Posts Tagged ‘books’

These are a few of my favorite things

Monday, December 2, 2013
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my book

The girls at Taylor Books with my first title, “Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken” (2012).

Before Thanksgiving break, my family decided that we’d stay put for the holidays.  No unnecessary trips to restaurants, no shopping and no afternoons at the theater.  Instead, we’d stay home, cook for ourselves and watch Netflix.

We introduced the girls to a lot of classics, such as Rear Window and Roman Holiday.  One night, we watched one of my favorites, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I had to explain most of Truman Capote’s best lines to Ava, who seemed confused that Manhattan socialite, Holly Golightly, was really a country bumpkin named Lula Mae Barnes.  When Ava is older, I’ll explain the “Is she or isn’t she?” question that all the men asked each other.  Was Holly authentic, or was she putting on an act to hide something?

Yet, isn’t everyone a little phony in some way?

When Holly ran up the steps of her New York apartment, I noticed that it seemed to be connected to a building that serves as the home base for another favorite film:  You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character and e-mail persona, “Shopgirl” lives in a beautiful place that looks identical to the one next to Holly’s.  (Perhaps I watched way too much TV this weekend).

Whereas Breakfast at Tiffany’s questions who we are and what we’ve experienced, You’ve Got Mail asks us to question where we’re going. What are we supposed to do with this life of ours, and how are we supposed to make an indentation in the lives of others? What’s our purpose when our feet hit the floor in the morning?  How do we help make the world go ’round?

I love You’ve Got Mail for many reasons, from the banter between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to the fantasy of owning a children’s bookstore.  When my daughters ask me what my dreams are, I have to admit that I don’t have many.  But the one thing I always wanted was to own a store like my grandmother. She ran a ladies’ dress shop that had a coffee shop attached, named for my mother.  “Betty’s” was the place where my mother and aunt grew up, serving customers a hot cup of something and a muffin of some sort, and then wrapping up their pretties to be worn someplace else.  I’ve always wanted a place like that, but for whatever reason, I never pursued the path.  The Mommyhood’s Katy Brown and You’ve Got Mail’s Kathleen Kelly have something else in common.  Both of us, the real and the make believe, still miss our mothers so much it sometimes hurts to breathe.

When I was watching You’ve Got Mail for what had to be the 1,000th time, I also noticed how much The Little Shop Around the Corner resembles our city’s Taylor Books.  With black shelves, patterned flooring and twinkle lights in the children’s section, the store feels like the place that I coulda/shoulda had.  But since my dream store is already taken, I guess I’ll have to settle for the next best thing, and that’s seeing my books in the vintage displays.

new bookIf you missed the recent Daily Mail article written by Andrea Lammon, I published my first children’s book this year.  It’s the story of fraternal twin boys, Sellie and Sam, who suffer from identical problems.  The boys, approximately age 5, are scared of the dark and they often seek the comfort of Mom and Dad’s bed.  Separation anxiety is a central theme in this book, which was written for children with their parents’ problems in mind.  As I’ve said in a few interviews, my goal wasn’t to decide if co-sleeping or the concept of the family bed is a good or a bad idea.  My objective was to uncover the humor in the situation.  Like many ages, stages and phases of childhood (and parenthood), this too shall pass.  If a child wants to feel a little safer or a little closer by crawling under the covers, then by all means, share that pillow.   In time, our babies won’t even be in the same house with us, let alone down the hall.  Let alone on the few inches of mattress next to us.

I’m sure the book will stir some controversies of “giving in” and not practicing enough “tough love” that promotes independence.  And that’s fine.  I expect it.  But, in our house, scooting over to make room for two little girls — every now and then — hasn’t hurt anything or anyone. As the back cover states, we need to pick our battles. And this was one that Mike and I didn’t care to fight.  During the days of Sandy Hook school shooting news, there was no other place we wanted to be.  Sometimes, hanging on to our children a little tighter is more for our reassurance than it is theirs.

Watching old movies has served as a great escape from reality.  All of the silly running around and taking part in seasonal insanity hasn’t been missed.  But if I do start to suffer from a case of cabin fever,  you now know where you can find me.  I’ll be the woman wandering around a certain little shop around the corner pretending, like a bit of a phony, that the place belongs to me.

Do you want to take part in Cyber Monday? Look for “Kat Tales” and “Sellie and Sam” on and Barnes and Noble websites. You can also order through the West Virginia Book Company’s link:






A preschool summer reading list

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
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School has started and it is time for book reports to start rolling in.

I loved summer reading when I was in school, though I did have to rush through it in August after procrastinating all summer. Thanks to my teachers, I was introduced to Denise Giardina, Leon Uris and more beautiful authors. Now that I have a child, I’m still reading over the summer, but the font is slightly larger, the pictures are more colorful, and the plot is simpler.

Here are some of the favorite books in our house this summer:

Pete the Cat — A series written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. Pete the Cat and His Brand-New White Shoes was introduced to us by my son’s great-aunt. We absolutely love the laid-back musical cat and his constantly changing shoes. The moral of the story is “no matter what happens, keep walking along and singing your song… because it’s all good.” Seriously, that’s the moral. It’s also the last line in the grooviest book to hit our shelves recently. The book, and the two Pete titles that follow, come with a free downloadable song. It’s a catchy tune that is easy to remember and sing when it’s story time. My son, at 2, had the book memorized thanks to the song. The book is a Scholastic title, so look for it in book fairs near you.

Sally Jean the Bicycle Queen — a library find, we learned about Sally, a resourceful girl that grew up riding a bike, and has to get creative when she outgrows her trusty two-wheeler. Despite some struggles, this 8-year-old takes matters into her own hands, with some help from her junk-dealing neighbor, and creates a new bike that is totally unique and her own. It’s a wonderful read for all ages.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! — This Dr. Suess classic came back into our lives this summer when my boyfriend was asked to read it at a friend’s wedding. He used nightly story time as an opportunity to familiarize himself with the words, so he wouldn’t stumble and mumble over the tongue-twisting lines.

I could go on and on with titles, but I’ll leave you to let your Kindle do all the work. However, try to check out Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, Elephant and Piggie books, and our all-time favorite, the classic Curious George.

What are some new titles you ran across this summer?

Taurus the Bull and her Gemini Twin

Monday, November 14, 2011
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Content...or contrary?

My daughter Ava was born on June 10 under the zodiac sign of Gemini.  A Gemini child is one who likes to explore and hates to be confined. Always on the move, Gemini children are easily bored and constantly seeking entertainment.  In addition, Gemini babies are reported to talk earlier than other boys and girls under different signs, a chattiness that is never outgrown.

Where did Ava come from?  She is nothing like little Gemini.  She’s not interested in leaving the front or back yard, she is the first one to buckle her seatbelt, and we thought for a while that she suffered from Selective Mutism. The child smiles a lot, but that’s about all you’re going to get from her.  Ava is not the extroverted Gemini by any stretch of the galaxy.  Ava is just like her mother: Taurus the Bull.

Yes, meet stubborn, bull-headed Taurus, born on a date only a few weeks before little Gemini.  Mother Taurus is a bull who’s happy to be by herself to graze, until she’s annoyed by another bull.  At such time, Mother Taurus turns on her terrible temper, often brought on by a change in her once peaceful surroundings.  When Taurus the Bull works, she works harder than anyone — a dependable, steady effort — but Taurus is hesitant to step beyond the capable line.

My Ava, wrongfully born under the sign of Gemini, does not want to participate in anything — not dance, not soccer and not even Accelerated Reader, a literacy program supported by her elementary school.  Quiet and reserved, shy and guarded, independent reading should be the one thing that attracts Ava.  But it doesn’t.  She hates the thought of competitive reading and she really hates the idea of taking comprehension tests a few times a week.  It had become such an issue in our house that I was concerned her attitude toward the program would kill her interest in reading altogether…and no child in the third grade should give up books.

If you aren’t familiar with Accelerated Reader (or Aggravated Reader as I call it), “AR”  is an assessment that primarily determines whether or not a child has read a book. AR’s creator, Renaissance Learning, does not require or advocate the use of incentives with the assessment, although most schools use them to generate involvement.

There are three steps to using Accelerated Reader. First, students choose and read a fiction or non-fiction book, textbook or magazine. Second, students take a quiz. Third, the teacher receives information that is intended to assist, motivate reading, monitor progress and target instruction.  Finally, reports regarding reading level and comprehension skills are generated for parent review.

The program — an outcome of the “No Child Left Behind” Act — is voluntary in elementary schools.  When Ava heard this, she opted not to participate despite being told by her father that “Yes, you will do A.R.”   Of course, she got upset and cried, which set off a domino effect of stressors to read enough books to take enough tests to earn enough points by the rapidly approaching deadline.

Incentives do not impress Ava. She is not interested in more time to play outside, being able to bring her Nintendo DS to school, or getting a goodie bag filled with trinkets and toys.  She’s content — like Ferdinand the Bull — sitting under a tree watching the world go by.

“There’s no reason why she shouldn’t do this,” my husband countered when I suggested we leave the situation alone.  “She’s an excellent reader and a bright student.  She just doesn’t want to and that’s not acceptable.”

This is when Taurus charged Virgo in the kitchen.

“But she doesn’t want to do it! It’s an option! We shouldn’t push her! If we do, she’ll just pull out of it completely! This is not a battle worth fighting right now!” I protested, nostrils flaring and hooves digging into the hardwood floor.

Sensitive, individualistic kids tend to be more creative, but they’re also less likely to perform in front of others, which is why they’re often referred to as “The Diminishers.” And most of the rewards aren’t persuasive enough to bring them out of their shells.

Experts warn that introverted children will not perform well under timed pressure, and measuring their speed is a mistake. So what motivates an introvert to get moving?

Introverts, like our famous Bulls,  couldn’t care less about money, candy or a new pony. They respond to intrinsic rewards — feelings of accomplishment and a sense of pride. Ava was comfortable with her situation: She could read well and well above her grade level, and she had recorded A’s in all of her classes. What more did she have to do?

Please her parents.

“I’m going to be disappointed if you don’t participate in A.R.,” Mike told her.  “I want you to do this because you can, and you’ll be so proud of yourself when it’s over.”

One of Taurus’ weaknesses is accepting less than she can achieve.  Slow, methodical, practical and reserved, this type of person is incredibly loyal — particularly to those people who provide her with security.  Knowing Ava as well as I know myself, I sensed that she would do anything for her dad.

Fair or not, Mike asked Ava to “do it for me.” After days of protest and a few tears, she completed the Accelerated Reader requirements and met her goal just before Halloween. She bounced out of school announcing “I DID IT!” and showed me the books she had checked out of the library, which she hoped to read over the weekend.

Zodiac theorists believe that it is best not to try to force children to do things. The danger is that the child will turn stubborn and Taureans can hold their ground for a long time. It is best to avoid harsh commands because affection and empathy are the most effective ways to end resistance.  But once this type of child learns something – the easy way or the hard way — it will not be forgotten.

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns.

Keeping Up with the Steadmans

Monday, November 7, 2011
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The women of thirtysomething at fiftysomething. Were they the first stars of reality television?

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the TV show, thirtysomething. From 1987 – 1991, this was the show that “stretched the boundaries of television,” and I was fascinated by the story lines.

The Steadmans didn’t look or act anything like my parents, and they didn’t have friends like Elliot and Nancy Weston.  I thought Ellyn Warren represented everything I wanted to be in life — professional, accomplished and single — and I thought Melissa and Gary were the funniest on-again/off-again couple in nighttime drama.  Well, that was until Gary got killed in a car accident.

But during my senior year in high school, thirtysomething was canceled and life wasn’t the same on Tuesday nights at 10:00.

Twenty years later, though, my happiness returned thanks to bargain DVD collections at Target. The complete first season of thirtysomething was on sale for five bucks. I would have paid fifty.

I raced home to inform my husband and children that I needed to be alone for the next few hours to reminisce with old friends.  When I held up the DVDs, Mike dropped his handful of UNO cards and bolted out of the room. Daughters and dogs followed.

“That show makes me want to cut off my ear!” he announced as I chewed the plastic wrap off the box.

I settled in for the night, clicker in hand, eyes fixed on the screen, feet dancing along  to the bouncy theme music that promised a solid hour of self-analysis and emotional exploration.

But within the first fifteen minutes of the pilot, I realized the show had changed. The Steadmans weren’t entertaining anymore…they were recognizable. Hollywood had squeezed into Mommyhood, and my excitement faded like a summer tan.   The fictional dialogue could have been pulled from last night’s factual dinner conversation; the worries from this morning’s email inbox.

New babies.  Old friends.

Big mortgage.  Small budget.

Quitting a job.  Starting a business.

Passion toward work.  Indifference toward everything.

Providing for young children.  Caring for aging parents.

Battling cancer.  Surviving divorce.

As I watched the stories unfold like the lives of my friends (and in a few instances, my own), I discovered that Moody Michael and Hopeless Hope were really quite annoying…and terribly whiny.   Nagging Nancy and Excitable Elliot made me sick to my stomach, particularly the way Nancy mumbled her words through clenched teeth and the way Elliot demanded…well, you know…affection.

I didn’t want to turn into these people …these couples…these parents.  It was depressing to say the least.

When I finally made it through the last episode,  I was totally relieved to turn the power off.  I couldn’t watch another minute of people complaining and moaning and groaning about the death of dreams and the reality of responsibility.  Perhaps it was because I understood all of it a tad too well — two decades later — and I knew what the characters were going to say and what they were going to do, even though I barely remembered the plots.

If thirtysomething were still on the air, The Steadmans and The Westons would have put their children through the University of Pennsylvania or an art school near Philly, and they might have paid off their hefty student and home improvement loans. They’d have those fixer-upper houses to themselves now, and without a doubt, they’d probably still lament about the distance in their marriages and time wasted on things that never really mattered in the first place. And, they’d probably dig up memories of Professor Gary Shepherd, who defined the term “man-child.”

Seasons two, three and four are available on DVD, too, but I think I’ll hold off before I buy more shows that wallow in self-doubt.  As Ellyn put it:

“I mean, Michael’s cute and all, but how much fun can it be sitting at home watching him sulk night after night?”

The thirtysomething cast has hit their fifties now, which begs the question as to what might have happened to them in their forties.  Having shelved the DVDs, I’ve picked up a new book, “Fortytude — Making the Next Decades the Best Years of Your Life.” Written by Sarah Brokaw (the daughter of NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw) the stories tackle all the topics women face in their fourth decade of life:  Loss of job or the return to one, divorce, aging, empty nest, infertility and all of the other issues that make women panic.

Described as a book for women than men should read, Brokaw’s “road map to taking control of life’s challenges” might be just what Hope, Nancy, Ellyn and Melissa needed back then.  Heaven knows Gary could have benefited from it, too.

The Three R’s: Reading, Reporting and Relationships

Monday, June 20, 2011
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Parenting by the book.

I’ve been asked by a number of people how I became a blogger for the Daily Mail.  I was invited, yes, but I also auditioned for the role without realizing it.  Before The Mommyhood, I maintained my own site, “Wilbur & Charlotte“, a children’s literature blog.  I wrote about the themes in children’s books that applied to adult life…most of which covered issues in parenting.  A few friends posted my entries on Facebook (catching the attention of the newspaper’s managing editor), and well, there you have it.  Here I am.

Relationships and connections are what matter most.  As a former law firm marketer, I used to (literally) buy in to full-page, front-page advertisements and pull-out inserts that stamped the credos of  attorneys and their services.  I believed in the big splash — making a mountain out of a molehill — and hoarding every square inch of print real estate to tell the firm’s story. Since that time — nearly 10 years ago — I’ve changed my tune.  It is who you know…or better yet, who seems to know you.  Social media has delivered more business to my small writing and editing shop than any other form of marketing. And, I’m mighty grateful that it’s still free.

Once one blog led to another blog and readership and name recognition expanded, I was contacted about serving on the board of directors of Read Aloud, WV.  My career as a writer, life as a parent, and love of books made me a candidate to help spread the word about the organization, which was created to motivate children to want to read.  Read Aloud, WV encourages parents and other adults to read to children early in life, to build lifetime memories through interaction, and to encourage comprehension skills to strengthen academic and professional success.  During my pre-board involvement research, I discovered a new book that has become my own source of motivation — a book that became my daughters’ gift to their dad for Father’s Day.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, is lovingly written by Alice Ozma (named for two literary characters — “Alice” from Lewis Carroll and “Ozma” from L. Frank Baum). The daughter of a Philadelphia-area elementary school librarian, Ozma and her dad  embarked on a streak of reading-out-loud sessions every night as she was growing up. Originally, the father-daughter literary duo decided on 100 nights straight of reading before bed—a minimum 10 minutes, no excuses, but then it stretched to 1,000.

To keep the streak alive, there were some days when their reading date started at 12:00 midnight and some days when it began at dawn.  They would wake each other from deep sleep to read; to keep their commitment to one another.  “Once started,” Ozma’s father writes, “a reading streak can be a hard thing to stop.  The only thing that stopped us was when she moved away from home…almost nine years after we began.”

Ozma’s father goes on to stress that the greatest gift parents can bestow upon their children is time and undivided attention.  “No one will ever say, no matter how good a parent he or she was, ‘I think I spent too much time with my children when they were young’,” he writes.

Ozma approaches her book as a series of vignettes about her relationship with her father and the life lessons learned from the books he read to her. Some of those titles included in the Streak were: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens,  Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, Shakespeare’s plays, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, and those written by famed children’s author, Judy Blume (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing).

At the end of The Reading Promise, the author has included a contract that parents and their children can fill out, commiting themselves to a lifetime of reading: out loud for all to hear, silently for no one to hear, in a bedroom or on a couch, at the beach or in the park.  Readers will promise to laugh uncontrollably or to sob inconsolably, to look up unfamiliar words, and most importantly…to lose track of time.

Which I have done.  So, I’m going to stop typing and start reading.  My girls have new books to crack — Ava has a small stack of birthday books to dive into — and Maryn will be reading on her own this time next year.  But, I think I’ll take Mr. Ozma’s advice to read to them as long as I can; to make this the one thing they’ll never outgrow.

That’s the Name of the Game

Monday, March 21, 2011
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Believe it or not, she wasn't my inspiration.

I own a writing and editing agency, and one of my services includes helping clients find unique names for products.  I’ve created titles for newsletters and blogs, and developed lists of possibilities for business startups.  Since nothing is exclusive anymore (thanks to the Internet), it’s nearly impossible to think up a word that’s brand-spanking new, and even more difficult to come up with a name that doesn’t have a negative connotation of some sort.  Just this morning, a friend of mine apologized to his son on Facebook for naming him Charles. Apparently the name doesn’t quite have the “sheen” it used to.

Selecting the perfect name for a baby can be a stressful, time consuming and exhausting exercise. There are thousands of options and an equal number of dictionaries and websites that overwhelm us with spellings and international translations. And just when we’ve made our final choices for an infant son or daughter, someone comes along who tags their child with our name…or worse… they steal it.  I’ve seen mothers dissolve into a puddle of raging tears upon hearing the news of another Matilda or Jamison.  It’s as if there is an unwritten Motherhood Commandment that is to be kept by women across the land: Thou Shall Not Steal Thy Name.  Breaking the Commandment is a sin punishable by public shaming.

Growing up, family members called me Katbird, which if spelled with a ‘C’ means “a person of power or advantage.”  As an only child, there were times when that statement proved to be very true.  However, ‘catbird’ also means an American songbird with a black crown and tail.  While my hair is rather dark, I can’t sing and I don’t have a tail.

Fast forward 30 years when I wanted to name my daughter something that connected us in a special way.  I looked up the phrase, ‘little bird,’ and the name associated with it was the one I chose: Ava.

In her birth year, more than 10,000 people named their daughters Ava.   While the name has sentimental value to me, the name has given her a nervous twitch.  There are five Avas in her little world, and one of them is called on quite frequently.  However, when that child’s name is shouted, mine jumps 10 feet off the ground.

Following the news that we were expecting a second daughter, I thought I’d play it safe and create a name that wasn’t ranked in the top 10 list on   Maryn (MARE-in), a condensed version of my two aunts’ names – Mary and Mary Ellen – was a pronounced disaster.  MYRON, MARION, MARY ANN, and MARN were members of our family for a while.  Her own grandfather called her by the wrong name for nearly a year. Thank goodness MARYN doesn’t remember any of this.

West Virginia native and famed children’s author, Cynthia Rylant published a book called The Old Woman Who Named Things. The story introduces us to an elderly lady who dodges feelings of loneliness by giving names to inanimate objects found in her home. To my great pleasure, the book — which resides in the glass case of the University of Charleston Alumni Hall of Fame (also my alma mater) — is illustrated by Kathryn Brown.  While I had no hand in this work of art, I’m certainly enjoying the confusion. “Kathryn” means  ‘not spoiled by anything.’  But this blogger has only two words for the other Ms.  Brown:

Sorry, Charlie.