Tales from the Trenches: My in-library Mommy FAIL

Lost in the Library

Ever read a blog post that just stops you in your tracks? That’s how I felt when when I read a post from Children’s book author and former teacher, Cynthia Lord.  I didn’t even make it to the last word before I shouted out “Amen!” And then I spread her gospel on Twitter. It was that  good.

Her post centered on something we all remember well from childhood: picking out our own book, something that we actually wanted to read. Here’s where she got me – What if every time a child did just that, they were met with these simple words: “Good Choice.” Think of the confidence, the empowerment, the pride! I mean, can I get an Amen?

You can (and should) read her blog post by clicking here.

And once you read it, Friends, you might do what I did: Tweet it. Then you might visit the ‘if-only’s of your own childhood. Ho hum. And then you might proclaim your dedication to encourage your own children every time they choose a book. Yay!

Well, wait for it…

I guess it happened about two weeks later at the library, within ear shot of the librarian. Awkward.

As my boys disappeared into the library shelves, I inhaled the OZ that only weighted down arms, loaded with beautiful, well-curated picture books can create. I mean a hefty stack of award winners. Quirky. Funny. Informative. Top notch illustrations. Parent approved. My mind burst with thoughts of the fireside magic in store for my two little readers.

That’s when my fearless first grader emerged from the shelves, walked over to me, and added a book to the pile.

Cue the record rip. Make your awkward face. He picked out a book that was inspired by a game…shhhh!… on his iPad.

Sure, I had already Amen’d over Cynthia Lord’s phenomenal revelation.

But instead of looking into his eyes twinkling eyes and saying, “good choice,” I was more like… “ummm… hmmm… this book? Are you sure?”

He insisted. We brought the book home. I reluctantly read it aloud at the dinner table.

And Friends, that’s when something magical happened. My first grader and pre-schooler fell in love with the book. The adventure grabbed them and did not let go. Even more, they fell in love with reading. Not a prescribed love of reading. But their own love of reading for reading’s sake.

The very thing I’ve tried to inspire for six and half years happened right before my eyes. It clicked.

Soon came the questions. Are these real places? Can we see them? Can we build them? Can we read more?

National Geographic's Fact and Photo Filled companion to the popular game and series TEMPLE RUN

National Geographic’s Fact and Photo Filled companion to the popular game and book series TEMPLE RUN

And so we read more, explored the real places, and built them, too.

Our Own Temple

The creators of these books… they pulled my boys out of their iPads, into a book, spit them out again with even more curiosity. Which led to another book. Which led to design and engineering activities. Well, good work, people.


And to my fearless first grader, I did finally look into his eyes and say, “Boy, that book was a really good choice!”

Lesson learned,


Update: How YOU and Jack are saving precious lives!

Photo by Julia Robbs with Our Labor of Love

Tim and Kelsey Crowley, photo by Julia Robbs with Our Labor of Love

Maine – Eighty-thousand dollars. I’ll just give you a second to let that sink in. And maybe I can find the words to express our gratitude. Because that’s how much money was raised in a single day for the New York Presbyterian’s Perinatology Fund. EIGHTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s a lot of money and it’s going to do a lot of good for babies just like my precious nephew, Jack.

We are so deeply moved. Thank you.

Many of you have asked how Tim and Kelsey are doing. What a strong and loving couple. They are hopeful about the future and proud of their son’s impact on so many lives.

2015 continues to be a powerful year for our family. I’ll share more about that as this gorgeous Autumn rolls on. But I’ll tell you this right now –– When we gather around the Thanksgiving table next month to think about gratitude, I’ll think about all of you.

Much Love,

Aunt Anna 

If you are just logging onto my blog  for the first time or just seeing this story for the first time, I hope you’ll take a second to meet our miracle by reading my first post about Baby Jack. It’s not too late to be a part of an effort to support the babies in the NICU right now.

There are two easy ways to give:

Good Ole Fashioned Check:

Make it payable to New York-Presbyterian Fund Inc. and ON THE MEMO LINE OF YOUR CHECK – indicate “Jack Crowley for Perinatology Fund” and mail to

New York-Presbyterian Hospital

525 East 68th Street

Box 123

New York, New York  10065

Web Donation:


The online portal is easy to navigate. There are only two areas that require information beyond your contact and payment information. On the personal information page, it says “Organization (if any)”. In that field please paste: “Jack Crowley – Hundred Hole Hike”. And then at the bottom of that page before you hit next, it asks how you would like your gift allocated. Please click other and paste: Perinatology Fund – NICU at the Weill Cornell Campus

The development office at NYP is aware and excited about our initiatives and as such you need not fill out the section for “In honor of” or “In memory of” as they have all of that information compiled on their end. Thank you.

Photo by Julia Robbs with Our Labor of Love

Tim and Kelsey Crowley, Photo by Julia Robbs with Our Labor of Love

Jack Changes Everything: Meet our Miracle

Candle for Sweet  Jack

Cape Elizabeth, Maine – I noticed a missed call from my brother, Tim, in the middle of the work day. As I picked up my phone, he texted.

“Call me. 911”

I called immediately.

He could hardly get the words out. His wife, Kelsey, was having an emergency C-section. He was in a taxi, rushing to the hospital.

“I am on my way,” I said. “I’ll be on the next plane.”

It was February 27. Kelsey was due in June. I quickly did the math. 25 weeks. Panic set in.

A few hours later I walked into their hospital room and hugged our family’s newest parents. Then Tim and I made our way to the NICU. It was time to meet Baby Jack.

It’s hard to describe that walk. The anticipation. The terror. The hope. The intense love. You are steeling yourself for a fight and opening your heart to the greatest love that exists… all in the same moment.

I followed Tim into the NICU. The 50-bed unit is filled with beeps, monitors, read-outs, nurses, doctors, and other families just as terrified. But all of those noises faded into silence as I watched my brother meet his son, as I watched my brother become a dad, as I watched my brother fall completely in love. This moment is one of the greatest gifts of my life.

This perfect baby, our beautiful Jack, filled our hearts to overflowing.  A few hours later, Kelsey rose from her wheel chair to reach into the isolette and hold her son’s hand for the first time. She has never looked so beautiful.

Kelsey and Tim leaned into each other, adoring their son, while a world class medical team surrounded them. That’s when it hit me. I was in the presence of heroes. From Kelsey and Tim to every nurse and doctor… heroes. Each of them focused on one thing: helping Baby Jack.

New York Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell Medical School has one of the best NICU’s in the world, offering ground breaking medical care for the tiniest and earliest of premature babies. They are experts in providing the very best care for the most complicated cases.

The level of focus, the enormity of what’s at stake, the amount of talent coming together to support these babies… it is staggering. And so is something else – the amount of love offered to their tiny, vulnerable patients and to the families.

If you ever meet someone who works in a NICU, stop what you are doing. Give them a hug, a round of applause, a standing ovation. These people are on the front lines of one of the most delicate battles waged. They are heroes.

Because of their amazing work, the NICU is full of glorious moments of survival.

And because there is still so much still to learn about prematurity, there are also moments like this one. Heartbreaking. Gut wrenching. Soul searching.

As Jack’s first snowfall drifted down from the heavens, we gathered in prayer. It was time to say good-bye.

Tim and Kelsey held their son for the first time.

It was also the last.


“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” Marianne Williamson

Once you become a parent, this type of story is difficult to read. It’s painful because the fear of losing your own children is just under the surface.

And that’s why I am telling you that Baby Jack’s life was full of miracles. In just 51 hours, he taught us that there is beauty in all things. Even in heartbreak, even in loss, even in the darkest grief. God is in all things. Even when our plans and hopes become obliterated by pain. God is in that pain.

For me, this type of grief.. for a child…for a baby, it’s a parting-of-the-seas moment. It’s one of those rare times when you see the truth of life so clearly.

And for me that view looks like this: We are on this planet for two jobs… Love. Love. Love. Give. Give. Give.

For our family, Jack changes everything.

The indelible mark on our hearts, made by Jack, the team who cared for him, and the other children in the NICU… that mark gives us clear direction now.

It is with a heart full of gratitude that I tell you our entire family is carrying Jack’s work forward. He shined a beautiful light on a special place that needs our support: The NICU and all the hearts that are touched by time there.

#FastforJack '27' Jack's Birthday

#FastforJack ’27’ Jack’s Birthday

On June 15th, Tim and Kelsey are taking the first step of a life long-journey to honor their son. It’s called the Hundred Hole Hike, a golf marathon. Every hole Tim plays will earn money for the NY Presbyterian Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Each dollar will support their life saving efforts. Every penny will go directly to the cause.

Tim isn’t walking alone. Starting before sunrise, Tim and dear friend, Wilder, will play until sundown.

I humbly ask you to join us, to give what you can. And I can promise you the entire NICU team and every family under their care will feel your love, your support, your standing ovation.

At some point, far down the road, I look forward to listening in, as Jack’s parents spend eternity telling their son about all the lives that were changed because he was here and left his tiny foot prints on our hearts.

Hug the littles,

Aunt Anna

Click here to support Tim’s Hundred Hole Hike, a benefit for the NY Presbyterian Weill Cornell NICU

Click here to learn more bout Tim and Kelsey’s story, pledge your support for #fastforJack team member Wilder Harvard.

Click here to learn more about NY Presbyterian Weill Cornell’s NICU

TeePee: A Garden Fort for All Seasons!

Backyard Gardening for Kids

Maine – Need a little backyard magic?  Friends, an edible teepee is the ticket! This is where fun meets nutrition and education.

Who’s with me?

Simply drag sticks out of the woods or buy bamboo poles at a garden shop. Dig holes to drive your sticks into the ground. Just a few inches deep will do. Lean the tops into the center. Tie together with twine at the top. Zip ties work great, too. Once your teepee is sturdy, arm the kids with a package of sugar snap peas and pole beans. They can plant them at the base of poles.

Sugar snaps growing on tea pea poles

Before you know it, sprawling vines will create the perfect summer hide out. Add buoys, solar lanterns, shells, or even a flag. Make it yours!  When those delicious sugar snaps mature on the vine, your children may even eat them. Trust me, I didn’t believe it at first either.

Backyard fun, fall teepee

And in the fall, rake up leaves to keep your spies hidden.

Teepee snow cave

And in the winter, there is no better snow cave.

The best part is.. when Spring appears once more, your kids will ask for seeds.

See what I mean? Mission Accomplished.



Toddler Take-Aways

  • Science: Plant life cycle, nutrition, gardening
  • Early construction principals
  • Fun they will remember even when they are as old as we are!

FROZEN: Antarctica at your fingertips

Magic Tree House and Maps: A great Combination

We didn’t set out to study Antarctica. We stumbled onto it through a book, which is my favorite way to discover anything.

Maps: An incredible must have children's book

And if you don’t have a copy of MAPS  by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski, do WHATEVER you must do to add this book to your collection. It’s a children’s book, but honestly I’ve come close to fighting my kids for a turn with it. We are ALL mesmerized. It’s where cartography, imaginative illustrations, and nonfiction factoids converge.

There is something about pouring over a map. Without realizing it, you enter a new place through a thin sheet of paper. In our family, we call it mapilating. This is a book you can lose yourself in.

Maps: Our new favorite children's book

So when we discovered Santa left this book in my 5-year-old’s stocking, we rushed to find the map of Antarctica. We had big questions about the place. Our latest installment in The Magic Treehouse chapter book series takes Jack and Annie on an adventure there in Eve of the Emperor Penguin.

Magic TreeHouse Eve of the Emperor Penguin

The wonderful part about reading fiction is the questions that come up – is there really a Mt. Erebus? McMurdo Station? What are scientists studying there? Yes and yes… and Google has street view of McMurdo Station. Seriously. And there are web cams galore.

And playing in theaters right now, ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE. It’s an award-winning documentary ten years in the making that shows you exactly what it’s like to live there. And it’s fabulous. While our 3-year-old decided a closer look at frigid temps was cause for a nap, my 5-year-old belly laughed at the ridiculously extreme weather, which the movie does a clever job of showcasing. You have never seen such incredible time lapse photography of the night sky. NEVER.

Antarctica close-up

Want more adventure? Take a tour of an abandoned research hut from early 20th century Antarctic exploration. It looks like a movie set!

This visit to Antarctica has us thinking…. why not “visit” more places? Well before we pick out our next country, we are going to need a passport! To be continued….

In the meantime, you are going to love this activity with your kids…

  • It brings faraway places closer
  • opens the door to weather science
  • sparks imaginations
  • introduces geology, geography, astronomy, it’s a bonafide STEM freak out!
  • and your brain will find it fascinating, too!




The BEST Countdown to Christmas EVER!

Book Advent Calendar

Cape Elizabeth, Maine – Stop EVERYTHING and do this…. RIGHT NOW! People, I stumbled across an idea that has changed our countdown to Christmas. Instant family tradition material… to be passed down for generations.

Normally our Advent Calendar is filled with chocolate. NOT THIS YEAR.

Because someone mentioned a life changing concept… a BOOK. ADVENT. CALENDAR.

That’s right, TWENTY-FOUR books wrapped up under the tree. Each package labeled only with a number.

I know what you are thinking…. this sounds EXPENSIVE. Not so! This isn’t about getting 24 NEW books. This is about unwrapping a moment together under the tree. In our collection of 24 books, we have some brand-spanking new books, some gently used books (picked them up for a buck a piece), and books we already own. Friends, wrap up some library books!

Book Advent Calendar

Make it yours, make it perfect for your family. Let it reflect all the wonderful things you celebrate this time of year.

NO, this is NOT about getting 24 presents… this is about going on 24 adventures, together, all quietly waiting for us in the pages of a book. A surprise that takes us places…TOGETHER.

Now that we have a kindergartener in the house, his teacher is emphatic that we fan the flames of a true, deep, and abiding LOVE of LITERACY. I can’t think of a better way. BOOKS + ANTICIPATION + SPECIAL TIME TOGETHER + TWINKLY LITTLE LIGHTS = well, look at these faces…

Happy Readers!Happy Giggly Readers

Happy Holidays!


An Island Time Forgot (No, this is not the title of a book, but a real place you can visit!)

Swan Island, Maine

Swan Island, Maine (Not to be confused with Swan‘s Island, Maine) – When our boat left the banks of Richmond, Maine, crossed the Kennebec River, and docked on Swan Island, I had no idea that we’d just traveled back in time to the 18th century.

But when we took the island’s only road up the hill, there was no question.

Swan Island Historic House

Swan Island, Maine is home to an abandoned town.

Swan Island Salt Box

Five period houses remain, punctuating a landscape that includes evergreen forests rich with the scent of balsam, river banks where Sweet Fern wafts in the fall air, and vast fields full of deer, turkey, and grouse.

Main Road Swan Island, Maine

When you walk the many trails, you are following in the footsteps of Captain John Smith, who traveled to the island in 1614 to the meet with the Kennebec tribe of Native Americans. Colonists settled the land in the next century during the height of the French and Indian War.

In fact the island’s most famous resident, 13-month-old Fanny Noble, was kidnapped by attacking natives, taken to Canada, and sold to a loving French couple who had just lost a child of their own. Twelve years later, government officials arrived in Canada to take Fanny back  to Swan Island. Distraught to leave the family who raised her, Fanny begrudgingly left Montreal and returned home.

The colonists built a successful economy. But, eventually advances in technology spelled the island’s doom. Ice cutting succumbed to refrigeration. Fishing evaporated as pollution filled the river. Wooden ship building also took its place in history. The Great Depression dealt the island town its death blow.

The residents sold off their land to the state. And today Swan Island is a wildlife refuge, maintained by the Maine Department of Island Fisheries and Wildlife.

View from Swan Island, Maine

And the island is open to the public.  I have to admit I sort of wondered about the wisdom of going to an uninhabited  island with my boys (ages 2 and 5). Would they get bored? Would I? What would we do?

Um… it was incredible.

The island’s expert and caretaker met us at the dock, ferried us across the river, and loaded us into the back of a modified pick up truck for a tour. We were the ONLY people on 1755-acre island.

Not only did we discover a bald eagle’s nest, but we witnessed three of these majestic birds take flight, fish, and perch in the high branches of evergreens.

Bald Eagles in flight - Swan Island, Maine

Then our expert, Dennis, took us mushroom hunting. We found Chicken of the Woods, learned how to harvest them (and cooked the fungi later at home!)

Chicken of the Woods - Swan Island, Maine

There is a children’s fishing pond stocked with trout. Fishing poles are provided, but bring your own worms!

Fishing Swan Island, Maine

In the boathouse, experts can show you the skulls, antlers, eggs, and feathers of animals found on the island.

Boat House Nature Lesson - Swan Island Maine

A campsite offers ten Adirondack shelters for camping with fire pits and a view to knock your socks off. (TIP: a real bathroom with running water is adjacent to the campsite)

Campsite - Swan Island, Maine

In a single day, my boys saw bald eagles, held a deer skull, felt an owl’s feather, harvested mushrooms, learned to fish, touched history, and found their inner scatologist.  For eight bucks a person, I’ll take it!

Swan Island, Maine

In the Maine, you, too, can visit an island time forgot.


P.S. Looking for other ideas on getting every ounce out of fall that you can, check out this post on our woodsy word hunt!

Welcoming Fall!

Portland, Maine – It’s Fall, Y’all! Okay, no one else in Maine is saying it quite like that… but the excitement of leaf peeping, pumpkin hunting, and all things Autumn is here. I was seriously daydreaming about whether I could travel the globe to spend an entire year in Autumn – an entire year.

For now, the not-so-baby-Q and I are headed to the kitchen to welcome my favorite season. What’s inspired us? Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Moose a Muffin

Baby Q Reading Laura Numeroff's If You Give A Moose A Muffin

This book is one our favorites. It’s one thing to read about muffins. It’s another to bake and eat muffins while you read! And the best thing about making muffins, it’s like blending a smoothie. You can hide so much healthy stuff in there. The kids will never know.

Today, we added flax-seed, whole wheat flour, apple sauce and chia seed. You can also throw in wheat germ, whatever goodness you have on hand.

Baking with kids - Banana Muffins

Here’s our Banana Muffin recipe:


  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 maple syrup
  • 2 eggs or egg replacer
  • 4 mashed bananas (honestly I throw mine in whole)
  • 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoon chia seed (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon flax-seed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Cream butter  and sugar
  3. Add Maple syrup and apple sauce
  4. Add two beaten eggs
  5. Add bananas and combine well
  6. Add dry ingredients to combine
  7. Add vanilla and cinnamon
  8. Spoon into muffin tin
  9. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until an inserted knife comes out clean

Yield:  A dozen muffins (we had enough for two extra : )

Banana Muffin Recipe


BUY your muffins at the grocery store. Pop them into your muffin tin. Sprinkle them with water. Put them in a preheated oven for 5-10 minutes. Pull them out. Call the kids into the kitchen and read the book. The only one who will know your secret is your CLEAN kitchen sink. And that’s a happy place unto itself.


Here’s an idea for a child’s romper featuring a moose appliqué. If you haven’t yet tried sewing for your little ones, check out this tutorial for the full lowdown. I think this little moose would be adorable!

Moose Jon Jon - Sewing for Kids


If you are in Maine or plan to visit, check out the moose exhibit at the Maine Wildlife Park.

Happy Fall, Y’all!

Anna and Co.

Trash Your House (and make an engineer)!

Portland, Maine – Well let’s just chalk this up to one of the ten thousand things I swore I would never do when I had kids. But here we are.  We taped our trash to the walls. And it was awesome. For someone who used to iron her guest bedroom sheets, this is huge.

Trash Engineering Run

Some cereal boxes, paper towel tubes, toilet paper rolls, and duct tape transformed the recycling bin into an engineering and math extravaganza.  We used all of these materials to make a ball maze. It was fun.

Running a golf ball through the trash obstacle course

This is a project that captured the attention of both my 2-year-old and 5-year-old.

White Ball flies through the track

Once the boys had each piece exactly where they wanted it, we held time trials.

STEM activity up cycling

Which ball completed the course the fastest? We used a wooden lemon, a golf ball, a puffy craft thing and a ball made up of aluminum foil. We timed them and noted the results in a chart.

Trash Time trial results

The wall was our canvas. But I have seen other people use giant pieces of cardboard or a sliding glass door. This turned out to be a great opportunity to prepare little minds for concepts like gravitational pull and the relationship between weight and speed. I’m not saying I’m going to win a home decorating award with this one. But maybe one day my boys will marvel at how we taped our trash to the walls when they were little!



Toddler Take-Aways and Preschool Perks

  1. Fine motor skills
  2. Engineering
  3. Physics
  4. Math
  5. Technology
  6. Science
  7. Upcycling
  8. Problem solving
  9. Fun!

Maine Maple Sunday

Pure Maine Maple SyrupPortland, Maine – The first sign of spring in Maine is NOT daffodils… it’s sap. Taps and buckets start appearing on maple trees everywhere. And then steam rises from the wood fired sugar houses.

Maine Maple Sunday Tours

And the best part of all… these amazing smelling sugar shacks open their doors to the public to celebrate the sap flow. They call it Maine Maple Sunday, the 4th Sunday in March. A map shows you which producers are welcoming maple fans.

It’s a great chance to teach the kiddos about the whole process and to learn a thing or two myself. Factoids like… it takes 40 gallons of sap to yield one gallon of syrup.

Most farms offer tours of their barns, a chance for your children to meet farm animals. Some producers offer carriage or sleigh rides. And all of the participating farms offer a maple syrup tasting, usually on pancakes.

If you want to give your children a hand’s on experience with maple syrup making, Pineland Farms offers a children’s sugaring program. Click here for more information.

No where near a sap producing maple and still want to learn more? Curious George can help. PBS offers an entire episode (Maple Monkey Madness) on the process of boiling down sap into syrup. There is a book to match.

13 months into my Maine life,  I can tell you maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes. It’s a teaspoon in your morning coffee. It’s a drizzle atop crostini with arugula, pear, and a young pecorino. It’s a dollop on bacon wrapped scallops just before you slide them into the oven. It’s everywhere. And this coming weekend, you can buy it in bulk.

Maine Maple Syrup Jugs

In the Maine, sap is flowing. Spring is here. Thank God.



Toddler Take-Away and Preschool Perks

  1. Exploring the world
  2. Science and Nature Fun
  3. Kitchen Science
  4. Math
  5. Connecting food to environment
  6. Old Fashioned Fresh Air

Enjoy Every Second – Why I finally know what they’re talking about

Portland, Maine – You know, in the dead of winter, here in Maine, leaving the house is often an exercise in emotional torture. It takes 30 to 45 minutes and the clock resets itself with every “I gotta pee!” or poopy diaper. And it usually ends in raised voices, deep breathing exercises, or tears.

You can imagine what goes through my mind when we finally leave the house and someone sees my boys and comes up to me and whispers, “Enjoy every second.”

Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea what we just went through? Have you  forgotten what it’s like to never pee by yourself? Have you blocked out what your mouth smelled like after a couple of days of not seeing a toothbrush? Don’t you remember what your hands looked like after changing a 2-year-old’s poop filled diaper when a temper tantrum strikes… in the middle of it? Do you mean enjoy those seconds, too?

Just last week, I was dressing the children for 16 degree weather in an effort to leave the house. It’s not like I was taking them to get a root canal. No, our destination was the children’s museum. Voices were raised. Deep breathing commenced. Everyone was near tears. And then my phone rang. I glanced quickly to see who was calling.

I froze.

I stopped what I was doing. I looked at my phone again. I did NOT answer. Because I knew immediately. I can’t tell you why. I just felt it. I knew what was about to happen. I knew what was about to be said. I knew immediately that one of my dearest friends was dead.

Just nine years ago, we planned out the rest of our lives while on a girls’ weekend. We giggled about the possibilities. Would I become a mother? Would she take her equestrian dream to the Olympics? Would her sweet daughters follow in her footsteps? Could there eventually be a PhD in our midst? The world was full of possibilities. We were blissfully unaware that time was slipping away.

Grief is like walking in the ocean. A wave of  sadness washes over you and then another and another. And it was during one of those waves that I finally understood what those enjoy-every-second people really mean. Have you ever looked at the people who say that? Not a single one of them is in their 20s. They are not in their 30s. It starts with the 40-somethings. But these words are mostly spoken by folks in their 50s, 60s and older. They have lived long enough to know. They get it. They already know what I just experienced: We’re not all going to make it to the finish line. Every moment we have here is a gift.


Even when you are encasing a screaming child into a snowsuit with the skill of an origami master. Even when you are covered in vomit, pee, poop, or who knows what. Even when you are sure you’ve had enough (and your kids feel the same way).

You are still here. And so are they.

So I’m whispering to you, “Enjoy every second of it.”

Because all of this is so fragile and so truly dear.


Boredom Buster: Window Paint

Boredom Buster: Paint BagsPortland, Maine – Want a colorful way to drive boredom from your house? We do! And, to tell you the truth, with the bitter arctic cold we’ve experienced this winter, I’m taking every chance I get to change our perspective on spending another day inside.

All you need is some paint, freezer bags and tape. I poured two gobs of paint into each bag (roughly two tablespoons each).

Yellow and Blue Make Green

Seal the bag and tape it to the window.

To teach color mixing, I put yellow and blue in one and red and blue in another. I also put like colors together. This a great opportunity to talk about words like ‘hue’ and ‘gradation.’ There are tons of variations to be explored here.

Writing with paint bags

As open-ended play, this activity doesn’t last long (at least with my munchkins). But when you add layers to the activity, they see it in a different way. So we held spelling and writing challenges. You can even “draw” by moving the paint around.

This adds a lot of color to a winter day!

mixing color fun


  1. Resist the urge to get fancy. I added sugar to one bag for a little sun sparkle. Didn’t take long for the grainy texture to create pin sized holes in the bag. You can guess how that turned out!
  2. Make sure your children’s nails are trimmed and filed….(not that I learned the hard way : )




  1. Color Mixing
  2. Color recognition
  3. Sensory Activity
  4. Literacy
  5. Writing Practice
  6. Fine motor skills
  7. Early Science Skills

Happy Valentine’s Day to Chocolate Lovers Everywhere

Mamawa's Best Ever Chocolate Cake

Portland, Maine – The backdoor of Mamawa’s house led right to the heart of our family: the kitchen. There waiting for you on any given day was Mamawa’s Best Ever Chocolate Cake. You couldn’t help but gasp or smile or make a bee-line to the kitchen counter the moment you smelled the sugar.

All it takes for me to go back there… is to bake this cake myself. I know now why she smiled as we devoured it. Because I smile, too, when my children and husband lose their minds the minute that chocolatey smell wafts through the house.

When I was first a reporter in Utica, New York, I was invited to a cook out. I had no idea what to bring, but I knew I’d bring something because as my Memphis-born grandmother always said, “Anna, you don’t ever show up to someone’s house with your arms swinging!” I called Mamawa immediately for help. She dictated this recipe to me over the phone. I attentively and carefully wrote down every ingredient, every instruction.

It was one of the last conversations we had.

And so every time I grab that same sheet of paper to read the recipe, I find myself standing in one of my first apartments listening carefully to my grandmother. I hear her voice teaching me how to make a cake that will bring her great grandchildren so much joy many years later.

Enjoying Mamawa's Chocolate Cake Recipe

Mamawa was a chocolate lover. Valentine’s Day is Mamawa’s day.

Happy Valentine’s Day to Mamawa and may all of you bless your families with some of her cooking.



Mamawa’s Best Ever Chocolate Cake

Cake Ingredients:

  1. 2 Cups of Sugar
  2. 2 Cups of Flour
  3. 1 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
  4. 1 Stick of Butter
  5. 3 Tablespoons of powered cocoa
  6. 1/2 Cup of oil
  7. 1 Cup of water
  8. 2 eggs (or egg replacer)
  9. 1 Teaspoon of vanilla
  10. 1/2 Cup of Buttermilk

Frosting Ingredients:

  1. 1 Stick of Butter
  2. 3 Tablespoons of powdered cocoa
  3. 1/3 Cup of milk
  4. 1 box of powdered sugar (16 oz)
  5. 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla
  6. 1 Cup of chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Cake Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Mix sugar, flour, and baking soda and set aside
  3. Put butter, cocoa, and water in sauce pan and bring to a boil
  4. Pour chocolate mixture over dry ingredients
  5. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla
  6. Pour into greased 9 x 13 cake pan or casserole dish
  7. Bake in oven at 375 for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

Instructions for Frosting

  1. Place butter, cocoa, and milk into a sauce pan and boil
  2. Turn down heat
  3. Add confectioner’s sugar and mix
  4. Add vanilla
  5. Stir in nuts
  6. Pour over hot cake

This recipe can be easily customized. Over the holidays, we added thin mints to the frosting for a peppermint flavor. It was delicious.

Finding Science in Snowflakes

Snow filled wood at Ft. Williams Park Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland, Maine –  This winter has brought some fantastic snowfall. And more is coming! But I must confess, we’ve gone sledding, snowman building, snow angel making, and even thought about building an igloo. But even with all of this snow, we never actually looked at it. I mean really looked at it.

But this book changed that. The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson. And it deserves a spot on your shelf, too. This nonfiction children’s book is told with the wonder of your favorite picture books. And it’s packed with fascinating snow facts that I enjoyed learning just as much as my munchkins did.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonders

After seeing the amazing photographs of snow crystals and after learning that six is a snowflake’s magic number, we held a cookie sheet (covered in black construction paper) outside to catch snowflakes for close inspection. (Note: following the author’s directions, we put our cookie sheet outside and under shelter for 10 minutes to make it cold enough for catching snow.)

We used a pocket microscope to examine our snowflakes.

We used a pocket microscope to examine our snowflakes. The author suggests a magnifying glass which is a great idea!

Judging by my 4-year-old’s reaction, he’ll never look at falling snow the same way. And neither will I!

Tips: The back of the book has instructions for catching and examining snow crystals. That said, suit up and do this science project outside as opposed to opening the window. You’ll have longer to examine the crystals before they melt.




  1. Science Investigation
  2. Math Concepts
  3. Familiarization with scientific tools
  4. Fun with nature
  5. Time with you!

Valentine Craft that’s Fun, Easy and (dare I say it) Even Pretty!

Tissue Paper Valentine

Time to dig through your recycling bin. This craft is easily made with bits of tissue paper, cardboard, ribbon, paint, and glue.

Grab your munchkins and you’ll have this Valentine decor ready to display in no time at all.

Paint your hearts. We cut ours out of cardboard boxes. Cereal boxes will work well, too.

Painted Cardboard Heart

Once the paint is dry, cover one side of the heart with glue.

Cardboard heart covered with glue

Now take tiny bits of tissue paper. Crunch them up (an activity your toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy) and mash them onto the heart. Repeat.

Apply Tissue Paper to Heart

Tissue Paper Heart DecorOnce they are dry, you’ll need a hole puncher to make one opening at top  of the heart and another at the bottom. Thread some ribbon through the holes and hang. BEAUTIFUL!

Wouldn’t it be fun to try this project with letter cut outs? Your preschoolers can arrange the letters to spell LOVE or CUPID or any of the other great Valentine’s Day words. We might just give that a try this week!

A note for parents working out of the home: This project can be broken down into three evening activities. Paint your hearts the first night. Glue and apply tissue paper the second night. String with ribbon and hang the third night. Short and simple!

Preschool Perks and Toddler Take Aways:

  1. Sensory activity
  2. Shape and color recognition
  3. Fine motor control
  4. Upcycle activity
  5. Time with you!