Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Do You Have a Clean Desk?

Do you have a clean desk? I don't. No matter how hard I try, my desk always ends up piled high. But my mess is organized chaos. I know what each pile represents, and, more importantly, what's in it. 

I admire people who don't consider their work finished for the day until they have a cleared-off work space. But I've come to accept that I'm just not one of those people - I operate successfully with paperwork piles.  (I'm also an email hoarder. The idea of a zero inbox chills my very soul; I can't tell you the number of times I've needed a years-old email.)

My tolerance for a messy desk is a bit of a puzzler given that clutter in other parts of my life drives me batty. In particular, kitchen clutter puts me in a very bad mood. And an unhappy cook is rarely a good cook. 

Whenever I feel a bit embarrassed about the state of my work space, I thank Einstein for his messy desk blessing. 

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?
-- Einstein

Monday, January 16, 2017

What I've Been Reading Lately

My best book recommendations often come from other people. These are the books I read in entirety recently.  I used to regularly finish books, whether I liked them or not. But sloughing through to the end is not fun when you're not enjoying the book.

About five years ago, I realized that my "don't be a quitter" mentality was exceedingly stupid. Life is too short for bad books. Since that time, I've abandoned many, many books. I guess you could say that I've become a serial book dater - if the book doesn't show promise early on, I am unwilling to commit.  Conversely, I re-read my favorite books often and nothing makes me happier than finding a new favorite.

Here are the books I read lately, from cover-to-cover.

American Heiress, The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin - Like most people, I knew bits and snippets of Patty Heart's kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) but I didn't know much more than that. This book is full of interesting details. For example, one of the SLA's ransom demands was that the Hearst family do a massive food giveaway for people in need in San Francisco and Oakland. Not only is the book enlightening, but it has pictures. Double score!

Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos - This book came out a few years ago and I'm not sure how it slipped past me because it's on a topic near and dear to my heart: adoption. Vardalos is the actress who wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Even though the book is primarily about adoption, it's worth a read just to learn how she took it from one-woman screenplay to box office hit.) The book chronicles Vardalos' journey to motherhood, which ultimately culminates in her and her husband adopting a preschooler from the foster care system. If you're unfamiliar with adoption, the book will be fascinating. If you're already familiar with adoption - domestic or international - you'll nod along and say, "Yup. Yup. Been there and done that" (minus the paparazzi and Hollywood parties).

Product Details

How To Talk So  Kids Will Listen &  Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish -  I bought this book at a used book store many years ago and it's been one of my best used book finds ever. Shortly after I bought it, I read it and implemented many of the communication techniques with success. But, as time passed and people got bigger, a lot of the communication skills have fallen by the wayside. So, every so often when things start coming apart at the seams around here, I re-read this book and we begin all over again (and try to figure out why we ever stopped to begin with).

My favorite take-away from the book: Love kids uniquely, not equally.

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy, from whom I get many book recommendations. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Our Fear of the Unknown


Some of the wisest words come from fictional characters, often from characters who believe themselves to be unwise.

Today I'm hearing the truth of 13-year-old Tree-ear's words in A Single Shard. I just finished reading this book for the first time, but it definitely won't be the last.

"We are afraid of the things we do not knowjust because we do not know them, Tree-ear thought, pleased with himself."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sibling Gifts: The Compliment Stocking

I like the idea of sibling gifts, but sometimes they're an awful lot of work. Each time we've tried to do them, the gift-giving siblings bring the enthusiasm to the table - and I bring the effort, which makes me sort of bah-humbug on the idea of sibling gifts. But I really do want them to work, so I'm always looking for a better way. 

I've heard of families handling sibling gifts in a variety of ways: they make something for each other, they give everyone a few dollars to spend at the Dollar Store or some other inexpensive store, etc. None of these ideas has ever really suited my vision for sibling gifts. 

When I was younger, my dad worked for a drug store chain, which meant he got a discount there. My mom used to let us "buy" Christmas presents for each other there. We'd pick things out and the cashier would ring them up (bagging everything separately to maintain the element of surprise) and then my mom would pay, minus the employee discount. 

I remember it being a lot of fun. I also remember my mom and dad getting a lot of really great presents from us. Do you know what's better than a deviled egg dish? A deviled egg dish bought from a pharmacy with an employee discount!

But the skies have parted and we now have the perfect sibling gifts. Yesterday, my second grader came home with a Compliment Stocking. All of the kids in his class filled out slips of paper with compliments about each other. The compliments were both funny and illuminating. As one might expect, some of them were very generic with remarks like, "You're nice." But other compliments were very individualized and gave me great insight into the way my son is viewed by his classmates. The compliments talked about him being: "funny," "athletik" (they're in second grade, after all), "helpful" and "a good listener." 

My son beamed when he read the things his friends wrote about him and it was really delightful to get to share that with him. You could see how much effort the students put into their compliments because these were their gifts to each other. 

If you're looking for a great sibling gift, look no further than a piece of paper, some markers and heart-felt sentiment. We're going to be writing what we like about each other and putting it in the toe of everyone's Christmas stocking. I'd rather have that than an orange, wouldn't you?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why I Let My Son Set His Legos On Fire

a young boy holding some building blocks

My seven-year-old son recently asked if he could set his Legos on fire. He hadn’t outgrown them and he wasn’t fed up with them. In fact, Legos are one of my son’s favorite toys. So why was he asking to burn his playthings? Because he has a Lego fire truck set complete with firemen minifigures and he wanted to watch his crew “put out” a fire.
When he asked if he could have a Lego-sized bonfire, my first instinct was to give a resounding “no.” After all, we don’t play with matches and we don’t burn our toys! Isn’t that the first (and what should be the second) rule of fire safety? 
Read why I changed my mind (it has something to do with Angela Duckworth's book, Grit) here

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately: The Christmas Edition

We are what we read, or so I'd like to think. I enjoy looking at other people's reading lists, because I think it gives me insight into the person. Also because it gives me ideas for new titles to read!

We do a literary advent each year, where I wrap all our Christmas books and we open one each night until Christmas. Ripping off the paper and finding a book - even a book we have already read - is a thrill for both me and the kids. This year we included some new books, and they've all been winners.

Here's what I've been reading lately on my own and as part of the advent countdown:

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist - This book is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the pants. There's something here for you, no matter what life stage you're in. The chapters are super short and don't need to be read consecutively, so it's a breezy, but deep, read. Do yourself a favor and read this in 2016, your life will thank you.

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance - I'd heard a lot about this book, especially post-election. It's an inside view into the complexity of life and poverty in Kentucky's Appalachia region and in an Ohio steel town. As Vance puts it: "So I didn't write this book because I've accomplished something extraordinary. I've achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn't happen to most kids who grow up like me." A fascinating and eye-opening read.

Christmas Day in the Morning, Pearl S. Buck - When I think of Pearl S. Buck, I think of books set in long ago and faraway China, not the farmlands of the good ol' USA, but that's the setting for this book. I hadn't read this book before (and don't even know how I came across it), but it's now a Christmas must-read for us. Make it one for you, too.

Christmas in the Barn, Margaret Wise Brown -  This was another familiar author but unknown book. (Brown is, of course, known for Good Night Moon). This book has charming illustrations and a beautiful cadence, making it an enjoyable great Christmas read for all ages.  It'll make our literary advent again next year.

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit: What I've Been Reading Lately. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Indoor Activities for Kids

It's started snowing in some parts of the country. In my neck of the woods, we've had rain - a lot of it. I'm grateful for the rain, even if being cooped up with kids hopped up on Christmas sugar is not my idea of a really good time. 

Here are a few indoor activities we employ when the weather gets dicey (and sometimes even when it isn't): 

2. Skillshare online classes (I first heard about Skillshare here. AshleyAnn makes several recommendations for classes. We really like the Kids Doodling one.)

3. GoNoodle  - This is a free, fun website for getting the wiggles out. We are partial to the dance channel. 

4. Kinetic sand - If you don't already have this sand, add it to your Christmas list now. You can buy it at Michaels with a coupon. 

5. Adult coloring books - I bought this as a gift for someone and ended up keeping it for myself. This summer when it was super hot, one afternoon I sat down to color with the kids. Naturally, everyone wanted my coloring book. I don't blame them - it was actually very soothing, especially when we added an audio book to the mix (which brings me to my next suggestion). 

6. Audio books - Recommendations here

7. Dominoes (Either playing the game or just stacking them up in lots of crazy ways and then knocking them down.)

8. Water bottle flipping - A friend's older son introduced my 7 year old to this. At first, I thought it was the dumbest thing  I'd ever heard (it's exactly like it sounds: flipping a plastic water bottle and seeing how many times in a row you can make it land upright). But for some reason, my son finds it entertaining. As with all dumb things, there are numerous YouTube videos. 

9. Elf Yourself - an oldie but goodie. The little boy from China who stayed with us last year thought it was the best thing ever!!

10. Math games - Sure, you'd be that mom, but it doesn't hurt to be that mom some of the time. Here are a couple of sites: