The Year 2022 in Books!

There were a solid 2 months in the year of 2022 that I read very very little. I had no mental or physical energy to read, and that was ok. When things calmed down a bit, I looked longingly at our Costello Family Goodreads tracking list that hangs in our kitchen and tried to be ok with the idea that I wasn’t going to reach my goal of 55 books this year. I think at the end of October I was at 37-ish books. I don’t sit well with defeat. So I started chipping away. I read a few books on grief. Timely. I read some work by C.S. Lewis and Ernest Hemingway. Quick, but not my favorites. I read a lot of nonfiction and a devotional during the month of December. Seasonal. I read some good fiction that pulled me in and I finished each in a few day’s time. And it worked! I finished. I made my goal of 55 books on December 30, 2022 with one day to spare.

I tend to read a lot more nonfiction than fiction, but I chose my favorites of each.

Best nonfiction of 2022:

This is one of those mom books that I may need to re-read every year. I found this book to be a breath of fresh air in mothering and parent advice. As the title suggests, Mom’s often feel desperate and need to breathe, literally and physically. This book gave many practical approaches and advice in order to enjoy motherhood in the way God designed it. This book made me feel great and may have been my favorite of the year.

Every Christian mother should read this book. I actually bought this book (rarely happens) and I’ve been passing it around to mom friends ever since. It’s about being more than today’s culture suggests of ‘wine o’clock’ moms or ‘bad mom’s club’ moms or mediocre moms who barely survive and live miserably with their blame on their own kids. Oftentimes current culture suggests surviving motherhood and living in disdain until your kids move out, but this author offers a Christian perspective on biblical motherhood. The author has 10 children. Highly enjoyed!

Well I’m a science nerd and this book was the bee’s knees. So cool. I’ve tried telling people about this book and they look at me weird, but it’s really not. Let me see if I can articulate it. Breathing has major effects on our entire body and health. Changes in our bodies due to changes in our diets over the past hundreds of years has led to changes in our palates and airways. This is why so many of us have trouble with mouthbreathing, need orthodontic work and have a slew of respiratory issues, especially sleep apnea. The author gives continuous evidence based, historical and personal information and facts. There are breathing exercises offered that are extremely effective. Many sacred prayers are said in 6 second rhythms (ie Hail Mary, Buddhist monk mantras, the traditional chant of ‘Om’, Hindu hand and tongue poses called mudras, and yoga chants) and interestingly enough, breathing in for 6 seconds/out for 6 seconds has been found to be the most calming and relaxing for people. Amazing book!

Jeremiah read this book first after hearing about it on a podcast that he highly respects. He raved about the book so I of course had to read it. The title “Intentional Father” gives you an idea of intentional parenting, but the book goes well beyond that. In our culture, there is no specific age or event that signals a boy transitioning from childhood to adulthood, and that most other cultures have something to fill this. The author (effectively) argues that this is lack of formal sending forth of our sons is creating huge disadvantages and problems for young men. He leads through a several year long coming of age journey that he did with his own son (and later his daughter) that reaped huge benefits in his son as far as preparing him to be an effective young adult full of healthy Christian masculinity. Highly highly recommend for anyone with a tween/teen son!

I read this shortly after Mom passed away and it gave me immense hope. I really really liked it. The premise of this book is how at the end of life there is an overwhelming pattern of things that people experience, regardless of religious or personal beliefs. Other than being very comforting to me, I found the book fascinating in that I witnessed several of these things with my Mom in her last months. The first is visions of deceased family members. Mom talked all the time about her Mother, Father and sisters visiting her in the nursing home, or that she was going to their homes. She was always very happy about this. The second is the person close to death will speak of going on a trip, something they are very excited about doing. In her last few weeks at the nursing home, Mom was telling me how she was headed to the airport, she was flying to Rochester, MN. According to her, my Dad was already there in meetings and she was very excited to go. And lastly, the dying individual seeing a crowded room when there isn’t one (that we can see). They usually report seeing a full room of people, some that they know or recognize, and a sense that these people want the person to come with them or are waiting for them. I did not experience this with Mom, but she was unconscious to us for her last 5 days or so as well. All of these things are very comforting to the dying person, although they may seem very eery to the living person. This book gave me hope and comfort in the fact that I WILL see my Mom again, in a healed body, and she may even be in my crowded room when my time comes.

Best fiction of 2022:

You know a book is good if you still think about it months later. This is one of those! The story plot takes place in an eerily similar, yet dystopian society where a single mother gets her baby taken away and has to go to ‘The School for Good Mothers’ in order to attempt to prove that she is fit to be a mother. While in this year-long boarding school, she must take care of a freakishly real doll that acts, looks and feels like a real toddler. Sounds weird, right?! I think what got me about this book is that it’s hauntingly only a flash of reality away from our current society. Dystopias always get me. Read it!

Man this was a good one if you like historical fiction (I do!). This was the loosely accurate story of Einstein’s first wife and her contributions to his discoveries, their life together and her lack of recognition. Very well written and so so good!

I recently read this book and it was so great I finished in just a few days. A fictitious account of a world renowned concert pianist who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) soon after a divorce. His disease progresses over about 18 months and his ex wife ends up being his primary caregiver, despite her reservations and poor feeling about him. With ALS, a person gradually is paralyzed in their own body (even to the point of the diaphragm), but their mind is left intact. This is not a sappy love story. I saw many many parallels in being a part of caregiving for Mom and the journey of watching someone live with a progressive disease. Touched my caregiver heart. Excellent book. This author also wrote “Still Alice” about a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease which I read a few years ago and was also excellent.

Making a reading goal for myself has been a real deal game changer. I started reading on purpose when Lucy was a toddler, so about 10 years ago. I needed something that I enjoyed, that I could achieve, and that I could do when I had time (which was not very often). I only read light books as I was recently out of grad school and reading anything of heavy substance made my head spin. I read a handful of books and it made me happy, so I kept doing it. It grew from there. I hope everyone makes a reading a priority!

Happy reading!

We Buried My Mom on her Birthday

My Mom, Sandy Schulz, was born on October 30, 1956. We buried her 66 years later on October 30, 2022. Her body entered this earthly world and left it on the same day, 66 years apart.

My sister wrote a beautiful and accurate eulogy for my Mom, and you can read that here. Melissa and I collaborated on her obituary, and you can read that here.

Mom was not defined by her Parkinson’s Disease, but I want to document the journey that it took us all on. Here it is, for my memory:

I vividly remember the day that Mom and Dad told us that Mom had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. We were at their home watching the Superbowl and Dad announced it, kind of out of the blue. We tried to console Mom as she started to cry, but we were all reeling in the recent news.

Mom did great for years. She had very insignificant changes for at least 7 years. Changes were noticeable, but she pushed through, determined to live her best life and continue babysitting the grandkids 3 days a week. We kept having more children and she kept welcoming them with open arms. It was amazing. My kids and I got to spend immense amounts of time with Mom, and often not a day went by that I didn’t see her or talk to her. I remember thinking so often, ‘We are so so lucky’.

Spring of 2019 we were sitting at a tball game and Ruth ran over to Nana on the bleachers and ran into her. Mom teetered one way, then another and then fell sideways onto the ground, probably 3 feet. She couldn’t move her arm and had no protective extension response when she fell. She was of course very embarrassed and Dad and her left immediately. The next day at Urgent Care an xray revealed no fractures but the doctor encouraged Mom to be very careful. I pulled the doctor into the hallway and we had a conversation about Mom babysitting the kids. She told Mom no babysitting for a few weeks, and she told me it was no longer safe.

August of that same year I stopped working in my current clinic manager position and made some major life changes. It wasn’t safe for Mom to keep watching the kids, and I had felt nudges in this area for a long time. Things were changing. As I was walking out the door of my last day at the PT clinic, my Dad called and said to come quick, Mom had another of her incidents. I arrived to see the ambulance out front. Mom was ok but my kids had witnessed the whole thing. Mom had choked on a tomato skin and Dad had to the do the Heimlich and she had passed out.

Mom started having falls while walking, tripping, and losing more and more weight. She fell and got some significant injuries to her extremities and once to her front teeth. She had trouble eating and would often cough and choke and the Heimlich maneuver was performed several more times. She was so determined to keep going. She exercised and worked outside all the time. She and Dad were still very involved in their grandkids’ lives and we saw them often. We started ‘Nana Tuesdays’ and Mom and I and whatever little kids I had along would go on adventures to local parks, events, libraries and sometimes garage sales or thrift stores. We had fun.

August of 2020 Mom had a choking episode that started a cascade of events. 2 months later she was released to home, following a stay in 4 different hospitals, numerous ICU stays, dependence and weaning off a ventilator, placements of a feeding tube and a tracheostomy with a trach which she used to breathe. She was thin and had troubles with weakness and balance. We were so so happy to have her home. Dad did round the clock care for Mom, we hired a caregiver, JoAnn, a few mornings a week and us kids helped out as much as we could. We all learned how to care for a trach, mix and measure medications and administer Mom’s nutrition and meds via her PEG feeding tube in her belly, give her a shower, load and unload a walker or wheelchair from the car. Mom had *nothing* by mouth. She was dependent on almost everything. We continued Nana Tuesdays and had many good times together. I saw Mom several days a week and with the creative help of all of us, she was still able to attend weddings, family gatherings, kids sporting and music events, and even some overnight trips.

After 18 months of this, Mom was needing more care than we as a family could manage and she wasn’t sleeping well at night. We looked into nursing homes and settled on Cedar Manor in Tipton, IA. They were willing to work with us and Mom was the first trach patient they had. I remember following my Mom and Dad’s car as we drove to Cedar Manor and then moved Mom in. I took a picture with the 2 little girls and Dad and Mom in her new room. Mom had been getting more confused but seemed happy enough there. One of us family members was there every day. I think we only missed visiting her 2 days in the 4 months she was there. We were still able to take Mom out for short local trips, including kids’ ball games, my house, and lots and lots of time outside in Cedar Manor’s gazebo and courtyard where the girls would draw sidewalk chalk pictures and we would talk about all the different plants. Mom may have been getting more and more confused, but she still knew a plethora of plants by name!

The kids and I went to visit Nana one Saturday morning in August and she was sleeping in her bed, very unusual for her. She was grey and I was worried. A few hours later a nurse called me and said Mom needed to go to the hospital, she was very agitated and not calming down and this had been getting worse. When I arrived at Cedar Manor to accompany her on the ambulance, Mom looked right through all the staff at me and smiled and said ‘Sarah!’. She was happy to see me, always. Mom was diagnosed with pneumonia and stayed in the hospital for about a week. She returned to Cedar Manor with some trepidation as her behaviors had been worsening prior to this. She was rehospitalized later the next week, hoping to level out her medications and control her aggressive physical behaviors and impulses a bit more. Parkinson’s related dementia is very common, and Mom was showing more and more of those symptoms. Mom had been speaking of her deceased family members for some time, and often spoke of things that didn’t make sense. She had times of intense agitation, outbursts and beligerance where she would call names or just freak out. It took Mitch, myself and a nurse one evening to control her in order to administer her scheduled medications via her PEG tube. Lucy and Amelia waited in the hall and overheard the whole thing. Many a conversation were had with the kids about what was happening to Nana and why she was acting the way she was. I never really tried to shield the kids from what was happening because I wanted them to appreciate and love Nana the way she was, and learn that caring for older or disabled people is an honor. We were on a roller coaster that just wouldn’t stop!

During that hospital stay, a palliative care doctor had a very frank and real conversation with all of us about Mom. We talked about quality of life vs. length of life and how we wanted to proceed. Mom had pulled her feeding tube out of her own belly and a few nights later pulled her trach out of her own neck all while in the hospital. This required surgery and and ICU stay. Many of Mom’s meds had been eliminated and her behaviors were somewhat better but she was still constantly trying to get out of bed alone or do other unsafe things. Mom was weak, agitated, and barely hanging in there. We decided as a family to change the course of action to letting Mom fully enjoy the time she had left. She was allowed to eat again; soft, smooth foods that could be easily swallowed. Her artificial nutrition via her feeding tube was stopped. One Sunday afternoon when Jeremiah and I were sitting with Mom at the U of I Hospital, she was demanding a Pepsi, which she used to drink when I was a kid. We brought her soup, ice cream shakes, soda and other things she would request. She enjoyed it all, but she still had extreme difficulty swallowing.

Due to her fragile state and the respiratory distress she was in, the hospital discharged Mom to The Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House and they told us she had approximately 2 weeks to live. Driving into a Hospice House for the first time is surreal. You think, this is where Mom is going to spend her last days. This is where I will say goodbye. The facility and staff was wonderful. The rooms were huge and for some reason reminded me of a labor and delivery/birthing room; it was very family oriented, huge and it seemed like we were all there waiting for Mom to do something, just like a mama in labor.

Mom was at Clarissa Cook Hospice for just a few nights before the calls started. Mom was so confused and impulsive that she was getting up at night by herself, constantly trying to get out of bed and could not be left alone during the day. She talked about things in the room that didn’t exist, or that she needed to get the roast out of the oven or put the baby down for a nap. She moved in on a Friday and by Saturday we were required to start staying with her 24 hours a day. This was an extreme undertaking. We rotated shifts around the clock, switching off who stayed overnight on the pullout couch or recliner, who covered the morning to early afternoon shift, who covered the afternoon to evening shift, and then who stayed overnight again. I can still see Mary in her footed sleeper toddling down the hall in the early morning hours before the sun had come up, the nurses and CNAs greeting us by name and handing off a breakfast sandwich to one of my siblings by 6:15am so they could go to work. After a week, we had a few volunteers who came a few times for an hour or 2 to sit with Mom. After the second week we hired a sweet caregiver , Ty, whom Mom adored and the staff raved about who started working 30 hours a week with mom while at Hospice. Mom was at Clarissa Cook Hospice House for 3 weeks.

The doctor at Clarissa Cook Hospice was wonderful, but he let us know that Mom was not declining. Once again, she had rallied and had stabilized to the point that she was no longer Hospice appropriate. The medical team thought Mom could possibly live for a year or two if she continued at this state. Unreal. She had already lived at home, at a skilled nursing facility, underwent numerous hospital stays and medical procedures and surgeries and now was being kicked out of a Hospice House. A whole spreadsheet full of other facilities had turned her down due to her medical complexities and memory care facilities were not an option due to this as well. Now what?!

My sister and I had a conversation one day and she said ‘What about my place?’.

We moved Mom into Melissa’s house on Friday October 14. I had the morning shift with Mom that day and we talked about her staying at Melissa’s place. She was receptive to the idea and immediately wanted to go. She was most concerned about making sure her plants got moved with her. While we were getting Mom ready, I asked the CNA whom I had visited with almost every morning how often someone got kicked out of hospice for not declining quickly enough. She said in her 8 years she had seen it less than 10 times.

Mom kept ceasing to amaze us and keep us on our feet. It was something new every day for the last several months. We advocated for her, slept next to her and reassured her as much as we could.

The first few days at Melissa’s house went exceptionally well. Our caregiver, Ty, continued with Mom and we continued doing overnights and day shifts to keep an eye on Mom. She was calm and content at Melissa’s and Melissa was honored to have her.

In the wee morning hours of Wednesday October 19, Mom pulled her trach out of her own neck in the middle of the night. Melissa noticed it around 3 or 4 am and called all of us. We had decided that another surgery and ICU stay was not in the quality of life plan we had all agreed on, so Mom’s trach was never replaced and she remained at Melissa’s house. We all rushed into Melissa’s house and literally minutes before my family of 8 arrived, Mom rallied once again and was sitting up on the couch, smiling and saying ‘Oh everyone’s here!!!!’ when I walked in. I expected to walk in on a body struggling to breathe but Mom was happy to see the grandkids and talk. We were all fearful and amazed, confused and exhausted.

Later that day Mom wanted to eat some soup. Without the trach, mom didn’t have the second airway that she had relied on for the past 2 years. After the second bite she was gasping for air. We tried suctioning her mouth and lots of reassuring words and calming practices. After 30 very intense minutes of her struggling to breathe, we had to come to the realization that eating was probably no longer feasible. Mom was placed back on home hospice care and the doctor prescribed morphine and lorazepam around the clock to keep mom comfortable and help her breathing. Every hour, we would do exactly as the nurse had shown us: crush a lorazepam tablet between 2 spoons, measure the morphine into a tiny syringe, squirt the morphine into the spoon and mix, then pull the 2 combined medications back up into the syringe and squirt it into Mom’s cheek and massage it into her jaw. We all felt like drug addicts.

Mom slept peacefully for 4 days. We continued staying around the clock and waking every hour to administer her meds and keep tabs on how she was doing. We would sit and talk to her, pray or just keep vigil. One day I sat on her bed and colored a circus picture for a few hours. Hospice nurses stopped in daily and told us we were doing things exactly right, Mom was comfortable, but she was ‘actively dying’. What a strange term. The chaplain, social worker, Mom and Dad’s pastor and family members all visited.

Jeremiah ran our house during this time and did a good job so I could focus on the task at hand with Mom. He handled things better than I would have, especially in the cases of one child vomiting in the middle of Farm and Fleet and another time taking all 6 kids to church solo. He took 6 kids shopping to find Gabriel some dress clothes for a concert since I hadn’t had time. He often took the 5 oldest kids to school at 7am when he went to work where they would hang out until school breakfast was ready. He supported me unconditionally. One of the many reasons I married him!

When it rains it pours. Also during this time, we were in the midst of getting one of our rental houses put on the market, I got summoned for jury duty, we *almost* bought an acreage, the kids were in a crazy amount of sports, activities and events, our furnace stopped working and I was frazzled. I have been blessed with an amazing group of women currently in my life who repeatedly showed up for me during this time. They checked in on me all the time, brought food leading up to and after Mom’s death, shuttled my kids, listened to me rant or helped come up with ideas for problems I was tackling, picked up stuff at the store for me and just were generally great people. All of you know who you are, and I can never repay you. Thank you!

Waiting for someone to die is very very weird. In one way of course you don’t want them to die, but yet the suffering is terrible and has to end. Again, I felt a strange parallel to having a baby. We were all sitting around waiting for an event that none of us were accurately prepared for.

Sunday October 23 I finally went home for a few hours around 3pm. Mom continued to be stable and sleeping. I had been there since Saturday morning and needed to step out for a bit. The nurse had been there, I had picked up meds for the next 24 hours and Melissa and I had put a new nightshirt on our still mother. I got a call at 8:30pm from Mitch that Mom had just passed. I could not believe it.

Our goal the entire time for the past month had been for Mom to pass away comfortably, naturally and without pain, and with dignity and peace. We had met that goal, but the outcome that I thought I was prepared for, I wasn’t. Nothing can prepare you for that.

Walking step by step through a funeral preparation was a new experience for me. We knew several of Mom’s wishes and carried those out to the best extent we could. We had a beautiful visitation and funeral, and a private family burial on Sunday, October 30; a trifecta of days to celebrate my Mom’s full and blessed life. Before we buried her, Lucy, Amelia and Ruth pulled Mom’s urn around in the little red wagon that Mom had pulled them around in for so many years. We buried Mom with cut flowers, birthday cards made by the kids, and a blanket that Amelia made for Mom when she entered the nursing home. It was perfect. It was heartbreaking. It was final.

Caring for my Mom was many things. It was very very difficult at times, and it was so rewarding at other times. Juggling a family and caretaking is a lot. I can say that I feel this whole journey brought our family closer. My Dad, siblings and I figured things out together, had a few squabbles, but overall we worked tirelessly to give Mom the best care that we could. It was an honor for all of us.

My Mom taught me so many things. She was so determined and stubborn! That’s what got her through the last few years, as tough as she fought. Family is so so important. Never underestimate the power of a good home cooked meal and a clean house to come home to. Enjoy kids. Be kind to anyone with a disability. Enjoy the outdoors, especially flower and plants and gardens. Work hard. Have faith in God and go to church. Love each other.

I will miss my Mom so much, but I hope she smiles down on us until we can see her again.

Junior High

Something happened….

Gabriel grew up.

I always say it’s awful that my kids are growing up. But really, it’s not. Gabriel went to Junior High this week and truth be told, I was probably more nervous than him. Coming from his class of 9 kids, going to a class of 70+ is a big change, but also a welcome change. I had hopes that he would love the changes and grow into them. He sure was ready for it all!

He rocked it.

I tell him every morning when he leaves for school that I love him and I’m proud of him, and lately I’ve added ‘Rock junior high/middle school today!’. He responds with ‘Are you going to say that every day?’ Me: ‘Yep’.

Exactly what I hoped would happen, did. It’s been amazing to watch and be a part of this week. He’s confident, organized, challenged in new and different (sometimes uncomfortable) ways. Hard does not equal bad! He’s on the cross country team and brought home is team uniform tonight and I felt nothing for pride that he’s my son! Yay! He’s standing tall and taking ownership. He’s enjoying learning to march in band, singing as a choir, learning Spanish, feeling more responsibility and mastering his locker combination 😉 Totally cliche, but he’s blossoming.

He had some really great formative experiences this summer as well; playing on a fun baseball team, participating in weeklong Totus Tuus, turning 13, learning new woodworking and automotive skills on his Bronco, registering his first car under HIS name, running weekly with his cross country team, being a prominent altar server, earning blue ribbons at fair, running a successful and quite lucrative mowing business, taking more leadership roles at home, helping out at the food pantry, yada yada yada. I’m just so proud of the person he’s becoming.

Some day he’ll appreciate that I wrote these words for him 🙂

“Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them” – Lady Bird Johnson

To there and back, a Costello tale

Sticking with my theme of dropping out of the blogging world for months at a time, I decided today to resurface and capture my and the kids’ memories of our most recent trip to South Dakota and Wyoming this July. It went something like this:

We drove half one day and half another and spent one night in a hotel. Hotels are fun but…stressful with kids. We arrived first in Mitchell, SD to show the kids what all of the Corn Palace signs were all about. They literally said ‘This? This is supposed to be the corn palace?!’. I felt the same way when I saw it as a kid. So no pictures were taken. LOL

Second stop was another one that I found anti-climatic as a kid….Wall Drug. The place has apparently grown since I was there 25 years ago and is like a maze with a backyard now. Lucy enjoyed this stop….but I think she’s the only one. We succeeded in not losing any kids in the crowds and headed to more open and less populated areas west (what I prefer!).

Third stop on the first day was Badlands National Park. The kids were enthralled by the ‘Beware of rattlesnakes!’ signs everywhere, but we never did see one. I was psyched about this park and the trail called ‘The Notch’. After many hours of tennis shoe donning and sunscreen applying x8 and retrieving and loading toddler into hiking backpack, we were off to conquer The Notch. It was a good hike. The log ladder was a huge hit, as well as the cliffs and otherwordly landscape. It was HOT. We also did another hike called Saddle Pass that took us a considerable amount of time as all of the top layer of the trail was loose rock and most of the trail was 45% grade or more. It was only 1/4 mile long one way but took us about 30 mins each way. The kids were beasts and conquered it as well. The view from the top was remarkable and I forgot my camera 😦 We emerged with only one sanded off kneecap from the loose rock (mine).

Gabriel says, “It was cool. I liked the layers of rock that you could see and climbing on the rocks. I liked climbing up the log ladder”

Ruth says, “The log ladder is like really fun, except it was steep.”

We stayed in Rapid City, SD for the first 3 nights in a cute little Airbnb house with 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. I do love traveling Airbnb style. For big families it definitely works more efficiently and comfortably than a hotel room or camping, in my opinion.

The next morning we awoke, packed lunch and alot of water and we were off. First stop was Mount Rushmore National Monument. We did the Presidential Trail to get closer to the big faces and also spent some time in the Sculptor’s Studio and the museum. Our parking was so close to the main entrance it’s almost like they saved it for us. Small wins!

Amelia says, “It was cool how you could get close to it. It was cool to see all the flags from states. I liked seeing pictures of people actually sculpting it and stuff and seeing the original sculpture.”

Gabriel says, “It was cool to learn about how they built Mt Rushmore.”

Onward from there we headed down Iron Mountain Road and ended up eating lunch on the top of the world sitting on giant boulders at a beautiful overlook of the Black Hills. We continued through the tunnels that Black Betty *almost* didn’t fit through until we reached Custer State Park. It was HOT once again, close to 100 degrees, so we rode around on the Wildlife Loop and saw pronghorn, donkeys, and bison herds from the van! A stop at the bison center was super educational on bison and the annual bison roundup that they do every year to make sure the herd is healthy. Add that to my bucket list! Turning onto the Needles Highway we stopped and hiked Cathedral Spires Trail and this was my most favorite hike. Of course pictures don’t do it justice and the hike was a little challenging but we did it! Kateri did so well on this trip and hiked 80% of the trails with her 2 little legs….never underestimate kids! The rest of the time she rode in a Piggyback carrier which is a cool little invention for older kids when they need a lift. We continued on the winding Needles Highway a short distance to the most beautiful mountain lake. The park ranger insisted we needed to visit Sylvan Lake and we are so happy we did! There was a swimming beach which we enjoyed for a long time, along with massive boulders, a hiking trail that circled the lake, a hidden waterfall and a rock tunnel. So fun! The kids really really enjoyed it here. We got home after dark and it was a full day 🙂

Lucy says, “Sylvan Lake was a very beautiful lake with a great view. The water was nice and I liked how there was so many rocks to climb and see a different perspective of the lake. Cathedral Spires was very challenging but in the end I’m glad I did it!”

Amelia says, “The Needles were really cool. Cathedral Spires trail had a beautiful view of the Needles.”

Wind Cave National Park was on the agenda for the next day. I was unable to secure tickets so we showed up and got day-of tickets for the Natural Entrance Tour. We had about 2 hours to kill before the tour and once again it was blazing hot outside. We hiked the Prairie Vista Loop and had to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. Ruth proclaimed that rattlesnakes are her most favorite animal. Typical. We returned for a picnic lunch in the shade and got to our tour. Backpacks, with babies in them or not, are not allowed, so I squeezed Mary into my baby Ergo on the front and she slept through the whole cave tour. Works for me! It was about 50 degrees in the cave and felt wonderful. We learned about the Lakota people’s history and appreciation of the cave, as well as the pioneers who discovered the ‘breathing hole’ that eventually led them down into a 180 + mile cave. Explorers are mapping on average 4 miles of undiscovered Wind Cave a year currently. The original founder was a 16 year old teenager who found 7 miles on his own…via candlelight. Fascinating. We walked down down down and total of about 2/3 of a mile of the cave. Gabriel really liked the cave tour. Gabriel was right behind me and I kept hearing him say ‘This is sooo cool….’. We rode and elevator on the way up 🙂 Afterwards Jeremiah led trusty Black Betty down roads that were obviously meant for jeeps. He loved it. We survived. And Black Betty fared well. The rest of the day we did laundry at a laundromat which was also a new experience for several of my kids and I was appalled that a washer can cost $7/load. Woof.

Gabriel says, “I liked going underground and being Batman.”

Lucy says, “The cave was sort of scary because it was dark but there was lots of cool rock formations that you could see with small, dim lights. The boxwork was very interesting.”

Friday morning we packed up and headed west even further. First stop was Spearfish, SD into the Spearfish Canyon. WOW! What a beautiful area. We stopped and explored the 3 waterfalls on the road, Bridal Veil Falls, Spearfish falls and Roughlock Falls. Jeremiah and Gabriel attempted to get to the top of Bridal Veil but it was almost impossible. Ruth was upset she couldn’t play or climb on all of them, just Bridal Veil. We had lunch next to a trout stream where the kids were offered $100 by Jeremiah if they could catch a trout barehanded. That filled a lot of time 😉 The water was FRIGID. Once they were tired of that some of us hiked the Roughlock Falls Trail and some of us fetched the van. I had my sights on hiking the ’76 Trail to the rim of the canyon but little legs were tired and so we took a break and kept driving. A side of the trail lady told me Kateri could never hike it so I REALLY wanted to prove her wrong, but alas, we decided to be responsible adults instead. We arrived in the area of Pine Haven, Wyoming where we would stay for 2 more nights in a backwoods cabin that was very nice. We were in the top unit and did not have any neighbors downstairs until our second night. The quiet was great! We saw wild turkey and pronghorn while we were there.

Ruth says, “The waterfalls were fun and interesting.”

Kateri says, “I liked how the big waterfall was spraying. The other thing I liked was the stepping stones and the logs.”

Lucy says, “The water was awesome and there was so much moss. I was disappointed that we could only go into one waterfall. I loved trying to catch trout in my croc.”

Let me tell you something about eastern Wyoming. It’s very sparsely populated. Even where people do live, you never see anyone. Everyone has ‘keep out’ or ‘no trespassing’ signs posted and it’s apparent you aren’t welcome to visit them. There’s almost no shade and even fewer trees. The people we did talk to were nice and friendly 🙂

Saturday morning we headed to Devil’s Tower National Monument. This thing is HUGE! We could see the tower from about 25 miles away as we were driving towards it. What a beautiful place. We hiked the Tower Trail around the tower and enjoyed the views of both the tower and the surrounding landscape. Devil’s Tower is a very popular destination for rock climbers and boasts 200+ routes to the top. We watched rock climbers from the trail. Jeremiah would like to return and climb the tower, not me. After the hike around the base we spent a lot of time bouldering at the base. One must register to climb past the boulder field, so we made sure not to go past the trees. Ruth was first to the top, go figure. We sat at the top and visited with a boy and his dad who have been RVing for 3 months and had visited a lot of the northwestern parks. #goals Again, left my camera at the base with Jeremiah and the little kids, so no summit picture 😦 Bouldering was Ruth’s favorite thing we did!

Ruth says, “It was cool how I got to see rock climbers like on TV.”

Amelia says, “It was cool how you could go really close to Devil’s Tower by climbing up the boulder field and it was cool to see the rock climbers and their equipment they use.”

Lucy says, “Once you got the hang of the boulders you could fly right up them. But the challenge was getting down them without falling. There is a great view up there and everything looks like dolls.”

We headed out of the park and quickly realized that there was nothing else really to do within 60 miles. That or everything was closed. Once again it was H-O-T. We finally found Donna’s Diner and had ice cream cones and decided we should maybe call it a day. Back at the cabin we attempted playing some games but the little kids were just wild. Keeping kids on a routine definitely has perks and that’s why vacation is hard (but not bad) :-/ We did dinner, baths, a little TV and bed.

6:15am Sunday we were on the road, heading back home. We did make a stop at the National Minuteman Missile Site that was really interesting! We learned all about the Cold War and how South Dakota housed missiles in 80 foot deep underground silos that could be deployed to attack the USSR within minutes if needed. The missles were removed from the sites in the 1990s. You can get a tour of the bunkers and silos…if you’re 6 years or older. The visitors center was great though!

We continued east and made it home at around 9pm that night. a 12 hour drive in 14 hours plus a time change. I’ll call that a huge win!

Visit South Dakota! Hike! Swim in the lakes and play in the waterfalls! See the bison and pronghorn and wild turkeys and prairie dogs! Watch out for rattlesnakes! 😉

2021 Book Review!

Happy 2022!

In 2021, my goal was to read 52 books, or about 1 per week. I achieved my goal and ended up reading 53 books! Yay! I enjoy reading just about anything, but I do have my genres that are my favorites. I decided to do something a little different this year; I am going to pick my favorite books of the year based on my most-read/liked genres. I own none of these books (1 is Lucy’s) and acquire them through my local libraries (I have 4 library cards!) Most libraries can get just about anything through interlibrary loan which opens up a lot of options as well. All are physical books, I don’t do well with e-books; and e-books don’t smell nearly as good 😉 Here goes!

Favorite Memoir:

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This is a memoir of a highly accomplished neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 36. He proceeds to practice medicine and perform surgery for quite a while, but struggles being a patient vs a doctor along with the physical issues of going through treatments. He works through ideas of the meaning of life, dying with dignity, patient-doctor relationships and a life well lived. The author died while writing the book, but his words and lessons live on.

Favorite Nonfiction:

The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self

The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter

Jeremiah read this book after hearing about it on a podcast and he loved it. If he loves a book I almost always will too. This one fit the bill. This book talks about our current ways of life and societies and how ‘comfortable’ we all are. We are all constantly seeking ways to become more and more comfortable, whether that be physically, mentally, how we go through life, make decisions or as society as a whole. This author has many many valid points about how comfortability is causing us harm and how being uncomfortable a bit more often is good for us in so many ways. He is so right! We don’t constantly need to live in a land of easy decisions, plush seats, little effort and silver spoons. He chronicles his adventures where he pushes his body and spirit to the brink and how that changes him as a person. Over the last year my motto for life has been ‘Hard does not mean bad’. This book fits right along with that. It is a great read!

Favorite Historical Fiction:

The Orphan Collector

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Another book club choice that I knew nothing about, other than the obvious picture on the front. I couldn’t put this one down. It takes place during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. There are many parallels to the covid pandemic, with public orders to quarantine and people urged to social distance and wear masks in public. Many many people die, in very quick deaths, but also many people survived the flu. The main character is a girl of 11 who is taken to a terrible orphange after herself and her mother fall ill. Her baby twin brothers are left behind when she is taken and the rest of the story revolves around her undying quest to find them and the loyalty of sibling bonds. A heartbreaking and vivid story set in a seemingly forgotten time in history.

Favorite Middle Grades Fiction:

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt

This book is straight from Lucy’s bookshelf. She read it and then passed it on to me because she liked it so much! It is about a girl’s journey through dyslexia and a life-changing teacher. A quote from the book: “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” There you have it. All middle graders should read this, and their parents, and/or anyone with a learning disability.

Favorite Fiction:

The Dutch House

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This is the story of a house set over 5 decades of time. I didn’t know anything about this book going in, but it was on the list for book club so I picked it up. The story literally revolves around a giant mansion that a husband bought for his wife that caused so much discord, but yet was handed down through 5 generations. I have never read a book that was basically about a house, until this one! It’s almost fairy-tale like in a modern way, with grand paintings of past inhabitatants, evil stepmothers and snarky stepsisters, a grand estate and squabbles over money. I highly enjoyed it.

Favorite Parenting book:

Parenting With Love and Logic

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline, MD and Jim Fay

YES. All parents should read this book. I used to read a lot of parenting books but I’m kind of over it. Once in awhile I will still read one that pertains to us and this one did. It’s all about making kids see that their decisions and actions affect others, including their parents. Parents have feelings, needs, and desires too, just as their kids do. There’s a lot to do with natural consequences and what the authors call ‘selfish parenting’ which is a funny term but makes alot of sense. If Johnny throws a fit at Target and does not obey and disrupts the rest of the family’s shopping trip, he may need to do all of the afternoon chores when they return home, because Mom is just so tired from dealing with Johnny’s poor behavior at Target that she couldn’t possibly do them herself. Just an example 😉 I use the author’s mindset alot and I have to say the results are quite effective. There is more reflection required on the part of the child and less of the adult doling out punishments.

Here’s the complete list of what I read this year:

Friday Five: 10/15/21

1) Well we had a few birthdays! July 18 Mary turned 1, August 1 Kateri turned 3, and September 23 Ruth turned 5! Due to many events, trips and pure logistics, I decided to wait and have 1 party for all 3 girls in September. We dubbed it ‘The Blondies’ Birthday!’. I made 1 cake and had each girl choose a color for the 3 layers and it was GREAT. Lucy made party games including a scavenger/treasure hunt and a Blondies Trivia that was super fun. (ie Which Blondie does not like strawberries? Which Blondie had the quickest labor? Which Blondie could ride on 2 wheels before she was 3?) Ruth and Kateri loved the festivities and didn’t care that it was not right on their birthdays, and Mary couldn’t have cared less about any of it! Win!

2) We rounded out our summer with our 2nd camping trip of the year (I had really hoped for more, but alas, it was a great summer!) We ventured to Backbone State Park where we have camped in years past. We have an annual family picnic there on Labor Day weekend that coordinates nicely with camping. We enjoyed all the joys and memories of camping and only got rained on for a few hours :-\ We played in the creek, visited the spring, ate good food, hiked great trails, saw the world’s largest strawberry and did a little fishing. I have some big camping dreams for next summer involving the great American roadtrip, but, we will see 🙂

3) Everyone went back to school! Well…..not me. 19 years was enough for me-HA!. But anyways, as you can see, Lucy got contacts that she occasionally wears, Ruth and Kateri occasionally wear shoes when we leave the house, and my son is tall enough that I cannot see over his head any longer and he is growing a mullet that he knows my strong feelings on. Jeremiah-3rd year Principal, Gabriel-6th grade, Lucy-5th, Amelia-2nd, Ruth-4 year old preschool, Kateri and Mary are just along for the ride 🙂 This is Gabriel’s last year at this school, next year he will proceed on out of the Bennett nest. I’m contemplating having Kateri start part time preschool at semester, one of the many reasons is to be able to say that 5 of my kids went to school at once, in the same building. Good reason, no?! 😉

4) In August we road tripped to Milwaukee, WI for my cousin’s wedding. By the way, did you know Milwaukee is a really cool place? We didn’t have a lot of time to see the sights, but we did squeeze in a jaunt over the the shoreline of Lake Michigan and let me tell you there was no swimming going on for us…it was cold water! We stayed in a giant Airbnb house with some of our fun family, attended a very diverse Catholic Mass then made our way over to our first Jewish wedding ceremony, ate A LOT of great food, didn’t break anything and danced, danced, danced with all the kids which was super fun. I swear, the girls do wear shoes sometimes…..

5) Other things I immensely enjoyed this summer, including, but not limited to: +Visiting our favorite Seminarian in northern Chicago for family weekend at Mundelein Seminary. +Rekindling my love for playing the trumpet. Lucy wanted to play my trumpet for 5th grade band, so I took it in and got ‘er all cleaned and shined up. I’ve been able to sight read easy songs and hope to join the community band next spring with Gabriel on the tenor sax! +We picked a ton of Concord grapes late this summer and Gabriel made it his mission to independently make grape juice and grape fruit leather. Proud, I am. +We’ve reinstated ‘Nana Tuesdays’. We’ve visited parks, the Figge Art Museum, shops, libraries and the like and treasure the time. +I blame my brother Mitch for the fact that I am now a mountain biking junkie. His bike may cost 10x as much as mine, but I severely enjoy the time on my bike, time with my brother, and time outdoors, of course! +And one of the loveliest summer pictures I’ve taken, right there, overlooking God’s country in Iowa 🙂

Adventures in Alabama

In mid-July, we took a family trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast! When I asked the kids way back in February where they’d like to travel to this year, the overwhelming majority said they wanted to see the ocean, as they had never been! Our first choice was to go to South Dakota/Yellowstone/Glacier, but alas February was apparently too late to book for Glacier, so that trip is still in the holding pen. Anyways, we had a good time on the coast of Alabama, in the cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.

Our goal was to leave at 5am on the first day, and we left at 5:10am, so with 10 of us in tow (2 extra family members came along) I’d call that a success! We had a 15.5 hour drive to split over a day and a half, and it went really well! Kids were so excited once we reached the Alabama state line, but it was another 7ish hours to the coast from there! We got to see a lot of America, with our travels to/from taking us through Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Missouri.

We reached the ocean and our condo was right on the water, and the sugary white sand beaches did not disappoint! We had some setbacks/disappointments including a jellyfish sting, late check in, dirty condo and severe sunburn, but we still had a great time! Staying right on the beach was fun for early morning and late evening beach walks and explorations, and the pool of course was a hit, even in the middle of a downpour.

During our stay, we visited the Gulf State Park and did some hiking, went out on the pier, took a dolphin cruise, spent a good amount of time at the beach and pool, saw stingrays, sharks and dolphins, found a lot of seashells, went to the Wharf, mini golfed and ate a lot of ice cream!

And wouldn’t you know, our 15th wedding anniversary landed on a day we were there! We celebrated by going to dinner with Uncle Cameron and the 3 older kids at a really cool restaurant right on the water with all outdoor seating. The kitchens themselves were made out of shipping containers, which is my eventual dream for our house. It was a cool place!

Lots of good memories!

On the way home we stretched the trip over 2 days again, stopping in Peoria to see Venerable Fulton Sheen’s tomb, museum and the Cathedral in which was his home church. Very cool stop! Don’t worry, it’s a cardboard cutout 😉

And when we got home, look what was blooming! I didn’t even plant sunflowers this year 🙂

Thanks for the memories, Alabama Gulf Coast!

Friday Five: 6/18/2021

Well, well, well, here we are again. And I haven’t blogged since February. Yikes. Adding ‘write blog’ on the to-do list doesn’t necessitate that it will get done, obviously!

Today is Gabriel/G-Man/Man Child/ G’s 12th birthday! He’s growing at the speed of light and is nearly eye level with me and is fast approaching his teens. He requested a lemon cake for about the 5th year in a row so I’m getting decent at making that!

  1. Summertime is just about my most favoritest thing ever. It seems that just about every other summer I am pregnant, so the summers that I AM NOT pregnant, we do ALL THE THINGS. This year we bought a family pool pass, for the first time. It’s been great and I can now add ‘taking 6 children 11 and under to the pool and keeping them alive {so far}’ to my list of lifetime accomplishments. Other highlights so far include a 3 day tent camping trip to Decorah, family get togethers, hiked/caved at Maquoketa Caves, visited the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, visited family, attended various library programs, attended massive number of ball games (Gabriel, Lucy and Amelia are all playing this year), met new friends, consumed large amounts of ice cream and ate many meals on the front porch (another of my favorites!). I am looking forward to ball games being over in 2 weeks so summer slows down a bit….we will see how that goes. We have a few more road trips planned, with Gulf Shores, Alabama and Milwaukee, Wisconsin topping the list. It’s shaping up to be a good one!

2. My man-child Gabriel purchased his first vehicle. That’s right. What other could a 12 year old boy want for his first car but a 1983 Ford Bronco with 2 holes rusted through the floorboards and bird nests in the hood?! And it doesn’t run–hasn’t for the past 20 years. Yes, this is his dream. He wants to take it all apart and build it back up, learn about motors and all that jazz along the way. The males in our family think this is great and have done this themselves. His goal is to have it running in 2 years to drive with his school permit back and forth to school. But in the meantime, let me show you the current view in our driveway……

3. The Costellos are now officially beekeepers. I should say that Jeremiah and Gabriel are officially beekeepers! Gabriel’s interest was sparked back during the beginning of C*V*D {let’s not mention that 5-letter word} and he’s held onto it since. In that time Gabriel and I read every beekeeping book we could get our hands on, Gabriel by chance befriended a local Master Beekeeper who has been an excellent mentor, Jeremiah and Gabriel took a 4 month long local beekeeping course, Gabriel built a hive with Papa Dave, we purchased another hive, ordered/picked up/installed 2 packages of Italian honeybees from Wisconsin, and now J and G complete weekly ‘bee chores’ of feeding the bees (to get them established) and inspecting the hives. I think it’s so cool. We hope to get honey later this summer but we shall see!

4. The Dynamic Duo continues to be….dynamic. There’s not really ever, and I mean ever, a dull moment. Kateri is literally and figuratively, always along for the ride with Ruth. Their teen years will be….interesting. Start praying for me NOW.

5. Somehow, Mary is one month shy of 1 year! Her birthday is exactly 1 month after Gabriel’s. She continues to get around by scooting on her bottom with one hand in the air and one hand pushing her on the floor. She cruises a little bit around things and people’s legs and is getting better at standing with less support. She still doesn’t take a bottle-or cup, we are working on that! She eats a good amount of table food and is getting better at feeding herself. She’s obviously the 6th child because her sleeping situation for the past 4 months has been a portable crib in our large main floor bathroom. Think what you want, but it works for now! 1700 sq feet and 8 people…you have to get creative sometimes! Mary enjoys Gabriel and Lucy a lot. She basically has 5 mothers so that gets interesting sometimes. She’s a trooper for the most part, often getting broken up naps this summer due to the older kids’ activities and getting to bed way later than she should. She rides in the jogger with me most mornings and likes to feel the wind in her toupe-like hair 😉

Ta Ta for now!

Friday Five: 2/19/21

  1. Mr C had a birthday! He looks really excited because he wanted me to hurry and take the picture so the house didn’t burn down. I’ll spare him and not mention how many boxes of candles we had to put on his cake 😉 He had a good day and the kids and I gifted him a fancy schmancy coffee maker that he’s named ‘Hamilton’. Ha! Cheers to another year with this guy!

2. I found these 2 gems on my phone. On Valentine’s Day, Amelia and Lucy decided they would initiate ‘Costello Girls’, a restaurant in my very own kitchen! They do this on occasion, but this time was extra special. They found a recipe in a kids cookbook for meatloaf and made the whole thing themselves. It was quite an ordeal; I think they started cooking at 3pm and we ate at 6pm! Based on the caption of ‘masterpiece’ I’d say they were quite pleased with themselves. The meatloaf was actually very, very good and they *almost* didn’t fight throughout the whole endeavor.

3. I’ve been trying to revive some long lost childhood favorites around here, probably because Covid/ the winter that never ends/ my kids are finally old enough, including but not limited to: good old fashioned card games (Old Maid, Kings in the Corner, Go Fish, Spoons, Uno, Blink, Left Right Center), jigsaw puzzles (we’ve completed a 300, two 500’s and now a 1000 piece), and board games ({I LOVE SCRABBLE!}, Candyland, Life, Tractoropoly (only if G talks me into it), Suspend and sometimes checkers/chess. The endless supply of snow days and late start days and bitter bitter cold, along with our family fast of any television among other things for Lent has lent well to this idea (see what I did there!?) Can I say that Ruth is a card shark? Surprise, surprise. It’s been good.

4. A post from House of Costellos is not complete without at least one mention of books…. so here it is! Probably my 3 favorites as of recently are: 1) Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt Another book off Lucy’s shelf that she loved and so did I. About a girl who has dyslexia, finding her way in school and life and her struggles along the way. I found this inspirational but also heart wrenching. Well written. 2) The Push by Ashley Audrain Loved this! A psychological thriller fictional story about a mother’s experience with motherhood and her daughter that I could not put down. It was absolutely believable and a psychological ride. I can’t explain it without giving it away, so I won’t try! I think a lot of moms would really like this one. 3) No Time Like the Future by Michael J. Fox An autobiography of sorts with Fox’s experiences and stories tied in. His stories of battling Parkinson’s and different struggles he’s had along the way hit close to home for me, but his overall message of hope and optimism would benefit anyone! Happy reading!

5. Yep, she’s adorable. The only thing that would make her even cuter? Resuming her lost habit of sleeping through the night. She’s slept very consistently through the night since she was weeks old, then shortly after Christmas decided to stir things up a bit and since then I’ve been up no less than 4x a night. I know, sad story. You think by the 6th kid I’d know how this works. Mary turned 7 months old yesterday and I’ve failed on the mother-front and have not taken her picture yet. She is starting to scoot around on the wood floor and cry when I leave the room. She has no appetite for solids/table food which is weird for me. She loves the older 4 kids and tolerates Kateri. She’s basically Lucy’s baby when Lucy comes home from school, and it’s sweet!

Lucy’s Top Books of 2020

The following was written by my daughter and book lover, Lucy, who is 9 years old. All opinions are her own. She read a total of 90 books in 2020! Enjoy!

Lucy’s Top Books of 2020 

   Here are 10 of my favorite books of 2020. 

  1. Louisiana’s Way Home  by: Kate DiCamillo 

This book is in a series and I read all of them, but this one was definitely the most interesting. Louisiana thinks that her parents were famous and that she is too, but then her granny does some crazy things and her granny sends a note to Louisiana and her whole life changes.

  1. Tilly and the Bookwanderers ( Pages & Co. #1 ) by: Anna James 

Tilly has lost her mother and really misses her. Then one day Alice in Wonderland comes to Pages and Co. ( Tilly’s grandparent’s book store) and takes her through stories. Then there is a mysterious character and Tilly learns some secrets about her family that blow her away. 

  1. Esperanza Rising by: Pam Munoz Ryan 

This book is tragic. Esperanza loses her father and is forced to flee to America. She leaves her old spoiled life behind and makes the best of her new life. 

  1. Strays Like Us by: Cecilia Galante 

This book is about Fred and Toby, a dog, who is treated very poorly. Fred doesn’t think this is fair. Fred understands how it is to be a stray. Because of this they become a very unlikely friendship.

  1. Walking with Ms. Millie by: Tamara Bundy 

This is a very sad story. Alice accidentally gets on to a phone line and listens in on a conversation. When she goes to apologize, she asks if she can do anything to help Ms. Millie out and ends up walking Ms. Millie’s blind dog. Ms. Millie tells Alice her story and Alice starts to see a different perspective on the world. 

  1. Front desk ( Front desk #1)  by: Kelly Yang 

 Mia lives in a small motel. Everyday she runs the front office and tends to its guests. She and her immigrant parents hide immigrants. Mia gets bullied at school. To get through this she needs kindness and courage. 

  1.  Wish by: Barbara O’Connor 

Charlie is a feisty girl. Her mother won’t get out of her bed and her father is in jail. She gets sent to her aunt and uncle’s house, who she barely knows. Her sister is living at her best friend’s house. Charlie does not think it’s fair. Then she sets a trap for Wishbone, a skinny stray dog. Then they become friends and Charlie does not hate everything    anymore. 

  1. Princess Academy  by: Shannon Hale

Miri is a small girl. She is a mountain girl. This book’s theme is even if you are small you can do great things. Miri and other girls go to an academy for princesses. When Bandits and other troubles come, Miri is their leader. Miri proves she has the courage to be their leader. 

  1. Because of Winn-Dixie by: Kate DiCamillo 

Opal finds the dog, Winn-Dixie, at Winn-Dixie supermarket and gets attached. They have a very strong friendship and because of  Winn-Dixie Opal finally makes friends. I finished this book in 3 hours. 

  1. Pixie Pushes On  by: Tamara Bundy 

Polio is spreading quickly. When Pixie’s sister Charlotte gets it and Pixie’s Mom had died earlier Pixie is very lonely.  Pixie believes she gave her sister polio. With the arrival of a new baby lamb, Pixie learns to push on with life. 

             I hope you enjoyed this!