I’m super proud of how well I did with my November goals, especially since I was out of town for a whole week and threw off my regular “get stuff done” schedule.
Prep Christmas gifts. Yep! We actually got everything prepared in time to deliver gifts in person to most of my family. (More fun and a lot cheaper than shipping them!)
Open my Etsy store. Yes!!!! I’m super excited about this. If you’ve been enjoying my hand lettering ventures, I’d love it if you would check out my store and consider purchasing something as part of your Christmas shopping.
Dye my hair again. Check. I struggled with the color this time and ended up covering up the pink with a darker red, which looks much better.
Experiment with watercolors. Not yet, but my husband has promised to put this on his schedule for this weekend.
Complete the Skillshare challenge. This project turned out to be more than I could handle this month. Oh well.
Three-ish out of five? I’ll take it! Now, for my December goals:
Organize all my bookish statistics for the year.I did this last year and had a lot of fun with it. And since I’ve been working hard this year to diversify my reading, I’m excited to see how well I did.
Post watercolor pieces on my Etsy store. See above for details!
Create space to relax. November was all about getting work projects completed, and December is going to be jam-packed with parties, concerts, and family gatherings, so I want to consciously make time for relaxation. (Maybe even a movie night with my husband or a game night with the roomies.)
Sponsor a businesswoman through Kiva. For many reasons, including my recent readthrough of Half the Sky (review to come soon!), I feel the pull to sponsor a woman starting a business in a poorer country. And since sponsorships start at $25, even I can afford that.
What I’m Into
Books I’m looking forward to reading: I got my hands on Connie Willis’sDoomsday Book for five cents (see my bookstore visit above), and I also found her book of Christmas short stories. If you remember my love for all thingsConnie Willis, you’ll understand why this thrilled me so much.
TV shows Movies I’ve been watching: I just got Love & Friendship, the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, and I can’t wait to watch it!
Music I’m loving: I just found out I can borrow music through my library’s website, so I requested the newest albums from Bruno Mars, Panic at the Disco, and Ariana Grande.
Podcasts I’m listening to: I just added Note to Self, which describes itself as a technology podcast about being human, to my podcast roundup.
My favorite Instagram:
I had so many photos I loved from this month that it was difficult to choose a favorite! I finally chose this one because it showcases my brand new Etsy shop and my brand new hair color.
If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and some of my hand lettering ventures), you can do so here.
If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.
Growing up in a well-to-do family with strict rules and routines can be tough for a ten-year-old girl who only wants to roller skate. But when Lucinda Wyman’s parents go overseas on a trip to Italy and leave her behind in the care of Miss Peters and Miss Nettie in New York City, she suddenly gets all the freedom she wants! Lucinda zips around New York on her roller skates, meeting tons of new friends and having new adventures every day. But Lucinda has no idea what new experiences the city will show her…. Some of which will change her life forever. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is yet another book I read as a child and remember very little about. What I do remember is Lucinda’s freedom in New York City, as she uses her trusty roller skates to explore. My note to myself at the time I read it was that this was a fun story, and I believe it. If only I could remember more about it! (Thus why I started this blog: I’m super forgetful about the books I read unless I write down what I thought about them.)
Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her–“Inshallah,” God willing.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha–but can she dare to hope they’ll come true? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I listened to this audio book because I was hoping to get a glimpse at the life of an average girl in modern-day Afghanistan. I was fascinated by my last look at the Arab world, and I wanted to have another perspective.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t exactly focus on the average Afghani girl. Zulaikha has a cleft palate that causes others to tease or pity her, but when the Americans come to town, they might be able to help. I found Words in the Dust a bit dramatic and overwrought at times, as Zulaikha despairs over her looks and the people around her do nothing to help. I kept wondering how close the events of this novel were to actual Afghani girls’ experiences.
It’s not a bad story, but I think I’ll keep looking for a more subtle look into the experiences of teenage girls in the Middle East.
Each of these books has a place in my heart for a different reason, but mostly I’m thankful for them because they remind me that we are not alone. Even in tumultuous times like these, we can find unity through our books, and I love that.
I’m a sucker for certain kinds of self help–not the sappy kind, but the kind that pairs research with practical tips. These three books, to some degree, all fit that description, and they’ve all been on my recommended list for a while.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo’s book by this point, well… where have you been? This smash hit covers a topic that you wouldn’t think would be that interesting: tidying your house. A lot of people find this book a little “woo woo,” as Marie Kondo claims you should discard any items that don’t “spark joy” and that you should thank your belongings after a day of service. This didn’t bother me at all. I completely understand what the author means when she says your belongings should spark joy, and I found a lot of helpful tips in this book.
If you liked the idea of Year of No Clutter but, like me, couldn’t see yourself in the shoes of a hoarder, this book might be more your speed. I personally can’t wait to try Marie Kondo’s methods!
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
I Know How She Does It
Balancing work and family life is a constant struggle, especially for women with children and ambitious career goals. It’s been the subject of countless books, articles, blog posts and tweets in the last few years, and passions run high in all directions.
Now Laura Vanderkam, the acclaimed time management expert, comes at the “having it all” debate by asking a very practical question. Given that we all have the same 168 hours every week, how do people who do have it all—women with thriving careers and families—use those hours? When you study how such women fit together the pieces of their lives, like tiles in a mosaic, the results are surprising. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I Know How She Does It has lots of interesting and surprising statistics about how people spend their time. The author uses time logs from various women with high-paying jobs and at least one child to show how they form a mosaic of their time, interweaving work, play, and family time, rather than taking each as an immovable chunk. This inspired me to keep a time log myself and look for ways to form a mosaic of my time.
My one regret is that this book is skewed toward upper middle class women. The author suggests that if you want to spend more time with your family, you can hire a housekeeper, or that if you want to spend more time working from home, you could hire a nanny. These choices simply aren’t options for women working lower-paying jobs. While I realize that the purpose of the book was to encourage women to enter high-powered jobs, traditionally held by men, I still found this aspect a bit irritating.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Unlike Marie Kondo’s book, this one was actually a little woo woo for my taste, although I like the meditation ideas offered. The authors give you an eight-week plan for getting into several kinds of meditation, almost a sampler of the various options available. They emphasize the importance of mindfulness in everyday life, even in stressful situations.
While I found their ideas interesting, I didn’t think they were particularly groundbreaking, and in many cases, their views on mindfulness made me feel skeptical.
Every year I update my list of ways you can support women around the world with your Christmas gift purchasing. I’ve used a few of these websites for my Christmas shopping over the years (and as gift requests for myself), and I hope this list will inspire you to do the same!
I have a great passion for people around the world who have been harmed by human trafficking, especially women. Especially in the worldwide chaos that has taken place this year, it is very easy for women in poor or war-torn countries to fall through the cracks and be forced into slave labor.
One of the most important ways we can help prevent human trafficking and provide an escape for those who have already suffered through it is by supporting these women’s new businesses. In this post, I’ve collected some of the websites that (to the best of my knowledge) sell products that are created by women around the world and give the profits back to the women to provide for their families and support the growth of their small businesses. I’m not affiliated in any way with any of these websites; I just want to support these awesome women!
If you’re looking to do some Christmas shopping, start with these websites. I will update this post over the next month with any sales or special offers, in case you’re a deal shopper like me–none of these discounts will cause less money to be given to the women creating the products. I’ve also included some of my favorite organizations that promote justice and healing for victims of human trafficking or protect women’s rights, in case you’d just like to donate.
Buy your Christmas presents here and support women who are making a better life for themselves and their families:
This company specializes in Punjammies, which are super comfortable, beautiful lounge pants. All their clothing is made by women in India who have escaped sex slavery. (I got a pair of these for Christmas last year, and I wear them almost every day when I get home from work. They are so comfortable and cute, and they have pockets!) 25% off all Punjammies and tops through 11/27 with the code Love16.
Preemptive Love Coalition
I absolutely love this company! They sell soaps (one for men, one for women) that are made by refugees who fled from ISIS. This business helps them rebuild their lives and support themselves in a new country.
A blogger that I follow takes these gorgeous photos and turns them into prints, postcards, and notecards. 100% of the profits are donated to The Wellhouse, a ministry that provides support to victims of human trafficking in Alabama.
Made By Survivors This jewelry, now sold under the name Relevée, is made and sold by survivors of human trafficking. These women and children are given counseling, education, and vocational training to help them create a new way of life.
Better Life Bags
Custom or ready-to-purchase bags. These bags are handmade by women in Detroit, mostly first-generation immigrants, who are unable to find jobs elsewhere.
Ten Thousand Villages Jewelry, kitchen items, and home accents. The items are made and sold by artisans in Egypt, India, and many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
This lingerie company employs mostly single mothers or female heads of household in the United States and pays them above-market wages and benefits. The company also employs women in the slums of Colombia and helps them receive the education they need.
This program trains women in five different African nations to sew and manage their finances, and allows them to sell their handicrafts on this website.
Global Goods Partners
Jewelry, accessories, gifts, home items, and toys. These products are handmade by women in South America, Asia, and Africa.
Gorgeous jewelry and accessories, made by at-risk women in Nepal.
These hilarious cards are made by women who escaped sex trafficking in the Philippines and by young adult orphans in Rwanda. I’d love to receive one of these cards for Christmas/birthday/no particular reason, and I bet you know someone who would like them, too.
Beautiful, handmade bags, blankets, and clothing made from upcycled saris. These are made by Indian women who were rescued from the sex trade.
Handbags, wallets, and accessories. Cambodia is a dangerous place for women, and these items are made by Cambodian women who are at risk. The company also donates some of its profits to anti-trafficking organizations.
Stop Traffick Fashion
Most–though not all–of these T-shirts and bracelets are made by survivors of human trafficking around the world. They offer cute and affordable graphic tees and totes.
This residential program helps women in the United States who have been victims of trafficking, prostitution, or addiction. They produce lotions, soaps, candles, lip balm, and other bath and body products. Free shipping on orders over $25.
Women’s Peace Coalition
Jewelry, accessories, and home accents made by female artisans around the world. The Coalition supports women’s business enterprises in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Haiti. 20% off everything through 11/28 with the code FAIRTRADE.
This candle company employs female refugees in North America and Haiti. The hand-poured candles give these women a chance to create a new life in the U.S.
Jewelry, clothing, kitchen, decor, chocolates, and snacks. This retailer’s artisans come from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and even the United States. (I got several of my Christmas gifts last year from this website, and they were beautiful! I was very pleased with the quality and variety of gifts on this site.) Free shipping for orders $75+ on 11/28 with the code FREESHIP16.
Clothing, accessories, jewelry, gifts, and more. Products are made by women, and profits go to help send a girl to school (not a given in many places around the world).
This program helps around 500 Indian women learn to produce women’s clothing and manage their own business. Their items include dresses, skirts, tops, jackets, pants, and more.
If you love subscription boxes (me too!) and want to be continually informed about amazing companies that are run by or support women in need around the world, this is for you. (One of these days, I’ll get one myself!) 15% off + a mystery piece of jewelry through 11/28 with the code blackfriday16.
If you absolutely must do some shopping through Amazon (I get it), don’t forget to shop through Amazon Smile. They will donate a small percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice.
If you just want to donate:
International Justice Mission
IJM is an organization that I support as often as I can. IJM employs lawyers, case workers, counselors, after care workers, and other professionals in countries around the world in order to fight human trafficking, forced labor, denied citizenship for certain people groups, and many other types of injustice. They work hard to rescue those who are enslaved, and they also work to bring the perpetrators to justice. (P.S. I’m participating in Dressember this year, which helps support IJM. If you want to sponsor me, you can do so here.)
Invisible Girl Project
Millions of girls in India and China are never given a chance to live because of the prevalence of gendercide and infanticide, and many more are trafficked because of the dearth of females in these cultures. Give girls a chance by donating here.
UNHCR I’ve been following the refugee crisis in Syria with concern for over a year now, and I’m always looking for a way to help. UNHCR works to help refugees restart their lives, providing food, water, shelter, and education to those who need it. You can help too by donating here.
I hope this list inspires you to support women who are daring to make something good out of their lives! Do you have any other ways that you fight human trafficking or support women around the world?
I’ve been working my way through several more Newbery books, both new and old, this month. Surprisingly, all of them were enjoyable, and a couple were very good!
Splendors and Glooms
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is just fun children’s fiction. It’s a dark story with lots of magic. The kids are likable characters, and the inner thoughts of each of the three (pampered but overprotected Clara, hardworking Lizzie Rose, and frightened, angry Parsefall) are interesting to follow.
If you or your kids are looking for a magical story with a bit of an edge, you couldn’t do much better than Splendors and Glooms.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Inside Out & Back Again
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Inside Out & Back Again is a novel told in free verse poetry. It depicts the author’s fictionalized experiences of moving to Alabama after the Vietnam War, and it is by turns heartwarming and saddening. The first segment of the book describes Hà’s life in Vietnam with all the foods and traditions that she loves. But after the Vietnam War forces Hà and her family to move to the United States, Hà finds herself struggling to learn a new language, eat new foods, and meet people who aren’t excited to see a different face.
This is a book that not only teaches about a certain era of our world’s recent history, but also has important applications in our world today. In a time of worldwide upheaval with millions of refugees fleeing their home countries, Inside Out & Back Again can offer middle grade kids a new perspective on the struggles and joys that many immigrants face.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
In the tradition of Hamilton’s The People Could Fly and In the Beginning, a dramatic new collection of 25 compelling tales from the female African American storytelling tradition. Each story focuses on the role of women–both real and fantastic–and their particular strengths, joys and sorrows. Full-color illustrations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is probably my favorite book in this whole roundup, and it’s not even a Newbery book (Virginia Hamilton is a multiple-time Newbery author, but this book is not one of those Newbery books). Her Stories is a book of lovely stories and illustrations. It includes African, African-American, and Creole folk tales and fairy tales, along with a few nonfiction bios, all focused on female protagonists. And I love the fact that each of the tales includes helpful explanatory notes which describe the origins of the story and how it ties into that culture’s storytelling tradition.
If you want to add diversity to your child’s bookshelf, you could hardly do better than this collection of stories about African and African American women. The stories themselves are wonderful, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the short story format makes it easy to read one or two with your child before bed. I can’t recommend this not-quite-Newbery book enough.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
A fictional history of railroading, as told by the first steam engine. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Little Blacknose is a short story for young children about the first steam engine in the United States. The little engine makes its journeys to Schenectady and gradually meets many other engines throughout his career.
Reading this as an adult was not super enjoyable; it’s just too simple and even silly. If your young child is really into trains, though, this might make a good read-aloud book (just be sure to skip the few racist bits).
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I’m not a big fan of poetry (another recent Newbery book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is a notable exception), but this book was good. Josh and his twin brother JB deal with basketball, girls, tragedy, and growing up through Josh’s rhymes.
Crossover is a fun book with some surprisingly dark themes. Definitely recommended for middle grade readers.
I’m continuing my journey of reading all the classics I never got around to in today’s post. These two books are very different from each other, and while I understood why they’re considered modern classics, I didn’t particularly enjoy either one.
Lord of the Flies
When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality – and brutal savagery – of their situation sets in.
The boys’ struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries invites readers to evaluate the concepts involved in social and political constructs and moral frameworks. Ideas of community, leadership, and the rule of law are called into question as the reader has to consider who has a right to power, why, and what the consequences of the acquisition of power may be. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking, well written book, if a bit racist and sexist. I absolutely understand why they teach it in high schools–it introduces some controversial ideas about social contracts and the behavior of humans, but it’s not overly complex. Really, that’s the main reason I disliked this book. I found the behavior of the boys on the island pretty unrealistic and over the top. I get that kids are mean, and any humans are more likely to resort to violence when they are afraid and outside their normal social structures, but I don’t think things would have gone so far downhill so fast.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Little Prince
Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is one of those books that makes me feel like I missed the “point.” What is this “moral allegory” you speak of, Goodreads? Still, it’s a sweet story about a little boy who travels the universe and discovers a great many adults acting in ways that make no sense to his innocent mind. Plus, there are great illustrations.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.
Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.
It’s time for another round of quick reviews of my long-ago Newbery reads! Today’s post is all about the 1936 Newbery books.
Medal Winner: Caddie Woodlawn
Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew and plow than bake, and tries to beat her brother’s dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors — neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all.
Caddie is brave, and her story is special because it’s based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is yet another historical fiction book I read while in elementary school. Although I remember enjoying it, I remember almost nothing about the plot. Caddie is a fun character, though, and reading the plot summary has made me want to re-read the book and see how it holds up.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Good Master
As you may remember from my review of The Singing Tree, I really like Kate Seredy’s books. This one (a prequel to The Singing Tree) still has a lot of interesting Hungarian history, but it’s a lot more cheerful, and the kids are much younger and more mischievous. Kate is sent to the Nagy farm by her father, who is at his wits’ end. Kate is selfish, spoiled, and temperamental, but her cousin Jancsi, her aunt and uncle, and life on the farm soon straighten her out. Definitely worth a read, especially if you follow it up with the sequel.