Obama Book Club

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Entertainment Weekly’s Book Recommendations from President Obama

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

These are just some of the accolades for this book:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER | NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNER | PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST | NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST | NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Washington Post • People • Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • New York • Newsday • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly

Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)

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These were the words that stood out most to me when I read this book: “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

I found it profound reading as someone who didn’t experience racial bias in the same ways as African-Americans. It gave me an insight that I hadn’t gotten before through television discussions.

I first became familiar with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work through his appearances on several political talk shows. I liked, and still like, his straight-forwardness and truth telling as he expresses his experiences, his hopes for his children as well as a warning primer which should not be in any child’s vocabulary or life sphere.

The President and I read this for different reasons, and from different perspectives, but in recommending it I feel that we both expect our readers to take a look at and absorb what is happening in families right now. We were all part of the problem; it is time for all of us to be the solution.

Outdoors in the Winter? YES!

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Unless we ski, snowshoe, or take winter hikes, we tend to hibernate through the season. We rush from our house to our car to work and back again bundled up, heat on high. We layer up and avoid the outside as best we can. However our feelings about the cold and snow, the outdoors are actually very healthy for us, even those of us who are not particularly outdoorsy.

With our windows closed keeping us sealed in and cooped up, we’re more susceptible to colds and lingering infections and just feeling yicky and not ourselves. One way to combat that stale air and the winter doldrums is to get outside every day. We don’t often think of that as a solution, but the fresh air is a real pick me up.

I know. It goes against every fiber of my being too. The cold. The snow. The wind. But fifteen minutes every day has a way of rejuvenating our systems.

For kids, it gets their energy focused in the snow instead of on your living room sofa.

Bring out the shovels and the Nerf guns.

By the time winter recess comes along, at least in the northeast, we’re about ready for a mid-winter thaw. The air is a little warmer – forties instead of twenties, the sun is bright.

Take a walk.

Have a snowball fight.

Run and jump.

Make snow angels.

And then when you come inside, have a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

It takes just a little time, a little effort, and no money. Not to mention that it will help to keep the family healthy and ready to go back to school at the end of recess.

Tote Bag Fun

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This activity needs a little prep before the winter recess (or spring break) begins. If you know your kids well, you can use this with any age, but I’ve always geared these tote bags towards early childhood up to about first or second grade. Again, adaptability is the key.

Each tote bag contains themed activities or a planned outing. for example, the library tote can store your finished library books until the next time you visit the library or your library tote can contain books that your kids rarely read or new books to create a library for the day in your home.

1. Library – include books that your kids haven’t seen in awhile. Add card stock, colored pencils, markers, and crayons to make bookmarks. Include journaling paper for book report, reviews, sketch paper for adding illustrations, paper for extending the story (ie. fan fiction for kids).

2. Beach – Throw in those leis from the variety of birthday parties your kids have attended. Include a bathing suit and towel for each child. Don’t forget the sunglasses and water bottle. Put in a CD of dance music and a camera for selfies. You might also want a big, wide-brimmed straw hat to keep the sun out of their eyes.

3. Get Crafty – All the things. Paper, tape, feathers, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, glue, chalk, yarn, string, whatever you can think of. Collect some recycling in anticipation of the week recess: toilet paper and paper towel tubes, egg cartons, tin cans (washed, of course), newspaper, magazines. Pirate themes are always fun. Toilet paper tubes make great binoculars and wind socks. Paper towel tubes make periscopes, telescopes, Olympic torches. Use your imaginations and enjoy the creative time together!

4. Dress Up – Hats, shirts, dresses, Mom’s and Dad’s shoes, neckties, scarves. Don’t forget the leftover Halloween costumes too.

5. Back to Nature – Construction paper, glue. Include paper bags to collect the nature items with. Pre-make scavenger hunt sheets where the kids can check off what they find and draw pictures or use a digital camera to take photos of the scavenged items.

6. Animal Hospital – Include a variety of stuffed animals, reusable bandages, a doctor’s kit with stethoscope and blood pressure gauge. Use washcloths as blankets. Pretend ice packs or real ice packs as long as they’re leak-proof.

7. Kids Cook – Aprons, chef’s hats, preferably kids’ sized. Cookie cutters, sprinkles, food coloring, measuring cups and spoons, bag of chocolate chips, can of frosting, box mix for cake or brownies or cookies. Box of Jello.

What tote bag activities can you add to this list? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

A First Day of School Reflection

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This morning at Mass, our priest spoke during his homily about the nativity of the Holy Mother, which is today. Would that be Marymas? One of the things that he mentioned is that in the today’s readings and Gospel, instead of talking much about Mary’s birth that we are commemorating today, it’s all about Jesus. It’s about how she’ll be bringing the Christ child, the Lord, Jesus into the earthly world that she, and we, live in.

That struck a chord with me as I sat down this morning to write about the first day of school. I thought I was going to write a few hundred words about my feelings on returning home to an empty house; the quiet, the little sounds in the basement of the furnace that I can hear so clearly now that the television is off and the summer screeching has stopped. I thought it would be lonely, but would still give me that renewal that I tend to get in the fall when everything starts up again.

It was supposed to be about me; my coping with what to do for the full days, getting re-organized, and catching up on the summertime neglected me.

Instead, like Mary’s birthday, it’s all about the kids.

And today’s that day. The first day of school in our neck of the woods has finally arrived. From what I’ve seen, we’re one of the last regions to return for the fall session. My nieces went back last week, my nephews the week before that. My Colorado friends even started in mid-August.

Here and now, though today’s our day.

Last week, my middle son went to middle school orientation; my oldest went to college orientation and attended his first day of classes.

My little girl got on the bus alone for the first time this morning, mere hours ago. No big brothers to lead the way; not that she needs any more independence. Yesterday’s argument was if your lip balm is colored it is still lipstick and you’re not allowed to wear it. Because; that’s why.

They’ve all had their moments when the toddler disappeared even if for only one day. It’s a long transition for everyone; two steps forward, one step back.

One day my baby is cuddling in bed and the next she’s painting her toenails. I don’t want to let her grow up. She screams like a banshee, in happy times and angry, but she’s barely above a whisper when my priest says hello to her.

My oldest seems to have crossed the threshold from confused to his family standing to a comfortable big brother. He’s asked for help and advice more times in the last two weeks than in the last two years. He’s reached that trusting place where we’re becoming friends; kind of. He’s eighteen, he drives his own car, he’s a firefighter, he’s in college. He runs errands and cooks dinner. He babysits, which means if he can’t hear them and they don’t blow up the house, it’s all good. He waggles his eyebrows and smirks when he’s trying not to laugh.

About a month ago, my husband tried to clean his room. My son got angry and yelled at him, “Don’t! Leave me alone!” He forgot to pause between ‘don’t’ and ‘leave’ and so it came out, “Don’t leave me alone!” I was in another room laughing and even child#1/adult#3 couldn’t help but laugh. He also forfeited a hug. Much like the one he gave us this morning as he left on his second day of college classes.

My middle guy loves Lego and Minecraft, Star Wars and Batman. He is the curator of my husband’s comic book collection and the comic shop clerks know who to talk to about delays or up and coming specials. He’s very organized and doesn’t like change. He needs timely warnings to prepare him for weekend adventures. Don’t ever tell him something will take five minutes if it will take six. He doesn’t mind waiting if he knows how long the wait will be; exactly how long the wait will be.

It’s taken almost eleven years for him to barely get used to the fact that we do not eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the weekends. Sometimes it’s barely one real meal. This used to take a change in our expressions and a visit to my lap for a hug and whispered explanation. If I want something done properly, however, he’s my man.

#3 is the girliest girl to ever girl. She loves pink and lace, tights and leggings, hats and fancy shoes. She polishes her nails and designs her clothes. She sings and dances, takes care of her babies, and does her hair about about ten times a day. She wants long locks like Rapunzel. She was enamored when I showed her a picture of Crystal Gayle. She works that messy ponytail so well that she puts Scarlett Johanssen and Kristen Stewart to shame. And her feet and hands are the dirtiest I’ve ever seen on anyone. She wears that lacy pink dress and climbs trees. She kicks off her flip-flops to go kick a soccer ball across the yard. She’s got the personality of an entire theatre troupe. She’s a special one.

They’re all special in their own ways and watching them grow into themselves is a double edged sword of privilege and pain.

They are more than my legacy; they are their own. Picking and choosing from their parents and grandparents, their friends and television friends.

They’re becoming.

As they watch their mom, me, in the last few years, converting to Catholicism, finding my way as a Christian and as a writer, adopting compassion, speaking out on all manner of things, and having fun at my “advanced age” I hope they see that their becoming never ends. It grows; it ebbs and flows, it continues and the path darkens and forks, but we are always changing, and whatever path we start on, there are many detours and many opportunities to change our path if the one we’re on doesn’t work out the first time.

The most important thing I hope I’ve taught them is that their lives are not etched in stone, but in sand. One swipe of their palm, one grabbing up of a stick or use of their finger and they are able to draw a new future. Tear the page and throw it in the fire. And most importantly, be you.

Who you may be, become you, my babies.

Homeschooling – 1990s Style

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Recently I was discussing the difference (or really the similarities) between a Master’s thesis and a PhD dissertation. My Master’s thesis, which I needed to complete in order to graduate, was finished in or around 1992, possibly 94. I can’t for the life of me remember the year and I have no idea where my physical degree is.

I mentioned that my thesis was about Homeschooling and tumblr user, RJ asked me about it.

It would take a year to find the actual paper in my basement, so this will be lacking facts and figures, and really just a short summary of what I was looking for and my conclusions.

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