New Review on Brain Burps: The Obstinate Pen

June 27, 2012

Don’t you love it already? A book called The Obstinate Pen? Will you love it even more when I tell you that, because of this book, Henry and Eli now insult each other by saying, “You’re a yam-headed organ grinder!”?

I would like to start some petition that 62% of the children’s books published every year contain at least one word that the children — and maybe the grownups — need to look up in the dictionary.

Anyway! Check out my review on Katie Davis’s podcast today. More info about the episode is here, or subscribe in iTunes here. Enjoy!



Reading is Magic

June 26, 2012

Reading is Magic. From World of JulieI’ve always loved reading. This isn’t a surprise, really. Not a big revelation to you all. It’s sort of like saying, “Breathing is awesome.”

But I never realized just how awesome breathing reading really is until I had kids. Now, sure, I spent entire weekends reading when I was a kid. But there’s something about watching my kids transported by reading – it makes me feel like a magician. And we all need more magic in our lives. And it’s a huge ego boost to be the one wielding the wand (um, book).

I still smile when I think of the way my kids cheered – like, hollered, “HOORAY!” and pumped their fists in their air, which I always thought was sort of a self-conscious reaction to something, but turns out it can be completely natural – when we got to the climax of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. And they still, 7 months after we finished it, are building Peter Nimble Lego scenes, or saying, in casual conversation, “That guy kind of sounds like Old Scabbs.”

Any chapter book we read is sure to lead to extended role playing. Often a mash-up: “Let’s play The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Lunch Lady and Babymouse and Our Only May Amelia. How about Babymouse and May Amelia go through the wardrobe and fight the White Witch, but then Lunch Lady comes and saves them?” These characters and stories are so real to them. Writers are brilliant. They are able to create these people and creatures that live and breathe in our minds. We cheer when they win, and we rage and cry when they die (thanks a lot for that, Jennifer L. Holm).

Today we finished The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I am so grateful that I’m in a situation where I can start a book, and we can collectively declare it so excellent that we can decide to read it all in one day. Except that it took us two days. It would have taken one day if we didn’t have to keep stopping to laugh (also, it’s 423 pages long). I’m not even going to describe this book to you, except to tell you to just go read it because it’s very silly, brilliantly written, hysterically funny, and features completely improbable situations and characters that are now so real to all of us that I would know them if I saw them on the street, and would invite them to dinner (and know what to feed them). And more than that, we love them. We want them to move in.

Books are magic. Reading is alchemy. I feel like I’ve bumbled at parenting, but then I look over at my four kids (only one of whom can actually, fluently read) and they are all nose-deep in books, and I feel like I’m doing something right. (And this isn’t even talking about the magic of non-fiction, without which we wouldn’t have been able to fix the car this past weekend, which was pretty magical right there, let me tell you.)

I leave you with this, the True Meaning of Smekday book trailer:



Latest Innovations in our Household

June 25, 2012

Remember how I started drinking coffee? And how suddenly I became productive? I know you want to see what exactly all that coffee has led to. Here are three things, in order of how much coffee it took to complete them.

Provide Cheerios for your boys to throw into the toilet, and they won't pee all over the bathroom. From World of Julie

1. (1 cup of coffee) Who knew it was this simple? For years I’ve been enduring puddles on the floor and gross…well, just grossness on the back of the toilet. But you know, I don’t really understand fully how all the boy equipment works. I thought maybe it was an uncontrollable thing? The all-over spraying? I tried to teach them to clean up after themselves, but that wasn’t really working. Turns out all it takes is a sign and a bowl of Cheerios. Done! (And I’m totally kicking myself for not seeing the possibility of “Peerios” until two days after making the sign.)

A sign on the door tells the neighbor kids when you are homeschooling. From World of Julie

2. (1.5 cups of coffee) We are homeschooling over the summer. Mostly because, this being our first year homeschooling, I kind of did it wrong for the first 11 months, and if we stopped now, we’d all forget any of the things we happened to do right. I didn’t realize, though, that the neighborhood kids would have trouble grasping this concept. Which makes sense, really, since they’re on summer break. But that doesn’t mean they can swing on the swings in our backyard while we’re doing math. Or keep yelling my kids’ names into the front windows.

The extremely helpful community at the Hip Homeschool Moms Facebook page told me to make a sign. And I’m always looking for a reason to use my laminator. This was as astonishingly effective as the bowl of Cheerios on the back of the toilet. Sign went up, and no one bothered us. Done.

Sturdy gate at the end of your driveway keeps your kids in, other kids out. If that's what you want. From World of Julie

3. (4 cups of coffee) I’m trying to figure out how to word this so I don’t sound like I hate everyone in my neighborhood. Because I don’t! Really! I truly, truly love how many kids are in our neighborhood. We used to live on a street where no one left their houses during the day, and it was like living in a sad little ghost town. Where we are now, people are walking around and planting things and chatting on the sidewalk, and it makes me so happy.

I love kids. I wouldn’t have had four of them if I didn’t. But you know what? I have four kids. And sometimes I can barely attend to them. And then they are all miraculously occupied, and I sit down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper and suddenly there’s a kid I’m not sure I’ve seen before, standing in my garden, peering into my dining room window. Hello! Please leave!

Look, I know we have a really smooth driveway and a basketball hoop and an awesome huge playset. But, um: we have that stuff for our kids. And you all can use it, but ask first, ok? It totally stresses me out to be wearing my bathrobe and snipping at my kids about the importance of breakfast, and then turn around to see some kind of scooter gang doing figure 8s in the driveway.

Ok, breathe out. Also let’s not forget that we have wee children who shouldn’t let their newfound tricycling skills propel them into the middle of the street.

We’ve discussed various driveway barriers for years, but nothing really seemed feasible until I saw a picture of a free-standing gate somewhere. The hardware store sold single pickets, so we could build a custom-length fence that matches the fence on the other side of our house. This took us about 2 hours once we had all the materials at home. We still need to paint it, and I think we might put locking casters on the bottom to make it easier to move and get bikes out when we want to (you can still squeeze around the side, technically).

But now we have a nice fence that keeps balls and trikes in, and gives us some privacy. Done.

CATEGORIES: homeschool, housekeeping

Happy Birthday, Zuzu!

June 14, 2012

Today we fete Zuzu, who is now 4 (and also celebrate this fun brief time when, until August, we have kids who are 2, 4, 6, and 8 years old). We are making cherry cupcakes today, since apparently cherry cupcakes mean birthday. For her birthday dinner she requested:

  • meatballs
  • broccoli, for the people who want broccoli
  • carrots, for the people who want carrots, not me though, make sure you put down ‘NOT ZUZU’
  • smoothies
  • berries
  • salad for the grownups
  • bread with butter.

Sounds good to me. And I’ll leave you with this, which you’re going to have to view as a rare white unicorn glimpsed in the forest (I used to say “it’s like seeing Snuffleupagus” until I found out that now everyone can see Snuffleupagus). Zuzu often picks up a book, and reads it to herself in this incredibly hilarious (to us) fashion, making up the story based only loosely on the pictures and more on what people are saying near her at the time, and whatever else might be going through her head. We all, all of us, here, love watching her do this, BUT…if she knows she’s being watched, she stops immediately. Last week I saw her reading to herself in this manner, and tried to get a video, but I was too far away, and next to the humming aquarium, so you can’t really hear her. But you can get a sense of the drama involved, perhaps. (The drama of her reading, I mean.) (Though also maybe I mean the drama of stalking my children as I hide amongst the furniture, careful not to disturb them in their native habitat.)



Chalkboard Labels on Jars

June 8, 2012

Chalkboard paint on jars makes cute labels -- from World of JulieSometimes, when life gets completely messy or disheveled, I just need to take one thing, one small thing, and organize it. We had a big fruit-and-nut area that tended to be a mess of Trader Joe’s bags clamped shut with clips. I spent 20 minutes one day putting everything in jars. And then I remembered something I had seen somewhere, something about painting on chalkboard paint so you can make labels.

This makes me so happy. I followed the directions on Instructables (make a square on the jar out of blue painter’s tape, paint on chalkboard paint, peel off tape when the paint’s dry and razor off any paint that feathered). It honestly didn’t take that long.

And so pretty!


CATEGORIES: crafts, housekeeping

Coffee: A New Way to be Not Tired!

June 4, 2012
this used to be a bathroom

Give me some caffeine, and this what I can do.

Yeah! So! Yeah!

Let’s review the past 9 years!

  • December 2002: I get pregnant. Give up coffee like the books scared me into doing (also, was barfing too much to ingest much of anything).
  • January 2003: Dave tells me, in the nicest way possible, that I am much less bitchy without caffeine.
  • 2003: Henry is born! And he never sleeps. Ever. I am too frightened to drink coffee again, afraid that he’ll get a caffeine molecule and, improbably, sleep even less.
  • 2006-2010: I have another kid, then another, and then another.

Sleep doesn’t really happen at all anywhere in there. Yet I don’t drink coffee. Well, I do. I drink decaf. Because I love coffee. The taste, the ritual, the warm mug. All that. (Also the leftover coffee you can make into iced coffee after lunch.) But the kids don’t sleep, so I don’t sleep, and I continue to view caffeine as the Monster Under the Bed who will pinch at their toes if I dare to take a sip.

Then, last week, Dave and I were having Yet Another Conversation about how I have all sorts of lovely intentions, but I never do any of them. That, at the end of the day, I wonder what I did at all. And that it makes me feel like a lame-o.

And the universe spoke. It said: DRINK COFFEE. DRINK REAL COFFEE, JULIE.

And I did! I did! And then I went crazy. I cleaned the house and challenged Dave to a game of basketball even though he’s a foot taller than me (I lost, but got a respectable number of baskets), and then we demolished part of our house! And now I speak only in exclamations!

What took me so long? Why didn’t anyone tell me, remind me, that coffee will make me less tired? That I might get more done?

Hello, joe. I missed you.




June 1, 2012

Last week we finished up our year at our homeschool co-op. One of the best parts was that Eli got to be in a drama class that lasted the whole year. He took to the stage like nobody’s business.

They worked so hard on their year-end plays. Here’s Eli before going on as the Traveler in the Aesop’s fable “The North Wind and the Sun.” Such concentration.

And here he is right after, so happy that he did it, smiling and moving too fast for me to get a non-blurry photo.

Eli after his play