Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Libri for Kiddos

...books for the bibliophile in all of us.

It is no secret that I am a professed bibliophile, a lover of books and the written word. I buy books. I read books. I gaze at books. I lust after books. Books, to me, represent so many wonderful things: adventure, knowledge, imagination, new ideas, beauty. SO much more than simple information or a story. I love all types of fiction and I also collect various non-fiction books-mainly involving Medieval and Renaissance history and religious history. 

I have also been collecting children's books long before I actually had any children. Children's books (not young adult, which is massively popular, but books meant for our tiniest humans, around the ages of 3-8) are severely under appreciated. Don't get me wrong, there are some abysmal children's books. However, there are some pretty awesome ones. In fact there are a lot of great children's books. I firmly believe that children's books are not meant just for kids. Adults can and should enjoy them as well. If you find a book boring, then most likely, the child will as well.

I've compiled a visual list of my top 11 (yes, eleven!) children's books that I own and enjoy reading to my boys who are ages 10 months and 4 years. This is by no means a complete "top 10" list as there are many, many more books that I love. I wanted to share these ones with you as these are our go-to reads around here....for now anyway.

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
This classic is a favorite of mine. The four fatherless Rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and of course, Peter. It is really a tragic tale that introduces kids to the idea of death as the reader learns right away that the father was baked right into a pie by Mrs. McGregor. It is a cautionary tale warning young children to listen to their mother's or they too might run into the trials and tribulations of young Peter Rabbit.

Little Goblins Ten by Pamela Jane
This book has to be one of my all-time favorites. Little Goblins Ten is so much fun to read and really holds the child's attention with its lyrical prose. I bought this book for Atticus on Halloween but we keep it out year round and read it at least once a week. It is a rhyming story which, if done right, can be so much fun to read. The artwork is fantastical and magical and I just adore it.

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. San Souci
I bought Cinderella Skeleton when I worked at Walden Books back in 2000. I had no children and no plans on having kids any time soon but I loved the art work in this book. It follows the basic Cinderella story line but the big twist is that instead of losing her shoe her entire foot pops right off. This ghoulish and beautiful book is also great any time of year, not just for Halloween. The rhyming scheme is ABBCCA which is not my favorite rhyming scheme as I think it can be hard to read aloud flawlessly. The story though is engaging and the artwork is beautiful.

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
When I was pregnant with my first child, Atticus, the movie version of this book came out. The trailer used the song Wake Up by Arcade Fire and I would sob every time it came on TV. Before long, I started to consider this story "mine and Atticus'".  This is such a sweet story of a rambunctious little boy with a larger than life imagination. However, no matter where is imagination takes him, he ultimately wants to be home...where someone loves him most of all. And the story ends with Max finding all is well in his world with his dinner waiting for him. The illustrations not only help propel the story along but are really a part of the story. *sigh* I have my own little rambunctious "Max" and this book just reminds me of him. P.S. I adore  you Atticus Weiland! Love, Mommy.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
This is another book I bought years before I actually had kids. This book might be one of those books that unfortunately gets lumped into gender-specific piles but I really try to avoid doing that. I buy books about princesses and with female protagonists to help teach my boys an appreciation for all things 'girls'. The story is what makes this children's classic so special. Not only is the protagonist female, but she is also the heroine. Yes, the paper bag princess (Elizabeth) rescues the prince! And she does it in the most clever of ways: using wit to best brawn. Unfortunately for the prince, he failed to recognize the amazing-ness that was Elizabeth. In the end, Elizabeth tells Ronald the prince exactly what she thinks about his vain ways and they don't get married after all. More books need to mimic this timeless tale.

The Cat In The Hat by Dr. Seuss
You just can't go wrong with a Dr. Seuss book. Seriously, every library (not matter how big or small) should include at least one and what better that The Cat In The Hat. This is actually quite a long story to hold a 3 or 4 year old's interest but it does without fail. When you read a rhyming book, it's almost like singing a song once you get your rhythm going. You just can't deny the brilliance of this classic children's books. "What would you do if your mother asked you?"

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
My sisters Katie and Sarah bought this book for my baby shower when I was pregnant with Atticus. This book is absolutely adorable and you fall in love with the very charming imagination of Skippyjon Jones, the Siamese Cat that pretends to be none other than a Chihuahua. This book is pure FUN.

Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi
Every potty training toddler needs this book. It normalizes poop like nothing else can. It's probably more effective for the parents than the kids but this book takes something so normal and natural and teaches kids that hey, everyone poops! It even has cute little (albeit very basic) illustrations showing various animals and even a daddy (with a newspaper and pipe no less) pooping. Maybe some might think it is gross but I think it is great.

The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson
This fairy tale is rather long and it never holds the interest of my 4 year old for longer than a few pages. I tend to just read a couple of sentences on each page and then move on to make it to the end. So why would I pick this one? Because it is beautiful. I bought this at one of my favorite used bookstores: Downtown Bookstore in Riverside, CA (I love love love Riverside). The tale centers around an enchanted forest and three brothers who must find the Heart of the World but once in the forest, the magic tries to distract the brothers from their task. This book made my list because when I sat down to read it to my son, in it's entirety, he got up and left half way through (because it is just too long for that age) but my husband, who was listening in, asked me to finish reading the story and I did. It is a great tale and a magical read.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is my son Atticus' favorite book. Maybe it's all the food the caterpillar eats (toddlers love anything about food) or the pop! sound you get to make while reading it or the simple journey the caterpillar makes to become a beautiful butterly, I don't know. But this book is often requested with an encore as well. 

The Boy Who Ate Words: The Adventures of Atticus and Ryker by Janet M. Woodard Rollstin
My mother wrote this book for Atticus and Katie's son Ryker in 2010. Atticus was obsessed with letters at an early age and so my mom weaved a magical tale about a baby that ate words and told golden tales to his younger cousin, Ryker. This is my absolute favorite kids book ever. My mother was an excellent writer (she wrote another kids book when Katie and I were little girls) and a great weaver of words. She even drew the pictures (I mean c'mon, it's just not fair for one person to be so talented!).

So there you have it. I'm sure there will be another list of our top 10 books in a few more months. What children's books are your favorites to read (even if you don't have kids!)?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Heather Farm Park

When we go traveling across California to visit our friends we always are looking for places to take the kids. A little fun for them and a little fun for us.

One of our closest friends lives outside of San Francisco in a town called Walnut Creek. We absolutely love it there. It is beautiful, everything is close by and most importantly it is a kid friendly city. 

They have parks all over the city, there is even one downtown. It was our last day in Walnut Creek and I wasn't feeling so good but I wanted to make the most of our vacation. Our friend suggested we go by Heather Farm Park and I reluctantly agreed. 

I was so glad I did! It was a gorgeous park full of kids playing and people walking their dogs. It was late afternoon so the light was low but everything felt fresh and new.

There was plenty of parking just across the street. On one side is a kid park and the other side a dog park. I thought it was nice because Ryker really liked watching the dogs run around. 

I think it's impossible not to let your inner child out at a playground. I think we would have all been climbing on the play equipment if there were no kids there.

I tried these bars and failed miserably. I did have a child strapped to me though. 

Dean, secure in the Moby, just observed all. We walked around and looked while the boys played. Since no one but me takes pictures while we are out I seem to always have the selfie pic! 

There was seriously too much to play on. I thought it was going to be impossible to tear my son away but luckily the lure of water distracted him.

The park has a cute little pond. There was an otter that popped up and splashed around a bit. It was ridiculously cute. I guess they are a thing here, they even have videos on you tube

 Beyond the pond (rhyme!) are trails that lead around a creek and back to the park again so it was a nice easy excursion but long enough to tire a child. 

I imagine if I lived here this would be a place I would come to often. It has a great feel to it. It has a great sense of community and pride. I definitely felt  better after going! Heather Farm Park has tons to offer in the summer so we might have to make a trip up north at that time.

This place added to my happy narrative so much so, that I wanted to share it. Do you have a park you absolutely love? Share! We always love suggestions on new places to go!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Easy Spaghetti Squash Pasta

Time for another recipe! As I mentioned in my New Year's Post, I am on a mission to improve my overall health. I am trying to make small changes and this dish takes one of my favorite recipes and makes it just a little bit healthier.

Spaghetti squash is an excellent replacement for traditional pasta. It may look intimidating, but it is actually quite easy to make. The hardest part is cutting the squash in two...seriously, it takes a bit of muscle. Please be careful while doing this!! Slow and steady with heavy pressure, allow the weight of your knife do most of the work. This is also a good time to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Just like a pumpkin you carve during Halloween, spaghetti squash has a thick, fleshy interior with stringy fibers and seeds. The part you will be eating is the fleshy interior. Use a large table spoon to scoop out the fibers and seeds. 

You will be left with two hollowed out halves. 

Next, I take a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, about a tablespoon for each half, and brush it on both sides of the squash. This will help give the squash a nice golden color while roasting.

Flip the squash over and poke a few holes in the squash with a fork. Then brush some more EVOO on and sprinkle both sides with Kosher salt. Place the squash, flesh side down, on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. 

The spaghetti squash will have a nice golden brown color around the edges. So how do you get spaghetti? Using a towel, hold the spaghetti squash with the towel in one had and use a fork to scrape out the cooked flesh. Starting at the top of the squash, scrape down with the fork, pulling the strings out. It should come out pretty easily.

And this is what it looks like done! A large bowl of 'pasta'. It is such a nice alternative to noodles which can pack on 200 calories per cup while spaghetti squash runs about 40-45 calories per cup. (Nutritional data found here.)

I like to top my spaghetti squash with some chicken sausage, garlic, chopped Roma tomatoes, chopped artichokes, capers, basil, and Parmesan cheese. This dish is so versatile you can easily make it all vegetarian or vegan by simply removing the meat and cheese, though I have to say that the Parmesan cheese makes this dish so much better! 

So if you haven't tried spaghetti squash, go for it. You won't be disappointed!