Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Children's books to give for Christmas

I think I may have a problem.

It's a good problem, I think, depending on how you look at it.

And it's a problem I may have passed on to my children. In fact, I KNOW I've passed it on to my children.

It's books.

I grew up loving books. I still love books.

Especially children's books.

Here is just one of the shelves of my built-in bookshelves--the one of the several that houses children's books. Sadly, they aren't all mine--many belong to my girls, which I will explain in a minute.

Here are some of my books from when I was a little girl.

I have a few favorites. Like this one:

Anybody else remember Katy and the Big Snow? I know my girls remember it because I used to read it to them on days when we had big snowstorms.

This one, Shoes for Angela, isn't a classic, but I received it as a gift when I was young, and I read it over and over and over. This truly was one of my favorite books when I was a girl. I think it might have started a fetish.

And how many of you learned to read from the Dick and Jane books? I know I did! Somehow I snagged a first edition from 1938--goodness, my dad could have read from this very book--which is one of my personal treasures.

The very coolest thing about this Dick and Jane book? I taught all three of my girls to read using this very copy. I love it so much.

As you can see, my love for children's books goes way back. I wanted to instill a love of reading and of books in my girls from the time they were very young, so I decided that, rather than give them an ornament for Christmas every year, I would give them each a book.

Thus, the rather large portion of the bookshelf that doesn't belong to me.

Each year I try to choose a book that has some special meaning for them. Each girl gets something different, although I have duplicated a few books over the years. And, of course, I write the year and maybe a little note in the front of the book.

Just in case you'd like to start such a tradition with your children (it's never too late to start!), here is a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites.

1. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. A classic. Every child should know this one by heart.

2. Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osbourne. A book about a brave young girl named Kate. Hey! I have one of those!

3. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I gave this book to Caroline when she was in first grade because she told me that her teacher had read it to the class and it made her cry. I cannot get through this book without shedding a tear.

4. Just the Way You Are by Max Lucado. Actually, any book by Max Lucado could make my list. This one just happened to be within easy reach.

5. Olivia by Ian Falconer. I think it was Julia who requested Olivia one year. It just fit.

6. Grandpappy by Nancy White Carlstrom. A very special book for a child who really loves his or her grandpa. Nancy White Carlstrom is one of our favorite authors because, not only did she write the Jesse Bear books, she also attended my alma mater.

7. O.K., this one might not be as great as the original, but it's still pretty good. I gave it to Julia the year she learned to read . . . from the other book.

8. Home for Christmas by Jan Brett. Another one of our very favorite children's authors. We spent hours poring over her books, just enjoying the detail of her illustrations, when my girls were little. Any of her books would be great for your kids.

9. Someday by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds. It says this book is a NYT #1 bestseller, and I can see why. I came across this book a few years ago as Kate was getting ready to graduate from high school. When I read it in the bookstore, it made me cry. When we passed it around at Christmas, there was not a dry eye in the room.

Have someone leaving home soon? Get them this book. And a pack of tissues.

And just for fun, here's the back cover of the book:

Now you know what I mean?

10. Finally, I have to include this special book for even the big kids in your life. The Gift by R. Kent Hughes and Ron DiCianni tells the Christmas story in beautiful artwork and description. It also includes calligraphy by Timothy Botts. I got this book because Kent Hughes was my former pastor, but as I've read it over the years, it makes the Christmas story become so much more meaningful to me.

Each chapter is illustrated by one of DiCianni's beautiful paintings.

So there you have just a small taste of what's on my shelf. Sadly, that shelf will soon start getting more and more sparse as my children leave my house. I know that one day these books will be packed up and placed on a new bookshelf in a new home, and, really, it couldn't make me happier. I know that I have given my girls the gift of reading, of happy memories, and of home.

And, hopefully, they can pass along their own love of books to their children someday.

Now tell me, do you have any gifting traditions in your home?

Linking to Amanda's Weekly Bloggy Reading Link-up at Serenity Now, Richella's Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace, and Kelly's The Parent 'Hood at Love Well. Go check out these wonderful blogs!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving and the last hour

I’m back from a glorious Thanksgiving with my family.

I got to see my sister pregnant for the first time. So sweet!

And I got to spend Thanksgiving with my entire family. If you’ve been around here in past years, you’ll know that Thanksgiving, while my favorite holiday of the year, has been a bit of a bummer for me. Normally, our Thanksgiving plans consist of just the five of us, so when I think about creating a beautiful meal, setting out the good china and silver, and having just five people around our table, it doesn’t set quite right with me.

So we’ve resorted to eating out. Still, a bummer, but better than the alternative. I think.

Anyway, this year was awesome. For so many reasons.

The week before we left, I had already started to dread the drive home. B wasn’t going to be able to drive home with us because he had to fly from Dallas to a business trip. I knew I had to make the 900 mile drive myself with the girls. Thankfully, I had two more drivers, and Julia was willing to help out in a pinch (*wink wink*), so I knew we’d be fine.

But the drive. Ugh. Nine hundred miles is just a LONG WAY.

We made it. In fact, we cruised. My girls are awesome travelers—lots of early training—so they just hunkered down and didn’t complain at all. We only made quick stops to go to the bathroom or to grab some ice cream, but aside from that we just didn’t stop.

We made the trip in 14 hours. Very nearly a record.

(Never let it be said that my small bladder is to blame for longer road trips. We managed just fine, thankyouverymuch.)

Anyway, somewhere along the way I had mentioned to the girls that the last hour of the trip was the worst for me. I knew the road like the back of my hand, and because of that, I just wanted to be HOME.

I also knew that, statistically, the last hour of the trip was the most dangerous. People put down their guard or something like that.

We had just passed what is, for me, that awful point where I feel like I can’t take it anymore—about one hour from home—when I noticed that the cars on the other side of the road were beginning to back up.

“Hey,” I said to the girls, “Check out the traffic on the other side of the road. We must have missed seeing an accident because the traffic is really backed up over there.”

There was probably a 2-mile traffic jam, but then traffic was moving again . . . for about a mile. Suddenly, we came upon fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars almost completely blocking the other side of the highway. Again. 

This time the accident looked serious.

We were marveling at the traffic—commenting about how these poor people would get through one terrible jam, thinking they were free of it, and one mile later come upon another back-up that was just as bad, if not worse, than the first—when all of a sudden we saw a THIRD crash. This time it was just a rear-end situation, probably common when traffic slows down suddenly, but still, three crashes in a stretch of about five miles.

We were amazed . . . and so grateful that the accidents were on the OTHER side of the highway and not on ours.

Needless to say, I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and slowed down just a bit.

One of my girls said, “Can you imagine having to sit in that mess? I feel sorry for the people further on down the highway—they don’t know what they’re about to go through. I feel like we should warn them or something.”

Now, I’m not one to over-spiritualize things, and I didn’t feel the need to point this out at the time, but the lesson was obvious to me and I kept turning it over in my mind for the rest of the car ride.

Here’s the thing. If you knew that your friend, family member, or co-worker was headed for a figurative traffic jam of epic proportions, wouldn’t you want to warn them?

Wouldn’t you want to say, “Hey, you’re heading down the wrong highway and you’re going to get caught up in a real mess. Try taking a different way.”

And yet, I have friends whom I know are headed down the wrong highway. I wonder, have I warned them? Have I spoken these exact words into their lives? Have I lived in such a way that my life speaks to them of an alternative route?

The last hour. It’s haunting. It’s dangerous. It’s tiring. And it’s the most important hour of the trip.

I'm not sure I'll ever look at a traffic jam the same again.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been thinking over the past year and all the many reasons I'm thankful today.

Thought I'd share.

For him.

And her.

And her.

And her.

For this amazing opportunity.

And for this one.

And that this didn't have a different outcome.

For these and every other blessing, God in Heaven, I thank You.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Great Bathroom(s) Remodel of 2012

I promised I'd give you some sort of explanation as to why I haven't been around much this fall. It may not be a good excuse, but it is an explanation of sorts.

We've been remodeling! Two bathrooms, sorely in need of a facelift, finally got them this fall. The project took a little longer than we expected and cost a lot more than we originally thought. Isn't that always the way with house projects?

First, let me give you a little background.

Our home is old. Well, the foundation of our home is old--it probably dates back to the 1940s. It has been remodeled and added to in stages over the past 20 years. We have lived here for 14 years (last week!), and we've loved every minute of making our home our own.

We also love the history of our home because some dear friends of ours lived here before us and put the second story on it. Plus, we learned at some point along the way, that some retired missionaries lived here for a long time and prayed fervently for our neighborhood. Isn't that cool?

About seven years ago we put a pretty big addition onto our home (kitchen, family room, screened in porch, and master bedroom/bathroom), but we left two upstairs bathrooms untouched. They seemed fine to us at the time, and they worked just fine for our kids.

Over the years, things in those bathrooms have, shall we say, fallen apart.

Cabinets were getting a little . . . worn.

The mirrors were showing signs of age.

The tile was starting to come off the countertops, not to mention the crud that just wouldn't go away.

And the doors of the cabinets wouldn't even shut properly anymore.

And, most embarrassing of all, who knows how long we had lived with just the arm of a towel bar? We kept replacing the towel bar, but it kept coming off the wall. I guess we gave up.

We knew these bathrooms really needed attention, but you know how it goes . . . there's always something else that also needs to be done. (Like the furnace we replaced last year.)

But we have a lot of out of town guests, and those guests use these bathrooms. One day, B walked into the bathroom Julia uses and walked out disgusted. He had had enough. Our bathroom situation had become embarrassing!

So we decided that we really had to do something.

And something we did. We gutted both of them and replaced everything. 

Here are some before and after photos for your enjoyment.

Worn out, dilapidated cabinets replaced with new cabinetry from Restoration Hardware.

Nasty, plain white everything replaced with a walk-in shower and custom shelving (made by our contractor).

Before: linen closet in the corner. After: built-in unit made to match the cabinets in that bathroom.

Old stock vanity replaced with Restoration Hardware sink base and solid marble top.

Old single-handle faucets replaced with shiny new Kohler faucets.

Remember, we did two bathrooms. One, at the top of the stairs, is smaller and got the weathered wood cabinets. The other is our old master bathroom (before we added a new master) and is the bathroom Julia uses now. She gets displaced when we have guests stay with us.

Here are a few more "after" photos for you.

This is the bathroom at the top of the stairs (um, hello Me in my sweats!).

Restoration Hardware cabinet and marble countertop.

View from the tub. There's a small linen closet on the left.

Our builder thought of making these shelves from some of the extra marble. I love them!

Lighting was a bit of an issue, so we decided to go with a big mirror and mount the sconces right on the mirror in order to double the light. 

This is Julia's bathroom, but also the guest bathroom (and the old master bathroom).

View from the shower.

The cabinets in here were also from Restoration Hardware, but we got the marble somewhere else.

This is a close-up of the open shelving unit that our builder made for us. Didn't he do a great job of matching the RH cabinets?

Finally, a couple of details I especially liked.

The Kohler "Flip Side" showerhead. My kids specifically requested a detachable showerhead. I also LOVE the tile work in this bathroom.

Another shot of the tile work and corner shelving in Julia's shower.

I know, I know, I didn't actually do ANY of the work, but the project still took a lot out of me. I did quite a bit of running around to pick out tile, find marble, choose cabinets, and select plumbing fixtures. All of this took time when I wasn't teaching.

So my fall was basically this. It was worth the time, the occasional frustrations, and the *gulp* money.

And now our bathrooms are ready for anything . . . or any one.

When are you coming to visit? *wink wink*