Great Children’s Books Gift List 2019

Squnching together with my kiddos curled up with a book? I feel like there is no better use of my time than that. We have connected and laughed and cried (yes, I’m mostly the one crying) and learned so much just by sharing great books with great stories. While Blake was in the hospital, sitting beside him on the hospital bed to read a book, or reading with the other three kids on the couch at home made life feel normal again, if even for a moment.

I decided to try to make some mental (and on paper) notes this year to share some of our family’s favorite stories in hopes that they can bless yours in the year to come. At Christmas, we often try to give our children “something they want, something they need, something to play with and something to read.” And we usually try to make the thing they want the thing they play with, too… ūüėČ If a good book or two is something you’d like to put under the tree this year, I’ve done my best to organize some favorites below!

The Ones We Laughed At…

  1. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis features insects speaking a made-up language and building a fort in a flower. It is a very simple story but there are tiny little things of interest on each page, like stories within the story. We see something new every time we read it… and we apparently cannot stop checking it out from the library!
  2. Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds (and Peter Brown the illustrator is a favorite!) is just so so adorable. Jasper Rabbit is a big bunny and shouldn’t be afraid of his underwear… but he is! This is a sort of sequel to Creepy Carrots, which is equally delightful and hilarious, and Blake’s favorite book.
  3. Elephants Cannot Dance or basically any Piggie and Gerald book by Mo Willems. These would make great “stocking stuffer” books! Or you could grab an Elephant and Piggie Biggie and get five of these magical books in one. I have been reading these books to my kiddos for at least six years now and they have not gotten old!! There’s a Bird on Your Head, I Broke My Trunk, Should I Share My Ice Cream, Pigs Make Me Sneeze… y’all, they’re all so good.
  4. Runny Babbit and Runny Babbit Returns by Shel Silverstein (posthumously published). Every bit as magical as his classics Where The Sidewalk Ends and a Light in the Attic, but twice as funny, these collections of poems will introduce you to Runny Babbit and his Funny Bamily, Toe Jurtle, Ploppy Sig, and Even a Dire-breathing Fragon that might fart your stire for you. Yes… the language is totally mixed up and my kids totally love it, and then ask me to read the poem over again “In English!” I read these books to Blake in the hospital not knowing if he’d wake up and remember anything — but gosh they made me sit and laugh even in those dire circumstances. What a gift laughter is!
  5. My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not!) by Peter Brown. This is another book that is engaging and good fun, with illustrations that make you notice something new each time. Give the teacher a posh British accent to bump this one up a notch at read-aloud time. {I also love Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!}
  6. Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman: These little lemmings are adorably funny and you will laugh at this amusing story with engaging illustrations — another one I don’t mind reading again!

The Pictures, the Text, the Children’s Book Magic

  1. Goldfish on Vacation by Sally Lloyd-Jones (illus. Leo Espinosa). I might have a special affinity for this book because I saw an interview of Sally Lloyd-Jones and loved her thoughts on this based-on-a-true story picture book. Sweet, lovely and engaging.
  2. Tabby McTat, the Musical Cat by Julia Donaldson (illus. Axel Sheffler) This one has been out for a bit. The rhyming never misses a beat, it is such a charming and adorable story, and the illustrations are the kind that you can look at for ages. (And if you’ve ever been to Edinburgh, you might feel as if you’ve been whisked back for a visit!) Donaldson and Sheffler are the team behind some of our all-time favorite books like The Gruffalo and The Scarecrow’s Wedding. So fun, so charming, so good!!
  3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick (illus. Sophie Blackall). Every once in a while, you come across a story that is so fantastically unique and special, you’re sure it just has to be true. This is one of those too-good-to-not-be-true stories. It weaves together family history and the story of a REAL bear cub who made her way across the Atlantic along with Canadian troops during World War I. The origin of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin… and so much more, tied together in this remarkable story. We LOVE it! {Caldecott Medal Winner}

The Ones That Really Meant Something… (Yes, I Cried.)

  1. Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story From the Border by Mitali Perkins: You might find you have different thoughts about issues like immigration when you view the issues through the eyes of your children. If you’re hoping to spark some deep conversations, about the world outside your neighborhood, what a great starter this will be. {If you specifically want to discuss immigration with your children, Lubna and Pebble is another deep, beautiful meaningful immigration story. Yes, I cried at both.}
  2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney : This one is a classic that has so much to communicate to a new generation. It might challenge your children (and you) to think about what simple things they could do to create more beauty in the world around them. Conversation opportunity: What does it mean to leave a legacy?
  3. Otis and the Kittens by Loren Long : Our tenderhearted Blake adores Otis. Otis, Otis and the Puppy, and Otis and the Tornado, are all simple stories that hold deeper layers of truth. They engage ideas about empathy, fear, welcoming ‘the other,’ and courage… and Otis and the Kittens far and above has a theme of bravery and self-sacrifice, with illustrations that truly made me teary-eyed, even at a child’s picture book. Can books teach care, compassion and empathy? Yes. Especially books like this one.
  4. Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco: MANY of Patricia Polacco’s books bring tears to my eyes, but this one perhaps the most. It’s a beautiful story of hardship and overcoming and an illustration of how no matter what your family may face, when you face it together, you’re “home.” Polacco’s text is much more lengthy than a typical picture book, so I don’t recommend her books to very young readers.

Chapter Books To Read Aloud

While picture books are my happy place, Mark is kind enough to be the regular reader during our evening story time, where we often have kids doodling on blank sheets of paper and listening to a story. We typically reserve chapter books for special bedtime stories.

  1. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood :: The humor in this book is fantastic. It is dry and witty and well paced and your kids are likely to howl for another chapter. (And good news, if they like it, there are six books in the series.)
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis :: Clearly I treasure the classics and the Chronicles of Narnia should be on every child’s bookshelf. Enough said.
  3. The Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen :: Oh, how we love the Porcine Wonder that is Mercy Watson!!! These books are early reader chapter books that can be finished in one sitting or broken up into two of three, but they are hilariously funny with absolutely fantastic illustrations and we laugh and laugh at these books. I do my best to give each character a unique voice, but there are so many good and interesting ones often interacting with one another, it’s a bit of a workout. I truly LOVE these books!
  4. Tales from Deckawoo Drive (also Kate DiCamillo/Chris Van Dusen) This spinoff of the Mercy Watson series has longer books and “fuller” chapters, but is still laugh-out-loud-funny with the clever and witty writing and hilarious illustrations that complement the stories so well. You might discover you sat down to read a couple of chapters with a kiddo, an hour has passed and you’ve finished the whole book! So far we’ve enjoyed Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? but I’m hoping more of these books will find their way under our Christmas tree.

Most Requested: Stories of Faith

Last, but not least! I so often get asked for recommendations about sharing your faith with your children, and I think books are so powerful in this regard. They do not have to be children’s Bibles to communicate Biblical truth. (Hello, Narnia!) I love to remind friends (and myself) about that thought — so many books (like Otis and Goldfish on Vacation) have a person who makes a big (or small) sacrifice or shows up and changes things for the better. Remember to be on the lookout for any theme that can help you think about goodness, beauty and truth. But here are some ‘overtly’ faith-based books that I think will be a gift to your family.

  1. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) Yes, I share about this book every year. It has become so central to the Christmas experience for our family, and I’m always excited when December 1st arrives and we start reading this together and coloring the corresponding ornaments which you can print from Ann’s website! This will be our fifth year enjoying this Christmas devotional. {I’ve reviewed this book and shared more details about it here.}
  2. Love Letters from God (Glenys Nellist) Arabella was just given this book for her birthday and I already adore it! It contains a selection of Bible stories told in new and different ways. Along with each story, there is a corresponding verse of encouragement and a fold-open love letter from God. You can write your child’s name so that the letter reads “Dear Arabella…” Each of those letters relates to some aspect of the story and brings a new perspective to God’s love for His children. It’s a beautifully done, lovely book and would be a very special gift!
  3. Tiny Bear’s Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones) This sweet and simple little Bible is for the youngest of readers. It has a sweet, teeny little collection of Bible stories told in the form of poems. A great jumping off point for beginning to share God’s love with little ones.
  4. The Jesus Storybook Bible (also Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by Jago) When Sally Lloyd-Jones set out to write a Bible for children, she had no idea what an impact it would also have for adults around the world. She retells Bible stories in ways that help us think about things we may not have considered before. Every story really does help connect the threads of God’s love, and that from the beginning, the plan was always our rescue. The plan was always Jesus.

There are so many more favorites I’m sure I’ll slap my palm against my forehead that I forgot to mention them here, but I hope this list gives you some great ideas and introduces at least a few books this might be a blessing to your family! When those forgotten books do pop to the surface, I plan to share them on Facebook, right here. So if you have any questions about any of the books I’ve mentioned that you might like to ask before you buy them, please don’t hesitate to comment on Facebook and ask away!

I pray this Christmas season will be full of God’s goodness, that His Presence will trump all the presents… and that it will be a time to for your family to remember: The Plan was always Jesus.

xCC

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Ten Cheap or Free Ideas for Your Summer Activity Arsenal

The last day of school has arrived. And part of you might feel relieved to get a break from the pick-up lines… while part of you is suddenly asking WHAT are we going to do between now and August?

Hopefully there will be trips and adventures and maybe even some summer camp on the calendar… but what about those in-between days when the play date is cancelled or the weather is rubbish? Or… what about ALL THE DAYS… you’re asking yourself?

I’ve gathered up a handful of ideas that I hope will help you have fun and keep learning this summer… and perhaps you won’t pull out any hair in the process.

  1. Create a Daily Schedule… like now.
    Before you get into the thick of planning the activities that you’ll cross off the list, think about what your day is going to look like at home. Decide when snack time is so that when kid #3 says they are hungry for the eleventeenth time, you can say “Snack is at 10 am.” Maybe reading time is from 9 to 10. Maybe screens are only allowed to come on at 2 or 3 pm. Maybe you’ll do art every day at 11 (see tips below!). Maybe you’ll always hit the pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The routine will help you keep your sanity!! Sprinklers on Wednesday, Kitchen time on Friday… brainstorm the ideas and then start plugging them into the calendar.
  2. Shop the House and Make Some Stations
    You already know this: Part of the “I’m bored” struggle isn’t that there’s anything to do, per se, it’s more that your kids are kinda used to someone telling them what to do. When they start tumbling over each other with frustration and you can tell they need some ‘separate’ activities, consider setting up some stations around the house. Set up your stations, send a kid to each one, and then rotate every 20-30 minutes. A few stations ideas:
    – Playdough at the Kitchen Counter
    – Puzzles on the coffee table
    – A reading nook with pillows and blankets in a cozy corner somewhere
    – Lincoln logs or legos
    – ‘Painting’ with a wet brush and water on the back deck
    – A drawing station with blank paper, crayons and markers
    The key is to spread them out, switch up the ideas and let everyone get a turn to do the ‘thing’ all by themselves.
  3. Your Library + the Summer Reading Program
    Our local library has a fantastic summer reading program we’ve participated in for several years now. The kids earn prizes for reading based on time or the number of books/pages they read… They LOVE going to the library for more books and they love getting to color in their little star chart recording their progress. Extra stars for big siblings who read to smaller siblings. #win Your library might also have some fun visitors coming to town — ours has a program that welcomes guest storytellers, musicians and even magicians. Ask for a calendar and plan to take advantage of this wonderful FREE resource! Library on Tuesdays!?!
  4. Introducing Art for Kids Hub… you’re welcome.
    If you haven’t already been visiting Art for Kids Hub on youtube, check out their channel and get ready to say THANK YOU. The kiddos around here can spend HOURS drawing with the simple, step-by-step instructions AFKH offers. My Little Pony and Pokemon and animals and the list goes on… this is fun and learning at its finest!!
  5. Grab this Origami paper and get folding!
    We found several GREAT origami instruction books at the library, but you can also check out Art for Kids Hub where there’s tons of great step-by-step stuff. The Collie kiddos are currently spending thirty minutes a day on Origami… seriously… music to my ears!
  6. Audiobooks are awesome!!!
    If you have a library card, you probably also have access to tons of free audiobooks. The Libby app makes it crazy easy to get audiobooks on your phone. Pop popcorn and crowd the coffee table. Draw and color and let someone else do all the reading! You can also visit Librivox.org, where hundreds (maybe thousands?) of books have been recorded by volunteers. The quality is not necessarily as great as a traditionally published audiobook, but Sarah Mackenzie has a list of some favorites to help you get started! Audiobook Thursdays?!
  7. Plan Your Own Summer Chore Chart
    This can be as simple as writing on popsicle sticks and putting them in a jar or as detailed as all the things the kiddos need to do before friends can come over or screens can go on. Jordan Page has some GREAT free printables right here to help you create a clipboard and your kiddo can get to work and check off on their own list!
  8. Get Outside with a Nature Guide
    Over the past few years, without ever specifically focusing on this one ‘thing’ as a ‘school subject,’ we’ve learned to identify dozens and dozens of insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians (and even a few mammals) in the backyard with nature guides. Pick up a book at the library or grab a few of these on Amazon — your kids will have so much fun learning so much. And ya might find a five-lined skink or two in the process… who knew! I’ve linked to some full-sized guides and some pocket guides, which are easier to tote but don’t have as many species.
    Full Sized Birds Field Guide | Kid-Sized Pocket Guide
    Full Sized Reptile Guide | Kid-Sized Pocket Reptile Guide
    Perfect-Sized Guide to Insects (SO well-loved at the Collie house) | Pocket Sized Insect Guide
    Full Sized Mammals Guide | Kid-Sized Pocket Mammals
    One other idea: This fantastic Illustrated Guide to Wildlife by National Geographic covers many different types of wildlife you’ll find out your backdoor.
  9. Bring Back the Awesomeness of Pen Pals
    Each of my boys has asked a friend to be a pen pal and they spend AGES drawing pictures, writing letters and even folding origami to send to their buds. They don’t have to be in another town! It doesn’t matter if you are likely to see them before they get the letter! For the price of a stamp, it is so much fun, and encourages them to write without you having to prompt them at all…
  10. Welcome the Kids to the Kitchen
    Sometimes we’re in such a hurry during the school year, I just want to get DONE with whatever needs to happen in the kitchen. Summer is a great time to slow down and welcome your kid to join you doing whatever you already need to do. Bake a loaf of bread or some muffins. Mix a batch of overnight oatmeal you’ll be able to throw into the oven for breakfast tomorrow. Make time spent together well the main goal.

    Woot, woot — Bonus Idea!!!
  11. Out the Door? Dollar Store!
    One last idea for when the walls seem to be closing in and you just aren’t sure you can be at home for another full day: give each kid a dollar or two, or tell them to grab their wallets … or even better get them to do the chores to earn the dollar… and then make a break for the local dollar store. Maybe they’ll pick up a hula hoop and some sidewalk chalk… or some pool noodles you can turn into a backyard obstacle course… and yeah, maybe they’ll choose something that will break after ten minutes but at least you got out of the house for less than $10!

Do you have some great boredom busters ideas or some fun activities planned for the summer? Please leave a comment to share the fun!

Five Tips and Ten Recommendations if More Reading is a New Year’s Resolution For You

Are you where I am in the midst of the eerie fog that seems to exist between December 26th and December 31st? This odd sort of holiday-esque space where some people have to go back to work and others are still on a break and people are traveling and some are still doing the Christmas stuff — and maybe you’re somewhere in between, and thinking “Hmm…. almost 365 days have passed and another whole year is almost over… What did I do?”

And if you are like me and you sit still a minute and ponder that question, you probably arrive at a place where you think “Well, that happened, which I had planned, but this didn’t. And I didn’t really do that, but at least I can say I made progress.” And perhaps on and on you go, evaluating and thinking and wondering what you might need to do differently so that 365 days from now you don’t feel like you’re still exactly where you are right now.

I didn’t write half as much as I wanted to, perhaps should have, in 2017. And I have some thoughts to think about how to change that in the year ahead — where I hear the Lord whispering the word “Choice” (as in “everything is a choice”) and I sense myself being challenged to make some life-giving choices in the year to come.

However, I excelled at another area I was aiming for: I read an awful lot this year compared to previous years, which I’m pretty delighted about. So while I might not be able to tell you how to crush all your goals (I do think this Michael Hyatt book I mentioned a while back could help with that) I do have some suggestions about reading that, if you’re in the market to make it happen, can make turn those pages more of a reality for you than any year before.

First I want to give half a second to encouraging you to think about¬†why — why reading more *real books*¬†should be one of your goals for 2018. I don’t think a dozen blog posts could fully speak to this question, but let’s start with a few simple thoughts. As a society, we are doing a heckuvalotta¬†consuming and not a whole lot of producing. Most people agree that we are moving in a direction, as one generation passes the baton to the next, and that the direction we’re headed in is not a good one. But do you realize that a lot of the problems we’re facing are as old as the hills? Ideas that have been discussed by philosophers and average joes for generations past? We are really born into a world that was having a conversation for millennia — yes, millennia — before we arrived, and the best way to join that conversation? Is to read what the great thinkers of the past said, and what other great thinkers said in response, thereby joining the conversation.

Did you know Teddy Roosevelt typically read a book before breakfast every day? And then some? Don’t you love his oft-quoted thoughts — that it’s not the critic who counts? Not the one who points out how the strong man stumbles or the doer of deeds could’ve done them better? The credit belongs to the man in the arena, right? But when we spend 99% of our time reading whatever whoever he said she said on the internet, guess what we’re getting? The noise of the critics, right?

Did you know children in Shakespeare’s day had a better vocabulary than the average American adult?¬†Suffice it to say: Reading is good for you. Very good. A man who reads lives a thousand lives, a man who does not lives one, as they say.

Truly — I ought to give another blog post to the¬†why so let’s move on to the how.

Five Tips for Reading More This Year

  1. Always have the next book on the docket, waiting in the wings. Whenever you’re reading something, go ahead and figure out what’s going to be next. Start searching for book lists online — like the “100 Books To Read Before You Die” lists. Or think about books you’ve read in the past that you enjoyed, and ask for recommendations of similar ones. Ask friends who have similar tastes in books… and if you can…
  2. Find a friend to join you on the journey. They don’t have to read every book you read. You don’t have to read at the same pace. Being able to text a friend (like I did this year) and say “I finished Emily of New Moon. Couldn’t put it down. I love her so much. My favorite part was when the preacher sat on the cat and was too deaf to hear it and Cousin Jimmy walked in and said, ‘Lord, man, if you’re a Christian, get off that poor animal.’ Or something like that. I could not stop laughing.” A like-minded friend who’ll make and take recommendations can be a gift. Even if you decide to read different things!
  3. Consider a Kindle (or similar device). When I knew I needed to start reading more a few years ago, the Hubs quickly and kindly invested in a Kindle for me. Not one that had apps and games and tra la la — just a plain black and white (Paperwhite so that I can read at night without disturbing him) Kindle that would not tempt me to check email or Facebook or anything else — just¬†read. Now here’s why the Kindle was a game changer:
  4. Get a Library Card and Use It. Often.¬†I do visit the local library on a regular basis, but here’s some great news for you. Once you’ve got the card, you don’t actually have to visit ever again. (Although I loooooove the library and I think you should.) There are tons of free books to read on Amazon, AND, there are tons of books that you can check out from the library – online – and have delivered — you guessed it — to that shiny Kindle of yours. This was a GAME CHANGER for me. I don’t have tons of cash to buy every book I want to read. And my library does not own many of the books I want to read. But between a Kindle Unlimited Subscription and the Library Card (and please look for the Libby app — I’ll explain in a moment) you truly have SO many options at your fingertips.
  5. You Can Take it With You. (And You Should.) Here’s the number one tip — even though it’s listed fifth. You cannot read a book that you do not have with you. But you can take it with you in more ways than you think. Those thirty minutes in the pickup line can fly by with a good book in your lap. And those twenty minutes waiting for the kid at guitar practice will put another chapter under your belt. And GUESS WHAT? Audiobooks totally count. And are wonderful. So do what I told you in step four, and download the Libby App for iPhone, and be amazed at how many great Audiobooks there are, read by great readers. I read¬†To Kill a Mockingbird¬†earlier this year, and then enjoyed listening to the Audiobook on a long trip with the Hero Hubs — narrated by Sissy Spacek. Such a treat! That thirty minute drive to work. The earbuds in your ears while you’re working out. Fifteen minutes folding laundry. Moments made for an audiobook. Audiobooks totally count y’all!!

Now, here’s a bonus for you to encourage you to get started. I truly feel like a richer and fuller human being this year because I spent less time staring at a TV screen and more time joining the great conversations our world has been having for millennia. And I’d love to share some of my favorite reads from this year with you, in hopes that you’ll get bitten by the bug and decide to push that lovely “OFF” button on the remote, or close the tab that’s open to Facebook, and read something that will inspire you to breathe, to be, and to live more fully.

Here are my favorites in several different categories:

For Putting First Things First

Did you know if you read about 4 chapters a day, you can read the entire Old Testament once, and the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs TWICE… in one year? Think ten minutes a morning and ten minutes before bed could get you there? Ten minutes less Facebook, maybe? I hope you’ll include the Good Word in your word count this year!

Robert Murray M’Cheyne (incredible 19th Century Scottish pastor) created the Bible Reading plan that will get you through the Bible in one year as described above.

This link will take you to a website that has it organized by months and then days, and you can click over to the day’s reading on Bible Gateway.

This link will take you to a website that has printable versions in several different formats based on your preferences and eyesight (very thoughtful, hey?) and paper sizes.

For Parents

Ben Sasse’s¬†The Vanishing American Adult. This isn’t specifically a parenting book, but it truly had a huge impact on some of the ideas and strategies the Hubs and I have for helping the little people in our care become full-fledged adults ready to contribute to society when they leave our home. This book is definitely not¬†just for parents. Anyone who is in any capacity concerned about the state of the United States, and wonders what they can do to help forge a brave new way forward will be inspired by this book. Inspiring non-spoiler alert: Sasse does not believe political decisions, parties and directions are the solutions to the problems we are facing. Thus, while it is written by an (impressively intelligent) Senator from Nebraska, it is not a “political book.”

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp was by far the most help and informative book especially for parents that I read this year. It has this illustration about “The Circle of Safety” that we have used since we first read this book years ago, (this was a re-read this year!) and that one practical illustration speaks volumes to our kids and makes reading this book so worth it. I will probably continue to read this one every year or two — not because it’s entertaining and a fun read, but truly because it has so much practical wisdom that I want to continue to remind myself as a parent!

For Inspiration

Mother Teresa,¬†Come Be My Light. I mentioned this one when I first read it in January, and it still echoes in my head 12 months later. I do not think you can read this story and not¬†marvel at this amazing human being, and feel inspired to also “Accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.” If you live in my town I know for sure this is at the Brown Library!

Corrie Ten Boom,¬†The Hiding Place. Wowzers, I could not put this book down. While her story is in itself incredibly gripping, it is impossible not to be challenged and encouraged by the faith Corrie and her family exhibited in the midst of unspeakable conditions. You can’t put a price tag on perspective — but purchase and read this book, and I think you’ve made an investment on gaining that invaluable perspective that helps you see your circumstances with less discontentment and more gratitude.

Classics

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront√ę was my favorite classic this year. I am often amazed by how much¬†faith can be portrayed in a book that isn’t necessarily written for the purpose of “faith inspiration.” This year I’ve also been more amazed than ever before at how much truth you can learn in the pages of a fiction book. There are several paperback and hardcover options available on Amazon… and it is free for Kindle! If anybody forgot to get me a Christmas present and wants to send this gorgeous hardcover Bront√ę Sisters Box Set to my house, y’all just feel free. But seriously that would make an amazing gift for a reader in your life!

To Read-Aloud with the Kids

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. If you’d like to listen to the Audiobook, oh my goodness, Arte Johnson read this one — we found it as an audiobook through the Libby App! — and OHMIGOODNESS it was pricelessly funny. Please enjoy and thank me later.

Our kids also fell in love with the Mercy Watson Series this year and the cousins received this box set for Christmas because if you have not met this delightful pig with an insatiable love for hot buttered toast? Well ya really need to. (She is also at the Brown Library if you live here in Washington!) Mercy truly is a porcine wonder.

Grown-Up Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr might be the book I had the hardest time putting down this year. This might be the best “Book for the Beach Trip” recommendation here. Doerr’s prose is so engaging it’s almost poetry. The chapters are short and the pace is quick, it seems like so much is happening and you feel quite literally transported to see the story unfold before your eyes in Europe decades and decades ago. His writing style is incredibly unique and I found it absolutely delightful.

Juvenile Fiction

Sarah Mackenzie over at Read-Aloud Revival recommended in a podcast episode not too long ago that you can feel so very fully engaged and satisfied as a reader by reading juvenile fiction. If you’re hoping to get more reading in, you really aren’t selling yourself short on storyline, plot, complexity or overall entertainment value just because you choose books that may also be considered appropriate for middle to high school aged students. The more manageable lengths of the books is part of what makes it so satisfying, and helps you want to keep reading more. Think of the richness of the Chronicles of Narnia or Bridge to Terabithia before you disagree!

With Sarah’s advice in mind, I definitely jumped into more Juvenile Fiction this year, pre-reading some things that will be on a list for my kids later on and reading other books that I just thought I’d enjoy.

Emily of New Moon might’ve been the character I most fell in love with this year. She has so much spunk and personality. L.M. Montgomery (a la Anne of Green Gables fame) wrote Emily of New Moon as well as Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest. I found all three for Kindle by checking them out from the library. The first was definitely my favorite.

I also enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond (E.G. Speare) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis, grab some tissues) immensely.

And last but not least….

For Homeschoolers

If you’re a homeschooling parent and you haven’t read¬†Teaching From Rest¬†by Sarah Mackenzie yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is not a long or arduous read (as some homeschooling guides can be) but full of practical, easily “actionable” ideas and plans to help you find your own personal style and rhythm (and hopefully arrive at the end of this year with more hair still attached to your head.) Easily worth the $13 price tag — I plan to read this one again and again, too!

So friends, Happy New Year! I hope your year gets off to a great start, that you remember to put first things first, and you find yourself learning, growing and thriving more and more in 2018!

More to come from this little corner of the web soon. But in the meantime, if you were a reader this year I’d love to know how many books you read, and what your favorite was!

xCC

I almost forgot::

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What Should Christians Do On October 31st?

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?” he asked. Sitting on a bar stool at the counter, he was about to select a color for the leaf printed on the page in front of him from a tray of oil pastels.

“What was your teacher’s favorite color?”

I tried to refocus my distracted mind, tilted my head to one side and urged myself to listen.

“I’ve had lots of teachers, Blake. I’m not sure. What do you mean?”

“Your teacher….” he emphasized the word, “at the nursing home.”

I barely remembered. The hubs didn’t remember at all. But somehow, after visiting a nursing home as a family about 350 days ago, my six year old son remembers that one of the people we visited was one of my teachers in grade school.

And this leaf is for our next visit. So he’s asking for a suggestion about the color.

Duh.


_________

A little over a year ago, the Hubs and I sat down for a long series of heart-to-heart conversations about our plans for October 31st.

It’s a day that many Christians have probably spent a lot of time arguing about. I’m thankful to say we didn’t argue. We just talked, and we talked and we talked. Lots.

For the first few years of parenthood we were outside of the US and Halloween wasn’t really a question we had to encounter. When we returned and the kids were still young, at first we avoided, but when it eventually came time to figure out what we would do, we were blessed to have invitations from neighbors for get-togethers, and decided to participate.

But somehow, it just didn’t ever exactly “sit right” in our souls. As a resident alien hailing from far corners of the Earth, the Hero Hubs was perplexed by the holiday, its origin and purpose, and even more perplexed about participating in it.

After a couple of years of costumes and trick-or-treating, we started asking questions like…

Are we just going with¬†the grain¬†because this is what ‘everybody’s doing?’¬†

Does celebrating this holiday really line up with what we believe and want to pass on to our kids? Does it matter?

Should we be¬†trying to swim upstream¬†like we’ve always said we wanted to?

Is it possible to somehow redeem this day, the way historians think the day chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ was redeemed? There was a spark.

____

Fast forward dozens of deep conversations.

A week or so before the 31st of October last year, I was on the phone with someone at a local nursing home wondering if we could bring artwork the children had created to the residents and wish them a Happy Fall.

With the baby in the little push bike she’d just received for her birthday, and dozens and dozens of leaves we’d printed and colored and decorated for the residents, we strolled into the nursing home on the afternoon of the 31st.

At first our kids were a little reticent — we joked about a nursing home being a really scary place to bring your kids at Halloween — and then something shifted.

They caught on to the fact that every. single. person whose room they walked into was happier and more cheerful when we left. They discovered a wealth of people who were overjoyed, over-the-moon delighted to see them, simply because they are children.

They brought the gift of a smile, a kind word, a piece of art, and left with so much more — a feeling that they’d given some really great gift, that they mattered, that they had something to give.

Our eldest, who at first was perhaps the most reticent of all, eventually became the one who wanted to walk in first and present the art work, who didn’t want to skip a single door.

Funny enough, some residents, very aware of the day, hurried to a cupboard and pulled out a bag of stowed-away candy, delighted to have children to give it to.

It was a sweet reward that warmed my heart.

On the way to a restaurant for a special dinner out, we talked for a bit in the car afterwards about the experience, and the kids were delighted and hoped we would go back again soon.

I resolved to do so in my mind, and knowing that so often the Christmas season is a busy time for the nursing home with visitors coming to sing, I thought perhaps we’d wait until January, when the winter blues set in and try to bring some light again.

The new school semester started, life scurried on, and here we are nearly a year later having not visited once since then.

But these big doughy eyes look across the kitchen counter at me, willing me to remember a favorite color for a teacher.

Maybe it meant more than we realized for the kids.

Maybe we’re on to something. And maybe we aren’t.

But here are some things I feel sure about, after pondering it long and hard for ages.

Often in life there are a dozen different paths to take. And the path that might be right for one person might not be right for another.

While I am fully confident that Jesus is the path — the Way, the Truth and the Life — I am also confident that He has plans and purposes for His children, and they are not all carbon copies of each other.

Your race is in your lane, and my race is in mine. 

I don’t expect anyone to try to swim my race, and I don’t want to try to swim anyone else’s, so I have to go to Jesus and ask — what does faithfulness look like, here, for me, to follow You?

And when I hear His still small voice saying This is the way, walk in it, well then, that is what I must do.

If your puzzler has been puzzling for a different path for October 31st, I wholeheartedly welcome you to join us in our hope to make it a day for us to give and love and be Light.

But first, be still — listen and wait.¬†

As Paul wrote to the Romans, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” {Rom. 14:5}

Your race is in your lane, dear friends. Whatever that looks like for you.

So what should Christians do on October 31st? There’s not one right answer.

Just keep swimming toward Jesus.
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Why the Cross is For Always

I comment to the Hero Hubs on the couch next to me — maybe that little one playing by the coffee table who’s acting up so much really just wants to be noticed? Just needs to know she’s loved? Her toes are always on the line, just barely on the right side of everything she’s told to do or not to do.

He invites her to come closer and she stretches her four-year-old frame out, she looks so tall, her head in his lap, blonde ponytail stretched to one side, the willing recipient of a little back rub. After a moment or two, he asks her to sit up in his lap. He looks her in the eyes and tells her how much we both love her. How special we think she is. How precious she is to us.

I watch all this unfold, watch as he holds her close, and the whisper in my mind is: “Mother and Daughter. I’m going to fail at this thing. So many times.”

Years ago, I sat at a tiny table cupping a coffee between my palms, across from a friend who was a mentor, a gift to my soul, in my earliest years of seeking to truly walk with Jesus. I asked her to please keep mentoring me, to look at my life and be honest about what she saw, to keep pointing me to Jesus.

It was less about being hungry for God, and more about being eager never to make mistakes.

She knew, somehow, (probably because I talk so much I said it aloud) and as gently and genuinely as she could, she looked across the table and told me the truth:

You are going to make mistakes.

I wanted to ask her to hush… like Bugs Bunny in an old cartoon, long ears laid back flat against his head, backing up, and shaking in a soft pleading voice facing the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s shotgun he says:¬†Not that… anything but that…

I don’t want to make mistakes.

This week, I pondered when to put the cross out on the front door. This big burlap and blue and white fabric cross my Mom gave me usually makes an appearance in the Spring. At the beginning of Lent? At the beginning of the Holy Week? On Maundy Thursday or Good Friday? I didn’t mean to have a theological conversation inside my own head about something as simple as this, but these things just happen sometimes.

Eventually it struck me: the cross is always. And the cross is for always.

And this is the thing I don’t like about parenthood, the thing I don’t like about Christianity as a whole: it’s that I’m going to fail. I am going to make mistakes. I am going to close doors when I should open them. I’m going to raise my voice when I should lower it. My mouth will be wide open when it out to be tightly shut until it is certain what words will come out.

But this is what makes it all so glorious.

Before the kiss of betrayal, before the Last Supper and the Greatest Commandment, before Palm Sunday and the hosannas and cheers, even before Jesus was tried and tempted in the wilderness those 40 days, there was the Cross. Before the Incarnation, there was the Cross. Even before Creation, yes, before the whole world was spoken into existence, there was the Cross.

When the blood of those lambs was spread on the doorposts at the first Passover — the plan had already been set into motion.

An all-knowing God knew it all along — this is where this whole thing was headed all along.¬†

It’s in our nature, our human nature, to make mistakes, to fail and to fall short.

God wasn’t surprise when He first walked in the Garden and asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

He knows it all. He knew where they were. But He wanted them to know where they were.

The plan of Reconciliation was already set in motion.

And our relationships, these failures? They are opportunities for Reconciliation, both with the God who wants to connect with our souls for always, and with the loved ones we care about and fail.

Jesus went to the first Cross, the Cross that would save us all, the Cross that would make a way for all of us to be reconciled to God.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” {Luke 9:23}

His Cross made our salvation possible, our forgiveness possible, our Reconciliation possible.

Our crosses?

They make us a little more like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross. {Heb. 12:2} Sometimes our crosses are the pain of admitting we were wrong. Admitting we failed, and saying we are sorry. Sometimes they mean closing tight our lips when we want to say all the wrong things. We deny what we want, and we try to live for what God wants. The world is better for this. And so are we.

As we sit between a Hard-But-Good Friday and the Sunday of life and Resurrection — let the symbolism leave an impression on your soul. If you take up a cross, and die a little to yourself, God has new life for you on the other side.

Every Cross can create a Resurrection.

This is the new life we’re invited to live and it’s in the living of it, that we somehow become the recipients of it.

I die to myself and say I’m sorry to the child I’ve wronged. New life is breathed into our relationship. Broken things are¬†mending.

We forego the thing we want to give to someone who needs. New life is breathed into our soul, and fresh gratitude helps us give thanks for what we have already.

If there are 365 days in the calendar year, there are 365 days that the Cross can hang on the door — and more importantly, teach my soul how to find life that is the realest real.

We need not¬†look afraid at the mistakes we’re¬†going to make, the ways we’re¬†going to mess up as we walk through life as mothers, fathers, employees, friends. Our¬†failures are¬†the reason for the Cross. And on the other side of the Cross, every willing soul can find a Resurrection.

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Bad News About the Good Stuff {The Stuff You Need to Do}

For the following download of information to make any sense, you’re going to need a little backstory. So here ya go. I’m a Mom of four. People like to say “You’ve got your hands full” which I do not enjoy hearing, but that’s a conversation for another day. Most days I don’t feel like my hands are ridiculously full, except for Tuesdays.

If this post were animated, a scary duh, duh, duhhhhhh sound would happen right now.

On Tuesdays, {duh, duh, duhhhhh} we have our community day with our friends in Classical Conversations. I’m the director of this tiny community, and, even though it’s tiny, that still means I do a lot of stuff, think on my feet a good bit, and go up and down the stairs inside¬†our church’s meeting spaces dozens of times for that one other thing I forgot upstairs. Or downstairs.

Wherever it is it is never where I am.

Okay. So after our community time together on Tuesdays, the kids play on the playground and I chase the toddler who is picking up speed very quickly and never wants to be where I am. Go figure.

Sometimes I shove almonds and a clementine in my mouth while chasing the toddler and feel good that I had something to eat.

And then I scurry home and put that toddler baby down for her afternoon nap, and if I’m lucky I sit on the couch for five minutes, and then I round up the other three kids, because homeschool P.E. is also on Tuesdays. The rest of the week does not feel rushed. But ohmygoodness, Tuesdays.

So we scoot off to homeschool P.E., which is great for the boys who are old enough to participate, but is hard for the four-year-old girl who is not old enough to participate. She is not six years old. So she is supposed to sit on the bench with her Mama and play nicely with the toys I bring for her. She could also eat the snacks I bring. She wants to play with the big kids instead.

Sometimes I keep her on a tight leash and say no.

Sometimes, when it doesn’t seem to matter too much, I don’t go¬†and fetch her when she sneaks off into the midst of the crowd and participates with the bigger kids. Because. Y’all.¬†It’s Tuesday.¬†Is she really hurting anybody? Plus,¬†it’s Tuesday. duh duh duhhhhh

Now the last part of this backstory is this part where I admit something I wish I didn’t have to admit.

Close your ears and forget I said this.

Remember that scene in the movie Gladiator where the Caesar,¬†Marcus Aurelius¬†tells his wicked mess-of-a-son “Your faults as a son, is my failure as a father.”? Well, I could totally turn to my mischievous four-year-old princess right now and say, “Your faults as a daughter are my failings as a Mom.” Am I being hard on myself? Maybe a little. But the truth is, if we are inconsistent in the way we manage our kids’ discipline, if we sometimes let it slide and other times deal with it, we raise children who simply tend to gamble with bad behavior, because experience has taught them that less than half the time, there probably won’t be the consequence there should be.

For example. I didn’t introduce consequences quickly enough, and one kid decided it would be appropriate for the greeting “You’re stupid, [insert sibling name here]” to come out of that kid‘s mouth¬†each time a¬†particular sibling walked into the room.¬†The behavior went on uncorrected until it became a habit. And goodness gracious habits are hard to break.

So, before I digress any further, let’s get back to last Tuesday. Where, in additional to the normal director responsibilities I filled in for our tutor who wasn’t able to be there. Basically just picture a frazzled, exhausted run-ragged Mama. Got it? That’s me. And action.

Enter the four-year-old who joined me at P.E. and briefly watched from the sidelines while the older siblings played. She starts¬†out doing her usual “running along the sidelines” (which I allow), but quickly jumps¬†into the action and forces¬†me to go and fetch her. I fetch her, sit¬†her down with the toys we brought and continue my conversation with a friend. She takes¬†off again.

I notice a Mom on the other bleachers giving me a kinda¬†harsh look. I ponder the situation for a moment. And y’all, it is¬†Tuesday and the last thing I want¬†to do is¬†correct that cheeky four-year-old’s behavior.

I look at the friend I am chatting with, with a sort of imploring What would you do in this situation? look. Or maybe I even asked. Yes. I did.

She says, “I wouldn’t let her do it, because the other kids had to sit on the sidelines until they were six and it doesn’t seem fair for her to go out there now.”

It was Tuesday and that was not what I wanted to hear. My heart even grumbled a little I think. Et tu, Brute?

Now. You ever come across this Proverb?

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” {Prov. 27:6}

Such good truth. My friend told me the honest truth. When her daughter, who’s now six, was a four year old, and a five year old, she sat on the sidelines because that was what she was supposed to do. And that other Mom that gave me that harsh look? Same thing. Her daughter is now out there playing with the other kids at P.E. thanks to crossing that six-year-old threshold, but she probably had a good handful of years of sitting on the sidelines, watching her older siblings, too.

It’s not fair for my little doll baby princess mischief incarnate to run around and join the big kids in P.E., when everyone else did the hard thing that was the right thing: they kept the younger kids on the sideline because¬†those are the rules.

Letting my kid break the rules now makes her think the rules don’t apply to her. And if they don’t apply at P.E., where else might they not apply? Well, she might as well test and see where else she can get away with whatever she feels like getting away with… because… maybe the rules don’t apply at church or Chick-Fil-A or the library!

What This Means For All Of Us In Plain English {The Bad News}

Whether or not you’re parenting small people right now, or teaching a classroom full of them, or doing something else kid-related, I’m here to tell you this is not a lesson about child-rearing techniques. {Turn to H. Clay Trumbull for those child-rearing thoughts. Way more insight than me. $.99 on Kindle.} This post isn’t about the kids — it is about doing hard things.

Managing my mischief maker on Tuesday afternoons was hard and I didn’t want to do it. But guess what? It was the right thing to do.

And this is the bad news I’m sorry I have to deliver today: {But don’t close your ears this time} All the stuff in life that is really worth doing… Yes seriously, all of it? Requires hard work. And requires you to do the hard things.

Proficiency at a musical instrument? Practice. Consistent effort over time. Hard.

Gaining the position of CEO of that corporation … and staying there? Tons of dogged effort.

A PhD in Theological Ethics? More hard work than I was willing to put in. Honest.

Eating real food that is good for your body? Man! It takes planning and preparing and work.

Raising kids that will actually listen and obey you? There are no words. Hard. Really really hard.

But get this — the opposite is also impressively true. The stuff that’s not worth it? Easy.

Sitting on the couch and watching TV every night? Easy.

Eating rubbish and putting on some pounds? Easy peasy.

Choosing not to make that phone call, write those words, say that truthful thing you ought to say because it’s too scary? Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Waste an hour on Facebook instead of cleaning the house or cooking decent food? I can do that with my eyes closed.

You picking up what I’m putting down here?

You have good and important stuff to do with this one rare precious life of yours. You were created to do great things. Big things. Awesome things. But? Achieving what you were made to do is not going to come easily.

If all of life feels super easy right now, you might want to check your compass.

You know how the good food isn’t cheap, and the cheap food isn’t good?

Well, doing the good things isn’t easy… and doing the easy things isn’t good.

Look¬†for (and cherish) the friends that are willing to tell you the truth when you’re taking the easy road. And remember to look further down the road because the short term choices make or break the long term goals.

When P.E. starts up again in the fall? I have my heart set on doing the hard things. Because those are the good things.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: I can do the hard things. Because they are the good things.

Even on Tuesdays.

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