Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Moxie and Betsy and Other Frivolous Reading: A Quick Lit Review

Happy Quick Lit day! Join me and other book bloggers as we link up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we’ve been reading lately.

Hello, from the depths of a new school year! I don’t know about you, but living in the southeast of the U.S. has made it a little hard lately to get into the swing of school things, what with eclipses and hurricanes and random holidays (what is Labor Day is about anyway?). I haven’t been updating here on reading or much else because, well, life. But life is good! Even if the reading pace is still about as slow as it has been since I was maybe less than five years old. And I have been keeping it extremely light. Frivolously light. Don’t judge. I’ll get back to War and Peace someday, or at least Martin Chuzzlewit. Here’s a rundown of what I have managed to read in the last month!

What I Read

Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker makes us laugh and makes us think and gives us reason to look at Jesus, while also handing over a great recipe here and there in this book–that is a very unique description for a book, wouldn’t you say? Do I agree with her on every viewpoint? No. Do I need to in order to like her book? Again, no. Unless you’re planning on digesting every book you read as absolute truth, you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you’ll agree with every thought someone else presents. I liked this book much better than For The Love – it had more purpose and was written with an undertone of humility that was refreshing and endearing. It’s fun and it’s interesting. Bottom line, I mostly read this for fun and ended up getting more out of it than I expected. (Related Review: 7).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. It’s a mix of a realism and fantasy, reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately). I enjoyed the atmosphere and the style of Gaiman’s writing. The story and the main character (a boy the same age as my son) made me sad. There was a bit of a hopeless feeling to the story. There’s probably a lot of analogies in it that I don’t have the mental bandwidth to explore. Overall, I thought it was well written and moving but a little bit confusing. (Grain of salt disclaimer: sleep deprived mom of a baby reviewing, here.)

The last six books in the Betsy-Tacy Series – I finished all of the books about Betsy when she was grown up. Though the first books in the series were better as far as crafted pieces of literature, the later books were still enjoyable because of the characters, and I actually feel like I gained some valuable every-day wisdom. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote them as mostly autobiographical. Betsy/Maud has a pretty different personality than me, so reading how she related to her parents and her friends through her growing up years actually gave me lot to think about in terms of how to parent my children whose personalities are different than mine. Maybe a fictional series about a girl in the early 1900s is a strange place to find parenting insights, but they are pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I had Betsy and her lighthearted books to take me through this summer.

GraceLaced – Loved. Full review here. (And this and the next one are not frivolous…)

You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons – I like the way Lyons writes, but for some reason, I didn’t really connect with this book.

What I Didn’t Read

I picked up several books based on reviews and their titles this summer, but they simply were not for me. Mostly because in the first few chapters, the content met my explicit threshold. I had been looking forward to The Stars Are Fire, after really enjoying Stella Bain by the same author, but I just couldn’t get past the opening content. We Are Called to Rise gave me the same problem in like the first two pages, but I do still appreciate the inspirational title. When I come downstairs in the morning and look at the piles of dirty dishes on the counter, I take a deep breath and whisper to myself “We are called to rise!” and get to work. Game changer. As for The Alice Network, I actually got 40% done (thank you, Kindle, for your specific progress reports), and still found the characters to be grating and overly foul-mouthed, so I threw in the towel. Really, all I want to read right now are old books. I’m in a book time warp and I’m not fighting it.

What I Read With the Kids

We’re starting off the school year with Half Magic by Edward Eager as our read-aloud and it is awesome. We all laugh and laugh, and learn about fractions while we’re at it. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this book before, but I’m glad our homeschool curriculum starts out the year with this fun read-aloud.

Over the summer, we read In Grandma’s Attic. I read this whole series as a girl, but I was unsure whether Isaac (age 6) would enjoy it. The funny stories and big brothers of the main character made it alright, though! He and the other two kids (ages 8 and 3) requested more chapters every time.

We’re always blazing through picture books around here, so I’ll have to do a picture book round up soon!

Nonfiction, Reviews

GraceLaced: A Review

I’ve never been more excited about anything bookish than I was when I got the email saying I had been chosen to review an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simon‘s first book, GraceLaced. Her Instagram account alone gives me more sturdy truths than many a whole published book has, and I started admiring her philosophy as a mother when I heard her on The God Centered Mom podcast over two years ago. I knew her book was going to be chock full of goodness. I also knew it would be full of beautiful images, because Ruth Simons is an artist with an eye for the beauty of every day life.

The book came in the mail one hot July day, and I took in the whole title for the first time– GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. “Hmm,” I remember thinking, “I’m not sure that this is what I was expecting from this wise and very relevant artist-turned-writer.” I guess I thought a seasononal type devotional was an echo from an earlier Christianese era. I opened it up to begin and saw that the first season of the heart was Winter. “Winter. Weird. Why is this book starting with winter and releasing in the heat of summer?”

As I sunk into the pages morning by morning, I began to understand. The book had to start with “Winter: Resting in God’s Character” because people of God aren’t going to get anywhere in any season if they’re not rooted in who God is. After pulling readers into a place of better understanding God’s unchanging character with words and with paintings and photographs, Simons moves onto “Spring: Rehearsing Truth.” These truths move from who God is to who we are in Him. This part of the book is about removing the lies and the idols in our lives and replacing them with the truth of the gospel in our day-to-day.

From there, we go to Summer: Responding in Faith. The ideas in these devotional entries have a more action involved. For example, one is titled “Above” and addresses how we think. Another is titled “Cast” and deals with anxiety. It’s here that a person who has been around church would find the words that are usually loudest in our talk – what to do and what not to do. Too often, we put these kinds of words first, so that they are burdens for which we don’t feel strong enough. In this order, though, Simons has already refreshed us by presenting first God’s heart for us and our heart for Him. As I moved into the Summer portion of the book, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or tired out by the “we shoulds” at all but ready to respond to what had come before.

Finally, the Fall portion of the book is all about what God has given us. Light for our journey. Peace in Jesus. And after a time to focus on God and what He has made us to be and then what He has given us to do, it’s just about perfect that now we can revel in the ways He has provided for us. I started out thinking the whole seasons of the heart set up would be a little off-putting, and I ended up thinking it could not have been more perfect. I was drawn into true fellowship with God despite that young-mom feeling of being too tired and too pressed for time to fully engage in anything besides maybe a good cup of coffee.

Every one of these pages held goodness and I got so much out of the book as a whole. My very favorite one, though was the first entry titled “Dwell.” And not just because “dwell” is one of my favorite words ever. No, it’s because it piercingly addressed a lie I continue to believe almost every day. All of us have a tendency to take refuge in our surroundings, whether that be a special place on a beach or a comfortable chair in a room. Some of us take a little too much refuge in what are surroundings are like. The lie I fight believing every day is this: “I would be a happy person if only my home were clean.”

I know. It’s dumb. Seriously, that’s what you think you need to be happy?

I have operated that way as a default almost every day of my adult life. And it’s not just because as a stay-at-home/homeschool mom, one of the primary time takers in my life is keeping my domain in order. It goes even deeper than my resentment of the time I have to take from other pursuits to keep things (and people) clean. My default desire for cleanliness and orderliness tunnels back into how I have used keeping things orderly around me as a way to feel in control of life in general. I remember how when high school drama struck, I would always clean out my closet. As an adult with two kids, I was frantic about getting a contract on a specific house during a time when we briefly lived with my parents-in-law, so I dusted all their baseboards while waiting for phone calls from the realtor. When I’m at my mom’s and she’s not home, I try to express my thankfulness for all she does for me by vacuuming the corners of her living room. Wow. Maybe I should try flowers instead? Anyway, I’m not exactly a clean freak or neat freak (I mean, don’t come to my house to find sparkling kitchen counter tops or toothpaste-free sinks), but the cleanliness level that I decide is the one we need to reach takes a pretty hard hand over the rest of my life, and making dirty things clean gives me a ridiculous satisfaction. So you can imagine these words struck a pretty deep chord with me:

Any notion I have of finding comfort and satisfaction in the perfection of my surroundings has simply shown itself for what it is: an idol of the heart that can neither sustain nor deliver. A tidy home (and sometimes a calm and quiet environment) has often been my comfort–my shelter in the midst of crazy-messy seasons. It was never meant to be.

-Ruth Chou Simons

I really should have this taped on my bathroom mirror. Or better yet, the verse that the word “Dwell” comes from: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91: 1. If I could grab hold of that truth about God every morning, that He is my refuge and nothing else in this world is, how much different would my attitude be towards my work and my children? Much.

That and many other (much less domestic) golden truths were brought into my day-to-day life through the words and images of GraceLaced. I hope you run to get your own copy! Order your copy of GraceLaced wherever books are sold by August 31 and receive a free “You Don’t Have To Be Blooming To Be Growing” downloadable print when you register your purchase at gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook.}

Everyday Life

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

Back in February, I joined up with Anne Bogel and other bloggers to post about what was saving my life in winter. For sure, winter can be a bleak time when we need some life giving practices and a focus on celebrating the small things. It’s easier to thrive in the summer. Still, there are challenges in summer that make life a bit heavier than we’d like. Take swimsuit shopping, for example. Or cooking in 100 degree weather. So I thought it’d be fun to do a favorite things post in the summer. Because you know I’m always on the lookout for favorite things after failing to have any favorite things a year ago.

Here are a few of my favorite summer things this summer!

  1. Target Swimsuits – I told myself I would be a serious swimsuit shopper this year. I’ve had the same suit for three years and I was sick of it, even thought it was holding up surprisingly well for a $30 Target swimsuit. I scoured all the boutique websites friends were posting for great swimsuits, but nothing called my name. (Shout out to Camellias and Copper for collecting some great options in this post.) Then I happened to be passing through Target with only one child in tow, and thought, “Hey, I’ll just look real quick.” And I found a suit I loved in less than ten minutes. Sold! Apparently I am firmly in the Target swimsuit camp. I’m simply not a serious swimsuit shopper yet.
  2. Rainier Cherries – I always thought these cherries looked gorgeous when I saw them gleaming in the produce aisle, but I never bought them because of the price tag. How different could they be from these much cheaper Washington cherries? Oh, I was missing out. Rainier cherries are my new favorite summer snack. But for my favorite summer dessert, see the next item…
  3. Aldi Super Premium Ice Cream – Aldi is currently selling ice cream with only five ingredients in it – cream, sugar, eggs, milk, and cocoa or vanilla flavor. It is so choice. And only $2.99. Also, their Mango ice cream bars are highly addictive.
  4. Short runs – It’s pretty cool how “in” it is to run in 5ks, 10ks, and lots of other ‘Ks these days. We need better health in our country, and the popularity of running can only be a good thing. But I’ve come to grips with the way I run right now, and that is not with a lot of ‘Ks. My 10-15 minute run three times a week isn’t going to impress anybody, but I love it. I’m up early, I’m outside, I’m moving my body and breathing hard, but I’m not wearing myself out in this time of life when I’m already pretty dang tired.
  5. Wicker chairs – I got two of these wicker chairs from my husband for Mother’s Day/Our 12th Anniversary (they were on the same day this year), and they were every bit as wonderful as I thought they’d be when I oh-so-helpfully e-mailed a link to them to my husband a few weeks before Mother’s Day. (I’m learning.) I love sitting in these every chance I get, but especially early in the morning with coffee.
  6. Games with my kids – I am not as good as I once was at playing imaginatively these days. It’s sad, but I’m too tired and too distracted by my endless to-do lists. I still want to engage in play with my children, though, so having the perimeters that a game gives is invaluable. Our current favorites are Labyrinth and Authors. Uno and Monopoly, Jr. are also go-tos, and our favorite preschool game is and probably will always be Hi-Ho, Cherrio! I’m hoping to get Old Maid soon, another simple card game I think my kids would love.
  7. Ektorp Ikea couches – I’m telling you, once you have a couch that is washable, you might never go back. I’m livin’ the dream here. Sweaty kids/self? Spit-up from baby? Blood from the giant cut my son somehow didn’t realize he had on his foot? The dreaded stomach bug? It all comes out in the wash. They are quite comfortable, too, even according to my husband who was pretty resistant to the idea of Ikea furniture at first. We are now both big fans.
  8. Grass – Grass has made our summer. We’ve been living without it in our backyard for a year-and-a-half, but now that we had a good landscaper come and scrape the backyard of all its ivy and other infestations in June, we have been able to lay down some sod and voila! our backyard is an oasis. Summer vacation to the beach? Not happening this year. But a green backyard is a fabulous trade-off, in this family’s opinion.
  9. Book Launch Teams – I’m on two book launch teams this summer that I am thrilled about! Basically, that means I get to read advance copies of books and write about them. I’m like “eek!” inside every time I think about it. Look for reviews on Ruth Chou Simon’s new book and Melanie Shankle’s new book this month. Both books will release this Fall.
  10. These water bottles are so great for older kids. They don’t break, they don’t leak, they keep things cool. Violet had a smaller one, too, but she went all rogue two-year-old on us and threw it away at a baseball park this spring for no apparent reason. Sheesh. Toddlers. They are so cute and equally crazy.
  11. Every Mile Mattered – Nichole Nordeman released a new album on July 28th. I’m not a fan girl of any band or musician (other than maybe Switchfoot), but this has been on repeat nonstop on my Spotify app. I especially love her rendition of Beautiful Day.

And that wraps up my summer favorite things list! I hope your summer has been full of small and significant delights, and that many more are still to come.

Uncategorized

Summer 2017 Quick Lit

Welcome to my summer edition of Quick Lit!  This is when readers across the blogosphere give short reviews of the books they’ve read in the last month or so. See what other bloggers are reading here.

Our slow summer has continued, and it has become rather glorious, minus the interruption of a family stomach bug for the last week. (Oh summer, you bring us many things, but a stomach bug is usually somewhere in the mix…). But! We’ve got grass in our backyard, our swing set is up again, and the kids and I are luxuriating in unscheduled days (though it’s kind of driving my husband a little crazy). As far as reading goes, though, I told my dad recently it’s probably been the worst reading summer of my life. For a good month, I couldn’t find any books to get into. Everything I picked up made me think “blah.” But then Thriftbooks.com had a sale and I bought some older books on my to-read list, and suddenly this summer’s reading was totally redeemed. Lesson: older books are always the answer to my reading ruts. But there is one new-release on my list that was just what the reading doctor would have ordered if there was such a thing. I’ll start with that one:

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowden would be a great beach read. It is not serious historical fiction by any means, but it combines a British country manor with some World War II spies and code breakers — a combination that is just right for a lighthearted but adventurous book. Similar in setting to The Summer Before the War and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir but completely different in tone with more likable characters. Maybe it’s a little predictable, but I still enjoyed it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris – I requested this one from the library because after reading My Mrs. Brown, I suspected the original story published in 1952 would be more to my liking than the new rendition. I liked the character of Mrs. Brown but I loooved Mrs. ‘Arris. Besides loving the main characters, the cast of characters around her, the length of the novel (shorter), and the subtle meanings laced in an out of the novel were on point. If you’re into vintage novels (and maybe even if you’re not), check this one out.

One Fine Day – I’ve had the author Mollie Panter-Downes on my to-read list for a long time. Her book that walks through the full summer day in the life of an English woman shortly after World War II did not disappoint. It’s not a plot-driven book, but a piece of art in that Panter-Downes manages to create a complete life-story of a woman based on what she thinks and does in one day. I loved the main character, the setting, and the reminder that our every days can add up to beautiful life times.

Nancy and Plum – Think A Little Princess meets The Boxcar Children. I don’t know why this book isn’t more famous. I adored it.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown and Betsy and Tacy Go Over The Big Hill – I didn’t read this series as a girl, I guess they just slipped through the cracks because I read lots of similar books, but I’m thoroughly enjoying them now. I love some old fashioned goodness. A full review of my take-aways from the series will be published soon!

Penny From Heaven – This was on my list of Newbery Medal winners and runners up to read. It was a little disappointing–very much a memoir of a child and not at all what I would have liked to read when I was a child myself. Still, if you like memoirs, you will probably enjoy this one. It certainly had a unique set of characters.

Love Lives Here –  Maria Goff wrote this book sort of as a “here’s what I’ve learned in life so far.” It’s a great companion to Love Does by her husband Bob Goff, since they are opposite personalities with the same goal in life – to love others well. I wouldn’t call either book great literature – neither of them are really writers – but the wisdom and the genuineness that exudes from them the Goffs makes it well worth the read. I would call them some of my faith heroes.

Atlas Girl – I’m in the middle of this one by Emily Wierenga. She writes beautifully, but I’m having a hard time getting to the reason behind the memoir. Do you ever do that? Read a memoir that’s so personal and raw and wonder why the writer felt that a journal-like account of her life and thoughts needed to be published? Probably it’s just the frame of mind I’m in that’s throwing me off. I should probably finish it before I give a final verdict.

What have you been reading this summer?

Children's Books, Parenting

Parenting Lessons from Amelia Bedelia

In my last post about great silly books to share with kids, I intentionally left out one of the most famous silly books of all time. We’ve actually been reading it and its companion books quite a lot. It’s full of hilarity, but I don’t read it as a silly book Image result for thank you, amelia bedeliaanymore. I read it as a parenting manual. What silly book could I possibly be referring to? Amelia Bedelia, of course! Peggy Parish’s famous character and all the books about her crack my children up. They still make me smile, too, but recently I had a revelation while reading them that makes me stop and take some parenting inventory while I read those fabulous books.

You know Amelia Bedelia, right? That silly maid who takes everything absolutely literally and does all the wrong things, but somehow knows how to bake delicious and complicated desserts like cream puffs and lemon meringue pie? (My six-year-old son is on to you, Amelia Bedelia). Last week as we were reading, Thank You, Amelia Bedelia, he asked, “How does she know how to bake so well, but she doesn’t know how to do anything else?” He was seriously perplexed. Without giving it much though, I answered, “Maybe someone taught her how to bake, but didn’t teach her anything else.” And man, the moment those words left my mouth it was like a bright flashlight shone right into my eyes. And it did, because my two-year-old was playing with one. But figuratively speaking, I had an “Oh!” thunder clap parenting moment. Amelia Bedelia is like every child in the history of the world! 

Why is this such a revelation for me? Well, my oldest two kids are eight and six now. They’re pretty big, right? I mean, they can do a lot of things. Pick stuff up, put stuff away, clean stuff…or at least, that’s what I think they should be able to do. At the onset of this summer, though, I found myself harboring a sustained frustration at them. The ancient Mom Complaints went through my head a million times a day. “This place is always a mess! Why can’t they put anything away? Do I have to do Image result for thank you, amelia bedeliaeverything around here? Why are there shoes on the coffee table?” (It’s ironic that we are the cause of these complaints in our early days here on earth and then we are the thinkers of those complaints later…sorry, Mom!). But then, I was reading about Amelia Bedelia scattering roses around the living room and stripping sheets (tearing them into strips, that is), and I thought, “Ha, that’s something my kids would do.” Ding, ding! That’s something your kids would do if you didn’t TEACH them how to do it the right way or explain what you meant!

What it comes down to is my son was onto something. Amelia Bedelia could do one thing well, because someone probably taught her how. Amelia Bedelia didn’t know how to do anything else at all, because no one ever taught her how to do it. Yes, yes, I know, most kids are born with twice as much common sense as Amelia Bedelia. But even though these books are just meant to be fun and silly, they changed this family’s summer. All of a sudden, I understood that I needed to see this summer break from homeschooling as a time to school the kids on how to live in a home. It was time for me to explain to them what I mean when I say, “Sort the laundry” and “clean up the living room.” It was time to settle in and give gentle (…mostly gentle) reminders throughout the day about putting shoes away and clearing the table after dinner so that these things that matter to us as parents become habits for the children in my home.

Image result for thank you, amelia bedeliaIt’s been about a month since I made this discovery, and I certainly still get frustrated, but at least we have some foundation for what the kids know we expect from them now. At least when I get frustrated that there’s dirt all over the floor, they understand why, because they just vacuumed that room themselves yesterday and now they have to do it again. I guess you can say reading Amelia Bedelia taught me that it’s completely fruitless to be frustrated with my children if I wasn’t taking the time to explain and train. Now, every time I read those books to the kids, I am reminded of that lesson and I ask myself how I’m doing at it.

Thanks for the parenting lesson, Amelia Bedelia.

More lessons from books on Mia The Reader:

Wisdom in Literature for Everyday Life

The Unquestioned Burdens

 

Children's Books, Reading

Silly Books to Share With Kids

Silliness is powerful. Kids love to be silly with the grown ups in their lives. And I’ve noticed that just a little bit of zany will go a long way towards fostering a fun relationship with a little person you generally have to boss around and discipline all.day.long.

Even though I know that a few silly interactions peppered throughout our days brings new closeness to our relationships, silliness doesn’t come naturally to me most days. The to-do lists, the heavy nature of life some days, the exhaustion…it all kind of wipes away any desire for to be even a little bit goofy. So, like I do for many dilemmas in life, I turn to books. There are so many great silly books that both you and the children you love can enjoy together! Here are a few we’ve found recently on our library trips.

We Forgot Brock! – A little boy named Phillip has an awesome imaginary friend named Brock. Brock looks like a cross between a pirate and a rock star, but only Phillip can see him. That is, until Phillip accidentally leaves Brock behind somewhere, and Brock adopts more friends. The ending is happy and the whole book cracks us up.

Matilda’s Cat – Matilda thinks her cat likes all kinds of fun things. It turns out, she doesn’t know her cat so well. But Matilda’s cat knows her!

The Legend of Rock, Paper, and Scissors – Though a bit wordy, this book will have the grown ups laughing and the kids sort of laughing and sort of scratching their heads.

Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggy Books (especially, We are in a Book!) – It’s really the illustrations that will get you every time in the Elephant and Piggy books. Even very young listeners will laugh.

The Bink and Gollie Series – Oh, how we love Bink and Gollie. They are fun to read ourselves, but our library also has these books on CD, and let me tell you, they are hilarious. All my kids are crazy about them, but Violet (age 2) is the one who currently listens to them nonstop. Bink and Gollie is part of our family culture. “Use your gray matter, Bink,” is now synonymous with, “Would you just stop and think a minute!” and saves us one unpleasant parent-child interaction by inserting some humor into an otherwise scolding situation.

We could go on and on, because so many children’s books have a silly component to them, for an obvious reason: children love to be silly. If you can’t muster up the mental energy to engage in a staring contest or tell endless knock-knock jokes with your kids, maybe try reading a silly book together. It just might get you back on the fun parent track.

Happy reading!

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Everyday Life, Parenting

Slow Summer

Summer is so wonderful. We love to go to the beach, the mountains, the library, the zoo, the park. Summer energizes this family and makes us want to go, go, go. But this summer, everything (including my reading pace), has been slow. Here’s why:

Lydia is sweetheart, we can’t resist her and her kissable cheeks, but we also can’t predict her. Her only pattern at 3-months-old is a good morning nap, and the rest is anyone’s guess. Sometimes she naps four times a day, sometimes we can’t get her to sleep from noon til midnight and we think we must be the worst parents in the world. Whoever says fourth babies just roll with it and are totally laid back…well, they haven’t met Lydia. Some days she’s completely blissful, some days she cries her head off. She’s not colicky but she’s not the classic happy baby. She’s just Lydia. And we love her.

Spending so much time trying to soothe a baby or catch up on all you haven’t been able to do while trying to soothe a baby (hello, dishes from yesterday) makes the summer surprisingly slow. The blessing in it is we don’t get tempted to dash off to a hundred parks and play dates. I pace and hold Lydia and listen to Ella, Isaac, and Violet play with cars, with Legos, and everything between. There are forts of sheets and chairs in the living room, there are paper crowns taped onto baby dolls’ heads, there are chores actually being done, there is an eight-year-old with a book on the couch on a rainy summer’s day….there are all sorts of beautiful, everyday things to soak in when you’re just holding a baby, and all kinds of opportunities for kids to just be and play and learn with no rush and hurry.

Would I like Lydia to have a more predictable schedule and to be happy all the time? Yes. Absolutely. But she is as unpredictable as she is cute (very). She’s a gift and she is unintentionally giving us the gift of a slow summer. I look forward to adventures with big kids, day trips to the beach and the mountains, a meal out without a meltdown, but for now…I’ll take the slow summer.

Whether your summer is full of slow days in the sun or jam packed with on-the-go fun, I hope you’re enjoying it fully and soaking it up.

Happy Summer!

Photos by Wenzel Photography (in a very casual, short photo shoot in the middle of a playdate! Aunts are awesome).

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit! What I read in March/April/May

Time for Quick Lit! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today as readers from all over the internet discuss what we’ve read in the past month. I’m a little behind, so this is my March/April/May. Hop on over and see what other readers are reading!

In the past couple of weeks we’ve featured the chapter books my kids (ages 7 and 5) have been reading and the middle grade novels I have loved lately. Now, it’s time for some adult books! Yes, even though novels like The War That Saved My Life and When You Reach Me are my new favorites, there are some grown up books I enjoyed in March, April, and May.

A Man Called Ove – Yes, I jumped on this bandwagon, and I’m pretty glad I did. Imagine an adult version of the Disney movie Up. Ove is an elderly, grumpy man who lives in a row house in Sweden. At first glance (and in the first few chapters), you don’t love him. You think he’s kind of beastly. But keep reading. This book is at times hilarious, often thought provoking, and ultimately quite a tearjerker, but in a good way. You might rethink how you feel about the elderly curmudgeons in your life (if you have any). (Side note on colorful language: this one has a fair amount).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – If you liked The Summer Before the War, I can’t think of a more similar book. It is set in a small town before World War II (I know The Summer Before the War was WWI, but both have the looming gloom) and gathers characters from gentry to very poor, very young to very old. It was fairly good, but I was expecting to like this book more. The amount of issues squeezed into this one historical novel overwhelmed the story and my attachment to the characters. (Soapbox moment: Dear Modern Novelists, We know you are passionate about many things, but please don’t try to deal with all the issues in one novel. Just pick one, for the sake of your readers’ sanity). Still, it was the kind of book I usually enjoy as far as setting and characters go, though not worthy of the comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Tell Me Three Things – If you’re feeling like you could use a light, beachy, YA read with a chick-flick feel but also a bit of substance, this one’s for you. The characters and the plot with a smidge of mystery make this a quick page turner. The element of dealing with grief is actually very good; it’s insightful and heartfelt, very honest, but not drenched with sorrow. It’s more of a this-is-every-day-life perspective on grief a few years after losing a loved one. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. However, I’d rate this book at a PG-13 level. It has all the not-so-innocent stuff you might encounter in a movie like Ten Things I Hate About You or Never Been Kissed, so proceed with caution if you’re thinking of handing it over to your young adult.

My Mrs. Brown – Very reminiscent of Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I can’t really sum it up better than the publisher’s blurb, so here it is below. It’s one of those books that I would say “reads like a movie.” A great beach read for women who don’t enjoy a typical romance novel but would like a fairly fluffy but not terrible and sometimes even thoughtful novel for vacation.

Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.

When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. The dress isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so, like the inspired heroine of Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is a novel for every mother in the world, every woman who ever wanted the perfect dress, and every child who wanted to give it to her.

The Hamilton Affair – Meh. I didn’t love this. The narration style was a bit dry and though the telling was mostly chronological, it still felt fairly disjointed. Alexander Hamilton’s history is fascinating, though.

Shoulder The Sky – More D.E. Stevenson. I just love her. Other review on her work here and here.

I was in the middle of Hillbilly Elegy, but I picked up Howard’s End off the shelf the other night when I was pacing around with Lydia  because it was small enough to hold and pace at the same time. I guess you could say I’ve fallen into Howard’s End and I can’t/won’t get up. It’s worth a re-read!

What have you read lately? Got any summer reading lists? I’m contemplating not making one at all this summer and just being whimsical about it. Yep, that’s sounding pretty good right now. But I do love lists, so we’ll see! Happy reading!

Children's Books, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

Awesome Chapter Books for Young Children

We are hitting the short chapter books hard around here lately! It’s sometimes tricky to find chapter books suitable for very young children, but these I’m sharing today are perfect. I quite enjoyed them, too. If you’re looking for some quality literature to draw young children into chapter books, this list is for you.

 

I read Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry  to both Ella (7) and Isaac (5) and they loved it. Violet (2.5) also listened and laughed with us. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this book before now? It is perfect for 4-7-year-olds. Gooney Bird Greene is an accomplished story teller, and her whole second-grade class, including the teacher, is enamored by her true stories. This book would pair wonderfully with a story-telling unit study if you’re a homeschooler. Or just read it for fun! Because it is seriously fun. It’s the first in a series of five books, and I just discovered the whole series is on CD at my library. Score! I plan to check that out and give my kids lots of fun listening time during the long, hot afternoons this summer.

I tried to read Pippi Longstocking to Ella when she was five and it was a major flop. I pulled it out again last month, though, and this time it has been a big hit with her and Isaac. Maybe Ella wasn’t ready for the absurdity of Pippi when she was younger (Ella’s a very literal person), but now the zaniness of this story completely entertains us all (yes, even Violet announced, “I love Pippi!” yesterday). I love all things Astrid Lindgren, so I can’t wait to read the next Pippi book!

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a purely fun and silly chapter book we all enjoyed at bedtime last week. Though it has chapters, it’s truly just a long picture book, with illustrations on every page. Princess Cora is a little girl whose princessly life is extremely dull, until her fairy godmother sends her a pet crocodile who hilariously sets everything right. I’m guessing even reluctant chapter book readers/listeners will enjoy this book.

These next two books on our list are a bit more serious, but still great for young children. Isaac particularly liked The King’s Equal, a short fairy tale by Katherine Paterson about a haughty prince who can’t be crowned until he finds a wife who is his equal in every way. In six short chapters, kids (and grown ups) consider themes such as wisdom, kindness, industriousness, true beauty, and friendship. I’m so glad a good friend lent me this book!

The Light at Tern Rock is another tiny book with big themes we recently finished. It’s about a young boy named Ronnie and his aunt who agree to fill in for the lighthouse keeper for a few weeks right before Christmas. The days keep stretching on and the main characters have to learn to make the best with what they have, and to be gracious to those who treat them unfairly. It was so good, a great read for kids six and up.

I hope you find some gems for your family in this list! I’m on the hunt for more as we approach summer reading time. Eee! I love summer reading…

Happy reading!