Sunday, October 31, 2010

BOO! (Microfiction Monday #55)

Welcome back to Microfiction Monday, where Susan at Stony River posts a picture and you compose a 140 character story about it. Here's today's picture and my "stories":

Midnight tried to show his displeasure. "Tell me she’s not going to carry me the whole night! I’m quickly losing feeling in my hind paws!" (140 characters)
Or a more sedate take...

If only we could preserve her childhood innocence-the tooth fairy rewards a lost tooth, Santa Clause delivers toys, and good is everywhere. (139 characters)

Be sure to try this yourself either in a comment or in a post of your own. Just make sure to link back to Stony River.   Have a howling good evening everybody!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What we're reading now (book review)

As promised, I’m going to review one of the books I’ve been reading to my kids. The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart is the author’s first children’s novel, and not only was it was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for many weeks, it's now a series. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey is the second in the trilogy, and just out this month, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

I bought this book on a whim for my son’s birthday because I was attracted by the story line and size of the book-this was definitely going to take some time to get through, and I was looking forward to reading it with the kids. The Times age level rating is from ages 9-12, and although I agree that the vocabulary might be challenging to a young reader, I believe the story itself would interest children a little younger and a little older than the ratings. My son just turned 8 and my daughter is 11 so this was just right for us.

The story revolves around four gifted children (each gifted in his or her own way), who respond to a newspaper ad that asks, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Although many children respond and attempt at passing numerous mind-boggling tests, only these four succeed:

  • Reynie Muldoon, a keen observer of people and puzzle solver-to him everything has a trick.
  • Sticky Washington, a boy who can remember anything and everything-obscure facts stick like glue to his well trained mind.
  • Kate Weatherall, a girl who can get out of most situations with the help of her handy bucket of tools she keeps attached at her hip-she definitely has had her share of tough times.
  • And Constance Contraire, a diminutive girl whose talent seems to be her extreme stubbornness-she certainly is not afraid to speak her mind.

Together these children must solve some perplexing issues like the disappearance of government agents and the fact that nobody seems concerned-and they have to do it in a school!
There are also a host of other interesting characters that the children interact with:

  • Mr. Benedict, a genius in the science world and former government advisor.
  • Milligan, a very sad secret agent who acts as the children’s guide and later their protector.
  • Rhonda Kazembe and Number Two, secret agents and aids to Mr. Benedict.
  • And the villain, scientist Ledroptha Curtain, head of The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened located on Nomansan Island.

I truly loved the fact that this story wrapped a mystery up in a blanket of scientific fiction while still managing to involve the reader in all  the puzzling-I found myself reading past my kids’ bedtime because all of us couldn’t stand the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. In fact, I would always start the next section to make sure everything turned out alright, and I caught myself reading ahead after the kids went to bed because I couldn’t put the book down-the story is that riveting!
 (My son started taking the book off of me when we were through, and shaking his finger he would say, "Mommy, I’m going to take this off of you now so you don’t read ahead because you know that won't be fair," but I would just sneak it out of his room whenever he fell asleep…)

I also liked some of the quirky details, like how the characters’ names cleverly referred to individual personality traits, and how the third-person omniscient narration allowed us to get inside the heads of all the characters. We read two very long chapters tonight, and we have both a final chapter and an excerpt from the beginning of the next book in the series to read. (I finished the book a few days ago. Shh! Don’t tell my kids.)

I want to add that the story line is not gender specific, but it did take my daughter a couple chapters to get hooked (she is not used to this type of story)-now she is the biggest complainer when I stop and call it a night! So if you are looking to entice a reluctant reader, or if you are thinking about getting this for your reading library, don’t hesitate-this book is a must add. And with the holidays fast approaching, what better time than now?

*Please note: I did not receive compensation of any kind from either the publisher or author of this book. I bought this book and read it to my kids, and thought the readers of my blog might enjoy it as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three cheers for Microfiction # 54!

I thought I would do an early post for Microfiction Monday (this is my fourth entry for the writing prompt exercise), and here is what I came up with:

Kay posed for the photo, but hated how Sam and Ben stood so close. Dan's rugged good looks were more her style-wait, Dan was looking!
( 140 )

This caption took some time because I couldn't get past making fun of those swim trunks! Why not give your pen a whirl-remember it's just 140 characters or less, but be sure to link up at the Stony River website.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let me tell you about Swagbucks...

If you spend any time on the Internet, you’re bound to hear someone talking about getting "swag" or earning a daily dose of "swagbucks," but if you aren’t a seasoned "swagernaut," things can be downright confusing. Well I want to explain some of the ins and outs of, and tell you about some of the new features they have adopted on their site.

Basically, the site is like a search engine with a whole boatload of extras. First you sign up for an account, and then whenever you want to search the Internet, use Swagbucks then rewards you periodically with points of varying amounts (known also as swagbucks) just for searching the Internet (think of them as "frequent searching miles.") And if you are like my husband and myself, these points quickly add up-I started an account in August and I now have over 1200 swagbucks!

Now I know what you’re thinking-what the heck are swagbucks and what do you do with them? has an online swagstore where you can cash in your swagbucks for prizes. There are prize categories ranging from school supplies to electronics, but most swagernauts I know (and I include myself in the bunch) save swagbucks for gift and reward cards. I do a lot of online shopping at Christmas, and Amazon is often my go-to online store, so I am saving my bucks to purchase Amazon gift cards. ($5 gift cards go for 450 swagbucks.)

But searching on the Internet isn’t the only way to earn those virtual bucks. The site has daily poles that earn you (right now at least) 2 swagbucks each, you often earn 2 swagbucks just for using the swagbucks toolbar, you can take part in different company surveys (this can earn you anywhere from 10-100 swagbucks), and there are special promotions on certain days: there is the Twitter phrase that pays (if the site likes your tweet you can earn 500 swagbucks) and Fridays are always megabucks days when a search can net you a minimum of 10 bucks.

And don’t forget about online shopping. Check the Swagbucks toolbar on the side before you shop because the retail store may be listed with them-if you shop using the Swagbucks portal, you earn swagbucks for every dollar spent.

Starting today, there is yet one more way to earn random awards-by simply watching videos! Just pick a category (entertainment, health and beauty, education, technology, sports...) you might might like and watch a short video about the subject. (I watched one today about the top five actors who played Robin Hood.)  There will be special swag codes every day which reward people for answering trivia questions pertaining to some of the videos featured, and you could win 1-5 bucks just for watching. (*Note: this is a random award but you can win more than once in a day...)

If you decide to sign up for an account, use the promotional code SBTVinONTheAir and you’ll be awarded 30 bonus points just for signing up and using my link below. (This would be a total of 60 bucks because you get 30 for signing up anyway...)  But hurry-this offer is only good through midnight on October 22!  And if you sign up others, you will earn matching swagbucks for every video they watch-all swagbucks from this offer will be totaled up and added to your account at the end of the trial's two week period.

There are so many ways to earn (such as with referrals through your blog and using other utilities on site) but you will slowly discover these as you get used to the site. Just remember that the holidays are just around the corner, and this is one easy way to earn some discounts. Why not sign up?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so click on the widget below and start earning!

Please note: All opinions stated are my own. I will earn bonus bucks for any referral through my site and you can do the same by setting up the widget. All pictures and screenshots are owned by and are used for the sole purpose of reviewing their site.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Microfiction Monday

It's Microfiction Monday (#53) once again. If you want to stretch your creative muscle, then take a look at this week's picture and compose an entry that is no more than 140 characters long.
Here's today's picture and my entry:

Brick by brick, row by row, the Queen waited as servants walled her off from her past life, her punishment for not producing an heir for her king-to him she meant nothing.

Note: it was brought to my attention that the character counter I was using (I just set up readability statistics in Word to count my characters) is faulty. So, here is a more slimmed down version (and a bonus one to spare):

Brick by brick, row by row, the queen waited as servants walled off her past, punishment for no heir for her king-to him she meant nothing. (139 characters)

She was given both bread and water, but the queen shuddered at the thought of nightfall-who’s company would she have to keep? (127 characters)

Now it's your turn. If you do a post, be sure to link up at the host of tonight's event, Stony River, then check out all the other entries.  And I’m going to be posting like crazy this week so be sure to stop back here tomorrow when I fill you in on some new goings-on at the Swagbucks site, and later in the week when I review some worthwhile reads for your kids.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday once again

Well, I'm back trying for round two of Microfiction Monday, and I'm starting to enjoy brushing the dust off my brain for these little snippets of fiction. (I skipped last Monday because the picture didn't conjure up any ideas at all.) So without further ado, I give you tonight's entry:

Alice steadied herself, suitcase in hand, as number 15 rumbled past. In an instant it would be gone, along with her chance at a better life, a fresh start with an old love.

So does this picture speak to you as well? Let me know what you think of my entry, write one of your own in my comments section, or post your entry on your blog. Only a 140 characters or less, but just be sure to link up at the Stony River website. Thanks for turning me onto to this Septembermom!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Medicine for the Soul

I love to read and always have, and even though I had three sisters and my family wasn’t well off by any means, my mother always made sure there were books in the house. Not only would we get books as gifts, we each had a library card at a pretty young age, and we continually added to our own supply every time the Scholastic Book Orders came out. My grandmother also taught us the value of books, and she never kept any on a shelf we couldn’t reach.

This approach to books and reading sort of went against the times. I am from the television generation where wholesome family entertainment each evening was sitting together in front of the television set, and we even had “TV” trays we could set up just so we wouldn’t miss our favorite shows. It was also the dawn of children’s television programming and parents didn’t think twice about plunking their children down in front of the tube for hours on end to watch the likes of Mister Rogers or Sesame Street-it was educational, so something should rub off…

But my mother would limit our time in front of the set (even though it would certainly have been easier for her)-we were often encouraged to read instead, and I am convinced that this helped me perform better in school, and made me want to be a life long learner. This love of the written word is exactly what I want to pass on to my own children, and I hope I have succeeded.

I started reading to my kids when they were still babies (around 5-6 months old) because I read study after study that touted the benefits of starting this early-just 15 minutes of reading each night encourages speech and language development, creates a love of reading, and affects their overall performance in school. Some studies say the earlier the better and here are some more facts from the Literacy Connections web site:
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2000 found that "87% of fourth graders who loved to read on their own scored proficient on the exam (those who read very little performed at the Basic level)." And the students performing highest read for fun every day.

  • This U.S. Department of Education: students read to "at least three times a week by a family member, were twice as likely to score in the top 25%."

  • Young kids read to throughout the day did better in kindergarten.

    • Now take a look at some scary reports 

    • "The average kindergartner has watched 5000 hours of television" (the report states that this is longer than it takes to earn a Bachelor’s Degree!)  I also read a while back that "screen time"-this includes TV, computer, and hand held games-should be no more than 1 hour of your child's day, or no more than 7 hours a week...

    • "80% of college professors state that freshman cannot read well enough to do college level work."

    • US Department of Education-"a functionally illiterate adult earns 42% less than a high school graduate."

    • It is also critical that kids read well by the third grade-a new study reports that children who are not proficient readers by grade three have a much greater chance of dropping out of high school...

The thing is, reading to your children isn’t hard to start, and even though most nights I want to just plop down on the couch and veg (you know, after the homework checks, dinner, and running around), reading with the kids turns out to be my favorite time in the evening. We curl up in one of the kid’s beds or on the living room sofa, talk about what’s happening to the characters, and lose ourselves in the story of the moment (generally it’s a chapter book that we continue to read throughout the week). This is one of the best ways I know to relax and connect with my kids.

I was actually planning on reviewing the books I’m reading with my kids (we are switching between two stories lately) and what I’m currently reading, but I guess I sort of went off topic. However, I will make a point to share these in a future post and leave you with this thought:

"You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be -
I had a mother who read to me."
~Strickland Gillilan

Happy reading everybody!