A Back-to-School Picnic: Helping Girls Thrive in the Coming School Year

It was the last picnic before school started. Elena sat munching her burger and daydreaming about decorating her locker. However, her thoughts soon turned to her list of concerns that was almost as long as the list of her school supplies. Eighth grade! Are kids going to tease me like last year? Should I really do advanced math and Spanish club or should I do drama like the cool people? Will the other girls make fun of my hair? What if I do something really embarrassing on the first day and end up with a nickname for the whole year like that one girl last year? It would be totally worse if it happened in front of a cute boy! Will I even have one good friend? She put down her burger and moved her salad around on her plate.

_____

As much of the world is heading back to school, many kids might be excited, but quite a few will be lugging around some weighty worries like Elena’s in their mental backpacks.

Girls in Elena’s shoes need to move to a different picnic blanket and meet a friend like Connie Kendall. In fact, they need to have a laughter-filled, candid conversation with her.

Happy news: Girls anywhere can do just that! In Candid Conversations with Connie, Vol. 2  (by Kathy Buchanan) fictitious-but-much-loved Connie Kendall* shares stories from her own life and gets advice from friends to help girls handle the tricky and sticky situations of growing up – all within the context of a picnic! From making it through melt-into-the-floor moments to facing “frenemies”, evaluating erratic emotions and balancing run-ins with bullies and forming friendships with boys, Connie and the girls on her picnic blanket open their mental backpacks and go through their back-to-school stresses. Connie’s upbeat and understanding tone makes the book a fun read. Questions and quizzes provide moments of refection. Even someone as old as I am found the questions thought provoking! With that in mind, this would be an awesome book for a mother-daughter time or even a junior-high girls’ study.

What’s the best thing about this book? Well, the third best thing is that Connie speaks sensitively to issues that may be different in different families/situations (e.g. dating). The second best thing is that she helps girls figure out who they are. I think this is a huge part of dealing with the negative peer pressures (like disobeying important rules, smoking and drinking alcohol – which are discussed in the book) that happen in public schools, private schools, home schools or boarding schools. Knowing what you’re about is also a vital part of being an agent of positive peer pressure. (There really is such a thing! Just read the book if you doubt it.) But the really best thing? Throughout the book, Connie points the girls to Jesus, the one Friend Who will be right there with them in junior high, high school, college and beyond (Matthew 28:20). That’s right – Elena doesn’t have to worry about not having a single friend after all!

So come on over to Connie’s roomy picnic blanket, grab a sandwich and be ready to think, share, laugh (and maybe even cry) together as the girls learn not only how to survive but also how to thrive in this school year!

Candid Conversations Vol2 pic
*Connie Kendall is a character in the popular radio drama series Adventures in Odyssey. But no worries! A girl doesn’t have to be an Odyssey expert or even a regular listener to enjoy this book.

A Note of Encouragement for Every Girl Heading Back to School 2016

Dear School-Bound Girl,

Here we are again. You’re heading back to school….Can you believe it? Neither can I! 

You said you’re super-excited and stepping-on-egg-shells nervous all mixed together. I’ve got some good news: most heroines of adventures have the same mix of emotions as they start on their journeys!

Ok, so maybe you aren’t thinking of another school year as a book-worthy adventure. But the truth is, there are similarities. Like all adventures, this year is going to have its own calms, highs and lows. After all, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if you just sailed through on glassy seas, would it? I mean, who would want to read a book like this: “It all started when Molly went to school. From the first day, everything went perfectly swell for her.” Not much thrill in that is there? But if it begins with, “It all started when Molly went to school. From the first day, everything went perfectly swell for her. Everything, that is, except…” Now you’re left wondering, aren’t you?

Don’t misunderstand; I want you to have those calm seas where you can take a deep breath, feel the gentle breezes and just draw in your journal because words aren’t needed. I also want you to have those mountaintop moments that put a smile on your face and a spring in your step and that you scribble about in your journal because you want to savor each sweet second forever! I pray you’ll have the very best of both tranquil and terrific times. May they be sprinkled over your school year like sprinkles on a sundae. 

But you’re going to come across those low moments, too, dear girl. Those moments that make you reach for the Kleenex box, leave salty spots on your journal pages and that you might even want to erase from your life. As hard as it is to understand, you are given those moments just like a heroine in a book. Perhaps God will use them to grow you, to move your story forward or to give you a heart prepared to comfort other hurting hearts. While knowing that may not help when you’re swamped in a school-year-sadness, hang in there. Maybe it really will help to know that I’ve prayed that God will be closest to you in those tear-stained times. King David lived through dozens of dark days that drew him closer to God. Those days gave us the Psalms. Not a bad outcome of that story, right?

You mentioned that you’re dreading having to study again. First of all, I don’t blame you one little bit. This sure has been a lovely summer! I may seem old now, but I still remember my own school days pretty clearly. While it’s true that I usually loved to learn new things – writers are always having to be curious! – I did have my fair share of dread-bound days when the last thing I wanted to do was crack the cover of a school book. How should a girl handle severe summer-induced study-itis? A snippet from Anne Shirley of Green Gables comes to mind. After deciding to study to become a teacher,  Anne tells Marilla, 

“I shall take more interest than ever in my studies now…because I have a purpose in life. Mr. Allan [the minister at Anne’s church whose wife is a good friend of Anne’s} says that everybody should have a purpose in life and pursue it faithfully. Only he says we must first make sure that it is a worthy purpose….” [1]

I think Anne’s really on to something here. A well-grounded purpose gives us an extra push in the right direction. Perhaps you could consider a purpose for your studies this year. Not just “to get to the next grade”, but something that goes beyond yourself.  Need an idea? You know I love to give ideas!

This year I’m going to really learn so that I can…

  1. Be on my way to becoming a (teacher, doctor, business owner, etc.)
  2. Help my parents someday when they are old.
  3. Give my younger siblings a hand in getting a good education. (That’s what Grandma Alice’s older siblings did.)
  4. Invent ______________. 
  5. Teach my children someday. 
  6. Be ready for whatever adventures God has ahead of me and listen to Proverbs 3:13-14 (ESV), Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.” 

Of course, don’t forget Mr. Allan’s advice; make sure your purpose is a worthy one. Check in with God about it. Then, if you’re like me, coming up with a purpose isn’t enough because it’s so easy to forget good resolutions. Why not write down your purpose and post it in different places where you’ll see it often like by your desk or on your computer? Hmmm. I’m thinking I need to do this with a few of my goals. Practicing what I preach would be good, wouldn’t it?

So there you go, dear friend. I hope that’s an encouragement. Let me know how it goes, won’t you? The picture-worthy days, the smile-wearing days, the tear-wiping days…You know I’m always up for listening to a story. And as you sail into this new installment in the adventure series Of Your Life, don’t forget that somebody (yours truly!) has prayed for you.

Hugs & Blessings,  

~Kristi

1 L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995), 313-314. An Everyman’s Library children’s classic edition.

Of Sweet Potatoes & Schoolteachers – A Back to School Post

Would you rather give the world more millionaires or more readers?

If you were education leader Mary McLeod Bethune, you would choose more readers. [1]

Mrs. Bethune (1875-1955) dedicated much of her life to doing just that. It was no job for wimps. Her school in Florida was funded by selling sweet potato pies. I don’t mean to idealize that situation, but I love that story because it illustrates the creativity, resourcefulness and work ethic of good entrepreneurs and the problem-solving projects found in an entrepreneur-friendly society.

While most teachers don’t have to bake pies to fund their schools these days, many do work long hours at low pay and high heart investment. Sure, they have Christmas break and summer holidays, but those breaks are not always as carefree as they may look from the outside.

Beyond that, teachers spend a great deal investing in tomorrow’s leaders. Doing this well requires a lot of wisdom and understanding, especially in our age. (Come to think of it, Mrs. Bethune might say it was different but just as hard in her day.)

With that in mind, here are three ideas to encourage and equip your teachers this year:

  1. Write a note of encouragement and thanks. At the beginning of the school year, even the best teachers may be facing insecurity as they step in front of a new group of students. Your vote of confidence and expression of gratitude could make a world of difference.
  2. Consider giving a little something as a “Back to School” gift or shopping in advance for Christmas. Sites like dayspring.com have many sweet ideas for teacher gifts. If you want something more unique, you could check out etsy.com. For example, teachers and apples seem to go together – at least in certain parts of the world! For a different spin on that tradition, you could get a trinket bowl made from apple tree wood to collect all the little odds and ends teachers need. Or how about a darling art print to remind your teacher of the gift that learning is?
  3. Don’t forget to pray for your teachers! Pray for joy in their work, engaging ideas, protection, stamina, good health, understanding administrators, and wisdom.

Ah, and you could always invite your teacher over for a slice of pie. Perhaps even sweet potato pie!


 [1] Dave and Neta Jackson, Defeat of the Ghost Riders – Mary McLeod Bethune (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997), 141-142).

The Book My Grandma Gave Me

Everybody else had gone to town, but she was happy she had stayed home. She glanced around the farmhouse. The floor was swept, the breakfast dishes done, the house tidied. Now her own fun could begin! 

She went to the one bookshelf in the house. Built into the writing desk, this shelf held all the books her family owned. Of course, it wasn’t hard to find the one book she wanted – the one with the light grey cover. 

After wiping her hands on her skirt to make sure they were clean, she slid the book from the shelf, and, carrying it in two hands, went outside. 

A smokey-grey farm cat scuttled in front of her as she stepped out the door. Many days she would have followed the cat, but not this time.

She settled in the sun-warmed grass near a scraggly tree. Here enough of a breeze blew to keep her comfortable even in the summer weather.

She opened the book. She knew just where she wanted to start reading…


This is how I imagine my grandmother as a girl, enjoying the book she passed down to me. What book was that? The Best Loved Poems of the American People.

There’s something special about poetry. As Betty Stam put it,

“Don’t you love the common words

     In usage all the time:

Words that paint a master-piece,

     Words that beat a rhyme,

Words that sing a melody,

     Words that leap and run,

Words that sway a multitude,

     Or stir the heart of one?…”[1]

Some of the best loved poems of not only the American people but of people the world over are poems that tell a story. Here are a few that you might enjoy whether you are 9 years old or 99.

  • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow
  • The Children’s Hour by Longfellow
  • Rain in Summer by Longfellow
  • The Touch of the Master’s Hand by Myra Brooks Welch
  • The Wedding Gift by Minna Irving
  • The First Snowfall by James Russell Lowell
  • Snow-Bound by Whittier

Yes, I do love “Words that paint a master-piece/Words that beat a rhyme”. and, Grandma, I’m glad you do, too. Thank you for sharing not only your book of poems with me but also the book-worth of stories from your life. Happy Birthday with love!

Stepping into the Story – Madeline Island & As Waters Gone By

Madeline Island. 

Sophia smiled as she tweaked the sun-shimmer on a wave with her brush. The oil paint, the canvas, the brush in her hand – she had loved them ever since they first came into her life when she was thirteen years old.

It wasn’t until a month ago that she loved the subject of this painting: Madeline Island rising out of the Superior waves.

As-Waters-Gone-ByOn the coffee table nearby sat the book that started it all. Sophia had won the book in a silent-auction gift basket. When she finally cracked the cover, she was delighted. By the end, she knew she had to do one thing. She simply had to visit this place called Madeline Island. 

So that’s what she did.

She sat in her car on the ferry – the closest her car would ever get to driving on water – with her bike stashed on the rack. Once on land, she drove past the historic homes and all around the fourteen-mile-long island. She noted the itty-bitty library, the school, and the School of the Arts with its red and white buildings. She biked where she could see sparkling Superior. She snapped photos for later use. Then she returned to LaPoint for ice cream, meandered in and out of shops and even sketched. The sun came and went with the clouds.

Now back at home with her easel and brushes and the island captured on canvas, Sophia smiled. What was it about the book that made her so want to be there – to step into the story? The whimsical, relatable characters? The descriptions of the natural beauty? The heartwarming sayings that she wanted to paint on the walls of her dining room? The meals the characters enjoyed that made her tastebuds dance? Those all had something to do with with it, but…

It had to be the hope that flickered on like the flame of her candle (purchased on the island). Maybe it was also the refreshing reminder that God uses peculiar people to do His work – people who are willing to do the works He has prepared for them. 

Yes.

That’s why she was here, doing this peculiar business of spreading color on canvas. Her work was to capture the beauty of the Master Artist, to inspire others to pause and wonder, to share what she saw so that others might see Whom she sought.

Or something like that. She was a painter after all, not a writer. 

 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”  ~I Peter 2:9-10 (KJV)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ~Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

 

A Visit to Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Lynn sat on the shore of Lake Superior, musing over her visit to the Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Built in 1863, this lighthouse guided sailors along the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Lynn had soaked in the stories along with the sun and Superior breezes. She could have gone without the biting flies. Must bring insect repellant next time.

Nasty insects aside, it had been a lovely excursion. The lively guide had given her several nuggets to think about, but at this moment she wondered what the lighthouse would say if it could speak for itself. Inhabited by light keepers (during the shipping season) and often their families and guests for over eighty years, surely the walls could share quite the history lesson. Perhaps a dramatic comedy. Also, Lynn realized, a tragedy or two. What were the breakfast conversations? Did the light keeper grumble when his assistants didn’t hold up to his own work ethic? How did the children spend their time on an island that was practically their own world? Did they wake during the night to make sure the light was still shining like their father did? 

Maybe she could find a book of the stories to take home.

Lynn watched the soft waves come in to shore, their lapping the backdrop to her thoughts. What scenes of life would the walls of her own home share if given the opportunity? They are always watching after all.

Lynn closed her eyes and smiled. God is always watching, too, beyond the four walls of my home, even in the remote places like this breathtaking bay in the greatest Great Lake.

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:9-10, ESV)

 

“Step inside the Mystery” – Canary Island Song

The Canary Islands are a land of mystery with their blend of cultures, breathtaking landscapes and storied past.

But Caroline has another mystery to deal with.

She has no explanation for the tragic death of her husband. After seven years, she feels she has never gotten an answer to her heartwrending why? 

That why? has worn on her soul.

Surrounded by the “women of the Canaries” and an unexpected friend, Caroline hears words that carry refreshment for her soul like the island breezes’ touch on her skin.

“Some things in life will never make sense…They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”  ~Bryan Spencer, Canary Island Song by Robin Jones Gunn, (Recorded Books, 25:50-26:31)

“Step inside the mystery.” Maybe it sounds good, but I think no one would say it is easy. Come to think of it, what good things are easy? 

Have you been standing in the mystery or resisting? While I haven’t experienced anything as painful as Caroline in Canary Island Song, just like everyone else, I have mysteries to live with – mysteries like my vision issues or empty chairs. Sometimes those vision problems get in the way of things I think I want to do or the emptinesses fill up with heartaches. Sometmes it would be nice to know the why?

I guess it gets down to trust. Do we trust God – the omnipotent, ominpresent, omniscient, steadfast-love-forever God enough to let Him direct the mysteries of our lives? 

Something to ponder today. And if you’re struggling with a mystery, maybe joining Caroline on her trip to the Canary Islands will refresh your soul. 

 

13 Stories of America – Part II

To see the first seven stories of America, visit the previous post. 

8. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – Ah, yes, here I am talking about Caddie Woodlawn again! I love this story because I consider it a “living book” and it touches on important players in the American pageant – Native Americans.

9. Defeat of the Ghost Riders (Trailblazer Book #23) by Dave & Neta Jackson – Ingenuity and perseverance could be called two of Americans’ greatest gifts, and Mary McLeod Bethune is a great example of both. Funding a school with homemade sweet potato pies? Oh, yes! Through the eyes of fictional Celeste, readers meet Mrs. Bethune as she is starting her school for girls in Florida. One line that especially struck me was her quoting of Lincoln’s words, “We destroy our enemies when we make them our friends.” 

10. Little Britches by Ralph Moody – America would not be what she is without her cowboys and (so far) Ralph Moody in the Little Britches series is my favorite. The escapades of this hardworking fellow – told by himself –  are sure to bring the gift of laughter to you and your family. 

11. The Adventures of the Northwoods series by Lois Walfrid-Johnson – As America stepped into the 20th century, immigrants from the world over continued to pour through her gates. Readers young and old will come to understand the lives of immigrant families who settled in the Midwest through the eyes of Irish-Swedish Katherine O’Connell, her stepbrother Anders and their friends. Questions like “What was Minneapolis like at the turn of the century?”, “What was it like to go to a one-room school?” and “What dangers did miners in the Upper Peninsula face?” will be answered. Throw in intriguing mysteries and these historical-fiction tales are a mixture of education and excitement – can’t beat that!

12. The Chicago Years by Nancy Rue – It seems that we learn a lot about the War for Independence, the Civil War, the pioneer era, the Great Depression and the World Wars, but somehow we skip the 1920s. This series by Nancy Rue is here to change all that! Rudy Hutchinson and his twin sister move to Chicago to live with their grandmother and are soon up to their earlobes in adventures. Along the way, readers will discover Italian-American culture, German-American culture, Jewish-American culture, the work of Jane Adams at Hull House, the cultural trends of the 20s and, of course, the mob! 

13. The American Adventure series by various authors – The American saga is told from the journey of the Mayflower to the end of WWII in this series that traces a family tree. While the 48 – yes, forty-eight! – books in this series are out-of-print, you can still find many copies available (inexpensively) online. The hunt is worthwhile because this series paints a portrait of America’s history in such a memorable way. Even issues like the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during WWII are faced. Another benefit of this lengthy series is the opportunity to see how one generation’s choices affect the next. If you are looking for a way to engage children in history or if you want a pleasant way to learn for yourself, I recommend this series.  

There you go! Thirteen stories of America. Do you have a different favorite on your shelf? I’d love to hear about it. Send me a message anytime here

13 Stories of America to Celebrate Independence Day – Part I

Since this 4th of July marks the USA’s 240th birthday, here are 13 stories (in honor of the 13 colonies) that not only trace the American saga through time but also illustrate hard work, sacrifice, family and faith. After all, these traits are just as much a part of America’s story as the characters who lived them. 

1. 1776 by David McCullough – I remember being surprisingly enthralled by 1776. While I love the illustrations and facsimiles tucked within the illustrated edition, it was the audio edition that made me a fan. David McCullough’s work is exceptional, not only because of his research but also his understandability.

2. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow – A nation without its poems and ballads would be like a person without a heart and blood…or something like that. At any rate, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is one of the poems that captures the spirit of the War for Independence at its very start. Just make sure you read a strictly historical account of Paul Revere’s ride to get the whole story without the poetic license!

3. The Williamsburg Years by Nancy Rue – This series was the star of one of my posts in 2015. If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time onto the streets of Williamsburg when patriots walked, this series is for you! 

4. Abigail Adams – Her Letters (Voices from the Past) by Abigail Adams – What better way to learn about the world during America’s birth than through the letters of one of her heroines? Abigail Adams’s letters bear testimony to the courage and struggles of American patriots during the nation’s early days. Reading is lovely, but if you don’t have time to read, try listening to this audio adaptation. By listening, I think you might have a little extra spark in your imagination to picture Abigail at her dusk, pen in hand, while the vibrations of bombs shake her study…and so much more!

5. “The American Revelation” (Parts I & II) by John Fornof – Here is another story for your ears. Perhaps many of us are in the same boat with Marvin Washington – ignorant about the contributions of African-Americans to the War for Independence. This compelling, two-part tale from Adventures in Odyssey takes Marvin – and you – on a journey back in time that will leave you with unforgettable knowledge. 

6. Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington – I read Up from Slavery in middle school (I think it was then!) when I did a report on Booker T. Washington. All these years later, I still think it’s an excellent way to learn about the life of an African-American post-Civil War, especially because Booker wrote it himself. 

7. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – America has never been all patriots or political movers. It is also pioneers. Pioneers like the Ingalls family who worked hard, enjoyed simple pleasures and loved well – valuable lessons for today’s Americans. As I’ve mentioned in another post, this series had a profound effect on my life, and I hope it will continue to be read and enjoyed for generations to come. 

Stay tuned for Part 2! Until then, happy reading/listening, and – for all my American friends – may you have a Happy Independence Day! 

 

A Walk in England: Steps Toward Education Reform “For the Children’s Sake”

Elise peered out the window of her Lake District room and smiled. Overcast but dry. No need for wellies today! Spending two weeks of her summer holidays in England’s Lake District was proving to be just as wonderful as she had imagined.

Traipsing out the door sans wellies, Elise decided to explore beyond the garden and gate of her holiday home and headed toward one of the lakes that help the Lake District live up to its name.

Near the water, Elise spotted a few children and, she assumed, their mother sitting and sprawled on a blanket under a tree’s boughs. The children seemed spellbound. Elise decided not to disturb them but walked by close enough to see what was going on. Ah, yes, the mom was reading a book aloud.

Of course, Elise couldn’t help overhearing bits of the story as she stood by the water’s edge. And, of course, she couldn’t help getting curious.

Finally, she meandered over by the relaxing readers. The mom stopped reading as she drew closer. “Excuse me,” Elise said, “but I couldn’t help overhearing and getting curious, so I have to ask, what book are you reading?”

“It’s a ‘living book’!” the little boy in the golfer’s hat exclaimed.

The mom laughed. “No trouble at all. Here it is,” she said. 

Elise took the volume. Not a name she recognized. It looked new though. “Thank you. What’s a ‘living book’?” she asked as she handed the book back to the mom.

“A book that captures our imaginations,” the other little boy said with a grin.

“A book that let’s us get to know the people and places it’s about,” added the little girl.

“That’s the basic idea,” the mom said. “I guess they’ve heard me say that a few times! I got the idea from another book.” She reached into a picnic basket. “This one.”

Elise took the thin book. “For the Children’s Sake?”

“Yes. It’s an overview of an educational philosophy that grew right here in the Lake District.”

“Really? I’ve never heard of it, but I’m curious. Again,” she grinned. “I work with kids.”

“You do?” the little girl asked.

“Yes,” Elise smiled. “I do. A lot, in fact.”

“Oh, you could borrow it if you like. Are you staying nearby?” The mom asked.

“Yes. Just over there.” Elise pointed back the way she had come.

“Lovely! By all means, borrow it. We can call by for it in a week or so.”

“Do you live around here?” Elise asked.

“Oh, no. We’re just spending the summer here. My husband is working on research for one of his projects, and we all needed to get away somewhere quiet. His aunt lives in a big house over that way.”

Elise thought that an aunt who lived in the Lake District with a big house would be something she’d like to have. Out loud she said, “Oh, how nice! Well, thank you very much for loaning me the book….”

After more conversation with the little family and a good long walk, Elise curled up on a chair in her room, a cup of tea and a couple of shortbread cookies beside her. Then she opened the book. Chapter 2 caught her attention: “Children Are Born Persons”. Hmmm. This will be interesting! 

The book Elise reads in the above snippet is For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Within its pages, Susan explores the ideas of English education reformer Charlotte Mason. As teachers and parents in much of the world are making their plans for the upcoming school year, it might do us all some good to look back at this woman’s ideas, including the use (and enjoyment!) of “living books”.  (A few of my favorite “living books” were featured in last week’s post.) If not for ourselves, then for the children’s sake.