Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge - A Giveaway!

It's summer vacation for us here in Georgia, y'all!

Regardless of whether or not you are out of school yet, you can still participate in the 2015 Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge!

The Challenge is in its 9th year and is a free program designed to encourage kids to read over the summer, stopping the dreaded "summer slide" - the loss of skills over the summer.  Studies show that teachers spend 4-6 weeks re-teaching materials to students in the fall because of skills lost over the summer!

I've already shared with you a list of our favorite fantasy-genre books for tweens - at the bottom of the post are links for more great book suggestions from other Georgia bloggers.

Kids can start logging their reading minutes NOW!  They can enter a monthly sweepstakes to win fun prizes as well as earn digital rewards for completing weekly challenges.  New this year are 12 original short stories that the kids can unlock.  The authors are well-known children's authors and they have each written a story using the same opening sentence:  "I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that no one had followed me into the shadowy library, then took a deep breath and opened the glowing book..."  Each story has an audio component, so kids of all reading levels can enjoy the stories.

For parents, there are all kinds of interesting articles and reading activities.  Enter to win a prize pack just for adults!  Also, grab free resources such as printables and booklists for all ages of kids!

To kick off, Scholastic wants to offer TWO of my readers a fun prize pack!

The prize pack includes books (titles may vary from the picture), bookmarks, printables, SuperScience magazine, Magic School Bus poster, Harry Potter poster, a signed copy of a 39 Clues poster featuring Gordon Korman, Jude Watson, Peter Langris, and Rick Riordan.  There's also a water bottle that Mom or Dad can snag!  Contest runs May 27th to June 3rd.  U.S. residents only. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 25, 2015

Summer Reading: Our 5 Favorite Tween Fantasy Book Series

Disclosure:  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  Clicking on the title links and purchasing anything from Amazon will help keep my kids in books this summer! 

I still read aloud to my 3 kids, even though the older ones are 13 and almost 12.  This is the only way I can expose them to some books that I know - I KNOW - they will love, but just refuse to crack open on their own.  My 11 year old is particularly jerky about this.  I have to leave books lying around and eventually he will pick them up and then tell me how good they are.

Some of our best discoveries have happened that way and the best part is that I got to discover those books alongside my kids.

My older boys like a lot of fantasy books - wizards, talking cats, dragons.  I love that they embrace new ideas and fantastical worlds!  Here are some of our favorites:

Peter and the Starcatchers: Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry
All three of my boys loved these books - and I did, too.  Peter Pan was always one of my Disney favorites.  This book tells the origin story - how the boy became Peter Pan, how Tinker Bell came to be, how Captain Hook got to the island and so on. The story is told with great imagination and subtle humor, thanks to the Pearson / Barry pairing.
 Age Range: 10 and up, but a read aloud for all ages.

Wings of Fire Book One: The Dragonet Prophecy: Tui Sutherland
My oldest loves these books.  He has a thing for dragons.  While a capable reader, he is a very reluctant reader.  Imagine this momma's heart when he came in my room one night and went on and on for about 20 minutes telling me all about the latest book he was reading from this series!  Five young dragons are raised to fulfill a prophecy - they are the ones who will bring peace to warring dragon tribes.  It's up to them to discover how.
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7

Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark: Ridley Pearson
Y'all know I'm a fan.  I've actually read more in this series than my kids have so far!  Five middle school students are hired by Disney as models to help pioneer hologram technology in the parks.  This takes a twist when they wake up in the Disney parks overnight to discover that all the characters come to life and the villains are trying to take over!  It's up to the five Kingdom Keepers to rally the "good" characters and save Walt's kingdom!  These books would be great to read aloud or get on CD for a road trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World!
  • Age Range: 10 - 11 years Grade Level: 5 - 6

A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet): Madeline L'Engle
I LOVED this series when I was younger.  Therefore, my preteen wouldn't touch it.  I finally announced that it would be our next chapter book.  When I was done, I got immediate announcements that we would continue reading the series aloud.  The Murry kids are close, but Meg and Charles Wallace are bonded in a different way.  When they meet three supernatural beings that promise to take them to their long-lost father, held captive in a different universe, they jump at the chance and bring their new friend Calvin along to help.  In order to save Mr. Murry, though, they must conquer a growing evil that is threatening all the planets.  Kids love books where kids are the heroes, and L'Engle is a master of creativity.  Originally written in 1962, the story is timeless and I especially appreciate that the language is not dumbed down like many of the stories written for preteens today.  
  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 6 and up

Fablehaven: Brandon Mull
This is our most recent discovery.  Friends had recommended it, but, as usual, my kids showed no interest on their own so I chose it as a read aloud and they are hooked.  Y'all, I have to say that I caught myself reading ahead a little to find out what happened next!  Vacationing parents are the reason siblings Kendra and Seth are sent to their grandparent's house for couple of weeks.  During their stay, they learn that all is not what it seems and their grandparents are actually caretakers of a refuge for mythical creatures!  Not all those creatures are well-intentioned, and there is a society dedicated to the destruction of all such refuges.  Kendra and Seth are drawn in the battle and are sized up as future heirs.  Bravo to the author for making this book relatable to preteens by using "their" language in dialog, but assuming kids are intelligent enough to read vocabulary that is (or should be) on their level.  Like L'Engle, these books are not dumbed down for the readers and I really appreciated the exposure my kids were getting to what good writing looks and sounds like. 
  • Age Range: 9 - 13 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 8

Fantasy is a very hot genre right now among older elementary and middle school students.  As a Catholic, I try to make sure that my kids are reading things that expose them to imagination and creativity without compromising our family's Christian values.  I've found nothing in any of the previous books that is offensive or contrary to what we are teaching our kids.  

These are our favorites, but we would love to hear more - what are your kids reading that they can't put down?

Check out suggestions in other genres from some great bloggers!  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ripley's Attractions in Gatlinburg - 8 Great Ways To Have Fun!

Disclosure:  As a member of US Family Guide, I will be given free tickets to all the mentioned attractions in exchange for social media promotion.  All opinions are my own.

When discussing our vacation options for this summer, of course we thought of the beach.  Living in Georgia, we're a relatively short drive away from the beauty of Tybee and Jekyll Islands, my faves.

Our middle son, however, reminded me that he wanted to go to the mountains last year and got outvoted.  This summer, we will turn around and head north.   Thankfully, it's another short drive to get to some great areas.

When I saw the information regarding the Ripley attractions hit my inbox, I knew it was meant to be!  Gatlinburg, TN offers EIGHT attractions from Ripley - the famous name you associate with "Believe it or not!"

  • Guinness World Records Museum
  • Ripley's 5D Moving Theater
  • Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
  • Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium
  • Ripley's Davy Crockett Mini-Golf (2 separate courses)
  • Ripley's Haunted Adventure
  • Ripley's Marvelous Mirror Maze
These are great activities for those who want to get out of the heat or who run into some rainy vacation days!

We've been to the aquarium on a previous visit and my boys loved it!  I know my middle school boys would be fascinated by the Guinness World Records Museum and the Odditorium.  My youngest is obsessed with mini-golf.  

If you are planning a trip to Gatlinburg this summer, check out any of these attractions!  My readers save $3 off Adult admission and $2 off Child Admission to all of Ripley's Attractions in Tennessee.  Use online promo code USFAMILYGUIDE; must purchase online.

Which of the 8 attractions appeals to you the most?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Resort

I'm a little behind on this one, y'all, but I promised in my recap of the St. Jude Country Music Half Marathon that I would share more with you about the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN.

My BRF Kristen from Memphis was a repeat visitor to this hotel and insisted we stay there.  I was more than happy to trust her judgement and have her make the arrangements.  I'm like that.

I got giddy pulling off the highway and driving by the Grand Ole Opry!  I grew up with country music in the house and was excited to see the legendary place!  It's right next to the Gaylord.

The first thing I noticed about the resort?  It is HUGE, y'all!

There are several sections of the hotel.  Our room was in the Delta section - reminiscent of Mississippi and Louisiana.

This was the view from our balcony.  The hotel is like its own self sustainable city!  All the balconies face inward and the roof is glassed in.  You can stroll through shops and restaurants without ever leaving the hotel!  There are lovely gardens and even a boat ride!

We were famished and could see the Stax burger restaurant from our room - sold!

Choices abound - Pub food, pizza, steaks, burgers, Mexican, Italian, Japanese...  All within the hotel.

The gardens and paths within the hotel are lovely!  We wandered a while and Kristen pointed out her favorite areas.

The hotel also looks just as lovely by night!

I would have loved to explore more, but we didn't have that much time - we were there for a one night stay and had to leave quickly after running on Saturday.

I loved this hotel, y'all!  I would love to bring my family in the future and spend more time seeing everything!  If we were given more time, sightseeing would have been a breeze - the hotel has shuttles to local attractions.

Have you stayed at the Gaylor Opryland Resort?  Any plans to hit Nashville this year?  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Heroes Needed! Why I'm a St. Jude Hero for the Walt Disney World Marathon

I ran the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon in January and... survived.

I made a promise, though - that I would run the 2016 marathon with one of my BRF's who had recently spawned and was not in marathon running shape for 2015.  So, I'm back in.  No cries of "One and done!" for me.

Now that I know I can conquer 26.2 miles, I wanted to do something more with it.  I wanted to make the miles matter and have inspiration.

Enter the St. Jude Hero program!

When I was in Nashville for the St. Jude Country Music Half Marathon, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner for St. Jude Heroes - people who had raised funds for St. Jude before running the CMM.

One of the highlights of this evening was meeting one of my favorite bloggers evah, Melissa Fenton of 4 Boys Mother!  

Here's what I learned that evening:
  • St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, TN was founded by entertainer Danny Thomas in 1962 with the mission of treating and researching cures for catastrophic childhood illnesses.  It has an operating budget of $2 million a year, yet no family ever receives a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.  The hospital firmly believes that all a family needs to focus on is their child's health.
  • Since the doors opened, their dedication to research has taken childhood cancer survival rates from 20% to 80%.  Y'all.  That's huge.  A 1% jump is significant if your kid is one of the patients that survives.
  • A child doesn't have to be treated at St. Jude to benefit from any funds donated there.  The hospital freely shares all their research with any other treatment and research facilities.  
I was so impressed with what I heard!  It made me more sure than ever that this was a cause I could support wholeheartedly.

I've got two more very personal reasons why I am running for St. Jude Children's Hospital.  The faces of Cancer Past and Cancer Present.

Meet Jacob.

This little train lover is the son of my very dear friend Patty Holliday of My No Guilt Life and a fellow DisBroad.  Jacob, I'm sad to say, is no longer with us.  He lost his fight with pediatric cancer when he was four.  Had he survived, he would be close to the same age as "my" Jake.  I cannot even begin to imagine those feelings of loss.

Meet Marianna.  She's the little fairy at the beginning of this Atlanta Falcons video.

Marianna is the daughter of a local running friend.  Marianna was diagnosed with leukemia.  She has had a bone marrow transplant and is currently in remission and continuing treatment.  She has been in and out of the hospital with fevers and other illnesses dangerous to her compromised immune system.  Her family is on pins and needles at every follow up visit, praying that the cancer will not come back.

Cancer Past and Present.

Will you please consider donating to my St. Jude Hero fundraiser?  It would mean so much to all the parents who have dealt or are dealing with Cancer Past and Present.  With your help, we can make sure there is not a Cancer Future.

St. Jude Hero Fundraising Page for Amy Albers

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Toddlers or Teens - This Is Hard, Y'all

I'm in a sweet spot now and I know it, y'all.

My boys are ages (almost) 7, 11 and 13.  The older boys do not want near as much of my attention as they required when they were younger.  They can take themselves to friends houses in the neighborhood.  I can lengthen the leash.  I can set them free at Sky Zone and sit in the parent lounge, not worried about someone roughing them up.  They can handle themselves.  They walk home from school.  The most brilliant part is that they can watch their little brother for short periods of time. Gold.

My youngest is in the proud independence stage.  "Mommy, can I have lunch?"  "Sure, baby, what do you want me to make you?"  "Oh, I can make it."  He can entertain himself.  He's reading like a champ now and is proud to sit and read a chapter book and tell me how far he's gotten in one sitting.  

I see friends with little ones and think, "Oh, my gosh.  I remember that craziness.  Thank you, Jesus, that I'm past that."  I try to help when I can.  I'm a 2's preschool teacher and I am reminded every week how much work toddlers are.  

Lest you think I am sipping margaritas during my daily massages, let me share something with you.  Parenting tweens and teens is still hard.  It's just a less labor-intensive hard.  Truth is, it's a more emotionally draining hard.  

When your toddler is having a fit and tries to run off, you are able to pick them up and keep them in the house.  You might get a few kicks and bites for your trouble, but you can do it. 

Try this when the child is 13 and doesn't like that you have told him he can't go to a friend's house that afternoon.  Yes, 13 year olds still pitch fits.  Especially high strung 13 year olds.  I could probably still physically restrain him, but it looks a lot more like child abuse at this stage.

When your toddler has playdates, you are most likely there.  If you are not, you usually leave them with a trusted friend who will be monitoring both children in your absence.  You know this parent since the children are never without their parents at this age.

When they are in middle school, you have no idea what is going on when your child is at a friend's house.  They talk about a friend at school and you're glad they have friends, but you know nothing of this kid's family.  You want to let them go over, but wonder the whole time they are gone - are parents popping in on them?  Does this kid have free rein of the house?  Are they holed up in this kid's bedroom, where he has a TV, computer and super fast internet connection?  Are they WATCHING PORN AND SHOOTING UP?!?!?!?!

You are cut out of so much of their lives and the not knowing kills you.  You pray for the day when you don't have to monitor them all the time.  Then you worry about what they are doing when you are not monitoring them.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a helicopter parent.  I don't believe that helps your child at all.  But I am still a parent, and a parent worries.

I cannot even imagine these goobers getting behind the wheel of a car.  I may never sleep again in my entire life.

You relinquish your control, slowly.  Your whole job in parenting is to make yourself obsolete.

It broke my heart when my little guys got physically hurt.  It breaks my heart still when my tween and teen get emotionally screwed up.  When a friend betrays them.  When they make a pretty serious mistake and have to face the consequences.

So, moms of toddlers, don't envy us too much.  I hate to tell you, but it's still hard.  You just trade one hard for another.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Is Your Car Summer Ready? 10 Things You Need In Your Family Truckster

I don't know about you, but we are on the go most days during the summer.

I'm told it's because I'm the "fun mom".  Honestly?  It's self defense.  You know what happens when people are at home with "nothing to do"?  They fight.  They incessantly ask to play video games.  They eat food for which they are not truly hungry.


Most of our destinations are outdoors - the cheaper, the better.  Parks, trails, streams, the big hole beyond the fence in my backyard...  my boys are nature boys.  In the 13 years I have been a mom to 3 messy boys, I've learned a thing or two about what not to leave home without.

Oh, sweet baby you need to feed people.  I suffer frequently from a state of being referred to as "hangry".  My oldest and youngest experience this condition as well.  When people are hungry, they are not really people anymore.  Snacks are essential.  Since we live in Georgia, our car snacks have to be non-melty.  Peanut butter crackers, pretzels, goldfish, mini-bagels, raisins - all things that will survive in a hot car.  Before we leave for a day trip, I always pack a cooler bag that includes fruit and sandwiches.

When the boys were little, I kept boxes and boxes of juice pouches in the car.  Now that they are older, they can suck down one of those things in about 2 sips.  Water bottles are better for them.  Sports drinks are too expensive and they don't need that much sugar.  If they want to flavor it, I keep packets of Cocogo with me at all times - powdered, flavored coconut water mix.  Great for kids because it doesn't have near the sugar and dyes that most other sports drinks have.  If you are interested in trying, use code MOMSMAGICMILES for 10% off.  I use this all the time!

I keep several of these stored.  They don't have to be anything fancy - I've gotten a cheap cotton tablecloth from a discount store and used that.  They're a must for mulchy playgrounds and dirt covered trails.

No, not credit cards.  Something to put under the picnic blanket when it's rained and the ground is wet.  I've used old shower curtains and cheap table coverings from birthday parties past.  My best idea was a Twister mat that had lost its spinner board.  We used that at Stone Mountain Park during spring break and my friend and I took turns yelling out colors and body parts!

When those kids get muddy and wet, you'll need something to transport their shoes and clothes home in!

The older, the better.  If there is water within a 25 mile radius, my children will find it and become one with it.  I usually stash a few in the back of the van.

SO funny.  I thought that when my kids got older, I wouldn't need to buy "baby" wipes anymore.  Oh, haaaaayyy!  I still need baby wipes and I'm 44.  Sticky happens.

Or maybe this is just my kids.  No matter where they are, my children feel they are on an episode of "Destroy, Build, Destroy".  Digging holes entertains them for ages.  Bless 'em.

People find treasure, y'all.  Rocks, flowers, worms....  They need bags to store them in until we get home.

Always.  Someone is going to get bored before the others and lose interest.  To help keep the "I want to go home" whining at bay, I try to make sure they bring their current book in the car every time we go somewhere.  Bonus if I remembered to grab the latest issue of The Lego Magazine that nobody has read yet.