Beets. Bears. Battlestar Galactica.

23 June 2014 | 3 Comments

So, I’m just going to tell you this.  I feel like I’m moderately geeky, but I can’t deal with Battlestar Galactica.  

My friend Steph, just fell on the floor, I’m sure of it.

I might as well admit that I just can’t do Dr. Who either.  People try to talk me into it all the time.   Don’t think I haven’t tried. 

Why would a show from ten years ago be on my mind, you rightfully ask?  Oh, because my husband has binge watched 34 episodes of it over the last two months or so.  It’s straight up craziness like Star Trek… and we all know how that turned out…

Dave Trekkie

Make that 39. 

And a half.


He’s got it bad.

Favorite Beginning Chapter Books.

17 June 2014 | 2 Comments
Best Easy Chapter Books 

Somewhere in the midst of first grade, Finn’s reading just exploded.  He has always loved books and being read to, but he pointed out that this year, he could choose anything & read it himself.  {The term ‘anything’ was the perception of a six year old suddenly allowed to go into the bigger kid sections of the school library.}  The fluency and more importantly, the comprehension just started to click and he’s had his nose buried in a book ever since.  Having time at the school library this year also gave him the confidence to look through stacks of books and choose things that might be interesting, completely independent of our choices.  This summer, we’re doing everything we can to keep up with the new books. 

The challenge has been finding books that are interesting, entertaining, at the right reading level, and making sure the subject matter is appropriate.  We read Harry Potter together over winter break, but we’re pausing after finishing the second book.  He wants to marathon read the whole series but, the whole boy/girl dynamic of the fourth book makes me think it might be a little too much for a seven year old who has begun covering his eyes when people kiss.  While we both love, and will continue to read, a few of these higher {5th – 8th grade} reading level books as a team, he is finding a slew of new books that he loves in that 1st – 4th grade level for independent reading.

If you don’t know your child’s reading level, you can ask their teacher!  Another suggestion, take the last 5-6 books that your child really loved and look up their reading levels, then average them, going down one grade level for the low and up one grade level for the range your child is likely comfortable in.  You can also do this easy ‘test’ on how to choose the correct reading levels for your child, from Scholastic.  Have your child open a book they’re interested in to a middle page and read, putting their finger on the page for every word they don’t know or don’t understand.  If all five fingers are down by the end of the page, the book is probably slightly too advanced for independent reading, but you can always read it with them!  If less than five fingers are down, have them go for it!

I asked Finn if he would mind sharing some of his favorite independent reading books and series here.  It is certainly a list that you can read aloud TO your early elementary aged kids, as well.  This list tilts slightly in the ‘boy’ direction,  but you’ll find we have a good mix of boy and girl protagonists represented.  Any companion series are also noted, for example the Judy Moody series are listed with her brother Stink’s series.   

He is keeping a list of everything he reads this summer and we set up a place for him to rate the books.  If you like, you can download a copy free for your kids!  

Beginner Chapter BooksBooks I Read This Summer

This is my disclosure, Yo.  All links below are Amazon Affiliates. That means if you click on a link and end up buying a book, I get pennies from Amazon for my recommendation.  If you click on a link and you don’t buy a book, that’s fine too.  Or you can avoid the links all together, of course.  The description quote under each book in the list is pulled from their site.  BAM.  You are disclosed.

Enjoy the list!  And be sure to add your favorite early elementary aged chapter books in the comments, please!

Freckle JuiceStarWars Jedi AcademyBig Nate Book 1

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume  {GLE 3.6}

One day after school, Andrew works up enough courage to ask Nicky where he got his freckles. When know-it-all Sharon overhears, she offers Andrew her secret freckle juice recipe -- for fifty cents. It's a lot of money, but Andrew is desperate. At home he carefully mixes the strange combination of ingredients. Then the unexpected happens...

Star Wars: Jedi Academy series by Jeffrey Brown  {GLE 3.8}

This incredible, original story captures all of the humor, awkwardness, fun, and frustrations of middle school--all told through one boy's comics, journal entries, letters, doodles, and newspaper clippings. The setting? A galaxy far, far away...

Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce {GLE 2.5 – 4}

Things don't always go your way just because you're awesome. Nate barely survives his dad's toxic oatmeal before rushing off to school—minus his lunch. He body slams the no-nonsense principal. He accidentally insults his least favorite teacher, the horrifying Mrs. Godfrey (aka Godzilla). And school has barely started!

Diary of a Wimpy KidStink and the Ultimate Thumb-Wrestling SmackdownJudy Moody & Stink

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney  {GLE 5 – 7.6}

It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

Stink series by Megan McDonald  {GLE 2 – 3.7}

In Stink's first solo adventure, his special style comes through loud and strong -- enhanced by a series of comic strips, drawn by Stink himself, which are sprinkled throughout the book. From "The Adventures of Stink in SHRINK MONSTER" to "The Adventures of Stink in NEWT IN SHINING ARMOR," these very funny, homespun sagas reflect the familiar voice of a kid who pictures himself with super powers to deal with the travails of everyday life -- including the occasional teasing of a bossy big sister!

Companion Series:  Judy Moody series  {Stink’s big sister}

Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout  by Megan McDonald

Judy and Stink and the whole Moody family hunker down with beans and batteries, ready to wait out the storm. But along with massive rain and strong winds, Hurricane Elmer throws down ghosts, squirrels, and aliens. Spooky! Just when things couldn’t possibly get any freakier —flicker, flicker, gulp! — the lights go O-U-T out. The Moodys are smack-dab in the middle of a big bad blackout! Grandma Lou proposes musical board games and some good old-fashioned storytelling. Will Hurricane Elmer go down in Moody family history as bad news, a happy memory, or simply an LBS (Long Boring Story)?

A Good Night for GhostsThe Boxcar ChildrenGeronimo Stilton Series

The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne {GLE 2 – 3.5, non-fiction ‘companion’ books are higher level}

Jack and his little sister Annie are just two regular kids from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Then they discover a mysterious tree house packed with all sorts of books...and their lives are never the same! Soon they are traveling through time and space in the magic tree house and having amazing adventures.

Finn’s Top 3: A Good Night for GhostsCivil War on Sunday, Vacation Under Volcano

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner {GLE 3.2}

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden are brothers and sisters--and they're orphans! The only way they can stay together is to make it on their own. One night, during a storm, the children find an old red boxcar that keeps them warm and safe. They decide to make it their home.

This is also an entire mystery series, but he’s only read the original book.

Geronimo Stilton series by Geronimo Stilton  {GLE 2.3 – 4.8}

Geronimo Stilton was born in New Mouse City, Mouse Island. He is the editor and publisher of The Rodent's Gazette, New Mouse City's most widely read daily newspaper. He is the author of more than 40 adventure novels, and the recipient of the Ratitzer Prize for his books The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid and The Search for Sunken Treasure.

Companion Series:  Thea Stilton {Geronimo’s sister!}

Bad Kitty seriesMy Weird SchoolWho Was Harry Houdini

Bad Kitty series by Nick Bruel  {GLE 1.4 – 4}

The riotous story of a cat gone berserk -- four times over an in alphabetical order each time. Kitty is not happy hen she's told that her favorite foods are all gone and all that's left are Asparagus, Beets, Cauliflower, Dill...and 22 other equally unappealing vegetables. So she: Ate my homework, Bit grandma, Clawed the curtains, Damaged the dishes, and so on, through Z. Only when tastier things arrive (An Assortment of Anchovies, Buffalo Burritos, Chicken Cheesecake...) does she Apologize to Grandma.

My Weird School series by Dan Gutman  {GLE 2.3 – 4.2}

For A.J. and the gang at Ella Mentry School, weirdness and fun are all part of the routine. In this first book in the outrageously funny series that has reached millions of readers around the world, second-grade teacher Miss Daisy is in over her head. She doesn't even know how to add or subtract! But the kids have other things on their minds. Principal Klutz has promised that if they read a million pages in books, they can turn the school into a video-game arcade for one whole night!

Who Was Harry Houdini?  by Tui Sutherland  {GLE 3.4}

Every kid has heard of Harry Houdini, the famous magician who could escape from handcuffs, jail cells, and locked trunks. But do they know that the ever-ambitious and adventurous Houdini was also a famous movie star and the first pilot to fly a plane in Australia? This well-told biography is full of the details of Houdini's life that kids will really want to know about and illustrated throughout with beautiful black-and-white line drawings.

The entire Who Was? series covers the lives of different historical figures from Walt Disney to Charles Darwin to Queen Elizabeth. 

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? Who Was Babe Ruth? and Who Is J.K. Rowling? on his list to read.

Diary of a 6th Grade NinjaTimmy Failure SeriesFlat Stanley Collection

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson 

My name is Chase Cooper, and I'm a 6th grade ninja. It's my first day at a different school and the only person I know is my cousin, Zoe (but she might be a little too cool for me). I was just another scrawny kid until a group of ninjas recruited me into their clan. It was a world of trouble I wasn't prepared for, which is why I kept this diary (or "chronicle" as my dad would call it) - to warn other kids about the dangers of becoming a ninja. They say history is destined to repeat itself... well, not if I can help it.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis  {GLE 3.1}

Take Timmy Failure — the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of the best detective agency in town, perhaps even the nation. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Throw in the Failuremobile — Timmy’s mom’s Segway — and what you have is Total Failure, Inc., a global enterprise destined to make Timmy so rich his mother won’t have to stress out about the bills anymore. Of course, Timmy’s plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered.

Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown  {GLE 4.4}

Stanley Lambchop is an ordinary boy. At least he was, until the night his bulletin board fell off the wall and flattened him. At only half an inch thick, Stanley can slide under doors, mail himself across the country in an envelope, and fly like a kite!


Read Aloud with your Early Elementary Child:

The Secret GardenCharlotte's WebA Wrinkle in Time

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett {GLE 6.8}

Born in India, the unattractive and willful Mary Lennox has remained in the care of servants for as long as she can remember. But the girl’s life changes when her mother and father die and she travels to Yorkshire to live with her uncle. Dark, dreary Misselthwaite Manor seems full of mysteries, including a very special garden, locked tight for 10 years. With the help of Dickon, a local boy, Mary intends to uncover its secrets.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White {GLE 4}

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's Web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle {GLE 4.7}

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn't know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L'Engle's unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg's father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHow to Train Your DragonJames and the Giant Peach

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling {GLE 5.3}

Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell {GLE 5.7}

Chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III as he tries to pass the important initiation test of his Viking clan, the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, by catching and training a dragon.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl {GLE 6.7}

After James Henry Trotter's parents are tragically eaten by a rhinoceros, he goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Life there is no fun, until James accidentally drops some magic crystals by the old peach tree and strange things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree begins to grow, and before long it's as big as a house. Inside, James meets a bunch of oversized friends—Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybug, and more. With a snip of the stem, the peach starts rolling away, and the great adventure begins!

Pippi LongstockingFortunately, The MilkThe Year of Billy Miller

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren  {GLE 5.2}

Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a flair for the outrageous that seems to lead to one adventure after another!

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman 

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious New York Times bestselling story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes  {GLE 4.2}

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. This is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.


Can’t get enough book lists?  Read these!

Happy Father’s Day.

15 June 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s a true measure of a man, in seeing who he is, through the eyes of his children. 

You have continuously raised that bar every moment, from that first diaper change seven years ago, Dave.  I hope they realize even half of the life lessons, humor, commitment, tenacity, hope, and capacity for love that you have shown them daily.  And sure, they con you into crazy shit and they have a way for making us both feel like we’re destined for the loony bin, but I feel immeasurably fortunate to be on this parenting journey with you.


Cell Cedar Point 125 California 224

HPIM1337 Tate 166


michelle's cell 481 michelle's cell 012

cell 055 march 079 

park & andersons 103 cell 196 

061 036

 Tate 079

5 Things To Do in June.

12 June 2014 | 3 Comments

Things To Do In June

School is finally out and we have the whole summer ahead of us to do fun things!  We’re going to make our annual summer list soon.  Along with baseball, swim lessons, and cottage trips, we have a Frozen themed birthday for a certain little Elsa-wannabe in our house.  Summer is jam packed with all the fun, warm-weather activities we can handle.  And after last winter, we’re more than ready to take advantage!  Before we get to all that, here are five things to do this month!

1.  Pick strawberries.  Then make jam.

There is little better than eating the ripest berry on the vine right there in the field.  That is, until you open a fresh jar of freezer jam in November.  Here is my favorite no-cook recipe for strawberry-vanilla freezer jam.  You don’t even need to know how to can!

2.   get Ice Cream from a Truck. 

As soon as you hear the twinkle of the ice cream truck music, drop every single un-fun thing you are doing and grab some cash.  Go ahead and run after the ice cream man with your kids, then sit on the front steps and eat your frozen treats.  I’d opt for the frozen popsicle with the gumball in the bottom every single time.  What kid should go without the pleasure of a bomb pop brain freeze at least once a summer?

3.  Clean out your car.

Our cars are one of those things that get neglected in the end of school chaos, so let’s do some sprucing for summer.  Grab some cleaner, paper towels, and your shop vac and get to work!

4.  experience an outdoor concert.

There is nothing like sitting on a blanket in the grass listening to an outdoor concert.  Throw in a picnic and some kids getting their wiggles out to great music and you have the perfect evening.  If you are local to the Toledo area, you can check out concerts at the zoo, the brown bag library series, your local park, and just about any restaurant patio in town for live, local music!  Music Under the Stars with the Toledo Symphony doesn’t start until July, but keep that in mind too!

5.  Plant your garden.

This year, we’re going to have a much smaller scale, last year we were up to our eyeballs in tomatoes.  Containers are great for herbs like mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, and chives.  We snip fresh herbs for cooking and iced tea all summer long.  We even have a lime tree in a pot that has been giving us limes like crazy since this winter!


What is your ‘must do’ for June?

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