Monthly Archives: April 2014

More children’s books recommendations!


This morning, while holding Philip’s hand, I slipped and fell down the stairs.  Philip started crying about his hurt arm (which, thankfully, was OK) and I just sat crouched on the landing and tried to get my pain sensations under control.  I was not a fully active mother today as a result.  OK, the antihistamines I am taking for my poison ivy (rash all over my neck…ugh!) didn’t help, either.  As a result, much of the day was spent reading!

Here are some of Philip’s favorites:

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.  This has two of Philip’s favorite things in it: a character who tinkers with junk to make cool machines (FLYING machines, no less) and a character who saves people.  He loves heroes.  Who doesn’t?  If you have a young boy who liked Frank ‘n’ Stan, you’ll probably want to read this, too.

Radio Rescue by Lynne Barasch.  This story is based on the author’s father who became an amateur radio operator at the age of eight (I think!) and makes his own “shack” (for me, it finally clicked why the term “Radio Shack” was probably clever when it started) and saves a family–by using his radio to contact the Coast Guard–in the midst of a hurricane.

Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature by Jim Arnosky.  I have read this one several times now.  I didn’t realize until just this moment that Crinkleroot is the star of his own nature series.  Anyway, the book talks about several things you can do to help nature–feeding birds, seeding fields for grazing creatures, planting trees near streams, etc.  There’s a good discussion about different birds and their food preferences that adults might find informative.

The First Drawing by Moricai Gerstein.  If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that we loved The Field Museum’s exhibit of the cave paintings at Lascaux.  Well, after reading this book, we learned that there is another cave in France that has even OLDER cave art and, interestingly enough, two footprints were in the cave: one of a young child, another of a wolf.  The story in this book explores a misunderstood boy who introduces a world of magic (i.e., art) to his family.  In the end, they share in the joy and no longer feel he is worrisome.  It’s a lovely thought.

Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin by Irene Kelly.  I found this book fascinating.  Not only do you learn about birds, but you learn about whether or not they make nests (some don’t) and the ways in which they make nests.  I didn’t know, for example, that puffins BURROW!  I have never thought that birds burrow.  Incredible.  And now, I admit, I want to build my very own eagle’s nest in my front yard.  Maybe more than one.  It will really convince the neighbors that “those people are just plain crazy.”  Read this book.  If you eat dead birds, you may want to start giving them some credit for their nest-making ingenuity and release some of your convictions that they are brainless and deserve to be devoured.

Why do Elephants Need the Sun by Robert Wells.  Another great book by Robert Wells.  We also loved his book, Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?  In this one, you get to learn about the different parts of the sun (core through corona) as well as photosynthesis and basic concepts of energy.  This book respects kids’ brains by giving them a foundation for scientific concepts and terminology, without overdoing it.  (Incidentally, in my grown-up book, The Canon, which I am STILL reading by the way, I read an interesting quote.  To paraphrase, “Every time you eat, you are taking a bite of the sun.”)

And, last, but not least…

Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin.  This book does a great job of introducing the behind-the-scenes processes for all kinds of items–from CDs to cereals to marbles.  Each “thing” is described with wonderful illustrations in 2 pages.  It’s a lot like The Way Things Work series by David Macauley, but with less detail and a shocking lack of mammoths.  Very approachable for the younger reader.

Well, that’s it for right now.  Enjoy!


Schism Excitement


I have exciting news that has nothing to do with the garden or Philip!  Can you believe it?

Bruce’s new novel, Schism, is now available on!  In the next week, you will also be able to find it at for those of you that prefer Barnes & Noble.  We are getting Bruce’s book tour plans sketched out and are looking forward to sending him around to pitch the book around the Midwest.

I hope that everyone will love William Adams (and Bryan the detective) as much as I do.  They both have their issues, but I love watching them eat, chat and get the bad guys.  That last part will be particularly meaningful after you read it.  There are a lot of cool fight scenes in the book, too.  Those 25 years of martial arts are paying off!

It’s been such a long journey–getting this particular book to market.  I am so glad it is out there for other people to read.  It’s a summer book (read action/thriller/sci-fi) to enjoy before all those blockbusters start rolling out in the theaters.

We have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow night and a packed day of activities before they arrive.  I am off to make lasagna now in preparation for their visit.

Have a great weekend!

Worried kids, Impostor syndrome and Biodiversity in Potatoes


I am rotating between a few library books right now.

If you haven’t read it, and your child leans toward “sensitive,” I highly recommend Why Smart Kids Worry and What Parents Can Do to Help by Allison Edwards.  She addresses the needs of children that struggle with, basically, thinking too much about issues.  Her voice is friendly and funny.  She makes wonderful arguments (preaching to the choir) about why children should not be exposed to talks about terrorism, global suffering, etc.  She entertains and offers a stack of tools that a parent can use to help the situation.  For example, offering “Worry Time” for your child in which they can have 15 minutes to voice all of their worries and be done with it.  She advocates for eating together, turning off gadgets and the TV (also preaching to the choir).  But, one thing (among many) that I learned was to resist the urge to bug your child about their day at school by insisting on a play-by-play recounting of the events.  She comments that a child who has had a particularly bad day at school just wants to forget it and your insistence may result in your child feeling burdened for 10 hours instead of just the school-day 7.  She also talked about inward processors (people who have to resolve their concerns before they talk about them) and outward processors (people who have to talk about their problems in order to find their solution).  I found this one very helpful.  When I told Bruce about it, he said, “Yup.  And I’m an inward processor living with two outwards.  Lucky me.”  Hey now…Anyway, it’s a parenting book that’s atypical of parenting books.  Since she is a professional counselor, her advice is from that stance.  Yes, her “mother’s experience” voice infuses itself into the text on occasion; but, in those instances, it’s generally a funny voice of experience.

About a month ago, my sister-in-law, Erin, asked me what I thought of the “Lean In” movement.  “The Lean In what?” was my response.  She told me it’s some women’s thing where women are supposed to get more energized about being at work and asking for more at work.  Or something.  That was pretty much all she had to say about it.  We left it at that, then drank some more wine and shifted our conversation to wacky family anecdotes.  Last week, while Philip was with Ms. Jo, I picked up Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  You will probably laugh out loud when I disclose that it took a lot of courage to even pick the book off the shelf.  I cracked it open while I was at the Mom’s table and felt uncomfortable as I read about her experiences at Harvard, Google and Facebook.  If you have chosen a simple life, it is a challenge to read about someone who chose a very complex one.  She argues that all women have the opportunity to be amazing in the business world.  We just have to get into leadership positions and “lean in” and shake things up and have our voices heard.  Personally, I am in favor of more women starting their own businesses.  Be your own boss.  Set your own hours.  Take the time to be with your family.  Live a version of the American Dream defined by you and not someone else.  It’ll still require hard work and sacrifice, alliances and friendships, but it’ll be one of the best things you ever did for yourself.  Maybe Ms. Sandberg will be addressing this later in the book.  I don’t know.  I do know that I learned a new concept today: it’s called the “impostor syndrome.”  I wonder if it’s just a new way to describe insecurity.  But, I’ve done it myself many times and the shoe fits.  At this point, this book is not yet on my READ IT! list, but I will try to keep reading it.  It is hard to read about the COO of a company and her life when your life is SO different.  Nonetheless, I will attempt to address my own personal issues as I move along.

In other news, I am chugging along on The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  I finally finished his section on marijuana.  Let me tell you.  This guy likes to talk about, think about, and smoke pot.  He is also fully prepared to endorse its creative-inducing properties.  I will say the closet cultivation of pot discussion was interesting.  Additionally, the whole war on drugs as it pertains to marijuana is thought provoking.  I am on the final chapter now–about potatoes.  I am in awe of the variety of potatoes (was it 2,500?!) grown in the Andes in Peru. (I just found this amazing article (with gorgeous photos) about potato biodiversity, incidentally, that is worth a read.)  I also thought it was hilarious that Louis XVI put guards around a potato patch in Versailles as a way to generate Parisian interest in the root vegetable.  While I am relieved that McDonald’s eventually eschewed the use of the GMO potato in 2001 (from the book), I am disgusted that a new GMO potato is being supported and endorsed by McDonald’s.  Time changes everything, I guess.

I am still trying to read about Julio Lobo in Cuba, but it is getting shoved to the bottom of the pile.  It will probably go back to the library unfinished.

Have a good night. Enjoy the gorgeous moon!

Children’s book recommendations


As usual, Philip and I have been reading a lot.  Here are a few (OK, a few is 3; this list turned out to be way more than 3) gems that we have been enjoying lately:

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.  Wonderful book.  Beautiful illustrations.  I don’t know why Thomas Edison gets all of the acclaim he receives and Nikola Tesla receives so very little.  Tesla was clearly a genius and had some hard times in his life.  I think I AM a bit biased since Edison electrocuted animals to demonstrate the safety concerns of AC current.  Clearly, very visual.  But, truly awful.  I also learned that Edison refused to let Westinghouse use his light bulbs for the Chicago World’s Fair (sore loser or just jerk or both?) that Tesla was contracted to design and implement.  Anyway, all of these thoughts are spurred after we read this book and it is worth exploring!

Baby mammoth mummy : frozen in time! : a prehistoric animal’s journey into the 21st century by Christopher Sloan, Bernard Buigues and photography by Francis Latreille.  Fascinating, fascinating.  While I will say that it is sad what happens initially to the recovered baby mammoth (and no, I am not going to tell you what happens–read it yourself), this book is wonderful.  It highlights the scientific collaborators–and that scientists HAVE to collaborate to approach a problem from many angles (awesome lesson!) and also gives a glimpse of what the world of Siberia looked like when Lyuba lived about 30,000 years ago.  Well worth the time to delve into this one.  And, OK, it is published by National Geographic Kids, so the photos are captivating.

Dig, wait, listen : a desert toad’s tale by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Barbara Bash.  This book provides a wonderfully poetic glimpse of the desert world while the spadefoot toad waits for the sound of rain.  You meet kangaroo rats, javelinas, scorpions, snakes (and probably others…I forget now) and learn a bit about each of them along the way.  Always intriguing to read about the desert when you live in the Midwest.

Explore night science! by Cindy Blobaum, illustrated by Bryan Stone.  This book is structured using the 5 senses as ways to explore the night world.  It is chock-full of great activities to do both inside and outside.  We did the “Touch Test” exercise.  This involves placing objects into paper bags and trying to extract them simply by feeling them.  While Philip couldn’t reliably be trusted to not look, I felt it was a good start in understanding how different the world seems when you only use your fingers to explore the objects in it.

Perimeter, area, and volume : a monster book of dimensions by David A. Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller.  I should start by saying that I really like David Adler’s work.  He manages to balance entertainment with education well.  While Philip certainly isn’t ready to do most of the calculations in the book, I feel it was very useful in introducing the basic concepts in a fun and approachable way.  There is nothing scary about this book even though it is full of monsters.  A good door opener to these mathematical concepts.

The Wing Wing brothers math spectacular! by Ethan Long.  I am including this book even though I don’t personally love it because Philip seemed to learn a lot from it…and he genuinely enjoyed it.  I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out who each of the five brothers were.  All of their names start with the letter “W” and, if you take the time, you can differentiate them.  But, you do need to be a keen observer.  For me, it detracted from the joy of the book.  But, for Philip, it was completely irrelevant.  There is a section in the book with a vanishing cabinet that helps the reader with basic addition and subtraction between 0 and 5.  If you do manipulatives with your child, you’ve probably played “Pigs in the Pen” or a similar game where the pigs go in and out to reinforce the same concepts.  If you don’t do manipulatives, this section does a good job of simulating the game.

King Arthur’s very great grandson : Henry Alfred Grummorson was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King Arthur, the noblest knight to ever wield a sword by Kenneth Kraegel.  What a great book with a message all parents (especially of boys) can embrace!  Young Henry launches on an adventure to challenge a dragon, is redirected to a cyclops who suggests he visits a griffin who tells him to go visit a sea serpent.  At each turn, Henry wants battle and the creatures have something else in mind.  As a parent, you feel somewhat refreshed after you read this book with your child.  Finally, you think, a book with a palatable pro-social message!

As always, we continue to read our favorites: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series and Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

We just embarked on Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series (not in love, but the series does help Philip feel confident reading by himself, so I am not going to knock it!) and recently discovered the Mouse & Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee (In Fine Feathered Friends, you learn a lot about backyard birds!)

That’s all for now.  Happy Reading!

Frogs, Garden Updates & Michael Pollan


Lots of exciting things happening outside.  It seems they have kept me from my blog.

First piece of exciting news:

Last week, I heard the song of the frog chorus!  It was still cold outside.  Philip and I were bundled up in coats and hats and warm boots.  But, we still heard them.  Later, we went on a walk in our neighbor’s wetland area to try to see some.  But, they are well hidden and we didn’t want to be too disruptive.

Second piece of exciting news:

Some onion seedlings are in the ground and we just planted the broccoli seedlings, too!  Amazingly, the beets are sprouting despite a shocking lack of rain (though I did see that there is some in the forecast for the weekend.)

Third piece of exciting news:

The daffodil greens are poking out and we may see some lovely yellow heads soon!

Many things still to accomplish:

– Finish pruning (Here’s something I just learned tonight: don’t prune peaches until well after their sap has started to flow.  Also, when you prune apple trees, make sure the space between your branches is big enough to accommodate a robin soaring through.)

– Finish combining the compost piles

– Finish cleaning out the dead plants from last fall

– Till areas for Philip’s play garden and, of course, the back garden

Reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire.  Here are some things I didn’t know before:

– If you plant apple seeds, the sprouted seed will not grow into a plant like its parent.  It will become something else entirely.  So will all of its siblings.  FASCINATING!

– Getting a prize apple out of a John Chapman apple tree was like winning the lottery or striking oil for pioneer families.

– There was a tulip craze in Holland from 1634 to 1637 (called Tulipmania) that, in my mind, resembled the and housing market bubbles.

I have just started his section on marijuana.  So far, it’s too early to tell you much.  Will share other tidbits as I discover them.

Have a good evening!