Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What to Read When YOU Need Inspiration

I woke up with a dog too close to my feet and a two-year old's face squished against my nose. I usually love this particular two-year old's face being squished against mine, but at 5:00 a.m., my feelings are not quite so kind. This particular two-year-old has quite the habit of running (not walking) into our room and sneaking into our bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning. And, usually, this is okay, but sometimes, when he's feeling particularly cuddly, my sleep gets a little cramped despite our king sized bed.

And, I love our dog, who usually sleeps on the floor in his nice ergonomic bed. But, after a day of us being away from the house quite a bit and another busy day where he barely got noticed, he clearly needed some attention. He got that attention during a Friends episode that began at 10:30 p.m. WAY past my bedtime. Thankfully, the sleep timer turned the show off after Hubby and I fell asleep, but neither my husband nor automatic remote control programming kicked the dog off the bed.

Back to 5:00 a.m.

I awoke grumpy. Irritable. I had a sore neck, a long to-do list, and the feelings of the start of a cold. I closed my eyes and dozed back to sleep.


Don't you find that after a night of fitful dozing you wake more tired than you were when you first woke up? But, when I awaken at 5 a.m. and am already groggy from a poor night's sleep, this sage wisdom seems to escape my memory.

I rose at six, snuck downstairs so as not to wake up the sleeping two-year-old, poured a glorious cup of coffee, and pulled out my Bible. I'm reading through Job right now, and I am at the beginning. I should have flipped to a Psalm or John to lift my mood and lighten my heart. Instead, I read the part in Job where his "friends" falsely accuse him, verbally assault him, and otherwise build themselves up while tearing him down unjustly. My mood only grew darker.

Sometimes the world seems unfair. A dear friend who served in Iraq is experiencing terrible symptoms that a slew of tests and specialists have been unable to diagnose, but are now pointing to "Gulf War Syndrome." It seems unjust. I read Sarah Mae's account of sex trafficking in India. The world appears cruel. And then, picking up on Mom's foul mood, my six-year-old fusses and complains during math and screams, "I don't know what 9 minus 9 is." (For the record, she totally knows.) My pettiness only makes me feel worse.

I need some inspiration. And quick. Here are my picks for a grumpy day, paired best with a warm cup of coffee topped with whipped cream (despite your diet) and timed so that your children are happily playing outside:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Or at least the first chapter, if you're short on time. Anne is timeless. Read this for the simplicity of the prose, the redeeming relationships among the characters, and gems like these:

It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.

I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

"Dear old world," she murmured, " you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you."

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams.

 Anything illustrated by Garth Williams is likely to be good, but this book is extraordinary. This book reminds me how blessed I am. It makes me squeeze my children tighter, say a more heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for this life, and generally feel more generous towards those around me. It also makes me cry a good cathartic cry. Read with a box of tissues handy.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

I mean. Does this need any explanation? When you're having a bad day, you need to read this. Then re-read it. Then read it out loud to your kids. Then read it to your dog. (That last one might be going a little too far.) Then, say to yourself (and anyone who will listen, see previous list), "There will be days like this. Even in Australia."

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

I know. I know. When life is heavy, why do you need to read a book with a title that translates, "The Miserables?" For much the same reason as The Family Under the Bridge, Les Miserables is cathartic and inspires me to gives more grace, act with ridiculous kindness, and generally love more and better. Plus, you can read it while listening to the soundtrack. That is sure to lift your mood. Or, at least, make you stand up and want to march to "Red: the Blood of angry men. Black: the dark of ages past!..." In case that is now stuck in your head like it is mine, you're welcome.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Now She is Six!

We had a big birthday at our house. Our sweet five year old turned six. She can no longer count her years on one hand. She is fully out of the preschool stage, complete with lanky legs, high-water pants, and pierced ears. Although, if I'm honest with myself, she grew out of the preschool stage quite a bit ago. Sometime this last year, she stopped grabbing Blankey and snuggling her under her head before she went to sleep. Her teeth are starting to wiggle. Not one prone to independence, she is no longer nervous to travel upstairs by herself. She has discovered audiobooks and is on, what must be, her thirtieth Boxcar Children. She listens, curled up on her bed, with her drawing pad and colored pencils in her lap, illustrating her favorite scene from each book. Every once in awhile her dad and I see glimpses of the woman she is becoming, and it is heartbreaking and exciting all at the same time.

After her birthday, our big girl was concerned. She didn't feel six. Because we are reading the In Grandma's Attic series before bed, she often asks me what it was like for me as a child as the little girl does to her Grandma in that series. This was no exception. "When did you feel six when you were a little girl." Good question. One I did not have an answer to. But, of course, there is a book for that.

Maybe this will help.

So we added Now We are Six by A. A. Milne to our morning basket. All the kids are delighted by the always sweet, often silly poems and beg me to read just one more each morning. I don't know if it has helped my girl really feel six, but it certainly expresses the world through a six year old's perspective well. The imaginative play, the importance of a beetle found and saved (only to be tossed out by Nanny), the love a stuffed friend. These things are what it means to be six.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What to read when your child loves pirates

Pirates. What is with this obsession? It is not just my children. Pirates are trendy. Is it the mustaches? The curved swords? The fun way they talk? Or their cool tattoos? Whatever it is, my four year old gets it. He loves pirates. So, when we go to the library, what does he find, a pirate book. Of course. Not all library books we pick up willy-nilly are winners, but this one makes our "favorites" list!

Bad Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters is adorable. 

The scurvy sea-dogs in this story are, actually, dogs, which makes it that much more fun. The book's refrain is catchy: "To be a good pirate yez got to be saucy... yez got to be bold... but most of all yez got to be selfish." By the end of the story, the refrain changes from "selfish" to "selfless" providing a great jumping off point for discussing selfish versus selfless behavior. We even took the discussion one step further and brainstormed ways we could be selfless pirates. And then, because we are saucy (aye!), bold (aye!), and selfless (aye!), we actually did our little random act of kindness...

dressed as pirates.

Of course.

What are your favorite pirate books?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hospitality and The Lifegiving Home

Hospitality has been on my mind a lot lately as I have read through the first two chapters of Sally and Sarah Clarkson's new book: The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming.

The book describes how Sally Clarkson created a home that was a place of refuge, a place of comfort, and a respite for her family. Her daughter, Sarah, shares memories of their home, while they both elaborate on why they feel called to encourage mothers, specifically, to create a home that nourishes their own family.

Let me preface by saying that I do not have a home like I imagine the Clarksons did.

Neither classical music nor celtic melodies are usually on in my home. We have way more coffee than tea and scented candles tend to give me a headache. Additionally, I have two little boys who have light sabers on their person more than pants. They are more likely to great a guest with, "On-guard ye scurvy swabs" (we mix our Star Wars and pirate play around here) than, "Let me take your coat."

But, the thing that resonates with me in this book is the call to serve my children and husband. You see, I am decent at neighborly hospitality. I take seriously Christ's call in Romans 12:13 to "[s]hare with the Lord's people who are in need."  I love inviting people over for a cup of coffee and usually have some baked good ready to come out of the oven while they are here. I have no qualms about letting in a relative stranger to see my bathrooms that perpetually have toothpaste dried on the side of the sink - even if I just cleaned them the night before.  I love hosting gatherings, dinners, community group, play dates, etc... I love the sight of shoes and coats strewn by my front door. I love the pile of dishes in the sink at the end of the night. I even love the toys left out or put back in the wrong spot. It is all evidence of friends, family, and community.

And, while I am decent at inviting in our proverbial neighbor, I sometimes forget that my children and husband are my neighbors too. I gladly pick up after other people's children, but fuss at my own after a day of exuberant creative play. I love how Sally shares how she dedicated her precious time to meeting the needs of her own children in her home. She made sure there was space for their quiet places, even when space was in high demand. She fed their never-ending hunger with food prepared and served in the same loving manner that she would serve a guest. She read, snuggled, and loved on her children in their own home until they felt safe and secure enough to go outside their four walls and share the love they felt within their own home with others.

I want that for my kids.

I want them to look forward to coming home after a day at a friends. I want them to want to be here. I want my home to be a soft place to land and a safe place from which to launch. This book has challenged me to serve my family with the same enthusiasm and love that I serve my friends. It has challenged me to be intentional in how I create that place, that space, for my children to be served. After reading it, I am inspired to hug my kids a little tighter, kiss my husband a little more enthusiastically, make soft pillows for read-aloud time, slow down and listen to my kids more, and to serve Jesus as I serve those He put in my life. (It also made me really want a warm cup of tea.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

What We Read on Snow Days

We got hit with the icy blast this weekend much like the rest of the Eastern part of the United States. Snow days, for us, mean playing outside, coming in to sip warm hot chocolate (or at least eat the partly melted marshmallows), a movie in the afternoon, and, of course, books. Lots of books! Here are some of our favorite to read when winter weather hits.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

This is one of our favorites. It is a classic! If you haven't read it yet, go get it! We love the excitement, w wonder, and magic of snow that is conveyed by the space prose and simple pictures. My favorite part is when he puts the snowball in his pocket, only to find a wet spot in its place later.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

Jan Brett is a favorite around here. Her illustrations add so many layers to a book, with the borders that tell their own story, hidden objects, etc... We love all the different animals and the tickle-bone funny idea of them all cramming into one tiny mitten. 

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

After being introduced to Susan Jeffers' delightful illustrations of this classic poem by Five in a Row, this quickly became a family favorite. Frost's classic poem comes alive with illustrations that tell the story of an old man, bearing a slight resemblance to Santa, stopping to enjoy the winter weather. 

What do you read when snow flakes fly?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What Mama is Reading - Teaching from Rest

If you are a homeschooling mama, get this book.

Strike that. If you are a mama, get it! It's that good. 

This is my first year homeschooling. I only have a kindergartener in school, and I still get overwhelmed. Seriously overwhelmed. The curriculum choices, philosophies, theories, methods, and tools that are available as soon as I hit "enter" in my Google search bar. Thousands upon thousands of choices. My battleground in homeschooling is my own doubt. Am I doing enough? Is this the right curriculum choice? How is she doing compared to her peers? What is her reading level? Her comprehension level? 

All that worry is exhausting.

What is important in my homeschool is that I am schooling in align with God's will. I am teaching my daughter to love God. When we do math, I am pointing her to the God who ordered the stars and created the amazing mathematical patterns that order our universe. When we read, I am pointing her to the Author of Life. The Creative Master that made each snowflake is unveiled in our study of science. The end result may be the same if we use Saxon Math or if we use Singapore. It may not be. But, what is important is that from day to day, I am not spinning my wheels again and again looking up curriculum, doing a "quick" online search to see how other homeschool families order their days, or wasting my mental energy worrying.

What matters is that we seek to imitate Christ. That we order our loves so that our hearts better reflect His. Many days, checklists will go untouched, books will go unread, and ducks will not line up in a row, no matter how much we strive.
                                Sarah Mackenzie 

But what matters is that I seek to imitate Christ, and as my children's mother and teacher, they find something in what I do or say; something in who I am that is "worthy of imitation."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What to read to your little girl who is contemplating her career or your little boy who says, "A girl can't do that..."

After a stray question and observation: "You seem to be really interested in how the body works, maybe you'd like to be a doctor someday," my girl has been contemplating career choices. At five-almost-six, she is already concerned about work-life balance. She has suggested that she become a gymnastics teacher, so she can bring her kids with her to work. Her latest musing was wondering if she would make a good teacher. After all, as she pointed out, she does enjoy teaching Kit and Maryellen (her American Girl dolls). But, if she is going to be a teacher, she only wants to teach on Mondays and Tuesdays when her husband can be home with the children. He can work the rest of the day while she stays home. 

As a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, I feel some pressure to expose her to the concept that she does not have to be a stay at home mom. She certainly can be. It is a wonderful, life-giving career. But, she can also do other things, including being a stay-at-home mom and... 

When this book popped up on A Mighty Girl's book selections, I added it to our library holds. And, it proved worthy of the hold. 

Jennifer Fosberry's story is charming. In it, Isabella protests at being called "Isabella" and instead pretends to be a variety of women who have achieved remarkable feats. Women such as Marie Curie, Sally Ride, and (the role model that makes this book unique) Mommy. This book validates careers for women in traditionally male-dominated role while recognizing the importance of Mommy. I love that it does not diminish my role as a stay-at-home mom while also opens conversations for our family to talk about other women role models. 

Lest you think this book is only for young girls, let me correct you! My almost-four-year-old boy adores this book. He has picked it up to look at and for us to read to him every day since we brought it home from the library. My son, who has such gems as, "Mom, get in the kitchen and make me some food," (said while watching a football game) written in his baby book. This not only helps my daughter see herself in different roles, it helps my son see my daughter as a scientist, an astronaut, and a sharpshooter. It helps him see me as these things. And, it helps him see other girls and women this way too. 

This is one book that will eventually make its way into our permanent library! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

What We're Reading

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

I love this for reviewing our continents, talking about different cultures, and the beautiful illustrations. The kids love it for the glimpse into other people's lives and the pictures. I also think the fact that it is a different shape than most books (a long, think rectangle) also captures their interest.

Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling

This book is nothing short of beautiful. It is on the Ambleside Online Year 1 list, and we love it. It has captured by five-almost-six year old's imagination, drawing on her love of nature and fascination with Native Americans. I also love that it sneaks in some geography while we are reading.

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries by Christa Holtei

We are learning about immigration to America, and this book does a wonderful job illustrating a family's experience. What makes this book unique is that it fast-forwards to the present day descendants of the immigrant family. When they decide to investigate their family history and reverse the trip their descendants made. The pictures are delightful and allow for open-ended narration and fruitful discussion of what it might have been like for each family to experience a new place and culture.

Strega Nona: Her Story as told by Tommie dePaola

We read Strega Nona a few weeks ago, and when my oldest found this at the library, she was so excited to check it out. This tells how Strega Nona came to be - from her perspective! My kindergartener loved to contrast this story with the original as well as enjoyed stringing the two together to tell one large story. I loved the sequencing practice it gave us as well as the chance to retell the Strega Nona story from memory.

What have you been reading?