Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Our busy, topsy turvy year is coming to a close. There is still time to reflect on the year behind us – the things I am proud of, the things I learned, and the things I have yet to accomplish. As the new year begins, I will lay out my goals and plans for 2017 – personally, professionally, with the blog, and with my writing. 

But for this week, this day, and this moment, I will open my heart to my myriad blessings. I will love my family with all my heart. And I will forgive myself for the places where I failed this year.

Best wishes to all of you during this joyous holiday season. Whatever your situation, I hope you can find some joy and peace. 

More to come in the new year!

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Schools Out! Summer Reading Challenge

School has been out for a few weeks now, and we are fully embracing all parts of summer: lots of swimming, bike riding, tree climbing, camping, and reading. My kids will read anywhere – on the couch, in a nice shady spot on the grass, or even up a tree!

While my son is an avid reader and my daughter is an excited emerging reader, I want to make sure their summer is full of adventures, creative stories, and high quality children’s literature. So I am giving them each a summer reading challenge. They each received a list of 20 books tailored to their ability, grade level, and favorite author/genres. If they read 10 books from their lists by the end of the summer, they get a toy or book.

So what’s on their lists?

Aidan

  1. Harry Potter – Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
  5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabstein
  6. Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things, Cynthia Vogt
  7. An Army of Frogs, Trevor Pryce
  8. The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
  9. Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
  10. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson
  11. Book of Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  12. Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
  13. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Kate Saunders
  14. The Zoo at the Edge of the World, Eric Kahn Gale
  15. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  16. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  17. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabstein
  18. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  20. I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition), Malala Yousafzai

Elizabeth

  1. I Am a Rock, Jean Marzollo
  2. Hop on Pop, Dr. Seuss
  3. Cat the Cat Who is That? Mo Willems
  4. See Me Run, Paul Meisel
  5. Mitten, Lois M. Shaefer
  6. When I Get Bigger, Mercer Mayer
  7. Swimmy, Leo Lionni
  8. The Thank You Book (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  9. Can I Play Too? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  10. Let’s Go For a Drive (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  11. I Will Take a Nap (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  12. Are You Ready to Play Outside? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  13. A Big Guy Took My Ball (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  14. The Magic Rabbit, Annette LeBlanc Cate
  15. The Worst Helper Ever, Richard Scarry
  16. Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach, James Dean
  17. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Doreen Cronin
  18. Llama, Llama Time to Share, Anna Dewdney
  19. Oliver, Sid Hoff
  20. Finding Nemo: Best Dad in the Sea

Lots of fun things to read, and much for me to enjoy reading aloud and along with the kids.

What children’s books do you consider essential summer reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Memorial Day and Goal Check-in

We pause in our outdoor celebrations and 3-day weekend fun to honor those who died serving our country. We thank them for their sacrifice and for keeping us safe. 


Back in January, I set an approach for achieving my 2016 goals. I planned to build on my blessings, and add some patience and hope. I gave myself the room to meet my goals, each in their own time.

So how’s it been going? There is much in my life that requires patience – relationships, plans, and the long list of things I want to accomplish. Some days I am more patient than others. And some days I do a better job of working towards my goals.

As I look back on the last 5 months, I have:

  • Finished the first draft of my latest middle grade novel
  • Began a new day job
  • Celebrated my daughter’s 6th birthday with her first slumber party
  • Helped my son discover the 4th and 5th Harry Potter books
  • Built my son a loft bed
  • Cleaned a carburetor 
  • Read 3 novels and probably over a hundred picture books
  • Stood strong through significant personal challenges

The next five months will likely be a combination of challenges and triumphs. I can’t guarantee how it will all turn out, but I can try to remain patient and hopeful. And keep my promise to myself that this will be good year, no matter what.

Renewing in the New Year

Happy 2016 everyone! We are now halfway into January. Whether you have made resolutions, decided on a word to characterize your year, or skipped it all and are just trying to regroup from the holidays, each new year gives us reason to pause. 

2015 was a challenging year for me both personally and professionally. So my approach to 2016 will need a little extra effort to get things back on track. And I will need to give myself the time required for positive change to happen.

So this year, I’ve decided to combine the fresh start of a new year with the renewal that comes with Spring. I will take everything I have – a strong body and mind, wonderful supportive friends, and the unconditional love of my family – and build on that. I will need to add a good dose of patience and a sprinkling of hope.

By combining the new year and Spring, I give myself permission to meet my goals slowly and deliberately. I allow myself to take a breath sometimes while still keeping my eyes on where I am trying to go.

I’ll let you know where this approach takes me once we reach Spring. I hope each of you have a positive year planned, full of growth and moving towards where you want to be. Whether you want to improve your writing, read more books, have more adventures, or be a better friend, I hope the next few months are fruitful.

Merry Christmas!

Yes, it really is only more week until Christmas! In our house, this last week is full of book club get togethers, gingerbread house building, parties, cookie baking, Christmas movie watching, and yes… plenty of Christmas books! Before the fun escalates to a truly crazy level, I thought I would take a moment to wish you a Merry Christmas. Each year I seek the true wonder of the Christmas season, and my wish for you is to experience all of the wonder, peace, and love that this time of year can bring. Some years it is harder to find, but it is still there if you look.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season however you celebrate it. May joy and happiness fill your heart. If you are as lucky as I am to have friends and family who love you, give them a big hug and tell them you love them too.

As a special treat this Christmas, Max stopped by to read you his favorite book. Cuddle up and hear Max’s special reading of Clement Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Christmas decorations

For those reading this post through email, please click on the post title to go to our website and view Max’s video.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving to all our readers! I hope your day is full of things that make you happy. It certainly is the time to pause and be grateful for what we have – and I am overflowing with blessings and gifts in my life.

In addition to my strong mind and body, my two beautiful children and loving family, and caring friends, I have the freedom to enjoy things that feed my soul – writing, running, reading, and crafting. My wish for each of you during this holiday season is to pause among the festivities and craziness, and feed your own soul.

Follow Up on Our Summer Reading Challenge

Now that school is back in full swing, I am looking back on the summer reading challenge we gave ourselves and reviewing how we did. Aidan and I challenged ourselves to read 20 books over the summer, and we had shared our list of planned books with you.

So how did we do? For quantity, Aidan completed his 20 books and a few more. For me, I read closer to 10 novels (several over 700 pages each), but over 50 picture books with Elizabeth.

We met our number goal, but how was the quality? Even though we didn’t necessarily stick to the list we had planned (Aidan in particular), overall we read good quality books. Aidan began his summer devouring Calvin and Hobbes collections (which is technically reading, but not what I had in mind), and then reading some good novels including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He re-read some favorites including some Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, sprinkled in with a bunch of graphic novels from our library. He finished up the summer with a keen interest in non-fiction books about animals and geography (go figure). We are still planning to finish Shiloh together, which we got about halfway through.

For all of us, we read some good books and some not so good books. That is to be expected. I will still encourage Aidan to supplement his graphic novel/comics interests with meatier novels. However, the most important thing I saw this summer was my kids reading. Not “Mom made me sit down and be quiet” reading. Book-loving reading – fully engrossed, bring a book everywhere, “Mom, can I bring the book in the store?” kind of reading. Perhaps that is the best measure of our summer reading challenge, which I declare a success.

What did you read this summer? Any good finds?

Back to School!

This week, the school year began anew in my town. My children counted down the days with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness. Once the day finally came, it was bittersweet for me – after a summer packed with fun and togetherness, it was time for all of us to transition to our next path.

My kids each begin this year in a new environment – my daughter begins Kindergarten, and my son moves up to a new school for 4th grade. So far, they are excited and happy with these new adventures.

I, on the other hand, am a bit melancholy. As I watched my youngest get on the bus, my heart seized. How were both my kids ready to go out into the world? When did they grow into such independent children with strong, humorous, and energetic personalities? While I recognize that it was my job to prepare them to do just that – take on the world with a bounce in their step – it doesn’t make it any less bittersweet.

So I will take a lesson from my own children. I will accept whatever comes of this new phase of my life with enthusiasm and excitement. And just a little bit of tears.

Summer Camp Memories

My kids have been in morning camp for several weeks now, and have several more weeks ahead of them. They go to a wonderful camp held at one of our local elementary schools, which combines learning something new with general outdoor fun and arts/crafts.

I have fond memories of my own camp experiences. I had a pretty diverse experience – I attended a playground camp, Girl Scout camp, and a intense camp at the local college where I took courses in programming and mime. And I loved every minute of each of them.

I think summer camps should be somewhere that provides a change of pace, and an opportunity to look at your world a little differently. There isn’t the daily pressure of homework or other lessons – just a relaxed environment where you can try some new things, have fun, and perhaps learn something about yourself. You might find you really like the arts, or that tennis really isn’t your thing. It’s all about self-exploration.

So how do we capture that in our adult lives? We can certainly try new things – a new skill, a new project, a new sport. We can also try to look at things with a new perspective. In the spirit of summer, I am trying to take a more relaxed approach to the summer. There may be some changes and transitions to my life in the fall (more to come on that later), so this may be my last fully engaged summer with my kids. I am taking it one day at a time versus making structured plans for each day. As long as we have a good mix of fun, quiet play, reading, and time together, I consider the day a success.

So for this summer, I am narrowing the focus down to the bare essentials. Time with my family, time with some books, time to work on my novel, and time for the outdoors.

I hope your summer is going as you have planned (or not planned, as the case may be!)

Happy 4th of July!

I hope all of our U.S. readers are enjoying the long Independence Day weekend. In addition to all of the BBQ, beach, and outdoor activities you have planned, I thought I’d take a minute to share some of our favorite books about America.

This list is by no means comprehensive – it is just reflective of what we enjoy that is on our shelf. Perhaps there are one or two here that might be a new discovery for you. Also, a thank you to family friends of ours who have a wonderful taste in books, and are responsible for giving us many of these books about America (you know who you are!)

Many of these books capture the spirit of what it means to be American, captured in the stories of famous people and places. Some of our favorites:

  • Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, Lynne Cheney
  • American Symbols and Their Meanings Series – Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, The American Flag (Joseph Ferry), The Liberty Bell, and The White House (all others by Hal Marcovitz)
  • Meet George Washington, Joan Heilbroner
  • The People Pick a President, Tamara Henneman
  • Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American, Margaret Davidson
  • Childhood of Famous Americans Series – Helen Keller (Katherine Wilkie), Thomas A. Edison (Sue Guthridge), Crazy Horse (George E. Stanley), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kathleen Kudlinski), and Abraham Lincoln (Augusta Stevenson)
  • A Book About Benjamin Franklin, Ruth Belov Gross

The last book is one from my childhood, published in 1975. I still enjoy reading it. The illustrations were done by J.B. Handelsman, a cartoonist for Punch in England and The New Yorker in the US. These cartoonish illustrations pair with the text to make Benjamin Franklin’s life very engaging to children.

Best wishes for a lovely weekend! If you have any other favorites about America, please share in the comments.american-flag-1280