Help Penguin Random House #GiveABook to a child in need this holiday season

This holiday season, Penguin Random House wants to use social media to spread the joy of reading to children in need throughout the U.S.  Every time someone posts or tweets a message containing the hashtag #GiveaBook on Facebook or Twitter between now and 12/25, Penguin will donate a new book to Save the Children.

Penguin is willing to donate up to 25,000 new books. Let’s use our tweets and posts to make sure they do it.

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Wordless Wednesday: Beware the Cute

Canelo snoozing as if he hadn't just torn up the embroidery on my favorite quilt. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Canelo snoozing as if he hadn’t just torn up the embroidery on my favorite quilt. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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Book Review: Cat and Crow (Classic Caterpickles)

Last night, out of the blue, The Seven-Year-Old pulled this picture book off the shelf and asked if she could read it to me. Listening to my daughter read the story and seeing the joy she took from it, I was reminded about what a very good book it was. If you’re looking for a picture book about friendship springing up in the most unlikely of places for a little one in your life, I encourage you to give this book a try. 

Also, I need to get back to doing book reviews. Maybe in the new year. Anyone got books they want me to review? Put your requests in the comments field or email me at shalahowell (at) and The Seven-Year-Old and I will get reading. 


Cat and Crow: An Amazing Friendship
By Lisa Fleming
Illustrated by Anne Marie Dominik-Harris
Whitehall Printing Company, 2011
Age Range: All Ages

Did you see the YouTube video about the cat and the crow who became best friends? The interview on Oprah? The National Geographic, Animal Planet, or Miracle Pets specials?

Yeah. Me neither. At least, not until I’d found this book in our local bookstore and decided to hunt the videos down on the Intertubes.

For those of you who haven’t heard the story before, a few years ago a crow named Moses adopted a motherless stray kitten (Cassie) and raised her as his own. Moses fed Cassie, wrestled with her, even shooed her out of the street when cars were coming. The unlikely friendship lasted for four years, until Moses the crow finally disappeared.

Cat and Crow tells the story of the surprising bond between Moses and Cassie, from the perspective of Wally and Ann Collito, the couple who eventually gave Cassie a permanent home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Although the writing is a bit choppy for my taste, I still like this book. It’s a sweet story, sweetly illustrated by Anne Marie Dominik-Harris.

Mostly, I like this book because the story played out just a few towns over from Caterpickles Central, and keeping an eye out for Moses and Cassie makes our visits to Capron Park just that much more interesting. The story is also a great opening to talk with my Caterpickle about friendship, and finding friends in the most unlikely places.

And now it’s your turn. What are you reading this week?

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Driving while parenting, Episode VI

The other day while we were driving down one of Chicago’s highway, we were passed by a Hummer. Not just any Hummer, but a special one, one that had been tricked out to sit high up on its axle, like one of those Monster Trucks.

Not the car we saw, but it'll give you the idea. Apparently, jacking Hummers up on their axles is a thing. (Photo:

Not the car we saw, but it’ll give you the idea. Apparently, jacking Hummers up on their axles is a thing. (Photo:

Daddyo, slowing down a tad to allow the souped up Hummer to pull away:  “If I drove one of those, I’d be afraid of tipping because of the really high center of gravity.”

Mommyo, critically: “It can’t be that fuel efficient, either. I mean, that thing’s not very aerodynamic.”

The Seven-Year-Old, sagely: “That explains why the lane behind the Hummer is empty.”

Mommyo: “I guess no one wants to be behind it.”

The Seven-Year-Old: “When it runs out of gas.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Wreath Bomb

Tree art in Harold Washington Park (Photo: Shala Howell)

Tree art in Harold Washington Park (Photo: Shala Howell)

I just love walking through Chicago this time of year.

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The Seven-Year-Old gets even

Nearly every day, the Seven-Year-Old comes home from school with a tale of how one boy or another grossed her out at lunch so badly that she couldn’t eat — generally by chewing with his mouth open — a teachable moment if ever there was one — or by playing out bathroom humor with (in)appropriate sound effects around the lunch table.

Except for one glorious day last week.

The Seven-Year-Old, in between bites of her after school snack: “I grossed out all the boys at lunch today.”

Mommyo: “Really? How?”

The Seven-Year-Old: “You know all that jam you packed for me? I told them it was space goop.”

Mommyo: “Huh. You’d think the boys would be all over that. Why did it gross them out?”

The Seven-Year-Old, proudly: “I said, ‘This space goop isn’t even fresh!'”

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Classic Caterpickles: “Why does Santa miss some kids?”

NaNoWriMo is done (we did it! 50,383 words!), the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten, the leftovers plowed through most diligently, and suddenly, it’s December, and I’m two days late with my Monday question post. If I had been on the ball this week, instead of waddling around in a tryptophan stupor, I would have posted this ahead of #GivingTuesday (a global day set aside for giving back that happened yesterday – oops).

Thank goodness not everyone is as disorganized as me. Way to go, givers! (Tweet via #GivingTuesday)

Thank goodness not everyone is as disorganized as me. Way to go, givers! (Tweet via #GivingTuesday)

I don’t need to point out that I didn’t have it together, do I?

I think #GivingTuesday is a marvelous idea. However, the name does imply that the very best day to give to charity is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, when your wallets and generosity are already exhausted by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and CyberMonday. Bad timing, guys.

If I were in charge I’d put #GivingTuesday on the Tuesday BEFORE Thanksgiving, or if you’re worried about folks being too distracted with Thanksgiving dinner prep, then you could try December 6, St. Nicholas’ day. I know, December 6 is a Saturday this year, but really, if ever there was a poster saint for charitable giving, it’s old St. Nick.

In the interest of encouraging other folks who, like me, might think that because they missed participating on #GivingTuesday, their donations later in the season won’t be quite so meaningful, I’m reposting this Classic Caterpickle from 2012. Just because we were too disorganized to get it together for the big day, doesn’t mean it’s too late for our donation to make an impact, right? 

The then Four-Year-Old inspecting her work on Santa’s landing pad last Christmas Eve. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We are a Santa family. By which I mean that we are fully invested in pretending Santa is real–for the time being. We haven’t picked a quit date yet, but now that my daughter’s five, I guess we are going to have to. On the other hand, she’s in school now, so it won’t be long until external forces impose a quit date on us.

For the most part, it’s been fun to believe in Santa again. I like helping The Five-Year-Old make Santa’s snack plate (which always includes carrots for Rudolph) on Christmas Eve and then checking in the morning to see if Santa and Rudolph have eaten any. I like helping The Five-Year-Old write letters to Santa (which always start off by thanking him for the presents the year before. We’re not timely thank you note writers, but you have to start somewhere). I like leaving notes by the fireplace on the years we travel directing Santa to our Christmas vacation spot. And I loved drawing a huge parking space in the sand the year we went to Panama City Beach, so that Santa would know where to leave his reindeer when he arrived to make the drop.

But when it comes to explaining to The Five-Year-Old why we donate to Toys for Tots every Christmas, life gets trickier.

Colonel William L. Hendricks, USMCR (Retired), founder of the Toys for Tots program. (Photo via the Toys for Tots website)

Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Diane Hendricks gave her husband Major Bill Hendricks USMCR a handmade doll and asked him to donate it to a charity that would give it to a needy child for Christmas. Major Hendricks couldn’t find a single agency that donated toys to children, so he started his own. Over the years, the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program has delivered more than 452 million toys to more than 209 million children. This year, in addition to their usual charitable efforts, they are taking up a special collection for the children affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Our family donates to Toys for Tots every year. Typically, we take The Five-Year-Old with us to buy the toys that we drop off at the local Toys for Tots collection station. So when I learned that Build-a-Bear was holding its annual Stuffed with Hugs event a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a perfect time for The Five-Year-Old to perform a random act of charity. And since the bear would go to Toys for Tots, a program with which she is already familiar, I figured she would have few questions, if any, about it.

Sadly, no.

The Five-Year-Old was highly enthused about going to Build-a-Bear to stuff a teddy bear, but much less enthused about giving that bear away. The usual questions and negotiations arose. You know the drill. You’ve probably had this very same conversation with your own kids.

I certainly have. I was well into my stock response that we need Toys for Tots because not everyone is as lucky as we are, and there are kids in the world who might not get any presents at all if it weren’t for groups like Toys for Tots, when The Five-Year-Old swatted me with this:

“I thought Santa brought presents to all the children. Why does he miss those kids?”

Continue reading

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The Seven-Year-Old eats grilled cheese

The Seven-Year-Old, enthusiastically: “It was so good I couldn’t even taste it!”

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“Mommyo, can we have an old-timey Thanksgiving?”

The reference texts. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The reference texts. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and per form, back when hosting was still a hypothetical prospect, The Seven-Year-Old and I got pretty excited about the possibilities.

The Seven-Year-Old, brilliantly: “Mommyo, can we have an old-timey Thanksgiving?”

Mommyo, enthusiastically: “Sure! Let me grab my old cookbooks.”

My 1905 New England Cookbook is on loan to a friend right now, so I pulled out my 1896 Fannie Farmer instead. Conveniently, it includes a menu for a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner on page 520.

Ok. Let’s see here.

Traditional Thanksgiving Menu from the 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook.

Traditional Thanksgiving Menu from the 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook.

The roast turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, apple pie, cranberry jelly, crackers & cheese, and nuts & raisins we’d have anyway. And really, how hard could it possibly be to set out celery, salted almonds, ice cream, fruits, fancy cakes, and bonbons as well?

Cafe noir turns out to be extra-strong black coffee, served after dinner, with or without sugar. Let’s call it espresso, and we’re done.

So that leaves…

  • Oyster soup
  • Onions in cream
  • Chicken pie
  • Fruit pudding
  • Sterling sauce
  • Mince pie
  • Squash pie

… as the stretch foods, so to speak.

Squash pie was the least disgusting sounding of the remaining foods. At least to me. I assumed that it was just a variant of pumpkin pie, which I’d serve anyway. So I looked it up first.

Skimming the recipe, it’s basically squash, sugar, salt, cinnamon, lemon extract, milk and an egg.  Sounds a lot like pumpkin pie, I thought. In fact, immediately under the Squash Pie recipe were these words:

“Pumpkin Pie, is made same as Squash Pie, using pumpkin in place of squash.”

There you go. Sounds fine.

The Seven-Year-Old, disgustedly: “To you, maybe. I’m not eating that.”

Ok. It’s not like The Seven-Year-Old would have eaten the pumpkin pie anyway.

Next least disgusting was mince meat pie. I’d had mince meat pie every year growing up. How bad could the original recipe for it be?

The Seven-Year-Old, curiously: “What’s mince meat?”

For the curious, the mince meat recipes referenced in this post. (Source: 1896 Fannie Farmer)

For the curious, the mince meat recipes referenced in this post. Click to enlarge. (Source: 1896 Fannie Farmer)

Mommyo, informatively: “Says here it’s made of apples, quinces, sugar, molasses, cider, raisins, currants, citron, some brandy, a few spices, and beef.”

The Seven-Year-Old, gagging: “Beef pie? ICK!”

Mommyo, helpfully: “There’s a vegetarian version, if you want to try it instead.”

The Seven-Year-Old, resignedly: “What’s it made of?”

Mommyo, didactically: “Raisins, apples, citron, suet…”

The Seven-Year-Old, disgustedly: “Stop. We’re not making that.”

Mommyo, encouragingly: “What about the fruit pudding? Would you like to try that?”

The Seven-Year-Old, decisively: “No. Just make me mac and cheese.”

Well, that takes care of that.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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The Seven-Year-Old misses her teeth

The Seven-Year-Old, wistfully: “I can still feel those teeth. I can feel their little souls still in me.”

Of course, this didn’t keep her from trying to hit up the Tooth Fairy for some bling.

The note reads: "Dear Tooth Fairy, you will find my teeth in the place pointed to. Please take the container." (Photo: Shala Howell)

The note reads: “Dear Tooth Fairy, you will find my tooth in the place pointed to. Please take the container.” (Photo: Shala Howell)

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