A Little Help For Your Friends

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.

  • Small acts count. A lot. Even a one-time offering is very helpful. Maybe walk your friend’s dog. Or pick up the kids at school.
  • Build a little extra for your friend into your regular routine. You probably have to go grocery shopping for yourself. And most of us cook meals at least once in a while. It’s so easy to add your friend’s shopping list to your own. Or make an extra large batch of whatever you’re planning for dinner and give half to your friend.
  • Team up with others. This can seem like a real organizing time-sink. But no. You guessed it. You can do it all online from the comfort of wherever you and your digital device might be. Check out Lotsa Helping Hands or Food Tidings for starters.
  • Carrying on the online theme – seems to be easiest and least time-consuming – order something to be shipped directly to your friend. Flowers probably come to mind. But how about a book? Or a video?
  • Maybe a little pampering is in order. If you can’t give the time, maybe hire a massage therapist or manicurist to do a house call for your friend.
  • Does your friend have faraway family or dear friends who have time and desire for a visit to help out but need help with the plane ticket? Have you accumulated lots of miles on your favorite airline? There you go! Consider gifting miles to out-of-town helpers.

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.

Share your ideas for helping a sick friend.

Backbones and all that stuff

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.

Share your favorite books about the body!

Women of Beverly

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.

Share about the people who form the backbone of your community!

The Inspiring Poetry Slam

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.


Share links to your favorite poems and poetry slam experiences!

The Power of Poetry

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.

Share your favorite poetry books!

Providing Backpacks and the Things That Go In Them

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!

Share links to your favorite school supply charities.

School Morning Routines

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.

Share your favorite school routine books for kids!

Growing up in a Post 9/11 World

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.

Share your ideas for teaching about 9/11

Need Idea-Inspiring, Problem-Solving Help? — Get Thee to a Museum!

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!

Share your favorite museum exhibits!

The Yin and Yang of a new school year

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.

Share your favorite back-to-school books for kids!