Friday, February 16, 2018

Growing Up


Even if you don't read the rest of this post, please take a moment to say their names.

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14 years old
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 years old
Nicholas Dworet, 17 years old
Aaron Feis, 37 years old
Jaime Guttenberg, 14 years old
Christopher Hixon, 49 years old
Luke Hoyer, 15 years old
Cara Loughran, 14 years old
Gina Montalto, 14 years old
Joaquin Oliver, 17 years old
Alaina Petty, 14 years old
Meadow Pollack, 18 years old
Helena Ramsay, 17 years old
Alex Schachter, 14 years old
Carmen Schentrup, 16 years old
Peter Wang, 15 years old

I am emotionally spent. Like I was after Columbine and Sandy Hook and Marshall County, Kentucky. And I'm angry because this happened, after Columbine and Sandy Hook and Marshall County, Kentucky. Honestly, after Sandy Hook I thought we had come to the edge of some sort of precipice. It can't get any worse than Kindergartners being gunned down in their tiny chairs. But, then we tumbled right into the abyss.

And I blame myself. I mostly blame the NRA and Congress. But I also blame myself.

You know that meme that periodically makes the rounds on Facebook reminding us that 2000 wasn't actually 10 years ago? It gets shared a lot because it's true. Many of us routinely forget that this year's seniors in high school were born the same year as 9/11. We keep in touch with friends from high school but forget that high school was more than 15 years ago. We have gotten busy with building careers and raising kids and forgotten to become engaged, informed citizens of this country. On election day, we step into that booth, vote a straight ticket and post our "I voted" stickers on social media. But sometimes, if the kids are sick or it snowed the night before, we don't vote at all. But informed voting is the easy part of the process. And we can't even seem to do that consistently.

This is not a criticism, I'm right there with you. And it's not a generalization. I have several friends who are raising kids and excelling at their careers and have managed to remain politically informed and involved. (You guys can quit reading. Or stick around to show us how you do it.) But it is a wake-up call. We can take on a car payment and a mortgage and even start a college savings plan for the newborn down the hall and that doesn't really require us to start paying more attention to what's going on in the world around us. But losing our parents' generation and becoming the age they were when we were growing up...well, that does. Because as our parents age and die, they no longer write their representatives strongly worded letters or run for office. They don't vote and they aren't active in Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They did all that and then they assumed that their kids would take their place. We are their kids. It's time for us to step up.

The great catch-22 of all of this is that at the very moment when it is most important for us to stay connected to local and world events and be politically involved, we are also the busiest with careers and family. We've been working for 10, maybe 15 years and finally starting to see that top rung of the ladder off in the distance. Sometimes we move. A lot. We have kids who are barely out of diapers, kids who are participating in a different sport every season, kids who require our attention, our discipline, our love. And now we are expected to check for GMOs, limit screen time, get more exercise, teach children about the value of a dollar and the feeling after a hard day's work. Parenting has changed since we were growing up and I would argue that social media has made it increasingly more complex. Our parents had to navigate a world with AIDS and drugs. We must prepare our children for cyber-bullying, active shooters and Tide pods. That's to say nothing of checking senators' voting records, differentiating fake news and remaining immune to the echo chamber of Facebook. How does a 40-year old mom keep up?

This is not to say that our generation hasn't made some incredible contributions. More men and women feel free to love who they want to love. More outrage is shown when minorities and women are treated as less than equals. More demands are being made for people to be held accountable for their actions, whether they sexually assaulted a co-worker or trafficked children.

But this is not enough.

I am not saying we should march every time the westerly winds blow. I'm saying we each need to pick something and fight passionately for it. I have a friend who is an advocate for RESOLVE, a community of individuals who have been affected by infertility. She is fierce and relentless. She goes to DC once a year and fights for legislation that affects this community, but she is a leader and an inspiration every day of the year. If I was faced with the possibility of being infertile, she would be my first call.

I have another friend who takes about an hour each day to check up on her representatives...just to see what they are up to. If she finds out they are due to vote on something in the coming week or 2, she will write an email and make some calls. She is a tiny speck of blue in a sea of red, but she does it anyway.

I have another friend who is a domestic violence survivor and has become an ally to anyone who finds themselves trapped in that situation. She has been very vocal about a topic that our culture still tries to sweep under the rug. Her voice is one of hope for anyone who is simply trying to survive.

I have several friends who are social workers. They fight for the defenseless, they speak for those who are being ignored. They step into the middle of a bad situation just so it doesn't get worse. They follow legislation and plead for signatures on petitions that may someday stop human trafficking. And they do it, day in and day out, even though they get scrolled past the fastest.

It is time for me to be more like them.

And to be honest, right at this moment, I have no idea what that is going to look like. I'm still angry, still heartbroken, but ready to listen. Last night I signed a petition and then posted it on Facebook. It opened up a conversation between two factions: my military-spouse friends who believe banning semi-automatic weapons is part of the answer and those who do not. It included the wives of combat Veterans (one a Veteran herself) and a teacher, all moms. It's personal for us but we were able to hear each other out, even though we are hundreds of miles apart. Some of the comments I agreed with, some I grappled with, but they all helped me see that we are not hopelessly divided on this issue. There is some common ground between us and that's where we have to start. That's where the solution lies. We must keep talking, we must keep engaging, we must keep asking questions and gathering information from sources that don't always mirror our convictions. It is time to grow up, it's time to become our parents.

I am asking that you all join me in choosing one thing to fight for, if you haven't already. Find something that speaks to your heart and then go all in. Ask your politicians where they stand on that issue, share petitions that need to be signed, be informed and help to inform others. We can do this even though there's a family to feed, a dog to walk, a spouse to cuddle on the couch with, a career to nurture, a parent to nurse. We must do this because simply checking out does not show our children how to be all in for a cause. And we need them to take our place someday.




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

40 Days and 40 Nights

I should really look at a calendar more often. Although I know that Fat Tuesday always falls on a Tuesday and Ash Wednesday is always on a Wednesday, I never realized that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day this year. And this is the year I've chosen to give up sugar for Lent. Fortunately, Neal bought me a potted plant so crisis averted there. I'll just save these chocolate-covered marshmallows for Easter.

I was Catholic once, for about 45 minutes (or 6 months, whatever). I was engaged to a Catholic (with a puritanical mother who probably regretted not becoming a nun) and because he wanted our marriage to be recognized by the Catholic Church, off I went to convert from the Southern-Baptist-with-occasional-Buddhist-practices that I had been identifying with since high school. But even in the Baptist churches, the congregation was often encouraged to "give up" something for Lent, in the spirit of honoring the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us and all that, I suppose. So, one year when I was particularly destitute I gave up traveling. One year when I was between boyfriends I gave up sex. One year when I was training for a half-marathon I gave up chocolate. The point is, I think I was missing the point - albeit intentionally.

Sacrificing something is hard and I've always been a "treat yo self" kind of girl (a mixed blessing that resulted from spending so much time with my grandparents as a Wee Ally). And I don't think I truly understood sacrifice until Neal went active duty, we lost a child and then had a child. As it turns out, sacrifice is hard, but it has been worth it every. single. time. There has always been a moment, right before I can see just the faintest glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel, that I think FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE. And then, in the darkest moment right before I lose hope, I see a tiny speck of light. And when I emerge on the other side, I have actually grown stronger because it didn't, as they say, kill me.

I not only appreciate intermittent sacrifice now, I actually crave it. And, oddly enough, 40 days is the ideal amount of time to really feel the effect of giving up something. I'm certainly not one to interpret the Bible literally (I don't even believe in Hell as a fire and brimstone kind of joint or the Second Coming as a rapturous moment with angels and trumpets), but I always kind of marvel at how perfectly some of its stories seem to guide and challenge us, eternally. It 's the same bewilderment I feel as when, time and time again, math appears so painstakingly perfect in nature. Like there is no way this is a coincidence or an accident.

My ideas on sacrifice for Lent were challenged during a sermon by my mom's pastor a few years ago. He encouraged us to add something for Lent. Whether we offered grace and forgiveness more freely or gave our time and resources more generously, whatever it was, we were asked to add something to our lives so that, in turn, we may add to the lives of others.

So now Lent is extra complicated. Do I sacrifice or do more? Or both? This year, the Year of Living More With Less, I'm choosing both, ironically. Three goals, 40 days.

I've eaten a lot of sugar in the past 2 months. While we hurry up and wait for orders, we are expected to be patient. I've become significantly more patient since Blue was born but even so, I almost hit my limit last Friday. So I've eaten anything that was covered in chocolate, as well as the dregs from the Halloween bucket. I've only refused one dessert and that was a pan of black bean brownies I made last week (the recipe called them fudgy, I would call them one notch up from pudding). My legs have started to swell, I broke out in hives on my stomach and I have a zit on my lip. I'm basically 20 minutes away from insulin shock. No. more. sugar. I don't know what I'll do instead. Maybe hide in the closet and do yoga instead of stuffing my face with Swedish fish. But I will do this. If only because hives on your stomach is surprisingly uncomfortable.

I will also KonMari the crap out of this house. I haven't read the book but I have read about 10 blogs on what I need to do. Sort by category, hold each item in my hand and ask myself if it's necessary, useful and sparks joy and then thank and purge the joyless stuff, organize what's left. This has taken some people 6-9 months. I don't have that long. So my plan is to complete one sub-category per day. Marie Kondo suggests sorting and purging in silence, so you can hear the item speak to you. Half-day Kindergarten means that each item is going to have to speak a little louder over Blue's new song about the poop emoji and what he loves about each of his stuffed animals. But we'll get through it.

Lastly, my addition. I'm going to treat each person as I would want to be treated. This is really hard for an only child. It's hard for our 5 year old but, shockingly, it's hard at 39, too. That means that when I'm on Facebook and I have something to say to someone who believes that immigrants should go back to where they came from, I'm going to stop, take a breath and think about how I would want to be treated before firing off a reply that includes some statistic about how we are all pretty much immigrants. I will still give that statistic, I just won't call them an ill-informed, racist idiot when I do it. But, more mundanely, it means that I will stop and think about how I would want to be greeted after a long day at work, how I want to be treated if I was the cashier at Target, the realtor for our house, our son. It's the Golden Rule for a reason and I think it's the ultimate standard for living. It's embarrassingly simple yet largely ignored. If Mr. Rogers and/or Jesus aren't coming back any time soon, this should be the expectation of ourselves in the meantime.

I'm always interested to know what others are doing in recognition of Lent. And if you aren't Catholic, why do you still participate? We're in this together. And I didn't give up alcohol (at least not red wine, it is heart healthy, after all) so cheers to us! May we see the sunrise on Easter morning and find that we have become slightly better versions of ourselves.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Champagne Friday: When Mama Gets Angry

When I was blogging consistently in 2009 (before baby, before active duty moves, when Neal was deployed and all I had to keep me company was Meredith Grey and a bottle of Barefoot Bubbly), I began a series of posts called Champagne Friday. As the name infers, I blogged while drinking a bottle of champagne every Friday. Some of those posts made sense, others...eh...not so much. But the point was life is too short to only drink champagne on New Year's Eve and even a Friday in the middle of April is an appropriate time to use the champagne glasses from your wedding.

I'm ready to do that again. Minus the day drinking because, as it turns out, drinking anything with alcohol while your child is at school is somewhat frowned upon. Although the French and the Italians do it so it can't be all bad. Look how skinny and fashionable they are. Maybe a little breakfast pinot would convince me to put on a bra before lunch.

Anyway, we're back with Champagne Friday: The Angry Mama edition. And this does not have anything to do with me being angry or a mom (although the next time Blue forces himself to gag on dinner, I'm going to be both of those things). Nope...this is my new favorite cleaning toy. And as Mary Poppins always says, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." An Angry Mama microwave cleaner helps you not kill everyone in your family after they microwave their spaghetti without covering it up first.
I just love her because I feel like she's a direct reflection of me after I've asked Blue to get dressed, again. Anyway, you pop off her head (just that action alone is surprisingly cathartic) and fill her to the line with white vinegar. Then fill her to the next line with water. Pop her head (and hair) back on and put her in the microwave for 7 minutes. Just a normal cook setting will do. No need to melt Mama.
Now, I decided to blog about her after I had just cleaned the microwave the day before. So, please don't go away assuming this is what my microwave looks like before I clean it. It really looks more like this.
Even though this is a stock photo from HuffPost, doesn't that make you a little sad for whoever had to clean it afterwards? I mean, just throw it in the trash. Also, I'm just kidding. Our microwave has never looked like that, but it's only because Blue can't reach the buttons yet.

Anyway, Angry Mama has tiny holes in the top of her head (as we tend to do) and the vinegar/steam escapes through the top (I wish there was a Flintstone version where it escaped through her ears) and kind of loosens all the gunk that's cooked on to your microwave. When she's done, just wipe out the microwave with a paper towel (or 20) and you're finished! And regardless of what has exploded, it's just that easy every time.

Now, do you have to have an Angry Mama to get your microwave clean? Not at all. But I have to tell you, I get a certain amount of joy (and possibly cancer) from standing in front of the microwave and watching her head steam as she spins round and round.
This photo was surprisingly difficult to capture as my phone really wanted to zoom in on the grid pattern in the door.

My friend microwaves a wet sponge for 5 minutes and that pretty much does the same thing. Plus, it kills anything breeding in her sponge. And that works, too. But Angry Mama is my spoonful of sugar, which may eventually give me diabetes but is pretty fabulous right now!

I feel like I should point out that my blog is completely sponsor-less. Every museum I write about, every product I feature is simply because I want to write about it. I don't get things in the mail to try out and then blog about. I don't get free tickets to anything. Blue gets more free stuff than I do. And I would like to keep it sponsor-less. Although I'm all for building a fan base. Because when that one post got 110,000 hits in 3 days, I think I floated above my body for a little while. 



Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Review: Antique Automobile Club of America Museum

First let me say that if you are still with me after such a riveting title of a blog post, congratulations. You are just as nerdy as we are. Embrace your nerdiness. It will serve you well in life.

The Antique Automobile Club of America Museum (AACA) has been on our (read: specifically my) Pennsylvania bucket list since we moved here (although it's possible that I spent some time thinking it detailed the membership and activities of the AAA). It's in Hershey and although we have enjoyed the many sweet offerings of Hershey, including...
riding the roller coasters at Hersheypark
taking the free Chocolate Factory "tour" (complete with a complimentary piece of chocolate at the end...free + free = sugar rush)
 
creating custom chocolate bars in the Chocolate Lab
 participating in a chocolate tasting where we try to identify different "notes" in the chocolate. As it turns out, I do not have a very discerning palate. 




exploring the children's garden, the butterfly garden, the rose gardens and the Pumpkin Glow at Hershey's Gardens

attending the Hershey Halloween Parade (at which point I had to explain to Blue why the kid leading the marching band was wearing a polka-dotted dress. #parentingfail)
and just, in general, stalking the KissMobile and taking selfies with it whenever possible.

BUT, we had not yet made it to the AACA Museum. We were waiting for a day when Blue was in school but Neal was off work because nothing says relaxing tour of an antique automobile museum like saying "Don't touch that" for 2 solid hours. Also, our time here is dwindling.

Such an opportunity presented itself on a chilly Friday earlier this month. The school bus pulled away and we hopped on 322, headed for Hershey.
Did I mention it was also raining? Anyway, this is the entrance to the museum, which is kind of like a mansion on a hill. When Neal saw this car from the parking lot, he said, "Oh wow. They even have one for the kids to play in." When we peered through the busted glass of the windshield, we saw rusted pipes, torn interior and an overall feeling that we were being watched by something hiding under the seat. So no,  I can't recommend you let your kids play in here. But bonus points for the unexpected sighting of the KissMobile!

Let me just say that the staff is very friendly, even by southern standards (which is sometimes hard to come by north of the Mason Dixon line). Although it was a slow day and they seemed glad to see pretty much anyone, I think they still would have been just as helpful during the height of tourist season. Most of the cars are housed chronologically so, oldest to "newest" (which is still, obviously, old to me).
Mama Virgo saw this picture and immediately launched into stories of her youth and her neighbor who owned an Edsel but never drove it. Something about it being notoriously unreliable.
This milk truck was missing a seat. I don't know if it was removed or milk men in those days drove standing up. Standing while driving seems just as dangerous as driving while texting.

At this point, although we still had half of the first floor left to explore, we took the steps downstairs to see the lower level because they happened to be where we were standing. I'm not sure if this was an intentional design decision, but it worked out for us. The lower level of this museum is probably the most charming. Rows upon rows of buses, including the one from (or maybe identical to, it was hard to determine) Speed. (Fun fact, When Speed came out in 1994, I was a junior in high school. I wanted to be Annie. Not Sandra Bullock. Annie.)
I'm gonna speed it up. #foreverKeanu
Also, the bus from Forest Gump. At this point, I feel like our lives have sort of come full circle. Our first duty station was in Macon, Georgia and our first stop was a walking tour of Savannah with a cameo by a Forest Gump impersonator.
AND right beside the Forest Gump bus is Whitney Houston's limousine, complete with TV/VCR combo, crystal decanter and armrest phone.
This corner of the museum made the price of admission worth every penny (I mean, for me, anyway. If you need to stop and Spotify some I'm Every Woman or perhaps I Wanna Dance With Somebody right now, I completely understand.)

In the other corner of the museum is a delightful diner that, I assume, was the prototype for today's food truck. It could be completely folded up and carted to the next destination. Then it unfolded to a mini-restaurant with a full kitchen and a juke box at each seat.
This is a 40-second video that I took after Neal discovered that the 10-cent juke boxes actually work. Pick your song, drop your dime in the slot and dance the afternoon away in an antique automobile museum. It ends with Neal dashing to the door of the diner to tell the only other visitor at the museum that he "had to see this!"

I took this picture not because it's the banana truck (although honestly, Chiquita, I would eat more of your bananas if they came in a truck like this), but because look at the phone number. As a child of the 80's, I am not familiar with a time when calling someone required less than 7 numbers. How do I teach my child when I still have so much to learn?
I will leave you with this one because A) I still have a magazine deadline to meet and B) I want you all to flood the AACA this summer and discover the beauty of this museum on your own. Again, I have never known a time when Trailways existed or when Greyhound was anything other than the cheapest (and possibly slowest, stinkiest) way to travel. The idea of crossing a red carpet to board a bus and giving attendants my drink order feels like pure fiction. And it makes me a little sad that I wasn't born 40 years earlier, even with the Cold War drills and lead paint.

Active duty are free to enter this museum and although it sticks a little in my craw that dependents must pay, it's still worth it. (I believe they participate in the Blue Star Moms Museums every summer so that's another option for military families to visit for free.) And it is more kid-friendly than we expected. Although there are rules about touching, the museum has an entire children's area where kids are encouraged to touch. There's a miniature town with a train and about 10 buttons to push, which do things like raise the bridge, open the firehouse doors and turn on the lights in a house. And within the current Tucker exhibit, there are areas for kids to explore, as well. We have every intention of bringing Blue before we move.

There is quite a bit of joy to be found within these 4 walls and I hope that this helps to show people that just because "antique" is in the name, it doesn't mean it's devoid of new finds.








Monday, January 29, 2018

This is Us(borne): Shopping for a Cause on February 1

I hail from a family of avid readers. Just last month Mama Virgo passed on a book she finished at my house so that I could enjoy it next (It's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and if you aren't laughing by page 3, there's a chance your soul has frozen over.). So, it should be no surprise that when I was planning my baby shower (Type A, party of 1), I asked each guest to bring their favorite children's book in lieu of a greeting card. By the time Blue was yanked out into the bright lights of this big world, he was well-stocked with The Story of Ferdinand, The Poky Little Puppy, several Llama Llama books, On the Night You Were Born, and about 15 other classics. We began reading them all immediately. So, why it has taken us over 5 years to jump on the Usborne bandwagon is kind of beyond me.

I remember sitting at a friend's house in Alexandria when Blue was about 2 and her kids were 3 and 1. She pulled out this Usborne book called The Big Book of Trucks and passed it across the table to me. This is an amazing book, she said. And it did, indeed, look amazing. But Blue was still ripping pages, sometimes by accident and sometimes out of straight defiance so I thought let's wait on that. And then I didn't see another Usborne book until last fall when I picked up Ancient World at a consignment sale. I maintain a shelf of "possible homeschooling books" in my closet so it got tossed to the top of that pile. And then a friend of mine had an Usborne party in October and I picked up My Very First Space Book and Raccoon on the Moon, which was Blue's first Usborne paperback (my little boy is growing up...no more ripping pages!). The space book got flipped through a few times and then set to the side until Blue asked Santa for a telescope this Christmas. When the telescope arrived, we already owned the perfect accompanying book for all of his questions regarding stars and planets. My friend, Monica, (who helped me assemble and hold the Facebook auction to benefit Houston families in December) hosted a party right before Christmas as another fundraiser for Houston families. And upon her recommendation, I ordered Nibbles The Book Monster and Outdoor Book: Inspiring Ideas for Discovery and Exploring Outdoors. And that's where our Usborne collection stands today.
However, in preparation to write this post, I asked FacebookLand about what books they would recommend. And I think I missed an opportunity with Blue. I believe I fell into a black hole of Scholastic paperbacks and Dr. Seuss and didn't look up in time to see that other brands are offering high quality books to kids of all ages, which is unfortunate because I spent many miserable minutes trudging through One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Also, there was a time during Blue's infant years when I had memorized and could recite on demand Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. As more friends commented with books they had been reading with their kids from toddler age through the elementary years, I realized that there were so many books Blue would have enjoyed, but I'm just now learning about them. This is probably where you fix it with the second kid, but I guess the cat will have to reap the benefits instead.

When Monica hosted her party in December, she asked if I would host one in 2018, which would further benefit Houston families. So, here we are...Party Week. If we were having this at my house, you know I would welcome you with a glass of perfectly chilled Cupcake pinot or maybe some Nissley's Spicy Red (PA makes great wine for being a state founded on religious tolerance) and a little Amish bread and butter (and possibly some bourbon balls). Then I would shamelessly refill your glass until you wanted all the books and then I would remind you that it's all for a good cause. But it's on Facebook. So, this Thursday night (February 1st), grab your beverage of choice and don't place your order until the bottle is at least half empty. And if you have questions, my party co-host, who I am now referring to as DJ Deanna because if this was at my house she would be spinning the grooviest jams, will be on hand to answer them. I will also be around but we are off to see Punxsutawney Phil predict the weather that night so my presence may be interrupted by periods of driving or eating Spicy Chicken sandwiches from Wendy's.

If you are new to Usborne or, like me, haven't taken a ton of time to look around on the website, let me steer you toward some crowd favorites. There was an overwhelming consensus on several of these books so know that even though you can't lounge on the chaise (read: stained nursery glider) at my house and flip through them in person, you will not be disappointed by what you've purchased. Here are some of the favorites from friends and DJ Deanna:

Baby and Toddler
DJ Deanna says, "These are great for hands-on learning with the flaps and textures. They are bright in color and contrast and simple in design, but encourage imagination and speech." 
1. Slide and See Farm
via Usborne
And here's a handy 56-second YouTube video of a woman flipping through the book, for the visual learners in the room.

2.  That's Not My book series
via Usborne
I arbitrarily chose That's Not My Dragon but there are MANY more to choose from...That's not my badger, dolly, unicorn, dinosaur, bunny, meerkat...you get the idea.

3. All Better
via Usborne
This book comes with 5 "band-aid" stickers that can be re-positioned, which is important when your book friends are forever getting injured. Blue would have loved this when he was a little younger!

4. I'm a Dirty Dinosaur
via Usborne
There's a lot of rhyming and mud in this book, which again, would have been endlessly more entertaining to Blue than the 48226718273rd reading of Little Blue Truck. Actually, we may not have missed the boat on this one, especially because there's also an I'm a Hungry Dinosaur.

5. Who's Ready to Play? And Lots of Other Questions
via Usborne
This is a search-and-find-the-differences book, which is great for toddlers and preschoolers. "Who's ready to play" is just 1 of the 15 questions in this book where kids have to spot what's different on each page. 

Elementary Age Children
DJ Deanna says, "These are great to help emerging readers build confidence in reading and writing and to teach life lessons like accepting people for who they are." 

1. Hey Jack or Billie B. Brown
via Usborne
OK, I lied. We have another Usborne book that I picked up somewhere and I had no idea until right this second that it's from Usborne. We have Hey Jack! The Toy Store and we actually read it just last night. It's about Jack wanting some money for a new baseball cards trading folder so he sells some of the toys he doesn't want anymore. Unfortunately, he accidentally sells a toy that he thought was broken - as it turns out the batteries were just in the wrong way. That's kind of a metaphor for my life...half the time the batteries are in the wrong way. Anyway, he has made a mistake and he has to find a way to come to terms with his mistake. We will definitely be picking up a couple more of these on Thursday. 
via Usborne
Billie, I believe, is Jack's neighbor as she also makes a cameo in Hey Jack! The Toy Store. I haven't read any of these, but if they are written in the same style, they are definitely ideal for emerging readers. 

2. Phonics Readers Series
via Usborne
Huh, that's funny...we also have this one. Apparently, our books are a little more dispersed through the house than I realized. It wasn't in his bookshelf an hour ago, but that doesn't mean anything. It goes with us in the car a lot, as well. If you simply can't bring yourself to ask Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? one more time, this is where to go next.
3. Peek Inside and Lift the Flap Series
via Usborne
These books are full of nooks and crannies, flaps to lift and holes to explore. Facts about the theme are sprinkled throughout. There are a ton of themes in this series so if your curtain climber isn't into jungles, there are a bajillion more to choose from. I'm going to see if DJ Deanna can show the inside of one of these on Thursday. There are other YouTube videos with various Usborne reps, but honestly, ain't no party like a DJ Deanna party so we'll just wait for her. (Side note: this is one of the books that received praise from several of the moms I asked.)

4. Can I Join Your Club
via Usborne
So this one is fitting for raising a child in 2018. As Duck finds out, there are people who don't want you simply because you're you. So Duck starts his own club, where everyone is welcome. Isn't that a simple truth that we want to pass down to our children? Diversity, inclusion, tolerance...the ducks are going to make this world a better place.
5. Wipe Clean Series
via Usborne
So, shocker...we have this one, too. Although we lost the pen in about 10 seconds, a standard dry erase marker works just as well. And if plain ole water won't erase the pen, vinegar does the trick, too. Blue has a love/hate relationship with letters. He loves the upper case ones and hates the lower case ones. Apparently, they are harder. But these books have helped him develop the confidence to stop spelling cAt.
6. Sticker and Activity Book Series
via Usborne
As we wait for the bus every morning, Blue loves to play I Spy. Although now that he's been in school for 5 months, it's getting a little monotonous. "I spy with my little eye something green." "The street sign." "Yes." This book has 1001 things to spot and 250 stickers. Sold! I'll take 2!  And there's like 1001 to choose from! (Apparently, this is a go-to for a couple of my mom friends when they are out to dinner or on road trips.)
Family Books
DJ Deanna says, "These are all fun to read with kids and the Illustrated Bible Stories book is a beautiful keepsake, great for family devotions." 

1. Nibbles
via Usborne
There are 2 of these, Nibbles The Dinosaur Guide being the other one. When Monica explained that Nibbles gnaws his way through a series of fairy tales so you are reading pieces of the fairy tales, in addition to the story of Nibbles, I was sold.  And it's just as fun as she described! Who doesn't love an adorable monster showing up in Goldilocks and the Three Bears

2. Shine a Light Series
I had never heard of this series until this week. Overwhelmingly, this set of books seems to be a favorite among my Facebook friends. Children shine a flashlight as they search for a shy crab hiding under a rock or a parrot playing peek-a-book in the rain forest canopy. There are several in the series and I think I discovered it just in time for Blue to enjoy them for a year or 2 before passing them down. 

3. Illustrated Bible Stories 
via Usborne
This recommendation by DJ Deanna was echoed by several other moms who have enjoyed sharing the stories of Jonah and the Whale, Noah's Ark, Joseph and the Dreams and the birth of Jesus with their kids. But fear not my atheist friends. We welcome everyone (see above mention of Can I Join Your Club?). There is also Illustrated Grimm's Fairy Tales, Illustrated Stories from the Greek Myths, Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare, Illustrated Norse Myths, plus like 3 more. Personally, I will be picking up Illustrated Classics Huckleberry Finn

4. Gobble Gobble Mooooo Tractor 

 via Usborne
This is one of those that I think we missed the boat on but Blue would have loved a couple of years ago. There was an animal sounds phase that was amusing at first but ultimately resulted in a series of dreams where I was Farmer MacDonald and Blue was the Lead Cow in a barnyard full of animals, all voiced by Blue. The moral of the story: you can run but you can't hide from the animal sounds phase. May as well embrace it. 

5. Puzzle Picture Books
via Usborne
This is just 1 of 8 in the series. The pages are crammed full of pictures, inviting kids to find the similarities, the differences and all the details in between. I've been told these books encourage kids to strengthen their observation skills and I imagine it's like when I walk into a flea or antique market. If I had grown on up on these books, I would probably be able to quickly home in on the 11th century rice bowl instead of mistaking it for a vase.
Well, if you're still with me, CONGRATULATIONS. If it took you as long to read all that as it took me to write it, we've both had dinner, a glass of wine and a piece of Dutch apple pie. The party takes place here (click on this hyperlink to take you to the Facebook party) on Thursday, 1 February at 8:30 PM CST. So use these next couple of days to peruse the website, ask questions, poll your friends and neighbors and compile a list. On Thursday night, DJ Deanna will entertain and amaze us and we'll rake in lots of orders - all to benefit a Houston family with 3 kids, all avid readers, who lost their books to Hurricane Harvey! The more we order, the more books they receive, just in time to get back into their home! 

Party on, Wayne. 
Party on, Garth.