Some people say that I am too quick to throw out or donate old items. Well, I do have a collection that has been growing over my lifetime. I have saved every postcard ever sent to me. I have a box filled with hundreds of them. They serve as a reminder of friends and family, sharing their adventures, school trips, spring breaks, and trips of a lifetime. I love to dig out the box and reminisce. Here are a few of my favorites:
My friend Ted, sharing his high school adventures in Spain
Gudmund, enjoying his final trip back to Sweden after a year as an exchange student in Hillsdale
My life-long pen pal, Karen, sending a silly postcard
My life-long friend, Rick, keeping in touch after moving out of state to attend college
Kyan, sharing her adventures from the Hillsdale College/Oxford program
My brother’s trip to Japan
My neighbor’s humorous postcard after a trip out west
When I visit friends, one of my favorite activities is to browse their bookshelves. I never know when or if I will discover my next great read. I also decorate with books. If you visit in March, my Irish literature collection is spread throughout the house. So here’s a quick glimpse of some favorites from my own bookshelf. Have a look; I’m sure you will find something here to read to your kids, for children’s summer reading, or a gem for yourself Happy Reading!
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson (This lovely story is based on a line from Thoreau’s Walden)
Sara Dippity by Maggie Murphy (Shameless plug)
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa Series by Erica Silverman
The Henry and Mudge Series by Cynthia Rylant
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (Touching story about the creation of a community garden)
Little Black, A Pony by Walter Farley
Stuart Little by E.B. White
For the Boys:
Rascal by Sterling North
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
For the Girls:
Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery
Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Great Series for All:
Narnia Series by C. S. Lewis
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
Shelf of Irish Love:
Brave Margaret: An Irish Adventure by Robert D. San Souci (Who says girls can’t be heroes too?)
Jamie O’Rourke Series by Tomie dePaola
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Born Fighting by James Webb
Ullysses by James Joyce
For Older Kids:
The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo by Lieut.-Col J. H. Patterson (This is a short pamphlet available through the Field Museum in Chicago. These unique and at times frightening events form the basis for the movie, The Ghost and the Darkness.)
A Reason for Living by George Roche (A collection of short stories, written by my father, sharing adventures of life in the Colorado Mountains)
For the Adults:
The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews
The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon (This one is for the ladies: Scottish History, Time Travel, and Romance. WARNING: The end of book one is, well,…bizarre. Please do yourself a favor and commit to at least reading through book two.)
In Search of the Pearl of Great Price by Tessa Schlesinger (This is the story of my dear friend, Dr. Febes Tan Facey. Her life story is one worth reading)
Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning by Gary Eberle (What is Sacred Time and why do we need it?)
Shakespeare & Company by Sylvia Beach (The post WWI bookstore hangout for Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound, Lawrence, and Stein on the Left Bank in Paris)
Wild at Heart by John Elderedge (All fathers should read this book and pass it on to their sons)
The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin (“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Why is this classification important?)
Father Joe by Tony Hendra
One year ago, I began a journey with my daughter, Mary Kate. We published a children’s book together. The idea for Sara Dippity began in 2006 after the passing of my father. Dad and I were quite close, and while I knew he was ill, his unexpected passing was devastating. He passed in early May, and it was up to me to notify family and friends. When I went out on my front porch to begin the many phone calls, a male cardinal joined me.
I didn’t think anything of it at first, but every time I went outside that spring and summer, a male cardinal continued to visit. Over that time, I found his presence healing and even began to look for cardinals when I ventured outside. I thought children and even adults who lost loved ones could benefit from a similar journey, so I asked MK if she would illustrate my story.
Sara Dippity tells the story of a young girl who is saddened by the loss of a loved one. She finds peace and healing from her encounters with a cardinal in her back yard. The illustrations demonstrate healing through the emergence of color as the story progresses.
We printed a limited run of hardcovers and softcovers, and we formatted both Kindle and Nook editions. Our journey began with a book release party and several book signings over the summer and fall, including one at Barnes and Noble. These road trips were among our favorites because we had the opportunity to meet people who would benefit from our story. One gentleman sticks out in my mind.
At our Barnes and Noble signing, we held a raffle for a free hard cover. A man in a wheel chair spent the majority of the signing visiting with us at our table. When we drew the winner and the gentleman saw that he had won, the look on his face showed happiness mixed with sadness. He thanked us and shared that our story meant so much because he had lost his father the week before. We found many cases just like this where we were in the right place, at the right time, with the right story to truly help others.
What have I learned this past year? My first lesson was an educational introduction to the world of indie book publishing, the ups, downs, and everything in between. I also learned that this journey with my daughter was something special that few mothers and daughters ever have the opportunity to share. Finally, I learned that while we are not famous and well paid in the world of books, we still have a story that makes a difference, and will continue to make a difference, in the lives of others.
To commemorate the one year anniversary of Sara Dippity, I am offering the Kindle and Nook editions for 99 cents through the month of May (Regular Price $2.99). During this time, I am also offering free shipping for the hard cover editions (US only, quantities limited):
If you know anyone who might benefit from our story, please share!
All profits from Sara Dippity are for further art training for Mary Kate. Thank you for your support!
Many parents are concerned with their children’s college readiness. As a community college English teacher over the past 17 years, I have also seen areas where my students could use additional preparation. This post is NOT about critiquing the public schools; instead, I want parents to see the power they have at home in the summer.
Each summer (starting around 7th grade) I complete a mini-session with my kids. I’m not a mean mom; my kids still get to be kids. Four weeks out of every summer, I ask my kids to give me 30 minutes per day (Monday-Friday) to work on their studies. If my kids struggle in math, I buy a summer bridge workbook at my local bookstore and have them complete 1-2 pages every day. They are not learning new material. They are merely spending some time reviewing what they learned the previous year to keep their skills fresh (Don’t worry, the answers are in the back of the book). Most college students have to take at least one math class. Many mathematical concepts are also building blocks. Students who have reviewed the previous year’s content will be better prepared to learn.
I also have my children write a 250-400 word five-paragraph essay. Usually they write about something fun like their favorite vacation or sport. Completing the writing process just once over the summer keeps their writing skills fresh. If you are unsure what to look for in such an essay, I wrote an earlier blog for parents found here. Journaling is another writing activity that will help keep skills sharpened. You can find a list of topics on-line or just let your child’s creative juices flow. Sometimes my kids write a story, wonderful mementoes to save.
For students who are college bound, the ability to write a coherent five-paragraph essay is vital. Many college classes assign a single essay that is worth 10-25% of their final grade. Students who succeed in college learn that these essays take time, planning, and multiple drafts. Successful students tend to have a firm understanding of the writing process when they enter college.
In addition, I encourage ALL parents to complete a logic unit with their children. This is a great middle school age activity. Learning logic reinforces a student’s critical thinking skills. I found a useful workbook called “Logic Liftoff.” During one of our four week sessions, I ask my kids to complete one worksheet per day (Don’t worry, the answers are in the back of the book). My kids only complete this activity for one summer, yet this has led to some productive family discussions and a marked improvement in my children’s reasoning skills. It’s particularly moving when they use logic to defeat me in a friendly debate.
Finally, read, read, read!!! Let them read fun books, take them on a road trip to the local bookstore or library, but please encourage your child to read over the summer! College students have large amounts of reading to complete for each class. They must also be able to understand what they’re reading. Reading over the summer will help increase their speed and comprehension.
Parents, you have the power to truly make a difference in your children’s lives. If you want to give them an edge for the college years, complete the activities above in the summertime. For those who think they can’t help their kids, please know that I struggled with math my entire life, but the workbooks were something I could share/complete with my kids. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions or if you need some help planning a five-paragraph essay. Also, please share this with any parent who might find this useful.
Lately, I have been seeing so much emphasis on famous people in the news and social media. Some fans even view fame as a utopia. After thinking about what life is like for these people, I came to the conclusion that they must truly envy the rest of us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking fame. There are some individuals who have accomplished great things, and fame is a natural evolution, and there are some who thrive on it. However, fame is a double-edged sword.
First, famous people lose a large portion of their privacy. Many cannot leave their home without being hounded by fans and paparazzi. Think about your day. What would you do without privacy? Imagine sitting at a restaurant with friends and being unable to enjoy some relaxing social time. While the first intrusion or two might be fun, the repetition would quickly grow old and tiresome.
Because of my father’s job, I was occasionally in the public eye, and while my examples are not as extreme, I remember several occasions where our vacations plans were drastically changed because we ran into someone who knew Dad. When we packed for vacations, we were not allowed to bring any clothing with our college’s name on it because family time was special and meant to be private. Though I failed to see how Dad wouldn’t be recognized when he was 6’3”, was always tanned, and had a head the size of the Elias Brother’s Big Boy.
Some also argue here that high incomes would more than make up for the lack of privacy. While most of these folks make a great deal of money, they also have a high overhead to maintain. They have agents, assistants, handlers, security, and the endless line of people who think they should pass on the financial love. Incomes also don’t stay so high. As strange as this sounds, famous people often have a hard time finding new jobs.
Famous people also tend to work away from home for long periods of time. Being separated from a spouse or child can make relationships difficult to maintain (Ever heard of the Hollywood marriage?). Children also struggle with the continued absence of a parent. I was told that I greatly underestimate this amount, but I figured my father was on the road for at least three months throughout each year. There were many things he missed, and there were many times I would have benefitted from his presence or words of wisdom. While I had a wonderful support network growing up, those father/daughter moments are just gone.
Finally, famous people must worry about the safety of their families. I could not fathom the stress they must be under to protect their children from crazed fans and paparazzi. I’ve heard of fans showing up at schools, children’s sporting events, and family outings. Think of your own family. How would you handle such an intrusion? If you think about it, being an Average Joe “ain’t a bad gig.”
While I enjoy cooking, the weeknight rush is a challenge for me. Here is a quick meal that is among my kids’ favorites. In fact, even my daughter who wants to become a vegetarian will eat this dish. Special thanks to “The Godfather” for sharing!
Baked Chicken in Cranberry Sauce
1-2 lbs. chicken (legs, breasts, thighs, boneless or bone-in, pretty much whatever is in the freezer)
1-8 oz bottle Catalina salad dressing
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix together cranberry sauce, dressing and onion soup mix
Cover 9×13 pan with some of the mix
Lay chicken pieces in pan and cover with remaining mixture
Bake at 350 degrees for 60 min (less if boneless and cooking times based on thawed chicken)
I usually serve this with a salad and either baked sweet potatoes or rice.
I would like to start by saying that I am NOT a runner! However, every year I enter a 5K race. Not just any 5k! I prefer the muddy, challenging obstacle courses like Warrior Dash and the community sponsored mud runs. Many have asked, “Why do you torture yourself?” I have many reasons:
First, exercise is a challenge for me. I have to create new and exciting ways of motivating myself to stay in shape. Signing up for these races forces me to form a plan. These races are also social events, and it is fun to pair up with friends and take the challenge together.
Also, I dislike running unless I can stop once in awhile and catch my breath. Nothing forces me to stop running like an obstacle: an eight foot wall, a tunnel, a swamp, or even a water slide. I still run when I train but only three days per week and only for the two months prior to the event. That’s only 24 runs per year plus race day! While most of the year I walk, bike, swim, or lift, completing a brief running regimen is manageable.
Finally, we enter the race as a family. This is a wonderful opportunity to have some fun with my kids. Sometimes we train together, and on race day, we encourage each other. More important, I am keeping myself in shape while encouraging them to form positive lifelong habits.
Here are a few tips if you want to take on the challenge of an obstacle course:
- I recommend starting with a community mud run. These events have easier obstacles than the nationwide races like Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash.
- Make sure you wear clothing that is not absorbent! I made the mistake of wearing cotton clothing, and it added ten lbs. to carry on the course.
- Take the time to work on upper body strength. Besides being good for you, the extra training will help you complete the obstacles.
- Dressing up in costumes is a lot of fun, but my son recommends NOT wearing a kilt or costume that will interfere with your mobility on the course. (I also think he tired of being asked if he wore anything under said kilt.)
- Do NOT attempt a race like this without taking the time to train.
- Most important, go out and have fun!
I started blogging on a regular basis last October. I noticed today, “Reflections from the Journey” has 385 fans and is approaching 5000 hits. You humble me! Thank you so much!