How to Get Lost (and a free book)

I’m not sure when it happened, but it was confirmed this past Christmas.  We have moved past the toys on the wish list.  My (not so) littles were hoping for things that supported their dreams–like dance and games and shoes.  My little fella asked for a pair of Crocs (easy to slide on and off and APPARENTLY back in fashion?!?) and books.  When I asked him what books–was there a series or author he preferred, he said “No ma’am, surprise me.  I always love what you pick out.”

As they were excitedly planning what gifts they wanted to give each other, I was scratching my head about what books to suggest to Santa to bring for him.  My little guy Cooter who didn’t read a lick until he turned 7 is an avid reader–magazines, books, cereal boxes…..whatever he can get his hands on.  He loves it when I grab a paper at the grocery store and bring home to him.  He reads it front to back, with extra attention to politics, comics, and ads for trucks.  And gas prices.  He’s a fanatic about watching gas prices.

Christmas morning was a delight and joy as we shared love and gifts and laughter and memories.  Cooter was intrigued by the book choices and said they looked promising.  Last fall he read the young adult version of Just Mercy because his big sister had read the original version, and there was a movie coming out.  He and his sister were fortunate to get to go to the advanced screening for the movie locally two days after Christmas.  He came home saying the book and movie had changed his life.  That moved me to tears because he has found a passion for justice and defeating wrong.  When looking for books for him, I knew to stick with history and books that would fall in this same realm.

One night about a week or so after Christmas, I was locking up and turning off the lights, preparing to go to bed a little after midnight.  Cooter has always been my child who goes to bed before everyone else.  10:30 is about the latest he can handle on the weekends, and he’s usually in bed way before that.  The girls tend to be night owls in comparison.  So I was surprised to see the light on underneath his door.  I suspected he’d fallen asleep reading as he often does.  When I opened the door, his face popped up from behind one of his Christmas books.  Shocked, I asked, “Buddy, what are you doing? It’s after midnight!” His eyes got huge and he said, “What?! For real?”  I recognized that look.  I have been blessed to feel that more times than I can count in my life.  He’d gotten so wrapped up in the story, he’d lost track of time completely.

Bless.

After he recounted the story to me, I encouraged him to put it away and turned off his light.  My heart was light and thankful.  He seemed to struggle–or maybe it was me–when he was little and reading was on the agenda.  He never seemed to be able to get what the letters in front of him were doing. Or I couldn’t help him understand. Until he turned 7.  And then it clicked.  For the past almost six years he’s been a voracious reader.  I’m so very thankful for that.  For his anger over injustice, for his love of funny books, for his need to read the stories from the past, for his desire to share the stories with me.  This year we are using a literature based curriculum for his lessons, and he is loving it.  Who knew when I was close to tears over his lack of drive to learn to read that we’d be where we were that night…..with his little face showing the shock of coming back to reality after being so lost in a really good book.

It all started with reading him good books when he was small.

Actually, that’s not true.

It started with my Mama reading me books when I was small.  I never felt our lives lacking, no matter what we did or didn’t have, because we were always surrounded by good stories.

Mama passed that and so many of those good books down to us.  I have shelves of her books that are blending with ours.  Children’s books that are still brought down and pored over and read and left sitting out to remind us that we are never too far from that child in us who first delighted over the pictures and rhythm of a well-written story.

That’s why I’m happy that me and mine are never too old to enjoy a good children’s book.  Especially since all of the ones by one of my favorite children’s authors have been published after my three have traditionally aged out of those books.

But we say we’re never too old to love one.

Matthew Paul Turner has a new book coming out tomorrow–When God Made the World.  You need this book for your littles, your grands, your friends, your home, yourself! Like all of his books before, he uses words to paint a story that your heart longs to hear–how each part of creation was designed lovingly and with a purpose–including and especially YOU! The author leaves us with a blessing and a charge–words that I find myself praying over my children as they enter this new chapter in their lives.

MPT when God made the world photo

I was talking to my sweet girl yesterday about her future and her dreams for it.  She listened and responded and finally shrugged.  “Mama, I’m just trying to figure out this being fifteen years old thing right now.”

Oh baby girl, I hear you.  And I get it.

Sometimes–actually quite often–it’s good to sit and simply reflect with gentle words and remember the stories from when we were small.  When God Made the World is just right for doing that.  With rhymes and words that remind us to look around us in wonder and appreciate the gifts that God has put before us, paired with the lovely bright and vivid illustrations by Gillian Gamble, Matthew Paul Turner has given us the perfect book for those moments.  He reminds us we are a part of a much bigger picture BUT a very important, precious, and unique part of it all.

MPT 4 books photo

The book releases tomorrow.  If you pre-order TODAY, you can copy and paste your order number at this link and choose another of Matthew Paul Turner’s books to be sent to you ABSOLUTELY FREE.  You don’t want to miss out on this.  All of his books are wonderful and make great gifts.  Or belong on your own shelf.  Go ahead and treat yourself.  I won’t tell.

Wishing you all some time today to get lost in a good book.  Cooter and I highly recommend it.

Love to all.

Why I Love My Kindle But Not an E-Book

I love my Kindle.  I do.

I appreciate that I was given this really generous gift by my family.  I love having the fun and educational “apps” that my children enjoy when we have long waiting times.  (Like today at the Pediatrician’s…..and then again at the Pharmacy.  Long waits.) One of my favorite features, that I was not aware of initially, is that I can email files and e-books downloaded on my computer to my Kindle and read them there.  Excellent.  I have purchased educational workbooks from websites and sent them to my Kindle, which is so much easier to use with my children than reading them on the computer.  I have even sent my own word documents to it for later use.

A luxury.  That’s for sure.

For a while after I first got the Kindle, I checked a website or two for the free book downloads of the day.  Mama and I enjoyed comparing notes and talking about our “finds.”  Then I realized I was cluttering my Kindle up with books that I might or might not read.  So I stopped.

But one thing I do love is being able to download the first chapter of a book free as a sample–to take the book out for a spin so to speak.  Download, check it out, then delete if I don’t care for it.  If I do, I usually put it on my wishlist.  But things were different when I downloaded the sample chapter of this one:

pic of kindle book

And I loved it.

It was the first book I could really get into since Mama died in February.  If you don’t love books, “get into” probably sounds a little odd, but if you do, you know what I mean.  I was turning e-page after e-page and it was really, really good.  Then I came to that dreaded message that told me I was at the end of my free sample, but I could purchase it for immediate download by clicking {here}.  After a brief pause and comparing prices (it was cheaper as a Kindle download), I clicked that magic box: “Buy It Now.”

It was not without guilt.  I felt guilty getting the book, and I sure felt guilty over that instant gratification that I was giving in to.  Getting something on a whim like that?  I wasn’t raised that way.  We were taught to think through things and sleep on it before we did just about anything.  So yeah, this was a little out of my comfort zone.  By the time I continued into the next chapter two minutes later, I had pretty much chastised myself sufficiently.  And moved on.  Ahem.

It was a brilliant read.  I loved it.  It was like old times, flying through the pages, trying to sneak time to read–if only for a few minutes, even reading under the covers after lights were out.  I loved this book.

Uh oh.

That’s when I realized what I’d done.

I bought a book.  On the Kindle.

That I couldn’t share.

I hate it when that happens.

One of my great joys in life is sharing a book with friends and family.  I love thinking of just who would love the book, and I offer it with the caveat that it is okay if they don’t like it.  I learned that a long time ago from one of my aunts.  She and her very young grandson were talking about a movie that he loved.  She said she really didn’t care for it, and he was shocked and confused.  She told him that it was okay for folks who loved each other to like different things.  I like that, and it’s true.  So I pass along books I love, but it’s okay if my friends and family don’t love it too.

But this one?  I knew of at least four family members who would LOVE it.  And a couple of friends.  But there it sits, locked up tight inside this electronic rectangle, never to be shared or sit on my shelf reminding me of the great story inside. Very, very sad.  How’s that instant gratification feelin’ now? *sigh*

pic of book

Today my Aunt returned this book, “Ghost on Black Mountain,” that I’d shared with her a very short time ago.  (She’s a quick reader, that one!) I was overjoyed to hear that she had loved it as much as I had.  It’s a haunting tale, no pun intended, and now I get to share with her my excitement over the author’s next book coming out in September. Shared joys are the absolute best.  I can’t wait, and we can share that book too.  (And I’ve already put this one in a pile to take to MessCat’s house tomorrow.  I think she will also love it.)

Maybe I’m just too old-fashioned for all of this.  I think I’ll go back to my old ways.  Download sample, read it, and if it’s good, check with our locally-owned bookstore and then on-line.  And wait.  There’s something to be said about the good in things you have to wait for.  As the old song goes, “Anticipation…..”

Mama Read Books and Daddy Listened

My brother is working on a special project, and he mentioned something that has me thinking about Mama and her books.  Mama loved books.  She read a lot of different kinds, but mysteries were among her favorites.  She also liked novels like “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” and “Salvation at the Dairy Queen”–novels about people and their “real life” struggles and how they worked through them.

But Mama’s very favorite books?

The ones written for children.

Mama loved reading aloud to us as we were growing up.  And for the past almost eighteen years, she loved reading to her grandchildren.  For my oldest’s first birthday, she got a tire swing in the yard from Daddy and a book and little stuffed kitten from Mama.  It’s always been about the books.  Mama loved picking out books for different children of the family.  It was like a treasure hunt to find just the perfect book for each child.  She and Daddy always kept copies of “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” in the trunk of their car.  We loved it growing up, and they loved sharing it with children they came across on their day to day journeys.

Our family favorite growing up--Mama and Daddy loved sharing it with children they met

Our family favorite growing up–Mama and Daddy loved sharing it with children they met

One of my happiest “Mama reading” memories is her reading “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?” aloud.  Her voice was so animated.  The best sound was the hippo chewing gum “Grum, grum, grum.”  Mama would work her jaw and you just knew that was exactly how it sounded.  I also loved hearing her read aloud, “Listen Buddy.”  She brought Buddy to life in such a way that you just couldn’t forget the story.  And there were so many more.

Mama brought just such books to life for her children and grandchildren and hundreds of elementary schoolchildren over the years.  She loved reading aloud at Byron Elementary to many children in grades kindergarten through third.  I recently found her storytime plans, complete with booklists and the fun experiments from  “Apples, Bubbles, and Crystals: Your Science ABC’s” that she shared each week with the children.  It was something she and Daddy enjoyed planning together.

Daddy supported Mama and her love of reading to children.  (It’s funny to think that he and I heard her reading out loud to children the same number of years.)  He helped her plan her storytimes for the children at the schools by going shopping with her for just the right treats, science experiment materials, and helping her come up with themes and ideas.  He even asked me to embroider “Lady Reads-a-lot” on a shirt for her.   There was one time when Mama was reading aloud that I really realized the abundance of love Daddy felt for Mama.  Daddy wasn’t always vocal about his emotions, but his actions more than let you know how he felt.

One of Maemae's more recent favorites--"Counting Crocodiles"

One of Maemae’s more recent favorites–“Counting Crocodiles”

One afternoon in October of 2011 I was sitting in the living room with Daddy, who was resting in his hospital bed set up in there.  My brother and his family were visiting, so my littles and his were in the “big room” with Mama.  She was reading aloud to them.  We could hear her voice but not necessarily the words as she read.  Daddy was talking and then he grew quiet.  He closed his eyes and smiled so big.  He opened them and looked at me with so much love on his face it took my breath away.  “You hear her?  There she goes.”  He chuckled softly.  He turned his head towards the window and listened.  And Mama was off, reading another story with her animated voice.  I think it was “Little Red Cowboy Hat,” another family favorite and one that Daddy also loved to read.

I remember that look on his face, and I am thankful for it.   Daddy loved Mama with all his heart, and in that moment it shone through every fiber of his being.  He was an encourager and pushed Mama to chase her dreams.  He knew she was talented and believed in her even when she couldn’t believe in herself.  We all should have at least one person like that in our lives, someone whose love for us shines through and who runs alongside us, cheering for us as we go, believing that we can…..and helping us see it through.   That’s the best stuff there is–having a cheerleader when you are going for it, a party-thrower when you make it, and a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug you when you don’t.

If you have someone like that, go now and tell ’em you love ’em or give them a big hug or write them a note.  Whatever.  Just appreciate them and love them right back.  Know you are one of the lucky ones.  Because you really are.

On my Bedside Table

pic of bedside table books

I was inspired by the book I was given yesterday to get my reading act together.  As we wind down our “official learning” school year, and shift into mostly reading, I thought I’d get my “wish list of reading” put together for summer.

Before I get started on my rather lengthy and somewhat intimidating list (focus is a little hard these days), I thought I’d look back at what I have been able to read lately.  Just to remind myself I can.  *sigh*  I used to be able to read all the time.

Last book read:

Tornado by Betsy Byars–I read this one aloud yesterday morning to the littles.  We got all comfy and listened to the timely story of Pete, the farmhand, who gathered in the storm cellar with the family and told stories of his dog Tornado to keep their minds off the storm.  I really liked this one.  A lot.  So did the littles.

Before that:

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney–I love this one.  But then I’ve already told y’all that.

And before that:

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge–Another excellent read.  The story will change how you look at people as you go through your day.  And how you can change your world.

I really haven’t read much in completion before those three.  At least not since last year.  In looking around here at my plethora of books, I was thinking.  People sometimes will ask you who your favorite author is.  That is hard to say depending on the mood I am in or what genre I’m reading at the time.  But if someone were to ask me, what author has affected you the most?  Easy.

Karen Spears Zacharias–I’ve read all of her books except one. (She also writes over here.)  She is the author of Hero Mama, also published as After the Flag Has Been Folded, Where’s Your Jesus Now?, Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? (‘Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV),  and A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder.  She has also written Benched: Judge Rufe McCombs, which is in my to be read stack of books.  Each one of her books has affected me, challenging how I think, what I do about what I think, and how bringing justice in this world requires each and every one of us taking a stand.  She’s a strong woman whom I was delighted to meet over a year ago.  I love her as a person and a writer.  If you want to have your world turned upside down and a fire lit under you, go find one of these books and set aside a few hours of uninterrupted time.  Each one of these was hard to put down.  I read Silence in its entirety in less than 24 hours after I got it.  And everyone was fed and clothed as required.  Even though you know the ending, you find yourself not believing that it’s actually going to end like that.  And then she puts making a difference in the reader’s lap.  GREAT BOOK.  If you’d like to know a little more about these books and their amazing author, watch this interview.  It was done when she visited us last May.

So on to my stack of to be reads–these do not include the ones on my wish list that I have yet to find at our local used bookstore or at the library.

Sitting on my bedside table:

Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling by Becca Stevens–I love Thistle Farms and the Magdalene project.  Rev. Stevens is doing some amazing things, and these women are healing and getting stronger.  You can check them out here or find them on Facebook.   Here are the words I read that made me HAVE TO HAVE this book.

From Rev. Becca Stevens' facebook page

From Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh–This book was recommended by Karen Spears Zacharias.  More than once.  Yes ma’am.  It’s getting read in the very near future.  The plight of young people aging out of the foster care system has been weighing on my heart and moving me to take action.  This book tells the story of Victoria, an eighteen-year-old who has been emancipated from the system and tries to find her way.  I look forward to reading this and seeing where this will lead me on my journey.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans–Our Wednesday book group started this book back in January.  I was so excited about it.  Unfortunately the HospitalStay and life’s circumstances intervened, and I haven’t been able to get back to it.  Our group had a blast reading this, and I know I will too.

Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite–Another recommended by Karen Spears Zacharias.  She and Ms. Hite are going on tour together this fall with new releases for each of them.  I want to read this one in preparation for the tour.  I am hopeful we can host them in our area, just as we had Karen down last year for her Silence tour.  I’ve already learned that if Ms. Zacharias says it’s a good read, it’s a GOOD read.

Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain–A collection of stories and essays written after the death of his wife and one of their daughters.  This was recommended by a good friend, and I was able to acquire it through the old bookstore I love so much.  In the title story, Satan writes a letter to his fellow archangels about the inconsistencies of human religious faith.  Oh yes, this is going to be good.

The Saddlemaker’s Wife by Earlene Fowler–I was at the library last week, picking up a book on reserve from our princess’ reading list, when I wandered over to the new release section.  Because, you know, I don’t already have enough books here to read.  As I looked around, I saw the name–Earlene Fowler.  My chest tightened, and I took a deep breath to calm my spirit.  She was one of Mama’s favorites, and old habits are hard to kick–my first thought was, has Mama read this one?  Does she know about it? When I came around, I decided to check it out.  I used to read Ms. Fowler’s Benni Harper mysteries years ago, and I really enjoyed them.  When I read the blurb, I realized this was not in that series, but the sequel to The Saddlemaker’s Wife, which they did not have.  Nor could I request it at the time.  My favorite bookstore to the rescue again–I have a much loved copy here to read.  And remember Mama.  I do wonder if she read this one.  She wasn’t able to focus much on books and stories the past couple of years, so I really can’t be sure.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings–My Aunt tells the story of my Daddy taking her to a bookstore in downtown Macon and getting this book for her.  She fell in love with reading.  So of course I had to find a copy.  And I will read it one day too.  It will remind me of Daddy, and his little sister.  He used to tell me about them piling up in his bed and him reading to her when she was little.  Precious.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly–When we were doing a major cleaning to prepare for our out of town company a couple of weeks ago, we went through Aub’s books.  We found some to give away, and I found some that I want to read.  This is one of them.  The cover is gorgeous.  I know, I know.  So I read the blurb–the story of an 11 year old girl in 1899, growing close to her grandfather and managing in a household with six brothers.  Sold.  I just know it will be delightful.  (Total sidenote–but the author has the same name as my eighth grade history teacher, whom I adored–what do you suppose…..?)

pic of calpurnia tate 2

The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason–Another one of my “cleaning up” finds.  I don’t know anything about it, except that one reviewer compared it to the works of Madeleine L’Engle.  Stop right there.  No further recommendation needed.  We’ll see.

Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters–this was my surprise treat that I got yesterday from my cousin.  I’m already 1/3 of the way into it.  Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t been able to get her reading groove back very easily.  I’ve heard grief will do that.  But with this book, the book is hard but the reading is easy.  If that even makes sense.  It is really eye-opening and heart-breaking and hope-filling.  A good book, one that I have a feeling will be another life-changer.

Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey by Margaret Feinberg–My Wednesday book group started this one several weeks ago.  I have missed being with them the past few months, so I grabbed a copy, read some on Wednesday morning and joined them after lunch.  Ms. Feinberg sets out to close the gap between the ancient world and our own.  She visits with a shepherdess, farmer, beekeeper, and vintner, seeking to find the connections.  Really, really interesting.  I’m still working on it, but I highly recommend this one.

So that’s the stack.  I have a couple on reserve at the library, waiting on those to come in.  And there are two that I am most looking forward to getting soon–

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman–newly released by the author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.  That book was so wonderful, I cannot wait to read her next one.  (So yeah, if you haven’t read that one, you might want to.)  I guess it will always be special because it’s one Mama and I both loved and talked about together.

Mother of Rain by Karen Spears Zacharias–This won’t be released until this fall and I CANNOT.  WAIT.  A work of fiction about folks in the Appalachia area.  I am so looking forward to this one.  I will also read Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field in preparation.  She said that was a good idea, and she hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

So, on this beautiful summer Sunday, after we visit with our friends at Daybreak this evening and pour a little coffee and a lot of sweet tea, I will come home and grab a book off the stack and get started.  Today I am thankful I don’t have to set the alarm for tomorrow morning.  I have a feeling it might be a late night…..and a whole summer of them.  Lots of books, so little time.

If You Were Ever A Child…..

The homeschool curriculum I use with my littles is literature based. There is a list of books for “required” reading and then another list of “suggested” books if you have the time and your child loves to read.

Which mine does.

It was touch and go her kindergarten and first grade year. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. I gave her a copy of “Old Hat, New Hat” in November of her first grade year. Hoping she could read it. Eventually. Less than five months later she was reading Magic Tree House books. Something finally clicked. Now her favorites are the Rainbow Magic Fairy books by Daisy Meadows. I’m thinking that’s a pen name–you?

As we are looking at wrapping up the school year, I went through the suggested book list and put in many hold requests at the library. (Can I just say I LOVE Interlibrary loans?) We are running a bit behind this year because of the January/February HospitalStay, but reading will be a wonderful pastime for our summer break as well.

Yesterday the first of our hold requests came through, and we ran by and picked it up. Last night my second grader, who loves to read all the time, asked if I would come and read her a story. This was a special treat for me, as she enjoys being an independent reader. I picked up our library book, and we began reading.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLernan, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Oh my, bless it. Precious.

If you have a child or know a child or were ever a child, you should find this book. And read it. Right now. It’s a story of children playing, imaginations taking flight, and the memories we carry with us into adulthood.

Yes, I cried. It was that good.

It reminded me of our little brick house on Old Boy Scout Road. The little two bedroom house where, when she brought home my baby brother, child number four, Mama told Daddy, “I don’t think another thing will fit in here.” And so we moved to Blackberry Flats. But before I was nine, we lived in that little brick house. There was a spot under the pines between our house and the one next door that was perfect for sweeping out and using the pine needles to mark off rooms and houses. At one point, two young girls lived next door and we would play out there for hours, sweeping and building and playing.

It also reminded me of playing at my Granny’s, where we built toadhouses along the banks between her yard and the peach orchard right next to her. We created whole villages and were allowed to bring cars out (“be particular”) to drive in and out of them. My cousins and I used to play “Cowboys and Indians” at their old house on Rabbit Road, where the deep slope of the yard made for some great chases and use of imagination.

When we moved to Blackberry Flats, we had a horse, Betsy. Each fall Daddy would go and get a load of hay to put back for the winter. I can remember the smell of the sweet hay and the feeling of hefting up a bale and handing it down off the truck to him. He stacked it up in the side area of his building. (I guess it was a workshop, but all we ever called it was “Daddy’s building.”) I remember crawling up to the top of the stack of hay in that little shed and reading. Mama let us have the boxes their checkbooks came in, and we created a post office, each of us having our own “mailbox.” We made up our “names,” and we spent lots of time writing letters and “mailing” them.

Creating. Dreaming. Playing. Imagining. Only it all seemed so real.

Just like in Roxaboxen.

I’ve driven by the old home place on Old Boy Scout Road since I was grown. It seems so much smaller now, like the woods crept up towards the house. The old sand pile is still visible at my Granny’s old house. And while there is no hay, the shed at Daddy’s is still standing, stock full of memories that bring a smile and a tear.

I am thankful for those happy memories of a carefree childhood and for my own “Roxaboxen” places. I give thanks for my girls who love to read and dream, and hang onto the hope that my little guy will also find a love of reading one day. As I write this I look out my front window where my two little ones are playing with their friends, and soon they will come in all breathless, eager to tell me about their latest “adventures.” I love that they too have their own “Roxaboxen” right here on our little cul-de-sac. And I give thanks for those who have gone before, sharing stories and reading books with us, helping us to dream and play and imagine. Right now, I can’t think of a better gift that’s ever been given.