Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Kids' Favorite Books of 2018

For the past several years, I’ve had the kids tell me about their favorite books they’ve read that year. I love getting a glimpse into which books stuck with them, and looking back at their favorites in years past. Hopefully they also serve as some recommendations for parents with similar aged kids. As you'll see, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton were big favorites in this house this year.

This is JJ’s second year participating, and I have to say that I’m really proud of the quality of books he chose. I typed as he told me about his favorites. The girls typed their own lists.

JJ (6 years old, 3 months shy of 7)

Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Daddy read this to me at bedtime. It’s about World War II and about Roald Dahl’s life. The funny part was because he said he didn’t want to go to Egypt, and then finally on Going Solo, he DID go to Egypt! I remember the snake stories, and I’m glad we stopped reading about those. My favorite part was when he got the JU88, which is a plane that can actually explode your airplane, but a regular airplane just makes holes in a JU88.

Those were all questions I didn’t know, and I really enjoyed reading what they are instead of asking you a BILLION questions. (Mama note: I had this book as a kid and LOVED it. It’s all questions and answers about odd things that most people don’t know the answer to, like why cowboy boots have heels. I found an old copy for the kids a while back, and they’ve all enjoyed it as much as I did.)

Peter Pan by JM Barrie
This one Mama just finished reading to me not that long ago. (Mama’s note: Peter Pan is best as a read-aloud so you can edit Tink’s tendency to call people silly donkeys.) It was when Peter flew into the nursery, and Wendy sewed his shadow back on, and they went to Neverland where they never grow up. And then when they got there, there was Captain Hook and it said why Hook had a claw instead of a hand there. It was because Peter Pan cut his hand off and threw it to a crocodile, and a lot of times it would try to come and eat him. I don’t have a favorite part, I just like the whole book.

It was about a library that was very neat, but it also sounded like it looked like it was haunted. They tried looking for the person who had locked some of the doors so they couldn’t get through, and they had to crawl through windows.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s about a boy who is a farmer, named Almanzo. He took a man named Tom’s money back to him when he found it. One time they made a candy when their parents were gone, and Almanzo decided to give some to his little pig, and the next morning her teeth were stuck together. She couldn’t squeal when they were chasing her, and finally Royal got her and got the candy off her teeth, and she went squealing to her pen.

Taylah (just turned 9)

Matilida by Roald Dahl
Matilda is a book about a 5-year-old girl- Matilda- who is very smart.
It is so hilariously funny! I think that everyone would love reading it.
Matilda lives with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and her big brother Michael.
Her parents are very mean. I don’t know how Matilda ever even survived. 
If I was her, I would not care how badly my parents were treating, and I would try to get back at them. I just would hate living like Matilda did.

The Naughtiest Girl #1 by Enid Blyton
The Naughtiest Girl is a book about a very naughty girl. I mean VERY, VERY, VERY naughty!!!!!!!!
Her name is Elizabeth Allen. She is so naughty, that at her school, Whyteleafe School, no one likes her at all!! She didn’t even have one friend! She always gets told on, and there are almost always people complaining about her. I would’t want to be Elizabeth’s friend. She’s so naughty and mean, I’d tell on her too! She loses her temper often and very easily. I would find it hard to teach her. I would get vey mad at her.

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
Mary Poppins is about two children who get a very strict baby-sitter.
VERY, VERY, strict. The children find it quite hard to like her. Her name is Mary Poppins.
When they do grow to like her, the next day she’s gone!!!!!!! Will she ever come back?
I hope so, and can’t wait to read more Mary Poppins books. I wonder how many more there are? I want to get all of them- on my kindle. I wouldn’t want a baby-sitter like Mary.
Just imagine if I did! I’d be miserable. Wouldn’t you be? I know the next book is Mary Poppins Comes Back.

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
The Lemonade War is about 2 siblings who get in a fight and do lemonade stands to
see who earns the most money. I really want to get the rest of these books.
I love, love, love, LOVED this book! But that also might happen to be because I love to read- so does my sister!!!!!! There is barely any room on our book-shelf to put anymore books, we have so many. Every time we go shopping, we just keep on buying more books.

The Worst Thing About My Sister is about 2 sisters who are very different from each other.
One is more girlish, while the other’s a tom-boy. They fight a lot, like most siblings. 
1: The older one, Melissa, never sticks up for her younger sister Martina.
2: Melissa tells on them every time they get in a fight.
3: Melissa stole Martina’s special night with their father, even though everyone knows
that Martina loves to eat popcorn while watching Toy Story 3.
4: She’s always wearing makeup.
I’m more like Melissa, I think. If you have a different opinion, then fine.

Haylee (turning 11 in 2 weeks)

Matilda by Roald Dahl
This book is about a girl named Matilda, who is SUPER smart and talented. I mean, she could talk and knew all words grown ups know when she was 1!! Matilda’s parents think she is useless. When Matilda goes to school her teacher thinks she is amazing! I wish I was as smart as Matilda. Do you? I won’t tell you any more so I won’t spoil anything. Read this book, you’ll never regret it!

This book is AMAZING!!!!!  It is about a girl who everyone thinks is a freak, who finds out she’s a princess! She isn’t very happy about it, especially when she has to have princess lessons with her grandmother. I’ve alredy bought the second of this series. 

The Famous Five 1 by Enid Blyton
This series is great! The books are very adventurous, so if you like adventures read this series! Three children, Julian, Dick, and Anne go to visit their tom-boy cousin at  Kirrin Cottage. Their cousin shows them her island and they find some exiting discoveries. These books are so good I have read the second and third books in this series.    

The Naughtiest Girl #1 by Enid Blyton
This is a hilarious book. Elizabeth Allen is a VERY NAUGHTY girl. When her mother sends her to school she plans to be so naughty Whyteleafe School will kick her out. I enjoyed this book a lot, and so will you!! 

This is my favorite book of all time!!! A boy named Harry finds out by a giant named Hagrid, that he is a wizard and his parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort. He goes to a school for wizards and witches and finds himself in adventures he never thought he’d be in. I read this book with my mom and sister and it took us two years to read the whole series. There are seven books. I’ve reread all the books three times already this year!

If you’d like to see their lists from previous years, you can click on the years to check out their 2017, 2016, and 2015 lists.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Stacy Leigh's 2018 Book List!

40 books!! I can’t tell you how excited I am to actually have a list of 40 books that I read this year! (If Josh's dissertation counts, then 41, because I read and edited that whole 200+ page beast this year, too.) I was a voracious reader as a kid, but as I got older school and life kind of killed my love of reading. I do remember getting absorbed in a great book here and there over the years, but it wasn’t in any way consistent.

Last fall, I attended a Wild + Free homeschool conference (which I HIGHLY recommend to my homeschooling friends), and was challenged there to read classic literature for myself. It’s been amazing. I mean, of course they're going to be good--classics are classics for a reason, right? (One BIG exception being my least favorite book of the year, which I discuss below.) My reading picked up even more when we moved to Malawi in July, because here we have limited internet and a house helper who does all of my cleaning (so I actually have some down time).

Moving to Africa this year, I also wanted to intentionally read more African and African-American literature. Homegoing, The Woman Next Door, Swing, A Mighty Long Way, and Born a Crime all fit into this category. King Leopold’s Ghost, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, and Fear on Every Side, although not written by black authors, also deal with the history of Africans and African-Americans. I’m eager to continue learning more about this great continent where I am a guest, and the people from here, in 2019.

Josh and I have for several years read at night to the kids before bed. We take turns reading to the boys and girls every other night, so we both always have a different book going with each room. We’ve been intentional about reading mostly classic children’s literature to them, and it has been fun for me to experience these books with them, especially since I didn’t read most of them as a kid myself.

I’ve read the suggestion several times that one should always have at least 3 books that you are reading at the same time, but that just doesn’t work well for me… at least not in the conventional sense of having 3+ physical books stacked up on my nightstand or end table. 

I have, however, realized that I generally do have 5 books going at the same time, but they are all in different ways. I always have an Audible audiobook that I listen to as I drive, fold laundry, or do other things where my hands are occupied but my mind is less so. I was generously given a gently used Kindle just before we moved here, and I like to always have a book going on it, generally out in the living room. I keep a physical book by the bed for reading in the evenings, and, as I said earlier, I always have a book that I’m reading with the boys and one with the girls. I hope that helps someone who may be struggling with how to read multiple books at a time.

I debated for a long time how to share the books I’ve read this year. Should I just do a top 5? Should I say something about each of them? Should I categorize them by genre, in order of how much I liked them, or some other way? I decided I would share a bit about my top 5, and then give a list of books categorized by how I read them. I hope you enjoy.

#1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Hands-down my favorite book of the year. If you’ve never read it, it isn’t anything like you expect. It was a gripping warning about taking science too far in our own arrogance, which is perhaps even more applicable today than ever.

#2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I listened to this one on Audible, and could NOT stop. It was incredible. I’ve heard that the way the characters’ accents are written can make reading it difficult, but listening to it was fantastic.

#3. Are My Kids on Track by Sissy Goff
It is impossible for me to exaggerate how helpful this book was for parenting. It walks parents through the emotional, social, and spiritual milestones that all kids need to reach in order to be healthy, well-functioning adults, and how to help them reach them. This is a book I will turn to again and again as the kids grow, and one I highly recommend having a physical copy of for easy reference.

I picked this up on a whim at the gift shop of Little Rock Central High School when we stopped there this summer, and I am so glad I did. I think many of us who grew up in predominately white communities have a lot of gaps in our education and understanding of the civil rights movement. I had never heard of what happened at Little Rock Central High School, but I’m so thankful that Josh insisted we stop when passing through Little Rock. The book is not only educational and eye-opening, but it is well-written and hard to put down.

Come on, it’s Harry Potter. The girls and I spent 2 years reading through the whole series at bedtime, and loved every minute of it. We really, really struggled to pick a new book when we finished this, and halfway considered just starting the series over from the beginning again.

And here are a few I didn’t care for:

#3. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’m sorry to all of the LIW fans, but I read this book to the boys and could hardly stand it (although JJ seemed to enjoy it, so it was worth it). The lengthy descriptions of how things were done or made dragged on forever and were so boring. We persevered with the series into Farmer Boy, and thankfully it was much more enjoyable.

#2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a WWII story that has a lot of interesting elements, but it was just sloooowww. It doesn’t help that I accidentally had my Audible set to half speed for the first half of the book. Even so, the plot moved slowly and resolved unsatisfactorily.

#1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I blame Josh for this one. He said he read it in high school, but didn’t remember much about it except that a plane full of boys crashes on a deserted island and they have adventures. I knew it was a classic, and thought it sounded like a fun read with the girls. I have never hated a book so much in my life, and probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t been reading it aloud to the girls. I get that it was an illustration of the darkness of human nature, but it was horrifying to read. And it bothered me that it never told where the boys were originally coming from or going to or how it was possible that ALL the adults were killed in the crash but none of the kids.

Here’s the whole list:

(I specify the reader on these because sometimes there are multiple versions, and the reader can really make or break a book.)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, read by Anne Hathaway
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, read by Simon Prebble
Give Them Grace by Elise Fitzpatrick, read by Tavia Gilbert
Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford, read by Jaimee Draper
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, read by Dominic Hoffman
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, read by Zach Appelman
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, read by Geoffrey Howard
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, read by the author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, read by Mary Sarah
Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland, read by the author

(A great resource for finding good deals on kindle books is's daily deals emails. You tell it which literary categories you are interested in, and it only sends you suggestions from your categories.)
The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
Swing by Alexander Kwame

Physical Book
Fear on Every Side by Jonathan Newell (bought here in Malawi and isn't on Amazon)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Are My Kids on Track? by Sissy Goff
The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
The Autism Revolution by Martha Herbert

Read to Kids
Peter Pan by JM Barrie
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Long Story Short by Marty Machowski
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The BFG by Roald Dahl

Thursday, October 18, 2018

3 Months in Malawi

Well if you only follow me here and not anywhere else online, surprise! We moved to Malawi in July! You can find out more about why we moved and what we are doing here at

Wow. In some ways I can’t believe we’ve already been here 3 months, and in some ways it feels like we’ve been here so much longer than that.

Our first picture on African soil, taken by Adina Caskey at the Johannesburg airport after traveling for what felt like approximately 5 million hours.

For the first few weeks, I would daily exclaim, “I can’t believe we live in Africa!” It just felt so surreal. But now we are settling nicely into our new home and life, and it no longer feels strange to be living here.

We are in the southern hemisphere here, so when we arrived in July it was COLD, with highs in the 60’s. Don’t roll your eyes at me calling that cold. :) When you don’t have heat or air in your house, lows in the 40’s and highs in the 60’s are really cold! Since then it has been steadily warming up, and now we are in the hottest month of the year, although I’m told that it has been milder and wetter than is typical for October. Most days have had highs in the 80’s, but we’ve have several pleasant days of highs in the 70’s. We are thankful to live in Zomba, where we are at a higher elevation (and thus have cooler temperatures) than most of the country. Josh was in the southernmost part of the country a few weeks ago, and it was highs of 100+ every day. The rainy season will start next month and bring with it slightly cooler temps, which will gradually decline until winter next May, June, and July.

The kids are doing amazing, and have adjusted as well as (if not better than) they did when we merely moved across the same state last year. Some of that I’m sure is helped by some big lessons we learned from that move. Last year I learned that the kids and I handle transitions in ways that don’t work very well together—they want more of me, and I want more alone time and more time investing in new adult friendships. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but I think I’ve balanced each of our needs better this time around, and it has helped us all.

The other big lesson we learned was that new everything + new school = way too much new. This was an issue last year for some of my children more than others, but for all of them to an extent. We’d originally planned on sending them all to a British-run private school here in town this year, but decided instead to homeschool for at least the first year while we hunker down and get our bearings about us. I don’t know how long we will homeschool, or if they will eventually give “real” school a try, but it is working out really well for all of us at this point.

It only took a couple of days for me to acknowledge that there was no way I could homeschool them all by myself. Jude needs extensive, uninterrupted 1-on-1 schooling, and Abe was a grumpy, miserable mess over his big siblings ignoring him for most of the morning. Thankfully, the Lord quickly brought us solutions. Abe started in a local preschool along with our neighbor/co-worker’s daughter, and then we hired Priscilla, a patient and helpful recent graduate of the university here in Zomba. She comes 5 days a week to help Haylee, Taylah, and JJ with their school work so that I can focus on Jude. It took Abe a couple of weeks to warm up to his new school, but he enjoys it now.

The kids have begun to make friends with some Malawian neighbors on our street and some fellow expat (aka people like us who aren't from here) homeschoolers, and Josh and I have started getting to know a few other expats as well. We look forward to deepening all of those relationships as time goes on. We of course all also love living next to Eric and Stephanie, and the time we get to spend with them.

Our main goal for this first year, especially for Josh, is to learn Chichewa. He plans on teaching in Chichewa once he becomes proficient at it. To that end, we spend a few hours every week in Chichewa lessons with our tutor, Alick, who teaches at the university and literally wrote the book on teaching Chichewa to non-native speakers. He comes to our house every Tuesday and Thursday, when he spends 2 hours with Josh and then one hour with the girls and me. JJ was having a hard time in our lessons with Alick, so Priscilla works on it with him 1-on-1 during our lesson. The kids also review daily as part of their schoolwork. They are leaving me in the dust with language learning. I don’t have as much time to practice as they do, and when I do have time I don’t usually have the brain power for it. But I will get there too, pang’ono pang’ono (little by little).

A surprising number of people have asked about Rey. She enjoys life here, especially tearing up the outdoor brooms, flying off the 4ish foot tall terrace as she zooms around the yard, going on hikes with us, and sniffing at her buddy/beau Jerry (Eric and Stephanie’s German shepherd) through the gate. With life so crazy, I’ve been neglecting to brush her regularly, which means I finally had to shave her matted head and ears. She looks super weird, but at least she doesn’t need to be brushed anymore.

There is so much more that I could say, but this is getting rather long, and I think that pretty well covers the basics. Please continue to pray for us as we come to mind!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Updated: Annual St. Patrick's Day Pictures

If you've been following my blog for a very long time, you may remember that I love St. Patrick's Day. I love the color green, I love it when large groups of people wear matching things, and I love the story behind the real St. Patrick. We've been taking a family picture on St. Patrick's Day since Jude was born, and this has become a space for me to chronicle our changing and growing family over the years. 

2009: This was taken at the seminary, one of our first outings after Jude was born. Jude was just over a month old, and I was still in a lot of pain.

2010: In our apartment at the camp in Moldova. Jude made up for not having much green last year by sporting green from head to toe.

2011: Again in our camp apartment in Moldova. We both taught that day, so I actually got fixed up this year. Standing Jude up in the windowsill had become one of the only ways to get him to be still enough for a picture.

2012: We were back in America, and Murray State played in the NCAA tournament on St. Patrick's Day, so we had to find a way to celebrate both at the same time. You can barely see my green t-shirt under my Murray State one.

2013: St. Patrick's Day fell on Sunday this year, so we got a picture after church. We'd been driving down to Mt. Tabor for several weeks for Josh to preach, and they were about to vote on him a couple of weeks after this. Jude was grumpy and clinging to his empty to-go food container because he was hungry.

2014: In Jude's room in the parsonage, our home. The picture quality isn't as good on this one, because we took it with the front camera on my phone, but that's the best way to get Jude to look at the camera. This one just melts my heart. Also, maybe it's time to get Josh a new green sweater.

2015: Finally some new faces in our picture! I have no idea what we were all saying, but it was almost certainly something to get them to all smile. Haylee was in a phase where she thought it was funny to make that face for pictures, she really was happy, I promise! Josh's shirt had little green stripes in it that you can't even see in the picture.

2016: I can't handle how much they have all grown in a year! Sweet little faces.

2017: Another new face! And these kids just keep getting bigger, even though we tell them to stop.

2018: Our fourth and last year on this gray couch, cause we are selling it when we move this summer! I just love these people so much. Also, Abe is wearing the same shirt Jude wore in 2011.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Kids' Favorite Books of 2017

This is the third year that I've had the girls tell me about their five favorite books they've read this year. You can go back and see their lists from 2015 and 2016 if you'd like. I love hearing about the books that have sparked their interests the most, and seeing their personalities come through in their choices and the things they remember about the books. Being in "real school" this year has been different for all of us, and they haven't had nearly as much time to read since August. Thankfully they still enjoy reading on the weekend.

JJ is making his debut on this list this year. He is in kindergarten, and is already quite a good reader for his age. I love to see a love of reading blooming in another of my kids. I hope you enjoy their book reviews in their own words.

Haylee (almost 10 years old)

I So Don’t do Mysteries by Barrie Summy
This book is about a girl whose mom died, and she lives with her brother and dad. She meets her mom as a ghost, and her mom tells her that she needs to do a special task to find out who is killing all the rhinos. She and her best friend find out and solve the mystery. One reason I like it is because it is a mystery, and I love mysteries. The other reason is because it’s a fun book and has many adventures.

Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
This book is about a boy whose dad is a sea god, and he goes to a special camp where he meets some friends named Anna Beth and Grover. While at camp, he learns about his dad and why he’s never seen him. I have two reasons of why it’s my favorite. First, it’s about the Greek gods, and I like the Greek gods. Second, it’s an exciting story!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
I love this book! I love all the Harry Potter books, but this is my favorite. It’s my favorite because he meets his Godfather, who’s in hiding! Another reason it’s my favorite is because it’s very exciting and makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. I won’t spoil it for you.

Animal Inn #2 A Kid’s Best Friend by Virginia Vail
Animal Inn is about a girl whose dad is a vet, and they have an animal family. Everyone in their family loves animals and has a pet. Her dad drives in with a hurt collie dog. He’s really hurt, because he got run over, and they try to figure out who ran him over. I thought I wouldn’t like this book, but I did! One reason I like it is because it’s about a girl who loves animals like me! Another reason I like it is because it has a happy ending!

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
This book is about two swans who have five baby swans. One of the baby swans couldn’t talk. His name was Louis, and his father gets him a trumpet so he can make the noise that all the other swans do. He meets a boy, and the boy is named Sam, and he lives with his dad. Sam and his dad like animals. Louis and Sam become friends. I like this book because it’s very fun! This book has a happy ending.

Those are 5 good books you need to read!

Taylah (newly 8 years old)
Fairy Tales on Stage by Julie Meighan
It’s just about all these different fairy tales, and says the characters’ names, and where the people are going to be on stage. There’s Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Red Hen, and a few others. I like this book because the fairy tales are written as plays! That’s why it’s called Fairy Tales on Stage. My favorite one was The Magic Porridge Pot, because the little girl named Daisy got a magic porridge pot, and whenever you wanted some porridge, you just said, “boil pot! Boil pot!” I liked it because I wish I had a pot like that.

Fairy Eyeglasses by Emily Martha Sorensen
I like this book because it’s about this girl named Cassie whose glasses turn into fairy eyeglasses and she sees fairies.

The Magic School Bus The Wild Whale Watch by Joanna Cole
Ms. Frizzle has her class in her classroom, and they just look at what she’s wearing and they know what field trip they’re going on, because they go on a field trip every day. In all the books, they go on a field trip. Their magic school bus can change into anything, and it changed into a boat. They watched the whales from their boat. Arnold doesn’t like to go on field trips. He’s always scared of the stuff, so he was scared of the whales. It’s funny because Arnold always says funny stuff.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Mama read this book to Haylee and me. In it we found out who the half-blood prince is. I was surprised that it wasn’t Albus Dumbledore. I like all of the Harry Potter books, because they are all really interesting.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (This is an abridged junior version)
Tom Sawyer is this little boy, and he makes a lot of trouble. And one time he snuck into the jam when his aunt was looking right at him. He runs away, and then his aunt makes him paint the fence. Then he asks someone else to do it for him. His aunt was surprised that he was done, but really he asked someone else to do it.

I love reading, and you should too!

JJ (5.5 years old)
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne- Daddy read this book to the boys at bedtime. Winnie the Pooh found a boat to cross the river, because he couldn’t swim, which his UMBRELLA was his boat. Christopher Robin was actually on an island, and helped piglet in the flood. On the cover his feet looks like he doesn’t have toes at all. I liked it because Winnie the Pooh makes up songs.

Pepin the Not Big by Ty Fischer- I read this book at school. My teacher has sticks that all have our names on them, and whose ever stick she picks up, that’s who reads the page. Pepin becomes the top man, which is another word for king. He’s not big, and his son is BIGGER than Pepin the Not Big.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary- I read this book at home. Daddy read it to the boys at bedtime. It's about Keith, and he talks to Ralph, and he’s the one who gave Ralph his motorcycle, and he drove into a pillowcase, and he couldn’t get out. It’s funny that toy motorcycles can’t really ride on their own, and Ralph could make his drive without using his feet.

The BFG by Roald Dahl- I read the BFG here. Mama read it to me. The nice giant steals a human bean, but doesn’t eat her. He takes her on adventures, and Sophie stays in her nightie. The BFG has a black coat that he can hide in the dark. It was funny when they drank the fizzpopper and it made them fart.

Big Red Tub by Julia Jarman - I’ve read this one a bunch of times. Haylee and Taylah and myself have all read it. It is about taking a bath. Well, I don’t know if they really fly in the tub. My favorite part about it was that the kangaroo wants a ride, but the tub goes whooshing by the kangaroo.

Me: What would you say to little boys who don't like to read?
JJ: Are you sure? These are fun books!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My First Stitch Fix

My mom will attest to the fact that I do NOT enjoy shopping for clothes for myself. I get tired, grumpy, overwhelmed, and frustrated very quickly, and almost always end up leaving empty-handed.

I have a pretty solid idea of styles that I don't like, but am bad at finding things that I actually do like. This leads me to always gravitate toward the same things-- solid colored tees and cardigans. But a wardrobe cannot survive on solid colored tees and cardigans alone.

To add to how bad I am at shopping, I have 5 kids, a Ph.D. dissertation-writing husband, and a busy schedule. Even if I wanted to go shopping, when would I??

Out with my mom, who loves shopping. I'm smiling because we were eating instead of shopping.
Also because we were together. :)

My closet is simple and sparse by American standards (I completely acknowledge my first-world perspective here), and as the temperatures have cooled off I've found that I could really use just a few new well-selected pieces to get me through the fall, winter, and spring.

So after a year or more of hearing about Stitch Fix here and there, I finally convinced myself (and, more surprisingly, my husband) that it was worth it to try a couple of times. Even though I chose the lowest price range (yes, price range is an option), I knew it would be more per piece than I'm used to spending on the Old Navy and Target clearance racks, but we both agreed that it was worth it to save me the time and frustration of actually having to GO shopping and try to pick out clothes myself.

If you haven't heard of Stitch Fix, you tell them your sizes and all about what you like and don't like, and a real person picks out 5 pieces of clothing to send to you to try on. If you like it, you keep it. If you don't like it, you send it back. There's a $20 styling fee each time, but it applies toward anything you buy, so it's basically a free service.

I filled out a style profile on their website, created a pinterest board to show my stylist what I did and didn't like, ordered my fix, and waited, feeling equal parts excited and apprehensive about whether or not I would actually like anything they sent.

To my delight, I loved everything she sent!! I think the pinterest board and the comments I made there really helped her get a sense of what I would like, and I could tell from her note that she had really read them.

The first thing I got was a super cute polka dot dress. It was more flattering in person than this picture does justice to. In fact, the first thing Josh said when I came out in it was, "That is INCREDIBLY flattering." Unfortunately I wasn't a huge fan of the sweetheart neckline, so back it went.

Second, I got this great 3/4 sleeve top with a fun floral print on the back. It was definitely a keeper!

This is the front of the same shirt, but I'll use this pic to mention the sweet jeans she sent. They were short enough for me without having to roll them up! They were so soft and looked amazing on me. Or in my husband's words, a little TOO amazing. They fit great in the waist and hips, but were (intentionally) so tight in the butt and legs that they were not quite modest enough for me. So sad. I'm hopeful that my next box will have the perfect pair of jeans in it, because I could really use some.

This sleeveless top was so cute, and flowy. I really loved it, but sent it back because I had to wear a tank under it, and I don't like having to layer in the heat of the summer.

Lastly was this soft, beautiful, jewel-toned cardigan that paired perfectly with every single other piece she sent. I absolutely would have kept it if the sleeves hadn't been too long for my midget arms.

So even though I only wound up keeping one piece from my first fix, I am just delighted with it overall because I feel like she really got me. And I didn't even have to leave my house! And when you send things back, you can go online and make notes about why they didn't work for you, so your stylist learns more about your preferences the longer you continue to get fixes.

I hesitated to share this, and have sat on the idea of posting it for a few weeks, but ultimately decided to share it because I've mentioned it to a few friends who also loved the idea of a personal stylist and not having to leave home to shop. 

If you'd like to try Stitch Fix, you can waive the styling fee on your first fix (so if you don't like anything, you can send it all back and not be out anything) by clicking on these green words right here. If you do choose to try it and use my link, I get a little bit of a referral credit, and you can think of it as an easy way of supporting one of your favorite missionaries. :) 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

An Autism Service Dog for Jude: FAQs

After much deliberation and research, Josh and I made the decision to get Jude a service dog. We were completely blown away by all of the positive reactions when we introduced her on Facebook and Instagram! Y'all are the BEST and have always been such amazing cheerleaders for Jude.

I imagine that many people will have questions about it, so I decided to write up an FAQ to help answer those questions.

Why a service dog? What will it do for him?
We started looking into a service dog several months ago after Jude climbed out of the girls' bedroom window and took off running down the road. This wasn't the first time he had run off, and each time he was found by people who were driving by and knew him. But what would happen if he got out one time and nobody found him? The news is full these days of stories about autistic kids who run off and are later found dead, and we don't want Jude to end up as one of those stories. The news clip below shows how autism service dogs can be trained to find and protect their kids:

She will also be trained to at least alert us if he slips out unnoticed (which is less likely now that our house is even more securely locked down, but always possible), if not possibly try to stop him from escaping in the first place.

Along with these tasks, once the dog is fully grown and trained, we plan to tether Jude to her when we go places as an extra guard against him running off in public. Going in public with Jude is a constant wrestling match and he requires us to have our hands on him at all times to make sure he doesn't run off. Even then, he occasionally slips free and has to be chased down. If he is tethered to a service dog using a hands-free leash/belt like runners use, then all she has to do is sit or lie down and he is restrained. In case you're having a hard time visualizing how the tethering works without seeming cruel to either the dog or child, here is a short clip of a girl tethered to her dog while walking in a store. I also found this great video of a dad explaining what their autism service dog does for their daughter, who sounds a lot like Jude.

We've already been practicing this with Molly on hikes and walk, and Jude LOVES it. He is so much more calm and focused when tethered to her. In case you're wondering, Molly is pretty much the best pet ever but she has several limitations (namely her advanced age, an arthritic hip, and her fear-aggression toward other large dogs) that preclude her from service work.

We understand a dog's limitations, and we know she won't be the next Nana from Peter Pan, but she will provide an extra safeguard against him running away both at home and in public. These will be her primary tasks. Autism service dogs can also be trained to cuddle on command to help mitigate meltdowns, and to alert to and distract from stims, and we hope these things will help him as well.

In addition to these trained tasks, just the presence of a service dog can be a huge help to kids with autism. They serve as a stable companion, a conversation topic since social interactions are difficult for them, and a signal to others of a hidden disability. I really enjoyed watching this video made by a teen with Asperger's about his experience at school before and after getting a service dog:

What kind of dog did you get?
Golden retrievers and labradors are the most common breeds used as service dogs, but any breed can be a service dog as long as it is trainable and not aggressive, although some breeds are generally more suited for the task than others. Despite their frou-frou stereotype, standard poodles are becoming an increasingly popular service dog breed, as they are very smart and eager to please, form strong bonds with their people, big enough to hold their own, generally friendly and not aggressive, and they don't shed. For all of these reasons, as you've probably already seen if we are friends on Instagram or Facebook, we decided to get him a standard poodle. Her name is Rey, and she has already stolen all of our hearts. We hope she grows up to be as strong and fearless as her Star Wars namesake.

What kind of training does the dog have to go through?
There is no certification board or anything like that for service dogs, but the requirements for a service dog are that they must accompany a person with a diagnosed disability, have top-notch obedience, and be trained to perform at least one task that the disabled person cannot do for himself. Jude's dog will go through a couple of levels of training to be his service dog:

First, she will learn basic obedience at home while working with trainers. She is just graduated from AKC Puppy Kindergarten for socialization and to learn basic obedience. Next, she will be in a Canine Good Citizen class for more advanced obedience. While she is a puppy, we will also work a lot on socialization with people and animals, and take her to as many pet-friendly places as we can to get her used to being in public.

Second, she will do special training to learn disability-specific tasks and to refine her public access skills.

During all of this, we will do search and rescue training both at home and with a group of local search and rescue volunteers.

Why didn't you get a dog through an organization that trains them for you?
There is a growing number of organizations training and placing service dogs, and they are doing great work! I looked into pretty much all of them, and unfortunately their waiting lists are generally about 2-5 years. With Jude's safety at risk, we didn't feel like we could wait that long. Additionally, the price tag for a dog from one of these organizations is significantly higher, and most if not all of it has to be raised in advance.

She's so cute! Can I pet her?
She is, isn't she? As I said above, for the first couple of months we will be taking her with us to a lot of places just to socialize her and get her used to being out in public. During this time, she will need to have positive interactions with as many people and animals as possible, and we hope you will pet her!

However, once she starts wearing a vest and doing serious service dog training or work, we ask that you please refrain from petting her in public. I know it's SO hard! But whenever you see any service dog in public, it's very important that you ignore them because they are working and need to be able focus on their job. That is a hard enough task for a dog even when people aren't actively distracting them by petting them or making kissy noises at them.

That said, even service dogs need time off-duty where they can just be a dog, and if you come visit us at home you are more than welcome to pet her and play with her to your heart's content!

How much will all of this cost?
For the dog plus all of the trainings she will need, it is going to cost us around $7,000 to $10,000 once it is all said and done, the majority of that going toward her disability-specific training.

I can hear you now... "$10,000 for a DOG?!?!" Because that's exactly what I said at first when I started looking at service dogs. But when you don't think about it as a dog, but as an investment in Jude's safety and well-being, then the perspective shifts. What is Jude's life worth? If she saved his life by preventing him from getting lost just one time, wouldn't it all be worth it? We've tried so many other things to keep him safe, and we really feel like this is our last resort.

When we were first considering a service dog for Jude, the money was one of the biggest things that gave us pause. But a very good friend encouraged me to pursue it and told me that there are a lot of people who love Jude and who would likely want to help him in this way. So we have started down this road in faith that the Lord will provide for Jude's needs through people who love him.

We aren't going to make a huge fundraising push for this, because we don't want it to interfere with the money we are already trying to raise for Gospel Life. But if you know and love Jude, would you please consider helping us cover some of these expenses?

You can donate online by clicking here and choosing "Jude's Service Dog" under the "Give to" menu on the right. You can also donate by mail by following these instructions. A donation of any amount would be appreciated beyond words.

Gospel Life Global Missions is a 501(c)3 organization. All gifts are tax deductible. Contributions are solicited with the understanding that Gospel Life Global Missions has complete discretion and control over the use of all donated funds.