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Book review: Smile & Succeed for Teens

16 Feb
A perfect book for our generation of teenagers!

A perfect book for our generation of teenagers!

Put that device down.

Put your device away.

No technology at the dinner table.

Is that on? Shut it off, please.

Sound familiar? We live in a very technological world. Texting and driving recently surpassed drinking and driving as the cause for fatal driving incidents, proving that people are more connected, more wired in than ever.

It’s a whole new world, and it’s not going anywhere.

Thankfully, author Kirt Manecke realizes that rather than trying to pretend that our wired world doesn’t exist, it’s much better to teach teens how to succeed in such an environment.

Manecke’s book, “Smile & Succeed for Teens” has received the “Mom’s Choice Award,” which is something I often look for when I’m considering a product for my kids. The book, geared for kids ages 12 and up is a spinoff from Manecke’s adult book, “Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service.” It is a handbook of sorts, helping kids to make the best possible first impression when they’re out in the world. It’s designed to be read in any order, either chapter by chapter or topic by topic, and the first chapter alone, “The Top Ten People Skills,” is invaluable in itself, teaching kids how to do the most basic of skills: making good eye contact, putting away their devices, using manners, and all of the things we sometimes forget that kids aren’t born knowing how to do. We teach them other basic life skills, but these types of skills also must be taught. We also need to remember that technology is good sometimes, but not all of the time, and we as adults must model good people skills too, putting our devices away, using good body language and eye contact as well. You can read a section of it here.

Upon reading the book myself, I told my 15 year old daughter that I was insisting that she read it too, and my 12 year old is on deck as well. I firmly believe that every teen should read “Smile & Succeed for Teens.” The language and drawings are humorous and kid-friendly, and sometimes, hearing the things mentioned in this book from someone other than your parents sounds better, and so much more enlightening than when you hear it from your parents. Again. And again.

The other thing that I loved about this book was the title and topics featured in Chapter Seven: Use Your Expertise and People Skills to Change the World. This is something that we have tried to instill in our children from a very young age: making a difference, changing the world, rocking the world. I read that Kirt Manecke volunteers his own time, working with DECA to help teens be successful, and also helping with environmental causes and working to end cruelty. He’s leading by example and he talks about how to make a difference in the world in Chapter Seven, and I love that. In fact, a percentage of every book sold goes to animal welfare.

The book can be ordered online and I strongly encourage everyone- parents, teachers and teens- to check it out. It’s a great book to teach all teens the most basic social skills needed for a lifetime of success in any world, but especially in today’s wired world.

And the winner is……

15 Dec
Announcing the winner of Baking Day at Grandma's!

Announcing the winner of Baking Day at Grandma’s!

Today’s the day!

Last week I told you that today I’d be announcing the person who had won a copy of Anika and Christopher Denise’s book, “Baking Day at Grandma’s,” and today’s the day!

The winner is……..Stephanie Bernaba!!!

Stephanie, just in time for the holidays, you can now add “Baking Day at Grandma’s” to your nine-book-a-night bedtime story routine!

I know that you will love the story as much as I do, and you’ll enjoy baking Grandma Rose’s special recipe at the end, too!

Please email your mailing address to: so that a book can be sent to you!

If you were not a winner and you’d still like your own copy, you can find a copy on the Barnes and Noble website or on

Congratulations Stephanie, and thanks to the author and illustrator, Anika and Chris for a beautiful story to share!

Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs


Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.


Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

Fun Friday: Book Review and Giveaway!

5 Dec
I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris's new book! You're going to want your own copy too!

I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris’s new book! You’re going to want your own copy too!

What’s more fun on a Friday than a giveaway?!

You might be thinking, maybe a giveaway that includes something yummy to eat?

You’ve got it!!

I do lots of book reviews and lots of giveaways, but it’s always more special to me when I know the author of the book personally.

Therefore, today’s review and giveaway is an extra-special one.

Last spring, I participated in the 2014 Providence Listen To Your Mother show, and I had the honor and privilege of sharing the stage with so many wonderful, talented women.

Anika Denise was one of those women. Anika told a wonderful, funny and yet emotional story about her children and their experience with their pet fish. You can hear her story here.

Today’s book review is another story by Anika Denise, a children’s book author, and it holds special meaning for me personally as well. The story behind this sweet children’s book, “Baking Day at Grandma’s” is from Anika’s own childhood as she grew up spending time with her Grandma Rose. Her story reminds me of my own two grandmothers and my mother, and the rich tradition of baking together that has been instilled in me as well as the rich tradition of giving. It’s a tradition I’ve written about each December on my blog as I share my own Grandma Rose’s recipe for her Italian Wine Biscuits and as I’ve shared my Grandma Grello’s recipe for her Christmas Prune Cookies. I’ve written about the years I spent growing up, baking with my mom so that my brother and I could go off delivering trays of cookies each Christmas Eve day. It’s a memory that I hold dear to me, and I’ll continue to share them again this holiday season, beginning next week.

In the book trailer (link below), Anika talks about the fact that growing up she spent a great many summers and winter vacations with her Grandma Rose. I too, spent summers and school vacations with my grandparents, making special memories with them and learning their cooking skills. My kids now spend time baking with my mother as well and carrying on that special bond and tradition.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

Christopher Denise is the amazingly talented illustrator of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” and in the trailer below he explains where much of his stunning scenery is derived. Each illustration in the book is more beautiful than the last, and the Denise team does a wonderful job of both showing and telling such a sweet story, one can’t help but love it.

One of the best parts of the book, is the recipe Anika shares in the back of the book. It’s her Grandma Rose’s recipe for chocolate cake, and it provides a perfect opportunity for families to bake together, to spend special time together and even (here goes the teacher in me again) to throw in a little hands-on kitchen math and science. I won’t share the recipe here, of course, but when you get your own copy of the book, you’re going to love that extra-special touch.

Given that the holidays are coming up, I think that “Baking Day at Grandma’s” makes a perfect gift! Being a person who loves themed gifts, I can just imagine a kid-sized apron, maybe a matching adult-sized apron, and some cute baking supplies added in. It’d be a wonderful treat for anyone–child or adult, and a great tradition starter or an add-on to an already existing tradition of baking and sharing!

Listen in this trailer for the book, as Anika and her husband Chris, speak about how this story came to be, and then enter my giveaway for your own copy of the book!


Leave me a comment below telling me who you’d like to have this book for, and why!

Entries will be accepted until Sunday, December 14, and one lucky winner of their very own copy of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise will be announced on Monday December 15.

**This contest is open only to those in the continental United States!**

Fun Friday: War Cake

7 Mar
I love when books contain recipes that go along with the story. This was a great one!

I love when books contain recipes that go along with the story. This was a great one!

My kids and I are huge readers, and when it comes to history, all five of us, my husband included, are big fans. We all love to cook and bake, so when my daughter found a historical fiction book about the life and times of a girl during World War II, she was excited to read it.

“My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck” is part of the Dear America series of books.

At the end of the book there was a recipe for War Cake, something that was spoken about throughout the story.

She was so excited! We had to make it.

I looked at the ingredients and we had them all. Well, we had almost all of them. The recipe called for walnuts and I don’t love them so we don’t often have them here.

I came up with a great substitution though: chocolate chips! Everything goes well with chocolate chips.

This was an excellent book and the recipe inside was a bonus!

This was an excellent book and the recipe inside was a bonus!

We decided that on Sunday afternoon this would be a great recipe for her to make. Looking at it further, I realized that it was ultimately pretty healthy too, as far as cakes and desserts go.

Due to the fact that ingredients were hard to come by during World War II, this cake is made with brown sugar rather than white, no eggs, no milk, and only a little butter. My daughter learned in the story that white sugar was used to make gunpowder during the war and therefore, was almost impossible to come by. Although the character in the story is fiction, the events are based on true historical events during WWII and are based on the author, Mary Pope Osborne’s own parents’ experiences as well. Mary Pope Osborne is also the author of the popular Magic Treehouse series of books.

I know that my daughter will be returning this book to the library this weekend during our weekly Saturday visit and she’ll be on the lookout for another Dear America story to read, since she devoured this one.

Almost literally.

Until then, here’s the recipe for Mary Pope Osborne’s War Cake.


War Cake

By Mary Pope Osborne


1 cup brown sugar

1 cup water

1 cup raisins

2 T. margarine (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 and 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 c. chopped walnuts (I used chocolate chips instead)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8×4″ baking pan (we used 8×8).

Place the brown sugar, water, raisins, margarine, cinnamon, and cloves in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil.

Turn down heat and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool until mixture is lukewarm.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Add flour mixture to the cooled sugar mixture, beating until the batter is smooth.

Stir in the walnuts (or if desired, chocolate chips).

Spread evenly in the baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan 10 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool completely.

Fun Friday: 50 best read-alouds for parents and kids

28 Feb

library shelvesI recently saw this article that a friend posted on Facebook. It’s about the 50 best books for parents to read aloud to kids, and it focuses mainly on books for ages 10 and under, because of the read aloud factor.

I love seeing lists like this for two reasons: first and foremost, I always love book recommendations for kids and second, I like to see how I match up.

I was so pleased as I scrolled through the list (and yes, there is a “view all pages” option at the bottom of the first page) to see so many of our favorite books and books we have here at home on our shelves, even still, on the list.

We have always participated in story hours and reading programs at our local library and really tried to foster a love of books and reading in our house since the kids were infants, and it was great to see so many of those books we’ve read to them and that they’ve chosen to read on their own, on that list.

Seeing this list makes me want to start the read aloud process with my kids all over again, especially my youngest, who didn’t get as much read aloud to her, I don’t think, as my oldest or next oldest. I know too, from teaching middle grades and upper elementary grades that even kids at that age enjoy having a story read to them. I read aloud across our city during Reading Week, and even the oldest elementary kids enjoy a good story.

I encourage you to take a look at the list and see how many familiar “faces” you recognize as well!

And I ask you, what’s your favorite read aloud?

Monday Musings: Everything and the kitchen sink

14 Oct

MP910221049It’s October.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

A friend was just diagnosed. It’s a scary time.

I have my mammogram next week. I don’t want to think about it.

I’ve actually been waiting for October to post a book review from a book I read this summer that I absolutely loved and goes well with this month’s honoring of those who have been affected by breast cancer. We read it for our book club book in July. I’ve waited a long time.

I had a great snack idea to share that went along with it too, which I wanted to write about and to tell you the story behind, as well.

But, I also struggled with this post because I believe in honesty and being forthcoming and because part of the story that goes along with the book and the snack isn’t pretty, but I can’t not add it in or I’d feel dishonest.

I never want people to think that it’s all rainbows and roses over here at our house all the time, with kids and parenting and all that goes along with it. I share lots of great ideas and lots of great and amazing happenings but I did want to share this too, because it’s part of daily life, it’s real.

So read on, for the review, the snack and the story. Today’s post will have everything and the kitchen sink for you.


The Review:

This summer for our book club, we chose to read “All You Could Ask For” by Mike Greenberg. I’ve linked to his website here for the book rather than showing the cover of the book because I don’t want to use their image without permission.

It was one of the best books I’d read recently. I absolutely loved the story of the women characters in the book, joined together by the common thread of breast cancer. It featured a social media component, as the women first “meet up” online. You know how much I love social media, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book as well. I read the book every second I had the chance. I didn’t want to put it down, and when it ended, I was sad to see it go. I wanted to keep on reading, keep on following the story. I loved, loved, loved it.

I was amazed that the author, Mike Greenberg of the famed ESPN sports talk show had written the story. It had such a female perspective to it, such insight into the minds of how women, girls, think. Lots of girl-talk, chick-flick type of behavior. That part of reading the book, thinking of how he could’ve written it as a male author, was enough to keep me turning the pages alone!

The story behind the great snack idea:

So this summer, as we often do, we were taking a family walk after dinner one night. As we walked, I was slightly behind with my younger two daughters, while Don and Caroline were up ahead. We were walking and talking and I said to them, “Girls: I need to come up with an idea for what to bring to my book club this week. It’s a pot luck. I need either an appetizer or a dessert. Help me out.”

Total concentration.

Total concentration.

Elizabeth answered me, “Well Mommy, what was the book you read about?”

I gave her the cliff notes version, telling her the basic story line about the characters and breast cancer and social media.

“That’s easy,” she said. “Make cupcakes with white frosting and make pink ribbons on them!”

I was shocked. What a great idea! I loved it. I told her I loved it and promised that yes, I’d make the cupcakes and let them frost and decorate them since it was her idea. And I’d be sure to tell everyone in the book club that the amazing pink ribbon cupcakes were her idea.

Yes, yes, yes.

She was thrilled.

So we did. I baked, they frosted, she decorated. She was SO excited. Alex of course, wanted to decorate her own in her own design, so I gave her a plate with four on it while Caroline and Liz banged out the pink ribbon cupcakes.

It was great.

Til it wasn’t anymore.

And so it goes:

I was snapping pictures because Elizabeth had also made me promise to share her great idea on my blog when I talked about the book.

They were getting silly.

Fooling around.

Moments before it all got ugly

Moments before it all got ugly

“Don’t fool around,” I said.

“Let me take my pictures,” I said.

“Stop fooling around.” My stress level was intensifying. My head was about to spin around.

Are you getting it?

Seeing where this is heading?

Within minutes, it happened.

Someone bumped someone, someone knocked the container just so, and some of the cupcakes flipped over.

I lost it.

“You ruined them!” I yelled.

Elizabeth burst into tears and ran down the hall to her room.

They weren’t totally ruined. In fact, they were pretty salvageable. I righted them and packed them up and within a little while longer, I had to leave.

I went to book club with my cupcakes, but the pride and excitement I’d felt earlier was tainted now by my frustration and my bad mood.

We had a fun evening though, we discussed the book, who liked it, who didn’t, and why, outdoors over wine and dinner and then we all went inside for dessert.

I unveiled my cupcakes. They were stunned! What a great idea, how cute!!

I told my story. It didn’t seem as big a deal as it had been in the moment, of course, but a few said they’d have reacted the same way I would have.

I felt a little better. Validated, justified.

I got home in time to sneak into Elizabeth’s room to say good night and to tell her that her cupcakes had been a hit.

“But I ruined them,” she said, crying.
STILL crying.

I wanted to die. I felt so badly for her.

I felt bad knowing that she was still so sad and that this had in fact, ruined her night too.

I told her that they weren’t ruined and that although I still felt justified in reacting as I had, that was sorry.

I laid with her til she fell asleep that night, not something I often do, but I felt better when I left at least, than I had.

To this day, months later, I still have Mommy Guilt over the way the whole thing went down.

Lessons Learned:

But, I keep reminding myself that every day and every experience won’t be perfect. We aren’t perfect parents, they aren’t perfect kids.

Things happen. In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t even a huge deal, but it weighed on me heavily and has for months and months.

During this month of October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I will continue to make more of an effort to count my blessings, to remember and focus on the good and what’s gone well, and to remember that life can change on a dime. Overnight. In a split second.

If that were to happen, it’s the rainbows and roses I’ll want to remember, as well as the blessings I have and all the lessons I’ve learned.