My Letter From Hogwarts is Late

Friday, February 28, 2014

One of the happiest moments of my life came recently when my 6 year old Bear asked if I would start reading Harry Potter to him.

It's a moment that I - who's worn out more than one library card in my endless quest for the next great story - have waited for since I saw two lines on the pregnancy test.

Not that I was waiting for Potter in particular.  I have so many special friends, and will introduce them each in time.  He's far too young for Adams or Tolkien or Heinlein.  He's not yet emotionally mature enough to ponder the moral implications of Ender's end game.  And while I think we're getting close, he's not quite ready to go through the looking glass or travel on a tesseract.

Honestly, I wasn't completely sure he was ready for Rowling.  But... and I may have my geek card revoked for admitting this... he'd already seen the first movie.  I know. I know.  It's a violation of the natural order of things.  An abomination.  It's almost as bad as those people who don't show their kids Episode IV first.

But Mommy needs her magic fix and leisurely reading time is in short supply.  So, I cracked. I let my kid see The Philosopher's Sorcerer's Stone before reading the book.  But... there's a but! A very important but!

I only let him watch after talking about all the ways in which the book was better. (Yes, I'm one of those people. Let's do us both a favor and skip the part where you pretend to be surprised.)  The thing is, he was really excited there's a book.  And eventually, he asked me to read it to him.  At which point my heart burst with happiness.

Which brings us to actually reading it.  Of course, I had my little fantasy of a freshly bejammied Bear, snuggled up with with his blankie, raptly listening as I read to him the story of The Boy Who Lived. 

And of course, we all know it really went down like this...

"...As he pulled into number four, the first thing he saw - and it didn't improve his mood - was the tabby cat he'd spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall. He was sure it was the same one; it had the same markings around its eyes."

Bear: Why was the cat outside all day?

Me: Because....

Bear: Why didn't they let the cat into the house?  What if it was hungry?

Me: Well...

Bear: Could they bring the cat some water?

Me: That's not the...

Bear: And why was it sitting on the wall? And where did the map go?

Me: What map?  Oh, that was...

Bear: What if the cat got cold?

Me: But it wasn't...

Bear: Don't they LIKE cats?

And so it went.

It's been 3 weeks.  We've made it through 3 chapters.  I haven't yet been able to start reading Chapter 4 - The Keeper of the Keys - to him because he won't stop asking when "Hagrid with the wand hiding in the pink umbrella" (say it real fast like it's one big name) is going to come get Harry.

Charitable School Valentines

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day is upon us. If you're anything like me, just last week you finally threw out the candy from the Advent calendar the kids got bored with halfway through December, and are still finding expired Halloween candy lurking in the hiding spots it got stashed in back when the trees still had leaves.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I loathe the bags of cheap candy and crappy plastic toys that some misguided parent handbook is apparently insisting we send to school for holiday celebrations.  I'm not comfortable giving the kind of stuff to a room full of kids that I'd never consider giving to my own.

I was chatting about this with a fellow mom, and she gave me this idea. I love it so much I decided to do it every time the kids are obligated to show up at school with something to pass out. I don't care if I get the reputation of being "one of THOSE moms." I firmly believe that on this topic, the status is not quo.

The idea that people are blowing money on candy for these kids is particularly upsetting in our community, which has a significant population of families below the poverty line and a food pantry that can't always keep up. Our elementary school held a winter coat drive for their own students, so it was no surprise when the class newsletter asked if any of us can supply valentine cards for the kids whose families can't afford them. 

Which brings me to... this charitable alternative for school Valentines.

Step 1 - Donate
Make a donation to your local food pantry. I give $25 because it's what I can afford, and it's about what I'd have to spend on bags of candy. If the donation site provides a field for it, I say it's in the name of Teacher's Name Xth grade class.

Bonus: the donation is tax deductible.

Step 2 - Make and Print Cards
Make a sheet of little cards that says you made the donation. I use the Avery 5371 business card template built into Word because they're the perfect size. I print them on card stock and have my son help cut them out.

Last year I made cards with the saying on the front, picked up a heart stamp in the dollar bin at Michael's and had my son stamp the back. This year I went with a nice graphic because there just wasn't time for anything else.

You can make your own cards or use either of these free printable templates I created. (And yes, I legally purchased that graphic.)

Download PDF - Charitable Valentine card template with a general "community food pantry" donation statement that can be used as is.

Download Word Template (dotx) - Charitable Valentine card template in Microsoft Word with a space for you to insert the name of your local food pantry before printing.

Step 3 - Attach the Cards to Valentines
I don't want to make my son to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers (the autism is already not doing him any favors in that regard), so I don't just send the donation cards by themselves.  I include them with a token gift the kids will recognize/expect. There are as many was to do this as you can think of.  Two methods I've used are:

Method 1
Hole punch the card in two spots and thread a lollipop stick through it. (Yummy Earth are our favorite organic suckers - they're a reasonable size, really tasty and have natural ingredients most kids with food allergies can eat.)

I thought I had a picture of the hand stamped cards from last year, but I can't find it.  So here's what that looks like with this year's cards. Last year I threaded the lollipop stick through the pre-punched pencil slot style valentines alongside the pencil.

Method 2
Tuck the donation card into the envelope of the kind of store-bought valentine card that comes in boxes including a small non-candy gift like a pencil, eraser or temporary tattoos.

In a perfect world we'd make it a family project to create our own Valentines, but I live in the real world and sometimes you've just gotta buy the box of super hero cards and move on. This year I was sick for the two weeks leading up to V-Day, and found myself with only 48 hours to spare staring at the nearly empty Valentine display at my local superstore. I bought a box for us and a box to send to school for kids who needed them.

I'm hoping the fact I also bought some for the kids with struggling families will keep Pinterest from revoking my membership card.

Start a New Tradition
The best way to eliminate the perception that this concept is a subtle insult from a holier-than-thou parent is to involve other parents. Send a note to the teacher early in the month asking if she'll talk to the kids about supporting families in need. Maybe even ask if the teacher is up for making it a class project to see how much you can raise.

Do you have a class directory? Email all the other parents on February 1st and ask them to do this with you. Send them the link to this post so they can download the free templates, or make one of your own and include it in the email. Send them a link to your local food pantry so they don't have to look for it. Point out that it takes less time and can cost less money than shopping for all that candy. When something is cheaper and easier and makes them look good, people are much more likely people are to do it.

Food Pantry Resources
Not sure where donate? Here are some resources to help you identify your local food pantry.

FISH of McHenry County

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Feeding Illinois is the state association of 8 food banks serving the entire state, their site explains how you can donate or volunteer.  They also link to the Take Action section at Feeding America, which provides information so you can advocate for hunger programs. is a great resource that lists all the food pantries in the country, organized by city and state.