HOW TO BUILD THE PERFECT MOMMY GROUP

Your mommy group can become your best vinas, your comrades in arms, and that small sliver in sanity when your toddler is bouncing off the walls. Whether you are planning play dates or much needed wine nights, you need some wicked awesome moms by your side. In addition to those kid free vinas you’ve been pals with for years, every mom undoubtedly needs some ladies with kids around the same age in her life. It’s relaxing to hangout in another vina’s living room without fear of your kid breaking something priceless (it’s all been child proofed or broken by now- trust me) or being embarrassed by a tantrum. To quote Woody from that classic Toy Story, “Don’t have a mommy group? Get one!”

WHERE ARE ALL THE MOM’S AT?

We are everywhere, I promise you that. If you’re just starting on your quest to fill your Mommy Round Table, check out the local library. Story time is full of great stay at home moms who are looking for a little time away from the house with people who won’t judge their yoga pants. The closest park to your house is also a safe bet to find like minded vinas and their tots enjoying the sun. If your littles are in school chat up the pick up and drop off crowd- you all automatically have something in common to spark a convo. I really mean it, moms are everywhere, and unless the kiddos are melting down on the floor of the grocery store, we would love to talk for a minute.

CHECK EVERYONE’S SCHEDULES

Things totally change once you start making cute little human babies. Nap time, preschool days, and the availability of snacks become paramount to a successful day. Few things are more heartbreaking than meeting a great crew and then realizing that everyone has drastically different nap times/lunch times/witching hours (it is so a real thing, I swear it). A lot can be sacrificed for some much needed mommy breaks, but I for one won’t give my toddler’s nap. She needs her rest to avoiding acting like a banshee at dinner time, and I need to watch reruns of The Great British Baking Show. Now after dinner drinks are a different thing- there is always a way to make that work.

PLAN A PROJECT

Not sure how a new mom squad will mesh? Try planning a group project, like one of those nifty paint and wine outings. If chardonnay and a wonky painting of Hogwarts doesn’t help you bond I don’t know what will. If someone is feeling brave, try hosting it instead of going out. With mom’s flexibility is key, and a vina’s date night in just might fit the bill. A craft or a project will help give your night direction and smooth over any new friend jitters. Working on something together will also give you a chance to find more things in common than you expected. Maybe you all discover that Mod Podge decor isn’t your calling (but you can totally laugh about it), or you fall in love with the same six-pack of nitro stout. Or maybe you abandon the project half way and spend the night watching Outlander #sorrynotsorry.

SHORT ON TIME?

Try to set up a Facebook group together. I was part of a new mom’s group right after I had my daughter and we made ourselves a private Facebook group. We used our group to plan  outings, or at least invite any and all out for spontaneous coffee time. We shared recipes and photos of our kids. If someone got a duplicate of a book or a toy as a gift we could offer it to the others. Facebook is not a substitute for real time chat sessions, but it can absolutely make organizing them easier. Plus, having that safe space online is super helpful on those late mommy nights when you need a BFF. Or ten.

The first step is a smile though. Make eye contact with the other tired looking mom sitting with you in circle time. Offer a kind word the the kindred spirit who’s child has decided that the toilet paper aisle is a great place to pretend to be a snake. We are all in this together, so lets go hangout.

(Feature image via @livinglifesmoments)

originally published on VINAzine

6 Awesome Middle Grade Dads

In honor of Father’s Day, lets celebrate our favorite middle grade dads, whether they be biological, adoptive, or living only in our memories. Many of us have a special bond with or memory of our dads, which has forever shaped us. My own Dad takes a lot of pride in doing things himself, and as I’ve grown older I find myself appreciating those same traits. He is also really great at backing a motorhome into any size campsite. These middle grade novels all feature special relationships with fathers, be they god, mortal or somewhere in between. No matter who they are, or what they do, let’s just all agree that we’re pretty lucky to have these guys in our lives.

The Hidden Oracle (B&N Exclusive Edition) (The Trials of Apollo Series #1), by Rick Riordan
Zeus is the father of Apollo, who just happens to now be trapped in the body of a regular New York City kid. That, on its own, is amazing and inspiring and everything that a dad/son story should be. Parents aren’t always easy people to get along with, I admit it, but when your dad happens to be the head honcho of all Greek gods, the stakes are that much higher. In another wonderful series from Rick Riordan (you’ve heard of Percy Jackson, perhaps? Magnus Chase, maybe?) kids pull out all the stops to save the world, prove their worth, and earns some serious brownie points for their otherworldly parents. Zeus is no one to mess with, and he knows it! Plus, he gives Dad Bods a good name.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II, by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
This whole series is jam packed with awesome dads, and The Cursed Child is set to be another great addition. Fans get reintroduced to Harry and Ron, this time as fathers to young Albus and Rose, who are embarking on their first year at Hogwarts. With their own awesome examples of fatherhood (Arthur Weasley and James Potter), as well the slightly reckless influences of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin over their childhoods, it will be fun for fans to see what kind of fathers these two have become. The even more pressing question may be: what kind of father is Draco, and does Scorpius follow in the Malfoy family footsteps.

Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi
In this classic story, Pinocchio lets his mischievous ways lead him astray from his loving adopted father, Geppetto (with more rule breaking and adventures than the movie, and also more heart and more love between Pinocchio and Geppetto). Readers also get a chance to think on what makes a family: is it birth, or is it unreserved love, or some combination? Pinocchio eventually learns to behave, attains some much needed-bravery, and finds that the one person who has always been true to him is his very own father.

The Little House series (9-Book Boxed Set), by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams
Pa, father to Laura Ingalls, is the perfect example of a pioneer days dad. He works his tail off all day in the the fields, or goes hunting, or sugaring, but he still has the time to teach his kids the life skills they need to survive on the frontier. Laura lovingly remembers all the nights he played the fiddle, the careful way he did his farm work, and the bravery he showed even when things got tough. Whether they are out riding horses, taking their first train ride, or raising the walls of a new home, Pa is absolutely a guy who should be celebrated on Father’s Day—but he definitely doesn’t need a tie, or a mug with golf jokes on it.

Song of the Deep, by Brian Hastings
In this soon to be released book (and video game!) twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her father, who is a deep sea fisherman. After a terrible storm, Merryn worries that he is lost at sea. Thanks to the courage and imagination that her father fostered in her, she builds her own submarine to find him. While traveling the ocean, she learns that her father’s many deep-sea legends just might be true, and also that she is stronger, braver, and smarter than she ever believed. Sometimes a father’s love, support, and encouragement can send us out on the most amazing journeys.

Captain of the Ship (American Girl Beforever Series: Caroline #1), by Kathleen Ernst, Juliana Kolesova, and Michael Dworkin
The American Girl books always have great, multidimensional relationships between their parents and their kids. Whether it is Molly’s dad being deployed during the war, Kit’s dad trying to work through the Depression, or Addy worrying about her dad as he escapes slavery, there is no shortage of important fathers. One of the most standout dads has to be Caroline’s father, the proud ship builder who is taken hostage in 1812. Caroline is so inspired by her father’s love of sailing and his ship building business that she can’t help by stray back to Lake Ontario at every opportunity. She braves the lake, and the British, in an attempt to rescue him, all because of their strong, reciprocal love.

What stories do you love to share with your dads?

Originally Published with Barnes and Noble

Magnificent Middle Grade Poetry for National Poetry Month

Rhyme lovers of every age, rejoice, for April is National Poetry Month! We all know that little readers love silly sing song poems, and adults can get lost in the emotions of a good poetry collection, but what about middle graders? Wonderfully, middle grade readers get the best of both poetry worlds, with plenty of funny collections, serious books, and ageless crossovers that can enjoyed all month (and beyond!).

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Illustrated Edition, by T. S. Eliot, with drawings by Edward Gorey

 T.S. Eliot’s tale of stray cats and their nighttime wanderings has been retold for years, most notably as the Broadway show Cats. Made up of 14 poems, that are both very real and completely unbelievable, readers can enjoy the cat phenomenon the way it was before memes took over the internet. Books like this one are a great bridge between the funny sounds of younger books and the more serious fare of adult lit, but still 100% awesome poetry.

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, by Alan Katz, with drawings by Edward Koren

 A silly take on the mischievous, these poems are just plain fun. Katz is also the author of the charming The Day the Mustache Took Over, among many other books, so he definitely gets middle grade humor. Whether read out loud together, or alone while tucked away in a cozy spot, these bits of verse show that there is a lot more to poetry than serious thoughts and beautiful landscapes. Make sure you have some tissues on hand though — you will be laughing until you cry.

Because I Could Not Stop My Bike … and Other Poems, by Karen Jo Shapiro, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

 This super smart collection is a modern twist on classic poems. From William Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson, kids won’t even realize they are reading funny takes on the works of some of the world’s most famous poets. Faulkner’s zany illustrations take this book to a whole other enjoyable level. It won’t be until later, when your kids recognize the rhyme and meter of the poems in their textbooks, that they will catch on that you had them reading classic poetry in junior high. This book is so clever that you will probably find yourself reading it, and falling in love with poetry all over again.

Neighborhood Odes, by Gary Soto, illustrated by David Diaz

 Gary Soto and David Diaz take the small moments of childhood, the beautiful little event that stick, and present them in a way that readers of all ages can love. Parties and pets, family celebrations and long summer afternoons all get the thoughtful treatment that Soto is known for, and the simple black and white illustrations are frame-worthy. This book is a terrific addition to any middle grade reader’s collection, as it will probably turn out to be one of their favorite books — both now and later.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings, by Shel Silverstein

 An ageless classic that can be read in elementary school, laughed over in middle school, and reminisced about as an adult, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a childhood-defining collection of poetry. The rhymes are silly, the illustrations create a fully fleshed out world, and the quiet meanings can bring adults to tears. Shel Silverstein is a master like no other and the beauty of his writing makes him a must read, and not just in April, but all year long. After your kids have devoured this book, grab A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Everything On It for years — really, years — of amazing poetry experiences.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, by Billy Collins

 For a slightly different twist to your National Poetry Month reading, tackle Billy Collins’s collection, Poetry 180. Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001–2003, put together this collection, and its sequel 180 More, to introduce school-aged students to modern poets. His idea is that students should have a love of poetry first; poetry that is written in modern language kids can understand, before jumping into the classics. Given this idea, this book contains 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, from some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry. Before you know it your kids will have a new favorite poet, be it Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch, Philip Levine, or Naomi Shihab Nye.

What poetry does your middle grader love to read?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on April 7, 2016.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start! And Other Parenting Tips From Kids’ Books

“The days are long, but the years are short” is possibly the most honest phrase ever said about parenting. Becoming a parent is one of the best, hardest, most wonderful, and most trying jobs there is. To help get through the long days, the short years, and the temper tantrums in between, during your next story time, take a look at the messages behind your picture books; you might be surprised at just how helpful (and prescient) they are.

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’” (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 This could be said about every single day of parenting, from those first kicks to the bladder during pregnancy, to the crayon on the walls of toddlerhood, to the tearful high school graduation. Every day is crazier than you’d planned, more fun, and more frustrating, all at the same time. Parenting is indeed a wild rumpus — and if we take it as such, then at least we’ll be more prepared for the absurdity.

“It has been a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.” (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz)

 There will be days when no one makes it out of their pajamas, the dog spills your last precious cup of coffee, and your toddler takes magic markers to the TV screen. It happens, despite our best efforts and our most carefully laid plans. No matter how the day unfolds, it’s comforting to know that it’s normal, and everyone has been there. File it away, have a glass of wine or a cookie, and remember it’ll be okay tomorrow.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 When you get down to it, we’re responsible for teaching our children how to be good, kind, responsible human beings; that is a powerful mission, and we should take the time to recognize that, and to acknowledge and appreciate our own efforts, even though we often feel like we aren’t doing enough. Maybe your kids haven’t mastered shoelaces yet, but however far along you are in this endeavor, you are a superhero.

“I should count backwards from 5 to calm down.” (The Pizza Problem, by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson)

 When things do get too crazy, take some advice from Peg and count backward, slowly. A lot can be gained from not immediately reacting to a situation, instead stepping away and taking a breather. When you jump back in, you may be surprised at how much your perspective has changed. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so sometimes you need to catch your breath before pushing on.

“The truth is grown-ups often need some extra help. Baffled and befuddled, mindless and muddled, they sometimes forget what they know.” (Julia, Child, by Kyo Maclearand, Julie Morstad)

 With a focus on staying young, enjoying some freedom, and being yourself, this whole book is a gorgeous reminder to live in the moment. And, as a bonus, there are also fabulous pictures of food throughout. If we stand back and watch, we can learn a lot about how to live our best lives from our children. Also, it’s really about time the iconic Julia Child got a picture book of this quality. After all, what’s happier and more heartening to families than food?

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

 Speaking of food and happiness, take a page from The Hobbit. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of getting by we can forget to enjoy what we have. Instead of taking every overtime shift and letting that vacation time expire, take a day or two off to enjoy your kids, your home, and your surroundings. There’s more wealth in family and friends than we sometimes realize. Your sanity, and your children, will thank you for listening to Tolkien on this one.

“When they’ve finished reading, Olivia’s mother gives her a kiss and says, ‘You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.’” (Olivia, by Ian Falconer)

 No matter how tired, filthy, or frustrated parenting can make you feel, try to remember just how much you do love that little person. Everything may feel like chaos, and your house may actually look like the definition of chaos, but if your family is more or less happy, healthy, and safe, pat yourself on the back and move on to tomorrow.

“Go the f**k to sleep.” (Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes)

 Sometimes the best lesson is the briefest. Everyone, get some sleep when you can. It can make all the difference.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 18, 2016.

6 Books to Help Your Toddler Say Goodbye to the Pacifier

Toddlerhood is a time of big and amazing transitions. Parents get that first sentence, the first public tantrum, the joys of potty training and eventually the grand farewell to the pacifier (not the Vin Diesel kind). Part of making the transition as easy as possible is to have the right supplies, and to stock with house with books that show kids that life without the binky is a beautiful thing.

Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Powerby Maria van Lieshout All little kids want to be big, to go on big adventures, and do what the big kids do. With that in mind, the Big Kid series is designed to help tackle the hard stuff that little kids have to go through. Show your little one, in a super positive way, that as they get bigger they do have to say good-bye to the binky. Being a big kid does come with its advantages though, and highlighting that might just be incentive enough for some.

Chupie: The Binky That Returned Homeby Thalia and Ana Martin Larranga With this witty, slightly quirky bedtime story, you can encourage your kids to send their binky off to a special Binkies-Only Land. Told from the point of view of a binky who just wants to go live with the rest of his friends in a place designed just for him, this story might encourage little kids who love the pacifier to set it free. This book is unique among binky books, in that it also helps promote a bit of empathy. As an added bonus, you can pick it up in Spanish as well.

Binkyby Leslie Patricelli One of many by the ever-popular and prolific Leslie PatricelliBinky helps kids deal with their emotions about losing their favorite nap time pal. As adults we can underestimate how important a pacifier is to little ones, but parents and kids can get through the difficult times by reading together. Patricelli’s art is also bright, welcoming, and always attractive to even the youngest readers. This might be the best first step in easing that binky out of your babe’s life.

No More Pacifier for Piggy!, by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams Instead of utilizing peer pressure, which is a common tactic in putting the paci aside, No More Pacifier for Piggy helps to show little kids that sometimes the pacifier just gets in their way. How can you yell, chat, or play hide and seek with a mouth full of pacifier? What is more important — and more fun: walking around with a pacifier, or having a great play date? Use Piggy’s tale to help encourage kids to make the decision themselves to move on from the binky lifestyle.

The Paci Fairy, by Melissa Burnett and Chrisann Zaubi The Paci Fairy, and the similar book, The Paci Pixieboth play with the Tooth Fairy model of moving on. The Paci Fairy helps kids prepare emotionally for the day that their beloved friend will be picked up by the fairy and replaced by a gift. The Pixie helps teach older kids (would be a great choice for older siblings) to pass their paci on to someone younger. Both books have sweet drawings and positive messages that add some magic to what could be a really tough time. Plus, everything is better with a little glitter.

Pacifiers Are Not Foreverby Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen Instead of focusing on not having a pacifier, the characters in this Best Behaviors Series book help kids see all the positives associated with moving on. The pictures are gentle and the words are kind and understanding. Toddlers, who often struggle with expressing themselves, will like the tone that validates their feelings and the pictures that show great paci-free activities. Another perk? This series can follow kids through other milestones, becoming a familiar voice as they grow up.

What books have helped your little one kick the paci habit?


Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on December 1, 2015.

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is Your New Bedtime Best Friend

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, out October 2nd, is being touted as the magic bedtime cure all. Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, a new author out of Sweden who studied psychology, has decided to tackle the nightly battle that takes place in most homes with young children. Instead of just writing about the story and art, which are unique all on their own, I decided give this one a crash test in our house for a few months. It was this or read Go the F**k To Sleep(Just kidding, maybe). So grab your favorite snuggly and hunker down.

Roger the Rabbit, the main character, and the listener (the book asks parents to include their kid’s name, while the audiobook just says “You”) can’t sleep, so they decide to walk down to visit Uncle Yawn, a wizard, who will help them to go sleep. Along the way you get advice from Mommy Rabbit, the Kind Sleepy Snail, and the Wise Heavy Eyed Owl about the best way to fall asleep. Together you take a relaxing walk to and from your house, after which everyone snuggles into bed and goes to sleep.

What really makes the book magic is the imagery and the careful cadence that it is written in. Each character introduces another trick to sleeping, like visualization, guided relaxation, and compartmentalizing your thoughts. Little kids don’t see what’s happening, but as an adult you can see what Forssén Ehrlin is going for. Older kids might start to pick up on some of the tricks too, like learning to relax all of your muscles from your toes to your head.

What younger kids benefit from most is the cadence. The book comes with tips on how to read (taking long pauses, drawing words out, deliberately reading slowly, and finishing the entire book—even if your kid is asleep), and the audiobook takes its time, lasting over thirty minutes. Both versions actually have a warning not to listen to/read the book near anyone driving a motor vehicle. You’ve gotta love a bedtime book that warns you about drowsiness.

The book and the art are simple and calm, which are exactly what you need to sleep. Forssén Ehrlin wrote it to be like a meditation on sleep, told by a character who wants to go to sleep, to a kid who is exhausted and should go to sleep. I can say that on more than one occasion our entire family has fallen asleep listening to the audio version. Will it work for everyone? No idea, but it works for us. Plus, it never hurts to add another bedtime book to your little one’s library!

What are your foolproof bedtime reads and rituals?