Cold Snap

I am not really a fall, winter or spring person. The fact that I consider temperatures under 60 degrees a cold snap should tell you something. And you can laugh, but those seasons bring icy fingers that reach under my skin and keep me at a steady temperature of freezing until the sun pushes away the wind and keeps me on the safe side of warm.

But fireplace fires, that is something I do appreciate about these cold seasons. Wood smoke curling around the room while the flames lick the corners. Everyone descends on the living room but does their own thing. Legos tumble together and morph from inanimate objects into the imagined. The metronome tocks in the background, while I curl up under a blanket and devour a book.


When it is cold we slow down, turn inward and rest.

There’s something about a warm fire on a cold day that makes the rest of the schedule seem unimportant. These moments aren’t perfect. As soon as I stand up I will step on a lego, and bite my tongue to keep from swearing. The metronome’s steady beat will tock its way into annoyance, setting my misyphonia on edge, and the kids will erupt into fighting. At least once every 17 minutes, just like the statistics say they will. But for 17 blissful minutes by the fire I can breath, exhale and accept the cold temperatures for what they bring, the family together even if the quiet only lasts 17 minutes.

I like that.

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Quality time with kids

The older the kids get the harder it becomes to spend time with them. They are often busy with school work, friends, legos or the important work of being kids. It was easier when they were little and I could scoop them in my arms and just hold them.

But I miss spending time with them. Margo and I still spend plenty of quality time together. We have all the afternoons to read, play, and talk. But it is hard with Rebecca and Isaac. The mornings are rushed and the evenings are short. They come home off the bus, settle into some quiet time to themselves and before I know it, it is time for bed and I have barely spoken to them.

Margo is always asking to spend time with me. But the older two, rarely ask for it. And it made me think, is there anyway to combat this separation? Not that I am proposing I need to be with them every moment, but how can I intentionally spend time with them, so I don’t wake up one day and say, “Crap, I never see my kids.”

I believe a mistake parents make as kids get older is giving them too much space. Because we crave it and they do as well, we throw up our hands in acceptance of this rite of passage. But, just because an adolescent doesn’t need the physical care that a toddler or preschooler does, doesn’t mean we don’t need to spend time with them.

Our kids need us, they just can’t always admit they do.

So what do we do when our kids don’t talk to us? Make them? Continually ask them what is going on? Or do we just spend time with them and allow the dialog to open naturally?

I think that is the better route.

Isaac loves secrets and telling stories. There isn’t a lot of space for him to do this, because there is always another sibling talking. So the other night I got out an empty notebook and wrote him a letter. I told him this was a special book that he could write anything he wanted to me. I stuck the notebook on his bed with a pencil. Minutes later he padded to my office with the notebook in hand. “I can write anything to you?”

I shook my head yes and he took off for a quiet corner to write.

And in a few short sentences I found out more what he does everyday, than I ever knew when I asked him about his day. I can elaborate then over breakfast or dinner what he wrote about. And that is when the stories pour out. But the letter, gave me an opening I didn’t have before.

Rebecca is even harder to spend time with. She is always reading, playing piano, or doing schoolwork. I realized there were many days we didn’t even connect. I couldn’t remember the last time I read to her. So I chose a book off her shelves, and we have been reading it together every night. Snuggled under my comforter we take turns reading to each other. And I cheer inside every time she puts the book down and tells me about her day. It has become a less obtrusive way of asking her about her day. And as soon as she has said what she needed to say, we pick the book back up and continue reading. It has become my favorite part of the day.

Kids need our attention regardless of their age, but it becomes harder as they get older because both we and they feel like they are okay. But we need to keep that line of communication open. It isn’t easy and it takes a lot of ingenuity to get them to open up, but it’s as important. Just because our older kids can articulate their thoughts, doesn’t mean they will. But if we create the space for them to talk, they will.

Doing the hard work now, I hope we will build a strong foundation when we hit the turbulent teen years. If they trust me now with the small stuff of life, I hope they will come to me with the big stuff.


How do you connect with your kids each day?

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Know what you want

A Facebook friend posted a link to an article about Gen X-ers parenting in the age of technology. It is a great article and describes the tension parents today feel between what is available and what kids are ready for. I read the article the same day I heard a report on NPR about a study of 100 kids in California. They discovered the more screen time a child had, the less able they were to read facial expressions/emotions. Five days at a camp, removed from screens and reliant upon face to face contact, the kids improved this ability.

So what does that say about screens?

The world is full of screens. As a librarian I love the access to information. If I have a question, I can find an answer within seconds. Recipe for 45 lbs of apples? Done. Hamstring aching? In seconds 3 possible reasons and ways to fix it. Technology is a useful tool. It has given my husband a great job. It keeps me connected to family when we are hours away. It gave me a creative outlet for all the crazy that bounces around my head.

But do I think my 10, 6 and 4 year old need an tablet?

No way.

Do I think they need a phone?

Not on your life.

Is a hand held game system a necessity?


What kids need is creative play. They need to be outside in the dirt, rolling around in piles of leaves, tromping through fields, canoeing down rivers, staring up at the sky, counting cars that go by, being bored. Technology will always be here, which is why I am not in a hurry to introduce it into their lives.

That’s not to say we are a no screen family. They are allowed to watch TV and play computer games and the Wii. Sometimes I let them play a game on my phone or take pictures with it. I like my phone. I use my laptop constantly. I keep in touch with my husband throughout the day through texts. It would be ironic for me to not let me kids use technology when it is a huge part of my life. But, just like I do with any other aspect of my life, I need to show them with my action, an appropriate boundary with technology.

Isaac videochatting with a far away friend


The debate that rages about screens is usually an either/or, which is always a mistake. The best decisions usually land somewhere in the middle and not on either extreme. Our lives have been changed by the advances in the past twenty years, our lives are enriched, and how we interact with people has changed. We are still the parents, and just like we don’t hand over a bag of candy and tell our kids have at it, we need to be more respectful of the good and harm access to screens can have on our children.


1) Educate yourself. You are not the only parent facing this dilemma. There is an increasing load of research about how screens affect our kids. Some is for screen time and some is against. Do your homework and understand the possible approaches before you make a decision.

2) Set a clear boundary. This will be different for every family and there is no right or wrong answer. Take the research you read, the personalities of your kids, and with confidence decide how your family will interact with screens. What is an appropriate amount of TV, phone, and gaming per day for YOUR family?

3) Be flexible. Nothing is ever set in stone, but with clear boundaries your children will know what is expected of them. And they will be grateful for days of grace.

4) Your kids will be fine. Whether you decide only screens on weekends, or screens in the evenings, or no screens at all, the possibilities are endless. And no matter what you decide, your kids will be okay. What they need to see is the routine, the pattern, a guide for how much technology we need in our life. They aren’t going to be thirty and not know how to use a keyboard. It is everywhere they go, the problem isn’t if they will learn to use it, but how they will learn to use it.

5) Have a conversation Don’t set rules without following up on the why, and don’t shut your kids out of the conversation. Listen to them, hear them, and explain to them. Depending on the age of your kids, include them in the decision making process. There will be push back, because you set a rule. What kid doesn’t yell when you tell them not to do something? Tell your kids you love them, and because you love them you want to show them the best way for living.

6) Reevaluate. As kids get older, as kids mature, as their nature changes, the boundaries will need to change. Teenagers have different needs when it comes to screens than an 8 yo does. Always be open to reexamine and rethink what needs to be done. But keep using the process of educating, setting boundaries, conversing, flexibility, and reevaluation. You can’t go wrong when you are confident your decisions are well thought out.

We are navigating uncharted waters as parents. As phones, gaming systems, computers, tablets, and other technologies become cheaper and more available we have to decide how we want our families to interact with this world. Nothing happens to us, we get to respond. I challenge you, parent to parent, decide how you will respond.

Screens may be the way kids communicate today, but does that make them better communicators? I don’t know, but I  do know it is something I need to explore. Will be kids be left behind because they don’t have a DS? I think they will be okay, and besides their friends have them.

My daughter asked me recently when she could buy a phone. She asked if she could have one at the same age I did. I had to laugh, because I didn’t get a phone until I was 21. She doesn’t understand that there was a world before cellphones, laptops, and Wii’s. But I do, and I want my kids to experience what I had growing up. I have the best of both worlds. My childhood was relatively screen free and my adulthood expanded to include the world at my fingertips. It wasn’t necessary to have a screen in my hand at birth, I learned and I continue to learn all I need to know to exist in this world.

And I believe they will too.

The tension then, is how do you want to parent? What is your objective in raising kids? Know that first, and then decide how you want your kids to interact with technology. You might just sleep better at night.


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We are where we are

Michael and I tend to make quick decisions. Whether it’s buying a car, a house, getting married . . . taking a long walk. Once we decide what we are going to do there isn’t much point in waiting.

It works for us, most of the time. We’re okay admitting when we make mistakes. But sometimes our mistakes affect our kids. For example Saturday when we decided to go on a canoe trip. The day was beautiful. The kids were in a good, well, good is a strong word. The kids were in an acceptable mood. Our bellies were full of delicious pancakes and we knew there weren’t many more weekends we could go out.

So we piled the kids in the car and headed 45 minutes east. No supplies, no sun screen, no bug repellent. We actually were proud of ourselves for remembering to pack extra clothes and shoes. But snacks? Why our stomachs were full. Sunscreen? I look at the two redheads. Eh, we’ll be fine. Isn’t fall sun weaker? And I’m sure there won’t be any bugs on the river.

We paid for our canoes and when the cashier asked if we needed any snacks our first response was, “Nah.” Then we looked at each other, the time, and decided maybe some water and food was needed for the 7 mile trip down the Cuyahoga River.

They bundled us in the van and drove 7 miles out. Dropped our canoes in the water and waved goodbye. It got real right then. We were 7 miles from our car, from bathrooms, from rest. The two packages of peanut butter crackers and 2 packages of trail mix didn’t seem like enough. Rebecca and I were in one canoe and Michael, Isaac and Margo were in the other. We put the oars to the water and well, kept paddling back to shore.

Yeah, it’s been a few years. Once we received guidance from the staff on the banks, Rebecca and I set out to catch up with Michael and the other two. It went well for a while. We floated down the river.

It was silent. Really silent. No cars, no other people. Just the sprinkling of our oars as we sliced through the water. It was one of those times where past, present and future collide into a moment of eternity. It’s the space where a person understands how God looked at creation and felt


There aren’t many moments like that and anytime I feel them I realize I’m on holy ground, and I thank God for the reminder.

Soon the tenor changed. Rebecca and I pulled away and were further downstream than Michael who was chugging along the best he could with Margo and Isaac dangling their oars in the water creating additional resistance. Isaac’s cries of, “FASTER DADDY, They’re beating us!” bounced off the water around us.

Margo realized that her paddle wasn’t actually doing anything and she became her surly self.

Poor Michael.

Rebecca and I were faster, but we also were terrible at steering. Eventually Michael would pull up beside us as we struggled to paddle ourselves out of a tree, rocks or whatever else we didn’t see until it was too late.

They would get a head of us, then we would straighten our canoe and pull in the front. It reminded me of the Indian runs I used to do in cross country (is there a more PC version of this name?) Where runners go from the back of the line to the front and keep repeating for the balance of the miles. Every so often Rebecca and I would get distracted by water bugs, heron, leaves and end up tangled in a fallen tree. Michael would paddle up and say, “Are you stuck again?”

At one point we had been on the water a while. Neither Michael, nor I, brought our phones, which meant we had no idea of time. I am pretty good at guesstimating time. It creeps Michael out. We’ll be sitting on the couch and he’ll wonder what time it is. I’ll say, 9:45 and he’ll check the time on the TV. I am exact to the minute almost every time. Only the two weeks surrounding daylight savings time screws with my eternal clock. Michael was impressed with this unhelpful skill until I told him it came from a stream of jobs where I was completely and utterly bored. So I became a ninja master at the passage of time.

Anyway, Rebecca and I sang our hearts out. Such favorites as Life is Hard when she turned to me and asked, “How much longer until we get there?” Not having been on the river before I had no reference points, and I was having so much fun, I had no orientation for the passage of time. At that moment, it didn’t matter how much time had passed, or how much further we had to go. Because we couldn’t know either.

So I told her, “We are where we are, so enjoy the moment.”

And she accepted my answer and kept paddling.

For three hours we paddled. Only stopping a few times to let our arms rest. She only asked twice how much further we had, and for a child who can’t even keep herself from asking on our way to school, “HOW MUCH FURTHER?” it was impressive.

If she can figure that out before she hits adulthood, I think she will find a lot more peace in life.

Isn’t that our biggest question? How much time do I have before . . ? Fill in the blank. How much time do I have before marriage is easy. Or the kids can take care of themselves. Or my job will make me happy. Humans need orientation to the end goal. We care more about the  the future than enjoying where we are on the journey. And the only thing we know for sure, is where we are right now.

We made it back to the livery and the pulled our canoes up on the banks. Rebecca and I squished our way up the dirt (Mishap on the “rapids” Not being able to steer and fast moving water are not a good mix for my skills) And I have to say there has never been a better day.

All of us enjoyed the moment. We didn’t think about what was ahead of us. Or what we didn’t have (Food, protection, or time) We didn’t wish we had never started the journey.

We were where we were. And that was the only place we wanted to be.




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Apple Picking with kids

Any weekend in September that sports temperatures above 80, we go apple picking. This results in us going  the same weekend every year, because although people joke Ohio weather is unpredictable it is anything but.

Last years adventure in apple picking

So we loaded the kiddos in the van and drove to the same orchard we go to every year. And because I decided to go phone free for the afternoon we relied on my husband’s non compliant 3G network and my memory to get us there.

Needless to say we made a few wrong turns. When the kids asked if we were lost, shouted in unison, “We know exactly where we are not!”

At the orchard that is.

Finally my husband’s phone found service and we realized we just turned too soon. Parked and ready to pick, my kids are unleashed on an unwitting orchard. Within 15 minutes we had 45 pounds of apples.

That’s right. 45 pounds. Can’t put those puppies back. The only thing that slowed them down was the fact they couldn’t physically pick up the bags anymore. We lugged the loot back to the van and went to the bakery down the road for our annual apple treats. The kids hopped out of the car with their hands ready to pinch and said, “Oooohh, more apples.”

I will admit for about 3 seconds I considered picking more apples. Because I like Fuji apples and all we had were McIntosh. But then I remembered I had 45 POUNDS sitting in the back of my van, so I said no.

And they whined and they cried and then they saw a family walk by with cider, so thy said, “Oohhh, apple cider.” We lost them again. Thankfully, we only bought 1 jug of apple cider, a dozen apple cider donuts, and 2 apple fritters the size of Texas. 

Since Saturday we have made apple dumplings (or rather apples that I stuffed with butter and sugar and then threw the pie crust on top because who the hell can get a freaking pie crust to stick around an apple! SCREW YOU ALLRECIPES. YOU SAY EASY BUT YOU MEAN IMPOSSIBLE. Okay, I’m good now)

Rebecca made applesauce, which was so full of cinnamon I thought someone was taping me for the cinnamon challenge. Rebecca and Isaac made oatmeal out of an apple bowl. And Margo and I made apple pie cake. That’s right, it’s a pie and a cake. How do you like them apples?

All told we’ve been through 12 pounds of apples in 3 days. Seriously. Only 12 pounds. I’m kinda thinking I might need to ignore my hammie pull and go running, otherwise I’ll be buried under my apple picking weight.

The point of this whole post is to ask for more apple recipes. I don’t mind searching the internet, but I prefer some tried and true recipes. If you have any apple recipes please send them my way because I still have 3 full bags of apples sitting in our fridge. And if you like eating apple treats, you are in luck. We can bake all the apple treats for you. You just need to come to my house and eat them.

Next year, I need to rethink my apple picking strategy and only allow 2 bags for our family. Otherwise I will need to build a storehouse.

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We can’t just inhale

The past couple of days my mind has been a constant stream of thought. It felt like processing after an EMDR session, except instead of introspection on my life, I was trying to figure out my novel.

Like I said in Don’t Throw It Out, my novel needs reworked. I received positive feedback from the judges that 1) I had solid writing; 2) I had an audience; 3) Other than grammar, I just needed to increase the conflict/tension and I had a book.

Oh, that’s all. Ha.

My little mind started revving like the wheels of a locomotive heading down a mountain track. What do I keep, what do I take out? And the more I thought, the deeper and deeper I went into fear. I sifted through the pages and realized that what I thought was tension was just the same scene played over and over. My characters were flat. Can anything good come from this?

Thankfully I had a therapy session scheduled and although we didn’t talk about the book, we did talk about space. Acknowledging what is without trying to figure out the why. And from that session, this morning I sat down with a sharp No. 2 pencil and plotted out where my story would go.

My mind stopped inhaling and took a long breath out. And in that space, everything made sense.

When faced with problems, it is our human inclination to act. We look for what we should be doing, what we can reasonably do, and why we should be doing it. There isn’t anything wrong with that approach, but it easily leads us down a path of: fear, frustration, and doubt.

But space? The only questions we ask ourselves; is what is? What is my problem and acknowledge it. I don’t have to have a solution and I don’t have to know why, I just have to say what reality is.

For my book, that reality is I needed tension. It didn’t matter how great my writing was, if the story didn’t go anywhere I wouldn’t capture my reader.

Exhale out.

From that space, I was able to breathe life back into the story. Now it is going somewhere. Now the characters are changing and growing the way they should. In fact, the way they did when I first started writing this book almost four years ago.

I realized that my exhale out, was more important than my inhale.

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Don’t Throw it Out

I tried a new recipe yesterday. I searched the interwebs for a cake recipe that would use up the  48oz of ricotta cheese I had in my fridge. Don’t ask me why I bought that much ricotta; it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The recipes all looked incredible, but one caught my fancy. It was a Berry ricotta cake. It looked rustic, it looked moist and it looked like something I wanted in my belly. Baking is one of my favorite hobbies. There is something about the process that is satisfying in a day of unproductiveness.

I whipped the butter and sugar to perfection. I added the oil, egg and honey until the egg was just absorbed. I carefully mixed in the flour and stirred the ricotta and sour cream so it wasn’t overbeaten.

I pulled out a cake pan and greased it. Put in half the batter and scattered raspberries and layered with the rest of the batter on top. The pan looked full. Really full, but the recipe said a 9 inch would be fine, so I slid the cake into the oven and set the timer for 50 minutes, While it began to bake I pictured everyone’s joyful response when the walked into the house with the smell of vanilla to greet them.

Within five minutes I realized my mistake. A burnt odor covered everything. The house grew smokier and smokier.

The cake wasn’t the problem, the pan was.

I opened up the oven and clouds billowed out. The cake bubbled and dripped onto the rack and oven below it. The sugar turned into a black grime as soon as it hit the heat.

It wasn’t pretty.

And I couldn’t salvage it. Once a cake starts baking, there is no turning back. No repackaging it into a new pan. I’ve done that before and the results are rubbery. I picked up the oozing pan and washed it down the disposal.

Inside I cried a little.

No tasty cake. No joyful exclamations from my family. Just an acrid smell that bit everyone as they entered the house.

I couldn’t get the cake out of my head. So today after lunch I tackled the recipe. The cake wasn’t the problem, my choice of pan was. I measured, I mixed and I poured the cake into the pan.

And it turned out delicious. Right now, I am trying not to devour it before the family gets a chance to sink their teeth into it.

The whole process reminded me of my novel. I’ve been sitting on the judges comments for a month. The critiques said my writing was engaging, but my story lacked tension. One judge said she couldn’t put the pages down even though nothing new was happening. I’ve been battling a vortex of shame that threatened to swallow my whole writing dream these past few weeks. I knew all I needed to do is rework the story, but I felt like I had to start from square one. And I wasn’t sure I had it in me.

Yesterday, while the garbage disposal ate the cake, I started to rewrite my novel.

But today while the aroma of the cake filled the house, I realized my writing wasn’t the problem, I just needed a different structure. All this time I thought I had the wrong ingredients for my story. The ingredients are fine, I just needed to make them bigger. Like the cake, I had chosen the wrong pan for my story.

While the new cake baked, I sat down with the word file and a notebook and picked out the story I was going to tell. The scenes were all there, I didn’t need to start over, they needed reworking. The story didn’t need thrown out. It’s not like my first cake that can’t be rebaked. I can fix this story, even though it is already baked.

And now I have a plan.

Writing is tough. There are days the words don’t come, there are days I don’t have a spare minute to write, and there are days where I doubt myself. But, I don’t need to throw out the whole product because I’ve had some rough days. I need to take what I have and put it in a different pan. I don’t have to start over from scratch, that’s the great thing about writing. If it doesn’t work you don’t have to start over.

You just choose a different pan.

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Share your reading selfie

Today is International Literacy day. Guess that one doesn’t make the calendar. But it is a pretty big deal, because literacy rates are frighteningly low across the US and especially here in the CLE that I love. 14 % of US adults can’t read, that’s 32 million people according to the Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. In our part of Northeast Ohio, 44% of adults can’t read well enough to advance in the job market. And the Plain Dealer says hundreds of 3rd graders may not progress to the next grade because of their reading skills.

Doesn’t that scare you? If people struggle in this basic skill it holds them back not only in school but all through life. Research shows if a child can’t read by 3rd grade they are more likely to be a high school drop out. And that doesn’t just affect the person who can’t read it, compromises the entire economic development of a region. It doesn’t matter how many jobs are out there if the workforce doesn’t have the skills necessary to do the job.

I don’t believe policymakers go far enough in school readiness. We don’t need more tests. We need parents to understand the day their child is born how critical reading to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is for school. Knowing the ABC’s and 1,2,3′s isn’t enough. Kids need to hear words, songs, and stories from day 1. They need to be read to and more important they need to see their parents reading. And if the parents are unable to read, everyone needs to stand behind them and get them the help they need. Because the success of their whole family depends on it.

Something else we need to do is change the culture where parents don’t read themselves. I have a lot of conversations with parents that go something like this.

Person: Oh I wish I had time to read! By the time the kids are in bed I’m too tired.

Me: So read when they are awake.

Person (Condescending laugh): Haha, right like they would let me read. How do you get so much reading time in?

Me: I read when the kids are playing.

And that is where I lose them. Parents believe it is their duty to entertain their children constantly. What would it hurt if while they played in the backyard, you swung on the hammock and read? Or when they all get home from school and everyone’s exhausted, pick up your own book and read while they have snack or decompress.

The fact is kids  mimic everything we do. They say what we say, copy our actions, good or bad, and act like us. Shouldn’t they want to read like us? Reading may not be your thing, and I get that, but don’t you want it to be your kids’s thing? All the sacrifices we make during dinner, or screen time, or your own sanity, doesn’t it make sense to do the same when it comes to reading? Why is reading always classified as the one thing a family doesn’t have time for?

Or something only the kids have to do?

If you want to raise readers, you don’t only need to read to them, it is your job to allow them to catch you reading. By osmosis they will understand how important reading is in life. It isn’t just something they have to do for school.

Egads, the might learn that reading is something enjoyable.

Reading isn’t just for kids, it is for the whole family. So cancel plans after dinner, sit down with a book and ignore your kids for a while.

It will do them a lot of good in the long run.

Celebrate International Literacy Day with a selfie. Participate by tagging your picture #literacyselfie and if you are in the CLE also tag #cleliteracy

The most important part of my everyday. Reading with the kids.

But equally as important? This:

Do you feel guilty taking the time to read?


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Reading: Wash, rinse, repeat.

I am a former children’s librarian, which means books are shoved in every room of our house and we visit the library every week to stock up on new titles. Every day we make space for reading because hearing books is an important first step on the road to independent reading. And when the kids read on their own we still read out loud to them and have them read out loud to us. My goal is always 30 minutes a day of reading time, and many days we go way, way over that.

I don’t think it is stressed enough how critical reading to children under the age of 3 is.

There is a downside to all this reading. The kids will latch on to a specific book. And anytime we sit down to read, their chubby little toddler hands will hand me a sticky copy of their current favorite.

When Rebecca was little it was Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. Isaac preferred the Curious George Treasury. And Margo is stuck on the Disney picture book Peter Pan. All of these books are great. They have unique words that build vocabulary. There is a lot of narration which builds sequencing of stories and the kids love them, which is the most important part of all.

But oh my GOD they are long. It isn’t so bad the first couple times I read it. I put my all into the story with voices, questions and dramatic pauses. But after a straight week of Peter Pan? I start picking out the insane abundance of adverbs. I question how much of the story in Library Lion is crucial to the plot. I begin to wonder if the Reys were paid by word for the naughty little monkey who managed to get into at least two separate incidents per story.

They are long.

At some point, I plead with the kids to break up the monotony. I will only read a certain book once per day, and if they want more than that they need to go solicit a volunteer reader from strangers passing down the sidewalk or wait until their dad gets home. I understand the importance of repetition. It takes repeated readings for the kids to learn new words. In addition the more words a child hears the better success they have at reading and in school. In fact a study that blows me away every time I read it says that there is a 30 million word gap between kids from professional families and kids from low-income families.

The finding that children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words heard by children from higher-income families has significant implications in the long run. When extrapolated to the words heard by a child within the first four years of their life these results reveal a 30 million word difference. That is, a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family. This gap does nothing but grow as the years progress, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds. Source

The education problem isn’t has more to do with words heard than with income. To close the learning gap we need to: 1) Talk to our children 2)Read to them 3) Get intervention services before age 3. I believe the gap can be narrowed in our lifetime if we follow these three rules.

And it starts with reading. Going to the library storytime isn’t enough. Buying an app for the iPad isn’t enough. Learning starts at home with the main caregivers. It begins with conversations, stories, and a safe environment.

Parents, read to your kids. Start when they are babies and never stop. Read stories that interest them and repeat them as often as the child wants. Create space in the day so you can read to your children. If you don’t do anything else as a parent, do this one thing.


Kids need to hear language in order to succeed. TV screens can’t replace the human voice. It isn’t the same as sitting snuggled with a parent, reading stories and talking. Studies show that TV is not interactive enough for kids to learn language, so turn off  the screen and read.

Here’s the kicker: for each hour, on average, that infants between 8 and 16 months old watched infant-directed television (including DVD versions of those programs) per day, they could expect a seventeen point reduction in their scores on the CDI. Let me say that again: each hour per day, on average, that these kids watched TV was associated with a seventeen point decrease on a measure of language acquisition. Source

Considering kids under the age of two watch an average of 2 hours of TV a day, there is time to read. Programs should really focus on getting parents to read to their kids before they leave the hospital, because it will save a lot of money in remedial work down the road.

This afternoon when Margo picked out stories, of course Peter Pan was at the top of the pile. I hid my sigh and opened the page. Instead of being annoyed by the story, I saw how this book was enriching her life with words I don’t use in my every day conversation. And the more I read it to her, the more words she learns.

So I keep reading it, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster for a writer who clearly didn’t edit out adverbs, because the end result is this:

Margo Reading

What book does your child request over and over?

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Space to Grow

A lesson the world forgets to teach kids today is space; space to breathe, space to think, and space to live. But that goes against our culture, doesn’t it? When was the last time you heard another parent say the kids and I sat around and did nothing?

You haven’t heard that, have you? In fact, whenever I say that to another parent, their eyes narrow and reply, “I wish I could just sit around.”

The implication is something is wrong with me, because the rest of the world buys the lie life is a relentless race. There is no choice about busyness, it just is. The problem with that is, research shows how important lazy, boring days are. They aren’t wasted time, they are fertile ground for development. The spaces aren’t there to mark time until something happens, the spaces are what happens.

A book I have been reading, Simplicity Parenting says, “What we want for our children, truly, is engagement.”

Engagement isn’t organized activities. Activities are practice of a skill and don’t require the inner life of a child to shine through. True engagement is exploration. A child picking up a stick and brushing it against a fence, or staring up at the sky and creating order of condensation, or listening to the quiet voice inside that asks questions. For a child to engage this way requires space not structure. Engagement is about presence. Being fully present in the moment, and when our eyes are always on the next thing, we can never be engaged with our lives and the world. Activities and busyness distract children from the true life that makes them grow.

And to explore the world in the way we were created to, requires space; space to breathe and expand. 

Last week I was in Colorado. I was blown away by the sheer expanse. Not just the expanse of the mountains, but by the emptiness between them. I could stretch out and breathe, think, and be in the moment. How can you not with views like this?

It was a clear reminder that life wasn’t meant to be lived on auto, moving from place to place without stopping to understand where I am going and why. I could have gone to Colorado and checked it off my to do list, or,  I could go and realize that the moment was the point.

We aren’t meant to only sit around and reflect. Activities are important, but they are the result of space and not vice versa. It is the difference between working from rest and resting from work. Growth doesn’t just happen for our kids, it happens to us as well. And if we never allow ourselves a chance to exhale.

Growth won’t happen.


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