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.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Black hole

Yesterday I ventured into a black hole and survived to tell the tale.

Any parent who has ever emptied their child's backpack after the last day of school knows exactly what I am talking about here.  It's a good thing kids have so much excited energy as they burst forth from the school doors after the last bell of the year and run shrieking with glee through the yard towards home -- that adrenaline rush is the only thing that makes it physcially possible for them to even lift their grossly overstuffed bags.  The sheer volume of papers, crafts, trinkets, and other miscellaneous items that a relatively small person can accumulate in ten months of learning is nothing short of astonishing. 

Noah and Will both had plans with friends after school yesterday to celebrate the end of the year, so I bravely (foolishly?) decided to try to deal with their backpacks while they were out.  Things had been trickling home in the boys' bags all week long (notebooks and supplies they no longer needed at school), so I figured the backpacks couldn't be that bad.  Silly, silly me.

When I unzippered those backpacks, I unleashed a furious vortex of stuff that seemed to come whirling out of the bags with a life of its own:  Duotangs.  Assorted crumpled papers.  New books given as year end gifts from teachers.  Ripped wrapping paper shreds (likely from the opening of said gifts).  Rulers.  Pencil cases full of broken pencils and half dried-up markers.  Fifty thousand crafts.  Notebooks (which was to be expected, but somehow we ended up with math notebooks that belong to other children).  Little bits of erasers.  Running shoes that look like they'd been chewed by wild dogs. Scraps of paper with phone numbers and addresses on them.  A recorder from music class.  Half-eaten lunches.  (Wait, those come home from school every day.  Never mind.)  Water bottles. Collector cards.  A pipe cleaner.  The random parts of a board game brought to school that morning (scattered everywhere), and the empty box for said board game.  And finally, this little gem, found in the bottom of Will's backpack:

A wad of used masking tape (with some sticky tack thrown in for good measure), probably discarded as bulletin boards were being taken down in the classroom.  Please do not ask me why he would bring such a thing home.  I cannot (and do not want to) even imagine what he thought it might be useful for.

It was a scary, scary thing, going through those backpacks yesterday.  But there is now a tidy pile of papers and books on each of the boys' desks for them to sort through, and we have all summer long to deal with those.  Time to store away the cheerful memories of a wonderful school year and enjoy a well-deserved break!  Happy summer!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

For Matt: fifteen years

I was fifteen years old when we met.  I had no idea that when I went out with my friends to Bandarama at your high school that night, I would meet the boy who would eventually become my husband, my true partner in life, the person who would come to know me better than anyone and love all of me for who I am.  I was still a kid, really, with so many things to experience and discover and learn in life;  I still had so much growing to do, and so did you.  I look at you and at us today and am thankful beyond words that we chose to do our growing together.

On this day fifteen years ago, we stood together before our families and friends, full of love and happiness and hope and dreams, and we promised to be there for one another through whatever life would bring us.  In the years since that beautiful day, life has brought us many triumphs and challenges, opportunities and setbacks, laughter and tears, and two amazing sons.  Through it all, I have never doubted that we've remained true to those promises we made; we have always supported one another, had fun being with each other, and shown each other what loving someone really means.  People have often commented over the years how well you and I seem to make our way through life as a couple;  it is because we're in this together in the truest sense of the word.  I couldn't have chosen a better person to walk hand in hand with through the years.

Matt, you are such a kind, loyal, and gentle soul.  You are patient and calm when I am not;  you have  a way of making me feel that everything will be alright when my overactive imagination wants desperately to convince me otherwise.  You make the boys and I feel that we're the most important people in your world.  While it would be so easy in your chosen career to wrap yourself up with work, you've made our family a priority, and you show us in so many caring ways that you love us as much as we love you.  I watch you playing ball with the boys, teaching them things they're interested in, sharing jokes and laughs with them, and it makes my heart so happy to know that they have such a wonderful role model to guide them in life.  There is a joy and a comfort in knowing every day that no matter what happens, you are always there to share it with me.

It could be very easy, after so many years as a couple, for us to simply take each other for granted, but today I want you to know that I am still so thankful each and every day for who you are and what we have together.  Fifteen years after we said "I do", I am still so full of love for you, and happiness, and hope and dreams for all that is yet to come.  Happy Anniversary, Matt.  xoxo

Monday, June 25, 2012


When Will started attending nursery school two mornings a week at age three, for the first few months he cried every time I brought him to the school playground for drop-off.  And he didn't just cry for a few minutes and then was fine once I had gone and he couldn't see me anymore; he cried sometimes for the entire morning.   More than once I got a call from the school director to come early to pick Will up, because neither she nor I wanted school to be a stressful experience for him.  For months my heart broke and I was filled with anxiety over whether I was doing the right thing every time I said good-bye to him at that playground gate.  I wondered if he would ever feel comfortable in a place where he was surrounded by other children his age and teachers who had lots of wonderful things to share with him.  I wondered how many mornings over how many years Will and I would both cry in sadness and worry and frustration before things became okay for him....

This photo of Will, taken by his nursery school teacher one morning to place above his coat hook for the year, still makes me sad when I see it.  Look at his misty, puffy eyes, sniffly nose, and forlorn little smile.  :(

This story, thankfully, has a very happy ending.  In the years since those early days at nursery school, Will has slowly gained a level of comfort, even confidence, among the students and teachers at his elementary school.  He has a certain charisma and shining little personality that seems to draw people of all ages to him, and when I see him interact so happily with others at school, I'm amazed that this is the same little boy who was once full of tears in a similar environment.  When we walk into the school yard together in the mornings or are headed home at the end of the day, it seems that Will knows almost everyone in the school -- the boys in the senior grades are constantly waving and calling out friendly and enthusiastic, "Hey Will!"s to him, and when I ask him how he even knows these older students, Will replies nonchalantly, "Oh, I just do."

It came to my attention recently that Will has also been chatting it up at recess with the grade seven teacher, who, like Will, is a huge hockey fan.  Last week this teacher told Will that he had arranged for a player from the Montreal Canadiens to come to his classroom on Friday to talk to the grade seven kids and to sign autographs, and he said that he would make sure Will got to join in on this special opportunity, too.  Will told me this excitedly on Thursday, and sure enough, on Friday, when the hockey player arrived at the school, the grade seven teacher sent one of his students to go to Will's classroom and pick him (and only him!) up for the presentation.  Will came home proudly displaying a little Montreal Canadiens towel which was signed specifically for him from his "buddy", Brad Staubitz.  It still astounds me when I think about it, how a little boy in grade two managed to endear himself so well to the grade seven teacher and students that he scored himself the only external invitation to their special event.

I also had the pleasure of seeing Will peform a dance routine on stage with his class on Friday afternoon, for the school's year end talent show.  He talked about this dance number and how excited he was about it for weeks, and would often give me a "sneak peak" by demonstrating some of his moves.  Admittedly, Will was nervous the morning of -- I saw him staring off into space many times at the breakfast table that day and asked him what he was thinking about, and he told me he was practising the routine in his head because he was worried he might forget the steps -- but when he got up on that stage in front of the whole school, he danced his heart out, and I couldn't take my eyes off him.  He and I were both so incredibly pleased and proud of him.

It is a wonderful thing to realize such a transformation has happened in your child over the years.  It's like watching the sun peek out from behind the clouds after a summer rain, and then feeling your breath catch as a rainbow appears in all its wonder and glory, filling you with happiness.  Keep on shining, Will.  Your vivid and beautiful colours delight us all.


Friday, June 22, 2012

A bookworm's breakfast -- 15

Both of our boys have a habit of pulling books from the shelves in their rooms, reading them, and then scattering them around their beds and floors rather than putting them back away.  If I don't say anything to them about it, the books pile up like a fortress over a few days, until getting into bed at night comes close to requiring a pole-vaulting exercise or something similar on their part.  I do not understand this book keeping system at all, and wonder sometimes how big the book piles would get before the boys did something about them without being asked to.  Despite the fact that the massive book mountains in Noah and Will's rooms make me a little crazy, they also make me really happy -- because who doesn't love to see their kids enjoying books, books, and more books?

If you live in Canada and would like to encourage your children to enjoy some reading over the summer, head on over to your local library and sign up for the TD Summer Reading Club.  We have participated every year since the boys were very small, and Noah and Will always have lots of fun discovering new books and keeping track of what they've read to show the librarian each time we visit our library.

The boys and I are back today to share a few more good kids' reads with you.  The three of us sat and talked and wrote about books together last night, and these are Noah and Will's latest recommendations.

Noah's picks (age 10):

Asterix (a series of graphic novels by Rene Goscinny)

Open up the pages of an Asterix graphic novel and enter a world of adventures involving Roman soliders, Caesar's evil plans, the druid Getafix's magic potion, and of course, wild boars.  Follow Asterix, the Gaulish hero, and his pal Obelix as they foil Roman plots to capture their village, compete in Olympic and gladiator games, or rescue one of their fellow villagers.  The graphic novel format of this series makes the books very entertaining to read, and the combination of humour with action keeps the reader laughing throughout each book.  Even if you think you don't like reading, you'll like this series.

The Ranger's Apprentice (a series of novels by John Flanagan)

The Ranger's Apprentice series follows main character Will over a period of fifteen or so years, from the time he is an orphan, to when he becomes the apprentice of the most famed but mysterious man in the kingdom of Araluen, to when he emerges as a highly skilled warrior.  The books are full of intriguing conflicts, suspense, adventure, and oh-my-gosh-is-this-really-happening?! moments.  The first book really grabbed my attention and I was excited that there were still many more novels to read in the series.  I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys thrilling fiction set in medieval times.

Will's picks (age 8):

squish (a series of graphic novels by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm)

The squish books are a series of graphic novels about a little ameoba and his microscopic world.  While the books' characters are a variety of slimy blobs, their experiences are very much like those of many school-aged children, and readers will easily relate to squish as he tries, like his favourite comic book hero, to have the courage to do what's right.  Appealing illustrations, a quirky running commentary in captions, and interesting science facts scattered throughout the books' pages make these little novels an engaging and entertaining read. 

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo

What do you get when an unusually tiny red-haired boy named Nilly and his new neighbour, a lonely girl named Lisa,  meet a wacky professor who has invented an extremely powerful fart powder?  An adventure that's a real blast!  Readers will cheer as the story's unlikely heroes go to incredible lengths to keep the fart powder out of the wrong hands.  This novel is full of the kind of low humour that kids always find hilarious, but it's also a very clever and well-written book.  (Will tells me that he likes the book because it's funny, but it's also set in Norway, which he thinks is very interesting, and it uses big vocabulary.)  Children who enjoy this novel can go on to read more fart powder adventures in Nesbo's two sequels to this book.

And just for fun, an activity book: 

If you're looking for something to keep kids' brains and hands busy over the summer, the Star Wars Folded Flyers book by Klutz is a great place to start.  I bought this book for Noah and Will and their cousins, Ryan and Megan, to enjoy over the March Break, and all four kids absolutely loved making the different paper spacecraft projects and flying them all over the house and yard.  The book contains enough paper and detailed instructions to make five of each of the six different Star Wars starfighter designs (which is great because then there is no arguing over who gets to make which flyer!)  Kids learn how to carefully follow written directions to make each starfighter so that it will successfully fly, and it's very satisfying for them to launch the finished product and watch it perform in the unique way it was designed to.

Has your family discovered any really wonderful books lately?  If so, please share them in the comments section below (because Noah and Will are always looking for new ones to add to the mountains on and around their beds!)  Let's all keep our kids reading over the summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wild ride

I have never been a person who enjoys amusement park rides.  I know there are probably a lot of thrill-seekers out there who are gasping in horror as they read my admission, but there's something about huge metal machines that spin and climb and drop and race and whirl violently that sends me into a very unpleasant panic.  When I was a younger, teenaged me, I foolishly ignored that panic in a couple of momentary lapses of good judgement, and tried to impress Matt and my friends by partaking in the odd Zipper or roller-coaster ride, but it never ended well.  After emerging a hyperventilating, wobbly-legged, stomach-churning mess each time, I learned that I am definitely more suited to quieter, less insane activities, and I eventually stopped trying to be someone I'm not.

Some lessons need to be re-learned in life, obviously.  In the past couple of months, our day-to-day experiences have felt a little bit like another fast-paced amusement park ride; the four of us have been racing along at breakneck speed from one activity to another as school and extra-curriculars have geared-up before winding down for the summer.  Though I know it was my choice to get on the ride (and in this case I have enjoyed a lot of the moments on it), I find myself longing for it to slow down now, for things just to be still for awhile so I can stop feeling like I'm in a panic all the time.  Maybe it's because summer vacation is so close now that I'm so very eager for it to arrive, but my mind and body have definitely been telling me lately that it's time to stop spinning madly, because I'm still not a person who prefers a life of fast-paced adventures.

Sometimes life gets to be a bit of a wild ride, and that's okay for awhile -- I've also learned over the years that I can't control everything.  But I know I need the crazy times to be interspersed with times of calm, and I'm so looking forward to a couple of months where our days stretch out before us like a gently winding road, ready to take us wherever we'd like to go at our own pace, with lots of grassy stretches to stay and sit for awhile if we choose not to go anywhere at all.  I crave days spent with warm sand between our toes and beautiful lakes to cool off in, for sun-kissed evenings spent playing in the backyard, for unhurried times spent laughing and catching up with much-loved family members and good friends.  I long for impromptu picnics, gorgeous summer sunsets, hours spent reading good books and enjoying good meals, and chances to explore places we haven't had time to visit in awhile.   You will not find me on any roller-coasters this summer (I'll leave those for you thrill-seekers out there!) -- but I will be relaxed and happy while I enjoy summer at my own speed.  Long live the slow-moving days of summer....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

For my dear dad

My dad has never been a man of many words.  He might tell you it's because my mom and I talk so much when we're together that he rarely gets a chance to get a word in, but I think it's because he's wise, and knows that heartfelt actions speak volumes more than words ever could.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.  You are such a warm, kind, helpful, and devoted father who has always known all the best ways to make me feel secure and loved.  For all the times you've carried me on your shoulders, held my hand, and showed me by example how to stand proudly on my own two feet, I love you.  I hope you know just how much those three simple words mean.  xoxo

Thanks to my mom for all of the old photos.  What wonderful memories!  :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lemon strawberry shortcake with whipped coconut cream (gluten, dairy, and egg free)

We picked up our first fresh, local, organic veggie box of the season today, and when I eagerly opened it up to reveal its contents, I was very excited to find these beauties inside:

Is there anything more sweet and delicious than just-picked Ontario strawberries?  I'm not sure there is.  The plump, juicy red fruit tastes like it's just bursting with sunshine and promises of all the fun that is to come over summer holidays. 

These lovely strawberries inspired me to make a gluten, dairy, and egg free version of strawberry shortcake for dessert tonight (though I had to act quickly, before all of the berries were gobbled up!).  The cakes are made with protein-rich almond flour and flavoured with lemon zest, and the whipped cream is made from heart-healthy coconut milk.  What a delightful summery treat!

Lemon Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Coconut Cream


For the cakes:
2 cups blanched almond flour
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the whipped coconut cream:
1 can full-fat coconut milk, chilled in refrigerator overnight
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Fresh strawberries, washed and sliced  (*Strawberries are one of the fruits that I always buy organic;  they are on the "dirty dozen" list, and often contain high levels of pesticide residues when they are conventionally grown.  See here for more information.)


Preheat oven to 350 F. 
In a large bowl, mix together almond flour, arrowroot powder, baking powder, sea salt, and lemon zest.
In a small bowl, whisk together water, maple syrup, and vanilla.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until well-combined.
Drop dough by heaping spoonfuls onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (I made four cakes with one batch of dough.)
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until shortcakes are golden brown.  Let cakes cool.

Take the can of coconut milk out of the refrigerator and remove the lid.  Gently scoop out the solid coconut cream and place it in a bowl.  Pour any remaining liquid coconut water into a jar and refrigerate for another use. Whip the coconut cream with a handheld mixer for 1 minute, until light and fluffy.  Whip in the maple syrup and vanilla.

The wonderful idea of making whipped cream out of coconut milk came from Elana Amsterdam in her Gluten-Free Cupcakes cookbook.  Thanks Elana!  I used less sweetener in my version; you can add more if you prefer a sweeter cream.

Slice shortcakes in half and place each bottom half on a plate.  Spoon some whipped coconut cream on top, then cover with strawberry slices.  Place each top half of the shortcakes on top of the strawberries.  Add another dollop of whipped coconut cream and a few more strawberry slices.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

This pretty little dessert is perfect for early summer:  easy to make, fresh and sweet tasting, and sure to put a smile on everyone's face!   Enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2012


The neat freak in me gets great satisfaction from having a freshly cleaned house.  While I don't particularly enjoy vacuuming, scrubbing showers, or dusting, once all of the jobs on the list are finished on cleaning day, I feel relaxed and ready for anything.  If only that feeling could last....    When you share your home with two boys who are always doing something, though, a clean house stays that way for less than two minutes!  It seems as fast as Matt and I move through each room putting things in order, the boys are right behind us, scattering crumbs and Lego parts and random objects everywhere they go.  (And if it's not the boys leaving their mark on the house, then it's Maggie the cat, who takes great pleasure in smugly dipping her paws in her drinking water and walking across the kitchen floor immediately after we finish mopping it, leaving a trail of dainty, spiteful paw prints behind her!)

This weekend, a few hours after we had done a complete cleaning of the house, I walked into the boys bathroom and found this:

It reminded me of a crime scene in a movie or something (well, fine, maybe that's a little dramatic, but it's close, no?) , and I started playing detective to find out whodunnit.  Will confessed easily; apparently he had spilled some "blood" while he was making "brains" in the bathroom.  I couldn't not be intrigued by this statement, so I asked Will how exactly one would go about making "brains".  He explained at length how he had taken toothpaste-streaked wads of kleenex, crumpled them up, wet them under the tap, squeezed them into brain shapes, coloured them with a red marker, and then repeated the wetting and squeezing steps (which resulted in red oozing all over the place) to get something that looked like this:

(Do these kinds of things happen in other people's homes?  Because sometimes I really wonder if what we experience around here on a daily basis can be considered within the range of "normal".)

When I suggested to Will that perhaps making brains in the just-cleaned bathroom was not the best use of kleenex, water, and his red marker, he protested, and told me that his work was very important.  He'd been thinking if he made a large collection of brains, he could send them to scientists who study such things, and then they would have lots of specimens to work with when they were trying to discover a cure for brain tumours.

Go right ahead and make more brains, Will.  Your heartfelt "work" has got to be infinitely more satisfying than having a clean bathroom ever could be.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

At home

Each of us, I believe, has a place (or a few) in which we truly feel "at home".  They're the spots where we feel as though we're enveloped in a comforting embrace, where we can relax and be ourselves and really sense the goodness of life all around us.  For me, one of those places is my parents' backyard in Sault Ste. Marie, where I grew up.  My mom and dad have built a beautiful little paradise out there with their labours of love over the years, and when I'm there, surrounded by lovely, fragrant blooms, breezes fluttering through the leaves of wise old trees, and the calls of the birds of my childhood, I am always completely at peace.  

When Matt and I were looking to find the home where Noah and Will would spend most of their childhoods, we both knew that a yard with lots of room to both play and relax was important to us.  The first time we came to see the house we have now made our home,  and saw its expansive green lawn, its gardens, and its old, majestic trees, we knew the place was calling us to make it our own.  While there is a lot of work involved in keeping our yard looking happy and inviting, Matt and I do it all gladly, and the yard rewards us for our efforts time and time again with many family hours filled with joy and laughter in it.

Last evening, after Matt had mowed the lawn and I had done some work in the flower gardens, some of the next-door-neighbour boys started trickling into our yard along with Noah and Will, and an impromptu game of baseball started up.  Quite content just to watch the boys (Matt included!) enjoy playing one of their favourite sports, I grabbed a seat in a comfy chair on the deck and watched the game unfold. 

Notice Matt's fancy baseball boots!  ;)  Good for mowing the lawn, maybe, but baseball?  Not so much.

Taking a breather.

The cutest little spectator came out to enjoy the ball game, too!

As the evening wore on, I slowly felt the weight of the busy week lifting from my body, and my breaths became slower and deeper as I inhaled the scent of the freshly cut grass and the peonies that are now gloriously blooming.  The sun danced through the leaves of our trees as it sank lower in the evening sky, and the cheers and hoots and chuckles of all the boys were reminiscent of the happy sounds of my brothers and I and our friends as we played in the summer evenings of our youth.  I felt utterly at home, and so thankful that Matt and I have been able to create that space, that feeling for ourselves now that we're grown.  I hope that Noah and Will will always feel at home in our beautiful little corner of the world, too.  Judging by the happy smiles on the faces of the two tired boys we tucked into bed last night, I think they will.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why not?

At five feet tall and 100 pounds, with silver hair and 93 years of life under her belt, Olga Kotelko may not appear at first sight as a force to be reckoned with.  Would it shock you to know that this woman has won hundreds of gold medals and set many world records in track and field in the last 18 years alone, and that at her age, she still runs, hurls hammers and javelins, and leaps into long jump pits without giving it a second thought?  I read Olga's story in the newspaper yesterday morning, and I was delighted and inspired by her accomplishments and her attitude towards life.  When it was suggested to her that what she does is amazing, Olga's reply was a simple, "Amazing?  There's nothing to it.  If I can do it, why not?".

I want to take this wisdom that spunky Olga has garnered from 93 years of living and apply it daily to my 39 year old self.  Not that I want to be a track and field star (I have visions of knocking myself unconscious with the hammer or of face-planting mid-sprint on the track like I did just by walking on the sidewalk one day back in university -- I have a scar on my chin to prove it!), but I do want to really live life, just because I can.  I want to break free from the warning voices in my head that tell me I shouldn't, from the worries that tell me it would be better if I didn't, from the doubts that tell me I probably can't;  I want to drown out the anxious "what ifs" and replace them with confident, triumphant "why nots?".  I want to see each day for the gift that it is, and fill it with moments that matter to me and make me happy--  enjoying laughs with my family and friends, pursuing my passions, taking time to breathe in the beautiful world all around me, realizing that it's never too late to try something new -- all for the simple reason that I should, because I can.  That, I think, is living life to the fullest.

Whether I live to be 93 years old or not, I want to have lived with the vigor and passion and optimism of Olga Kotelko.  How exhilarating to run headlong down the track of life, truly enjoying whatever it is that each of us can do.  Why not?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A bookworm's breakfast -- 14

We found out last week that the boys' school librarian will be retiring at the end of June.  While we are very glad for her and wish her every happiness in this next chapter of her life, all four of us were also a little sad to hear the news.  Mrs. Staubitz has been such a wonderful help to the boys over the past several years, always nurturing their love and excitement for reading by helping them to find new and intriguiging books to read each week (which, given how many books my two avid readers have already read in their lives, is not always an easy task!).  In her good-bye note to the school in the June newsletter, Mrs. Staubitz wrote:  "Even though computers do play such a large and important role in our lives, I hope the students and you don't lose the enjoyment of sitting quietly with a good book.  It can take you places only you can imagine.  Keep on reading, always...."  We see eye to eye, Mrs. Staubitz and I. 

Several people have mentioned to me recently that they have been missing our A bookworm's breakfast posts, that they have found them a useful resource for discovering new books for their children.  With summer vacation just around the corner, the boys and I thought we would start our book review posts up again for awhile in the hopes that it will encourage kids to keep reading throughout the summer months.  Noah has written reviews for three books or series he has found to be especially excellent reads lately, and Will chatted with me about three books or series he's recently really enjoyed so that I could tell you about them.

Noah's picks (age 10):

The Inheritance Cycle (a series of four books by Christopher Paolini)

When farm boy Eragon finds a dragon egg in the forest, his life is changed forever.  However, it's not an easy path, because of dealings with assassins, elves, dwarves, Urgals, Shades, magicians, and of course, the evil King Galbatorix.  These books are very exciting!  There is never a dull moment, because on every page there is either a battle, a plan, or some kind of beautiful but deadly magic.  The descriptions made the pictures in my head extremely vivid and made it easy to follow what was going on.  These books are quite advanced, but if you're up for the challenge, you will be amazed!

Half-Brother by Kenneth Oppel

Suppose your parents bring home a chimp so that they can teach him sign-language -- plus you have to treat him like a younger brother.  That's what 12 year old Ben has to deal with.  At first, Ben doesn't like Zan (the chimp) or the plan, but when Zan has to leave, Ben will do anything to get him back.  This book is written in a suspenseful way that keeps the reader always wondering what will happen next.  You also really grow to like Zan as you get to know him better because he has an interesting, quirky personality.  This book is absolutely brilliant.

powerless by Matthew Cody

After hearing rumours about the mysterious saviours who have rescued people from doomed situations, Daniel thinks that his new town is definitely weird.  Little does he realize at first that his new friends are actually those rescuers.  In an encounter with a bully who seems to have supernatural abilities, Daniel learns that his friends and a few other kids have superpowers, but only until they turn 13 years old.  Is Daniel the only one who can stop them from losing their superpowers?  This book keeps you wondering about why the kids' amazing abilities disappear and what can be done about it, without letting any parents know what's going on.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes a blend of mystery and superheroes.

Will's picks (age 8):

Melonhead by Katy Kelly

Melonhead (whose real name is Adam Melon) is a 10 year old boy whose brain is bursting with excellent ideas.  Unfortunately, those ideas often seem to land him in some kind of trouble, much to the chagrin of his parents.  The (mis)adventures of Melonhead and his friend Sam as they try to come up with a perfect idea for their class' inventing fair keep readers excited and laughing out loud throughout the entire book. 

The Adventures of Tin Tin (a series of comic books by Herge)

The Tin Tin books are loaded with adventures that take place in realistic settings all over the world.  Tin Tin, a young reporter, and his little white dog, Snowy, find themselves solving various mysteries, and there are always thrills and some good laughs for the reader involved along the way.  According to Will, the Tin Tin books are really exciting "because bad things always happen to Tin Tin but he always manages to rescue himself."  The comic book format, with its colourful graphics alongside engaging text, is also very appealing to readers.

Beast Quest (a series of books by Adam Blade)

An evil wizard has put a curse on Taladon the Swift, Master of the Beasts, and all of the beasts have turned evil.  The only way to fix things is for Taladon's son, Tom, to collect a piece of golden armour from each of the beasts he encounters, so that he may return his father to full life.  Every book in this fantasy series is set in a new fictional location and describes a new scary beast that Tom must defeat to reach his ultimate goal.  The creativity of the imaginary characters and settings and the high level of adventure in these books seems to be very appealing to boys Will's age.  (Based on how many of these books Will has signed out of the library lately, I think he finds them a thrilling read!)

Noah and Will and I will be back with more book suggestions over the coming weeks;  I hope your family will find something new to enjoy from our list!  We'd also love to hear about your recent good reads for kids of all ages in the comments section below!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The briefs are in the mail

Every day on our walk home from school, I stop at the mailbox down the street from our house to pick up the day's postal delivery.  The boys are always anxious to know if there is anything in the pile for them, and whenever I tell them there is, they always react with enthusiastic "Yes!"s and happy grins.  I don't think, though, that I've ever seen quite the reaction from them that I recently witnessed over one particular piece of mail.

Noah and Will have subscriptions to several different magazines, and this past week they received a new issue of The Hockey News.  I had noticed when I picked up the mail that there was something soft and squishy in the plastic wrapper along with the magazine, but I was preoccupied at the time and didn't give it much thought;  I simply handed the boys their mail once we got inside the house.  Now, normally when The Hockey News arrives, the boys quickly tear off the plastic wrap and toss it aside, and then disappear to study all of the latest stories and stats within the magazine's glossy pages.  This time, though, they were puzzled by the soft, squishy thing instead, and they set the magazine down to investigate further.  I was completely unprepared for the loud hoots of delight and the screeches of disbelief that immediately followed when they realized that inside the plastic wrap was A PAIR OF UNDERWEAR!!!

I'm guessing that when the Mark's store decided to advertise their latest style of men's briefs by distributing free samples of them to subscribers of The Hockey News, they did not consider the uproar it would cause in homes all across the country.  It's a pretty sure bet that wherever there were boys around Noah and Will's ages on the day that magazine arrived, there was a scene similar to the one at our house, involving hysterical laughter and wide eyes and shrieks of incredulity.  Noah and Will spent a good ten minutes alternately guffawing and wondering out loud, "WHY would anybody send UNDERWEAR in the MAIL?!?".  The briefs themselves were very unfunny -- they were black, and simple, and more practical-looking than comical, yet for hours, even days afterwards, every time the boys saw the little package of shorts, they would giggle and repeat, "I can't BELIEVE someone sent us UNDERWEAR!!"

Having never been an 8 or a 10 year old boy, I have been trying to understand exactly what the big deal is about this whole magazine/underwear/mail business.  I asked Will if he could tell me why it makes him laugh so much, and he looked at me like I was being ridiculous and said, very dramatically, "MOM -- it's UNDERWEAR!!".  Enough said, I guess.  I have to admit that even I laugh every time I pass by that package now. 

If you're ever looking to put a smile on the face of some school-aged boys, just mail them a pair of underwear.  Results are guaranteed.