Top 10 books on CD

One of the things I love most about summer is reading books together with my kids. When their brains are free of all of the requirements of school work and I don’t have to worry about helping with homework, it seems we have more space to soak up the words on a page. Or on a CD.

The boys read from actual books… with pages… nearly everyday. A1, who is going into third grade, is really into King Arthur right now. And M2, who is going into first grade, is reading some great first readers like Mouse Soup and Little Bear.

But we also borrow stacks of audio books from our local library. I love these unabridged books on CD for several reasons. We get the benefits of a read-aloud, but I don’t have to do the reading. It’s fun to just absorb the words along with the kids. Often the person who reads the book has a great voice that fits the style of the book.

When I need a break, I can ask the children to go in one of their rooms together and listen to a book. It’s better than watching TV!

But most of all, we can listen to books while we are in the van. It’s amazing how much reading we can do on a trip to the pool and back or on our way to the library.

Our minivan seems to have a sign on the door that says, “Begin arguing now.” When I open the electric door, the three kids jump in and immediately begin fighting over who will sit where. Or they get into an intense debate on which super hero is the most powerful. Or they start fighting over a red crayon or a blue marker.

I turn on the audio books and … they have to… shhhhh….

Oh, it’s beautiful.

I asked my 8-year-old to help me rank some of our favorite audio books we have listened to in the last year. It was not easy because even #10 is a big favorite. We have listened to many others that didn’t make the list.

Here’s our Top 10… or 11… or 12…

10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This is a thought-provoking story of what it would be like to have everlasting life in a world where everyone else grows old and dies. And maybe it seems like it would be cool to be 18 forever. But what if you were frozen at one age, never to grow a day older?

9. The Giants and the Joneses by Julia Donaldson. This is a really cute story about a brother and two sisters who are captured by a girl giant and taken to live as pets in giant land.

8. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli. We just finished this one as part of our studies of medieval times we will be doing this year in third grade. A little boy shows courage, determination and true character despite his physical limitations. Plus, it’s a book about knights and castles. What boy or girl doesn’t love that?

7. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. A stuffed bunny rabbit gets lost from the little girl who loves him and begins an amazing journey from one owner to another. The stuffed animal learns a lot about love and appreciation through his travels. The ending had me crying with happy tears. We also listened to The Tale of Despereaux by the same author, which we loved, as well.

6. Shiloh by Phyliss Naylor. A boy, his dog, a mean neighbor and a lesson on doing the right thing. Great story.

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. My kids had not seen the movie or heard this story before and they found it fascinating. I’m trying to mainly list books that aren’t classics, but how can I resist? I have to sneak in a few other classics favorites here: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

4. Drift House by Dale Peck. We were all captivated by this book about a mysterious house and its powers to travel to a world that is not encumbered by time. This is another thought-provoking story about what the world would be like if time did not exist.

3. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. This is such a sweet story about a cricket who helps his owner by playing concerts for people in New York.

2. Poppy by Avi, along with the all of the subsequent books, Ragweed, Poppy’s Return, Poppy and Ereth and Poppy and Rye. Poppy is a mouse who faces danger to stand up for the rights of her family against the bigger creatures in the woods.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. We actually own the full seven-book series on CD, which isn’t just read, but performed with various characters. The kids have listened to all of the books dozens of times, but never get enough.

I also realized we forgot one of our favorites when we created the list, so I’ll just have to cheat and put it here: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

I think I loved all of these books as much as my children. So, if you are looking for a good family-friendly read, check out the audio books in the kids’ section of the library.

Now, please tell me… What are your favorite books for children (either in print or on CD) and what is your favorite book that you are reading this summer? I have a few on hold at the library, but I’m always looking for suggestions.

For even more great Top Ten lists, click on over to Oh Amanda’s blog!

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so much to say…

You might be assuming right now that the reason I haven’t updated my blog in, oh, about 32 hours is because either a.) I have nothing to write about, or b.) we selected our vacation destination and have left town.

The real answer is c.) I have so darned MANY topics swirling around in my brain I can’t decide which one to write about first.

I mean, I’ve been dying to report to you all about how my affiliation with BlogHer has far exceeded my expectations. I just need to read through my 11-page contract to determine if it’s OK to mention that I have already made way more than the 32 cents a weeks I was projecting.

I also want to tell you about the staring contests that we have here on a daily basis and why they are of serious importance in our household. In fact, this might have to be my next post.

Then, there’s my effort to go through this cluttered abode we lovingly call home and throw away huge bags of garbage on a daily basis. I am hoping that I will uncover an extra bedroom I did not know existed. At the least, I have to find a spot somewhere in our three-bedroom house for one more child.

Oh, and then there’s the space I must uncover for the most unbelievable homeschooling hotspot in northern Illinois. (Please keep in mind that I have a lot of experience in direct sales. And rule No. 1 is that when someone asks how your business is going, you reply, “Unbelievable!” because good or bad, that answer is always true. So, there you go. Now, you also are ready for a career in direct sales.)

And I can’t even believe that I haven’t mentioned yet the elaborate techniques I have developed to avoid being hit in the head by the birds that scream at me during my morning walks. They can taunt me, but I won’t be swayed. I am going to keep walking until my joints start to separate and I can’t make it more than a quarter mile without a bathroom break.

Plus I have book reviews, give-aways and travel updates to reveal.

So, let me ask you, dear bloggy people, which of these UNBELIEVABLE topics do you think I should address first? Or maybe you have an issue of your own you would like to discuss? Please let me know, because, really, it’s not all about me here.

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Vacation all I ever wanted, Vacation got to get away…

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law asked us if the kids could come and stay with them for a few days in Cincinnati. The plan was to meet half way, and she would take the kids to her house for four days.

Well, since my husband and I get away by ourselves about once every 12 years or less, we decided to seize the opportunity to run like the wind in the opposite direction and watch movies and eat prime rib for four days in a row.

Since we settled on a date for the kid exchange, Kent and I have been spending every evening studying a map of the United States and searching the Internet for the best place to go for three nights somewhere between Chicago and Cincinnati.

My high school buddy and Main Street dragging co-pilot, Lynn, gave us the awesome idea to go to French Lick, Indiana. It’s perfect in many ways. Great location. Looks amazing and plenty of things to do.

But then we started admitting to ourselves that we didn’t plan a big family vacation this summer to save some money. So, maybe spending $250 a night at a resort wasn’t our best option. We also are meeting some family in southern Indiana only a few weeks later so we would be visiting many of the same destinations then.

We started looking at Plan B. We could drop off the kids around Lafayette, Indiana, and then drive straight north to the beachy towns of southern Michigan. We love going to St. Joseph, Michigan, in the summer, but haven’t explored the towns north of there. We could hang out on the beach, shop, and visit the fruit farms and chocolate shops.

Then we found out that we might need to drive the kids closer to Cincinnati than we first thought. So, the drive back north might be a little long.

Now, we’re looking into Plan C. Nashville.

I have always wanted to go to Nashville. It seems like we could find tons of fun places to visit. Our only hesitation is that it is about 8 hours total from Chicago, so a little farther than we had planned for our three-night, four-day getaway.

What would you do? Has anyone visited any of these places? Do you have strong feelings that one is SO worth the drive or the extra expense that we shouldn’t miss our chance to visit?

Or do you know of any other hot spots in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky or Tennessee (yes… Cincinnati is on the border of lots of states) that we should consider? The location has to be great for a girl whose mind runs at about 110 mph and wants to visit some interesting places, but whose body (due advanced maternal age) moves at about 2 mph.

I know you are probably busy planning your own summer get-aways, but I would love to hear any input!

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Showin’ how funky strong is your fight, it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right

I was 14 years old the evening I waited impatiently until 10:30 p.m. for Friday Night Videos to finally come on TV. Like so many of my friends, sitting in their own homes on that Friday night, I wasn’t going to miss the World Premiere Video of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

It could be that my memories are blending together, but it seems that we had to wait through dozens of lesser songs and even more commercials before they finally aired the much-hyped video, featuring the pop icon singing in a cemetery among his entourage of dancing mummies.

It’s one of those shared experiences in life that draws us together. Even if we didn’t know each other then, those of us born within a certain span of years remember where we were, what we were doing and how we felt during that time of our lives.

We can recall those growing up years when our parents wouldn’t possibly spring for cable so we could watch videos on MTV. We can still recite every word of Thriller or Beat It. And what good child of the 80s wasn’t mesmerized by Michael’s moon walk during his performance of Billie Jean?

I’ve been thinking a lot today about Michael Jackson and why so many people from my generation are so sad that his life ended so unexpectedly and so early.

It definitely feels like a part of our childhood or teen-age years officially ended with the death of the pop superstar who provided the soundtrack for our growing-up years.

I’m also mourning the fact that such an amazingly talented person is no longer with us on the planet. I loved Michael even when it wasn’t cool to listen to his music anymore. I also loved Janet, and remember the brother and sister as the background music of my teen years dragging Main in my Camaro.

But I think I also feel some guilt about Michael’s passing. Maybe I didn’t appreciate him enough. Like so many others, I couldn’t bear to look at his ever-disappearing nose or his gloved hand or his lightening skin as he seemed to descend into a whirlpool of craziness.

I wanted to look away when he was accused of molestation and he started hanging around with a monkey. Even then, it seemed the Michael we loved had been taken from us.

Perhaps I feel a little responsible that we, the American public, seem to create such monsters from our child stars. Why do they feel we will only love them if they remain young and beautiful and produce chart-topping hits.

Why did Michael, like Farah Fawcett, feel he had to go to such extreme measure to try to maintain his physical appearance? Can’t wrinkles and grey hair be more beautiful than faces distorted by plastic surgery?

I guess I want today’s teens and young adults to appreciate “our” Michael for who he was before all of that. I’m sure the Brittney Spears-Miley Cyrus loving generation will download a record number of copies of the Thriller album and recognize his greatness, possibly giving Michael the comeback he was seeking.

If only we could give him what he never seemed to have: happiness.

From an outsider’s perspective, Michael’s life seemed so tormented. I wish we could take that sweet, cute little boy belting out ABC 123 and put him in a bottle to preserve forever. Instead, with his personal amusement park and reclusive lifestyle, he seemed to live his life trying to regain the childhood he probably never had.

Michael seemed to truly desire to dispense happiness and joy to people during his public performances. And even amid all of the negative publicity, you wanted to believe he was still that sweet little boy inside.

I guess the hardest thing about saying good-bye to Michael, as well as Farrah, is simply the realization that they were mere mortals… despite their talent, their beauty, their outward perfection. We looked to them to entertain us, to dazzle us, to make us feel good inside.

But they lived in human bodies. With hearts that fail. That can’t escape cancer. And like every other person on the planet, their human achievements couldn’t save them.

I’ll miss you, Michael. Thanks for the memories!

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when i grow up i want to be just like my 4-year-old daughter

For the past two weeks, my kids have had swimming lessons four days a week at the local pool.

I have been amazed each day to watch my 4-year-old daughter in action. Oh, she’s good at swimming. But I’m more impressed by my little social butterfly’s ability to make friends.

When it’s time to get in the pool, she scans the area for another girl who seems to be within two years of her age or two feet of her size. She approaches the girl and asks her if she would like to learn how to “dive” in the pool like she does. Or maybe the girl would like to learn how to do an underwater somersault. Perhaps they could toss rings under water and swim down to reach them, she suggests.

After about 15 minutes, my daughter reports back to me that she has made a new friend and she lets me know the girl’s name. Another 15 minutes pass, and she comes over to let me know the new girl has invited her to her birthday party. Or maybe we could schedule a playdate.

I’ve noticed that my daughter always finds out the child’s name and then shouts greetings to her from wherever we are in the pool. “Hi, Abby!”, “Hello, Olivia!”, “See you later, Emma!”

After two weeks of watching my daughter meet new friends, the boys and I have started to feel like she is the princess sitting on top of a parade float while we are the people who walk alongside. She smiles and waves and calls out to her adoring fans as we make our way through the different parts of the aquatic park. She seems to have met half of the girls her age.

Watching my daughter has really made me think about how I interact with people in these settings.

I love to hang out with friends at the pool, and I can chat all day with someone I know. But on days when we haven’t arranged to meet friends, I usually sit quietly by myself. I hide behind a book or just sit in the water.

Why don’t I ever strike up a conversation with another mom I don’t know? This week, I decided to give it a try. I have been scanning the pool for someone who looks like she might like to talk to a complete stranger. But then I start prejudging.

“She looks so perfect,” I think. “She’ll think I’m weird.”

“She looks like she has a million friends.”

“I don’t think she would want to talk to me.”

I have gathered up my nerve a few times to ask a question. “How old is your daughter?” Or, “Is this your sand bucket?” But then the conversation seems to end. I give up and decide it’s easier to be quiet and read a book.

Well, I had composed this post in my mind a few days ago, and I was going to end it here. I was planning to finish with a funny line about how I hope I can be just like my 4-year-old when I grow up.

But I have been trying the past two weeks to strike up a conversation with another mom from my daughter’s swimming class. This little girl has become one of my daughter’s many new “best friends” from our pool time.

We always say our “hellos”, but she usually is busy with her younger son. She just didn’t seem like she really wanted to chat.

All week, I have had this nagging feeling that I should talk to her. “I BET you have more in common than you would ever guess!” this little voice kept telling me.

Today, the other mom asked me if my two boys, who are 8 and 6, are twins.

“No,” I laughed. “But a lot of people do ask me that.”

We started talking about our daughters. Then about schools in the area. Our conversation turned to talk of private school and Christian school and home schooling. She even attended the same home schooling conference I did a few weeks ago!

We couldn’t believe how much we had in common as we talked furiously throughout the 35-minute class.

We even got into a discussion about churches, and I found out that she really wants to attend church, but hasn’t found a good fit for her family. So, I invited her to stop by our church. And she said she WOULD! She actually seemed super excited.

Well, I wanted to ask her to be my best friend… And invite her to dinner… And maybe a movie… And then maybe her whole family could come for dinner… And who knows, maybe we could go camping together… And, and, and… maybe she could even come to my next birthday party… =]

But I decided I better not skip too far ahead with the first new friend I’ve made at the pool this summer.

I’m definitely not on par with my 4-year-old just yet. But I’m glad I listened to that small nagging voice and stepped outside of my comfort zone today.

How about you? Do you find it easy to meet new people? Or would you rather dive into a book than a conversation?

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