Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's Time to Stop Just Being Friendly and Start Being a Friend

Today I lost a friend. She was a widowed mother of two, working full time to provide a life for her son and daughter. She was kind and energetic. She was happy and involved. We chatted as we picked up our boys from each other's houses and exchanged greetings over the back fence. She took my son to the splash pad and I had hers over for movie night. She was a good mom who loved her kids, but now she is gone, and I am left wondering...did she know I was her friend?

I was planning on getting closer to her. I wanted to have her family over for dinner. I thought about stopping by one day to help clean up the house. I meant to ask if I could take her kids so she could have a night off. Once life was a little less busy, I was going to take the time to really get to know her. My best intentions are now all too late.

I hope she had close friends. I hope she wasn't lonely. I hope someone knew about her health problems and was watching out for her. It is incredible that in a world crammed full of people and buzzing with social media connections, so many of us feel all alone. I hope she didn't feel that way. I really wanted to be her friend; I was planning on it, I just hadn't gotten around to it.

And so, I have decided that friend-ly is just not enough. Being a real friend is what matters. We need to know each other. We need to care. We need to love. We need to include and invite. Not everyone has a mother or sister or best friend waiting in the wings. Sometimes friendship is not easy. Sometimes relationships take work. Sometimes outgoing people are friendless. Sometimes we have to expand our circle until it is about to burst and we think we can't have one more person in our lives, but we can. It's why we are here, What else is more important? 

Real friends call on birthdays and stop by just to say hello. Real friends watch out for your children and have your back when no one else will. Real friends make time for you and make you feel wanted. Real friends cry with you and want the very best for you. Real friends watch you make mistakes and forgive you. Real friends know you, really know you, and they love you any way. 

That is who I should have been for her. It may not have made a difference today, but it may have made her previous days a little brighter, a little less difficult, a little more enjoyable and a little less lonely. She may have had one more person in her corner. I could have been that person.

I am now left wondering what was so important...a load of laundry? A soccer carpool? An email? It all seems frivolous now as I think about her two children who are left wondering, "What's next?" 

So, for Kate, Let's be better. Let's stop just "doing what we are supposed to do," and start truly caring and loving each other. It's more than a quick plate of cookies or a smile and a wave. Let's take time even when we don't have any; Let's slow down and see a need; Let's stop thinking about what is best for only our family.

I will be better. I will find energy even when it feels like I am running on empty;  I will listen when I want to talk and I will pray for more strength when mine is gone. I will re-teach myself how to be a friend, even to those who might be different, needy, or closed and I will find joy in the process of loving, serving and connecting with them. 

If the question, "Did she know I was her friend?" ever arises again, I want to say with confidence, "Of course she knew. We were wonderful friends."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

100 Great, Current Reads for Boys of All Ages!

My boys love to read, but it is difficult, as a woman to find books that especially interest boys. We have done lots of trial and error, so I wanted to share some of the books that my boys have loved. The list starts with a few of our most current favorites with summaries and descriptions, then the list goes from early readers (Kindergarten), all the way up to teen fiction. All of the books on this list have been read and recommended by boys of all ages with varied interest and reading levels. It includes both fiction and non-fiction, and the 100 titles come from the book listed plus all titles in the series. Hope you find a new favorite or two!

There are two items next to the book listed. The first is interest level...this is IN GENERAL the youngest someone might enjoy the book,. That being said, my boys certainly have been able to enjoy many books listed over their interest level and plenty of books under their interest level too. It is a great guide though, especially if you have a reader that is advanced or behind for his grade level. (Looking for tips to keep your kids reading? Click HERE!)

The second item next to the book is the reading level organized by the guided reading letter A-Z. My boys also enjoy books above and below their reading level, depending on the subject, so don't rule something out if they really want to read it. Of course kids read at all different levels regardless of age or grade, but if you are unsure of the level they are at, click here for a super handy chart with all the measurement equivalents or check the short description below:

To summarize for an average reader's ability: Kindergarten (A-C), Grade 1 (C-I), Grade 2 (J-M), Grade 3 (M-P), Grade 4 (Q-S), Grade 5 (T-V), Grade 6 (W-Y), Grade 7-8 (Z). 

The Young Samurai Series: This is my 4th grader's favorite series ever. He likes it even more than Harry Potter and Percy Jackson (I know, hard to believe). Every time he gets a new book in the series, we don't see him until he is finished. Highly recommended! Great for ages 10 and up. 8 Books in the series.

Summary: Shipwrecked on the shore of Japan, twelve-year-old Jack Fletcher is wounded and alone. His father and the entire crew have been slaughtered by ninja pirates. Jack's last remaining possession is his father's rudder, an invaluable book of maps and notes about the world's uncharted oceans. Masamoto-sama, one of Japan's greatest samurai, rescues Jack, adopts him, and sends him to samurai school, where Jack will be trained in the Way of the Warrior. Will it be enough to help Jack defeat Dragon Eye, the ruthless ninja who is intent on stealing the rudder at any cost?

The Alchemyst (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel): Another series that has my boys holed up under the covers and finishing every last word. Recommended ages 12 and up. 

Summary: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on 28 September 1330. Nearly seven hundred years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418. But his tomb is empty and Nicholas Flamel lives. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects - the Book of Abraham the Mage. It's the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world. And that's exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won't know what's happening until it's too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it. Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

The One and Only Ivan: This book got serious thumbs up from all my kids, and it would make an excellent read aloud. The story's main characters are animals but the themes and lessons could not be more human. Give this one a shot! Great for ages 8 and up.
Summary: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin: This book would also make a great read aloud, a perfect present for a book lover or reluctant reader. Ideal for ages 8 and up, this new yet familiar story will be a real winner in your house! 

Summary: In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse. To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Island: This is an awesome adventure story for the younger crowd, recommended for ages 8-12. It would also make a great read aloud or a good book for a boy who doesn't love reading yet. There are 3 books in the series that are all very engaging.

Summary: Six kids. One fate.
They didn't want to be on the boat in the first place. They were sent there as a character-building experience. But now that the adults are gone, the quest for survival has begun. This first book in a suspenseful survival trilogy delivers the gripping drama of people battling the elements to younger readers.

Because of Mr. Terupt: Heart-warming and thought provoking this is a story about a 5th grade classroom that learns the meaning of love, friendship and forgiveness. We love it as a read aloud because there are some mature themes and great opportunities to talk. If not reading it aloud, best for kids 12 and up. 

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): This book is just as powerful for teens as it is for adults. Such an incredible story of determination, love, and redemption told so beautifully. Be sure your son reads to at least page 60, once they do, they won't be able to put it down. Best for ages 12 and up.

Elephant and Piggy  INTEREST LEVEL: Pre-Kindergarten, READING LEVEL: Pre-K, Kindergarten (series)

Scholastic Blast Off Readers INTEREST LEVEL: Kindergarten READING LEVEL: G-N (series) *Quick note: best beginning non-fiction books we have found. Really amazing for the young kid who loves animals or non-fiction. Wish I would have had them for my 2 oldest.*

Little Mouse Kindergarten, level H (series)

Henry and Mudge Kindergarten, level J (series)

Mercy Watson Kindergarten-3, level K (series and a great read together book!)

Frog and Toad Kindergarten, level K (series)

Dumb Bunny Books Kindergarten, level K (series)

Horrible Harry Kindergarten level L (series)

Ricky Ricotta Kindergarten-Grade 3, Level L (series)

My Weird School Grade 3, level L (series)

Magic Treehouse Grade 2, level L-M (series)

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid Grade K-2, level L-M (series)

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Animals Pre-K, level M

Flat Stanley Grade 3, level M (series)

Junie B. Jones Grade 3, level M (series)

The Riot Brothers Grade 3, Level M (series)

Judy Moody Grade 2-3, level L-P (series)

A to Z Mysteries Grade 3, level N (series)

Secrets of Droon Grade 3, level N (series)

Chalk Box Kid Grade 3, level N

The Stories Huey Tells Grade 3, level N (series)

Jigsaw Jones Grade 3, level N (series)

Geronimo Stilton Grade 3, level N-P (series)

Ralph S. Mouse Grade 3, level O

Good Grief Third Grade Kindergarten, level O

The Dragon Slayers Academy Grade 3, level O

Skinnybones Grade 3, level O

Scared Silly Kindergarten, level P

Hank the Cow Dog Grade 3, level P (series)

Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World Grade 4, level P

Sports Illustrated for Kids Big Book of Who: Football Grade 4-9

Shipwreck Grade 3, level Q (series)

Big Nate Grade 3, level R-S (series)

Will at the Battle of Gettysburg Grade 4, level  (about) Q-T

Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions Grade 4-6 (series)

You Wouldn't Want to Be... Grade 3-5, level R (series)

The Indian in the Cupboard Grade 4-7, level R (series)

Hatchet Grade 5-8 level R (series)

The Candy Shop War Grade 3-5, level R

I Survived Series Grade 2-3, level R-S (series)

Half Magic Grade 6, level S (series)

Thea Stilton Grade 2-3, level S-T (series)

Fablehaven Grade 5-6  level R-T (series)

Adventurers Wanted Grade 5, level T (series)

Treasury of Illustrated Classics Grades 3-8, level P-V (series)

A Strong Right Arm Grade 3, level T

Charlie Bone Grade 3-5, level T (series)

The Art of Keeping Cool Grade 6, level T

Percy Jackson Grade 6, level S-W (series)

39 Clues Series Grade 3-6, level T-W

Redwall Grade 6, level S-Z (series)

Spirit Animals Grade 3-7, level U (series)

Number the Stars Grade 3 and up, level U

Gregor the Overlander Grade 5-6, level V (series)

The Demigod Diaries Grade 5, level W, (series)

Heroes of Olympus Grade 4, level W (series)

The Mysterious Benedict Society Grade 3, level W (series)

World Record Books Grade 3-8, level W

Eragon Grade 6, level V (series)

Harry Potter Grade 4-5, level V-Z (series)

Wings of Fire Grade 4, level X and above (series)

The Beyonders Grade 6, level X (series)

The Maze Runner Grade 7, level X-Z (series)

Rangers Apprentice Grade 6, level X- above Z (series)

Kane Chronlicles Grade 6, level Y (series)

Lives of the Presidents Grade 5-7, N/A

The Hunger Games Grade 6, level Z (series)

Hatchet Grade 8-12, level Z

The Eleventh Plague Grade 9, level Z

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 Grade 7-10, level Z (series)

Hobbit Grade 9, level Z and above (series)

The Cry of the IceMark Grade 9-12, level Z and above (series)

Enders Game Grade 9, level Z and above

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Teacher Thank You Note Prompt

Every year seems to go by more quickly...we are already at the end of school and I wish I could freeze time. This year has been especially wonderful...amazing teachers, good friends and boys growing into more of the men I hope they will become.

At the end of the year, we always get our teachers a little thank-you gift, but more importantly, my boys write a heartfelt note of thanks to them that is specific and honest. Sometimes it is hard for them to think of exactly what they want to say, so I created these prompts for them. They have to choose 3, but they can do as many as they want. I love that it gets them thinking but allows them to truly share their feelings. It also works great for those who can't write well yet, their answers are always my favorite.

Hope our idea makes your end of the year notes a little easier!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Blessings of Being Raised by a Low-Maintenance Mother

My mom has a little curve on the tip of her nose that she affectionately calls, "The Cullimore Hook." She also has wrinkles on her face, a flat chest, a great smile and incredible legs. She is capable, kind, smart, low-maintenance and beautiful.

In today's world, full of over-processed, over-done, over-glammed out women, I will be forever grateful that I was raised by a mother who has always been too busy with important things to scrutinize every inch of her body, to obsess about fine lines, to turn herself into something she isn't.

For her, low-maintenance has never been Birkenstocks, dreadlocks and pajamas all day. In fact, long before gym-rats and cross-fit, my mom was up at 5:30 am attending an exercise class. She was home, showered and ready for the day often before we were even out of bed. She wore classic clothes and simple make-up with different haircuts throughout the years, some definitely better than others.

I remember, as a teenager, wondering why she didn't reapply her face more often or get her nails done. I thought it was crazy that she mostly wore flats and had never had a massage or pedicure. She used Suave shampoo and hair spray, Clinique foundation, and drugstore mascara. She didn't get things lifted, enhanced, or lasered. I have always had a healthy expectation of what a real woman's body should look like because of her.

We shopped together at inexpensive stores where she she taught me how to dress for my body, look for items that were stylish but on sale, and to buy only clothes I was sure I would wear. Brands didn't matter and clothes were fun but never used as a status symbol. Our outings were enjoyable but not excessive.

I watched her, at times, put a lot of effort into what she looked extra coat of mascara, hot rollers in her hair, or a fantastic new dress and heels, but that kind of time and energy on herself was reserved for special occasions.

Beauty was never a main topic of conversation around our house. It was assumed that we would look put together, situationally appropriate, and take care of ourselves, but there was no expectation to be beautiful. After all, beauty is capricious, subjective, and fleeting, and my mom understood that.

Dinner table talk revolved around what we were doing and accomplishing, who we were helping, what we were struggling with, and what was happening in the world, not what we looked like. We didn't bond over manicures and beauty tips but grew incredibly close as she assisted us in becoming our best spiritual, academic, and emotional selves.

Today, as a very financially stable woman in her mid-50s, she is just as grounded. No eyelash or hair extensions, Botox or tummy tucks, and she smiles for pictures when she is in her pajamas and without make-up.

Yes, she has started getting her eyebrows waxed, coloring her hair, using nicer shampoo, and I'm pretty sure her clothes are no longer from Mervyn's, but she is still just the same. She does not define herself by what she looks like or if people think she is 10 years younger than her true age. She defines herself by what she gives.

I had no idea what an impact her little choices and quiet example to be her best natural self would have on me as I became an adult. When budgets were tight, our funds weren't siphoned towards spa appointments or $30 shampoo. In the early years of our marriage, I didn't have to set aside money for the Nordstrom sale or for high end shoes. I have always been good at "making do" with what I had or finding a great, new shirt for under $20 that made me smile.

I have varicose veins that scare children, love handles I can't help but pinch, stretch marks like cat scratches, and plenty of wrinkles already, but it's all okay because my mom taught me something much more valuable than how to accessorize.

She taught me that being less than perfect is perfectly okay. She taught me that taking care of my body is worth it, but that moderation is necessary. She showed  me that the fountain of youth is not found in a bottle or needle, but in a childlike heart and caring nature.

She taught me that real beauty is having a life purpose that allows you to brush aside the unimportant. She encouraged me to be anxiously engaged in causes that fulfill me so I don't have to search for happiness in places I won't find it. She taught me that a new outfit can be a great pick-me-up, but nothing takes you higher than knowing you are right with God.

It's hard to ever measure up to your mom. In fact, there may come a day when I laser those pesky varicose veins or iron out my wrinkly skin. My eyes never open at 5:30 am, and I have a hard time leaving the house without a fresh coat of lipstick, but because of her, I know that smooth legs, a youthful face and pink lips have nothing to do with who I really am. What defines me is how I love, who I serve, and what I create with this precious body and little time I am given.

All mothers love and bond differently with their children, and there are millions of ways to be a great, influential mom, but as Mother's Day approaches, I must say thank you to MY mom. She is perfect for ME. Her sweet example, deliberate focus, constant push, and unconditional love taught me that being comfortable in my own skin will consistently be my biggest asset and that I have always been just right, just the way I am.

Happy Mother's Day Mom!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tropical Strawberry Pineapple Salad

I am looking forward to salad season, and this one will be a new favorite at our house. It is light, sweet, and refreshing, like a little luau in your mouth!

Tropical Strawberry Salad


4 hearts of romaine, chopped
1 1/2 cups FRESH pineapple, chopped into small pieces
2 cups chopped strawberries
1 lb. bacon cooked and crumbled
2 avocados, chopped
2 cups grated Asiago cheese (you could also use feta or parmesean)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup cinnamon almonds (Place one cup almonds in a skillet over med/hi heat. Add 2 tbsp. brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Mix and stir constantly until the sugar and cinnamon melt and the almonds are toasted. Place on a plate and let cool.)


1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup white vinegar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon strawberry jam (warmed in microwave)
2 tsp. fresh pineapple juice

Mix the lettuce and green onions together, then top with remaining ingredients.

Add all dressing items to a mason jar and shake until blended.

Add desired amount of dressing and toss!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Rouge Factory Tour at the Henry Ford Museum

I want to thank Janice Richardson for another wonderful guest post about her experience at the Rouge Factory Tour. It was one of our favorites too!!

If you live near or visit Southeast Michigan, you have to stop at America's greatest manufacturing experience, The Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

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The tour takes you to the historic Rouge factory where Henry Ford first began manufacturing automobiles from start (raw ore) to finish in one location.  (The name Rouge comes from the Rouge River that the factory was built next to.)

Not only will you be able to see a video about these early beginnings, but you will have the opportunity to walk through the modern Ford Rouge Factory that produces Ford vehicles with the most current technology.  Seeing robots in action was a big highlight for my kids!

image via THF

image via THF
The tour consists of two theater presentations (each less than 15 minutes long, everyone except the 1 year old in my family was interested in the first movie and we all enjoyed the multi-sensory theater), visiting the observation deck where you can look over the whole factory and see all of the eco-friendly renovations that Ford has implemented, walking through the assembly plant, seeing five examples of vehicles created at the Rouge over the years, and in the spring and summer months an outdoor portion of the tour allows you to see sustainable design in action with water run off.

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Insider Info.

Don't worry about bringing your stroller.  Entrance to the Rouge Factory Tour starts in the Henry Ford Museum where a tour bus picks you up and drives you to the factory visitors' center and tour. Instead of lugging your own stroller on and off the bus, the nice people at the Rouge have made it easy with strollers you can borrow. (And it is easy to borrow them, no waver, form, or money necessary.  They even let our family have two!)

image via THF

It's going to get loud.  The Art of Manufacturing Theater is a multi-sensory theater experience that explains how the new F150s came to be. My whole family loved it, but it gets loud.  I looked down the row at one point and all of my children had smiles on their faces and their hands over their ears.
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Try to visit when the factory is in operation. Be aware that daily vehicle production is contingent on many factors and may be interrupted at any time. We visited on a Thursday afternoon (rather than a Saturday outing) because we wanted to see the new F150s being made. Unfortunately, a winter storm had frozen the railroads making it impossible for some parts of the trucks to get to the factory and most of the machinery had  been stopped that morning.  If you do happen to find yourself in our shoes, touring a factory that isn't in production, there is still plenty to see.  There are videos that show you what you would have seen had production been happening, and we were able to watch inspections of some of the trucks.

image via THF

Leave your food at home.  There is no eating or drinking in the theaters or plant walkways, but if you do need a snack there is a large room with tables and vending machines to save the day.

Plan at least 2-3 hours for the tour. 

If you go.

Address. Park at the Henry Ford and buy your tickets there, the bus will pick you up and take you to the factory. 20900 Oakwood Blvd. Dearborn, MI 48124-5029

Hours. The first bus leaves The Henry Ford at 9:20am and the last at 3pm, running every 20 minutes open Monday-Saturday.  Factory not in production on Saturdays and select other holidays available on their website: