Friday, September 25, 2009

This Is What Happens When You (Actually I) Blog at 5:30 AM

It seems I'm having trouble linking to the NY Times article about Jan Brett and her fabulous life, home in the Berkshires, and show chickens. I'll try again soon. Happy weekend!

Not So Starving Artist

I've always loved Jan Brett's books, especially The Mitten and the Christmasy ones. This piece in the NY Times makes me like her all the more. It also makes me a little jealous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Frog and Toad Are Friends of Mine!

Recently I found myself shopping for a small gift to give a three year old girl who just became a big sister. Arnold Lobel's sweet and funny Frog and Toad Are Friends fit the bill perfectly. When my six year old son came home from school last week saying he needs to read for twenty minutes each day as homework, I headed to the library to check out a whole stack of Frog and Toad books. When he saw them, Ethan told me, "You rock, Mom!" I'm sorry, but life doesn't get much sweeter than that. Although listening to him giggle his way through Frog and Toad Together last night was pretty great also. He loved how Toad lost his mind when he lost his list of things to do. Toad couldn't chase after the list because that wasn't one of the things written on the list of things to do. Don't we all love a good neurotic?! Arnold Lobel was a genius, and by the way, he illustrated the Miss Suzy book I mentioned back in Old School week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Foodie Friday During Old School Week

School is back in session, and no matter what I pack in my kids' school lunches, they get off the school bus, "Starving!" and "Sooooo Hungry!" Therefore, the topic of after school snacks has been much on our minds and in our conversations. These children are not satisfied with what was a perfectly acceptable after school nosh when I was a kid: pretzels and juice. They want cheeses and nuts, pomegranates and petit fours. Well, maybe they're not that demanding, but still...

While I was lecturing them recently on this topic, they reminded me that Harriet from Harriet the Spy ate a slice of cake and a glass of milk after school every single day. While they all love cake, they did think a slice of it each day would get old.

Then Ethan told me about an "old fashioned snack kids ate a really long time ago." He went on to explain how moms in the olden days would put peanut butter and sometimes raisins inside a stalk of celery. This was all related in a "Can you imagine?" sort of way. Can I imagine? Those ants on a log, while never a staple in the house I grew up in, showed up regularly at class parties and friends' houses in my youth. That is an old school snack never to show up again in schools with all of the nut allergy awareness these day.

I've got cucumber slices, grapes, and Ritz crackers ready for when my kids come home today. A tall stack of Ritz crackers was a favorite after school snack for me years ago. What was your favorite after school snack?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Look Out, Container Store; We're Talking Old School Storage Today

One hot, steamy day in August, my sister and I took my three kids on a field trip of sorts. We left New Jersey and took public transportation into Brooklyn. Once there, we visited my sister-in-law and her scrumptiously adorable new baby boy. We all went out to lunch together, and my kids whispered to me that we have to buy Mo Willems' Knufflebunny for the baby because his neighborhood looks just like the one in the book. Plus it's really funny. That's one blank filled on my Christmas shopping list. After lunch, we left my sister-in-law and her perfect boy and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was interesting, fun, and ridiculously hot. I believe I told the kids my underwear was so sweaty you could grow rice in it. Or something like that. Once we made it to midtown Manhattan, we stopped in every place we thought might be air conditioned. One of those places was an old fashioned tobacconist shop. It had a wooden Indian outside and everything. I don't smoke and never have, but oh, the smell of pipe tobacco is divine. Combine it with air conditioning on a hot humid day, and I could have moved in. While my sister and I inhaled as deeply as possible and perused the tobacco products and their accoutrements, my three kids asked the salesmen if they had any extra empty cigar boxes. A very nice tobacconist (talk about old school words) led them into a room sized humidor to make their selections.
I'm not glorifying cigar smoking. In fact, I think it's nasty. But cigar boxes are magical. They seem made for holding collections even more than for holding cigars. They are perfect for stamps, baseball cards, comic books, video games, rocks, shells, photographs, paperback novels, coins, even buttons. Yes, that's my daughter's button collection shown above. There is something timeless about wooden and cardboard boxes with hinged lids and gold seals, pictures of Spanish ladies and foreign writing. Who needs Ikea or WalMart for storage solutions? Cheap plastic boxes hold cheap stuff; cigar boxes house treasures.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Old School Week Spirals On

Did you Spirograph as a kid? That little construction right there, turning a noun into a verb, is pretty new school, so maybe I shouldn't have used it during Old School Week here, but actually, it's more about classic old books and products, not about writing in a retro style, so I'll repeat. Did you Spirograph as a kid? I did. I loved putting the little circle inside the big circle, sticking a ballpoint pen in the middle and making hippy dippy trancey spiral designs. As it turns out, all of those designs have definite mathematical formulas, but I never bothered with that aspect of the activity. I just liked decorating my notebooks, folders, and any piece of scrap paper I could find. The version I had back in the 1970s was put out by Hasbro and could keep me entertained for hours. A few years ago, my daughter received the "Hypotrochoid Art Set" pictured above as a birthday gift and fell in love with it. I hunted it down on the Internet (definitely not how my original set was purchased back in the day) and bought several to give as gifts at birthday parties. Patina Stores sells it for $7.95. By the way, Patina Stores has lots of other fun and sometimes retro gift items for the tweens and teenagers you occasionally shop for. Klutz books has The Spiral Draw Book which includes spiral wheels and pens but apparently it is not as easy to use and is more expensive than the Hypotrochoid Art Set. Therefore, I've only given you the link to Patina Stores. Have fun!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Old School Week

My son' s homework for first grade this weekend was to find his favorite book from home to bring to school and share with his classmates. The students are not expected to read the books to the class, just share why they like them. I think that's great; I love a good book talk. The assignment got my husband and I talking about favorite books of ours from when we were Ethan's age. We both loved Caps for Sale. Who doesn't? We both remembered a book about an old man whose beard grows so long that birds build nests in it, but unfortunately we could not remember the title. Bill remembers loving Millions of Cats. That book never really did it for me, but oh, how I loved Miss Suzy! I dreamed of that book as a girl and read it so much! It is the story of a gray squirrel who is driven out of her oak tree home by some very mean red squirrels. Thank heavens she finds a doll house to live in and some toy soldiers to befriend. I haven't read it in years, but am now inspired to find a copy. Ethan chose the first Nate the Great book to share with his fellow first graders. All this strolling down literary memory lane has made me declare this Old School Week here at the Book Bench, celebrating books and things I loved back in the day-o. Feel free to comment with your old school favorites!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Fair Is A Veritable Smorgasbord

I had to give this post that title up there because it comes from my favorite song in Charlotte's Web, but this post really isn't about that kind of fair and would be more aptly titled, "Evidence of Our Collective Nerdiness." Over the summer, my youngest son read #35 of Mary Pope Osborne's 7,000 Magic Tree House books. This one is Night of the New Magicians. In it, those

time travelling, clue finding siblings, Jack and Annie, travel to the Paris World's Fair of 1889. At the same time, I was reading Richard Peck's Fair Weather about the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 held in Chicago. I've been fascinated by that World's Fair ever since I first learned of it when my book club read Erik Larson's wonderful The Devil in the White City several years ago. Fair Weatheris written for a much younger audience. I'd say it is perfect for nine to twelve year olds and humorously tells the tale of a humble farming family who end up at the fair with their wealthy aunt.

So we've read some books about World's Fairs. That should be it. End of story. But not in this household! My six year old Ethan decided we needed to hold a Family Fair with exhibitions all over the house. Because they love anything that involves crafts and glue and headaches for me, the other two kids were all over that idea like white on rice. I eventually agreed and set some ground rules. The exhibits had to be contained in bedrooms and last no more than ten minutes. We had about three days to prepare and it turned out to be really fun. Inspired by the scientists at the Paris Fair, Ethan gave us a quasi-science/magic show. nine year old Hayden donned a kimono and put together an impressive origami display, and ten year old Aaron set up Matchbox track all over his bedroom and gave us all marbles to try out his ramps and then allowed us to build our own. My husband and I each put on lame little exhibits. The children appreciated the fact that we tried, but they clearly outdid us. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it all was, and that is as close as this house will ever get to homeschooling.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

My children boarded the school buses for the first time this year less than an hour ago. While I should be doing research and writing lesson plans for my return to work as a high school English teacher next week, I first need to blog the lump out of my throat. I am pretty blue this morning. My baby is headed to first grade! How can that be? Plus, it was a really fun summer packed with swimming, bike rides, ice pops, and loafing around. While I'm kind of sad, I am caught up in the excitement of the new school year and am happy that my kids all left with big smiles on their faces. Really big ones. Look:

I like that picture, but I recently read an article about taking back to school photos that describes just that pose as cliche and expected. The article suggested taking photos of backpacks, school lunches, or shoes lined up at the door. Eh. Our backpacks aren't too inspiring

and you don't want to see the state of my boys' shoes. so I lined up the family water bottles, and while that picture may say "Make love not landfills," it doesn't say "Back to School."

The older kids each were asked to bring a book for pleasure reading to school today. Lucky public school kids! Let me say I attended Catholic schools until college and was never told to bring a book for pleasure reading or do anything else pleasurable for that matter. Maybe a photo of the books would be a nice non-cliche memory, but my ten year old son was still hemming and hawing between Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from The Wayside School and a nonfiction book called The Kid Who Invented Popsicles as we walked out the door this morning. This is what my nine year old daughter packed:

She absolutely loves the wickedly evil pixie Opal Koboi in Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books. It's a nice cover, but that shot doesn't scream "School Days" either. I believe the following picture does capture the essence of beginning school in September 2009. It is of what I think is the most important school supply my children have with them today, because as I was shouting "I love you! Have a great day!" what I was really thinking this morning as they got on those buses was "I love you, and don't you dare bring home swine flu!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here Comes Fall

It's T minus four days until my kids go back to school. Fortunately we've had a bit of a cool snap here in northern New Jersey which makes the idea of school seem logical rather than horrible. We've had a week of weather that makes you grab a sweater and think about apple picking and high school football games. The cool days inspired a bit of organization. Don't worry- it didn't result in full on fall cleaning. We straightened up a bit and returned all of the library books, audio books, and DVDs we've amassed this summer. So long, Artemis Fowl. Fare thee well, Geronimo Stilton. Now I need to dust around the book bench, dagnabbit! The kids and I also made our annual school supply shopping trip armed with lists mailed to us by their teachers. I could get on my high horse about suburban teachers requiring expensive and hard to find items like twistable colored pencils, but frankly that high horse is exhausted. Fortunately, the whole $5.49 twistable colored pencil thing didn't kill the joy I get from sniffing new notebooks and organizing folders and loose leaf paper.

One other side effect of this autumnal weather is that it has inspired a whole rash of play dates. My kids have been hanging out with friends like crazy before homework and soccer practice get in the way. A few days ago, I had three boys building a fort in my yard and three girls playing "Adoption Center" with baby dolls in the house. And while I know it would have made Gloria Steinem wince, I let everyone stay in their little gender role boxes. In fact, I eavesdropped a bit on the adoption center, and it was more compelling than any soap opera I have ever seen! After that, I provided conditioner for a Barbie makeover. Yesterday, it was girls baking cupcakes in the kitchen while little boys ran through the room with paper towel tube light sabers. I tried to mix it up some by having the boys help decorate the cupcakes. They did so while saying, "Sayonara, sucker!" to every sprinkle they ate and by coming up with synonyms for "constipation" and "diarrhea." Won't their language arts teachers be pleased with their verbal skills next week?

Here's hoping that the weather stays cool enough that they don't resent climbing aboard the big yellow bus next week, but not so cool that it ruins recess, because everyone knows that recess is the best part of the day!