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December 2015

    blog updates

    What Is Your Word for 2016?

    I cannot believe today is the last day of 2015!  Where did the year go, seriously?  This morning I spent some time writing down my goals and dreams for the new year ahead in my new journal.  I also chose two words to help me focus and realize my goals.  I chose two words because it was really hard for me to narrow it down to just one.

    whatisyourword

    If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed I posted my favorite adult book of 2015 a few days ago.  I chose The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.  In this book, the author suggests you should only be surrounded by things that spark joy in your heart.  Therefore, the first word I’ve chosen for 2016 is joy.

    I want to create more joy daily in all areas of my life.  I’m only going to focus on each day one day at a time and those things that bring me joy right that very moment. Because I don’t know how my life will be a day from now, 30 days from now or even 5 or 10 years into the future.

    But I do know that waking up an hour earlier helps me prepare better for the day ahead. I do know that when I force myself to exercise before work I’m more productive.  I do know how I love seeing the look on my kids’ faces when they learn something new or accomplish something on their own.  I do know how much I love having clean and organized spaces.  I do know that I love to eat delicious food.  I do know that I love technology (most of the time), writing code, and solving problems.  I do know that when I put my phone away at home I’m more focused, less distracted, more present to enjoy my husband, our home, and the kids.  I do know that reading, writing, and blogging bring me joy.  I do know how beautiful I feel when I let my skin breathe, free from the make-up, free from the grime. I do know that I love discovering and learning new things.  I do know that smiling at strangers and giving to others has never made me feel worse, only better.

    I do know most of the things that bring me joy, but I’m sure there are others have have yet to be discovered.  So I’m hoping those things will be revealed to me next year.  Also, for 2016, I’m letting go of wondering when the joy of “success” will make it’s way to me or when it’ll be “my turn” to have or do certain things.  Because there’s no joy in wondering.  There’s no joy in trying to figure out the who, the when, the why and the how.

    Really, the only joy is in the now. And that’s where I choose to be.

    I understand and acknowledge I’ve already had much success in many areas of my life, but I have other hopes and dreams that have yet to be realized.  I have faith they will come to pass, but I’m simply letting go and allowing them to happen in their due season (still keeping them on my list of dreams and goals though).

    The other word I chose is reach.

    Next year I want to reach above what I know I’m capable of, beyond even what I think I might be capable of and create some AMAZING things.  I also want to reach out to others more – build networks, create genuine, meaningful and lasting relationships both online and in-person.  I want to reach more people via my blog and social media.  I want to reach for my goals and actually achieve them – not just set them on January 1st and forget about them.  I want to reach above and beyond at work and not just be average or mediocre.  Simply put, I want to reach and stretch myself in all areas of my life knowing what my limitations are so I won’t get burned out.

    Cheers to an epic 2016!  Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year.  See you in 2016!

    Your turn:  What is your word(s) for the new year?  What are you most looking forward to?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    adult books, currently reading

    What I’m Reading (in January 2016)

    Like many of you, I see the new year as an exciting opportunity to set some epic goals for the year ahead. This year is no different and one I’m very excited by is my goal to read for at least 30 minutes every day in 2016.  This 30 minutes won’t include reading children’s books with the kids either.  I’m talking about reading books just for me whether they be physical books, e-books, or audio books.

    Here are my picks for January 2016:

    Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
    yearofyes

    I LOVE anything that Shonda Rhimes is involved with (especially Scandal) so I’m sure I’m going to enjoy reading this gem.  I’ve heard nothing but great things about this one!

    Synopsis:  This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood creating imaginary friends to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her.  And it chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and giving the Dartmouth Commencement speech; when she learned to say yes to her health, yes to play and she stepped out of the shadows and into the sun; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

    This wildly candid and compulsively readable book reveals how the mega talented Shonda Rhimes, an unexpected introvert, achieved badassery worthy of a Shondaland character. And how you can, too.

    Wake Up Happy: The Dream Big, Win Big Guide to Transforming Your Life by Michael Strahan

    wakeuphappy

    I never watched Michael Strahan play football for the New York Giants, but ever since he started hosting the morning show with Kelly Ripa I started following and discovered I adore him.  He’s appears to be such an optimistic, down-to-earth, easy-going guy.  Therefore, I’m interested to read this and learn more about him and his views on life and dreaming big.

    Synopsis:  In Wake Up Happy, Michael shares personal stories about how he gets and stays motivated and how readers can do the same in their quest to attain their life goals.  Inspiring and chock full of advice that will help the reader make significant strides toward pursuing his or her dream, Wake Up Happy is a book no one, young or old, male or female will want to miss.

    Best Friends Forever by Kimberla Lawson Roby
    bestfriendsforever

    If possible, I like to have at least one fiction book in the mix of books I’m reading during any given month.  I enjoyed reading some of Kimberla Lawson Roby’s books in the past so I’m excited to read her latest book.  Sounds like a good one!

    Synopsis:  Things are falling apart in the Richardson household. Angry arguments between Celine and her husband, Keith, have become routine. She resents that he’s working long hours and staying out all night, and he accuses her of not giving him the attention he deserves. Their marriage is at a cross-roads and Celine worries how her 10-year-old daughter, Kassie, will be affected.

    But the situation turns devastating when Celine is diagnosed with breast cancer. As her relationship with Keith deteriorates, Celine worries that she’ll be left to navigate the difficult process of cancer treatment alone. But comfort and support come in the form of Celine’s best friend, Lauren. They’ve been attached at the hip since they were children and it is Lauren who’s there for Celine in her darkest moments.

    Now, Celine will be forced to make tough decisions-about her marriage and otherwise-and for the first time in her life, she wants to give up. Lauren vows to help by any means necessary and makes the kind of sacrifice only a best friend can. But will it be too late?

    Your turn:  What are your reading goals for the new year?  What books do you think I should read in 2016?  If you have any suggestions please feel free to share in the comments.

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    children's books, coloring books, holiday gift guide series

    Holiday Gift Guide Series: Coloring Books and Flash Cards for African-American Kids!

    If you follow my blog, you may have noticed I feature a variety of children’s and adult books on my blog.  I do not believe in discrimination or segregation of any kind, especially when it comes to books.  And although I read a variety of different books with my kids, I get really excited whenever I come across books or different items that feature multicultural or African-American children.  Why?  Because growing up as a kid there weren’t many dolls, coloring books, cartoon characters, or flash cards for multicultural children.  Thankfully, today there are more options available for parents and children to choose from.  Check out these fantastic stocking stuffers listed below!

    Coloring and Activity Books
    The kids and I LOVE this series of coloring and activity books by Crystal Swain-Bates!  She’s the author of the popular children’s book Big Hair, Don’t Care.  Crystal founded a black-owned publishing company called Goldest Karat Publishing.  Their mission is to fill a critical niche in African-American literature by providing books that fill the untapped needs of young African-American boys and girls in stories they will want to read again and again.

    africanamericancoloringbooksforkids

    Not only can kids color in the pages, but they can also do fun activities like filling in the missing vowels to discover hidden sentences, draw pictures, and write their own stories.  My kids are still a bit young to do most of the activities, but we’re holing on to these beauties until they are a bit older.  I’d say these are perfect for children ages 5 – 9.  However, if you like coloring books like I do even adults would enjoy these.  A real treat!

    Interesting in ordering these coloring books for your little readers, church group or school?
    The Colorful Adventures of Cody & Jay
    The Colorful Adventures of Zoe & Star
    Color My Fro
    Black Fairy Tales

    ABC Me Flashcards
    abcmeflashcards

    I came across these amazing ABC Me Flash Cards on Instagram.  Have you seen these yet?

    Designed to be used in a myriad of ways, ABC Me Flashcards are illustrated in vibrant colors with easy to understand wording on the back. They begin with the alphabet but A isn’t for apple. This time, A is for Africa. And so from A to Z or from Africa to Zora Neal Hurston, younger children can learn their ABC’s and older children can use the same cards to learn about their history.

    abcmeflashcards

    Mom and teacher Leilani Brooks came up with the idea to create these flashcards.  While looking for ways to teach her children about their history and culture, she discovered that there weren’t enough resources for teaching African-American history to young children. After purchasing a set of flashcards depicting American Presidents and seeing our 44th President, Barack Obama represented, Leilani was inspired. She called long time friend, educator and historian, Stevi Meredith. Brooks told Meredith she had an idea to make flashcards about African American accomplishments and culture. After some brainstorming, the two came up with what is now ABC Me Flashcards: The African American Edition.

    I hope you enjoyed these two stocking stuffer ideas!  The beauty of stocking stuffers is that they don’t have to be off someone’s list and they can range in price from $1 to $100 or more. More importantly, they can be fun, quirky, sweet, one-of-a-kind, and just from you.

    Happy shopping and happy stuffing!

    For more information about Crystal Swain-Bates click here to visit her website.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

    Interested in purchasing ABC Me Flashcards?  Click here to visit their website.  You can also follow ABC Me Flashcards on Instagram and Facebook.

    Disclaimer:  This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Your turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  What are you planning to put in your little ones stockings this year?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    book reviews

    Sandy Hook Elementary School Anniversary: Two Children’s Books to Read

    December 14th will mark the three-year anniversary of the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I’ve lived in Connecticut all my life so that particular shooting hit especially close to home for me.

    Talking to your children about tragedies is a daunting task, but I think it’s necessary especially as they get older.  When I think about all of the tragedies I’ve lived through prior to becoming a mom: Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, University of Arizona, and countless others I can’t help but think how different I feel now that I have children.  What am I supposed to tell my kids?  Has this become the “new normal”?  I certainly hope not.  Luckily, my kids are still young so they don’t really understand.

    If you’re looking for books to read with your children in recognition of the Sandy Hook anniversary, may I suggest two books that bring messages of hope and renewal to children and families affected by the tragedy.

    Good Dogs, Great Listeners: The Story of Charlotte, Lily and the Litter
    by Renata Bowers with JoAnn and Joel Bacon
    gooddogsgreatlisteners

    Book Synopsis
    Charlotte loves dogs, especially her loving and loyal dog, Lily. And she loves adventure, especially with Lily and her Litter of six stuffed dogs in tow.  But, she doesn’t love to read.

    Charlotte has a pesky habit of abandoning a book in favor of a distraction. Paired with her dogs and her bold imagination, that distraction has a way of turning into a grand adventure. But when Lily gets hurt on one of their adventures, Charlotte relies on her imagination and her heart to find a way to love Lily back to health…and discovers a love for reading along the way – along with her beloved companions.

    Book Background
    This is a charming story from Joel and JoAnn Bacon, parents to 6 year-old Charlotte Bacon who was one of the children who lost their lives on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook, CT.  The family decided to focus on the things their daughter loved most, which was dogs.

    Good Dogs, Great Listeners is a story of imagination, kindness and boldness, created to inspire the story – and the reader – in us all.  The book tells the story of Charlotte and how Charlotte’s Litter was started.

    Charlotte’s Litter was founded following the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy.  The organization supports therapy dog programs in educational and societal settings by connecting resources and experienced people, while providing input and guidance to parents and educators.  The Bacon family has founded and developed a number of projects to honor their spirited Charlotte, share her joy and beauty, and advocate for what has helped them most as they grieve.

    Reflection
    The kids and I truly enjoyed reading this book.  It’s such a wonderful story with precious illustrations to match.  Even though little Charlotte doesn’t like to read in the beginning she certainly has a vivid imagination and great sense of adventure.  In an effort to avoid reading books, Charlotte uses her imagination to go on elaborate adventures with her dogs.  Lily and the Litter faithfully follow Charlotte with each new “adventure” they go on until one day when Lily breaks her leg.  That’s when Charlotte’s love of reading begins as way to keep Lily company while she rested so her leg could heal.

    I think this is a great book to read with children who may be reluctant to read.  I’d also recommend this for little readers who may want to become a veterinarian or those who love dogs.

    The Dogs of Newtown
    by Guy A. Bacon
    thedogsofnewtown

    Charlotte’s brother Guy Bacon also has his own book, “The Dogs Of Newtown” which describes the therapy dogs that greeted him when he went back to school.  Guy is an 11 year-old boy who is a student at Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, CT.  He dedicated this book to his sister, Charlotte Bacon who was one of the 20 children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    Book Synopsis
    The sadness in Newtown got a little bit better because of the therapy dogs that came to visit from around America. The Dogs of Newtown is packed full of beautiful photography is the product of long, snuggle-filled interview sessions, and the mutual love that was, and still is, shared by Guy and the dogs of Newtown.  A student at Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, Connecticut, Guy shares the story of some of the most special therapy dogs that visited him and his friends at school and helped lick the tears away.

    Book Background
    Following the tragedy, therapy dogs were brought to school to help comfort the grieving children, one being Charlotte’s older brother, Guy. The dogs sat patiently as students read to them, petted them, and spoke to them, and provided a much-needed calming presence for both children and teachers. Once the Bacons witnessed the wonderful influence of the dogs, they knew Charlotte had something to do with it, as she had loved animals fiercely – especially dogs.  The Bacon family hopes to promote the use of therapy dogs to aid in both children’s literacy as well as emotional support.

    Reflection
    I enjoyed reading about each one of the therapy dogs featured in this book, but the kids loved looking at the pictures the most.  We’re just a dog loving family.  The Dogs of Newtown is a true story about each of the heroic therapy dogs who helped students to feel safe coming back to school.  The dogs and their owners spent every day for the rest of the school year in service to the staff and students of the school.  How awesome is that!

    I never realized the wonderful effects therapy dogs could have on people prior to reading the foreward message written in this book.  It’s so beautifully written that it actually made me tear up a bit.  The rest of the book includes photographs of the therapy dogs as well as a brief description about each one.

    Overall, I think both of these books can help spark a conversation with your children about the Sandy Hook Elementary anniversary whether they are still in diapers or elementary school.

    Please continue to hold our friends and neighbors here in Connecticut close to your heart, especially as we enter the holiday season.

    For more information about both of these books, visit gooddogsgreatlisteners.com and charlotteslitter.org, and connect with Charlotte’s Litter and Good Dogs, Great Listeners on Facebook.

    Good Dogs, Great Listeners and The Dogs of Newtown can also be purchased on Amazon.

    Your turn: Did you enjoy this post?  How do you talk to your children about tragic events that occur?  What are some of your go-to children’s books to read?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    holiday gift guide series, subscription boxes

    Holiday Gift Guide Series: 4 Children’s Book Subscription Boxes

    Are you planning to gift your little readers with a book subscription box this holiday season?

    I love kids’ monthly subscription boxes because they offer unique educational experiences. They can give kids of all ages the chance to learn by doing fun projects, crafts and activities. Many subscription boxes on the market today are designed to include everything you need to spend quality time together with your children.

    4 Children's Book Subscription Boxes

    Subscription boxes make great last minute gifts for out of town family members, discerning nieces and nephews, your own kids, and just about anyone else. Kids love receiving packages in the mail and how fun for them to know know that they’ll be receiving packages long after the holidays are over. Today, there are subscription boxes that appeal to all sorts of different interests and passions.

    Below are some of my favorite book subscription boxes for kids.  Please note this is NOT a sponsored post and all opinions expressed are my own.

    Cocoa Mocha Kids (October 2016 Update: This subscription box is no longer available.)
    cocoamocha
    I found out about this wonderful subscription box on Instagram.  Cocoa Mocha Kids is the first monthly “Surprise” product & book service specially tailored for children of color. When you subscribe to Cocoa Mocha Kids know that 100% of the net profit will help send children to STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics ) programs throughout the United States. Every month your child will receive a box of products, art, books, samples & surprises.

    To get started, simply sign up as a subscriber and your special Cocoa Mocha Kid will receive a new crate every month!  Currently, the crates are available for children ages 2-11 for both boys and girls.  They also plan to carry crates for babies soon.

    Bee Mee Bookshelf (October 2016 Update: This subscription box is no longer available.)
    beeme
    Be Mee Bookshelf is a diverse children’s book subscription service that offers a curriculum to educate and empower children.

    Each month the experts at Bee Me Bookshelf select a dynamic theme to focus on and we curate a collection of diverse books with protagonists of color around this theme. Next, they design curriculum cards for each book with vocabulary words, reading comprehension questions, discussion questions, and activity suggestions. Their goal is to create a space for young readers rooted in empowerment and education, that helps them cultivate a love of themselves, others, and reading.

    You have the option of choosing a Bee Me Bundle for ages 4-8 years or a Bitty Bee Bundle for ages 0-3 years.  You can also select how often you would like to receive a bundle: once, once per month for 3 months/6 months/9 months, etc.

    Bookroo
    bookroo
    Bookroo makes reading exciting for kids and affordable and convenient for parents.  Each box contains either 3 board books or 2 picture books and the combined retail value of the books always exceeds the subscription price.

    Bookroo offers 3 different subscription types to choose from: month-to-month, 3 month, and 6 months.

    Check out my recent review of Bookroo here to learn more.

    The Story Box

    join_story_box_sample_box_2
    I’ll be reviewing this subscription box and providing more information soon, but I wanted to include them in my list now so you can check them out.

    When you subscribe to The Story Box, your family will receive a monthly box that is curated by a nationally certified speech-language pathologist.  Each box contains 2 children’s books and a guide for parents.  Use the books and guide to make the most of your family reading time, enhance your child’s language skills, and improve your child’s chances of becoming a successful reader.  The books in their boxes are most appropriate for children between the ages of 1-year old and 7-years old.

    A portion of each subscription fee is used to purchase books and other educational materials to benefit children with disabilities and children from low-income families.

    Your Turn:  Do you have a favorite kids book subscription box? Is there an awesome subscription book box for kids missing from my list? Please let me know in the comments.

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    blog updates

    Hello, December!

    I’m back!

    I decided to take a mini break from blogging to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.  I fully intended to post at least twice last week, but I was wrapped up in a couple of other projects which left little time for me to commit to blogging.

    So, what’s new with us?

    Well, if you follow me on Instagram you’ve likely seen our book advent countdown to Christmas.  At the end of November I took pictures of 25 different holiday/winter related books to read to the kids each night leading up to Christmas day.  On November 30th I wrapped up all the books and the kids have really been enjoying opening one book every day to read during story time.  We have a great selection of holiday books (something for everyone) in our book countdown so be sure to check us out on “the gram” (Instagram) if you’re interested.

    I’m also gearing up for 2016 and trying to finish up a few outstanding tasks and projects I still have on my plate including book reviews.  Therefore, if you see me bombarding you with book reviews over the next few weeks you’ll know why.  Also be on the look out for my 2015 holiday gift guide where I’ll be featuring literacy-related items including subscription boxes, books, and more.

    Also, I wanted to let you know I’ll be taking another mini blogging break at the end of this month to spend time with my family during the holidays.  Being surrounded by family, friends and loved ones is what it’s all about, right?

    Ok, that’s all for now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with another new post.  Stay tuned!

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