Every Letter Is A Gift

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.

Alphabet Activism

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!

Share your favorite alphabet books!

Celebrating Birthdays, Celebrating Life

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.

A Book to Make You Laugh Out Loud

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!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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?


(eye roll!)

Share your favorite Irish poems and jokes!

An Irish Folk Tale

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.

Share your favorite Irish folk tales!

The Story Behind St. Patrick’s Day

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!

LOL: What the World Needs Now

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.


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


Laugh Out Loud

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.

Share your stories of lightening the mood with a good laugh!

Books for a Rainy Day

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.

Share your favorite books about rain!