Posted in childhood, Family life, First Friday Five

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.

Posted in Books, childhood, Christmas, Family life, First Friday Five, Lists, parenting, 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.

Posted in Books, childhood, First Friday Five, parenting, Reading, tween

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.

Posted in Books, Family life, First Friday Five, Reading

First Friday Five: Great Books for Grade-schoolers

There are so many wonderful Children’s books out there that I couldn’t fit them all into one First Friday Five post, so consider this a bonus. Next week, I’ll post some titles for older kids and after that, look for some of my favorite picture books.

My kids are big readers and we’re often asked for recommendations

My second-grade son helped me curate this list of series that appeals to grade school age kids. I’ve included buy links for your convenience. I do not benefit from the sales in any way, these are just books we love and want to share.

Without further ado, First Friday Five – the Great Grade School Book Edition.

  1. The Imaginary Veterinary Series by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Dan Santat
    Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital hides some pretty big secrets as youthful apprentices Pearl and Ben find out. Kids and adults will enjoy the humor in this terrific series that blends mystery, fantasy creatures and real world problems. As an adult, I appreciate the subtle messages about friendship, finding strength in what others see as a weakness and problem solving. Dan Santat’s illustrations are pitch perfect. I think he’s one of the best in the biz.
    Find these books on Amazon or Barnes&Noble
  2. Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel  
    How much do we love Bad Kitty around my house? We buy the books in hard cover. There are picture book editions, but the chapter books are the standouts. Bruel breaks the third wall, so to speak and talks directly to Bad Kitty at times, but more importantly, he has an amazing way of breaking down difficult subjects in ways that make them easy enough for kids, adults and bad kitties to understand. With the US presidential election coming up, do yourself a favor and get Bad Kitty for President.
    Find Bad Kitty at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  3. Geronimo Stilton Series by Geronimo Stilton
    I admit to a little professional jealousy. I can barely write a book a year, but Geronimo puts out a new book or graphic novel about every month plus he runs the most famouse newspaper in New Mouse City. These fun adventure stories are a great way for kids to learn about other places and perfect for kids just starting to read independently. My son is particularly fond of the Kingdom of Fantasy subseries. Find Geronimo Stilton at Amazon or Barnes&Noble
  4. Cam Jansen Series by David A. Adler 
    My son is a big fan of mysteries, but this is his favorite straight up mystery series. There is a “Young Cam Jansen” series that is great for that time when kids are transitioning to longer books and then the regular Cam Jansen mysteries for independent readers. There are plenty of clues to solve the mystery, with a few red herrings thrown in. Heroine Cam has a photographic memory and now when my son wants to remember the details of a moment he says “click,” because that’s what Cam does.  Available at Amazon or Barnes&Noble 
  5. Notebook of Doom Series by Troy Cummings
    I think of this as a less disgusting alternative to Captain Underpants. My son thinks the Notebook of Doom books are just plain fun. The monsters are not to scary and tend toward the absurd. Available at Amazon or Barnes&Noble

This time of year, lots of us are shopping for ourselves, for friends, and for family.  If you don’t have a specific child on your shopping list, please consider donating a book to a child in need. There are myriad organizations that help put books into the hands of children such as First Book, as well as ones locally based in your community.

And if you have any books to recommend for the grade school set, please do so below. My son is always on the lookout for new books, but overindulgent self promo will make me sad and will be removed.

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, parenting

First Friday Five: Things I learned at the bus stop

I walk my kids to their respective bus stops each morning, even on the coldest days. Not only does it give me a bit of uninterrupted time to chat with each child, but the experience is truly educational.

Here are Five Things I’ve Learned from the Five Children at the Elementary School Bus Stop.

Image from
  1. First is the Worst.
  2. Second is the Best.
  3. Third is the one with a Polka-Dot Dress.
  4. Fourth is the one with the Treasure Chest. (On occasion, fourth may possess a Hairy Chest).
  5. Fifth must suffer from an existential crisis because the kiddos cannot agree on a pithy rhyme. Either that or the Fifth rebels against labels, refusing to be easily categorized for the sake of a game.
Posted in childhood, Family life, First Friday Five, Food, parenting, tween

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.


Posted in Christmas, First Friday Five, Writing

First Friday Five I love #Maps

Give me a good infographic and I’m a happy girl. Put that same information on a map and I get downright giddy.  Here are five maps that I love.  Most are links because I don’t want to get in trouble, but they are all click-worthy.

  1. I cannot find the original maps created by Joshua Katz as part of his dissertation research, but this summary on Business Insider has some of my favorite linguistic maps that prove Americans really don’t speak the same language. Come for crustaceans, stay for the crayons.
  2. Ever wonder what some of those languages you hear on the street are?  Slate put together a series of maps based on census data.  Maps like these are a great way to layer flavor into a contemporary setting.
  3.  Writing and need to make sure your character’s drink of choice is mainstream or freakishly weird? The good folks at can help.
  4. Not sure what holiday toy to buy for that great-niece in another state? Last winter this helpful map made the rounds based on google searches by state.  I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings. I will add to the Lego totals for Minnesota.
  5.  This last one may be the most awesome interactive map I’ve come across. ZatoNovo published a map by Brian Rowe that lets you enter a name and watch how the name changed in popularity over the last 120 years.  For fun, try female names like Jennifer, Cora, and Hermione. Maybe I’m easily amused, but this combines my loves of names, history and geography in one swell place.
Posted in First Friday Five, Food, Gardening

First Friday Five: The #Zucchini Edition

Each August, my garden reveals the extent of my annual exercise in futility.  This year, the chipmunks destroyed crops, putting teeth marks into tomatoes, stealing the strawberries and digging up the potatoes.  Only three items thrived this year–a lone onion bulb, the rhubarb planted by a previous owner, and, of course, zucchini.

To celebrate my overflowing zucchini vines, I present Five Things to do with Zucchini Aside from Playing “ding-dong ditch” at the Neighbor’s House.

yellow zucchini ready for harvest
yellow zucchini on the vine

1.  Sautéed zucchini. This is my kids favorite and it’s so simple, I have no recipe.  Slice up some summer squash about 1/4 inch thick. If you use zucchini – toss the slices in a colander with some salt and wait 20 minutes. Pat the slices dry. Heat olive oil to medium heat in the largest pan you have. Cook the squash until you get some browning, flipping once. You can add onions if you want and I usually cook it alongside the squash. YUM.

2. “Posh Squash” – At least according to the recipe card I have. When I looked on-line to find a link to share with y’all, most recipes called for eggs. So here goes. 2-3 medium zucchini (sub yellow squash if desired), One large tomato, one medium onion, cheddar cheese, breadcrumbs, butter.  Slice the veggies thin and layer starting with zucchini, onion, tomato, cheese and ending with more zucchini. Dot with butter and top with breadcrumbs. Bake in a 375 oven for 30 minutes for a 9×9 pan or 50 minutes if you do a double batch, and with all that zucchini, why wouldn’t you?

3. Tired of eating yet? Take a break and play with your food. I hope this video of Art in Zucchini Duck works. If not check out the amazing work of ItalyPaul on youtube.

4. Back to the dinner table! My husband made a corn and zucchini salad similar to this one featured on except he shredded the zucchini instead of dicing.

Corn & Zucchini Salad with Chives found on


5. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try this, but I’m intrigued! I’ve pinned this recipe for blueberry-zucchini cake from and it looks like the most delicious way possible to use up excess zucchini. If I make it, I’ll share the results. If you make it before me, please let me know if it’s worth the effort.


zucchini blueberry cake found on

If you have any zucchini recipes to recommend, please add them in the comments section.

Posted in Environment, Family life, First Friday Five

First Friday Five – Visiting #SouthDakota

I’m a little late with my First Friday Five because I was on that rarest of things – a vacation.  I’m haven’t even had a chance to upload all my photos yet, having walked in the front door of my house less than ten hours ago.

My guess is “Let’s go to South Dakota” isn’t the first thought that comes to mind during the vacation planning process and yet, it should.  Here goes my first Friday five in countdown form, plus links to relevant websites.

5. The Corn Palace in Mitchell SD – Who knew corn was so artistic? The exterior murals change every year and are fashioned entirely from corn and native grasses.  This is as good a place to stretch your legs as any since South Dakota is over 400 miles long traveling from East to West.

4. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – The giant faces are pretty darn impressive, but don’t miss the historical interpretation sites to see how the work was done. This visit I learned the dynamite blasters  became so skilled, they could blast away the rock to within inches of the final surface visitors see today.

3. Custer State Park – Located in the Black Hills, you are pretty much guaranteed to see wildlife at this massive state park and everyone in the vehicle gets in for less than the cost of a ticket to some of the drive through zoos in the area. Go early in the day or at dusk for best viewing. We saw buffalo, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, mule deer and more birds than I can name.  Plus you can do the needles highway drive which is beautiful, but not for the faint of heart or vehicles over 8 and a half feet wide.

2. Jewel Cave National Monument – I don’t do caves – not since I had a panic attack and had to be led out of a tour at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, but the kids wanted to go. Since I had given them a lecture about everyone needing to make a few compromises, I had an obligation to go. We did the scenic tour. Between the open caverns and the beauty of the formations, I forgot to panic. Plus – where else can you see a 22 foot formation called “bacon.”

1. Badlands National Park – In my opinion, this wind carved landscape is one of the most beautiful places in the world and worthy of a multi-day visit. Bring sturdy hiking shoes, a sense of adventure and lots of water. The Badlands is an open park, meaning there are no limits on where your feet can take you.  If you can get to that grassy knoll atop a steep rock face, go ahead and have your picnic there. If scrambling up rock faces and returning to the ground via loose rock slides is not your thing, then at least stop to look around and admire the scenery. The Badlands erode at the rate of an inch a year. Geologists estimate you only have another 500,000 years to visit before they are gone.

Wherever your travels take you, I wish you a safe and happy journey, and if you have a minute, I’d love to know your favorite vacation spots.


Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, For Writers

First Friday Five – Rediscovering #Inspiration

I’m in a writing slump. I finished a couple of projects shortly before breaking my elbow in January, but new words have eluded me. Part of the blame falls to the accident and side effects of chronic pain and medication. Part of the blame falls to me and the bad habits I have developed to cope with said pain.

Today is the last day of school for my kids. I don’t usually work on new projects when they are underfoot but I do edit. This summer, however, I’m committing to rediscovering creativity. Here are five ways.

1. Coloring. My daughter’s learning about Mandalas in school. The other day she declared “Fifteen minutes of coloring a day makes you more relaxed and smarter.” I’m not sure about the science behind her statement, but here’s an article on Huffington Post  that supports coloring.

2. Attend a classical concert. I’m fortunate that my town sponsors a free concert in the park series. Even better, the world-class Minneapolis Orchestra performs one of those nights. Hearing music under the stars is magical.

3. Get moving. I borrowed my daughter’s bike a few weeks ago and took my first ride in over a decade. I didn’t forget how to ride, but I had forgotten the amazing sensory rush of the air against my skin and the way the sun warmed my t-shirt. The extra oxygen helped too.

4. Play more games, especially ones like Pictionary, Bananagrams, Moose in the House, and Charades, all of which guarantee laughter in my house. I can’t forget #hashtag games on twitter.

5. Travel somewhere new. I live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and I’ve been to maybe 20.  I find a change of scenery, no matter how small, inspires me to see the world anew.

How do you foster creativity?