Happy, Happy, Library, Library, Books, Books

Ice Cube Reading

I love it when I get a good idea–even when they aren’t original and have been done a million times.

Yesterday, after I replied to an email about the shame boys feel when they are perceived as smart or bookish, I became increasingly angry with the situation. Boys! I would strangle all of them if I didn’t love them and they weren’t integral to the continuation of the human race. I had to do something to show boys that getting caught reading in public–The horror! The horror!–is not social suicide.

Enter, Ice Cube.

I spent some time with a 6th grade boy this week, trying to get him to read something, anything. (His grandma reads this blog so this is for her: I got him to check out The Lightning Thief and suggested he read it and see how it compares to the movie.) I know he loves rap music and basketball, and I know he read Harry Potter 1-4. On a whim, I started googling “rappers reading books,” “basketball players reading books,” and ever other combination of “guys teens would know” reading books.

Then, I posted the picture to Instagram where I knew he would see it. I might have given a small lecture on boys and reading, but nobody’s perfect. I showed great restraint under the circumstances!

Today, I got up early and posted a picture of Rupert Grint and Tom Felton (Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy) reading in between takes of one of the final Harry Potter movies because I know this boy checks his phone before going to school.

Tomorrow I’m going to post a picture I found of Lebron James reading.


I’ve been collecting all my pictures on pinterest in a rare instance of organized researching. I’m going to try an post a picture to Instagram as often as I can after I figure out the legalities of reposting pictures that aren’t mine. (Any lawyers out there with thoughts on this? I’m assuming I have to alter the picture somehow…)

In the meantime, let me know if you find a picture you think a teenage boy would appreciate. A few of you already have and sent me pins via pinterest. Thank you! It doesn’t have to be rap/basketball/Harry Potter. I searched for those because I had one boy in mind yesterday, but really I’m doing this for all boys, whether I know them or not. It’s better than strangling them.

A Jane Austen Education


I don’t know how I came across William Deresiewicz’s book on Jane Austen (A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter), but I think it was on an Austen fan page. I’ve been trying to find middle school friendly adaptations to spark an interest in the kids and, okay, fine, I was also looking for a Persuasion adaptation for me because one can never have too much Captain Wentworth.

I do know the first person I thought of when I saw Deresiewicz’s book was a 7th grade boy who is exceptionally bright and an avid reader. Until recently, he only read Star Wars books–the adult ones. He was stuck in the genre (I totally get that) and wouldn’t try anything new. Since I’m an avid reader and tend to fixate on things, I let him read his Star Wars and did nothing more than tease him about books I was going to sneak into his backpack. “It’s your lucky day,” I’d call out in front of the class when he sat down. “That limited edition copy of Anne of Green Gables you begged me for just came in!” He’d make a face like he swallowed a lemon and then laugh. One day he checked out another book–a fantasy I can’t remember now–and I pretended to pass out in my desk chair. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a girl commented that he often reads her romance novels during class.

“I’m bored,” he said. More on that in a minute.

Slowly but surely, he was getting burned out on the Star Wars books. He’s read every one at least three times, and on three day weekends or holidays he always checked out several to keep himself occupied. I decided to use this book to help me sell Jane Austen to a 13 year old boy.


When he didn’t immediately go to his Star Wars section, I knew it was game-on. I swear I could hear the opening bars of the Jaws theme song as I weaved my way through the tables to get to him. As it turns out, I never mentioned the book. I told him that he looked bored and needed a challenge. He agreed. I suggested he try reading some of the classics and used cold, testosterone-filled logic by pointing out the 18th century English would challenge him and force him to read slowly until he got the hang of it. I could see he was thinking about it, almost ready to do it. To be on the safe side, I pointed out some other books like The Phantom of the Opera, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and a few other classics recently donated. He chose The Phantom of the Opera and made a mental note of the other ones he wanted to check out in the coming weeks. I’m hoping he likes Phantom and it encourages him to read more classics. Not because he or any other kid “should,” but because a lot of them are great books. (Some of them suck; let’s be honest.)

This boy was only mildly resistant to reading a romance novel, and that confirmed something I’ve noticed over the last month. Many of the boys want to read stories with strong romantic elements. They don’t because the covers often set them up for teasing from classmates–often the same classmates who want to read the same book. I had another boy check out one of the “clean romances” I bought with the girls in mind. He kept the cover turned over and hid it under his math homework. Still, every single boy in that class knew he checked it out.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on the drop-off in reading so typical in boys once they hit 4th grade. I even see it in Mikey and that kills me. I read somewhere that 17% of boys don’t want to be caught reading in front of their peers for fear of being seen as weak or nerdy. Imagine! Reading a book is a sign of weakness for boys.

I know this post is jumbled and goes from subject to subject, but I look at this 7th grade boy who confidently reads what he wants, when he wants and compare him to the boys who are too proud to check out a romance novel or to the 17% who don’t want to be seen with any book. I wish I could bottle whatever it is that makes him tick.

The William Morris Project 1014 | Chore Charts

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The William Morris Project


A week ago last Sunday, Nico walked into the bathroom to brush his hair for church. He was wearing black dress shoes, which didn’t work with his khakis and simple collared shirt. I asked him to put on his regular church shoes. He went back into his room and not 10 seconds later, Mikey came in wearing similar dress shoes with a similar casual outfit. The problem–aside from looking ridiculous–was that the shoes looked 2 sizes too small. He was wearing Nico’s dress shoes.

“These are the only nice shoes I could find!”

Mikey couldn’t find his dress shoes because Nico was wearing them.

“Did either of you notice that your shoes didn’t fit? Mikey, did you notice your shoes were too small?! Nico, did you notice that your feet were slipping out of your shoes?!”

I mean, honestly. On closer inspection, Nico had clown feet and Mikey had really creepy satyr feet.

They both returned wearing scuffed school sneakers. “We can’t find our shoes!”

I was not pleased. I went through their shoe drawer and found a pair of slippers and one flip-flop. I opened their closet and found piles of toys and sporting gear. I wanted to stomp out of their bedroom but I slipped on an abandoned pile of Pokemon cards. I yelled from that second on until we pulled into the church driveway.

The boys are so messy if left to their own devices. Mikey has been held after school for the sole purpose of cleaning up his area. He has the dubious distinction of being the class’s “messiest boy.” Nico is a squirrel; tragedy is afoot when he isn’t surrounded by a nest of paper, art supplies, and stuffed animals. I get angry at them, but then I get angry at myself for getting upset.

I was so upset on Sunday that I finally sat down at my computer and vowed I would not get up until I found a chore chart system we could implement immediately. I bought something a month or so ago, but I did it quickly and misread the item description. It wasn’t what I wanted.

This time, I stay focused and struck gold.

Chores, 1

I bought the editable chore chart package from Paper & Oats for $5. That night, we had it filled out and ready to put into use. We held a “family meeting” and discussed expectations. The boys were familiar with all the chores since they are chores they should be doing anyway. Seeing it on paper was something altogether different.

The first question they had involved money. As in: how much. “None,” I said. “This isn’t a list of jobs–it’s a list of expectations. You don’t get paid for doing what is expected of you.”

Too harsh? Too bad!

Chores, 2

If they want money, they can volunteer to do some paid jobs, like organize Pokemon cards or clean out the closet. Each job has a rate, and they can do it all themselves or split the workload (and money). They can only collect the money if they finish their expected chores for the week. I had to put that disclaimer in immediately because I could see Mikey’s wheels spinning.

Chores, 3

Finally, they have a “dream big” sheet where they are awarded stickers when they go above and beyond around the house or show exceptionally good behavior or decision making. Mikey asked for his own PC and Nico asked for “a real red panda.”

When I pointed out that he would never, ever get a real red panda he looked at me the way all children do when shackled to an adult devoid of vision and optimism. He now wants “to Get a Real parakeet.”

Two weeks in and the house looks so, so much better. The boys, I’ve realized, are just like me. They need a to-do list they can refer to throughout the day to keep them on track. They check their progress throughout the day and are often surprised when they see they forgot to feed the hermit crabs or put away their laundry. The Mister and I spend far less time nagging and feeling resentful. It’s been great, far better than I anticipated.

Although I orignally planned to hang the charts on a large cork board in our dining room, I think I’m going to keep them here in the kitchen. This way, they’re low enough for the boys to mark up during the week. I have them up with washi tape right now, but that’s only because I haven’t had the time to insert cork into the recesses of the cabinetry. It looks a little sloppy now, but once I get a minute to organize the area, I think it will look good.

My favorite bit of this chore chart adventure has been seeing the boys’ personalities shine through in something as simple as checking a box. Mikey uses the same pen to mark off each chore. He might switch it up from day to day, but all day his checks are consistent and in the same color. Nico doesn’t even use checks–or pens, for that matter. He makes smiley faces, cubes, paint splats, X’s, and, one day, doves. Perhaps they were parakeets.

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The William Morris Project 2014 | New Dishes

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The William Morris Project

Every week Mikey’s teacher has her students write a weekly journal entry to share with their parents. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but if I haven’t, there you go. The parents are supposed to reply to the journal entry with their own faults. Mikey consistently writes things like “I want another sleepover, mom! Please!!” or “I can’t believe Mrs. Francis benched us at recess for running on the jungle gym. I know we’re not supposed to, but we always do it! Teachers are no fun.” This week he made an impassioned plea about X-Box Live, X-Box Gold, and being friends with lots of people, but especially Stampylongnose. “I WILL DO ANYTHING TO BE HIS FRIEND, MOM!!!”

Oh, really now? I can’t wait to discuss Generation Like.

I responded to him about friends and social media and typical parent stuff that I don’t think was my best effort. My delivery sounded more negative than I liked, but I at least closed with “this is something we need to talk more about in person. Love, Mama.” I’m not sure what I will say about social media, because in a lot of ways it’s excellent. Like, for example, today’s post and my new dishes. That’s all thanks to social media.

Corelle, 1

I know I’ve been talking about buying new dishes for years now. It took longer than I anticipated because I had it in my head to buy 10″ dishes. Standard dishes these days measure 12″-14″, which was the size of a charger in the 1960s. Some researchers believe our increase in weight as a society has a lot to do with the increase in plate size because, visually, people like to eat their meals off a plate that is 70% full. (You can read more about the small plate movement here.) Years ago, when I lost 50 pounds and was on a very, very strict meal plan, I started eating off of our salad plates because my dinner looked sparse and pathetic off our hubcap plates. It’s a habit that’s stuck with me ever since. In fact, our whole family eats off the salad plates. The regular plates are enormous and heavy. So heavy! Plus, they are our wedding plates so there is crazing and cracking. I needed to replace them.

Corelle, 2

If we didn’t eat off the salad plates, we ate off our melamine party plates. They were much lighter and less fragile–important since the boys now do the dishes–and, after 14 years of daily use, our 12 salad plates had been reduced to 3.

Corelle, 3

I didn’t go on an insane search for the perfect dishes. I figured they would pop up eventually, though I did underestimate how difficult it would be to find plates in a smaller size. I was complaining about this on instagram when several people mentioned Corelle. They said everything I wanted to hear: light weight, durable, small in size. I looked around our area, found an outlet, and took the family with me to see if they approved. I thought I would get plain white ones, but no. They wanted something with a pattern. This grandma pattern, in my favorite blue and white, pleased everyone. Except maybe Nico. He wanted lime green ones.

Corelle, 7

Corelle, 6

Corelle, 5

Corelle, 4

Here you can see the difference in size! Amazing. I can stack all 10 pieces (that’s what we bought of each) and keep it in one area as opposed to before where I had to spread everything across all the cabinets to fit. Loading the dishwasher is now a dream.

Corelle, 9

According to my dishwasher manual, that small row is supposed to be for salad plates or bowls. Never have I been able to fit bowls in that spot.

Corelle, 8

What used to take up an entire cabinet now fits easily on two shelves with room to spare. As far as the quality, well, I wouldn’t serve Beef Wellington to the Queen on them, but they are fine for everyday use. Corelle is a glass/porcelain mix. They are thin, very light weight, and chip resistant. They can go in the dishwasher, microwave, and oven. They have a 3 year warranty, so if they break or chip or show any sign of damage, I can go to my nearest store for a new plate/bowl/whatever. My store doesn’t ask for a receipt, so the manager told me that really the warranty is for longer than 3 years.

I just sounded like a commercial. I’m still getting used to them and still selling myself! I felt really weird donating all our dishes today, but I know months from now I will look back and wonder why I waited so long.

Library, Library

Mrs. Green

My 20th college reunion is this May, but I remember very, very little of my college experience. I don’t remember many people, professors, or classes. I have to reach deep to remember names, even with the professors and students I truly liked. Most of the time I draw a blank. I don’t know why this is, but my token excuse is that I had a serious college boyfriend all four years. Too serious, not good for me. I remember three friends from college, and one of them is planning the 20 year reunion.

The boyfriend excuse seems solid, because high school is equally a blur once I hit senior year, the year I was finally allowed to wear makeup and have a boyfriend. But, unlike college, I remember a lot of it and have loads of friends from high school–at least on Facebook. I planned our 20th high school reunion with one of my closest friends, and in doing that connected with people I was once too shy to even look in the eyes. If any of you think I’m a socially awkward hermit now…well. You don’t even know!

Elementary school is an entirely different story. People often cringe when I mention that I went to a Catholic school up until college. “I’m so sorry,” they say. They ask me if the uniforms bothered me, if the nuns beat me, if the priests attacked the children, if I always felt guilty, and if my education suffered.

No. No to all of it. I loved my Catholic school education. I loved that the uniforms made us all the same, down to the shoes, and took away the stress of fitting in. Nowadays, the kids express themselves with their shoes. You can tell a lot about a child’s socioeconomic status just by looking at their feet, but back then, we all wore Buster Brown Mary Janes or Oxfords. By the mid 80s we were super cool in our Keds.

The nuns, especially my principal, Sr. Celeste, were all wonderful. The priests were nice, but I was always too shy to pay them much attention and back then, they were much more formal. Confession was stressful, but mostly it was a time to place bets to see how many Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s John M. would get. Not enough, apparently, because I just spent 30 minutes Googling him and I think he’s in jail. These days, Mikey and Nico joke around with their school priests and I sometimes pick them up Starbucks. We text.

I never felt guilty about anything–though the Catholic guilt joke is fun–and my education was fine, thanks. Maybe I lucked out with my Catholic school? If so, I’m glad.

Unlike college and high school, I remember the teachers from elementary school. That’s my librarian, Mrs. Green, standing fourth from the left. She always wore dress suits with pumps and nude nylons. Always. There was sometimes a broach on her lapel. Her hair was blonde and wispy, and in my head I remember it tall, like a beehive, but I think it was just Aqua-Netted to a crispy finish. She was serious, somewhat stern, and never let us check out books above our reading level. Silence was absolutely golden. Her name was Mrs. Green but she always, and I mean always, wrote in a red pen. There are still cards in the library with her precise, Palmer Method cursive in red.

My 1st and 4th grade teacher were one and the same, which was great for me because she loved me to bits. My 3rd grade teacher taught us how to sing the alphabet backwards, which I can still do to this day. I consider that and my ability to raise one eyebrow my crowning achievements in life. My 5th grade teacher gave me a hug every morning because I was so anxious about school. My 7th grade teacher pushed me to work to my potential and my 8th grade teacher was the first one to ever say out loud what I would one day discover for myself: it’s possible to achieve at everything except maintaining a healthy weight. I don’t remember much about my 2nd grade teacher and I would not be surprised in the least if you told me my 6th grade teacher answered to the name Screwtape. Nothing is perfect.

Where to go

I went to the funeral of my kindergarten aide in January and wasn’t surprised to hear her two daughters were teachers. Teaching seems to be a career choice that passes through families like brown eyes or red hair. What surprised me is when the oldest daughter asked those of us who remembered their 1st teacher to stand. Everyone stood up, of course. She said, “You always remember your first teacher and your best teacher.” You remember your worst, too, but that’s besides the point. (Screwtape!)

That thought has stuck with me ever since. I remember my first teacher and I remember my best teacher and I remember my librarian with her teal knit dress suits, nude nylons, and ever-present red pen. When people ask me why I am willing to volunteer so much of my time and money to the school, I can admit that at least a little part of me wants to be remembered. The idea that I could make a small difference to even one child keeps me showing up. Well, that and the books. I doubt I’d be Super Volunteer if I was the lunch lady.

I’m shameless in my quest to insert myself in the memories of the kids. Remembering Mrs. Green’s red pens, I started asking the Mister to bring back tourist pens from everywhere he traveled. He has, and they’re what the kids use in the library. Dallas, Texas; Arizona; Denmark; New York; Las Vegas–and Monica recently sent me two from Germany! I have them out next to the globe (Target) and when the little ones check out their books I say, “Where do you want to go today?” and they pick a pen. Then, I have them look for the state/country on the globe. A lot of the kids pick Las Vegas, which kills me.

Years from now, a guy will tell his kids a cautionary tale about the librarian who loved books and kids more than anything–except gambling. She had a desk full of Las Vegas pens, so obviously she had a problem.

Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.