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.

“The Consoling Voice of a Friend”: A Snail-Mail Saturday Post Featuring Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox

Have you ever made such a weighty mistake or faced such a heavy disappointment that you needed a friend to share the load?

Nathaniel Greene could relate. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the Patriots felt several defeats during the second half of 1776. One of their losses was Fort Washington. On November 17, 1776, Patriot leader Nathaniel Greene, who was somewhat to blame for the defeat, wrote to his fellow-Patriot Henry Knox,

“I feel mad, vexed, sick, and sorry. Never did I need the consoling voice of a friend more than now. Happy should I be to see you. This is a most terrible event…”[1] 

Sometimes it sure helps to have a friend nearby, doesn’t it? Even just their kind words can make such a difference.

Of course, it’s true that sometimes our friends can’t be right with us when we think we need them or we can’t be right there for them. Since it’s a Snail-Mail Saturday, why not take a few minutes to be the kind of there-when-it-counts friend we’d all like to have and jot a note to a friend who could use some cheering up? In this age of texts, messages, and tweets a snail-mail letter could truly be a sweet surprise! And maybe you could include a reminder of Who is the true Always-There Friend and “God of all comfort” (Psalm 139:7-12, Matthew 28:20, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

1 David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), pg. 192.  You can see and hold a facsimile (like the one in the featured photo) of Nathaniel Greene’s letter in this book.

Teriyaki Hot Chocolate & the Sweetness of Shared Stories

At this time of year, much of the world is thinking about lemonade more than hot chocolate. But I recently attended a graduation celebration and traveled down a dusty, bumpy, laughter-graced memory lane to Guatemala as I chatted with old and new friends. That’s how teriyaki hot chocolate came up.

The incident of the teriyaki hot chocolate could make one wonder why my mother ever let me in the kitchen. In self-defense, I was only eleven or so – old enough to know better, yes, but still…My family was living in Guatemala, and it was around New Year’s Eve. Now you may think that it would never get cold enough on the edge of the jungle even in January for hot chocolate to be desirable. However, when you’re used to temps in the 90s, the 50s with no home heating can feel plenty frigid! A family from the States was visiting us, so their mom, my mom and I were all in the kitchen, making a gigantic pot of hot chocolate from scratch (more or less). 

To make a potentially long story short, when a girl isn’t paying much attention, bottles of vanilla and bottles of teriyaki sauce can easily be interchanged. As you may imagine, the results were less than appealing. Down the drain went the whole pot of hot chocolate.

It was an opportunity to laugh at myself. (I’ve had quite a few of those.) The visiting mom made it easier on me by sharing a kitchen tale or two of her own. (Something about warming socks in the oven…?) Then, when the other kids heard about it, I was comforted by admissions of brownie-baking blunders.

All these years later, we still remember these moments with grins. Chatting at the graduation party, I realized how good it is to talk with people who shared snippets of my Guatemala years and was reminded of the truth I gained from the terrible teriyaki hot chocolate tale: shared stories sweeten life. By being a part of my kitchen catastrophe and then sharing their own stories with me, these friends sweetened up my life. The same thing can happen each day as we take the time to share even a sentence or paragraph of our lives with others and take part in a page of theirs. It’s kind of like a dash of vanilla or a sprinkle of marshmallows in a cup of hot chocolate. 

Maybe you don’t have many people who are sharing your story right now. I’ve had seasons like that, too. Talk about hard and lonely! Here’s the thing:  even if no one else is sharing your story right now, God is. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, however you’re feeling, God is right there with you. Along with His presence, He’s invited us to share in His Story through His Word and through the lives He gives us each day. (Psalm 25:14, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ephesians 2:10, ESV.)