books · raising strong girls · slice of life


I’ve been a chronic over-packer ever since I started packing my suitcases. I don’t travel lightly. It’s why we own a minivan that seats eight but only have two kids. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I bring a shoulder tote with me whenever I take one or both of my children to a medical appointment.

My rules are simple:

  • A device may be used whenever you’re in a waiting room or waiting for a provider to enter an exam room.
  • The device must be closed when any provider or staff member is speaking with you.

This morning, Isabelle had allergy shots, which meant a 30-minute wait. It’s not exactly time well-spent since she’s supposed to be in school. Therefore, I try to make it academic. However, it’s challenging to concentrate on a book in a pediatric waiting room. Therefore, I proposed something she hadn’t tried before: listening to an audiobook.

She liked the idea, but said, “I need to go to your office first.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I need to find a book I want to read.”

“Sure,” I replied.

Isabelle returned with several books and requested her iPad. I knew what she was up to. After finding a novel, she often borrows the audiobook on Libby to follow along with the text. (That was one of the best tips I learned from Colleen Cruz two years ago!)

I watched Isabelle remove her Beats from the pouch to set herself up with her book and iPad when I checked her in for her appointment. I looked back at her and didn’t notice her eyes darting around the waiting room as they would’ve if she were reading a printed text. Instead, she was laser-focused on turning the pages.

Isabelled is reading Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson. May I say, looking at this later in the day, how pleased I was that her feet weren’t on the chairs?!

Isabelle got as cozy as possible in the second waiting room after her shots. She blocked out everything and everyone. She was the picture of a focused reader. While I had brought work with me, I decided to take advantage of the quiet (and of the fact that I didn’t have Ari with us). I opened up my audiobook, Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson, too.

Neither of us heard the nurse approach. She must’ve asked Isabelle where she wanted to get her arms checked a couple of times since she seemed to wave a bit to get our attention.

Packing this much for an appointment is — on the surface — a lot. But, I think it’s worth it.

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books · reading · slice of life · travel

This Week: Audiobooks!

I downloaded several audiobooks we could listen to as a family the night before we drove to Connecticut. After reading all of the summaries to Isabelle, she selected The One and Only Bob. Marc and I were pleased since it’s narrated by Danny Devito.

But Ari didn’t want to listen to it. He didn’t want to listen to any audiobooks. We encouraged him to don his headphones and play a game on his iPad. But a few chapters into the book, Ari made his displeasure with the audiobook known. His protest led to us turning it off so we could dial down his complaints.

Fast forward to today. We are driving home from Connecticut. Isabelle is listening to Wishtree while following along with a paperback version. Ari, tired of doing whatever he was doing on his iPad, asked for an audiobook. I let him select from the ones I downloaded onto his iPad last week. He picked Henry Huggins.

Ari has been listening to Henry Huggins for nearly 45 minutes. He won’t eat lunch because he keeps staring at his iPad’s Libby screen while he listens to the audiobook. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with audiobooks?

Maybe, just maybe, he won’t protest the next time we want to listen to an audiobook on a family road trip.

As for me, I’m off to read my book while Marc drives us home!

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books · reading · slice of life

Parenting Fail (or maybe it’s a win)

I knocked on Isabelle’s door. Rather than saying come in, Isabelle said, “Why do you have to keep bothering me?!!?”

I hadn’t even spoken to Isabelle since she went to her room at 10:07 AM to read for an hour. It was 11:20 AM. (For the record, my mother-in-law, Linda, knocked on Isabelle’s door around 11:10 AM to find out what kind of sandwich Isabelle wanted for lunch. I asked Linda to do this so I guess Isabelle viewed this as me intruding on her.)

“We have to leave for your swim lesson in 20 minutes.”

“Ugh, why are you bothering me? I’m trying to read!”

I looked at the timer on Isabelle’s iPad which she fiddled with after she paused her audiobook. I noticed it said 46 minutes were left.

“Did you just start reading? What we’re you doing this whole time? I left you well over an hour ago. I need you to help me pack towels, get on your sunblock…”

She growled at me and turned back to the Libby app. She looked back down at the printed copy of The Witches and proceeded to ignore me. “I started reading at 10:07, Mah-mee! I just messed up the timer when it went off.”

That pretty much checked out. Isabelle must’ve accidentally reset the time for an hour when it went off at 11:07 AM.

“Why are you acting this way?” I asked. “You could just ask me for another minute to finish the page. You have a swim lesson at noon and you aren’t even close to being ready.”

This went on for another 30 seconds at which point I told her I’d be back in five minutes and — at that point — she’d have to go downstairs to get ready.

Five minutes later, Isabelle didn’t get up from her book. By this point, I raised my voice and implored her to get ready.

By 11:33 AM, Isabelle still hadn’t left her room. At that point, I went in, took away the iPad and said, “I am thrilled you’re reading longer than an hour because your book so is good, but you need to get ready NOW. Sunblock. Shoes. Ugggggh!”

Isabelle stomped out of her room and walked downstairs to finish getting ready.

After watching her move at a snail’s pace downstairs, I said, “Meet me in the car or else I’m going to be taking myself for a swim lesson.”

I needed to cool down because I knew I wasn’t going to do that. I let out some frustration in the garage and then took some deep breaths in the driver’s seat while I waited for Isabelle to come out of the house. While breathing deeply, I realized Isabelle wasn’t being non-compliant just to stick it to me because she is 11 and a half (and that’s what kids this age do). No, no… she wasn’t moving from her reading perch because she didn’t care about reading for a certain amount of time just to say she’d read. Nope. She was ENJOYING her book so much that she didn’t care about the time!

Well, crap. I’m the jerk, aren’t I, I thought. Now she’s going to associate her first time reading longer with an argument… what have I done?!!?

This evening, I discovered Isabelle has 37 minutes left in her book. I’m assuming she would’ve finished it if time had permitted.

Isabelle finally got into the car at 11:46 AM. (Good thing I always set our roll time earlier than it needs to be.) As I backed out of the driveway, I said, “I realize now that you were lost in your book. I’m thrilled for you. Are you enjoying this book?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Isabelle replied cooly.

“Wonderful! But listen, the way you yelled at me as soon as I knocked on your door made me feel bad. I know you were being bothered again, but you could’ve said, ‘I just want to finish this page or chapter and then I’ll come down.’ You didn’t do that. I yelled back at you and then you yelled at me some more. Both of us did a lot of shouting and that’s not cool. We can both do better.”

“Okay, I know,” she replied.

“So, reading the paper copy of the book along with the audiobook is really helping you enjoy the books you’re reading more, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It is,” she said.

I have begged her to listen and follow along with her eyes since November when Colleen Cruz suggested this at the TC Dyslexia Institute. As much as I wanted to do an I-told-you-so, I resisted.

I didn’t need an apology for her giving me an agonizing 25 minutes. All I needed was the knowledge that she was finally able to get lost in a book. (Maybe she needs to start reading a wee bit earlier now that she’s fancying reading because it’s a bit easier.)

This evening, just before shutting Isabelle’s bedroom door, I said, “I love you. Let’s aim for being better versions of ourselves this week. I think we can both do better. Sleep well and sweet dreams.”

To that, I got a “Good night, Mommy. I love you too.” I guess all had been forgiven on both ends.

books · library · slice of life


Imagine my surprise when Ari set his books down at the library’s self-checkout kiosk and we learned his account was suspended because of a fine. And not just a $.50 fine. It was a fine for $7.20!

Soon after Ari got his library card, I noticed he wasn’t as on-top of his borrowed books like Isabelle is. Isabelle or I would notice when a book was here for a while and we’d return it. However, I didn’t realize how tardy he was with his books until he found a book on Somalia in the back seat of the car that I thought had been long returned.

That was a couple of weeks ago. After finding Somalia, Isabelle helped me scour the house for any additional books he had borrowed. The next time we went to the library she dropped whatever she found of his into the book return along with hers returns. I didn’t give it any more thought… until today.

I did the talking once we approached the circulation desk. It seemed Ari had three outstanding books. At 20 cents per day for children’s books (with a maximum fine of $3 per item), Ari had accumulated a $7.20 fine since all of the books were 12 days overdue!

“I’m going to pay the fine for you now, but you’re going to need to pay me back when we get home,” I told him.

I expected Ari to cry since he works hard to earn his allowance each week. Instead he said, “Okay.”

The librarian couldn’t have been nicer about his first fine. She didn’t admonish Ari. She did offer him a printed receipt for the new titles he borrowed. She also gave him an oral reminder of the due date.

Later in the day, I found this waiting on my night table when I got upstairs. I didn’t even have to remind Ari of his debt to me. He just paid it.

Sure enough, Ari repaid me with a five, two ones, and two dimes. I’m sure this stung, but I am quite certain he learned a valuable lesson at the tender age of five-and-a-half.

Head over to Two Writing Teachers for more slice of life stories.
books · post-op life · slice of life

A United Parenting Front

I had just won my second straight game of Uno against Isabelle when Marc walked into our bedroom and asked Isabelle, “Did you get your books?”

“No,” she replied.

I had no idea what books he was referring to so I simply replied, “We’ve been up here playing Uno.”

I put the cards back in a pile and wrapped a rubber band around them.

I was about to shuffle the cards for another game when Marc said, “Isabelle was supposed to get her books and bring them downstairs a few minutes ago.”

“Time to go downstairs,” I replied.

“Can we play another game?” Isabelle asked.

“Nope. Maybe after you get home from dinner. But right now your job is to get your books, go downstairs, and put your shoes on for dinner.”

Like I said, I have no idea what Isabelle was supposed to do with her books. But if there is one thing I know from 9+ years of parenting is that you need to have a united front with your co-parent.

So, off Isabelle went downstairs.

{Five minutes later.}

“Where are your books?” I heard Marc ask Isabelle from downstairs.

“Oh, I left them upstairs,” she replied.

I heard footsteps going upstairs. I was curious about what could possibly be going on, but I decided to mind my own business and lay in bed instead.

Here I am, minding my own business, with an ice pack behind my left knee.
books · post-op life · slice of life

The 3” Beneath My Bed #SOL20

This morning, I was on the phone with my mother-in-law who wanted to know what I was doing to pass the time while in bed. I started telling her about an interesting book I started yesterday, Elevating Equity and Justice: 10 U.S. Supreme Court Cases Every Teacher Should Know (Heinemann, 2019). The problem was, I told her, that it was missing. I placed the book on my night table last night and it disappeared by the time Isabelle left for school this morning. Where could it have gone?

Just then, I remembered back to this morning, when I was sitting beside Isabelle in bed listening to her read a book aloud. I recalled Ari coming in with a stack of square Magnatiles. When I asked him to play with them somewhere other than my night table, he grabbed the Magnatiles and shoved them under the foot of my bed.

“Can you get them for me?” Ari asked.

“No,” I replied. “I’m reading with your sister. Besides, if you’re going to shove something in a three-inch space below my bed, then you’re going to get the items back since you have the smallest hands.”

Ari didn’t like my response — so he left the room.

“Maybe the book that’s missing is under the bed,” I said to my mother-in-law. “Let me check.”

“Be careful,” she told me as I untethered myself from my headphones and iPhone.

I swung both legs towards the floor with the good one touching the carpet. I lowered myself down so I could peer underneath the bed.

Sure enough, the book was there! I was able to reach it. After I grabbed it, I put it back on my bed.

Later in the day, Ari stopped by my bedroom for a kiss and a hug before his nap.

“Did you put this book under my bed?” I asked holding Elevating Equity and Justice in the air.

An impish smile crossed his face.

“Does that mean yes?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he grinned.

And then he grabbed for the book. “I’m gonna do it again!” he declared.

“No you’re not,” I replied, grabbing back.

The tug-of-war lasted for nearly 30 seconds. Finally, I grabbed the book away and declared, “Right now, you don’t need a book about Supreme Court Cases in education… I do.”

That’s when he ran back to my side of the bed, grabbed my pink glasses case, and shoved it under the bed with a maniacal laugh.

Thankfully, the other adult in charge retrieved the glasses so I didn’t have to. But, I’m realizing nothing is safe on my night table anymore.

Can you see the grin on his face?!
books · slice of life

Book Birthday

I didn’t realize it was March 29th when I woke up this morning. Maybe it’s because I woke up with a smashing headache for the second day in a row. Or maybe it is because my body still aches from this week’s stomach bug. (Thankfully, I haven’t thrown up in over 48 hours so the worst is behind me.) Either way, after a few hours I realized IT WAS MARCH 29TH, which is also my latest book’s birthday!

Once I had this realization, I checked the UPS tracking Stenhouse provided. The book was still in transit. Despite wanting to convalesce all day, I knew I needed to make myself presentable for my #StenhouseSelfie.

It’s amazing what a little makeup and a flat iron can do for someone who is under the weather. I smiled into the mirror and realized I looked healthy enough for a photo with my book.

This afternoon, my book arrived and I was as ready as I could possibly be for a photo. It took me more than 20 times to capture the right angle while balancing the book. Before I shared it on social media, I sent it to my husband. His response was everything.

I’m hoping to celebrate the publication of Welcome to Writing Workshop tomorrow. Here’s to hoping I’m feeling up to it by the time tomorrow comes!

books · outdoors · slice of life

Summer’s End

Autumn is my favorite season. I love everything about it: the splendid foliage, the cooler temperatures, the bug-free air, the harvest festivals, the Jewish High Holidays, and the birthday celebrations for Ari and Marc!

All of this makes autumn feel busy. But it’s a good busy, even when you add in the four conferences my husband and I each attend each fall. (Plus, we host Thanksgiving, which happens a few days after I return from NCTE!) It feels as though autumn moves by at break-neck speed, leaving us wondering where the it went every time we reach Winter Solstice.

Despite the beauty and busy-ness of autumn, I don’t want this summer to end. I’m clinging onto the final week of Isabelle’s summer vacation with a white-knuckle grip. My heart aches a little when I think about her boarding the school bus next week to start second grade. It means earlier wake ups and earlier bedtimes. It means less time with her and Ari running around the house together. It means less time to play. All of this makes me sad. Dare I say, I am not ready for her to go back to school just yet.

Isabelle spent plenty of time in the “big kids” section of the playground. However, she also enjoyed playing with Ari.

Today, after a medical appointment, Isabelle asked “What are we going to do?” We had no plans, which felt glorious to me. I looked at her and said, “Would you like to go to Cocoa Castle?” She cheered. (I guess that was a yes!) So I drove across town and let my kids play on the playground until it was nearly lunchtime. Once at home, I made the kids lunch and put Ari down for a nap. That’s when Isabelle and I sat down together to work on her miniature library, which was a birthday gift from one of her friends.

Isabelle cut the pages of the tiny books, while I folded and glued them together. As we did this, I realized we’ve been working on this project all summer long. We’re almost two-thirds of the way finished. There’s no way we’ll complete the entire library in the next six days since the final books are ones we need to write (in teeny-tiny handwriting) ourselves. And that made me long for yet another week of summer. (Don’t get me started on how bogus I think it is that schools in Central Pennsylvania start before Labor Day!) However, I know better than to voice my disdain for back-to-school time. Instead, filled with a heavy heart, I admired my daughter cutting carefully along the dotted lines just savoring these quiet moments together.

Our most recent creations!

None of our books are perfectly folded or glued, but we’re quite proud of them. 19 completed, 11 to go!

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books · picture books · slice of life

If You Were Clever Jack, Where Would You Be? #sol16

Isabelle reorganized the books in her room about two weeks ago. She brought many of her books downstairs to her playroom and to our great room. She swapped the upstairs books with downstairs books. There were baskets of books that made their way up and down the stairs. I stayed out of it as best as I could since I thought it was good she wanted to shift books to different places.

I thought wrong. I’m now royally screwed since I didn’t get involved in the book swap.

I’m in the midst of going through the page proofs of my forthcoming professional book for Stenhouse with a fine-tooth comb. I wrote lessons for 20 different picture books, one of which is Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. Clever Jack resided in Isabelle’s bedroom book baskets until two weeks ago. Now it is SOMEWHERE in our house, but I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE IT IS!

We have mini picture book libraries in nearly every room of our house. (Is it pathetic to admit Isabelle even keeps a basket of picture books in our master bedroom’s bookshelf?) Finding one book is not easy if you don’t know where its chief reader placed it!

I texted my husband about this situation in a panic this afternoon. He called me back immediately. “Is that the one with the boy named Jack?”

“Yes!” I said.

“And he goes to give a princess a cake for her birthday?”

“Yes!” I said.

“And she lands up being allergic to the strawberry on the cake and that’s all that’s left?”

“Yes! You know the book. But do you know where it is?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he replied.


“Can you go and get it from the library?” Marc asked.

“I could, but I’d rather find my copy. Besides, that’s assuming our library has it in the stacks. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait for it to come in.”

“Did you check the guest room closet?” Marc asked.

“Why would it be there? Those are mostly just my old picture books from school.”

“I’ve seen Isabelle playing in there lately. It could be there.”

Why has she been playing in there?!!? I dread looking through that closet. Here’s why:

This isn't exactly the most organized place where I keep books. Then again, it is inside of a closet.
This isn’t exactly the most organized place where I keep books. Then again, it is inside of a closet.

“Or it could be on the bookshelves in her playroom,” he offered.

That’s another big job. Here’s why:

It’s not just the open shelves that contain books. Some of the pull-out bins contain books too.

Don't ask me how many times I've asked my daughter to keep the spines facing out in her playroom bookshelves. And she still doesn't do it!
Don’t ask me how many times I’ve asked my daughter to keep the spines facing out in her playroom bookshelves. And she still doesn’t do it!

“I’m not going to go through anything until Isabelle gets home from school. Maybe she’ll remember where she put Clever Jack,” I said.

* * * * *

Isabelle munched on her snack after school. I thought that would be the perfect time to ask her about Clever Jack‘s whereabouts.

“Remember when you reorganized your books a couple of weeks ago?”

She nodded.

“Do you remember where you put Clever Jack Takes the Cake?”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I need it,” I said.

“Why do you need it?” Isabelle asked.

I attempted to explain why I needed it for checking some things in my book. That didn’t help.

“But why do you want it?” Isabelle said again.

“Listen,” I said feeling exasperated. “Do you remember where it is or not?”

“Not,” she replied.

Great! I’m going to have to tear this house apart tonight on my own.

Until then, I’m going back to work, forging ahead with the rest of the manuscript (and the books I was able to find). Note to self: Don’t let the kid touch the picture books in the pile I created on the couch for the next week!

This is where I'm sitting to do my proofing. Looks cozy, right? It would be ten times cozier if I had Clever Jack Takes the Cake by my side!
This is where I’m sitting to do my proofing. Looks cozy, right? It would be ten times cozier if I had Clever Jack Takes the Cake by my side!


Update: Clever Jack has been found! (I’m a little embarrassed to say it was in my office all along.)

Isabelle recognized Clever Jack by its spine, which was facing out in my office. Perhaps now she'll understand the importance of book spines facing out.
Isabelle recognized Clever Jack by its spine, which was facing out in my office. Perhaps now she’ll understand the importance of book spines facing out.

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books · critical literacy · OBSERVATIONS

A Quandary: Educational Fast Food Prizes & My Beliefs

Panera Bread has typically been my idea of fast food for the past decade. I’m a healthy eater and therefore I shun traditional fast food. As a result, my daughter has never eaten a Chicken McNugget.  (Considering what’s in them, I think that’s a very good thing!)

Last spring, I took my daughter to Chick-fil-A when we needed a quick lunch.  I ordered her grilled chicken nuggets, a squeezable apple sauce, and an apple juice box. It was quite possibly the most healthy fast food meal I could ever imagine since nothing was fried or excessively high in sugar. She gobbled up the meal and has been hooked on Chick-fil-A ever since. She requests to go to Chick-fil-A nearly every day.  (I think she likes their play area too!)  At most we take her once a week and only after she has expended a lot of energy doing something since we know she’s going to eat the food there.

While I disagree with Chick-fil-A’s politics, I love the fact that Isabelle will eat their (somewhat healthy fast) food.  But even more than that, I like the prizes they give kids in their kids’ meals.  There’s no junky toy that falls apart before the meal is over. Instead, they usually provide books. We’ve gotten Paddington Bear books and nonfiction books on animals, which we often read during the meal and revisit at home.  Today we received a memory card game. While each card is essentially an advertisement for Chick-fil-A (with the cow mascot dressed as something funny), the concept behind the cards is great since it’s a game that promotes memory and matching skills.

I’m in a bit of a quandary about what to do regarding our trips to Chick-fil-A since Isabelle loves it there.  You see, I recently stopped buying Barilla pasta as a result of the CEO’s anti-gay statements.  Eating at Chick-fil-A feels hypocritical to me since they made some very strong statements last year about gay marriage, which I support. While Isabelle doesn’t mind notice me buying a different brand of veggie pasta now that I don’t buy Barilla’s, I know she’s going to request lunch at Chick-fil-A again. Eradicating our visits to Chick-fil-A could be tough because it’s located in a shopping center we frequent and she can “read” the logo when we pass it during our travels.

I blame myself for this.  I started taking her there because it was convenient. I didn’t realize how much she’d like it. While I have tried to justify the way their pro-literacy prizes could potentially offset their political stance, I find myself in a predicament since I want to make my child happy.  I thought writing about this would help me come up with an answer, but it hasn’t.  Do I make a statement and stop eating there (when she is too young to understand why) and deal with the fall-out or do I keep on keepin’ on?  Feel free to weigh-in by leaving a comment.