Lemons into Lemonade

Cornavirus image

As a person with 10 days of experience socially isolating at home with my 2 sons (17 and 20), I have developed a list of 12 recommendations to keep yourself sane, healthy, and relatively happy during this unsettling time of Covid-19 unfurling in the United States.

1. Keep a regular routine of some sort to your day. This includes getting up and going to bed around the same time every day, preparing and eating meals around the times you usually would, and cleaning up afterwards, just like normal. Have a loose schedule of things to do, such as a mid-morning workout, and if you are working from home, assign yourself specific hours to do it.

Keep your evenings open to do something relaxing and pleasant: Netflix, reading, playing a game with others in your household, talk on the phone with friends, etc. Take advantage of all of these free live concerts and things entertainers are doing online in the evenings. Watch them while you’re on the phone with your friends – it’s like being at the movies, you don’t talk much, but it’s nice to experience it together and discuss afterwards.

2. Take naps whenever you feel tired. These are stressful times, your body needs rest to help cope with the ever-changing situation in the world right now. Treat this like a luxurious vacation! Lounge/sleep whenever your body feels the urge.

3. Eat healthy meals, and take your vitamins. It’s better for your body and stress levels to have regular nutrition rather than feasting on processed snack foods that will leave you feeling tired and stressed out.

4. Do some kind of regular exercise routine every day, even if it’s just doing 100 jumping jacks, running in place for three minutes, and running up and down your stairs 10 times. Keep yourself active! Your body will feel better, and you will be able to relax more easily if you have a physical stress outlet.

There is a lot of free online gym, yoga, and karate instruction out there right now. Take advantage if it!

6. Exercise your mind! Sign up for an online course, download audiobooks and e-books from your local library, (you can download the Kindle app for your phone, iPad, computer, etc. from Amazon, and OverDrive is the app I use for audiobooks, it links right up to my library – I just sign in with my library card).

7. Do all the things you never seem to get to when things are normal. I write and paint in my spare time, but I don’t normally have spare time. Schedule it into your day to work on your novel at regular times, paint pictures, crochet or knit, write that screenplay, work on your music, organize your sock drawer, do those 27 online courses you bought 2 years ago…

8. Keep up with friends. I have been randomly shooting texts to people I don’t see regularly, just to touch base and make sure that they’re doing alright. It’s good for you, and probably also helpful for them to know that someone is reaching out and that they care.

9. Play. I have gotten hooked into Scrabble GO, where you can play with friends and strangers. There are a million apps to choose from, or play cards or board games if you are with others. 

It’s good to have mental recreational time. Avoid bingeing though, because that just kind of makes you feel yucky, even in normal times, mentally vegging for twelve hours straight.

10. If you are going through this with others in your household, talk about things together. Ask how they’re doing, be social. Discover them on a new level. Play games, sing karaoke, prepare meals and clean up together, everybody get their instruments out and jam, etc.

11. Go outside from time to time to get some vitamin D and breathe fresh air, if you can. If the weather isn’t good, at least make sure all your curtains are open and your shades are up to let the light in. This will also help you stay on a regular sleep routine.

12. Do fun little things for yourself. Every afternoon, I have tea and a few cookies, just me. 

These things have kept me sane and feeling pretty decent. I have also been tuning in to the daily news updates, and praying. Establishing order during times of chaos soothes the soul.

Two weeks ago, I was worrying that I would get cabin fever, but now on day 11, I am feeling relaxed, rested, and am looking forward to the next week or so, when I can start to interact again with others who have also been isolating. 👍🏻

This thing won’t last forever, People. Take advantage of the downtime while we’ve got it, and rejuvenate! 😊

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Back from the Dead?

It’s been awhile, but today I was inspired to write in order to just put an idea out there, like a message in a bottle, in hopes that it will be discovered by someone who can run with it and make my dream come true.

It would be fantastic if there were a publishing house created to re-introduce older books that are out of print, but have not yet reached their copyright expiration. They could call it Vintage Printage. 🙂

In my opinion, there are some great books and series which would have a successful comeback if reprinted. With the original covers…?  Here are a few of my suggestions for books that I feel could enjoy another go before heading to their final resting place (Project Gutenberg). Feel free to list your own personal picks in the comments. 🙂


The Mushroom Planet Series
by Eleanor Cameron


Polly Kent Rides West in the Days of ’49
by David McCulloch and Charles Hargens
Polly Kent Rides West cover


Cathy’s Little Sister
by Catherine Woolley
Cathy's Little Sister cover


The Mad Scientist’s Club
by Bertrand R. Brinley
Mad scientists club cover


Wagon to a Star
by Frances Lynch McGuire
Wagon to a Star Dust Jacket









Any book ever written by Betty Cavanna
(These are just a few…)


The Family Nobody Wanted
by Helen Doss
(Which may seem like a weird choice,
but I read it in second grade and never forgot it)The Family Nobody Wanted by [Doss, Helen]
















All books Danny Dunn
by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkins
(Many are not shown…)



Wyoming Summer
by Mary O’Hara
Wyoming Summer cover















Light a Single Candle
by Beverly Butler
Single candle cover







Katie and The Sad Noise
by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Katie and the Sad Noise








Magic Elizabeth
by Norma Kasirer



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The Pencil Sharpener


Recently in desperate need of a new classroom pencil sharpener, I searched the Internet and discovered the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener — a hand-crank pencil sharpener that can be used anywhere in the classroom and sharpens pencils perfectly, “every single time.”

I went to their website and was about to order one in a pretty shade of blue,commercial imagewhen I saw that I could get a free one if I were to write a review on my blog about it. Four days later, a small but exciting box arrived on my front porch. I had already informed my class of our windfall, so took it to school unopened for my students to share in the big reveal. There are several videos on YouTube showing how to use it, and we had already watched a couple of them in anticipation of the Big Day.

Upon opening the box, we were taken aback to discover that the little black pincher pieces had come off during shipping, but after a minute of figuring out which went where, the pieces snapped back on perfectly.

Normally, there is no assembly required unless you choose to use the clampClamp image from their blog (included) to affix it to a desk or table top. We tried it that way at first, but it did not seem terribly stable (at least where I was trying to put it), and after using it a few times, it became detached and fell to the floor. We decided to skip the clamp and just hold the sharpener down with the non-cranking hand during use, which worked much better.

Here’s how: Pinch the two black pieces together with one hand while you insert the pencilIMG_8318, then pull the metal carriage out as far as it can go. Release the pinchers. Place your non-dominant hand on top of the sharpener IMG_8311to hold it in place, and use your other hand to crank in a clockwise fashion until there is no resistance (the pencil is held in place by the pinchers). When the resistance stops, pinch the black pieces together again, remove the pencil, and admire the point.

IMG_8321Because you will, every single time!

Check out the Pencil Sharpeners from Classroom Friendly Supplies! You won’t be disappointed.

Update: After about two weeks of use, the gripper that pulls the pencils into the mechanisim to be sharpened stopped working correctly. We can still use it, but the metal carriage does not retract by itself without manual assistance. IMG_8326Now when sharpening, after about every quarter inch, the resistance stops prematurely and we need to repeat the pinch/pull-out-the-metal-part-as-far-as-it-can-go step about 8 times before the pencil is sufficiently sharpened. Still a perfect point though. 🙂

Fellow teachers have stepped forward to say that they also have one and love it, and have not had that issue, so I think we just got a lemon. I will definitely order another when this one totally croaks. Still love it!

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Summer Reading 2014

I’ve seen several new Summer Reading lists for children in the last few days. Some have various prizes for accomplishing them, for others the prize is just getting introduced to some great books.

Thought I’d share:

Reward based mega-list: http://www.capitallyfrugaldc.com/2014/05/29/business-sponsored-summer-reading-programs-2014/ 

American Library Association picks:

Scholastic Challenge:

From SummerReading.org:

From a reliable teacher-website:

Annual Reading Rockets List:

and of course, my favorite:

Classic Children’s Books (20 years or older, but still readily available):

Happy Summer Reading! 🙂

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Summer Reading 2013

I am very pleased to announce that one of my favorite Oldies But Goodies has been selected by my local school system for their 9th grade gifted summer reading program: A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins

(along with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers – not an Oldie But Goodie, but a fine read nonetheless). Great choice, Local School System!

Students (and adults) of both sexes will enjoy this book, a first-hand account of Peter Jenkins’ 1970’s true life adventure, in which he finds his dog, his bride and ultimately himself.

Additionally, a sister Oldies But Goodies novel is making news this season with its re-release from Ballantine Books. Formerly very difficult to find (believe me, I’ve tried and there’s NOTHING out there for under $75.00…) The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

by Peter Benchley is available for pre-order with a shipping date of August 20, 2013. Although Benchley is best known for Jaws, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is (in my opinion) his masterwork. A beautifully visual read, it is the story of Paloma, a girl who lives near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (a.k.a. The Gulf of California, located between the Baja Peninsula and the mainland. For more on this area of the world, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_California ).

Her love of the sea and the creatures in it is threatened by greedy outsiders without a care for the destruction they will leave behind. Not only is it a great book, it makes my environmentalist heart go pitter-pat.

Both Walk Across America and The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (and Outliers and Jaws, too, for that matter) are great books for a summer read at the beach, the pool, or curled up in bed with the air-conditioner blasting on you. Even if you don’t have plans to travel this summer, after you’ve read them, you will feel well-rested and dream of faraway places.

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Reader’s Block

My job as a sixth grade language arts and math teacher keeps me jumping, and during the school year, I have found it best to shelve all thoughts of leisure-reading. This year, looking forward to winter break, I was all set to hibernate for a few days with Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily Product Detailsand Susan Vreeland’s Product DetailsClara and Mr. Tiffany. They were both a little on the thick side, but I was confident that I’d be able to finish them in two weeks.

Around that same time, one of my favorite friends from AgentQueryConnect, Sophie Perinot (a.k.a. Litgal, a.a.k.a. @Lit_Gal), announced that there was a contest on Goodreads to win an advance copy of her debut novel, The Sister Queens. I’d already pre-ordered it, but getting the chance to read it before the rest of the world did was intriguing, so I entered. And then I won a copy. Product Details

When it arrived, I was in the throes of getting ready for Christmas, so I added it to the pile on my nightstand.

Now I had three books to read. I mentally arranged them: Clara and Mr. T looked good, but it could wait because my book group wasn’t meeting until the end of January. A fan of Willig’s whimsical romances, I was tempted to pick up Blood Lily, but Sister Queens had a deadline because I’d told Litgal that I would write an advance review on my blog. The Sister Queens it was.

Despite my sons’ constant arguing over their yuletide haul of small electronics, I managed to get some reading in during the week before New Year’s. I was enjoying the book, and by page 185 was confident that I would finish by the time school resumed on the fifth, with maybe even enough time left over for Clara. And then the Kindle that I’d ordered with my Christmas gift-cards arrived.

Suddenly my interest was fixated on my own small electronic. At first I restrained myself to just figuring out how to use it, but when the purple leather case arrived two days later, I succumbed to downloading many of the titles I’d previously selected with my “Kindle for Mac” app. I couldn’t wait to try it out, but The Sister Queens e-book will not be available until March 6th, so I was out of luck in that department. I tried to satisfy myself by downloading the electronic version of Clara and Mr. Tiffany from the library for later, but I was itching to push those buttons, and really wanted to experience reading in bed using only one hand.

“You are not allowed to use your Kindle until you’re done with The Sister Queens,” I told myself sternly. Five or six times.

“It couldn’t hurt to read just a few chapters of something,” Myself said back. Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, it was.

Product Details

Unfortunately, Agnes’s woes of being a governess to a family of singularly unruly children ran in remarkable parallel to a recent classroom management situation of my own, and I couldn’t put it down. And then school started up again.

I still haven’t finished The Sister Queens, although I’m loving it whenever I get the chance. I was only able to get the first chapter of Clara read in time for book group, and Blood Lily has gotten knocked off the table and is under the bed somewhere, waiting for Presidents’ Day.

Will. Finish. Sister. Queens.

Stay tuned for my review…

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Reading is Felonious

This August, in the throes of readying for the new school year, a recently hired colleague expressed concerns about where to keep her purse during the day. Her worries were understandable, as the school is in an urban area with a somewhat higher level of crime than the suburb from which she comes. I assured her that last year I had an enormous purse that would only fit under my desk, but no one had ever bothered it. I even kept a dish filled with nickels on top of my desk from students who purchased pencils, and no one ever stole any.

No, the students don’t take money. They steal books.

By June, it had cost me more than forty dollars to replace titles “borrowed” from my classroom library last year. Shiny new copies of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and My Side of the Mountain had all disappeared from the bookshelf.

“Does anyone have these books?” I would ask my class, only to be met by total silence. But I already knew who had them. I’d recommended them to those students, myself. All bright children who I was pretty sure didn’t have any books of their own at home.

As far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to keep them, and if it costs me another forty dollars this year, I’ll pay it without flinching. I only hope that all of those books stay in print.


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Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

I was first acquainted with The Thirteenth Tale when I won a contest on author Mindy McGinnis’s blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. The prize was a book of my choice, and Mindy (a school librarian by day) helpfully suggested several titles, including this one. Billed as “a classic gothic,” I was a little nervous that it might be Victoria Holt-like, but after checking it out on Amazon.com and Goodreads, I decided to risk it.

Margaret Lea works in her father’s antique book shop, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her dead identical twin. Vida Winter is a reclusive famous writer, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her own dead identical twin. In her dotage and facing a terminal illness, Vida has finally decided to share her mysterious life story, and she wants Margaret to be the one to write it down. Off on the moors (okay, that much was stereotypical), Margaret is fascinated by Vida’s twisted tale, but echoes of her own life story inevitably start to resonate. Shadows and foreshadows of Jane Eyre, a mystery of birth, and twins who just won’t stay dead grip the reader until the last few pages, where the author takes great (and satisfying) pains to wrap up every little detail. I couldn’t put it down.

Maybe I was just tired (it was four-thirty in the morning when I finished the book), but even with the care that the author took to tie up loose ends, there was one detail that remained unexplained for me. Whose initials were IAR? Not whose I thought they would be, which begs the question: Was it a typo, or was Emmeline a serial diary thief? If you read it, I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Thank you, Mindy, good pick.

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶


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Vintage Book Review: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith is probably best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I didn’t even know her for that, until seeing an author’s online bio that listed I Capture the Castle as a favorite. Out of curiosity,  I looked it up on Amazon and saw that the book was recommended by JK Rowling, so to the library I went.

First published in 1949, the novel was written as the journal entries of a seventeen-year-old girl living in post-WWII England. It is a fascinating reflection of the times, as well as a good coming-of-age story.

Eeking out a life of poverty in a once grand castle with a one-book-wonder of a father, an eccentric young stepmother, a younger brother, the orphaned teenage son of their former housekeeper and assorted dogs and cats, two sisters wonder if things will ever be different. Then the wealthy Cotton boys move in just down the road, and things are never the same again.

Aside from enjoying the writing style, I was intrigued by the subplot of the main character’s spiritual journey. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was a subplot until practically the middle of the book, but I found myself watching for it, and was not displeased. The big question that kept me hooked though, was, “What the heck is the deal with Father?”

Some parts of the story made me laugh out loud, others seemed a little melodramatic, but all was from a very “seventeen” way of seeing the world. I came away from the novel wondering if it would be more enjoyed by a teen reader or by an older one who can look back at that age and smile. I think probably both. A very enjoyable book!


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I Already Read That

Many, many times when I have suggested titles for students in their later years (by which I mean high school), I have gotten the, “Oh, I read that in fifth grade,” comment. It is frequently accompanied by the vaguely superior attitude that tends to distinguish a precocious reader.

In response, I have this to say: Reading something as a child is not the same as reading it in high school (or later). Yes, the words are the same, the characters are the same, and the plot is the same, but you, dear reader, are not.

The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, is a classic example of this. Easily digested as a fairy tale in one’s early years, in the hands of a teenager, it can boggle the mind with its innuendo and double meaning. So can The Hobbit. And Watership Down. And practically every other book not exclusively intended for the younger crowd.

Even when perfectly capable of understanding the words and following a complex plot, the preadolescent reader (even a gifted one) just doesn’t have the maturity to recognize the nuance and subtlety embedded in most literature.

Think I’m wrong? Dust one off and read it again.

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