The Deal of the Year for Book Lovers

I’ve got THE BEST money-saving, freebie deal to share with you today.  This is the big one friends.  A completely legit, no coupon code required, money-saving deal that will blow your mind. 

What if I told you that by using this deal, my family has saved over $4,000 dollars in the last six months alone in free books?  Free books!  We don’t get to keep them of course, this deal is more like Netflix, where you pay a monthly subscription to get access to all of these books but you do have to give them back when you are done. Except unlike Netflix, this deal is absolutely free. 

It’s called….wait for it….the public library.  
You probably have one right in your hometown.  It’s this completely magical building where anyone can just walk in off the streets, and regardless of credit history or the size of  one’s bank account, can gain access to as much free reading material as he/she wants.  The library in our town is so magical that even if they don’t have the book we are looking for, they can use some kind of wizard summoning spell to make it appear in the library, sometimes as quickly as the NEXT DAY. 

Wait, there’s more.  If I can’t make it to the library, I can get on my computer and press a few buttons and then the next time I visit, all of the books I want will be waiting on a special shelf with my name on them.   For FREE! 

Did I mention how all of this is free? 

My youngest waiting for the library doors to open so he could begin his summer reading program.

Listen, in all seriousness, I can’t sing the praises of the public library loud enough.  Our local library has been a cornerstone to the experience of raising my children.  I started started bringing them to story time as babies, and by the time they were precocious preschoolers, they knew some of the librarians by name and these wonderful ladies knew them too.  They knew what books my boys would want to read, and before long, knew which children’s books I would want to read myself.  I met mamas and their kids at the library that are still friends today.  Our family has had the opportunity of meeting some of our favorite authors in this public space, and the privilege to be inspired by their stories.  These experiences are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what our local library offers.  If you want to start a business, the library offers myriad resources on how to go about doing that.  Want to know more about your family tree?  The library has people on staff that will help you sort out your genealogy (but they won’t help you sort out your family … there has to be a limit to what these wizards can accomplish).  Need to use a computer?  They have one for you, for free!  Test coming up?  The library offers practice exams for academic, civil service, military and many professional industries.  Need help with your taxes?  The library has accountants on hand during tax season to answer your questions.  Our local library even brings in adorable, furry dogs to snuggle up and read to if you just really love dogs.   

I feel like I forgot to mention that all of this is free.

In the last six months alone, our family has checked out over 300 books from our local library system.  I found this handy calculator on my library’s website, which is how I found out that we had, in fact, saved over $4,000 in materials and resources.  In six months.  While there are books I am so thrilled to own, and bookstores I love to support, our budget simply cannot keep up with our reading habit without our library.

 Our library habit is so intense it requires one of these really large rolling carts.  And that’s just the books for the kids.

There is substantial research illustrating the direct correlation between reading aloud to our babies and children and their academic success down the road.  If you are research-minded, I’d highly encourage you to check out this article or this one.

If you’ve already had the experience of raising a reader, you may already know this intrinsically.  You’ve felt the weight of your baby’s warm body snuggled into you while you read Goodnight Moon, or the wiggling, giggling toddler squirming on your lap while saying “No!” to the pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus for the one hundredth time, or the wide-eyed, breathless anticipation of your young child desperate to know what happens to Harry Potter in the next chapter.  You’ve watched your child grow into a reader, and watched him disappear behind a book and discover the possibility of living so many kinds of lives.  You’ve seen your child reenact her favorite scenes with her dolls.  You’ve seen your teenager find empathy for someone whose experiences he can only imagine because of a book, and you yourself have left behind a busy day of work and diapers and bills and difficult relationships to sink beneath the sheets with a copy of your favorite author’s latest novel.  You don’t need to read the research to know the magic of books. 

So, today, if you are already a regular at your local library, take a minute to thank the men and women who make the magic happen.  Take a friend while you are at it.  And if you aren’t a library regular, get in your car and go now.  Sign up for a library card, ask for a book recommendation and see for yourself.  This really is the deal of a lifetime.  

***UPDATE – Giveaway has ended and the winner, Susan Harris, is in possession of her sweet tote.  Thanks for all of the entries!

Wait…if you’ve stuck with me this far, don’t leave yet!  I’ve got one more deal to offer you today.  I’d like to introduce you to Tammi Salas, writer, artist and fellow library enthusiast.  I first discovered Tammi last November when she took part in a “Rainbow Friday” event with other bloggers.   Rainbow Friday was offered as a kind of antidote to Black Friday, an opportunity to shop for handmade, meaningful gifts that also give back.  Tammi was selling her “Library Junkie” totes and donating 20% of her sales to fund a library in Pastures Preschool, a one-room schoolhouse in Bodega, California.  I did what anyone would do and immediately bought one as a gift and then kept it for myself.  Thankfully, there is still a chance for one of you to own this bag, as Tammi is graciously donating a bag to one lucky reader! 

 Here’s what you can do to increase your chances of getting your hands on this bag:

1.  Comment on this post below and tell me your favorite thing about the public library.
2.  Share this post and tag me (so I see it).
3.  Visit your library and share a picture (and let me know if I can share it too!)

I’ll enter your name into a drawing once for each of the above actions and choose one name at random on January 31st to receive this cute and handy tote.  In the meantime, please take a moment to visit Tammi on her blog where she shares beautiful stories on motherhood, community, art and more.  You can also visit her Etsy shop (which she’ll be re-stocking in the coming months with additional items) or follow her on Instagram (@tammisalas) for artistic inspiration.  Thank you so much Tammi for sharing your many gifts and sweet tote with us, and for your generous spirit.

Am I Safe? Can I Climb?

My family recently became members at the local YMCA.  The timing of this decision coincided with the onslaught of winter weather that drives many of us indoors for exercise as well as the New Year, which brings additional folks to the gym with new tennis shoes and big dreams.  I’m a fan of dreamers so I’m happy to share the treadmill.  (Really, I’m just happy to get off the treadmill).  

The YMCA may not be known as a fancy gym, but so far, it feels like a tiny piece of luxury to me.   I walk into this building and am immediately greeted by a table of free coffee and friendly faces.  There is a gym and an indoor track and the most up to date elliptical machines on the market that I have no idea how to use.  There is a heated, indoor pool and a steam room in the locker room.  If you go in the steam room and close your eyes, it is not too hard to convince yourself that you might be at a spa.  There are laundered towels for your use and when you are finished with them, they wash them for you.  And to top it all off,  there is a magic room called The Hub where you can bring your kids to play while you work out.  The Hub has a pool table, air hockey, Foosball, crafts, gym equipment, video games, and what has become the crown jewel for our boys, a rock climbing wall.  

Our family has zero experience with rock climbing but plenty of experience with fearing heights.   In the past month, I’ve watched my boys work towards overcoming their respective fears and impulses on this wall.  Each time they climb, they latch on their gear, wait for their belayer to do the same, and then ask the following required questions:

“Am I safe? “

“Can I climb?”

When you are about to climb a rock wall, and another person is holding your entire weight in their hands, you want that first question to be met with a resounding yes.  Yes, you are safe.  I won’t drop you, I won’t let you fall, this equipment won’t fail.  And of course, that is exactly what the belayer answers after this vocal cue to check and recheck the equipment.  Yes, you’re safe.  That’s always his answer.

But my mama heart knows that answer is not the whole truth.  It knows there is no circumstance in which the question of safety is met with absolute assurance.  Just as I know that there is always a chance that the roller coaster could malfunction, or the fresh spinach could harbor salmonella, or the tick bite might result in Lyme disease or my son’s heart might get broken, I know the rope can fail.  We live in a culture obsessed with safety, and while that obsession has led to innovative solutions to every day dangers (a sincere thank you inventor of the seatbelt), it has also led to an increasingly sterile approach to life.  When we start to believe that we can make all parts of life safe, that we can outsmart risk and danger at every turn, we stop participating in the parts of life that we view as still inherently risky.  The parts we haven’t solved yet.  But the truth is, it’s all a little risky.  This life is risky, from the precarious act of conception to our final breaths. 

But can I climb?

Acknowledging and accepting that there is risk, that I might not be safe, can I still climb?

Yes.  Yes son, you can climb.  Please climb that wall.  Please assess the risk and make sure you’ve taken all the appropriate precautions.  Please listen to the mentors ahead of you on your path and please check your impulses before proceeding.  But once you’ve done those things, it’s time to climb.  Climb even though you might lose your footing, or get a little hurt in the ascent.  Ask her even though she might say no, or worse, she might say yes and then break your heart.  Write it even though you might receive more rejection letters than you do junk mail. Travel even though you might lose your luggage or your passport.  Offer support and hope even though your actions might feel meaningless or your compassion taken advantage of.  Hike in the woods with the snakes and gaze at the stars with the mosquitoes and love deeply and dare bravely, because even though safety is never a guarantee, what is guaranteed to us all is a finish line.  So in the meantime, yes.  Yes, you can climb. 

You Don’t Have to Eat the Potato

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

We have this saying we use in our house, “you don’t have to eat the potato,”  that serves as a gentle, coded reminder that it’s okay to change course or back down in an argument (well, it used to be coded but now it’s on the Internet).  It comes from a Shakespearean play episode of The Amazing World of Gumball my ten year old was reading binge-watching in which the kids get in a fight with their parents, their parents refuse to do anything for them until they apologize, and rather than apologize or admit to wrong-doing, they resort to eating a raw potato for dinner.  When our family finds itself in the grips of stubborn conflict, one of use will say to the person who is doing the heel-digging (and though the role changes hands, it’s usually obvious in each situation who is doing the heel-digging), “you don’t have to eat the potato.”  It’s our way of saying that it is okay to let go, and further, you can let go without having to face an “I told you so.”  The action of dropping the potato and moving on is louder than words, and we will acknowledge it by moving on with you.  Sometimes in this life, we start to feel backed into a corner by an opinion we’ve held or a decision we’ve made and I want my kids to grow up in a home that acknowledges changing your mind or changing your course for what it is – courage.  

Before I pontificate all the ways I’ve mastered practiced this skill in my ten years of parenting (ten years people…surely that makes me an expert and my “10 Years of Service” plaque is in the mail), let me tell you that my experience with eating potatoes is vast and long.  I come from a long line of potato-eaters (who are, coincidentally, from Ireland).  I have actually seen a member of my family argue that the ocean was a river while in plain view of the ocean.  I spent my own entire childhood refusing to clean my room because “I liked it messy and I could find things easier that way.”  So, it’s not too surprising that I’m now raising a child who would rather eat a raw potato than change his point of a view and another whose favorite food is actually potatoes.  It’s also not surprising that my little potato eater’s most adamant point of heel digging is keeping a clean room.  

Folks, this kid’s room can reach epic proportions of messiness, and like I mentioned, I speak with some authority on the subject of messy bedrooms.  He likes to keep every toy he has played with in the last month in easy arm’s reach (all over the floor) and if you suggest that the toys may be easier to find or less likely to break if he puts them where they go, he will dig in further and assert that the toys are already where they go, and that he has “organized” them this way on purpose.  And it’s not just toys.  He also likes to keep all the things.  Get a new blender for Christmas?  Awesome, he’ll hang onto that box for you.  Broken remote control to the DVD player?  Sweet, that’ll come in handy.  You don’t want that copy of Gigliyou got in your family’s White Elephant exchange?  Oh, he does.  He definitely needs that.  When my little man was four years old, I went into his closet to get his laundry basket and found a pile of kitchen trash hidden behind it.  I’m talking actual food waste, like empty yogurt containers and apple sauce jars, items he had taken right out of the recycling bin and trash can.  I asked him why these things were in his closet and he did not have an answer for me.  We had a discussion about the importance of keeping food waste in the kitchen and I even tried some heavy-handed scare tactics about tracking bugs into his bedroom.  I left the room feeling confident that it would not happen again and also worried that I had not set aside enough money in my kids’ therapy savings accounts (it’s like a college savings account, but without the tax break) for treatment for severe hoarding.  I was wrong.  The next week, I found another pile of granola bar wrappers and banana peels on his closet floor.  I’m not going to lie.  At this point, I was fairly wrecked.  I was convinced that this was an early warning sign of a serious issue and I sat down with my son to get to the bottom of it.  Why was he stealing trash and hiding it?  How could we help?  And where had I gone wrong?  Finally, in his sweet four year old voice, he said, “I wanted to save it from the fire.”  The fire?  What fire?  “The fire where the trash goes mama.  I don’t want our trash to get hurt in the fire.  Like in the movie.”  The movie.  Sweet relief flooded over me as I remembered the scene in Toy Story 3where the toys are on a fast-track to the incinerator in the garbage dump.  My son was not a hoarder!  He wants to save the trash!  He’s being kind!  It took a lot of convincing and a little stretching of the truth (Did you know that all garbage dumps convert the waste into reusable energy?  Yeah, me neither.) but he agreed to leave the food waste where it belongs.  Flash forward three years though, and that’s about the only progress we’ve made on his messy room.

 Those toys look terrified.  I can see why my son wanted to rescue the trash.  
Thanks a lot Disney/Pixar.  I’ll send you the therapy bills.

But here’s what I’m learning about living with a potato eater.  He needs his course correction to come from a place of self-discovery.  This means that I need to take a backseat and let him figure some things out on his own.  Sometimes, I let his room go a little longer than I’m comfortable with myself, and he’ll lose something important to him, or break a toy, or step on something and get hurt.  In those moments I bite my tongue so hard it bleeds (because “I told you so” is the enemy of the potato eater) and wait.  More often than not, he’ll acknowledge that his room was too messy or the toy was in the way.  He’ll clear a path (which is not the same as cleaning but it’s progress) and put away the things of real and lasting value.  Yesterday, when we were doing our annual post-Christmas room clean/put away the new things/donate the things we are finished with ritual, he asked for my help (!) and even mentioned afterward that it was easier to play on his empty floor.  I nod and sometimes even add a little “That’s a great idea, I might try that in my room, thanks!”  Later, down the road, we’ll talk about how changing our minds is brave and wise, but for now, I’m treading lightly.  I’m learning that this tread lightly approach works with kids or spouses, friends or familyWhen faced with a potato eater, I can check my ego at the door, drop my own potato first and let go of my need to be right or verbally recognized.  It’s not about me anyway.

I was talking with a friend the other day about course-correcting and change and how it gets a bad rep even in our adult lives.  We were discussing the various incarnations of managing our kids’ chores.  In my house alone, we’ve had chore charts, chore tin cans with popsicle sticks, chore magnetic boards, chores on clothespins affixed to door hangers, a “Work for Hire” board, and the latest, a total re-branding of chores as “teamwork” that is incorporated into the boys’ daily lesson plans.  All of these systems work for awhile, until they don’t, and then I make a change.  I made some kind of self-disparaging and half-joking comment about my inability to make a system stick and my friend pointed out that if change is required to make the thing work, that’s not exactly a failure.  And she’s right, it’s not.   

 It’s hard to understand why no one has taken on any of these jobs.   
That’s a whole dollar for cleaning all the windows and mirrors.  A whole dollar!

There are people in this world who are remarkably adept at creating a routine that lasts.   You may know some of these people.  They wake at the same time every day, eat the same thing for breakfast, do the same exercise their entire adult lives and they thrive on this routine.  It works for them, so they don’t need to change it, and in fact, changing it could be detrimental to their overall quality of life.  Then there are the rest of us.  We start off strong but often falter and it is at the point of faltering where we can make an important decision.  Do we course correct or do we eat the potato?  Instead of claiming defeat or worse, digging our heels into the choice that is not working, can we redefine success to mean the ability to change our minds?  

As for our family, we’ll stick with our now not-so-secret phrase and keep creating a safe space for admitting we are wrong, changing our minds and changing course.  And I’m sure we’ll eat a few potatoes in the process.  Hopefully baked, with a lot of sour cream.  

Absolute Mayhem

Absolute Mayhem
Written and Illustrated by Kelly Suellentrop
Publisher: Striped Socks Publishing
IPN: 9780692311011
Category: Picture Book

Our culture is awash with declarations of love for weekends.  From the old TGIF catchphrase to the 80’s classic “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” there is little doubt that those 48 hours hold a very special place in our collective hearts.  They represent a respite from work and school, a chance to engage in the things we want to do with the people we love most, or even just an opportunity to sleep in.  And for Lulu and Milo, they mean absolute mayhem.

In Absolute Mayhem, we meet Lulu and Milo, two siblings who work hard all week to follow the rules, complete their schoolwork and eat their vegetables all in an effort to arrive at Friday where the rules go out the window and absolute mayhem ensues.  If you can imagine what your home would look like if weekends were a free-for-all, that gives you some idea of what you will find in the pages of this book.  What starts as innocent, imaginative fun quickly gets out of control and much like many a family feels at the end of summer vacation, everyone seems a little ready for routine again come Monday.  The illustrations range from black and white during the weekdays to increasingly colorful as the mayhem starts to spin out of control and are a great complement to the story.  My kids spent quite a while going back through the book after our initial reading to “explore the drawings” in more detail.  They were delighted when they did because they discovered new things as well as a hidden friend on all of the pages we missed the first time around.  

I’m particularly excited to share this book because it is self-published by a  first-time local author Kelly Suellentrop.  She shared more about the process behind the writing of this book in the Idea Chasers series.  One of the things she shared was that the idea for Absolute Mayhem came from her own children, and that to this day, when the whole family is home on Friday, someone yells out “absolute mayhem” and the fun begins.  Not long after reading this book I heard an interview with Jamie Oliver on NPR about his new cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, in which he confesses to eating primarily comfort foods on the weekends after a week of clean eating and I immediately thought of Absolute Mayhem and wondered if both he and Kelly weren’t onto something that I am absolutely missing.  Now I’m counting the minutes to this weekend and dreaming up my own version of absolute mayhem.