Friday, December 20th, 2013
My morning Facebook check made me shaky and teary today. My friends in the young adult novel writing community were mourning the unconfirmed death of the talented author Ned Vizzini. He was the prodigy who wrote the bestselling YA novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story that also became a movie. His other teen books include Be More Chill, The Other Normals, Teen Angst… Nah and House of Secrets. I looked forward to his humorous essays in the New York Times, and I was happy to hear he had a seemingly great career writing for TV.
The rumor is now confirmed. Ned Vizzini is dead at 32 of an apparent suicide after jumping off the roof of his parents’ Brooklyn home. He was 32 and survived by his brother, wife and son.
I didn’t know him personally, but our paths crossed at young adult panels back when I was a hyperactive Scholastic author. I thought he was wicked funny, and honestly, I was totally jealous of him. He was a super talented overnight success. He was totally deserving. I just wish I had a little more of what he had.
Today I feel sad. I have dealt with depression and anxiety for years. I understand its depths and suffering. But I have never been so far down that dark hole that I attempted suicide. I just wish Ned–and others–could find peace in another way. I hope today his suffering has ended. I hope others do not judge him. My thoughts are with him and his family.
Here’s a haunting quote from the touching book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story:
“Its so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint-it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”
and one more to leave you with:
“Things to do today:
1) Breathe in.
2) Breathe out.”
Rest in sweet peace, Ned Vizzinni.
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Be More Chill, death, House of Secrets, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzinni, suicide, Teen Angst... Nah, The Other Normals | Categories:
Best Sellers, Children's Books, Fiction, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Popular Books
Thursday, December 19th, 2013
After reading and skimming more than 100 books this year it’s no easy task to tell you which ones are my favorites. But I sat down, poured a beer and perused my overflowing bookshelf. It was so much fun to revisit Pamela Druckerman‘s Bebe by Day, Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train and Kristine Barnett‘s The Spark. They are easily among my top 12.
But if I absolutely had to whittle it down, here are my Top 5 Books of 2013. These are the books that stayed with me all year long–the ones I went on and on about until my husband’s eyes glazed over. These titles were so fresh that I fired off Facebook statuses and emails about them.
What about you? What are your favorites of 2013?
Here are mine:
1. Lean In
by Sheryl Sandberg
She stepped up to the plate this year and said what hasn’t been said before to women. Just because women want to have families and careers doesn’t mean we need to start planning for it straight out of college. She encourages women to go out there and claim what’s ours in the workplace. Wait to figure out your next steps until you’re actually pregnant. That’s advice I wish I’d had when I was getting started in 1999. Sheryl is a cool chick who has her gender’s back on every page. Take this: “’Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. …A woman… will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she ‘worked really hard or ‘got lucky’ or ‘had help from others.’”
2. The Still Point of the Turning World
by Emily Rapp
I’ve wondered for months how Emily Rapp is doing. She lost her dear son Ronan to Tay-Sachs earlier this year around the time her memoir came out. This wasn’t the run-of-the-mill tragedy. She was unapologetically angry and fiercely sweet. Her frustration and struggle–without the religious backdrop and sentimentality–made her achingly real. She’s real in a way that I will never forget. I’m not sorry for her. I’m inspired by her book that drips with meaning and poetry.
3. Let Them Be Eaten by Bears
by Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Thanks to this book, I’ve taken my kids hiking this year for the first times ever. Right in the beginning, he writes, “With kids, we don’t get out much. It’s too hard.” That resonated with me. I’ve been saying this to my husband since my babies were first born. Now they are 8! And they had never really been outside beyond the backyard or park. Thanks to Hoffmeister’s playful and inspiring approach, we even got our butts off the couch and went camping. I let the kids wander the playground, too, and with bare feet just to make Peter even more proud of me.
4. Orange is the New Black
by Piper Kerman
If you’re tired of books and shows about desperate women chasing dreams of men, careers and babies, this one is for you. It’s got very little to do with anything you’ve probably ever read before. This memoir, which formed the fictionalized–but equally awesome Netflix TV show–is about a nice girl who graduates from college and goes buck crazy. She lands a hot, rich girlfriend who just happens to smuggle drugs internationally. Piper runs cash in this operation just one time, and she soon leaves the relationship. She becomes a nice, normal straight woman again. But the feds catch up with her 10 years later, and she winds up in federal prison for a year while her real-life fiance waits for her. The inner workings–and indecencies–of the prison system are fascinating. Her life isn’t as whack as it is in the show, (Piper and Pennsytucky became friends for real) but Piper blasts your thoughts right open. This was a unique read.
5. Until I Say Goodbye
by Susan Spencer-Wendel
Whenever I’ve felt kind of bad this year, I reminded myself of Susan Spencer-Wendel. She lives with ALS everyday, but she isn’t sad. Instead, she does everything her heart desires, including getting makeup tattooed on her face for when she could no longer apply it herself. While she still can, she goes on an epic trip with her longtime best friend to see the Northern Lights. She takes her teenage daughter wedding dress shopping because that’s something she doesn’t want the two of them to miss. Susan’s book did make me weepy–just once–but mostly she made me laugh. Her life has purpose and meaning, and it makes me more aware of what I’m doing with my own. Her book was optioned, and a film sounds like its in the works.
Instill a love of reading in your little one with one of these children’s books. Then, sign up to get parenting tips and tricks sent right to your inbox.
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Best of 2013, Bringing Up Bebe, Christina Baker Kline, Emily Rapp, Kristine Barnett, Lean In, Let Them Be Eaten By Bears, Orange is the New Black, Orphan Train, Pamela Druckerman, Peter Hoffmeister, Piper Chapman, Piper Kerman, Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Spencer-Wendel, The Spark, The Still Point of the Turning World, Until I Say Goodbye | Categories:
Best Of Lists, Best Sellers, Celebrity Books, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books
Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Tired of bringing the same old high-calorie bottle of wine or box of cookies as gifts to holiday parties? The co-authors of the new book Grain Crazy: Recipes for Healthy Living are here to help. Their homemade gift ideas are easy, creative, delicious and healthy. (Or check out these presents your kids can make.) You’ll feel good about giving their ideas listed below, and your host will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Here’s what Cherie Schetselaar, mother of seven, and her daughter, Britney Rule, mother of three, put together. They also run the popular blog called Grain Crazy.
“We’ve gathered some of our favorite ideas here of treats you can bring that will add some additional health to your friends’ holiday–along with some sweet cheer.
1. Homemade Salsa—It’s the type of snack that we see way too little of during the holidays. Who doesn’t like a spicy treat to warm up a chilly night?
2. Granola—Granola is great because it can be a snack, breakfast, or a dessert—just throw it in with yogurt and fruit for a healthy parfait. We provide our recipe below.
3. Freezer Jam—Jam is something every household uses, right? This is a yummy, but useful gift that you can dress up to be festive and cute. Package it in a mason jar with a ribbon tied around the top.
4. Whole Grain Bread—Everyone loves homemade bread. Pair this with the freezer jam and you’ve got a slam-dunk gift.
5. Candied Nuts—Give some of those “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The aroma of toasted nuts and spices feels like Christmastime. Our favorites are pecans and almonds.
6. Jarred Fruit—If you spend time canning in the summer months, consider giving a jar of your favorite jarred fruit. To those that don’t have the time, means, or knowledge to can their own fruit, this is a perfect taste of summer in the cold of winter.”
We love the “clumping factor” of this granola. It’s a healthy alternative to the cold cereal my dad and brother love to eat. It would make a perfect hostess gift or Christmas present for a neighbor.
Here’s my favorite recipe:
2/3 cup of honey
1/2 cup of coconut oil
3 cups of old-fashioned oats
1 cup of almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of sesame seeds
1 cup of sunflower seeds
1 cup of unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg
Dried fruit, raisins, dates, craisins, if desired
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the honey and oil together in a small bowl. Set it aside.
2. Mix together all of the dry ingredients. Pour in the honey mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.
3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the granola onto the cookie sheet. It will be thick.
4. Place it in the oven. Bake it for 30 minutes. Stir the granola a couple of times during cooking.
5. Let it cool on the counter and store in an air-tight container.
Makes 5 cups
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Friday, December 13th, 2013
Two hardworking, kick-booty moms who live in my town of Montclair, New Jersey, created top-selling ballerina DVDs for little girls called Prima Princessa. Their version of The Nutcracker breaks down the story and features little girls and professionals performing it. It’s no less than spectacular–my two girls and even my boy twirled around to it when they were preschoolers. You might have caught the programs when they aired on public television stations around the world in recent years. They also produced Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.
This year, Stephanie and Mary Kate have added a beautiful hardback book called Ballet for Beginners to their line of dance-inspiring products. In Ballet for Beginners, they break down the beautiful moves in photos and descriptions. It’s great for little girls just starting all the way up to teenage girls who would like to have references.
I got in touch with Stephanie and Mary Kate to see what they’ve been up to. Check out their answers below and find out why ballet is good for our kids, how to get little girls started and more!
KK: What ages does your new book, Ballet for Beginners, target?
Stephanie Troeller and Mary Kate Mellow (see left): Our book is designed for preschool children up to teenagers as well as parents looking for an overview of the world of ballet training. Little kids love the book because it is full of fun photos of preschool kids dancing and cartoons of Prima Princessa, our ballerina fairy. Children just starting out in ballet class as well as more serious student get to see great photos of some of the best ballet students in the world demonstrating most of the major steps and positions in ballet.
KK: What tips do you have for moms with small children who would like their kids to love ballet?
ST and MKM: Well we would have to say take your children to see a real ballet or you can have them watch one of our 3 Prima Princessa DVDs: Prima Princessa Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. Each of these shows features a real ballet on stage performed by top ballet companies. The ballets have been edited in a child-friendly fashion, and they feature narration by our animated ballerina fairy Prima Princessa so children can follow the plot. Interspersed throughout the show are mini-dance breaks where children get to practice the ballet steps the they saw on stage with students from the School of American Ballet, official academy of the New York City Ballet.
We have tons of parents writing to us all the time about how their children love to dress up in their tutus and dance along to Prima Princessa shows. We specifically designed these shows to inspire children to dance.
KK: Is ballet just for little girls?
ST and MKM: Ballet is for everyone! Our shows and book are designed to inspire both future ballet dancers as well as ballet lovers right now! Are shows and book are something families will enjoy watching and reading together.
KK: How is ballet good for our kids?
ST and MKM: Ballet is not only great exercise, but it teaches children how hard work and discipline can pay off. Whether your children sticks with ballet or not, exposing them to ballet at an early age will develop in them an appreciation of the performing arts. In this age of instant gratification with downloadable games, apps, texting and snap chat the experience of watching a ballet performance is completely different. It really gets a child’s brain working in a more in depth fashion where they take the time to absorb and enjoy a classic fairy tale story like The Nutcracker as it unfolds through breathtaking dancing set to Tchaikovsky’s music.
KK: What’s a fun ballet move we can learn right now?
ST and MKM: Well our guess is your kids have probably been doing a bunch of ballet moves without even knowing it. Jumps, Spins, kicks and standing on ones tippy toes are all ballet movements. While our book shows precise ballet steps executed perfectly by the best students in the world, our shows feature preschooler, ballet students, professional ballerina as well as animals and toys doing ballet moves! We are not only showing ballet moves, but the spirit behind each ballet movement. On our website on our Be a Ballerina Page you can watch a video and learn how to do a Bouree.
Click to the Prima Princessa site for holiday games, tutus, DVDs and even this printable magic wand.
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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
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I read a story on The Huffington Post today about a little boy who wrote a letter to Santa in 1915. He asked for a box of paint, a book and a back to put it in. If Santa had any to spare, he also asked for nuts and candy. I showed this letter to my little girl the same age who has asked for a Nintendo DS, Super Mario Brothers, an iPad, an American Girl doll, a hamster and other things. She doesn’t understand that the spirit of the season is about giving. It’s my job to teach her. I need to get to work.
Authors Saren Loosli and April Perry totally agree with me. They recently wrote the book Deliberate Motherhood. Read their story below and find the two tips they have about teaching kids the joy of giving.
“As the holidays approach and our children get excited about all that Santa might bring, materialism and give-me attitudes can start to set in. While it’s wonderful to see our children’s joyful anticipation regarding the gifts they may receive, perhaps one of the greatest things we can give our children is the opportunity to experience the true joy of giving.
When I was growing up, my siblings and I worked hard in November and December to earn money for Christmas presents. My parents wanted us to fully experience the joy of giving at Christmastime alongside the joy of receiving. So from the time we were very young, we worked, earned money and purchased all our own Christmas gifts. And some of my favorite holiday memories are centered on the gifts I was able to give to family members and the sweet modest gifts I received from siblings.
I’ll never forget one year when my sister gave me a very unexpected and generous gift. Whenever we were shopping with my mom, I’d been loudly admiring a little wind-up doll that played a beautiful song. I’d already requested a fancy present from Santa. I knew my parents would only be buying me clothes. So I figured it was worth letting my siblings know about my interest in the doll, even though it cost $20 which was way out of the range of what my siblings could afford. I was so surprised and delighted to find that doll in the lovingly-wrapped box my sister handed me on Christmas! But I think that she might have been even more delighted than me when she saw how happy I was.
With our own children, my husband and I have carried on this tradition. As a mom, some of my all-time favorite moments have happened as I’ve watched my children’s excitement as they’ve carefully picked out gifts for their siblings, barricaded themselves into a secret spot to wrap those gifts, and then watched with great anticipation as their gifts were opened and appreciated.
Here are 3 Simple Steps to get kids in the Spirit of Giving this holiday season:
1. Work with your children to figure out a Christmas present budget. You may want to look online or check out what’s available at stores to help them get a sense of what types of gifts would be available in different price ranges. Setting a Christmas budget and shopping around for the best prices on gifts is a great and simple step towards teaching our kids real-life economic principles. Of course the budget needs to be somewhat flexible. I’ve loved seeing my children occasionally dip into the funds they were saving for something for themselves or team up with another sibling to buy a perfect gift that costs more than they’d planned to spend. When my children were younger, I found that it worked best to have them buy each others’ gifts at the dollar store where everything is conveniently the same price.
2. Set up a way for your children to earn extra money towards their Christmas budget. Look at the money children have so far (from allowances saved, etc.) and show them a list of jobs they can do around the house to save up extra money. For younger children, you can make a simple chart with a square for every $.25 or $.50 they’ll need to get up to the overall amount they plan to earn and create a list of “money jobs” they can doaround the house to check off each square on their chart (Watch this video to see my twins explain how they learn money toward specific things using a chart: Learning About Earning).
3. Set aside a special time on Christmas or even Christmas Eve for the kids to give out their gifts. This way, your children’s thoughtful gifts will not be overshadowed by grander ones. After all the hoopla of stockings and Santa gifts on Christmas morning, we eat a special Christmas breakfast and then spend a good chunk of time having each child give out their gifts, one at a time. We make a big deal of every gift and ensure that every giver gets a great hug and thank you from the receiver plus praise from us for their thoughtfulness.
We wish you all the best as you strive to give your kids the gift of giving this holiday season!”
April Perry and Saren Loosli are also the Co-Founders and Directors of Power of Moms. April is the mother of four children ages 5 to 13 and Saren is the mother of five children ages 8 to 13–see her in the photo above on the far left sharing gifts with her own siblings years ago.