside down. Twirling my arms in the air didn’t help, but I finally found a way to twist to the side and slide off that way. I was so embarrassed, even though I was by myself! I will not be posting a video.

Treadmills are so awesome in one way, in that you can exercise like mad without leaving your air- conditioned home. I decided to walk for 30 minutes—about a mile and a half—on weekdays, increasing to two miles on weekends. I wonder what our hard-working ancestors would have thought about sweating through two miles of walking uphill, yet still remaining in the same place. What could possibly be the purpose?

2014-08-12 21.46.52David finally made it onto the treadmill last week, in the mornings while I was getting ready for work. Friday morning, a persistent noise was making its way through the floorboards, and as I went up the stairs, it became more and more distinct. Bap! Bap! Bap! “What is that?” I asked. “Oh, it’s nothing,” puffed David. But then I saw something whipping around the end of the treadmill, and he had to admit that the belt was shredding. Oy! There is some force in my house that targets and destroys treadmills. Fortunately, it is possible to purchase a new belt for this model, although it is not cheap. Naturally, we had to try that universal cure for all ills before springing for a new belt, so David coated the top and bottom of the tear with duct tape. I was downstairs reading yesterday evening when he was effecting this repair, and I looked up curiously when he came down the stairs and out the back door with a flashlight. After coming back in, he confessed that the treadmill did not appreciate the duct tape under the belt, and had tripped a breaker. Fortunately, it did not burn out the motor, so I was able to walk a bit today once he removed the bottom layer of tape.

Pink scale

How cute is that? I want one.

So, after all this effort, have I been dropping those pounds like mad? Not a bit. I dropped three pounds right away, put two back on, dropped one, gained it back, and so on for three weeks now. As of this morning, I had lost almost six pounds, but tomorrow morning I could gain it all back. Who knows? I’m trying to give myself that whole pep talk about how the exercise is causing me to build up muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat, so really I’m losing fat. Yeah. So really, I have gained forty pounds of lovely muscle, which will soon start burning all that fat, and I’ll look like a body builder overnight some night. I’m not sure that’s what I was going for, to tell you the truth. And no, my clothes do not feel as if they’re about to fall off, either. If I had wanted to maintain my weight, I could have done that while eating sugar-free homemade ice cream and snacking in front of the television every evening. Believe me, I know this from experience.

On the other hand, I do have another tool to measure my health: my glucometer. Every morning now, I take my fasting blood sugar, and it is doing soooo much better. I had gotten up to a morning bg (blood glucose) between 110 and 115, which is not where an unmedicated Type 2 diabetic wants to be. Since I’ve quit the evening snacks and started exercising, it’s usually around 100, and often in the 90s. Happy day. This is a better indicator of what’s going on inside than my scale. Once it even fell to 89, and my glucometer was so concerned that it asked me if I wanted to make a note. (This is what happens when you have smart appliances. They get all emotional.) Glucose Buddy logoI have also found a new app for diabetics that I like much more than the old one I had that suddenly got all nosy and wanted me to join a group. I uninstalled that one. This one is called My Glucose Buddy, and it seemed to get the highest reviews of all the Android apps out there. It’s free, too! It can keep track of all your stats, and it’s very organized and easy to use. If you have a smart glucometer, you can download your info directly into it, and when you’re ready, it will fax a report to your doctor. That’s great, because I never could figure out how to email a report to my doctor with the last app. I’m looking forward to the day that I’ll have a very impressive graph to show her. I downloaded it from the GooglePlay store on my phone.

My whole extended family is working out and getting fit. My son is running with the “Couch to 5K” app, and my sister has started a kick-boxing class. Not that she needed to get more exercise; she swims every day, walks, and plays tennis like a pro several times a week. We’ve been talking about how weak Americans are compared to, say, the Israelis. With this new class, though, she has a surge of confidence. If the terrorists show up, she can yell, “Look out! I can jump rope for three minutes!”

Skip, skip, skip….

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Spartan Up, Y’all!

As you know if you’ve been here for a while, David and I lost weight a couple of years ago by walking on a treadmill—and starving, of course. Well, the treadmill broke and twenty of the thirty pounds that I had lost have come creeping back. I’m not saying which of the three people in this house broke the treadmill, but I will say that it took me by surprise when I went to walk on it one day and nothing happened. We kept on meaning to fix it, but it needed the entire electronic console, and the treadmill was so old that they didn’t make it anymore.

Spartan Up

Yes, that is a duct tape spine.

Well, last week was quite eventful. I had an annual physical that did not go well, and David had a similar experience with his physician. Furthermore, I had yet another birthday, and to go along with this whole concatenation of events, the library received the book Spartan Up!, by Joe De Sena. In case you haven’t heard of Spartan Races, as I had not, they are events in which Joe tries to kill you so that you can feel better about yourself and life in general. Seriously, the runners have to sign a waiver that states that they might die, and they need to be OK with that. This interests me not at all, but the subtitle, A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life, got my attention. I was exactly at a point in my life where I needed someone to kick me in the backside (to be nice about it), and Joe is an undisputed expert at that. He is extremely motivational, and he gives his opinion as to what makes some people winners in life. First, just plain ol’ grit, the ability to endure pain over the long haul. Secondly, the ability to delay gratification (so hard!). Thirdly, the ability to constantly change your frame of reference. That one was tough for me to understand at first, but he spent some time on it. Simply put, for De Sena, the Spartan Race is created to be so long and difficult, and to be filled with so many surprise obstacles, that your brain and body will be pushed beyond their limits. If you do this sort of training often enough, you will be so tough that you will not whine as if your life is over if the barista makes your latté wrong. Your frame of reference will have changed.

De Sena is incredibly hard on himself. He has not always been an athlete, but rather had a desk job and was bored with life and unhappy with the shape he was in. He and a friend started staging races, began researching health and exercise, and eventually founded a huge company that hosts races around the world. He spends a lot of the book describing the events, most of which I skimmed, but if you like that sort of thing, they do seem amazing. His coaching, though, is what I was after, and he is so tough! If you hit the snooze button, you’ve already lost for the day. Run first thing every morning, so that everything else is easier. He is particularly fond of burpees, which I thought was a seed catalog, but I Googled it, and they are a particularly torturous type of exercise. Look it up; I could never even do one. Maybe some day. However, his training advice covers all areas of life, not just the physical, and I have reread those sections a couple of times. Good stuff, if you need some motivation.

Skechers Go Walk

My Skechers are not pink, but these Go Walks are just so cute!

Back to the birthday. I had unashamedly asked for money for my birthday, since I have needed a new winter coat for a couple of years. I had saved up a bit, and my givers were very generous (especially my husband), so after I ordered the coat, I looked up some walking shoes I had seen in a TV commercial just a few days earlier. Skechers Go Walk shoes are supposed to be very light and lined with a wicking fabric so that you can wear them with no socks. They have a finger loop in the back so that you can just pull them on. I immediately wanted some, since I need to remove all barriers that get between me and exercise, including putting on socks and lacing shoes. Plus, it may be a Southern thing, but I love to be as close to barefoot as possible as often as possible. They had lots of styles, and I got myself a pair of Skechers Go Walk Ultimates. Woo-hoo! I had a big plan to get up earlier, drive to work in my walking shoes, and walk in the lovely park behind our office building every morning. Getting up earlier would just about kill me, but I had read Spartan Up! by then, so I thought could do it.

2014-08-12 21.46.52

Facing the TV, so I don’t have to think too hard.

Just for fun, I clicked onto Craig’s List to see if I could find anything decent in the way of exercise equipment, and lo and behold, someone had just posted a Vision Fitness treadmill for a great price! It was a gym-quality machine, which we need because some of us might put too much stress on a small, folding treadmill. Maybe. David and I counted our pennies and leftover birthday money, and we could get it without being late on any bills, so I immediately texted the seller. We met him the next day, and he even had a big van so that he could deliver it despite the threat of rain. He was a really nice guy and was interested in our old treadmill. I told him he could have it if he took it away. So he, David, and Michael struggled to get this monster machine down the winding stairs and out the door with just a moderate amount of damage to the house and their backs.

I am still marveling at how all of these events came together. We have cleaned the annual birthday carbs out of the house, and I have walked on our new treadmill two days in a row now. My new shoes should be here within a week, and I hope they are as fabulous as they seem. I will go to see my doctor again in February, and I hope to wow her with my amazing progress. In the meantime, I am going around my house saying, “Spartan up!” to pretty much any situation that’s not meeting my expectations. Since neither of my guys have read the book yet, they just patiently sigh and say, “Yeah, whatever.”

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New and Notable: Picture Books, Part Four

Duck and GooseWith new picture books pouring into the library system every day, I can say that Americans are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. We can take our children to storytime every week and come home with an armload of books for free. Well, yes, it is taken out of your taxes, but wouldn’t you rather use your tax dollars this way than to make use of the fire department every week? Alright, then.

On the other hand, boatloads of books can make good choices difficult. Here are some of my favorite new books—“new” meaning within the past year or maybe two. I have left out anything that I’ve already mentioned in a previous part of this article and have loosely grouped them into similar styles or themes.

 Self-Esteem and Individuality

Some Monsters Are DifferentDavid Milgrim- Some Monsters Are Different. Pastel, non-scary monsters turn out to have the same differences that human children do! Funny.

David Shannon- Bugs in My Hair. David Shannon writes many hilarious books about his less-than-sterling childhood. This icky title is full of puns and laughter.

Flight SchoolLita Judge– Flight School. A penguin story about a little water bird who will do anything to fly. He declares that he has “the soul of an eagle.” Fabulous writing.

Tori Corn- Dixie Wants an Allergy. Dixie is jealous of all the kids in her class who have allergies, and she wants to be special like them. An interesting way to teach about both allergies and contentment.

Jill Esbaum- I Hatched! A killdeer chick hatches and discovers the wonder of himself! Very enthusiastic and childlike, including matter-of-fact exploration of his whole body. Makes a great read-aloud.

Intergenerational

How to Babysit a GrandmaBarney Saltzberg- Tea with Grandpa. Timeless sweetness with cutting-edge technology, a little girl has tea with her grandpa every Saturday. Only on the last page does the reader discover that it’s a Skype teatime.

Jean Reagan- How to Babysit a Grandma. A new sequel to the hilarious How to Babysit a Grandpa, this child teaches other kids how to keep Grandma busy, how to take her to the park, and other skills.

 Fun Ways to Teach

President TaftMac Barnett- President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath. Full-on comedy for this dubiously historical event.

Gloria Whelan- Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine. How can Victoria be modest and queenly, yet still enjoy the ocean? Prince Albert to the rescue!

Brad Meltzer- I Am Rosa Parks. Meltzer has recently launched these picture book biographies that show famous individuals as children. See also I Am Abraham Lincoln and I Am Amelia Earhart. More to come!

Clotilde Perrin- At the Same Moment Around the World. Here’s an unusual topic for picture books: time zones. This tall, skinny book shows children pursuing activities in each time zone, with a map in the back to show them all at once.

Karen Kaufman Orloff and David Catrow- I Wanna Iguana. A little boy and his mom exchange messages about the pros and cons of buying an iguana. Might encourage writing; might discourage the gimmes. Features Catrow’s wildly energetic illustrations.

Little Red WritingKaty Beebe- Brother Hugo and the Bear. A medieval take on “the dog ate my homework.” Brother Hugo says that Saint Augustine’s writings have been eaten by a bear, so he has to copy a new illuminated manuscript.

Kyo Maclear- Julia, Child. How Julia Child and her friend Simca learned to love French cooking as children. Encourage your little chef!

Joan Holub- Little Red Writing. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood starring a red pencil who writes her own story, including facing down a pencil sharpener called the Wolf 3000.

For the Love of Books

Library Book for BearBarbara Bottner- Miss Brooks’ Story Nook. Sequel to the fabulous Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t), this librarian heroine uses stories to deal with real-life problems.

Bonny Becker- A Library Book for Bear. The latest in the series that began with A Visitor for Bear, these humorous stories about a curmudgeonly bear and gregarious mouse are absolute favorites.

Animal Stories

Mister Bud Wears the ConeCarter Goodrich- Mister Bud Wears the Cone. Poor Mister Bud. He had a hot spot, and he worried it so much he had to wear the cone. If you’ve seen the movie Up, you know the shame involved. Hilarious and poignant tales of an old dog and the young upstart. The first in the series is Meet Zorro. This is probably my favorite picture book so far this year.

Stephen Huneck- Sally Goes to Heaven. The very last book in the “Sally” series about this beloved black Lab. Illustrated with distinctive woodcuts. We will miss Sally.

John Himmelman- Katie and the Puppy Next Door. Katie learns about friendship with other dogs. First in this series is the adorable Katie Loves the Kittens.

Tad Hills- Duck and Goose Go to the Beach. Duck thinks he wants to go the beach, but then doesn’t like it.  Goose doesn’t want to go, but then loves it! Hills is the author of the How Rocket Learned to Read series.

Jasper & JoopTorben Kuhlmann- Lindbergh. A mouse decides to build a plane to escape the new mousetrap. Detailed artwork in saturated watercolors.

Olivier Dunrea- Jasper & Joop. Adorable, simple, little stories about ducks and geese who might remind you of your toddler. Lots of white space behind vividly colored waterfowl. The series begins with Gossie.

Just. So. Fun.

I Am OtterSam Garten- I Am Otter. When a stuffed animal’s owner grows up, Otter decides to open a toast restaurant, but when nothing goes as planned, she blames Giraffe. Hilarious, with plenty of humor for the grown-up reading it aloud.

Alexander Steffensmeier- Millie and the Big Rescue. Millie is one mischievous cow. In this episode, she gets stuck in the top of a tree while playing a game of hide-and-seek. The series begins with Millie Waits for the Mail. Great artwork.

Daddy's ZigzaggingAlan Lawrence Sitomer- Daddy’s Zigzagging Bedtime Story. What’s a daddy to do when he has a girl and a boy who want stories? What about truck-driving aliens who burp fire with a purple unicorn who bakes cupcakes? A wild and rollicking bedtime for all.

Jennifer Gordon Sattler- Pig Kahuna Pirates! In this sequel to Pig Kahuna, pig brothers Dink and Fergus are excellent sibling role models as they play pirates on the beach. Picture book pigs rock.

Keiko Kasza- My Lucky Birthday. Another book about a terrific pig, although this one may end up as an alligator’s birthday dinner. Sequel to My Lucky Day.

Jeff Cohen- Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut Ever. As an older sister, I can attest that the desire to improve—and thereby totally wreck—your younger sister’s hair is universal.

Wordless Wonders

Tortoise and the HareAaron Becker- Quest. Remember Harold and the Purple Crayon? Here is a girl with a red marker, but instead of line drawings, Becker uses beautiful, detailed paintings to take readers on a Journey (2013) and then a Quest (2014).

Jerry Pinkney- The Tortoise and Hare. Award-winning artist Pinkney fills the pages with paintings in this “retelling” of the Aesop’s Fable. Let your children tell the story as they drink in the artwork. See also the Caldecott-winning The Lion and the Mouse.

Well, That’s Different

Battle BunnyJon Scieszka- Battle Bunny. A deconstructionist take on Little Golden Book-type picture books. The artwork shows a sweet picture book scribbled in, erased, and defaced in order to tell a more exciting tale from a little boy’s perspective. Pictures by Mac Barnett. Between these two guys, you can’t expect anything traditional.

Molly Schaar Idle- Tea Rex. Cordelia is a no-nonsense little girl who sets out to domesticate a T-Rex by teaching him tea party manners.

Hervé Tullet- Press Here. An interactive book with no moving parts! This 2011 book started a trend of books that use digital concepts, but unplug kids from electronics. I handed these out to a room full of adults and watched them tapping the book, turning it upside down, and shaking it, totally engrossed. Coming in September: Mix It Up!

N.D. (Nathan) Wilson- Ninja Boy Goes to School. A little boy uses his ninja skills in order to succeed in—and escape from—school. Not quite socially acceptable. The author of 100 Cupboard’s first picture book.

Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen-The Dark. Portrays “the dark” as an entity that lives in a boy’s house. He is afraid of it until they make friends. Can Lemony Snicket do anything ordinary? A bit frightening, so use discretion.

When the Wind BlewAlison Jackson- When the Wind Blew. Nursery rhyme characters and conventions get all mixed up when the wind blows, and it’s up to the Old Woman Who Lives in the Shoe and her many children to straighten everything out again. Great fun for children who know their nursery rhymes. Refreshing: a generously proportioned heroine and a happy home with more than 1.8 children.

Did I miss your favorite new finds? Please feel free to add them to the comments so that we can all enjoy them.

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

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If One Is Good, More Is Great! Picture Books, Part Three

How Do DinosaursReaders love series. You do. I do. Once you fall head over heels for your favorite characters, you have to know what they’re up to now. Whether you like gritty crime novels or cozy village mysteries, there’s always another case to solve, although how Jessica Fletcher found so many murder victims in little Cabot Cove is disturbing. I think I’d move.

Children are no different. If you enjoyed giving a pig a pancake (Laura Numeroff), you’ll probably like to give a moose a muffin. If you needed to know how dinosaurs say goodnight (Jane Yolen), you’ll probably want to know how they get well soon. If the formula works well for your kids, keep the fun going. A series is a sure thing. Pete the CatOnce you find a hit, it’s such a relief to know that there are many happy bedtimes in your future! Fancy Nancy (Jane O’Connor), Curious George (H.A. Rey), Olivia (Ian Falconer) and Pete the Cat (Eric Litwin/ James Dean) are some of the best characters out there. Even Madeline (Bemelmans), Thomas the Tank Engine (Awdry), and Babar (de Brunhoff) were the stars of series in their day.

When I run a report of the 100 most popular picture books in our library system, I have to read past the 70th title before I find a non-series book. Isn’t that shocking? Pity the new author trying break into publishing these days! As a book selector, I am always on the lookout for original new work, and finding a gem is exciting. Of course, next year, that gem could turn out to have been the first of a series, too.

Not all series are intentional. Sometimes an author writes a new book that is just so popular that the readers want more, so first there is a sequel, and if that goes well, it could go on forever. As we all know, some series run out of gas and become formulaic. When publishers find a cash cow, though, they will keep on milking until it’s dry!

So, at what point does a series become a “commercial series”? Since all publishing is done for profit, I suppose they are all commercial in a sense, but you know that when you can purchase the video, the lunchbox, the action figures, and the t-shirt, you’ve got a commercial series on your hands. Television and merchandising for children are incredibly profitable, and the vast majority of publishers for children today are part of a large media conglomerate. Dora the ExplorerMany television characters become a brand, and they wrap themselves in wholesome flags of education so that, as a parent, you can be proud to purchase their products for your kids.When I was in Minneapolis a few years ago, we went the Mall of America and saw a three-story-tall balloon of Dora the Explorer—inside the mall!

You may remember from the first part of this article that the very earliest books for children, back in the late 1800s, were didactic little tomes written to admonish children to behave properly. Flash forward to today and look at the messages in many of the commercial series, whether television or books. “Save the planet” may be number one. How many times does your child have to be told to recycle? That’s so boring! Parents can model that behavior and kids can participate in family life and then go play. I completely reject the popular idea that children should educate their parents. Anyone who thinks that children are more virtuous than their parents has never seen a toddler playgroup when the mommies get lost in their conversations. Someone always ends up screaming, and the mommies go home and drink wine. And it doesn’t get any better as they get older, as anyone who has read Lord of the Flies can tell you. God gave humans long childhoods so that their parents would have time to civilize them.

Arthur's Off to SchoolProbably the second most common theme is liking school and behaving well in class. “Back to school” stories are sure hits every year. Commercial series are very big on molding good citizens. We all want good citizens, but how about well-rounded, curious, thoughtful, creative, happy children? Perhaps there’s not much separating today’s commercial series from those dreary first books except the brightly colored pictures. Each child is a brand-new, original human being, not just another brick in the wall.

OliviaShould you avoid commercial series altogether? Absolutely not! Olivia is adorable, and her original books are brilliant. Just be aware that the new ones that have come out since the TV show are different, and you may want to pay attention. Dora and Diego are model little people, and a bit of that is a good thing. If your kids love Team Umizoomi, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Yo Gabba Gabba, or any one of a dozen more TV shows, and you worry that they’re not reading, if you can hook them into books with familiar characters, go for it. Your kids’ friends are going to talk about characters that they see on TV, and it’s fine for your kids to know them, too, so that they can chatter along.

Hardy Boys ChumsI certainly read series books, and I’m sure you do, too, but you know how a steady diet of chick-lit or spy thrillers can make you sick after a while. We all need something more nourishing. C.S. Lewis said it best in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when he revealed that Eustace was the way he was because he had read all the wrong books. When my son was a certain age, he wanted nothing but Hardy Boys mysteries. Now, we all want the lads to solve mysteries with their chums, but after months of them, his reading progress started to flatline. Time to find something new! Next time, we’ll look at some of the great new picture book titles coming out that will delight you and your children. Some of them are in series!

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

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Classics & Caldecotts: Picture Books, Part Two

Honey for a Child's HeartClassic picture books are those that we all remember from childhood— and our parents and grandparents may even remember them from their childhoods. They provide more cultural cohesion than Common Core could ever hope to do. No one has to legislate or prescribe picture books; we all love them and ask for them over and over again.

My two favorite resources that I used as a mother for finding excellent books are Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt, and Books Children Love, by Elizabeth Wilson. Both of these guides are written from a Christian perspective, and may be well-known to you already. My copies are old and generously marked-up, but they are available in ever-updated editions, as well. Even though these books, especially Honey for a Child’s Heart, have extensive lists of picture books, they are only a jumping-off point. There are wonderful new picture books coming out every day, so be sure to weave new and old into your reading lists, just as you do for yourself.

Although fairy tales and Mother Goose are not picture books per se, they are such a part of our oral and written traditions as a society that they provide rich fields of inspiration for artists, so most of us tend to experience them in gloriously illustrated picture books. Older children may learn Andersen’s or Grimm’s Fairy Tales in a larger, picture-less book, but a first taste of these terrifying tales on Dad’s lap is much friendlier. As adults, we expect others to know what we mean by “the big, bad wolf” or “turn into a pumpkin” without explanation. There is so much assumed knowledge in a culture, and a large part of it comes from the shared experience of childhood stories. Be sure that your children are introduced to this rich heritage.

Real Mother GooseCertain editions of these stories have almost become the industry standard. We love, for example, The Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, but the Rosemary Wells or Tomie de Paola editions, as well as many others, are also lovely. Marcia Brown’s retelling of Stone Soup, originally published in 1947, was probably familiar to your children’s grandmother. Paul Galdone is one familiar illustrator who has made individual books from many Mother Goose rhymes, as well as folk tales and legends. Little Red HenGaldone is a reliable author for The Three Little Kittens, The Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Hen, and many other classic children’s tales. Other more formal illustrators of folk and fairy tales include K.Y. Craft (try Cinderella) and one of my favorites, Trina Schart Hyman (try Little Red Riding Hood). Some fairy tales may be found in the picture book section of your library, but others will be in J398.2, with Mother Goose in J398.8. Ask the library staff for help. I always did, and found many treasures that way.

Peter RabbitOther original picture books have found their ways into our hearts, as well. Beatrix Potter, for example, is the beloved English author of the small books about Peter Rabbit and his friends. Both the words and the illustrations are by Potter, and we can’t imagine naughty Peter or his good little siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail any other way. How many children have fallen asleep to Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and how many parents have been unable to finish reading Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit from weeping?

Curious George“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” and you know that I mean Madeline, your child’s introduction to international living. The monkey who lives with the man in the yellow hat is, of course, H. A. Rey’s Curious George, and the creature who says “I speak for the trees!” is The Lorax. Dr. Seuss has other picture books freighted with meaning, as well, including Horton Hears a Who!: “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Mike MulliganSome of our favorite picture books when my son was growing up were those by Robert McCloskey, especially Blueberries for Sal. McCloskey wrote such gentle tales that even the scariness of the mother bear was not too much for a young child. Make Way for Ducklings inspired the sculpture in the Boston Public Garden, showing a simpler time when even a big city could come to a halt for a feathered family. The picture book that probably garnered the most re-readings in our house was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton. For boys, what’s not to love? Noisy construction equipment, a dare, a race against time, and the love between man and machine. For Mom, a happy, quiet ending right before bed.

LocomotiveThe Caldecott Award, beginning in 1938, has been awarded to the artist of the most distinguished picture book of the year. While there are many fabulous picture books on the list, it is important to note that the award is for the artist, not the author. Even when this is the same person, the book is being lauded for the illustrations, not the story. This past year’s award, for example, went to Locomotive, by Brian Floca, and while it is luminous and brilliant, it is a nonfiction title for slightly older children and would not make a great bedtime story. Castle, by David Macaulay, which won an honor in 1978, is another excellent nonfiction Caldecott book. Locomotive and two of this year’s honor books, Journey and Mr. Wuffles were all favorites of mine. Sick Day for Amos McGeeOne of the sweetest books ever is A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Erin Stead, which won in 2011. I remember closing the book and hugging it the first time I read it. I also love The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless book by Jerry Pinkney, from 2010, Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems, an honor book in 2005, and Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, by Doreen Cronin, from 2001.

St George and the DragonRapunzel, by Paul Zelinsky, in 1998, Puss in Boots, by Fred Marcellino in 1991, and Fables, by Arnold Lobel in 1981 are wonderful examples of fairy tales and traditional tales retold with new illustrations. My beloved Trina Schart Hyman won for the intricate Saint George and the Dragon in 1985, and the two Robert McCloskey titles discussed above won in 1949 and 1942. You may also recognize titles like Where the Wild Things Are, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and other stories no child should miss. Click on the link above and start checking off your list.

Read to Your BunnyLooking over these titles reminds me of how much longer picture books used to be. You should be aware that storyteller-librarians have to choose picture books with less text and livelier stories than they did when you or your parents were little. Since children’s television became the huge market that it is today, children’s attention spans will not allow them to sit and listen to long stories or those without bouncy rhymes or funny jokes. If you’d like to do the world a favor, raise children who can follow a story to the end, using their imaginations and soaking up the language. Less screen time and more listening will bless us with deep thinkers, and we all know we need more of them! Rosemary Wells says it best: “Read to your bunny.”

Speaking of children’ television, the next article will include that favorite of children’s publishers, commercial series, also known as: “Well, at least they’re reading something.”

Disclaimer: This series of articles, as indeed all of my articles, are written entirely on my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.

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Two Teals Cooking

Make Ahead PaleoOn Independence Day, as David was working his Yard Warrior routine, I was puttering around in the kitchen, groovin’ to Lake Street Dive (“You Go Down Smooth“) and whipping up five different recipes. We had David’s grandmother’s recipe, “Mama Teal’s Famous Barbecued Chicken,” on the menu, and since that naturally goes with cole slaw, which I make with my food processor’s shredder blade, I decided to get some extra work out of it and shred up veggies to make “Breakfast Muffins” from the new cookbook Make-Ahead Paleo, by Tammy Credicott.

2014-07-04 15.33.01This cookbook has several sections featuring different ways of preparing food in advance: cooking for the freezer, preparing crockpot recipes in advance, and, as in this case, prepping all the complicated parts of a recipe a day or more in advance of finishing or serving. On July 4th, I put all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, covered it and put it away, and then I processed all of the “add-ins”—shredded carrots and zucchini, chopped walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut. I covered the container and put it in the fridge for the next morning. All I had to do after that was mix up the eggs and such, and then put it all together.

Since I am a low-carber, not really a Paleo die-hard, I had to replace the maple syrup with two other ingredients. I used Splenda in the dry ingredients for sweetness, and then used coconut milk to replace the liquid. It worked perfectly. These muffins were sweet and delicious, and much lighter than I expected with all of those added ingredients. If you have children, this is a terrific way to sneak some serious vegetables into their diets without a struggle. However, I cannot guarantee success unless you listen to mellow music while you work.2014-07-05 09.38.04
Deviled Eggs Debbie MooseThe next day, with the satisfaction of a perfectly manicured lawn behind him, David spent some time in the kitchen creating a batch of “Deviled Ham ‘n’ Eggs.” This was his second round with this recipe, as it was the first one we made when I brought the book home. David is a specialty chef. He grills brilliantly, of course, and is particularly adept with fish on the grill. He also makes breakfast every weekday morning, which is an excellent arrangement, since he wakes up perky every morning, whereas I would start to think about breakfast around 10 AM— which would be unfortunate, since I’d be at work at that point. So he gets me off to a good start every morning. And then, for some reason, he has had a fascination with deviled eggs for several years since my friend, Julie, gave me a copy of a cookbook by Debbie Moose with nothing but deviled egg recipes. David is working his way through this little gem, and we are all happily sampling the results. Lately, we’ve been traveling so much that we’ve missed our connection with Elaine, our egg lady at church, and I think we panicked and overbought eggs at the store. Time for a special recipe!

David uses our friend Darlene’s instructions for egg boiling. Darlene is a botanist from Ontario, and this method is a result of scientific experimentation from her graduate work, so we call them Canadian eggs. We do not question why botanists would need to study hard-boiled egg preparation. David puts the eggs in the pot, covers them with salted water, and brings them to a full, rolling boil. He begins timing the eggs when they come to a boil, and he boils them for two minutes. He then removes them from the heat, covers the pot, and lets them sit for ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the number of eggs. He hypothesizes that more eggs, and therefore more water, will take longer to reach a boil, so they can sit for less time. At that point, he pours off the hot water and immediately plunges them into ice-filled water until they are completely cool. Using this method, he gets perfectly cooked eggs without that gray-green ring around the yolks.

2014-07-05 13.40.22“Deviled Ham ‘n’ Eggs” is a great recipe for summer, when we have the fresh thyme and parsley growing in the garden. I will not divulge that David always has to ask which herb is which. He digs the soil; I’m the plant person. I’m not complaining. Besides the ham and herbs, this recipe calls for lemon juice, and the end result is a fresh, savory snack. The “make-ahead” element of this recipe is that you can make these the day before a picnic and they will travel well in your cooler. Again, we are not Paleo hardliners, so we ignore the dairy-free rule when it’s convenient. Here you can see some of the eggs topped with chopped parsley (the authorized version) and some topped with shredded sharp cheddar (unauthorized, but yummier). Take your pick.

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The Paleo movement continues to evolve, concentrating more on whole, unprocessed foods, rather than food that would actually be available in the Paleolithic era. Coconut aminos? Furthermore, natural sweeteners, such as honey and maple syrup, are showing up in more and more recipes, whereas Paleo cookbooks used to consider these very occasional treats. However, Make-Ahead Paleo is filled with wonderful recipes that I intend to sample, including “Macadamia, Garlic, and Basil-Crusted Chicken,” “Cashew Lime Hummus,” and “Creamy Cilantro No Potato Salad.” One brilliant feature is the “Week in a Day” section in the back that helps you to cook one day for a week’s worth of dishes. There are also resource lists, guides on how to store various ingredients, and grocery shopping and freezer inventory forms that you can download with a QR code. How well-planned is that? I can definitely recommend this large paperback cookbook to all busy low-carb or Paleo cooks. Bon appétit!

Disclaimer: I used a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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John Knox: Shaken, Not Stirred

Image“I meant to make a Presbyterian last night,” Michael announced one Saturday morning, “but then I fell asleep and I forgot.” Since I have positive feelings towards Presbyterians in general and am extremely fond of several Presbyterians in particular, I was quite unsettled by this Frankensteinish statement. Michael saw my shocked face and gestured to the coffee table. “It’s a drink.” Aha! A “Presbyterian” is the name of a cocktail in a recent alcohol-soaked issue of Garden & Gun featuring a chilled silver cup of Mint Julep on the cover. According to G&G, Presbyterians are made of bourbon or rye with ginger ale. Sure they are. Other offerings include a Dark & Stormy, with dark rum, ginger, and other secret ingredients, and a Spicy Shrub Paloma, with tequila, lime, and expensive-sounding things. This one looks cool and refreshing, and is topped with a big bunch of sage. Check ‘em out here. No lightning bolts required.

ImageWill Spring Ever Get Here?

I don’t think I’ve seen this much snow in one winter since we lived in Kentucky. Every year, I say that I won’t be ready to dig a garden until we have at least one snowfall. Well, I have been so ready for so long! We’ve had several snowfalls or ice storms that were significant enough to keep us housebound for a couple of days, although we have been fortunate to avoid power outages, unlike some of our co-workers.

Now that it is officially, legally spring, the Bradford pears are desperately trying to bloom, but the gray skies and cool temperatures were making it tough. We finally had an almost sunny morning yesterday, so I stopped to take a picture of these Bradfords, standing all in a row, valiantly trying to push those blossoms out. Since it is forecast to be in the seventies this weekend, I was starting to feel hopeful about that gardening.

Then I got to work and someone said: “Did you hear that we’re supposed to have ice and snow again Monday night?” It makes me want to push the blossoms back in for another week.

You Promised: No Island

ImageYes, David and I are the last people on the planet to watch the series Lost. So many people talk about it without explanations that I started to feel as if I were missing a chunk of cultural literacy. Happily, it is available everywhere, so we ordered up the first season from Netflix, but before we started watching, I asked Michael, “This isn’t one of those shows where they land on a deserted island, and people get voted off the island each week, is it?” He replied, “You’re thinking of Survivor.” So I felt better.

First episode: A plane crashes on a deserted island. Hey, wait! Michael said, “Give it three episodes.” So we did, and we really like it. No one gets voted off the island, although a few people have died, and there are surprises all the time. Each episode highlights one character’s back story, so we’ve gotten completely tangled up in everyone’s lives. We’re at the end of season one, and we look forward to season two, right after…

House of Cards! Since everyone is talking about this now, I thought we’d get our cultural literacy in a few years earlier this time. Michael assures me that I will not like it, because it has too much profanity. He’s usually right about these things, but don’t tell him I said that. I’ll let you know. For those of you who, like me, wondered if it was only on Netflix streaming, I can tell you that season one is available on disc, too. Queue up, as they say in Britain.

Turns out that our new knowledge was gained not a moment too soon. Now that there is another jet—I mean, a real jet—that has gone missing in the Pacific, everybody is talking about Lost again! This time, I can just nod sagaciously and make cool remarks. Of course, it’s like being on the other side of the television show, as if we’re the people looking for Jack and Kate and the gang. Since I don’t know how the show ends, I won’t compare too closely, but I do hope we can find the real plane.

ImageEven Boomers Are Geeks

My husband called me on my office phone this afternoon: “I’m in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and I can’t find an email or text with the grocery list on it.”

“I didn’t send you an email or text with the list.”

Silent confusion on the other end.

“I said it to you. “ Pause. “This morning. At breakfast.”

“Oh!” Pause.

Me: “Do you want to hang up and I’ll text it to you?”

“No, I guess you can say it and I’ll write it down.”

Remember notepaper tacked on to the fridge with magnets? Not any more.

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