Lists: Seven Great Gifts For A Ten Year-Old Boy

My son’s 10th birthday is fast approaching on February 7, and like every other year, I found myself in a post-Christmas panic, frantically searching for gift ideas last week.  I’m still in the process of finding everything, and some of the items on this list we already own, but they will make great birthday presents for his friends.   I’m a fan of compiling ideas in one place!

1. Sports Illustrated Kids ALL NEW Access: Your Behind-The-Scenes Pass To The Coolest Things In Sports, $15. Many boys love sports, and my son falls into that category.  In the past 6 months, we’ve been in a couple of bookstores, and he keeps thumbing through this book. Like many boys his age, he is intrigued with many famous athletes and loves the idea of peeking behind-the-scenes.

2. Panini Sports Sticker Books, $16 for one book and 6 sticker packs.  Talk about a home run gift at an amazingly low price point!  My son LOVES these books, and we have both the NFL and NHL versions.  The sticker packs are just $1 each, so we often use them as rewards for being extra helpful around the house.  I’m certain this is how he knows so much about the many different players as well.  You can also find the books and sticker packs sold at Learning Express, many sporting goods stores like Sports Authority, and even at some White Hen Pantry stores.

3. Davinci’s Catapult with Braindrops, $24.99. We LOVE Marbles, The Brain Store!  My daughter was given the Hydraulic Robotic Arm, and even though it was challenging, loved building it.  My son has asked for the catapult, in part, because he will be able to cause trouble by launching things through the air.  It does say for ages 12+, but with some parental assistance, your child should definitely be able to do this.  They have a great Math and Engineering section on their website where you can see the catapult as well as other ideas.

4. Franklin Sports NHL Mini Hockey Set, $38. We already have this, and I can tell you it is among the best money I have ever spent on anything for my kids.  It has provided my son, his friends, and even his dad, with countless hours of entertainment in our basement.  My only words of advice: make your son wear old pants to play with it, as we have wrecked the knees of several pairs of pants already!

5. 365 Days Of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book Of Precepts, $11. We are big Wonder fans, and my son asked if we could get this to read aloud together.  It’s hard to say no to a request like that, so I’ve ordered a copy.

6. Syma Remote Control Helicopter, many colors available, starting around $20. For the money, this is a great toy.  Although not indestructible (I think we are on our third one), by age 10, they become much more in control of the flying.  Before you know it, your husband will want one too.  They also have a cool green Chinook helicopter, which my son has in addition to a red helicopter.

7. LEGO Architecture Series, starting at $29. These sets are fun to put together, and also make great display pieces once completed.  I think I will get my son the Big Ben model this year since we talked about going to London in the future, and it will look nice on his shelf next to the Eiffel Tower he built last year.

Have fun shopping!



Brooke’s Bookshelf: 5 Titles You And Your Child Will Love

One of the hardest parts of letting go of having very young children is feeling keenly aware of the fact that our days reading picture books together are waning. We used to read piles of stories together before bed.  With homework and other priorities, we are down to just one.  You may find it surprising that children who are twelve, ten, and eight will still sit and listen to a book with me, but I think a large part of the draw for them is that we all get a few minutes to snuggle on the bed together after a long day.  I’m determined to ride this wave together for as long as possible!

If you have young children, or are looking for great books to give as gifts, here are 5 titles we are loving right now.

 1. Owl Moon. Jane Yolen’s Caldecott winner features gorgeous pictures and a touching story of patience and finding beauty in nature on a cold winter evening.  Anyone who has seen an owl knows how gorgeous they are, yet mysterious too.  The artwork, especially of the owl, is rich and vivid.

2. Miss Rumphius.  We were given a 30th Anniversary edition of this classic story by Barbara Cooney.  The underlying message of trying to make the world a better place is inspiring, even for me at the ripe age of 42.  I’ve enjoyed our open-ended conversations at the end of the story about what the possibilities might be for leaving our own marks on the world. 

3. The Right Word: Roget And His Thesaurus.  My daughter received this from her great-aunt for Christmas, along with her first thesaurus.  My husband and I did not know the story behind the creation of this timeless reference tool, and it’s a lovely biography.  Also, if you don’t know Melissa Sweet, she is a fabulous illustrator.

My daughter’s book came wrapped with this thesaurus.

This is a great gift idea that I will definitely use again!

 4. Annie and Helen.   This is a remarkable picture book that gives kids a great introduction to the remarkable relationship that Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan shared.  The story is well told, and my kids love the black and white photos lining both the front and back covers, as well as the braille alphabet on the back jacket.

5. The Seven Silly Eaters.  For any mother who has ever felt like a short-order chef in her own home fielding special requests for food, you will love reading this book with your kids.  With lots of rhyming and the charming illustrations by Marla Frazee, you can’t go wrong.

Happy reading!



Life: I’m Way Too Old For Abercrombie


Today I found myself at the mall, taking care of holiday returns.  Before I could take a deep enough breath, I was inside the shadowy bass-pumping confines of Abercrombie & Fitch Kids, a cross between a lair and a late-night lounge in the business of selling tween clothing laden in the pungent smell of cologne.

Was I really here to get a credit on some not-so-skinny-skinny jeans for my daughter or was I stepping back in time to the middle school party where I kissed my 8th grade crush in someone’s cramped and dimly lit basement?

I was promptly met halfway into the cavernous maze by a young kid who looked like he was about seventeen and hadn’t shaved in at least two weeks.  “Hello, ma’am,” he offered, in a polite-enough-voice whose tone also suggested I was a middle-age woman who had made a wrong turn somewhere between Talbots and J. Jill.  “What can I help you with?”

There were so many directions I wanted to go with his question.

Noseplugs. Get me some STAT to make this awful smell go away.  I’m having so much trouble breathing right now that I might have to head home and take a few hits from my son’s inhaler. If Phoebe from FRIENDS had licensed a cologne for Smellycat, the scent enveloping your store right now would hands-down nail it.

A flashlight.  Get me a flashlight because I can’t even see my own feet right now.   I wear contact lenses, and it’s so blurry in here that I feel like both of them are stuck somewhere on the back of my eyeballs. Seriously, who does business in a dark room besides drug dealers and prostitutes?  Lucky for you, you probably don’t have to shut down the store when the rest of the mall loses power because your regulars are used to shopping where they can’t see.

Earplugs.  You can help me with some ear plugs because the music is so loud I am going to lose my hearing.  Dude, (if you can call you ma’am, I can call you dude, or I may even call you little man if I feel like it), I only want to make a return.  By the way, I can only see your lips moving right now. I am not looking to go night-clubbing at 10:30 a.m. in the North Shore Mall.  Your (awful) music is on full blast right now.  In fact, it’s making the entire room shake so much that it must measure at least 5.5 on the Richter scale.  So either turn the whole god damn system off, or I can wear ear plugs and we can conduct my entire transaction using sign language.

Next, the young man politely asks me if I’d like the money back on my debit card, or a gift card so I can come back to shop again. I almost laugh out loud right in his face that I (think) is six inches from mine. I can’t even see you, I can’t hear you, and your store smells so dreadful that I am hallucinating and seeing a nasty version of Antonio Bandaras when he had hair longer than mine.  In a nutshell, I’m a modern-day Helen Keller drowning in cologne just trying to get the $75 I’m owed before I hopefully can escape this store-disguised-as-a-disco in one piece without suffocating.

“A refund will be perfect,” I say,fumbling for the light on my phone so I can see where I need to type in my pin on the keypad.

He kindly finishes up and hands me my receipt. While I’m tempted to ask if the scent in the air is something they’ve derived from a skunk, I hold back, turn in my Merrills, and sprint out of there as fast as I can.

I’m way too old for Abercrombie, and I’m willing to bet that the feeling is mutual.  For one of the first times in my life, aging never felt so good.



Life: The Little Conversations

thelittle things

Sometimes it’s the little conversations you overhear that make your day.  Yesterday, my almost-ten-year-old son was driving me crazy.  The truth is, school is not designed for boys who can’t sit still.  He needs to move, and by the time he gets home on a blustery winter day, it’s only a matter of minutes before he is antsy, bothering me or his sisters because he is bored.

I stood over him like a slave-driver, badgering him to do his homework.  When he got a math problem wrong that I saw him rush through, I made him do it again.  “Mom, you are SO mean.  I hate you.  I hate school.  I hate homework.”  His frustration grew, and he looked for ways to purposely annoy me.

When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I sent him off to the basement to play knee hockey, and told him to take his little sister with him.  Off they went, leaving me wondering if I would have time to cook dinner before the first altercation broke out..

We have a small desk in the basement with two filing cabinets, and I had left a stack of bills and various letters from routine medical appointments out to put away.  One or more had clearly fallen onto the floor, because before I knew it, my son was reading aloud:

“Dear Ms. Brooke Spater,

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting our facility.  Our mammography (he pronounced it: ma-ma-graphy) center is accredited by The American College of (it said Radiology, but instead he said “Blah blah blah, this word makes no sense at all”).

Your recent mammography (again, I heard ma-ma-graphy) examination performed on 11/27/13 (so this was actually done over a year ago, I just have not made time to file it away), which may have included additional views and/or ultrasound, indicates there is NO radiographic evidence of breast cancer.”

My son quickly said to his sister, “PHEW!  That is SUCH good news.”  She enthusiastically agreed, and subsequently takes her place in the goal so her brother can pummel her with shots.

It’s good to feel loved!



Life: My Favorite Poem For Messy Tweens


Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater’s been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or–
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

-Shel Silverstein

Life: 12 Quotes For My Daughter To Live By


Today, my daughter turned twelve.  TWELVE.  One dozen years since my husband and I were walking around the labor and delivery floor at Brigham and Women’s in Boston after they broke my water because the baby was a week late.  We were the classic new parents, paranoid the infant seat wasn’t in the car correctly, certain I’d be early (I don’t think we went anywhere after Halloween), and lacking complete understanding about how our world was about to change forever.

She came into the world at 3:37 on a Saturday morning, and spent the first several hours of her life being held by her dad. I was blessed with some of the best medical care in the world, and came out of a frightening situation with the best possible outcome: an adorable husband and daughter to go home with, and the assurance that I would indeed be able to have more children in the future

She is everything I could hope for in a daughter.  She is thoughtful, loving, and has a great sense of humor.  She has a wonderful sense of adventure and a determined spirit about her.  She knows I love quotes, and she is starting to appreciate them too.  When I was in college, I started a book of quotes and poems.  I’ve added to it over the years.  Whenever I’m down, need something inspirational, or just feel like reminiscing, I go to my book.  I went looking, with her birthday in mind, and found some of my absolute favorites.

12 Quotes For My Daughter To Live By:

“How do you spell ‘love’?” –Piglet…“You don’t spell it, you feel it.” –Pooh

“Once you’re real, you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.” –The Velveteen Rabbit

“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.” -Unknown

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody believed in everybody?” –Linus

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Einstein

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” –Alice in Wonderland

“Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup.” –CSN

“The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” –Anne Frank

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” –Dr. Suess

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” –Walt Disney

“There’s no place like home.” –Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ

“It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away.” –U 2

I hope you enjoy them too!



DIY: Handmade Ceramic Coasters

I hope you enjoyed the long weekend and ate your fill of turkey and pie!  We relaxed together, traveled down to Newport for an overnight, and got some projects done.  I’m happy to report we sailed smoothly through putting up two Christmas trees, our outside lights, and our wreaths yesterday.  It’s beginning to look like Christmas!  I even made last night’s Shutterfly deadline and ordered my holiday cards for 30% off.  While I am certain this level of organization won’t last, it’s been a productive few days.

I’m also happy to report that I made several sets of handmade coasters this weekend.  I’m excited to give them to some family members for Christmas.  These would also make great hostess gifts.  You could also buy bigger tiles and make trivets for the chefs in your life.

I picked up some white 4.25 x 4.25 inch ceramic tiles from Home Depot (just .16/each!), and a giant pad of colorful scrapbook paper from Michael’s.  I already had Modge Podge on hand, but Michael’s has it if you need some.   I’ve also made a bunch of these using photos for Christmas presents, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise by showing them here.


Here is what you will need:

+A good pair of scissors

+A ruler

+A pencil

+A medium-sized paint brush

+Several ceramic tiles measuring 4.25 x 4.25 inches

+Decorative paper of some kind

+Modge Podge

+Clear spray polyurethane

+White felt (for the backs)

Here’s what you need to do:

+Start by wiping the tiles to remove any dirt or dust.

+Select the paper you want to use.

+Using your pencil and ruler, measure out squares of paper to go on top of the coaster.  I recommend making the squares a bit smaller than the coaster.  So in this case, the tile measured 4.25 x 4.25 inches and I cut my paper squares to be 4 x 4 inches.

+Spread a thin layer of Modge Podge onto the tile.  Carefully line up your paper square evenly and press gently into place on the tile.  Let dry 20-30 minutes.  A thin layer is key to your success.  I learned the hard way that the paper will bubble up and wrinkle if there is too much Modge Podge on the tile. Also, don’t try to lift up your paper if it’s not lined up totally even because it will rip.

+Next, brush a thin layer of Modge Podge over the top of the paper square and let dry 20-30 minutes.  Do not worry if you haven’t worked with Modge Podge, it dries clear!  Repeat once or twice more.

+In order to use these for drinks, you will want to protect them from water.  In a well ventilated area (I used my garage), gently spray a coat of clear polyurethane spray over them.  lf it’s new it should be fine, but if it’s one you’ve had around the house, be sure to test it as sometimes polyurethane can yellow over time.  Repeat after they are sufficiently dry according to directions.

+The last step is to apply felt to be sure these won’t scratch up your counters and tables.  Measure and cut white felt squares the same dimensions as your tiles to glue onto the back.  I’ll just use the Modge Podge again, but any craft glue would be fine.  I bought the felt at Joann Fabrics.





DIY: Upcycled Sap Bucket Trash Cans


My mother-in-law deserves all the credit for this project.  Even though we’re going to talk about trash cans, it’s a very creative and a fun way to decorate.  It’s also easy and quick, and something you can involve your kids in.  My husband’s grandmother made these as well, so it’s a pass-it-down sort of project.  Of course you could use any sort of metal can for this, but the sap buckets really add character.  You can find them on Ebay or sometimes at antique shops, depending on where you live.

Here’s what you will need:

+Sap bucket or other metal trash can

+Some kind of artwork, photo, or magazine pages to decorate your can.  You could really do anything, so be creative!  We haven’t finished my daughter’s pink can, but we may do a big photo collage.

+Spray paint in your color of choice.  Some types of spray paint are meant for metal, so be sure to read the labels.

+Spray adhesive like this to adhere your images:


+Spray polyurethane (clear)

Here’s what you need to do:

+Choose your spray paint and paint the can in a well ventilated area.  Apply at least two coats and let it dry thoroughly.

+Figure out what image(s) you will use.  My mother-in-law bought an inexpensive coffee table art book to tear the pages out of.  You can put a big image on each side of the can.

+Adhere the images to the can with the 3M Super 77 (image above) and let dry.

+Finish off with polyurethane over the images.

+Voila!  You are done.  Here are a few more of the completed sap bucket trash cans:


These would make great Christmas gifts.  Don’t want to give someone just a trash can?  Use it as a gift basket with smaller wrapped gifts.  Fill the bucket, then wrap the whole thing in clear cellophane and tie with a ribbon.






Delicious (Paleo) Pumpkin Muffins


We are sitting on the eve of a two-month eating spree.  Healthy options will make you feel and look better this holiday season.  I love baked goods, and have made several healthy muffins that had either no taste or a horrible texture.  I love these pumpkin muffins.  They are technically considered paleo because they contain no wheat or dairy.  You can glam them up by adding chocolate chips, and you will still be better off than eating traditional muffins made with flour and sugar.


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  It is important to either line your muffin tin or spray the pan well with PAM baking spray so the muffins don’t stick.

Mix together the following ingredients:

1 cup pumpkin puree (I prefer organic)

1 cup almond butter

1/2 cup raw honey

2 eggs

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Pour evenly into 12 small to medium muffin cups or 9 larger.  Bake until fork comes out clean, approximately 22-23 minutes.





DIY Projects: Easy Slipcover/Envelope Pillow Tutorial

Yes, you CAN easily make a pillow!

Project level: Beginner

***If you don’t sew, and have no desire to, but love the idea of updating your house with new pillows, skip to the bottom for a few suggestions of where you can buy some great ones!***

If you are someone who thinks they can’t sew, but would like to learn, have no fear. This is the perfect project for any beginner. This is also a very affordable way to make a quick update in any room and the entire project should take you an hour or less. If you own a sewing machine or have access to one, own an iron, and can sew a straight line, you can do this!

In terms of fabric choice, I do think stripes and geometric patterns are the easiest for beginners because you can typically line things up and cut them easily.

First, you will need to measure your pillow.  Use a tape measure across the center and measure from seam to seam. Some pillows are marked on the tag.  My pillow is 14″ x 14″. Be sure to iron your fabric before cutting this out.

Next, figure out how much fabric your pillow will require.  Your first measurement will be the length of the short side, so 14 inches in my case.  The other measurement is calculated by multiplying the length of the long side by 2 (for both the front and back) and adding 4″ (for the seam allowances and overlap).  So in my case, I cut my fabric 14″ by (14″ x 2 + 4″), which comes out to 16 x 32. Here is my rectangle, all cut out:


OK, now press & hem your two short sides.  These will eventually become your flap in the back. Place fabric right side down with a short side towards you.  For my pillow this meant the 14″ sides.  Fold and iron a 1/4″ hem on both sides.  Then, fold each side over another 1/4″ (to hide your unfinished edges), iron edges flat, then pin and sew both hems. It should look like this:


STEP 4: Next, sew your side two seams.  Now place fabric right side up with the long side towards you.  First, fold one side with the 1/4″ hem over a bit more than half-way.  Fold the other side over so it overlaps the first side.  I folded one side of mine 8 inches and the other 6 inches, which gave it a 2 inch overlap.  I then put my pillow on top, to make sure it all measured evenly and would fit..  Pin each of the side seams, and sew with a 3/8″ seam allowance.  Be sure to trim the seam allowances at each corner. This will ensure your 4 corners stand out nicely.


You’re almost there: This is my favorite part of sewing…I call it your “reveal” because it usually involves turning something inside out to see your finished product! So, turn each side right side out and stuff your pillow inside. I prefer using down pillows a bit smaller than the pillow case.  As for where to buy pillows, there are lots of options such as Joann’s or  If you’re in the Boston area, they have great pillow forms in the basement of Zimman’s.



No desire to sew? Check out these great Etsy shops to buy yourself some cute new pillows:

 Enjoy your new pillow!