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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Books for the Children on Your Christmas List

Books are the gift that keep on giving.  Year after year, there are favorites I return to when I want to live through the language of authors who take my imagination to new heights.  We read aloud to our son every night.  The beauty of books is that while he may not be able to read a story for himself yet, he can get swept away to lands as near or as far as we share with him.

Here are some of my favorites.  My son is 6, so these have been appropriate for him.  There may be a few on here we haven't gotten to yet, but will be soon.  Enjoy!!

Thanks in advance for using these links attached to the images.  Many of them are affiliate links and enable us to share even more books together.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

We are currently reading this Wonder-ful book.  As a former special education teacher and the aunt of a nephew in a wheelchair with Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy, I appreciate the openness about differences.  Fiction is one of the greatest tools for teaching empathy.  Here we are taken into the world and thoughts of August Pullman as he ventures into school for the first time as a 5th grader.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

What can I say except that every child and adult should read these books.  Watch the movies afterward, but definitely read these books.  The language used by C.S. Lewis is incomparable in it's power to transport us to new worlds and share deep truths with such beauty.  This boxed set has beautiful color illustrations through out.  I also have the combined books in one hardback volume.  It has the feel of an heirloom that should be in your library.

The Tin Forest by Helen Ward

This was a gift to my son from a high school friend of mine.  This had been her daughter's favorite book, and I quickly understood why.  The illustrations are intriguing with hidden images of birds, flowers, insects and wild animals populating the forest made of tin that springs to life from the imagination of the old man who lives within it.  This is a great introduction to Helen Ward that will leave you wanting more.  I'm thinking we need to add more to our own collection.  You will want to gaze at the pages over and over.

The Animals' Christmas Carol by Helen Ward

Since it is so close to Christmas, be sure you add this one, too.  It is stunning to look at while reading the verses based on a French carol that can be traced back to the 12th century.  There is even the music and verses at the very end.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik

I was first introduced to Hugo by the Martin Scorsese film of the same name.  The movie, like the book is a love story to the cinema, innovation and visual imagery.  If you have a child that loves pictures more than words, you will want to invest in books by Brian Selznik.  His genius lies in storytelling with pages upon pages of drawings that weave in and out of the written pages seamlessly.  The black pages of the book are a novelty in and of themselves.  I have glanced through (if that is possible) his other books and know that I need to add them to our collection as well.

The Growly Books by Phillip and Erin Ulrich

It is no mystery that we love Growly, Chippy, and Tully in this house.  We also love Erin Ulrich!  Phillip and Erin have captured the spirit of friendship, adventure, bravery and loyalty in the Growly Books.  The trilogy consists of Begin, Widewater, and Morning.  The artwork by the talented and lovely Annie Barnett, of Be Small Studios, bring the characters and landscape to life.  These are stories to inspire your young adventurer.

The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle

Most people are familiar with A Wrinkle in Time, but have not followed the Murray family on their other adventures through the rest of the series.  Get these for yourself if you haven't read them all.  Some of the others are even better than the namesake of the series, in my opinion.  After reading the first one, I fully endorse watching the 2003 Disney movie starring Alfre Woodard and Kyle Secor - watch the deleted scenes.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

I'm not sure that there needs to be any other reason than IT'S WINNIE-THE-POOH!!  If you need convincing that these should be in your child's library (or your own) you have most likely stopped reading through this list already.  This is not an easy read. It will test your skills as a narrator, but will bring hours of joy to story time.  The classic illustrations are so much nicer than the newer cartoonish versions.  I'm a purist at heart when it comes to Pooh.

Beatrix Potter the Complete Tales (Peter Rabbit)

Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, Squirrel Nutkin.... These whimsical tales of woodland creatures, and a few kittens, have stood the test of time.  I have to admit that this is missing from our own collection.  We have read many of the individual small books from the library, which are darling, but this boxed hardback speaks to me in a deep way that seems worthy of handing down through generations, much like the stories themselves.


Shine So Bright by Tim Willard

I am so excited to let you know about this book.  I haven't read it yet, not even the sample pages that were available.  BUT.... I know Tim's writing, and it is exquisite.  His passion is beauty language, especially from the works of C.S. Lewis, and it shows in his lyrical prose that seems to be a collection of ordinary words with extraordinary impact.  I have such confidence that this will be a well-loved book in our home that I joined the Kickstarter campaign to ensure it was printed.

Shine So Bright is the story of LoLo Star, how she is taunted, and then how she learns to shine, so bright.  When I say hot off the presses I mean it.  These have been printed within the last week.  You can be one of the first to share this story with your family.  I am doing this for several children this Christmas who hold dear space in my heart.

So there you have a starter list of books that I think you should be buying this Christmas.  There are so many classics that I didn't include.  I've said nothing here of The Velveteen Rabbit, Curious George, Madeleine, Babar and all the others that have been loved for generations. I'd love to hear which books you would include. 

Happy shopping, happy reading!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#GivingTuesday Opportunities for YOU to Make a Difference

This is #GivingTuesday!!  After last week's emphasis on giving thanks, we can now focus that gratitude and give back to others.  I have a few suggestions for you here.  I'd love to hear how you are participating.  There are so many amazing places to give, shop, and offer your time.  This is no way exhaustive but just a kickstart in case you needed some suggestions.

***TODAY ONLY*** When you shop the IJM catalog, your gift is doubled.  You make twice the impact for freedom in this world.  Gifts start as low as $7!!


Your donation offers refugees a priceless gift as they rebuild their lives, educate their children, and seek lifesaving surgery.  To date there have been over:

  • 1,350 lifesaving hear surgeries
  • 100,000 aid deliveried to families affected by ISIS
  • 30 small business grants to displaced widows
  • $61 social return on each $1 donated

Of course, I would also appreciate you shopping through my Trades of Hope!  There are several ornament sets to choose from, as well as the rest of our fabulous accessories and decorative items. The ornaments make great additions to small gifts and cards, they also make a great addition to your tree!  You will be giving opportunity and empowerment to the artisans around the world who work to provide for their own families and rise out of poverty.

Now go out there and make a change in the world on this

Saturday, October 31, 2015

When the Chair Hits the Classroom Floor

This last week I have found myself constantly with an image of a desk in my mind’s eye.  There was a girl, there was a resource officer, there were other students, and there was a teacher.  But, what stands out most to me is the desk.  I think that there was one other person in this nation that may have been even more affected than I was by the sight of that desk and it hitting the floor.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week.

We have to go back to 1997 for this to make sense.  Since we have to go back 18 years, right about this time of year, which should clue you in to the impact.  I was a 7th grade teacher in a large suburb of a city in the Deep South.  We’ll leave it at that for the location.  I was teaching a small class that was labeled “Mixed Resource Special Ed”.  These were kids that were generally in mainstream classes except for their math and English because of the gap between them and their peers.  I was out of my trained area and most likely out of my depth.  This was my last classroom in a school setting.

To the point.

This collection of students ranged from one that was on the spectrum with obsessive/compulsive tendencies to a couple that I was convinced at the time had made themselves “special ed”. This had come from their behavior over the course of their years of school. The defiance and unwillingness to comply directed toward me daily – and I’m sure I wasn’t the first – had left a few in this group grades behind in reading and math skills. I could see the ones who tried, but just couldn’t get it.  They needed this class so badly.  They didn’t need the added distraction of the others.

The end of the first quarter brought exam day.  The instructions were simple.  When you finish your work sit in your seat quietly until the others are done.  Simple.  Just sit, no talking. Simple.

This proved to be too hard for one girl.  This is the one I referred to at the beginning.  Sitting was not on her agenda.  Being quiet was not on her agenda.  I had to go to her twice to remind her to sit back down in her seat and stop talking.  She was up and leaning over to her right to talk to another girl.  Twice.

At first there was the sly grin of “you caught me”, then the pain must’ve started.

“There’s blood on the floor!  There’s blood on the floor!” from one of the students.

She held her left hand up and looked down to see the blood.  Something was wrong.  The end of her ring finger was missing.  It lay on the floor inches from where the edge of the desk had hit the floor.  The ceramic edge had cut it off from her weight.  She was holding on to the side of the top when she had leaned to far and tipped.

Just sit.  Simple.

We got her in the ambulance with her fingertip and the local hospital performed reattachment surgery.  It was unsuccessful.  I knew this would impact her for the rest of her life.  This, after all, is the finger where a wedding band is placed.  The part I haven’t old you yet is that both of her parents are Deaf.  That capital D is intentional, it’s cultural and part of who they are.  If your parents are Deaf, you communicate with sign language.  You need both hands.

I looked this student up on Facebook the other day, and I found her.  I scrolled through photos of her and her children.  In ever shot where her left hand was visible it was covered by her right or the last two fingers were folded under.  My heart ached.  This event had become part of who she was in every photo and how she carries herself.  I imagine there is shame, possibly some anger directed toward herself, probably more than a dash of regret.

Just sit.  Simple.

I wondered what she thought when she saw that desk on the news hit the floor.  What did she think about the girl, the officer, the girl’s future, her own past?

My heart ached for a former student and for a student I’ve never met.  It still does.  

I think about that teacher. 

I became the teacher that cut your finger off if you talked in my class.  No, really.  I was the one.

How will this teacher be known?

I’m not writing this to comment on the specific actions in that classroom in SC.  I’m writing about the fact that when I see those videos, I see the desk hit the floor.  We all bring our histories with us and they are the filters for our eyes.  It’s hard to overcome, but it is also just as hard to read into a situation you may have never experienced.

The chair tipping wasn’t an isolated event in my shared experience with my student.  It didn’t stop there either.  I spent hours in the hospital waiting for her to come out of surgery.  I was there with her parents.  The school hadn’t thought to summon the interpreter for the hospital.  Fortunately, this was my trained area. I was at the hospital the next day as well.

That was my last year of teaching.  She is the only student whose name I remember.  She is the one I think of when I see that chair hit the floor.

Photo is of a similar Virco Martest 3000 Series 3700BR Student Desk (3700BR) from Amazon.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dipping My Toe in the Water

I look back at the date of the last post and see August 5.  August 5!! That was two and a half months ago guys.  Where did the time go?  I'll tell you.  Allume.

I have so many thoughts still rushing through my mind.  I think of spreadsheets and hard work and a bazillion emails.  But I also think of challenges, and encouragement, and so many encounters.  Each one of these is working in me to change me and inform my viewing of the world.  I'm not sure I can accurately put into words the impact.  I'm not sure I really know yet.

I do know I want to go back through each of the keynotes with a clear head and no distractions. I'm sure I missed so much even sitting 20 feet from the speaker.  I'd love for you to watch them, too, and share your thoughts.  To get the most from them, I suggest watching them in order.  You will have a greater sense of how the weekend unfolded and see the guiding of the Holy Spirit over the message that developed.

You can check out those videos on the Allume website under the Resources tab.

I heard a clear word for me.  I don't want to share that yet until you've had a chance to watch them for yourself.  I'll share more about that soon. I'm still realizing implications that I hadn't considered when I first realized what was being said to me.  I think this here little blog is directly impacted.

So as I shake the dust off around here I ask that you forgive the disarray and have a little patience with me.  I'm dipping my toes back in the water and it may take me a bit to get used to it all again.  Say hi, won't you, just to let me know that it is still really all functioning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back in the Holler

Hollows, or "hollers" as it comes out of my Appalachian mouth, are all over the place where I was raised.  They can be hidden and unknown to the outside world, outside of your immediate family anyway.  My great-grandparents lived back in a hollow, and we would walk there, back through the woods and down over the hill from my granny's house.  You could drive there, but what does an 8 year old know about directions for a car to follow.  I was more concerned about the split rail fences, grapevines, and not getting caught on barbed wire.

Then there were other hollows, I couldn't tell you where if my life depended on it.  There were steep hills, creeks, huge trees and the best blackberries and black raspberries in the world.  All wild.  The wild always taste better and nothing you can buy in a store, or even a farmer's market for that matter come close.

I've been spoiled by the wild.  I've been away from it for decades, but there is a disappointment that rises in me whenever I'm given the tame version of blackberry cobbler.  Who in their right mind would ever be disappointed by hot blackberry cobbler with melting vanilla ice cream?  I will tell you. The one who has tasted the wild, free, picked in the blazing sun covered from head to toe to defend from bees and snakes berries, that's who.  And in the dead of winter, those berries pulled from the freezer are a gift like no other.

We've lost sight of the wild, the Eden that we were created for, that was created for us.  We've forgotten that it exists and we settle.  Settling can look like many different things: rebellion, apathy, complacency, acceptance of a tame version all planted in neat rows where UPick 'til your heart's content, but then it never really is.  Content, that is.

Amber Haines takes us with her through a journey from a backyard Eden, through the wilds of rebellion and isolation, and then...... well, I'll let you find that out for yourself.  The words flow like a rushing creek over smooth stones and jagged rocks into rapids.  This is poetry that sings loud like cicadas, smells heady like jasmine, and tastes sweet like the singular drops of honeysuckle.  But poetry and metaphor are the lures that often make us miss the reality that the metaphor exists to glorify.  If we're not careful, we'll settle for the beauty of words, over the beauty of The Word. Because where our words can never be completely satisfying or fulfilling because they are broken, we must rely on a Word that was broken for us.

The hollow is not just a place between two hills, but the place inside of us, the God-shaped void. The wild that can be found there with the Creator of this universe takes us back to freedom in Eden and makes us whole.

Amber will be speaking this year at the Allume Conference, October 15-17, in Greenville, SC.  I'd love for you to join us.  You can find out more and get your tickets here:

Wild in the Hollow is available now wherever you choose to buy books.  I thank you in advance for choosing here if you use this affiliate link.  I was provided a copy for review by Revell, but as always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

That Time I Fixed My Dishwasher

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I appreciate it anytime you use them.

Linking up with Works For Me Wednesday at Giving Up on Perfect.

I get an extreme sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when I do something by myself. Specifically, when I do something that I might have otherwise hired out to be done by a professional. The fact that I also save significant amounts of money at the same time is the cherry on top.

Last week we discovered that a post that holds a wheel on the top rack of our dishwasher had broken. In fact, three of the four were broken. When you combine this with the fact that the door started leaking, I was ready to just pitch it and get a new one. I know that sounds a little overblown, but we’ve had issues with this dishwasher since day one.

After a bit of technical research on the Google machine I discovered this is quite common. I used my model number to find the part number that would need to be replaced. I intensified my research by digging deep into You Tube for how-to videos. Lastly, I pulled the trigger and ordered the part from Amazon after an online chat to determine that the new metal parts would work in the place of the plastic ones. Two guesses as to why they are now made of metal instead of plastic. You got it – they were constantly breaking!

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I had the parts the next morning and it was time to get to work.

I extricated the top rack from the dishwasher, laid out my parts, queued the video and broke bad on those busted parts. All went well until the very last piece, which needed a torx driver for the supplied screws. I knew we had one, but apparently not here, so off to for same day pickup. They are a Pure Charity partner, so I love ordering online to pick up later.

Once I had the driver, the 4 screws were tightened in a matter of seconds.  The rack was reinstalled and VOILA! Fixed! For less than $40 we had a rolling rack!

Funny thing, the door stopped leaking. The malfunctioning rack was keeping the door from closing completely. It still needs to be lowered in the back a bit, but that’s a job for another day and will require 2 people.

Here’s to hoping that the feeling of satisfaction continues and makes me want to load and unload it regularly simply to feel that smooth gliding. I am more deeply invested. Ownership drives my participation. I also love doing things with my hands. Win–Win!

Now it’s time to toot your own horn.

Are you a DIYer? What task have you completed that gave you the same sense of satisfaction?

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Little Fashion Revolution

*Disclaimer: I was provided with a $50 gift certificate to use at the Loudoun Just Between Friends spring sale in exchange for FB and twitter promotion.  All opinions and deals are completely my own, however, all the clothes will be worn by my son. This post contains affiliate links.

Today is Fashion Revolution Day.  This is the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1100 garment workers in Bangladesh in 2013.  You can read all about it and how to participate on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #fashrev, #FashionRevolution, #insideout, and #whomademyclothes.

Looking at labels and informing yourself is a great way to start to make a change in the world right where you are.  It's not the easiest change to make.  I'll be the first to admit that.  Finding ethically made clothing, especially at an affordable price, especially for kids(!!!!) can be tricky and takes time.  You're not always going to be able to make that quick stop off at the mall for a new shirt you might want to have for, say, tonight!  You're not always going to be able to get the new trend every week and a half - that's FAST FASHION!

This week I'm doing the opposite and working on some slow fashion.  That's actually a thing.  Google it.  My version has been to pull out the sewing machine and make the little guy a pair of pajamas.  I have to say, it's been so slow that they are long sleeved and pants as May is creeping around the corner.  They've been cut out for a while.

My other tactic is a huge local consignment sale.  This is one of those times that blogging has its privileges.  I received early access to an elusive fantasy land, one where great condition second-hand boys' clothing exists.  Not only clothing abides there, but SHOES!!!  Shoes, do you hear me!!  If you have a young boy, I know you are shaking your head in disbelief right now.  I have a picture for proof.  Also, I got his entire summer wardrobe and new shoes for school next year at an average of >$5 a piece!!!

This is a great way to slow down the fashion train, keep otherwise perfectly fine clothing from going to donation centers with short rack times and ultimately becoming a trash heap in a developing country if it is unusable as ragstock.  Here's a great BBC produced video on what happens to the usuable goods.  Do a little research though, and you find this can be quite detrimental to other economies.

If you are local, head out to the Just Between Friends sale Saturday and Sunday.  Get there as early as you can.  You can find all the details at that link.  I'm already planning to consign at the fall sale and help out some other boymoms in their quest for clothing that isn't breaking the bank or the backs of others.

If you want to learn more I have two great books to recommend:

While not necessarily about fashion, it does show how we are all connected.

Have you slowed down your fashion in any way?  I'd love to hear what you've got!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Road Home

Let’s set the stage and avoid any questioning from the get-go:  I am a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia.  My parents moved just before my 4th birthday into the house where they still live.  “Home” is a place that consists of an entire county, but “home” (notice the little h) has been lots of places since I left for college in the fall of 1989.

The one thing that has remained constant for me has been church.  Weekly.  For a long time 3 times a week – Sunday morning for Sunday school and worship, Sunday night, and Wednesday night for Bible study or prayer service.  Attendance was NOT optional growing up.  You know what, that instilled in me that attendance was NOT optional when I was on my own either.  That’s a good thing y’all. Felt like I needed to prove my Southernness right there.

So much of my life has also been tied to either US 11 or I-81.  This road took me home from school – elementary through college at James Madison University - GO DUKES!! – to graduate school at the University of Tennessee – GO BIG ORANGE!!!  I even taught school at the very end of it for part of a year at Slidell Jr. High in Slidell, LA.  Roads are how I knew I was going to love this book.  Two words:  Google maps!

That picture is one I see often online.  It’s the top of our driveway right on route 11.  I can’t count the days I stood at those mailboxes.  That was our bus stop.  That’s my parents house you can see peeking through the trees in the back to the left.  I think that’s their camper.  I use the little yellow man on Google Earth to visit friends’ houses, see what’s changed, see what’s exactly the same.

It’s been really nice since we’ve not gone anywhere since last October, but have been practicing a bit of mutual hospitality right here at home.  Which brings me to where we are, which is exactly where God needed us to be on the morning of November 23, 2014.  Every turn through the states of VA, KY, LA, NC, OH, IL, CT, back to IL, and to VA again have put us in the right place at the right time.  We just didn’t realize it completely until our eyes were opened in a dramatic fashion.

Can you look back over the roads you’ve traveled and see how it was the route God used to get you where you needed to be?

This post contains affiliate links.