A cold day = waffles

Yesterday’s high was 7 degrees. I’m no weather professional, but if I had to characterize the day, it would be: miserably, painfully, spitefully cold. Did you know weather can be mean? It can. It can be really mean.

So to help brighten our morning, I decided we needed waffles. Trader Joe’s makes a great gluten free buttermilk pancake and waffle mix. Cooking (and preparation) is a skill the kids are working on and they are definitely open to taking on more responsibilities, provided I remember to slow down and include them.


Luckily, waffles are just the kind of thing my staff, er, children are working on making by themselves. They really want to use the waffle iron, but I get nervous about the kids burning themselves, so that part was more of an assist than a do it yourself situation.

However, I provided the box of mix, the eggs, measuring cup, and a whisk and came back to a batter ready pour without much involvement. My thought was to make the entire box and then freeze waffles for breakfast. Batch cooking/make ahead cooking isn’t my strength, so I love it when it actually occurs to me.


For the first time, I added two scoops of vanilla pea protein to the batter and crossed my fingers that the mix wouldn’t be too dry or off tasting. Yet one more effort to incorporate more protein in our mornings.

Happily, the batter worked great and the waffles were a delicious success. I’ve got two plastic bags in the freezer now, which I can pull out for the ultimate I-am-the-greatest-breakfast-provider-in-the-world moment.

Are my expectations too high? Apologies. It’s the cold getting to my brain.


A cold day = waffles

A Chinatown-inspired reading list

Hello, friends! I’m posting about our recent visit to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood over on Well Traveled Kids today. Check out that post for our experiences and a suggested itinerary for a family trip there. (Welcome, if you’ve hopped over from that site! We’re glad you stopped by!) IMGP5839 We’re very lucky to have met several families this school year with adopted children from China. Our trip to visit Chinatown was actually inspired by one of the moms I know who told me she takes her daughters there frequently. It seems crazy that I’ve never visited Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, but, indeed, I had not. So we cooked up a scheme with some families to visit one weekend. The trip details are all over at the Well Traveled Kids site.

However, after we returned from our visit, I found myself wondering what books and resources would be interesting for my kids to read and maybe help them soak in a bit more about Chinese culture. I don’t know about you, but there’s a small window of time after a visit somewhere when the kids are dying to know more. So often I find myself without much to go on… but this time I had an ace in my pocket. IMGP5891 Enter Maia.

As I mentioned before, our lives have been changed for the better this year because we’ve built relationships with lots of new families. A family who helped organize our visit to Chinatown has three adopted Chinese daughters, Maia (age 12), Maddie and Meili (both age 6). When I started wondering what books I could perhaps read with my kids, I realized I was going to have go to the boss… I called Maia.

Here are the recommendations on some favorite books from Maia and her sisters. There is a world of literature out there that would be fun to explore, so consider this a starting point.

Fiction – Grades 3 and up IMGP6037 Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. The story of a girl named Minli who lives with her poor family near Fruitless Mountain. Minli is entertained and inspired by her father’s wonderful stories. With the help of a dragon and other fantastic creatures, she heads on an amazing journey to change her family’s fortune.

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin. This book tells the story of a young girl named Pacy and her family’s month-long visit to her parent’s homeland of Taiwan. She doesn’t speak the language nor understand the customs in Taiwan. It’s a challenging adjustment, as she navigates feeling out of place in both worlds, but she learns to appreciate and love her homeland also. The sweet book is interspersed with Chinese stories and folk tales. This is one of several books by the author featuring this same main character Pacy Lin.

Read Aloud or 2nd Grade and under IMGP6040 The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker. The story of seven sisters, each with a special talent like karate or cooking or counting, who must face a dragon who has kidnapped the littlest sister. A good tale about using your wits and teamwork to face a challenge. There is also a Seven Chinese Brothers book by a different author, but same idea.

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. A beautiful picture book that follows a family as it prepares for Chinese New Year. Symbols, food, and customs are explained, as the bad luck from the previous year is swept away and the new year is welcomed in.

I LOVE YOU like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis. If you don’t cry while reading this book, your heart is made of stone. It’s written from the perspective of an American mother writing the story of how an adopted Chinese baby girl came to be her own. Helps provide good language for discussing the process of Chinese adoption.

Do you have any other resources to share? Please put more suggestions in the comments box. Happy Reading!

A Chinatown-inspired reading list

The last week of school

Well, folks, we’ve hit the last week of school. There are a million emotions coursing through our veins right now. Relief – because the end is in sight. Anxiety – can we handle all these little “last” items on the calendar without our heads spinning off? Dread – how am I going to keep everyone occupied for three months? Heartache – my babies are looking more and more like big kids every day. Cold – like, literally, it dropped to the 40s here this weekend and we’re actually still feeling cold.

It’s impossible for them to be entering third and first grade because just yesterday they looked like this.

Summer is scattered with camps, vacation, trips to Dad’s office in the city, and the pool and backyard shenanigans. That’s really the primary purpose, isn’t it?  However, I also started thinking about the educational stuff I’d like to keep in the mix for the kids. A long break provides time to explore the topics that kids are curious about (pirates! mythology! the Little House books!) and then naturally working/sneaking in some writing and history.

Mike and I thought it might be fun to grab a CD for the car with kid-level French lessons or songs. Anna actually is really eager about this because she knows that Quebec is French-speaking. She squirreled away a French phrase book from my book shelf a few weeks and started looking through it and identifying funny phrases like, “the credit card machine ate my credit card.” Truly, there is zero pressure or expectation for anyone to learn anything beyond bon jour. But when you have a kid who shows interest in learning something, we figure we might as well give it a try. And in a credit card-eating scenario, I’d like my 8-year-old to at least contribute.

The public library summer reading program is underway, which offers awesome rewards like ice cream cones and movie theater tickets. Total no brainer. We like ice cream, movies and free stuff. And we are never short on books around here.

How do you creatively work in education during the summer?

The last week of school



When last month’s issue of Highlights Magazine arrived, we noticed an advertisement for their TOP SECRET ADVENTURES series for kids. A secret adventure mission set in a different country each month? WHAT?!? 

Knowing how crazy my daughter is about other countries, geography, and cultures, I was curious to see if this would be worth subscribing to. So I reached out to Highlights and they provided me with a monthly kit to review. (A free kit is actually available via their web site for anyone interested in trying it out!!)


The Query in Quito case file arrived at our house in a colorful oversized envelope. Our secret mission: Track suspects in Ecuador to determine a) what they’ve stolen b) who the guilty party is and c) where the stolen item is located.

On it, Chief!

The file is filled with puzzles. As you solve them, you learn more clues, and the investigation continues to builds. The file contains a TOP SECRET guide to Ecuador, which is essentially a guidebook to the country’s geography, culture and people. But, what’s so cool about this is that the book is used to solve puzzle questions. So it’s a reference book to keep, but also a tool for solving the crime.



Anna has been working on the mission in bits and pieces for the last few days. She loves the spy theme and the fact that it’s engaging (my words, not hers) and challenging. You gotta stop and figure things out. It feels like a mission, ya know?


The web site states that this subscription is designed for kids ages 7 and older. That feels right to me. What I love is that it’s engaging enough to hold a kid’s attention, you get to be a secret agent (I mean, COME ON, that’s just cool), and each one costs less than $20 a month. Yes, it’s quite pricier than a Highlights Magazine, but it really is a different type of subscription.  Solve a mystery, learn geography, decode secret messages.

Some kids love this type of thing, some kids don’t. However, it feels like a very good fit for our family. Hint, hint to grandparents looking for Christmas gift ideas. I would recommend trying out a free kit if you believe this is something your kid would enjoy!

Good luck, agents!


Happy Heart Kid games

Have you guys ever supported a Kickstarter? I have supported two or three campaigns and I’m completely fascinated with this type of funding.

When the Happy Heart Kid games popped on my radar, they were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to bring character-building topics and activities to children in the form of board games and kits. Social emotional learning… in a cute box.

I am one of those people who FIRMLY believes social emotional learning is a critical component to raising children. Our elementary school works in lessons on a regular basis and I cannot say enough about it.

When I was a kid, I myself dealt with a massive amount of worry and anxiety and it breaks my heart to see these same emotions pop up in my kids and their peers. Anything that helps us to be more respectful towards and gentle with one another is a very good thing, in my opinion.

Happy Heart Kid games are focused on social emotional learning topics such as Gratitude, Diligence, and Empathy. I swear my heart just jumped a little while typing those words.


I reached out to the folks at Happy Heart Kid games and they graciously sent me a copy of their Manners game to try out with my own little people. I set out to play it a few times and see if I could actually impress upon my children the benefits of having good manners.

Our particular game came with a board and wooden pegs and a die. The instructions explained we were going to have “dinner” at someone’s house. Each time we rolled the die and moved to a new color square, a player would answer a question from a color card or ACT out a scene. For instance, if you notice your friend has some food stuck in their teeth, should you a) say politely, I think you have something in your teeth or b) start to laugh and point.

It’s like they spied on my dinner table last week.

IMGP5383The table talk cards provided a prompt for good table conversation topics. What movies have you seen lately? What’s your favorite season? And while they may seem like simple questions, I love that the prompts encourage open-ended questions rather than the ones I hear my kids asking… isn’t summer your favorite season? Don’t you love the Incredibles movie? I think part of being a good conversation partner is being able to ask open-ended questions.

We played the game twice. Once with a crowd of restless neighborhood kids and another time at the dining room table with just our little family. You can imagine that the second time was a bit more productive. But even when the restless crowd was playing, I noticed that the kids all wanted to join in and answer the table talk questions honestly and respectfully. One little boy wouldn’t put the card down until he learned what every single person’s hobby was. What a sweetie.

I’m dying to see what the Empathy and Gratitude games are like. More activity sets will become available online as they are completed. You can find out more about Happy Heart Kid and follow them on Instagram at happyheartkid. This is a wonderful young company producing cool things and it will be exciting to see how they grow.

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this post; however, Happy Heart Kid did provide our family with a copy of the game to review.

Happy Heart Kid games

Greek mythology for kids

Today I’m posting on the Well Traveled Kids site about our recent trip to the National Hellenic Museum in the Greektown neighborhood in Chicago. We had a fabulous time and I recommend it, particularly for families who have a Greek-obsessed kid like we do. It’s a smaller museum and we only spent about an hour there. However, combine lunch and a museum and you’ve got a pretty nice afternoon.

In light of our trip to the museum, I asked Anna if she would make a list of her favorite books on Greek mythology to share with readers. It was hard to narrow them down, but she did it.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your reading pleasure… the top recommendations from my eight-year-old to yours…


Greek mythology

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

192 pages.   This large oversized book is considered a classic. Anna was given it for Christmas and she continues to read it over and over. It starts at the beginning of the world when earth was just forming and takes readers through the genealogy of the Titans and then Zeus and Poseidon and Hades and their children.

Anna likes: It has really good pictures and it has one picture of all nine muses and one picture of the heroes’ family trees.

The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus

48 pages, written and illustrated by Aliki.    Ah… the book that started it all. This was Anna’s first real foray into mythology. Each page is dedicated to a god or goddess. Great illustrations. Very easy introduction to Olympus.

Anna likes: It describes all the goddesses and gods personally and it does the most well known facts first.

 The Usborne Book of Greek Myths

295 pages.   Just when I think there’s not another mythology book out there, Anna turns the corner and finds this one in the gift shop at the National Hellenic Museum. Classic tales such as Pandora’s Box, Icarus, and Jason and the Golden Fleece are included. Great illustrations.

Anna likes: The back part of the book sorts the people into what they are like great creators or beautiful people. Eros and Psyche is in this one. All these pictures are in color.

Finally thoughts by Anna: Mythology is really cool. There are so many Gods and I like to learn about the minor Gods, too. There are so many I don’t even know all of them. Myths were not written as adventure stories, they were written to explain why things happen and why things don’t happen. There are a lot of heroes and if they could be put into movies, they would be the most epic movies ever. They’re really awesome and I wish people would read more of them.


Are your kids really into a particular topic or era? Please share! I love how we’ve all been put together in such a fantastically unique way. One person’s love of mythology is another person’s love of horses or knitting or race cars. Fascinating, isn’t it?

One more thing: Anna has a list of favorite fiction books based upon Greek mythology that she will be sharing in a later post. So that’s why you didn’t read about Percy Jackson today.

Happy reading!

Greek mythology for kids

Knights and Castles… Oh My!

If your children are anything like mine, they’ve gone through a phase where they adore knights and castles and jousts. I dare say no trunk of play clothes is complete without royal capes and foam swords. It’s a right of passage, a nearly universal fascination, and our kids have been right in the thick of it.


Taking a child’s natural curiosity and then layering it with a bit of actual history or science is one of my greatest interests. A child’s brain is a wonder, isn’t it? I’m constantly amazed at what kids can retain and use when they’re interested in something.

We’ve stumbled upon a few fun resources for young kids (early elementary) interested in medieval history and thought it might be fun to share these. There’s certainly nothing magical here other than great illustrations and clever stories.

Here are our favorites (pictured above):

The Usborne Time Traveler KNIGHTS & CASTLES

We found this at our public library and later bought a copy. Walk through life via the fictional family of Baron Godfrey and Lady Alice and their castle community. Daily life and societal roles are explained for each character, ranging from the royal to the peasant. What do people wear? How do they interact with one another? Why are jousts and tournaments held?

See inside Castles: An Usborne Flap Book

Another great book from Usborne. This one traces the history of castles and how they improved and transformed over hundreds of years. From wooden structures to stone castles, each element of a castle is explored. Moats, drawbridges, and the areas within the bailey are outlined with adorable illustrations. If you don’t know what a bailey is (I didn’t!) it’s the area outside the castle itself but within the walls where stables and tradespeople live and work under the protection of the noble family. See what I mean? You’re already learning something!


We were given this one by grandparents and it’s a winner. Available at Barnes and Noble, there are lots of these 100 Fact books on various topics. The Knights & Castles edition has architecture, social structure tidbits, and funny I DON’T BELIEVE IT items scattered throughout.

Happy reading!

Knights and Castles… Oh My!