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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gimli, Manitoba: Lovely Little Paradise

The journey away from the Winnipeg airport filled me with worry. We left the industrial outskirts of town behind us and faced the flat, unending prairie of Manitoba. But we had no choice: all of the hotels in Winnipeg were completely sold out. We booked a room in the Lakeview Resort and Conference Center over an hour outside of town. But karma must have been on our side, because our week in Gimli was definitely delightful.

In Icelandic, Gimli means "paradise" and this charming little town on the shores of massive Lake Winnipeg is full of incredibly friendly people and delightful opportunities to experience the beauty of Canada.

My sons have asked me before if we could ever go on a vacation without learning things and I have told them it just wasn't possible. It's the best part of travel! So it makes sense that one of our first stops was the New Iceland Heritage Museum.

Here we learned that Gimli was founded by Icelanders fleeing volcanoes, drought and disease in their homeland.  My favorite new fact was that Icelandic mythology blames all of the volcanic activity on the Midgard Serpent that encircles the earth! I was seriously impressed with the work that went into creating this quilted volcano that represents scientific reality, but I still love the serpent.

But what my boys really loved was learning about the people of Iceland and trying on Viking gear! Ok, I loved it more than a little, too.


The young woman who greeted us at this museum was incredibly nice, too. She taught the boys about runic writing and gave us an assignment to collect flat stones at the beach and practice writing our names in runes. So we did it!


As I learned more about the myths and legends of the region, I discovered the tale of wishing stones. A stone with a hole in it is your wishing stone. A stone with an incomplete hole is someone else's wish. Put it back so they can find it.


Gimli is not a large town. But it does boast of a hippy health food store, a library, an art club, at least two decent coffee shops and lots of places serving fish. The fish of choice is pickerel and I enjoyed my serving of it from Beach Boy. Be warned: helpings of food are not dainty. While we certainly didn't starve during our vacation, I wouldn't say we had anything incredibly gourmet or fresh and local. Except for the fish, most likely. Since we were eating a little less than healthy, we made sure to get in some good exercise. 

A video posted by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan (@epagelhogan) on
(If the video won't load, click here)

Continuing in the theme of the magic and legend of Gimli, it's time to talk about the Huldefolk. One bright day in Gimli, my middle son was on the search for a safety pin to secure his Viking sword to his breeches, I men shorts. The hotel staff suggested we visit the sewing store next store. True to friendly Manitoba form, the lovely ladies at Jocelyn's provided a safety pin at no charge. Then they turned to us with a smile and asked if we had met the Huldefolk yet. Of course we hadn't.

"Stop by Tergeson's first and ask for the book," they suggested. "Then climb into the attic of the old school and see if you find them."

That was enticing enough for us. We visited Tergeson's and picked up our copy of the story of Snorri and Snaebjorn, two little Icelandic spirit people that also journeyed to Gimli. We read the story over and over before bed, then the next day we headed to the old school. 

We followed their footsteps across the wooden floors then slowly climbed the curved wooden stair case to the attic. Even though my boys like to say they are grown-up, it was quite obvious that they were not too old to believe in the magic of spirit people from Iceland. At the top of the stairs we discovered the attic home of Snorri and Snaebjorn, complete with two little beds, two chairs, a table setting for meals and even a bookcase hiding a secret passage! 
We explored the dark and somewhat dusty attic and discussed where we thought they were at the moment, because we though we looked in every little corner, the Huldefolk were not letting themselves be seen by us that day. We think we heard some tiny footsteps on the roof, but by the time we got outside again to check, the roof was empty.

The discovery of the Huldefolk was entirely thanks to the wonderful ladies at Jocelyn's store. We stopped by Jocelyn's again and shared stories from our family adventures and learned about her family. We bonded over our love of magic and fairy tales and even soccer! 

I almost feel bad encouraging people to visit Gimli because it was such an idyllic week for our family. We walked quiet streets and climbed on Viking statues and chatted with people we had only met the day before like they were old friends. But if you do find your way to Gimli, stop by Jocelyn's and tell her the Hogans from Pittsburgh recommended a visit. Then head to Tergeson's and get a copy of the story of the Huldefolk. You won't find the second story of Tergeson's where it used to be, though. You'll have to walk down the street to Brennevin's Pizza Hus and ask them. Grab a bite to eat then keep going about a block and turn left. There you'll find the old school. If the light is on in the attic, you know Snorri and Snaebjorn are in. And then you'd better watch for falling bricks!





Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Balayage Live Blog!!

Inspired by my friend's live blog of Bloomsday, an event celebrating one of the most challenging literary accomplishments in history, I'm live blogging my new hair style!! 

Yes, this is not literary. It's hair. But it sounds French. It's 10:25 and we've selected the color. We is actually Lauren, my super stylist who I trust with all hair-related decisions. 

10:33 balayage is freehand highlights. I have no hair skills but Lauren does. 

10:35 Lauren is going to the Riverhounds game tonight too! I asked her if we can do yellow and blue Hounds color in my hair and she pretended not to hear me. 


10:37 I realize I forgot to ask Lauren's permission to discuss her in my blog. 

10:42 it dawns on my I don't have cash to tip Lauren. She is not surprised by this. I still owe her a tip from the haircut she did before vacation. I am the worst client. 

10:43 Lauren assures me I am not her worst client. 

10:54 My hair is still being painted. 

10:58 Lauren leaves to get more cotton. I snap this sneaky photo before she returns. 

10:59 Lauren's back and my conscience demands that I tell her about the photo I took. She's fine with it and I feel better. 

11:00 Desperado is on the radio now. The previous song was Sweet Home Alabama and before that was DMB and before that was the song that was played at the end of that one Simpsons episode. I don't know the name but it starts "anyway you want it, that's the way you got it." I can't grasp the genre of this station.  

11:02 My husband texts me that the Hounds want a gold out tonight. Now I'm stressed to find a gold shirt when I leave here. 

11:05 Lauren clues me in on the show Married at First Sight. Insane. 

11:08 I discover this description of balayage. Then I wonder if Lauren recommended this because I'm going grey!!! 


Lauren denies my accusation. She says in a comforting tone that I only have one grey hair. 

11:41 Processing. 

11:47 I'm bored so I dig through my purse. I find some Smarties from Canada and my American flag sunglasses. 

Abby Wombach shared photos of her new hair color on Instagram. Thinking about Abby just makes me
Mad at the dumb commentators who said she was using turf as an excuse.  Hardly. 

11:48 Cotton falls out of my hair. I wonder if I should hide it before Lauren sees it. 

12:09 I manage to complete all the steps necessary to send Lauren her tips (both of them) via PayPal. I'm pretty sure she's not mad at me. 

12:14 Toner. 

12:20 Scanning Instagram and I discover the WafflerTruck will be on McKnight Road today! Could this day get any better?! 

12:22 Lauren offers to style my hair curly. Yay! 

12:23 Lauren reminds me balayage is great for people who don't pay attention to their hair (like me) because it grows out looking very natural. No sharp lines like with foil highlights!! She doesn't mention grey hair. 

12:29 Another stylist walks by and Lauren tells her she did balayage. The other stylist says "Oooo!" Don't be jelly. 

12:32 It's going to rain tonight! My cool
new balayage hair will be covered by my non-stylish poncho hood. Boo. #firstworldproblems

12:38 Radio now playing Hotel California.
Lauren told me my hair curls nice. She's so nice but I already sent my tip. 

12:39 I feel the need to clarify that was a joke and I love Lauren! 

12:50 I just finished snooping on people via Facebook and glanced up at my hair. 
Half and half! 

12:51 I meant to do some writing work while I got my hair done. Fail. This is kind of like writing. I did clean out my purse and gave Lauren the last Twizzler in the pack my kids bought. It would only cause fights because there are thee of them and only one Twizzler. I couldn't eat it because Twizzlers are disgusting. And I'm saving room for WAFFLES. 

12:58 It's been almost 3 hours. Was it worth it?

HELL YEAH. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pennsylvania Schools in Hot Water

“It’s not fair!”

As a parent, I’ve heard those words more times than I can count. But what bothers me most about that phrase is not the whiny voice my kids use. It’s that they have no idea what fair means.



Do you?

When I trained  to become an educator, I learned this simple definition: Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. Fairness means people get what they need. I felt this was a useful and sensible definition.

And Pennsylvania isn’t fair when it comes to funding public school education. That’s why the Campaign for Fair Education Funding is calling for the legislature to create a Basic Education Funding formula. Can you believe we don’t already have a adequate and equitable way to distribute funding to schools? We’re one of only three states in the country without a formula.

An article on Newsworks reported that Pennsylvania schools are the most inequitably funded in the
entire country, with poorer school districts receiving 33.5 percent less in education funding than moreaffluent school districts across the state."

What’s really unfair is that as state funding for schools has decreased, the burden to make up the funding deficit falls on local communities. And if those communities are poor, they aren’t able to make up the difference. So the kids in those districts get less than they need. And they struggle and suffer.

My husband compared this problem to boiling a frog. The slow, almost unnoticeable process of heating the water until the frog is dead. We don’t notice the problem until it’s too late.

Inequitable (unfair) funding is hurting our kids, our communities and our states. And it hurts some kids more than others. “This is concentrated disadvantage: the children who need the most are concentrated in schools least likely to have the resources to meet those needs.” Check out this map.

Is our school in trouble?

This fall, all three of my children will attend school in the North Hills School District in Allegheny County. But I realized I had no idea if my school district received enough funding. I assumed things were going ok, but I didn’t know until I looked up the information. Our school is doing well and my children have access to a great library, an excellent music problem, and enough teachers.



Is your school in trouble? Get the fast facts on your district.

Even if your district isn’t struggling, schools and students in your state are not being set up for success.That’s why Pennsylvania needs a funding formula. Voters support the idea. Now, we must convince our local legislators to prioritize students as well.

There are two fair funding formulas that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association feel are worth considering. Both formulas take into consideration the needs of students and district and weight those needs. So for instance, schools with more English Language Learners or students experiencing poverty will receive more money. Also rural areas, which operate schools for small populations, require additional dollars.



You can learn about this important issue before we’re all in hot water by visiting the Campaign for Fair Education Funding website. Then, get http://fairfundingpa.!

Take action! Send a tweet (like this one) to your local legislator. And join the #FairFundingPA Twitter Chat Monday, June 15 at 1-2 PM EST.

Or take action in person. If you love a good road trip combined with a one-of-a-kind educational experience for your kids,  join us in Harrisburg on June 23 for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding Rally!

Want legislators to make sure every child has a fair shot at academic success? Sign up & get involved: http://ow.ly/NPX8b #FairFundingPA



I’m teaming up with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding to speak out for students across Pennsylvania. Although I am receiving some form of compensation, all opinions remain my own. #FairFundingPA

Monday, June 1, 2015

Best Books in 2013

Inspired by a post from Sarah by the Sea - I will keep track of the books I read in 2013 and see if I can read an average of 1 a week. I'm a quick reader but time is tough to come by in my house, so this will require patience and focus. If we could count the books I read to my children each night, I'd be done this challenge in about a month.

Total: 52 Books
Goal: 52 Books
(0 to go!)
I did it! Finished on Dec 17, 2013.



Jan 2013 - 1 book officially. Lots of magazines. Edited a 200 page manuscript for a client.
  • I finished American Short Story Masterpieces (1987) but didn't start it in 2013, so it can't really count.
  • Proud to say this month included Last Call in the City of Bridges the first book from a local publishing house. 

Feb 2013 - 7 books. And more magazines.

  • Just completed The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel  by Jasper Fforde, loaned to me by a friend.
  • The Book of Dragons (Looking Glass Library) was a quick enjoyable read and since I love writing fantasy for the middle grade/young adult crowd I also counted it as research. 
  • Working off a list compiled by Phillip Pullman, I plan to tackle some of the 100 books he thinkgs everyone should read. The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition is on that list, and now it's one of my 52!
  • Struggled to finish The Dragon's Tooth: Ashtown Burials #1. Though it has good reviews I had difficulty enjoying it. I found the descriptions confusing, the characters a bit unbelievable, the language not quite natural. 
  • Flew through Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks with a hard and fast desire to devour the entire story greedily. Now that was a gripping work of historical fiction. Highly, highly recommend. 
  • Absolutely laughed the entire way through Tina Fey's Bossypants. While I recently learned I am the only person in America who never heard the phrase "shit-eating grin" I believe I understood everything Tina Fey was trying to say. 
  • Acquired incredibly valuable information from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Blogged about it here
March 2013 - 4 books.
    • Even though I first encountered Up the Down Staircase as a child, I didn't read it until now. I'm glad I waited, because it was so much more meaningful to me as an adult, especially as an adult who had once considered teaching to be her calling. 
    • I enjoy every opportunity I get to be creative with copywriting, and  The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era (Advertising Age) offered lots of inspiration and good advice.
    • It didn't get great reviews but all in all I found The Casual Vacancy to be engaging and thought-provoking. I cried at the end. 
    • And last, I read Pump Six and Other Stories. This collection of short stories was especially provocative since I was reading them at the Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh, surrounded by food. 
    April 2013 - 2 books.

      14 books as of April 4, 2013. 38 to go.

      May 2013

      Though I started two other books in April, I haven't finished them yet. They are big books. I plan to finish them this month.

      • I read Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? in one morning. Author Beverly Daniel Tatum provides a thoughtful analysis of the literature surrounding the development of racial identity and a challenging definition of the term 'racism'. The insights in this book will stay with me and I'm hopeful I'll begin to bring about some changes in my own sphere of influence. I especially appreciated her suggestions for books for young children to counteract stereotypes. This book was written in 1997, and I am curious to see if Dr. Tatum has written anything since Barack Obama became our president. 
      • Enjoyed Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg by Margo L. Dill. I took a class taught by Margo and won her book in a contest on another author's blog. I love historical fiction and I learned a lot from this book both as a writer & historian. 
      • Basically neutral to unimpressed with The Book by Jessica Bell. The tough part for me was the child's voice. I have three kids, and I spend a lot of time with children. I just didn't find the parts narrated by the child to be authentic. The concept was interesting but not well executed. 

      June/July/August 2013

      While most people get a lot of reading done in the summer I struggled to finish a single book. With the kids home more, triathlon training ramping up and taking on a new client my own reading got pushed to the side. But I did squeeze in three books. 

      • Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. by Meredith Atwood was a good choice leading up to my first Olympic distance triathlon. Meredith has completed sprints, Olympics, HIM and Ironman distances. Many parts of her story resonated with me and I actually used one of her race mantras during the bike portion of my first Olympic. 
      • I finally finished The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. The book is long, which doesn't usually deter me, but it's dense and I often paused to take notes or reflect on concepts. Do not pick this book up for a light read, but absolutely pick it up if you are like me and wonder just how we ever communicate with each other at all. It took me way too long to read, but I really loved this book. 
      • The last book I read this summer was Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Totally applicable for the business world but also for my triathlon and running training and for parenting! If your strategy to motivate lacks autonomy, mastery and purpose you need to read this book. 
      Yes, that's it for this summer. Three books. My current total for the year is 20. I have to read 32 books in three months to hit 52 books. Now, if you counted all the magazines, websites and children's books I've been reading I'm sure my actual time reading is quite significant. It's just hard for me to sit down and tackle a complete book. But I'm going to refocus and work hard to reach my goal.

      September 2013

      This month I surpassed my summer reading total and finished four books. My total is now 24. 28 to go.
      • An online acquaintance (but I can't remember exactly who!) recommended  It's Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business by Bob Burg. Anyway, I read the Kindle version and found it useful and affirming. I tweeted a line from the book that reminded readers we can be blunt without being tactless. I'm working on that. 
      • I finished  You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey Dils. This book reinforced concepts that I knew but often overlooked and introduced important new concepts. It is written with brevity and clarity and I appreciate the informative appendix most of all. Right now I'm focused on the concept of 'internal conflict' that is key in YA literature.
      • My next choice took a historical curve and I read The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara, called 'the classic novel of the Civil War.' I thought that was Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt, which I haven't read since middle school. Regardless, this was an excellent book. It was very sad reading mostly because of the futility of some of the military decisions, something I hadn't known. As a writer, I found it interesting that Shaara changed viewpoints frequently, really operating from a third person omniscient point of view. Although writers are often advised against that, in this book it worked. 
      • My last book this month was Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Wow was this an amazing book! I was thrilled to learn so many provocative and inspiring facts, not the least was that the printing press was an innovation derived from grape presses used to make wine. I took lots of notes and learned about commonplacing, phase-lock, and ran into another reference to the concept of flow also discussed in Gleick's The Information  and Pink's Drive, two books I read this summer (see above). 
      • I also read the short story "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry as a free e-book from the Gutenberg project but I don't think it counts toward my total. 
      October 2013
        • I've been meaning to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss for ages and finally finished it. It was definitely entertaining and not at all dry. I can't say I was stunned by anything in the book but I'm not sure I agree with her opinion about the movie Two Weeks Notice.
        • After hearing an interview on The Diane Rehm Show over the summer I was inspired to get a copy of Porgy by Du Bose Heyward. Do not read this if you're looking for a delightful tale. The language is evocative, the dialogue may slow you down a bit but push through. People need to read this book and spend a some time with the residents of Catfish Row. 

        At this point, I am now halfway to my goal.  I have a big stack of print books and a good collection of e-books waiting for my attention? Do you have any recommendations?

          Don't have time to write long summaries of each or pop up the links (yet) but here are six more books I've read this month.
          • Magdalen
          • Watermelon
          • An Everlasting Meal
          • The Invention of Hugo Cabret
          • Happier at Hom
          • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
          November 2013 
            I'm pretty busy with NaNoWriMo, writing conferences, holidays and client work, so I'm just keeping a list now instead of doing mini-reviews. I'm also getting close to my goal. I'm hopeful I can make it!

            34. City of Bones
            35. Epitaph for a Peach
            36. Happy Trails to You - Julie Hecht
            37. The Keep - Jennifer Egan
            (skimmed a book called Breaking Bread about immigrants and food)
            38. The Magician's Elephant - Kate DiCamilio
            39. The Midwife's Apprentice
            40. Divergent
            41. Breadcrumbs (quick word here:  my favorite part involved The Little Match Girl. I loved how the author indulged herself a little there.)
            42. Insurgent
            43. Allegiant
            44. Saffy's Angel - will definitely read more by Hilary McKay
            45. Wonder
            46. Small as an Elephant - loved this. Can't wait for my sons to be old enough to read it.
            47. Inventing Victor - by local Pittsburgh author Jen Bannan. Loved this collection of short stories.
            48. An Amateur's Guide to to Pursuit of Happiness -  also by local Pittsburgh author Britt Reints. She made some amazing choices to pursue happiness!
            49. Bonded - received this as a gift in Bermuda, it's by a Bermudian author McCal Roberts. There are some very strange moments in this book but there's a good idea in there somewhere.
            50. Schottenfreude. Not a story, but perhaps one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time.

            That's right, only 2 books to go. That's because I spent a week in Bermuda and was able to read every single day!!! I read 9 books in 1 week. It was incredible. It was rejuvenating. Now I know why writers are always advised to read, it feeds the writing soul.

            On to December! Only 2 books left to meet my goal. That's an awesome feeling. And I'm already starting to look for more books to read. I'm prepared: I have two big book lists I'm waiting to tackle, including the nominees for the 2013 National Book Award and another random list I printed online that asked well-known young adult authors to list their favorite books. I think there are 100 books on this list, and if I can get through these two lists in the next year I shall be very well-read indeed.

            December
            51. Treasure Island
            52. Skellig

            (but now the big question...do I count books I have started this year in next year's tally?)

            Best Books in 2014

            (This post originally appeared as a page on my blog.)

            Last year, I decided to try and read 52 books in one year. It was a tough challenge during the summer. While many people read on vacation, I took a vacation from reading. But I found my stride and thanks to a hefty November effort and managed to meet my goal before the year ended.

            This year, instead of quantity, I'm aiming for quality.  Long ago I came across this article from The Independent that suggested 11 year-olds should read these 50 books in one year. Some of these books I've read as a child, but I'll be reading them again this year and I'm curious to see how I'll experience them as an adult.

            I also set a goal to read all the nominees for the 2013 National Book Award. That list is below the 11 year-old reading list.

            And finally at the way bottom of the page are My Picks, obviously books I picked to read on my own.

            I'm on Goodreads if you want to connect with me there.

            Stop back often and check out this list to see what I'm reading, what I've read, and get ideas for yourself!


            Philip Pullman

            READ * Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Indispensable. The great classic beginning of English children's literature.

            READ 2014 * Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. What effortless invention looks like.

            READ 2014* Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner. A great political story: democracy in action.

            READ 2014 * Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. As clear and pure as Mozart.

            READ 2014* Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken. If Ransome was Mozart, Aiken was Rossini. Unforced effervescence.

            READ 2014* The Owl Service by Alan Garner. Showed how children's literature could sound dark and troubling chords.

            READ 2013 * The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Superb wit and vigorous invention.

            READ 2014* Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. Any of the Moomin books would supply the same strange light Nordic magic.

            * A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna. A particular favourite of mine, as much for Richard Kennedy's delicate illustrations (in the English edition) as for the story.

            * The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé. Three generations of this family have loved Tintin. Perfect timing, perfect narrative tact and command, blissfully funny.

            Michael Morpurgo

            READ 2014* The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. The heroine is blessed with such wonderful friends who help her through the twists and turns of this incredible journey.

            READ 2014 * A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The first few pages were so engaging, Marley's ghostly face on the knocker of Scrooge's door still gives me the shivers.

            * Just William books by Richmal Crompton. These are a must for every child.

            READ 2014 * The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. This was the first story, I think, that ever made me cry and it still has the power to make me cry.

            READ 2013 * The Elephant's Child From The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The story my mother used to read me most often, because I asked for it again and again. I loved the sheer fun of it, the music and the rhythm of the words. It was subversive too. Still my favourite story.

            READ 2013* Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson This was the first real book I read for myself. I lived this book as I read it.

            * The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. A classic tale of man versus nature. I wish I'd written this.

            * The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. A book for children from 8 to 80. I love the humanity of this story and how one man's efforts can change the future for so many.

            * The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy The story of two children who go to find their father who has been listed missing in the trenches of the First World War.

            READ * The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I love this story of a girl's life being changed by nature.

            Katy Guest, literary editor for The Independent on Sunday

            * Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah. Story of a young Ethiopian boy, whose parents abandon him in London to save his life.

            * Finn Family Moomintroll (and the other Moomin books) by Tove Jansson. A fantasy series for small children that introduces bigger ones to ideas of adventure, dealing with fear, understanding character and tolerating difference.

            READ 2013 * Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. It's rude, it's funny and it will chime with every 11-year-old who's ever started a new school.

            * I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Written for a teenage audience but fun at any age.

            READ * The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Be warned, these tales of hobbits, elves and Middle Earth are dangerously addictive.

            * The Tygrine Cat (and The Tygrine Cat on the Run) by Inbali Iserles. If your parents keep going on at you to read Tarka the Otter, The Sheep-Pig and other animal fantasies, do – they're great books – also try Iserles' stories about a cat seeking his destiny.

            * Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. A grown-up book – but not that grown-up.

            * When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. Judith Kerr's semi-autobiographical story of a family fleeing the Nazis in 1933.

            * Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Elaborate mythological imagery and a background based in real science. If you like this, the Discworld series offers plenty more.

            * The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. The pinnacle of the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson's brilliant and enormous output.

            John Walsh, author and Independent columnist

            * The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Irresistible puzzle-solving tales of the chilly Victorian master-sleuth and his dim medical sidekick.

            * The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Age-transcending tale, both funny and sad.

            * Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White. Magical story of 10-year-old Maria, living in a derelict stately home, shy, lonely and under threat from both her governess and her rascally guardian.

            READ * Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Inexplicably evergreen, trend and taste-defying 1868 classic.

            * How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle. Side-splitting satire on skool, oiks, teechers, fules, bulies, swots.

            * Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. First of the action-packed adventures with 14-year-old Alex Rider.

            * Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. "Dulce et Decorum Est" for pre-teens.

            READ 2013 * Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Lively, amoral, wildly imaginative debut (six more followed) about the money-grabbing master-criminal Artemis, 12. The author called it "Die Hard with fairies".

            * The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. Inspiring wartime story of the Balicki family in Warsaw.

            * Animal Farm by George Orwell. Smart 11-year-olds won't need any pre-knowledge of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and 1917 to appreciate this brilliantly-told fable.

            Michael Rosen

            READ 2013 * Skellig by David Almond. Brings magical realism to working-class North-east England.

            * Red Cherry Red by Jackie Kay. A book of poems that reaches deep into our hidden thoughts but also talks in a joyous voice exploring the everyday.

            * Talkin Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. A book of poems that demands to be read aloud, performed and thought about.

            * Greek myths by Geraldine McCaughrean. Superheroes battle with demons, gods intervene in our pleasures and fears – a bit like the spectres in our minds going through daily life, really – beautifully retold here.

            * People Might Hear You by Robin Klein. A profound, suspenseful story about sects, freedom and the rights of all young people – especially girls.

            * Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. A book that dared to go where no one thought you could with young audiences because it raises tough stuff to do with race.

            * Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan. A crazy adventure set amongst the kids you don't want to know but who this book makes you really, really care about.

            * After the First Death by Robert Cormier. Cormier is never afraid of handling how the personal meets the political all within the framework of a thriller.

            * The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. A book that allows difference to be part of the plot and not a point in itself.

            * Beano Annual. A cornucopia of nutty, bad, silly ideas, tricks, situations and plots.

            National Book Award Nominees
            READ January 2014 - Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders

            My own picks:
            Jan 2014
            Indigo's Star, by Hilary McKay
            Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
            Several Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Parks (with my first grader)

            Feb 2014 
            The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
            Hide and Seek, by Kate Messner
            The Passionate Nomad, The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
            Anton Chekhov, Five Plays


            March 2014
            Crank, by Ellen Hopkins. Inspired to blog about writing truth.
            Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
            Seven books about bees - I can't even list them all. Well worth it.
            Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman
            The Fault in Our Stars, John Green.  Inspired me to write a blog about fictional characters.
            History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault.

            April 2014
            Zombie Makers. More about bees and insects.
            Parnassus on Wheels. Got this from my Quarterly subscription from Book Riot.
            Groundswell. A book about social technology and corporate communication.

            May/June 2014
            When You Reach Me
            Panic
            Gollywhomper Games
            The Seventh Level
            Percy Jackson series (Books 1-4)
            How to Train Your Dragon
            The Quick Fix
            The Big Splash
            The Meaning of Maggie
            Beautiful Creatures
            The Maze Runner
            52 Reasons to Hate My Father
            Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes
            Weasel

            My reading has really bumped UP - and it's super easy to keep track of books in GoodReads, so I'd love it if you followed me there!



            Poetry
            Shockingly, my first ever award for writing was an Honorable Mention for my poem "Protagonist." I have never felt comfortable with poetry, but sometimes good friends sometimes send me beautiful things to read. Here are some:

            Shane Koyczan – To This Day
            The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination - a must-read. My children and I delighted in these poems, especially Pollywogs! and Ning Nang Nong

            Saturday, May 2, 2015

            The Night Before Your Race


            It’s the night before I run my leg of the FedEx Ground Pittsburgh Marathon Relay, and I’m anxious. I can’t sit still but I know I need to rest. I’m drinking water and I know I should eat, but I’m a little nervous. I just don’t feel that hungry. I’m excited about tomorrow, but also edgy. What if something unexpected happens? Will I be strong enough to get through the day? I think about the people who love me and will cheer for me, and I feel better.

            This feeling is familiar to runners and to moms who have given birth. That’s because nesting and tapering are the same thing.

            For some reason when I was pregnant, it irked me when people accused me of nesting. I am not obsessive about cleaning, but I do like to organize whether I’m pregnant or not. But when a pregnant woman goes about organizing baby’s items, the cans and spices in the kitchen, her home office, the books in her library, the tools in the garage, the magazines in the bathroom…maybe that was nesting.

            Nesting for runners is called tapering. Don’t try to deny it, it’s the same thing. (Do you think it's just a weird coincidence runners wear bibs??)

            OK, there are some small differences. Pregnancy lasts around forty weeks but many women don’t know they are pregnant until they are six to eight weeks along, so on average women experience about 32 weeks of pregnancy. Training for a marathon can take up to twenty weeks, especially for newbies who want to actually enjoy the experience. Since most people don’t (usually) start training for marathon without knowing it, but may be thinking about it for a long time (pre-contemplation stage), it’s not too crazy to argue that pregnancy and marathon training can last a similar amount of time.

            The last two weeks of being pregnant involves a lot of sitting around, feeling restless, getting spurts of energy and making sure everything is ready, and waiting for the Big Day. And the last two weeks of training involve a lot of sitting around, feeling restless, getting spurts of energy to make sure everything is ready, and waiting for the Big Day.

            Nesting for me involved packing my hospital bag and laying out exactly what I wanted. I’d need a headband, lip balm, comfortable socks, my favorite water bottle, the right top for nursing, my favorite pajama pants, and a camera to capture those special moments. Tapering for me involves packing my race bag and laying out exactly what I want. I need a headband, sunglasses, lip balm, comfortable socks, my water bottle, the right top and shorts, and a camera to capture those special moments.

            Nesting meant making sure the house was tidy so when I came home with my new baby I could rest and not stress about clutter. Tapering meant making sure the house was tidy so when I came home with my new medal I could rest and not stress about clutter.

            Nesting involved prepping my favorite foods to enjoy in the first few days home. Tapering involves picking a fun restaurant for my post-race meal and making sure I bring home leftovers.

            Nesting involved buying a celebratory bottle of wine! Tapering involves deciding on my celebratory cocktail!

            Nesting involved reassuring myself I had done everything I needed to do during pregnancy. I’d read all the books, did my Kegels and stretches and exercises, talked to experienced friends and nurses, gotten enough rest and visualized how I hoped my day would go. Tapering involves reassuring myself I’ve done everything I needed to do during training. I’d read all the books, done the strength work and distance work and speed work, talked to experienced friends and coaches, gotten enough rest and visualized how I hoped my day would go.

            Nesting also involved snapping at people who cared about me, then crying about it. Tapering can involve snapping at people who care about me, then crying about it.

            Nesting involved some moments of fear and doubt. Tapering involved some moments of fear and doubt. And I know when it's all over I won't look as good in the photos as I feel.

            It’s almost show time. Do I have what it takes to deliver?

            Monday, April 27, 2015

            Try It: Nemacolin Winter Weekend

            This winter, we were so lucky to escape the freezing cold in Pittsburgh and head south to the freezing cold at Nemacolin. Our little winter weekend was an amazing family escape that gave each of us the chance to try some new adventures!

            We fought our way through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic and finally arrived at Falling Rock in the late evening. The butlers at Falling Rock were an incredible surprise. They treated our tired family with a little celebratory bubbly to start the weekend right.



            The main reason for our trip was to try dog sledding. No one in the family has ever done this activity, so we were all curious and excited about how it would go. Books play a big role in our household, and we caught the dog sledding bug after reading a book in the Puppy Place series. Saturday morning we were up early and layered on our warm clothes. The temps were close to zero, but nothing was going to keep us from those husky pups.

            A shuttle took us from Fallingrock to the Wildlife Center where we met a few other animals like a giant tortoise and a guinea pig (which also connected well with the new book we were reading, Guinea Dog!)

            One sled could not carry our entire family, so we split the ride. I went first with the middle and the little. Even though our youngest is nervous around dogs, he was still excited to jump into the sled.


            We cruised over the sparkling snow, up and down hills, and even with the icy wind hitting our faces the ride was a delight. Halfway through the ride my husband jumped into the sled with our oldest. I told my boys we were super lucky to go on this adventure, and I knew they loved it when my youngest said he couldn't wait to bring his kids!

            After the ride we headed back to Fallingrock to warm up in a bath drawn by the butlers. The boys loved the warm, lavender scented water and then they settled in with their dad to watch some soccer while I enjoyed a fantastic 90 minute massage at the Woodlands Spa.

            Our late afternoon activity involved more snowy adrenaline: twilight snow tubing! The older boys had snow tubed here a few years ago, but this was the first time for the youngest. I admit I was a little nervous sending the five year old down the hill, but he did amazing! My husband decided not to ride, but me and the boys had some seriously fun runs with lots of shouts and yells.


            The boys were wiped out after the day full of activities. We ordered room service for dinner and settled them in front of the television to watch some episodes of Treehouse Masters (getting ready for our April adventure). A sitter stayed with the boys while my husband and I headed out to a grown-ups dinner at Lautrec.

            Oh Lautrec. We dined there several years ago and had an incredible meal with fantastic company, my husband's brother and his wife. It was just me and my best friend this time, and we decided to indulge in the caviar. Best decision ever.



            This wasn't my first time eating caviar, but it was my first time enjoying it in this presentation. I'm going to sound like I'm gushing here, but I adored this dish. I adored the teeny tiny blinis and the little potato cakes and the pumpernickel toasts. I adored topping the caviar with egg and sour cream and chives and red onions. Each bite was a mini-sparkler burst of flavor. The elements of color, savory, delicate tastes, and the excellent company made this the most enjoyable part of dinner. I know I ate other things that night, but the caviar dish was unforgettable.

            Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Fallingrock and checked out of our room with a little bag full of bubble bath as a gift from our butlers. We spent a little time at the arcade and then headed back to regular life in Pittsburgh. But this weekend getaway recharged us all and gave us fantastic family memories.