Happy National Dog Day!

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!

Share your favorite pup pics!

Soaking Up the Last Days of Summer

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 ☺

Share your favorite poems of summer!

Filling the Empty Nest With Good Things

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.


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.


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! ☺

Share your empty-nest activities!

One More Travel Book for Kids!

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.

Share your favorite travel books for kids!

The Nest is Empty – Now What?

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:

  • Before my baby left for college, I thought the fact that she would no longer be around the house would be the big, overwhelming feeling. It turned out that what colored my mood most was whether she was happy. My emotional radar was on high alert during every phone call. More often than not, especially during those first few weeks, she gushed about her roommates and the parties and the sport she was playing. I came away from hearing her happiness with a feeling of satisfaction much like I felt when she was home.
  • There were times when she hit bumps in the road. At first, I had a powerful urge to storm onto campus and set things right. (I am happy to say, I refrained.) But I found as time went on that she handled the bumps just fine without me. And that was a RELIEF! Which made me feel good about myself as a mom, too.
  • And what was I doing back at the ranch? Yes, there were times when I walked past her bedroom and teared up. But I also began to spend more adult time with my partner and my friends. I tackled the ten books on my nightstand. I actually took advantage of the fact that I live a few blocks from a big beautiful lake with paths specifically for biking and walking. When I was tired or just tired of being busy, I could spend weekend mornings in bed with a cup of coffee and a croissant. And when I felt like an impromptu cocktail with a friend, I was fancy free.

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!

Share your empty nest experiences!

Books: Share the Stories

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


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. ☺

Share links to book donation centers here!

A Couple of Award Winning Kids Books

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.

Share your favorite award-winning children’s books!

Bribes for Reading?

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!

Share your thoughts on encouraging kids to read.

Two for One: Civic Engagement and Summer Camp!

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!

Share your favorite civic engageent summer camps!

Summer in the Country

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.

Share your favorite children’s books about summer in the country!