Audrey and Don Wood – Great Children’s Literature

When I was little, one of my most favorite things to do was read picture books with Mama. Any time she would sit down with me or us and read books was the highlight of my day. Several of our biggest favorites were written by the world’s most ingenious storytelling couple: Audrey and Don Wood. Their stories and the accompanying illustrations are unsurpassed in the world of picture books.

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Audrey and Don Wood, was a particular favorite. The tale of a fun-loving king who refuses to leave his bathtub will have you in stitches. Each member of his court tries a different approach to entice him out of the water; each fails spectacularly. The story is funny enough by itself, add the outrageous illustrations and this book is just over-the-top hilarious.

Another great classic Wood tale is that of The Big Hungry Bear. And the little mouse and the red ripe strawberry of course. I can still hear Mama’s voice reading those perfect lines. It was ever so exciting and thrilling – the suspense of whether the mouse would be able to safeguard his precious strawberry from the big hungry bear.

A newer addition to the Wood lineup, Ten Little Fish (by Audrey Wood and son Bruce) is not one that Mama read to me. She and I picked it up one day when I was nearly grown at our local thrift store. I think we paid a quarter for it. I intend to read it to my own little ones someday. A rhyming under the sea counting book with an adorable story of family, I am sure this book will someday be as beloved by my children as the rest of the Wood collection.

Although I’ve never met a Wood book I didn’t adore, my special favorite will always be Silly Sally. “Silly Sally went to town, walking backwards upside down.” Silly to the point of zaniness, this is probably the most fun read-aloud book in the history of read-aloud books. A solo book from Audrey Wood, both words and pictures are perfection. At one time, I could recite the entire book from memory.

And there are many more Wood masterpieces that I have not the space to cover here. Some I’ve never even read myself. Someday though, I intend to raise my kids on a complete Audrey and Don Wood (and Bruce Wood too) collection. I hope every kid everywhere is introduced to the spectacular talent of the Wood family and I hope they continue to produce great children’s literature for many years to come.

Falling in Love with Prince Charming

Something new is happening to me. Something I have never experienced before. It is amazing and wonderful and completely terrifying. Millions of people, if not more, have written about this phenomenon before me. I don’t know that I have anything new or particularly insightful to add to their words, but if you will indulge me with a few moments of your time, I have to tell someone. I believe I am falling in love.

Bizarre I know. And completely unexpected by everyone who knows me. I think some expected me to stay single forever. I’m not the type to need someone else to feel complete. Or to crave affection. Not openly at least. Tough as nails and fiercely independent – why would I need romance? That’s where everyone got it wrong. I may be both those things, but I still have a woman’s heart. Soft, tender, yearning to love and be loved in return.

Mama knew me. She knew that under my rough exterior was a princess searching for my prince charming. I am so grateful that she lived long enough to see me begin this process. Am I in love? Not yet. This is unfamiliar terrain; I am going slow. Will I fall in love? Maybe. I believe I could fall in love with this guy. But even if I do, does it mean he is my prince charming? Perhaps, perhaps not. He certainly is a prince charming.

I am lucky to have such a great guy for my possibly first, maybe last, love. He is everything I could have asked for in a boyfriend. Sweet and fun and intelligent and sexy and so much more. He treats me as his equal and as though I am special, as if I mean the world to him. He makes me feel like his Cinderella and if he isn’t careful, he is going to make me fall completely, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with him.falling in love

5 Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Children

“A home without books is a body without soul.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

“I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jackie Kennedy

Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can ever do for them. Love them, discipline them, and read good books to them – and they won’t break your hearts when they get older. Read to them from the time they’re born until they leave the house. Read before bed, after lunch, in the morning, any chance you get. Read with expression and enthusiasm, not like it’s a drag. There are many good reasons to read aloud to your children, but in my experience, these are the top 5.

Reading aloud to your children . . .

. . . encourages brain development, especially for toddlers.

. . . enhances vocabulary and communication skills.

. . . teaches valuable life lessons without the pain that sometimes comes with personal experience.

. . . instills a lifelong love of books.

. . . allows for beautiful moments of parent-child bonding and provides sweet memories down the road.

Some of my sweetest memories are of listening to my mama read books to my brothers and sisters and me when we were kids. No matter how often she did, it was always a treat when she would read stories to us. Even as an adult, I loved listening to her read. She would always do different voices for different characters, especially when reading picture books. My mama and daddy raised a houseful of well-rounded, intelligent kids (despite our best efforts to the contrary), and I firmly believe a big part of that can be attributed to good books. Why not do the same for your children?

For a list of recommended books, click aloud

Memories of Mama

mama loved squirrelsIt’s you I remember every time I see a floral-patterned or plaid jumper. It’s you I remember every time I watch a Roy Rogers movie or listen to him sing. It’s you I remember every time I make a cup of tea. It’s you I remember every time I see a squirrel or woodpecker. It’s you I see, you I feel, you I hear. Everywhere I go, everything I do, you’re always with me. Sometimes you make me laugh, sometimes you make me cry, always you make me miss you. This world is full of memories of you and the too-short time we shared.

I can’t believe it has been a whole year since you had to leave. And though you were gone far too soon, I was so incredibly blessed to have you in my life. There are no words to describe the wonderful gift you gave us all. The gift of your love. It has made me into the person I am today. I only hope I can prove myself worthy of your gift by passing it on to others. No matter how much time passes, you will forever be a shining example of womanhood. An example I can only aspire to emulate. I know I still disappoint you sometimes, but you know that I’m trying.

I know you are watching and I know you miss us as much as we miss you and I know that we will be together again. It’s tough, you know, waiting for that day. Sometimes I feel guilty for enjoying myself, sometimes I can’t truly have fun because thoughts of you are crowding the back of my mind. You cross my mind every time I do something you would scold me for like eating candy or getting angry. I think of you every time I do something that I know you would have enjoyed. Just know that I miss you and I love you and I’m trying to make you proud. I love you so much, Mama.

Christmas Eve Hope

So tomorrow is Christmas. Another year gone. Seems hard to believe. This year has had many “first without Mama” occasions but tomorrow is the biggest. I never had a Christmas morning without her before. Or a Christmas Eve. I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. Was it really only 12 months ago that I gave her the beautiful red coat she never wore? I still can’t look at it without a rush of emotion to blur my vision. Tomorrow I will unwrap presents “From Daddy” only and not from both. This is hard – too hard for me to handle on my own.

At the same time, there is a beauty to this holiday that I never saw before. If it weren’t for Christmas and the birth of a Saviour King, there would be no hope of heaven and no promise of seeing my mother again. Some may argue the validity of December 25th as the birthday of our King, but it makes no difference to me. The actual date is not the point. The point is the promise of salvation that Jesus brought to that stable so many years ago. This is the hope I cling to when the pain is more than I can bear. This is the hope of Christmas Eve.

And the memories of many beautiful Christmases and Christmas Eves spent with my mother make this holiday and season so incredibly special. Memories of stockings hung on the mantel. Of presents so beautifully wrapped and tied with ribbons. Of Christmas Eve hot chocolate and cookies. Of shaking the various packages and trying to guess their contents. Of tumbling out of bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. Of having “snowball” fights with crumpled-up wrapping paper. Of retiring to a quiet corner with one of my new books and my box of animal crackers to while away the afternoon.

So let the theologians wrangle over the petty details of Christmas. I will continue to hold onto the hope of Christmas Eve and the beauty of Christmas Day, keeping both my mother and my Saviour alive in my heart.

Thanksgiving – Food and Family

The holiday season is upon us again. I love this time of year. Thanksgiving and Christmas and the spirit of joy and love that comes with them. It’s beautiful how we all smile a little more, give a little more, and are a little more grateful for the people in our lives. The greatest gift of all is family. We may take them for granted the rest of the year, but right now, if we don’t get caught up in the commercialism of it all, family feels closer than ever.

Like most every other family in America, we ate too much food and watched TV and napped off the turkey. I spent the entire morning in the kitchen. Daddy and I did the cooking. He did the turkey and mashed potatoes, I did the casseroles and gravy and biscuits and pies. I recruited a couple different helpers over the course of the cooking process of course. It was a lot of fun. I guess it’s a good thing I love to cook. As a bonus, I got out of the clean-up. So, win-win.

This Thanksgiving was a tough one for me and my family; I know Christmas will be too. Holidays are always rough after a death. I’d give my right arm to have Mama here with us to celebrate the season. But at the same time, this Thanksgiving was also very special. Her loss made us all that much more grateful that we still have each other and that we’re still together. The thing I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that this past year did not tear our family apart. As it very well could have. We have needed each other more than we ever did before. And we are closer than we have ever been. I know Mama is watching and I know she is happy.

As we move from Thanksgiving towards Christmas, let’s all try to hold on to that feeling of gratitude that Thanksgiving brings. Because if we let it, Christmas will sweep us up in its frenzy of shopping and decorating and hosting parties. And while this is fantastic, it’s not really the point of it all. Let’s not forget about Baby Jesus and how grateful we are that he was born in that stable so many years ago. And let’s remember to show our loved ones how much we care – they may not be here next Christmas.

Books Are Incredible

Books are incredible. Amazing. Magical. A treasure more valuable than the sum of all the precious metals in the whole world. A book is worth its weight in gold. Well, most are. Some are just garbage, good only for kindling. Although I personally would have a hard time doing that to any book. When I was maybe 10 or 12, I started reading Fahrenheit 451. I did not finish. It is supposed to be a fabulous book, but I do not know. I got as far as the first book-burning and had to put it down. It literally made me feel sick. Ironically, the whole point of the book is how important books are. Which is great, and I totally agree, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of books being burned. How anyone could do that is beyond me.

I also have a hard time grasping the notion of getting rid of books. I currently have boxes and boxes of books waiting for the day that I have a place big enough to put them all out on bookshelves. Some think I’m crazy for hanging on to them for so long and through so many moves. Maybe I am. So what? There are certainly worse types of crazy. The other day I awarded myself the herculean task of sorting and repacking and making an inventory of my books. I made the mistake of assuming that it would be easy. Physically, it was. But I was not prepared for the emotional turbulence I encountered. Part of me enjoyed going through all my books. I love all books and most of these are long-time favorites. It was like visiting an old friend.

But it was also very hard at the same time. My Mama was the one who taught me to love reading and a large portion of the books in those boxes were ones she had given me. Some were picture books she read to me when I was little. And I realized all over again that she will never read them to my kids. I will never get even one more book with an inscription in her handwriting. But then on the other hand, I am so incredibly blessed to have both these books from her and all the beautiful memories of being read to and reading together. Nothing can ever take that away.

Someday I hope to raise a houseful of kids. Several years ago, I sketched my ideas for the perfect house. It’s a big, sprawling 2-story with a super-awesome kitchen, a courtyard complete with fountain, balconies on the second story – everything I could ask for in my dream home. But the feature I love most is the library, the biggest room in the whole darn thing. With floor-to-ceiling bookcases on every wall, a desk in the middle of the room, and comfortable seating scattered around. A sanctuary where my kids can discover the same love for books and reading that my Mama gave me. If they have that, then I will consider myself a successful mother. There’s nothing more important than family – but books are a really close second.books

Mama Is – A Mother’s Day Tribute

In French, it’s maman; in Spanish, mamá; in Italian, mamma; in Greek, màna; and in English, mama. The most beautiful word in any language and one of the first every baby learns to say, “mama,” “mom,”and “mommy” mean so much more than just “an informal name for one’s mother.”

Mama is . . .

. . . the one who carries us for 9 months in her body and for a lifetime in her heart.

. . . the one whose love for us is immeasurable, no matter what we say or do.

. . . the one whose love is a shelter from the storms of this sea called life.

. . . the one who kisses away the hurt when we fall and scrape our knee and when we fall and break our heart.

. . . the one who always stands beside us; who laughs when we laugh and cries when we cry.

. . . the one who shows us the meaning of courage, strength, and selflessness.

. . . the one who makes any house – big or small, humble or palatial – into a home.

. . . the one whose work is never done, yet she never complains or shirks.

. . . the one who can both comfort and scold without words.

. . . the one who never gives up hope for or loses faith in a wayward son or daughter.

. . . the one whose prayers follow us wherever we may wander.

. . . the one we should love best and honor most in the whole wide world.


So, on this Mother’s Day, I just want to tell you: Thank you, Mama, more than words can say. I love and miss you.

Mama's Love

10 Songs of Comfort in Grief

My second-to-last act of love for my incomparable Mama was to prepare the music for her funeral service and visiting hours. With input from the rest of the family of course (Daddy in particular), I put together a CD to play in the background during viewing hours. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most beautiful. And although it is difficult even to write this, I do so with the hope that these songs may bring comfort to another who may be in a time of grief and loss.

  • 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman – Opening the playlist on a positive note, this song is about worshipping the Lord for his goodness. Even when our world may be crumbling.
  • Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Chris Tomlin – Mama loved this version of the classic hymn. Incredibly beautiful, it both soothes and comforts.
  • Be Still – Kristene DiMarco – By one of Daddy’s favorite singers, this track reassures that “He who placed the sun, the moon, and stars is here with me.”
  • How You Live (Turn Up The Music) – Point of Grace – Advice on how to live a beautiful life or a tribute to one already lived, this song is perfect.
  • Better Than a Hallelujah – Amy Grant – The idea that God hears a melody in our tears and our brokenness is a great comfort. Like it gives our grief permission to express itself, knowing that we will be okay.
  • Blessings – Laura Storey – Even though we prayed for healing, we can still know that He loves us and sometimes His blessings come through raindrops.
  • In Better Hands – Natalie Grant – Although we miss her dreadfully, we can rejoice knowing that she is in better hands now. And it is “like the sun is shining when the rain is pouring down.”
  • In Christ Alone (Medley) – Phillips, Craig and Dean – A declaration of unshakeable faith, this song defines who my Mama was.
  • In Your Presence O God – Paul Wilbur – One of my earliest memories is of Daddy singing this as a solo in church. It is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. His presence truly is a source of strength in times of grief and sorrow.
  • There Is Nothing Greater Than Grace – Point of Grace – “There is no valley, there is no darkness, there is no sorrow, greater than the grace of Jesus. There is no moment, there is no distance, there is no heartbreak He can’t take you through.”


Bonus Tracks:

  • Even If – Kutless – We almost included this one because of how perfect the lyrics are, but we ended up deciding against it because the musical style didn’t flow with the rest of our selections. I wish we could’ve used it, as this song puts to music everything my Daddy told us on the day Mama died.
  • Be Thou My Vision – 4him – The opening song for the actual service, this was Mama’s all-time favorite hymn. The last verse breaks my heart every time.
  • It Is Well (Radio Mix) – Bethel Music/Kristene DiMarco – The closing of the service. “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. And through it all, through it all, it is well. Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. And it is well with me.”grief like rain

Sandra McCracken Concert

Sandra McCrackenThe only thing that gets me as excited as finding a new favorite author is finding a new favorite artist. And I scored big with this find. Sandra McCracken recently did a concert not far from where I live and a good friend invited me to go with him. I had never heard of her but I am so glad I went. She is absolutely amazing. I could listen to her voice forever and her songs are achingly beautiful. Even had me in tears at one point, partly because the music touched my soul so deeply and partly because I knew that my Mama would’ve loved Sandra. From the moment she stepped on stage, she held me captive, mesmerized by both her voice and her passion.

The Welcome Wagon opened the show. The husband and wife team of Monique and Thomas Aiuto Vito, they were pretty awesome too. Their sound is unique, like nothing I’ve ever heard. And I loved it. Simple yet beautiful melodies with a folksy flair – at times toe-tappin’ fun, at other points quiet and thoughtful. I found their music to be refreshing and sweet.

One thing that I absolutely loved about this concert was the venue – a small Presbyterian church that held maybe 300-400 people. More intimate than an arena or even a bigger church, it was like she had come to sing with old friends. Sandra McCracken obviously loves music, but I got the feeling that she loves her fans just as much. She talked some in between songs and it was so natural and free, like having a conversation with a friend. I didn’t want the concert to end.

She sang a good mix of songs – some from her newest album Psalms, some older ones, and a couple kids’ songs from her Rain for Roots project. Although they all were first-rate, I think the song I loved best was “Thy Mercy, My God.” With words written by John Stocker in 1776 and music supplied by Sandra McCracken herself, “Thy Mercy, My God” is the first track from her 2005 album The Builder and the Architect. Of course “God Makes Everything” (a Rain for Roots tune) was lots of fun; everyone sang along during the chorus. And all the songs from Psalms were home runs: “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” “My Help, My God,” “Send Out Your Light,” “Have Mercy,” “Flourishing” was particularly good. In short, the entire concert was fabulous and I am so happy to add Sandra McCracken to my list of favorite singers.