Great books for early middle schooler?

January 30, 2013

I love the New York Public Library and get most of the book recommendations for my son from the wonderful librarians they employ.  My son is just finishing up the exciting fantasy adventure series Septimus Heap.  He is reading the 6th book Darkeand the last volume Fyre comes April 16th, 2013.  Today, I asked Rebecca, a (Super Awesome) librarian at Jefferson Market, to give me recommendations on what to read next, based on my son’s enjoyment of Septimus Heap and similar books.  She suggested:

  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson and Greg Call – (we are now on book 3 – AWESOME)
  • Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, Patrick Arrasmith (came with “it’s spooky and very dark” warning)
  • Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, Antonio Javier Caparo
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (not a series, it’s a standalone book – I have read this, and it’s pretty good!)
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio (not a series, it’s a standalone book, and apparently, it’s AMAZING, it was the NAIBA Book of the Year 2012 for Middle Readers) – (I have since read this, and it made me cry.  Great book, very touching.)

Also, see a past post about The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, which is another great book for the 8 – 12 year olds in your life.  We all read this as a family and loved it!

UPDATE 5/29/13: The Books of Umber Trilogy, starting with Happenstance Found by P.W. Cantanese.  I am reading these (just finished book 2 – Dragon Games) and loving them!  Great fantasy action/adventure with good world-building (with some darkness and evil to keep it interesting), for 9-12 year olds!  Strongly recommended!

UPDATE 7/1/14: Dead End in Norvelt and From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos are well-written, funny books, and great for kids (especially boys) in the 10-13 age range.  However, they have “A Christmas Story”-esque humor, so it can get a bit inappropriate, a little old fashioned (in the best way possible) and there are guns in the story (I know a lot of people who are sensitive about mentions of guns in kid stories, thus the warning).

What is the opposite of “jump the shark?”

January 19, 2013

My friends Liz, Bibhash, John and I came up with the opposite of “jump the shark” this morning (Saturday, January 19, 2013) at brunch.  It is “reveal the robot,” a reference to Ninjago, Season 1, Episode 7, “Tick Tock.”  Whereas “jump the shark” is the point at which a great television show goes downhill, “reveal the robot” describes the point at which a regular show becomes great.  Example of usage: Ninjago totally revealed the robot in the the episode “Tick Tock.”

On a side note, Ninjago is worth watching.  Watch it in order, and you’ll probably agree. Lego really knows what they are doing, and whoever gave the green light to Ninjago (Lego theme, as well as the television show) was a genius.

Museum of Math opened in December – should I go?

January 14, 2013

Here’s the short version – if you are a tourist who is in town now, loves math, and is excited about this museum, get yourself to The Museum of Mathematics.  If you are a local, want to be busy for an hour or two, and love math particularly, I’d give it a few more weeks to get settled, and then go on a weekday (if possible).  If you’re looking for something science-y and not specifically only math-oriented and want to spend a day, visit the New York Hall of Science in Queens instead.

Museum of Mathematics, NYC

Museum of Mathematics, 11 East 26th Street (between 5th and Madison), NYC

I went to the Museum of Mathematics on Sunday, January 6, 2013 and was generally impressed.  It’s a loving tribute to mathematics, made by people who managed to raise heaping loads of cash.  They scored big on aesthetics and some of the exhibit detail was wonderful.  Many of the exhibits seem to be geared toward children in the 4th through 8th grade range.

Excellent exhibit detail was presented in basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

Excellent exhibit detail was presented in basic, intermediate and in-depth levels.

There were many hands-on exhibits, and the Enigma Cafe (a place to sit and work out puzzles on the lower level – there is no food served) seemed especially interesting.  However, even though the museum was probably at half capacity (or less) when I went, this puzzle area as well as many of the exhibits felt crowded.  This is why I advise going on a weekday if you can.

Screaming children, lighted floor, well-thought out seating.

Screaming children, lighted floor, well-thought out seating.

Harmony of the Spheres is a hands-on exhibit that makes music.

Harmony of the Spheres is a hands-on exhibit that makes music.

The reason I have suggested waiting a few weeks if you are local is because many of the exhibits were out of order when I was there.  The Museum of Mathematics just opened in December, so they’ll probably get it all up and running soon (I hope).

Many exhibits were unavailable or being repaired during our visit.

Many exhibits were unavailable or being repaired during our visit.

Museum of Mathematics
Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., 7 days a week
$15 per adult / $9 per child
Give yourself between 1.5 and 3 hours to visit the museum.

New York Times article about the museum
Live Science Photo Tour

Brain supplements?

October 18, 2012

Don’t solely rely on anything I write about supplements for your brain or for anything else.  I am just some random blogger that you should not trust implicitly.  Use blogs, news articles, social media, etc. to get ideas.  Then, talk to real experts and do your own research on those ideas!  Think critically, look behind the claim, try your best to find evidence against the claim, read peer-reviewed journals.  Medical doctors are usually a great source of information as well.*

I met a true expert in brain supplements this afternoon at my favorite natural food and supplement store, Integral Yoga.  His name is Dr. Parris Kidd, and in talking with him at length today, seems to really know what he’s talking about.  Granted, I’m just an aforementioned random blogger, but check out his stuff for yourself.

Dr. Parris Kidd

Dr. Parris Kidd

I didn’t realize it when I was talking to him, but I already knew of him!  A very good friend of mine read Dr. Kidd’s book PS (PhosphatidylSerine) Nature’s Brain Booster A Vital Lipid Nutrient For Memory Mood And Stress and had wonderful success using PS with her daughter who was diagnosed with ADD.  If you have concerns about your own brain health and/or memory, or you have loved ones who suffer from ADD, ADHD, Alzheimer’s or dementia, you should check out what Dr. Kidd has to say.  I think he is working on formulations with Doctor’s Best supplements, and I will definitely be researching their Curcumin, Polyphenols, Natural Brain Enhancers, Best DHA and Magnesium.

Just a note: My own doctor (who is an MD, and is also highly knowledgeable about and respected in the field of complementary and alternative medicine) has recommended Doctor’s Best supplements to me in the past (he doesn’t sell them, nor is he affiliated with the company in any way), so his endorsement also bodes well for the brand, I think.

*  If you are genuinely concerned about your health and will work hard to make it better, and are not just satisfied to take some prescription medication, then you should have a doctor that has ideas about complimentary medicine, supplements, nutrition, exercise, stress management and all of the many natural pillars of health, in addition to current and confirmed knowledge of western medicine as well.  If your doctor skirts the issue, doesn’t take your concerns seriously, suggests little more than prescriptions and OTC medications, find a new doctor.  Prescriptions and western medicine are beneficial and at times, miraculous, but there is a wide, wide world of alternatives.

Alert: Great Snack Food

October 5, 2012

Flamous Falafel Chips

I found these at Integral Yoga. I’ve also seen them at Whole Foods occasionally. If you’re going to eat a chip, this seems to me to be your best option, nutritionally.

It’s that time of the year when I go evaluating snack foods to bring in to The Kid’s classroom, and I am very impressed with Flamous Falafel Chips in Original Flavor (they have a spicy flavor as well).  Due to my nightshade intolerance, I can’t eat them (they contain bell peppers, tomato and cayenne), but The Kid and husband loves them, and I am impressed with the organic non-GMO ingredients, as well as their dairy-free, gluten-free, preservative-free, artificial color/flavor-free status.  I’m not a fan of corn (it’s the Dick Cheney of the nutritional world), and these are corn-based.  However, they at least made it organic, non-GMO, whole kernel corn, so the presence of (at least good quality corn) is more than mitigated by the other benefits, in my opinion.

Flamous Falafel Chips Ingredients

This is one impressive set of ingredients!

Flamous Falafel Chips Stats

The stats are not bad. I like to see zero sugars, a bit of protein, reasonable sodium and good numbers for Calcium and Iron (especially considering the serving size is only 10 chips).

What did you bring in for snack week this week?

October 1, 2012

This week was our family’s turn to bring in snacks to The Kid’s classroom.  We’re not allowed to bring in anything with nuts or coconut (the coconut ban at our school is new and kind of crazy in my humble opinion, even in spite of the FDA misguidedly – again, in my opinion – reclassifying coconut as a nut in 2006).  Given the restrictions, I still tried to bring in healthy snacks.  I brought in:

  • Organic celery, totally washed, trimmed and cut up into sticks.  Hey, don’t teachers have enough to do than have to prep snacks?
  • Oikos (by Stonyfield Farm) single serve yogurts – organic vanilla – I am usually not a fan of fat free yogurt (it’s more than just a taste thing… fat is important in your diet), but this had a nice size container for class snack, it’s organic, and it had one of the more favorable sugar to protein ratios I’ve seen in the organic, dairy-based, flavored yogurt single serves (11:15 g).
  • Cabot Creamery Serious Snacks Sharp Cheddar Cheese packs.  I’d prefer it if these were organic, but I like the Cabot cooperative farmers products, so I don’t mind non-organic on this one so much.  Great size – .75 oz each and I think the individual packages make it a lot easier on the teachers during snack time.
  • My Super Snack Soft Granola Bites in Blueberry Banana Acai flavor.  I just recently tasted these, and liked them.  They have a sugar to protein ratio of 2:1 (which is not bad – I try to keep it as far under 3:1 as I can) and best of all, The Kid liked them.
My Super Snack in Blueberry Banana Acai

These are tasty, nutrient-dense snacks that are new to NYC!

My Super Snack in Blueberry Banana Acai

Here are the ingredients and some stats.

  • Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds.  I don’t know if there are any dairy-free kids in the classroom, but even if there aren’t, a high protein, nutrient-dense food like pumpkin seeds are a wonderful classroom snack.
Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds

I don’t know why Go Raw doesn’t have their expanded nutritional information on their website, but they don’t show this many stats there, so I took a picture. Pumpkin seeds are an amazing superfood. Plus, they’re anti-inflammatory!

  • Organic Sunbutter – look at the stats!  It’s another great high protein source, and it’s nut free!
  • Happy Herbert’s Spelt Snack Sticks  – these are tasty, filling, organic, and have turmeric!  I am all about turmeric these days.
  • Edward & Sons Organic Brown Rice Snaps in Unsalted Plain – I love these things, plus, it’s a nice gluten free platform for the Sunbutter!  Besides, now that I don’t have any priest friends anymore, the chances of me getting my hands on unconsecrated hosts for snacking is pretty much nil.  These are my substitute.

Other great classroom snack ideas:

  • Washed and thinly-sliced organic fennel
  • Roasted Nori packs (Trader Joe’s has good ones)
  • Homemade gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, refined sugar-free energy bars (see recipe here) – just be sure to provide teachers with complete ingredient list, so they don’t have to go crazy wondering if there are nuts in it.  It tastes nutty.
  • Bananas (the less ripe they are, the less sugar they have – I try for one day away from any visible green)
  • Washed and chopped organic red pepper (great source of vitamin C without the big sugar rush)
  • Freshly cut sunflower sprouts (I get these at the Union Square Farmer’s Market from The Grassman, who is awesome, BTW)
  • Flamous Falafel Chips – (see my post about them)

What should I do with all of these outdated subway maps?

September 22, 2012

First of all, you are a hoarder and you need help if you have many years worth of outdated subway maps in your apartment.  Get some therapy before it’s too late and some reality television crew needs to excavate fifty-odd years of life-sediment to recover your corpse for a tearful holiday episode.  That being said, I made paper with all of the many years worth of outdated subway maps I had been hoarding saving.

You will need:

  • old subway maps or any paper you want to recycle into new paper
  • a bucket
  • water
  • a blender
  • a small tub (see pictures below)
  • screen material (most home improvement stores have it; get aluminum because stiffness helps – see step 3)
  • sheet metal cutters to cut the screen material (or heavy duty scissors you really don’t care about)
  • old sheet or pillowcase you don’t mind cutting up (can use regular (non-HeavyDuty) HandiWipes if you want, but the texture of the resulting paper won’t be as fine as it would with a nice sheet/pillowcase)
  • 2 finely textured, lint-free dishcloths (no terrycloth! – see step 3)
  • a place for stuff to dry (see below)
  • time

Step 1 – Soak the paper – let it sit for at least a day (I let mine sit for 3 days).

Step 1 of papermaking

Tear up all your paper and put it in the bucket. Put in enough water to cover the paper pieces by at least an inch.

Step 2 – Make paper pulp

Step 2 papermaking

Put soaked paper into blender, making sure there is enough water to cover by at least an inch. Don’t fill your blender more than 3/4 of the way full.

Step 2b papermaking

Blend until homogenous. Chances are your pulp will be either greyish or brownish.

Step 3 – Form and press the pulp

Step 3a papermaking

Pour pulp into a small tub that is larger than the size of the screen material you cut. P.S. you should cut the screen material into the size of the paper you want to make.

Step 3b papermaking

Place screen in pulp, shaking it a bit, so that pulp covers over the screen completely.

Step 3c papermaking

Gently and evenly, lift the screen out of the water by supporting it from the bottom, so as not to disturb the pulp on top of the screen.

I was supposed to tell you to cut your old sheets/pillowcases to be a bit larger than your screen size, so that you have at least 2″ of cloth beyond the boundaries of the screen on each dimension.  Now you know!

Step 3d papermaking

Gently lay your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe cloth over the pulp, so that it is flat and even and doesn’t disturb the pulp.

Step 3e papermaking

Kind of like this.

Step 3f papermaking

Spread out your finely-textured, lint-free dishcloth on a flat surface and get ready to flip your pulp on it, sheet-down. You will need the grace of a gazelle, a cougar’s confidence and the speed of a cheetah. Perhaps you should meditate. I should have suggested this before you had your hands full of formed, wet paper pulp. My bad.

Step 3g papermaking

Kind of like this.

Step 4 – Blot the pulp

Step 4 papermaking

Use the finely-textured, lint free dishcloth to blot the excess water from the pulp by pressing it into the screen, which is still on top of the pulp after you flipped it in the last step.

Step 5 – Peel away the screen

Step 5a papermaking

After blotting, gently run your finger outward along the edges of the screen to pull any wrapped-around pulp off the screen and toward the edges

Step 5b papermaking

Like this.

Step 5c papermaking

Gently lift a corner of the screen to peel it away from the paper. If you blotted enough of the water away in step 4, the paper pulp should be flattened and stuck to the sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe. If some of the pulp sticks to the edge (like you see in this picture), break it off and flatten it into the sheet below.

Step 5c papermaking

After you fully remove the screen, you can flatten out the edges and make sure your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe is flat and not rippled.

Step 6 – Dry and peel – after a few hours, your paper should be dry.  Once it is dry, gently peel it from your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe and make sure it dries out completely before stacking and/or storing it.  If you want it flatter, you can iron it with a medium hot iron (no steam).  If you are going to iron it, I would do it through a handkerchief, so as not to get pulp on your iron.

Now go make some homemade holiday cards and/or brunch invitations and send me one!  You’re welcome!

Recipe for chia pudding?

May 7, 2012

My dear friend Marcy, just texted me to get my chia pudding recipe!  Natasha had just asked me for it a few days prior!  Fate has brought this recipe for chia pudding to you!  I could not escape blogging about it for much longer!  Please note: my recipe is extremely plain.  Google around to find some more interesting recipes.

All amounts are based on the amount of total coconut (meat and water) you have.  See instructions below.

  • Chia seeds (I usually order them from Natural Zing, Live Superfoods, or buy Navitas brand at the store)
  • Fresh coconut meat
  • Fresh coconut water
  • Dates (or sweetener of your choice)
  • Cashews (optional)
  • Spices (such as vanilla – I love to put freshly grated nutmeg in, but that’s not to everyone’s liking)

Put the amount of coconut meat and coconut water you want to use in your blender (use meat and water in approximately equal proportion).  Note how many ounces of coconut you have total and add the dates to the blender [I use 1 date for every 8 or so oz of coconut (meat and water together)] and add the cashews to the blender (you don’t really need the cashews – it’s fine without them – but if you are adding them, add about 15 for every 8 oz of coconut).  Blend this until it is perfectly smooth.

Put a layer of chia seeds in a glass container with a lid (use about 2-3 TBS per 8 oz of total coconut).  You’ll be putting this container in your refrigerator for a few hours to overnight, so that the pudding will set.

Perspective on amount of chia seeds to blended liquid.

Pour the blended mixture over the chia seeds.  It should seem like there is a lot more liquid than chia seeds.  With a spoon, mix the liquid and the seeds together in the container.

Chia seeds and blended liquid mixed – side view.

Chia seeds and blended liquid mixed – top view.

You can mix your spices in now, or wait to sprinkle them on the finished pudding.  Put your covered container in the refrigerator for 3 hours to overnight and mix it up when you can.  The chia seeds will plump and absorb much of the liquid, and your chia pudding is ready for eating!

Your pudding may look a bit like this after it thickens up and you stir it.

Chia pudding is a lovely breakfast, and like revenge, it’s best served cold.  Yes, the kid likes it – although I have to blend it again for him, so he can’t feel the texture of the chia seeds.


What sunscreen should I use?

April 30, 2012

The best sunscreen is shade, a shirt and a wide-brimmed hat.  I know this is not what you’re asking for however.  I’ll give you what you’re asking for, right after you indulge me for one minute to prattle on about the importance of getting enough vitamin D.

There are many things you can do to cut your risk of colds, flus, cancer, dementia, high cholesterol, depression, multiple sclerosis and many other negative health outcomes, and one of them is getting enough Vitamin D.  The best way to get it is through proper exposure [3-4x / wk, 10-15 min each side, on as much skin as possible (not your face) – never getting burned] to natural sunlight at the right time of the year for your latitude and not taking a shower for as long as possible after your exposure since the oils in your skin help the vitamin D get absorbed.

But there will be a time when your husband may sign the family up for a two hour jetski tour in painfully choppy waters in the Gulf of Mexico, and well, for that, you need the actual sunscreen, and a lot of it.

I have used all of these sunscreens, and I recommend them.

I have used all of these sunscreens, and I recommend them.

I like the following sunscreens which do not contain the toxic typical sunscreen chemicals you should avoid:

  • Kidsport Spray by All Terrain.  This is my pick for a child’s sunscreen.  It’s effective, lightweight and rubs in easily.  It’s slightly oily, but not offensively so.  Active ingredient: 19% zinc oxide (non-nano). Note: says it retains SPF after 80 minutes of activity in water.  I found this at Willner Chemist, but I think they have it at Whole Foods as well.  I like that it is sprayable, but not the kind of fine spray that comes from a can (by the way I hate those types of sunscreens that spray like an aerosol because they usually loaded with toxic chemicals and the spray is so fine that it gets into your – and more importantly, your kid’s – lungs).
  • Dr. Mercola Natural Sunscreen and Natural Sunscreen Face Stick.  It is very effective.  I used this very sunscreen, in huge amounts, during my two hour jetski tour of the painfully choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and it worked.  I really like the smell, believe it or not, as well as the ingredients, but this stuff is heavy duty – takes a long time to rub in, gives you a little bit of a deathly pallor (granted, I have a head start on this!), and doesn’t come off easily, even with some scrubbing in the shower.  Also, you’ve got to shake this stuff like a madman.  Seriously.  Make sure you get it all blended up well.  Active ingredient: Titanium dioxide (6%) and Zinc Oxide (6%) – non-nano.
  • Badger SPF 30+ Unscented Sunscreen.  It’s very similar to Mercola’s, only a little harder to rub in, but easier to get off.  It will give you the white pallor and stay on, but it’s unscented (which is nice for me, because I don’t like perfumes, but the smell of this unscented sunscreen is not pleasant for most kids.  The smell does wear off quickly.  It’s just kind of like a plain, shea butter-y type of smell.).  Whereas Mercola’s is more liquidy like a lotion, this one is thicker.  Active ingredient: non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide 18.75%.  I found this at Whole Foods.

Oh, and I know you didn’t ask, but this is the best child’s sunhat I’ve found.  I ordered a large for my 8 year old (when he was 7), and he finds it very comfortable, and I love that you can go in the pool with it.  I wear it sometimes, and it’s just great.  No sunscreen on his face or neck with this one!

Enjoy the sun, and GET SOME VITAMIN D!

Alert: Uniqlo 5th Ave now carries kid’s clothes

March 21, 2012

UPDATE: September 2012

Uniqlo kids clothes are WAY better now than when they were re-introduced in New York this past March when I hated them (see below).  I was just there and thought there was plenty of great stuff, especially for toddlers.  My only complaints were that the clothes don’t go big enough in size.  The XL underwear, for example, is the right size for an 8 or 9 year old kid with an athletic build.


I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that when I passed by the Uniqlo store at 53rd and 5th in NYC today, they had kid’s clothes in the window. The bad news is that the selection is minimal, and what is there sucks. There is a small selection of skinny-fit jeans (same style for boys and girls), a few ugly girl’s sweaters, some lightweight, zip-up hoodies, and some uncomfortable looking boys clothes (button-down shirts for very little kids). Uniqlo has apparently decided to go after that ever-expanding “kids who like needlessly uncomfortable clothes” market. We all know how big that is.

Uniqlo is my favorite clothes store, I have been waiting for YEARS for them to carry kid’s clothes again, and I was ready to spend a lot of money on a whole hell of a lot of kid’s clothes. I walked out of there with 3 pairs of socks (for myself) and a pair of promotionally-priced boxer briefs ($3.90!) for my husband. Epic fail, Uniqlo.

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