Monday, October 26, 2009

What is your $ buying?

I couldn't help but smirk at the irony of receiving both The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World and two gift catalogs of another sort today. One catalog offers to help families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. The other two catalogs offer beautiful educational toys.
Picture from
(Do you think they'd let me trade a goat for that little boy? Is he not the most precious thing EVER?)
For $120 with Heifer International I can send a goat who can provide up to a gallon of rich, nutritious milk each day, a goat who can nanny two or three kids each year. Or I can take my $120 and buy a magical mushroom-shaped playhouse.

For $150 with Heifer International I can provide a llama to a family in the Andes Mountains of South America. This llama can provide wool to make clothes and blankets to sell and make a modest living. The family who owns it can make a modest living, not the llama. That would be some llama. Or I can use that $150 and purchase 54 pieces of colorful wood so my little guys can build to their hearts content.
For $100 I can send five flocks of chicks to provide thousands of eggs for children. Did you know that just a few eggs a week can make a life or death difference to children who will die from a zinc deficiency? Or maybe I should take my $100 and buy two wee little mohair mice and a tiny little mouse house.

Oh, you don't spend that much money on toys for your children for Christmas? Good, me either! Well, for only $20 you can buy a rabbit which will provide valuable manure to make nutrient rich soil, boosting crop productivity and nutrition in an organic and sustainable way. Or I can spend my $20 on three wooden trucks and three wooden cars.

The *point* of all of this is that we I feel a sense of duty when it comes to buying Christmas presents. There is nothing inherently wrong about buying gifts for our children. But what if we gave to those in need first and then bought for our own with what was left over instead of the other way around? What if instead of exchanging gifts with our third cousin twice removed our families pooled our resources and sent a heifer to a family who is currently living on $1 a day?

I know people who are crazy with a capital INSANE about Christmas. I know families who spend $500 or more just on their children. I know women who stand in the aisles of Target bemoaning that fact that they spent $76.94 on child A and so now must find something, anything, that costs $13.61 for child B to make it "even".

I said a hearty "Amen" when I read what Jaime wrote: "We started thinking about this a few years ago when we were walking through a Target trying desperately to find a gift for under $15 for my mom before I had to ship off the box of presents. I ended up getting her some crappy mittens and a matching hat. She lives in Texas. She doesn’t need these. They were crappy. They were $15. She took them back. You get my point. I wasn’t giving her a gift because I loved her. I wasn’t buying something that she would love. I was trying to get her $15 spent so I could check her off our list."

Even when I think about our own previous spending for our children. We typically buy three gifts for each child to remember the three gifts Jesus received. We typically buy a new game or puzzle, a new book and one toy. Guess where those things end up by the next Christmas? Broken, lost or at Goodwill.

When I started really thinking about this, the idea of a tyrannical up rise of pajama-ed little boys came to mind. What kind of parent that was able to would choose to not buy their children presents? Especially these beautiful educational toys? Did I mention some of them were handmade in Germany? And then I thought "who made them think they were entitled to gifts on December 25? And if not made them think this, allowed them to continue to believe it?"

I am so thankful to my beautiful sister-in-law who suggested that we "not exchange gifts this year. Not even for the children. Not even from Grandma. Got it, Grandma? We mean it. No gifts." There may have even been some finger shaking in there.

Now, I am not suggesting that you just wait until December 25 and announce as you hear the pitter patter of tiny feet running down the stairs "Surprise! Instead of buying you presents we sent chickens to Sri Lanka!" No, sit down with your children. Maybe even tell them how much money you budgeted for their Christmas gifts and let them decide a charity to spend it on. Maybe you could even look through the catalog, the one with the beautiful, handmade in Germany, educational toys and brainstorm ways to make some of these things yourself or jump start your local economy and commission a local wood smith or seamstress to make these things for you. Then send the savings off to your favorite charity or missionary family.

What if we only cut our gift spending in half and sent the other half in the form of big stinky animals to families who will be grateful for a bowl of rice this December 25 (don't get me started on the whole feast and food thing, that's another post for another day)? And what if next December we cut that half in half again? What if the next time someone buys something from you or repays you money that they owe you, you asked them to make a donation to your favorite missionary family?

What would happen? Would the earth stop spinning on its axis? Would children everywhere turn to pillars of salt? No, of course not, but you would teaching your children a lesson they'll never find under a tree or in a catalog.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abuelita Chocolate

I recently took advantage of a free sample offer for Abuelita Instant, a Mexican hot chocolate. I have eyed this at the store many times but never actually bought it. It is made with milk instead of water and was very delicious. I can't say it was the best hot cocoa I've ever had but it was good. It's not a deep, dark chocolate but very satisfying. A homemade alternative is to add a couple of sprinkles of cinnamon to your hot cocoa (or a teaspoon to your chocolate chip cookies, mmmmmm). Get your own sample here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Time To Order Thanksgiving Books Again!

It seems like just last month I was posting last year's Thanksgiving book list. Many of our beloved titles from last year's list are reappearing again this year but I've added quite a number of other titles as well. The Accelerated Reader level, when available, is listed behind the title.

A Pioneer Thanksgiving Barbara Greenwood
A Thanksgiving Turkey Scheer (4.4)
Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey Herman Parish (3.2)
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Louisa May Alcott (4.7)
Duck for Turkey Day Jacqueline Jules (2.6)
Give Thanks to the Lord Karma Wilson
Gus, the Pilgrim Turkey Teresa Bateman
Happy Thanksgiving Emily Claire Masural (1.4)
Henry and Mudge Under the Yellow Moon Cynthia Rylant (2.3)
I Am the Turkey Michele Spirn (2.0)
I’m No Turkey Hans Wilhelm
In November Cynthia Rylant (2.6)
It’s Thanksgiving Jack Prelutsky
Let’s Be Thankful P.K. Hallinan
Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving Connie and Peter Roop (4.9)
Mary's First Thanksgiving Kathy-Jo Wargin
Molly's Pilgrim Barbara Cohen (3.0)
My Thanksgiving Jennifer Gillis (1.4)
Nana's Sweet Potato Pie Gracie Porter (2.0)
Off to Plymouth Rock Dandi Daley Mackall (1.8)
One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims B.G. Hennessy
One Is a Feast for Mouse Judy Cox (3.6)
P is for Pilgrim Carol Crain (6.0)
P is for Pumpkin Kathy-Jo Wargin
Rabbit Ears Holiday Stories, Volume I
Saying Grace: A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Virginia Kroll
Setting the Turkeys Free Lisa Nikola (1.8)
Squanto and the First Thanksgiving Teresa Celsi (2.5)
Squanto’s Journey Joseph Bruchac (4.2)
T is for Turkey Tanya Stone
Ten Fat Turkeys Tony Johnston
Thanksgiving, What Makes It Special Harold Myra (2.9)
Thanksgiving With Me Margaret Willey (3.0)
Thank You Thanksgiving David Milgram
The Amazing Turkey Rescue Steve Metzger
The Best Thanksgiving Ever Teddy Slater
The First Thanksgiving Whitehurst (5.0)
The Great Turkey Race Steve Metzger
The Night Before Thanksgiving Natasha Wing
The Peterkins Thanksgiving Elizabeth Spurr (4.4)
The Silly Turkey Party Steve Metzger
The Thanksgiving Door Debby Atwell (2.9)
The Thanksgiving Train Richard Stein (3.6)
The Turkey Surprise Peggy Archer (2.9)
The Very First Thanksgiving Day Rhonda Gowler Greene
This Is the Turkey Abby Levine
This First Thanksgiving Day Laura Melmed
Thank You For Thanksgiving Dandi Daley Mackall
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving Laurie Halse Faulkner (3.7)
Thanksgiving: A Harvest Celebration Julie Stiegemeyer (4.4)
Thanksgiving at the Tappleton's Eileen Spinelli (3.2)
Thanksgiving Day Anne Rockwell (3.3)
Thanksgiving Day at Our House Nancy Carlstrom (3.2)
Thanksgiving in the White House Gary Hines (3.9)
Thanksgiving is Here Diane Goode
Thanksgiving Mice Bethany Roberts (1.3)
Thanksgiving on Thursday Mary Pope Osborne
Thanksgiving Rules Friedman (3.1)
Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble Abby Klein (3.1)
Today is Thanksgiving P.K. Hallinan
Turkey Bowl Phil Bildner (4.8)
Turkey Trouble Wendi Silvano
Who Will Carve the Turkey Jerry Pallotta

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sleeping Bear Press Books

Recently my friend shared with me a literary discovery called Sleeping Bear Press Books. Here is what she had to say.

"I ran across these books a few years ago, and absolutely loved them then. In fact I bought my kids the Ohio ones and my niece and nephew the Illinois ones. Basically they are alphabet books, but go so far beyond what most alphabet books do. They have "2 levels of text" - one is something a 3-4 year old can understand. The other is intended to be read by a mid-later elementary aged student (think 4th-6th grader). Having kids a wide variety of ages, these books appeal to me for obvious reasons.

The Ohio one is B is for Buckeye. The numeric Ohio one is C is for Cardinal Numbers. I have started my oldest reading a variety of the states - so last summer when we went to Michigan - she read the M is for Mitten. It gave her a taste for Michigan in an interesting manner - without being overwhelming. They are picture books, but interesting for adults and kids alike. Recently she read the L is for Lobster: Maine alphabet book.

The thing I like about them - is it exposes them to a wide variety of vocabulary (as well as all the great geography information). The Maine one had vocabulary like gregarious, crustacean, representative, senator (words they are going to run into again in their reading adventures). And I believe all of the state ones are AR books, and since they are nonfiction - I am encouraging my oldest to read them.

They have also really cute other books like P is for Princess or K is for Kick (the soccer alphabet one) or H is for Homerun. They make excellent gifts - Amazon sells them for $11-12 for a hardcover book. I think they have one we got my father-in-law called I is for Inventor - so almost any topic imaginable. Again - all have the "two level" text."
I was thrilled to rediscover this collection. You will find P is for Pilgrim on my Thanksgiving Book List, coming up very soon.

Monday, October 12, 2009


  • Do you have a bad case of digging your heels into the ground?
  • Do you mutter "No, God, you have got to be kidding me?" several times a day?
  • Have you tried reasoning with God?
  • Have you made a list of pros and cons of something He's asked you to do?
  • Have you ever reminded God that you've already had this conversation and your answer hasn't changed?
  • Have you ever thought about how patient and long-suffering God is when you realize if your children talked to you the way you talk to God they would have been disciplined a long time ago?

If you have experienced one or more of these symptoms you have suffered from Jonah-itis. Remember the fool who thought he could get out of doing what God had planned for him? Remember the one that still didn't get the memo after a raging storm stopped the instant his feet hit the water? And the same one that was still complaining after a large aquatic mammal spit him out of his gullet?

What is the cure? Read Jeremiah 29:11 and bend your knees clear to the floor in a consistent basis for days on end. Die to self and know that He has you in the palm of His hand. Wake up, realize it wasn't a bad dream and do it all over again. Repeat.

God gently chuckles and tousles your hair and says "Come along, my dear one, this is no longer a topic of discussion. It is now a topic of action. Move it from your Things-I'm-Not-Interested-in-Doing-Right-Now-Or-Maybe-Ever list to your To-Do list."

Jonah-itis is painful. Heartaches and dropped dreams painful. And messy. Snot and tears messy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sahara Special

Sahara Special, written by Esme Raji Codell of Planet Esme fame, introduces us to fifth grader, Sahara Jones. When Sahara's dad moved away when she was in the third grade Sahara began to write him letters, asking him to come back. Her grades begin to slip and Sahara is pulled out of class for intervention. Sahara's new post in the hall draws obvious attention and her peers begin to call her Sahara Special. Sahara's mother soon puts a halt to the intervention, insisting that the administration fail the girl if necessary.

The following fall, Sahara is in class with her favorite cousin but also with a nasty boy named Darrel, whom she was in class with last year. One person who didn't return to this classroom was Sahara's old teacher who is replaced by Miss Pointy. Miss Pointy is unlike any teacher Sahara has ever met, both in looks and in personality.

What follows is the account of a girl on the brink of falling through the cracks and how a teacher who cares about the students, who refuses to accept labels or past performance as excuses, can encourage a student to dig deep and find out what they are about. It's about a girl who, when someone is truly invested in her and makes her take responsibility for her own actions, can discover that what she is hiding is truly her best gift of all.

Sahara Special will make you laugh out loud and make you fall in love with each character in this inner-city Chicago classroom.

Ages: The publisher suggests ages 8-12, however I would not allow a child to read this without supervision and discussion. There are several instances of bad language and home situations that would need to be discussed. In light of that I would suggest no younger that 11 or 12 and again, I would suggest discussion. As always, pre-read any books that you allow your child to read.

Rating: I would love to give this book 5 stars but because of the language I'm going to have to resort to 3.5.

Audience: Any child but especially your intervention students. This is a must-buy for any 5th grade-9th grade teacher.

Disclaimer: I personally strongly recommend that every parent pre-read any book their child reads and decide for your family what is appropriate and what is not. It is my opinion that it is better to discuss tough subjects than to pretend they don't exist. So don't stray away from topics you wish didn't have to discuss with your children. For more information and other reviews on this book and others as well as video games and television shows please visit Common Sense Media. For information and reviews on movies please visit PluggedInOnline. Feel free to post your opinions here, you are allowed to disagree but you are not allowed to be disrespectful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Thought on Contentment

As soon as the party decorations are put away you begin to think about holiday presents. You plan, you purchase, you knit, you sew, you paint. Just the right colors for each person. A tailor fit. You pray over it, you lovingly wrap it, you choose the most extravagant bow. You even top it with trinkets and trappings to delight the eye. You wait with baited breath.

Your beautifully wrapped present waits for its recipient to lovingly unwrap it. You watch and hope they like it. They take it out of the package, examine it quickly and put it to the side, you think might have heard a meager "thank you" but you can't be sure. The recipient is already on to the next package and when their enormous pile of gifts has been opened they say "What else is there? I didn't get exactly what I wanted. I asked for a pink whatchamajig."

And so it is with our Heavenly Father as he prepares all season long for the next season. A red Maple for you, a yellow Birch for him, an Autumn Purple Ash for me. Amber-colored pumpkins decorate the field like polka dots while emerald green squash becomes our dinner. And yet we say "What happened to the warm weather? It's only 79 days until Christmas! I can't wait until it's spring." We are like greedy little children on Christmas morning, always wanting more, never quite satisfied enough.
Fall is my favorite season. It begs us to slow down, cook slower meals, snuggle under the covers for a few extra minutes. It is gloriously beautiful, aren't they all? Take some time today to slow down and enjoy the beautiful gift God made for us. Linger over a piece of pumpkin pie and a steaming cup of chai. Be content with where you are at exactly the time you are. It's a gift.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Cloned Myself On Friday Night

I cloned myself on Friday night.
By Saturday at three
my clone had made another clone.
They both looked just like me.

They walked like me and talked like me
and acted like me too.
They wore my clothes and used my stuff
and did the things I do.

But worst of all they made more clones
who then made even more,
and soon my house was overrun
and I was getting sore.

They wouldn't do my laundry,
clean my room, or make my bed.
They wouldn't wash the dishes
or do anything I said.

Instead they sat and watched TV
and played computer games.
They ate up all my favorite snacks
and called each other names.

And now they like to stay up late
and keep me wide awake.
My life is wreck but, still, I hope
you'll learn from my mistake.

Don't ever try to clone yourself.
But, if you ever do,
you'd better hope your clones are not
exactly just like you.

Kenn Nesbitt, My Hippo Has the Hiccups and Other Poems I Totally Made Up

Monday, October 5, 2009

Muffin Tin Monday

Today's Muffin Tin Monday theme over at Her Cup Overfloweth is All About Me. I let The Entertainer pick his fruit and vegetable, he chose strawberries and peas. He loves noodles so I added the peas and some turkey to noodles with a little milk.

He is three years old so I gave him three strawberries. He saw the orange juice in the freezer when he picked out the peas and asked for that too.

I was kind of at a loss for this theme so I went with a butter bread sandwich cut into his first initial. The M&M's came home from school so I let him have half of the package for dessert. He, of course, being the man after my own heart decided dessert always tastes better when eaten first. For more inspiration (this is a pithy excuse for inspiration) visit here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Christoph is a little boy in Vienna who has just lost his father. His mother needs to rent out his father’s office space to make a living and Ludwig Van Beethoven moves in while he is writing his ninth symphony. Christoph doesn’t know what to make of this eccentric gentleman and writes letters to his uncle, a music student, about the disaster that is the musical genius. The book is written entirely in letters between nephew and uncle and sprinkles bits of historical facts into the story. As the story unfolds and at his uncle’s prodding, Christoph finds his opinion of Beethoven changing and the reader sees Christoph maturing and softening with compassion.

This is a fantastic book to include or even introduce in your study of classic composers. As I said, the book is written almost entirely in letters, have your child read the letters from Christoph and you read the letters from the uncle.

Then check out the audio by the same title produced by Classical Kids (BMG Kidz). Allow your child to listen through a few times (the audio is abridged and the children will pick up on this very quickly). After they've listened a few times encourage your child to pay attention to the music in the background. Ask them to write about the mood of the song and Christoph's mood. You can stop the CD after each letter if necessary. You can also have them draw a picture, abstract if possible so as not to stretch the lesson out farther than necessary.
Check out some other classical CD's from the library and discuss the mood of various songs. Also, don't forget to pick up some biographies of Ludwig Van Beethoven and discuss what liberties Barbara Nichol may have taken with her historical fiction.
Check and see if your local philharmonic or symphony offers special times or shows for children. If you live near me, our local philharmonic is very child friendly and offers several children's shows throughout the year. The conductor turns and talks to the children, he's very good with the children.
Here are some additional resources for Beethoven Lives Upstairs. There is a movie of this available as well but I have never seen it so I can't give a recommendation on it.