Sunday, November 1, 2009

No longer Clue"less"

I hope you have all read how I just about singlehandedly brought fame and fortune to almost destitute J.K. Rowlings. Well, as much as I hate to admit it, there are times when I am wrong.

I try not to jump on the bandwagon of trendy books. I prefer to wait them out and give them the kid test. Are kids reading them, checking them out of libraries, talking to their friends about them? Or texting and blogging about them? In the case of book series, are they counting down the days until the next book comes out?

This is about the unique series of books for upper elementary through middle school children - The 39 Clues. What is unique is that each book in this series is written by a different, well-known author and picks up where the last author left off. The authors take the orphaned Cahill siblings - Amy and Dan - on an action packed adventure around the world. So for fans of "The Amazing Race" this is right up your alley PLUS it's also filled with some history as well. In book 5, The Black Circle by Patrick Carman, Amy and Dan learn about Nazis as well as the truth behind the murder of the Russian royal family.

The object is to find 39 clues that are hidden around the world. Some of the clues are found in the books themselves as cards that are enclosed with them. Other clues are encrypted within the pages (the ageless holding the picture up to a mirror trick).

Readers are also encouraged by the publishers to go to, set up an account and play the game. Why the hype? Well, there are over $100,000 in prizes to be won!

Why am I promoting this? Anything that gets kids excited, motivated and talking strategy with their peers by drawing conclusions, synthesizing information using various sources of information isn't a bad thing.

While reading and playing along children are exposed to different types of text type - there is a memo in the back of each book, and being able to use several pieces of information at once to gather information - the book, clue card, and the computer. These are invaluable skills and the CATCH is that they are doing it for fun. I am a reading specialist and this is the very type of inferential comprehension that students all over the country are being tested on by their respective states.

Slow down bandwagon .... I'm jumping on!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Holiday Traditions

My husband and I moved from Buffalo, NY to Cherry Hill, NJ when our two girls were 3 and 9. We were the first of both of our families to leave the roost. Holidays were, and still are, the most difficult times to be away from loved ones. We found early on that while some holiday traditions we would continue here, we needed to make new traditions for ourselves - our family unit.

It was a few years after our move here, that I had the opportunity to be home preparing for Christmas since I was on maternity leave. David was born in August and I was returning to work in January. I was out Christmas shopping with my girlfriend Linda when she showed me the most beautiful book I have ever seen.

At the time I was teaching high school and my daughters were six and twelve. Linda showed me a picture book which I thought would be too young for my six year old. My girlfriend went on to talk about Chris Van Allsburg and his breathtaking artwork. I gently flipped through the pages and read this magical story. I reached the ending and stood in the store and cried. Well, that's not to say I was being somewhat hormonal anyway, but the spirit of the book exemplified what I wanted to say to my children about Santa Claus.

You see, at the age of 55 the bell rings clear for me. I did not have a sheltered childhood; my father died right before my 11th Christmas. But I never asked and I never wanted to be told. Instead, my mother read to me, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

The Polar Express was the best gift I could give my family that Christmas. And it happens to be one that keeps on giving. The second year Santa magically added "the bell" to all of our stockings. It has become a Christmas tradition in our household on Christmas Eve after driving around and looking at lights, then opening up "Buffalo" presents only, to read The Polar Express. Sometimes we take turns reading the book. My children and husband know that I choke up on the last page - and I'm not going to give it away here- so I may need help when I falter. Beth is now 32 and not always home for the reading. Jenny is 26 and has added her tradition of giving us Christmas pajamas to read it in! And the baby? David is 20 and the bell still rings for him as it does for us all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Leaves of Three AKA Poison Ivy

I'm the gardener of the family. And for all of you gardeners out there, to be a gardener first you must weed. Throughout the thirty-five years of our marriage I would call out to my husband, "Larry, how many leaves does poison ivy have?"
To which the one time camper, Boy Scout would reply, "Leaves of three, let them be!"
Now, you would think that I would remember this for I am a fairly educated woman. My husband, over the years began to lose his patience with me. If this was really getting under his skin (pardon the pun), you would think he would label the plants for me to avoid. Actually for an entrepreneur out there gardening gloves with the message would make a nice gift. But, I digress.
So this is the summer of Cooper; our little beagle puppy that loves to roam and romp the back fields and bushes and explore the flora. And this is the year that I, yes I, discovered poison ivy on my own. What a proud moment that was for both myself and Larry; I could count to three! I warned our kids to be vigilant not to let Copper get in that area.
I had to go away for a few days to attend a workshop. When I came home my husband greeted me with .... poison ivy! While we had been careful not to let ourselves get tangled up in those shiny leaves of three, apparently at some point our puppy had. For the poison ivy was on my husband's arms exactly where he held our beagle. Cooper had been bathed to get the oils off of his coat, but the damage was done.
"Don't do it. Don't pick him up. You'll get poison ivy," he warned.
But there on the grass was my tri-colored pup, wagging his tail like no tomorrow. He was climbing on my legs, begging to be picked up, pleading with those sad brown eyes. And so I did. About a week later in the crook on my arm I noticed a few tiny pink pimples that spread and started itching.
Our poison ivy lasted about a month. The tell-tale scars from it are fading. Was it worth it? I have lots of lick and tail wags and snuggling time to prove it.
As for my husband? We were walking Cooper in the back fields and Cooper got tangled up in some underbrush. Ever the Boy Scout, Larry went in after him. When they both emerged Larry said, "Well that's just great ... more poison ivy."
When we got back home we washed Cooper down, gave him a treat, and Larry took out the Windex and started spraying himself. My daughter and I were rolling on the floor laughing. Just like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
That was several weeks ago - no poison ivy on Larry!

Friday, August 14, 2009

J. K. Rowlings Owes ME

In almost 11 years I will be coming up on an anniversary. It's not the Hallmark kind, and I certainly won't receive a knock-your-socks off piece of jewelry, flowers, or go out for a romantic dinner. Truth be known, I'm secretly waiting for a royalty check but that will never happen.

Let's play Judge Judy. Back in the late fall of 1998 I had a bad case of walking pneumonia. Except that this case left me prone - and it was three weeks before Christmas. As I was alternating hacking and lamenting to my husband that he would never be able to pull off Christmas shopping without me, he suggested that I look for gifts on the Internet. And then do the really unthinkable, buy them on the Internet. Could he actually be the "r" word this time - RIGHT? And so I did!!

I had read an article in Newsweek about a marvelous sounding book by a new British author that I thought my son David might like. So I found the December 7th issue and skimmed through it again about "The Literary Sorceress" and ordered The Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling.

Also in the magazine was an article extolling the benefit of online shopping. Now you are probably wondering if I have some sort of photographic memory like a character on the TV series, Heroes? Hardly. Could I be a pack rat and have kept the said issue? A fire and flood have helped to mange our basement clutter.

Actually, I'm an online junkie and helped me out with past issues of Newsweek.

Christmas was saved! And we all know that holidays aren't all about the presents but the fun and time shared and memories made with loved ones. Every day I read aloud to David and we both became both enchanted and enthralled in Rowling's book.

I TOLD EVERYONE ABOUT THIS BOOK!!! I shouted it from the rooftops!!! I emailed everyone I knew. I wrote it in the snow. I'm a teacher and I told all of MY students about this book. I told all of the teachers at MY SCHOOL about this book. I TOLD my good friend who was teaching 4th grade, "YOU MUST READ THIS ALOUD TO YOUR CLASS!!" AND SHE DID!!!! I bought this book for everyone for every occasion for birthdays in New Jersey and New York. I told them they needed to give it as gifts and they listened to me - because they know I am a wise, wise woman.

And then after all my hard work it became a best-seller. I was so proud for I had chosen well. My friends patted me on the back and said, "Good work, you told us so!"

So Judge Judy, what do you think? Don't I deserve a piece of that check?
To purchase this book at my store, go to:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where have all the flowers gone?

No, I'm not going to start singing the Kingston Trio's ballad. It's a rhetorical question - where have all the flowers gone?
Last year I worked very hard on my backyard flower garden. I planted, weeded, replanted seedlings, fertilized, watered, weeded, mulched and basically repeated the entire process numerous times - minus the mulching. And then everything was budding and ready to pop when suddenly it looked like overnight a haircutting crew came through and chopped the tops off of everything!!
How could this be - I have a beagle? A feisty Goliath of a beagle. No that's his name. Or was his name. We lost our beloved Goliath on May 30, 2009 at the young age of 15 years and 11 1/2 months. But even last summer at age 14 the bunnies and squirrels and groundhogs knew that Goliath's backyard was fair game by then.
So in June we got Cooper. Well, puppies are adorable and, like babies you tend to spoil them. While housebreaking Cooper it became apparent that one of the favorite spots for Cooper to use was "my garden." He also developed a fondness during the summer for taking a snooze in the day lillies.
This year was going to be the year right out of Homes and Garden. I weed about ten times a day as I'm outside coaxing Cooper to go "potty."So how are the flowers this year? GONE!!!! Cooper and his best friend, Irie the boxer, play hide and seek and tag all through my garden. My day lillies are crushed, even a heavy dose of viagra couldn't keep my gladiolas up. As for the zinnia blooms, I don't believe what researchers say - that dogs can see only black and white - Cooper goes for the pink blooms every time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dog Daze of Summer

It's August. The dog days of summer have turned into the dog "daze". You know the look; the whine, the sticky fingers. Repetition has set in. The excitement of fireflies and the ice cream truck music have gotten on your last nerve.

But how can this happen to a puppy who is going through his first August? How can the turn of the calendar page make a rambunctious puppy suddenly ready to cave come Sunday when the calendar flipped to August 1st?

Saturday July 31st, Cooper - our 3 month old beagle puppy - stayed up until midnight playing tug of war and chase with Irie - our daughter's 2 year old boxer. We had company over and they were busying dragging out every doggy toy imaginable to show our friends. Our friend Janet finally asked, "Do they always stay up this late playing?"

We don't think so - we put Cooper in his crate right before 11:00 and unless Irie and Cooper have figured out to manipulate the crate handle with their paws - all bets for nocturnal play dates are off. When my husband and I went to bed that night we congratulated ourselves again for having such an adorable puppy and better yet - for having quite a few successful days in a row without any accidents in the house. Nothing like high five pillow talk.

Come Sunday morning Cooper slept in - YES!!! When we take Cooper outside to do his morning ritual, he finishes quickly, sits briefly and takes in the backyard and all its glory - making sure that everything is still where it should be - and plops down for a stretch. He's romping and sniffing a little less.

As for the housebreaking? Last night Cooper walked over to his doggy bed and squatted - 12 inches from the back door.