Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins.

I couldn’t let July disappear without a mention that it is BLUEBERRY MONTH.  Here in NJ, blueberries are a major crop, and in addition to eating by the handful, I have used them in numerous recipes.  From smoothies, to jam, the baked goodies, what’s not to like about the berry with the highest level of good-for-you antioxidants.

Here is a recent recipe I’ve adapted to be healthier by lowering the sugar and butter. (I replace part of it with applesauce).  You can make these by the dozen and freeze for whenever you want a great breakfast treat or something on the go.


1/4 C  coconut oil ( or another favorite)    1/4 C  melted butter

1/2 C applesauce        2/3 C sugar

1 C almond meal    2/3 C flour (I used whole wheat pastry)   1/4 C  rolled oats (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 tsp baking soda      3 large eggs           1 1/2 C fresh or frozen blueberries.

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Butter the bottom and sides of 12 2 1/2 inch muffin cups  (or use papers) .

2. In a large bowl combine: sugar, almond meal, flour, oats, baking soda and a dash of salt.

3. Add beaten eggs, butter, oil and applesauce to the dry mixture.  Stir until blended.  Fold in blueberries.         2015-07-11 07.07.06

4.  Spoon batter into prepared cups until 2/3’s full.   Sprinkle oats on top.   Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are browned and centers set. 

2015-07-11 07.32.07HAPPY BLUEBERRY EATING!


And The Winners Are…

ON July 15, my writer friend Kim Pfennigwerth did a wonderful post on Giving Something Away.  So many of you were kind enough to share some things you’ve recently given away.  I put all your names in my basket and pulled out two winners.  You each get a $10.00 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  May I have a drum roll please….

The winners are, Paul Czajak, and Roseanne Kurstedt.   Congratulations!

It is SOOO much fun to give something away!

Laurel Nakai on Songwriting For Kids.

The Art of Songwriting, and How Kids Can Get Started by Laurel Nakai

Music has always been a big part of how I express myself. As a young child, I used to sing the Sesame Street song on the playground at the top of my lungs, and I spent countless hours listening to my mother’s records of Broadway musicals. I wrote poetry, and I loved to read and write stories. I always approach songwriting like a form of poetry. It’s storytelling, just with a different set of tools. I learned to play the clarinet in 4th grade, but it was when I picked up the guitar at 13 that the words and music came together. It became my go-to form of self-expression.

Even now, when I am feeling sad or trying to make sense of something I don’t understand, I sing about it. I find the right notes and phrases to express what I’m feeling. That was a lifesaver for me growing up. It allowed me to explore myself and my world through all of the ups and downs of adolescence. Music is amazing that way, and so are all forms of art. I think it’s so important, especially for kids, to have that kind of outlet.

Tips on Getting Started:

If you want to be a writer, read. If you want to be a songwriter, listen. Listen to as much music as you can. Learn how to play your favorite songs. Try to figure out why they resonate with you and how you can replicate that feeling. Every musician starts out playing covers. We learn from the greats that have come before us, whether it’s Beethoven or The Beatles.


  • Keep a notebook, or recording device with you to capture sudden inspirations. Melodies or phrases often come to me while I’m driving, so if I’m able to, I will record myself on my phone. If not, I just keep singing over and over until I am able to write it down. I once wrote almost an entire song this way while stuck in traffic! I have also had the opposite happen, where I think of something great, but then don’t write it down or record it, and it gets lost forever. You never know when inspiration will strike, so be ready!


  • Practice with friends. Collaborating with friends is a great way to get started and take the pressure off. You might find that you are better at writing lyrics than making musical arrangements, or the other way around. Working with others, either in a band or co-writing, helps us learn from each other. It’s also way more fun, and a little less scary, to get up on stage with someone else.

Speaking of getting on stage…                  SongBird Episode 9: "Speak Up"- Inspired by Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Learn to harness your stage fright.

If you’ve got a major dose of stage fright, you are not alone! Some of the most famous, A-list performers, still get stage fright. I have always thought of stage fright as a natural response. My body is flooded with adrenaline, and I can either freeze up in the face of that, or I can harness that energy and put it into my performance. I try to imagine the adrenaline filling up my body, not as fear, but as strength and confidence. That’s a pretty metaphysical thought, but I have some practical tips, too:    

 Do a ritual. Many performers have rituals they do before going on stage. Some do breathing exercises, some gather in a prayer circle with their team, some have special objects that they carry or foods that they eat. Maybe it’s just a superstition, but I think anything that helps calm you can be a way of tricking your body out of that fear response.

  • Sing to the wall. Find a spot on the back wall (a clock, a poster, a crack) and perform to that. This will help you tune out other distractions, like all those people in the audience!
  • The show must go on. I’m about to tell you my most embarrassing moment. I was 12, and I was doing a dance with a friend in front of her church. In the middle of the song, my skirt fell down. It was mortifying. I ran off stage, pulled my skirt back on and jumped back into the routine. I’ll never forget that performance, and I’ll never forget all the people who came up afterwards telling me how brave I was to keep going. We all fear making mistakes. Nine times out of ten, the audience won’t notice if you just keep going. Even when they do, if you can laugh it off, the audience will be forgiving, maybe even call you brave. You’ll also remember to bring extra safety pins for your costume next time!

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to start out. Get a used, but good quality, instrument and use your phone or computer to record. There are lots of apps and programs out there like Garageband that make it easy to play around with sound recording. Still, I do most of my initial writing with just my guitar and a pen and paper.

Most of all, write what you are passionate about. So many songs have the same themes— love, loss, overcoming adversity—  but we all have unique ways of telling those stories. We need your unique voice and your music, so keep singing!

Laurel Nakai is a singer-songwriter and children’s author. You can find original songs, parodies, and Songwriting 101 videos, on her YouTube Channel SongBird. She is also a team member for KidLit TV where she contributes music for theme songs and special projects. Find out more on her website, and connect with her on facebook, and twitter.

Other Resources to check out:      Laurel'sBanner (3).png

SoundCloudSoundcloud is a great place to find new music, as well as connect with some established artists. You can upload your own sounds and find followers there, keep them private, or post them on your own website or social media.

Little Kids Rock a non-profit organization that teaches music to kids and provides schools with resources for music education. Their website features lots of resources for kids and educators including lessons, games, and video. Their YouTube channel also features inspiring videos including kid songwriters performing their original works.

Acappella AppAn app that allows you to make acappella videos (the ones where the same person sings all the parts). It’s fun to experiment and play around with. You can keep your videos private or share them with the social media feature. There is also a collaborative feature that lets you contribute to other people’s videos.

HitRecord- If you’re looking for collaboration, HitRecord is a production company started by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt with an interactive twist on creating. People can post and use each other’s work to make unique creations. For instance, a songwriter might write a song to someone’s or an artist might draw illustrations for another person’s story. There are even ways to get paid if some of your work is used. If nothing else though, it’s a haven for creative people and ideas.






BAKING COOKIES: Thoughts on Peace and Reconciliation During These Troubling Times

This post really resonated with me during our troubled times. A small gesture of peace and friendship goes a long way.

Laura Sassi Tales


My blog celebrates “writing, reading, and life” and mostly I focus on things writerly and readerly. This week, however, has been firmly grounded in life.  Like many of you, I have been grieving over the state of our nation at this present moment.  There is just so much hurt and bitterness and anger and racism and misunderstanding.  And this week’s news breaks my heart – two black men shot and killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and five police officers shot and killed in Dallas?  Will this ever end?  Is reconciliation possible?  And what can I do? What can my children do? What can you do? What can we as individuals do in the midst of this miserable time?

Foster community.  Build community. Construct bridges. That’s what.  This Sunday morning, in an act that is totally out of my shy/reserved comfort zone, I listened to that inner voice inside which whispered to me – reach out.  What we did this…

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Kim Pfenningwerth Gives Something Away.

When Darlene asked me to write a guest blog, I hesitated.  

When she said it could be about anything. I thought, this could be fun but how will I ever choose a topic?

When she added pick a day—Everything clicked.

Without hesitation I chose to blog about July 15th.  Why that day you might ask.

…Is it for National I Love Horses Day? …Well, I do love horses.

…Is it for National Tapioca Pudding Day? …I’m sorry to say, I don’t love tapioca.

…Is it for National Pet Fire Safety Day? …I do have pets, so Pet Fire Safety is a Very Important Issue for my family. 

But if not those, then what is it about July 15th that gave me the idea for this post?

Today, July 15th is…drum roll please—National Give Something Away Day!

Giving something away could be useful. Clean off some shelf space. Clean out a closet. What could be more fun than to give something away?  The possibilities are endless.  Big or small. Playful or practical.  A bouquet of balloons or a simple posy.  But if you look deeper there is another layer to this day.

Giving something away is a kindness and kindness is a magical element.  It is an action with absolutely no expectation for something in return.

Without a doubt, kindness is a bad day breaking, moment changing gift. Kindness is a priceless commodity that is shared simply by giving it away.

Hold a door open for someone.

Give a smile to a stranger or a hug to a friend.

Buy a cup of coffee for the next person in line.

Give new or gently used clothes, books, or toys to a shelter.

Donate to your local food bank.

Have you put off visiting someone? Give away some time and pay someone a visit. If you live too far away call someone and give a warm hello and the time for a conversation.

National Give Something Away Day is a happiness boosting, smile inducing, pay it forward day.   So kindly mark July 15th on your calendar and remember to Give Something Away. I promise you and someone else will be delighted that you did.

Need a few ideas? Click on the links below:

Books for Soldiers:

Donate Books – Find your public library:

Dress For Success:

Food Bank:

Vietnam Veterans of America:

Volunteer Match:

(Darlene Here:To honor NATIONAL GIVE SOMETHING AWAY DAY, fellow kid lit author Kim Pfenningwerth and I are giving away TWO (2) $10.00 gift certificates to Barnes and Noble.  To be in the running, all you have to do is leave a comment about what you’ve recently given away and how you felt afterwards.  I’ll put your name in a hat and announce two winners on FRIDAY, 7-29-2016 ON THIS BLOG. What do I plan on giving away on July 15th?  I’ll be doing an author visit/teaching session at my local Boys & Girls Club.)

Thank you Darlene for the opportunity to write such a fun blog post. Wishing everyone a happy and kind National Give Something Away Day. And good luck with our giveaway!

Kim 4-30-16


Kim Pfennigwerth is a lover of books, animals, children, and kindness. She is often spotted in a bookstore reading piles of books while revising her own picture book manuscripts.

Welcome To Boston and ILA!

This past weekend I had the fun of spending all day Saturday at the INTERNATIONAL LITERACY ASSOCIATION (ILA) Convention held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. MA.  What a great place to sign books with fellow authors, meet educators and promoters of literacy from all over the country.  It was especially fun to share the event with my daughter who happens to live in Boston.

Here are a few of the day’s highlights in photos:

Hynes Convention Center on Boylston St. in Boston.

Hynes Convention Center on Boylston St. in Boston.

Getting ready to sign books with fellow CRESTON author Robin Newman, and author/illustrator Joann Adinolfi

Getting ready to sign books with fellow CRESTON author Robin Newman, and author/illustrator Joann Adinolfi

Hanging out with Amanda - my Boston hostess with the mostest - made it even more fun!

Hanging out with Amanda – my Boston hostess with the mostest – made it even more fun!

A photo op with the best book promoter on the planet...Scholastic's John Schumacher - Mr. Schu!

A photo op with the best book promoter on the planet…Scholastic’s John Schumacher – Mr. Schu!

Shmoozing with Calkins Creek Editor Carolyn Yoder

Shmoozing with Calkins Creek Editor Carolyn Yoder




Helen Chin from PGW - the amazing woman who makes it all run so smoothly.

Helen Chin from PGW – the amazing woman who makes it all run so smoothly.



Tips For Traveling With Kids This Summer.

Is there anything better than summer vacation time?  Packing up the car for a road trip adventure?  If you’re saying “YES…there are PLENTY of things that are better than family vacations”, then maybe you can use a few tips to help make your next trip a good one.

Before you head out onto the open road or to the nearest airport with kids in tow…check out this site for everything you need to know about preparing for the trip and actually ENJOYING it as well.  The site has everything from sleeping, eating and entertaining kids while in transit.  I especially like the RESTAURANT KIT, and tip on how to keep toothbrushes from landing on germy bathroom counters.


Don’t forget the swimsuits, sunscreen and have a great trip!

Celebrate July 4th With Fruit Salads, Play and More.

Many of us will be hosting or attending parades and picnics to celebrate our nation’s birthday this July 4th.  Happy 240th USA! Besides the usual burgers, hotdogs and salads that are part of every picnic, why not have you and your children add a delicious FRUIT SALAD to the menu?  There are so many tasty summer fruits available now and what better way to get those good vitamins than with sweet and juicy fruit? 

Here are two that I mixed up after a trip to my local farm market.

Strawberries, kiwi, and blueberries.

Strawberries, kiwi, and blueberries.


Strawberries, mango, blackberries, cherries and coconut.

Strawberries, mango, blackberries, cherries and coconut.

Try what ever combination you like…there is no wrong way to make a fruit salad.   And while you’re enjoying some salad, here are some sights that have plenty of holiday games and activities for kids of all ages.

Check out my previous posts for more fruit salad ideas.


From How Stuff Works:


From Teach Preschool

From Enchanted Learning:

Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July!

Festive Summer Fruit Salads.

With the abundance and variety of fresh fruits available this time of year, there’s no need to cook to have a nutritious and satisfying side dish for lunch or dinner.   Make a FRUIT SALAD.  It’s a perfect dish to bring to a picnic or pot luck meal.   There are so many ways you can combine fruits to make a delicious treat. 

Here are TWO I’ve had recently.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Add some cinnamon or a dash of vanilla extract.  Sprinkle on some slivered or sliced almonds, chia seeds, or sunflower seeds.  As long as the fruit is fresh, it ALL TASTES GREAT!  Added Bonus:  The variety of bright colors provides a large helping of essential vitamins, and has HUGE antioxidant benefits. 

Fruit Salad with apricots, kiwi, cherries, green grapes, and blueberries.

Fruit Salad with apricots, kiwi, cherries, green grapes, and blueberries.

Fruits Salad with Cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries and coconut.

Fruits Salad with Cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries and coconut.


What are your favorite fruit salad combinations?

May your Fourth of July be fruit-full!