When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Black bean salad

I've been on a real avocado kick for quite some time now. The soft green, mild tasting fruit is so pretty and delicious added to so many different dishes -- in salads and salsas, on burgers and sandwiches, in homemade guacamole -- that I find myself buying a couple of the "alligator pears" every time I go food shopping. Avocados are rich in vitamin E, are a good source of potassium, magnesium, folate, and fibre, and contain monounsaturated fats, which are good for your heart. One of my favourite ways to enjoy this healthy food is combined with black beans, corn, sweet red pepper and red onion in this colourful and tasty summer salad.

To make the dressing:

In a small bowl, whisk together:
the juice of one lime, freshly squeezed
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, minced
sea salt, to taste

To make the salad:

1 can (540mL) black beans, drained and rinsed (I use no-salt-added black beans)
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 small red pepper, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

Combine black beans, corn, red pepper and red onion in a bowl. Pour prepared dressing over salad and toss gently. Add avocado in last, and stir gently to combine all ingredients.
Let salad stand for 20 minutes to allow all flavours to blend. Serve at room temperature and watch it disappear!

We enjoyed this salad last night with some grilled homemade turkey burgers -- delicious! With this simple recipe, it's easy to add a burst of healthy colour and flavour to any summer barbecue menu in only a few minutes (which is just one more reason to love it!). I hope you and your family do.

*This recipe will be part of a holiday round-up hosted by Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut. Check out her site beginning July 1st for more delicious, perfect-for-summer food ideas!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bitches in bikinis

Before you take offense to the title of today's post, take a look at what I saw as I flipped through yesterday's Wal-mart flyer:

Okay, people, seriously? I saved this flyer to show the boys and have been having fits of hysterical laughter every time I walk by it. Who would buy such a thing?!?

Now, to be fair, I am not a dog person. We share our home with a cat who would never be caught dead in something so ridiculous, so maybe my perception is skewed. Maybe beloved family pets in homes all over North America are staring with secret longing at the Wal-mart flyer, hoping that maybe, just maybe, their owners will part with $5.93 and come home with this season's "must-have" item so they can be one of the "cool" dogs this summer. Maybe little Fifis are foregoing the extra Milk-Bone doggie treats they so dearly love so that they can have the perfect figure to fit into one of these delightful works of canine couture. Maybe Fidos are begging their owners to throw more balls for them to chase so they can build up a six-pack of abs to show off in a Speedo with holes cut in all the most embarrassing places. Somehow, though, I seriously doubt it.

I have seen many dogs wearing sweaters before; this I understand. Our winters are cold and wet, and a sweater makes sense in those circumstances. What possible purpose can a doggie bikini serve? I can just see a family getting ready to drive up to the cottage for the weekend, and packing a little doggie bag with Fido's Speedo in it. Can you imagine the sheer hysteria involved in trying to wrangle Fifi into her bikini before letting her jump off the end of the dock into the lake? Any possible scenario I can imagine involving one of these swimsuits plus a dog is completely absurd.

If nothing else, the idea of dogs in bathing suits is great entertainment for people -- all four of us roared with laughter over the sight of the photo in the Wal-mart flyer. I feel sorry, though, for the Fifis and Fidos who will end up wearing these ludicrous articles of clothing out in public!

What on earth will they think of next?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the sun, safely

Because there has been SO much rain in our area this spring, whenever the sun decides to show its shiny face, everyone flocks to the great outdoors to soak up its glorious rays. Of course, a day out playing and working in the sunshine means slathering on sunscreen first to protect delicate skin from the damage sun exposure can cause. Due to the chemical makeup of many popular sunscreens, these days many people are questioning whether these products are actually safe to use, or whether they may be harming us rather than protecting us.

All over yesteday's news were stories of the potential dangers to fetuses of a common sunscreen ingredient, retinyl palmitate, as was mentioned in the July issue of Consumer Reports. Medical professionals reassured the public that there is no conclusive evidence of any connection between the quantities of retinyl palmitate used in sunscreens and harm to humans, and that the proven benefits of sunscreens outweigh any potential risks, thus pregnant women should continue to use them. Despite this reassurance, the seeds of doubt have once again been planted in the minds of many cautious consumers, and in my opinion, there is just cause for this concern.

According to the Environmental Working Group, an organization of professionals committed to exposing and finding solutions to threats to our health and the environment, retinyl palmitate is only one of the ingredients we should be wary of in many of today's sunscreen products. Research has linked oxybenzone, another common sunscreen chemical, to allergies, hormone disruption and skin damage, and has shown it to actually enhance the ability of other chemicals to penetrate the skin. Another ingredient of concern is parabens, chemical preservatives that have the potential to harm our reproductive systems. With skin being the body's largest organ, it makes sense to be concerned about what chemicals it comes into contact with; any of those chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin may have unhealthy effects on our body's other organs and systems.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to chemical sunscreens (a fact which, interestingly enough, I did not hear mentioned in any of the news reports yesterday). Mineral sunscreens are made from either zinc or titanium; they do not penetrate the skin and are stable in sunlight, a claim that many chemical sunscreens cannot make. They also offer good broad spectrum protection, blocking both UVB and UVA rays. While you typically will not find mineral suncreens in your usual department and grocery stores, they are readily available in health food stores and from online companies like well.ca.

We have been using the Badger brand of mineral sunscreen since last spring and are very happy with it. It's unscented, made from natural ingredients like olive oil and beeswax, and does not irritate the boys' sensitive skin. While zinc-based sunscreens like Badger are very "white", we find that if we rub the sunscreen between our hands to soften it up before applying it, and then smooth it well on our skin, the white sheen is much less visible.

To find out how your usual brand of sunscreen (and other skin care products) rate safety-wise, check out the Environmental Working Group's informative Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You might be surprised (and alarmed) at what you discover.

Enjoying the hot sunshine after so many months of cool, gray weather is a welcome delight for many this time of year. It's important to remember, though, that when we take the necessary precaution of protecting our skin, we should protect the rest of our bodies from harm as well.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

From eggs to fledglings

I had a lovely little bit of dental surgery this past Wednesday that has resulted in a ridiculously swollen and bruised face and the need for pain medication, plus an inability to go anywhere without people staring at me. I'll blame those facts for having deluded myself into thinking that everyone is as fascinated by the recent bird adventures happening in my yard as I am. Whether you think I'm crazy or not, I've decided to update you all on the latest news concerning our little robin friend!

After a full day of flinging himself mercilessly against the windows of our house, the robin turned his attention elsewhere: to "the other robin" he suddenly noticed in the shiny black finish of our neighbour's car. For the entire weekend, the feisty little fellow followed an unrelenting pattern of throwing himself at one side of the car, then hopping underneath the car to see where his "opponent" had gone, then throwing himself at the other side of the car. As much as I hated to watch him doing this, I couldn't help but check out the window every now and then to see if he was still at it. He always was.

The motivation behind the robin's exhausting behaviour became clear to me on Monday morning as the boys and I were leaving for school. There in the weeping mulberry tree right in front of our living room window (and very near to our front door) were the beginnings of a nest. For the rest of Monday, I watched our robin's mate flying tirelessly to and from the tree with bits of plant material and chunks of mud, and marvelled at how she managed to build such a sturdy and cozy nest in no time at all, using her little body to pack everything down and make a nice smooth bed for her soon-to-be-laid eggs. When I last checked (from a ladder a safe distance away), there were two perfect, delicate, china blue eggs nestled safely in this new home, and this weekend the mama robin is always sitting on them or keeping a watchful eye on them while she eats worms nearby.

I am completely delighted that the robins have chosen our tree as a temporary home for their little family. The boys and I have an unobstructed and unobtrusive view of the nest from our living room window, so it's a wonderful opportunity for them to observe a fascinating bit of nature. More significantly, though, I feel a strange connection to that mama bird, and a sense that in building her nest so close to our home, she somehow trusts that we are a safe haven where little ones are protected and cared for with love. When I watched her building a home for her family and see now her dedication to keeping her eggs safe and warm, it makes me want to hug my own two boys, who are not babies anymore at all, and who have already shown in some ways that they're testing their wings.

In the days immediately following my surgery, I was unable to walk to the school to pick the boys up as I usually do, so I asked Noah to meet Will at his door and walk home with him. I know he's old enough to do this, and I trusted him completely, but I still felt a little anxious as I waited, watching the street carefully just after 3pm for the two of them to appear. The sight that greeted me as they turned the corner made my heart swell: a carefree Will was waltzing cheerfully along in his t-shirt and jeans, swinging an umbrella in his hand, and there was Noah, walking stoically wearing his fully-loaded backpack on his back and Will's on his front, and carrying both of their jackets. When I greeted them, I thanked Noah warmly for walking his brother home safely and asked him why he was carrying everything. He told me that he felt they should get home as quickly as possible so I wouldn't worry about them, and he thought the best way to do that was to carry Will's heavy bag for him. I was so proud of him.

My boys have a lot to learn still before they're ready to fly on their own (and thank goodness, because I'm nowhere near ready to let them go yet). But at times like these, I realize how bravely and beautifully they're making their way down the path that will take them to that day. I will watch our little robin family with a happy heart as the eggs hatch and the tiny babies grow into fledglings in the coming weeks... and I'm sure I'll cry the day those little robins fly away.

Robin's egg photo courtesy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A bookworm's breakfast - 8

When you have children who devour reading material at a furious pace, it becomes a challenge sometimes to continually provide them with new books before they run out of things to read. Libraries are wonderful places for finding great new reads, but we also like to build our own collection of books at home for the boys to enjoy over and over again. I was really happy this year to find out about a giant used book sale that takes place every spring in our community, where there are rooms full of books to choose from, all for very low prices. After spending about an hour browsing the sale, I came home with a shopping bag full of "new to us" books for about $6.00 (you can't beat that!) and the boys were completely thrilled with my finds.

One of the pleasures of shopping the used book sale was re-discovering books written by authors who were some of my favourites growing up. While these books are "old" by the boys' standards, it doesn't take anything away from their enjoyment of the wonderful stories contained within the books' pages. I thought I'd share some of these "old" favourite authors in today's edition of A bookworm's breakfast.

3-5 year olds: Mr. Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves

Whether your child is shy or talkative, brave or nervous, happy or grumpy, messy or neat, there is a Mr. Men / Little Miss book to which he or she can relate. Hargreaves' loveable little characters each have experiences that help children to see the benefits and the challenges of various personality traits, and each tale is told in an imaginative, sometimes silly way that children truly enjoy. Find out how Mr. Bump uses his clumsiness to his advantage in the perfect job he finds for himself, or watch Mr. Noisy learn that tiptoeing is actually fun! Your little misters and misses are sure to love Hargreaves' conversational writing style, cheery illustrations, and delightful tales, no matter which Mr. Men / Little Miss book they choose!

6-8 year olds: The Pain and The Great One series by Judy Blume

Most adults in my generation who enjoyed reading as children have fond memories of Judy Blume's wonderful novels that dealt honestly with the issues many of us faced growing up. In the more recent The Pain and The Great One books (each containing several short stories), Blume appeals to primary grade school-aged children with warm and humorous tales about a brother and sister who sometimes drive each other crazy and who each think their parents love the other child more. Young readers are sure to relate to Abigail and Jake's experiences and feelings in everyday situations such as having birthday parties, getting haircuts, playing soccer, and going to the emergency department. What becomes evident in all of the stories is that while there are a lot of lessons to be learned in life, children can count on their family to help them and to love them.

9-12 year olds: The Twits by Roald Dahl

(This week's 9-12 year old book recommendation was written by my 9 year old son, Noah, who is a big fan of pretty much all of Roald Dahl's wonderful books.)

The Twits are horrid people. They're always playing mean pranks on each other, such as sticking fake eyeballs in the other's coffee and putting a toad on the other's pillow. Mr. Twit also owns a monkey circus. The monkeys are fed up with Mr. Twit's dreadful ways and think up a devious plan to turn the tables on him. Roald Dahl's two pranksters are absolutely hilarious to read about. Their mischievous ideas and the reactions they cause are just too silly not to laugh at. If you read this book, one thing will become clear: if you're mean to others, you'll eventually get a taste of your own.nasty.medicine! (Thanks, Noah.)

What books and authors do you remember fondly from your childhood? I hope maybe you can relive some of the magic those books held for you with your own children some day soon....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bird brain

I am quite certain that I handle enough chaos and odd behaviour at our house in the mornings when I'm trying to get the boys off to school. Apparently, though, Mother Nature thinks otherwise; she sent me a deranged bird to deal with this morning as well.

At precisely 6:22 am, I was talking myself into getting up when I noticed a distinct tapping sound. I listened more carefully and heard it again... and then again: a "tap, tap, tap" followed by a pause, then another "tap, tap, tap" and so on. I thought maybe Will was up to something interesting in his room (believe me, that was entirely possible), but when Matt heard it too, he thought it sounded more like it was coming from outside. I assumed it was the chimney repair guy who had been working on the house two doors down yesterday; I marvelled at his "up and at'em" work philosophy, and went about getting ready for the day.

When Matt came upstairs after eating his breakfast, he told me that the sound was actually coming from a robin who was repeatedly pecking at our dining room window. I found this a little alarming and sad (why would a robin want to peck at the window?) but by the time I got downstairs, I was relieved to see that he was gone. Fast forward to breakfast with the boys when the three of us were jolted by the sound of a repeated "whomping" coming from the front of the house. We ran to the living room and there was the robin, throwing himself again and again at the front window this time, seemingly without any intention of stopping. There were other robins around, too, and they seemed to be either jeering at him, or cheering him on like frat boys after a night of partying, encouraging a wild friend in his ridiculous behaviour. (Seeing as how I don't speak robin, it was hard to tell what exactly they thought of the whole scene.)

You can imagine how distressing this was to a house full of animal lovers. Noah kept going to the window and moving the curtain to try and scare the robin off for his own good, while Will kept worrying that maybe the bird had some strange bird disease that made him want to crash himself into windows. I kept trying to talk sense into the little creature ("OH, bird, WHY do you keep doing that? Go off and find something more fun to do with your time! You're going to hurt yourself!"), as if that was helpful. Finally, when it was time to leave for school, we went out the front door and that seemed to chase him away. We were very relieved that we were able to distract the poor robin from his self-destructive behaviour.

After dropping the boys off at school, I went out in the backyard to do some spring gardening (in the rain, I might add). When I came back inside, guess who had returned? That relentless robin was at it again, throwing himself at the living room window with reckless abandon, over and over and over. He was taking the concept of "Angry Birds" to a whole new level!

By this point I was overwhelmed with curiosity about the situation, and so I googled "why do birds fly at windows?". I found this fascinating article, which completely explains the robin's behaviour. (Notice that it is only the male birds who exhibit this behaviour. I won't comment any further on that.) While I'm relieved to know now that our little robin friend probably won't hurt himself, I'm more than a little alarmed that this could go on for weeks. Maggie the cat finds it very entertaining, but it will pain the boys and I to see or hear much more of the poor bird's self-abuse.

As I'm writing this, the robin has just returned. He's yelling and flinging himself at the window yet again, trying to chase off his perceived foe. When I think he's gone from the front window, he shows up several minutes later at the back window and charges once more. Noah is currently working on designs for somehow insulating the windows or the bird or both, and for building a working model of a real-looking snake to drive the robin away. Whoever said the sounds of nature were soothing certainly never heard this racket. Oh dear. If this keeps up, it's going to be a very long spring....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Time for a dip

It's time for a dip... not quite yet in a pool or a lake, though that time is coming soon, too, and we can't wait! Today I'm talking about a nutritious, tasty dip that makes a satisfying snack just right for this time of year. With these recipes for homemade guacamole and white bean dip, it's quick and easy to refuel busy bodies who have been out enjoying the sunshine and the many outdoor activities that spring and summer bring.

I think homemade guacamole is one of the most delicious snacks going, and because avocados are full of heart-healthy fats, this dip is good for you, too!

To make your own guacamole, you will need:

2 ripe avocados, halved and pitted
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
sea salt, to taste
juice of one lime, freshly squeezed

In a small bowl, mash avocados with a fork, leaving some lumps to give your guacamole a nice texture.
Add diced tomato, onion and salt, and mix ingredients together.
Add lime juice and stir.

Guacamole is perfect served with toasted pita triangles, brown rice crisps or gluten-free seed crackers, or spread onto brown rice cakes.

This recipe for white bean dip is based on one from Today's Parent Magazine and has been a staple in our house for awhile. The beans are a good source of both fibre and protein and make for a hearty snack.

To make white bean dip, you will need:

1 small clove of garlic
1 540mL can of white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I use no-salt-added beans)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
sea salt and pepper to taste

Mince the clove of garlic by dropping it into a food processor with the motor running. Turn off motor and add kidney beans, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, sea salt and pepper. Process dip until smooth.

Serve this delicious dip with your favourite raw veggies and enjoy!

The lakes and pools might be too cold for swimming yet, but you can go for a dip in one of these quick and healthy concoctions anytime! (No bathing suits or towels required.) Hope you're all enjoying the sunshine this week!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For my mom

Have you ever caught yourself saying or doing something and suddenly realized, "Oh my goodness, I have turned into my mother!"? I do that all the time... and I'm so glad I'm like her.

Happy Mother's Day to my beautiful mom. xo

Friday, May 6, 2011

A very special visitor

My blogging project has become a bit of a family affair. Because the boys are often the subject of my posts, they're curious to read what I write each week, and they also like to offer up suggestions for new material. Whenever something they think is funny or interesting happens in our day-to-day life, they tell me I should take a picture and blog about it. (They're so cute.) They propose thoughtful or comical titles for my posts, and they're really great encouragers. I love that the boys have fun being involved in an activity I enjoy so much.

Will is completely fascinated with the live traffic feed I've installed on my site. Most mornings he checks to see which countries people have visited from by studying the flag icons on the screen. Whenever he sees an unusual one, he hollers to me excitedly, and if he doesn't recognize a flag, he runs to get his almanac so he can identify it. Who knew that writing a blog would turn into geography and world studies lessons for our family?

Last week, the flag for Israel showed up on my traffic feed, and I'd never had a visitor from that country before. (Thanks for visiting, whoever you are!) When Will saw the city name of "Nazareth" beside the flag, his eyes widened, he stared at me excitedly and he said, "Mom! That could be Jesus!!" I couldn't help but burst out laughing as I imagined Jesus reading my blog. (Oh, my sweet, innocent boy!) That moment has become a bit of a running joke around our house all week, and while Will keeps telling us that it's not nice to joke about Jesus, we've assured him that it is okay to joke about Jesus reading my blog (because the joke is more about me than it is about Jesus!). I'm sure I'll never have a visitor who causes such excitement again!

The reader from Nazareth returned to my site several hours after the first visit, by the way. I guess Jesus liked my blog. Now that's a compliment!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Soaking wet to save the world

Noah belongs to a swim club that involves practices two evenings a week. On the nights that I take him to the pool, I wait patiently outside the boys' locker room after practice, unable, of course, to go in to move him along or to make sure that he's gathered all of his things. Most nights he eventually emerges, showered and smiling, from the locker room, with all of his gear successfully (though haphazardly) stuffed into his bag, and we head on our merry way home.

Last night, however, it seemed to me that Noah was taking an unusually long time to finish up in the locker room. When he finally burst through the door, he was struggling to drag his apparently very heavy bag along with him, and I noticed that the bag was oozing water from various locations.

"Um, Noah," I cautiously asked, "what's going on with your bag?" Knowing it was best to own up to things, he proceeded to explain to me that one of the other boys had turned on all of the showers for fun and had left the water running after leaving the shower area. Noah was very concerned about all of the water being wasted and wanted to turn the showers off, but he realized that some of the water sprays were too hot to get near them. Ever the quick thinker, Noah grabbed his towel to use as a "shield" against the deluge; wearing it over his head, he raced to extinguish each water source and successfully saved the day. (Oh my.)

Once Noah got dressed he realized something he hadn't thought of earlier: he now had a sopping wet towel to deal with. So he wrung it out, of course. All over the leg of his jeans and the front of his t-shirt. And then he stuffed the still-dripping towel into his bag to take home.

When the very damp Noah finished telling me this riveting tale, I was about to lecture him about the silliness of what he had done, but he stopped me after my first question of "Why on earth would you do that?".

"Mom," he said, very seriously, "did you know that 99% of the world's water is salt water, and of the 1% that is fresh water, 99% of that is locked up in the polar ice caps? We really need to be careful about what we do with our water. I couldn't just let it all keep running like that in the showers. I had to do something." How could I disagree with him? I suggested that maybe he could think of a less soggy way to save the planet next time; he sheepishly agreed and that was that. I couldn't (and didn't need to) say anything more.

The 9 year old part of Noah may do some foolish things sometimes; that's what I expect from a boy his age. What amazes me is the other part of him, the part that is able to think anything but childish thoughts, the part that is wise and shows a consideration that is beyond his years. Some day this boy is going to do something wonderful for the world. I have a feeling it won't involve any more soaking wet towels, either.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Let's get grilling!

Despite the recent weather that is trying to tell us otherwise, grilling season is once again upon us, a fact that brings excitement to many households who have grown bored with winter meals! I have to say, we've been lucky at our house; Matt continued to barbecue on weekends throughout the cold months so we could have a taste of spring and summer year round. He'd bundle up in his warm winter gear, wheel the barbecue out in front of the garage, and faithfully grill meat and veggies to perfection in spite of whirling snow and frozen fingers. I married a good man.

The arrival of spring always adds new flavours and a lighter feel to our meals cooked on the grill. The recipe I'll share with you today, based on one from Canadian Living Magazine, is easy, full of flavour, and one of our absolute favourite ways to barbecue chicken.

Grilled Chicken Breasts, Italian-Style

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced horizontally in half (or 4 chicken cutlets)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

In a bowl, whisk together oil, parsley, lemon juice, basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. Add chicken to bowl, turning pieces to coat them. Cover bowl and marinate chicken for 15 minutes.

Preheat barbecue to medium-high heat. (Be sure that the heat is not too high, or the oil in the marinade will catch fire and the chicken will get charred.) Place chicken on the preheated grill and brush it with the remaining marinade. Close lid and grill chicken, for approximately 12 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside. While grilling, turn the chicken every 3 minutes or so, so that both sides will be grilled twice and you'll have a nice criss-crossed pattern on the cutlets, which makes for a lovely presentation!

Chicken barbecued this way is excellent served with an assortment of grilled vegetables and some quinoa. Here's to a happy and delicious grilling season for all of you!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A bookworm's breakfast - 7

I have recently accomplished what I think is an interesting and impressive feat: I can now say I have read every word of the Harry Potter series... aloud! Noah decided last year that those were the books he wanted us to share together before bed every night (even though he's already read the series several times on his own) and I happily agreed, because I was very interested in reading them too. For over a year, the two of us have been intrigued, amazed, horrified, saddened, and thrilled as we've turned the books' pages each evening; we've held our breath and cheered and marvelled together at the incredible world, events, and characters created by J.K. Rowling. I love that even at the age of nine, Noah still truly enjoys having me read with and to him (because I so love it too!)

In my mind, reading aloud with your children is one of the best gifts you can give them. Sharing books provides young ones with rich language experiences, with opportunities to explore new ideas and use their imaginations, with a perfect moment for a snuggle or a laugh or a meaningful conversation with Mom or Dad. What a great way to show your children you care about them! Today in A bookworm's breakfast, I'm featuring some fantastic books that I've really enjoyed sharing aloud with my two boys.

3-5 year olds: There Is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems

Gerald the Elephant is careful and worries about things, while his best friend Piggie is cheerful and at ease; when they're together these chums have highly entertaining adventures. In this book, Gerald is distressed to learn that there are birds building a nest on his head, and it is up to Piggie to come up with a solution to this incredible situation. The story is told entirely through the simple yet hilarious dialogue between the characters, and Willems' expressive illustrations wonderfully communicate action and feeling. Young readers are sure to fall in love with Gerald and Piggie, and will want to read about their other escapades too, in books such as I Will Surprise My Friend and I Love My New Toy!.

6-8 year olds: Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Megan McDonald

It's hard to imagine any 6 to 8 year old boy not being drawn to a character named "Stink"! When Stink Moody writes a letter to a candy company expressing his disappointment in their jawbreakers that don't actually break jaws, he's thrilled to receive a box of 21,280 jawbreakers in the mail for free! Thinking he's onto something, Stink gets caught up in a frenzy of sending and receiving mail. When he misses paying attention to one very important envelope, though, Stink comes to a valuable realization about what truly matters to him. McDonald writes a very appealing chapter book series with the Stink books. Many 6 to 8 year olds will certainly relate to Stink's relationships with his friends and with his older, moody sister, and will enjoy the entertaining incidents involving glow-in-the-dark pyjamas, fascinating pets, smelly sneakers and more.

9-12 year olds: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

(This week's 9-12 year old book recommendation was once again written by Noah, who recently chose to spend weeks' worth of his saved allowance money on the four books in this series, so he could read them over and over again. I love it!)

In an underground world filled with darkness, there is a light: The City of Ember. The city has been there for 242 years and the electricity system is starting to wear out. If the lights go out forever, the citizens will be doomed. Doon Harrow, who wants to see the generator, thinks he can solve the problem, but when he gets a look at it, he realizes he is unable to do anything. He and Lina Mayfleet, a messenger girl, must find a way to escape the City of Ember before it's too late, but without instructions and with a trouble-making mayor, it could be hard. This book had me completely hooked as soon as I read the first sentence. The determination in both characters was amazing. The situation was completely dire, and imagining myself in that place as I read the book was terrifying. In this quest for light and survival, Lina and Doon had to gather all the hope they could find to escape Ember and it encouraged me that they believed that there was a way out. (Thanks, Noah.)

No matter what books you choose to share with your children this week, I'm sure they will treasure the time you spend reading with them.