CLAIRE HARTFIELD
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Building Your Toolkit What's On My Bookshelf Inspiring Action
In Memoriam
May 24, 2017

Memorial Day can be loads of fun with barbecues and parties and celebrating the return of summer (plus an extra day off from work or school!) It is also an opportunity to reflect on the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us. Here's a great book to read and discuss with your young child.

The Wall by Eve Bunting

A quiet book that conveys the mood invoked by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. A little boy and his dad visit the Wall to honor his grandfather who died in Vietnam. As they search for the grandfather’s name, the little boy observes the color and texture of the Wall. He reflects on the various objects that have been left at the Wall by other visitors. And he asks questions, good questions, about the conundrum of how we, the living, should think about the soldier’s act of giving up his or her life for our country.

A good conversation-starter for you and your child this Memorial Day weekend.

Pegged for ages 4-7.

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Skin Deep Beauty
May 07, 2017



Tis graduation season. Time for young people across the country to shine. Girls in party dresses, sparkly shoes, glamour makeup. Looking their best. Feeling their best.

A few years ago I was asked to be a graduation speaker and, in preparing, I took a look online at some other, more famous speakers, for inspiration. Since then, I take time, every year, to listen to a few speeches given by people who interest and inspire me.

This year I found a speech given in 2015 to Wellesley graduates by the fabulous writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am not going to summarize her speech here. But I mention it because the opening of her speech was about makeup. And that got me thinking.

Makeup hides flaws. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Adichie didn’t wear makeup in her teens. But in her young adulthood, she found herself in a professional situation where her contribution to the conversation was dismissed by the men around the table. She decided to start wearing lipstick to give her the appearance of being more experienced, older. Maybe, she thought, her co-workers would treat her with more respect.

Like Adichie, I was not a makeup-wearer. In fact, I resisted makeup except on the very most special occasions until I was in my 40s. And, whereas Adichie put on lipstick to appear older, there came a point when I looked in the mirror and decided concealer was needed to make me look younger.

So, what are the pluses and the pitfalls?

On the positive side, makeup can make you feel better about yourself - in all sorts of ways. For a young Adichie, it gave her more confidence among intimidating and dismissive businessmen. For an older me, it staves off being dismissed as “over-the-hill” and irrelevant. For teens who feel like one big pimple, it can give confidence in social interactions.

But are there downsides related to these same concerns? Men don’t wear makeup. Should women develop confidence in other ways rather than giving in to unequal standards?

I think it all comes down to this: Does wearing makeup make you feel better about yourself INSIDE? When you wear makeup, do you feel your inner self shine as much as your outer self? Or does makeup make you feel more like an object? Or, along with hiding your physical flaws, does makeup cover up your inner being? Teens are especially vulnerable to this pitfall as they struggle to establish their identities.

Bottom line: To wear or not to wear. Only if it enhances how YOU feel about yourself.

Share your makeup pros and cons.

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Children of Courage
May 12, 2017



Earlier this week I blogged about what I call “ordinary courage.” But there’s also extraordinary courage out there in the world. And knowing about it, stopping a moment to acknowledge and honor it, can inspire us to be our best, most courageous selves. This applies to all of us. Grownups. And kids.

So check out The World of Children that scours the nation and, each year, gives awards recognizing heroes helping children. There are awards for outstanding work in the fields of education, health, social services, and child protection. There is also an award that goes to a youth (under age 21) for having the courage and determination to do something extraordinary to support other children.

Meet some of the winners:

At Nicholas Lowinger’s school, he noticed a couple of kids – a boy and a girl - who took turns going to school. Why? Because they had to share a pair of shoes. And the shoes were pink and sparkly. It was hard not to notice the boy walking through the halls in pink shoes. Some kids might have laughed or teased, others might have felt awkward or a pang of sadness. Nicholas felt the need to make things better for this boy. One possibility would be for Nick to give the boy an old pair of his own shoes. Better than pink but not the same as every other boy was lucky enough to have. So Nick got up his courage, bought a new pair of basketball shoes, and handed them to the boy. Since then, Nicholas has raised money and donated NEW footwear to over 42,000 children around the United States.

Claudia Gonzales Moreno was a 19-year-old engineering student in Mexico. As she traveled the streets of La Paz she could not help but notice the many homeless children living I parks, graveyards, and sewers. She wanted to help. But the children were skeptical and frightened. Claudia had the courage to be patient, to earn their trust, and then to help them. Using her own money, Claudia rented a house big enough to shelter 40 children. Together, they chose to name the house ‘Alalay’ which means “I feel cold” – never forgetting where they had been and the grace of Claudia’s courage to provide shelter.

Jaylen Arnold had to face his own little life with courage. At age 2 he was diagnosed with OCD, Aspbergers, and Tourettes. By the time he went to school, Jaylen was a target for bullies. Jaylen chose to fight back, but not with fists. He started a program that he has taken to over 100,000 other children, summoning the courage to share his own story – with the bullies and the bullied – exposing the excruciating hurt that bullying causes.

Check out more at The World of Children.

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Ordinary Courage
May 10, 2017

So you want to talk to your kid about courage? Or maybe your kid comes to you and asks what courage means. Either way, here’s a book that is rich with food for thought and conversation.

Courage by Bernard Waber

This is not a storybook. It’s a book that explores many different ways to have courage – from the tall to the small. Like when it’s your turn to check on the night noises in the house, or to make sure nobody picks on your little brother, or when you’re trying to get up the spunk to sign your real name on a valentine to your secret crush. Courage is not just for famous heroes. It’s for ordinary people. It’s for you and me.

Pegged for ages 4-8.

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Profiles in Courage
May 07, 2017



Today Barack Obama received a Profiles in Courage Award. In his speech he talked about what courage means. He talked about representatives to Congress who voted to protect health care even though they knew it might cost them their jobs. They made a decision that doing what they knew in their hearts was right for the world was more important than doing what was safe for themselves.

Courage comes from the Latin word for heart. Action on the conviction in your heart is not a choice confined only to those who govern. Or to those in power. Every individual - grownups, teenagers, and children can act with courage.

Lately, in the face of many new dangers – the unrelenting violence in city, suburb, and small town; the loss of jobs and not knowing where the next meal is coming from; families being ripped apart as parents are deported away from their children; the rise of oceans with accompanying hurricanes and droughts; the bullying at school –we can get caught up in protecting our own little worlds, feeling powerless to help others being swept away in the tide.

I encourage you to listen to Obama’s speech. If you have school-age children or teenagers, fix some hot chocolate or a couple of ice cream sundaes, pull up your chairs around a computer and listen together. Then talk about it. About what it means to have courage. Courage to tackle big challenges. Courage to listen to one another, even when you disagree. Courage to stand up to hate. What it takes to build character. To play your part in the destiny of the world.

John F. Kennedy put out the call: “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.” Extend this. Not just to your country but to your neighbor, your co-worker, your schoolmate. To your parent. To your child.

Share your favorite stories of courage.

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Worms!
May 03, 2017

Earth Day 2017 has come and gone. Trees and grass are greening up. The soil is coming to life after spending the last few months in a frozen state. Before we know it, we’ll be seeing what I call summer critters. Here’s a book to get your little ones excited!

The Worm by Elise Gravel

Ladies and gentlemen I present to you “The Worm.” “Enchante” says the worm. And so begins this appealing book that answers all your questions about worms. With warmth and humor. What kinds of worms are there? What body parts does a worm have? Where do worms live? (Eek! Some live inside people!)

Have some fun learning the facts….then get out there and meet yourself a worm. Enchante!

Pegged for ages 6-9.

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Ode to Teachers
April 30, 2017



Tomorrow is May Day. The school year enters the home stretch. There is testing to be completed, curriculum units to be completed, grading to be completed....I share with you a tweet from @teachergoals:

Trying to fit everything in by the end of the school year be like...





Which reminds me of Key and Peele's homage to teachers -- I recommend those who have not seen it, take a look... and those who have seen it, take a relook -- a great piece that serves as a reminder to all of us...teachers are the real MVP.

Share your inspirational stories about teachers!

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Need Some Alone Time?!
April 26, 2017

Ever need some alone time? You know, you love your family, your friends, your co-workers and schoolmates, your kids… BUT! If you have to hear one more bit of chatter or listen to one more giggle, or “Mama pleeeeez” you think you might explode?! Here’s a book for you (and you can share it with your kids…they’ll recognize the situation immediately!)

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

Grandma wants to knit. She has sweaters to make! But her many grandchildren are running around, getting into the yarn, raising a ruckus. Grandma’s had enough. She packs up and heads for the hills. But she’s not alone there either – a pack of bears is very interested in her knitting. So she climbs higher. Still not alone she climbs to the moon and then through a wormhole. Alone at last!

Brosgol’s words and illustrations come together to present vivid images that conjure up that all too familiar feeling of wanting to be alone. And the ending reminds us the feeling is only temporary. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Pegged for Preschool-2nd grade.

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Friendly Skies
April 23, 2017



I’m having out-of-town guests next month. Putting together my show-them-the-best-of-Chicago list includes, of course, the iconic Second City right up there at the top. As I hopped online to find out what revue is playing right now, I was disheartened to see that Second City has experienced problems lately with verbally abusive audience members. So much so that they are now starting each show with an announcement of what should be obvious – racist, sexist, or otherwise rageful bullying will be not be tolerated.

This kind of uncivil, even assaulting behavior seems to be more and more the norm. Who has not been shocked and horrified by the series of airline-related hostilities toward their customers? I should say that on my last few flights, the attendants have bent over backward to be friendly and helpful. But yelling at passengers and ultimately physically assaulting them should never happen.

The lack of civility hurts not only the individual in the line of fire but the surrounding community as well. At the heart of it is the breakdown of societal norms that we have covenanted with each other to uphold. It is scary enough to us adults. For our children, it destroys their sense of safety that the larger community is supposed to provide.

So it was heartening to read today of a different kind of airline experience – one in which an adult served as a positive role model for a child, without even knowing he was being observed. The adult was NFL player for the Atlanta Flacons, Mohamed Sanu. On a flight up the east coast, he was seated in the row in front of a child traveling to train for an elite hockey team. Sanu spent his time on the flight studying his playbook. He noshed on a banana and cranapple juice. And when approached by fans eager to say Hello to the star, Sanu reciprocated with friendly conversation. The boy behind Sanu watched it all. And he took note. His parents did too. And in this current environment where community, self-discipline, and civility cannot be taken for granted, they wrote Sanu a note thanking him for inspiring their child.

This is not a big story. It should not even be remarkable. But in these turbulent times, it bears sharing – community is the sum of small acts of civility. Pass it on!

Share your stories from the friendly skies.

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Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

Earth Day: We Are the World
April 21, 2017

I was doing my car radio listening thing a few days ago. And I heard a story about a new scientific find: There are signs of a chemical reaction under the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. This activity might just provide the conditions for life... way, way out there.

The conditions for life. An amazing concept that is so miraculous. And such a gift. Tis the season of new life. Beautiful white flowers are bursting out on every branch of the tree in front of my living room window. It’s makes me feel like I’m in a Monet painting. I had lunch today with a friend who just returned from visiting her 2-week-old grandson. Her face lit up as she talked about his tiny new face.

Celebrate Earth Day at the March for Science

Tomorrow is Earth Day and I will be celebrating my gratefulness for life here on this planet. I am going to the Science March – happy that the sun is supposed to be shining.

There will be speakers who spend every day thinking about life: about sustainability programs such solar energy, divvy bikes, and green buildings; creating platforms for collaboration among scientists to keep the innovations coming; the ever present search for medical advances to improve the quality of life for all of us here on earth.

There will be exhibitors to provide us information and ways to get involved to protect the Great Lakes, donate bone marrow, clean up nature areas, to name just a few.

I think it will be lots of fun. I encourage you to join in. I will be in Chicago. There are 609 satellite marches. Find yours.Then get your walking shoes on. Be there or be square!

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A Judge Grows in the Bronx
April 19, 2017

This week the United States Supreme Court returned to full strength. Here’s a really good intro to the life of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

As a child, Sonia found blossoms in the most unexpected place…around a chain link fence, near broken glass, next to an abandoned building. Using this metaphor, Winter tells the story of Sonia’s life from the high-poverty Latino community of the South Bronx to the Ivy League to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t easy. Not only did she grow up without much money but she had to face childhood diabetes and the death of her father. In college she felt socially out of place among her wealthy classmates. But like the flowers growing in harsh conditions, Sonia had a will to succeed and the tender care of her family that wanted to see her flourish. A great book for any child who experiences obstacles in life, an affirmation that even in challenging conditions, success is possible.

Pegged for grades K-3

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The Magic of Eggs at Easter
April 12, 2017

Here I am closing out on my sixth decade. And yet I am tingling with anticipated joy at the thought of dying Easter eggs this Saturday. There is something so satisfying about the transformative process of dipping a white egg into a murky liquid and 5 minutes later pulling out that same egg, now bursting with color. Here’s a book that takes a different look but captures that same sense of possibility.

Egg by Kevin Henckes

Four eggs. One pink, one blue, one yellow, one green. Three of the eggs crack as expected. The fourth just sits. And sits. The newborn chicks from eggs 1-3 lend a little chick help. The fourth egg cracks. And out comes….something very different. The illustrations are infused with the joyful pastels of Easter. The simple text conveys the possibility of magic and miracle.

Pegged for ages Preschool-1st grade. Fun for adults like me!

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Highest Court in the House
April 02, 2017



Everyone is talking about who will be next on the United States Supreme Court. Today let's talk about your household's Supreme Court...you and your partner.

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day and this two-foot-tall kid came barreling through, not just my line but all the lines at all the other checkout counters. Most people looked at him with exasperation. A few smiled. (I will never understand people who think this kind of behavior is cute.) His mother called after him weakly. Heads swerved to look at her…judgmentally.

Bad mother, right? Too lenient. Not in control. We’ve all heard the advice before. You can reason with your child, let her make her case, maybe even make a concession if it seems reasoned. But if all this fails, No means No! You are the highest court in your household.

Rules are great, right? The theory behind them is rock solid. It’s the execution that can get a little dicey. And the toughest of all situations are those that occur outside the house -- the super market meltdown, the sit-on-the-sidewalk, refusal-to-walk kind of battle – where it seems like the whole world is watching and judging YOU!

Here are a few tips from my many years of experience:

Is it easy? Sometimes, sometimes not. Does it always work? Nope. But regardless of what happens, always remember… you’re the boss, boss.

Share your favorite meltdown stories.

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Every Letter Is A Gift
March 31, 2017

Remember playing with the noodles in your alphabet soup? Ever drop your kid off at Montessori preschool and end up sharing a moment drawing letters in the alphabet sand tray? I don’t know about you, but there’s something irresistible to me about those shapes.

So my heart leapt a little when I ran across a charity that’s all about the visual joy of the alphabet. Here’s how it works. The first ever human alphabet is being photographed around the world, one letter at a time. 490 kids came together and formed a humongous A on a beach outside of Cape Town, South Africa. In Namibia, a B was formed by 500 children standing in the desert sands. C is to be found in a Sweden canola field, D is in a German valley in the Alps. And so on. So far the photographers and their young subjects have completed through the letter G. More to come.

The next step in the project will be bringing the photos to people like me who love the alphabet. And then donating 100% of the proceeds to charities that invest in children’s education. Wow! This is so great!

You can check out A-G at ABC Charity. I’ll be checking back when the photos are ready for sale.

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Alphabet Activism
March 29, 2017

Today I took a walk over to my local bookstore to see what’s new. The children’s table is loaded with books related to issues in the news: women’s rights and Supreme Court justices. And a catchy little alphabet book that will have kids talking about coop communities and equality for all!

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Alphabet books are great for supplying creative hooks to get your young ones to memorize the alphabet. This one uses the alphabet as a hook to get your kids familiar with an array of social concepts that can promote early understanding of the multi-faceted world we live in. And it provides a foundation for future conversations as your growing kids navigate the increasingly complex interactions with their community.

As the book title tips us off, A is for Activist. And, we learn as we read the first page, it is also for Advocate, Abolitionist, Ally, and Actively Answering A call to Action. From there, the book walks through all 26 letters, illustrating each in exuberant colors. One of my favorites: Y is for You and Yes!

Pegged for ages Preschool-2nd grade. And it might not be a bad refresher for older kids interested in making their mark on the world!

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Celebrating Birthdays, Celebrating Life
March 19, 2017



I am thick into preparing my family’s “birthday month”. When my kids were little, we referred to it as our own private March Madness. Out of the five of us in our nuclear family, only I am born outside the month of March. The girls are spaced three years apart between each (how’s that for timing?!) – too much of an age difference for joint parties. Our kitchen turned into a bona fide bakery every March. And, of course, there were gifts, party invites, streamers, etc. On top of that, my mother’s birthday is smack in the middle of March.

Why do we celebrate birthdays?

Now everyone is older. It is still birthday month in my life but in a very different way. Which gets me thinking: Why are birthdays meaningful? After all, in some cultures, birthdays are not celebrated at all. And for those of us who do celebrate, what do birthdays mean?

A Kid’s-Eye View

Kids seem to enjoy birthday celebrations the most. Of course, there is the material joy of gifts and cakes. This is also the one day each year for the birthday boy or girl to be the center of attention. Family love. A chance to host friends. And also a pride in notching another year onto the belt, another step in becoming “big.”

A Young-Adult-Eye View

My kids are now all in their 20s. The thing for them seems to be destination birthday parties - flexing their newly found financial independence and giving themselves a mini-vacation from the recently-entered world of work!

A Middle-Age-Eye View

At my age, many people don’t actually like to celebrate their birthdays at all. I remember when I turned 50, I hightailed it out of town to avoid any “surprise” parties. My birthday was a stark reminder that I was “heading into the back nine” as they say.

An Elder’s-Eye View

At my parents’ age, my experience is that those who make it that far enjoy celebrating again. It is a time of reflection on a life well lived, a chance to share memories and celebrate deep connection to family and friends.

Celebrating Life

There is one thing, though, that runs continuously through every birthday. And it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. That is your actual BIRTH day, the day you came into the world. It is a chance to celebrate life itself, with all its various points along the life cycle. A time to engage in the sheer joy of the birthday person’s presence on earth, his or her unique contribution to humanity.

So, a Happy Birthday to all my March people. And, more generally to all: To Life, L’chaim!

Share your favorite birthday stories.

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!
March 17, 2017

It’s my mother’s birthday! With this little Irish ditty (and a bonus joke - heehee), wishing her and you a very happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Leprechaun, Leprechaun

Leprechaun, leprechaun, fly across the sea
And fetch an emerald shamrock for you and me
Do not bring a nettle or a thistle for a joke,
But bring an Irish shamrock, for we are Irish folk
And you and I, my leprechaun,
will wear the shamrock gay,
And match it with an Irish smile upon St. Patrick's Day!

And now for the joke:

What do you call a fake Irish stone?

A SHAMROCK!

(eye roll!)

Share your favorite Irish poems and jokes!

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An Irish Folk Tale
March 17, 2017

As St. Patrick’s Day is comin’ round, it seems like a good time to cozy up with your kid and a good Irish tale. Here’s one from a favorite author.

Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie DePaola

Jamie O’Rourke was lazy. He especially didn’t like digging potatoes. So his wife Eileen was left to do all the work. Until Eileen got sick, and Jamie happened upon a leprechaun who gave Jamie a potato seed that grew into the biggest potato in the world and THEN the question was how to dig it out and what to do with it?

Pegged for ages 4-8.

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The Story Behind St. Patrick's Day
March 12, 2017

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon and I’ve been catching up with my twenty-something daughters about their weekend exploits. This weekend the color green features heavily in the conversations – not the least of which is the dye that has turned our Chicago River a bright, almost fluorescent green. In addition, the beer is flowing freely and shamrocks are everywhere. Yes, they have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

So here are a few interesting tidbits about this holiday.

A Shamrock is NOT a four-leaf clover and is not about “luck”

This is something I used to be really confused about. There is indeed such a thing as a four-leaf clover. It is a relatively rare find. Hence, to find one is considered lucky. Like: Winning the lottery is rare, so winning is considered lucky. But this has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day.

A Shamrock IS a three-leaf clover and is about Christianity.

A three leaf clover is not so rare. It grows like a weed because…it is a weed. In Ireland (and other places), there are fields and fields of it. So how does this relate to St. Patrick’s Day?

Well, St. Patrick had an interesting relationship with Ireland. He was born and raised in what would later become England. But when he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Gaelic Ireland. There he toiled as a shepherd for six years. During this time he found God. Later, he escaped and made his way back home to Britain, went on to become a priest, and made the decision to trek back to Ireland to share the Christian message.

This is where the three-leaf clover comes in. St. Patrick found it to be a great prop in his presentations about the Holy Trinity. He would hold up the three-leaf clover for all in the crowds to see; then he would kick the drama up a notch, touching each leaf – one for the Father, one for the Son, one for the Holy Spirit.

St. Patrick died on March 17 (or so it is said). Over time, much folklore grew up around his life and work. And he became the patron saint of Ireland.

So Why the Holiday in the good ol' US of A?

So why celebrate in the US? In a word: immigration. The Irish were once upon a time – in the mid-1800s -- fleeing persecution and famine in their country. They flooded the shores of the United States -- 1.5 million strong. And they brought their culture with them. Life here wasn’t easy for them. For a long time people born in the United States reviled the Irish - stereotyped and discriminated against them. But over time, they assimilated into the dominant American culture. And, the American culture has also embraced some Irish traditions. Like St. Patrick’s Day.

To end with an Irish blessing:

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.

OR you may prefer:

Here’s to a long life and a merry one
A quick death and an easy one
A pretty girl and an honest one
A cold beer and another one!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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LOL: What the World Needs Now
March 10, 2017

LOL. One of my favorite text lines. It’s right on point in so many different situations. Sometimes it underlines a hilarious joke. Sometimes it goes along with SMH (shaking my head). Other times it takes the edge off a more serious and sobering thought. Sometimes it’s just the right way to express self-deprecation (as in: laughing at myself).

Sometimes it can be a way of sharing hope that the positive side of the human spirit will prevail. That is the idea behind Comic Relief a British organization that makes a connection between laughter and a just world, free from poverty. Once a year, Comic Relief sponsors Red Nose Day which they promote as “Let the funny see the money.”

There are oodles of way to be involved – all geared toward fundraising for the poor. From celebrities (think: a DJ’s 24 hour danceathon or a Saturday night song and dance show) to just plain folk (think: house party or dress up as a Nose at school – LOL). Each and every idea involves a gaggle of fun-lovers yukking it up for charity. Get this: The cast of the movie Love Actually is making a 10-minute short called Red Nose Day Actually! Check it out on BBC One.

The UK Red Nose Day is coming right up on March 24.

But, you say, what about if I don’t live in the UK? Chances are, if you’re reading this blog post, you live in the US. Not to worry. We know how to piggyback on a good idea when we see one. The USA Red Nose Day is scheduled for May 25. Get your funny on and get ready to Fun-Raise.

LOL!

What are you going to do for Red Nose Day?!

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A Book to Make You Laugh Out Loud
March 08, 2017

Not in the mood for a serious story? Want to share some belly laughs with your kids? Here’s a book that should have you both rolling…

The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak

The title does not lie. This book, in fact, has no pictures. But it’s premise is a child’s delight: You – the grown-up – have to read every single word. Out loud. You can guess what that means. Yep. “I am a monkey who taught myself how to read.” What kid doesn’t love hearing that from an adult?! What else does the book command the adult to say? “BLORK.” “BLUURF.” You get the picture (without any pictures at all). LOL.

Pegged for ages 5-8.

Share your favorite silly books!

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Laugh Out Loud
March 05, 2017

Over the decades, I have been an on-again, off-again viewer of Saturday Night Live. But I have set the record over the last two months for tuning in. And I am not alone. Some 10 million people are chuckling right along with me. What, then, does humor actually do for us?

Humor Helps People Cope

When Mary Tyler Moore died last month, many of us were sad at this latest in a seemingly endless string of cultural icons leaving the planet, making it a little less bright for those of us still here on earth. Numerous TV stations reran some of the most endearing clips from Mary’s shows, highlighting her wry smile and sharp wit. One of these clips from the Mary Tyler Moore Show zoomed in on Mary and her pals at a funeral for Chuckles the Clown. Initially Mary chastises her colleagues for making jokes at such a sad time. But as the eulogy gets underway, Mary finds herself giggling up a storm. Humor helps us cope with stressful situations. By laughing, we let ourselves know that this too shall pass and we will survive.

Humor Brings People Together

Back to Saturday Night Live. Part of the reason I make sure to watch it is because I know my friends and family will be watching it too. And after it’s over we’ll laugh together. A shared act -- whether joyful or just plain silly -- that brings us closer together.

Humor Makes Us Healthier

Remember the scene in Mary Poppins where she takes the children for a visit to Uncle Albert who loves to laugh? Albert laughs so long and so hard, he rises off the floor and floats up to the ceiling. And his laugh is infectious. Soon his guests are floating around with him. There’s biology behind the warm feelings roused by a good laugh—maybe it won’t raise your body off the floor but it does lift your spirits pretty high. When we laugh, our muscles contract. And this muscle movement releases endorphins in the brain that make us feel a giddy lighthearted joy.

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March 01, 2017

The weather has been CRAZY this winter. Last week it was nearly 75 degrees and sunny for six days – warm enough for t-shirts and long outdoor strolls. Reality check: This is Chicago. I can’t remember the last time it snowed. Does this sound like February???

Well, last night, after a nearly totally dry winter….it rained. The huge heavy drops kind of rain. Which made me think of this great book that kids and adults alike will relish with a knowing smile.

Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse, illustrated by John J. Muth

It’s hot and sticky in the city and Tessie is looking for rain. She stands on her apartment balcony, all arms and legs, watching the clouds gather, coaxing the rain to come. She leaves her post to entice her friends to join her, running and reaching high and gulping in the big drops as the rain begins to fall. And then the mamas join in.

The words and the pictures blend in poetic images. “Clouds rolling in,/ gray clouds, bunched and bulging under a purple sky," And when the clouds open, “We turn in circles,/ glistening in our rain skin."

A wonderful read in anticipation of spring.

Pegged for ages 4-8.

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February 22, 2017

It’s awards season. Onward with the reviews!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This year’s Newbery award winner is a magical novel for middle-schoolers. There is a witch in the forest. And the people in the town are familiar with her, are terrified of her. She wants to take the children away. The only way to save the many is to sacrifice one child each year. ..Or so they think.

The many-faceted plot builds from there, full of adventure and magic and love – the glue that binds all. An entrancing story that moves at a fast clip and leaves the reader breathless.

Pegged for grades 4-6.

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Teaching Love of Country
February 19, 2017

Today’s blog entry has been a hard one to write. Tomorrow is President’s Day, an in-your-face reminder of the turmoil roiling our country, in large part having to do with our new President. Some people will celebrate the change they hope this new person in the White House will bring. Others will march in protest of all that he represents. In the face of all this, what do we teach our kids? Perhaps, no matter what we feel about the current President, we can teach love of country.

Trying Times

We are in trying times. A lot of Americans do not love the current condition of their country. For many, it’s harder and harder to make ends meet. Time with family is harder and harder to squeeze in. Retirement recedes further and further from our grasp. It’s a scary time where hatred is palpable. People are often suspicious of those who look different, talk different, worship different. Some of us wish desperately for the good old days. Others of us wish just as desperately for a future that has been an elusive promise since the days of our founding fathers.

How, then, do we teach love of country in times like ours?

Teaching Love of Country

Maybe the greatest fundamental thing about our country that we can all (well almost all) agree on is that we live in a democracy. WE THE PEOPLE is how we roll. And our children can understand that from a pretty young age.

So, what to do?

Actually celebrate President’s Day. What an opportunity! A day off to share with our kids, to read about, talk about, watch movies about our country’s leaders, past and current. In my youth, we had a recording of a comedian named David Frye who did impressions of President Nixon. I may not have understood all the references but some of the issues sunk in. I also had a favorite book about Abe Lincoln. I loved it that he was called “honest Abe” and that he wore the simplest clothes. Somehow, that book gave me an image of what I thought “WE THE PEOPLE” should mean.

These stories might conjure up more than just thoughts about presidents past. Your child might be inspired to declare he or she will be president one day. Maybe explore your child’s Presidential agenda – sometimes an eye opener. Your child might rhapsodize about world peace. Or maybe about making school for kids optional.

Get involved with your kids. These days, my email box is flooded with suggestions of how to get involved. Right now, for example, our representatives are headed back to their hometowns, providing us, their constituents, a chance to meet with them, ask questions, raise our concerns. If you decide to attend, maybe take your child with you. Then stop for a smoothie or milk and cookies and talk about what happened.

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The Importance of Teaching History
February 12, 2017

We are full into Black History Month. For four weeks, kids all across the country are reading about, talking about, writing about our country’s black ancestral history. Stories of contemporary bright lights such as Beyonce, Te-Nehisi Coates, and Barack Obama give way to stories of Ella Fitzgerald, Frederick Douglass, and Romare Bearden -- men and women who lived and died before music videos and twitter. Why, then, is teaching black history important? Why teach history at all?

The other day, I went to a new doctor. Before being ushered into the examining room, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. Name, age, height, weight. There was a checklist of chronic illnesses: cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. One column asked me to check off any of these illnesses that I have personally experienced. A second column asked for my family history – did my parents, siblings, or grandparents suffer any of these illnesses.

By the time I was introduced to the doctor, she had read my questionnaire and already knew a lot about me. My history gave her valuable information that would be useful in dealing with my current state of being.

A couple of years ago, I saw a funny Saturday Night Live skit -- a parody of Steve Jobs unveiling the latest IPod: The IPod Micro, the size of a razor blade with a storage capacity of 50,000 songs. Before Jobs finishes his pitch, he interrupts himself. The IPod Micro has been updated to the IPod Pequena, which holds a million songs. Before Jobs finishes this pitch, he interrupts himself again. The latest Ipod, the Invisa is just that – Invisible! And holds 8 million songs. Silly… but rings the truth – human beings are constantly building on our knowledge of current technology to take it a step further.

In the same way that our medical history is valuable to doctors and technological history is valuable to programmers , our country’s history is valuable to all of us. Yesterday, I saw the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” I recommend that all Americans get to the theaters and see it. At one point James Baldwin is asked why history is important. He says, quite simply, “We are our history.”

We are our history but we don’t have to repeat our historical mistakes. Our history provides telling information that helps us think about and respond effectively to the issues of today. Avoid the pitfalls. Build on our successes. Study. Our world depends on it.

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February 08, 2017

Today I recommend a book for Black History month. This is not the story of someone famous but a story of black history nonetheless.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson won the Newbery Award for this poetic memoir of her life growing up as an African-American child in the 1960s and 70s. Through her bird's eye view, Woodson touches on the larger black experience with Jim Crow and the Civil RIghts movement. It's all in the details and Woodson gets them just right leaving the reader with a powerful sense of the period with its joys and struggles. A must read.

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Making the Super Bowl Super Fun for Kids
February 05, 2017

When I think of Super Bowl parties, I have to admit I get images of beer guzzling and colorful language. Which can be lots of fun. But what if you’re including kids at the party?

Here are some kid-friendly ideas to go alongside the adult partying:

GAMES. Kids get pretty bored with watching men – even helmeted men -- running back and forth on TV for hours. They need games of their own that they can actually participate in. One way to address this is simply to have games that have nothing to do with the happenings on your TV screen. Another idea is to give kids a way to interact with the game itself. Play Super Bowl bingo. Bingo cards can include players, coaches, sportscasters, team apparel… anything you want! Each time a kid spots something from her Bingo card, she can fill in a square, until someone gets BINGO! Another game is a spinoff from one we used to play in the car. We used to look at signs along the road, trying to spy the letters of the alphabet in order. With so much action on your TV set, your kids will have lots of opportunities to catch letters popping up on the screen.

FOOD. No beers, of course, Chips are fine. But what about food that kids enjoy making. Homemade pizzas allow kids to choose their ingredients and watch their own individual pie being made. Fruit sticks. Put out a bunch of fruits and a pile of toothpicks. Let the kids build their own combinations and then pop them in their mouths. And, of course, the tried and true cookie-decorating activity. Choose sugar sprinkles in team colors. Allow kids to choose add-ins from an array of chocolate chips, coconut, peanuts, cinnamon-sugar sprinkles or your own special concoction.

Enjoy the party!

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Super Bowl/Super Giving
February 03, 2017

Watching the Super Bowl this Sunday? Not sure yet where you want to park your tush to catch the football fireworks? I toss out for your consideration, joining in a watch party that has a charitable component to it. Here in Chicago, Otis Wilson (are you old enough to remember the Super Bowl Shuffle?!) is hosting a watch event at a price that’s not off-limits for most of us. The money goes to a youth mentoring program. Check out opportunities in your local area.

Enjoy the game!

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Groundhog’s Day Recommendations
February 01, 2017

Whoo hoo! One of the days I anticipate all winter is...tomorrow! Groundhog's Day! Hoping for Punxsutawney Phil to foretell an early spring. For kids who feel the same way I do, here are a couple of fun books about the fascinating subject of predicting the weather. Ahhhh.

Punxsutawney Phyllis is by Susanna Leonard Hill with illustrations by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Phyllis is an outdoor kind of girl and she knows her weather, including the signs of spring. But she’s a girl. Will she get her wish to be the next Punxsutawney forecaster? Read and find out! Pegged for ages 5-8.

The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen and Kathleen Friestad with illustrations by Michael Kline is chock full of experiments and other activities that will teach kids to predict the weather. Have great fun while learning weather science! For grades 3-5.

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Stand and Protect
January 29, 2017

I’m a parent, so I know. There is a deep-seated desire in each of us to protect our kids from all the scary things that await them out in the world.

We Want to Protect our Children

We want to protect them from bullies and mean girls. We want to protect them from failing exams and losing soccer games. And then there are the bigger things.

I will never forget the feeling I had the morning of September 11, 2001, knowing my children were innocently at work in their elementary school classrooms while the World Trade Center towers were crashing down. My thoughts: What would their teachers say to them? What would I say to them? How could we protect them?

Today’s parents and children face the same kind of harrowing moments. Bomb explosions, shootings. Emotionally bruising taunts based on race, religion, sexuality. How do we protect our children?

The Question is How?

To start, we must face the fact that children are aware of what’s going on around them. We cannot protect them by acting as though it doesn’t exist. Instead we must empower them, make them feel that they can do something about it.

Empower Them to Act

Last week I went to the Women’s March in NY. There were groups of young adults. There were oldies like me. And there were families, parents with children sitting high on their shoulders. Some wore pink knit caps. Some held up signs. I later saw a photo of a very young boy, too young to write, who had scrawled squiggly lines across his own homemade sign. These children were actively engaged. Feeling that they could make a difference.

There are so many ways for kids to take action. Sign a petition. Volunteer at a local food pantry or other social justice group. Research and present a report on an issue that is challenging them. Our job as parents? Help them face the world head on. Draw them into a conversation exploring what they can do to shape answers.

When we arm our kids with the tools to combat their problems – large and small – we make them feel they are not helpless. We protect them.

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An App to Help You Stay Sane While You’re Staying Woke
January 27, 2017

Ever since the election there’s been a cloud of impending doom hanging over many of us. If you’re like me, dread has a not-so-healthy side-serving of obsession that goes along with it. I’ve gone from being a casual facebook user to checking multiple times a day, scanning for evidence that everything is going to be ok. This a big time-waster – because, really, there is never enough good news on facebook to reassure me. Just as bad -- it causes a big stress buildup which is both mentally and physically harmful.

Kick the "Breaking News" Habit

So I’m going to go all out to kick the habit. But if I don’t follow the news all day – and there seems to be "breaking news" every few minutes – how will I stay woke (shorthand for: how will I fulfill my responsibility to fight for our democratic ideals)?

Get Countable!

If this dilemma hits home to you at all, I have an App to recommend that will help you streamline your efforts. The App is called Countable. It’s a great little tool that brings together all federal legislative happenings in one place. Yes!

Here are the key advantages: It gives you a weekly briefing on what bills are coming up for vote in Congress. It tells you how your senators and representatives have voted. I recently learned through this that my congressman has simply not voted on a number of recent bills – which raises a red flag right there. And it gives you a one-touch way to connect with those representatives.

There are lots of other nifty parts to this that provide more detail. You can customize to shape the info you receive. Daily postings of news articles on issues that interest you. Connections to organizations working on those issues.

Stay Strong!

Of course, in the end, gathering info, no matter how streamlined, is not enough. You gotta make those calls to your elected representatives to let them know your concerns. But take action to avoid post-election burnout. Stay strong!

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Ish
January 25, 2017



Jackson Pollock’s birthday is this week. You know Jackson Pollock – the guy who dripped paint onto canvas in energetic but seemingly random patterns. Some are puzzeld or dismissive when they look at Pollock’s work, unable to make heads or tails of it. But Pollock himself described his work as “motion made visible.” And many people agree.

Today, I recommend a book to share with your child that joyfully makes sense of abstract art.

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Ramon was nuts about drawing. Houses. Vases of flowers. Fish. He drew them all. But, as Ramon’s brother was quick to point out, what came out on paper didn’t look exactly like the real thing. Ramon considered giving up on painting all together. His sister had another way of looking at it. Ramon’s paintings were not exact replicas; they were “Ish.”

Illustrated with exuberant line drawings, Ish gets across to the reader the joy of creativity.

Pegged for Preschool-2nd grade.

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Another Snowy Day Story
January 18, 2017



I was in Montana last week. The snow was piled high on every side and temperatures dropped well below zero. Brrrr. Here’s a perfect story for that kind of weather.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

A small child heads out into the gusting snow….and stumbles upon a baby wolf lost from its pack. The child picks up the wolf and heads further out into the deep drifts. Eventually, the wolf pack is found. But now the child is stranded in the frigid weather. How will the child find a way back home?

This ends up being a story of friendship and loyal perseverance. The illustrations are so well done that the readers feels the intensity of the situation pour off the page. Spare in language and visuals. Yet as satisfying as a full-length movie.

Pegged for ages 2-6.

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The Joy of Book Browsing
January 08, 2017

This weekend, a deep freeze has descended upon Chicago and much of the rest of the country. If you’re like me, you enjoy the warmth of the fireplace and hot chocolate or tea and a soft wool blanket wrapped around your legs. But if you’re like me, you also need to get out. After hours sitting still in the warmth of the indoors, getting outside is invigorating. The crisp dry cold air as it hits your lungs, a little tingle in the nostrils – it gives me a rush of energy, brings back the old vim and vigor.

A Perfect Winter Outing

Yesterday‘s outing was a brisk walk to the local bookstore. In my pocket, I carried the Christmas gift card bestowed upon me by my college-aged nephew. Here’s the great thing about this gift – it is really two gifts in one: the gift of reading, to be sure; but also the gift of book browsing, which is its own joyful adventure.

The Joy of Just Looking

When my children were young, we had a regular weekly outing to the bookstore. As we walked through the door to the shop, a feast of lively book covers invited us in. Drawing closer, we scanned the book titles, then opened the book jackets, tantalized by summaries of stories to be unspooled on the pages that followed. There were stories of princesses and wizards, school and home, times of adventure and others of quiet.

As a grownup, I still feel that same rush of book-browsing pleasure. Histories and chick-lit, page-turning mysteries and laugh-out-loud comedies. On my outing yesterday, I looked at a novel take on the underground railroad, a story of life as seen by a spunky millennial, and Bruce Springsteen’s look back at how he got to be him. I ended up choosing a couple of nonfiction looks at the world we live in, one a classic, the other contemporary.

Tomorrow, the reading will begin. But yesterday, the browsing was the bomb-diggity.

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And Still We Rise. Pass It On!
January 06, 2017

A bit of news to inspire!

First the Bad

Many of us spent much of 2016 preparing with pride to celebrate our first female President of the United States. My informal survey over coffee and on social media with friends is that many of us ended 2016 shell-shocked and deflated.

And it’s not just about the presidency. The number of women in Congress did not budge. Started off as 104. Ended up as 104. And that equals just 19% of legislators. The number of women governors actually fell: from 6 to 5.

Then The Good News

But 2017 brings fresh, hopeful news. Women are not deterred. In fact, they are acting with redoubled determination. Emerge America, an organization that arms women with the tools to make a strong run for political office, reports that the number of women expressing interest since November 9 is DOUBLE what they normally see.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Following the election, my own daughter, for the first time, voiced an interest in running for office. I’ll admit -- sometimes, looking at things through my experienced eyes that have seen progress ebb and flow, I can feel weary. But youth! Oh, youth! This is where the energy is, where the future is. And our young women are not defeated.

Pass it on!

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Another Book for a Snowy Day
January 04, 2017



Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

I am a word person. So it is the spare but emotionally packed poetry of this new children’s book that moves me most. It begins: “In the deep woolen dark, as we slumber unknowing, let the sky fill with flurry and flight.”

And yet, the story’s power depends, in part, on the pictures. Together, words and images telling the tale of a little girl who calls up a snowstorm big enough to cancel a flight that would take her airline pilot mom away for the night.

Pegged for ages 4-7.

Curl up with your child and read!

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New Year’s Resolutions: Hope Springs Eternal
January 02, 2017

The night before New Year’s Eve was no ordinary Friday night. Yes, I stepped out for a night on the town, and ate and drank accordingly. But unlike most Friday nights, this December 30 was the culmination of a 30+day food fest. Sugar cookies, pumpkin pies, candy and more candy. Home cooked turkey, mac and cheese, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. And then there was restaurant food – tacos and BBQ, tea cakes and 4-egg omelets.

When I left the restaurant last Friday, I decided that was it. NO MORE! I resolved, “I will never do this again!”

The next morning, I made my way to the grocery store and filled my cart with veggies – collard greens and spinach, leeks and mushrooms, carrots, onions, chard and…pretty much the entire produce section.

For the next two days (with a quiet glass-of-champagne countdown mixed in) I whirled around the kitchen – chopping, browning, tying up packets of herbs, chopping some more, stirring, simmering, pureeing, cooling, then filling every storage container I could get my hands on. Four savory soups, a pot of greens, mounds of homemade pesto. And then I smiled. Bring on 2017.

My opening New Year’s resolution is in the bag (well… the fridge).

Who Makes Resolutions?

Most of us make resolutions. The young and the old. Those who had a lousy year and want a change of scene. Also those who had a good year and want to challenge themselves to the next level.

So Is There a Point to Making Resolutions at All?

I think so. And here’s why:

So, here’s to a clean slate and renewed resolve. Happy New Year!

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Light for the World
December 25, 2016

Today I share a poem in the spirit of Christmas. Now more relevant than ever.


Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou.

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.”

― Maya Angelou

Merry Christmas All!

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Bake Sales: The Tried and Still Awesome!
December 16, 2016



Today’s shout out is to all of you thousands (maybe millions) who will spend some time this holiday season in your kitchen concocting a fabulous mouth-watering baked good for your favorite charity bake sale. The bake sale has been around for centuries (true fact!)

This warms my heart – a tradition that binds us together – men and women and children of all races, religions, and political persuasions. And all-around giving to a good cause.

Fun Baking Facts!

A few fun facts about various delectables that you might consider as you choose what to bake up:

Share your favorite bake sale goodies. Or your favorite baking fun facts. Keep those ovens blazing!

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Baking with Kids: Food for Mind, Body, and Soul
December 11, 2016

I am starting to catch the holiday spirit this weekend. Yesterday, my youngest daughter – now all of 22 years old – joined me and my boyfriend in picking out and decorating a perfectly shaped Christmas tree. After getting the tree in the stand, my daughter took up residence in the kitchen and whipped up some gorgeous, delicious holiday cookies. She is good enough to be a pastry chef. And I am blessed to be the beneficiary of her out-of-this-world desserts. In her honor, I share with you the family legend of the “blue” cookies.

You Ask: What are Blue Cookies?!!!

When my daughter was three, she had already spent two years watching me bake. Now she decided to step up to the plate (well…the kitchen counter) herself. She had/has a “slight” stubborn streak. Translated: She would suffer absolutely NO advice on ingredients.

She dragged out a big bowl, a big tin of flour, a cup of water, and a stirring spoon. Without any measuring tools, she concocted a flour-water mixture that resembled paste. She cocked her head, looked at her creation for a minute or so, then retrieved a box of food coloring from the cabinet and dyed her dough blue.

We spooned the sticky mess into circles on a tray, deposited the tray into the oven (heated by me) and eyeballed the blue dough until it resembled something like blue cookies. We scraped them off the tray, piled them onto a pretty dessert plate and let them cool.

After dinner – you guessed it – she sashayed into the dining room with “dessert.” And she was a taskmaster. She gave me, her dad, and her sisters the death stare that commanded us to actually eat. Which we accomplished with healthy gulps of water after each bite. The icing on the cookie? She took one nibble of hers, then stone-faced, surreptitiously (she thought) pocketed the rest until she could deposit it in the garbage.

Undaunted, for months thereafter, she made blue cookies. She experimented a little by adding sugar, then cinnamon. Still…blahhh. Finally, she was ready to listen to my tips on the role of baking powder; and on the importance of correct ingredient proportions. She learned to use measuring cups and we studied actual recipes. And after a few attempts, she made something edible.

Which we all rejoiced over.

The Joy of Baking

After that, the blue cookies disappeared form the repertoire. Replaced by chocolate chip and oatmeal; then cookies with sprinkles and frosting; then ginger molasses and Mexican wedding cookies. Then her own creations – yes, she came full circle – which are, I am grateful to report, heavenly!

Aside from an ever more delicious eating experience, what did she gain? What can your child gain from baking?

Food for the Mind

So here’s the great thing for all you right brain types (like me). Math can be fun. So can chemistry. What more creative way to teach measurement, fractions, the metric system? What about the chemical properties of baking powder? (Yes… I am now obsessed with this.) The beauty of baking is it’s a very concrete way to teach. And that means it is very likely to stick.

Food for the Body

Kids are curious. So as you are measuring out that flour, that ginger, those chocolate chips, you have the opportunity to talk about….where these ingredients come from; and the concept of vitamins that our bodies get from food. You can talk about eating in moderation and about balance among the food groups. And it’s all fun! Plus, when you say “one cookie is enough” it will actually make sense and not seem like a heartless random punishment.

Food for the Soul

I think this requires little explanation. Heart-warming times with your children you and they will remember forever (blue cookies are case in point). I heartily endorse the aphorisms “Food is the way to the heart” and “Sweets for my sweet.”

Happy baking!

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Universal Tales from Pantsuit Nation
December 09,2016



A few weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends invited me to join a group called Pantsuit Nation. You may be familiar with this group. Maybe you are even a member. As you may have guessed, the group name was chosen in reference to Hillary Clinton. My understanding is that the group was formed as a communal place for people who want to uphold the values Hillary has championed her whole life.

As the weeks have gone by, Pantsuit Nation has become something more. There are, of course, stories of protesting and facing up to bullies, organizing voters for the next election and teaching children about racism. But the stories reach beyond this.

Stories of Compassion

Pantsuit Nation has become a place where you can simply share stories of human caring for the people who walk this planet with you. A story about someone who lost a job, digging deep and finding the compassion to give to another who has even less. A story about someone seeing a stranger in trouble and stopping to help, even at personal risk to self.

Seeing Ourselves in the Stories of Others

These types of stories don’t belong solely to any particular political party. They don’t belong exclusively to rich or poor, working class or middle class. They aren’t the stories of one race or ethnic group, one gender or the other. They belong to all types of people, rural and small town and big city. They are the stories that allow us to see ourselves in each other. Across all the lines that divide us. That is inspiring stuff.

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Books for a Snowy Day
December 07, 2016



Chances are, the children will want to be outside in the first snow of the year. But eventually they will wear themselves out. And that’s the perfect time to snuggle up with hot cocoa and a good book!

New and Fabulous

First Snow by Bomi Park

From South Korea, here’s a quietly beautiful picture book about the first snow of the season. All in a palette of soft black and white punctuated with the red of winter scarves, this book captures the wonder of winter. Pegged for ages 2-5.

Oldie but Goodie

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.” This is one of my all-time favorites. With simple language and pictures that reflect the brightness of newly fallen snow, Keats follows Peter’s adventures in the winter wonderland.

This book won the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for best picture book. It also broke barriers as the first picture book featuring an African-American as the central character. Pegged for Preschool-Kindergarten.

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
December 04, 2016

It’s snowing! First snow in Chicago 2016-17! I know in a couple of months I will be grinding my teeth as hardened clumps covered with dirt sit in the streets. But today it feels like living inside a snow globe.

First Snow Magic

The first snow always feels like something breathtakingly unexpected. And that’s funny, because of course know it’s coming and you’ve seen it many times before. But when that first snow gets here, its always so much better than you thought it was going to be.

Every year I take pictures of the trees outside my window. I pop outside, feel the cool wetness on my face and nab a few passing drops on my tongue. As the flakes cover my eyelids, my cheeks, my hair, I feel my troubles being washed away.

When I was a kid, I would look out the window at the first falling snowdrops. As soon as there was a light coating in the yard, I would bound out of doors, throw myself into the snow, and whip my arms and legs vigorously up and down to form a snow angel.

When I was a teenager, I would gather with a group of friends on a large open field. We would scoop up snow and shape it loosely into snowballs, then hurl it at one another. I remember lots of slipping and sliding and dodging to get away from snowball-armed assailants.

Sometimes, our snowball brigade included a special boy I hoped would catch me. There is a Korean saying that if you are out in the first snow of the year with someone you like, then true love will blossom between you. I remember the giddy feeling of chaos as bodies bounded and rebounded off one another. Sometimes that special someone would charge, wrap his arms around my waist and we would fall into the soft snow.

First Snow Freedom

There is something freeing about that first snow. Whether it is washing away troubles or breaking through restrictions society places on us or we place on ourselves, it is a moment of opportunity to let go and let the miracle of nature work its magic.

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Inclusive Preparation
December 02,2016



Tis the season of waiting. It is also a time of preparation. Whether it’s looking forward to Christmas or Chanukah or New Year’s Eve, December is a month of anticipation. Shopping for gifts, baking holiday goodies, hauling out the festive decorations to deck the halls.

Perpetual Motion

Living in a big city, as I do, my whole world seems like a crush of people moving this way and that, bells clanging on street corners, lights shimmering in tree branches arching over the streets. Perpetual motion.

Those Who Can't Move So Fast

But what about those who can’t get around very well? The disabled, the sick, the elderly. Sometimes those of us who are mobile can be moving so fast, we forget about those who can’t get around but very much want to participate in this season of preparation.

Small Acts of Inclusion

Small acts of inclusion can make a big difference. Here are some ideas that might inspire you to add a relative, friend, or neighbor into your own busy preparations.

If each of us includes one small act of assistance as part of our holiday preparation, we will widen the circle of people enjoying those ringing bells and shining lights and the joy of preparing for the holidays.

Happy Preparations!

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Waiting
November 30, 2016



It is the waiting time of year. Waiting for the first snow. Waiting for the leaves to fall off that last tree in front of the house. (and hoping it happens before the first snow). Waiting for the holidays. This year, waiting for the governmental transition. For kids it is waiting for presents and candies and a break from school. And, for kids, it can seem like the time for all these things is never going to actually get here.

While we are all in that waiting mode, as the wind whistles outside and the skies get dark mid-afternoon, maybe it’s a good time to curl up with your little one and a good book about…waiting.

Waiting by Kevin Henkes

An owl, a pig, a bear, a puppy, and a rabbit sat on a windowsill. Each one was waiting for something different. With spare language and soft, muted blues and greens and pinks, Henkes gives readers the sense of the thickness of waiting. Pegged for Preschool-K.

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus and Crockett Johnson

A little boy planted a carrot seed. No one thought it would grow. He took care of it anyway. And he waited. But nothing came up. Everyone told him it would not grow. But he continued to take care of it. And then…

This book is over 70 years old and is still in print. A testament to its timeless quiet approach to waiting.

Pegged for ages 4-8.

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Giving Thanks for the Boulder Food Project 2
November 25,2016



Last year, as I was just starting out on my adventure into the world of inspiring organizations, I stumbled onto the Boulder Food Rescue. The founder, Hana Dansky, had done her own reconnaissance into our nation’s food cycle: we put “10 percent of our national energy budget, 50 percent of our land use, and 80 percent of our freshwater resources into food, truck it around the country, and then end up throwing away nearly 40 percent of everything we produce, much of which is still edible and healthy.” At the same time, there are hungry people everywhere.

Saying No to Waste

Hana is putting her body and soul into changing that.

Check out my archived November 24, 2015 blog entry for more detail on the basic mission.

What’s New from the Boulder Food Rescue?

The Boulder Food Rescue crew has been busy since my last look a year ago.

Some other cool facts:

Inspired? Want to start your own food rescue? Check out this roadmap.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Books to Put Us in the Thanksgiving Mood
November 23, 2016



As we prepare to give thanks, here is a beautiful book that reminds us of all that we have.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup

In a video reading of his book, Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp tells us this is “an ancient message of peace and appreciation of mother earth and all her inhabitants.” The quiet spare words of the Iroquois Thanksgiving Address are matched with the brilliant colors and flat lines of quiet spare paintings to put us in the mood of thanks. If you can’t get your hands on a copy, you might start your Thanksgiving quietly listening to Chief Swamp’s reading.

A book for all ages.

Along with the peace of giving thanks, there is the power of giving. Here is a book that shows how a small gift can go a long way.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Kojo lives with his mother in a small village in Ghana. The people there do not have much money. But they have a big idea. Each gives a little money into a pot. Pooled together, the amount of money is not so small. It is big enough to help build a business. And when that business grows big enough, the money is paid back into the pot for another family to use. When it is Kojo’s mother’s turn, Kojo uses a few coins to buy a hen. And that is the beginning of a chain of events that leads him to school, then to build a big farm, and to help others by paying them to work on his farm. The author presents a clear and interesting introduction for kids on how this process called microlending works – from one hen to a thriving community. A small gift can go a long way.

Pegged for grades 3-7.

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Thanks and Giving
November 21st, 2016

Thanksgiving week has arrived. Last year, this time, I wrote about my experiences with teaching my young kids to be thankful in a materialistic world. (See archives, November 22, 2015) This year, my now young adult children are showing me the life-sustaining fruits of teaching thankfulness to children.

Many people are experiencing life-altering threats since the election two weeks ago. Some are verbal threats. A teacher friend reported on a middle school student who was told she was going to be sent back where she came from (never mind that she were born right here in the United States). Others have been physically attacked for wearing a veil or for the color of their skin. Many, many more face the uncertainty of whether they will be able to continue living in this country.

Teaching Thanks Through Giving

In last year’s blog, I suggested the idea of combatting materialistic entitlement by creating activities for your children that involve giving – making presents and delivering them to orphanages or shelters, making homemade holiday greeting cards or baking cookies for family and friends.

This year, my children are choosing, without any prompting from me, their own ways of giving. One daughter is signing up to volunteer at an immigration organization; another is using her skills as a lawyer to help those in need of free (otherwise known as pro bono) legal assistance; my third daughter is planning to join a march to protect women’s rights.

This week, communities of families and friends across the country will break bread together. It is an opportunity to voice thanks for what we have and to share ways of giving to others who are in need. Let's make the most of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sweet Land of Liberty
November 18,2016



There has been a lot of airing of our divisions lately. It is enough to make anyone, no matter what side you take, curl up in despair. But there are some things basic to who we are as a nation, regardless of our individual politics, that we must stand up for. One of those is liberty.

Our Inalienable Rights

Our founding principles, set down in writing in the Declaration of Independence include “inalienable rights… [to] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But to ensure our historical commitment is lived out in the present day, we must work hard to protect these rights.

Defenders of Liberty

The American Civil Liberties Union is, perhaps, our most venerable non-governmental organization protecting our right to liberty. Nearly one hundred years old, the ACLU works everywhere liberty is challenged: in all branches of government -- the courts, the legislature, and the executive branch; and in communities across the country.

You might think the ACLU only defends rights that liberals support. But that is not true. The ACLU is nonpartisan. It has defended the rights of groups on the right and the left.

When there is a deep sea change in government like we are currently facing, the potential impact on liberty is uncertain. This can make us as individuals feel scared and powerless. Groups like the ACLU, with its vast experience and deep talent pool can inspire: Inspire in us the sense that we are not alone, inspire in us the sense that we are not powerless, and inspire in us the incentive to work together.

Strength in Numbers

Since last week’s election, over 100,000 people have turned to the ACLU to lead us in protecting individual liberty: Donations to the ACLU since November 8 top 7 million dollars.

We, the people, are standing up to protect our nation’s commitment to liberty. That is inspiring.

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Now What?
November 16, 2016



I am back from my weeklong post-election hiatus. For half of our country, day-to-day assumptions about what our nation stands for were completely turned upside down. Maybe most heartbreaking were the children, looking to their grownups to explain. So here are a couple of books that might reassure just a bit.

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

A baby bird, newly hatched, falls out of his nest into the big scary world. He decides to set out in search of his mother. He finds a lot of animals out in the world – a cat, a hen, a dog – but none of them are his mother. He begins to wonder: Did he have a mother? But the baby bird is intrepid and he doesn’t give up. You probably have guessed there is a happy ending – read this satisfying book with your little ones to find out exactly how baby bird’s world is set right again.

Pegged for preschoolers.

For the slightly older set...

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Sixteen-year-old Kit has her life upended when her grandfather dies and she must leave her home in Barbados to resettle in colonial Connecticut in 1687, a place of intolerance where people look with suspicion on Kit who behaves so differently from them. When a deadly disease spreads through the community, the townspeople turn on Kit, accusing her of being a witch. Can Kit’s bravery and the support of her small circle of friends save her from the community’s wrath?

A Newbery award winner in 1959, this story reminds us that there have been many uncertain times in history but that the human spirit endures.

Pegged for 5-8 grades.

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Some Days Are Like That...
November 04,2016



Have you ever read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Well, today was one of those for me -- a rough day at the office. And I have to admit, I wallowed in it a bit. Not a great day for me personally. But as the day went on, I lifted my gaze from my navel and here’s what I saw:

Tomorrow, I may make a bigger, better contribution to the world around me. Today, I am reveling in the contributions of others. Inspiring!

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What’s this thing called the electoral process?
November 02, 2016



The election is less than a week away. I remember the days when my children were young and their excitement in accompanying me to vote. What’s it all about? Here are a couple of good books to explain.

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

When Grace’s teacher rolls out a poster of all U.S. Presidents from George Washington forward, Grace is shocked that there are no girls on there. She decides to run for President herself – at school. Her opponent is a do-it-all-well BOY.

Each kid in the class represents one state and decides how to cast that state’s electoral votes. Wouldn’t you know… the boys hold a slight edge in electoral votes. Can Grace win anyway?

It’s a good time to introduce kids to the electoral process….and a female candidate!

Pegged for ages 9-12.

For the slightly older set...

Voting and the U.S. Government a papersalt book

This spiral-bound book is chock full of well laid out and colorful information. When you get done with this book you will know all about the constitutional foundations for elections, the branches of government and the election process.

Great for middle school and high school.

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Today is the one year anniversary of my first blog post! In honor of that day and of the annual Halloween frightfest, I am reprinting that first post.

Halloween: Facing Your Demons
October 30th, 2016

Back in the day, when I was just starting out on my own, one of my favorite music videos was Michael Jackson's Thriller (if you haven't seen it, you've got to check it out. Really.). I was not alone. Over 9 million people were transfixed by Michael morphing into a werewolf in the light of the full moon, then teasing the viewer – is he really a terrifying ghoul or is it all imaginary fun?

Halloween: The Yin and Yang

In my neighborhood, there was one block – the “it” place to be on Halloween. The homeowners worked for months to prepare their yards, their rooftops, their porches. Everyone just knew it was the scariest street in the USA. As the sun went down and we were enveloped in inky darkness, everyone – I mean everyone – trekked over to Harper Avenue. The street was crowded with princesses and superheroes and – on the other end of the spectrum – mummies and vampires. Black cats and witches crouched on lawns in the shadows of flickering pumpkins. At some houses (and you never know which ones until you get there) fiendish laughter startled the young ones or they got caught in sticky cobwebs as they started up the steps for a trick or treat. Some screeched with giddy excitement. Some screeched with fear.

That sums up Halloween for me. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to act out your most cherished fantasies. One of my daughters who has an insatiable sweet tooth once chose to dress up as a bag of M&Ms. On the other hand, it is a day when you come face to face (figuratively) with your demons.

Facing Your Demons

We are all scared of something. For grownups, it might be the specter of losing a job or a spouse, or even just the vulnerability of not being able to be there to protect our kids every moment of the day and night. For teenagers it might be anxiety about a test or getting into college or losing a boyfriend or coming out or staying away from gangs. For toddlers it might be fear of the dark or strangers or, in many cases, Halloween itself.

The question, then, is what can you do about it? As many child development specialists will tell you, there is a general guideline here: teach your children to face their fears, not to bury them. This means, for starters, take their fears seriously; don’t laugh it off if your four-year-old tells you there are tigers prowling outside their second floor bedroom window or if your teenager insists he can’t go out because he has an acne outbreak. Take it seriously. Then, help them to look their fears square in the face and teach them how to take action to overcome them. This can play out in lots of different ways.

If a child is scared of the dark you can provide a nightlight or you can talk about the magical things like fireflies that come out to dance in the dark. You can set a routine of nightly bedtime story: For some, a cheerful favorite overrides feelings of fear; For others, stories about other children working out their fear of the dark are more helpful. I used to tuck my girls in with music or a story on tape. One of their favorites was kind of a hybrid of scary and hilarity – a story about Bunnicula the vampire bunny who sucked juice out of vegetables.

As your children get older, they may fear the uncertainties of life out in the larger world. One thing that I have found to help is giving them a sense that they are not alone. My daughters were very young when September 11 happened. I think it was hard for them to feel the reality of the Towers coming down. But the aftermath was very real: Military planes flying very low over our Chicago house for several days, our family room rattling from the sound of the engines overhead. When a plane would come, the girls would drop to the floor with their hands over their ears. My youngest had nightmares of bombs falling out of the sky. Even now, more than a decade later, these nightmares revisit her sporadically.

One Christmas, I gave her a book, Iraqi Girl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq). Living in occupied Iraq with bombs falling all around her, the author says, “Do you ever feel that you are imprisoned in a cage and there is no one except you and a big lion in this cage and you can’t get out. You can’t get out and there is nowhere to run. No way to run. That is my feeling.” Toward the end of the book, the author is on her way to college. She says, “”I am on my way to the future and living what could possibly be a happy memory someday.” It gave my daughter perspective. And a window into someone dealing with the same fears on a much larger scale.

I notice, too, as my daughters have moved out into the world away from home, they often paper their rooms with quotes such as “she believed she could so she did” to serve as models of how to face their fears.

Be A Role Model

One last thought. Children are observant. They often take their cues from you. How you face your demons can impact how they face theirs. In the words of our great President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he prepared to do battle with devastating poverty and unemployment during the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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How to Survive the Last 10 Days Before the Election
October 28,2016



I am exhausted. And stressed. Every day when my alarm goes off, I paw the bedside table until my fingers find my cellphone, then I bring the phone into reading position and check the latest news headlines. There is always – I mean always – at least one story related to the election. Usually it is not good. Rants about Mexicans, Muslims, fat women. The email server story that won’t go away. It’s enough to raise my blood pressure and give me a headache. Sound familiar?

10 days to go. Need some inspiration? Those with election fatigue UNITE! Here are some ways to beat the blues.

I’ve been thinking about that song “Wake me up when September ends.” Is it November 9th yet?!

What do you do to cope with election fatigue?

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Great Halloween Reads!
October 26, 2016



New and Fabulous

Eek! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton

My pick for this year’s best new Halloween read. The chickens are scared…YIKES! There’s a pumpkin nearby with flickering eyes. And a mouse of enormous size. That’s not even the half of it. What the heck is going on?!

A great board book from one of the board book masters. Pegged for kids up to age 5.

Oldie but Goodie

The Witches by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

OK. This is a must. What's Halloween without a little Roald Dahl? And The Witches is perfect for the occasion. It's a fantasy about a group of witches who are out to rid the world of children by turning them all into mice and letting mice-phobic humans take care of the rest.

The boy hero of the story is out to foil the witches. But first he has to figure out who's who. You see, these witches disguise themselves to look like ordinary ladies – it might be enough to make you take a closer look at some of the (seemingly) innocents walking around your neighborhood (tee hee).

The author is a master at creating horrifying scenarios (like children being turned to stone). But it’s his sense of humor that sets him apart. For example, the witches in this tale are all wig-wearing baldies who are constantly scratching their scalp-itch.

Pegged for Grades 3-7. Great fun!

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Curses!
October 23, 2016



The other day I was watching the Cubs playing in a tight game. The opposing team was up to bat with a runner on first. The pitch…the runner took off…the Cubs’ catcher threw down to Javy Baez at second…in a single beautiful motion Baez glided a couple of steps, jumped, plucked the ball out of the air just behind the bag, swooped down, tagged the runner out. A work of art. Also, a superb athletic move. The Cubs won. And won some more. Now they are in the World Series for the first time since 1945.

Ahhhhh…1945. That was the year of the Curse of the Billy Goat which many fans swear has haunted the Cubs for the past 71 years.

Curse of the Billy Goat

On October 6, 1945, the Cubs were playing…yes…in the World Series. Billy Sianis had a beloved pet goat. A decade or so before the 1945 World Series, Billy rescued a goat that had fallen off a passing truck. The goat became his everything. The goat was a regular at the local watering hole Billy owned. Billy called the bar…surprise!…Billy Goat Tavern. Billy also loved the Cubs. And on that day in 1945, he purchased two tickets to the World Series game. One for himself. One for his goat. Some say the gatekeepers refused to allow the goat into the ballpark. Others say the goat was thrown out mid-game because it smelled bad. Whatever the specifics, Billy placed a curse: “The Cubs will never win a World Series again.”

Why do sports fans believe in Curses?

What is it about curses (or superstitions) and sports? My girls were hard core soccer players and their parents were hard core fans. Their father had his “winning” shirt that he wore to every playoff game. That worked…until it didn’t. How many of us have our own secret sauce…turn the cap backward, sit in that special seat in the stands, repeat a magic mantra (ooops…cheer), One survey found that 1 in 5 fans try to work their mojo to influence the score.

Why? Well, first of all fans really care about their sports. So the outcome affects how we feel. Second, there are so many complex factors that go into what that outcome is. Player skill, of course. But also mental strength, physical stamina, momentum, and, yes, luck. And we fans have very little control over any of this. We can cheer, of course. Hence, home field advantage. But despite the statistics and other facts we can look to, there’s always a sizeable element of chance in every game. So we bring our mojo. It gives us a sense of control.

Curses are meant to be broken!

Last year, five gung-ho fans tried to break Billy Sianis’ curse by eating 40 pounds of goat meat in 13 minutes. It didn’t work….or maybe it had a one–year delayed effect. I have a feeling it did.

Go Cubbies!

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Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies!
October 21,2016



Today’s inspiring story comes from my hometown Chicago where the Cubs may FINALLY win the World Series. Disclaimer: I do not have the power to jinx them.

The Cubs have not won a championship in over a century. Many Cubs fans have come into the world and passed away again never experiencing the thrill of that victory. But now, this year, Cubs fan Virginia Wood, who herself has lived over a century – 101 years to be exact – may get her chance.

With so many disappointing seasons in the past, many Cubs fans are tamping down on visions of trophies, hedging against possible disappointment. Not Virginia Wood. Interviewed by a Chicago Tribune reporter, Wood exudes the confidence of a champ : “Oh, I’m counting on them going all the way, absolutely.”

Wood will be 102 next month. What a birthday present a championship would be! She makes no bones about it: “Oh yeah, sure, I’d like to have that. Good birthday present. Oh yeah, that’s the best.”

Go Cubbies!

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Blowin’ in the Wind
October 19, 2016



Fall is late in coming this year. Most of the leaves near my house are still green. But this afternoon, the temps dropped a bit and the skies clouded over and fall suddenly seems imminent. Recently Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In celebration of his song Blowin’ in the Wind which is sung at many a kids summer camp, and in anticipation of those cold gusty winds that are almost upon us, I recommend the book

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert

With gorgeous pictures rustling with fall shapes and colors, this book tells the story of Leaf Man as he is blown from his resting place by a fall wind. Where is he heading, the book asks? West over orchards and prairies? East towards the marshlands? We don’t know…cause a Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows. Pegged for ages 4-7.

And, if you want to hear an absolutely ADORABLE reading of this lovely book, check out 4 year old Jonah’s storytelling on you tube.

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Fly Me to the Moon
October 12, 2016



Ever have those nights when your kids just don’t want to settle down for sleep? Cuddling up with a good book sometimes helps. Here’s a new one that is so quietly beautiful it might just do the trick.

The Star Tree by Catherine Hyde

The Star Tree is about the wonders of drifting off to sleep and slipping into dreamland. It is midnight and Miranda’s nightlight has gone out. But there sits her rocking horse waiting to take her on a journey through the night sky. What makes this book so magical are the magnificent illustrations, each one shimmering like the world under the light of the moon and twinkle of the stars. This will help your little ones go to sleep with a smile. Pegged for Preschool-3rd grade.

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An Alternate Reality: Treating Teachers as Society’s Superstars
October 07,2016



Chicago is preparing itself for a teacher strike. My kids are grown now but I remember the days when I worried about whether school was going to take a break mid-year. I worried about all the learning that wasn’t going to be happening if teachers weren’t there to inspire. Today I share -- once again -- a skit from two great comedians – Key and Peele.

I encourage you to check out TeachingCenter.

Great food for thought. And presented in an entertaining way. So far, nearly 7.2 million people have watched this on youtube. Now that’s inspiring. Thank you Key and Peele!

Check it out. If you've already seen it, check it out again! Let’s get that number over 7.3 million. And, once we’ve thought about it, maybe we will each find a way – big or small – to let great teachers we know they are appreciated. Heroes even.

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The Wickedly Delicious Roald Dahl
October 05, 2016



We are now in October. Which means Halloween is creeping up on us (wha- hahahahaha). There is no more wickedly delicious author than Roald Dahl. So here are a couple of stories to get you in the mood…

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

If your child hasn’t read about Willy Wonka and his famous chocolate factory, pick up a copy of this rollicking book and follow the adventures of Charlie and the four other winners of golden tickets in the zany world of Willy Wonka. Dahl paints a picture of kids so obnoxious you can’t help but be gleeful when they get their just desserts. Hee hee. Pegged for grades 3-6.

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Here Dahl writes for the slightly younger set. When my kids were little we had endless readings of this book and never tired of it. The Enormous Crocodile is hungry and he has his mind set on a juicy child for lunch. As he leaves his swampy home and treks through the jungle toward the space where children are playing, he meets up with various other animals and disgusts them with his “secret plans and clever tricks” to snap up a delectable child. Follow along as the crocodile puts his plans into action and the other animals attempt to foil him. Pegged for grades 2-5.

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A Little Help For Your Friends
September 30,2016



It happens to all of us. We hear through the grapevine that a friend is sick. Maybe this friend lives alone. Or maybe he has kids and no one else living in the house to help take care of them. Or maybe she has a spouse who’s at work all day, every day, or even out of town.

The Best Intentions...

Do you sometimes feel the desire to help out? But your own life is crazy full. Or you haven’t talked to your friend in a while so it feels awkward to call now. Or your friend lives too far away to get to.

Easy Ways to Make Good

Well, here’s an opportunity to make a list of easy ways to help. So get out a pen and paper (or your digital notepad) and jot down any of these ideas that sound right for you.

Of course, a visit or a phone call – even a short one – let your friend know you are thinking about them. And sometimes, when you’re sick, having someone reach out and acknowledge your pain can be the best support of all.

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Backbones and all that stuff
September 28, 2016



To start the week, we talked about the importance of knowing the "backbone of your community." Which got me thinking about the physical in-the-body backbone.

You Can't See Your Bones With Binoculars by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Amanda Haley

Here’s a book that gives your kids a picture of that amazing collection of bones that make it possible for us to sit, stand, do somersaults, and all sorts of other things we take for granted. The illustrations combine bone x-rays with a fun look at what’s happening on the outside of your body. Each page heading is a portion of the old folk song "Dry Bones". Sing along as your read! Below the banner, the author explains exactly what those bones help you do. And invites your child to feel each set of bones in their own body, from head to toe. A really fun way to learn! Pegged for K-3rd grade.

What about all that other stuff going on in our bodies? This question is front and center for adolescents who are wondering exactly what’s going on in that changing body of theirs.

It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberly

This highly-praised oldie-but-goodie has been educating middle-schoolers about puberty for decades. The explanations are very frank, which can make some parents uncomfortable. But for those who want help answering your children’s questions, this should do it. I used this book with my own kids when they were at the adolescent stage and they were very absorbed, wanting to understand exactly what was causing their changing feelings – physical and emotional. Pegged for ages 10 and up.

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Women of Beverly
September 25, 2016



Today I spent time looking at the Women of Beverly. I’ll bet the first thing this brings to mind is those “real housewives” of Beverly Hills, California. But no, I haven’t been binge watching the popular TV show about the ups and downs of the rich and (now) famous. The Women of Beverly I encountered are psychologists and police officers, nurses and yoga instructors. What do they have in common? They are the backbone of their community.

The Backbone of Community

Beverly is one of those neighborhoods that values community. On a warm September day, you will see moms on the block keeping tabs on kids playing on the front sidewalk – not just their own kids but the neighbors kids, too. While they’re at it, they may borrow a cup of sugar or share the latest news with the older couple next door.

Beverly has an arts center where families gather. Kids take painting classes and perform in theater camps. Adults attend films and dance performances. Today there was a photography show.

Raising Them Up

The idea started with Diego Martirena, a ten-year resident of Beverly, a photographer and the father of three girls. Martirena is a community enthusiast. And, yet, he realized, he knew very little about the people who made Beverly such a vital place to raise his daughters. He decided to find out.

He spread the word, calling for nominations from the community itself. The result is a show of 42 photographs which together give a window into what -- or rather, who -- makes the community so vibrant. As Martirena says, "There are a lot of women in this neighborhood doing great things. I don't know if a lot of people know about it… I started to realize, these women could have an influence on the younger generation.”

Household Names

Yes, indeed. I’m sure many of us, including our kids, can tell you who the Housewives of Beverly Hills are. Even more can tell you about Brad and Angelina or Beyonce. This is all fine and good.

But what about the neighbor who organizes a walk for breast cancer or works for a non-profit to provide clothing for families in need or raises money for the local soccer team. Or any of the many other works that make our communities good places to live. What if we talk about these folks, make them household names alongside the celebs. Appreciate the vibrant people in our own backyard. Now that is truly something to talk about.

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The Inspiring Poetry Slam
September 23,2016



Often when I invite guests over to my home to share good company and good food, I’m running a little late putting the final touches on the food part. If so, I sometimes deposit my guests in the living room while I run around the kitchen getting it together. And sometimes a guest will wander over to my wall of books and scan my readings. I’ve got highfalutin novels standing next to 600 page works of nonfiction next to plays like A Raisin in the Sun leaning on volumes of chick lit. A couple of shelves are reserved for my favorite children’s books.

Sprinkled throughout are compilations of poetry, old and new. Periodically, in a quiet moment I pull a volume off the shelf and read a favorite poem, softly, out loud. I’ll bet this sounds familiar to those of you who love poetry.

Find Yourself a Poetry Slam!

So here’s an idea for a bolder approach, an inspiring approach, a let-it-all-hang-out-and-share-your-poetry-mojo-with-a-crowd approach. Find yourself a nearby poetry slam and share your voice.

What Exactly is a Poetry Slam?

Legend has it that the poetry slam got started 30 years ago in my sweet home Chicago. But nowadays, there are poetry slams all over the country. There are big ones that include an open mic portion followed by established talent that can take your enthusiasm to another level. There are smaller venues that might be just right if you’re a little timid. There are slams connected with charity events for those who want to combine their love of poetry with donations for a good cause. There are slams just for youth. And if you get really good at it, there’s the annual National Poetry Slam competition for the best of the best.

You can go solo or take the stage as a group. Want to sample some brave folks having fun? Check out you tube recordings of various poetry slam pieces. Here are a couple of recordings I like: this light-hearted group poem and this serious solo poem. Find your own favs. If you get inspired, do your own.

From the great poet Octavio Paz, a bit of his poem Between What I See and What I Say, that reminds me of what a poetry slam is all about:

To hear thoughts,
See what we say.
Touch the body of an idea.
Eyes close,
The words open.

Word.

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The Power of Poetry
September 21, 2016



Poems are a special kind of reading all their own. Some tell a story. But many are more about feelings. They can lift our spirits. They can help us deal with our sorrow. They can give us the giggles. They can inspire us to new heights.

Here’s a new compilation of poems I highly recommend.

Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy, paintings by Jon J. Muth

Caroline Kennedy has picked over 100 poems to share. She casts her net broadly, reaching many parts of the human experience and, too, the imagination. There are poems about the mystery of fairies and the scariness of monsters, the drama of sports, the power of love and the sadness of war. And much much more. Kennedy introduces each section with a reflection about her own experience with poems. The accompanying paintings in rich blues, greens, reds and yellows, invite children into the poems themselves. Lovely. Whatever your age, there’s something for everyone.

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Providing Backpacks and the Things That Go In Them
September 16,2016



Wednesday I was empathizing with parents marching their kids through the morning get-ready-for-school drill, complete with rounding up homework and school supplies. But some families have bigger worries when it comes to backpacks and notebooks and all the other tools kids are supposed to bring to school – they simply can’t afford them. More than 30 million school children have enough financial need to be enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs. School supplies are one more must-have beyond their means.

No Child Left Without Supplies

Fortunately, there are numerous charities that stand ready to help. Kids in Need Foundation is a national nonprofit that serves as a liaison between corporate and individual sponsors and resource centers around the country that give supplies to students in need. In 2015 they helped 4.8 million children. Take a look at their website for choices of ways to give. Or look online to find a local charity doing the same thing.

Do It Yourself

For those with the entrepreneurial spirit, check out Create the Good’s website where you can get detailed instructions on how to do your own school supply drive.

Geoffrey Canada, who devotes his life to improving education for poor children has said, “Poverty places not just one or two obstacles but multiple obstacles in a child's pathway to what we would consider to be regular development - cognitively, intellectually and emotionally.”

A shoutout to all non-profits, for-profits and and just plain folk who are donating where it counts!

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School Morning Routines
September 14, 2016



Has the shine of a new school year started to fade? Is the routine of getting ready for school setting in? Are you grinding your teeth in the mornings as you try to get your kids out the door but there’s always that one last thing they have to do first?

From the authors of the monumentally successful If You Give a Mouse a Cookie comes one about the morning routine.

Time for School, Mouse by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond is a giant board book about the tools that travel around in your child’s backpack… notebooks and pencils and lunchboxes and…homework. Where did mouse put that homework?! Mouse’s all too familiar adventures will have you shaking your head and your child cracking up. Pegged for your littlest students!

Another old favorite series follows the Berenstain Bears through many a valuable life lesson. Here’s one about the morning routine that your kids might enjoy.

The Berenstain Bears Get Ready for School by Mike Berenstain is a lift-the-flap book -- this makes it a good one for interactive reading. Brother can’t find his shirt. Sister can’t find her backpack. Will they make the bus on time? Pegged for preschool -1st grade.

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Growing up in a Post 9/11 World
September 11, 2016



Today we have been remembering the victims of the most devastating attack on American soil in our nation’s history. Radio programs, newspapers, and television shows have been filled with people sharing memories of that day: some share memories of their loved ones who died that morning; others recount the mundane details of what they were doing at the time the planes hit. But many Americans have no memories whatsoever of September 11, 2001.

1 in 5 Americans Were Born After 9/11

One in five Americans alive today was not born when the attacks occurred. For many of them, the facts are a little hazy. And they have questions. Others may have a firm grasp of the facts but don’t feel the emotional impact of something they did not live through. As we get further and further out from the event, there will be more and more people who were not born yet in September 2011. How then do we preserve a collective memory of this tragedy? And how do we draw upon it to make a better future?

Teaching the Facts

For years after 2001, schools shied away from teaching about 9/11. But more recently, teachers have been assigning books that deal with this history and they are using the facts of 9/11 to engage their classes around questions that have relevance today. Those of us who are older sometimes forget that many young people have never known a world where they do not have to take off their shoes in security lines. More darkly, they have never known a world without war or terrorism. And they have questions about how we got to this point.

They look to the adults around them to provide context. Why were we attacked? Who attacked us? What is radical Islam? How does that differ from mainstream Islam? How does the Patriot Act square with the constitution’s protection of our civil liberties? Only through helping our youth grapple with these issues can we pass along to them the knowledge they will need to make good decisions about the world they live in.

Teaching the Emotional Implications

And what about the emotional aspect? Many teens say they understand the facts of 9/11 but don’t feel emotional about it. They don’t feel the fear of watching the towers go down, of being attacked on our own soil. Yet even if they don’t directly feel the connection, they are living right now through the continuing fear that stems from that event.

By engaging teens around the emotions of 9/11, we can help them to understand the country’s current deep divisions that are based on this fear. By providing the context and connection, we give our youth the tools to address our current problems in a positive way.

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Need Idea-Inspiring, Problem-Solving Help? -- Get Thee to a Museum!
September 9,2016



Our books this week took a kids eye view of growing an idea and solving a problem. But sometimes it’s not so easy and we need a little inspiration or a little help. We can turn to mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, friends. But if they’re busy or just not coming up with what you need – try a MUSEUM!

Museums Inspire Ideas and Problem-solving

I am a big believer. Time and time again when my kids were little, a trip to the museum helped them grow.

There was the dinosaur phase. Books about dancing dinosaurs, stegosaurus toys, pterodactyl pajamas. But nothing compared to an outing to the Museum of Natural History to meet Sue, the T-Rex. There she stood, in all her glory, towering high above our heads, mouth gaping, sharp teeth bared. My kids looked back and forth from their little fingers to Sue’s enormous toes, they marched off the distance from Sue’s snout to the end of her lance-like tail. Thanks to Sue, the concept of scale became palpably real. Back home, the kids had an idea: Make a movie with their toy dinos and Small People dolls. Now the girls controlled the scale, using the camera lens to make their subjects look bigger and smaller.

There was the dollhouse phase. The Museum of Science and Industry’s fairy castle shimmered in gold and silver. But it was the Art Institute’s miniature rooms that were most fascinating. Tiny replicas of rooms from times along ago – British mahogany-walled reading rooms, French blue wallpapered dressing rooms, Japanese low tables behind sliding doors, colonial American stone hearths. Back home, the girls made houses of their own, primarily out of paper. Low tables and tall ceilings, elaborate staircases and colorful wall tapestries. Their creativity sparked by the museum's miniature rooms, the design possibilities were endless.

Plan your visit to a museum near you

There are thousands of museums across our country welcoming us with open doors. Inside, you can walk around whimsical paintings and sculptures; or walk through an oversized human heart; you can walk into a replica slave cabin; or play a game of chance with a gene mutation slot machine. So next time you’re looking for an idea or itching to do some problem-solving…get thee to a museum!

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The Yin and Yang of a new school year
September 07, 2016



The kids are all back in school. I remember those days. There was all the excitement that goes along with the new: new teacher, new friends, new things to learn. But there’s also the anxiety that goes along with the new: the possibility of making a mistake, getting into trouble. Here are a pair of books by the same author/illustrator duo about the yin and the yang.

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrations by Mae Besom

It’s mighty brave to tackle the question “What’s an idea and what do you do with it?” in a picture book. But Yamada and Besom take it on and they succeed. The idea in this book looks like a golden-yellow egg with a gold crown. It starts small, then grows. The idea belongs to a little boy; and he grows with it – more confident, more willing to take risks, more imaginative. And then…something amazing happens! A great book to read with your child as a new school year starts up. Pegged for K-3rd grade.

What Do You Do With An Problem? by Kobi Yamada, illustrations by Mae Besom

Along with ideas, kids will also have problems. The problem in this book is a big dark swirling cloud. And it keeps getting bigger. The problem belongs to a little boy; and as the problem grows, so do the boy’s worries. He hides from it, he wishes it away. But nothing works. Until he has no choice but to face it. And then…something amazing happens! Another great book to read with your child as a new school year starts up. Pegged for ages 4-8.

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Happy National Dog Day!
August 26, 2016



For all of you with a pup who…

begs to share your dinner

follows you into the bathroom

waits on the stair for your arrival

sunbathes with you on the couch

plays with you on the beach

gives you the death stare and won’t budge on his walk

ignores your other pets

let’s you dress her up

cheers for your favorite sports team

or cuddles with you on the couch ….

this one’s for YOU!

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Soaking Up the Last Days of Summer
August 21, 2016



The days are getting shorter…I sigh. Highs in the 70s are making a reappearance. But there are still these beautiful warm sunny days and clear balmy starry nights when life just floats. And I’m soaking up every last one.

So here’s an ode to summer nights, penned by Carl Sandberg.

BEND low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Cherish each and every moment ☺

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Filling the Empty Nest With Good Things
August 19, 2016



To all you newly minted empty nesters out there: How’re you doing?

If you’re feeling blue, here’s a missive of hope from one who’s been there. Happy days will be here again.

There is Life After Kids Leave!

Human beings are incredibly adaptive. So you’ve spent the last 18+ years directing your primary energy to someone who is now no longer in your physical sphere most of the time. Bit by bit, you will fill that empty space.

Pets

Have a pet? I do. He’s a 10-pound Havanese pup who thinks he’s my fourth child. I got him when my middle daughter was going off to college to fill in the empty-sistering that I was sure my youngest daughter would go through. Three years later, mission accomplished with the sibling, that pup attended and is still attending to my empty nester blues. For those who don’t have a pet, this might be the time to get one.

Leisure

Have a spouse or partner? I do. With no child to share meals (sniff!), we can actually hang out at the dinner table or a nice restaurant for….well, hours. Or stay in bed late on a weekend morning. Or travel. Yes, the airlines now love me. There are long-distance friends to visit, extended family to catch up with, even a vacation to take sans kids.

Don’t have a partner or a spouse? Have friends? The meals, late mornings, and travel are open and waiting for you, too.

Recalibrating Raison D'Etre

So, all this is nice. But you may feel a lingering absence of…raison d’etre? I did. And, one of the greatest joys I’ve found is that I actually have time to do something for the world beyond my family. So you might want to think about that. Maybe dip your toe in the water. Maybe jump in full force. Here are some things my other empty nester friends have taken up: work at food pantries, tutoring at schools, mission trips to Haiti and Colombia. You can join the board of your favorite local charity or get involved in neighborhood improvement work. The opportunities are out there – you just have to reach out the tiniest little bit. Once you get started, the grapevine will be onto you and you’ll probably have more opportunities than you can handle. Word of advice: Don’t take on too much! But let yourself learn and revel in your new role as steward of something beyond your child’s growth.

If this doesn’t sound appealing, give yourself time. It will! ☺

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One More Travel Book for Kids!
August 17, 2016



Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

A family is invited to their grandmother’s birthday party which is out of town. It’s a long trip: like 1000 miles long. To the little boy in the backseat, minutes seems like hours, hours seem like days…it feels like a million years. But wait! He’s actually gone through a million years…back in time. Not to worry. The family car speeds back through time again. But now they are heading into the future. Oh no! How will they get to grandma’s party? The pictures are in beautiful deep sunset colors. And there’s a neat twist to how the book is set up. It’ll make your kids feel that a plain old road trip through the present might not be so bad.

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The Nest is Empty – Now What?
August 14, 2016



This is for all you parents out there whose baby is going off to college.

The Parenting Life

Some or all of this may sound familiar:

You gave up alcohol for 9 months during which time the smell of onions sent you rushing to the bathroom to puke. Or you could barely make it out of bed in the morning. And your stomach continued to grow until you couldn’t tie your own shoes.

Then you gave up alcohol for several more months while you nursed this cherubic being (we tend to blot out from our memories or even remember with a wry smile the nights of screaming infants and croupy coughs).

And then there was this wonderful blur of romping, reading, laughing, and hugs. Followed by play dates and soccer games and less frequent hugs (at least in public). Followed by computers and texting which didn’t directly involve you but you had this feeling of well-being just being there. And then the pride at good grades, profound thoughts, thoughtful and generous acts coming from this kid who might even be taller than you are.

Going, Going, Gone...

And in a week or two, they will be gone. Off to college. For some, it may be within driving distance. For others, the whole country may lie between you and your college child.

How do you feel? Sad? Anxious? Wondering what you will do with all that time you have been spending with them?

Now What?

I’ve been through it and reached the other side. So here are a few things that surprised me in my journey getting from there to here:

The parts of me that are not “mom” started getting more time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t thrill every time my college kid and I had a visit. Or that I didn’t ache when it was time to say goodbye again. But it does mean that life back home was not so bad.

So chin up. And carpe diem!

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Books: Share the Stories
August 12, 2016



Here's a reprint to remind and encourage you to donate donate donate books. You'll do a world of good!

My bookshelves are full to bursting. I use the library a lot but there are not so infrequent times when I purchase a new book for keeps. It sits on my nightstand for a while. Then it emerges at the top and gets read. Then it’s time to find a place for it on a bookshelf.

The Problem: Too Many Books!

That’s where the problem comes in. I’m full up. I try to shift books around, squeeze books in. I often end up placing the new book perpendicular to and on top of another.

The Solution: Pay it Forward!

There is another alternative. And I’ve decided to follow it. Let’s face it: Am I really going to ever read most of these books a second time? A resounding No. I like the comfort, the reminder of readings past. It’s a reader’s eye candy.

But I can have my eye candy and eat it, too. So here’s my new thing. Make two piles. Books that are Claire classics. That is, books that have been life-changing or life-defining to me. And books that I actually will read again. Put those in one pile. The rest…pass them along, pay it forward. There are organizations across the hungry for donations.

Used Bookstores

First of all, there are used bookstores. Powell’s is my Chicago neighborhood fave. There are versions of this all over the country. In the case of bookstores, you might even get a little cash out of the deal. In this case, your books will be resold. If you want them redistributed at no cost, leave them in the box outside the store where anyone can browse and take. Check online for local options.

Libraries

Libraries are another good option. Your books will be available for reading by LOTS of people since they won’t be re-owned but borrowed.

Charities

Or you can give to organizations that distribute to those who might not be able to afford to purchase books on their own. Donation Town can put you in touch with your local place to donate.

Feelin' Good

So, I’m off to deliver books to Powell’s. And my bookshelf is a think of beauty with my favorite books standing tall for me to see. I’m feeling good. ☺

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A Couple of Award Winning Kids Books
August 10, 2016



Oldie But Goodie

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

This was the 1996 Newbery Award Winner. Prince Brat thinks he’s all that. He has whatever he wants, including his own whipping boy, Jemmy, who gets spanked every time Prince Brat behaves badly. But one day, the Prince and his whipping boy steal away from the castle, only to be kidnapped by outlaws who see the chance to collect a hefty ransom. The prince and his whipping boy must team up to get away. In the process, the whipping boy teaches the prince a thing or two, changing both of their lives for the better. A fast-paced adventure. Pegged for grades 3-8.

New and Fabulous

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This is a 2016 Newbery Honor Book but it is a timeless story told in classic fashion. Ten-year-old Ada was born with a severely twisted foot. Her mother is ashamed and doesn’t want anyone to see Ada so she keeps her locked away in the tiny London apartment that they share with Ada’s little brother Jamie. But Hitler and World War II are moving toward England. When Jamie is among the children to be shipped to the countryside to protect them from bombs, Ada makes her escape with them. Assigned to live with a woman who is recovering from the death of her best friend, the children and their caretaker struggle through the deprivations and dangers of the war and, in the process, open up to one another, healing their personal wounds. Completely absorbing. Pegged for 4th-6th grade.

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Bribes for Reading?
August 07, 2016



When my kids were little, they loved to read. Well…when they were very little they loved to be read to. And, later they loved reading on their own. But one daughter went through a struggle in the transition. The process of learning to read was hard work. During that period, the fun of reading waned and she shied away from it.

So what do you do if your child avoids reading?

Are bribes helpful?

An article in last week’s New York Times poses this question. In particular, it looks at the pros and cons of bribing your kid to read. On the plus side, if you ply your child with money, new toys or some other material item on their wish list, they will have incentive to read. Research shows that, in the short term, this can be effective. But on the negative side, research also shows that as soon as the incentive stops, the reading stops. And because reading is now tied in your child’s mind with “payment” it is seen as work, not fun.

Another Approach

There is another path. This is what some call non-material incentives. Such as…?

Well, one is to tie reading into special family time. Maybe a weekly trip to the library with a parent or special caregiver. Or, for those who have siblings, a special one-on-one time with a parent cozied up around a book. For those who are at the learning-to-read stage, this loving support can get them over the hump. And celebrate big time when they finally make it through that first book on their own!

Another idea is to make reading part of a group social activity. Maybe help your child form a book club, complete with cookies and milk. Or start a family contest to read the most books – the winner gets admiration, no material reward needed.

Encouraging Reading for Life

When my kids became teenagers, the number of demands on their time increased dramatically. High school homework, extracurricular activities, social events, and the demands of social media. At this point, I did add a material incentive -- something I continue to give them to this day, even though they are grown. Every Christmas, I choose a new book for each of them, carefully picking out stories tailored to their individual interests and styles. This summer, I took a short vacation trip with my daughter - the one who had to work at learning to read so many years ago. We sat around the pool reading and discussing our books together. The joy of reading!

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Two for One: Civic Engagement and Summer Camp!
August 6, 2016



This week we’ve been talking about summer vacations in the country. We’ve also been talking about introducing our kids to their civic rights and duties. Wanna combine the two? Summer camps for this year are winding down. But if you want to get a head start thinking about next year, check out these camps!

Fun and Learning At the Same Time

Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp. YEA’s home page gets your attention: “Hello World Changer! Yes, we’re talking to You!” They put out the call to join in on an 8-day camp at one of three countryside locations: Massachusetts, New York State, or California. There’s the traditional camp stuff -- hiking, games, and parties. There are also activities to help campers find and use their voices around issues they are passionate about.

Looking for a different location? Check out:

If none of these are just right but you like the idea, take a more in depth look on the web for something in your area. Light that fire within your kids. The whole world will benefit!

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Summer in the Country
August 03, 2016



When I was a kid we went camping on weekends – took to the road in our Ford station-wagon, sang car songs, played the license plate game, probably drove our parents nuts with our chatter. Hours after the start, we would pile out at our campsite in the woods and spend a couple of days swimming, hiking, singing around the campfire. Here are a couple of kids books that remind me of those days.

Oldie But Goodie

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Sal and her family live in a small town in Maine. Sometimes on summer days Sal and her mother go into the countryside to pick blueberries, dropping them into their pails: “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.” Also on summer days, a little black bear follows his mama through the countryside eating blueberries. One day on Blueberry Hill, the mamas and their children get mixed up with each other. In prose that matches the ambling nature of walking the hills picking blueberries, McCloskey sets up the timeless parallel between mothers and their children of all species. A classic! Pegged for ages 3-7.

New and Fabulous

Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova, woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski

Some of us take our kids to summer homes in the woods or near a lake or… on an island. This book is written in simple poetry, introducing the reader to the wonders of animal life on an island. It gives us a bird’s eye view as an introduction to the various birds, insects and mammals waking up each morning on this particular island. The vacationing boy in this lovely book quickly downs his maple syrup, berry pancakes. And away he goes to explore! Pegged for preschool to 2nd grade.

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What is this thing called Civics?
July 31, 2016



And then there were two…candidates for the presidency, that is. The 90-day race is on. Our lives will be filled with opportunities for discussion of the issues. There will be debates, TV commercials, town hall meetings, news articles, and tweets. These are all fodder for dinner table discussions, water cooler gossip, and schoolyard shouting matches. But there is also the opportunity for so much more. There is an opportunity to teach and learn about all things civics.

What Exactly is Civics?

So what is civics, anyway? The Merriam-Webster definition is a good one, I think: “The study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how the government works.”

One thing I love about it is it challenges us to understand a lot more than just the election and role of the President. It relates to understanding and having a say about senators and judges, representatives on both the federal and local levels. It also calls upon us to understand the numerous issues that our government tackles for us.

The other thing I love about this definition is that it is about our responsibilities as well as our entitlements. “Rights” and “Duties” operate hand in hand.

Our Civic Rights and Duties

So what are these rights and duties? There are many specifics, of course. But I would say at least these two things: (1) the right and duty to vote and (2) the right and duty to get the facts that prepare you to make an “informed” vote.

That’s where the debate parties and the dinner table conversations come in. But a lot of this may go over kids’ heads. Or may not be in a format that appeals to them.

Civics for Kids

Enter iCivics – a GREAT website for kids (quite frankly, I am enjoying it as an adult!) It’s loaded with games that give kids the chance to think about and role play how governing is done. Argue one side of a case (you choose which side) about matters related to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Take a turn running each of the three branches of government. Strategize how to use your country’s resources in the international community – will your people be better protected through war or peace? And so much more.

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Showing Our Girls: Yes We Can!
July 29, 2016



As I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton accept the nomination for President of the United States last night, I had flashbacks to scenes from my childhood. You know how memories, especially those from the long ago past, come at you in splintered pieces? Almost like still photos or film clips.

Miss America and Girls in the 1960s

I remember an annual highlight for me and my sisters was watching the Miss America pageant. I have an image of women parading across a stage in bathing suits. We scrutinized their looks: their hair, their eyes, their teeth, their clothing. And each of us would zero in on one young woman we wanted to win. Throughout the contest, for that one night, we wanted to be that woman and all that we had deemed so likeable about how she looked.

I remember watching the nightly news with my father. We were fans of Huntley and Brinkley (both men). I especially liked Chet Huntley. To me, he seemed so calm and serious, his dark suit and tie and his low measured voice made me feel so secure.

I remember the volatility of the Civil Rights Movement and of the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention that took place in Chicago, my own backyard. The faces (all of them male) that flit across my memory: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Daley, Richard Nixon.

I remember elementary school, sitting quietly at my desk all day, diligently following teacher’s instructions, understanding that what was expected of me was good grades and good behavior. It paid off with Ivy League college admissions.

Stretching Our Horizons in the 1970s

In the mid-1970s, I was a young woman attending Yale University, a college that had been all-male just 6 years before I arrived. But I remember feeling that more was being expected of me than ever before. My teachers, men and women, pushed me to stretch my thinking beyond just “the right answer.” And though it was more of a backdrop than something I thought about every day, I was aware that during my junior year, Yale was being led by a woman, Hanna Gray.

I have a picture of Hillary Clinton on my phone. She looks barely in her 20s. . She is standing with Bill across the street from the dormitory I lived in for three years. The picture must have been taken just a few years before I arrived on campus. She is smiling, her chin jutting forward just a little, a look of self-confidence and of complete comfort in her own skin. She looks like she cannot wait to make her mark on the world.

We've Come A Long Way Baby!

Last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for President of the United States. I watched her in her white suit, her eyes shining, her not-so-low voice clear and strong. The images of influencers from my childhood flashed through my mind. I thought at that moment: The memories of the little girls growing up today will include Hillary. Her beauty and her power to make them feel secure. This moment will be seared on their minds, a snapshot that informs their sense of possibility, that drives their self-expectation, and impacts the choices they make.

Today, as I go about my work, Miss America, Chet Huntley, Hannah Gray, and Hillary Clinton are all perched on my shoulder, pushing the continued expansion of my own sense of possibility and self-expectation. We’ve come a long way baby. Thank you Hillary Rodham Clinton for shaping women across the generations, inspiring us to live fully in the knowledge that, “Yes we can!”

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Summer Books: Water Play!
July 27, 2016



Summer vacation. Just thinking about it brings out the smiles. And sometimes it lives up to its billing. But sometimes a bit of boredom or anxiety is part of the mix. Here are a couple of kids books that may keep the smiles coming.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

It’s summer. It’s hot. It’s pool time. On the hottest days, the pools are CROWDED! So what happens when two shy kids try to navigate their way through the pool crowds? In this book, the story is told strictly through illustration. No words. Page by page, we are taken through an underwater adventure that springs from the imagination of the kids. The illustrations are terrific – giving the reader the feeling of looking at things through the screen of water under the surface of a pool. A great summer read to cool off with! Pegged for Preschool-2nd Grade.

Surf's Up by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Surf's Up is about the joy of reading in summer’s time away from school. Bro and Dude are on a beach vacation. Dude calls on his friend Bro to join him surfing. Bro is immersed in a book. “Not yet Dude.” But he hops onto Dude’s scooter, bringing his book with him. It’s a thriller and Bro vocalizes his excitement: “Wowie Kazowie, Whoa Daddy-O, Booyah!” Now Dude wants to know what is going on in the story that’s keeping his friend on the edge of his seat . Find out what happens when they get to the beach. Kwame Alexander wrote the fabulous Newbery Award winner, The Crossover, that I reviewed last year. Alexander’s ear for rhythm and sounds is once again impeccable. And the illustrations are great at capturing the characters’ emotions. Pegged for ages 4-8.

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One Great Reason to Read
July 24, 2016



A short blog post today.

I've had my nose in a book a lot lately. Sound solitary? Actually, I've gotten to know a lot of new people. And I've had catch up sessions with old buds. I’ve followed the adventures of a black soldier of the French Revolution (The Black Count), the journey of a poor British girl in World War II London (The War That Saved My Life), the efforts of Jamestown settlers to avoid starvation in seventeenth century Virginia (A People’s History of the United States), and the latest trials and successes of my favorite movie stars (courtesy of People Magazine). I would never have the chance to know these people face to face. They are either long gone, never really existed outside the author’s mind, or don’t run in my circles (perhaps you might say I am unlikely to run in theirs). But through reading, they are part of my world and they enrich my life.

C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Of course, there are other reasons to read, too. But that sure is a good one.

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It’s Summer: Take a Donation-Vacation!
July 22, 2016



We are full into the fun of summer sun. Some of us kick back at the hometown beach or pool or tennis court. But some of us are looking to experience something new – a new place maybe, a new culture perhaps. If you’ve got the itch for a new adventure but you’re still mulling over just where to land, you might consider a “donation-vacation.”

What Is A Donation-Vacation?

What exactly is a “donation-vacation” you might ask. Well, it’s simple. There are many places around the world in need of volunteers. To help build houses. Or clean up after a natural disaster. Or restore natural habitats.

Why Take A Donation-Vacation?

It’s a great two-for-one concept: you get to experience a new place and/or new culture; those in need get a new roof over their heads or nutritional food on their plate or whatever else you are providing by donating your time.

Here are some websites you might look at for starters:

Looking to take the kids along? Check these opportunities:

Want to combine a leisure vacation with a volunteer component? Check these sites:

Many hotels and cruise lines all over the world offer volunteer opportunities too. If this interests you, be sure to ask!

Just think how much stronger the world would be if we each, just once in our lifetime, took a “donation-vacation.”

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The Great Serena Williams
July 13, 2016



Serena Williams has just notched another huge win to her record. Some say she is the greatest woman tennis player of all time.

For those out there whose kids are Serena groupies and also for those whose kids appreciate stories of grit, triumph in the face of challenge, champions…here are a couple of suggested reads by Serena herself.

My Life: Queen of the Court.

Why not get the story from straight from the source?! The great thing about this book? Serena tells about how she got to where she is today starting with her childhood. Playing on a ratty old court with worn out tennis balls, developing strong relationships with her siblings, dealing with racism. Packed with inspiring tales for your teenager.

Venus and Serena: Serving from the Hip: 10 Rules for Living, Loving, and Winning

In this one Serena and Venus team up (with Hilary Beard) to talk to teens. It’s less about tennis and more about life advice. And it’s divided into 10 rules for success. There are anecdotes on the importance of family, friends, staying in school, taking care of your body, etc. Pegged for 7th grade and up.

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Champions: Nature or Nurture?
July 10, 2016



Yesterday was a good day. Serena Williams won her 7th Wimbledon singles title. It was also her 22nd Majors title tying her with Steffi Graf for most wins in the “Open Era” (translation: since 1968) of tennis. A few hours later, Serena teamed up with her sister Venus to win their 6th Wimbledon’s women’s doubles title.

Nature or Nurture?

Two sisters. Both great at tennis. So what are the ingredients of this success? Is it nature or is it nurture? Do the sisters have cream-of-the-crop genes? Or has their life experience shaped their greatness?

Certainly the girls started young. The story I’ve heard is that their dad was TV-channel-flipping one night and happened upon the winner’s ceremony of a tennis match. When he saw the amount of money awarded to the winner for four day’s work he decided upon careers in tennis for his children. He poured over instructive books and videos on tennis and began to train Venus and Serena almost as soon as they could walk. Flash forward 35 years and his girls are the best of the best.

So did Mr. Williams have some sort of crystal ball about his daughters' talent? Or did he, himself, have an incredible coaching talent? Or did a bunch of factors come together in just the right way? Nature or nurture?

The Answer Is...

I don’t have a pizzazzy answer but it is a satisfying one, I think. Just last year the results of a study conducted over a five year period in countries around the world concluded…it’s both. Nature AND nurture. And, guess what? It’s pretty much a tie in terms of what impacts us most.

The study itself is pretty interesting. It compiled 2,748 studies of identical twins and looked at more than 17,000 traits. Some physical traits were more the result of genetics – such as having a cleft lip (98% heritable). Bipolar disorder was found to be 70% genetics.. But on average, 49% is genetics, 51% is environment.

Nurture: The Williams Way

Back to the Williams sisters. Genetics blessed them with strong, agile bodies. Their environment did the rest. Here are some things I’ve read about them:

Nurture: Your Way

Many of us pour our hopes into our children the same way Richard Williams did. This doesn’t mean they will all be champions (or make lots of money!). But as confirmed by the recent study, the environment we provide has tremendous impact on our children: who they are and what they become. A lot of it is up to us -- to provide love, discipline, encouragement, grit, creativity, intellectual thinking, and all the other things we value and hope for in our children. We parents and caretakers have both a powerful responsibility and a great opportunity. That is good news indeed.

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Our Single Garment of Destiny
July 08, 2016



"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” 1963

This quote appears on the home page of Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) a nonprofit working in Dallas, TX.

I wrote this post just hours before the shootings in Dallas last night. I almost decided to scrap it thinking that we are too raw to hear about ICP’s work right now. But the more I've thought about it, the more I am convinced it is a fitting part of our reflections today as we mourn the recent shootings in towns and cities across our country. We can be fearful. We can be angry. We can cover our eyes in an attempt to shut it out. But the fact remains: we are tied in a single garment of destiny.

Single Garment of Destiny: Making the Best of It

So what can we do to make this mutual destiny a whole lot better than we’re living it now?

ICP has an answer that is simple to say, challenging to live out. ICP works for the creation and maintenance of thriving inclusive communities. What does this boil down to? The elimination of segregation.

The Supreme Court Agrees

Before you dismiss this goal as pie in the sky, listen to this. The Supreme Court agrees with ICP. I won’t attempt to outline here all of the legal issues that are part of the June 2015 decision. If you are interested, you can read the Supreme Court’s full decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, et al. Here’s the impact. Affordable housing must be distributed in a way that gives low income and minority families access to high opportunity, high growth areas.

Building Inclusive Communities

This legal case arose out of the advocacy component of ICP’s program. ICP uses the LEGAL TOOL only when cooperation isn’t working. For those who want to build inclusive community, ICP acts as a RESOURCE.

We All Scream for Ice Cream!
July 06, 2016



It is HOT out there. And HUMID out there. Sweat begins to drip off your face about 5 minutes after you venture out of the air conditioning. What to do? The beach? Maybe. The mall? Maybe. How about….ice cream?!

Here are a couple of books that will have you running to your nearest frozen food section or local creamery. ☺

Ice Cream by Elisha Cooper gives you and your kids the inside scoop on how ice cream is MADE. Of course, there’s the cow. But wow! There are a lot of machines involved in the process. And this book walks you through it all in a light-hearted, fun way. Pegged for ages 4 and up.

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems go straight into raptures about the joys of EATING ice cream. Especially on a hot day. Elephant is all set to eat the cone he has just purchased when he starts to think about his best friend Piggie. She loves ice cream, too. To share or not to share? That is Elephant’s question. A dilemma with a happy ending. Pegged for ages 4-8.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes: If You’re So Upset, Do Something!
July 01, 2016



The other day, as I was ranting about the latest world atrocity, my daughter let me know she is done listening to my complaints. With a stern look, she reprimanded me: “Quit complaining. If you’re so upset, do something.” I stopped mid-sentence. One of those mother-daughter role reversal moments that floods me with parental indignation alongside chagrined concession that she is absolutely right.

Stop Complaining...Then What?

So I am hereby declaring a personal moratorium on lamenting, raging against, or just plain hiding from the current state of world affairs. And I have begun answering the question “What to do instead?”

To be fair to myself (someone needs to be!), it’s not as though I have ONLY been ranting.

I have also been writing a book about some of the very same issues we face today – only the story I tell took place nearly 100 years ago (the painful similarities are, themselves, grounds for a rant). More about this as we get closer to publication date in Spring 2017.

And I have worked for decades with high-poverty schools to increase educational opportunities for children.

Now I have this blog. Which offers me the chance to interact with other people and pass along information about the inspirational nuggets that shine amidst the debris.

Community-Based Action Perhaps?

A lot of the inspiring groups I have blogged about are issue-based. Today, I draw your attention to a faith-based approach that looks more holistically at community as its organizing principle. Key components of the model:

  • Roots its work in a strong community gathering center such as a church or a school
  • Trains ordinary people to lead
  • Sets its agenda by LISTENING to people in the community served
  • Teaches the art of COMPROMISE and NEGOTIATION so that the community can find common ground with those who hold the political power on issues affecting the community
  • In this time when it seems like outshouting one another is too often the default MO, the idea of listening, negotiating, and compromising is a breath of fresh air.

    A Little Help from Our Friends

    If this excites you, check out the PICO website. It’s loaded with ways to join in on community action already in progress. It also provides toolkits to help you organize your own community. Say, for example, around engaging your legislators. Or creating a social media campaign.

    PICO operates in 17 states. My home state of Illinois is not one of them. A shout-out here to a friend who directed me to a similar local organization, the Community Renewal Society.

    So for those of us who are tired of wringing our hands, using our outdoor voices indoors, or covering our ears and eyes, there is an option to join hands and “do something.” Together.

    Puts a little wind in my sails this 4th of July. I hope it does the same for you.

    Happy Holiday Weekend!

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    Changing the World by Doing What You Know
    June 29, 2016



    I believe there is a calling in each of us that is as natural as breathing. We have to pay attention to that which comes naturally and makes our heart sing. And then build upon it.

    Here are a couple of great books about people who changed the world in exactly that way.

    The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman with original photographs by Wilbur and Orville Wright tells the story of two brothers, as close to each other as two peas in a pod who had “a way with tools and a knack for solving problems.” This Newbery Honor Book does a great job of mixing technical how-it-happened with the human side of these world-changing inventors. Pegged for ages 10 and up.

    Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal is about a modern-day legend, the man who brought us the imac, the iphone…the ieverything. From the beginnings of Apple in his parents’ garage, Steve was always compelled from within to push the technological envelope and to bring his strong sense of style to develop a chain of products that have proved irresistible to millions around the world. Pegged for teens.

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    Making A Difference: How Do You Tackle the Big Issues?
    June 26, 2016



    There’s Been Good

    2016 has brought a lot of great things my way. All of my daughters graduated from school (one from college, two from graduate school). Those celebrations, along with graduations for extended family and friends, have given me a tangible sense of what it means to have a “social season.”

    There’s Been Bad

    2016 has also been deeply troubling. Violence in my city, my country, the world, continues on what seems to be an inexorable march. The core of my being is shouting, “Stop the madness!”

    What Can We Do About It?

    I think pretty much all of us feel that way. But the “how” is the hard part. A lot of people are reacting with a loud: “Let’s back up, let’s rewind!” For many, finding a safe space means retreating to be with people who think like them, look like them, have similar experience.

    Does Running the Other Way Really Help?

    That’s not an inexplicable or necessarily evil response. It is, at least in the short-term, simpler and more manageable. But as a solution, it has its own problems – economic, social, and otherwise. What at first might seem to lead to more stability is very likely to increase instability. In England, for example, just days after a vote to leave the European Union – at least in part based on a perception that this will increase stability – people are learning that they stand to lose significant financial benefits from the EU which may very well translate into lost jobs, a devalued currency, and a decreased ability to export goods beyond their tiny island borders.

    What’s The Alternative?

    What about the rest of us? What about those who want to take on the hard work of building a community that is inclusive and equitable in treatment of all who choose to live with us, that is diverse? How, exactly, do we go about this?

    Martin Luther King once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” This really hits home. But the problems can seem so overwhelming that you don’t know where to begin. I have yet to see a manual with step-by-step instructions.

    Do What You Know

    I learned something, this week, from the approach of the painter, Grant Wood. He taught art students at the University of Iowa from 1934-1941. His students were grappling with the question: “How do I organize my talents to have an impact on the world?” Wood’s advice was simple: Choose painting, printmaking, sculpture, murals – any of these. But one message was the same for all: Draw upon what you know. And so from his students could come works about mothers and children, revolutionaries and aristocrats, farmers and factory workers. The collective body of artwork being created at that time had a profound impact on the world.

    Draw upon what you know. That is how you can have the most impact. You don’t have to take on the whole problem (in fact, none of us can). Others whose experience is not the same as yours will fill your spaces. This is a great organizing principle, one that can soar in a diverse world.

    Pass it on to your children.

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    SELLING LEMONADE TO FIGHT TYPE 1 DIABETES
    June 24, 2016



    It’s the beginning of summer. Temperatures are inching into the 90s. Fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere. Kids are out of school. Lemonade stands are popping up. In honor of summer and some of the great things it brings, I’m reprinting one of my very first blogs.

    Last summer, one lazy afternoon, I was sitting out in the strong Montana sun amidst vacationing golfers and tennis players and swimmers…oh! and beer drinkers (incidentally I noticed several orders for Goose Island -- shout out to my hometown Chicago brewery!) Eventually, I gave in to the heat and, drenched in sweat, began my walk back to my townhouse there.

    The Pitch

    A short ways down the path, I could see three little girls – the oldest looked no more than ten – with the typical lemonade stand set-up. Table, sign, money jar, big pitcher of lemonade, small paper cups…you get the picture. But as I got closer and could hear the girls hawking their wares, I was in for a surprise. Not the usual 25 cents for a cup of lemonade. Instead, their pitch was:"Donate to Cure Type I Diabetes; Get a Free Cup of Lemonade!"

    Now, first, I must say, I was impressed with the marketing strategy – tapping into our openness to giving for a good cause; and our obsession with getting a "free" gift – both at the same time. Brilliant!

    The Impuse to Give

    But I digress. I wondered what had led these girls to their decision to "give back." So I asked. At first, they explained, they were just going to have a “regular” lemonade stand and collect money for themselves. But their cousin has Type 1 diabetes and they hit upon this as a way to help her.

    Developing the Giving Habit

    I began to think: What if every kid who sets up a lemonade stand – and there must be hundreds of thousands each summer – chose some cause near and dear to their hearts to receive the proceeds.

    For the recipients of the donations, every little bit helps. But, maybe more important, our children would be having a positive experience with giving at a very young age. They would be involved in the choice of charity, which would require them to think about what means most to them. And they would experience the joy of making the world a better place while doing something fun. You know how children who are read to at a young age often get the warm fuzzies later on when they think about reading? Well, same concept here. Wouldn't it be great for children to develop the warm fuzzies for giving, starting them on their way to becoming lifelong givers.

    Pass it on!

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    The Fruits of Summer!
    June 22, 2016



    And vegetables, too! I am sooooo looking forward to fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes. Not to mention berries of all kinds and ears of sweet corn. Here are a couple of books that will have you and your kids planting in the garden or taking a trip to your local farmer’s market.

    Edible Numbers by Jennifer Vogel Bass gives us photographs of luscious fruits and vegetables, while at the same time giving us a fun way to practice counting with our toddlers and preschoolers. Each two page spread focuses on one fruit or vegetable. On the left hand page, the author presents one commonly recognized variation of a fruit or vegetable. On the right hand page she gives us a number of different variations of the same fruit or vegetable. Have fun counting! Pegged for preschool-1st grade.

    Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth's Recipe for Food by Cris Peterson is for those who want to know, “What’s going on in that garden of mine that turns seeds into fruits and vegetables?” The author gives us the science behind plant growth including the buried seed’s journey to the surface and the energy-creating process of photosynthesis. The photos give you and your child a wondrous worms-eye view. Pegged for grades K-3.

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    Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth
    June 19, 2016



    It’s finally summer – Chicago temperatures are in the 90s. I took a walk along the lake yesterday and was swooning – not so much from the heat but more from the mouthwatering smell of barbecue wafting my way from picnics in the park. I expect more of the same today. With a special extra cause for celebration. It is Juneteenth.

    What exactly are we celebrating?

    What exactly are we celebrating? On this day – that is, June 19 – in 1865, a general of the Union army issued an order in Texas freeing the slaves.

    What About the Emancipation Proclamation?

    If you haven’t heard of Juneteenth before, you might be confused. What about the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued 2 years earlier? January 1, 1863, a famous and important date in its own right. On that day, President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in confederate states. It did not free slaves in slaveholding states of the Union (such as Maryland). But it did cover a lot of people.

    News travels Slow

    Theoretically, the Emancipation Proclamation should have freed slaves in Texas since that state was part of the Confederacy. But as long as the Confederate armies fought on, it wasn’t so easy for slaves to claim their freedom. Texas held on to its slaves.

    What About Appomattox?

    OK. But the war actually did end on April, 9, 1865 when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Well, news traveled slow back then. And, though the war officially ended in April, Texas Confederates were still fighting until early June.

    Going National

    So it makes sense that Texas celebrates Juneteenth. But why the rest of the country? Isn’t the Emancipation Proclamation or the official end of the war or the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, officially ending slavery throughout the United States – isn’t one of these a better official date for celebration?

    Some have argued Yes for choosing one of the other days for official celebration. But through it all, black Texans held on to their celebration of Juneteenth. And as some began to move out of Texas, they carried the tradition across state lines. Then, flash forward to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 1968 to be exact. In June of that year, two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated, King’s followers converged on Washington DC for the Poor People’s March. On June 19 – Juneteenth -- of that year, the march concluded and participants returned to their homes across America. They carried the celebration of Juneteenth back with them .

    Now there is an official Juneteenth holiday in many states. And how do we celebrate? With summer fun: great music, great friends, and barbecue. Yum!

    Share your stories of celebrating Juneteenth!

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    Cracks in the Glass Ceiling: Taking the Time to Appreciate Their Beauty
    June 12, 2016



    Last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the apparent Democratic nominee for President, the first woman to be entrusted with this mantle in the entire history of our country. As I watched her speak on the last “Super Tuesday” of 2016, with her female cadences, clothes, hair, face, I felt the power of this pivotal moment. I imagined that any woman, young or old, conservative or liberal, would find it hard not to be buoyed by the breaking of this longstanding barrier.

    The next day, however, my newsfeed evidenced that many women were not impressed. The back-and-forth continued about jobs, violence, immigration, etc. Few paused to reflect about the latest crack in the glass ceiling.

    Does a glass ceiling still exist?

    We are the product of our times. Many of today’s young women experience the world as gender-neutral and open to them. And in many ways it is. There are more women attending college than men. Women are nearly half of the labor force and they hold more than half of the professional and technical jobs in the U.S.

    Back in the Day

    This was not always the case. Not so long ago, certainly in Hillary Clinton’s lifetime, the glass ceiling hung so low, women could barely stand beneath it. Before the 1970s, most women married young and stayed home raising babies. Most didn’t work for pay at all. Those who did were, for the most part, limited to traditionally “women’s” jobs: nurses, teachers, and secretaries.

    The Feminist Fight

    In the 1960s and 70s, a revolution of sorts took place. Hillary Clinton was part of that revolution. She benefited from it. Like so many women today, she went from college to career. And it was exhilarating. She boasted at one time that she had more important things to do than stay home and make cookies.

    But though the ceiling was higher, it was still there. Hillary has bumped her head on it over and over through the years. Many critics. Ever vacillating criticisms. Those female cadences were sometimes too strident, sometimes too weak. Her hair was sometimes too messy, sometimes too coiffed. She was sometimes too abrasive, sometimes too conciliatory.

    And women in general? Last year, women only made 79 cents for every dollar men made. In every single occupation measured, men average higher wages than women. Less than 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women. Less than half of women who start out practicing law in firms end up as high-level partners. And even those who make it that far only earn, on average, 80% of what men earn.

    Celebrating Milestones

    We still have a ways to go. Which makes it all the more important - young and old -- to take time out, look at, reflect upon, rejoice in the beauty of the glass ceiling cracks.

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    Let Girls Lead
    June 10, 2016



    The Democrats have chosen a woman to lead the United States. An inspiring moment for little girls across our land. I’m taking a moment to look even wider – at countries where women and girls have very little power. What happens there?

    Raising Female Leaders

    I call your attention to a program called Let Girls Lead. Right now, they are focused on Malawi, Ethiopia, and Uganda in Africa and Guatemala in South America. They are raising up leaders – women and girls – to change laws and practices in their countries that hold women back.

    Girls Lead in Malawi

    In Malawi, a common practice has been to send girls who are just hitting puberty to “sexual initiation camps” where they are forced to have sex with older men. Those who get pregnant are married off to men who have complete authority over them.

    In 2011, Let Girls Lead teamed up with Malawi’s Girls Empowerment Network and other women and girls to challenge this injustice. They trained over 200 girls how to lift their voices in protest. After training, the girls argued their case for women’s rights before 60 village chiefs and lobbied Malawi’s President. The result : The Malawian Parliament passed a law banning child marriage.

    Inspiring!

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    The First Woman President!
    June 08, 2016



    In honor of Hillary Rodham Clinton clinching the majority of Democratic pledged delegates last night, I invite you to curl up with your kids and read…

    Grace for President

    by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

    When Grace’s teacher rolls out a poster of all U.S. Presidents from George Washington forward, Grace is shocked that there are no girls on there. She decides to run for President herself – at school. Her opponent is a do-it-all-well BOY.

    Each kid in the class represents one state and decides how to cast that state’s electoral votes. Wouldn’t you know… the boys hold a slight edge in electoral votes. Can Grace win anyway?

    It’s a good time to introduce kids to the electoral process….and a female candidate!

    Pegged for ages 9-12.

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    June Is Bustin' Out All Over!
    June 01, 2016



    I keep humming this song from the play Carousel. June days are long. The weather is beautiful. The trees and plants are in full bloom.

    Musical theater is so catchy. Songs from childhood shows (some from shows I performed, some from shows I watched) bubble up at the funniest times. Here are a couple of fun children’s books about the theater.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch, is about a little girl who loves acting out stories. No character is off limits in Grace’s mind – she throws herself into the roles of Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, and Aladdin. When Grace’s teacher announces that the class will perform the play Peter Pan, Grace wants the lead. But her enthusiasm is dampened by her classmates’ skepticism that a black girl can take on this role.

    With the support of her family and an outing to an inspiring dance performance, Grace follows her passion and tries out for the part of Peter Pan. Pegged for children ages 4-8.

    New and Fabulous

    Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov, illustrated by Cosei Kawa transports us back to the 1920s and a young Jewish girl grows up with an insider’s view of the Yiddish theater where her parents perform. Readers follow Rifka as she makes her way around the theater, through prop rooms and dressing rooms, trying on makeup and joking around with the actors, and finally ending up onstage where Rifka gets to perform herself. The pictures are wonderful, enveloping the reader in the magic of the theater. Pegged for grades K-3.

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    On Memorial Day
    May 30, 2016



    On this Memorial Day, I stop to honor the soldiers who have given their lives in service of our country. I do not stop to honor war itself. But I pay my respects to the soldiers – those who volunteered to fight and those who were drafted, those who fought in “good” wars and those who fought in wars later deemed “wrong.” These men and women were members of our community – sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends. Each, in his or her own way, graced our world.

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    Leave No Veteran Behind
    May 27, 2016



    I am starting this Memorial Day weekend thinking of veterans and how we, as a people, honor them.

    Honoring Vets With Our Thoughts

    Last week, I enjoyed being part of the crowd at a baseball game where fans stood and cheered at a saluting veteran broadcast on the big scoreboard. This week, as I tooled around in my car, I listened to several National Public Radio shows offering thought provoking experiences and points of view on Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. One ex-soldier pushed listeners to go beyond the barbecues and softball games this weekend, to set aside some time to actively remember the men and women who have given their lives to protect us and people around the world.

    This has also got me thinking about the soldiers that make it back home alive. Beyond the cheers and somber reflections, where is the clamor for embracing veterans back into the fabric of life on the home front?

    Thoughts Alone Are Not Enough

    We look first to the government as the primary resource for reintegration into society. But public funding for job training and health care – both physical and psychological – is insufficient. We need more.

    Honoring Vets With Our Actions

    Roy B. Sartin and Eli Williamson are doing more, much more. Both men grew up in my hometown, Chicago. Both went off to Luther College in Iowa. Both joined the US Army Reserves and both served in Iraq. Both finished their college education. I always thought that veterans received full scholarships to complete their education – a major incentive, I thought, to join up. But it turns out that many veterans like Sartin and Williamson are not covered. Soldiers put their lives on the line, then end up with big student loans and limited job opportunities.

    Sartin and Williamson are answering my question: they are running an organization called Leave No Veteran Behind, to embrace veterans back into the fabric of life on the home front. And they are doing it in such a thoughtful, inspiring way that benefits not just veterans but also the communities they live in.

    Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB) does some pretty wonderful things. For veterans, there are retroactive scholarships covering student loans for education already received. There is also a multi-pronged job-training/placement program.

    The Reciprocity of Community

    For communities the soldiers return to, there are partnerships that involve veterans in growing the next generation.

    I’m going into this Memorial Day weekend, grateful for the men and women who protect our way of life. This year, I am also inspired by the continued work of veterans on the home front. One community.

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    Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…
    May 25, 2016



    After all this talk of graduation, I’ve been thinking about those first baby steps into reading and math. Here are a couple of books I think of fondly, even now. ☺

    Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault is the best ABC book ever! It’s got such great rhythm: “A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.” You can’t help but bop and bounce as you read. I never get tired of this one- twenty years and still know the words (and my alphabet - hee hee). Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! For babies, toddlers, and young readers.

    Five Little Ducks by Raffi and Jose Aruego does simple backward counting from 5 to 1. It’s actually the song that I love. So if you get this one, I recommend getting hold of a copy of Raffi singing. After listening, you and your children can easily sing this on your own. You might find yourself humming while your cooking or even as you walk down the street (know that feeling?!) For babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

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    The Good Lawyer
    May 20, 2016



    How many lawyer jokes have you heard in your lifetime? Other than light bulb jokes (sometimes these include lawyers, too). I can’t think of any others that pop up more frequently. And, whereas the light bulb jokes elicit a laugh, lawyer jokes are more likely to result in rolled eyes and shaking heads.

    Some Lawyers are Super-Heroes

    Maybe some of the disdain is well deserved. There are shysters out there, to be sure. There are also lawyer super-heroes aplenty . Disclosure: I have a law degree :I But this is not just my opinion. It doesn’t take much looking around to find evidence of inspiring lawyers using their training, smarts, and passion to fight for people in need.

    Fighting for the Innocent

    In my hometown of Chicago, the Innocence Center has literally saved lives – lawyers working day and night to win freedom for wrongfully convicted prisoners, some who have been languishing on death row. The similarly named Innocence Project based in New York does the same type of work nationally.

    Fighting for the Disabled

    When I was a law student I worked in one of many university connected legal aid clinics, assisting people with mental disabilities, helping them to navigate the labyrinthine systems that make it very hard to actually receive the benefits they so badly need.

    Donating Time

    Then there are the thousands of lawyers who primarily serve paying clients, but volunteer their limited “extra” time to provide pro bono services for those who cannot afford to pay for representation.

    Super-Hero Lawyers Are Everywhere

    To give a more concrete flavor of the super-hero lawyers you can find in city and country across the U.S.: There’s the lawyer who protects Native American rights to trust funds. Another lawyer who provides free legal assistance to wrongfully evicted tenants. Another who manages adoption cases for family members who want to protect and take care of children of abusive relatives. There are those who stand up for the legal rights of immigrants. And those who protect the environment. The list goes on.

    So next time, you hear a lawyer joke, go ahead and laugh. But remember that in real life, good lawyers are doing amazing things to make the world a better place.

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    Lawyer Smarts!
    May 18, 2016



    This week I am attending my eldest daughter’s graduation from law school! Here are a couple of young people’s books about the law.

    Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. I picked this out of the Nancy Drew series because it was one of my favs. But the entire series is classic. Nancy’s dad is a lawyer who is a sage guide balancing out his daughter's sometimes impulsive zeal for crime investigation. Written over a half century ago, the characters of Nancy Drew’s stories may seem a little dusty to today's young folk but once you crack the cover, you may be hooked by the irresistible charm of the sleuth and her lawyer dad. For kids 8 and up.

    Marshall, the Courthouse Mouse: A Tail of the U. S. Supreme Court by Peter W. Barnes, illustrated by Cheryl S. Barnes, looks at the mouse Supreme Court where the justices are deciding an important question. Should mice have the right to eat any cheese they please? This is a fun way for kids to learn about the Constitution, laws, court processes and opinions. Pegged for grades K-up.

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    More Thoughts for Graduates
    May 15, 2016



    Part 3 of the graduation speech I gave several years ago:

    Helpers

    This is one that has been a life saver to me many times throughout my life. The reality is, it is very hard to get through life alone. Even in the best of times, there will be many choices to make. And you will have questions about what makes the most sense for YOU. And in the more difficult times, when you are struggling with failure or being misunderstood or loss, the support of others around you can make all the difference, can get you back on your feet.

    Famiy

    Lean on your FAMILY. Don’t be afraid or too cool to ask your parents for advice…about homework, about friends, about things you might have a hard time handling on your own like gangs or drugs. Hey! Your family loves you. They are in your corner. They have been through a lot of the same things you will go through soon. Let them help.

    Make New Friends

    New friends will stretch you in new ways, push you to grow. One of the special things about new friends (and teachers for that matter) is that Because they haven’t known you all your life, they will see you with fresh eyes. They will encourage you to grow new parts of yourself and become a more mature you.

    Stay in Touch with Old Friends

    Keep in close touch with your old friends. Your "growing up" buddies know your history and what that brings to who you are now. As you try on new identities, they will keep you honest and remind you who you are deep down inside.

    As I used to sing with my own children when they were in nursery school (a long time ago but I still remember): "Make new friends but keep the old. One is sliver and the other's gold." Maybe sappy. But also very true.

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    More Thoughts About Valuing Teachers
    May 13, 2016



    I took a sick day on Wendnesday but I'm back!

    An article came across my newsfeed this week and I can’t resist sharing with you because it is one of those issues that gets me going – my father calls these monologues “rants.”

    Here’s the link so you can read the entire thing. The takeaway is this: if things are going to get better in our society, we need to stop lip-service to how good our teachers are and put our money where our mouth is.

    More Than Lip Service

    There’s nothing like a teacher story to get us all waxing nostalgic – have you not shared a memory or two about that favorite teacher who boosted your self-esteem or taught you to put sentences together in intelligible form or was the coolest grown-up ever, giving you a faint glimmer of optimism that meaningful life does not end at 18.

    Apples Only Go So Far

    There’s all that feel good stuff. I’ll bet one of the first images that comes to mind when you hear “good teacher” is… an apple. But, really, if teachers are that influential (which they are), don’t we want to attract the best and the brightest? And entrust our children, our future society, to the cream of the crop? I’m not talking the just traditional teacher crop (although there are some great teachers in the current pool), I’m talking the best of the best in the entire nation crop (including those who traditionally end up in other professions).

    How do we achieve this in our capitalist land? Apples just don’t cut it. If someone offered you a six-figures financial analyst or legal or sports or any other number of jobs OR a teaching job starting at less than half that salary, what would you do? Of course, there are passionate, idealistic, mission-driven people who commit themselves to teaching. And that is great. Not a week goes by when I don’t offer thanks. But think about a society where teaching was valued as much as business or entertainment. And salaries measured up.

    Who Me?

    You may be nodding. But here’s the catch. Teachers are paid with public money. Tax dollars. So each and every one of us must put our money where our mouth is if we want to build a top education system. As the article says, call your legislator and demand more spending on education. In part, this may mean raising taxes. It also means prioritizing education for a larger share of the current public funding pie. The article shared above inspired me to action. You?

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    Mother's Day Greetings!
    May 08, 2016



    I am so grateful to my mother for mothering me and to my children for delighting in my mothering them. Happy Mother's Day to all my moms!

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    David Harris says: Nothing is better than moms!

    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    MAKE GRADUATION HAPPEN!
    May 06, 2016



    If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you’ll know that graduation is on my mind. Today I direct you to an article in the New York Times about a handful of colleges that are going the extra mile to support students – not just to enroll – to GRADUATE from college.

    The Dropout Rate is Depressing

    The statistics are depressing. Only 53% of college freshmen graduate within a six-year period. For community colleges, the numbers are even worse – only 39% graduate. For those of you who are interested in cost – the current college dropout problem is estimated to cost us $4.5 billion in lost income and taxes.

    Turning it Around with Data

    That’s the bad news. The inspiring news is that some colleges are taking action. How? One big piece is data analysis. It turns out, grades are important predictors: A student who gets a C, is fairly likely to spiral down into Ds and Fs. A students who gets a B is likely to continue to get good grades. The first student is a candidate for dropping out. The second student a candidate for graduating.

    Proactive colleges are crunching the data to find those C students quickly, before it’s too late. They follow up with extra tutoring and other supports to raise grades and get the wobbly students on their way to graduation. Another interesting innovation is the effort at some schools to tailor curriculum format to assist student success. We want to encourage students interested in STEM, right? Our country needs it. That’s where many of the jobs are. But coursework in math and science can be a bear.

    Turning it Around with Innovative Course Format

    Proactive colleges are introducing innovative teaching formats – replacing lectures with online teaching that includes immediate feedback. At one university, the changed format brought the percentage of Ds and Fs down from 43% to 19%. Whopping!

    We all Benefit

    Based on the NYT article, here’s a shoutout to North Carolina State and Georgia State for making a huge dent in the dropout rate. I’m sure there are others. Inspiration for all colleges to make the effort. Students, universities, society –All will benefit.

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    You're Graduated!...What’s Next?!
    May 04, 2016



    Here are a couple of books for those of us in graduation celebration mode!

    Yay, You! : Moving Up and Moving On by Sandra Boynton. You did it!...Now what will you do? This book takes a look at and celebrates all the possibilities out there. Pegged for kids ages 4-8.

    Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss is an old favorite for many. With typical Seussian whimsy, Places rhymes us through life’s ups and downs, ending with a resounding up. Read…and get going! Pegged for ages 4-8.

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    Talking with Graduates About the Future: Developing Grit
    May 01, 2016



    I just returned from my youngest daughter’s college graduation at the University of Michigan. Forever Go Blue!

    5 more graduations on my schedule this Spring.

    Continuing from last week, here is an excerpt of an 8th grade graduation speech I gave a few years ago:

    Developing Grit

    The second tool to carry with you throughout life is GRIT. When you reach high, you will undoubtedly encounter obstacles. No matter how much of a star you are, the road will have bumps in it. You WILL experience some occasional failures.

    How many of you know the life story of Steve Jobs? You probably know he is considered to be one of the greatest innovators of all time. He transformed one industry after another – computers, music, telephone, movies – let’s translate that into names we are all familiar with: Macbooks, the movie “Toy Story”, Ipods, Iphones, These are part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. (Judging from the behavior of my own kids, young people would not know what to do without them.) In any event, they would not exist without Steve Jobs.

    But did you know this? Steve was born to an unwed mother and was given up for adoption at birth. His adoptive father never went to college and the family had very little money.

    At the age of 16, Steve joined up with a friend to found what became the Apple computer company. Like Oprah (her story is discussed in last Sunday's blog post), Steve had a vision of what he wanted to do – interestingly, although his fascination was with technology, it came out of his relationship to the spiritual. The spark about technology for Steve was – as he put it – “that there was something beyond what you see every day.”

    And he reached high. The Apple computer company became wildly successful. But as often happens, Success brought in a lot of new people who thought they knew what was best for the company. And Steve did not always agree with them. There were bitter arguments and in the end Steve was fired from his own company.

    This would be enough to sink many people. But though Steve had lost his company, he still had his goal. Here’s his take on it: “Being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. “ Instead of giving up, he went on to start a new computer company and developed innovative new technology. Eventually – ironically -- Apple rehired Steve to lead the company and brought the technology he had developed back to Apple and used it to create the ipod, itunes and the iphone.

    Looking back, Steve said “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was pretty awful- tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it.”

    Know that life hands all of us some failures. You may blow a test; not make the varsity team; or, like Steve Jobs, lose a job somewhere along the way. These things don’t feel good. But what’s important is how you respond -- pick yourself up, remember your goals, and go back at it. Use your experience with failure to propel you to something even better; maybe even something that changes the world.

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    An Alternate Reality: Treating Teachers as Society’s Superstars
    April 29, 2016



    Key and Peele's TeachingCenter

    Inspiring acts come from all sorts of people in all sorts of forms. Today I share a skit from two great comedians – Key and Peele.

    Great food for thought. And presented in an entertaining way. So far, nearly 6.5 million people have watched this on youtube. Now that’s inspiring. Thank you Key and Peele!

    Be Inspired to Action!

    Check it out. Let’s get that number over 7 million. And, once we’ve thought about it, maybe we will each find a way – big or small – to let great teachers we know they are appreciated. Heroes even.

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    New York, New York!
    April 27, 2016



    I’m doing a lot of traveling this graduation season. That’s got me thinking about the importance of place in some children’s literature. We all know New York is unique – some of us love it, some of us avoid it like the plague. For those whose kids are interested in New York rhythms, here are a couple of my old favs.

    From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is about the adventures of Claudia and her brother Jamie from suburban Connecticut just outside New York who run away to Manhattan. What better place to hide out than the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Just the idea of taking up residence in such a majestic place is mesmerizing. But there’s more. The kids get caught up in a mystery surrounding a statue in the museum. Pegged for kids ages 8-12.

    Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight, follows the minute-by-minute adventures of rambunctious little Eloise who lives in the very fancy and very big Manhattan Plaza Hotel. From pouring water down the mail chute to driving the elevator operator crazy with her endless rides up and down, Eloise’s escapades are quintessential New York. And lots of fun for any kid who has a mischievous heart. Pegged for ages 6-9.

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    Talking with Graduates About the Future: Reach High
    April 24, 2016



    Graduation season is beginning. A time of sentimental looking back but mostly a time of anticipation of what lies ahead. I gave an 8th grade graduation speech a few years ago. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share excerpts with you here as food for thought to this year’s graduates.

    Striving for Success

    You, graduates, chose as your graduation theme: Striving for Success. It’s a good theme because it highlights the connection between effort and achievement. And we all know that to achieve your goals, you must work hard.

    Reach High

    REACH HIGH. That’s the first thing. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Think BIG. Push beyond your comfort zone. Put your own special mark on whatever you choose to do.

    Oprah Winfrey recently was invited to give the graduation speech at Harvard University. And she talked about reaching high. She was dealt a terrible hand in early life. Her family was so poor she had to wear dresses made from potato sacks. And she suffered abuse at the hands of grownups around her. But like all of us, she was born with talents.

    One of her particular talents is the ability to communicate, to make people feel like she understands them and cares about what they think. This raw talent is a great gift. But the hard part is figuring out how will you use your talent….

    When Oprah was 16 years old she was participating in a beauty contest in Nashville Tennessee. As with all beauty contests there was a question and answer portion and she was asked “What would you like to do when you grow up.” She answered “I would like to be a journalist.” But more important, is what came next. She said, “I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”

    It was this – telling other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and in the world – that has guided Oprah throughout the twists and turns of her career.

    She started in radio when she was just 17 and then moved on to TV where she could reach millions of viewers. She was a local news anchor and then became a talk show host and with her unique, warm, personal style she used her show to get people thinking about important things. She raised awareness about important issues – gun control, illegal use of steroids in sports. And she stuck to her vision. When other talk shows became trashy, Oprah refused to join them because her true goal was not just to be a talk show host but to make a difference in people’s lives. She used her show to start a national book club that got people excited about reading. She used her show to raise money for important projects. She reached high with a goal of changing the world. And she used that as her compass. And she still does.

    Each of you has talents waiting for you to use. Most of you will not go into your next phase knowing exactly what you want to do with your lives. Your main job in high school is to get good grades so you have the BEST opportunities when that next graduation rolls around. Deciding what your life goal is will probably unfold a little bit at a time. But be aware. Use your time and experiences in school to think about what makes you tick. Try new, and sometimes difficult, things. Don’t be tentative. Give it your all. Reach high.

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    Happy Earth Day!
    April 22, 2016



    From my writing perch in my living room, I look out onto a beautiful tree that is currently greening up. Yay! And it is Earth Day. So we should all take a moment from our busy lives and think about what we are doing or can do going forward to and hand off a fertile, healthy earth to future generations.

    What Can We Do To Save the Earth?

    There are many organization and individuals doing wonderful things to save the earth. I hope you will share your favorites.

    The Nature Conservancy

    If you’re looking for a way to get involved, you might consider checking out the Nature Conservancy. I like it because of its breadth – works in 69 countries and is immersed in a wide variety of environments on land and water, in city and countryside.

    There are so many ways to get involved. And the Nature Conservancy website is such fun to explore. There’s a map of the United States that has links (regularly updated) to opportunities for involvement with environmental projects in the state of your choice. There’s another map with links to the Nature Conservancy preserves around the world. Great places to think about if you want new learning experiences about nature and the environment. You can sign up to get news and updates from the Conservancy about ways to get involved.

    Need inspiration to get started? Read the great stories of people, young and old, who are taking initiative to preserve our earth.

    One Boy's Story

    One example: A seventh grader is raising funds to turn a defunct naval air station into a nature preserve for birds. How’s he raising the dough? He sells his own photos of birds and nature. And he’s getting a little help from a local winery and a nature center that are exhibiting his photos for him.

    Hmmm. I think I’ll wrap up here and go work the garden!

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    Children’s Books for Earth Day
    April 20, 2016



    Nearly New and Absolutely Fabulous

    The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is great for city kids. Liam wanders through his grey city and stumbles upon a defunct railroad track. He decides to turn the old space green. The story follows his efforts through the four seasons, exploring the way nature, with Liam’s help, takes over the space. The illustrations burst with life. And those who have walked the Highline in New York will recognize the results! Pegged for kids ages 4-7.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg is about a boy who has no interest whatsoever in making the world green. Walter throws trash on the street and refuses to separate the family garbage into bins for recycling. He spends the evening watching a TV show about airplaneing into a futuristic world. Walter wants to fly into the future, too. That night, in his dreams, he fast-forwards in time. But it is not what he expected. He finds himself in place after place ruined by human destruction of nature. When he finally returns to the present, Walter has a new appreciation for the environment. Pegged for ages 4-7.

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    Siblings Support
    April 15, 2016



    This week we celebrated sibling relationships. I am touched by the outpouring of sibling love posted on Facebook. I’ve taken some time to reflect on the depth of my relationship with my own sisters and the relationship my children have with each other.

    Yesterday, I looked online to see what’s going on out there to help siblings in need. Turns out, there’s quite a bit. There are both national and local organizations. Some provide help for siblings of children with severe illnesses or disabilities. Others help with grief over a sibling who has died. Some focus on support one sibling can give another such as donation of blood or kidney.

    One organization, Siblings Day Foundation has a focus on making the Siblings Day we just celebrated an official annual event like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I am also drawn to their mission statement that includes a goal of compiling a national directory of sibling support groups. I am a big fan of sites that post links to inspiring groups around the nation and the world. This makes it so much easier for someone who wants to get involved to find just the right entry point.

    For now, here are just a couple of links for those who are interested.

    Sibling Leadership Network

    Be the Match

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    Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!
    April 12, 2016



    To one of the most beloved children’s writers of all time. Here are the classics:

    Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary centers around youngest child Ramona but has much to do with the sibling relationship of Ramona and her older sister Beezus. Ramona and Beezus are such a joy to read about because we all recognize ourselves in them. They are at times demanding, bossy, cranky, etc but they are loving kids who try hard to do what’s right while at the same time having an interesting and fulfilling childhood. What’s not to like?! Read one and I’ll bet you will check out the entire Ramona and Beezus series. Pegged for ages 8-12.

    Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary centers around Henry Huggins and his irrepressible and mischievous dog Ribsy. Like the Ramona books, there is a Henry series. It gets even more fun as Ramona and Beezus live in Henry’s neighborhood and show up in Henry’s stories. Both series share the same true to life, timeless experiences that we all have in some form or another. Pegged for ages 8-12.

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    Siblings Loving Each Other
    April 10, 2016



    As many of you know, today is National Siblings Day! In honor of this complicated and wonderful relationship that is like no other, I will share just a few simple stories.

    The First Was OK, The Second Not So Much

    Just over two months before my third birthday I became a sibling. That is, until then, I was an only child. Not only was I the apple of my parents’ eye, I was worshipped by my large extended family as the first girl in my generation. I don’t remember much about my mother’s stomach growing but grow it did and my parents prepared me for my inevitable shift on the family couch to make room for a sibling.

    On April 24, my mother took a little suitcase to the hospital and several days later, sister Karen came home, plump and quiet. I slid over. A few days later, another baby entered the picture. Lisa was small and wiry and not quiet at all. I had not bargained for this. While my parents were busy settling the twins, I picked up a large container of Johnson’s Baby Powder, twisted the top to holes open and methodically sprinkled the entire thing all over the living room-sized Persian rug. When my parents beheld my handiwork, I met their eyes with a glaring stare. In slow, measured words, I laid down my law: “Don’t bring home any more babies.”

    Not Alone

    A couple of months ago, I spent a tense two weeks waiting for the results from the biopsy of a slice of my toenail. During the hours before I got good news, I poured out my heart to this second twin to come home. She listened. She shared her own experiences with waiting for important news. She made me feel I was not alone.

    Even One Was Too Much

    My daughter Emily was an only child for three years. She liked it that way. Actually, she LOVED it that way. She was the apple of her parents’ eye. She was worshipped by my large extended family as the first child of her generation. She knew she had a good thing going.

    Following the parenting books we devoured, my husband and I did not tell Emily about the prospect of a new sibling until I was about halfway through pregnancy. Nine months is a long time for a child to contemplate an unknown and dreaded life change. When we did give Emily the warm fuzzy version of becoming a sibling, she simply looked into space, didn’t say anything. My abdomen continued to expand. People would stop us on the street and ask about the impending birth. Ladies would bend down and ask Emily if she was excited to have a new brother or sister. Emily simply looked into space, didn’t say anything.

    Until one blustery March today I took a little suitcase to the hospital and a couple of days later came home with sister Caroline. Emily stared at her with stone cold eyes. She said “I wish I could throw her in the garbage.” She never laid a hand on Caroline. I think about this when I hear parents say “Use your words.” Ha. Ha.

    Not Alone II

    A couple of years ago, Caroline was applying to prestigious theater schools. She was summoned for an audition in London. She felt small and unmoored at the idea of it. We all saw her fear. Her dad and I wished her well. Her sister, Emily, bought a plane ticket and accompanied Caroline across that large pond dubbed the Atlantic Ocean. Emily busied herself during audition time, then whisked Caroline off to the warmth of a good meal and even better company. She listened. She shared her own experiences with putting herself on the line. She made Caroline feel she was not alone.

    There are many other tales I could regale you with – time with my siblings Karen and Lynn; time with Emily and Caroline’s sibling Corinne. Stories that may find their way onto this blog another day.

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    The Sickness Blues: Children's Books
    April 06, 2016



    For Young Adults

    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is so popular with teens that it was made into a (highly successful) movie. In case you missed it and you like tearjerkers, you should dig into this one. 16-year-old Hazel meets Augustus at a support group for teens with cancer. The book is sad but it’s also funny and alive with love. Appropriate for teens.

    For the Younger Set

    Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margret and H. A. Rey is one of my old-time faves. Irrepressible George can’t resist eating a puzzle piece. The tummy ache that follows lands George in the hospital where his curious nature makes him a handful. The illustrations are so great. George may find his surroundings to be tempting. I find George to be irresistible. Pegged for ages 4-7.

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    Spring Sickies
    April 03, 2016



    Spring has arrived with all of its usual accouterments. The weather is up and down. Two days ago the thermostat reached almost 70 degrees. Yesterday it was snowing. There are buds on some of the trees. The grass is greening up and spring flowers are poking out of the still hard ground. There is fast increasing daylight making every da a little bit longer and more relaxing. And then there are spring illnesses. Which are all that much harder when you’re alone.

    The Spring Sickies

    I got a call from my daughter early this morning. She had a high fever, terrible sore throat. Her roommates were away for the weekend. She was alone. And feeling terrible with no one there to take care of her.

    The Joys of Being Taken Care Of

    I’ve been in all the different positions relative to illness. I have strong memories of being sick when I was a kid. Throwing up, aching throat. But also a place being made for me in my parents’ room that became the sick room (probably to keep germs away from my sisters). It was the only time I got to watch unlimited TV. And food served to me on a tray. More recently, I was laid up and waiting for test results. I was physically low and emotionally stressed. My partner took on the household chores, made me meals, rubbed my head. In these situations, I got to let go of responsibility, put my well-being in the hands of another.

    The Satisfaction of Caring for Others

    When I was a mom of little girls, I stepped into the role of caretaker. I hated my kids being sick but I felt satisfaction in the ways I could make them feel better. Cold clothes to forehead, managing their trips to the doctor, making lots of chicken soup. And spending time with them, being that constant presence that assured them they did not need to worry.

    It Sucks to be Sick Alone

    I also remember living in my first apartment after law school. I was so excited to have my own place. I fixed cool dinners for my friends. Loved getting up on Saturday mornings, joining other young adults in the weekly shopping ritual. Getting coffee with the paper. A full, satisfying life. Until I got sick. I felt physically awful. But most of all, I felt alone. No one to bring me meals on a tray or do the chores. No one to bring the fever down or rub my head. And, since I have a hypochondriachal nature, I missed just having someone to console me and tell me it would all be OK.

    It Takes A Village

    I Facetimed with my daughter today. I did my best long distance caretaker: talked her through the steps of caring for herself, assured her she would be OK, gave her a verbal head rub. A friend came over to bring her some OJ.

    Most of us have been there at some time or other. We get through it and go back to enjoying the longer days and better weather. But while we’re in it, it sucks. So those of us who have friends or loved ones laid up, remember how good it feels to be taken care of – reach out and take care in return.

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Books: Share the Stories
    April 01, 2016



    My bookshelves are full to bursting. I use the library a lot but there are not so infrequent times when I purchase a new book for keeps. It sits on my nightstand for a while. Then it emerges at the top and gets read. Then it’s time to find a place for it on a bookshelf.

    The Problem: Too Many Books!

    That’s where the problem comes in. I’m full up. I try to shift books around, squeeze books in. I often end up placing the new book perpendicular to and on top of another.

    The Solution: Pay it Forward!

    There is another alternative. And I’ve decided to follow it. Let’s face it: Am I really going to ever read most of these books a second time? A resounding No. I like the comfort, the reminder of readings past. It’s a reader’s eye candy.

    But I can have my eye candy and eat it, too. So here’s my new thing. Make two piles. Books that are Claire classics. That is, books that have been life-changing or life-defining to me. And books that I actually will read again. Put those in one pile. The rest…pass them along, pay it forward. There are organizations across the hungry for donations.

    Used Bookstores

    First of all, there are used bookstores. Powell’s is my Chicago neighborhood fave. There are versions of this all over the country. In the case of bookstores, you might even get a little cash out of the deal. In this case, your books will be resold. If you want them redistributed at no cost, leave them in the box outside the store where anyone can browse and take. Check online for local options.

    Libraries

    Libraries are another good option. Your books will be available for reading by LOTS of people since they won’t be re-owned but borrowed.

    Charities

    Or you can give to organizations that distribute to those who might not be able to afford to purchase books on their own. Donation Town can put you in touch with your local place to donate.

    Feelin' Good

    So, I’m off to deliver books to Powell’s. And my bookshelf is a think of beauty with my favorite books standing tall for me to see. I’m feeling good. ☺

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    Children's Book Award Winners 2016
    March 30, 2016



    Newbery Award for Best Children’s Book

    Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson follows a little boy and his grandmother on their bus ride through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. On the way, they interact with and comment on the diverse people and neighborhoods they see. The story is full of energy, bringing to life the feeling of public transportation and the rich fabric of city life. Pegged for K-2nd grade.

    Caldecott Award for Best Children’s Book Illustrations

    Finding Winnie:The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall tells the true story of the bear that was the inspiration for the Winnie the Pooh books. The story is mesmerizing. Small children will love the way it addresses issues that always concern them – a parent’s love and protection. And the pictures have a beautiful washed-colors look to them that captures the feeling of being outdoors. Pegged for K-3rd grade.

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    Feed the World: Garden Produce
    March 25, 2016



    Every spring I get visions of tomatoes fresh of the vine in my yard. Anyone who’s ever had a garden tomato will probably agree that there’s no comparison to the store-bought variety.

    So, all you green thumbs, here’s a way to share the wealth with your local food pantry. You’ve probably seen a community garden or two on one of your spring walks or even a drive. Well, many of those gardens grow produce to donate to food pantries. I used to volunteer in a food pantry. We stocked up on canned goods but had limited perishables. But wow! If we had been able to give out fresh veggies and fruits—that would have been so much better for the soul (as well as a boost to the body).

    If you’re interested in participating, check out the Garden Writers Association website. Since 1995, members have grown 20 million pounds of produce for over 80 million meals. And going strong. That’s amazing.

    GWA can connect you to a local community garden in any region of the country, even internationally. If you can’t find one near you, consider starting one yourself. Happy planting!

    Share links to community food gardens here!

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    Spring Has Sprung!
    March 23, 2016



    Green by by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is simply beautiful in its examination of the various shades of green. Green, the color of spring. Simple text. Seeger’s pictures are vibrant with the freshness of new life. For age 2-6.

    The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous is a holiday classic with beautiful pictures in soft, dyed-egg colors. My children spent many an hour painting one-of-a-kind eggs inspired by the old tradition that is at the center of this story. And I like the intergenerational aspect of the story, with children’s lives being enriched by their grandparents. Pegged for ages 6-9.

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    Welcome Spring!
    March 20, 2016



    Spring has arrived. On my morning walk I spied snowdrops, the first flower after a long winter in my neck of the woods. Soon the trees will bud, the grass will green, the air will smell of new growth.

    As with many things, there is the art and the science of spring. The beauty we see. The behind the scenes nuts and bolts that make it happen.

    The Science of Spring

    The science first. The spring or vernal equinox. Guesses? I love sharing facts like this (sometimes I’m the educator, sometimes I’m the one being educated). Has to do with the earth’s relationship to the sun. At the equinox (there are two of them), the earth is pretty much straight up and down for a hot minute. At the vernal equinox, the sun is moving into our half of the world (for my part of the world that means northward).

    The Art of Spring

    Now the art. Take your pick. There is so much to experience. A walk in nature. A painting at the museum or an online version that you might save to your home screen. I am energized by Monet and Jonathan Green. A symphony or song. Yesterday I listened to Vivaldi’s “Spring.” A dance. The Rite of Spring choreographed by the great Nijinsky.

    A Spring Poem

    I leave you with an excerpt of a poem “Spring” by William Blake.

    Sound the flute!
    Now it’s mute!
    Bird’s delight,
    Day and night,
    Nightingale,
    In the dale,
    Lark in sky,--
    Merrily,
    Merrily merrily, to welcome in the year.

    Little boy,
    Full of joy;
    Little girl,
    Sweet and small;
    Cock does crow,
    So do you;
    Merry voice,
    Infant noise;
    Merrily, merrily, to welcome in the year.

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Inspiring Powerful Girls
    March 18, 2016



    This week, I am working nearly every waking moment on various important deadlines, including revisions on my book due out in Spring 2017. Very stressful but also very empowering.

    I had planned to talk about work being done in the world to empower women. I hope that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is giving young girls a dose of “I can do anything.” Beyond taking note of that, I have to admit I don’t have time to highlight inspiring organizations empowering women and girls. BUT… I won’t leave you with nothing. Instead, I hope you will turn to "Huffington Post's" “girl empowerment” shout-outs.

    I’ll be back in the blogging frame of mind soon!

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    Kids Books About Inspiring Females
    March 16, 2016



    HONORING WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH...

    Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee is an A to Z compilation of some truly amazing women across a broad spectrum. There is just one page on each so it truly is a survey. But taken together, these stories give a powerful sense of the impact of women on our world. Pegged for Grades 3-7.

    Atalanta as told by Marlo Thomas and Friends is one of my old favorites. Atalanta was a princess with a traditional father who thought his daughter’s main role in life was to marry and bear children. But Atalanta had other ideas. This story is part of the Marlo Thomas collection Free to be You and Me. It comes in book version but also in a terrific audio version. For all ages.

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    More Good News About Bilingualism!
    March 13, 2016



    The Old Good News

    Back on November 8, 2015, I wrote about the great things a second language can do for your child’s development. Recap: (1) Better cognitive skills (your kids will be super multi-taskers and have sharper memory of what they see and do) (2) More jobs open to them when they grow up – cha-ching! (3) Easier to develop friendships with peers from other cultures and (4) yes… better vacations in non-English speaking countries.

    The New Good News

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    Now, more good news. "Two recent studies" show that children who are exposed to multiple languages have superior social skills. Specifically, these children are more likely to be able to pick up on how others see things and to respond to it. This skill would come in quite handy during this 2016 election season. Maybe too late for that but it’s never too late to seed the way for better public discourse, or, for that matter, stronger relationships at all levels.

    Note, your child doesn’t need to be bilingual to get benefit. The key is EXPOSURE. This is great news. Even if your child is not fluent in another language, he or she benefits from hanging out with someone who is bilingual.

    An old-time philosopher said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” As we raise the next generation, we have the opportunity to push those limits, to send them far, far, into outer space.

    Do you have stories about the power of languages in your life?

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    A Birthday Celebration for Every Child
    March 11, 2016



    Birthday celebrations are so important to children. They are the person of the hour for a whole 24 hours! It’s a day to mark the fact that they are growing up! But some children live in families with so few resources that they struggle to put together a party.

    Parties for Everyone!

    One mom planning a party for her four-year-old had an “ah-ha!” moment. Here she was providing her son with all of the party accouterments any child could wish for. She thought, Do we really need all this? Out of this thought, she created “The Birthday Box". Local service agencies reach out with requests and the Birthday Box provides each child, well…. A “party in a box.” Cake, candles, party utensils, and a wrapped gift.

    Another organization with a similar concept is "Cheerful Givers" based in Minnesota.

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    Fabulous Birthday Books!
    March 09, 2016



    On The Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier is a book gifted to many newborns because it celebrates exactly what it says in the title: the day you were born. I like it because it talks about a baby’s entry into the world with all its natural wonders and loving people welcoming this new being. And the pictures are lovely. For newborns thru age 3.

    A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban is part of the classic “Frances” series and is one of my favs. In this one Frances is not the birthday girl. Her sister Gloria is. Frances swings back and forth between feeling giving and feeling jealous. The Hobans are spot-on in capturing how siblings feel about NOT being the birthday child. Pegged for ages ages 4-8.

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    Celebrating Birthdays, Celebrating Life
    March 06, 2016



    I am thick into preparing my family’s “birthday month”. When my kids were little, we referred to it as our own private March Madness. Out of the five of us in our nuclear family, only I am born outside the month of March. The girls are spaced three years apart between each (how’s that for timing?!) – too much of an age difference for joint parties. On top of that, my mother’s birthday is smack in the middle of March. Our kitchen turned into a bona fide bakery every March. And, of course, there were gifts, party invites, streamers, etc.

    Why do we celebrate birthdays?

    Now everyone is older. It is still birthday month in my life but in a very different way. Which gets me thinking: Why are birthdays meaningful? After all, in some cultures, birthdays are not celebrated at all. And for those of us who do celebrate, what do birthdays mean?

    A Kid’s-Eye View

    Kids seem to enjoy birthday celebrations the most. Of course, there is the material joy of gifts and cakes. This is also the one day each year for the birthday boy or girl to be the center of attention. Family love. A chance to host friends. And also a pride in notching another year onto the belt, another step in becoming “big.”

    A Middle-Aged-Eye View

    At my age, many people don’t actually like to celebrate their birthdays at all. I remember when I turned 50, I hightailed it out of town to avoid any “surprise” parties. My birthday was a stark reminder that I was “heading into the back nine” as they say.

    An Elder’s-Eye View

    At my parents’ age, my experience is that those who make it that far enjoy celebrating again. It is a time of reflection on a life well lived, a chance to share memories and celebrate deep connection to family and friends.

    Celebrating Life

    There is one thing, though, that runs continuously through every birthday. And it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. That is your actual birth day, the day you came into the world. It is a chance to celebrate life itself, with all its various points along the life cycle. A time to engage in the sheer joy of the birthday person’s presence on earth, his or her unique contribution to humanity.

    So, a Happy Birthday to all my March people. And, more generally to all: To Life, L’chaim!

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    A Puppy A Day Keeps the Doctor Away
    March 04, 2016



    We live in a stressed out society. Mid-career adults are working long hours while often sandwiching in coordination of adult care for their children and health care for their parents. Those same elderly parents are under stress about the countless doctor visits and tests and are often lonely as spouses and friends leave the planet. Those same children are stressed from tightly scheduled activities, coping with mean girls or boys, and the overwhelming load of schoolwork.

    Puppies to the rescue! Studies have shown that dogs make a big difference in treating depression, anxiety and stress.

    College Puppy Rooms

    For college students, many universities are now setting up “puppy rooms".” Students can walk in during visiting hours and cuddle up with a furry friend. Particularly popular during exam week!

    Dog Visits to the Elderly

    Nursing homes are pioneers in pet therapy starting with Therapy Dogs International which has been around for over 30 years. Rubbing a dog’s soft fur makes the world feel a little less lonely.

    Puppies Are Suckers for a Kids’ Story

    Some kids struggle to learn to read. Dogs can help here too. A program started ten years ago by Intermountain Therapy Animals has now spread to literacy programs across the country. It can be intimidating and stressful to read to a person who can seem to be making judgments about every stumble or mistake. But dogs give unconditional acceptance. And this means reduced stress and more focus on the reading itself.

    Share your stories of dog therapy.

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    Kids Books About Dogs
    March 02, 2016



    New and Fabulous

    Olive and Patch by Claire Freedman tells the story of a little boy who has just moved from a small town to the big city. And he is lonely. But life perks up when he finds Patch the dog. The only problem is, Oliver knows Patch must have an owner who loves him very much and is looking for him. This very sweet story captures the power of pets to provide companionship.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Go Dog Go! by P. D. Eastman is a zany classic that follows the adventures of a collection of dogs doing the darnedest things. It’s a beginning reader, so the illustrations are key. But there are some gems in the writing too. My favorite plot line: A girl dog going for the affections of a boy dog. She tried all sorts of hats to entice but no luck…until at last…well, read and find out! Pegged for preschool-2nd grade.

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    Ode to my Dog
    February 28, 2016



    I am sitting on the couch thinking about a blog topic for today. I look down at my dog who is lying next to me, attached at the hip (well, thigh). My constant companion (when I am home). Always ready to dance at my joys and lick away my sorrows. So, here’s to you, Rafa, my dog. A musing on my answer to, “Why have a pet?"

    Parade of Pets

    For the first 20 years of parenting, any pets in my house were of the short-term variety. One daughter brought a goldfish home from school. Within a week, it was floating on top of its bowl.

    Another daughter brought an anole home from school. The poor lizard refused to eat. And my poor daughter was a wreck as she watched it waste away. I finally suggested that we set the anole free in the back yard where it would live in its natural environment. I’m not sure what happened to the anole but my daughter felt a lot better.

    Our longest-lived pet was a hamster named Little John. Aside from cleaning its cage, my main memory of him was the kids creating elaborate mazes for him to run through. He died on my 40th birthday. I felt there was something symbolic lurking there though I couldn’t put my finger on it.

    Then…a Dog

    Getting a dog was my idea. My oldest daughter was in college and my middle daughter was going to be leaving home in a year. I worried that my youngest daughter who was used to the boisterous interaction with sisters would be lonely with just me. She needed someone to play with, share her frustrations with. Well, if not some ONE than some THING.

    Love All Around

    Enter Rafa. A tiny fluffy ball of fur with two bright eyes and a button nose. He instantly became the center of attention. The girls love him. I love him. Strangers on the street coo over him. My father – who would love to adopt a dog of his own – loves him. My mother – who is clear with my father that this dog-adoption dream will remain but a dream – welcomes Rafa visits and surreptitiously gives her “grandson” cookie treats that are off limits at home.

    Everything the experts say about the benefits of dogs has been true for us. We laugh more. We walk more (as in: trotting Rafa around the neighborhood several times a day). We feel the rush of joy that comes from being greeted when we walk in the door after a long day in the world. (I particularly love the wagging tail.) And, yes, my daughter and I have been comforted many times by cuddling up with this unconditionally loving little being.

    Rafa is no longer a puppy. He is quickly catching up to me in age. Another joy: sharing middle aged concerns!

    There are many jokes about dog owners who rhapsodize over their pets. I laugh at them, too. Because a lot of the silly stuff attributed to dog owners is actually true. I admit Rafa often reduces me to my silliest self. Another thing I am grateful for.

    I will end with this: When we brought Rafa into our lives, I had a limited idea of the value of a pet. Over Rafa’s eight years, I have seen him transform a multitude of moments in the lives of many many people. I now know that pets are invaluable.

    Share your favorite dog stories.

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    Get Writing! Poetry Slams for Kids
    February 26, 2016



    This week, we’ve been looking at reading poetry. You also might want to get kids excited about writing poetry. Enter the Poetry Slam.

    What is a poetry slam, you might ask. It’s an opportunity for writers to read their own poems in front of a live audience. This can be done in the form of a contest. But you can also set it up for feedback without winners.

    The National Literacy Trust has set up a nice guide for running a poetry slam with thoughts for pre-slam activities, step-by-step instructions for setting up the event, and ideas for post-slam activities.

    This is a great way to inspire love of poetry!

    Share your stories of poetry slams or other experiences that have inspired love of poetry.

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    Choose Poetry
    February 24, 2016



    New and Fabulous

    Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson uses rich poetic language to tell stories from her childhood. A sample from the poem The Ghosts of the Nelsonville House:

    Look closely. There I am
    in the furrow of Jack’s brow,
    in the slyness of Alicia’s smile,
    in the bend of Grace’s hand...

    Beautiful. Pegged for grades 5 and up.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is chock full of fun, bouncy poems. A sample from the poem Eighteen Flavors:

    Each scoop lovely, smooth, and round,
    Tallest ice cream cone in town,
    Lying there (sniff) on the ground.

    Enjoy! For grades 1-3.

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    The Power of Poetry
    February 21, 2016

    I often commiserate with others about avoiding poetry. A lot of poems seem so obscure. It’s like staring at an abstract modern painting and trying to decide what it means. I can feel some ultra intellectual snob looking over my shoulder in a condescending way, exhaling a long exasperated sigh at my cluelessness.

    But if I step back from my fear of being seen as a rube, I can conjure up lots of moments in my life when poetry has brought me a joy that no other form of writing can.

    Poetry: Delicious Language

    In my early phase, I was taken with the language of poetry. The first poem I remember loving is T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The first few lines enthralled me:

    Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherized on a table.

    I was fascinated with the etherized patient. “Ether” was a tantalizing image for me when I was a child – resulting in many, many readings of Curious George Goes to the Hospital. And an eternal love for this poem.

    Poetry: The Glee of Rule-Breaking

    Another early favorite was e e cummings. I think I may have liked him because he
    didn’t use capital letters
    or periods
    what a rebel

    Poetry: The Outpouring of Emotion

    As I grew, I became more enamored of the romance, the emotional sway of poetry. Adrienne Rich became a favorite. As in her Twenty-One Love Poems, II:

    and I laugh and fall dreaming again
    of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
    to move openly together
    in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
    which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

    Poetry: The Connection of Sharing

    As a young mother I delighted in the communal nature of poetry. Especially silly poetry that I would read aloud to my girls, sending us all into gales of laughter. Here are a few lines from Shel Silverstein's Ridiculous Rose:

    Her mama said, “Don’t eat with your fingers.”
    “OK,” said Ridiculous Rose,
    So she ate with her toes.

    Poetry: The Expression of Social Commentary

    As the mother of teenagers and young adults, I have spent many hours in the car listening to the social commentary of rap. Though I don’t always admire the lyrics, I love the rhythms of Eminem, JZ, and Pitbull. And one the very first rap songs to grab me seems worlds ago now but I still like it – The Crown by Gary Byrd and the GB Experience

    Next time you feel like you're in a rut
    Go see the mighty kingdom of King Tut.
    It will blow your mind, no doubt, it's true
    'Cause, guess what, King Tut looks just like you.

    Of course, social commentary is not new to this century. Emily Dickinson wrote over a hundred years ago:

    They shut me up in Prose –
    As when a little Girl
    They put me in the Closet –
    Because they liked me “still”

    Poetry: Find What is Powerful For You

    When I went to college, I told my Chinese-American roommate that I didn’t like Chinese food. I didn’t understand (but I later learned) that this is like saying I don’t like food. That’s how many Chinese dishes there are. So, too, with poetry. There is something out there for everyone.

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    Democracy Matters
    February 19, 2016

    Sitting in the thick of election season reminds me of how powerful democracy can be. We are such an unruly and diverse collection of citizens with passionate opinions that run the gamut of political thought. And we have set up a framework for reaching consensus that gives each adult – the high and the low, the young and the old – equal say-so. That is the theory.

    But it takes work to make democracy work. What are the issues? What are the candidates’ proposals for addressing the issues? What does this mean for today? This year? This decade? This generation? The generations to come?

    Why vote?

    Teenagers and young adults are immersed in the very important work of figuring out who they are, what they want to be. For many, the democratic process floats around them on their TV sets and Facebook newsfeeds, a source of drama to watch but not to participate in. Voting rates have varied over the years but the population ages 18-24 years old always comes in last.

    Inspiring Participation in the Democratic Process

    Democracy Matters aims to move the needle. This non-profit organizes student leaders on campuses around the country to strengthen democracy the old fashioned way: through grassroots organization. This means supporting campus leaders in educating fellow students about their role in the democratic process and inspiring students to raise their voices.

    Start Young

    High schoolers can’t vote. But they can learn. Democracy Matter gets this. And they plant the seeds in high schools around the country. High School Fellows work on outreach, public speaking, and writing.

    Here’s what one college student has to say about her experience: “Democracy Matters has given me hope that we will be able to create change and make our democracy truly the people’s.”

    Learn more at http://www.democracymatters.org

    That’s what it’s all about.

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    Presidents: Good Reads
    February 17, 2016



    Barack Obama

    Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long is not about a president but is written by a President. The book gathers children and great leaders, one by one, until we see them together forming the many facets of our country. It makes the connection between the stories of leaders past side and the potential of our children to become the leaders of the future. Pegged for ages 6 and up.

    Theodore Roosevelt

    The Great Adventure: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America by by Albert Marrin is a young adult biography about our 26th President known, among other things for his strong, colorful personality, his visionary work to create national parks but also his less honorable actions such as the railroading of black troops for a crime they did not commit. For 12 and up.

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    Teaching Love of Country
    February 14, 2016

    I was torn about today’s blog. After all, today is Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day to all! And tomorrow is President’s Day. And there’s lots to say about both. What to do? Decisions. Decisions.

    Meshing Valentines Day and President’s Day

    So here it is. I always think expansively about Valentine’s Day, not limiting myself to celebrating romantic love. I’ve made countless doilied valentines for parents, sisters, children, and romantic partners. In college, my roommate and I made dozens of homemade heart-shaped cookies and passed them out to friends and professors around campus. To my way of thinking, V Day is a celebration if love in the broadest sense.

    Turning to President’s Day, we celebrate the leaders of our country. Why? Out of a desire to honor the leaders of this country that we love.

    There’s the overlap. Love of country.

    Trying Times

    We are in trying times. A lot of Americans do not love the current condition of their country. For many, it’s harder and harder to make ends meet. Time with family is harder and harder to squeeze in. Retirement recedes further and further from our grasp. It’s a scary time where hatred is palpable. People are often suspicious of those who look different, talk different, worship different. Some of us wish desperately for the good old days. Others of us wish just as desperately for a future that has been an elusive promise since the days of our founding fathers.

    What, then, is love of country in times such as ours? And how do we teach this love of country to our children?

    Love of Country

    This February, along with V Day and Prez Day we are immersed in election season. We flock to the polls to vote. To me, this is the ultimate act of love for our country. For many, voting is takes incredible determination. Bum legs or weak lungs can make the physical act of getting to the voting booth a Herculean challenge. Rounding up the identification required in some states can require wading through pools of red tape. Ill-equipped polling places and malfunctioning voting machines can cause lines around the block.

    In the face of all this, stories abound of our American citizenry’s fierce will to vote. My mother tells the story of an old woman who stood for hours on swollen legs to cast her vote for Obama saying, “I have waited all my life for this. I can wait a little longer.” A young man once told me of how he was turned away from his polling place for not having the right ID; undeterred, he endured hours in the Office of Vital Records getting the proof he needed, then claimed his ballot and voted. Every election year, thousands of energetic volunteers zip around their cities and towns driving the handicapped to and from their polling places.

    What do these stories say to me? They say that people will do almost anything to exercise their right to vote. Why? Because they are invested in democracy. And they love their country.

    Teaching Love of Country

    If we love our country, we want it to flourish now and in the future. We will not always be here. We must pass the torch to the next generation. How do we do that?

    Actually celebrate President’s Day. What an opportunity! A day off to share with our kids, to read about, talk about, watch movies about our country’s leaders, past and current. In my youth, we had a recording of this comedian named David Frye who did impressions of President Nixon. I may not have understood all the references but some of the issues sunk in.

    These stories might inspire your child to declare he or she will be president one day. Maybe explore your child’s Presidential agenda – sometimes an eye opener. Your child might rhapsodize about world peace. Or maybe about making school for kids optional.

    Watch the debates, have an election day party with your kids. Every four years, we have the chance to engage our children around the issues most important to our country today. And, just as important, to give them a visceral sense of the democratic process that they will be a party of. I loved sitting in front of the TV with my parents, watching the election results roll in. It felt like one big party that included my little family and all of those many people in rooms across the country shown on my TV screen. And we got to eat bowls and bowls of popcorn!

    Share symbols of our country with your children. My birthday is July 3 and when I was a kid we always had a 4th of July picnic which I thought was to celebrate me. It was a great opportunity for my parents to explain, “No. We are celebrating our country and our membership in this great community.” There were flags. I wore my red, white and blue outfit. Fireworks were my favorite.

    Encourage your kids to get involved. The 1968 election. I was ten. My parents supported Kennedy, then Humphrey. I supported McGovern. After school, I’d march myself down to the local McGovern campaign office and stuff envelopes with the adults. And I got cool campaign buttons.

    Enough reminiscing. It’s 2016. How do you teach love of country?

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    Inspiring Reflection on the Importance of Family
    February 12, 2016

    I read a little story recently that has stuck with me, particularly in light of the annual Chinese New Year focus on family. You can read the whole story, which is by Jeffrey Davis, at http://www.inspire21.com/stories/familystories/1000Marbles. I will just summarize here.

    Life is Hectic

    Two men were talking about the hectic nature of modern life. The younger man was stressed out by 60-70 hours on the job every week just to make ends meet, not enough time for family – sound familiar? The older man responded with his story of “1000 marbles.”

    Remembering Life’s Most Important Priorities

    The older man had lived his early years with patterns much like the ones the younger man was stuck in. As time marched on, he thought (as most of us do) about mortality. Doodling around, he did a quick calculation: how many Saturdays does a person have within the average lifespan of 75 years. Turns out the number is 3900.

    Now at the time he made this calculation, the man was 55 years old and he figured he had about 1000 Saturdays left. He thought about this. And he went out and bought 1000 marbles and put them in a jar. And every Saturday he saw the marbles in the jar shrink just a little as he removed one from the mix.

    This helped him keep in the front of his mind the finite time he had to spend with the things that were important in his life. And spurred him to make time for those things.

    Honoring the Importance of Family

    When the conversation was finished the younger man put aside the plans to do chores he had scheduled for that day. He woke his wife and invited her to breakfast. Explaining his change of plans he said, “Oh, nothing special, it's just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? I need to buy some marbles."

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    Chinese New Year Recommendations
    February 9, 2016

    Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin is my favorite book on Chinese New Year. The pictures are vibrant, awash in color. And the story really captures the importance of family as they come together to participate in various rituals that are traditionally part of this holiday. Right now it’s selling on amazon in a board book version. Is great for the littlest ones but good for grade school kids too.

    Celebrating the Chinese New Year: An Activity Book by Hingman Chan is just what the title says. After sharing a little history of the holiday, the book walks you through how to make traditional Chinese New Year items such as paper lanterns, red lucky envelopes and parade gear. A great way to celebrate the holiday!

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    Chinese New Year – A Celebration of Family
    February 7, 2016

    When my children were in grade school, one day each year they would march with their classmates and teachers in a big in-school parade through the halls. They would don colorful capes and masks and carry bright red lanterns. They would end the parade with gatherings in their classroom to share an array of special eats.

    What were they celebrating? Chinese New Year.

    Another Holiday!

    You might be holidayed out. Or you may be thinking – yay! Another distraction from the dark deep freeze we find ourselves in. We humans do our best to dress up the winter months (each and every one of them, it seems) with light and color and comfort food.

    A Celebration of Family

    Either way, I think Chinese New Year is worth noting. Why? Because the partying at this holiday is about honoring the bonds of family.

    When the Chinese started this tradition in ancient days, the birth family was the most important unit of relationship. In 2016, the concept of “family” is broader – it can include extended family, blended family, partners, and dear friends. But the essence of the celebration is the same: taking time out of our busy lives (yep, put those computers away!) to gather with our inner circle. This can be a great ritual for children. A time to honor the reciprocal bond among their family members that supports and nurtures, rejoices in successes and comforts when there are disappointments.

    So I intend to celebrate. And maybe you will, too. It doesn’t need to be for the entire weeklong holiday. Even just a quiet dinner can be profound: a moment to honor and affirm the importance of family to us as individuals, to our local communities, and to our human community around the world.

    Happy Chinese New Year!

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    Follow-up to the Groundhog’s Forecast
    February 5, 2016

    Did we all get the word on Tuesday?! Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. Spring is on the way.

    Yahoooo! That forecast alone is inspiration enough for the day. But I link you here to the feel-good music video of all time and some of the many versions it has inspired.

    Pharrell Williams singing Happy
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM&list=PLzUbQIKPtGc1EGwfPHexzrJ9wbdat3wN5

    Pharrell Williams’ Happy performed by:
    Minions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOWDb2TBYDg
    Compilation of People from Across the World https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MDReKsP3sQ
    Kenwood Academy (my high school!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy076MwENI0

    Because I’m Happy!

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    Groundhog’s Day Recommendations
    February 3, 2016

    Punxsutawney Phyllis is by Susanna Leonard Hill with illustrations by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Phyllis is an outdoor kind of girl and she knows her weather, including the signs of spring. But she’s a girl. Will she get her wish to be the next Punxsutawney forecaster? Read and find out! Pegged for ages 5-8.

    The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen and Kathleen Friestad with illustrations by Michael Kline is chock full of experiments and other activities that will teach kids to predict the weather. Have great fun while learning weather science! For grades 3-5.

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    Groundhog Day: What’s in the Forecast?
    January 31, 2016

    It’s the last day of January. And in two days we will get word about when we can expect winter to end. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it’s back to huddling under blankets. But if he doesn’t, we’ll be breaking out the bikinis and flip flops before we know it!

    Forecasting is an ancient practice

    Forecasting has always satisfied a deep human need. Back in 1500 BC, the Chinese Shang Dynasty passed out plum positions to those who could hone their sight and hearing to predict weather patterns. The ancient Greeks put together a list of 200 ways to forecast weather.

    Today, of course, we have fancy meteorological equipment. But we still set aside a day each year to march out with elaborate fanfare a pudgy little groundhog, the great predictor of our winter fate.

    Why is forecasting so important to us?

    Well, it comes in handy when making some pretty important decisions. Knowing if the summer will be wet or dry helps farmers make key decisions related to their crops. Knowing if the stock market will rise or fall helps investors put their money in the best ventures. Knowing which strains of flu virus will be the most prevalent in any given year helps scientists protect against severe illness by preparing the most effective flu shots. Knowing the number of questions on any given subject on the SAT helps tutors better prepare their students to achieve high scores.

    On the more frivolous side, the status of the groundhog’s shadow on February 2 helps us plan our wardrobe. And if the outcome is good, it can help us improve our state of mind.

    So forecasting gives us information that helps us make better decisions. And that is a good thing. But we all know that forecasting is not an exact science. I can remember still remember April 1975 when 9.8 inches of snow fell in Chicago despite Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of a short winter. I can also remember pulling my hair out at a sudden 500 point drop in the stock market on the heels of a sunny bull market prediction.

    The reality is, and we all know it, forecasting is very imprecise. Heck, it’s often downright wrong. But forecasting satisfies our need to prepare – to make the most of the good times and to take whatever steps we can to minimize the bad. For ourselves and for our children.

    So here’s hoping there’s no shadow in sight on Tuesday. Happy Groundhog’s Day!

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    Teaching Black History
    January 29, 2016

    Today’s inspiration comes from the many many people and organizations across the country teaching about black history:

    WOW! That is a lot of black history education going on. Here’s to all of you who are contributing your knowledge to build a bright future.

    Share your favorite inspiring stories of black history.

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    Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement and Uncle Romie
    January 27, 2016

    New and Fabulous

    Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes tells the story of a black woman sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta who dared to register to vote in a time when there were often grave consequences for insisting on this right. This is a story of one woman’s bravery and deep resolve. The illustrations reflect the story with beauty and strength. Pegged for ages 9-12.

    Oldie but Goodie

    I don’t toot my own horn too often in this blog. But I think Black History month is an especially good time to share the story of artist Romare Bearden with children. So here you go….

    Me and Uncle Romie by Yours Truly, illustrated by Jerome LaGarrigue introduces readers to internationally renowned African-American collage artist, Romare Bearden. Children learn about Bearden’s life and art through the fictional story of a boy from a small southern city who makes his first trip up north to visit his Uncle Romie in New York City. The book includes tips for children to make their own storytelling collages. I got very lucky on this one – the illustrations are gorgeous! For ages 5 and up.

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    Black History (Every) Month
    January 24th, 2016

    When I was a small child, I was taught that the continent on which we live was discovered by Christopher Columbus. For a long time, I had the hardest time remembering if he was Italian or Spanish (in fact, of course, he was Italian but sailed for Spain). I remember I had a hazy image of a humongous, dark, uninhabited rocky terrain – and cold, very cold – that was just sitting there for what might have been an eternity until one day Columbus bumped up against this desolate place and CLICK! the lights came on (picture one of those closets with sensored lights that automatically come on when you open the door), cities popped up, and some years later, I was born. And so we created a holiday to celebrate good old Chris for having made all of our lives possible. In some ways, he seemed like a creator.

    Of course, this is not the way it happened. Fast forward to my kids at the same age. They learned about Christopher Columbus, too. But they learned he was just one of many characters who paraded across our continent. There were First Nations who built sophisticated homes and tools and art, and who sometimes suffered – I remember my children’s great concern about the Trail of Tears. There were pilgrims and others from Europe searching for religious freedom, and blacks, some who were explorers, most who came as slaves.

    My children drew pictures of those early days – not the dark boulders I had envisioned but towering green trees, gold and blue maize, bison, and people of various colors and styles. The image my children carried around was not that we owed our history to one great (European) man but that many people, many cultures got us to where we are and who we are today.

    The origins of Black History Month go way back before my children’s early education. The idea began as Black History Week in February 1926, organized by Carter G. Woodson, the second black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. This was extended to a month of study in 1976.

    Of course, a lot has changed even since 1976. Technological progress had brought black artists and athletes, scientists and even a President onto our screens on a regular basis.

    The question is: Do we still need Black History Month?

    I can’t answer this question with a definitive Yes or No. But I can say without a doubt that we need to teach our children our history as a nation. And that history needs to include the role played by African-Americans in all of our history’s many facets. Why?

    There are many.

    To me, the most compelling reason to study the past is to shape a better future. I’ll harken back to a past blog post about cookie-making. My daughter stubbornly set about making cookies without regard for the baking that had come before her. She was not aware that others had tried the minimalist flour/water combination that led to tasteless rocklike cookies time and time again. She was not aware that somewhere down the line, someone had added baking powder with wondrous results. And that scattered through history, some bakers hit upon recipes that resulted in cookies heavenly enough for the gods. And that many times, these results were actually preserved in writing for future generations to learn from. When she finally acknowledged that there was a lot to be gained from baking history, she was able to piggy-back on this to create her most delectable treats.

    We, as a people, have the same potential to learn from past mistakes and build on past glories. Someday, I hope we will not need to set aside a month to remind us to include the black past as part of our teachings. Until then, Happy Black History Month!

    Share your favorite stories from black history.

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    Action for Nonviolence
    January 22, 2016

    Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

    --Martin Luther King

    Martin Luther King preached nonviolence in the 1960s. How are his ideas inspiring action in 2016?

    The Sea of Rage

    Our media fills our lives with constant news of gang shootings, cop shootings, terrorist shootings and bombings. Sometimes it can feel like the whole world has taken up arms.

    But it’s not true. And it’s really important to hear news of the work that’s being done to carry on Dr. King’s movement of nonviolence.

    Choruses of Peace

    There’s strength in numbers. I find it’s hard to raise my voice in peace when it feels sure to be drowned out by shouts of violent rage. But when I know I am joining a chorus, my spirits and my voice soar.

    So here are some choirs you might want to join.

    There are many more people, young and old, raising their voices for peace. If you are interested in getting involved, do a little Internet searching to find one that is right for you.

    Do you have stories to share about action for nonviolence?

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    I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    January 20, 2016

    New and Fabulous

    I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. is a new story from Brad Melzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. It tells King’s story from his own point of view – first person narrative. And it starts from when MLK was just a little boy having experiences that any little boy might have. The result makes me as a reader feel like I’m sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with Dr. King, hearing his reminisces about his life. Very approachable. Pegged for ages 5-8.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, focuses on the power of words as used by Dr. King to create change. Key details of MLK’s life give structure to snippets from his speeches that moved people to support civil rights for blacks in America. The subtext stresses the power of literacy, of speech, of the written word – a timeless message to pass on to all of our children. For ages 5 and up.

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    Teaching the Meaning of Martin Luther King
    January 18, 2016

    I was a child during the time Martin Luther King changed America. I was ten years old when he was killed. What I remember most about him in my child’s eye memory are the rhythms, the cadences of his speeches. Even though I did not understand all that he was talking about, I understood that it was urgent, important, world-changing. I knew deep inside me on a very emotional level, that he was a person for the ages. He made me feel that everything would be all right.

    Even though I was so young, I remember exactly where I was when I learned he had been shot – I was at the grocery store looking through teen magazines while my father shopped. And someone came running through the store moaning and sobbing. And for a while, I felt like the world had been thrown off its center.

    My older self has learned much more about the particulars of Martin Luther King’s life. His work was so profound, so broad as well as deep, that I cannot possibly say enough here to do it all justice.

    Is there a way, then, to share with our children a sense of who Martin Luther King was and why his life and work are important to our lives now?

    I think so.

    Listening to Martin Luther King Speeches

    When my children were little, we spent part of every Martin Luther King day listening to one of his speeches. Here I give thanks to the wonders of you tube. For those who are interested, here are some links:

    These are links to full-length speeches. For those with shorter attention spans, you will have no trouble finding clips/highlights a couple of minutes in length.

    Learning About Martin Luther King’s Life

    There are plenty of video biographies that outline, in varying levels of detail, the facts of MLK’s life. Check out http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr/videos for videos on the history channel website.

    There are also books geared toward every different age level. For small children, check out Martin’s Big Words. For older children take a look at Martin Luther King Jr. (10 Days) or take a look at something written by MLK himself.

    Encouraging Your Child’s Response to Martin Luther King

    At points in their lives, my children have felt compelled to create their own personal responses to what they’ve learned about Martin Luther King. They certainly are not alone in this regard. I recently ran across a video created (with help!) by a five-year-old girl who had developed a strong interest in Martin Luther King: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMr1Df80-j4. The possibilities are endless – art projects, stories, poems, research, videos, and on and on.

    Many communities have special Martin Luther King Day events. Getting out and being part of a group of people focused on Martin Luther King’s legacy is an opportunity for children of today to build emotional as well as intellectual memory of MLK’s meaning in the world today. The kind of memory that sticks.

    Martin Luther King Day: A Day “On”

    You may have heard this phrase. It’s an opportunity to use your day “off” to continue MLK’s work. The Corporation for National and Community Service lists some ways to volunteer: http://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday. Check your local news sources for opportunities near you!

    My last thought for today. There are many wonderful MLK quotes. Here are two to reflect on this holiday:

    Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

    I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

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    Giving Winter Warmth
    January 15, 2016

    This week’s theme has been about making the best of winter by jumping into outdoor fun. I have such fond memories of bundling my little ones into their enormous snowsuits, wrapping their faces in soft scarves, tucking their hands into waterproof mittens, helping them pull on knee-high boots. But what about kids whose families don’t have the financial ability to provide this gear?

    Gifts of Winter Warmth

    It warms my heart that many people around this great nation of ours are taking action to solve this problem. Close to home, at the Alain Locke Charter School where I chair the board, I have witnessed the work of one generous donor who gathered friends at her home for a party/clothing drive so that our students can be winter warm. A shoutout to all those who engage in similar work in cities and towns across the country.

    Here’s a sampling of the good work that is being done:

    Know other organizations donating winter-wear? Share here!

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    Winter Fun
    January 13, 2016

    New and Fabulous

    Toys Meet Snow is a new story from Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Caldecott winner Paul O. Zelinsky. Three toys venture out into the snow one afternoon while their owner is away. This is the toys’ first time outside on a wintry day and they each muse about their own unique take on what they see. One is rather poetic, the next scientific, and the third asks a lot of questions! The illustrations are gorgeous and you and your children will enjoy talking about the different ways of looking at and responding to winter. Pegged for ages 3-7 years.

    Oldie but Goodie

    The Mitten is an old Ukrainian folk tale in a classic telling by Jan Brett. When a little boy goes out to play one winter day, he drops one of his new white mittens onto the soft white snow. He doesn’t immediately spot the glove. But the animals scuttering around on the frosty ground see it and decide the warm wool is a good place to huddle. What I like best about this book are the pictures that evoke just the feeling I had when I was a kid playing outside on a snowy afternoon: The sounds of the world muted by the softness of the snow, little animals scuttering across my path as I played in the winter wonderland. A good winter read sure to inspire your young children to head outdoors.

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    Winter Blues
    January 10, 2016

    Wake me up when the winter ends...or more practically, how to beat the winter blues.

    Snow is finally making an appearance in Chicago this winter. I feel blah. What?! Are we not a little spoiled this year? It’s January and snow is just beginning.

    True, true. But every year, beastly winter or mild winter, I get the January blues. And so do some of my friends. And so do a lot of other people. Including kids.

    Seasonal Affective Disorder

    In full-blown depression mode, this feeling has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder otherwise (appropriately) know as SAD. Symptoms are extreme low energy, moodiness, and lack of concentration or motivation. The symptoms follow the arc of winter, with a full return to normal behavior as the sky lightens in the spring. If your child or teen has these symptoms in spades, you should consider getting it checked out by the doctor. Light therapy is available when needed.

    The Winter Blues

    If you’re like me, you may just have the winter blues. I like to go to bed with the sun and wake up with the sun – in tune with nature’s rhythms. Reality check! This is not practical when the sun goes to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon and does not show its face again until nearly 7:30 the next day. What to do?

    Well, you can take the stoic approach: pry your eyes open with thumb and forefinger or jump into a cold shower.

    Or, you could try the avoidance approach: turn off the alarm and pull the covers over your head. Teens often opt for this strategy.

    Don’t take it lying down!

    But here are a few happier (at least, I think so) options:

    How do you banish the winter blues?

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    Soles for the Soul
    January 8, 2016

    One resolution perennially on my New Year’s list is helping the homeless. This year, I am keeping a quarters jar where I will collect stray change that I accumulate. I will then transfer amounts from there to a change box in my car so that I can always have a little something for men and women who approach my car window when I’m at a stoplight.

    Gotta Have Sole

    This year, I’ve been inspired by another great idea thought up and put into action by a passionate young student. Nicholas Lowinger was just a kid when he visited a homeless center and was struck by the children he met there whose shoes were worn out or who had no shoes at all. Moved to change this, he first donated his gently used shoes. But even that didn’t feel quite right. He was a teen – he knew how important cool shoes are in high school. So he set his sights higher. And he started Gotta Have Sole Foundation which over the past six years has donated 44,000 pairs of new shoes to homeless shelters in 43 states. Over this holiday season alone, Nicholas led a drive that raised enough support to provide shoes for over 1,400 kids. Every ten-dollar contribution buys a pair of new shoes.

    To learn more check out http://www.gottahavesole.org/ghs/. Another reminder that young people are ready and able to take on the task of building a better world.

    Know other organizations collecting new or gently used items? Share here!

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    New Year’s Resolutions: Books For Children
    January 6, 2016

    I have not found many books for children on this topic. However, here are a few that will give fertile ground for discussing resolutions with your children.

    Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution by Pat Miller, illustrated by Kathi Ember tells the story of a squirrel who is trying to figure out exactly what a resolution is and what his own special resolution should be. Follow along with him on his day with his animal friends, a day that turns out lead squirrel down his own path of discovery. Recommended for Preschool – 2nd grade

    New Year’s Resolutions Fit for a Bird by Dee Smith is hot off the press this winter. I have not had the opportunity to read it but I thought I’d bring it to the attention of anyone looking for books to share with their children on resolutions. Let me know if you like it!

    Have you read other stories for kids about New Year’s resolutions? Share your favorites!

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    New Year’s Resolutions: Are They Worth Anything At All?
    January 3, 2016

    The Christmas tree is still up for a few days more and there’s candy lingering in bowls on practically every surface around the house. But other than that, the festivities have wound down. Adults are thinking about going back to work. Children are getting ready to go back to school. The old year has ended. The new one has begun. And here in the U.S. we have this tradition of making resolutions.

    Who Makes Resolutions?

    I’ve been reading online that in some families, kids make resolutions, too. Some resolve to get better at things – like sports or the violin or math. Others resolve to be a better person –like not fighting with siblings or being more helpful around the house. One girl has resolved to try new foods. First on her list—alligator!

    My kids didn’t make resolutions. But I have to admit, I made some for them. Thoughtful, meaningful, handwritten cards for birthdays and mothers day and the like. That was a big one for me. My daughters tried pretty hard to convince me that no one writes cards like that anymore (a stone ages thing, they said) and no one expects cards like that and no one appreciates cards like that. Ah – but I do. Having grown up in the Wilma Flintstone era, as I did. And you know what? My kids did write them. And they still do. And now one of them has a boyfriend who loves this kind of card as much as I do. ☺

    Still, I hear that this little story is the exception, not the norm. A Forbes Magazine article a few years ago reported that only 12% of people making resolutions actually keep them.

    So Is There a Point to Making Resolutions at All?

    I think so. And here’s why:

    Resolutions Are Good for Everyone – The Tall and the Small.

    Kids, too. In retrospect, I wish I had included resolutions as part of my children’s New Year ritual. It’s a chance to dream. A chance to organize and prioritize. A chance to practice resolve. And, thereby, a chance to succeed.

    Share your favorite New Year’s resolutions!

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    First Day Jitters and The Very Hungry Caterpillar
    December 30, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Judy Love is one I can identify with – the first day of school arrives and the heroine of the story just wants to stay under the covers! Even kids who don’t find hiding in bed the best way to procrastinate will recognize the universal feeling of anxiety about starting something new. The surprise ending adds a level of comfort on that score. Pegged for kids K-3rd grade.

    Oldie but Goodie

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic board book for tiny tots. In words and images that small children can understand, it explains the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly. The caterpillar eats, eats, eats – starting with fruit, then moving on to pie and sausage. And it all leads to the emergence of a beautiful new stage of life. The illustrations are in gorgeous bright colors. No wonder it sells a copy every 30 seconds!

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    WALEED says: happy new year

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    New Year: Endings and Beginnings
    December 27, 2015

    Christmas is two days past. The holiday season is winding down. I hope yours has been full of love and joy and some silliness. Mine has been all that and rich with family and friends.

    Today I am in recovery mode from all the hustle and bustle. Mostly a balm of peace and quiet. The littlest tiniest bit of letdown as I break down the gift boxes for the recycling truck. And as the holidays are ending, my thoughts turn toward the beginning of a new year.

    For me, this has always been a time of both optimism and dread. Endings and beginnings are like that.

    When I was in school, the new year was the beginning of a new semester. This meant new classes, new subject matters, no track record in these particular courses. If I’d had a bad previous semester, the chance to wipe the slate clean was a gift. But often, I was anxious and tired at the thought of starting something new. I remember lying in bed the night before the restart of school, listening to the harsh wind whipping through the trees, wanting to stay wrapped in my warm blankets for the foreseeable future.

    Those first nights of the new year, I often stayed awake for a long time. I tried on images of happy possibilities. I felt periodic rushes of anticipation of becoming a better version of my old self. I also wallowed in memories of the recent holiday’s good times. Relived a highlight reel from the semester just finished. As I finally drifted off to sleep, I felt the inexorable and somehow comforting pull of cycles.

    Now I am a parent. My children are all about to embark upon a new semester. They are also about to scatter far away from Chicago to their various homes.

    I know I will spend the first nights of the new year thinking about my work. I have just handed off to my publisher my latest book. It is time to begin discerning a new topic to write about. To start anew. I will think about the many endings and beginnings past. Schools. Homes. Friends. Workplaces.

    The weather is warmer here than usual. But a strong wind has started up today. I will listen to the rustling of the trees outside my window. And burrow into my blankets. But I will also remember that the harshness of the winter will give way to the soft green of spring, then the hot pavements of summer, then the crisp colors of fall, then another winter. Small cycles wrapped into larger cycles wrapped within the ultimate cycle that spans my life. All full of promise waiting to unfold.

    Happy New Year!

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    Light for the World
    December 25, 2015

    Today I share a poem for the spirit of Christmas.


    Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou.

    Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
    And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
    Flood waters await us in our avenues.

    Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
    Over unprotected villages.
    The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

    We question ourselves.
    What have we done to so affront nature?
    We worry God.
    Are you there? Are you there really?
    Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

    Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
    Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
    And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
    The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
    Come the way of friendship.

    It is the Glad Season.
    Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
    Flood waters recede into memory.
    Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
    As we make our way to higher ground.

    Hope is born again in the faces of children
    It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
    Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
    Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

    In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
    At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
    We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
    We hear a sweetness.
    The word is Peace.
    It is loud now. It is louder.
    Louder than the explosion of bombs.

    We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
    It is what we have hungered for.
    Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
    A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
    Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

    We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
    We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
    We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
    Peace.
    Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
    We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
    Implore you, to stay a while with us.
    So we may learn by your shimmering light
    How to look beyond complexion and see community.

    It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

    On this platform of peace, we can create a language
    To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

    At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
    Into the great religions of the world.
    We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
    We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
    All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
    To celebrate the promise of Peace.

    We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers,
    Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
    Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
    Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
    And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

    Peace, My Brother.
    Peace, My Sister.
    Peace, My Soul.”

    ― Maya Angelou

    Merry Christmas All!

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    The Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold and The Snowy Day
    December 23rd, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    The Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen looks at winter from the perspective of animals: small mammals, snakes and, yes, winter bees, among others. The language is luscious. Lines such as “Ambling through the hoary crystals, thinking of how I love this powdery place between iron-hard ground and snow-crust ceiling.” Recommended for Kindergarten – 4th grade.

    Oldie but Goodie

    The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a classic. As I sit here on this unseasonably warm December night, thinking about this story, I wax nostalgic for snow and childhood vacations when time went by so slowly and the outside world was covered in a thick white blanket. The text is spare and quiet. Cuddle up and read with a child you love. Pegged for Preschool-Kindergarten. A deserving Caldecott award winner.

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    Winter Break: How to Avoid a Breakdown
    December 20th, 2015

    We’re in the holiday prep home stretch. As much as I advocate using the season of preparation to be contemplative, I, like most of us, am in a bit of a frenzy. I’ll bet lots of you have little time to read right now. And I have little time to write. So the next two weeks’ blogs will be short (and hopefully sweet).

    Today’s musing: The kids put on a wonderful holiday assembly program last week and now they’re home: for TWO weeks. How does your family have a great winter break without parents or kids (or both) having a breakdown.

    Break without Breakdown

    My strategy: Mix it up.

    Indoor Time

    Holiday break is an opportunity to take a hiatus from early morning routine. Indoor activities can be done in PJs. Whoo hoo!

    Some favorite indoor activities in my family:

    Outdoor Time

    Fresh air, large spaces to move around in…winter frost or not, bundle up if necessary, then let loose. In one of my favorite Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street, Santa sleeps with his whiskers outside the covers because, he says, “Cold air makes them grow.”

    Down Time

    Indoors, outdoors – lots of great possibilities. Every parent knows, though, kids get tired. And then they can rev up and spin out of control. In my house, the tell was laughter. Started as giggles, moved on to guffaws, and left unchecked, ended up with screams and rolling on the floor, tickles becoming pokes becoming jabs. For me, the key was to pull myself away from my own activities to redirect the girls at giggles stage.

    End result? After a space of quiet, the hysterical giggles had evaporated. Order was restored.

    Happy Holidays everyone! Or, as my kids would say, “Have a chill time.”

    What does your family do to make winter break happy and healthy and just plain old fun.

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    Light for the World
    December 18th, 2015

    It’s that time of year when I wake up in the morning not sure if it’s actually morning or still the middle of the night. I’m a person who thrives on light; starting my day in darkness is particularly difficult. So it hits me hard to know that there are people – during those long hours when the sun goes down or before it comes up – who have limited access to light at all. Lots of people. 1.7 billion people. More than a fifth of the world’s population. Have no electricity or modern lighting.

    This is not just a matter of convenience. Without light, adults are limited in their ability to work evenings or early morning hours. Of course, that limits the amount of money they can earn to feed their families. Without light, children are limited in their ability to read or do homework. Of course, this limits their education that in turn limits their earning power when they grow up.

    Repurpose

    Repurpose is a South Africa organization that is doing something about it. They make backpacks. For poor children who have no light to study by. Each backpack is retrofitted with a solar panel that charges during the lighted part of the day and lights the child’s study space in dark hours – the charge lasts for 12 hours. There are other cool things about these bags – they are made of 100% recycled material, they are retro-reflective to help keep the wearer safe in the dark, they are waterproof. And they are really cute (what child does not want cute?!)

    Here’s a little of what Repurpose has to say about their work:
    “Rethaka: it’s the radical idea of uncovering opportunities.”
    “It’s having the audacity to uplift communities with uplifting ideas.”
    “It thrives on thinking differently about inherited struggles and daring to realize we already have in these, the solutions we seek. It makes problems work for us, not control us.”

    And that, to me, is creating light in darkness.

    Learn more and get involved at repurposeschoolbags.com. Share your favorite resources for lighting the world.

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Chanukah Lights and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
    December 16th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Chanukah Lights by Michael Rosen illustrated by Robert Sabuda is a stunningly beautiful, just the right mood book for this season of festivals of light. It’s a pop-up book with gorgeous white pop-ups and a beautiful poetic musing about candlelighting through time around the world Pegged for K-4th grade but it’s really for all ages.

    Oldie but Goodie

    The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowki illustrated by P. J. Lynch is a family favorite. It’s the story of a woodcarver who buries himself in a life of solitude after the death of his wife and child. Then one day a widow and her little boy appear at his door with a special request – one that brings a miracle to them all. The illustrations are drawn in warm golden brown tones, just right for the rich, strong story of transformation. This story might not at first appear to be about a festival of light but it is, indeed, a story of the regeneration of inner light. Pegged for ages 6-12.

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf?

    The Triumph of Light Over Darkness
    December 13th, 2015

    Tis the season for festivals of light. Indians mark Diwali with the lighting of thousands of lamps. In Sweden, girls wreath their heads with candles as they celebrate St. Lucia. Jews around the world light the menorah. Christians light advent candles. In Thailand, candle bedecked boats drift on the waters.

    Light and Hope

    In the old days, when these traditions got started, twas a pretty grim season – dark, cold, no electric light or gas heat to help people warm up on the inside. Fire was the only way to push the cold darkness away. We’ve come a long way but that feeling of bleak midwinter still envelops us. This year, maybe more than most, the horrific happenings around the world add to a feeling of darkness. Maybe we need these festivals of light now more than ever. And to share in them with our children. After all, those cherubic little faces hold our hopes for the future.

    Where to find these Festivals of Light?

    One of our family traditions is a day at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Christmas Trees from Around the World. There are trees that seem to dance with colored brightness, trees that quiet us down with lights of white illuminating deep green pine, trees with widely spaced branches that cradle flickering candles. Some version of this is echoed in cities and towns across the world.

    Another family tradition of ours takes place in the smaller space of our home. There we gather around the table, sing songs, and light candles – four orbs spaced around an advent wreath of pine, eight shedding light from a menorah. Each person has a special role – one lights the candles, one leads us in singing, one accompanies us on the piano, one reads stories of light and hope, one snuffs the flame at the end of our gathering. The scent of melting wax binds us as we move on to our separate activities.

    We gather around the light of the fireplace, warming our hands around cups of hot cider and cocoa that we ladle from large pots simmering over stovetop flame.

    One year, my daughter wanted only one thing for Christmas – a miniature lighted tree for her bedside table. Each night during the long winter season, she turned on those tiny tree lights, filling her room with a soft warm glow.

    There is something magical and hopeful about this time of year as we create light in the midst of darkness. Enjoy the season!

    What are your traditions of light?

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Bake Sales: The Tried and Still Awesome!
    December 11th, 2015

    Today’s shout out is to all of you thousands (maybe millions) who will spend some time this holiday season in your kitchen concocting a fabulous mouth-watering baked good for your favorite charity bake sale. The bake sale has been around for centuries (true fact!)

    This warms my heart – a tradition that binds us together – men and women and children of all races, religions, and political persuasions. And all-around giving to a good cause.

    A few fun facts about various delectables that you might consider as you choose what to bake up:

    Share your favorite bake sale goodies. Or your favorite baking fun facts. Keep those ovens blazing!

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Bake Sale and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
    December 9th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Bake Sale by Sarah Varon is a warm fuzzy of a baking book. It tells the story of Cupcake who loves to bake – so much so that he owns his very own bakeshop. Life is good. He bakes. He plays in a band. He has great friends. Then Cupcake’s best friend invites him on a trip to Turkey where Cupcake will be able to meet his hero, the incomparable pastry chef, Turkish Delight. Sounds great. But Cupcake needs money to pay for the trip. And he goes a little off track as he gives up all the things he loves to raise the dough. Until….well, you will have to read the book to find out what happens. The illustrations are simple but really adorable – the characters’ expressive eyes are emotionally irresistible. The frosting on the cupcake? Delicious recipes, of course! For 3rd grade and up.

    Oldie but Goodie

    If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond has become a classic. This book is not really about baking but the cookie illustration never fails to give me the urge to down a melty chocolate chip number with a cold glass of milk. The concept is the old “one thing leads to another” in ways never intended. Here, a boy offers a cookie to what turns out to be a very demanding mouse. The chain of mouse requests reminds me of a set of toppling dominoes – you start with one and you get an unstoppable ripple. Great for the little ones— pegged for preschool – 3rd grade – I think you can start with toddlers who will love the repetition. I suspect it reminds them of one of their own favorite mantras: “No… No… No!”

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf?

    Baking with Kids: Food for Mind, Body, and Soul
    December 6th, 2015

    My inbox has been inundated this week with mouthwatering pictures of peppermint fudge, dreidel cookies, gingerbread men, etc. – the staples of holiday month. Which makes me think of my daughter’s “blue” cookies that will forever be part of family legend.

    You Ask: What are Blue Cookies?!!!

    When my daughter was three, she had already spent two years watching me bake. Now she decided to step up to the plate (well…the kitchen counter) herself. She had/has a “slight” stubborn streak. Translated: She would suffer absolutely NO advice on ingredients.

    She dragged out a big bowl, a big tin of flour, a cup of water, and a stirring spoon. Without any measuring tools, she concocted a flour-water mixture that resembled paste. She cocked her head, looked at her creation for a minute or so, then retrieved a box of food coloring from the cabinet and dyed her dough blue.

    We spooned the sticky mess into circles on a tray, deposited the tray into the oven (heated by me) and eyeballed the blue dough until it resembled something like blue cookies. We scraped them off the tray, piled them onto a pretty dessert plate and let them cool.

    After dinner – you guessed it – she sashayed into the dining room with “dessert.” And she was a taskmaster. She gave me, her dad, and her sisters the death stare that commanded us to actually eat. Which we accomplished with healthy gulps of water after each bite. The icing on the cookie? She took one nibble of hers, then stone-faced, surreptitiously (she thought) pocketed the rest until she could deposit it in the garbage.

    Undaunted, for months thereafter, she made blue cookies. She experimented a little by adding sugar, then cinnamon. Still…blahhh. Finally, she was ready to listen to my tips on the role of baking powder; and on the importance of correct ingredient proportions. She learned to use measuring cups and we studied actual recipes. And after a few attempts, she made something edible.

    Which we all rejoiced over.

    The Joy of Baking

    After that, the blue cookies disappeared form the repertoire. Replaced by chocolate chip and oatmeal; then cookies with sprinkles and frosting; then ginger molasses and Mexican wedding cookies. Then her own creations – yes, she came full circle – which are, I am grateful to report, heavenly!

    Aside from an ever more delicious eating experience, what did she gain? What can your child gain from baking?

    Food for the Mind

    So here’s the great thing for all you right brain types (like me). Math can be fun. So can chemistry. What more creative way to teach measurement, fractions, the metric system? What about the chemical properties of baking powder? (Yes… I am now obsessed with this.) The beauty of baking is it’s a very concrete way to teach. And that means it is very likely to stick.

    Food for the Body

    Kids are curious. So as you are measuring out that flour, that ginger, those chocolate chips, you have the opportunity to talk about….where these ingredients come from; and the concept of vitamins that our bodies get from food. You can talk about eating in moderation and about balance among the food groups. And it’s all fun! Plus, when you say “one cookie is enough” it will actually make sense and not seem like a heartless random punishment.

    Food for the Soul

    I think this requires little explanation. Heart-warming times with your children you and they will remember forever (blue cookies are case in point). I heartily endorse the aphorisms “Food is the way to the heart.” “Sweets for my sweet.” And, now that my daughter is away at college, a new twist on “I’d rather be blue, thinking of you…”

    Happy baking!

    Do you have baking stories to share? Recipes are welcome ☺

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Athletes for Education
    December 4th, 2015

    As a “parent of a varsity college athlete” I am very tuned in to the concern about athletic vs academics. Do college administrators and professors wink at the academic side of college for athletes? Do athletes devalue going to class, writing papers, participating fully in college intellectual life? I have lots of anecdotal evidence that the answer is very individualized – some do, some don’t.

    In this blog post, I am happy to be able to highlight the really thoughtful approach being taken by one of the highest profile athletes around: LeBron James.

    LeBron James Family Foundation

    Back in 2011, LeBron decided to make a major investment in the kids from his hometown, Akron Ohio. Not just his name and his money but his time and the development of a relationship with the kids. His program starts with 3rd graders and goes all the way through high school providing a cornucopia of strategies with one goal in mind – academic success all the way through college.

    And LeBron is planning ahead. Though the first group of kids won’t start college until 2021, he has just announced a partnership with the University of Akron. The idea is this: Any kid who goes through LeBron’s program, gets good grades, has good attendance, will be eligible for a full 4-year scholarship to UA. That’s $9,500/year per kid for as many as 2,300 children. Some are athletes. Many are not. All matter to one athlete who values the academic component of a college education.

    Learn more at http://lebronjamesfamilyfoundation.org.

    Share stories of others who are investing in academics for athletes.

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Fast Break and Stone Fox
    December 2nd, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Fast Break by Mike Lupica is a good read for middle school athletes – especially if you have a soft spot for basketball. Fast Break is hot off the press, the latest from a popular author who knows his sports. This one has a twist – the hero is in foster care.

    Jayson is the new kid on the block, living with foster parents, and he’s hiding a secret about how he got there. As he tries to adjust to his new life, he struggles to figure out exactly where he fits in: on the school basketball team, with the wealthy girl he’d like to get to know better, with his foster parents. And something holds him back: he doesn’t know how he can ever come clean about his past.

    The book is being compared to The Blind Side. Enjoy!

    Oldie but Goodie

    Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner was a favorite in our household, one we read over and over again. The sport here is dogsledding. Young Willy’s grandfather owes $500 in back taxes and he doesn’t have the money. So he stands to lose his Wyoming farm. Then Willy learns about a dogsledding contest. The winner gets a prize of – you guessed it – $500. Willy gives it is all. But he’s up against Native American champ Stone Fox. This is a story about putting in hard work to win for someone you love. The book is engrossing from beginning to end and pulls on the heartstrings like few others. Pegged for ages 8-12. It won lots of prizes when it came out in 1980. A great read!!!

    Do you have other sports-themed books to recommend?

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf?

    Sports: Is it all about Winning?
    November 29th, 2015

    OK all you sports fans out there. The annual late November long-weekend football marathon –accompanied by ginormous helpings of turkey and apple pie –is over. For me, there’s an even bigger watershed moment here. After 22 years of watching my children play soccer, I’m hanging up my parental cleats. So, as I ride into the sporting sunset, I have a question for all you sports parents out there. And those of you who play or played sports too. What’s it all about: Building Skills? Learning Teamwork? Winning? All of the above?

    Sometimes it seems like you gotta choose one camp or another. I have been a soccer mom for 22 years (I still wince at those words but it’s true). And I have seen parents face off in debates about this dozens of times.

    What’s my position? Well here are a few little anecdotes for you.

    Equal Playing Time vs Winning

    When my daughter was about ten years old she played on a neighborhood American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) team. One of AYSO’s guiding principles is that every player must play at least half the game. My daughter’s coach translated this into “equal playing time for everyone.” That year, that team was reeeeeeally bad. Saturday after Saturday they were trounced by their opponents. The girls left with heads hanging a little lower each week. Finally, the season finale was underway and lo and behold, they were winning! The girls on the sidelines were jumping up and down with excitement and crossing their fingers across their chests to lend luck to their teammates on the field. Everyone knew the best players were out on the turf. There were five minutes to go. We were holding on to a one-goal lead. Then….the coach changed lines. Out with the strong; in with the weak. I was shocked and horrified. I gathered up my things and walked away. What would you do? Footnote: The team hung on to win.

    Some Playing Time…Any Playing Time

    Let’s move on to college level sports. When you get to that elite level, every player has talent. So do you give every player some playing time? Or so you go with your subset of core superstar players exclusively? Sportswriter Frank DeFord just did a piece that’s on a slightly different topic but has relevance here. He argues that college athletics should be about participant experience rather than spectator experience. And I think this has some merit. I’m not talking about equal playing time. But about acknowledging the reason most athletes sign up for a team – to participate. If I were the coach, I would let everyone play, especially in low pressure situations where the likelihood of blowing the game is small. You can always sub out. And what are amateur sports all about?

    What Do We Want Sports To Teach Our Kids?

    The reality is every sporting situation has its own unique facts. The right decision in one case might not be the right decision in another. But here are some lessons I have learned along the way.

    There is definitely room for debate on this.

    Do you think sports are good for kids? If so, what should they be getting out of it?

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Giving Thanks for the Boulder Food Project
    November 27th, 2015

    Hana Dansky has done a lot of digging to find out the general landscape when it comes to food production and consumption. She is not happy with what she’s found. She states it succinctly: we put “10 percent of our national energy budget, 50 percent of our land use, and 80 percent of our freshwater resources into food, truck it around the country, and then end up throwing away nearly 40 percent of everything we produce, much of which is still edible and healthy.” At the same time, there are hungry people everywhere.

    Saying No to Waste

    Hana is putting her body and soul into changing that. She and a small group of friends have started The Boulder Food Rescue. They go around to grocery stores around Boulder picking up food that is slated for the garbage heap and redistributing it to organizations that serve food to the poor. In the last four years, the Boulder Food Rescue has grown to include 150 volunteers who do food pickups ten times each day. They are able to save 1000 pounds of food each day and get it into the mouths of those who don’t have other access to healthy food – people in low-income housing, homes for the elderly, preschools and after school programs.

    Sharing Food in Community

    The Boulder Food Rescue also values community. It is not just about giving to those who have less but sharing in community with them. Once a month, volunteers host a meal – they share with their guests the cooking and the eating.

    Their work has inspired others. Their model is being put to work in cities across the country that collaborate through the Food Rescue Alliance.

    Want to Get Involved? Learn more at boulderfoodrescue.org or https://twitter.com/BldrFoodRescue.

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    David Harris says: Your recent post reminds me of several recent experiences that I had at New Pioneer Cooperative ("New Pi"), in which I was told that food that I was looking for had expired. I am going to ask Brad Lynch (the "Store Team Lead") what New Pi is doing to minimize waste. (Maybe there is info on their web site.)

    I asked my favorite grocery store, New Pioneer Cooperative, "How do you minimize food waste?" Answer: When foods reach their soft expiration dates--still good but aging--New Pi contacts one of several appropriate food-rescue organizations, who then collect and utilize the food.Table to Table is one such organization and New Pi has ties to their founding. Table to Table's mission statement is "to keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from donors and distributing to those in need through agencies that serve the hungry, homeless and at-risk populations." Table to Table encourages both (a) volunteer participation and (b) donations, stating that every donated dollar yields thirty dollars of impact.

    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    The Thankful Book and Thelonius Turkey Lives!
    November 25th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    (2012) The Thankful Book by Todd Parr takes the idea of being thankful down to the level a small child can understand. It reminds me of all the times I’ve squatted down when I am talking to a tiny tike so that I can look into their eyes and see what they’re thinking – which are usually incredibly imaginative thoughts. The Thankful Book walks through many things that probably go through a child’s mind every day – how they look, why they eat what they eat, and so on.

    One of my favorites: “I am thankful for my shadow because it makes me look taller.” The illustrations remind me a bit of the Peanuts crew – wild hair and simple but expressive faces. A book pegged for preschool-1st grade, I think you will find a great opportunity for thought and discussion tailored to your own child’s experience.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Thelonius Turkey Lives! By Lynn Rowe Reed is sure to have your kids in giggles. Thelonius is the only turkey left on his farm and Thanksgiving is approaching. Thelonius is worried that Felicia the farmer is planning his demise. So he concocts all sorts of wacky roadblocks to thwart her. Only to find out…this wasn’t what she had in mind at all! A fun romp with a happy ending. Pegged for Preschool-2nd grade.

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    Do you have other thanksgiving books to recommend?

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf?

    Thanks with Giving
    November 22th, 2015

    I generally pride myself on being one of those strong mothers – you know, the ones who spend quality time with their children each day, delight in their kids’ successes, and talk through their problems BUT expect them to do their own laundry, make their own lunches, and write their own papers.

    I also have been the kind of mother who wants to give her kids the best of everything life has to offer. This includes homey experiences like making playdough (click here for the recipe), chowing down on popcorn while taking in a movie on TV, or spending an afternoon at the local ice skating rink. So, OK, a cup of Swiss Miss hot cocoa seems reasonable and fun in the warming house. But a post ice-skating trip to Starbucks for a peppermint hot chocolate? Make that a grande, not a tall. And while we’re here can we get some of those great looking $2 per cookie treats to take home? A “No” on my part is met with a whiny “Pleeeez” or a pout. At this point, the joy of ice skating is a distant memory and I am asking myself “How did this happen?” More important, how can I, or any of us, keep it from happening on a regular basis?

    We live in a materialistic world. Though there are many wonderful things about the technology revolution, one of the big downsides is the 24/7 exposure to advertisements. When I was a kid, I coveted the latest Barbie advertised on TV. But I also spent a lot of time playing with toys and running around outside, completely removed from ads. Very hard to do with the bombardment of popup ads and celebrity sales pitches on cellphones, computers and tablets. Along with that, has come the proliferation of specialty shops. I never cease to be amazed at the round-the-block lines in cities around the country for a customized cupcake or scoop of ice cream. When the holidays approach, the whole obsession with things goes into high gear. We want to give our children things that will make them happy. But, if you’re like me, you cringe at the extravagant wish lists.

    What to do?

    You Can't Buy Happiness

    This is the good news. Research is clear that reining in consumption is not depriving your kids of happiness. And chances are you have your own informal evidence. Has your kid ever begged for a toy but once he has it, plays with it for a few minutes then moves on to something else? It turns out, the research shows, long-term happiness is related to what you do for others, not what you ask others to do for you.

    Create Opportunities to Give

    So here’s my thought. Instead of spending so much time this holiday season stressing over the latest and greatest toy or outfit you can buy your kid, maybe spend time with him talking about things he is thankful for. Then create opportunities for her to give to others. Some ideas for activities for your child – what’s appropriate will vary with age:

    It All Begins with Thanksgiving

    Here we are at Thanksgiving. A wonderful time to get started talking to your child about what they are thankful for. A great time to create energy around ideas for giving back.

    One more thing. After the giving and receiving is done, don’t forget the thank yous. Thank you notes are great. Emails are nice too. Also shouts of thanks over the telephone. And in-person hugs and kisses. Enjoy!

    Added perk: Your child will be on the receiving end of lots of thank yous from those they give to!

    Do you have other ideas for giving projects?

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Painting for Peace in Ferguson
    November 20th, 2015

    When the grand jury announced that it would not indict Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, anger spilled over into the streets in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis. Windows were smashed, fires started. The owner of a St. Louis café watched from her home across the street as the nine windows of her restaurant shattered to the ground.

    Reaching Out

    Later that night she began the process of boarding up the spaces where the glass had been. The ugliness was jarring. So she asked some friends to help her splash on a little colored paint to relieve the despair.

    Word spread. By morning, artists began to assemble. Within a few days, hundreds of artists came together to revitalize the look of the storefronts. Suppliers from around the country got in on the act, donating paint and other materials. Hundreds of paintings now grace the area with colorful vitality and messages of hope.

    Finding Common Ground

    This coming together to change destruction into something positive has had a healing effect on both the artists and the business owners. One resident noted, “It was a great relief for them to feel that they were part of building us back up. I felt the opposite — that they were helping us heal.”

    It doesn’t end there. This year, planning is underway for a Ferguson Mural Project. The website characterizes the project this way: it “will integrate personal stories to create empathy, make meaning and effect real change by giving the community an opportunity to heal and beautify Ferguson's downtown.”

    The project will be documented from beginning to end – a tool for spreading the movement across the country.

    Interested in getting involved? Learn more at http://www.fergusonmuralproject.com

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Painting for Peace in Ferguson and The Little Bit Scary People
    November 18th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein is a great tool for parents wanting to discuss with their children the unrest in Ferguson Missouri and other cities around the country. The book does not go into the details of the rioting itself. Instead it focuses on the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds to rebuild through art.

    By the time I got to the last pages of this picture book, I felt the power of the mosaic of paintings – a statement of community and healing that defies the desolation of the boarded up windows on which they are painted. Recommended for kids 6 and up.

    Another Not-so-Oldie but Goodie

    So I’m breaking the mold a little here with a not-so-oldie but certainly a goodie.

    The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins follows a little girl as she watches people that act different than she does…and are a little bit scary. But, she knows, if you were to visit these people at home, you would see they are actually nice…and not even a little bit scary. Maybe still a little bit different in how they do things. But underneath it all, not so different really.

    This is a simple book that gives us characters that look and sound an awful lot like people we know. I think that is what makes the book so effective (and comforting). As the little girl in the story concludes, they are people, just like her… not really scary at all. Recommended for ages K-3rd grade.

    Share books you recommend on the revitalizing power of empathy.

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf

    I Feel Ya
    November 15th, 2015

    This has been a spirit-crushing week. Foremost in my mind, is the bloodbath in Paris. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the dead and wounded, and to all Parisians.

    My heart has also been heavy as I’ve followed the racial conflict at the University of Missouri and my alma mater, Yale. The anger and alienation around the world is palpable, even as I sit writing in a small quiet town in Montana.

    But feeling bad or even feeling solidarity is not enough. How can we respond in a way that makes a difference?

    Start with the children: Teach empathy

    We can start with our children. We can start by teaching empathy.

    On a rain-drenched day last fall, a wheelchair-bound student struggled mightily to open the door to his high school. He eventually did get in. But it took a while. He was soaked. And he was beside himself with frustration. Right then and there he decided he wasn’t going through this experience anymore. The school told him, if he could raise the money for an automatic door, they would install it.

    He did raise the money. And then some. All very admirable. But in reading about this, my attention was drawn to the way he went about it. The rules: For every $20 raised, one of his fellow students had to spend a day in a wheelchair. So now his classmates got a glimpse of life through his eyes. They experienced the feelings of life from a wheelchair. Now, they could feel why the automatic door was so important. He was looking to raise $40,000. He ended up raising $87,000. Empathy – being able to share another person’s feelings – is a powerful thing. It can change lives, even whole societies. The question is how do you raise empathetic kids without the wheelchair?

    There’s an article out of Harvard that sums it up quite well, I think. Five keys (annotated here with some stories from my own life).

    Be an Empathy Role Model

    Living in a big city, my daily routines often take me past people on the street asking for money. It is easy to see these people as “other” (if we see them at all). They don’t look like us. They don’t have the same kind of daily activities that we do. It is hard for any of us – parents or children – to put ourselves in their shoes.

    When my girls were little, I used to give them quarters to pass along to the homeless, explaining that these people were hungry. My children knew what their own stomachs felt like when they were hungry for dinner. This gave them empathy. Now I know this is a hot topic – some people believe in giving to beggars; others are vehemently against it. Whatever your philosophy, you can model empathy simply by not ignoring the situation and talking about ways you believe in to help the hungry.

    Set High Expectations around Caring for Others

    Having friends over after school was always great fun for my girls. But sometimes that first visit with a new friend needed an icebreaker. I have found that 99% of the time, food is a great way to get things going. So we would start with snacks. And always let the new guest choose – which sometimes meant making chocolate chip cookies when my daughter would have preferred peanut butter ones.

    Here’s an example of how it played out: A little pout from my daughter, the hostess. We talk about that. How do you feel when you are the new kid? Doesn’t getting to choose the snack make you feel a lot better? She sighs. Nods. She knows the feeling. OK. Chocolate chip it is.

    Draw a Big Circle of People to Care For

    Care for others. This includes: Care for your family. Care for your friends. Care for your schoolmates – even those who don’t act like you or do the same things you do. Care for the ones who talk different. Or look different.

    As your kid gets bigger, the circle gets bigger. Bigger kids can care for people they don’t know. Middle-schoolers can volunteer at a soup kitchen or a home for the elderly. High-schoolers can participate in a foreign exchange program or sign up for an internship summer in a part of the US that is new to them – city folks with rural communities; small town folks with inner-city families. Care for others.

    Work Through Negative Feelings Toward Others

    There are always going to be people your child just doesn’t want to be around. There was a girl in my third grade class who I thought was recklessly wild. She thought I was Miss Goody Two Shoes. So she picked at me, trying to get a rise. It worked. I was angry and upset.

    My teacher was on to us. One lunchtime she sat us down and we talked about how we felt. We still didn’t like each other. But once we had aired our feelings, we had an understanding. The teasing stopped. And that was enough.

    Practice, Practice, Practice

    Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is not easy. Not for kids. Not for grownups. But like a lot of other things, we can keep getting better at it if we practice. Sometimes, there will be a wheelchair to help us empathize. Sometimes we have to look a little deeper to find common ground. The more we practice, the easier it gets.

    Share your stories of teaching children empathy.

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    Bilingualism for Peace
    November 13th, 2015

    Language is the key to understanding one another, right? Put another way by the writer Margaret Atwood, “War is what happens when language fails.”

    Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education

    Called the “Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education,” the Israel-based organization is a network of five schools (a sixth school was burned to the ground by arsonists) where classes are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. The Hand in Hand goal is to create 15 more schools over the next ten years.

    Why are they so excited? Because they see education as a game-changer like no other solution yet advanced. One Palestinian parent living in Israel and serving on the Hand in Hand schools team explained, “The kids get to interact with each other on the human ground. They get to know each other first on a personal level. They get to know that they have so many common things.” (http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/israel-based-educators-study-austin-schools-for-pe/nnwpN/)

    A recent newspaper article about Hand in Hand’s reaction to the recent escalation in Arab-Jewish violence says that students are apprehensive about the dangers they face in simply traveling to and from school. But the article reports, these Jewish and Arab children are brave and determined “to not be satisfied by the daily act of arriving to school as a response to this period of violence, but to go out from its protective walls to initiate social and civic engagement in an attempt to end the violence.”

    Read more about the bravery and commitment of the students; and follow Hand and Hand as they grow: www.handinhandk12.org

    Do you know of other organizations using bilingualism to bring people together? Share here!

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Viva Frida and Abuela
    November 11th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales is breathtakingly beautiful. Each illustration is saturated with soft but luminous color. The illustrations are the heart of the book. There are only a couple of words on each page, and these words are printed in both English and Spanish. For children who have had no prior Spanish at all, the book offers a very basic introduction to a few phrases. But I think to get the most out of the book, the adult reader needs to guide the child with questions about what the child is seeing. The book is pegged for 4-8 year olds. I think you can have a very good read with any child who has enough language to articulate his/her thoughts.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Abuela by Arthur Dorros. Recommended for ages 3-7 . This book was a favorite for my children when they were young. Abuela tells the story of a little girl and her grandma (abuela means grandmother in Spanish) as they take the bus around New York City. While out and about, the girl lets her imagination take her and her abuela flying up into the sky, seeing the sights in a totally new and magical way. Spanish words and phrases are woven into the text in a way that enhances the story and does not feel like a language lesson.

    Note: I have found very few Chinese/English bilingual books. This appears to be a niche that is currently under-filled. I’ve heard about one series called Gordon and Li Li that sounds very cute. It tells the story of cousins, one in New York and the other in Beijing. Each page has one word in both languages.

    What did you think of these books? Do you have other bilingual books to recommend?

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf

    Learning Languages: It’s A Small World After All
    November 8th, 2015

    Some years ago, when my three children were in various stages of elementary school, my sister and I decided to pack our up our broods for a fun-in-the-sun vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But before we could head to the white sand beaches, we had to pass through security.

    Now, the inspection was really quite perfunctory. But it was in Spanish. I greeted the customs agent with an “Hola” and a smile and then strained to understand the question he asked in response. As I stumbled through a “Lo siento” with a totally confused expression on my face, and he repeated himself in a slower version of the same Spanish (which I still did not understand), my eldest daughter jumped in and answered in perfect Spanish. The agent smiled and nodded and we were on our way to the beach. Yessss! Score one for bilingual education.

    I should mention that I do speak broken French and, though I am not fluent, I do make a go at it when in France. So many Americans complain about the snobbishness of the French people. Not me. They may look at me with a cocked head and an amused smile but most of all I have found an almost universal appreciation for my attempts at Francais.

    So that’s part of it. Better vacations. But there are a lot of other – arguably more important – reasons to learn more than one language.

    Bilingualism Gives You A Leg Up in the Global Economy

    “It’s the economy, stupid.” We have lots of pressing issues to think about but this one sucker-punches us over and over again. Unemployment, stock market woes, the housing crisis. You name it. And, nowadays, it’s not just about what’s going on here at home. We are part of a “global economy.” What happens in Greece affects all of Europe which, in turn, affects the U.S. Foreign-owned companies provide jobs here and American-owned businesses have offices around the world. Many of my friends travel overseas for work without thinking twice – it’s just part of the job. And – as reported in US News and World Report – those who speak another language have a greater chance of succeeding in business.

    It wasn’t always this way. I remember once watching my father take off from O’Hare Airport for a business meeting in New York. The whole family was there for the sendoff, my sisters and I pressing our faces against the windows in the terminal, awed that Papa had such important business that he had to fly on an airplane to NEW YORK. Flash forward a few decades and I’m struck by a TV commercial of a little girl and her father sending videos to one another as he conducts business overseas.

    Projections are, the trend toward international business is only going to get bigger. Our kids will probably live in an even more fluid world where doing business in Beijing or Mumbai or Sao Paolo is par for the course. With that, knowing a second (or third or fourth) language may be a make-or-break skill.

    Bilingualism Makes you Smarter

    So, what else? Well, it looks like knowing multiple languages makes you smarter. There is research out there that links bilingualism to better memory, more effective multi-tasking and (looking down the road) better resistance to dementia giving us a better shot at actually having happy golden years. Have I got your attention? ☺

    Bilingualism Builds Friendships

    And then there are friendships. Some of the parties I went to in college looked like the United Nations – students with ancestry from China, Japan, Russia, Ghana, Mexico, Italy, and on and on. We built a language bank around the word “Hello” in every language we could think of. And we had a blast exchanging greetings. We felt pride in sharing our backgrounds of origin and exhilaration in the new bond with one another through our shared language.

    When and How?

    You may have heard – learn a language young or else.... A version of “use it or lose it.” But there are studies that conclude it is never too late to learn. So, if your children’s elementary school starts them off young – great! And, more and more schools are teaching a foreign language in elementary grades. But even if this is not the case at your school, you can jumpstart your kids to love learning languages – and they can become fluent later. When my kids were little, the kitchen was a tangle of tags I pasted onto fridge, stove, sink, and cupboards, identifying Spanish names for these objects. Though I wasn’t fluent, we had many great times sprinkling these words into our discussions. I think those good feelings are part of why my kids continued in their Spanish studies.

    I’ll end with this. An old-time philosopher said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

    Do you have stories about the power of languages in your life?

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Selling Lemonade to Fight Type 1 Diabetes
    November 6th, 2015

    Today is one of those rare Chicago November days with temps in the 70s. What a gift! Which has got me thinking about July. Specifically one lazy afternoon when I was sitting out in the strong Montana sun amidst vacationing golfers and tennis players and swimmers…oh! and beer drinkers (incidentally I noticed several orders for Goose Island -- shout out to my hometown Chicago brewery!)

    Eventually, I gave in to the heat and, drenched in sweat, began my walk back to my townhouse there.

    The Pitch

    A short ways down the path, I could see three little girls – the oldest looked no more than ten – with the typical lemonade stand set-up. Table, sign, money jar, big pitcher of lemonade, small paper cups…you get the picture. But as I got closer and could hear the girls hawking their wares, I was in for a surprise. Not the usual 25 cents for a cup of lemonade. Instead, their pitch was:

    Now, first, I must say, I was impressed with the marketing strategy – tapping into our openness to giving for a good cause; and our obsession with getting a "free" gift – both at the same time. Brilliant!

    The Impulse to Give

    But I digress. I wondered what had led these girls to their decision to "give back." So I asked. At first, they explained, they were just going to have a “regular” lemonade stand and collect money for themselves. But their cousin has Type 1 diabetes and they hit upon this as a way to help her.

    Developing the Giving Habit

    I began to think: What if every kid who sets up a lemonade stand – and there must be hundreds of thousands each summer – chose some cause near and dear to their hearts to receive the proceeds.

    For the recipients of the donations, every little bit helps. But, maybe more important, our children would be having a positive experience with giving at a very young age. They would be involved in the choice of charity, which would require them to think about what means most to them. And they would experience the joy of making the world a better place while doing something fun. You know how children who are read to at a young age often get the warm fuzzies later on when they think about reading? Well, same concept here. Wouldn't it be great for children to develop the warm fuzzies for giving, starting them on their way to becoming lifelong givers.

    Pass it on!

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    The Crossover and We're Going On A Bear Hunt
    November 4th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Recommended for Grades 6-12. I LOVE this book! The story revolves around basketball. But underneath it all, it's really about family. Twin boys are stars of their middle school basketball team, mentored by their father, a former professional basketball player. When one of the boys falls for his first girlfriend, spending more time with her and less time with his brother, the relationship between the twins becomes strained as the other twin struggles to find his place in the new configuration of relationships.

    The plot kept me interested from beginning to end. But it is the writing that is one-of-a-kind. The way it is told had me from page one. Written like a long poem, the word choices are delicious. And the rhythms add a musical quality that intensified my experience of the narrative. Listen to this: "My shot is FLOWING, Flying, fLuTtErInG OHHHHHHHH, the chains are JINGALING ringaling and SWINGALING Swish."

    I am not the only one who loves this book. The Crossover won top honors: the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Award. A great read.

    Oldie but Goodie

    We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is another book that has rhythmic appeal. It is targeted at little ones, ages 2-5. Frankly, I read this to my kids from infancy. The writing style is a natural for reading out loud to baby with exaggerated dramatic emphasis. Example: Lines such as "We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh No. We've got to go through it. Swishy swashy. Swishy swashy. Swishy swashy." I like to read the original book version because I enjoy creating my own rhythms and cadences. But you can buy an interactive version that gives you sound cues. I haven’t read this version so I can’t give you a review but you might want to check it out. There is also a great reading by the author on You Tube that you might enjoy.

    What did you think of these books? Do you have other poetic books to recommend?

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf

    Reading To Build Baby Brain Power:
    Does Your Infant Understand A Word You Are Saying?

    November 1st, 2015

    My family is celebrating the birth of our newest member. I love her name: Olivia Bliss.

    Newborns are the ultimate embodiment of our hopes for the future. They arrive in this world with no track record. Which means their stories are not yet written. For us, their caretakers, it is out best chance at a do-over. As my mother always says, "Each generation gets better." As the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song says, "Teach your children well." The question is: When can you start? What can your baby understand?

    You probably can already count off some things you hope your child will do better than you did. Here are some things I remember from my list: My kids would become fluent in a second language and understand the difference between a chromosome and a gene. They would not ditch their longtime, not-so-cool best friend for the super-cool new kid on the block. They would strike a nice balance between studying and socializing (hee hee).

    But all that was dreaming about the future. (What I learned along the way as my kids grew up is the subject of another conversation.) This if for those whose baby has just entered the world. So, the question for today is: When can we start teaching our babies? Does your infant understand a word you are saying?

    As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!" This is not just my own writerly, readerly enthusiasm bubbling over. Science backs me up.

    Biggest brain growth is during preschool years

    The value of talking to children, reading to children -- even those who cannot yet talk back to you -- is huge. A child’s brain has its biggest potential to grow during the first years of life. After that it slows down. Forever. Think of the newborn brain as a ball of unconnected cells sitting next to one another inside the baby’s head. Most of the brain cells your child will ever have – at the age of ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred – are right there at birth. But to develop intelligence, the baby needs to make CONNECTIONS between the cells. He or she has the capacity to do this with amazing speed – up to 700 new connections per second in the first year of life.

    There is a catch -- to power up the brain, the baby needs interaction with the world – lots and lots of it.

    Talk, Read, Repeat

    All sorts of new things get those connections crackling. I remember the wordless “conversations” I had with my baby. I smiled, she broke into a toothless grin. I cooed, and it triggered a gurgle or screech in response. You can see from Day One that your baby is soaking up your face, your voice, your touch.

    Baby is primed for so much more. Words are key. You don’t want to waste a moment. The more you speak to your baby – even if he or she can’t yet speak back – the more brain connections your baby is making. Researchers have found that three-year-olds who have been exposed from birth to lots and lots of words have vocabularies that are twice as big as those who don’t hear many words at all. And, the same part of the brain that lights up when your baby learns words, lights up later when your child is learning how to read. Which, in turn, gives your child the tools to make well-reasoned decisions. Just this spring, as reported on by Drs. Oz and Roisin, a research study used brain scans to confirm that “Reading is Brain Food For Kids.”

    Books You and Your Baby Will Love

    The icing on the cake? There is something in it for YOU! There are children’s books out there that will cause your spine to tingle. Take a look at your bookstore or local library.

    One of my very first loves was The Little Fur Family which begins: “There was a little fur family warm as toast smaller than most in little fur coats and they lived in a warm wooden tree.” How beautiful is that? I became addicted to the delicious feeling of these simple, well-chosen words rolling off my tongue. And my baby daughter was mesmerized (well, she sure looked entranced).

    Most of the books I read in the baby years were beautiful and spare, almost like poetry – just a few hundred words. Classics like Goodnight Moon, The Snowy Day, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. But, there were a few exceptions – books with page after page of sprawling multi-syllabic words. Max Makes a Million is a poster child for this kind of book – more than a thousand whimsical words that tell the tale of a dog named Max who lived in New York, “a jumping, jazzy city, a shimmering, stimmering triple-decker sandwich kind of city,” and who dreamed of living in Paris and writing poetry. The book is categorized as age appropriate for ages 5 and up. But my two-year-old was hooked. Before she was three, she had worn Max to shreds and could “read” it to me (i.e. she memorized it), from cover to cover. Did she understand every concept, every wildly imaginative riff? No. Of course not. But she understood the mood and she fell in love with the language. A friend of mine has told me her toddler grandson had a similar experience reading Me and Uncle Romie every day for months.

    So that's it. You have a golden opportunity – right from the beginning – to get your baby off on the right path. Talk to your baby – tell her what you’re buying at the grocery store or seeing outside the window; talk to him about what his toys look like – colors, shapes, textures. And read to your baby. Read board books. Read cloth books. Read simply worded picture books. Read books with more complicated language like Max Makes a Million or Me and Uncle Romie. Curled up together in the warmth of a book, you are giving your child the brainpower for a successful future. And to make a better world.

    And, in case you're too tired to focus much on the future just now: right here, right now, reading these zesty, imaginative books -- that just might be the best part of your day!

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    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Facing Fears: Fighting Back Against School Shootings
    October 30th, 2015

    On a spring day in 1999, students filed into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado for their early morning classes. For most of them, it started off as just another ordinary Tuesday with the usual classes, tests, and kibitzing with friends. But as the first shift of teenagers prepared for lunch, two fellow students walked into the school and began shooting. For 49 minutes, students hid under their tables and desks watching and listening as the shooters walked up and down the rows, randomly picking off fellow students one by one. 12 students and one teacher died that day. 21 others were injured.

    Fast forward to a raw day in January 2013. 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and a few friends had just finished their mid-year exams and were trading gossip in a Chicago park near their high school when gang members approached and began shooting. As the girls fled, Hadiya was shot in the back and killed.

    School shootings have come to seem painfully commonplace. Some are one-time killing sprees launched by loners; others are part of a larger pattern of killing by gangs. Either way, when students across the country slide on their backpacks and walk out their front doors every weekday morning, they know that, though unlikely, their school’s number could be up next.

    It’s enough to paralyze even the best of us. So I am heartened that students are facing their fear and taking action.

    Rachel’s Challenge

    Rachel’s Challenge, named after the first student killed in the Columbine massacre, has built a movement based on Rachel’s belief (that she had written about shortly before her death) in small acts of kindness that can inspire a chain reaction. Exactly. She had it just right.

    Rachel’s Challenge sends staff into schools around the country to de-escalate a wide range of school violence – not just school shootings but also bullying, discrimination and teen suicide. They have reached over 21 million people around the world, and have prevented at least eight school shootings and over 500 suicides. Check out videos interviews on their website: http://rachelschallenge.org. It’s interesting to me that kids particularly respond to this program as coming from one of their peers. It reminds me that kid-to-kid community-building is powerful.

    Project Orange Tree

    I have the same takeaway from another group called Project Orange Tree started by Hadiya Pendleton’s classmates after her death. They, too, felt that they had to do something. So they started Project Orange Tree named after the orange vests that hunters wear to make them visible and keep them from getting shot. And they inspired adults. This past June, the “Wear Orange” campaign brought together 50 anti-gun violence groups with Congressmen, mayors and community members of all ages to raise awareness and discussion.

    You can learn more about the 2015 national day inspired by the student movement at wearorange.org. If you want to get involved, check out Hadiya’s Promise ( hadiyaspromise.org).

    You can get involved in Rachel’s Challenge or pass this along to someone you know (check it out at http://rachelschallenge.org).

    Share your own inspiring stories about student-led movements to combat violence.
    And…Happy Halloween!

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    Filed under: Inspiring Action

    Mummy Cat and The Witches
    October 28th, 2015

    New and Fabulous

    Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown tells of a cat's love for his owner who used to be a child-queen in ancient Egypt but now is a mummy buried in a pyramid. The cat, too, has been mummified for 100 years but now comes back to life as the book describes, "Deep within this maze of stone, a creature wakes up all alone…" The tone reminds me of Vincent Price’s monologue in the Thriller video I blogged about earlier this week. Shiver.

    So there’s a spooky element to this story – a mummified cat coming to life. But it also has a sweet (though melancholy) side to it. The cat deeply loves and misses his mummified girl owner. And he carries around this undying hope that they will be reunited. There’s the Halloween yin/yang again.

    An added bonus in Mummy Cat is the history lesson that’s baked in – as the cat walks around the tomb he sheds light on traditions of ancient Egypt.

    Pegged for Grades 1-4. A good pick for Halloween reading.

    Oldie but Goodie

    What's Halloween without a little Roald Dahl? And The Witches is perfect for the occasion. It's a fantasy about a group of witches who are out to rid the world of children by turning them all into mice and letting mice-phobic humans take care of the rest.

    The boy hero of the story is out to foil the witches. But first he has to figure out who's who. You see, these witches disguise themselves to look like ordinary ladies – it might be enough to make you take a closer look at some of the (seemingly) innocents walking around your neighborhood (tee hee).

    The author is a master at creating horrifying scenarios (like children being turned to stone). But it’s his sense of humor that sets him apart. For example, the witches in this tale are all wig-wearing baldies who are constantly scratching their scalp-itch.

    Pegged for Grades 3-7. Great fun!

    What did you think of these books? Do you have other Halloween books to recommend?

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    Filed under: What's On My Bookshelf?

    Halloween: Facing Your Demons
    October 25th, 2015

    Back in the day, when I was just starting out on my own, one of my favorite music videos was Michael Jackson's Thriller (if you haven't seen it, you've got to check it out. Really.). I was not alone. Over 9 million people were transfixed by Michael morphing into a werewolf in the light of the full moon, then teasing the viewer – is he really a terrifying ghoul or is it all imaginary fun?

    Halloween: The Yin and Yang

    In my neighborhood, there was one block – the “it” place to be on Halloween. The homeowners worked for months to prepare their yards, their rooftops, their porches. Everyone just knew it was the scariest street in the USA. As the sun went down and we were enveloped in inky darkness, everyone – I mean everyone – trekked over to Harper Avenue. The street was crowded with princesses and superheroes and – on the other end of the spectrum – mummies and vampires. Black cats and witches crouched on lawns in the shadows of flickering pumpkins. At some houses (and you never know which ones until you get there) fiendish laughter startled the young ones or they got caught in sticky cobwebs as they started up the steps for a trick or treat. Some screeched with giddy excitement. Some screeched with fear.

    That sums up Halloween for me. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to act out your most cherished fantasies. One of my daughters who has an insatiable sweet tooth once chose to dress up as a bag of M&Ms. On the other hand, it is a day when you come face to face (figuratively) with your demons.

    Facing Your Demons

    We are all scared of something. For grownups, it might be the specter of losing a job or a spouse, or even just the vulnerability of not being able to be there to protect our kids every moment of the day and night. For teenagers it might be anxiety about a test or getting into college or losing a boyfriend or coming out or staying away from gangs. For toddlers it might be fear of the dark or strangers or, in many cases, Halloween itself.

    The question, then, is what can you do about it? As many child development specialists will tell you, there is a general guideline here: teach your children to face their fears, not to bury them. This means, for starters, take their fears seriously; don’t laugh it off if your four-year-old tells you there are tigers prowling outside their second floor bedroom window or if your teenager insists he can’t go out because he has an acne outbreak. Take it seriously. Then, help them to look their fears square in the face and teach them how to take action to overcome them. This can play out in lots of different ways.

    If a child is scared of the dark you can provide a nightlight or you can talk about the magical things like fireflies that come out to dance in the dark. You can set a routine of nightly bedtime story: For some, a cheerful favorite overrides feelings of fear; For others, stories about other children working out their fear of the dark are more helpful. I used to tuck my girls in with music or a story on tape. One of their favorites was kind of a hybrid of scary and hilarity – a story about Bunnicula the vampire bunny who sucked juice out of vegetables.

    As your children get older, they may fear the uncertainties of life out in the larger world. One thing that I have found to help is giving them a sense that they are not alone. My daughters were very young when September 11 happened. I think it was hard for them to feel the reality of the Towers coming down. But the aftermath was very real: Military planes flying very low over our Chicago house for several days, our family room rattling from the sound of the engines overhead. When a plane would come, the girls would drop to the floor with their hands over their ears. My youngest had nightmares of bombs falling out of the sky. Even now, more than a decade later, these nightmares revisit her sporadically. One Christmas, I gave her a book, IraqiGirl (Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq). Living in occupied Iraq with bombs falling all around her, the author says, “Do you ever feel that you are imprisoned in a cage and there is no one except you and a big lion in this cage and you can’t get out. You can’t get out and there is nowhere to run. No way to run. That is my feeling.” Toward the end of the book, the author is on her way to college. She says, “”I am on my way to the future and living what could possibly be a happy memory someday.” It gave my daughter perspective. And a window into someone dealing with the same fears on a much larger scale.

    I notice, too, as my daughters have moved out into the world away from home, they often paper their rooms with quotes such as “she believed she could so she did” to serve as models of how to face their fears.

    Be A Role Model

    One last thought. Children are observant. They often take their cues from you. How you face your demons can impact how they face theirs. In the words of our great President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he prepared to do battle with devastating poverty and unemployment during the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

    Do you have stories or suggestions about teaching children to face their demons?

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    Lennox Randon says: I read Sheila Rae, the Brave by Kevin Henkes to my daughter when she was very young and she loved it, as did I. It is a sweet story of 2 sister mice who learn about courage.

        Claire Hartfield says: Thanks for sharing this!

    Filed under: Building Your Toolkit

    Why Read This Blog

    Just over a year ago, a man hiking in Algeria was captured and beheaded by terrorists. When the news broke, a familiar series of emotions flooded my body.

    Sadness and horror as my imagination ran over some possibilities of who this person so randomly murdered may have been – a hiker like my boyfriend; a pursuer of experiences in foreign countries like my daughter; a person who I could identify with, open to human beings who do not look, talk, or see the world just like him.

    This was followed by a mix of feelings as I thought about the terrorists – another kind of sadness as I tried to wrap my mind around how these men, who began life with the innocence of every other baby, somewhere along the way went so terribly wrong; anger at the terrorists' cold-blooded disregard for human life that was unjustifiable and inexcusable, no matter the circumstances of their lives.

    Then a rush of righteousness, a desire to do my part to stop these kinds of acts from happening again. And then resigned fatigue as the vast expanse of the problem rose up like a mountain in my mind – cold, hard, immoveable.

    When I reached that last in the string of emotions, I was paralyzed into inaction. What could I, one ordinary person, with no particular abundance of money or power, do to make a difference?

    These moments of feeling powerless in the face of evil frequently wash over me as horror stories dominate the news. Eventually I am prodded by the community around me to engage in small acts of protest. I periodically write on my Facebook page about atrocities and injustices, and I feel a little less alone when my friends “Like” my comments. I sign online petitions. I donate to organizations that fight the good fight.

    Lately, I have looked deeper into myself – what are my unique gifts that I can bring to the conversation, to the movement? After all, each of us has something that comes more naturally to us than other things. I know some people who are great orators – just a conversation with them leaves me jazzed up and motivated to act. Others inspire by the way they go about their daily routines -- referred to in The Hobbit as "the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay." The former principal at the school I work with greeted everyone who entered her building – friend and stranger – with a hug. And this simple practice infused the environment with openness and trust.

    My strength has always been in writing. As a child I created fairy tales of epic battles between an evil swan queen and a good swan queen. As an adult, I have penned lawyerly briefs, school desegregation plans, and charter school agreements, all to effect change.

    Now I write children’s books. This is my gift. It is also my passion. Young people are the future. They are the least jaded, the most creative, the most idealistic. They have the longest future ahead of them so they have the most time to create a better world before passing the torch to their own children. I write out of an urgency to spur young people and the people who care for them to action. Success, to me, is when someone finishes reading one of my books, and then takes action, becomes part of the experience.

    So, why blog? Well, books take a long time to birth. In that way, I am limited to addressing one topic every couple of years. I have more to say than that. And, here is where I am learning from the young. Social media is a whole new world to me and, at my age, is not intuitive. But I can see the promise it holds: To connect people – young and old, black and white and every other color, wealthy and poor, people of every gender, every political persuasion. Social media offers the possibility of getting people reflecting and talking and taking action, each finding ways to use their own particular gift to make the world a better place.

    So, here I am creating a blog. My idea is to be able to engage readers in conversation every week. Of course, the tradeoff is, each post has to be narrow in focus and not in-depth. But unlike a book, it takes the reader very little time to read and may inspire a conversation – which is really the purpose, yes?

    And an aside. I have always admired artists. My first book, Me and Uncle Romie, is about a world famous artist -- Romare Bearden -- who used collage art to tell stories about his life, his people, humankind. At the end of my book, I include a short section encouraging readers to make collage stories of their own. You know. Be part of the experience.

    Right now, as I'm creating the structure for this blog, voices from my childhood are challenging me: "Don't just talk about it. Lead by example." I am told that visuals are "must haves" in blogging. So that's it: there will be original Hartfield collages as part of every blog entry. And I can henceforth spend time cutting and pasting as "part of my work."

    As I begin, I am dividing blog posts into three main categories which I will call: (1) Building Your Toolkit (2) What's on my Bookshelf and (3) Inspiring Action.

    Building Your Toolkit

    Yes, I know, this may sound a little like business-speak. Maybe that's partly why I chose it. Because the topics here will relate to that most serious business of preparing young people to lead our world into the future – wisely, competently, compassionately. This doesn't just happen on its own. Poof! A pre-ordained group of infants born equipped with the vision and smarts to solve all the world's problems. No. Caregivers must take on the responsibility to provide children with various tools to navigate the world in a productive way. And teenagers, though still needing guidance, are ready for more responsibility as they prepare to take the baton from their elders.

    Building Your Toolkit will cover a large range of topics. Some that come immediately to mind are: What can we do to get newborns off on the right track? How can we help elementary school children navigate rough waters? Why is embracing diversity important? How can we combat violence in the lives of young people? There are many more. I welcome you to share your own thoughts and experiences.

    What's on my Bookshelf

    I believe that reading books is one of the most important activities we can engage in. First of all, it is fun. Some of my biggest laughs come from the pages of a book. And then there are what a lot of intellectuals refer to as "guilty pleasures." No guilt here – the satisfaction of pure fantasy or a lighthearted romance, or the twists and turns of a whodunnit make me into a nicer (and probably) more interesting person.

    Second of all, books help us figure out who we are. What values are most important to you? Bravery as in The Hunger Games? Generosity as in The Gift of the Magi? Perseverance as in Amazing Grace?

    Also, books help us to face situations that are difficult or scary. They show us how others have dealt with big challenges and spur us to think about how to deal with them: Books like The Chocolate War (bullying), A Baby Sister for Frances (sibling jealousy), or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (racism).

    Once a week, I will share What's on my Bookshelf. Feel free to share your favorites for others to explore.

    Inspiring Action

    We need the tools. And books can spur us to become our best selves. But human beings are basically social animals. Most of us do better when we feel a part of a larger group; when we share our experience. Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. Too often, the evil and tragedy in this world is spirit-crushing. Reporting on it is everywhere. Solutions are rare. Forums for collective action are few. There are some. While honing in on how to shape this blog, I have found a few others sharing inspiring stories. I will definitely send you their way when I find them. Still, there is room for a lot more sharing of the positive work going on in the world. Once a week, I will share Inspiring Action that I've picked up along my way. I am particularly interested in the actions of young people as inspiration for their peers. Please share your own stories.

    Go Forth and Build a Better Future!

    One last thing for today. I am not writing to teach lessons. I am writing to encourage sharing of ideas and experiences, whether on this site or within your own circles of friends and family. Welcome!