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April 20, 2016


Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures



November 6, 2015

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, friends and family are contemplating who’s going to cook the turkey this year, where everyone will gather, and why in the world Christmas decorations are already filling the shelves. It’s easy to forget this season is all about gratitude — being thankful for all the great gifts God has given us.
Another Way Home

Author Deborah Raney welcomes readers back to the Whitman family home for Thanksgiving in the 3rd book of her wonderful Chicory Inn series, Another Way Home. I’ve loved being able to read Book 1, Home to Chicory Lane, and Book 2, Two Roads Home.

In this series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a beautiful bed and breakfast, which they imagined would fill the autumn season of their lives with the joy of hospitality. Although they do entertain guests regularly, it is their grown children and grandchildren who continue to keep them completely busy and on the verge of prayer.

Another Way Home focuses on their middle daughter, Danae, and her husband, Dallas Brooks, who have been trying for years to grow their family, but have yet to be able to have a baby. Danae has visited fertility clinics for three years and is ready to consider adoption, but her husband, Dallas, will not even discuss it.

At the prompting of an inspiring sermon at church, Danae decides to begin volunteering at a newly opened shelter for abused women and children. She has no idea how this one small step of faith will lead her in a completely new direction. As Danae is finally learning to live her life with gratitude, heart-wrenching events on Thanksgiving weekend threaten to pull the entire Whitman clan into turmoil — and leave them all forever changed.

If you’re ready to kick back and read a relaxing book that will help you face the trials of life with an even deeper faith, I heartily recommend this series for you. I love all of Deborah Raney’s books because they’re clean — no disgusting language or vile images — and have the power to transform and uplift my faith.

As my own children are beginning to leave the nest and move to the next season of life, I’m eagerly learning from Grant and Audrey Whitman to see how they handle grown children and the choices they make.

Now I’m looking forward to the fourth Chicory Inn book, which will be released next June!

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Enter here to win a copy of Another Way Home—five winners will be chosen! Click the image below to enter to win. The winners will be announced November 23 on the Litfuse blog!

Another Way Home Giveaway
About the Author:

DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.
Deborah Raney
Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:

Website: www.deborahraney.com.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.raney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordebraney
Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/deborahraney
Instagram: http://instagram.com/deborahraney
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/deborahraney/
Blogs: http://novelgarden.blogspot.com
http://inspiredbylifeandfiction.com/
http://just18summers.com/category/a-happy-home/makeing-your-house-a-home/

Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a complimentary copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn Series Continues with Another Way Home



June 17, 2015

Two Roads Home

It’s summer, and my stash of great books to read has grown. You’ll hardly find me anywhere without a book in my hand or at least one close by. Sometimes I can only snatch a quick page or two in the five minutes waiting for band or theater camp to end, but I love making progress through a novel. I even signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Club at our local library, which makes me a good role model for my kids, right? (Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind winning the grand prize night out on the town: dinner, movie, and spending money for a shopping spree!)

At the top of my summer reading list is Deborah Raney’s Two Roads Home, the second installment in her Chicory Inn series. I loved the first book, Home to Chicory Lane, which I reviewed last August here. I wasn’t surprised to learn Home to Chicory Lane is a 2015 Christy Award finalist, among several other prestigious awards. It captivated me because my husband and I are in the midst of parenting our own five children/teenagers, and the main characters Grant and Audrey Whitman are a few years further along, having reared five children who have left the nest and are now out into the world.

In the Chicory Inn series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a welcoming bed and breakfast. I enjoyed spending time with all of my favorite characters from book one, which focused on daughter Landyn and her struggles as a newlywed. The second book takes us into the home of the Whitman’s daughter Corinne, whose marriage to Jesse Pennington is being stressed to the breaking point due to his relentless travel schedule.

Corinne’s husband Jesse is good-looking and friendly, and one of his young female coworkers takes his outgoing nature the wrong way. She thinks he’s flirting with her, as they find themselves traveling together to various sales conferences, while Corinne stays home taking care of her and Jesse’s three young daughters. The plot is full of twists and turns, as this attractive single coworker takes a “Fatal Attraction” interest in Jesse and his family. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, wondering what would happen. I really put myself in Corinne’s shoes.

Jesse is surprised to find himself called into the office of his boss, at first wondering if he’s been promoted, but then he learns his spurned and angry coworker has decided to retaliate by launching a sexual harassment scheme, jeopardizing both Jesse’s career and personal life. Meanwhile, Jesse is propelled into some deep soul-searching, as well as an early mid-life crisis. He and Corinne are living in their recently built dream home, and their hefty mortgage and comfortable lifestyle prevent Jesse from quitting his job. Yet he feels something is missing, and he sometimes wonders whether he’s called to be a teacher.

I loved seeing how Grant and Audrey Whitman balance their empty nest and desire to operate a successful B&B with their roles as mentors of their adult children. I could also relate to the exhausted young mother, Corinne, who is wiped out by the daily demands of parenting toddlers and preschoolers. Deborah Raney’s skillfulness as a Christian author shows us how to follow God’s Way above the world. As the characters struggle, their faith emerges, and every decision leads back to Christ. This novel series is an excellent handbook for life, and I know I’ll return to it in years to come!

Now I have to wait until October for the release of Book #3, Another Way Home, which deals with daughter Danae’s difficulties with conceiving a child. Unlike her two sisters who have been quick to start their families, Danae finds herself visiting infertility clinics and wondering if she’ll ever become a mother. Fortunately, there’s a snippet of the upcoming third novel in the back section of Two Roads Home so we can already jump into what’s coming next!

If you love television dramas like Downton Abbey, here’s a present-time story set in the heartland of America, Missouri. This novel series would be interesting for book clubs to discuss, and the author includes a Group Discussion Guide in the back section, making it easy to share with friends. You can enter for a chance to win one of five books here!

Deborah Raney
About the Author:
DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.

Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:

Website: www.deborahraney.com.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deborah.raney
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authordebraney
Amazon.com: http://amazon.com/author/deborahraney
Instagram: http://instagram.com/deborahraney
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/deborahraney/
Blogs: http://novelgarden.blogspot.com
http://inspiredbylifeandfiction.com/
http://just18summers.com/category/a-happy-home/makeing-your-house-a-home/

Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing a complimentary book in exchange for my review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Summer Reading for Moms: Deborah Raney’s ‘Two Roads Home’



May 23, 2015
whosthenewkid-400

Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids, so with summer here, I’m all for seeking ways to stay active. When I heard about Heidi Bond’s book, Who’s the New Kid? I couldn’t wait to read it.

It seems like every day I’m bombarded with adult weight loss success stories and before/after photos, yet I’d never seen or read anything about a child successfully losing weight. In fact, that’s one of those taboo topics, where mothers are more likely to say, “Well, that child is just big-boned.” Or “It’s hereditary, and he can’t help it.” In the South, we may even add, “Bless her heart.”

Heidi Bond knew her daughter needed help when, at age nine, Breanna tipped the scales at 186 pounds. She became fatigued just walking up the stairs to her room. Her legs chafed to the point of bleeding from rubbing against each other, and her school days were filled with taunts of “Hey, Fatty!”

The book explores Breanna’s infancy and childhood, as her mother looks for clues as to how her daughter became overweight. In infancy, Heidi noticed Breanna’s unusually strong appetite, and she confesses a personal struggle with junk food that made it easy for her daughter to access calorie-loaded snacks. But I’m sure all of us, if we’re honest, can plug ourselves into this equation. At first, Heidi tried hiding snacks to help her daughter eat healthier, but then a point came when she did what all of us should do: she decided to make a complete lifestyle change for her entire family.

And here’s where the real heart of the book lies, and why I found it so inspiring. Heidi succeeded in helping her daughter lose 86 pounds in a completely natural and healthy way. She didn’t use dangerous diet pills or crash diets; instead she began to incorporate two main activities: swimming and walking. She drove Breanna every day of the week to swim team practice, and this daily commitment became crucial to her weight loss transformation.

Also, one day a new neighbor invited Heidi to go walking on a 3.8 mile trail loop behind her house, something she’d never done before. She describes what happened:

“Sure,” I said. “Just let me put on some sneakers.”

I had no idea that this was a moment that would change all of our lives. It was an ordinary weekday like any other. The “Hallelujah Chorus” was not trumpeting in the background, and no neon signs lit up to tell me that this was The Day until a couple of months later. But looking back now, it’s obvious to me that this was where it all began.”

From that point on, Heidi began encouraging her entire family to walk together. Her husband and younger son also needed to lose some weight. All they needed to do was put on a pair of tennis shoes and head to the trail. After only a few weeks, Breanna had lost six pounds, and Heidi says, “Fireworks went off in my brain!” It was the first time Breanna had ever lost weight; in fact, she had been steadily gaining 20 pounds per year! Her mother writes:

The day I saw “possible” was the day I realized we were going to war against nine years of bad habits. It was a war we needed to win, because my daughter’s life was literally on the line. If we continued on our old path, it was clear what was going to happen to her: multiple health problems leading to an early grave, and a limited life where she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the things other people can do with ease…But now everything looked different.

Heidi developed a plan, which she called the “Five Four Three” Plan. Swimming five days a week, walking four days a week, and eating three healthy meals a day. The best part about this book is that she gives you a very detailed 40-day plan that you and your child or family can work on together, including dozens of delicious, healthy, and extremely easy-to-prepare recipes. I’ve been keeping this book on a shelf in my kitchen as I try out some of her recipes!

I appreciate this mother’s honesty as she shares both the ups and downs of her story. Some days were so hard. Not only did Heidi get rid of all junk food in her house, she literally walked every step of the way with her daughter. Her commitment was unbelievable, even walking in the rain, sleet, or freezing winter weather. She had to battle against early whining, which can be completely demoralizing, as every mother knows! She listened to Breanna’s complaints, and says her “resolve was being tested.”

Breanna was begging to stop the walks, and each time she came up with endless excuses about why she needed to stop. There was a pebble in her shoe. Her shoelace had come untied. Her shirt was itchy. She was hot and dizzy, and she was definitely going to throw up, and a bug flew in her shirt, and a twig was stuck in her shoe, and there was bubble gum stuck to the street, and it looked like rain was coming, and she was sure she was going to die of thirst, and she was sure her kneecap was going to pop right off. Some of those things were true, and some of them weren’t. It didn’t really matter.

“Keep going,” I said. I wasn’t going to waver. No matter what.

Gradually, naturally, the weight began to drop off. When Breanna started school the next year, several kids didn’t even recognize her! That’s where the title of the book comes from. Her story got picked up by a local journalist, which led to national recognition and appearances on Good Morning America, CNN, and The Biggest Loser. You can keep up with Heidi and Breanna’s updates on her website. I loved watching her and her mother tell the story in person on Good Morning America:

I hope you’ll have a chance to read the whole book! Filled with helpful diagnostic tools, easy-to-make recipes, eye-opening nutritional information, fun exercise ideas, and practical tips and advice, Who’s the New Kid? will not only show parents how to help their kids lose weight naturally but also introduce them to simple, yet effective lifestyle changes that will benefit the entire family.

Celebrate the release of Who’s the New Kid? by entering to win a Fitbit and RSVPing to Heidi’s June 9th author chat party!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Fitbit
  • A copy of Who’s the New Kid?

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 9th. Winner will be announced June 9th at Heidi’s Facebook partyRSVP here! Plus, participate in the #WhosTheNewKid conversation by pinning a family-friendly, healthy recipe (or two) to a Pinterest board!

whosthenewkid-enterbanner

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on June 9th!

Note: I received this book, complimentary, in exchange for my honest review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Cooking & Recipes,Family,Motherhood,Parenting,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on Heidi Bond’s Who’s the New Kid? Fitbit Giveaway and Facebook Party



August 28, 2014

Home to Chicory Lane

I’ve been a fan of Deborah Raney’s books for quite some time, so I was happy to join in the tour telling people about her latest novel, Home to Chicory Lane. It’s the first installment in her Chicory Inn series, and I can already tell you I’m hooked!

Audrey and Grant Whitman have entered the “empty nest” season of life, with five kids grown and out of the house. Audrey has fulfilled her lifelong dream of turning their beloved century-old homestead into a charming bed-and-breakfast near Langhorne, Missouri. During opening weekend, family and friends come over to help celebrate, while future guests begin to book reservations.

It looks like nothing can go wrong…until their youngest daughter, Landyn, shows up, after driving all night from New York City, where she left her husband of six months behind. She’s hauling a trailer of newlywed furnishings, so now what? Audrey and Grant have gone heavily into debt to finance their new venture, and boomerang young adults are not exactly what they had in mind as guests.

Landyn is hiding a secret from her husband, Chase, and when her parents find out, they know Chase must be told. Yet he’s still in New York, broke, and trying to pursue his calling as an artist. Should he give up on his dreams to get back together with Landyn? And can she ever go back to him after their recent spat? You will just have to get a copy of this book to find out.

I loved getting into the minds of the characters and seeing how they think. Deborah has woven her faith so gracefully throughout the story as we see how Audrey and Grant deal with grown children making poor choices — time and time again! On Deborah’s website, you can see some really cool photographs of her characters, which inspired her writing. This series would make such a fun movie or TV mini-series, similar to “The Waltons.”

And while you’re visiting Deborah’s website, be sure to tour her beautiful writing studio in her new home in the big city of Wichita, Kansas. She’s an inspiration to all of us who are trying to carve out a tiny bit of creative space in the midst of family life.

Now, if you’re like me, and you love any excuse to travel, keep reading and find out how you can win a free weekend getaway!

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Deborah is celebrating the release of her new series with a $200 B&B Weekend Getaway and a Facebook author chat party.

chicory-400-click

 

 
One winner will receive:

  • A B&B Weekend Getaway (via a $200 Visa cash card)
  • Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 9th. Winner will be announced at the Home to Chicory Lane Author Chat Party on 9/9. Deborah will be hosting a heartfelt book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at the next book in the Chicory Inn series!


So grab your copy of Home to Chicory Lane and join Deborah on the evening of September 9th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 9th!

About the Author:
Deborah Raney

Deborah Raney’s books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas—the setting of many of Deborah’s novels—for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deborah on the web at DeborahRaney.com.

A big thank you to those hard-working ladies at Litfuse Publicity for sending this book my way!

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney Welcomes You to Her New Chicory Inn Series



December 17, 2013
12pearlsofxmas
Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!



Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

The Nativity
by Lynn Austin

The first time I visited Bethlehem more than twenty-five years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger. I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD. It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire, and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church. A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated throughout the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem. We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with God that is the true miracle of Bethlehem.

The year after visiting Bethlehem, I began looking for ways to recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Santa Claus has never been invited to our family Christmases, and we’ve always celebrated it as Jesus’ birthday, exchanging presents because God gave us the gift of His Son. But year after year, the clutter and glitz had draped themselves over our celebrations, just like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries. That year, I purchased a nice but inexpensive manger set. I wanted something that wasn’t a toy but that my children could handle and touch. We placed it at their level and at the center of our holiday and began the simple tradition of gathering together as a family to fill the empty stable while my husband read the story from the Bible. Our children divided all the people and sheep and camels among themselves, and when we got to their part in the Bible story, they added their figures to the stable.

This simple tradition has become so beloved by all of us that we still do it the same way every year, even though our children are now adults. Our two married children couldn’t wait to share the tradition with their spouses, generously dividing their sheep and wise men among the newest members of our family. One year, our daughter was living overseas and couldn’t make it home for the holiday, but we still held our family tradition while she participated via Skype and a web camera.

And it’s always in those moments, with the simple stable and inexpensive plaster figures and my precious loved ones gathered around me, that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!

12pearls-austin
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Bestselling author Lynn Austin has sold more than one million copies of her books worldwide. Her latest novel, Return To Me, is the first book in her new series.  She is an eight-time Christy Award winner for her historical novels, as well as a popular speaker at retreats and conventions. Lynn and her husband have raised three children and live near Chicago. Visit Lynn at her website.
By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Family,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Nativity, by Lynn Austin



December 16, 2013
12pearlsofxmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series!

Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days.
 
We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

***

The Magic of a Christmas Moment
by Sarah E. Ladd

Ah, it’s Christmas! Just mention of the word makes me think of twinkling trees, steaming wassail, glistening snowflakes, and happy childhood memories.

One Christmas Eve, when my sister and I were quite small, my parents were trying to get us to go to sleep. Of course, we were far too excited to think about sleep! We double checked our stockings and strained our ears to see if we could hear reindeer hooves prancing on the roof. I can still remember my mom saying, “Santa can’t come until you are asleep!”

And then—it happened!

We looked out of our kitchen window, and what should we see? Through our neighbor’s window, we saw HIM . . . Santa Claus . . . doing the dishes! Santa was only one house away! My sister and I could not believe our eyes. Within a flash, we were in our beds, blankets pulled up to our chins, eyes pressed tight in hopes we would fall asleep so Santa could stop by our house!

Of course, it took several years for us to realize that “Santa” was our neighbor hosting a Christmas party, but even after all these years I can still remember the excited thrill of that moment. Even to this day the memory brings a smile to my face, and every Christmas, someone always says, “Hey, remember the year we saw Santa doing dishes?”

As Christmas approaches, it is easy to get caught up on the busyness of the season. Shopping, cooking, traveling—it can be a hectic time of year, with crazy schedules and hurried timelines. But in the bustle of the season, do not forget to keep your eyes open for the magic in the simplest moments, especially if you have young children or grandchildren. Those special memories are gifts that last a lifetime, and just like that Christmas many years ago, it would have been very easy not to take a moment to look out the window. Keep your heart and your eyes open . . . you never know what magic you will find in Christmas moments.

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Sarah E. Ladd has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. The Heiress of Winterwood was the recipient of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance. Her second novel, The Headmistress of Rosemere, releases December 2013. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever. Learn more at her website or follow her on Facebook. Also, be sure to stop by for your chance to win 8 Christian Fiction novels by some of your favorite authors! Follow this link to enter the Christian Fiction Christmas Giveaway.
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By: Heather Ivester in: Family,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Magic of a Christmas Moment, by Sarah E. Ladd



November 13, 2013

The Reading Promise

I recently devoured Alice Ozma’s wonderful book, The Reading Promise, and can’t wait to tell you about it. Isn’t this cover scrumptious? I could give it a hug! A father reading to a daughter, the little girl standing on a pile of classic books. This book is everything I believe in about kids, books, writing, parenting … I love it!

When the author, Alice Ozma, was nine years old, she and her father made a reading promise. He promised to read to her every night for 100 nights in a row, without skipping a single night. That doesn’t seem all that hard, does it? But when you think about reading for a little over three months, like an entire summer, without skipping ANY nights, this is not easy. But they did it. Alice’s father never missed a night.

So, to celebrate, they went out to eat pancakes, and over that breakfast, Alice just came up with the number 1,000. She asked her dad if he would commit to reading to her for 1,000 nights in a row. After a few bites of his pancake, he did.

And he kept that promise, not only for 1,000 nights, but for NINE straight years. They called it “The Streak,” and Alice and her dad kept up their reading streak from the year Alice was nine until the day she left for college at age eighteen. I’m almost in tears typing this sentence as I remember the details about where and when they last read together, ending the streak. You will not want to miss finding out how this amazing story wraps up.

Reading a book like this energizes me and gives me hope in the future. I really can’t say enough great things about The Reading Promise. Just knowing that there are people out there like Alice and her father, Jim, makes me feel a part of something big. Every adult who is reading a book to a child today is doing something important and long-lasting, creating a new generation of readers.

You can learn more about Alice Ozma and her dad here, and you can also commit to making your own reading promise!

This book has renewed my zeal in reading out loud to my children at bedtime. I hope it will renew yours as well.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Education,Family,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on The Reading Promise



May 13, 2013

ImageProxyServletWelcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.
 
AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.


And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
~

Mother Ship by Melody Murray

Mother Ship (N.) – a ship that serves or carries one or more smaller ships.

Raising two boys in India is quite nice, really. We have monkeys, scooters, plenty of dirt, and mountains. The challenges are comical. I found very quickly on that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s been an excellent motto for our three years thus far, one I learned shortly after our arrival here in June of 2010.

We’d been in India for just three days when I had my first major meltdown. Our two boys, ages three and four, were sitting in big plastic buckets in our smelly bathroom, covered with mosquito bites, jetlagged as can be. I was frantically pouring cold water over them, trying to scrub off the India grime that had caked on their scrawny little bodies. I was having to hold them like puppy dogs so they wouldn’t scurry out from underneath the cold water. It was a far cry from the sweet, warm, bubbly, happy bath time we’d experienced together for the past four years in the States! Talk about culture shock. They were in shock. I was in shock. I’m sure the neighbors were in shock, too. I’m not sure my boys have ever seen me scream, cry, and stomp that much. Thank God it is just a memory now.

Somehow, by God’s grace, we’ve figured out life here. It looks much different than I had ever thought it would look, especially as a mother. We don’t go to the library, make elaborate crafts, play T-ball, shop at Target, sing in church choir, or take family bike rides. I have had to redefine my ideal upbringing for my children and have had to let go of many expectations. But I’ve managed to grasp hold of a new set of dreams.

My children are global kids. They have an incredible adventure every day. They see the “majority world” firsthand. I think they are some of the most privileged kids I know. I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself that my kids don’t get to go to ballgames or have a huge tree house or wear cute clothes. Why focus on what I think they’ve lost, only to lose sight of what they’re gaining?

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My attitude shift didn’t come easily. I can be quite stubborn. I clung to what I knew and what I thought was “normal” and “right,” as all of us moms do. I’d cry after phone conversations with friends back home who had their children signed up for karate, soccer, and swim lessons, with loads of choices for good schools, churches, and neighborhoods. I had nothing of the sort available for my kids, and I felt bitter and resentful.

But then I slowly began to change. Slowly, after months of getting over culture shock and cold baths, we began to love this place and the people we were with. We began to know them, understand them, become like them. Our community here became our family. Just this week, I’ve been sick with an awful kidney infection, and my living room has been full of my Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian friends, bringing me food, rubbing my feet, playing with my children, washing my dishes. I’ve never experienced community in this way before. My boys are loved so well by so many. And they are learning how to love back, even when it’s not easy.

My attitude shift didn’t come quickly, but when it happened, it took a 180°. I realized how wrong I’d been. These people I live with—their kids don’t have organized sports, church choirs, or fancy vacations either. Their kids aren’t signed up for after-school activities and aren’t becoming multi-skilled elementary school prodigies. Yet, in spite of this, they are content. Like none I’ve ever seen. They love each other. Like none I’ve ever seen. They have very little, yet they have so very much.
 
In the western world of comparisons and endless striving, I believe we sometimes lose touch of the things we actually care most about. I know most of us moms actually don’t care whether our children are the best at T-ball or whether their crafts look better than the next kid’s. But I think we all care deeply that our kids are loved, and that they know how to love. We all have a common dream that our kids will grow up to be world-changers, to strive for what is right, to love the unloved, to see the world in a different way. These are the deepest dreams of moms. So let’s not forget that the most important things we can give our kids are not the things we can buy them or sign them up for. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to give them sails, let them explore new things, meet new people, and learn to make lasting change in this world.

So join me this Mother’s Day. Let’s all be “mother ships,” leading our kids to new adventures, new beginnings, new relationships. Let’s serve and carry our little ones to places they can only dream of, whether it be making dinner for a neighbor, smiling at the homeless man in front of the grocery store, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or moving to India. Let’s take them with us and teach them how to sail.
 
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” —Grace Murray Hopper

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068In June 2010, an opportunity arose to work with a small needy community in the Himalayas, so David and Melody Murray and their two young boys packed their bags and moved to Rajpur, North India. Mel has grown JOYN, fulfilling her passion to connect artisans with western markets. They now have a diverse and growing team of Americans, Australians, Indians, Tibetans and Nepalis working together to create a community that strives to take care of each other and bring opportunity to as many as they can. Visit her website for more information.

 
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By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Crafty people and things,Faith,Family,Motherhood,Parenting,Travel,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on DAY 9 – Mother Ship by Melody Murray



May 11, 2013

ImageProxyServletWelcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.

AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.


And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
~

The Pursuit of Imperfection by Beth Vogt

In my early mommy-ing years, I was all about perfection. I wasn’t going to be just a good mom—oh, no. I grabbed the virtual performance bar and shoved it way out of my reach.

It didn’t take long for that bar to come crashing down on my head. Perfection was toppled by the harsh reality that, at times, I was an angry mom. I hit my knees and begged God for forgiveness, for patience, for the ability to love my children one day at a time . . . sometimes one hour at a time.

I embraced 1 Peter 4:8: Love covers a multitude of mistakes, even altering it a bit so that it met my need. My version of 1 Peter 4:8 became: Love covers a multitude of mommy-mistakes. There was no way I could pretend that I was perfect, but I could do everything possible so that my children knew that I loved them, despite my imperfections.

Fast forward through toddlers and teenagers to being the mother of a twenty-something son, two late-teen daughters, and one (surprise!) elementary-school-age daughter.

During lunch one day with Katie Beth and Amy, my two oldest daughters, Katie Beth looked at me and asked, “Do you want to know what the best thing was about you as a mom?”

Did I? How could I say no to an unexpected “her children will rise up and call her blessed” moment? I assured Katie Beth I absolutely wanted to know the best thing about me as a mom. She looked at me and said, “The best thing about you as a mom was that you weren’t perfect.”

Oh. I admit I expected something . . . more. I joked with my daughter, telling her I wished she’d told me this sooner, as I wasted too much time trying to be perfect. We all laughed and the conversation moved on.

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A few weeks later as a prepared a talk on motherhood and perfection for a moms group, I asked Katie Beth, “Can you tell me again why not being perfect was the best thing about me as a mom?”

She emailed me a letter that read: So many kids grow up thinking their parents are up on this pedestal. They think their parents can do no wrong, but then when they fail at something or make a mistake . . . it can tend to devastate those kids. Also, it taught me that being a Christian does not equal perfection. So many people think because they are a Christian they have to be perfect, and I learned from you that, while you are a very loving mother, you are not perfect. It helps me know you don’t expect me to be perfect. 


Our children don’t want perfect moms—but they do want to know we love them. And maybe by admitting we’re not perfect, our kids will avoid the perfectionist trap too.

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Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best is often behind the doors marked “Never.” After being a nonfiction writer and editor who said she’d never write fiction, Beth has proudly authored two novels, Wish You Were Here and the newly released Catch a Falling Star. Connect with Beth at bethvogt.com.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on DAY 7 – The Pursuit of Imperfection by Beth Vogt