Year Two!

Well Worn Pages is two years old!

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It says a lot about how this second year has gone that the actual anniversary date is June 2nd but I am writing this on July 2nd and not publishing it until July 5th.

Where year one felt exciting, relaxed, and adventurous, year two has had an, ever so slight, lag. The excitement, fun, and adventure remain, but something else is in the mix.

Like all things sophomoric, the fresh, new shine has slightly dulled, only slightly, but the effect remains. My mind has become a little more greedy with the wealth of ideas it once gave. The excitement and enthusiasm are muddled with a questioning. I am teetering on the balance of “oh that was a cool experiment” and “this is becoming something real.”

To me, this is absolutely something real, something long term, something I thoroughly, unabashedly enjoy. But…I feel a nagging now when I sit down to write or read so that I can then write. There is a quiet voice reminding me that I should be spending my time investing in my kids, reading to my kids, having them read to me, playing with them, cleaning, cooking, answering emails, doing anything else that makes actual, real dollars. My family is very supportive of Well Worn Pages, so my apprehension is not from anything they have made me feel, but feel it I do.

I supposed an argument could be made that this blog is my mid life crisis. My chance to prove to myself that I could do something I always wanted to do: write. But now that I have the proof, I wonder: is my hobby in danger of becoming the equivalent of the proverbial, or occasionally very real, red Corvette. Something frivolous, burdensome, and even obnoxious? These are the quiet weights that have been added to year two.

While I remain hopeful and cautiously confident that this hobby of mine is beneficial, helpful, and, dare I hope, entertaining, I have decided that it is worthwhile, if only as a means of self-care. And I am happier for that decision.

Throughout year two, I have written less often, but the blog posts have been longer. Most blogging experts would view this as a failure and deem it completely backwards to marketing logic. But I have allowed myself to be free from the first-born felt pressure to do it “right.” There have been times this year, when keeping up the once a week writing pace was just too hard, so I relented and allowed myself to write when I could rather than when I felt I should. I would like to think the posts were better for it. There have been times when the pressure to find just the right gif or meme or picture stole my actual writing time and the result was no post at all. So I relented and allowed myself to write posts consisting of only words (gasp). I would like to think that a prose heavy post is better than none at all.

Even with all of this, I finished year two with a great sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and commitment. This blog brings me a great deal of joy and a much needed creative outlet. I am grateful to my family for giving me the time to read and write and for those of you who find what I read and write in any way interesting. I enjoy finding out what people will find most compelling and as I look back over the second year, the most read posts are telling.

Here they are, the most viewed posts of year two:

5. A Wrinkle In Time: Movie Review

4. Best Books of 2017

3. 50 Family Favorite Picture Books

2. In Defense of Buying Everything on that School Supply List, When You Can

1. To Father’s That Read

When I think back on these posts and what led to the writing of them, the questioning voices sneak back into their dusty corners. I am having way too much fun to let fear, comparison, and insecurity keep me from this.

It is my hope that year three will bring good books, interesting connections, and enjoyment!

 

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Teacher Appreciation Day: The Tale of Two Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week at my daughters’ school and it has me looking back. Looking back to two very different classrooms, with two very different teachers, at two very different times in my life.

The year was 1987. Life was all Michael Jackson, BMX bikes, and playing in the dirt. Carefree, fun, and a little bit messy. Everything a kid could want. Until I entered my fourth grade classroom.

That year I happened to be in a third/fourth grade combo class. In my memory, our class was extra big and I was extra lost. I sat directly in the middle of the class, floundering, all in immediate view of my teacher who seemed to watch my every flail.

School was a constant source of anxiety for me, particularly in the early grades, as I struggled a great deal with math and reading. I had changed schools three times in the first three years of school and never seemed to be able to find my footing in the classroom. Thankfully, I had been blessed with kind, patient, lovely teachers in second and third grade and was beginning to gain confidence. Until I entered my fourth grade classroom.

My teacher seemed to take an almost immediate disliking to me, or so it seemed to my nine year-old self. He would publicly ridicule my reading. Put me on the spot. Highlight my every struggle. The effect he had on my confidence and reading was devastating and far-reaching. To this day, I do not enjoy reading out loud (unless it is to my children who love my reading despite it’s stutters and pauses). This teacher confirmed my worst fears that I should be embarrassed of my abilities, or lack thereof. And I was. Deeply so.

In the years after fourth grade, it became easier and easier to simply quit trying. My fixed mind set was rooted and well-established. I became an expert evader. As reading aloud in the younger classrooms began to be replaced with book reports and reading logs in the older ones, I became an expert faker. It became a challenge I would give myself: how little of the book could I read and still get an acceptable grade.

It was surprisingly easy. Until I walked into my Senior World Literature class.

Something came over me my senior year of high school and I decided to take two literature classes, World Literature and African Literature. A shocking decision for this proud non-reader. I have no recollection of what led to that decision, but what I do recall was encountering a teacher that would change the course of my education, and (in a totally non-cliche way) my life.

Mary Beth Wallestad-Oyebade was the embodiment of what it means to be a teacher. She was challenging, encouraging, patient, determined, and excited. She immediately saw through my defensive, self-preserving tactics and gently proved to me that I did not need them. She piqued my interest with books I never would have thought of reading. Then demanded (in the best way) that they actually be read. She was patient with my shallow misunderstanding of Jane Austen and taught me how to look deeper. She was encouraging in my writing and taught me how to write clearer. And, most importantly, she was honest and real with us and taught me how to be as well.

Ms. Wallestad never let me off the hook. She never let me settle. She pushed me, always gently. She planted in me an appreciation for the art of a clever turn of phrase. She gave me a love of the written word and showed me I had every right to that love as anyone else. What had once been a closed off world to me became open, compelling, and accessible.

It would still take several years for the skeptical, reluctant reader mind set to ebb, but with each book I read, either by choice or for college, my confidence and interest grew. By the time it came to my Children’s Literature class in college, I had found my way. All thanks for a teacher who saw something different than everyone else.

In college, when I was struggling with the realization that being a nurse might not be what I actually want to do with my life, it was Ms. Wallestad’s ability as a teacher that sparked my turn towards education.

Now as I watch my children, under the care of their teachers, I am, once again, profoundly grateful. They have teachers who are inspiring them, challenging them, and giving them the tools for a life-long love of learning.

And so, to you teachers who have given us so much, we thank you. You deserve more than a day, or even week, of appreciation. But even when we are not saying it directly, your influence is long lasting and significant.

Thank you!

 

Library Cards: What’s In Your Wallet?

Some days I feel as though my brain is turning into actual mush.

I blame the years of not sleeping through the night. I blame the years of managing the family laundry/meals/schedule trifecta. I blame the years of trying to remember four different children’s names, bedtime songs, and special, un-washable, irreplaceable items.

I in no way blame the scientifically proven link between brains-turning-to-mush and years of a diet consisting solely of sugar and carbonation. I absolutely do not blame the scientifically proven link between brains-turning-to-mush and years of a perfecting a sedentary lifestyle.

Whatever the cause, it is happening. Here’s the proof. This is a series of texts between myself and my daughter’s softball coach “J.” You will notice her asking me several innocuous questions which I answer one of two ways, either with absurd inaccuracy (as in the case of claiming that my 6 year-old daughter was born in 2013) or complete misunderstanding (as when she tells me my daughter will have to move up to the next level and I say a version of “I understand, but will she have to move up?”).

 

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It is a humiliating tragedy of errors.

Sugar, sedentary lifestyles, and general laziness aside, what I actually blame is the whipping boy of the moment, social media. All the click bait-y titles, the numbered points typed in bold that scream “ignore the rest of this article, only read me,” the stylized block quotes in middle of the text that give you any additional information you could have possibly gleaned, and the pictures or gifs, oh my, it all works towards reducing my ability to thoroughly read through something, even a text.

While there is nothing wrong with these forms of reading and writing, in small doses, in large doses, it has begun to shift my habits. Habits that were originally honed in the library. There I learned to be thorough, precise, and exploratory.

I need those habits back. And so, during this National Library Week, I would argue that what we need more than our cellphones is our library cards.

Your library card offers you a portal into a magical world where the walls are, literally, lined with books, where there is, literal, peace and quiet, and where you can walk out the doors with your arms loaded with books…for free!

But that’s not all!

  1. Story time – Children story times have become an essential part of most libraries. Often there are Parent and Baby classes offered for babies as young as six months old. Different classes then continue all the way through preschool. During my parenting-of-young-children phase, these classes were my life line. I looked forward to them as much as the kids did. There were years in there where library story time was the only social outing we could manage in a week. And, in additional to all that, the classes are very effective in helping establish a love of books in your children.
  2. Classes – Libraries do not just leave you stranded once you start school. Throughout the week, libraries offer a variety of classes to school age children, teens, and adults. You can learn everything from knitting to coding to basket weaving and almost anything in between. Your libraries newsletter or weekly email update are an important resource for finding out what is available to you and your children.
  3. Book Sales -While this benefit is not free, it is much, much cheaper than anything else you can find. You’ll be spending so little money for so many books that it can *almost* feel like you are getting them for free (although my husband would strongly disagree). Library book sales have become so popular that many libraries are adding Friends of the Library book stores right into the library buildings. It is an exercise in self-discipline to not spend all the money there.
  4. Computer/Internet Access – Libraries offering free internet and computer access is one of the most important ways that libraries are able to significantly help the members of their community. With so much job, housing, and information searching done online, having a free place to access those resources is a start in leveling the playing field.
  5. Events – From Family Science Nights to local author meet and greets to music concerts, there is always something going on at the library that you can enjoy…for free! We have seen all manner of reptile shows, magicians, science nights, Lego building contests, art nights, and on and on. I have noticed that, more and more, libraries are also starting to have book clubs. Some are online book clubs but others are “in house.” While I have yet to participate in one, I find this option to be perfectly fitting. What could be more appropriate than meeting with a book club…in a library.
  6. Bonus Round: Inter Library Loan – Inter Library Loan is the magical technology that gives you access, not only to the books available in the library building you are in, but also libraries across your county. If you are willing to wait, your free reading options are almost limitless with this option. There is a science to getting books on hold through this system. (Oh, that would make an excellent library class!) I cannot recommend using this resource enough.

It should be pointed out that many libraries will allow you to get a library card from them even if you do not live in that town or even county! Sometimes there are restrictions, such as being unable to access the online catalog of e-books, but that is a small thing to sacrifice for the possibility of an extra library card. There is always space in your wallet for an extra library card or 5!

I have found no evidence of this study yet, but I am confident if someone were to study it, they would find a direct, scientifically proven link between the number of library cards you own and your brain-turning-to-super-power level.

So don’t worry about all the sugar, sedentary-ness, and social media, just get another library card!

 

 

 

Harry Potter Themed Birthday Party

I love birthdays. I love all birthdays, not just my own. I love giving presents (and, let’s be honest, receiving them). I love getting the chance to tell people how happy I am they were born and why. And, my normal personality aside, I even love birthday parties. Something about celebrating life gives me great joy.

As such, I enjoy letting my kids have themed birthday parties. We have had tea parties, Shopkins parties, Star Wars parties, Ninja Turtle parties, Strawberry Shortcake parties, color themed parties (including a four year-old’s gray party), and, one year, even a Yoda only party. Every time a child is picking their party theme, I subtly suggest books they could base their party on. Every time those subtle suggestions lose out to the mass commercial appeal of whatever it is they had in mind.

Until this year!

Finally, my eleven year-old decided she wanted a Harry Potter party. And I was thrilled. My daughter and I had a very fun time brainstorming and planning. Our idea was to have the party mimic a day at Hogwarts. The only trouble was reigning myself in and staying within our allotted birthday party budget.

After innumerable trips to entirely too many stores, endless reconfigurations for how to pull somethings off, a difficult decision to forgo one whole part of the party, and a comment from my husband that, “This party got out of control,” we were ready.

Guests were greeted at the door with beautiful Hogwarts house crests from DGS. The center Hogwarts crest comes courtesy of my creative sister.

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Front door decor

The invitations were made from a picture of the Hogwarts Express.

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Invitations

Once the guests arrived at the party, they first visited Ollivander’s. While Ollivander’s is not at Hogwarts, we wanted them to be able to have the wand choosing experience but did not have the time to make a whole extra Diagon Alley part of the party. Although I am purist, and strongly hold that source material should be changed as little as possible in any given setting, I blurred with the Potterverse lines here a bit.

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Sticks work just as well for wands

Our wands were simply sticks from the yard with these fantastic labels on them from Tattered and Inked. We did not go full Pinterest on the wands because of time. Each child was blind folded and spun around, then they searched around the whiteboard until their wand found them. The kids had a fun time comparing their wands while they waited for the rest of the group.

With wands ready, the Hogwarts school day was ready to begin. The first class on the schedule was Potions.

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We started the class with a Potions demonstration from my husband. He made dragon’s toothpaste.

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Dragon’s Toothpaste

The kids then paired up to make unicorn’s milk dance.

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Dancing Unicorn’s Milk

Once they had practiced their supervised Potions making, they were set free to make troll drool (or slime).

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Troll Drool (or just slime)

They needed no instruction here! If there is one thing I have learned about fifth grade girls, it is that they are expert slime makers. For the actual slime making, I got disposible plastic containers for each girl. Then we got cauldrons that they could keep their finished product in.

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After Potions, the girls went to Magical Creatures.

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There was a “magical creature” for each person hidden in the yard.

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The kids had to search the yard looking for their magical creature and then bring them back to Hagrid. This was a fun change of pace and gave me time to clean up the mess of Potions and set up the next class:

Herbology.

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Here the kids planted mandrakes.

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Mandrakes

We used plastic planters from the Dollar Store. First, they had to put “dirt” in their planters. This was a layer of chocolate pudding and then a layer of crushed Oreos. Next, for the mandrakes themselves, we used sour patch kids with two toothpicks sticking out. We stuck a green Twizzler into each toothpick. This way they were able to grab the “leaves” and pull their mandrake out.

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When they did, my husband played a squealing sound on his phone. The kids loved it!

The last class of the day was Defense Against the Dark Arts. Here the kids had to learn to fight dementors. As they defeated their dementor, they discovered their patronus.

 

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Dementors

We bought animal charms for bracelets and then put those inside a balloon before it was blown up. Once the balloon was blown up, we put a large, black garbage bag over it. On the garbage bag we cut a small corner off the bottom. That hole is what we stuck the bottom of the balloon through. This way we were able to hang the dementors up so they could blow in the breeze and give off the effect of flying. It was awesome. The kids each found a dementor and, with wands ready, said “Expecto Patronum.” Very carefully, with a thumb tack, they popped the balloon and discovered their patronus as the charm fell out of the popped balloon.

They were able to keep their patronus by putting it on a key chain, which was really a hoop earring with a lobster claw hook attached. While we were making jewelry, we added a snitch to the key ring, because, why not?!

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Keepsake “key chain” with their patronus and a snitch

We ended the day with a trip to the Great Hall and Honeydukes. Yes, I know, I messed with the integrity of the story, not once, but twice. It is inexcusable, but for a fun cause. The birthday cake was a spinoff of Cauldron Cake.

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“Cauldron Cake”

I used this amazing recipe for mason jar strawberry shortcake from Cooking Classy. It was delightful. When they were done with their cake, they could go “shop” at Honeydukes.

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They could choose from:

  • Candy Wands (Twizzlers)
  • Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (Jelly Belly’s, although we did have one box of the real thing for the brave-hearted)
  • Dumbledor’s Lemondrops (Lemondrops)
  • Snitches (Lindor’s truffles)
  • Cockroach Clusters (Snickers bites)
  • Dragon Eggs (Whopper Robin Eggs)
  • Fizz Whizzbees (Sour Patch worms)
  • Broomsticks (pretzel sticks with half a cheese stick on the bottom)

The party was a lot of fun and a lot of work. There were so many more things I wanted to do, but for the sake of time, money, and sanity, we left them out. Those left out things are a post for another day. Thankfully there are three more kids in our home turning eleven sooner or later. Chances are I will get to use those ideas someday!

 

 

 

On Turning 40

According to my birth certificate, today is the day I turn forty. Aside from the deepening lines on my face, the increasing number of silver strands in my hair, and the need to take my glasses off while I read, this birthday feels much like the ones before it. Although, there is some solemnity to the turning of a decade, or four. While I have not fretted over the visual aspects of aging, yet, I have still reached this milestone with some foreboding.

As I look ahead, I am acutely aware that this was the decade in which my grandmother was widowed. It was the decade in which my father was diagnosed with cancer.  And it was the decade in which my mother was widowed. These facts give me pause.

As I look ahead, I also realize that this is the decade in which three of my children will learn to drive. It is the decade in which two of my children will graduate from high school. And it is the decade in which I will be the mother of four teenagers. These facts give me nightmares.

As I look ahead, I trust what everyone keeps telling me: that despite all of these things, the decade of the forties is the best. This “fact” gives me hope. Hope I can see from the decades before, when life was its chaotic, messy, unpredictable self but still managed joy, laughter, life, and blessing in the midst of it all.

My twenties were spent trying to undo everything I thought I knew about living in America, about being married, about being a Christian, about loss, about family, about everything. It was an exciting, soul crushing, and ultimately hopeful decade.

My thirties were spent trying to re-establish what mattered most to me, what I wanted to pass on to my children, what I wanted my adult life to be given to, what was worth my time and what was not. It was an inspiring, exhausting, and ultimately hopeful decade.

Right now, on the cusp of a new decade, life feels a bit like eating a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans…anything could happen. I look ahead to the forties with hope, and not a little trepidation. I wonder what will define this decade and how I will respond. With my identity, priorities, and focus firmly solidified, what questions will loom large over me?

In the midst of all the unknowns, one thing I know is that books will still hold a place of prominence in my daily life. To that end, inspired by a good friend, I would love it if you would tell me one book you think I should read during my fortieth year. I will update this post with all the suggestions I get so we can all benefit from my virtual birthday present!

Thank you, in advance! I cannot wait to hear what you suggest!

 

 

 

 

20 Bookish Christmas Gifts: Kids Edition

It is the first week of December and all of my Christmas shopping is done. I am not going to lie, I have been feeling pretty good about myself with this one. To make it even better, when I looked through the Christmas bins to get out the decorations I found an entire bin full of stocking presents I had bought during the week after Christmas clearance sales last year! WHAT?!?! How smart was I?!

I did not envision this forethought and efficiency coming with any complications. Except that it has. Now, I realize, I have to not spend anymore money on presents for the next twenty days. No matter how many that-would-be-perfect-for deals I see. And so to help me with this impulse control, I have started shopping for the readers in your home. Since I am already done with my shopping, none of my kids will be getting any of these things but your kids; your kids could have it all!

Here are twenty perfect gifts for the young reader in your life:

Book light – After looking at entirely too many book lights, I am going to give this one a try. This is perfect for your night owl and when the kids want to read in the car but it is already dark at 2:13 pm!

Magazine Subscription – There are several that are literary in nature. These expose kids to different kinds of literature, like short stories, poems, and non-fiction content. I recommend Top Secret Adventures by Highlights Magazine, which is kind of like a literary “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and Cricket magazine, with its eleven different off-shoots, it has been dubbed “The New Yorker” for kids.

Post Its – Every reader knows the importance of annotation. Here is your perfect chance to teach them this exciting and essential past time. Post Its are a guaranteed hit, with their half sticker, half note pad self, also they are very cheap (as presents go). I am partial to the book dart size post its, but to each their own (unless you like something else, in which case, you are wrong).

Reading Logs and Journals –  These are the perfect gift for your book lover. They are books. That you write in. Yep. You can pick from any number of the bajillion blank journals out there, like these. If you are looking for something more like a reading log, two I have seen recommended for kids are the Bookworm Journal and My Reading Adventure Journal.

Framed Book Covers – I first saw this brilliant idea in a good friend of mine’s kids’ bedrooms. She took their favorite books and framed the book covers! I love, love, love this idea! It is such a cool, personal, creative, and, as an added bonus, inexpensive gift.

Framed Book Quotes – I got going with the wall hangings and now I just can’t stop. But again, this can be a very personalized gift. Those are always the best gifts. You can, of course, go the ultra fancy lithograph route or you can fall down the Pinterest rabbit hole and make your own.

Bookmarks – Please, let us give these children some bookmarks. I need my random receipts, socks, game cards, etc back for my book marking use. Fortunately for us, BookRiot just compiled a list of 50 FREE printable bookmarks. Some of these I will be gifting to myself this year.

Book Shelf – It is a book lovers dream to have book shelves all your own to arrange (and rearrange and rearrange again) in whichever way pleases you most. This is a joy your child should know.

Apparel – From socks to T-shirts to onesies, there are some very creative and fantastic options out there. While this will not be your cheapest route, gift wise, choose wisely and this will be a favorite.

Library Stamp – I am partial to the embossers because stamps have to dry and children have no patience. Anything that removes the ink of any given scenario is alright by me. You can find places that will do this on Etsy that may be a bit cheaper.

Book Related Toys – The beauty of this option is that it is open to wild speculation. For example, while this taco holder is neither a toy nor directly related to Dragons Love Tacos, it must be gifted to the child (or adult) who reads that book again and again. If speculation is not your thing, rest assured there are a limitless number of options directly related to books, all ages: babies, younger kids, and older ones too.

Ornaments -This would be a fantastic way to document your child’s favorite book that year. Recycle book covers or pictures from old favorites and turn them into ornaments. I have no idea how…but I have heard there is a site for that (lookin’ at you, Pinterest). You can also just buy beauties like this or this.

Jewelry – Earrings and necklaces galore. Etsy and Bookish Gifts are two excellent places to find uncommon treasures.

Games and PuzzlesThe Very Hungry Caterpillar Game is a favorite in our house. Or, once again, you can do it yourself! Puzzles are a difficult thing, with the losing of the pieces, the fighting over how the puzzling process is done (free-for-all versus edge pieces first), and the quarantined off space required to accommodate a work in progress. However, all of that aside, if your kids are older, puzzles can be awesome. Like this one.

Totes – All those books have to go where they go somehow (unless you want to carry them)! As in all things, these range from simple, like the $1 section of Target that often has Dr. Seuss themed totes, to the elaborate, like these.

Pencil Cases – I realize that $12 for a pencil case is a bit much, but just have a look!

Magnetic Character scenes – Mudpuppy.com has options for both Good Night, Good Night Construction Site and Eric Carle books.

Lap Trays – I love these ones that you can find at Michael’s. They do not take up too much room on the couch or, more importantly, in the car. These specific ones fit over the arms of booster seats, so even my younger kids are able to use them. It gives them somewhere to store their books and then a level surface to read on.

Gift Cards – You love buying your own books, chances are, so would they!

Phew! Now you are done Christmas shopping, too!

In Defense of Buying Everything on that School Supply List, When You Can

My family is officially in the single digit countdown to the new school year. The emotions accompanying said countdown range from elated enthusiasm to deepening discouragement to nagging nervousness. (See what I did there? Don’t worry, it’s completely acceptable and not at all cheesy to alliterate as long as your writing about school. Yeah, let’s go with that!)

That’s how the kids feel. As for myself, I am, unsurprisingly, unprepared.

Woefully so:

  • There are backpacks to replace or clean.
  • Lunch boxes to assess and then replace or clean.
  • School clothes to appraise based on summer growth spurts or summer destruction.
  • Shoe sizes to reevaluate.
  • Manners to re-instill.
  • Brain drain to repair.

But all of that pales in comparison to the weight of responsibility that is school supply acquiring. I had to dig through mountains of “to be filed” papers from the end of last school year to find three separate school supplies lists.

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Let me tell you, school supply lists times three make for a very long and expensive shopping trip. In years past I have been known to have a spreadsheet with all the supplies needed along with the store offering the best deal on that item. It is a time-consuming but thoroughly enjoyable process. The subsequent store to store shopping, not so much.

Every year while I am out shopping for school supplies, there is a dull roar heard throughout the store of parental complaints. Parents are bonding on a level unseen since Kindergarten graduation over the atrocity that is the communal school supply list. You will hear no end of, “Why should I have to buy supplies for the whole class?” “I shouldn’t have to spend my hard-earned money on someone else’s child?” “The school should be providing all of this for the classroom.”

While it is nice to hold on to the ideals that the school districts can give schools budgets large enough that they are able to provide Kleenex and pencils for the classrooms or that every child can equally contribute to the classroom necessities, it is simply not the reality. We complain about school districts not filling the classroom with glue sticks and dry erase markers, but then complain about our taxes being raised to increase funding to schools. We complain about having to spend any out-of-pocket money at our own jobs, but have no problem leaving teachers to do the same. We complain about having to buy school supplies for the whole classroom rather than just our own child, but never get to know each other enough to find out what incredibly difficult life circumstance our neighbor is going through that may be preventing them from contributing “equally.”

The fact is, like we tell our children and students every day, life is not fair. And a little perspective goes a very long way. To that end, I suggest visiting an amazing website called DonorsChoose.org before embarking on your school supply finding endeavors.

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DonorsChoose.org is a site where teachers can post their classroom needs and anyone can donate funds to purchase those items. Take a minute to scroll through these teachers’ requests. It is a humbling and sobering experience. You can search by geographic location or greatest need or nearest deadline. Any way you choose to search the needs posted, you will be surprised by what teachers are up against when it comes to furnishing their classrooms.

So now, when I am standing in line thinking about how much it is costing me to help furnish my children’s classrooms, I think about those teachers’ requests. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough books for their students. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough notebooks and pencils. I think about the teachers who don’t have any playground equipment for their students at recess. Perspective is a powerful thing. It is something I sorely need when I feel like grumbling about my purchases of extra crayons and post its.

My challenge at the start of this school year is to not only graciously and generously (there’s that alliteration again!) give to your own child’s classroom needs, but consider taking it a step further and sponsoring a teacher’s dream on DonorsChoose.org. It will come as no surprise to you that many of the requests are for books.

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The iPod Tax

My grandmother had this cross-stitched picture in her house for, well I don’t know exactly, but for all the years I remember.

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It has long been one of my favorites. Now I have it in my house. It reminds me that it’s alright; things are not always going to go as planned. It reminds me to relax, laugh, and go with it. Tomorrow will be better…maybe. “(Grand)Mama said there’d be days like this.” (Thanks, Shirelles!)

Right now, I find myself in need of this reminder. Because, I have done something from which I am not certain there is any recovery. It has me second guessing everything. Before I tell you what I have done:

My first daughter loved reading from the moment she was born. I remember reading to her at two weeks old and I swear she was cooing and tracking the words with her eyes. She loved learning to read, she loved progressing as a reader, and she still loves to read to this day. My second daughter loved being cuddled and hearing stories. Being read to suited/suits her very well. She also enjoyed learning to read. She was exceptional at sounding out words right from the start, which made learning to read pretty easy for her. As I have admitted previously, it took her longer to find her footing as an independent reader. But since realizing her independence, she has become a voracious reader. She reads in the car. She reads in her room for hours. She uses a flashlight to read late into the night. All of it.

Now my third daughter, my third daughter has changed the game. She loves being read to as much as the next kid, but she has absolutely zero, and I mean that literally, zero interest in learning to read. At least from me. She knows all the rules. She knows the sight words. She knows what to do. But I sit down with a book to have her read to me and you would think all the fairies in the world have died. There is moaning, rolling on the ground, sobbing, all manner of shenanigans at the merest hint that I may ask her to read out loud to me.

So, half way through our summer break, I panicked. And panicking, I stepped in the proverbial “it” of my grandmother’s picture.

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I bribed my child to read. But not only that, it gets worse. I called that bribe a tax. Yes, I am literally and metaphorically “taxing” my child to read.

I know! Yes, you are right, it goes against everything you are supposed to do. Yes, you are right, I easily could have thought of a different way. Yes, you are right, there is no reason to panic, every child progresses at their own pace. You are right about all of it. But here’s the thing: it’s working.

My third daughter loves drama and music and dress up and drama (did I mention that?) more than most six year-olds. One of her favorite things to do is take the iPod into her room for resting time and dress up, sing, and make up plays. She can do this for actual hours, happily. A few days ago, after a particularly frustrating (for both of us) session of “read out loud to mom,” I told her that if she wanted the iPod in her room, she would have to pay me an iPod tax. That tax is reading out loud to me for 20 minutes. I know, I KNOW, you are right. But…it’s working.

She has willing read out loud to me two days in a row (and counting.) Have I potentially caused her to see reading as a tax, literally and figuratively? Probably. Have I extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated her? Absolutely. Have I taught her that electronic devices are the reward and actual books-in-hand reading are simply the means? Likely.

But for two days (and counting), she has sat by my side without a moan, groan, or sob and read. Out loud. To me. I’m not going to lie, I am having a hard time seeing the downside, short-sighted as that may be.

As with everything involving the care and instruction of children, time will tell.

To Fathers That Read

My father was many things. He was witty, hilarious, kind, sarcastic, affectionate, and sacrificial, just to name a few. He was also very selective and precise. He stood at a noticeable 6ft 6in and always moved with the careful precision of someone too big for the world around him. This hyper awareness seemed to trickle down into everything he did. He spoke with a slow, exacting pace, choosing each word carefully before speaking it out loud. He read directions thoroughly and completely before proceeding with any task. He took great joy in finding the shortest route on any given path, allowing him to make up the time his “relaxed” walking pace lost him. He was selective and precise in nearly every part of his life, except his reading.

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My father reading.

I do not have very many memories of my dad reading out loud to me, but I have innumerable memories of seeing him read. When I picture him now, often he is lying on his stomach with a huge orange pillow under his chest and a book on the floor in front of him. My father read all the time. He would read anything, from Asterix comics to Robert Ludlum to Tom Clancy to Louis L’Amour to John Grisham. Then in his 40s, he decided that he was reading too much fiction. He made a precise decision (of course he did) to start using his reading time for non-fiction almost exclusively. His one exception to this self-imposed rule was listening to fiction audiobooks while driving. I cannot count the number of things I wish I could still talk to my dad about, but this decision is very high on that list.

He set an example of reading for joy, rest, and recovery. Not coincidentally, all the things I now associate with reading. But he was not the only one to instill a love of reading in me. Some of my favorite reading memories as a child are with his father, my grandfather. For two years of elementary school, my family lived in the same neighborhood as my grandparents. My sister and I would sometimes spend the night at their house on the weekend. We would play endless games of Monopoly and Careers with my grandfather while my grandmother made us orange sherbet. These nights always ended with him sitting down beside our sleeping bags and reading to us. I still hear Heidi with his voice. The joy of reading was embedded deep within me.

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My grandfather reading to me.

Now I get to watch my husband, and his father, read to my kids. My husband is excellent at reading aloud. He does all the voices, he dramatizes, he lets the kids climb all over him, and they love it. He will change the words while he’s reading to make up silly things, always relishing in the guaranteed collective groans of “Daaaaaaad.” He says lines from their favorite books at all the appropriate times. Anytime someone is embarrassed he will tell them they are “looking more red in the face than green” (Froggy). Whenever someone cheekily replies, “We’ll see about that,” he adds “said Portly” (Hipponotamus). The groans and laughs that follow diffuse the situation (partially). Watching them, I cannot help but feel an overwhelming happiness that they are getting to make those same precious memories with their own dad as I did with mine.

And so to you, fathers and grandfathers who read, I see you.

I see you, boa wrapped around your neck, pretending you are at yet another tea party while reading Fancy Nancy.

I see you answering unanswerable questions like, “How did the man with the yellow hat get his name?”

I see you creatively reading with dramatic inflection and doing sound effects over groans of “Oh Dad” which are secretly internal squeals of joy.

I see you, weary and burdened, gathering your kids close to read I’m Stinky for the one hundredth time.

Your children will remember these moments all their lives and will, one day, thank you. For now they will go on unrelentingly shouting “one more, just one more, pleeeeassse.” The joy of reading, and of your presence, will be deeply embedded in them.

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Year One!

I cannot tell you the date this occurred, but I can pinpoint the exact moment two years ago when I suddenly looked at myself and realized, “I’m back.” After nearly 8 consecutive years of being pregnant and nursing, I was finally feeling like “myself” again. The pregnancy brain, the newborn haze, and the zombie mom effect had lifted. I could think beyond how many weeks I had left until this baby was finally born, or when the baby last ate, or when nap time would come, or when I would ever, ever sleep again. “I” was back. The question was, what did that mean?

At my stage of life, I have found that much of life revolves around things outside myself: investment in the relationship with my husband, the needs of my children, the demands of a job (even if it is a non-paying job), the involvement in my community. I began to equivocate my identity with those roles and responsibilities, and rightly so. But I am not the sum of only those parts, there are others often left forgotten. I started to remember this part of me that belonged outside those categories. Writing, even “just” about books, has connected me back to that part, long dormant and waiting.

Recognizing that, I had an idea. An idea so preposterous that for almost a year it was just a figment of my wild imagination. Slowly, very silently, this idea for a blog began to germinate. Each thought of “just do it” would be met with 1,081 variations of “but the world is already over saturated with blogs,” “there are other people significantly more qualified, more well read, better writers,” “there is nothing new you can add,” on and on and on. And while these rationalizations were true to some extent, I still found myself creating a whole section of my Google Keep app specifically for blog ideas. This progressed to tentatively speaking out loud to my family and one friend about “my imaginary blog.” I can tell you now that my imaginary blog was perfect, an instant viral hit.

Then exactly one year ago, I realized it was better to be imperfect and real than perfect and imaginary. Putting the proverbial cart well before the horse, I blundered blindly forward. With reckless impulsiveness, born out of a fear that if I did not act now I would never act at all, Well Worn Pages came into real life existence. And I couldn’t be happier. It is, because I am, still quite imperfect but it is real. On an almost daily basis, I learn more about what I am doing and how I want to do it. Anyone would tell you these are all things you should know before you start, but I have never been one for rules.

As I look back on a humbling, exciting, daunting, and fulfilling year, I am grateful. Grateful for new opportunities, the chance to connect with new people, and for the chance to show myself that I can not only have an idea, but follow through with that idea as well. I am grateful for people who read what I write with gracious eyes and embrace the imperfect “realness” of Well Worn Pages.

While reflecting on this first year of blogging, I went back and read through some of the most read posts. So consider this the highlight reel. In my mind, I imagine slow motion montages, inspirational music, and the inevitable, building slow clap. In reality, this is my Kindergarten graduation. But just like your 5 or 6 year-old, I am smiling from ear to ear. Here they are, the 5 most read blog posts of my first year:

  1. Representation Matters (and its counterpart Representation Matters: Redux)
  2. It’s A List!
  3. Best Family Read Alouds
  4. Girls Can Do Big Things Too: Part 1 (and Part 2)
  5. To Mothers That Read

My kids ask me why I have this blog. My answer is because I want to. It is something that gives me joy. At first I felt like I needed to explain more or be more specific or even rationalize my use of time. But then I realized I am happy for them to see me creating something, to see me producing something, to see me enjoy something even if it does not contribute financially. It may not seem brave or important to them now, but I hope one day when they are adults giving the majority of their time to other people that they will remember it is okay to spend time doing something they love, that brings them joy.

May you find the something you love, that brings you joy. (If books are among those things, I hear there’s a relatively new blog out there with just the list you need!)