Our Summer Reading List 6/04-6/18

School has been out for us since June 4th and I can not believe the year is over. I absolutely love Penelope’s Kindergarten teachers and I am so grateful we are able to have her in a school that we love. I was definitely mourning Penelope leaving their classroom and moving on to First grade. There is a lovely quote by Mister Rogers, that sums up the end of anything really, one of her teachers attached it to our final class newsletter and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning  of something else” It is the uncertainty of the future that makes leaving our comfortable safe routines so difficult, isn’t it? My daughter loved school and did not want summer to come, but time stands still for no one and so here we are moving forward as we must, and we are filling our days with books! I will share what we have read thus far and my thoughts.

First is a sequential series of 6 books that is so wonderful and sweet. They were recommended to me by our librarian. I am always looking out for sweet early chapter books, which can be a challenge. Our teachers, librarians and friends agree that there is a need for gentle, innocent books  in the Early Chapter Reader department. This series was simply lovely.

Written By Hilary McKay

1. Lulu and the Duck in the Park
2. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea
3. Lulu and the Cat in the Bag
4. Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door
5. Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain
6. Lulu and the Hamster in the Night

Lulu is a little girl who loves animals. She has adventures with her cousin and best friend Mellie. You can click on each title for a link to Goodreads. You can also see the list and read more about Hilary McKay on her website here.

7. The Mouse and the Motorcycle By Beverly Cleary.

A classic. I loved this book as a child (as did Penelope) and reading it again as a parent was just as enjoyable.

8. Skippy Jon Jones
9. Skippy Jon Jones in Mummy Trouble
10. Skippy Jon Jones Class Action

Written By Judy Schachner

I have to admit I don’t like the “SkippyJon Jones” books very much. They have a huge following and many people love them, but it was a little confusing with an early reader. There is back and forth with English and Spanish, and a lot of word altering for the sake of silliness and rhyming. Penelope now works to read aloud and asks about words a lot while we read, so this book was a bit confusing with all of the word altering. It would have been better if she were younger and not trying to identify words that aren’t actual words. Or read aloud during school or library story time. I have other issues with the book, but in general they are not my cup if tea. We read all 3 listed above. The link to Goodreads is above as well, feel free to check the series out and make your own judgment.

11. We are currently reading “Runaway Ralph“, the sequel to “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”. It is not nearly as good, but Penelope is enjoying it so far.

We have a stack of 5 more books from the library, for after Runaway Ralph. I will post after we have gotten through a few. What is on your summer reading list? I would love to hear!

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The Cutest Little Gardening Kit!

I decided that this year we would make an outdoor Fairy Garden. We ordered seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange and while buying a gift for another child’s birthday I spotted this cute little kit by a company called Garden in the Koop and it was a done deal. We poured way to many seeds into the soil but that’s ok. All of the seeds sprouted very quickly. It has been so fun to watch them grow. They are much bigger now and just about ready to go outside. I highly recommend the kit for gardening with children. They would make lovely gifts as well. I fell in love with the company after looking them up. They do have a variety of different kits so you can choose the one that suits you best.
Our Fairy kit included:
●Egg carton
●6 individual seed packs which Included:
Sweet Alyssum, Pink Baby’s Breath, Fairy Lettuce, Creeping Thyme, Viola and German Chamomile
● GardenCoir discs to use for soil
●12 wooden name tags
●And clear information on each plant and their growing needs.


We bought tomatos, peppers and cucumbers from the market already started and those are in the ground.

Our seedlings from Seed Savers Exchange are just about ready to transition outside as well. It always makes me nervous to put these babies out in the elements. I do hope they all thrive. Fingers crossed. We have a lot of work in the garden these next few days.



How is your garden growing? I hope it’s growing well and bringing you joy. Happy planting!

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Chive Blossoms


Beautiful Chive Blossoms! These beauties are in full bloom in our garden. There are many things you can do with Chive Blossoms. For a delicate onion flavor, pull the flower heads apart and add them to soups and salads. Infuse Olive oil and Vinegar with them. Use them as a lovely edible garnish. Mix with dips and soft cheeses such as Goat Cheese or cream cheese! So many possibilities!


Here I made a Vegetable and Rice stir fry, with Turmeric, Smoked Sea Salt and Chive Blossoms. Aren’t they just lovely?

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Who Needs a Bun? The Bunless Burger Post


Who needs a bun? Not me! I originally started doing this in college (almost 20 years ago) when I was out of bread and all I had in the fridge was meat and lettuce. Inspired by Korean Barbecue  dinners and their lettuce wrapped steak goodness. I was ahead of the times then and I didn’t even know it lol!

The Bunless Beef, Lettuce, Avocado Burger with a bit of Red Onion

Tools for the trade:

1. Beef patties
2. Avocados
3. Lettuce
4. Red Onion

The How To:

1. I grill my fine Grass Fed Beef to medium.

2. Make 2 nice beds of crisp fresh lettuce for the bottom and top.

3. Mash up some avocado with a fork and slather on.

4. Add a bit of red onion and sandwich that baby up!

When you take a bite, it is crisp, fresh and Oh, So Good For You! Try it! Ditch the buns this Memorial Day weekend and have a bed of greens instead! And while you’re at it, make a tasty Quinoa recipe for the side, you can find it here. Enjoy!

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Plant in a non planter!


As part of our garden posts, I am sharing “Put a Plant in a Vintage Tea Cup!” (Or any other lovely container that is not a pot.) Oh the beauty of it! I found a lovely vintage footed teacup at a thrift store, and I suppose I would normally display it and use it with other vintage wares, but I had a mini Kalanchoe plant that was outgrowing it’s tiny pot and they just looked so good together.

Because the Kalanchoe needs good drainage and the teacup has no drainage holes, they are not exactly a match made in gardening heaven, so I treated the cup as I did our “Mini Fairy Garden Terrarium” you can find that post here.

Tools For the Trade:

1. Vintage tea cup or other container of choice

2. Rocks- to help drainage

3. Dirt

4. Plant- succulents are great for these tiny containers.

5. Activated charcoal to prevent molding at the bottom.

Note: As usual, use what you have, if you do not have charcoal or rocks that’s fine. Just let you plant dry well between waterings. Sand may be used in a layer with the dirt as well for succulants. Or just put an air plant in it!

The How To:

1. Begin by washing your teacup in hot soapy water and let dry.

2. Once your container is dry, add a scoop of activated charcoal to the bottom.


3. Top with a layer of rocks


4. If transplanting, put a light layer of soil over the rocks to your desired height, add your plant surrounding it with more soil. I used a small spoon to scoop soil around the plant.


Why hello there Kalanchoe! Look at you all dolled up in your fancy little tea cup!

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Our Urban Garden and The Prettiest Little Bird House I Ever Did See.

We are in full blown gardening mode here in Chicago, despite the fact that the high today is 50 degrees and I am in my winter coat again lol!

We have an Urban Garden and plant all sorts of veggies, herbs and flowers in our city yard; and since I was a child we always have. My father has such a green thumb! My siblings and I grew up in the ghetto. Our lawn was always impeccable, free of weeds, beautiful and soft, like a plush carpet. The hedges were beautifully trimmed, the yard was prim and proper with uniform rows of carefully designed flower beds and so many herbs and vegetables. We grew Rhubarb there and the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie that was made each year, compared to no other I have ever had. It was our little oasis in the midst of all of the drugs and violence that surrounded us outside of our gates. It amazes me now, how my parents could have raised us there, because we all made it out of the ghetto, went to college and travelled the world. Teaching your children to work at something and see the fruits of their labor is a gift and what better way to do that, than planting and tending to seeds! Anyone can garden! Anywhere! You just need seeds, sun, water and dirt. Oh and enthusiasm, because honestly folks, everything is so much better with enthusiasm.

In the next couple of posts, I am going to share a few little things we bought recently and a few things we made to help make our garden both indoors and outside special. I hope you will enjoy them.

First of all is the prettiest little birdhouse I ever did see. I have felted in the past and love all things handmade. Throw in fair trade and a gift card and you’ve got me sold lol.


This birdhouse is made in Nepal by skilled artisans working in fair trade. It is wet and dry felted with applique and embroidery. Sigh…it is so pretty. Made with sustainably sourced materials, sheep’s wool which is naturally water resistant and antimicrobial, a braided hemp hanging cord and a bambo perch. The opening is 1.25 inches and can be enlarged to 1.5 inches to accommodate larger birds. The company is dZi.inc. which I know nothing about, they are a member of the Fair Trade Federation. You can find them on Amazon here along with many other selections of styles or in specialty boutiques and toy stores. They range from $20-$30.

I needed a hook for hanging and found one for a dollar at the dollar store. I was going to repaint it to be all bright and magical looking but Penelope was anxious to get it up, so I had to do like Elsa and “Let it go” with the redesign plans. Ha! I crack myself up.


Lastly the birdhouse was stuffed with recycled paper AKA foreign newspaper. Which is so amazing and a wonderful teaching tool for Penelope about foreign script, language, culture, and life in Nepal. We will most certainly make a craft with it.


Here is the view outside our craft room window. Our birdhouse hangs beautifully, just in front of our lovely lilacs. So pretty and magical.


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A Tasty Quinoa Dish Lemon, Quinoa, and Avocado Salad with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette


Do you quinoa? If your answer is no then you should! And you should begin with this recipe, that is just sooo good that I just want to scream HOORAY when I think of it. I made it for our teacher potluck lunch today. I found the original here . I have it down below with my variations.

The tools for the trade:

2/3 cup cooked quinoa

1 bunch kale, chopped finely

1/2 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced

1/2 cup chopped cucumber

1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese


1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

The How To:

Prep 25 m

Cook 15 m

Ready In 40 m

Cook quinoa according to instructions. I have used both red and white quinoa for this recipe. I also use a 1:1.5 ratio- 1 cup quinoa to 1 1/2 cups of water. Add quinoa and water to saucepan bring to a boil in saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Unlike the recipe, I do not steam my Kale, instead I saute it in a pan with a dash of olive oil until it just begins to wilt and is still a vibrant green. Do not over cook your Kale! Transfer to a large plate to cool.

The original recipe begins with the Kale but instead I start with the quinoa.

Take your cooled quinoa and place 2/3 of it in a bowl, save the rest for later! Begin adding your vegetables one at a time: Avocado, Cucumber, Bell Pepper, Red Onion, then slowly add your Kale I like to mix it all until it looks about even when I am happy, I add the feta cheese.

The dressing:

Whisk Olive oil, Lemon juice, Dijon Mustard, Sea salt, and Black pepper together in a bowl until the oil emulsifies into the dressing; pour as much as you wish over the salad. I pour to taste and usually save the rest for later.

HOORAY!!!! Now you get to eat it. Lucky you 😉

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Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day gift idea

Happy teacher appreciation week everyone! Our school suggested that the Children give their teachers a small gift each day. I have enjoyed watching Penelope come up with ideas and create things to give to her teachers.

Today is Wednesday, day 3 of the week and I haven’t had a whole lot of time to craft but I managed to put this vase together in about 5 minutes….literally. We had a different gift planned for today but had to put it off for tomorrow because we didn’t finish it in time. I didn’t know what to do for a gift today and then an idea just came to me while gazing at our blooms in the yard. I think it came out quite nicely and wanted to share. All of these ideas would also make lovely Mother’s Day gift ideas as well.

Day 3 gift idea: Fresh flowers from our garden, in a glass jar, decorated with ribbons, paper and stamping.

The inspiration for the craft

Tools for the trade:


Listed Clockwise:

1. Glass jar- We used 2 Ball canning jars. You may use any glass container. Upcycle, recycle, spaghetti sauce, jam, olive jars, there are so many shapes and sizes to play with!

2. Ribbon- We used 2 different types of ribbon. You can use ribbon, strips of fabric, or printed colorful paper such as wrapping paper, scrapbook paper, specialty paper etc.

3. Tacky glue- or a hot glue gun. I was out of glue sticks for my hot glue gun so I used Tacky glue and it worked just fine.

4. Scissors

5. Paper punches- We used 2 different sizes of circle punches. You can cut out shapes with scissors of you do not have punches.

6. Ink pad

7. Cute stamp


8. Paper- We used white and lavender card stock to match the flowers.


The How To:


1. Take your wide ribbon and wrap around jar, overlapping by 3/4 inch or so. Trim off spool. Use your hot glue gun or if using liquid glue like me, Overlap the ribbon ends and glue in place. Hold for a minute. Do the same with your thin strip of ribbon on top. I did not glue the ribbon to the jar but you may want to do that.

2. Punch your large and small circles out of your paper.

3. Stamp your image onto the paper and let dry.

4. Once your ink is dry glue the small circle onto the larger one. Slather glue onto the back of your large circle and place onto the front of your ribbon jar, hold for a minute.

5. Add your stems and some water. And voila! A lovely gift is born.

I will continue post our personal gift ideas and a recipe for Friday’s potluck that is super yum!

How have you been showing appreciation to your teachers? I would love to know!

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Paper fish wall decor

Hello everyone! I hope you are all enjoying spring! Her in Chicago, everything is budding and blooming. The colors of spring are just so inspiring, as is spring itself, reminding us of rebirth, regrowth and new beginnings. So beautiful.

This post is part 3 of our little wall decor. We started with the paper garlands then went on to our ribbon and paper cloud craft and now we have Miss Fish, what a cutie pie!

This is our original fish on the wall.

This craft was inspired by the book “Hooray for Fish” By Lucy Cousins . It would make a great Mother’s day gift, because it celebrates a child’s love for Mommy. On the cover is Mommy fish and little fish. We love Lucy Cousins here at home and have a number of her books. She is the author of “Maisy” series of books, which have all sorts of wonderful pulls and flaps and are just downright fun to read and explore. Our favorite is “Maisy’s Book of Things That Go” it has a surprise ending!


I’d like to begin be saying that when you are crafting and creating with your child, you are teaching valuable math and science skills. Glue drying, is a lesson of evaporation, liquid turning into solid. Placing the circles on the fish not only uses fine motor skills, you are teaching counting, how many dots do we have on the fish? Is the total an even or an odd number? The small dot is 1/2 the size of the big dot etc. Math and science is everywhere in our lives, why not make it fun!

The tools for the trade:

1. Pencil- To draw out your fish shape

2. Scissors

3. Glue- We used a glue stick and white glue

4. Colorful paper- We used Orange for the fish body, Yellow for the spots, scraps of white and black for the eyes.

5. Glitter



The How To:

1. First I freehand drew a fish onto our Orange sheet of paper. You….can…..do…..it! A fish is just an oval and some curvy triangles, it is not fine art.

2. I cut a circle for the eyeball out of white paper and the used the black paper scrap to make the pupil of the eye. (Anatomy! Science opportunity: )
I also made little eyelashes with the black scraps.

3. I made the spots out of yellow paper all different sizes.

4. Before we glued everything down we took a moment to play with the paper bits. See photo above. That is me in my wheelchair shooting a basketball, or a cat, or a man with a mustache with pancakes. Just play!

5. Then we took our glue stick and my daughter put it all together.

We made the original 2 years ago this is one we made for the blog post

6. In the end she decided to squirt white  glue on to the fish and add glitter, to represent water, so feel free to do so if you wish. Glitter makes everything magical doesn’t it?

This is our original fish on the wall.


And that concludes the little wall series. I hope you enjoyed these crafts. I certainly enjoyed making them with my child and then sharing them with you!

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When Someone Special Dies, a Mother’s experience

Friday was the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. My mother was diagnosed with Cancer on January 21st of last year and died April 24th, just three months later. I wanted to share how I communicated Cancer and death to my daughter, who had just turned 5 years old and things we used to help process our grief, once my mother passed.

Below is an edited portion of what I read at my mother’s funeral mass:

My mother passed away Thursday morning, just before my daughter arrived home from school. I walked into her bedroom as usual, and spoke aloud to her about the beautiful sun that was peeking in and out of the clouds that day, and the rain that was to come, and I told her how beautiful she was. I measured out her morphine, and spoke softly into her ear, with my hand on her abdomen as I always had, and then paused, because I did not feel her heart beating into my hand as it always did when I spoke to her. She was gone. Words cannot describe everything that she was. Even in her dying she was mothering. While caring for her, she was teaching me to be brave, she was teaching me to be a leader, she was teaching me to have faith and gratitude for every day, but most of all she taught me to believe in myself, and find a strength within me that I did not even know existed. And while caring for her she was grandmothering my daughter still, and was modeling gratitude, joy, humor and determination. My daughter watched as we cared for her, cleaned her, fed her. We sang her songs, told her we loved her, gave her gentle massages and always cheered for her. My daughter would give her kisses, talk to her about her days at school, sing to her and surround her with stuffed animals. It was an honor to serve her alongside my brother and my father. Together, we made a beautiful team. The house feels so empty without her and so does my heart.

As a voracious reader, I began where I always do, with books. I ordered 2 books off Amazon purely based on reviews, just before my mother became bedridden.

1. When Someone You Love Has Cancer, A Guide to Help Kids Cope, By Alaric Lewis, OSB

2. When Your Grandparent Dies, A Child’s Guide to Good Grief, By Victoria Ryan

Both of the books helped begin the dialogs I would soon have with my daughter numerous times a day. I did change some of the language as I read aloud, to taylor the books to our personal needs.

One thing that I found so fascinating, was that death is such a natural part of life, yet we don’t often talk about it. I was always very positive about death and Cancer around my daughter and I never hid my tears. If she would see me dabbing my eyes, I would say “Sweetie, like the waves of the Ocean, feelings come and feelings go. It is important to welcome our feelings when they come and know that they will pass and not stay forever.” So I would cry, we would honor that feeling and I would then dry my tears, get up and move on to something silly and fun. I had to model this. Because in her life, she will crumble and fall many times, and I needed her to know, that you could crumble and then get back up, dust yourself off and move forward.

My mother died just minutes before my daughter arrived from preschool. I had to stay calm and think quickly before the doorbell rang. She would always run into my mother’s room, fling her backpack onto the ground and start chatting about her day, singing songs, jumping on the guest bed etc. The doorbell rang, “What’s happening Mommy?” She asked, as our nurses had arrived and things seemed noticeably different. “Do you remember we discussed that grandma’s body was going to stop working soon?” I asked her. “Yes” she responded. “Well it stopped working just a few minutes ago” I said. “Why?” She asked. “Because that was all the time on earth her body had left.” “You can still go in and see her and I can hold your hand.” We sat with my mother and my daughter began to cry, somehow I did not, I just comforted. I was her rock and held her in my arms for as long as she needed me to. When she stopped crying, she opened her backpack and gave my mother a painting she had made for her at school “Goodbye grandma, I love you” she said and blew her a kiss. We got up together, dusted ourselves off and went to the Living Room to play, while our nurses prepared my mother’s body.

The following is a list of books we read after my mother died and a DVD by Sesame Street for children.

1. When Someone Very Special Dies, By Marge Heegaard

2. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

3. The Invisible String By Patrice Karst

4. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, By Leo Buscaglia

5. http://www.sesameworkshop.org/what-we-do/our-initiatives/when-families-grieve/ When Families Grieve, a Guide for Parents and Caregivers Presented by New York Life with a Sesame Street DVD

6. http://www.newyorklife.com/nyl/v/index.jsp?contentId=17798&vgnextoid=1ec16f21189d2210a2b3019d221024301cacRCRD After a Loved One Dies Booklet- How Children Grieve And how parents and other adults can support them. By The New York Life foundation. The website has this as a free download along with much more wonderful information.

Books for me:

1. Motherless Daughters, By Hope Edelman

2. Motherless Mothers, How Mother Loss Shapes The Parents We Become, By Hope Edelman

Aside from reading and discussion, we created a journal for my mother, written by my daughter. Some examples of the pages were:

1. Our relationship was very special… Here I’ll describe things we did together…

2. Our funniest times together…

3. My feelings…..I feel….

4. I feel loved when…..

5. Questions I have for Mom……

6. Words that describe Grandma…..

7. Things Grandma liked…

This year we will be creating a scrapbook together of photographs of my mother’s life.

Other links:
1. “New York Life is committed to helping children who have experienced the death of a loved one. Their website, http://achildingrief.com supports the parents, family, and teachers of bereaved kids and includes a comprehensive, state by state list of local support services for grieving children; book lists; articles; and materials to order, as well as links to other helpful organizations.”

2. National Alliance for Grieving Children “provides a network for nationwide communication among hundreds of children’s bereavement centers who want to share ideas, information and resources with each other to better support the families they serve in their own communities.”

3. Nonprofit, Gilda’s Club chapters offer support for people with Cancer and their familiy. They offer a variety of lectures, workshops, fun social events for adults and children and a variety of classes. They also offer support in Spanish here in Chicago. The club was named in tribute to comic actress Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer. This link is for the downtown Chicago location, you can Google your particular city.

Another thing I’d like to mention is that our play became very therapeutic. My daughter began using death and cancer as subjects in her play with her dolls and in role playing with family and friends. We used our toy doctor kit often. This is incredibly healthy for children, as a way for them to process their grief. It passed, as all things do. But it did go on for several months.

I hope my story can bring you hope and help and comfort in your grief. I am not an expert, (although I know quite a few who were so helpful during this experience). I am however, a mother, doing the best I can with the resources I have available to me and I am happy to pass on what I know, in hopes that it may help someone else. I wish you Peace in your own grieving.

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