Listen to It

james and the giant peach

It is time for our annual summer road trip, and we loaded up on audio books from the public library earlier this week. I then had to make a trip back to the library because Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss listened to the first batch of books on CD in the TV room before we even packed the car.

Audio books are a great addition to long road trips. They keep voice levels low, so everyone can hear the narrator, and it provides a discussion topic for the whole group since everybody listens to the same story (we play our books on CD aloud– no earphones, although, that is an option). All ages can enjoy a story no matter the actual reading level of the book.

We have been listening to audio books for about 6 years. I cannot gush enough about the benefits of audio books. The narrator reads the book with the correct expression and syntax modeling good oral reading skills for a child. If a child follows along in the printed book at the same time he is listening, sight words, vocabulary, writing mechanics, and varied sentence construction are reinforced. When a group listens to an audio book, it tends to prompt more discussion. This will give a child extra practice re-telling a story, identifying conflicts in the story, and making predictions about future events– all of the skills a (good) active reader utilizes.


I posted an audio book recommendation list awhile back. Many of the books I had on my original list are still here. The Magic Treehouse series is still our favorite. Mary Pope Osborne narrates, and her voice works well. The stories are also a good length for our car attention span. Each story is about an hour and a half.

  • Magic Treehouse (any in the series) read by the author, Mary Pope Osborne
  • The Boxcar Children read by Phyllis Newman
  • Little House in the Big Woods (or any Little House book) read by Cherry Jones
  • Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing read by the author, Judy Blume
  • The BFG read by Natasha Richardson
  • James and the Giant Peach read by Jeremy Irons
  • The Bunnicula Collection read by Victor Garber
  • No Talking read by Keith Nobbs
  • Benjamin Pratt & The Keepers of the School: Fear Itself read by Keith Nobbs
  • The Wizard of Oz read by Maureen Lipman
  • The Year of Billy Miller read by Dan Bittner
  • Heavy Hitters (or any in the Game Changers series) read by Fred Berman
  • Ribsy (or any Henry Huggins book) read by Neil Patrick Harris
  • Charlotte’s Web read by the author, E.B. White
  • The 1oo-Year Old Secret (or any in the Sherlock Files series) read by David Pittu


  • A Series of Unfortunate Events read by the author, Lemony Snicket.  (This was probably a bad choice on my part.  Not only was the author’s voice too nasal-y, the book is much darker read aloud, and the content was too old for my children’s ages.)

In my house, we all agree that the narrator is the key to a good audio book. What books have you enjoyed on tape? Who was the narrator?

no talking



Coaches’ Gift

gift card pouch finished and filled

Because I work at the school my children attend, I am not allowed to volunteer to be the roommom, which would then give me control over any gifts the group might choose to give to the teacher. It is a conflict of interest. I actually think I would be the best person for the job since I have all kinds of insider information on what makes a good teacher gift *sigh*. So, to fill the void, I volunteered to collect the money for our end of season gift to our summer swim coaches. I helped out last year by donating the Swim Emergency Kit that held a cash gift and other items a coach might need in his/her swim bag.

gift card pouch finished

We are giving the coaches cash again, and I needed a vehicle to deliver the money because a plain ol’ envelope is not that much fun. I found This Pattern for a business card holder. I thought it could easily be adapted to hold cash or gift cards, so I made a supply list and headed out to buy fabric in our team colors. I made a whole fleet of little gift card holders. We have four coaches, and I also made extra for teacher gifts this year because I always give a gift card to my kids’ teachers at some point during the year.

Materials (for one gift card holder)

  • 1 piece of fabric measuring 4 1/2″ x 6″
  • 1 piece of fabric measuring 4 1/2″ x 3″
  • 1 piece of fusible web measuring 4 1/2″ x 6″
  • 1 piece of fusible web measuring 4 1/2″ x 3″
  • pinking shears (very sharp)
  • iron
  • sewing machine

gift card pouch fusible web fabric


  • Apply each piece of fusible web to the wrong side of the piece of fabric that is the matching size. Iron the fusible web into place (follow the directions that come with the fusible web).

gift card pouch fusible web

  • Fold the larger piece of fabric in half making it 4 1/2″ x 3″ and iron until the folded edge of the fabric is pressed well, and the two pieces lay flat together.

gift card pouch finished fabric pieces

  • Cut around all 4 sides of the double layer of fabric with the pinking shears. Make sure the the two layers of fabric stay even and do not shift (pin together if needed).
  • Cut around all 4 sides of the single piece of fabric with the pinking shears. Cut 1″ from the end of a side that is 3″, so the gift card will be able to peak out of the top.

gift card pouch pinking shears

  • Lay the shorter single piece of fabric on top of the double piece of fabric and even up the edges. Pin into place and sew around the outside edge using a straight stitch and a 1/4″ seam allowance.

gift card pouch sewing start

  • Start and end the stitch at the top of the pouch, so the fabric will stay flatter and be less likely to pucker.


  • The original directions on the Going Home to Roost website used a double sided fusible webbing, which I could not find. I adjusted my construction to make the single sided webbing work.
  • I wanted to cut the zig zag edges once the holders were sewn together, but my pinking shears could not get through all of the layers of fabric. It works better to cut the two separate layers before sewing, and you still need really sharp scissors. Amazingly, the zig zags line up pretty easily when it is time to sew the front and back together.
  • The holders are the perfect size for business cards, store loyalty cards, gift cards, and cash.
  • I tried a few with coordinating fabrics, but I much prefer the look of all one fabric for the front and back.

gift card pouches finishedWhat are other good ways to deliver gift cards that are a little more personal than a paper envelope?

Sort it, Group it, File it

sorting swim ribbons

Some of the 11-year old girls waiting to start their swim practice sat with another mom and me and helped us file swim meet ribbons. The ribbons are filed by last name into a folder for each swim team family. Filing was going well until we got to the Smiths. There are 3 Smith families on our team. The helpers were momentarily stumped until they realized they needed to refer to the first names (the sub-category) to file correctly.

Ordering information alphabetically requires multiple thinking steps. First, the child must compare a letter to the alphabet as a whole to figure out where its place should be. Typically, a kid will jump to the beginning, middle, or end of the alphabet and then get more specific. That is a great skill because you are generalizing first.

The next step is to determine an exact location. The child recalls the alphabet order and matches letters. If there are multiple choices like the 3 Smith families in our swim box, then the child has to move to a sub-level and process the steps again.

Ordering information is an essential skill for successful students. We need to constantly rate or qualify information and then prioritize to complete tasks. Children begin learning different strategies for grouping information at a young age. In my experience, students who can organize information in a logical order well tend to finish homework and classwork more easily, are less likely to lose or forget information (both hard copy and information stored in their brains), need fewer reminders from parents, and can more easily problem solve.

sorting books

3 Basic Ways to Sort Information

  • ABC Order: Put information in an order that follows a standardized system like alphabetical order (or numerical order). Children will know to look for information at the beginning, middle, or end of a list. When there are a group of items that all start with the same letter, moving to the next letter helps students practice a system of sub-categorizing and learning to organize items as a whole then break the whole into smaller parts.
  • Grouping: Identify similarities and differences among items and sort and separate. This helps focus attention on the key idea and eliminate distractions.
  • Ranking: Qualify information in an order of importance. This allows children to prioritize a list from high (important) to low (least important). Kids will develop the ability to recognize if something is bigger or smaller, slower or faster, weaker or stronger…

Everyday Activities that Involve Sorting

  • On laundry day, have the kids sort the laundry by creating piles of white, light, and dark to help you get the loads into the washer.
  • Organize a bookshelf  by author’s last name, series in numerical order, size of the books, chapter books in one area and picture books in another (and board books in their own area), or paperback versus hardback books.
  • Have kids pick up their toys and store by type. Put all the cars together in a box or basket, all of the Lego people together, all of the Barbie clothes together…
  • Ask your children to put clean laundry away in the drawers. Kids can put all socks together in one part of the drawer, all of the shirts in one area, and all of the pants and shorts together.
  • Organize a collection. Sort and store swim ribbons by color, rocks by size, or stuffed animals by size or “species”.
  • Put groceries away by type. Separate fruits and vegetables and put them in a designated spot. Group chips and/or snacks together in the pantry. Determine non-food items like detergents and put those away in the appropriate area.
  • Group topics and facts when completing homework assignments. This is particularly helpful when completing textbook reading assignments and will double as a good study skill. List similarities for the main ideas in the reading assignments– something like noting all Pilgrim clothing details, all Pilgrim food details, and all Pilgrim shelter details on separate lists.

Children today have information thrown at them at a much higher rate than I did growing up. When a child researches polar bears, chances are they will not look up “polar bear” in a big heavy (paper) Encyclopedia Britannica and locate one page of organized facts. They will Google the animal and get thousands of text and image responses. How does the child choose? Having a variety of systems for sorting information is essential, so kids can eliminate unnecessary data and retain what they really need to succeed. What are other good sorting activities that are already built into your daily life?

sorting toys

Characters with Differences

counting by 7s

I joined a group of educators to create a collaborative blog with teaching resources for upper elementary and middle school grades. My first contribution to The Lesson Deli is a list of books with characters who have a physical disability or a learning difference.

Lesson Deli-button

It was harder than I thought to create the list. There just aren’t that many books with characters who fall out of the “normal” range of abilities, although, the majority of the books on the list were published in recent years, so characters with a mental or physical disabilities in literature is becoming more common.

To see the complete list, CLICK HERE.

million dollar putt cover

I highly recommend Counting by 7s by Sloan, Wonder by Polacio, and The Million Dollar Putt by Gutman. I heard through the grapevine that there is a companion for Wonder called The Julian Chapter available on Kindle. Be on the lookout!

Do you like to read books that have characters with some kind of challenge? These books usually carry over to the sad but good list too, which can be a turn off for some readers who don’t want to cry while reading. Will you read a book that might make you cry?

Mixing Margaritas

watermelon margarita

Margaritas are my favorite summer cocktail. There seems to be an explosion of flavored margaritas that take a basic lime margarita recipe and put a spin on it. I have been mixing a few, and while none have lived up to the success of the Cherry Margarita, they come close. Over the 4th of July weekend, we served a watermelon margarita (on leftover May Day coasters). I made them ahead of time and stored them in a giant Mason jar. The jar needed a little shake to mix the cocktail before each serving because the watermelon separates a little while sitting. Aside from that, the overall verdict is that the drink is very tasty.


  • 1 c. simple syrup
  • 2 c. watermelon cubes (or enough to fill the blender)
  • 1/2 c. fresh lime juice (or more to taste)
  • 3/4 c. tequila
  • 1/4 triple sec
  • crushed ice
  • lime wedges for garnish

watermelon margarita blender


  • In a blender, puree watermelon until liquified. Pour watermelon juice through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher– or Mason jar. Push on the solid watermelon parts with a spatula to get all of the watermelon juice into the pitcher. Discard the “solid” watermelon stuff. You should have about 1 c. watermelon juice.
  • Add simple syrup, lime juice, tequila, and triple sec to the watermelon juice and stir.
  • Serve over crushed ice with a lime wedge.

watermelong margarita juices


  • To make simple syrup, Put equal parts water and sugar in a pot and heat on the stove until sugar is dissolved. Swirl the mixture a few times while heating. Remove from heat and let cool. If you only need a few cocktails, mix 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. If you are mixing cocktails for a large group, double or triple. Leftover simple syrup can be kept in a container with a lid in the refrigerator for a long time.
  • To make any fruit flavored margarita, mix equal parts fresh fruit juice, simple syrup, and liquor (like 1 cup of each).  Add half the measurement of fresh lime juice (or to taste). Serve over crushed ice or blend with ice to make a frozen version.

watermelon margarita closeMargaritas travel well. Look what TheSwimFriend brought to our final swim meet last night! What are other good “To Go” cocktails in hot, humid, muggy  weather?

margaritas to go