My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

If you like… Mo Willems

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This post is for my daughter and her kindergarten class, who have all fallen hard for Mo Willems.  It is also for all the people who say “Do you know Mo Willems?” when I say I work in children’s books.  I have never met the man behind the pigeon, but I am very familiar with his books.  Mostly, though, this post is for the parents who need something to read with their kids when all the Mo Willems books are checked out of the library (as they always seem to be).  Perhaps one of these alternatives will suffice for the day.

If you like the way that Knuffle Bunny captures a universal childhood moment in a way that appeals to both kids and adults, try Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  As a bonus, the book also features a dad/daughter combo.

If you like the interactive nature of the Pigeon books, try Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj.  It has been in regular rotation at our house recently since we have a new kitten, but it’s fun even without a feline family member. Other potential titles: The End (Almost) by Jim Benton or You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt.

If the funny friends in the Elephant & Piggie books are your favorite, try When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude for another set of animals navigating friendship with a touch of humor.  I also like the dry wit of Maxwell Eaton in The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds.

Need more suggestions?  Here are a places to find more reading material for your Mo Willems fan:

  • KDL Recommends Mo Willems Readalikes – More books in the spirit of Mo Willems
  • The Geisel Award – Willems has won this award for beginning readers more than once.  Check out some of the other winners and honors.  Might I recommend The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli.
  • Storytime Skit: Mo Willems – Everything you need to know to plan a Mo Willems event for your library, classroom, or whatever.

 

 

Sugar & Stories

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When your mom is a Book Mom (as my daughter refers to me), you don’t just visit the neighborhood candy shop, you read a book first.

I hadn’t yet mentioned the existence of Sugar Sugar–the Kingfield candy shop–when I suggested we read Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel next. It is a sweet chapter book about a girl who wants to change her name after a classmate makes fun of her (no one wants to be called “Smella”).  In the book, Stella’s family owns a candy shop and some of the action takes place there.  That’s where Stella and her friends decide they will all change their names to some sort of candy.

Each night before bed, I would read a chapter aloud, and my daughter and I would imagine the sorts of candy we would find in a store like Batts Confections or talk about the candy we would like to be named after.  After we finished the story, I hinted that we might go somewhere special this weekend, and my six-year-old’s eyes widened with excitement as she imagined Batts Confections might be a real pace.

Even with all that build up Sugar Sugar got just the response I was hoping for.  And why wouldn’t it? It’s adorable, pink, and filled with sweets of all sorts.  It’s a little girl’s dream–at least, it certainly is among my little girl’s dreams.  We chose our candy–sea salt caramels for me and purple rock candy for my daughter–and walked home with smiles.  I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

Meanwhile, maybe we’ll try some of Stella Batts’ favorite recipes.

Thursday 3: Picture Book Preschool Updates

Most Thursdays I post a Thursday 3 picture on my photo blog, but this one seemed like it belonged here. Now that my daughter is in school, my Picture Book Preschool posts have been retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them occasionally. Here are three new picture books that might be good choices for your preschooler:

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Is it Big or is it Little? by Claudia Rueda – I explored the topic of relative size with my daughter in this post, and it was fun to compare objects. This book is about more than just though. It looks at relative meanings of various opposites as it follows a cat and mouse around.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light – I have already mentioned in a previous Thursday 3 that this book is a 2014 favorite of mine. It is a tour of New York City, a seek and find, and a counting book that takes us up to twenty, which makes it good for this post.

Henry’s Map by David Elliot – Who doesn’t love maps? This silly story of a neat and tidy pig trying to make a map of the farm is right on target for preschoolers. Perfect addition to this post.

Storytime Reflections

Seventy-some pairs of eyes watched last Friday as I realized I should have practiced holding up a picture book and reading it at the same time.  I was reading Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox to a storytime group at the White Bear Lake Public Library. It might seem like an odd choice of a book for someone like me to read considering I don’t have “ten little fingers,” but I’ve found it’s a good introduction to the idea of people being born with lots of different traits–only having one arm is just another possibility.  A little less common perhaps, but a possibility nonetheless.

I don’t know how much of that jived with the preschoolers in the storytime room last week, but the main thing is that we created a safe space for the sort of curiosity that people of all ages sometimes feel obligated to squash or keep to themselves.  My hope is to help people feel comfortable talking about differences of all sorts.  The more we talk, the less different we seem.

We left space for questions at the end, and at first people were shy about raising their hands. I did get a few great questions though that I thought I would answer here briefly in case you are curious too.

- Where do you get an arm like that?

I go to a doctor to get a prescription for an arm like this. Then I go to a place where they make prosthetics to get it fitted especially to me.

- How often do you have to get a new prosthetic arm?

When I was a kid, I had to get new arms frequently–at least every year, sometimes more often depending on how fast I grew. Now that I am not growing, they last a bit longer. My current prosthetic is 13 years old at this point, and I am sincerely hoping it lasts many more years.

- How do you get dressed?

This is a really common question from kids, and I have the hardest time answering it because I don’t really think about how I get dressed. I just do it. I suppose my left hand does most of the work with any buttons and zippers.

- Do you sleep with your prosthetic arm on?

No, I take it off to sleep, bathe, swim, or just relax. Prosthetics are very helpful, but not very comfortable.

- What kind of exercises can you do with one arm?

I am a bookish sort (surprise!) whose main form of exercise is taking long day dreamy walks, so I am not the most qualified to speak on this. But I will say that some of the yoga I have tried require a bit of adaptation to do them with one hand. If I were serious about fitness, I imagine a trainer could help me modify most exercises to suit my needs.

Do you have a question? Check out my FAQ or feel free to ask in the comments. :)

Welcome home

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What makes a house a home? (Or an apartment a home, in this case, I suppose.) My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of Unitarian-Universalist religious education, and that has been the focus of the program for her age group: Creating a home.

Note: If there’s ever a good time to move, it’s when your child is immersed in a weekly lesson in creating a home.  That was a happy coincidence for us.  Each week she would spend her Sunday mornings immersed in the idea that we can be intentional about our homes, that our homes are safe spaces we journey from and return to every day.  I realized as I listened to her talk about what home meant to her that moving would be easy if we were intentional about it.

We have spent the last couple of months creating a home in a new apartment in a new neighborhood.  There are still items in boxes or in not-quite permanent locations, and there isn’t much on the walls yet.  But it’s feeling more and more like home every day.

What has made this place a home for me:

  • Finding a nearby Little Free Library to adopt as ours.  It’s far enough away to be a mini-adventure and close enough to be convenient.  We’ll make regular stops there now that it’s nice outside.
  • We met our neighbors.  It turns out we are surrounded by six year old girls.  My six year old is delighted.
  • We adopted a cat and named her Disco.

Last weekend, my daughter and I cuddled in a comfy chair to watch Cosmos, and Disco joined us, purring.  That’s home.

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Choose to Act

For many people, May 1st is a day of prayer.  For a growing number of others, it is a day of reason.  Sometimes it seems that no two groups of people are further apart than these.  But no matter our preference for prayer or reason on May 1st, we can agree that action is needed to make our world a better place.  The Week of Action (April 24-29) is designed to bring people together to celebrate our ability to make a difference in the here and now.

I plan to engage in small acts of kindness for the next six days.  I was inspired by a book, of course.  There’s always a book in my plans somewhere.  The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is a feel-good novel about the power of good deeds.  Maybe the idea sounds cheesy to you.  But to me, it sounds do-able.  It might not seem like you’re saving the world when you’re planting flowers in someone’s yard or leaving small gifts for your neighbors, but you are saving little tiny pieces of the world with every action.

 

Hopefully this is just the beginning of my own personal sense of action.  Let’s all choose to act.

Sharing the Love of Books

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There was a time when I had a whole roomful of books.  Shelves lined every wall, and they were packed with books.  I looked at my bookshelves, and I saw success.  It was what I thought I always wanted.  What book lover wouldn’t?

It took a while, but eventually I realized something.  Or perhaps something shifted for me.  I’m not sure.  In any case, I realized that I don’t get much from having books.  I do get lots of pleasure or happiness or fulfillment from sharing them, so I decided to share more than I kept.  I guess I’m more of a librarian at heart than I thought I was.  :)

My home is no longer a repository for books.  It’s a way station.  They may stay here for a bit, but then they are passed along to a friend or left in a Little Free Library.  Now when I look at my bookshelves (not a roomful anymore–just one bookcase in the dining room), I see possibilities.  I see connections.

Today I was an official World Book Night giver.  I pledged to give away a stack of books to light or non-readers along with thousands of others across the country who want to “spread the love of reading person to person.”  It was neat to see people’s skepticism (free? where’s the catch?) melt away as they realized that this was just a book for the love of it.

There’s nothing like an evening of giving away books to remind you that life is pretty great.  If you have the opportunity to be a World Book Night Giver next year, I highly recommend the experience.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?