Great Holiday Books for Kids

Yesterday, my holiday book list for kids was published on Mile High Mamas, the parenting blog associated with the Denver Post. If you are looking for some wonderful books to read to the kids or grandkids, or as gifts for your school or friends, this list is worth checking out.

And if you go to the site, please hit the Like button. I would love for them to keep inviting me to blog for them!

Diary of a Small Business

My blog on starting a small business was published on Yahoo Voices, and it gives me an opportunity to let people know that I currently have all five Global Giving Kits in stock, although the ones for Kenya and Haiti are running low. Please check out the blog and go to to learn more about Penny Jar Kids and order a Global Giving Kit for your child or grandchild. It makes a great gift and fun family activity for the upcoming holidays.

Family Dinner and the 4th of July

The Declaration of Independence opens with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” What our founding fathers meant was that there are certain things we do not need to back up with research, prove, or debate as a citizen of this country.

As a parent, there are similar truths. “Talk to your kids” is one of them. “Spend time with your kids” is another. So is, “Show them you care.”

The Sunday Review section of the July 1 New York Times, my favorite few pages of newspaper all week, included an editorial called “Is the Family Dinner Overrated?” by Ann Meier and Kelly Musick. I was tremendously disappointed. According to the opinion piece, a recent study found that family dinner is not as important to the health and happiness and future success of our children as originally thought. You actually have to talk to your children during those dinners.

First, I realized why higher education is so expensive. Universities are paying their top professors and researchers the big bucks because they spend months, if not years, trying to debunk concepts like eating dinner with your kids. Why?

Second, I was disappointed that anyone, especially experts in the field, felt they had to study family dinners and point out that the dinner isn’t the important thing. It’s the talk around the table. Isn’t it obvious that the reason psychologists have been pushing family dinners is specifically because it provides an opportunity to spend time with your kids, talk to them, learn about them, and show them you care? It’s certainly not the chicken nuggets or pasta with butter.

I remember hearing a story about dinner at the house of my grandfather’s when he was a young boy. He had one younger brother and a number of sisters, but only the boys were allowed to talk at mealtime. The girls could answer a question if their father asked one of them, but other than that, conversation at the dinner table focused on the boys.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Talk to each of your children. Do we really need to conduct a months-long study on that one?

Anyway, with my disappointment raging in both universities that apparently sponsored this research, and the New York Times for highlighting it as an impressive new body of information on parenting, I thought about the last few dinners around our table.

Night One: Our nine year old, who had just completed a week of sailing camp told us about the huge fish that jumped out of the reservoir right near his boat. When he learned that his Dad once took sailing lessons, he named every possible boat that he might have sailed.

Night Two: I groaned often as the boys and their Dad recited, over and over, the lines from a youtube video of a talking dog disappointed that his owner ate all the maple bacon. Then they went into repetitive recitation of the lines to the baby broker e*trade ads.  An hour of giggling around the table.

Night Three: The eight year old’s radical improvement after only three swimming lessons was lauded by all. The story of his epic chase after our runaway dog the night before was recounted with gentle reminders that we would rather lose the dog than the boy. “Please stay close to home, don’t get in a stranger’s car, and can everybody please tell my our address and phone number?”

Night Four: The three boys reminded us once again of the many attributes of their Bey Blades, including their favorites, which ones they wanted next, and plans for a lemonade stand to earn money so they could buy more on ebay, where they pointed out, they are cheaper.

Night Five: An hour of really bad Knock Knock jokes, some completely misunderstood because they were told by a four year old. Much laughing.

Night Six: New nicknames for all. Puddin’ Brain was a favorite for the most academic of the three. Then we discussed what to get Mommy for her birthday, without, of course, including Mommy in the conversation. Loud whispering.

Night Seven: An announcement that the boys would read the Declaration of Independence for the 4th of July.

Hopefully, when they are parents, they will already understand the self-evident truths of both our nation and life as a parent… and not need the New York Times to explain them.

Yes, as parents, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

My Mid-December To-Do List

I love Christmas. I love getting gifts for my family. I even love shopping at this time of year. I love making the family calendar of photos to send to the grandparents. I get a kick out of the frenetic, insane energy in my children. I can’t wait to read their letters to Santa, which this year included nearly every item in the Lego catalogue.

Lego, you timed that mailing perfectly.

What gets me is the to-do list still hanging over my head. Most must be done in the next two days:

• Wrap and deliver gifts for adopted family in need
• 7 teacher gifts (and wrap)
• Piano teacher gift (just remembered that one!)
• Help third grader make homemade ornament
• Help second grader make homemade Secret Santa gift
• Make holiday cookies individually wrapped for third grade cookie exchange
• Drop off Character Power letter on Justice for second grade parents
• Get birthday gift for Friday’s birthday party
• Purchase team gift cards for basketball coach gifts (almost forgot that one)
• Blog
• Clean the house
• Make the extra beds for visiting family
• Grocery shop
• Get gifts for two sisters and finish the boys
• Get stocking stuffers
• Get bagels for tomorrow’s PA meeting
• Go to tomorrow’s PA meeting
• Go to last basketball game and post-season pizza party with second grader

And then…there’s the new dog. Just arrived last night. Stronger than me. Just rolled herself in poop. Keeps trying to eat the ornaments off the tree. Desperate for a holiday dog trainer.

I love Christmas. I love the feeling of excitement that fills the house. I love reading Christmas stories to the boys. I love the “is Santa real?” question. I love seeing they believe.

And I really love the dog.

A Thanksgiving Scrooge Gives Thanks

I have so much to be thankful for, so I feel truly guilty that I am such a scrooge about Thanksgiving. I mean, here’s this holiday that has minimal commercial value and lavish gift-giving. All it tries to do is give us a moment to give thanks. I should love it!

And this year was truly an exceptional one. Our second grader’s friend organized a large parent/child football game at the park. Two hours of playing in gorgeous weather with a table spread with coffee and donuts reminded me of several things I am thankful for: my husband, my boys, our friends and any warm, sunny day during which I get to play like a child. Then Thanksgiving dinner at our house with more friends who made it really fun. Again, I was grateful. The food turned out fine. More friends in the door for dessert.

Really, I could ask for nothing greater than my day yesterday.

What I do not like is all the effort that goes into making Thanksgiving the feast it is supposed to be. And where does all that effort come from?

Women (yes, there are a few rare male birds out there who do the turkey’s share of the work, but mostly……it’s all us).

Maybe one of the guys stops into the kitchen on his way to grab a beer and juices up the bird. But other than that, they are in the “man cave” watching hours of football. Or reading. Or doing the crossword.

Now, every other day of the year, I am not a raging feminist. But on Thanksgiving, I rant.

And I have renamed the holiday Man’s Day, because in my experience, men really have everything they want on Thanksgiving. And it’s at the expense of women, whose feet and back ache by the time everyone sits down to eat. Men should not get Fathers’ Day too. It’s not fair.

I first hated Thanksgiving as a teenager, because it seemed to me that part of our family tradition was my mother crying as she rolled out the piecrust. Crazy. Ruining the dinner.

But now I know!

She was in the kitchen all day cooking alone for my sisters, my dad and his parents. We barely helped, if at all. Her mother-in-law got in the way. And my father disappeared into the study. No wonder she cried when the piecrust tore!

I get more help in the kitchen than she did, so I am not driven to the traditional tears. But I am on my feet all day cooking food I don’t really like. And then everyone stuffs their faces, and within half an hour, my culinary efforts have been devoured. Rather than say how delicious the food was, most people push back from the table, rub their bellies as if you’ve injured them, and groan that they ate too much.

Ahhh, Thanksgiving!

And then that pie that you cried over? They are too full to eat it!

So, here I am one day later, dishes done, laundry caught up, kids as happy as can be. Maybe I should do my “I am Thankful for…” List to remind me how lucky I am. Here it goes:

I am thankful for…
Giggles and snuggles with my boys
A husband who keeps me on my toes and makes me laugh
Parents who gave me everything
Sisters who are my best friends
Friends who are like sisters
Cheering for the sun when it sets over Cape Cod bay
Light splashing through the trees on a late summer afternoon
Books with a soul
Dinners out
Then it’s back to the boys again….chatting softly together as they get ready for bed.