Sunday, May 29, 2016

Looking for Lovely- a challenge we could all use

It has been a hard, life shifting month for our family and the pivot point came at a time of year that is usually filled with lots of joy and things to look forward to. But this year- right on the precipice of our favorite season, summer, we very unexpectedly lost my husband's dear father and suddenly nothing felt worth doing and it felt wrong to be enjoying much about life. Instead of finding all the little pockets of joy and blessing in my days, I was seeing the multitude of big and small ways life would never be the same way. There were no rose colored glasses, just the darkened lense of grief that my days were filtered thru. Life was just sad and hard for awhile in our house and, in a way, we were ok with that. It seems right to have a season of mourning for someone who lived and loved so well. And then there came a night when my husband said, "there is still so much to live for and enjoy- and Dad would want life to be good again." And since then, we've been on a journey of processing this new normal with the tragedy of no Ben in it, but finding the joy- Looking for Lovely. 

 Books are the perfect companion when entering  a season of uncharted territory. A well written book can speak into your life so powerfully- I am so thankful for those brave enough to become authors and share their souls with the world in the hopes of being an encouragement to someone. And what an encouragement it is to have a story resonate so deeply with you that you feel like the author must be reading your mind. Annie F. Downs with her book, Looking for Lovely, has been that author for me in this chapter of life. 

Looking for Lovely is Annie's account of running into many hard things in life and how she could have just focused on that (it would have been easiest) and she would have been...miserable. But that's not what Annie wanted from her life, and that's not what she wants for her readers either. I really appreciate that Annie doesn't just give the pat, easy answers we've kind of become accustomed to hearing (and giving)- Find the silver lining, there's always something to be thankful for, God works all things for our good. All these things are noble aspirations but sometimes, they just don't feel true or helpful. Sometimes life just feels straight up hard and painful and ugly. Annie gets that and first gets down on the level of the hurting and says "I see you- I know it hurts. it's ok to admit it." But she doesn't leave us there, she helps us to our feet and says "But there's beauty here too. Let's look for the Lovely, together." 

The book starts with a look into Annie's life and the "Absence of Lovely"- all the hard, ugly places we find ourselves. I really resonated with her words here- 
"Whatever tragedy you have experienced or are currently living through, the most beautiful thing you can do is LIVE. Keep walking. Keep weeping. Keep eating. Don't ignore the hurt. Don't attempt to avoid it and just move on with your life. Feel it all, and invite people in to feel it with you." I feel like these are the perfect words to share with my husband's family right now- a gift I can pass on. In the second part of the book, Annie takes us on a "search for lovely" and shows us how God wants us to be brave and how much better life is when we can see all the good interwoven with the hard. Also, we see that it is worth it to surround ourselves with our people- those that know us best and can be a faithful witness who both sees the deep hurt but can point us to God's faithfulness too. I like how in this section Annie ends each chapter with a little specific challenge to look for lovely. Annie ends the book with "When I found lovely." I think it can be perfectly summed up with Annie's words- "And as I'm collecting these moments that matter, I'm actually just seeing more of Him. Because in the end that's what it's all about. When you find Jesus, you have found lovely. He is everything we need." 

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

They were Christians: A helpful overview of Noteworthy Christians in history

As a homeschooling Mama just starting out on her years to come journey of educating her children, I am ever on the lookout for good resources to add to our school room-even if they won't be used till years the future. I love the idea of "living books" and teaching my children, especially when it comes to history, from well written books about the real people of the past rather than school textbooks that mainly just list dates and important facts. I really think there is something to be said for getting "behind the eyes" of some of history's most well known characters, and even getting a feel for more of their mundane life and struggles versus just the  very briefest overviews of their accomplishments in a school text. When I saw I had the opportunity to review They were Christians by Cristobal Krusen, I thought that would be a great way to review a little history for myself and add a "school" book to the shelves.

Krusen covers the lives of some well known famous christian history makers, such as Abraham Lincoln and some lesser known, like Chiune Suhihara. He did an interesting job of choosing his subjects-including some who while they may have done much good for the world, it was not known to the general public that their main motivation was service to Christ. I enjoyed the brief though fairly through summaries of each characters' life, but I can't say it is one of the better biographies I've read. While I appreciate reading some back story on some of these people who changed the world in the process of expanding God's kingdom, I didn't think that Krusen's  notes on his personal life journey did much to tie the book together. I will probably keep this volume on the shelf for a light history primer and I suspect it will be a good launching point for my boys to get a feel for some noteworthy believers from past years. If they are particularly intrigued by one of the accounts included, we can track down a more through biography elsewhere.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review from Baker Books.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cleaning just got a whole lot prettier thanks to Full Circle Home!

The Job title of Mother means many, many things-but one of the most prevalent parts of my job description is house keeper/cleaner. I spend the majority of my time each day cleaning up messes, and usually they are variations of the same messes, over and over again. Honestly, it is a bit of a monotonous job and if I wasn't a bit of a clean freak, it wouldn't offer much in the way of being gratifying. SO, I have come to find ways to make the job a little more fun and therapeutic even. Enter- high quality, naturally derived cleaning products. Over the past 5 years or so, I have fallen in love with "high end" (aka chemically laden sprays from the dollar store) cleaning brands-Mrs. Meyers, Method, Seventh Generation, etc. There are some great brands who not only make some safe for the family, fun to use sprays and cleaners, but are doing some awesome things in reaching out and educating their customers on the benefits and need for natural cleaning products, as well. As many great natural cleaning sprays and solutions as I know of, I haven't found many cleaning tools that I actually love and don't just tolerate. Until, I was introduced to Full Circle Home.

The amazing folks at Tryazon were generous enough to give me the opportunity to try out an overflowing box of goodies from Full Circle- to get to know the products and share my opinion (and a few of the goods) with friends! I have a great group of Mama friends who I am lucky enough to "do life" with and we love any excuse to get together! We had a belated Mother's Day Brunch at my house a couple weeks ago- it was a time of good food, a great play date for the kids and a fun time visiting for the moms. I put together a Mother's Day gift bag for each of my friends consisting of a few of my favorite things- a beautiful art print from Gracelaced, The Mother Letters (which I reviewed here on the blog not long ago!), mt favorite lip balm from the Grove Collaborative, and last but not least- a cheery Full Circle Home kitchen towel! 

They loved all the goodies and were excited to see and hear more about the other products in the full circle line. It was really nice for us to be able to check out the products in person and the sample party was a great way to do that since none of the stores in this area carry the Full Circle products and we have to order online! We all agreed that we would love to start replacing our shabby, plastic cleaning tools with the aesthetically pleasing, high quality coordinating Full Circle ones. we flipped thru the Come Clean kit's booklet of natural cleaner recipes and tips and discussed which we had tried in the past or would like to try in the future. Many of the Mamas in my group have started monthly subscriptions to Grove Collaborative  to keep our cleaning pantries in stock and were excited to find that they offer a selection of Full Circle Home products!

We now own three of the Full Circle Home brooms at our house- the clean sweep, the mighty team and the tiny team! There is a broom for each of my boys and (sometimes) they are Mama's helpers with sweeping up the house. :) I have a whole slew of Full Circle products lined up by my sink to help with dish washing tasks- one of my least favorite tasks made better with the help of some pretty, efficient tools!

I have been very impressed with the Full Circle Home Products I've been able to implement in my home so far and am excited to add more to collection as time goes by!

Thanks to Tryazon and Full Circle Home for sending me these products in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Colors of Goodbye- a memoir that gives a beautiful picture of how to navigate grief

God's timing, in even what seem like trivial things, is mystifying and perfect. I feel it is always the case, but only lately have I been aware of how actively He is ever preparing us for unforeseen trials and seasons of life outside our experience level or comfort zone. I have found that in my life, books are both a great blessing and teacher. There is something about having a written account of how someone, even if it's a fictional character,encounters and proceeds to handle challenges and just different circumstances of life that allows you broaden your mind beyond what you are experiencing right now. I think there are some (maybe a lot) of life situations that you simply are not going to be prepared for or have the experience to know how to handle before it befalls you. Loss of a dearly loved One is one of those things for me. I, thankfully, had not lost any family members or close friends to tragedy and I do not have any intimate experience with helping someone else through their grief. It also seems to me that deep grief is not something our culture really knows what to do with. So when I saw what looked like a very honest and thought provoking account of what one woman did with the raw pain of losing her child available as a book to review for the blog, I thought it wouldn't hurt me at all to read her story. 


Colors of Goodbye: A memoir of holding on, letting go and reclaiming joy in the wake of loss by September Vaudrey not only didn't "hurt" me, it prepared me with honest eyes to cope with the shocking blow of losing my Father-in-law just weeks within starting this book. My husband's father, Ben was one of the Godliest and healthiest men I knew and no one had any premonitions of the fatal heart attack he suddenly suffered on the evening of the last day of April. He left behind a wife and 11 children, the youngest who was only ten. The intense grief left in the wake of his passing was like nothing I've ever seen or known in my life. Trying to find ways to support my husband and other family members in mourning and honor Ben as he desired in saying good bye was soul stretching and exhausting. But seeing the ways that God gently comforted and showed the family even just a glimpse of the impact Ben's life had had was amazing.

Finding the parallels between my very real time experience with the shock and grief of losing a loved one and reading the account of the Vaudrey family suddenly losing their teenage daughter, Katie to a fatal car crash was a very helpful way for me to process all the emotions and experiences of this hard season. September Vaudrey is a poignant author who bares her heart for her readers in this touching memoir. I love that she honored her daughter's artistic nature by breaking up the segments of the book by coordinating colors of that season. Stepping thru Vermillion and the harrowing chapter of getting the call that their daughter was dying in a hospital bed and proceeding to have to have to tell her good bye and let her go. Payne's Grey tells of navigating the shock of their loss and coming to terms with the reality that Katie wasn't coming back. Indigo represents the horrible, yet bittersweetly beautiful coming together of so many people touched by Katie to celebrate her life well lived. Burnt Sienna is the color of trying hard to find a "new normal" after the loss and yet still honor the deceased in the family's life. Cadmium green light is hope rising and joy weaving it's way through the warp of grief. Cerulean Blue can be summed up in life is a balance of holding on and letting go. Hansa Yellow is the tying together of the many faceted threads of this story- how one family fought hard to grieve deeply the loss of a dearly loved family member yet honor her by finding the joy that still comes with the morning. 

I gleaned so many insights and much wisdom from reading this well written and heart stirring book. I feel there are many of September's thoughts bouncing around my mind during this relevant time and taking root in my heart to help carry me thru the future. I would encourage fellow book lovers out there to read broadly from the expansive human experience and be on the watch for how God brings ideas and lines from those stories to mind and the most opportune and needed time. It's a gift to have a reservoir of truth and beauty, especially scripture, stored up in our hearts and mind to help encourage us in hard times.

I received this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review. 

Baby Wren and the Great Gift- A whimsical picture book for spring days

There's something special about discovering a favorite author; finding a kindred spirit in a writer that translates into knowing that each book that they have authored will be a treasure in your personal library. Sally Lloyd-Jones is one such children's book author, in my opinion. I bought her Jesus Storybook Bible as an Easter gift for my oldest son when he was just a baby and now that said bible is barely holding on by a thread (and a lots of tape!) after countless readings and a lot of use by three little boys. The Jesus Storybook Bible is so well loved in my house, I have given it as gifts to everyone I possibly can! After falling in love with Sally's writing thru her wonderful children's bible, I have kept a keen eye out for any more of her books to add to my bookshelves. We love the Song of the Stars at Christmas time and Poor Doreen is a humorous read for my boys, as well as their Mama!

I was so excited to hear that Sally had a new book coming out this Spring and snatched it up as soon as it was possibly available! Baby Wren and the Great Gift is an adorable and uplifting picture book to share with your kids during this beautiful spring days-maybe sitting on a quilt under a nice shady tree? ;) Whether you read this book with your children in the most picturesque of settings or on a couch surrounded by ever growing piles of clean laundry, (this is a much clearer picture of the reality of story time at our house) this book with capture your children's attention with it's whimsical illustrations and get into their hearts with it's inspiring message. 

Sweet and fragile Baby Wren lives in a tiny nest in a canyon. She has hunger to explore the world beyond her tiny home and proceeds to meet many impressive and talented animals on her adventure. They all invite her to take part in their world and ways and she finds she can't. Disheartened by this, Baby wren wonders, "What can I do?" She realizes she can be a witness to the wonderfulness of the world around her and she can express her thankfulness for it- through song! 

I have always loved children's books, long after that was the genre for my age range. A beautifully illustrated picture book with an engaging story that is able to pull in the attention and still my ever moving little boys is very hard for me to put back on the store shelf. Sally Lloyd-Jones is a masterful storyteller and I will supply my children with as
 many of her titles as I can find!

  I received this book in exchange for my honest review thanks to Book Look Bloggers.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Mother Letters

I received one of the best "for me" Mother's Day gifts in the mail. The Mother Letters by Amber Haines is a beautifully curated collection of soul vulnerable letters that represent real mothers' joys, struggles, questions, lessons learned, even pains and doubts. Amber gives us a real gift in sharing with the sisterhood of mothers out there what was a truly thoughtful past Mother's Day gift from her husband- these collective accounts of many different women God has made mothers and continue to carry through this journey. I enjoyed reading these emphatic and encouraging words and was honored to ask to contribute my own "Mother Letter".

Dear Mother, 
 None of this journey is exactly what you thought it would be, is it? This Mother thing. It's so much harder, painful even, and heartbreakingly beautiful too. These boys who drain me of every ounce energy, patience and strength; these boys who I feel I never am enough for. There's never enough time, enough of me to go around and that makes me feel like a failure at something I really want to be good at. I am always on the look out for ways to grow and improve my skill set here- I stockpile the best books, do "research" online, and try and glean wisdom from other mothers I admire. I want to some how provide my kids with a wondrous childhood, a through education and a healthy foundation for adulthood-easy enough, right? In so many ways I have come to peace with leading a simple, low profile life, what I want to be is just a good wife and mother- most days even being that is too lofty of a goal it seems. It takes so much of me, all of me and more-more than I have or want to give some days. It takes realizing how selfish and ugly I can be and dying to my wants and needs, hourly even. And all of this burden can weigh and shut me down when what I need most, what my family needs most, is for me to realize all of this is true- my shortcomings, my selfishness, the fact that I'm just not enough for this monumental task of eternal significance-the shaping of a soul. Elisabeth Elliot called it a parent's job to "give a saint back to God." I don't know about you but I am no saint, let alone able to shape a saint out of another human being. But I have learned that if I am a willing vessel, God will use me, enable me and do the work thru me. I am learning that His yoke truly is easy and His burden really is light, because He never leaves us on our own. He never forsakes us. And the thing is my husband and kids don't want a perfect wife and mother, they want me. When I realize my flaws and quirks I can be be gracious and even appreciate those in my children. When I am trying to mold and perfect my children and taking this mothering job so seriously I expect them to be perfect because that means I'm doing my job well. When I see my children not as my job, but independent, little souls finding their way thru this life, just like me, I have so much more grace and find so much more joy with them. I'm coming to accept that I can do my best and God will do the rest- there will be grace to fill in all the gaps I leave. 
 So, to you, I say don't take yourself too seriously. Grasp what you can of these fleeting days and hold on to the memories and the love- those last. Some days, turn a blind eye to the mess and focus on your kids instead. And some days, let them watch a show or play outside and get your chores done in peace.  Read lots of books. Laugh a lot- if they do is something so crazy it makes you want to cry, laugh instead. Try and remember what it's like to be a kid- to want that over priced souvenir from the gift shop during vacation, to be scared of the dark, to have your worries and cares be over "petty" things. Keep your eyes open for the sacred beautiful in the broken, but it's ok when there are just plain hard moments too. Notice, embrace and appreciate your little in-house weirdos. These are your people, this is your own little culture-how cool is that? Be there, love them, give your all, and let grace cover the rest. You are not perfect, but you are the perfectly chosen mother for these little ones. 

Happy Mother's Day to you. 

I received this book from Revell Publishing in exchange for my honest review.