First Friday: Five great games!

I’m a huge fan of games, note I did not write board games, or card games or video games. I love them all. In this season of giving, whether to a loved one or to a toy drive, here are five games I highly recommend because not only are they fun, but they can also be adapted to accommodate a range of ages. I’m not part of any affiliate program. The links are there for your convenience.

  1. Labyrinth – The original German title translates as “the crazy maze.” Why? Because with each turn, the game board changes. As you race to collect treasures, you can work with or work against the other players to reshape the routes to the various treasures. It says 8 or up, but we started playing it when my son was 5 and he not only kept up with the adults, he usually beats us. This is a great game for spatial reasoning. Available at Toys R Us and other retailers.
  2. Perpetual Commotion – This is basically the card game I grew up calling “Nertz.” It’s a high-speed game with elements of solitaire that can easily be adjusted for younger players by dealing them fewer cards. You could also play in teams where one person is responsible for watching the feeder pile and one person flips the deck. It’s available at Amazon and other retailers.
  3. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! In this cooperative game, the highlight  is spinning a Goldbug, when sets off a timed search for objects hidden throughout the game board. Cards indicate if you will be looking for kites or hot dogs or something else in the overstuffed and often comical drawings of Richard Scarry. Unlike Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or Candyland, I have no urge to stick a fork in my eye to avoid playing this game. Available at Amazon and other retailers. 
  4. Apples to Apples – This game comes in myriad versions. I’m partial to the kids version, especially when playing with family because it contains cards such as “My mom” and “under the bed.” While the former should always be paired with “beautiful” or “nice,” the latter is best played on the person with the messiest room. Available at Creative Kidstuff and other retailers. 
  5. My last game I recommend this year skews older and is the newest one in my household, but also one became a quick favorite. Evolution: The Beginning. Even though the instruction book almost as overwhelming as those for King of Tokyo and Settlers of Catan (two other games our family loves), the card-based game play is straight-forward and fun. The artwork is beautiful and the structure of the game allows for multiple strategies to victory.  The action is low-key and it takes less than a half an hour making it a great way to wind down before bedtime. I believe it is a Target exclusive, but may be available through resellers.

So there you have it – some awesome ways to spend the time with friends and family throughout the winter. With these games, your only awkward discussions will involve what to play next.

If you have a favorite game, please share it below. Thanks.

Five things I’m thankful for

For my first Friday Five, I’m tackling gratitude, because this month, and this week in particular, I full of thankfulness. Here goes.

  1. I’m thankful birthday season is over and I do not have to deal with party invites and RSVPs until October rolls around in 2017.
  2. I’m thankful it’s boot season.

    These are on my wishlist.

    These are on my wish list.

  3. I’m thankful for Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy and finally getting relief for the vertigo I’ve endured for the last 18 months.
  4. I’m thankful that I’ll have writing news to share in the near future. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to find out what it is.
  5. I’m thankful I got to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. I grew up following them and learned the mantra “Wait until next year.” Waiting through a lot of next years taught me lessons in patience and hope that apply to my writing career. I wait for the next book to take off and be the one that gets on the shelves in Target, or at least gets a high-profile review. In the meantime, I sure do appreciate all you loyal fans, er readers, who’ve stuck with me. Can I add a 6th? Because if so,
  6. I’m thankful for you.

First Friday 5: #Summer Fun Unplugged

summer is coming

For many of us, summer means vacation and extra family time since the kids are out of school. In my house, this means hanging out with friends and being outside until past sunset. But sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate. For those times we are stuck indoors, we break out the games.  Here are five fun and portable games that are great to play inside or outside, at home, at the cabin or in a hotel.  And yes, these will work for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere too.

  1. Perpetual Commotion. This reminds me of the card game Nertz, which I grew up with, but could never quite explain to my husband and his family. It’s organized chaos. Although the box says ages 12 and up, my 8 yr old loves it. There are even instructions on how to make the game more equitable for younger players. It all makes sense once you’ve seen it in action, so here’s the official video.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88XOzNEfxZI
  2.  Spot It!  We have a lot of Blue Orange games in my house, but none travel more than Spot It.  This matching game has multiple ways to play and many thematic variations (NHL, Frozen, Camping & more). You don’t need much space to play it and the container is pretty small, so we often take it with us when traveling. If you see me on the floor in the airport, stop by, say hi, and I’ll deal you in.
  3. Feed The Kitty by Gamewright – This is a variation of the classic dice game LCR (Left Center Right), but way cuter because you try to get all the mice instead of poker chips. When we travel, we take the dice and mice and leave the bowl at home, but the rest of the time, we use the bowl. Part of our fun comes from making stories about the mice and what they are up to, as well as smack talk.  This is another quick paced game and great for filling in those little gaps of time while you are say, waiting for one person to get ready so you can head out to the park.
  4. Scrabble. Scrabble comes in many forms. We have at least three non-electronic versions, including a travel one that folds up to be the size of a hardback book only much lighter. For my kids, it helps keep them engaged with words and spelling. I get to think about words too, and my husband gets to correct all of our spelling mistakes. In spite of that, we still have fun.
  5. Moose in the House by Gamewright. Because Moose in the House is a card game, it’s portable but you need some space to play. The winner is the one with fewest moose in residence at the end of the game. We love to make bad moose puns and offer up false flattery as to why the moose picked one person’s bathtub over the other. We always end up in giggles, which makes this simple game a winner.
    I’ll save board games for another time, because some of the best don’t fit easily into a suitcase. Since I’m always looking for suggestions, what are your favorite travel games?

First Friday 5 lessons of #Motherhood

Being a parent has taught me myriad lessons. For one thing, I learned I needed to apologize to my mother as in this post from the past. In honor of Mother’s Day, here are five other lessons motherhood has taught me.

  1. Humility. Kids are terrific at pointing out all your flaws. If I misspeak, I will be corrected. If I come home after a work-out or a long bike ride, my kiddos will point out how bad I stink. If dinner is not delicious and merely okay, I will know. Forget tough to please reviewers, my harshest critics are tied to my daily life.
  2. The mundane can be amazing. I never thought much about drawers until my daughter was 3 months old and I laid her on the bathmat while I got ready for the day. I pulled open the drawer to get out my hair brush. The action was nothing to me until I noticed how big her eyes grew. She had never seen a drawer in motion before and her little mind was blown. Since then, I’ve tried to be more appreciative of small moments. Wonder is a state of mind.
  3. Bananas are tasty. I did not eat them until I had to set a good example to my children.
  4. Listen and ask questions before giving advice. Respect what they have to say, and they will respect what you have to teach them, unless it is a mispronunciation in which case, see #1.
  5. Nothing beats a snuggle and a book. At the end of a long day, I love to sit with each child and talk books. At first, I read picture books, then we moved on to new challenges. My son and I read the classics. He decides if the language is too tricky for him to read half or not. We stop and talk about ideas, word meaning and make predictions. Sometimes my daughter listens in. More often she and I snuggle and she tells me about what she is reading at the moment. Because it’s a comforting ritual for all of us, we turn to it when not feeling well or simply having a rough day. Of course, if you read this, chances are high you are already a book lover and know exactly what I mean.

First Friday Five: Cheap ways to say “I love you”

February brings with it a pretty high pressure holiday, and I don’t mean Groundhog’s Day. As a kid, Valentine’s day is pretty easy and when you are in the first stages of love, you are so goo-goo eyed over everything your beloved does, Valentine’s Day is the stuff of dreams. But for the rest of us? It can be an anxiety-filled and potentially expensive moment of panic. Whether you are in a relationship or not, chances are there is someone in your life who you love. Here I offer five cheap ways to share the love.

  1. A foot massage, or a back massage. It feels great. If you are in a romantic relationship, do this without any expectation of where it will lead.
  2. Do your beloved’s least favorite chore, whether it’s scooping the litter box, shoveling snow or cooking dinner.
  3. Throw out that awful shirt your beloved hates.  Better yet, gift it to them so they can throw it out.
  4. Take care of that little project your beloved nags you about. This year, I hope my kids clean the playroom. I intend to sort and deliver things in the towering stack of items to donate. IMG_0376
  5. Put down the electronics, look someone you love in the eye, open your mouth and say those three little words, “I love you.” Cheap and powerful.

With so much anger, hostility and frustration in the world, letting someone know you care is a powerful act of courage. Be brave and thank you for reading.

First Friday Five: Picture Book Bonus

The last two weeks, I’ve treated you to book recommendations for Middle School readers and for Elementary aged readers. This week, I’m sharing five terrific picture books.  I’ve given priority to books that have been released this year. As before, I’m including buy links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for your convenience. I do not benefit financially in these recommendations, I just want to share books I love to help those who are looking for a book to give to a child.

  1. The Book with no Pictures by B.J. Novak. Yup, I’m starting a list of picture books with a book that has no pictures. Trust me on this one. B.J. Novak, previously a writer for The Office, has a tremendous way with words and a wicked sense of fun. This is the book the kids in your life will want to spring on unsuspecting parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles and well, anyone as a bedtime story. The sense of mischief and fun appeals to kids all ages, including those of us experienced kids who have the gray hair to prove it.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  2. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers Have you ever looked at a child’s box of crayons and wondered what on earth happened to those once pristine pieces of wax? Jeffers’ playful illustrations are spot on and new readers will be surprised at the emotional depths Daywalt finds in the crayons. This is a terrific gateway for talking about emotions.  Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  3. I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Mo Willelms is the mastermind behind Knufflebunny, the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie, stars of I Will Take a Nap. Elephant and Piggie don’t look alike and possess many opposite traits (cautious versus impulsive) that can cause some conflict between the two, but friendship always prevails. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  4. Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat. This came out last year, but it didn’t cross my radar until my ninja loving son brought it home from the library. As I’ve said before, I think Dan Santat is a terrific illustrator and his vibrant images bring this twisted fairy tale to life. This is a fun book to read alongside an original version of Little Red Riding Hood and can lead to great conversation about empowerment and bullying. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  5. What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss.  It’s not every year you get a new Dr. Seuss Book! For me, it’s no Fox in Sox (my favorite Dr. Seuss), but it is a fun book to read aloud and share with the children in your life. A lot of children will relate to the problem of picking a dream pet and in this book, there are no real life consequences, so bring on the silliness and help kids spark their creativity. Amazon and Barnes&Noble    

 

Kids that are read to from day one are kids who grow up to be readers. Study after study shows the benefit of reading with children. From building vocabulary to creative problem solving, to building empathy, to creating a passion for knowledge, few tools on this earth are more powerful than a book. Please share the joy of reading this holiday season, whether with a special child in your life or by donating a book to a school, shelter, library or program like First Book.

I hope you have enjoyed this extended Friday Five series. If you have books to recommend, or thoughts on this list, please share in the comments.

First Friday Five: Great Books for Middle School Readers

I’ve invited a special guest to share some of her favorite books for Middle School and Teen readers. Four of the Five are series specially selected by one of the loveliest young ladies I know. Without further ado, my twelve-year-old daughter is here to share her recommended reads for Middle Schoolers.  As with last week’s bonus post, “Great Books for Elementary Schoolers,” I’m including buy links to Amazon and Barnes&Noble for your gift-giving convenience, but don’t overlook other sources too. I make no money on any of these sales. My daughter and I want to help you find great reads for tweens and teens in your life.

  1. The Unwanteds by Lisa Mcmann, fantasy series- This is a great series for anyone creative or magic-loving. It is a struggle as two brothers face the real world and its challenges.  Amazon  and  Barnes&Noble 
  2. Warriors series by Erin Hunter- This series tells the story of house cats struggling to survive in the wild from their point of view. Leaves the reader thinking, “is that what my cat does?” Amazon and Barnes&Noble  
  3. Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull- What would it be like to live in a world of dragons, danger, and magic? Read to find out. Amazon and Barnes&Noble 
  4. Wings of fire series by Tui T. Sutherland- A war has been raging in a land for many years. This is the story of five dragonlets and how their actions affect their world. Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble Box sets are great for voracious readers.
  5. The Candymakers – from  Wendy Mass- the story of four young kids in a candy factory trying to make the best new candy of the year. Each have their own secrets and story to share. There are five parts. Amazon and Barnes&Noble

There are multiple other books that did not make it onto this list. My daughter hopes that if one liked these recommendations, you’ll might explore other books and series by the author. Erin Hunter and Brandon Mull have multiple series she recommends. Erin Hunter also writes the Seekers and Survivors series. Brandon Mull also writes The Five Kingdoms, Beyonders, and The Candy Shop War Series. Sequel series to Fablehaven and The Unwanteds are coming out soon.

Quick – now that she’s out of the room, if you have any recommendations, please list them in the comments. I can hardly keep up with all her reading and as a parent, that’s a wonderful problem to have.

First Friday: Five things I do for my kids

Let’s be honest, I do way more than five things for my kids. Every parent does. But as this post goes to publication, I am chaperoning 250 sixth graders on a five day-four night field trip and doing so voluntarily. Or at least at the behest of my daughter.  In tribute to this event, I came up with a list of five things I do for my kids that have changed my life for the better.

  1. I eat bananas. I refused to eat bananas as a kid. Their mushiness ruined fruit salads, peanut butter sandwiches and any other way my poor mother tried to serve them. I didn’t eat them as an adult until I noticed my daughter stopped eating them. I had to eat them if I wanted her to eat them. This case of “Monkey See, Monkey Do” worked so well, we both eat bananas and I’ve learned to tolerate their taste.
  2. I wear a bike helmet. If I want the kids to wear helmets, I have to wear one too.
  3. I coached soccer. I never played soccer. I know next to nothing about soccer, but I couldn’t bear to tell my son that once again, his team would disband because no one stepped up to coach.
  4. I gave up peanut butter.  When she was 18 months old, my daughter tested positive for peanut and tree nut allergies.  Theoretically, I could have peanut butter or peanuts in the house, but I love her more than I love peanuts and her life isn’t worth the risk.  I miss the nutrition of nuts, but Trader Joe’s makes a good sunflower seed butter.  And while we’re at it, Halloween is coming up for US blog followers. Check out the Teal Pumpkin project sponsored by FARE and make trick-or-treating safe and fun for all kids.
  5. Last, but not least, I volunteer my time whenever my kids ask me to be involved. Whether I’m reading to the class, planning a school picnic, or, as it is this week, standing on a platform 30 feet off the ground to help with a tree-top ropes course, my kids know I am there for them.

 

Summer vacation, sort of.

My children finish school this week and I end another work cycle. From September to effectively the end of May, I am a WAHM or Work at Home Mom. During June, July and August, I am primarily a SAHM or Stay at Home Mom.

My day to day schedule becomes more fluid for those three months. The kids retain a set bedtime, but we relax our routines. If the weather is nice, we explore different parks. If it’s not so nice, we revisit a favorite museum. I take editing work with me, or write blog posts long hand while they hit the playground, but my writing work takes a back seat to togetherness. My social media time drops off as we engage in a different kind of face-time.

By the end of the summer, my ever-present notebook will be with ideas for stories that may never be written. More importantly, my kids heads will be filled with memories that they will turn into stories they share. The work is unrelenting, but I love it.

Food Allergy Awareness Week

May 11th through May 17th marks Food Allergy Awareness Week.  Roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies and the numbers are rising.  Statistics vary, but chances are, if you have a child in school, at least one, and perhaps up to three, of their classmates will have a diagnosed food allergy.

I am a food allergy mom. I live with the daily knowledge that a peanut butter sandwich could cause my daughter to have an anaphylactic reaction. We are a peanut free household for that reason.  Our trips to the grocery store involve more time reading labels and taking precautions like not buying grapes if they are displayed with bulk nuts.

I’m proud to support food allergy research.  If your life has been affected by food allergies, consider supporting research to understand why rates are increasing and how to prevent the body’s attack on nutrient rich food. Let’s face it, if you’ve ever complained about not getting a pack of peanuts on an airplane, food allergies have touched your life.

To learn more or support research, visit Food Allergy Research and Education.