Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Adventures in Austin


We've had a great Spring Break vacation in Austin (well, really Lago Vista) the past few days.  The weather has been FANTASTIC, which was great because I had planned a lot of outdoor activities for our crew.  Also, the condo complex we are staying in has an abundance of deer everywhere.  The kids have been trying to get near enough to pet them and have spread out deer corn every night for the deer to eat.  They have all been so fascinated by seeing deer so close.

One of the best parts of the trip was getting together with one of my roommates from college.  We went to her ward on Sunday and then had dinner at her house afterwards.  It's amazing that we have been friends for 20 years this fall!  Oh, the stories we could tell on each other.  :)

Other Highlights:
-Westcave.  Zak and I both loved this hike, but the kids both felt it was "too educational" (I need a rolling eye emoji here).  If you want to see both the Uplands and the Grotto (the cool part with the cave and waterfall), you have to go on a guided tour.  The guide was so knowledgeable and gave us a lot of really interesting information as we hiked, but we did stop a lot and have to stay with the rest of the group.  The kids got a little bored listening for the endangered bird nesting in the area. 
-Hamilton Pool.  Definitely going to be doing this again.  You have to make reservations (and they only take cash), but the hike to Hamilton Pool is super short (even small kids could walk it) and it was beautiful.  I'm sure it's fun to swim, but the water was about 55 degrees so we didn't attempt it.  We then hiked down to the Pedernales River (about 3/4 mile each way).  The big kids ran ahead of us most of the time and loved throwing rocks into the river and attempting to skip them across the water.

-Salt Lick BBQ. This was on our bucket list of restaurants after hearing lots of recommendations and it didn't disappoint.  The BBQ sauce was amazing.

-Via 313.  This used to just be a food truck, but there's now a brick and mortar restaurant as well.  Recommended by my roommate, Katie.  It's Detroit style pizza-I didn't even know that was a thing.  Deep dish with the red sauce on top.  This was delicious. Close to the best pizza I've ever had. 

-Zilker Park.  The Science and Nature Center at Zilker Park is pretty much always on our list of to-dos when we bring the kids to Austin.  Free, fun, animals, wading in a stream...

-The Capitol Building.  Storey said this was the worst part of the day for her, but the rest of us enjoyed getting to see where the Texas Senators and House of Representatives meet. Storey claims that Spring Break should include no education whatsoever.  But she rolled down a couple of hills and did some cartwheels so it wasn't all bad.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018



Pretty sure like two people still read this blog.  Maybe not even that many.  I haven't written much in the past two years.  Instead I've driven back and forth to hundreds of therapy and doctor's appointments (a thousand?  maybe), collected a dozen more diagnoses for various kids, and spent some time (but never enough) in the Disney parks.  I recently made a goal to write again.  Not sure what that means or how often, but I'm starting today.

Last week, Zak and I sat down with a lawyer to discuss setting up a special needs trust for Mabel.   When we die (hopefully not anytime soon), Mabel can't directly inherit any money because then she won't qualify for either social security or Medicaid, so we have to make a plan for that.   I can honestly say that it's not something I ever pictured doing as a parent.  Sitting in a room, planning a future for a child that will never be able to live independently.   It.is.daunting.  Normal people have to name a guardian in a will, but we have to discuss who will be a guardian for our adult child when we die eventually.   Will Storey be in a place where she can take on that responsibility?  Is that fair to do to a sibling?  So many heavy questions.  And thinking about hard future things that I usually try to avoid. 

Avoiding is my coping mechanism. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Page Turners Book Club (PLUS DADS)-Click Here To Start by Denis Markell


Back in January, the girls and I spent a few minutes going over our goals for book club this year.  What genres of books did they want to read?  Should we have any themed book club meetings?  Should we invite anyone else to join us?  It was decided to hold a father/daughter book club meeting and a mother/daughter book club meeting (that one is coming up in April).

It was a little terrifying asking a bunch of grown men to please read a middle grade novel, so I knew the pressure was on to find something they wouldn't roll their eyes at and would (hopefully) enjoy.  I read Click Here To Start and then handed it to Zak to have him read it and let me know what he thought.  He gave it two thumbs up and then headed off to the computer to look for online escape rooms to play. 

As one of the dads put it at our meeting this month, Click Here To Start is like Sherlock Holmes meets online escape rooms.  It is a quick read and full of twists and clues that the main character, Ted and his friends, Caleb and Isabel have to solve.  One of the girls compared this group of friends to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which was a great text to text that I hadn't thought of before. 

A favorite part of this meeting (besides all the dads doing an awesome job of participating) was the dad/daughter book talk at the beginning.  They did a great job and then the dads/daughters in the group gave them a bunch of recommendations based off of their book talk.  So cool.  Maybe I should invite dads every month?  It's so good for kids to see their parents reading and I think it was really beneficial to have them join us.  Can't wait for mother/daughter book club in April. 

Here's the link to the lesson plan for Click Here to Start book club.

During our meeting we discussed the historical events that were brought up in this novel.  Mostly the Japanese Internment Camps, but also touched briefly on the Monument Men (p.s. if you have readers this age interested in the Monument Men, hand them Under the Egg).  If I was to plan this meeting again, I definitely would create a slideshow or something beforehand with pictures of the Japanese internment camps so it would be easier to visualize the living conditions.  Thank goodness one of the dads had visited the site of one of the camps last year and had several pictures on his iPad.  So interesting to see. 

The Page Turners Book Club-Click'd by Tamara Ireland Stone


Click'd is everything that's awesome about middle grade literature.  It was empowering, touched on how tough social interactions are during this stage of life, and showed a character dealing with a moral dilemma that was tricky.  And to top it off, the girl protagonist is heavily involved in coding.  YES. This is what I want girls to read about!

Allie creates an app at coding summer camp that she is certain is going to change how friendships are created AND win a competition.  Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned and her app begins causing more problems than she anticipated, both within her own friendships and around the school.   I just love that Stone has paired something that girls this age can completely relate to (friend drama) with something they probably don't read much about (coding apps).  So. Good.

Here's the link to the lesson plan for Click'd.  

Definitely the favorite part of the book club meeting was when I passed out the quiz (part of the lesson plan above) and had the girls play "Click'd" but without the app.  We figured out who would be first one everyone's board and it was just fun.  Sadly, none of the girls decided that they were going to rush home and start coding after they read this, but I'm hoping it planted a little seed that computer stuff isn't just for boys. 

The Page Turners Book Club-The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson


We skipped the month of November (book club is usually towards the end of the month and it was too hard to cram in a meeting after Thanksgiving with everything else my family had going on) and I assigned a short/quick book for December because our meeting was more of a party than a regular meeting.

Book Club Party:
I didn't assign a book talk for this month.  We spent a couple of minutes talking about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (which, by the way, is an AWESOME read aloud if you are ever looking for one.  Even adults will like this one as it's funny and touching).  I let the girls know that there is a made for tv movie based off it from the 80s and they should all find it and watch it over Christmas.  They were super excited.

First we did a book exchange.  Each of the girls were told to being a wrapped book.  It didn't need to be new (in fact I directed them to the local Goodwill which has an awesome selections) and they could even pull something off their shelves that they enjoyed.   It needed to be a good book they thought other girls would enjoy.  We then played an exchange game.  Each girl started with her own book in front of her.  Then I would read a line that described someone (example: pass the book to somebody blonde) and the girls would all pass it to a person that fit that description.  Sometimes one girl would end up with all the books in front of her that round, but I made sure that by the end of the exchange, each girl had one book in front of her.  It was really fun and I would highly recommend!  I got the little poems I used from this link but I didn't follow her rules to play the game (she has you unwrap a layer each round to find the next verse of the poem and I just had all of the girls play and I read out each line).

I then passed around a bucket with bookish questions in it and had the girl who drew the question answer it.  They were things like "what is the book you've read the most frequently?", "name one book you really can't stand",  and "what character in a book would you most like to be?" (most of the girls wanted to be Hermione and I don't blame them).  Here's the link to the questions to print off.

I had handpicked and purchased books for each of the girls (from Goodwill) that I knew they hadn't read it but thought they would each enjoy so passed those out and then we had our book club treat (I provided this-it was Christmas cookies).

I definitely plan on making every December a book club party month rather than the normal discussion.  Next year I'm thinking about doing a "blind date with a book" rather than picking out books specific to the girls.  We shall see.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Page Turners Book Club-Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise


Dying To Meet You is the first in the 43 Cemetery Road series.  It's an "illustrated mystery" about Ignatius B. Grumply, who moves into an old mansion only to find it's already inhabited by an abandoned boy and a (friendly, non scary) ghost.  It's a SUPER quick read.  I liked it for these girls because it introduced them to another way that someone can author a story; as a collection of letters, emails, floor plans, and pictures. 

And it was perfect for October (Halloween!) because of the ghost.  Again, not a scary ghost.  The girls all enjoyed this book and many of them have continued to read the rest of the series or other books (written in the same style) by Kate Klise like Regarding the Fountain.  They loved discussing the little details like the punny character names throughout the book.

Here's the link for the Dying To Meet You book club lesson plan.

Running Out Of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix


I LOVE this author.  She's written a series called Among the Hidden that I highly recommend for any kid who is a reluctant reader or is interested in books like The Hunger Games but is a little young for them. 

Running Out Of Time was a favorite of all the girls.  It has a couple of twists that make it really fun and exciting to read.  It's about a girl named Jessie and her family that live in Clifton, Indiana in 1840.  Or so she thinks.   The plot is a bit like the movie The Village.  Only way less scary (I promise it's appropriate for 4th-6th graders). 

I didn't do any kind of activity with this book, just discussion.  It was fun to look back and see if there was any foreshadowing in the story before the big reveal that hinted towards the twist (I'd tell you more but I don't want to spoil it!).  This book is a great segway into some of her other novels, like the Among the Hidden series or The Palace Chronicles

Here's the link for the Running Out of Time book club lesson plan.

The Page Turners Book Club-Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa De Los Santos and David Teague


There was a bit of controversy in our book club about Saving Lucas Biggs.  I LOVED it and so did most of the girls, but my daughter HATED it. It made for a heated discussion, though I'm still not quite sure why she didn't like it.

I had read prior to choosing the book that it might be a bit confusing for younger readers because it flips back and forth between narrators and time periods (though it is clearly labeled at the beginning of each chapter).  My daughter is one of the youngest book club members, so maybe that's the reason?  I might avoid this one if your book club is mostly 4th graders.

Saving Lucas Biggs tells the story of Margaret, whose father has been sentenced to death for a crime she's convinced he didn't do.   By using the "family curse", she's able to travel back in time to find out if she can save her father and the town.

Here's the link to the book club lesson plan.

We were able to get through some of the discussion questions listed, but a lot of our meeting was spent on favorite characters and why people loved/hated the book.  I really want to read the other book that these two wrote together, Connect the Stars. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Page Turners Book Club-Real Friends by Shannon Hale


My daughter really loves graphic novels so when I read this one, I knew it would be perfect for book club.  It's based on Shannon Hale's elementary school experience with friends-a non-fiction graphic novel.  How cool is that?!?!

Lesson plan for Real Friends.

This lesson plan was not nearly as long as some of the other months because I knew the girls would have LOTS to say about this book.  It really parallels a lot of the things they experience in school every day. 

The Page Turners Book Club-Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper


Out of My Mind is an incredible book about a girl (Melody) who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal.  It is written from her perspective (hence, the title) and really helps the reader realize that we underestimate those we come in contact with that may have disabilities.  

Here is a link to the Out of My Mind book club lesson plan.

There is an activity at the end of the lesson plan that we didn't actually get around to doing because we had such a long discussion.  It was wonderful-we talked about kindness, people with disabilities, how we often don't realize the potential of those around us, and how to be a good friend.  Perfect for these girls as they navigate the murky waters of 4th-6th grade social life. 

The Page Turners Book Club-May B by Caroline Starr Rose


The first month of book club, we read May B by Caroline Starr Rose.  I really try to expose the girls to a variety of books and genres.  This historical fiction novel is written in verse.  It has a strong female protagonist and reminded me a bit of a kid version of These Is My Words (a book I loved).

Here's the link to my lesson plan for the May B book club.  

We watched a video to see what a soddy looked like and spent the entire book club sitting on the floor in an area that was marked out the same size that a soddy would have been.  It really gave a cool perspective on how little room these homes were!

This book was a great jumping off point for book club because it was a quick read and super interesting/exciting.  The girls all loved it and started trusting my recommendations,  something that is pretty important if I'm the one picking the books each month!

I read about this too late, but apparently this author will do Skype visits for book clubs!  Here's the link if you want to try and snag one: https://carolinestarrrose.com/author-visits/

The Page Turners Book Club-An Intro


When my daughter (a voracious reader) was about to enter 4th grade, I decided that I really wanted to start a book club for a bunch of girls in the neighborhood that also love to read.  It was partly for selfish reasons.  I happen to love middle grade literature and I love this age group (taught 6th grade for several years).  The fact that I was "forced" to spend more time researching and reading middle grade books??!?  Well, twist my arm.

I invited 8 girls to join us.  All of them in 4th-6th grade and all girls that I knew really liked to read.  The 4th grade girls were really strong readers, which I think is important to know-especially since the club also involves 6th graders. 

The format of every meeting is the same.  I assign one girl to do a book talk and one to bring a snack each month (I email this assignment when I send out the book pick the month before book club).

The schedule:
7-7:15pm  Book Talk-the assigned girl tells us about three books she recommends and then the other girls can spend a couple of minutes recommending books based on her likes that they think she would want to read. 

7:15-7:45pm Discuss book of the month. 

7:45-7:50pm Introduce book for next month

7:50-8pm  Eat snack provided by the assigned girl and "check out" new books from my home library.  I let each girl borrow two books at a time from my library (I own TONS of books).

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Daily Mabel #34



I don't think Mabel had ever seen a book before coming home with us.  She's still not quite sure what the hype is all about and mostly tries to close the books or rip the pages when we are reading to her, but every once in awhile I catch her flipping through board books on her own.  Even better is when she's babbling to herself as she turns the pages.  I'm determined to make up for the last two years without reading material!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Daily Mabel $33



Storey is starting to learn that she can't be in Mabel's face as much as she'd like and Mabel is learning to tolerate the extra, sometimes unwanted, attention. 

Mabel was not a huge fan of sitting in the grass at first, but Storey built her a "fort" and played peek a boo, which distracted Mabel just enough to help her forget about the itchy grass.  By the time she remembered, it apparently no longer bothered her. 

Storey has been a great therapist for Jakson for the past seven years and is on track to be the same for Mabel.


Good thing we've got Storey.

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