Wednesday, June 25, 2014

12 Summer Picture Books for Preschoolers

Summer time has arrived! School has wrapped up in most places. Warm weather is here to stay. At least here in NY, we are enjoying grilling, the sprinkler, and other summery activities.

There are so many great warm weather books out there from fantastic children's authors covering a variety of other themes including camping, the beach, fruit picking, family, and so forth.  What activities does your family enjoy during this season? The summertime holds so many adventures to be had!

Today I am sharing twelve of our very favorite picture books focusing on the summer season! I also included one of my favorite chapter books for kids that can be read aloud to those that are old enough to sit still. Enjoy!

A Camping Spree With Mr. Magee by Chris VanDusen

I'll have to admit - camping in hot weather is not my fave; this author, however, has definitely ranked amongst my all time favorite children's authors. Reminiscent of Dr. Seuss' poetic style, Mr. VanDusen has created the character of Mr. Magee (and his little dog, Dee) who find themselves in the most exciting twisty tales. The art is somewhat reminiscent of a vintage 50s style with lots of bright colors and detail. In this story, a planned out camping trip enjoying the peace of nature turns into a disaster when their trailer breaks loose. All is solved, but you'll have to read it to find out how.

Four Friends in Summer by Tomie DePaola

Originally part of a larger book that perused all four seasons, this story from Tomie DePaola differs from many other books I've read by him. The four characters in this book about the sweetness of friendship share simple yet fun summer day activities together. It's not my favorite DePaola book, but I do enjoy it for younger listeners as the art is still quite delightful.

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey

I love Robert McCloskey (who also wrote 'Make Way for Ducklings' and 'Blueberries for Sal'), and this is no different. This story, however, seems to be more aloof and less story like than his others. It's still gorgeous art and beautiful usage of the English language, but it is a bit more poetic, and younger listeners might not be as interested. It tells of a summer spent in Maine of two young girls and their parents. Simple things in life are shown to bring great joy. It shows the beauty that can be found when you take a break from a quick paced life.

Summertime in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder + illustrated by Renee Graef

I am hoping soon to start reading the Little House series aloud to my eldest, but for now these picture books have been a lovely intro to the simple world of America's pioneers. It's a perfect history lesson for small listeners woven around a story of a family that works together in community. This particular story includes summer fun such as tree climbing and also shows them helping with household chores and introduces concepts that might be new to your child such as honey gathering or cheese making. As with all the First Little House Books, the pictures and stories are fun and educational reads.

On a Summer Day by Lois Lenski

A sweet story of a brother and sister and their imaginations hard at work. I love Lois Lenski's colorful style and simple approach to storytelling, and it's perfect for younger readers as the book isn't very long or wordy.

Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur + illustrated by Leslie Evans

The title gives away pretty much what this book is about. Mr. Schnur has written a book for each season, and with each one the letters of the season starting a simple riddle pertaining to that time of year. The beautiful hand cut linoleum block prints are hand colored and are so stunning, they would work just as perfectly framed on the wall. I would put this book at being a little better for the older preschooler since the riddles can be a bit confusing or over the heads of younger children.

Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez

Sergio is a penguin who adores all things water; everything, that is, except swimming in it. He realizes when his class is going on a field trip to the ocean that he must face his fears. It turns out that he, like any good penguin, loves the ocean. Simple colors bring this fun story to life.

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

What is a book list that lacks a great classic such as this one by Dr. Seuss. This is actually one of my favorite of all his tales. The sneetches on two different beaches start having a battle over which set of them is better. They add stars to their bellies in attempts to be better and one up the set from over there. In the end they discover it doesn't matter what you look like, all sneetches are equally valuable.

Harry by the Sea by Gene Zion + illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

You've most likely read or at least heard of 'Harry, the Dirty Dog,' right? But like me, you might never have seen that there are others in the series. Or maybe you have, and I'm just behind the times. Harry is spending the day at the beach and is overly hot. Desperately he searches everywhere to find a cool spot.  Finding nowhere, he sits at the water's edge until a wave crashes over him, and he find himself caught in seaweed. He realizes he's lost his family and begins to search for them, scaring other people because they all think he is a sea monster. A cute story perfect for some giggles.

Poppleton: Poppleton and Friends by Cynthia Rylant + illustrated by Mark Teague

Another favorite from my childhood. Poppleton is a pig who has several best friends including a llama (Cherry Sue) and a mouse (Hudson). This book includes three short stories about friendship that are perfect for word recognition for early readers but they are still entertaining enough for younger kids to enjoy just listening to. This was one of Dom's favorites last summer, especially the last story where Poppleton thinks grapefruit is the secret to a long life and much to his relief, finds that is not the case.

Katie's Sunday Afternoon by James Mayhew

Introduce some beautiful classic art while reading an entertaining story of Katie! Famous examples of the post-Impressionistic paint form of Pointillism are introduced in this book. Katie's Grandma decides that museum is the perfect outing for a hot day, but the real adventure begins when Katie leans too far into Georges Seurat's Bathers at Asnières.

Summertime by Dubose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira and George Gershwin + illustrated by Mike Wimmer

The iconic summer song from the musical 'Porgy and Bess' is brought to life with these beautiful illustrations by Mr. Wimmer. Another way to sneak some classic culture into your little one's day - the lyrics to the song 'Summertime' are illustrated in gorgeous oil on canvas paintings depicting a warm day in the life of a family in the Southern States. 

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

Finally reading this aloud to Dom this year, and let me tell you, I cannot wait! I mostly just want to read it to me again. =) Doesn't the cover art just make you want to pick it up???
Here's a recap I wrote awhile back: "Four motherless sisters set out on all kinds of adventures. They are not afraid of a little dirt and are much closer to how I hope my daughters (if I, God willing, ever have any) will turn out to be. Their life ambitions book on their talents and their minds rather than their looks. A very fun book series that I encourage you to check out for yourself." (From a post on what I read in 2012)

So, there you have it. Some favorites from the O bookshelf centered around summer. What books might you add to this list? 

Happy Summer reading to all!


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This post: 12 Summer Picture Books for Preschoolers first appeared on Two Os Plus More on 25 June 2014 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Coffee Date After a Long Week

Well, hey there!

Lemme grab my coffee from the counter.

[traipses away]

[obtains coffee, mixes in half-and-half - a coffee outing treat for this mama and ooh, they have raw sugar. Score!]

[Comes back to our little cozy corner of the coffee shop]

Gosh! Whoa I forgot coffee starts *this* hot. Mine at home is always some sort of mediocre room temp by the time I get to it. So thanking my husband for allowing me to get away and talk to another human adult.

It's been awhile. That's for sure! We already were trying to cram a lot in June, but add in an ER visit… yeah, that was a fun one… and all the boys coming down with colds, and man, I feel like I keep getting pushed under the waves.

So, yeah, did I tell you we were traveling this month? It all kinda was hinging on when the baby came, and since I was recovering so, so well (best postpartum yet!) and he's been so low key, we decided to go for it.

Yup, to Virginia, well in the DC area mostly. WITH a 2 week old. It turned out to be way better than I figured it'd be. Must have been somebody praying for us. I think we stopped maybe 3 or 4 times for the trip down and then around the same coming home. Oh, why? One of my cousins, who I've been pretty close to most of my life, was ordained a priest. It was an exciting moment in his life, and probably for most other people, I wouldn't have been driving that far that soon after giving birth. I kinda thought it was insane up til we arrived and then was just impressed it wasn't all that bad. Definitely glad we went.

Oh, and we got to see one of my bestest buddies. She and I met in high school, and now both have husbands and 3 kids. So strange how quickly time changes things!

All that laundry of course hit upon coming home. Isn't it so strange that you have to do the same amount of laundry you usually do in a week just for coming home from a 2.5 day trip? And we took cloth diapers, so of course those had to be washed right off. Only for one diapered kid though - I wasn't sure I could handle both in cloth. Adrian won the cloth butt.

And of course as large family gatherings are apt to do, we managed to find and bring home sick germs. Dom's turned into a nightmare, too, just to make it all a little more dramatic. First, Wednesday morning he was feeling crummy. He kept optioning to lay down and rest rather than play, and you know with a four year old, this means something is up. Sure enough, he started coughing. We'd taken David to work, and I'd opted out of of Catholic Moms MeetUp for the morning. Adrian had a 3 week check-up though, and I just thought bringing a sick kid to the Doctor's when the visit wasn't for him was not so wise.

Picked up David from work, left him and the older boys at home. Adrian weighed in at a respectable ten pounds even and showed off all his super strong baby skills - the kid is already aiming to turn over and has crazy neck control for so young a babe. By the time I got home, Dom was just getting worse, but it still just seemed like a bad cold. No fever or anything. And then it went downhill.

After dinner, he climbed the stairs to get on PJs and was so winded it was as if he was trying to catch his breath after running laps. And then for prayers, he was saying them like: "Our (deep breath) Father (breath) who (cough)…" David and I were both starting to worry a little as we'd never seen him like this before. I attempted to listen to his chest to see what his breathing and cough sounded like, and upon putting my ear to his chest, I realized I couldn't even hear his breath because his heart beat was so fast and loud.

David stepped in to take his pulse and sit with him while I took the other two boys to get them down. That cued us in that something was definitely wrong - his pulse was all over the place from nearly 150 to a more regular 90. His little chest was practically caving with each breath he took, and despite the fact he'd been laying still in bed for nearly 10 minutes, his breath was still pretty ragged.

A quick call to the nurse on call at our Ped confirmed that we should bring him into the ER. Now this is our first time as parents bringing a child to the ER, so it was a scary moment for sure. David obviously would be taking him in since I had to stay with the nursing infant. Text messages were sent to family and close friends asking for prayer, and off the two of them went with a stuffed puppy for comfort.

I managed to hold it mostly together until they left and then started to fall apart after. Blaise, of course, had no interest in sleeping at this point and was jumping all over. I finally cuddled up with both boys in my bed, and they drifted off. At this point I was receiving updates from David via text.

It turned out that although he hasn't ever had and probably doesn't have Asthma, Dominic had suffered from an acute asthma attack brought on by his cold. After several hours being tested, given a nebulizer, and watched overall, he was released from the hospital with an inhaler for us to administer. Needless to say, it wasn't a fun night in the least. And not much sleep happened either.

By Thursday, both Blaise and Adrian were sniffling. Neither of them ended up getting much worse than congested sinuses and a slight cough, but still anyone who has tried to chase a 2 year old around to wipe their nose or nurse a stuffed up little one, know the sheer exhaustion that comes from just a cold. I spent most of Thursday night sitting upright holding Adrian just so he could feel like he was breathing and sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.

Friday was a blur. Don't remember anything except I think I made cookies for the weekend?

Oh yeah, weekend. So, we have fully committed to making Adrian's first month of life as full and active as we can. And a baby must be baptized, so Baptism time it was! Plus his godparents were coming in from out of town and could only both make this Sunday. Annnnd our parish had limited slots for summer baptisms, and this was one of the few. I didn't really feel like waiting til he was walking before baptizing him. Nope, get that baby Catholic sooner.

Nearly my whole family was able to come up Saturday night to celebrate with us at the Sunday morning mass. It was beautiful. I retired my photographer side (which is hard for a pro, let me tell you!), and put on full mama side to fully lean into the beautiful Sacrament taking place.

As much family time as you can mash into 5 hours was had and enjoyed by all. Not that she reads this blog (or maybe she does occasionally?), but we seriously missed the one member of my family that couldn't make it. Let me tell you - getting all of us together is practically impossible these days. 8 kids, 4 of whom are adults living in 4 different places.

Yeah, that was a long rant. Goose trails right and left. I'm thinking 'goose trails' sounds wrong, but you get my drift, right? You better start sharing about your life before I keep going... And I better go get a drink of water. 

Cuz here we are, already at Wednesday of this week. I have been working on this coffee date for 3 days. But life is like that. Plans made with so many grand intentions, and then the week moves about as fast as sludge. On that note, go read this beautiful piece from Barren to Beautiful. I'll be starting my next post within the hour or so with hopes to have it up within the week.

How's YOUR June been? Fill me in! 


Linking up with A Mama Collective

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This post: A Coffee Date After a Long Week first appeared on Two Os Plus More on 18 June 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

5 Basic yet Fancy Add-ons for Your Blog

Thank you to the lovely Sarah for having me over whilst she welcomes the newest little O to the family!  I can usually be found over @The Hopeful Starfish, where I blog about married life on a little farm in Ohio with two boyos, a part-time visiting nurse job, and one rouge black sheep.

So, you have a blog, but there's a little something missing? Jealous of all the cool kids and their buttons and add-ons? You've come to the right place!

Now, none of these adjustments are rocket science, but it can take a while to get used to the type of thinking/doing that changing things like HTML coding requires.  My first advice is to try to do updates when you have some time (ha!) and aren't pressed with any deadlines or other work for a little bit.  For the most part, with a little bit of poking around, you can find most of what you want to do by Google-ing and trial and error in your settings/layout/template section of your blog.

1. Fancy meme/images
Let's start with something pretty basic. You are good at coming up with snarky-catchy titles to your posts, but not so hot at the images section?The easiest way to make a photo blog-friendly (or pinterest-friendly) is to stick some nice big text on it.  I've found to be the super-hero in this department, but you can even use the Paint program on your computer (though that can be frustrating).  Picmonkey has you upload an image, and then lets you use all kinds of simple tools to alter it's look (kind of like Instagram) as well as adding text or little hearts etc. Haley @CarrotsforMichaelmas is great at these:

Source / original image used with permission from JFXie (Flickr)
and also:


There are other photo-editing sites online that you may want to try including and .  I give picmonkey all the brownie points for simplicity, but the other sites may have more tools available.

Bonus Tip: Try using different fonts within the same picture, experiment with colors, and consider using different text boxes to achieve the look you want, it's easier to format when getting everything to size properly. For the title image above, I used four different fonts and three separate text boxes!

Still can't come up with a good image-with-text option?  Try . It turns any phrase/quote into an instant meme for you, likey so:


2. Instagram widget!
You've seen all the cool kids with their Instagram slideshow in their blog sidebar?  I was so jealous...and I didn't even have Instagram.  Now, since I've made the plunge and gotten a "smart" phone, I am sure to become "that" girl on your friend list:

How-ever!  This was one alteration that I was genuinely surprised at how easy it was.  Just go to Snap Widget and follow the directions for whichever type of blog you have (Blogger/WordPress).  All I had to do was copy and paste a section of code into an HTML add-on widget in the Blogger template.  Likey so:

Go to "Layout" then click "Add a Gadget" (see orange arrow above).  A window will pop up with all kinds of gadgets you can add to your sidebars:

Pick the "HTML/Java Script" gadget (pink arrow above), paste the fancy code into the box, hit save, and, voila! #thatwaseasy

3. Social media buttons
This next one takes some time and is a bit more difficult.  You can find some great tutorials out there, though.  Not so long ago, Bonnie over @A Knotted Life had a great post about bettering your blogging.  In that, she links to the easiest aid I've seen for adding social media buttons, from Carrie Loves.  Carrie's post has *free* buttons in every color you can think of, any size you want, and video tutorials on how to add them to your blog (Blogger, & Wordpress)!   Carrie is really clear on how you go about doing this, but just to sum up: you have to save the images to your computer, and then upload them into a blank blog post so that you can then grab their HTML code from the editing screen to then plug into an HTML gadget (just like you did with the Instagram one above).  So, a few more steps, and you're there!


Bonus Tip: I had to experiment with the spacing a little bit by switching back and forth between the "Compose" and "HTML" windows on my Editor. 

4. Extras: "Pin It" & "Tweet This" buttons
These ones follow right along with what we've gone over so far.  You've got great images, and you're linked to your social media accounts, so now make it easier for your readers to share your stuff!  I recently added the Pinterest button to my images. I found this site the most helpful for explaining what to do, and they provided the code for a button already.  All the process required was copying the code into a certain section of your blog's main HTML code.  If that sounds scary, they also tell you how to save a copy of your current template prior to making changes.  

For a "Tweet This" link to pop up after your more profound bloggy statements, try this site.  It explains how to make a "Click to Tweet" link on your own, or by using an easy website that creates a link for you.  Either the link is at the end of the quote, or the link is the quote, you just have to add this to each individual tweet-quote you want in your posts, so it does require some legwork.


Bonus Tip: Make the quote short enough for Twitter, and add a "tiny url" back to your blog post in the link.  You can make a URL "tiny" here

For both of these options, I Googled what I wanted to do, and looked through several posts before I found ones that were most applicable to my blogging platform and level of expertise (beginner!).

5. Social Media Scheduling
Now that your blog looks super-awesome and is all connected up, you have to spend every minute of the day updating Facebook/Twitter/Instagram right?  Nope, nope, nope!  Really, you should just go read Jenna's post over at Santa Clara Design on "Creating a Social Media Schedule", because she is The Boss of this, but the basic thing you want to do is sign up for something like PostCron or HootSuite, where you can tappity-tap out a bunch of traffic-driving and clever thoughts (or just funny pictures!), and schedule them to appear on one or all of your social media pages throughout the day.  Jenna's post even has tips on timing your posts to be most effective.

So, there you have it!  Go make your blog (more!) awesome!  Hit up the comments section with more great ideas or questions, or I'd love to chat over on Facebook or Twitter!

Linking up with the lovely Hallie over @Moxie Wife for Five Favorites!

Don't miss a post! Subscribe via the RSS or email links in the top righthand corner. 
You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.
All rights reserved. ©Sarah G. Ortiz
::This blog post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. 
By clicking through to make a purchase, you help to financially support TO+M::

This post: 5 Basic yet Fancy Add-ons for Your Blog first appeared on Two Os Plus More on 4 June 2014
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