Pragmatic Mom

February 1, 2010

Valentine’s Gift Ideas for Adults

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching.  If you celebrate with gifts, here are a few suggestions.  We rarely do gift exchanges, but now that I I’m looking at those chocolates, I’m rethinking that!  It could be a gift to share!  I welcome your suggestions for gift ideas!!!

I’ve had these amazing but tiny chocolates and they’re the best chocolates I’ve had in my life.  Burdick Chocolate.  Handmade, artisanal chocolates.  Shipping everywhere available.

Val Day Chocolate Assortments
Our traditional wood box tied with a festive silk ribbon and a heart-shaped wax seal, holds our hand-packed assortment and chocolate mice. Classic gift assortments are a perfect way to send many different Valentine’s Day messages. Large: Aprx 64 pieces and 2 mice. Medium: Aprx 32 pieces and 2 mice. Small: Aprx 16 pieces and 1 mouse. Petite Assortments are also available when you have several people to buy for!
Valentine’s Day Gift Selections will be available for shipping 2/1/10 through 2/22/10.

Pandigital PAN7000DW 7-Inch Digital Picture Frame in black  for $64.95

This 3dots viscose turtleneck is a great layer to dress up or down. Also comes in Bordeaux.   $66.

How Soccer Explains the World:  An Unlikely Theory for Globalization by Franklin Foer.  For a soccer fan.

Horse Soldiers:  The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton.  For a political science jock.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is the sequel to the run-away best seller Eat, Pray, Love which is soon to be a movie!  Every woman should have her first book in their library and these books fit a Valentine’s theme!

The Art of Putting : The Revolutionary Feel-Based System for Improving Your Score by Matthew Rudy.  For a golf nut.

January 31, 2010

6th Grade Science Projects

My Dad Friend had previously suggested The Birds and Bees Sex Talk which was very popular  so I have been hounding him for other topic suggestions since he seems to have his pulse on parenting issues.  His 6th grader just had a Science Fair Day where everyone exhibited their science projects and I bugged him so much he actually blackberried me the projects he saw as he walked around the room.

And here they are, plus a few more that I added.  And might I add that there are a lot of Science Project websites out there in cyberspace. Apparently, this is a rite of passage that everyone is keen to cash in on.  So, I am suggesting science project ideas that do not require major purchases in the form of a kit!  I also have added a few websites with great science project ideas laid out in a very accessible way.

Which paper towel absorbs the most liquid?

What type of fabric best resists stains?

What is the impact of relaxing music on test taking (simple math problems given to groups of kids)

Which material is the best thermal insulator?

Measure speed of fruit rot in a container or not in container

Impact of butter versus  margarine on taste of baked products

Duration of burning by different types of paper

Fabrics – which burns fastest?

Kinds of wood – which burns fastest?

Which eggs float?  (raw, hard boiled, soft boiled, rotten eggs)

Shadow tracing during different times of the day

What attracts the most insect pests  (mosquitos, flies, gnats with sweat, sweet smelling plants, light or dark clothing)

How do different style pencils or grips affect writing fatigue?

What plants are edible in your backyard?;

Could you survive on just what grows in your neighborhood?;

Paper airplane science:

Which type of food molds the fastest in the same place: bananas, milk, bread or cheese?

What effect does music have on plant growth?

I thought these  websites were useful:

January 30, 2010

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author.  She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range.  Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service.  Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result.

I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade.  She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade.  I think it’s important to provide strong role models for girls so I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors’ Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  It’s about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children’s lives.   The reading level is similar but the content is more interesting than “Grapes of Wrath” graphic because her students are rugged and hardy and completely capable of living off the land.  This is also historical fiction.

January 29, 2010

Non Fiction Animal/Math Picture Books

My 2nd grader bought these books home from her school library yesterday and I pounced on them.  Apparently, there were three available, but she was only able to check out two.  These books combine a really interesting, behind-the-scenes-at-the-zoo, rescue story about a zoo animal baby and marries it with a mathematical concept.  These books are perfect for grades 2-5.

Polar Bear Math:  Learning About Fractions from Klondike and Snow is the story about two polar bear cubs abandoned by their mother at the Denver Zoo and their fight for survival AND about fractions.

Tiger Math:  Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger is the story about a tiger born at the Denver Zoo whose mama tiger unexpectedly dies of  cancer when he’s just a cub AND about graphing.

The author, Ann Whitehead Nagda, has an interesting background.  She has a degree in mathematics and worked for IBM.  She travels widely around the world then becomes a docent at the Denver Zoo and starts cranking out these books.  She seems like a really interesting person; I’d love to have her for my neighbor!

Here are her other books:

Cheetah Math:  Learning about Division from Baby Cheetahs

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei and Mei Sheng

Chimp Math:  Learning About Time from a Baby Chimpanzee

Preventing Accidents in the Kitchen

Filed under: Random Topics — Pragmatic Mom @ 9:15 am
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I just made a new friend from Twitter who blogs on safety in the home.  Check out:  Follow SafetyInTheHouse on Twitter.

I was remembering the time that I knew angels were looking after my family.   We had a made a huge pot of liquidy soup and left it to cool outside so we could skim off all the fat when it congealed (gross, I know, but works really well to de-fat).  We covered the pot with the lid and put it on the stove to reheat for dinner.  We used the burner nearest to us.  The lid sealed the pot, and when the soup was boiling, it caused an eruption with the soup and lid exoloding everywhere.  My son had been playing near the stove but just a few minutes before the eruption, he have moved to a safe distance.  The soup was scalding hot.  We thank the angels that protect us and now we NEVER cover the pot fully unless it’s the Le Cruset Dutch Oven that is too heavy to blow off.  You need a space for the hot steam to escape or your are creating a volcano.

Thanks Twitter friend SafetyInTheHouse for your tips.  You can never be too careful!

Accidents in the kitchen

Many accidents occur in the kitchen, this should not come as a surprise when you consider the mix of electricity, gas, water, sharp utensils, chemical cleaning products and the numerous appliances all in a fairly confined area. So what can be done to minimise the chances of accidents occuring in the kitchen, below are a few ideas.

– put cleaning materials out of the reach of children (consider using cabinet locks)

– do NOT put dish towels on the stove even if the burners are turned off.  BAD HABIT!

– to prevent slipping ensure that floors are not left wet and any liquid spilt is wiped up straight away

– always use kitchen steps to reach items in high places

– keep knives out of the reach of children and to avoid cuts store sharp knives in a knife holder

– keep electrical leads away from the sink and cooker areas

– always turn pan handles inwards to prevent a child from pulling them over, but do not put the handle over a heat source

– if you do the chef thing and saute something first and then put the saute pan in the oven to cook the meat through, REMEMBER to use a pot holder to remove the saute pan from the oven.  I have burned myself a few times doing that.  It’s easy to forget that the pan handle is scalding hot!

– it may be wise to tie back long hair and not wear loose fitting sleeves when cooking in the kitchen.

– make sure you understand how equipment works before using it

– unplug your coffee maker after you finish your morning coffee.  Lots of fires are caused from mal-functioning appliances!

– before cleaning equipment make sure it is unplugged

One type of kitchen accident is responsible for one fifth of domestic fires and injures 4,000 people each year, that is when oil/fat in a pan catches fire, in the next blog we will look at what to do if you are confronted by such a fire and what can be done to prevent it from happening.

– use a hot mitts when handling food in hot oil and use a screen when the food is cooking.  There is one with a handle, but I forget what it’s called that we use and it works beautifully!

January 28, 2010

13 Ways to Raise a Non Reader

by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith

I found this poster by Horn Book at my preschool.  One of our assistant teachers was a children’s librarian and got this at a library conference.  Hope you love it as much as I do.  Because, of course, we all want to raise kids who hate books!  🙂

1.  Never Read where your children can see you.

2.  Put a TV or Computer in every room.  Don’t neglect the bathrooms and kitchen.

3.  Correct Your Child every time she mispronounces a word.

4.  Schedule Activities every day after school so your child will never get bored.

5.  Once your child can read independently, Throw Out The Picture Books.  They’re for babies!

6.  Don’t Play board games together.  Too dull.

7.  Give little Rewards for reading.  Stickers and plastic toys are good.  Money is even better.

8.  Don’t expect your children to enjoy reading.  Kids’ books are for Teaching vocabulary, proper study habits, and good morals.

9.  Buy only 40-Watt Bulbs for your lamps.

10.  Under NO circumstances, read your child the same book Over and Over.  She heard it once.  She should remember it.

11.  Never allow your children to listen to Books on Tape, that’s cheating.

12.  Make sure your kids only read books that are “challenging.”  Easy Books are a complete waste of time.  That goes double for comic books and Mad Magazine.

13.  Absolutely, positively No Reading in Bed!

January 25, 2010

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

I took a day off the computer yesterday and just read books 2 through 5 of the Percy Jackson series.  I have to say it was the best day ever!  This is a really wonderful series with wide appeal both in age and in gender and the range is ages 8-adult.  There is also no weak link in the series and every book stands on it’s own, though I do suggest reading them in order.  I’ve included my previous book review of the first book, The Lightening Thief, below, and can add that I stayed up way past my bedtime, AGAIN, to finish the last book. They Are Simply That Good!

I’ve added the classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton which I read and loved as a child.  You may as well capitalize on an interest in Greek Mythology and even Roman Mythology that this series will instill in your child.  The Usborne is great for younger readers but Edith Hamilton is THE expert and her Mythology book has greater detail.

I also wanted to add that I bought the 5 book set listed below; the one that looks like it’s in a treasure box.  It’s $52 but the books are all hard cover, so I feel like it’s a bargain.  Also, I never found any of the Percy Jackson books sitting on the library shelves and I was too lazy to reserve so it was easier to just buy the set.  My 4th grader was just as excited as I was to open the box, and she abandoned Harry Potter, Book 6, to dive right in.  She also LOVED them which was very gratifying to me.   I do feel that I’ll get good use out of the books as I’m quite confident all my kids will go through this series at some point and LOVE IT!

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

January 23, 2010

How To Get An Athletic Scholarship (or Get Into Your Reach School)

Even if your child does not appear to be the next Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm or other atheletic superstar doesn’t mean that athletic ability won’t have any bearing during the college admission process.  If you can follow these tips and tricks and particularly the dos and don’ts, you will be ahead of the game!  As the parent, you will have a backseat, no doubt, during this arduous process of getting your child into his or her dream school, but knowledge is everything.  My mom friend neighbor, who is a Varsity Coach with 14 scholarships, advised me that s/he who prepares early for this process can change the admissions outcome.  It’s a game like any other.  So read on.  This a game changer!

First of all, realize that there are NCAA rules regulating communication between coaches and prospective athletes.  A Division I coach is not allowed to call an athlete until July 1 prior to Senior year.  But note:emai l is allowed! Division III coaches play by different rules.  They do not have athletic scholarships, but they can go to bat for your child at the Admission pow wow to try to get your child into the school and on their team.  Note that Ivy League schools are Division III.  Division III coaches ARE allowed to call athletes starting in Freshman year of high school.  So…don’t be put off if your star athlete is being bombarded with calls from Harvard and Yale as a Junior but is bummed out that Boston College, his or her first choice hasn’t called.

But enough about the coaches, there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the athlete’s side.  Here’s the list.

Freshman Year

  • Research schools and make a list of schools you are interested in
  • Keep your grades up
  • Get the PSAT schedule and sign up for a session next year

Sophomore Year

  • Visit the schools you are interested in.
  • Take PSATs
  • Meet with your school counselor to review the schools of interest and understand their requirements.  SATs versus ACTs.  8th and 9th grade grades?
  • Send a detailed letter of interest along with your resume.
  • Get the email address of each coach
  • Discuss your schools of interest with your coach and get their feedback
  • See if any of your schools of interest offers a summer camp or coaches at a summer camp.
  • Visit schools of interest while attending tournaments, showcases or league games

Junior Year

  • Send a follow up letter to each coach.  Include information an any upcoming tournament activity
  • Take SATs and ACTs
  • Set up UNOFFICIAL visit with your top schools and watch their team play
  • Email coaches; Note that coaches can NOT call until July 1st before your Senior year but can send emails
  • Ask references to make a call for you; line them up for a letter when you apply
  • At the end of Junior year, register with the NCAA clearninghouse (if going after Division I schools)
  • Attend camp of selected schools

Senior Year

  • Focus on those schools that fit and on those who have shown an interest
  • Take the SAT or ACT over again if necessary
  • Send out follow-up letters with updated sports information.  Include updated resume.
  • Know where you want to take your 5 official visits
  • Apply to schools in SEPTEMBER after weighing Early Admission versus Regular Admission process

What to Include on Your Resume

  • Contact Informtion including email
  • Birthday
  • High School Graduation Date
  • Height and Weight
  • Athletic Experience:  Premier Teams, Tournaments, awards
  • Academic Information:  class rank, GPA, PSAT/SAT scores, Honors and AP classes, academic awards
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Athletic reference information:  name, title, school, background.  Have 3 references.

Cover Letter

  • This is your chance to sell yourself and why you want to attend this school.  Set yourself apart by your writing skills and persuasive arguments on why this is your top choice.
  • Write a different cover letter to each school.  You never know if they compare letters, right?  Don’t take that risk.
  • What should your cover letter say?  Here’s some guidelines.  First paragraph:  state the purpose of your letter.  For example, you are interested in playing x position for xx college team.  Second paragraph:  explain why you are choosing this school and/or team.  Use specific examples.  Mention the number of visits, sleepovers, camps you participated, games you watched, etc.  Make the coach realize that this is not a canned letter.  You REALLY do want to play for this school!  Third paragraph:  go over your qualifications.  Be specific.  Cover your athletic qualifications and your academic achievements.    Last paragraph:  lay out your next steps and be specific.  Are YOU going to contact the coach?  For what purpose?  Do you want to invite the coach to come to a game?  I have deliberately left out a sample cover letter so that you are forced to customize your letter.  Please follow cover letter conventions with formatting and including your name, address, etc.    Finally, this process of custom cover letter, resume and targeting coaches is EXACTLY the same process that you will do again when you graduate and look for a job.  Learn this  and do it well and it will serve you the rest of your life.

Recruiting Don’ts ( a.k.a. How to NOT get an Athletic Scholarship because you have pissed off the coach!)

  • Don’t have a parent call to boast of your skill
  • Don’t call and leave a message asking for a call back.  You take the intiative to call back.  Coaches are busy people!
  • Don’t send a letter to a coach with the wrong name or the wrong school or with misspellings.  What, are you a rookie?
  • Don’t do a mass mailing.  Customize your communication to the schools that interest you.
  • Do not use a scholarship offer from another school to bargain one school against the other.  Very Bad Form.
  • Do not tell a coach the school is at the top of your list if it is not true.  This can hurt others from your school that follow.
  • Don’t over estimate your abilities
  • Don’t show negative traits in attitude or temperament, etc.  Be positive and confident.
  • Don’t ask a coach for an official visit if they  have not shown an interest by phone.
  • Do not be afraid to ask, after a school has shown interest, if the school has any financial assistance they can offer.

Recruiting Do’s

  • Get a binder to keep all your recruiting information (by school with tabs)
  • Make a list of those schools that have the academic and athletic program that best suits you
  • Send coaches an updated tournament schedule and results
  • Have a list of credible references
  • Go to as many college games as possible.  Reference those games when talking or communicating to coaches.
  • Have a reference make a call on your behalf
  • Be personable in conversation.  Character is critical!
  • Speak positively about other programs, coaches and/or players.  It’s a small world and everyone knows each other! Be gracious!
  • Make yourself known.  One letter is not going to do it.
  • Stay on top of your academics.  It shows your work habits, time management and commitment to achievement.  These are all characteristics that colleges look for.
  • Send thank you notes (the old fashioned kind on card stock) when a coach has taken time to talk to you  or meet with you.  This is a good habit to get into for the rest of your life!

When my Mom Division I Varsity Coach talks about her players, it’s not usually about how talented her players are on the field.  She’s really impressed by kindness, empathy, humility and willingness to give back.  Being recruited can be an exciting and ego-gratifying experience to your child.  Let your years of good parenting shine through with a grounded child who shows graciousness and gratitude for all these exciting opportunities.  And, at the end of day, it’s going to be all about fit:  the right school matched to the right child.  And it will work out.  It always does!

Finally, I include a book that I used when I applied to college a million years ago.  What I like about it is that it shows you how high the bar is for college application essays.  This is the newest edition.  I still remember the most haunting essay from the edition I read.  It was from an inner city boy who wrote about his school, P.S.  XXX.  He described it as a school with literally no windows, but as he wrote about how school opened up the world of literature to him, his school really did have windows after all.  It was the best essay I had ever read and I realized that since I could not write such a moving essay for college applications, I had better be funny!  I read this book more recently when I bought this book for my niece and thought the essays were strangely abstract.  Nevertheless, these essays helped get these kids into Harvard.  My few words of advice:  don’t brag or take yourself too seriously.  Remember, the admissions folks spend 5 minutes TOPS on your entire application.  Two of them read it and if you get a thumbs up, another person will read your application more carefully.  You can also get a definitive thumbs down  at this point and you will then receive the thin rejection letter.  If you can’t grab their attention with your first paragraph, you are forgotten.  Make them laugh or cry.  Move them.  They are reading PILES of applications and you need to stand out in some way.

To purchase this book, click on image of book to buy at

Books for Brand New Readers

It’s so exciting when your child first begins to really read.  I don’t know why, but my kids all hit this milestone in January.  I know that it’s something that has been in the works  for a long time, but, like a bulb planted last Fall and laying nascent, the leaves have sprouted and the bud is finally in bloom!

My first had just turned 6-years-old in Kindergarten, the 2nd was 5 3/4-years-old in Kindergarten, and now my youngest is just starting to read at 5-years-old in Preschool.  There must be something about 4 months of academic exposure at school that coalesces  to explain the January timing.  I wanted to share some of the books that are great for the very newest of readers.  And might I add how much we hated the Bob series books — complete waste of money for us.  My kids thought the Bob books were so boring with absolutely no plot. Try these instead!  And please share your “a ha” moment when you realized your child can read and the book you read.

Sandra Boynton books.  There are so many good ones.  Here’s a few of our favorites that were the among the first books my kids read to me.

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  Be sure to spot the mouse on every colored page. An enduring sweet classic.

Cat at Bat by Jon Buller.  Out of these books, this one is slightly harder but with a great story about sportsmanship.

Biscuit series by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.  My middle child loved these sweet and very simple stories.

Five Little Monkey series by Eileen Christelow.  A repetitive plot is a good thing for brand new readers and Eileen’s Five Little Monkeys never fail to please young ones.  I think kids can all relate to being naughty, little monkeys!

Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins.  Another classic that can be a full body, drumming experience.

Frogs in Clogs by Sheila White Samton.  A rhyming story with a very limited but rhyming vocabulary AND a plot.

The Good Bad Cat by John Sandford.

The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss.  I used to hold my toddler in my lap and make her feet match the book.  She thought it was hysterically funny.

Max’s Dragon Shirt by Rosemary Wells.  This might be the outlier book but my son says this is the first book he read.  It’s true; we were reading this book and I was thinking that he had memorized it because it’s one of his favorites and we own the entire series but he was actually sounding out the words.

Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems.  My son and I love these books.  Mo Willems wonderful, expressive illustrations practically tell the story and his two starring characters have a lot of personality!  Here’s a few of our favorites.

January 22, 2010

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

My 7-year-old came home from school two days ago with an important message for me:  “I just read the best book.  You need to add it to your blog.”  I had never heard of No Flying in the House and assumed it was a picture book, though I don’t know why.  My middle daughter is the reason why I created the Favorite Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers because she refuses to read anything except chapter books.  She proceeded to borrow it from her teacher so that I could save a trip to the library and I have to say that she is right.  This is a great, old-fashioned fairy story.   Our copy was even more charming because it was clearly a really old book with a big chunk of pages taped carefully back into the book.  It looked like a garage sale rescue or a beloved book that was carefully passed down.  No matter!  It’s a find!

I’m a little annoyed with fairy stories in general; I was forced to read way too many Rainbow Fairies books to this same child.  With that same painful repetitive plot.  And even the same vocabulary words.  Over and Over.  It was my idea of hell.

But this is a lovely story about a half-blood fairy.  (I’m reading a lot about half-bloods these days; The Percy Jackson series just arrived at our house yesterday to great fan fare and excitement).  She doesn’t know she’s a fairy and her guardian is a 3 inch talking dog.  There are lots of interesting surprises along the way that both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you are in Fairy Hell, try to convince your darling to try this book instead.  It comes highly recommended by their peer who now agrees that the Rainbow Fairies Series is a little boring (and redundant and repetitive!).  We can finally get rid of those books and free up an entire shelf of space!  Yay!  This book is perfect for grades 2-4th.  It’s a chapter book with some illustrations.

Here are some open-ended questions if you want to have a book discussion from my 7-year-old:

  • What is your favorite character and why?
  • What do you think Belinda is trying to do to Gloria?
  • Did you think the book was confusing?  Why or why not?
  • Have you ever read a similar book to this one?
  • Was this an interesting book?
  • When Gloria is in her fairy world, do you think she’s still a 3 inch dog?
  • Do you think you are half-fairy?  How would you know?

If you want a related activity, she suggests, use sculpy clay to mold a 3 inch animal or a character from the book.  Or try to design a fairy world.  Draw it or create a diaorama.

As always, to purchase this book, simply click on the image of book and you will be magically transported to this particular book at

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