Monday, December 26, 2011

Your input needed: favorite kid/teen books and reading ideas that have worked for you

If you're anything like me, you're in the post-Christmas blahs.  Or will be shortly.  To help you out of the doldrums & give you & your kids something to discuss & contemplate & mull over, YOU CAN HELP ME OUT!!

As the sidebar on this blog indicates, I'll be presenting at UVU's "For the Love of Reading" conference in February.  I'll be sharing ideas & stories about what we can do as moms to help our kids LOVE READING.

I want to provide a stellar "Books Kids & Parents Adore" list for whomever is brave enough to attend my presentation.  I would LOVE to get your ideas of books you & your kids love.  Only list ABSOLUTE FAVORITES (1 or 2 per category) for whichever age categories are relevant to you & your kiddos.  A short blurb about why the books are great would also be helpful.

Here are the basic age categories:

Early Teen
Teens who think they're adults but really aren't quite yet
Reluctant Teen Readers (esp boys)

Also, if you have any  fantastic ideas that have helped instill a  LOVE of READING in your kids (bribes, incentives, fun ideas, etc.) -- PLEASE SHARE!!

Thanks in advance for your help on this.  I'll think of some fantastic prize (hint: it'll probably be a book that I adore...) for the parent (or parents!!) who stun me with their book lists and/or reading ideas. 

How's that for a carrot?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The trouble with elves

Published on (click HERE for the link)

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I arrived home late and noticed a small plate of pretzels on the kitchen table. I thought nothing of it, figuring that dinner clean-up duties had been assigned to a kid who wasn’t what you would call "detail-oriented".

The next morning, my third-grade daughter headed straight to the table, let out a sigh and said, “I guess they don’t like pretzels!”


“Elves. My friends say that if you put out a plate of crackers at night, your elf will come. We’re out of crackers, so I tried pretzels.”

I was aware of the recent trend where elves take up residence with kids before Christmas, but that was all I knew. And since I couldn’t be bothered with elves at such a busy time of year, I told my daughter how sorry I was that the pretzels didn’t work and promptly let the matter drop.

The elf thing would surely blow over.

However, the third-graders at my daughter’s school talked of nothing but elves, toted them to school, discussed elves’ magical properties and swapped tales of elf trickery.

Needless to say, the elf thing did not blow over. It all proved too much for my poor elf-less daughter, so she gave it another go.

The slightly more elaborate table setting included a large plate piled high with peanut-butter crackers, a small tea kettle filled with water, a teacup, a teaspoon and a hand-written letter. A plea, if you will, begging Santa to bring her a pocket elf since she has wanted one ever since she heard about them and hoping they liked peanut-butter crackers.

I did some thinking. I generally ignore my kids when they plead for whatever the latest trend is, arguing that owning one (or several) is necessary for their very survival. For example, my older kids remind me that when every other kid on the planet owned several dozen Neopets, they had exactly zero.

It’s a downright miracle that my kids have managed to survive such shocking deprivations.

But the elf question was a bit more complicated. This is likely the last year that my daughter would be a true Santa believer, and I hated to risk her losing the magic of believing a mere 10 days before Christmas. Plus, telling her the truth about elves would put her in a rather tricky position with her peers, who clearly believed. So I decided to take elf action.

Ella, elf No. 294, wrote my daughter a letter explaining that Santa would be delivering pocket elves the following night, that elves love peanut-butter crackers so please leave them out, and thanks so much for being patient with Santa and the elves at this very busy time of year.

My daughter was all smiles and giddiness and took Ella’s note with her to school so all of her friends would be apprised of her elf delivery schedule.

All that was left for me to do was acquire a pocket elf. Easy peasy.

Several phone calls and store visits and Internet searches revealed the disappointing fact that pocket elves could only be ordered online. And even overnight delivery —which was financially prohibitive — still wouldn’t deliver a pocket elf on schedule. Not a huge deal, though, because I could easily buy an Elf on the Shelf.

An elf is an elf, I reasoned.

So I carefully positioned my daughter’s new Elf on the Shelf and eagerly awaited her reaction the next morning. When she saw the cracker crumbs and empty tea cup, her face was jubilant. But when she spotted the elf peeking down on her from the corner of the kitchen, her face crumpled in despair.

That’s when I discovered that an elf is most definitely not an elf.

Tears ran down her cheeks, “That’s an Elf on the Shelf! Ella said Santa would bring a pocket elf! You can’t even touch an Elf on the Shelf or it will lose its magic. Why didn’t Santa bring what he said he’d bring?”

For the love.

Apparently, I had attached too little importance to the word “pocket.” I managed to convince my daughter that her elf wouldn’t lose its magic if she picked it up (the book says “might” lose its magic if touched, not “will”). I also explained that Santa may not have received Ella’s memo or that he might have gotten a little mixed up at this very busy time of year.

But he always, always means well.

My daughter seemed to understand.

Drying her tears, she brought PB&C (peanut butter and crackers) to school, where several third-graders cautioned her that its magic was in all probability lost forever.

Happily, PB&C’s magic remained intact, and so did my daughter’s belief.

I wondered for the upteenth time since I became a mom if I had made the right call. Sometimes I think it’s a downright miracle that my kids manage to survive me. Regrettably, I don’t always receive memos (like the one instructing me to order a pocket elf right before Thanksgiving). And sometimes I get a little mixed up, especially at very busy times of the year.

But I always, always mean well.

I hope my kids understand.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The year Santa read my blog

Published on (click HERE for the link)
Published for Deseret News (click HERE for the link)
Published on LDSLiving (click HERE for the link)

Noting that her 11-year-old brother was composing his Christmas list, my 9-year-old daughter felt to offer him the following advice, “Here’s my strategy. Make sure that the thing you want the MOST costs LESS than everything else on your list. Then you’ll probably get it.”

My son enthusiastically adopted his sister’s strategy and added several ultra-expensive items to his list.

My kids pretty much have Santa’s number and work every angle possible to persuade him to be a little less thrifty. But when the lists start getting unreasonable and it’s time to throw in a little perspective, I remind my kids about the Christmas Santa came early.

The year 2009 was one of significant financial difficulty for our family. The last few months of the year found us struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, so coming up with extra cash for Christmas was daunting at best.

I explained to the kids that Santa had been hit very hard by the recession, but their comprehension of Santa’s economic difficulties differed widely according to age. My two older sons (ages 8 and 12) offered to split one Lego set between them. My 14-year-old daughter didn’t ask for a single thing, nor did my 4-year-old son, who simply enjoyed the lights and excitement. And my sweet 6-year-old daughter had but one request: a real live puppy.

Although I was glad for the opportunity to focus almost exclusively on the real meaning of Christmas, I struggled with feelings of melancholy throughout the month.

And because I’m a writer, I wrote some sugar-coated blog posts about what was going on.

I left the house early on Christmas Eve morning to run a few last-minute errands. As I pulled into the garage right before 9 a.m., I saw four pairs of legs hopping up and down (the fifth pair, belonging to my 14-year-old, was still in bed).

“Mom! Santa came early! Santa came early!”

The kids, all talking at once, anxiously pulled me into the living room to see the huge pile of gifts that had been deposited on our doorstep shortly before my return home. The accompanying note said:

“Merry Christmas!! Love, Santa (P.S. Sorry that I had to deliver so early — with all the good boys and girls I had to get a head start!)”

I stared in disbelief. Santa hadn’t consulted with me or my husband (as is his usual custom), so we were completely baffled.

The kids had already arranged the gifts into piles according to recipient, and they spent the better part of that day speculating — i.e. shaking the gifts, weighing them, holding them to their ears and the like. I spent the better part of that day reminding the kids that the gifts were to stay firmly wrapped — no “accidentally” torn edges or missing pieces of tape allowed.

And I did some speculating of my own.

There was an extra air of anticipation on Christmas morning, and it didn’t take long to begin opening gifts from Santa.

It didn’t take much longer for me to begin crying.

It’s a given that Santa is all-knowing, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when each gift being opened was perfectly suited for the child opening it. But I was most definitely surprised — it was simply uncanny. And then, as one of my sons opened a tennis racquet and bag of tennis balls, it hit me:

Santa had read my blog!

As I watched each present being opened, I realized that I could link that gift to something I had mentioned in a blog post.

Here’s a sampling of what unfolded (this is far from a comprehensive list — Santa’s generosity was truly astonishing):

I had written about my 14-year-old daughter: is unstoppable in the kitchen and asks for a Jamba Juice every time we drive by the store.

Santa gave her a cookbook and a Jamba Juice gift card.

I had written about my 12-year-old son: loves to read and enjoyed participating in an air soft war at a scout camp.

Santa gave him a book and an air-soft gun.

I had written about my 8-year-old son: loves soccer and has expressed an interest in tennis.

Santa gave him a soccer ball and a tennis racquet.

I had written about my 8-year-old daughter: wants a puppy and her little brother steals her Webkins.

Santa gave her a giant cuddly stuffed puppy and an adorable WebKin pony.

I had written about my 4-year-old son: steals sister’s WebKins and loves trucks.

Santa gave him a dinosaur WebKin and a giant truck.

I was completely overwhelmed and spent the remainder of the day fighting back tears. 

I could only imagine the time and expense Santa must have spent on behalf of each individual member of my family. It felt like someone had given me a gigantic hug, looked me in the eyes and said, “I know your family, and I love your family.” At a time of significant stress and uncertainty, that was exactly what I needed.

The love and concern behind each gift meant even more than the gifts themselves.

Santa has never revealed his identity. But I hope he knows how much magic, joy and wonder he brought into our home that Christmas.

We will never forget.