Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #73: “Food Rules" by Michael Pollan

Best Nonfiction Book: Food Rules

Dear kids,

You’ve probably already noticed that these days, figuring out what to eat isn’t a simple matter. Opinions are all over the place. Unlike most diet books, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan is objective—maybe the most objective, balanced diet book out there. You’ll never sound gullible quoting from a book by Pollan.

My Summary:

Pollan is not a nutritionist, but a journalist seeking the answer to a seemingly simple question, namely: “What should I eat?” It gives sixty-four succinct food truisms, including “Eat only foods that eventually will rot” and “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language. (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles.)”

The book’s bottom line: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Other Notable Quotes:

  • “There have been, and can be, healthy high-fat and healthy low-fat diets, but they have always been diets built around whole foods.”
  • “I learned that in fact science knows a lot less about nutrition than you would expect—that in fact nutrition science is, to put it charitably, a very young science . . . Nutrition science . . . is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650—very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate? I think I’ll wait a while.”
  • A wide variety of traditional diets are healthy; the modern diet is not. “What this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets.”



Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #72: "Learning All the Time" by John Holt

Dear kids,

John Holt is John Holt. That is why Learning All the Time is one of the best nonfiction books; he is just a hard-rocking dude. Seriously, though, if you have any interest in homeschooling or just better understanding children, this is the book for you.

My Summary:

Kids are all their own kinds of genius. Just give them a good, positive environment in which to learn and grow, and see what happens. That’s the theme of this and many of Holt’s books on education.

Some tips:

  • The best way to teach a child to read: don’t. Read to him, let him be exposed to books, give him books as gifts, until one day they ask to do the reading. Then read the book together, one word at a time, unsystematically. General pronunciation rules are too often broken to be worth teaching.
  • Good learning book: Let’s Read by L. Bloomfield & C. Barbara and Gnys at Work [sic] by Glenda Bisser.
  • For learning times tables, make a grid and let the child fill it in at her own pace, without correcting it. Keep it on the fridge, and have her do it over and over.

Notable quotes:

  • “Anytime that, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach somebody else something . . . we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message. The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”
  • The author’s first elementary school believed in lots of praise. The result: “By the time I came to know them in the 5th grade, all but a few of the children were so totally dependent on continued adult approval that they were terrified of not getting it, terrified of making mistakes.”
  • Babies do not learn in order to please us, but because it’s their instinct and nature to want to find out about the world. If we praise them in everything they do, after a while they are going to start learning, doing things, just to please us . . . The next step is that they are going to become worried about not pleasing us . . .”
  • “What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise.”



Get the entire recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #71: "Grapevine" by Dave Balter and John Butman

Best Nonfiction Book - Grapevine

Dear kids,

Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Dave Balter and John Butman makes an excellent point: the best marketing in the world—the most effective, the most reliable—is word-of-mouth marketing. The problem: advertisers can’t drum it up, no matter how hard they try. Lasting, powerful word-of-mouth happens only when products and services are the real deal.

People love talking about the stuff they buy. We do it all of the time. But why? The reasons are discussed in Grapevine. They include: the desire to educate or help, the desire to prove our knowledge, the desire to find common ground, the desire to validate our own opinions, and the pride of ownership.

Notable quote: “There’s a tiny part of the brain, the hypothalamus, that among other things helps regulate sexual urges, thirst and hunger, maternal behavior, aggression, pleasure, and to some degree your prosperity to refer. The hypothalamus likes validation – it registers pleasure in doing good and being recognized for it, and it’s home to the need to belong to something greater than ourselves. This is the social drive for making referrals.”

Additional note: Genuine word-of-mouth is not “buzz.” It’s not the latest thing that everyone is talking about right now. It goes far deeper than that, and lasts longer.



Get the entire recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Important Musical Artists and Songs (A Knowledge Checklist)

So, so much music. So much great, important music. How do you choose what to expose your kids to first? How do you even remember all the songs you once loved? Here, a checklist to fill in the gaps in your current music collection. At my homeschooling house, I have an “Important Songs to Know” folder with most of the individual songs on this list, the ones I don’t have (or want to have) the full album for. We also listen to a lot of kids’ music, language-learning music and podcasts.

Important Musical Artists


Simon and Garfunkel (esp. Sound of Silence, Scarborough Fair)
Billie Holiday (esp. Blue Moon, God Bless the Child)
The Beatles (Hey, Jude; Let It Be; Yesterday; Yellow Submarine)
Celine Dion (esp. The Power of Love, My Heart Will Go On)
Mariah Carey
Miles Davis
Louis Armstrong (esp. What a Wonderful World, Cheek to Cheek)
Frank Sinatra (esp. My Way, Fly Me to the Moon, New York, New York, That’s Life, I’ve Got the World on a String)
Bing Crosby
Kanye West (esp. Gold Digger, All of the Lights)
Michael Jackson
Eminem (esp. Slim Shady)
Ray Charles (esp. Georgia on My Mind, Night & Day, Hit the Road, Jack)
Ella Fitzgerald
Joni Mitchell (esp. Big Yellow Taxi)
Peter, Paul and Mary (esp. Puff the Magic Dragon)
Norah Jones (esp. Don’t Know Why, Come Away With Me)
Chuck Berry (esp. Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven)
John Mayer (esp. Your Body Is a Wonderland)
John Legend (esp. Glory, All of Me, Ordinary People)
Bob Dylan (esp. Like a Rolling Stone, Blowing in the Wind, Knockin on Heaven’s Door)
Elton John (esp. Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Circle of Life, I’m Still Standing, Tiny Dancer)
U2 (esp. With or Without You)
Beyonce (esp. If I Were a Boy, Crazy in Love)
John Denver (esp. Take Me Home, Country Roads)
Elvis Presley (esp. Can’t Help Falling in Love, Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Don’t Be Cruel)
Madonna (esp. Vogue, Like a Virgin, Material Girl)
Johnny Cash (esp. Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line)
Billy Joel (esp. Piano Man, New York State of Mind, We Didn’t Start the Fire)
Bob Marley (esp. Could You Be Loved, I Shot the Sheriff)
Stevie Wonder (esp. I Just Called to Say I Love You, Could You Be Loved)
Bette Midler (esp. From a Distance, I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today, The Rose, Wind Beneath My Wings)
Aretha Franklin (esp. Respect, [You Make Me Feel Like a] Natural Woman)
Barbra Streisand (esp. The Way We Were)
Johnny Cash (esp. I Walk the Line)
Eric Clapton (esp. Tears in Heaven, Wonderful Tonight)
Don’t Lie to Me, Barbra Streisand (esp. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, The Way We Were)
The Rolling Stones (esp. [I Cant Get No] Satisfaction, Paint It Black)

Important Songs

I Try, Macy Gray
Give Me One Reason, Tracy Chapman
Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, Alan Jackson
Imagine, John Lennon
Happy Christmas (War Is Over), John Lennon
Proud Mary, Tina Turner
What’s Love Got to Do With It, Tina Turner
I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston
I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack
Jennifer Hudson
She’s Everything, Brad Paisley
Kiss, Prince
Basket Case, Green Day
American Pie, Don Mclean
Cat’s In the Cradle, Cat Stevens
Wild World, Cat Stevens
When I Come Around, Green Day
Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinead O’Connor
Zombie, The Cranberries
Losing My Religion, R.E.M.
Wake Me Up When September Ends, Green Day
Paint Me A Birmingham, Tracy Lawrence
So Sick, Neyo
Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A Lot
Hips Don’t Lie, Shakira
Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
Jump Around, House of Pain
Hips Don’t Lie, Shakira
Walk this Way, Aerosmith and Run DMC
Don’t Take the Girl, Tim McGraw
Fooled Around and Fell in Love, Elvin Bishop
Empire State of Mind, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys
Find Your Love, Drake
Renegade, Styx
Smells like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
Little Lion Man, Mumford & Sons
Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Tears for Fears
Augustana, Boston
How’s It Going to Be, Third Eye Blind
Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band
Wanted, Dead or Alive, Bon Jovi
To Save a Life, The Fray
Wonderwall, Oasis
Surfin’ USA, The Beach Boys
I Get Around, The Beach Boys
Message in a Bottle, The Police
Yellow, Coldplay
Forever, Drake
The House of Rising Sun, The Animals
Ride, Twenty One Pilots
Closing Time, Semisonic
Apologize, OneRepublic
Same Love, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with Mary Lambert
This Love, Maroon 5
Closer, Chain Smokers
Love In This Club, Usher
Meant to Live, Switchfoot
Dynamite, Taio Cruz
Africa, Toto
I Ran, Flock of Seagulls
Lovefool, The Cardigans
Say My Name, Destiny’s Child
I Gotta Feeling, Black Eyed Peas
Staying Alive, Bee Gees
Fight For Your Right (to Party), Beastie Boys
My Girl, The Temptations
Long Cool Woman, The Hollies
Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
Clocks, Coldplay
Free Fallin’, Tom Petty
If You Could Only See, Tonic
Tik Tok, Ke$ha
The Message, Grandmaster Flash
Dixieland Delight, Alabama
Don’t Stop Believing, Journey
Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond
Your Love, The Outfield
Everything I Do (I Do It For You), Bryan Adams
Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin
Thunderstruck, AC/DC
The Middle, Jimmy Eat World
Breakeven, The Script
One Dance, Drake
Yeah!, Usher with Lil Jon and Ludacris
Ms. Jackson, Outkast
Bust a Move, Young MC
Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog
UpTown Funk, Bruno Mars
Somebody that I use to Know, Gotye
Another One Bites the Dust, Queen
I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston
YMCA, Village People
Let Me Love You, Mario
I Heard it Through the Grapevine,  Marvin Gaye
The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Purple Rain, Prince
Kiss, Prince
In the Air Tonight, Phil Collins
She’s Got the Look, Roxette
I Feel Good, James Brown
Forever Young, Jay-Z
In the Mood, Robert Plant
Fame, David Bowie
Let’s Dance, David Bowie
Live and Let Die, Paul McCartney
Band on the Run, Paul McCartney
Said I Loved You … But I Lied, Michael Bolton
Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry
Old Man, Neil Young
Heart of Gold, Neil Young
Angel, Shaggy
It Wasn’t Me, Shaggy
Don’t Worry Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin
Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper
True Colors, Cyndi Lauper
She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals
Escapade, Janet Jackson
Tom’s Diner, Susanne Vega
Dancing in the Streets, Martha & the Vandellas

Tomorrow (from Annie)
Maybe (from Annie)
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland (from The Wizard of Oz)
When You Wish Upon a Star (from Pinocchio)
Footloose (from Footloose)
(from My Fair Lady)
Sunrise, Sunset (from Fiddler on the Roof)
Tradition (from Fiddler on the Roof)
Oklahoma! (from Oklahoma!)
Oh What a Beautiful Morning) (from Oklahoma!)
(from West Side Story)
Da-Doo (from Little Shop of Horrors)
Skid Row (from Little Shop of Horrors)
Suddenly, Seymour (from Little Shop of Horrors)
Beauty and the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast)
This Provincial Life (from Beauty and the Beast)
Kiss the Girl (from The Little Mermaid)
I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair (from South Pacific)
Bali Ha’i (from South Pacific)
White Christmas (from White Christmas)
Sisters (from White Christmas)
Songs from Hair
Songs from The King and I
Songs from Grease
Peter and the Wolf theme music (by Sergei Prokofiev)
A Charlie Brown Christmas theme music
Star Wars theme music
Westworld theme music
The Staircase theme music
The Keepers theme music
Medium theme music
Felicity theme music

Important Folk Songs and Singalong Songs

The Star-Spangled Banner
America, the Beautiful
Oh, Susanna
Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Home on the Range
You Are My Sunshine
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Ain’t We Got Fun?
Down By the Old Mill Stream
Someone’s In the Kitchen With Dinah
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
You’ll Sing a Song
Down By the Riverside
Lavender’s Blue
When the Saints Go Marching In
Amazing Grace
How Great Thou Art
I’ll Fly Away
He’s Got the Whole World
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
This Little Light of Mine
O Holy Night
Jingle Bells
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christms
The First Noel
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
We Three Kings
Away in a Manger
Silent Night
What Child Is This?
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Joy to the World
Angels We Have Heard on High
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Jingle Bells
Frosty, the Snowman
Let It Snow
Holly, Jolly Christmas
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
Deck the Halls
We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Important Children’s Songs and Artists

Mr. Rogers

The Alphabet Song
Rock-a-Bye Baby
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Ba Ba Black Sheep
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Star Light, Star Bright
Hush, Little Baby (Don’t Say a Word)
Knees Up Mother Brown
Down By the Bay
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Frere Jacques
Lollipop, Lollipop
If You’re Happy and You Know It
Skip to My Lou
The More We Get Together
This Old Man
Wheels on the Bus
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
The Ants Go Marching One By One
Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Humpty Dumpty
Five Little Monkeys
Ring Around the Roses
Old McDonald
Three Blind Mice
Nick Nack Paddywack
Pop Goes the Weasel
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
Hey Diddle Diddle
Jack and Jill
London Bridge Is Falling Down
She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
This Little Piggy
Little Bo Peep
Sing a Song of Sixpence
A Tisket a Tasket
Little Boy Blue
Old King Cole
Little Miss Muffet
The Muffin Man
Over the River and Through the Woods
The Farmer In the Dell
Baby Bumble Bee
Do Your Ears Hang Low?
Where, Oh, Where Has My Little Dog Gone?
How Much Is That Doggy In the Window
There’s a Hole in the Bucket
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Basic Physical Education (A Knowledge Checklist)

The importance of physical activity is one of my soap-box topics. I love that as a homeschooling family we have the time to take bike rides and long walks during the day.

No one is saying your child should become an all-star. But learning the basics of a wide variety of sports helps them understand their options and almost certainly find something they truly enjoy.

Physical Education Checklist


Running (with proper form)
Roller Skating
Ice Skating
Hide and Seek
Capture the Flag
Dodge Ball
Kick the Can
Obstacle Courses


Martial Arts
Ping Pong

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Basic Biology and Genetics (A Knowledge Checklist)

I remember learning basic biology in school. It was a long time ago, and yet, most of this stuff stuck. It’s everywhere, after all–in the news, in other books. And yet, after creating this list, I was struck by the fine delineations, especially regarding the differences between genes, genetic traits, chromosomes, alleles, and DNA. Interesting review here.

Basic Biology Knowledge Checklist

Living thing: Living things need air (though different gases are needed by different living things), water and nutrients; they grow; they have metabolism; they reproduce; they die; they are made up of cells; and they have these visible attributes: a distinct orientation (head and tail, top and bottom), symmetry, fine structure and detail, and a tenuous quality (meaning certain conditions must be met to preserve them; in other words, they can die).

Classification/taxonomy: Organizing things into groups according to their shared features. A living things is classified according to its domain, kingdom, phylum (if animal) or division (if plant), class, order, family, genus, species, and subspecies (race, breed, or variety).

The three domains of life: Bacteria, archaea and eukaryota. There are about ten eukaryota kingdoms, including plants, animals and fungi.

Plant kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from the sun

Animal kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from living, biological food

The human taxonomy: Eukaryota domain, animal kingdom, chordates phylum (since they have a stiff rod that supports the body), the mammal class, the omnivore order, the homo sapiens species and various races of subspecies

Common name: Name commonly used for a species of animal or plant

Biological name: Official name of an animal or plant. Usually in Latin and made up of the genus and species name, but sometimes also contains the name of the sub-species.

Species: Subgroup whose members can mate and reproduce offspring of their kind

Life cycle: Stages of growth and development of living things. Different for different species. (Frogs have a tadpole stage and caterpillars have a cocoon stage, for example.)

Generation: All members of a species bearing offspring around the same time

Male: Boy offspring; fertilizes the egg

Female: Girl offspring; produces eggs and sometimes births the offspring Reproduction: In animals, the producing of offspring by parents Sexual reproduction: Reproduction involving two parents, one male and one female Asexual reproduction: Reproduction involving only one parent

Fertilization: Adding DNA to the egg that starts its growth

Mating: The pairing of opposite-sex animals that results in fertilization

Food chain: A series of plants and animals that use each other for food. It starts with a plant that gets food from the sun, then continues with the animal that eats that plant and so on.

Food web: A series of interlinked food chains. Creates interdependence.

Cell: Smallest unit of living matter, but still visible under a microscope. (Try looking at a thin slice of onion membrane.)

Mitosis: Cell division resulting in two genetically identical cells, each with a set of the same chromosomes. Happens when the nucleus of the cell divides.

Cytokinesis: The second stage of cell division in which the cell plate forms to divide the two cells

Fungi: Living things that lack chlorophyll and feed on living and dead things

Bacteria: A type of single-celled organism that exists everywhere on earth. Most types have not been studied.

Protozoa: Single-celled eukaryotes that feed on organic matter

Amoeba: A type of protozoa, fungi, algae or animal that can change shape, usually by extending out pseudopods (fluid-filled sacs in the shape of arms or tentacles)

Excretion: The elimination of metabolic waste

Parasite: Living thing that feeds on other living things and also uses them as their home

Host: The living thing that homes and feeds a parasite

Homeostasis: Biological equilibrium, when a living thing’s internal conditions (such as temperature and mineral levels) are steady

Decomposition: The process by which organic substances break down into small pieces, which then get recycled

Dormant: Asleep; not dead but not reproducing, as a dormant seed

Evolution: The long series of changes that happen to all living things

Extinction: The dying out of a species

Natural selection: The natural process by which some species adapt and survive and others die out

Artificial selection: The human-controlled process by which some species change and survive and others die out

Mass extinction: The large-scale dying out of many species (and biodiversity) on earth. Happens due to major weather changes brought on by major events, like an astroid hitting the earth.

Adaptation: The process by which a species changes over time to adapt and survive

Biomass: The combined weight of all living things of a certain type in a certain area. The biomass of plants is higher than of animals. At each level of the food chain, the biomass is lower.

Basic Genetics Knowledge Checklist

Genetics: The study of genes and heredity

Gene: The instructions inherited from parents that tell the body how to develop a particular characteristic or characteristics in the body (what qualities that characteristic will have). They are in every cell of the body (except red blood cells).

Genetic trait: A single trait that is expressed due to the instructions of the related gene. There can be multiple traits expressed by a single gene.

Heredity: All the traits passed from parents to their offspring

Genome: All of the genetic material of an organism (DNA or RNA)

Gene map: Shows the arrangement of the genes on a chromosome

Chromosome: The bundles that hold all of the individual genes. They are stored in the cell’s nucleus. Humans have 46 chromosomes: 2 sets of 23. Each chromosomes holds many, many genes.

DNA: Dioxyribonucleic acid. The chemical makeup of the genes. Always in a paired double strand and in the shape of a double helix.

RNA: Ribonucleic acid. This molecule reads and regulates genes. Sometimes called a messenger.

Nature and nurture: Heredity and environment. Both produce characteristics of an individual living thing, but how they interact is usually often unknown.

X and Y chromosomes: The chromosomes that determine gender. Everyone has one X chromosome, but males have a Y and females have a second X.

Dominant gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that dominates the recessive one, and therefore gets expressed in the organism. Most genes are either dominant or recessive.

Recessive gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that does not dominate the other. The recessive gene is expressed only when there are two associated recessives present, one from each parent. 

Co-dominance: Occurs when the contributions of both genes are visible in the organism

Allele: One of the two associated genes in a gene pair

Homozygote: Both of the alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Heterozygote: The alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Carrier: An organism that has a recessive allele for a genetic trait but does not display it. Can pass the allele onto offspring, who will express it if they inherit the same one from both parents.

DNA profiling/genetic fingerprinting: Determining an individual’s unique DNA code, usually by sampling a particular section of it

Genetic engineering/modification: The direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology

GMO: Genetically modified organism

Gene splicing/ recombinant DNA (rDNA): DNA molecules formed in a lab bringing together genes from separate organisms

Cloning: Producing genetically identical individuals of an organism either naturally or artificially. In nature, many organisms produce clones through asexual reproduction.

Hybrid: Subspecies made by crossing two species

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Basic Botany and Zoology (A Knowledge Checklist)

Basic Botany Knowledge Checklist

Parts of a plant cell: Cell wall; cell membrane; cytoplasm containing chloroplasts, chromoplasts, other organelles and the nucleus; a large vacuole containing water, sugar and other dissolved substances

Photosynthesis: The process plants use to make food. Steps: 1. Leaves, roots and stem take in water, sunlight and CO2. Chloroplasts in leaf cells contain chlorophyll which absorbs sun’s energy. Energy is used to combine H2O and CO2 to make carbohydrates and oxygen. Some of this can be stored as starch. The carbs and oxygen are then used to release energy, CO2 and water. At night, there is only respiration using stored energy. In daytime, photosynthesis is faster than respiration, so more energy is stored.

Roots: network of string-like structures (fibrous roots) or tap roots (like carrots). Absorb water, nutrients, anchors the plant.

Parts of a root: Primary root; secondary roots; root hairs; root cap

Types of roots: Fibrous roots (many equal-sized primary roots); advetitious roots (roots that grow out of the stem, like the hairs on an onion bulb); aerial roots (as in ivy); prop roots (for trees)

Stems: Transports nutrients; include trucks, vines, central points of grass

Parts of a stem: Buds (small growth that becomes a new shoot or a flower); shoots (new stems that grow off the main stem); main stem

Leaves: Food-making parts of plants. Leaves have veins and holes on their undersides to let in water and air. These can open and close. Note that leaves include pine needles.

Vascular tissue: Carries food and water through the plant

Bark: Dead protective tissue on the outside of a tree. Bark is formed in a living layer underneath the current layer after that layer gets pushed out by the new rings that are forming. It has tiny raised openings that provide oxygen and CO2 exchange, and it protects the tree from disease and helps hold in moisture. Since it can’t grow, it peels off and new bark is formed underneath.

Heartwood: The oldest rings of the tree; can’t transport water anymore

Sapwood: The newer rings; still transport water

Annual ring:A single layer of secondary thickening in an older plant, which takes one year to form

Seed: Has an embryo, food supply and protective coat. Seedlings grown in the dark are different from those grown in the light. Grow taller to seek light, but are weaker structurally. Seed gets energy from storage, not sun, but shoots require sun.

Flowers: Enable reproduction by containing male and female sex cells (gametes). Parts: petals that produce nectar to attract insects needed for pollination; stamens (the male part which contain pollen); and the carpel or pisitil (the female part that contains ovules in their ovary and can trap pollen). Some plants have male and female parts in all their flowers. Others have flowers of each type, and others have only male or female flowers, and need to be cross-pollinated with another plant of their genus or species.

Fruit: The part of the flowering plant that holds the seeds. This includes nuts, succulent fruits, berries, pods (like pea pods), kernels (like wheat kernels) and more.

Cones: The part of conifer trees that hold the seeds. They start out open, then after pollination, close up. When the seeds are ripe and the weather is warm and dry, the scales open and drop the fertilized seeds so they can find dirt to grow in. The cones then remain on the plant for a year or so. Note that conifers have male and female flowers and self-pollinate. Seeds are dispersed through animal excrement, wind, water and catching on animal fur.

Asexual reproduction: Reproduction that doesn’t involve a male and female sex cell. Algae, ferns and mosses do this because they don’t have flowers. But some use spores to reproduce also, alternating sexual and asexual reproduction.

Vegetative reproduction/vegetative propagation: When a plant can reproduce itself by itself asexually. Examples: plants that grow from bulbs (like tulips), from runners (like strawberries), from tubers (like potatoes), from cuttings and even from just a few cells (as in a lab). Note that for growing from cuttings, the cutting might need to stand in water and grow roots first before being planted in dirt.

Reproductive structures of plants: Flowers, cones, and spore capsules. Divisions (phylums) are made in the plant kingdom according to the form of the reproductive structures.

Anthers: male part of reproductive structrues; produce pollen

Ovaries: female part of flower – contains eggs that get pollinated by anthers, grows into the fruit, with each egg a seed.

Pollination: The transfer of pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part of the plant

Growth season: One year of a plant’s life

Plant lifecycle types: Annuals (die out except the seed each year); biennials (die in two years); herbaceous perennials (roots live many years but above ground parts die each year); woody perennials (most of parts above and below ground live on); ephemerals (very short lifecycles)

Dormant: Still alive but not actively growing; a seed. To see if a seed is still alive, try to grow it.

Germination: The waking up of a dormant seed

Soil: Dirt that is suitable for plant growth

Tropism: A plant “sense”

Autotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to make one’s own food

Geotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense gravity. Plants grow away from gravity, even if the soil is upside-down.

Phototropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense light.

Thigmotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense touch.

Deciduous tree: Tree that loses its leaves each year

Evergreen tree: Tree that doesn’t shed its leaves all at once. They have tough, waxy leaves that don’t lose as much water.

Fungi: Not plants, but plant-like. Grow in damp and dark. No chlorophyll, so feed on dead or living things. Inc: mold, yeast, mushrooms. Some are helpful, as yeast and cheese mold. Some are poisonous to animals and plants.T

Angiosperm: Plant that produce flowers

Hydrophyte: Plant that grow in water. Include algae, seaweed, lily pads and more

Waterlogged: Oversaturated with water. Water-holding capacity is better for rich soil but poorer for sandy soil.

Aeration: The air flow to plant roots. Roots need oxygen, though plants take in CO2 and give off oxygen. Leaves transport sugar but can’t transport oxygen.

Drought: An extended dry period

Erosion: Bare soil exposed to elements. Prevent it by maintaining a vegetation cover. Erosion lowers soil quality since topsoil is richest.

Soil management: Maintaining proper balance of soil nutrients, airflow and water in soil

Soil conservation: Erosion prevention

Crop rotation: Rotating crops in order to balance the mineral levels in the soil since plants use and add different amounts of various minerals as they grow

Basic Zoology Knowledge Checklist

Parts of an animal cell: Cell membrane (no cell wall like plants have); cytoplasm; organelles, including mitrochondria, which convert substances into energy for the cell, vacuoles, which house fats and liquids, the nucleus, which controls everything that happens in the cell, and the Golgi complex, which stores and distributes the substances that are made inside the cell (the warehouse). Cell also has centrioles, ribosomes to build proteins, and lysosomes. Note: See a picture of cell division to view these stages. Also note that different cells specialize according to their job.

Tissue: Cells of the same type combined together to do a particular job

Organ: Tissues of different types working together to do a particular job

System: Organs of different types working together to do a particular job

Body structures of animals: Most have a fluid-filled cavity and a skeleton to hold the cavity in place and allow for movement. All have an outer layer to enclose their bodies, which can be skin, an exoskeleton, a cuticle, scales, shells, prickles, fur and more. Animals also have a part or parts of the body to provide for locomotion, such as fins, flippers, wings, legs, etc.

Biped: Animal with two legs

Quadraped: Animal with four legs

Vertebrate: Animal with a backbone

Invertebrate: Animal with no backbone (as a snail)

Arthropod: Animal with an external skeleton/ exoskeleton (as a grasshopper)

Warm-blooded animal: Animal that can regulate its body temperature

Cold-blooded animal: Animal whose temperature changes with its environment

Herbivore: An animal that eats only plants

Carnivore: An animal that eats only meat

Omnivore: An animal that eats both plants and meat

Types of animal communication: Body language, such as preening or dancing; making noises, such as using vocal cords or rubbing body parts together; sending out chemical messages through pheremones or by spraying; and changing color.

Parts that animals use to sense their environment: Eyes; ears; specialized body parts for sensing balance; specialized body parts for sensing water pressure and currents; whiskers; tentacles; taste buds; parts for detecting electric pulses given off by other creatures (sharks do this). Note that birds may be able to sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it for migration, too. Also, animals detect gravity.

Types of animal reproduction: Animals either lay eggs (before or after fertilization) or give birth to live young

Larva: The form some animals take before beginning metamorphosis

Pupa: A hard shell that forms on larva inside of which metamorphosis occurs

Metamorphosis: The total restructuring of an animal’s body, sometimes inside a pupa or cocoon

Hibernation: A period of inactivity in some animals that includes the slowing of the metabolism

Migration: The large-scale movement of a species from one place to another

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Basic Spanish Vocabulary (A Knowledge Checklist)

Lots of people will tell you that learning a new language is easy. And it can be . . . but it usually isn’t. The problem isn’t with the actual difficulty of the language, though. The problem is that we don’t practice.

Unless you live among native speakers, it’s a problem that’s not easily remedied. My suggestion: every few months (more if you’re in a hurry), play some audio recordings of words with translations or children’s music in the car on repeat. Language learning is not an all-at-once thing; you’ll need lots of time and repetition to let it sink in. If possible, be casual about it, but be consistent.

If you’re a person who enjoys reading and writing, copy your word lists onto flash cards or foldable lists. Personally, I spend countless hours writing and rewriting my lists when in full-on language learning mode.

You can also make games out of your vocabulary words–all kinds of fun games. At the end of this post I provide a story you can tell your kids that incorporates practice and repetition (theirs or yours).

Complete Beginners’ Spanish Word List


Hello: Hola
Good morning: Buenas dias
Good afternoonL Buenas tardes
Good evening: Buenas noches
Goodbye: Adios; chau
What is your name?: Como se llama?
My name is …: Me llamo; mi nombre es …
Pleasure to meet you. Mucho gusto.
How are you: Como esta (for a less familiar person); Como estas (for a more familiar person); Como esta usted (for a formal situation or older person)
Where are you from: De donde viene
I’m from …: Soy de …
See you later: Hasta luego.
See you tomorrow: Hasta ma­nana

Almost-Free Words

Important: Importante
Interesting: Interesante
Perfect: Perfecto
Excellent: Excellente


Thank you very much: Muchas gracias
You’re welcome: De nada
Execuse Me: Disculpe; perdoname; con permiso
Goodness: Caramba
Please: Por favor
I’m sorry: Lo siento
Forgive me: Disculpe
Help me: Ayudame
Danger: Peligro
Forbidden: Prohibito
No smoking: No se fuma
Fire: Fuego; incendio
Emergency: Emergencia
Hurry up: Appurase; rapido
For sale: Se vende
For rent: Se alguila
Look: Mira
Stop: Pare
Watch out: Cuidado
That’s fine: Esta bien
Go away: Dejeme
Bienvenido: Welcome
Oops: Opa (an expression from Greek)
True: Verdad
Of course: Por supresto
It’s okay/don’t worry about it: Tranquila; no se preculpe
Are you sure: Seguro
What do you mean: Como
How do you say: Como se dice
At what time: A que hora
Qual es: Which is it

Small Words

Me, I—mi, yo
You—tu (familiar) usted
They, them; ellos o ellas
Because—por que
Actually—-En verdad
The—la, e, los, las (depending on gender)
In—por, en
a—un, una
maybe—quisas o tal vez
She-he—-ella, el
Her’s/his.—la , le
Your—tu (familiar form)
Yes/no —si y no (shaking one finger is the most common form of no in South America—the index finger)
Therefore—por lo tanto
Of the —del
Like/similar to—paracido
Here—(different words used depending on distance aqui, aji, alla)
Together —-conmigo, contigo (familiar)


To be—Ser (permanent): soy, son, es; estar (less permanent): estoy, esta
To do—hacer…hago, hace
To feel—Sentir sineto , sienta
To be there—hay
To want—querer, quiero, quiere, quieres
To like—Gusta, me gusto, se gusta
To go (irregular verb) voy, vas, viene,
To live—vivir—vivo, vives, viva
To eat—comer como, comes, come
To drink—For non-alcoholic beverages: Tomar: tomo, tomes, tome; For alcohol: Beber …bebo, bebes, bebe
To cost—cuesta
To carry/transport—Llevar
To Exit—salida( noun)
To Arrive:—Llegar, llego, llegas, llega
To park: Estacionar
To Wait: Esperar, espero, espero, esperamos
To speak: Hablar, hablo, hables, habla
To say—digo, dices, dice
To stay put—quedar, quedense (command form)
To Help—ayudar, ayudo, ayudas, ayuda
To be able/capable—Puedar, puedo, puedes, puede
To understand—entender entiendo, entiendes, entiende
To comprehend—Comprender, comprendo, comprendes, comprende
To Hope—Esperar, espero, esperes, espere
To know/be acquainted with (person) Conocer, conozco, conoces, conoce
To know (facts) Saber, se, sabes, sabe
To charge/exchange—Cambiar, cambio,
To travel—viajer, viajo, viege
To close—Cierrar
to find—encountrar
to wash—lavar, lavo (clothes)
to clean—limpiar, limpio,
to buy—comprar, compro, ustead compra
to sit—sentar
to smoke—fumar
to take—tomer
to walk—cambiar-=–cambio, cambias, cambia
to search for—buscar, busco, buscas, busca
to see—ver veo, ve
To give—dar, doy, da
To pay—pagar, pago, paga
To sign—firmar, firmo, firme
To need—necesitar, necesito, necesita
To cook—cocinar cocino, cocina
To reserve—reservar,
To confirm—confirmar
To take a photo—sacrar una foto
To Call—llamar, llamo
To accept—acceptar, acepto
To sleep—dormir,duermo,duerma
To work—trabajar, trabajo, trabaja
To think—pensar, penso
To believer—creer, creo, cree
To stop—parar
To return—volver
To sell—vender,vendo, vende
To exit—salir, salgo
To come—venior, vegno, viene
To lose—perder, pierdo, pierde
To win—ganar, gano, unstead gana
To study—estudiar, studio
To dance—baillar, bailo, bailas
To sing—cantar, canto, canta
To play—jugar..juego, juega
To hate—odiar
To love—-amar, encantar, encanto, encanta


Slow—despacio o despacito
Good—bueno, bien
Bad—mal, malo
Handsome—guapo (word also means hard working in some contexts)
Hot—caliente (refers to heat, piquante refers to spicy)
The same—mismo
Necessary—necesito (this is a verb, not an adjective) Necesito eso, or necesita eso (you need this)
Not necessary—no necesito
Second hand—segundo

People and Animals

Everyone—todos las personas
No on—nadia
Children—ninas, ninos
Uncle/aunt—tio, tia
Men/man– hombres, hombre


Pair of glasses—lentes
Parts—partalores, partes
Garbage cans—basero
Everything—qualquier cosa


19 —diecenueve
20 —viente
80 —ochenta
1 million—un million
101—cineto uno
1100—mil cien
1300 mil trecientos

Days and Months


Question Words

What is it—que es esto
Where —donde esta
How much—cuanto?
Who is it?—quien es
Why—por que
Why not—por que no
What time is it? Que hora es?


Green—verde (careful in using this description, though: some things that are green are considered dirty, i.e. pornography or a “green” magazine)


Department store—almacia
Country—campo (refers to terrain/geography)
Exchange store—casa de cambio
Parking lot—estacionamonte
Bus stop—parade de autobus
Mall—cinto commercial
Shoe store—zapateria
Police station—comisaria
Post office—el correo
Place—lugar, parte, locale
School—escuela secendaria (secondary school); escuela escuela primaria (grade school)

Body Parts


Foods and Drinks

To eat—comer
Drink –beber o tomar
Miner water—aqua mineral
Soft drink—gaseosa
Bottle of wine—una botella de vino
Red/white wine—tino /blanco vino
Cold veggie soup—gazpacho
Pineapple—pina o anana
Ice cream—helado
Milk shake—batido de leche
Espresso—un expreso
Butter—mantequilla o Manteca
Steak—chursasco, carne
BBQ—churrasco , churro
Roast beef—rosbef
Mashed potatoes—pueredo papas
Potatoes—papas (careful to use las papas because the word is feminine. El Papa refers to the pope)
French Fries—papas fritas
Chicken breast—suprema de pollo
Soysauce—salsa d soya

Restaurant Words

Plate—un plato
Cup—una taza/copa
Teaspoon—una cuchariva
A can —una lata
Box—una lajo
A jar—un pomo
Menu—la carta
What is today’s special?—Cual es el plato del dia
I’dlike to order—quisiera pedar
Bill—-la cuenta
Fast to go—comida para llevar
Fast food—comida rapida


Where/there—aqui, aji
Here is—aqui tiene
One block—una cuadrenta
Opposite from—frenta a
Next to—junto a
In Front—frente
In back—al antes
Everywhere—en todas partes
No where—ninguna parte


Month—la mesa
Morning—la manana
Later—despues, lluego
Every day—todos las dias
1:00—una hora
1;15—la una y quince/cuarta
1:30—uno y media
1:45—cuarto al dos
1:01—la una y una
The end—el final


That’s all—eso es todo
Half kilo—medio kelo
A bit of—un poco de
Too much/too many—demasiado
Not enough—no bastante
A little—poco, poquito

Money Words

Travelers checks—chequs de viajero
Exchange rate—cambio
Small change—suelto
Signature—la firma
The payment—le debo
Credit card—tarjeta de credito
ATM—el cajero

Nature Words

Mosquito—los mosquitos

Medical Words

Doctor—-El Doctor
What’s wrong>–Que le pasa
I’m sick—Me siento enfermo
Headache—dolor de la cabeza
Flu—la gripe
It hurts here—me dula aqui
I feel dizzy—tengo mareos nauseas
Stomach ache—dolor to estomacho
Backache—dolor de espalda
I feel—siento
Vaccinated—vacundo (a)

Travel Words

Business trip—viaje de negocios
Baggage cart—carnto para maletas
Room—cuarto, habitacion
Single bed—habatacion con una sola cama
Private bath—bano privado
Oceanview—vista del mar
Car—auto, coche
Ticket—boleta, pasaje
Roadmap—mapa de carreteras, plano de ciudad
One-way ticket—billete de ida
Round-trip ticket—billete de y vuelta
Tourism/tourist—turismo, turista

Miscellaneous Words

One more time—ulta vez
County –pais (refers to actual country, not a general description)

“The Spanish Backyard” Story and Game

Harriet and Toby were just regular kids, living in just a regular house. Still, they had what many people don’t: they had a wonderful backyard.

Sometimes their yard was a wide, deep ocean. Other times it was a space station. But Harriet and Toby’s favorite times of all were when the yard became a magical kingdom far away, where anything they spoke in Spanish appeared.

The catch: they had to speak the sentence properly three times in a row.

One day, Harriet and Toby were hungry. They were waiting for their parents to finish cooking a large meal. So, they decided to make food appear in their yard–every kind of food they could imagine.

What do you think Harriet and Toby asked for? What would you want to make appear?

Note to teachers: Here, have your students make sentences with the word list you’re working on currently. Change the scenario to fit the types of words you want to practice. Each time the student gets the sentence right, draw what they said or say, “Look! It’s a …”]

Harriet and Toby continued playing The Spanish Backyard until the sun was all the way down.

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: Classic Children’s Books and Stories

Dear kids,

Here is a collection of the stories I often try to remember at bedtime, but can’t.  My plan is to use the handy links in this list to read most of these to you at least several times in the coming years. Also, while you’re still young, I’m going to read you summaries of some of our great ancient stories (like the Illiad and the Odyssey) to give you a jump on classic literature before you’re old enough to read them yourselves.

The links take you to either free, full-text versions of the book or story or free online summaries as appropriate. Just pull up this list on your phone or tablet and your complete children’s literature education is ready to go.



Fairy Tales

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Aesop’s Fables, Aesop
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
The Blue Fairy Book, Andrew Lang
The Orange Fairy Book, Andrew Lang
The Lilac Fairy Book, Andrew Lang
Norwegian Folk Tales, Peter Asbjornsen
Irish Fairy Tales, James Stephens
The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales from the Old French, Charles Perrault
The Classic Mother Goose
Chinese folk tales
Japanese folk tales
Egyptian folk tales
Indian folk tales
African folk tales
The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Richard Francis Burton
Three Little Pigs
The Tortoise and the Hare
Jack and the Beanstalk
Little Red Riding Hood
Snow White
The Ugly Duckling
The Pied Piper
Chicken Little
The Emperor’s New Clothes
The Princess and the Pea
The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
Old Mother Goose and Her Son Jack
Hansel and Gretel
Little Snow-White
The Adventures of Aladdin
The Frog Prince
The Little Mermaid
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
The Ant and the Grasshopper
Little Bo-Peep
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
The Gingerbread Man
The Owl and the Pussy Cat
Androclus and the Lion
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Sleeping Beauty
The Happy Prince
The Blind Man and the Elephant
The Little Match Girl
The Story of Little Boy Blue
The Snow Queen
Father Frost
Puss in Boots
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Fox and the Grapes
Stories about Paul Bunyan
The Gift of the Magi
The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
Torn Thumb
Beauty and the Beast
St. George and the Dragon

Classic Children’s Books:

Peter Rabbit and other stories by Beatrix Potter
Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
The Little Engine that Could, Watty Piper
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Dr. Seuss
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, Dr. Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Willems
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Goodnight, Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne
Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
Pipi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
Matilda, Roald Dahl
Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans
Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss
James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Guess How Much I Love You, Sam McBratney
Are You My Mother?, P.D. Eastman
Amelia Bedelia, Peggy Parish
Corduroy, Don Freeman
The Curious George series, H.A. Rey
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and other books by Mo Willems
The Frog and Toad series, Arnold Lobel
Miss Nelson Is Back, Harry Allard
Let’s Go All Around the Neighborhood, Patty Thomas and Anthony Rae
Books by Richard Scarry
On the Night You Were Born, Nancy Tillman and Peter Parnall
Everybody Needs a Rock, Byrd Baylor
Once There Were Giants, Martin Waddell and Penny Dale
Love You Forever, Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
The Father Bear series, Else Homelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
The Encyclopedia Brown series, Donald J. Sobol
The Alfie series, Shirley Hughes
I Love You Through and Through, Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak and Caroline Jayne Church
The Monster at the End of This Book, Jon Stone and Michael Smollin
The Berenstain Bears series, Stan and Jan Berenstain
The Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz
The Marshmallow Incident Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett
Georgie and the Robbers, Robert Bright
Each Peach Pear Plum, Janet and Allan Ahlberg
This Moose Belongs to Me, Oliver Jeffers
There Was and Old Woman Who Lived in a Glove, Bernard Lodge
The Clifford, the Big Red Dog series, Norman Bridwell

Summaries of Adult Classics

The Illiad, Homer
The Odyssey, Homer
The Aeneid, Virgil
The Oedipus Plays, Sophocles
Orestia, Aeschylus
Medea, Euripedes
The Bacchae, Euripedes
Lysistrata, Aristophanes
The Frogs, Aristophanes
The Clouds, Aristophanes
Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch
The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser
Paradise Lost, Dante
Paradise Regained, Dante
Beowulf, Anonymous
Mabinogion, Anonymous
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Anonymous
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
La Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory
The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
Greek and Roman mythology
Important stories of the Bible
Selected works by William Shakespeare

Find more fiction to read to your kids at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: Classic Fiction.

Film and Screen (A Knowledge Checklist)

I am not a film buff. Still, I don’t want my kids to miss out on the movies that even today, inform our shared cultural conversation. There’s a lot to learn here about love, hope and coming of age–and about writing an awesome screenplay, too.

Classic Films for Children

Wizard of Oz
Return to Oz
Alice in Wonderland
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The Neverending Story
The Karate Kid
Star Wars: A New Hope
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original version)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (new version)
Ghostbusters (original version)
The Muppet Movie (original version)
The Lord of the Rings series
The Chronicles of Narnia series
The Harry Potter series
The Anne of Green Gables Series
The Anne of Avonlea Series

A Christmas Carol
Miracle on 34th Street
A Christmas Story
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Frosty the Snowman
The Muppet Christmas Carol

Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Lion King
Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Snow White

The Sound of Music
The Parent Trap (original version)
Swiss Family Robinson
Charlote’s Web
Lilo and Stitch
Old Yeller
Winnie the Pooh
The Red Balloon
The Jungle Book
Pippi Longstocking
The Adventures of Milo and Otis

Grave of the Fireflies
Spirited Away
Finding Nemo
Freaky Friday
Home Alone
Home Alone 2
The Incredibles
How to Train Your Dragon
The Sandlot
The Iron Giant
Bee Movie
A Little Princess
Escape to Witch Mountain
Pete’s Dragon

Classic Films for Older Kids and Adults

A Face in the Crowd
An American In Paris
Annie Hall
Babes in Toyland
Babette’s Feast
Barton Fink
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Bright Eyes
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Das Boot
Doctor Zhivago
East of Eden
Hannah and Her Sisters
Cries and Whispers
From Here to Eternity
How Green is My Valley
How the West Was Won
Igby Goes Down
Il Dulce Vita
It Happened One Night
It’s a Wonderful Life
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Mutiny on the Bounty
National Velvet
Night of the Living Dead
North by Northwest
On the Waterfront
Orchestra Rehearsal
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Les Miserables
Lil Abner
Radio Days
Planet of the Apes
Raise the Red Lantern
Rear Window
Rebel Without a Cause
Roman Holiday
Singing in the Rain
Sophie’s Choice
Splendor in the Grass
Strangers on a Train
Taxi Driver
The 39 Steps
The Absent-Minded Professor
The African Queen
The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Bells of St. Mary’s
The Birds
The Exorcist
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Lady Vanishes
The Last Days of Disco
The Lives of Others
The Lord of the Flies
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance
The Music Man
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
8 ½
The Thirty-Nine Steps
The Three Faces of Eve
The Train
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines
To Catch a Thief
West Side Story
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
White Christmas
Wild Strawberries
You Can’t Take It With You

American Beauty
American Psycho
American Splendour
Wild at Heart
A Scanner Darkly
Being John Malcovich
Clockwork Orange
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fight Club
Four Rooms
The Truman Show
Naked Lunch
High Art
Jackie Brown
Kill Bill Volumes I & II
Little Women
Man on the Moon
March of the Penguins
Meet Joe Black
Lost Highway
Pulp Fiction
Requiem for a Dream
Reservoir Dogs
Summer of My German Soldier
Run Lola Run
Saturday Night Fever
Swimming Pool
The Following
The Gladiator
The Princess and the Warrior
The Princess Bride
To Live
True Romance

Educational Videos for Children

Tumble Leaf
Reading Rainbow
Beakman’s World
Destination Truth
National Geographic shows
The Electric Company
Bill Nye the Science Guy
The Magic Schoolbus
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
Sesame Street
But Why (podcast)
Tumble (podcast)

Educational Videos for Older Children and Adults

Planet Earth
How It’s Made
Myth Busters
TED talks
Drive Thru History
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey
Ken Burns: America
The Most Extreme
How the States Got Their Shapes
America: The Story of Us
Worst Case Scenario
Ancient Discoveries
American Experience
American Masters
Chasing Mummies
Steven Hawking’s SciFi Masters
The Adventures of Captain Hartz
The Unknown War
Castle Secrets and Legends
Get Schooled
Super Structures of the World
United States of America
Joseph Campbell: Myths
Travel with Kids
Through the Wormhole

The Rachel Divide
Amanda Knox
Searching for Sugar Man
Jesus Camp
Going Clear
Paradise Lost
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Life Itself
The Wolfpack
Bowling for Columbine
Room 237
Grey Gardens
How to Survive a Plague
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The Act of Killing
Hoop Dreams
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Casting Jonbenet
20 Feet from Stardom
Strong Island
The Look of Silence
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Citizen Four
The Cove
Grizzly Man
Paris Is Burning
Faces Places
The Staircase
The Keepers
Herb & Dorothy
Sour Grapes
Ted Talks
Revisionist History (Podcast)
Bisbee ’17
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
The Last Race
Minding the Gap
306 Hollywood
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Three Identical Strangers
Momentum Generation
The Thin Blue Line
Food, Inc.
King Corn
The Future of Food
Food Matters

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #70: “How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds” by Dana Carpender

Image from the law of attraction book list featuring all major law of attraction authors at

Dear kids,

What can I say? I like a book about a girl on a diet, especially if the diet is successful. In How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds, Dana Carpender blends good science and good advice with her compelling personal story.

If you’ve never tried a low-carb diet before–maybe even feel a bit skeptical–you may find Carpender’s book helpful. It’s great introduction to a very complex topic, a mix of scientific studies and commonsense advice.

A few notable points:

  • A 2000 New English Journal of Medicine low-carb study showed there are no health benefits to low-fat diets at all.
  • 5-HTP and niacin may help people avoid emotional eating.
  • L-glutamine helps reduce carb cravings.
  • The book also gives a good description of insulin and ketosis.

You can, of course, get How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds on Amazon.



Get the entire recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time

Twelve years of elementary and high school plus extracurricular studies leaves us with a lot of information. Too much information, sometimes. Since we can’t retain everything, our brains have to pick and choose. And sometimes they make pretty bad decisions. We might live with our in-depth understanding of the oboe forever, say, but can’t recall whether Alexander the Great lived before or after the Roman Empire. If we don’t want our most important knowledge areas to fade out, then, we do well to periodically review the basics.

That’s the role of the Knowledge Checklist.

A Knowledge Checklist is just what it sounds like: a collection of essential information on a variety of subjects for people who want to re-learn the basics. It’s not a textbook; instead, it’s an overview, a handy guide to help you pinpoint your knowledge areas that need a bit of padding.

I’m having lot of fun–so much fun!–writing these for myself and my homeschooling children. If you find any mistakes or other opportunities for revision, please let me know.

Completed checklists are linked; check back for the rest.

Knowledge Checklists:

Simple Prehistory Timeline

Simple History of North America Timeline

Simple History of South America Timeline

Simple History of Europe Timeline

Simple History of Africa Timeline

Simple History of Asia and Australia Timeline

Basic Biology and Genetics

Basic Chemistry

Basic Physics

Basic Botany and Zoology

Basic Geology and Weather Science

Basic Geography

Basic Human Body Science and Medicine

Basic Computer Science and Technology

Basic English Literature

Basic Grammar, Punctuation and Writing

Basic Logic and Philosophy

Basic Psychology and Sociology

Basic Politics and Economics

Basic Religion and Spirituality

Basic Music

Basic Art Skills

Film and Screen

Basic Physical Education

Basic Mandarin Vocabulary

Basic Spanish Vocabulary

Life Management Skills

Read the rest of this series at Knowledge Checklists: Filling My Educational Gaps, One Subject at a Time.

And peruse my full recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.

Appendix Eight: “The Feeling Good Handbook” Book Notes (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Forty)

Anger is natural. It’s a normal part of life. But we don’t want to experience it for longer than necessary. Fortunately, our emotions aren’t entirely out of our control; by questioning our negative beliefs, our accompanying negative feelings become less persistent and less convincing. There are many methods for doing so, but the one with the most evidence behind it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

In The Feeling Good Handbook, one of the most-read books on the subject, David Burns details the process. I highly recommend this and other CBT books, or working with a therapist who uses the method regularly. (There are also CBT worksheets and instructions online.)

In spite of the prodigious amount of literature devoted to the subject, CBT is a simple, intuitive process. Working either with a therapist, or alone with a journal, you identify your most anxious, fearful or hateful thoughts. Then you examine it objectively, asking yourself if the thought is entirely true, or if it’s untrue or just partly true–an exaggeration. By the time you’re done, you’ve found at least a few more positive thoughts to counteract the negative ones, and as a result, your depression or anxiety is lessened. In a perfect world, every child would be taught the technique in school, and every adult would practice it regularly.

Notes and Quotes:

  • “If you want to break out of a bad mood, you must first understand that every type of negative feeling results from a specific kind of negative thought. Sadness and depression result from thoughts of loss…”
  • “If you say, ‘I just can’t help the way I feel,’ you will only make yourself a victim of your misery–and you’ll be fooling yourself, because you can change the way you feel.” . . . “If you want to feel better, you must realize that your thoughts and attitudes–not external events–create your feelings.”
  • “I don’t believe you should try to be happy all the time, or in *total* control of your feelings. That would just be a perfectionistic trap. You cannot always be completely rational and objective.”
  • CBT Steps: One: Describe the upsetting event or situation. Two: Write down your negative feelings about the event or situation. Three: For each feeling statement, write down the automatic thoughts, the distortions and the rational responses that match it.
  • Beware of the ten most common forms of twisted thinking, namely: all-or-nothing thinking; overgeneralization; using a mental filter; discounting the positive; jumping to conclusions; magnification; emotional reasoning; ‘should’ statements; labelling/name calling; personalization; and blame. When these show up in your thinking, notice the essential falsehood it gives rise to.
  • “Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking: Identify the distortion; examine the evidence; the double-standard method; the experimental technique; thinkng in shades of gray; the survey method; define terms; the semantic method; re-attribution; cost-benefit analysis.”
  • “From a practical point of view, how can you know when you should accept your feelings, when you should express your feelings, and when you should change them? The following questions can help you decide: How long have I been feeling this way? Am I doing something constructive about the problem, or am I simply brooding and avoiding it? Are my thoughts and feelings realistic? Will it be helpful or hurtful if I express my feelings? Am I making myself unhappy about a situation that’s beyond my control? Am I avoiding a problem and denying that I’m really upset about it? Are my expectations for the world realistic? Are my expectations for myself realistic? Am I feeling hopeless? Am I experiencing a loss of self-esteem?”
  • “Troubleshooting Guide: Have I correctly identified the upsetting event? Do I want to change my negative feelings about this situation? Have I identified by Automatic Thoughts properly? Are my Rational Responses convincing, valid statements that put the lie to my Automatic Thoughts?”
  • The book also gives many other specific strategies for dealing with depression, anxiety, phobias, communication issues and much more.

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Seven: “For Better” Book Notes (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Nine)

I love a good journalist. Tara Parker-Pope is one of those. She’s done her research on the research, and now presents us with a thorough examination of the science of marriage. Here are my notes on For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.


  • Contrary to popular opinion, “. . . marital stability appears to be improving each decade.”
  • Modern marriage is sometimes called the “soul mate marriage,” and the expectations on it are high.
  • “. . . Strong marriages have at least a five-to-one daily ratio of positive to negative interactions.”
  • Scientists have found a genetic link for monogamous and non-monogamous behavior.
  • Hormonal contraceptives can cause women to choose the wrong partner, blunting her natural instincts.
  • Marriage is a protective factor for colds, cancer, heart attacks, dementia and more.
  • The longer a relationship continues, the less sex women crave. “Researchers from Hamburg-Eppendorf University in Germany interviewed 530 men and women about their relationships and interest in sex. They found that 60 percent of the thirty-year-old women studied wanted sex ‘often’ at the start of a relationship. But within four years this figure dropped to fewer than half, and by twenty years, only one in five women wanted regular sex. The sharp decline in sexual interest wasn’t seen among men in the study.”
  • Researchers found that the way a partner describes how they met their spouse–whether their story of the event is tinted with optimism or with negative or regretful overtones–predicts their future with that spouse. (Happy couples also say “we” or “us” more often than unhappy ones.)
  • Eye rolling is one of the most reliable body language indicators of troubled marriages.
  • “Marriage researchers say that 70 percent of the time, the conflicts that arise between couples are never resolved. In one study, couples who were tracked for a decade were still fighting about the same things they had been arguing about ten years earlier . . . The lesson, say a number of noted marriage researchers, is that compatibility is overrated.”
  • “Studies show that women tend to initiate about 80 percent of fights. This doesn’t mean women are to blame for causing all the trouble in marriages. It just means they are more willing to take the emotional risk of trying to resolve problems.”
  • Physiologically, women respond with greater calm to conflict than do men.
  • Successful arguments often start with a complaint. Unsuccessful ones often start with a criticism.
  • Successful arguers know how to de-escalate a fight using calm tones and non-hostile body language.
  • New parenthood lowers marital satisfaction greatly, though largely temporarily.
  • A fair division of household chores is one of the best ways to avoid marital tension.
  • Often, women chose to take on more responsibility at home because they don’t want to give up control. They also care more about and are better at deciphering details.
  • Arguments between same-sex couples seem to contain fewer verbal attacks and less controlling behavior.
  • Couples who stay married often marry after the age of twenty-five, are not college dropouts, wait ten years before deciding whether or not to divorce, marry someone with similar interests and background, and marry someone whose parents are still married.

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Six: “Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice” Book Notes (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Eight)

It’s the marriage book I recommend more often than any other: Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance–The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray. If you are uncomfortable with frank discussions of innate gender differences, this might not be the book for you; otherwise, have at it. It’s practical advice with a good bit of hard science to back it up.

Notes and Quotes:

  • Many of the differences between men and women are due to differences in hormones—both in their levels and in the ways they behave in their bodies.
  • When feeling stressed, men seek testosterone-raising and testosterone-releasing activities. When feeling stressed, women seek oxytocin-raising and oxytocin-releasing activities.
  • For men, testosterone is released during work-like, problem-solving activities and raised during rest/zone-out/no-talking time.
  • Women are different. “Testosterone feels good to her because it gives her a sense of power and capability and makes her feel sexy, but it doesn’t lower her stress level.” It may even raise it.
  • Instead, women seek oxytocin raising activities—primarily talking and bonding—and oxytocin-releasing activities—care giving.
  • Men are different. “Oxytocin feels good to him, increasing his tendencies toward trust, empathy, and generosity, but … [it] doesn’t lower his stress level.” it may even raise it by lowering his testosterone.
  • Cortisol, the stress hormone, is only good for them in a true emergency. As a daily response to modern life, it prevents people—both men and women—from maintaining healthy levels of their other needed hormones because the body prioritizes the making of it. Thus, when we’re stressed out, they feel the need to engage in even more oxytocin-raising and -releasing activities (for women), and even more testosterone-raising and -releasing activities (for men). Soon, their schedules are fuller than ever, and they become even more stressed out.
  • Tomorrow morning, you are going to have to wake up. You’re going to have to take the baby to the park and to the playdate you have scheduled, and pretend that everything is fine. How are you going to get through it? How in the world are you going to get out of bed, knowing the foundation of your life—your marriage—is crumbling?
  • Though the hormonal needs of individuals vary widely (some women need more testosterone than other women and some men need more oxytocin than other men), these needs explain the presence of traditional gender roles. Women enjoy nurturing others, then being nurtured through conversation and relationship, while men enjoy working and problem-solving, then spending time alone to rest.
  • Women aren’t cranky—their serotonin is depleted due to stress and fluctuating blood sugar levels.
  • Men aren’t lazy—they are chemically built to need more time off.
  • Women don’t prioritize chores over self-care—they choose to release oxytocin by taking care of the home environment.
  • Men aren’t insensitive—they don’t crave the bonding women do.
  • Women don’t want to avoid sex—they need oxytocin-building, caring words and actions in order to get in the mood.
  • Women don’t overreact—they experience a larger response in the brain when under stress than men do.
  • Women don’t complain endlessly—they talk about their feelings at length in order to rebuild their relaxing oxytocin.
  • Men don’t procrastinate—they choose to rebuild their testosterone levels through rest. They put off doing chores until an emergency, at which point their testosterone kicks in and tells them to act.
  • Women don’t worry an unreasonable amount—they simply enjoy nurturing others and thinking about their needs.

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Five: Recommended Reading (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Seven)

Recommended Reading

My Favorite Marriage Books:

  • His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Willard F. Harley Jr.
  • Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance–The Key to Life, Love and Longevity, John Gray
  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, John Gottman
  • The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference, Shaunti Feldhahn
  • For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed, Tara Parker-Pope
  • The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, Dr. Laura Schlessinger
  • Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy, Aaron T. Beck M.D.
  • The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary Chapman

Spirituality Books with Practical Advice on Relationships:

  • Whatever Arises, Love That: A Love Revolution That Begins with You, Matt Kahn
  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron
  • The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World, Pema Chodron
  • The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle
  • The Complete Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch
  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction, Byron Katie
  • Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell
  • I Need Your Love–Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them, Byron Katie and Michael Katz
  • Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie, Byron Katie

Good Self-Help and Psychology Books:

  • The Feeling Good Handbook, David Burns
  • Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: Counter Negative Thoughts and Live Free from Imagined Limitations, Robert Firestone
  • The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy–And What We Can Do to Get Happier, Stefan Klein
  • The How of the Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely
  • Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
  • What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo
  • Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Martin Seligman
  • The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor
  • Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
  • Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, Candace Pert
  • Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Joe Dispenza
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
  • Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy, Marie Chapman and William Backus

Parenting Books that Relate to Marriage, Too:

  • If I Have to Tell You One More Time …: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling, Amy McCready
  • Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility, Foster Cline
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting, John Mordechai and Joan Declaire
  • The Child Whisperer, The Ultimate Handbook for Raising Happy, Successful, and Cooperative Children, Carol Tuttle

A Few Good Marriage Memoirs:

  • How to Stay Married: The Adventures of a Woman Who Learnt to Travel Light in Life, Love and Relationships, Mary-Lou Stephens
  • Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
  • Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul: A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire, Noelle Oxenhandler
  • Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
  • A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Four: Even More Advice (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Six)

No married couple gets everything right. Here, a few pieces of marital wisdom that didn’t make it into Matthew and Rachel’s story.

1. Figure out the money thing. Different plans work for different people. The key is to do just that: plan.

2. Figure out which kind of fight you’re having. Is the fight about what it seems to be about–money, in-laws, whatever–or is it about feelings and egos getting wounded? If it’s the latter, deal with the feelings first. Then circle back to the mother-in-law’s casserole catastrophe.

3. Make it into a joke. I hinted at this one several times, but seriously–no, not seriously–this is funny stuff. Marriage is funny. Kids are hilarious. If you can laugh even while fighting, resentment and tension lessen considerably. (The kids will appreciate it, too.)

4. Keep the chores separate. Yours are yours and theirs are theirs. This minimizes chore fights and nagging considerably.

5. Figure out what you can control and what you can’t. Marriage is the Serenity Prayer all over the place.

6. Use “I” statements. You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: No matter how unnatural or uncomfortable it feels, make it about you. After all, it is about you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be dealing with it. Right?

7. Don’t punish your partner. They won’t learn a darn thing through it except to escalate and solidify their bitterness and anger. No one wants to feel like the bad guy. Whenever possible, make them into the good guy and yourself into the good but struggling guy. They’ll become the person you show them in your mirror.

8. Don’t yell. Ever. What is the point?

9. Most important, notice the small resentments and don’t let them grow any bigger. Seeing a few of my married-couple friends repeatedly pass entire evenings together barely looking into each other’s eyes caused me to suspect the discomfort in their relationships. I realized that I never wanted my marriage to get to a place where we could no longer really look at each other.

What would you add to this list? Let me know and if it’s not already in the book, I’ll consider adding it here.

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Three: Common Questions (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Five)

Some of the advice in Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is pretty standard stuff. Some of it, however, is not. Here, a lesson-by-lesson Q and A to help clarify a few of the more nuanced suggestions.

Lesson: Change Your Story

What if my partner is regularly rude, selfish and impatient? Should I still change my story about him?

What do you mean by regularly? Does your partner treat you well most of the time? Do you usually feel good when you’re around him? Does he bring much more happiness than unhappiness to your life? Is he holding up his end of the bargain? These are the questions you need to answer. Only you.

But maybe he really is just a bad person.

He’s not a bad person. He’s a person. Sometimes people appreciate you, and love you, and understand you, and sympathize with you, and you feel so lucky to be their friend. And other times, they get annoyed, and they get annoying, and they lose their perspective, and they try to find someone to blame. That’s just the way of things. When you relax your character judgments, you see more clearly. You are more able to make decisions about your relationship based on your needs, your feelings and your mental health.

Lesson: Don’t Fight. Just Talk Instead.

My husband suffers from chronic depression and anxiety. He is on edge a lot. It isn’t unusual for him to be in a bad mood as soon as he gets home from work. What is the best way to handle a bad temper?

First, don’t be afraid of your husband. Anger is often about control. Sometimes people yell because they feel out of control of a situation and want to merely let out the frustration they feel. Other times they yell as a way to intimidate others into letting them have their way. This is not a judgment; we all do it, and most of us do it regularly. However, anger is a sign of weakness. Yelling is the weak person’s way to feel strong. Know this, and know this with compassion.

Second, don’t respond to anger. Say nothing—nothing at all. Don’t apologize for or justify your partner’s temper, either to others or to yourself. Don’t pretend you agree with his perspective or placate him. Just let him be. Fully accept, embrace and acknowledge that this is not a good or justifiable quality, but merely a common one.

Say nothing. Let the silence be not a resentful one, though, but one that comes from a deep sense of self-respect; a caring, dignified silence.

A lot of the time, that’s what I do. I just ignore it and let it go. Other times I engage with him—either to agree with him and make him feel better or to defend myself, if the anger is directed at me.

No sometimes. No engagement in that moment. No response, other than a blanket statement like, “I hear you,” and that only if he specifically asks for it. He will be astounded at your self-control.

But then how will anything get solved? How will we work through the problem?

If the problem is just his problem—his anger problem—there is nothing at all for you to do other than offer an example of another way of being, praying for him, and suggesting he get outside help if needed. If the problem is a family or relationship one, simply wait to discuss it when neither of you are upset. It’s a lot more fun that way, and much more productive, too.

What about expressing your anger? Isn’t doing so a hugely important thing to do for your own mental health?

Admitting your anger to yourself is, I believe, hugely important. But talking about it with other people is often unnecessary (except in a self-controlled, reasonable way). Imagine being the kind of person who is able to deal with all of her anger, resentment and negativity internally, who doesn’t blame others for it or play the victim. Do you like that image? Maintaining your self-respect is reason enough to observe your pain in your own quiet heart rather than exploding at your partner.

One night after dinner I asked my husband to help me with the dishes. He said he would, and started doing them, but after a little while he stopped. I finished sweeping the floor, then started getting the baby ready for her bath. Then I asked my husband if he was going to finish the dishes. He said, “You said you were going to help but never did.” I said, “Can’t you see that I’ve been cooking and cleaning for over an hour?” He never finished the dishes or apologized. Now I’m mad at him. What do I do?

Why did you ask him to help you with the dishes, if what you really wanted was for him to do the dishes? Maybe this was just a communication issue. Say exactly what you want, even if the request is less attractive that way. If you want, tell him what you will do, too. Something like, “Can you do the dishes, Hon, so I can finish sweeping up and get the baby in the bath?”

Your fight wasn’t about whether or not he did the dishes. Your fight was about your feeling unappreciated or unloved. Know the difference, and deal with the real issue first. Tell him that you don’t feel loved in this moment, and ask him to acknowledge all the work you were doing.

Remember: Always assume his motives are good. Don’t start the inner monologue about his lack of character. And don’t hear insults where insults aren’t spoken. Instead, hear need— tiredness, stress, sadness—or just his desire to feel loved, too.

Chapter Four: Don’t Make It Into a Big Deal

Can you give me another example of how to pretend something isn’t a big deal? Is it just about ignoring the little stuff, or what?

No. It’s partly that, but it’s also about having a bit of fun with the process.

When something is bugging my husband and I know that it’s a temporary thing–a bad mood, tiredness or whatever–I use the opportunity to practice what I preach in this book: being nice, not getting angry, keeping my perspective. Here is sort of what that looks like: First, I don’t take hold of the rudeness he’s offering me. If he continues to offer it, I say something like, “Hon, are you okay?” Usually, that diffuses the situation pretty quickly. On the rare occasion on which it doesn’t, though, and he’s actually mad at me, he might explain what’s bothering him. That’s my chance to either talk it through or tell him that I love him but I’m choosing not to do what he wants me to do.

I’m a pretty serious person. I tend to be a little more like Rachel the list-maker than Genevieve the intuitive. How can I learn to not sweat the small stuff?

Control freaks do well to find other outlets for their passion. Do you have at least a few other close friendships? Do you have at least one hobby you really love? Your partner shouldn’t be your only source of endorphins.

Also remember that the whole letting go thing feels weird at first; when you’re emotional, your instinct is to directly deal with the situation. After a while, though, as talking about your relationship issues becomes less the norm than the exception, you begin to settle into a habit of ignoring stuff that starts you both spinning.

You become more at peace with peace.

What if we never get there? What if we never figure out how to be “comfortably in love” again?

Relationships aren’t always fun and easy. But they should be a lot of the time. If yours isn’t, you’re either not a good match—water and oil—or you’re really seeking out problems. Stop the problem-making habit and start a fun-making habit. If you do lots of enjoyable stuff together, little problems tend not to grow.

And definitely don’t get too much into his emotional business unless he shares it with you. Remember that your partner’s happiness is his job—not yours. Be the best partner you can be, and let him figure out everything else. Give him advice, then let him make his own choices.

Lesson: Be Uncomfortably Nice

What is the best way to show my partner that I love him on a daily basis?

Use a pleasant tone of voice. Always, always, always, unless you truly, in that moment, cannot. If you follow only one piece of advice in this book, follow this one. Use a (sincerely) pleasant tone of voice at all times, particularly during the mundane activities of life. This is where your relationship really lives. If you’ve fallen into that common but horrible habit of speaking with slight condescension to your partner on a regular basis, know that in order to make things work, this will have to change.

So, what about when your partner says something that’s not just rude, but super mean? The other day I told my husband I was really stressed out and he said, point blank, “I don’t care.” I couldn’t believe it. It hurt so much.

That does hurt. Have you asked him why he said it?

He said it because he didn’t care. In that moment, he didn’t care about how I felt.

Not necessarily. People say this stuff. He probably cares but at the time was upset about something else. My best advice is to ask him if he meant what he said. Ask him sweetly, at a time when he’s not mad. He’ll be impressed by your mature way of handling the situation. He’ll remember it, and if you handle rude comments this way regularly, he’ll eventually learn to be more careful with his words.

Countering not-nice with nice is the best way to get an apology.

So, how do you do this? I mean, we all snap at our partners and kids sometimes, right? We can’t be nice all the time.

Make it your number one priority for a week. A nice tone of voice, all day long. It’s a habit.

Lesson: Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line)

One of the things my husband struggles a lot with is getting time to exercise. He likes it, and it’s important to him, but there’s only a certain window of opportunity–in the hour after work–when he can get to the gym or take a jog. Lately, though, he’s been skipping this window and coming home early to crash on the couch. Then when it’s his turn to take the baby, he says he really needs to get his exercise done. It’s not fair, and the other day it caused a huge fight. What should I do?

It sounds like you have a schedule in place that you’re generally both happy with. If that’s the case, it’s just a matter of sticking to it–even if he doesn’t like it. Tell him that it’s his baby time, offer to discuss it, then walk away. If you need to, leave the house to force him to do his duty.

Oh, that’ll go over well.

Risk the argument. See it as an investment you make for your future happiness; if he sees you’re going to enforce your agreement, he’ll take future agreements more seriously. See it as practice for when you have to do the same kind of enforcement with your kids.

If you don’t take this advice, don’t blame him for taking advantage of your fear of confrontation.

Oh, and as always, when you leave, leave with a smile, or at least without undue emotion. He may not be smiling back. But that’s okay.

Lesson: Apologize Every Chance You Get

The other day, I was a jerk. I said some things I regret, and don’t know how to forgive myself and move on. Any advice?

I know how you feel. There are a handful of slammed doors behind me, too. Some I’m now a bit embarrassed about, but one or two, not so much. It doesn’t solve problems to scream, and should be avoided whenever possible, but when it happens rarely, it often buys you a few days of the handle-with-care treatment you need.

Did you ask your partner to forgive you yet? If not, do. Some of the tenderest moments in relationships come after fights and sincere apologies.

After that, take apart the argument. Pull the meat from the bone. What is the important stuff here? What do you need to do differently next time to avoid the argument? Do you need to renegotiate something? Time to look forward.

Lesson: Change Your Partner the Right Way

What about when there’s a behavior in my partner that really does need to change? In the book you show how Matthew slowly learned how to take on more responsibility for his child. In my case, I’d like to change the way my husband disciplines our kids. I want him to be more firm. Is this something that I can change about him? Are some qualities changeable, and others not?

Yes. But we don’t know which is which until we give our partner the chance to show us.

The way I see it, there are three ways to change your partner for the better. The first, and most important, is just believing the best of them, and treating them well. This is the one we should always be doing.

When this isn’t enough, we have two other options. One is the major argument or discussion, which involves detailed negotiation. The other is what I call “the slow nag.” This is when you make little hints and suggestions–maybe even good-natured jokes–about the issue without ever forcing it. When done right, it’s surprisingly effective.

Are you sure this will work?


Okay, fair enough. But are you sure it’s okay to try to change your partner? Everyone tells us this is a terrible idea, that we need to accept them as they come or not at all.

Yes, I am absolutely sure that over the course of your marriage, you can and will change your partner in a wide variety of significant and not-so-significant ways. It’s not only possible but nearly unavoidable; we do it every single day. Whenever we look at someone, whenever we speak to them, whenever we have any kind of interaction, we affect the way they think and feel. Think about it: How would your partner affect your behavior towards him if he did what is recommended in this book, and treated you with utmost respect and love all the time? You’d change a heck of a lot. And the changes you didn’t make in spite of his caring suggestions would probably be the ones that meant too much to you to lose. Well, it’s the same for him. There are things about himself he won’t change for you or for anyone, ever. The question is: Can you live with those things? Are they deal breakers or not?

Lesson: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology

My husband is such a taker. He just takes and takes and takes, until I can’t give anymore, and I explode. Why are men like this? How can I get him to give more?

Don’t concern yourself with why. Men are simply better at getting their own needs and wants met than women are. When you can’t or don’t want to give anymore, simply don’t. Tell your husband that you need some “me” time, and take it–even if he doesn’t love the idea. The trick is to do this gently, without anger and with grace. For me, this has been one of the hardest marriage skills to learn, but now I get a nap every day. It was worth the work.

Here, it’s worth mentioning that personality differences, too–not just gender differences–affect the way your partner meets his needs. My favorite personality typing book is the (misleading titled) Dressing Your Truth: Discover Your Personal Beauty Profile by Carol Tuttle. The book only discusses female personality types, but in other books of hers, males fall into the same four categories. Understanding not just your unique behavior but the basic internal beliefs that give rise to that behavior is incredibly therapeutic and healing.

The bottom line: There are four main personality types: wind, water, fire and rock. Wind people are bright and animated. Their driving purpose in life is to enjoy it. Water people are subtle, caring and soft. Their driving purpose is to love and care about people. Fire people are dynamic and passionate. Their driving purpose is to accomplish their goals and change the world. Rock people are bold and striking. Their driving purpose is to seek and disseminate truth. If you want to better understand the motivations behind your partner’s quirks, read this book.

Lesson: Don’t Defend Yourself

Okay, so not defending myself. I get how doing so can be unhelpful and even counterproductive, escalating the fight even further. But self-defense is one of our primary human drives; we all want other people to acknowledge when we’re in the right, or to at least to basically understand our intentions. How can I avoid getting defensive?

Try this: Look forward with great anticipation to your next opportunity to be criticized by your partner in some way. Then, when it happens, in the moment in which it is happening, ask yourself, “What would it feel like to just not defend myself right now—to smile and say nothing committal, maybe even to agree with what my partner is saying? Would it make me proud?”

Then—just as an experiment, mind you—say something kind in response. Not necessarily an apology, if an apology feels insincere to you, but something sweet and understanding. Something like, “Okay. You might be right about this. I promise to give it some real thought.”

Now, observe how you feel about yourself in this moment and compare it to how you might have felt had you defended yourself. Do you feel more self-respect? And what about your partner’s response? Did their anger begin to dissolve?

It sounds like what you’re saying is that you should just accept whatever criticism comes your way, no matter how wrong it is. That’s not self-respectful, is it?

Yes, that’s what I’m saying, and yes, it is. You don’t have to accept the criticism as true, but you can listen to it in silence without agreeing with it in any way.

But doesn’t this just come across as a big “I don’t care what you think” attitude?

Preferably, no. At times, in an effort to be less defensive, I’ve used a superior tone of voice, responding with something like, “Okay, Honey. You have your opinion.” I’ve since come to the belief that this sort of attitude isn’t nondefensiveness—it’s ego, disguised as nondefensiveness. And it really, really didn’t work. It didn’t make me feel good, and it didn’t dissolve his anger; in fact, it fueled it big-time.

If you’re going to choose between shutting down your partner without explaining your side and expressing interest in your partner’s feelings, then asking him if you may explain your reason for what you did, choose the latter every time. At least you’ve shown that you are willing to truly listen, and by asking first to defend yourself, you’ve put them in a much more receptive mode.

Lesson: Appreciate the Gift

Logically, I know that marriage is a gift–even the hard parts, the arguments. But how do I go from knowing it to really knowing it, to feeling really grateful for my partner on a day-in-day-out basis?

I have two ideas. The first is to dote on your partner–to do loving acts regularly. The second is to relentlessly question your negative thoughts about him or her.

A lot of people try to describe why it is that parenting, which (if you believe the cliche) is the toughest job on the planet, is also one of the most well-regarded and most sought-after. Here is my attempt: The beauty of parenting is that here is this perfect new person, and you have the privilege of loving them the most.

Teaching children is great. Watching them grow and admiring them and laughing with them is wonderful and awesome. But just loving someone this much, giving this much of yourself for another person every day—that is the part that really gets you. Well, it’s the same with any other relationship. It’s the same with marriage: the practice of loving another person just feels good. Making dinner for your partner, speaking gently with them when they’re in a bad mood, holding them when they’re sad–these are the things that give our lives real meaning, and the things that truly bond us.

Compliment your partner. Every single day. Say nice things, particularly when it’s unexpected. Be specific, too: something like, “I am feeling very tender and affectionate towards you today.” Genuine compliments are far too rare and far more valuable than most of us realize; whenever we get one, we really treasure it, don’t we? We remember some of them for a very long time.

My second idea is to relentlessly question your negative thoughts about your partner. In “Change Your Story” I describe the process of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I cannot recommend it more highly. The theory among some psychologists and certainly many spiritual guru-types on its effectiveness is that when you remove the negative thoughts, love simply fills the gap, since love is who we really are underneath. Sometimes I’m skeptical that this is the case with me, but the more I journal my negative thoughts and replace them with the truth, the more cheerfulness and lightheartedness I feel, which naturally flows into my attitudes about other people. Particularly people I really, really like anyway, like my husband.

There was a time when I would have paid anything for a magic wand that could, with a wave, turn off all my husband’s worst traits. The other day, though, when I was talking to my sister on the phone about relationships, it hit me: At some point, I stopped wanting my partner to be perfect. What would it look like if he had no flaws? Would he do everything I ever wanted or asked him to do? And how long would it take before I started seeing him as a robot, an automaton: “Honey, will you wash the dishes?” “Sure, my dear.” “Then go wash the car and pack the car for our trip?” “Of course.” That’s not even a relationship, is it?

Marriage is one of the biggest challenges I’ll get in this life. I’m milking it for all the self-improvement it’s worth.

Final Questions

Why don’t you recommend therapy?

I do. I am a therapist in training and I think every single human should be so lucky as to have a skilled mental health professional to talk to once a week.

Some of your advice is strange. Are you sure it’ll work?

In my life there are very few certainties, and for the most part I like to keep it that way. One thing I do feel sure of, though, is that self-improvement efforts—no matter how small, no matter how flailing, and no matter how many times they seem to fail—are worth it almost every time. Because often, even when they seem to fail, they don’t fail all the way; somewhere inside you, something has changed. Maybe it takes a year or two for you to see the difference, but eventually you do.

Eventually, you’re glad that you tried.

May the greatest blessings follow you on your path to marital bliss.

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix Two: Replacement Statements (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Four)

Appendix One: Replacement Statements

We human-types repeat ourselves a lot. Throughout the day we rely on a handy set of go-to statements in order to preserve precious brain power.

“Go slow,” we tell our toddlers. “Use your words. Be patient. Take turns.”

“It’s for the best,” we say to our friends. “It’ll all work out.”

We say these things many, many times.

My husband hears a lot of the same stuff from me, too: “Can you wash the dishes?” “Don’t stay up too late” and “Take the baby” are at the top of my list.

A bad mantra can be a hard habit to break.

Fortunately, a good mantra can be a hard habit to break, too. My advice: Pay extra attention to your oft-repeated statements, evaluating how well they help you achieve your goals. Then consider replacing a few of them with a nicer, more effective version.

Here are a few feel-good statements that can replace a whole variety of feel-bad ones.

Instead of “I can’t believe you did/said that” or “You are such a jerk,” try:

  • “Are you feeling grumpy today, Honey?”
  • “Are you feeling unloved today?”
  • “Are you okay today? Is anything wrong?”
  • “Is there anything I can do?”
  • “Do you want to talk about it or would you rather wait?”
  • “Hey! That wasn’t nice.”
  • “I love you. I know you mean well. But I don’t understand the reason you did this. Can you explain, please?”

Instead of a sarcastic “you’re welcome,” try:

  • “Will you say thank you, please?”

Instead of “It’s not my fault,” or “You’re the one who . . .,” try:

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “That wasn’t nice of me.”
  • “I’m feeling grumpy today.”
  • “Do you want to know why I did that?”
  • “Do you want me to explain now or would you rather wait till later?”

Instead of “I am so mad at you,” try:

  • “I am feeling angry right now, but it will pass.”
  • “Watch out. I might have to squish you/tickle you/[insert other completely comical threat].”

Instead of “You aren’t listening to me,” try:

  • “Do you want me to explain more, or do you want me to just listen to your thoughts and we can talk about my side later?”

Instead of “No, I’m not going to do that for you,” try:

  • “I’m not going to do that right now. But I love you.”

Instead of “Stop ignoring me,” try:

  • “I am feeling lonely today.”
  • “I am feeling neglected today.”
  • “I am feeling unappreciated today. Will you do something nice for me?”
  • “Do you appreciate me?”
  • “Do you love me?”
  • “Do you want to cuddle?”

Instead of “Well, ‘night, Hon,” try:

  • “I love you. I really, really love you. Good night.”
  • “I want you to know I respect you. Good night.”
  • “I’m truly glad you’re my partner, Hon. Good night.”

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

Appendix One: The Cheat Sheet (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Thirty-Three)

One morning, you wake up to notes on the fridge reminding your partner to treat you better. What’s your reaction? Yeah, I thought so. Here, then, a cheat sheet with all of the main lessons in this book. My advice: use it flagrantly.

Lesson: Change Your Story

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to believe your intentions are good.”
  • “I promise to double-check my story about you.”

Lesson: Don’t Fight. Just Talk Instead.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise not to discuss an issue unless it’s worth the tension it will cause and unless I’ve given it some time.”

Lesson: Don’t Make It Into a Big Deal

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to underreact.”

Lesson: Be Uncomfortably Nice

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to use a kind, respectful tone of voice, even when upset.”

Lesson: Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line)

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to negotiate, not nag.”

  • “I promise to focus mainly on solutions, not emotions.”

Lesson: Apologize Every Chance You Get

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to take every opportunity to say I’m sorry.”

Lesson: Change Your Partner the Right Way

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise not to nag you to change, but to gently encourage it instead.”
  • “I promise to mirror back to you the change I want to see.”

Lesson: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to focus on solutions, not emotions.”
  • “I promise to understand that your needs are real.”

Lesson: Don’t Defend Yourself

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to listen first.”

  • “I promise to ask permission before telling my side of the story.”

Lesson: Appreciate the Gift

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to remind myself that one of the best parts of marriage is how it helps me grow.”

Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.