Good Music, Brighter Children Blog

These Nachos are great for any occasion, but they are extra fun to make around different holidays–such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Super Bowl Sunday, etc.  My family loves them and they do not think Christmas Eve or the Super Bowl is complete without them. They are tasty and although considered an appetizer, they are filling enough to include with the main dish. The filling can be made a day ahead as well as the fried tortillas. If you do make them in advance, make certain you put the fried tortillas in a plastic bag and the filling in the fridge. These are so good, there are usually no leftovers. They are a little labor intensive, but definitely worth it!




8 corn tortillas

Vegetable Oil for frying

2 Tablespoons butter

1 can (17 oz) refried beans

2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 cans (4 oz., each) diced green chilies (mild)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 cup Jack Cheese, shredded


Directions for the Tortillas:

Cut the tortillas into quarters.

Place on the kitchen drain and allow to dry out overnight.

Pour enough vegetable oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom by ¼ inch.

Heat until hot (about 400 degrees) and fry tortillas in batches, turning with tongs until crisp

They will cook very fast!

Drain on paper towels.


Directions for the topping:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Melt the butter in a saucepan

Stir in the beans, 1 cup Cheddar cheese, the green onions, garlic, and chilies

Cook, stirring until the mixture is heated through and the cheese is melted

Season to taste with the salt & pepper


Directions for both tortilla and topping:

Spread each tortilla wedge with some of the bean mixture

Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and Jack cheeses

Place them on a baking sheet

Bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until the cheese is melted

Serve hot



Sharlene 2014

I love Halloween—I love the candy, the decorations (especially the witches), the trick-or-treaters and most of all– the costumes! When our kids were growing up, I made them all sorts of costumes—a devil, a warlock, a pirate, a Ninja Turtle, a gorilla, a Dracula and many others. I know many of you do as well because I’ve seen some of your creations!

Costumes005  Costumes008

Costumes007 One year, each member of our family went as some sort of clown. I sewed all the costumes and purchased the accessories. The boys chose what kind of clown they wanted to be: a jester clown, a hobo clown, an Auguste clown (he has a BIG smile) and a tramp clown.  The only challenging part of making the jester clown—I had to hand-sew 48 bells onto each costume! We actually used those costumes for several Halloween seasons.


 Costumes006Making Halloween costumes is actually fun because if you make a mistake or the seams are not just perfect—who cares? No one is looking at them “up close and personal” so they do not have to be perfect!

Today, there are so many inexpensive Halloween costumes so most people find it easier to purchase them. However, if you are a seamstress–your kids will love and remember the costumes you make.


Halloween 6 My daughter-in-law Moe knit an amazing costume for my darling grandson, Lowell. They were going to a Harry Potter Party so she knit him a “Hedwig the Owl” costume and for my son Trevor, she knit him a Harry Potter scarf, complete with black-rimmed glasses. These costumes made a big hit at the party and on facebook!



My other talented daughter-in-law Jenna makes costumes for my three sweet grandchildren every year. They have gone as characters from Mary Poppins, Walt Disney characters, a Viking warrior, Max from “Where the Wild Things Are,” etc. She lets each child choose what character they want to be each year so Audrey, Claire and Noah usually have their ideas for costumes solidified by August of each year–it is that important and fun for them!

Halloween 2  Halloween 3 Halloween 5  Halloween 4

And this year, Jeanna made these costumes: Audrey went as a Wicked Princess, Claire went as a Peacock and Noah went as a Ninja Turtle. Jenna made every part of these costumes–she ordered the peacock feathers, (this was amazing!), and she even made the turtle shell for Noah’s costume!

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Audrey as the Wicked Princess

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Noah as a Ninja Turtle

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Claire as a Peacock!

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Claire with her feathers down

So, if you think you still have enough time—grab some colorful fabric, a pattern or two and a sewing machine and you are off and running. Enjoy this very fun and very popular holiday and create more fun family memories!

 Boo to you!

Sharlene 2014

I love the fall holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think that holiday-fun should always include reading-a-loud-fun that turns into exciting and memorable traditions. So today I’m going to talk about one of our family’s very favorite Halloween books: The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg (think Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.) He is a master storyteller and his illustrations are mesmerizing.

Halloween 1

 This is not your typical Halloween book with colorful black, orange, purple and green pictures of pumpkins and fanciful witches, goblins and such—no sir!—this book is created with sepia tone illustrations that makes you feel that there really are such things as witches, flying brooms and magic on Halloween. My kids absolutely loved this book and I consider it a “must” read-a-loud book—one to be enjoyed for many Halloweens to come and one that can be passed down to grandchildren—although I’m not ready to give up my copy quite yet…

 Here is what one reviewer said about this enchanting, yet haunting tale: The Widow’s Broom:

 “Witches’ brooms don’t last forever. They grow old, and even the best of them, one day, lose the power of flight…. On very rare occasions, however, a broom can lose its power without warning, and fall, with its passenger, to the earth below … which is just what happened one cold autumn night many years ago.” So begins The Widow’s Broom, the gentle, strangely captivating book by Chris Van Allsburg.

 The story gets under way when the lonely widow Minna Shaw finds a wounded, sky-fallen witch in her vegetable garden. The witch disappears before dawn, but leaves her old, presumably defunct broom behind. Minna begins to use it around the house and finds that “it was no better or worse than brooms she’d used before.” However, one morning, Minna sees the broom sweeping by itself! Opportunistically, she trains it to chop wood and fetch water.

 When the neighbors find out about this “wicked, wicked thing” (posing as an innocent, hardworking broom), they accost the widow and demand that the broom be burned. Are they successful in separating the lonely widow and her diligently sweeping friend? This is a wonderfully suspenseful book to read aloud and young listeners will earnestly hope for the broom’s survival.”


One last thing—don’t forget the spooky music to play while you are reading your stash of Halloween books to your kids (plus pop some popcorn for even more fun). Here are some favorite Halloween music CDs:

 Halloween Music Collection CD by Midnight Syndicate


Halloween Hits

Halloween CD

The 13th Hour by Midnight Syndicate

Halloween CD 1


Sharlene 2014

Do you have a child with learning disabilities? Autism? Sensory Integration issues? Auditory Processing? Attention Deficit Disorder? Etc.?

In chapter eight of my book, Good Music Brighter Children I talk about how music can be a powerful catalyst for kids who suffer from a variety of learning disabilities.


As mentioned in other blogs, all learning disabilities begin with auditory processing. This means that the child can hear fine, but have difficulty processing what he/she hears. In order to help learning disabilities, you need to find something that strengthens the auditory cortex, and that something is music.

Alene 2

Today I want to introduce you to an educational therapist who uses acoustically modified music as one therapy to help learning-disabled children. Her name: Alene Villaneda. Her company: Integrated Learning Strategies.

Alene 1Alene Villaneda, an educational therapist from Kaysville, Utah, uses amazing sound therapy programs called Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) and Advanced Brain Technologies (ABT) for her students. Since 1994 her company, Integrated Learning Strategies, has worked with children who have a variety of learning disabilities including: ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, sensory processing disorders, speech and language issues, and autism. Specifically speaking, she helps children who suffer from issues relating to auditory processing (both receptive and expressive language), vestibular  issues (the foundational system for visual and auditory), gross and fine motor problems, and memory and concentration, as well as anyone who wants to have better listening skills. Villaneda uses a combination of different programs and has found that the iLs and ABT programs address the needs of many of her students.

The iLs and ABT programs use filtered classical music; particularly the music of Mozart while the children are concurrently doing specific movements and engaging in visual stimulation. This network of sensory systems being simultaneously stimulated—auditory, visual, vestibular, motor, and even emotional control produces amazing results.

Below are some of the results her clients have experienced after using the iLs and ABT programs.

Alene 3A nine-year-old girl came to Villaneda with severe comprehension and auditory processing problems, as well as attention issues. She also wore very thick glasses. Normally, it would have taken thirty months to fully address these problems, but by combining the iLs program with movement, the young girl experienced a remarkable turnaround in just eighteen months. She no longer has to repeatedly ask her teacher for clarification of what is said in class (auditory issues), she understands what she reads (auditory and comprehension), her attention span has drastically improved (vestibular/auditory), and even her vision has improved to where her glasses have needed adjustments.

Alene 5Villaneda began working with an autistic boy when he was seven years old. Although he suffered from expressive language issues, he did understand what people said to him. At the time, he was in a special classroom at school and had difficulty with stemming—a term used to describe constant wiggling and shaking. Villaneda started him on the iLs program, and within six short months he was talking and reading. Today, he is now in a mainstream classroom. Although he is receiving additional intervention, his parents described his change as “an awakening.”

Alene 4When five-year-old Monica came to Villaneda, she could not sit still and could not bounce a ball or catch or throw a beanbag. She was unable to focus on an object, could not coordinate her eyes, and never noticed anything around her. Monica appeared normal, but would have severe temper tantrums and extreme bouts of anger. Additionally, she did not show any affection toward her parents or siblings. Within a few short months of being on the iLs program, Monica was transformed: she became grounded, she could throw and catch a beanbag, she became very observant of everything around her, she asked questions, and, best of all, she became a very affectionate child.

My eight-year old granddaughter has severe hearing and vision issues and she recently began the iLs program that I purchased from Ms. Villaneda. I will keep you abreast of how it is working for her!

Audrey with her piano teacher

For more tools and resources, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. For great information and services, check out Integrated Learning Strategies at


Sharlene 2014










Halloween and scary music go hand-in-hand. You probably own a couple of Halloween CDs complete with all the scary music you need, but did you know that scary music is found in the classical repertoire? Believe it or not, it actually does have some fairly ominous music.  And just in case you would like to try playing some scary classical music for the holiday, here are a few suggestions that you can download from the Internet onto an MP3 player and play at Halloween:

 Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns (cartoon & music see:

“March to the Scaffold” in Symphonie Fantastique, Op, 14 by Hector Berlioz (

“The Hut of Baba Yaga” from Pictures at an Exhibition with Ravel by Modest Mussorgsky (

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor by Johannes Brahms (for the ballet & music:

Also Sprach Zarathustra by R. Strauss (

 Second, if you are planning a themed Halloween party, (i.e. “Harry Potter”) stir up this fun musical game that will help your guests understand just how important the role of music plays in the movies. Plus—it is scary fun! Click on the links below for some frightening sounds and visuals:



 Musical Game: Scary Music in the Movies

 Directions: Play a specific segment from each of these five movies—first without any music and then with music. Music plays a HUGE impact on how downright scary the movie is. I’ve actually done this various times and I usually start with the movie “Jaws.”


Scary Movie #1: Jaws

For the music see:

Two single notes never did as much work as it did when queueing up the intro of the ocean’s scariest predator. The Jaws theme, written and conducted by Hollywood legend John Williams, is one of the most recognizable, horrifying clips of music ever composed.  Do you remember the scene in the beginning where the girl is swimming alone at night in the ocean? All of a sudden you hear those single ominous notes letting you know that something horrible is about to happen. From that point on, whenever you hear that music, you tense up. The audience knows that something bad is about to happen while the movie characters remain oblivious—which heightens the intensity of this thriller!

Scary Movie #2: Psycho

For the music see:

The height of the film’s intensity only features a few notes of music, but the piercing, screeching violin strings echoing throughout Psycho’s shower scene held more power than most movie music would for decades to come. Warning: don’t take a shower on Halloween—opt for a bath; in the light of day; and with a weapon nearby… Music by Bernard Herrmann

Scary Movie #3: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

For the movie clip and music see:

Remember when Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Malfoy serve detention in the forbidden forest with Hagrid as their escort? Harry and Malfoy find a horrible creature (Lord Voldemort) who has just killed a unicorn and is drinking it’s blood. Malfoy runs away, leaving Harry behind to face Voldemort—notice the music in those scenes—scary and foreboding!

Scary Movie #4: Signs

For the music see:


This movie is about a family living on a farm that discovers mysterious crop circles in their fields. They suggest something more frightening to come! To be honest, I have only seen trailers of this movie—but I’ve been told the movie is rather scary and so is the music—you be the judge. Music by James Newton Howard

Scary Movie #5: Halloween

For the music clip see:


Haven’t seen this movie—never will! However, I understand that John Carpenter’s terrifyingly minimal composition for the original Halloween is more than enough to strike fear into anyone’s heart after hearing just a few tinkering notes. The synth-enhanced tune, played in 5/4 time, was famously performed by the director—and turned Halloween from an eerie, oddly brutal horror flick to something so much more nightmare-inducing.

 I’ve been told that there are movies which contain MUCH scarier music such as: “Saw,” “The Shining,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Donnie Darko,” “The Dark Knight,” “Prometheus,” “Friday the 13th,” etc.  I’ll leave it to you to check out those movies. Hopefully, this list is a beginning of scary music and movies to play in the dark at Halloween!


Sharlene 2014


Young man looking at bright colorful sketch on brick background. Creative and analytical thinking concept

Did you know that Steve Jobs was a “low-tech” parent?  Meaning–he did not allow his kids to turn into tech-junkies by spending hours on end playing with tech-toys. He stated, “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Surprising isn’t it?! I think most of us would assume that one of the greatest tech geniuses of all times would want his kids to have a technology edge and allow them unlimited use. Not so…

And Steve Jobs was not the only parent who clamped down on his kid’s tech-use. Other tech geniuses like:

Chris Anderson: C.E.O. of 3D Robotics,

Alex Constantinople: C.E.O of OutCast Agency, 

Evan Williams: founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium

They also limit their children’s use of technology by putting strict rules regarding its’ use.

Why? Is there something they know that we don’t know? 

Yes. They understand this very important truth: we live in a 3-dimensional world and technology is a 2-dimensional world. Living consistently in that 2-dimensional world can cause a host of problems in learning, social interactions, and emotional development.

Think about this:

Are you a User or Creator?

Steve Jobs was the genius tech-creator, but we are the users. And, there is a big difference between the two. Cultural critic Roland Barthes lamented in the 1970s that the wooden block’s children used to play with were in decline, and it was sad because now children were taught to be users, not creators.

Are we teaching our children to be users rather than creators? If so, the consequences will be far-reaching.

Let me be clear on one point: I’m not against technology. Not, at all. To me, technology is neither good nor bad—its value is predicated on how it is used.  In many respects, it is an amazing tool; provides a wealth of easily-accessible information; allows for the storage of information; a tool that provides a quick communication with people, and has the ability to keep us in touch with long-distant family and friends.

But its’ overuse can cause addiction; significant learning issues, and dehumanize us.

Like everything in life, it needs controls. I guess Shakespeare knew what he was talking about when he said: “Moderation in all things…”

I am passionate about learning, including what helps people learn and what impairs learning. For years I have gathered data on the harmful brain effects of too much technology. The studies show that the overuse of technology literally changes brain circuitry and can contribute to (and perhaps cause) many serious disorders.

Too much TV

Too much technology causes a host of problems with kids

Here’s some food for thought:

Too Much Technology? Look for these signs: 

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder,
  • ADD/ADHD attention-deficit disorder (focusing, attention to tasks, etc)
  • Visual Perception (related to reading, reading comprehension, math)
  • Narcissism
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (how children view their bodies—most video games portray Barbie-like and He-Man-like unrealistic body types)
  • Mood disorders: Depression, Mania, etc
  • Addictions
  • Loss of empathy—especially when there is a video-game addiction which can cause desensitization and emotional distance

Help Your Kids Monitor Technology

Parents—please help your kids control the amount of time they spend on television, Facebook, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and cell phones, etc. Pediatricians suggest no more than 45 minutes-1 hour per day on tech devices. They also recommend that a child under the age of two should be nowhere near technology.  

When your child (up to age 10) is on the computer, sit with them and monitor what they are seeing. “Co-viewing” is important because it allows you to talk to your child about the advertisements, the videos, the images, etc., they are seeing. You want to be your child’s first teacher—not the Internet.

Need help? Here are some things we did to help our kids control their technology use that might be helpful to you:

Charts: Create a chart (click below for the FREE printable) where you can daily record how much time each person in the family is spending on technology. It may surprise everyone just how much time is wasted on these two-dimensional screens. After a month of careful charting, sit down with your family and discuss ways you can limit its use and what activities you can do instead.

Parents: it’s important that you do this exercise with your kids. It will give you an opportunity to evaluate how much time YOU spend “plugged in.” What kind of tech role model are YOU? And are your children mirroring YOUR tech-use behavior?

Charts Lead to Self-Monitoring

One of the goals for monitoring technology is to teach your child about being responsible for what he chooses to do with his time. And hopefully to choose (at least most of the time) activities that will enhance his life rather than be time-wasters.

We got our first computer in 1985. It was easier back then to control because there was no Internet, no cell phones, and rather boring video games. Our first three sons were not that interested in the computer, but our last son loved tech toys and would have spent his entire life playing games, etc. if we didn’t have some rules in place. We tried several things, but one strategy worked the best.

Our Most Successful Strategy for Monitoring Tech Toys

For every minute our sons spent on a tech device, they had to spend an equal amount of time practicing their musical instruments. Example:

10 minutes playing video games = 10 minutes practicing the piano

15 minutes watching TV = 15 minutes practicing the piano, etc.

The result: over time our boys learned to self-monitor the time they spent on technology. It freed me from being the policeman and taught them responsibility in how they chose to spend their time.

Another idea: the program, RescueTime may help your child. It’s a time management software that can help them be aware if they are spending too much time on Facebook, the Internet, etc.

One more thing: if you are putting the brakes on tech-use with your kids, there will be a “time hole” and someone or something (or both) is going to need to help her fill that hole. There are tons of things your kids can do instead of being “plugged-in,” but they may need you to guide them–especially in the beginning. 

Next up: Exchange Technology for these Brain-Building Activities


Happy family playing guitar together at home

Parents taking music lessons with their children

Sharlene 2014

I love oatmeal cookies, but I like everything–including the kitchen sink (as they say)– in them. These are amazing oatmeal cookies–moist, flavorful, and delicious. I like to make oatmeal cookies during the fall, in fact, I think the words autumn and oatmeal cookies are synonymous.

I do not like flat oatmeal cookies and I found that after you make the dough, if you put the dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour and preferably overnight–they will be plump, moist and have the perfect amount of crunch to them! So, here is the recipe for the very best oatmeal cookies you have ever tasted! And–try putting in the walnuts, the raisins and the apples (and even dates, if you want)–you won’t be sorry–I promise!

Oatmeal cookies


½ pound (2 sticks) butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

1 cup raisins (optional)

3/4 cup chopped dates (optional)

1 cup walnuts (optional)

1 cup shredded apples (optional—but I like these in the cookies because it makes them very soft and adds a wonderful texture and flavor)



  1. Heat over to 350 degrees
  2. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy
  3. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well
  4. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mix well and add to mixture
  5. Stir in oats, raisins, nuts, dates and apples
  6. Put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight
  7. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto un-greased cookie sheet
  8. Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown
  9. Leave 1 minute on cookie sheet: remove to wire rack



Sharlene 2014

human brain with arms and legs who plays the violin, 3d illustration

Today’s blog is a continuation of how music involvement will build a bigger, better brain. It will help your children in every aspect of their schooling—reading, writing, math, language arts, spelling and vocabulary. Last week we talked about how music strengthens the auditory cortex and how that helps with reading and speech and language. Today we are talking about how music builds and strengthens the visual/spatial areas of the brain. 

Brain-builder #2: Music strengthens the visual/spatial cortex and helps with math and science…

 Music strengthens the visual/spatial areas of the brain. Spatial people solve problems in their minds-eye; they think in pictures; they understand higher forms of math and science and they are usually very creative (they dream in color while most people dream in black & white).


 56unnamedThink Albert Einstein whose visual/spatial areas of his brain were 25 percent larger than most people! He was an accomplished violinist and credits music with organizing his brain and helping him to solve intricate theories and problems. His friend said that Einstein used music for inspiration and that the answers to complex problems came to him in the midst of playing his violin.

 Studies show that when a child learns a musical instrument it primes, prepares, and develops the spatial areas of the brain in such a way that a child is able to understand science, technology, engineering and math more easily. These are called STEM subjects. Interestingly, educators are now calling it: STEMMM. This stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Medicine and Music–because more and more people and educators are realizing the importance of music. They should–Music was considered one of the four pillars of learning during the time of Pythagoras. If they understood it’s importance–then so should we!

Kids practicing 1

 The visual/spatial areas of the brain are also tied to creativity. Creative problem-solvers will be needed for 21st century problems. When you get your children involved playing a musical instrument, you will begin to notice a correlation between their problem-solving skills and their musical skills.

Jason Violin-1037

 This is such an important brain-building activity—so sign your kids up for music lessons this week! If you have young children–check out the program: “Let’s Play Music.”


Sharlene 2014

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