BookS on MondaY: Guest Post~Creating the Perfect Outdoor Reading Space

By Leslie Lindsay 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting these gorgeous catalogs from Frontgate, PotteryBarn and Ballard Designs with the most to-die-for outdoor seating areas. For a brief moment, I am transported to the backyard oasis of my dreams with a book in hand. But when I look out my window, I see brown (getting greener by the day, though), and desolate flower beds.

And then Jen Altrogee came to me with this stunning how-to; transforming those brambles and brown into a world glittering with color and books.

I’m honored to welcome Jen to the blog and to share her lovely article on creating outdoor reading spaces. Roll up your sleeves and dig in!


“Unless you live in Miami or San Francisco, you’re most likely over winter. Over the cold, wind chill, and slush.

In preparation for the warmer weather, I am going to give you 5 tips for creating the perfect outdoor reading space that will serve you from spring to fall (and possibly well into winter depending on how far south you live).



Finding the perfect spot for making a cozy reading corner is key. If your yard lacks mature trees, consider buying one, or more. There’s a lot of selection here and they’re shipped for free.

If your space is built around the right tree it will make a big difference. You’ll appreciate the beauty of the buds and flowers in spring, the shade in the heat of summer, and the changing leaves in fall.


bougainville hammock natural.jpg

You don’t have to have tons to invest in lawn furniture, but I’d recommend thinking through the pieces you buy. If you are unable to buy new, consider purchasing pieces from yard sales, Goodwill, or Craigslist.

The most important piece is a comfy chair. This will determine just how long you will cozy-up with a book out back. If you really want to invest, you could find a hammock to hang between two trees.

You’ll also want a coffee table or an end table to set your stuff on: drinks, books, and tablet. The little things will add a nice touch.

If you buy furniture secondhand, you can always spray paint it a fresh color to make it look as good as new. You can also purchase new cushions to totally makeover your pieces.

When it comes to colors and textures, I prefer to keep it natural outdoors, with a little pop of color here and there. Use fabrics that are made to stand up to the elements and dirt and outdoors.


Here is where you can invest a lot or a little. Even just a couple potted plants and mulch will really create a space.

If you have a green thumb, you can put even more time, thought, and planning into this project. Re-plant plants from other parts of your yard or get excess from friends. Skilled gardeners will have lots of annuals to go around.


Nothing is better than reading outside, than reading outside with the calming sound of water in the background. Think about the effect the sound of rain or a thunderstorm has on your mood.

Any home store will have a wide variety of water features. This is another item you can consider purchasing second hand.

Another element that will round out your space is fire. Consider taking a Saturday morning to build a firepit that will warm up your space on cooler days. images (7)


Lighting is a subtle way to add ambience. Even though you’re not going to be reading in the thick of night, light adds a nice touch from stringed bulbs to mosquito-repellant candles to lanterns. They’re inexpensive, but will have a big effect.


As you can see, no matter your budget, you can take a space in your backyard and turn it into a cozy reading spot. By following these 5 tips, it’ll be a place you’ll never want to leave.

How about you? What are your tips for creating your own outdoor reading space?

Bio: cropped-jen-1Jen Altrogge is a wife, mother, and writer. You can find out more about her at her website.

[Special thanks to Jen Altrogee. Author image and bio provided by author. Top most image retrieved from. Tree image retrieved from. Hammock from. Firepit from. All images retrieved on 3.17.16]



Apraxia Monday: Gnoming for Words

By Leslie Lindsay

Looking for some crafty things to do with your children during the winter months?  This one lends well to the spring season as you can make these Hobbit-inspired homes now, and then spray with that really great preservation stuff and place in a protected area of your yard/porch to attract little fairies and gnomes.  Perfect for that Irish-themed holiday right around the corner!  Photo_9374C75B-86B3-295A-836E-527655881F16 WP_001709 WP_001710

Now, don’t get wrong, this is not a how-to post on creating your own gnome homes, rather it’s a lesson on how to incorporate speech-language skills into your projects. 

          Rule #1:  You don’t have to be an artist.  Repeat that.  You don’t have to be an artist.      

          Rule #2:  It’s about the process, and not the finished art piece

          Rule #3:  Grab your child(ren). 

          Rule #4:  It’s okay to get messy, encouraged even.  (Wear old clothes or a smock)

          Rule #5:  Have fun!

Now for that part about how to incorporate speech work into your crafting.  For children of all ages and all skill levels, you can begin by just talking about what you are doing.  “Today, we are going to build gnome homes.  Do you know what a gnome is?”  Or how about, “Can you say gnome?” 

Got a tactile-learner? A kid who loves to dance? Or maybe your child really loves color? While every child has a constellation of sensory strengths (shape, color, movement and sound are just a few), your child probably has one or two that really stand out — that you notice in his or her artwork or in elements of his or her collections and activities.  Here’s how you may be able to those sensory strengths to gnome homes, or any other type of craft you attempt. 

  • Shape:  Ask your child for descriptive words related to their gnome home.  Is it tall?  Big? Flat?  Round? 
  • Sound:  “What do you suppose your gnome may hear at their home?”  Water trickling/rushing/splashing?  (Let’s practice making that sound), “How do you think a gnome talks?  Let’s try it.  Can you make your voice high-pitched or low-pitched?”  What are some other sounds in nature that may be heard at a gnome home? 
  • Color:  “What colors are you using?  Oh, green!  Look, I see gray and brown, too.”  Can you say ‘gray?’
  • Texture:  “Is that bumpy or smooth?  Can you say those words?”  “I am going to add a little texture to this door.”  Can you say the word texture? “I have some moss.  What does moss feel like?  Here, touch it.” 
  • Light:  If you could imagine what kind of light is shining on this gnome home, what colors would you pick?  Is it sunny or rainy?  Should we add sparkles to our house? 
  • Movement:  You may not be able to add much movement to your creation, unless you get mechanical and add a water wheel or something of that sort…but you can still incorporate movement in your crafting by having your child get up and retrieve a supply.  This works on receptive language, “Will you grab the glue/moss/rocks?” 
  • Extend the activity:  Now it’s time to do something different, but similar to your craft project.  Can you read a book to your child about gnomes?  Draw a picture?  Watch a movie that incorporates gnomes?  Here are a few to get your started. 

Here are couple of suggestions: 

  • Fairy Houses by Tracy KaneProduct Details (image source: 2.25.13)





  • Pinkalicious Fairy House by Victoria Kann Product Details(image source: 2.25.13)

For more how-to approaches look to: Product Details

Fairy Houses . . . Everywhere! (The Fairy Houses Series) by Tracy Kane and Barry Kane  (image source: 2.25.13)


Product DetailsThe Fairy House Handbook by Liza Gardner Walsh & Amy Whilton (image source: 2.25.13)



References: The Missing Alphabet, A Parents’ Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids (Greenleaf Book Group, 2012). http:/ Book available on and where books are sold.

Bio: Leslie Lindsay, R.N., B.S.N. is the author of the 2012 Reader’s Choice nominated SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (Woodbine House, 2012). She is a former child/adolescent psychiatric nurse at the Mayo Clinic-Rochester. Leslie is now a full-time writer at work on her first novel, an active blogger,, and frequent contributor to several speech-related websites. She devotes her free time to her two school-age daughters, Kate and Kelly and a spoiled basset hound, Sally. Leslie is married to Jim Lindsay and resides in the Chicago area.

[Disclaimer:  This is a fun, speech-related activity you can do with your children.  Look for low-cost alternatives & supplies you may have on hand at home.  Glitter, glue, old beads, and buttons, rocks, sticks, and discarded jewelry.  The author of this post has no affilitation with the authors or their collected works on this page.  There is no monetary gain for this post.]

The Teacher is Talking: How to Love Creatively This Valentine’s Day

By Leslie Lindsay

Love is in the air…and I have a special guest post to share with you all today! This one is brought to you by the authors of The Missing Alphabet, A Parents’ Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids Susan Marcus, Susie Monday, and Dr. Cynthia Herbert. Product Details  (image source: on 2.5.13.  Available in e-reader and paper form)

9 Creative Ways to Help Kids Say I Love You 

by Susan Marcus

Got a tactile-learner? A kid who loves to dance? Or maybe your child really loves color? While every child has a constellation of Sensory Alphabet strengths (shape, color, movement and sound are just a few), your child probably has one or two that really stand out — that you notice in his or her artwork or in elements of his or her collections and activities. Valentine’s Day crafts provide ways for parents to nurture these strengths and help kids say I love you in fun creative ways. Below are craft ideas designed for each element of the Sensory Alphabet.

SHAPE: Is your child’s art always full of shapes? Cut out cookies! Make the process easier and faster by using dough from the grocery store refrigerator case. Find imaginative cookie cutters and combine shapes and words to say I love you in new ways.  (image retrieved from on 2.5.13)). 

SOUND: Let sound-oriented kids make a Valentine’s wind chime with metal, glass and wooden craft store finds. Throw in everyday household items like bowls and plates to create loving symphony.

COLOR: Make “stained glass” cookies with color-loving kids, using bread stick dough. Shape it to make the “leading” on a cookie sheet topped with foil. Use crushed colored sugar candies in the spaces, cook at 350 degrees and let the candies melt. Let cool before peeling off the foil. Experiment with the colors and explore what else can represent love besides red.

MOVEMENT: Have your kids spell out the letters of “I Love You” with their bodies, and then take pictures. These can be used to create a sweet card or frame.

Scrabble Tile Rack Sign - I Love You

LIGHT: Appoint the light-loving child as the official photographer for holiday events. A lesson in digital app photo editing (PhotoPad is free for the iPad) or in designing digital slideshows or print-on-demand books puts this creative eye into action.

TEXTURE: Make a Valentine’s card that focuses on touch rather than sight. Use bows, ribbons, homemade tassels and other textured embellishments. Feathers and sponge-and-paint prints are fun to cover things with.  LoveYouThisMuchCardFinale2

SPACE: For little builders, create a giant heart using recycled boxes wrapped in plain paper or Popsicle sticks. Decorate it with stickers, markers, doilies and colored paper. When it’s done create a set of keys, and have your child give them to family and loved ones.                                                  (image source:

RHYTHM: With your rhythm kid, fill small glass jars (such as baby food jars or small jelly jars) with a tablespoon of different shake-able items such as beans, rice, red-and-green beads, and metal washers. Decorate the lids with foil tied around the tops and stickers for patterns. Shake along to Valentine’s songs. 



 LINE: A linear thinker loves stories. Put him or her to work making handmade Valentine’s books using photos that tell a story about the great love stories in your family. Start with folded paper with a construction paper cover, hole-punched and tied with string or stitched down the center on the sewing machine for the binding.

 Matching a creative thinking strength to the right set of materials and a fun challenge can make it more fun — and help your child build from his or her strengths.

From left: Susie Monday, Susan Marcus, Cynthia Herbert.  Image source:

Susan Marcus, Susie Monday, and Cynthia Herbert, PhD, are deeply experienced researchers, program designers, educators, trainers, and authors. They were co-founders of the Learning About Learning Educational Foundation, a future-oriented

The Missing Alphabet, A Parents’ Guide to Developing Creative Thinking in Kids (Greenleaf Book Group, 2012).   http:/  Book available on and where books are sold. 

From the website: “Based on both current research and decades of work with children, The Missing Alphabet goes beyond the 3R’s to engage children with the creative thinking process, the capacity to invent with many media, the ability to think across disciplines, and the reliance on (and joy in) the imagination. To turn these ideas into action, there is a Field Guide of activities for parents and kids to do together at home, in museums, and around the neighborhood. The Missing Alphabet is a practical resource for building the confidence and creative thinking skills our children need to thrive in the new millennium.”

Ficiton Friday: Amoxicillin Meets Decorating Meets Literary Agent

By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:  Work-in-Progress from "Slippery Slope"

Today I learned that an literary agent who I have had some “interest” in will be featured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writer’s Institute.  I have been to both continuing studies programs the university hosts for writers.  I love them.  I was kind of considering going again this April, but hadn’t made a formal committment.  Now that this agent is going to be there–and offering a chance for me to pitch my novel–I just may sign up. 

But it scares the bejeesus outta me!  Sure–my ultimate hope is for is my book face out at a local bookstore.  Sure, I want readers.  And I guess it’s got to start somewhere, right? 

That means I need to finish polishing this darn thing pronto!  That means I need to get some homework done before I pitch–what does my book compare to?  What else is out there like it?  Who do I write like?  And then I need to drop 10 lbs and get a new outfit.  Sounds so simple, right?

Okay–here’s my revised chapter I have been toiling over this week.  Hey–do me a favor and give me some feedback on those market research questions above.  I would really appreciate it!

[Remember, this is original fiction]

      “My fingers flipped through the decorating book.  Multitasking was my middle name:  supervise Kenna and Madi at play in our family room, get decorating ideas, and watch television.  Thick, glossy pages filled my mind’s eye with ideas and inspiration.  I smoothed my pink tunic over my crossed legs.   The color of liquid amoxicillin

      Why can’t I be as fascinated with medicine as I am with decorating? I tilted my head and looked toward the television.  HGTV.  The girls would have preferred PBSKids, but I just couldn’t stomach another episode of Caillou.  They seemed happy enough with the stack of preschool puzzles I had pulled out.  For now, I could indulge myself in a little mind candy.     

       Kenna tilted her head and glanced down at her puzzle.  Two empty spaces stared back.  I smiled and reached for the colorful puzzle piece wedged under the sofa table, “Here, punkin.  Try this one.”  She nodded and snatched the wooden piece from my grasp. 

        “I recognize myself in my home, which is comforting,” the show’s hostess quipped. 

         I looked back at the television, grumbled and raised my eyebrows. Oh, really? 

         “Your home doesn’t have to be perfect.”  A flash of the hostess’s pearly whites.  “It just has to feel good to you.” 

        Steve feels good to me.  I bit my lip.  Would these thoughts ever end?          The TV hostess strode to the set’s farmhouse-themed breakfast nook, taking a seat at the cozy table.  She wielded a large display board tucked behind the shuttered cabinet—shabby chic, I deduced—and placed it on the wood-worn table top.

        I gasped in awe.  On the “mood board”—as she called it—fabric swatches and paint chips danced in happy unison. My mouth went slack and my eyes glazed over as I zeroed in on that television, the sounds of my children at play—their giggles and squawks—becoming muffled as decorating inspiration took over. 

        As I stared at that farmhouse kitchen set on TV, the cute hostess rattling on about the mood board, I couldn’t help but wonder what Steve’s kitchen looked like.  The pit of my stomach flashed cold.  Be in the moment, Annie.  I scolded myself. 

        “The next time you tackle a home design project, visualize how you would like the room to look with a mood board—this is just a simple foam core mat I picked up from a hobby store.”  She tilted her head.  “Add photos, catalog snippets, anything that catches your eye.  Don’t limit yourself to just decorating images.  Anything can become inspiration for color, texture, and pattern.” 

        Like my amoxicillin-colored top.’

The Teacher is Talking: De-junking Your Kid’s Space

By Leslie Lindsay

Last Tuesday, we tackled the junky room of the century (my daughter’s) and now we’re moving on to the basement playroom.  While I love the idea of this space, I have a hard time keeping it clean–or rather, teaching my daughters to keep it clean. 

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Together, we worked out some of the kinks.  That’s not to say it will continue to be clutter-free, but when I indicated the basement playroom is still part of the house (not just a dumping ground), and that we put things away after playing just like we would in a classroom, they began to “get it.” 

Here are some ideas that may work for you:

  • Locate several buckets/tubs and mark them: “Donate,”  “Resale,” “Repurpose”
  • Grab a trash bag.  Mark it “Trash.”  Then find a big paper shopping bag.  Mark is “recycle.”  That’s for all of the construction paper scraps and projects that are no longer.
  • Turn on some music that you and your kids like. 
  • You may even consider setting a timer, if your kiddos respond to that kind of challenge (for some, it just increases their anxiety).
  • Then go!  Start sorting toys, projects, stuff.  If it hasn’t been played with in a year–it’s gone.  If you can’t find all of the parts–gone.  If your child has more frustrating play time with it–toss.  (that would be my daughter’s Polly Pockets who have lost all of their ‘slick.’ and have begun to rip).  When you find yourself stepping on and cursing to the high heavens for every spare Lego part or tiny Littlest Pet Shop toy…give it away, give it away, give it away now…
  • You may have some tears.  Your’s, theirs, and ours.  If it gets to be too much, send your kiddos away for some movie time and snack while you do the rest. 

But I guarentee you, it will feel so much better when it’s all done.  To keep it working like a well-oiled machine, the space is going to need regular maintanence.  In Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room (Character Publishing, 2011), author Carol Gordon Ekster recommends having your child(ren) determine when the best scheduled cleaning should be.  Try this:

“When do you think we should do this [clean the basement, your room/playroom] again”

Your child may say “in a month.” In  your heart of hearts you know this is a bad idea.  Try not to let that influence your kiddo.  Instead say, “That’s a great idea.  I’ll mark the calendar for one month from today.” 

Chances are, a month will come and your child will be overwhelmed by the mess.  (Funny how one learns by experience).  You can also try scheduling a sooner cleaning time “just to check.”  (This is akin to checking your pizza after 10 minutes in the oven, instead of the recommended 14.) 

You can also work with your child to determine a clean-up routine.  Say, you spend 5 (or 10, or split the difference–7)minutes a day straightening the room.  Now, you may not get everything put away in those 5 minutes, but at least you did something.  Likewise, sometimes once you get started (5 minutes) you soon find that you have the strength and energy to continue till the job is done. 

Consider rewarding your child for a job well-done. You can do so by offering incentives (other than a tidy space–which really doesn’t seem to do much for kids, sorry to say).  We used a sticker chart at our house.  I’ve also promised playdates and project time with mom.  But the key here is the incentive needs to be something your child is excited about. 

For more tips and ideas, I highly recommend reading Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room by Carol Gordon Ekster.  We have the book and love it, especially helpful are the last couple of pages in which the author gives a “parent’s guide to growing organized kids.”  She even includes a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (another incentive?!)  Yum!  Product Details(image source: 1/22/13)


Additional parent/teacher supplements are available at