Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Perfect Cuppa: Tetley British Blend

Now, we tea drinkers all know that certain teas are best at different times of day. Currently, my perfect cuppa in the morning is none other than Tetley British Blend. I was on a PG Tips kick there for a while but had to cut back in the ol' budget realm. I tried Tetley British Blend: perfect.

It's robust and gets too strong almost immediately--you have to keep an eye on it. One tea bag will make a nice, strong, large mugful (only a bone china one, right?) or even a small, 4-cup potful. It begs for milk, which adds to the morning charm. Mmmmm... I'm becoming quite addicted. I'm even gravitating to it in the afternoons as well. (Shows partly how tired I am these days, but also that it's just one of the most comforting, soothing black teas ever.) It's hard to describe, but in comparison to other quality black teas, especially some loose leaf teas we have, Tetley British Blend is more full-bodied; the others taste "thin" without tasting weak.... does that make sense?

Anyway, if you're looking for a nice, strong cup of tea in the morning, give Tetley British Blend a try!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Poetry for Children

As a former middle and high school English teacher, I know that poetry is often the reading element that gives people the most trouble. It doesn't need to be this way. In fact, young children LOVE poetry! Get over your own mental block against poetry and check out some poetry to read to those wee ones at home.

(Did you know that your library's children's section probably has a section just for poetry? There are picture books that illustrate famous children's poems as well as anthologies of poetry just for children's ears. Ask your librarian for help in locating these gems. Your library will have many of the titles below, plus lots more with terrific titles like Sing a Song of Popcorn! and many, many others. Get in the habit of checking out a poetry book each time you visit the library.)

Here are some recommendations:

For infants/toddlers/preschoolers:

Any well-illustrated Mother Goose collection
  • the Dillons (Mother Goose: Numbers on the Loose)
  • My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells
  • Tomie DePaola's Mother Goose

Individual (Famous) Poems in Picture Book Form (if you sing these, your child will beg for more!)
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider and others by Rosemary Wells
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb and others by Tomie DePaola
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star illus by Michael Hague
  • Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening illus by Susan Jeffers

For Preschoolers/Kindergardners (younger kids will enjoy the rhymes/rhythms but may not appreciate the humor or subject matter as much)

  • Sunflakes compiled by Lilian Moore (contemporary poems by well known children's authors--delightful)
  • Shel Silverstein's works
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (illus by Arnold Lobel--creator of the Frog and Toad books)
  • The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems compiled by Donald Hall
  • A Child's Treasury of Poems compiled by Mark Daniel (really nice book that's not in print anymore--look for it, though! It was published in the 80's I think.... These are poems for children by older authors--Robert Louis Stephenson, Christina Rosetti, Tennyson, etc. and accompanied by famous artwork)
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stephenson (lots of delightfully illustrated versions out there!)

Some poetry read aloud tips when reading to children:
  • Read with EXPRESSION
  • Vary your pace: most poems can be read slowly to good effect; speed up when you feel it will enhance the mood
  • Read 5 or 6 at a time and save the rest of the book for later (or just 1 or 2 at a time); Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose may be an exception--my children love the entire thing at one sitting
  • Look for poems about things that your children can relate to: shadows, spaghetti, the sun, getting their feet wet, the ocean, etc. Most anthologies are divided up by topics. As you get more familiar, you'll remember the rainy day section if it rains and so forth
  • Reread them over and over! Young children memorize quite easily and will soon be quoting nursery rhymes and "My Shadow" effortlessly. They may even pop out a convincing rendition of "Sick" if they don't want to go to school....

Happy Poetry Reading!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Betsy's Review Policy

My book review goals/agenda:

  • to review books that are worth reading--in particular, books that illuminate the Creation-Fall-Redemption framework found in Scripture, that show us something about the way Creation works and/or about the nature of humanity and/or about the nature of redemption. This is by no means limited to "Christian" books but refers to excellent literature regardless of the author's professed beliefs.
  • to review award winners and best sellers--I like to know what the general public and/or the award committees are reading and what they feel is "excellent" or "noteworthy" in some way
  • to keep a record/review of some of my favorite reads! 
When I say "recommended for" followed by an age group, you should know that this does not mean that age group SHOULD read that book necessarily. It simply means that if you deem that book worth reading from my review, then I think that is the best age group to shoot for. The age group recommendations refer to maturity level more than reading level; some 7-year-olds are reading voraciously at a middle school reading level while some middle school students still aren't reading at that level. Kids' maturity levels often don't coincide with their reading levels. 

I have reviewed many books that many Christian parents I know would not want their children to read. I respect that. I know my standards are more liberal than some of my peers since I have no problem with witchcraft, profanity, etc. in a book. I think how those elements are used and/or reflected in the text determines whether or not I think the book is worth reading. When there are elements such as these in a book that might give a fellow Christian parent pause, I try to note them. It's worth encouraging you, dear reader, to remember that your child will come into contact with things you deem inappropriate no matter how much you shelter them. Wouldn't you rather have the opportunity to discuss some of life's big issues while your child is still under your roof than to wait until he or she chooses to experiences some of those things down the road? A well-written book can be a great conversation starter!

It's worth knowing, as a parent and/or teacher, what's out there in the current book publishing world. Currently, I simply follow other folks' recommendations on what's new, what's hot, what's coming up, and so forth. I also choose some Advance Review Copies (ARCs) from netgalley on occasion. Essentially, I read what looks interesting to me and/or what looks like it's got award potential.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teacups, Teapots, and Tea Sets

From the time I was a little girl, I've loved tea sets: the matching cups and saucers, the fancy tea pots, the coordinating creamer and sugar.... I was destined to be a collector. I know Megan shares my sentiments exactly--that's part of what drew us together! In fact, the reason I wanted Lenox fine china was because I liked the shape of the teacups in their classic china collections.

We've both come to a disturbing realization lately--disturbing but freeing at the same time: we have too many tea pots and tea cups (gasp!). Is that possible? Unfortunately, yes, it is. Megan has been inspired to write an amazing short story that hopefully will published--one that reflects our dilemma and provides a wonderful solution. In the meantime, whilst we all wait with baited breath for the publication of said story, here's what I've come up with (giving credit where credit is due--this is all thanks to Megan's inspiration!).

My number 1 criterion for keeping various teapots and teacups:
Do I enjoy using it?

If it doesn't meet that criteria, then, no matter how attractive, how sentimental, how priceless, I need to consider getting rid of it. This has prompted some interesting reflection. For instance, I was using a teapot that I enjoyed using, but which had no value other than I simply liked the way it looked. A recent kitchen redo took away some of my storage, and I was forced to part with at least one teapot. I got rid of that very one because the others were all more sentimental in some way, and I simply decided to start using them! It's akin to using the good china instead of letting it linger unnoticed year after year. I'm sending a precious tea cup to a friend of mine who's going through a hard time. We both spent time in Scotland, so I know a teacup from Scotland will mean a lot to her. I don't enjoy actually using that teacup--I just like the way it looks and knowing its origin. Now, it's on its way to a mission much more spiritually uplifting than gracing my teacup shelf. And, oh, the pleasure of "using the good stuff"! If it gets chipped along the way, oh well--at least I'll have enjoyed its tenure in my possession.

Speaking of having "enough" teacups, I have 26 teacups (or nice china mugs) that coordinate with existing sets of china, so I'll never be short for a normal tea party. Thus, it's purely up to my enjoyment of the extras as to whether they'll "make the cut." I have teacups I've collected from different countries--the fun part is trying to figure out if I actually like drinking out of them. If not... then they're on to a new mission. This is where the freeing part comes in--if I don't enjoy actually drinking out of it, I need to find another use (small vase? coin/change holder? Goodwill box?).

I'm hopefully going to inherit a teaset from my mother. It sits on a small table at my mother's house, and I've never seen it used. It's the tea set that started me on my love affair with tea sets when I was a little girl (that and my voracious appetite for British literature). Will I use it when I get it or sit it on display? Probably both--after all, tea sets are meant to be used. Will I enjoy drinking out of those diminutive cups? You betcha! Will I be sad when and if one breaks? Of course, but I'll know that it was fulfilling its mission in life: to be filled with tea and to bring joy to someone.

On a final note: I let my kids drink out of some very sentimental tea cups I got in the Czech Republic. They're quite small and the perfect size for little hands. My daughter, especially, loves drinking out of "real" teacups. And I've been drinking out of my all-time favorite tea cup every day for the past 2 weeks.... (pictured above and purchased in London)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reading to Your Children: Why and What

I have a close friend whose children are roughly the same ages as mine (hers are 2 and 4; mine are 3, 3, and 4). She is growing increasingly worried that she won't be able to communicate a love of reading to her sons and, if she chooses to homeschool, won't be able to teach them to read well. She was not a good reader growing up and feels rather insecure about the whole endeavor.

Communicating a love of reading to children is one of the single most important "loves" we can pass on (of course, we are also trying to communicate our love for our Savior--sometimes these two endeavors work hand in hand). So, what is a person like my friend to do?

The NUMBER 1 thing you can do to inculcate a love of reading in your children is to...


The NUMBER 1 thing you can do to help teach your children to read is to...


That's it, folks. There is no curriculum you "must" follow, no prescribed list of books you "must" read. Simply do it (see here for more info if you're in doubt). Go to the library and pick out some books (your librarians are usually quite helpful folks--after all, they wouldn't be librarians if they weren't interested in the same goal!).

Go to library story time. Read your own books when your children are watching. Listen to audiobooks in the car--even driving around town, you'll find plenty of time to listen to Winnie-the-Pooh, Mary Poppins, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte's Web, etc. See here for more ideas about reading aloud to children.

When is the best time of day to read to your children? Whenever it suits you! After breakfast, before naptime, after playing outside, before dinner, before bed... I even read to my children during lunch for a while--they were a captive audience since they were all strapped into their booster seats. Why not?

What should you read? There are better books than others, but you will learn that as you go. A good rule of thumb is to start with books you remember loving as a child. Chances are, those classics are still around:
  • Frog and Toad books
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Amelia Bedelia
  • Mother Goose
  • Charlotte's Web
If you like guides (I, as an avid bibliophile, truly enjoy perusing lists of books), then here are a few places to start:
  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt (Hunt also has an outstanding section on what it means to read as a Christian, why books are important, and so forth.)
  • Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson (one of the strengths of this book is its many nonfiction lists/recommendations for children)
  • The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (full of great read aloud info and resources)
  • Choosing Books for Children: A Commonsense Guide by Betsy Hearne
  • Lists online help with identifying recent "greats" (search big libraries' websites, like the New York Public Library, and other sites such as the ALA website, 2009 Notable Books--ALA, 2010 Notable Books--ALA, School Library Journal, Hedgehog Books, and others)*
*It's especially important to remember that not all people who make lists of noteworthy children's books have the same priorities when it comes to values, choices, and similar issues. Read the lists with a discerning eye; skim books before checking them out from a library.

Happy Reading! Make good use of the summer ahead!!