Don’t Quit Now!

Are you discouraged about the changes you hoped to make in the new year? Are you disappointed that you haven’t been more consistent, that you’re only seeing minimal results? That mammoth efforts have resulted in snail pace advances?

Yeah, me too.

As a bookseller, I learned that diet books sell well in January.  On TV weight loss programs and gym memberships are promoted heavily this time of year. 

Our culture is predictable about wanting to lose weight and get in shape after a season of celebrating and indulgence.  

The problem is human behavior doesn’t change that easily. 

It takes 66 repetitions to form a new habit.  

So, in January, human nature is fighting against the habits and repetitions of the previous three or four months. 

Breaking out of that inertia is tough. 

Establishing new habits is tough. 

I think we forget we’re up against a double whammy.  Breaking the old habits and establishing the new.  No wonder it’s so hard. 

Then there’s the problem of goals.  Maybe we need a paradigm shift there, too. 

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits says,“If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”

“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”

“Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.”

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.”

“I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

It’s the eternal optimist in me that thinks I can radically change my life, forgetting about that gravitational pull that makes it so difficult for the rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere.  The same gravitational pull that keeps me in the warm bed instead of braving the cold to exercise.  

Trying to establish new systems in January might be a fatal flaw.

The way to get around it is to anticipate the problems ahead of time, or at least acknowledge that you are going to have them. 

Accept your imperfect efforts. 

Make adjustments. 

Keep going. 

Reward yourself for efforts, not results. 

Look for intrinsic benefits.

Stick to the plan, even when you’re not seeing the results you want to see.  If you have a good plan, believe the process. 

The problem is obstacles, false starts and setbacks. 

Don’t worry about results.  Maybe you shouldn’t even measure results.  Just worry about efforts.  Be faithful to your efforts and the results will take care of themselves. 

So, if you’re feeling discouraged, don’t look at the numbers.  Don’t measure the results.  Measure the efforts.  Stay consistent with the efforts and the results will take care of themselves. 

Remind yourself: I have put in the time.  I have put in the effort.  I will trust the process for results. 

How to Build Better Teams: 6 Must-Read Books

It starts with group projects in school, then it moves to team sports and finally corporate life: the critical skill of building great teams.

I picked five star books for this list — all books that I loved.

Some of them won’t show up on typical teamwork book lists. Some are stories of great teams in action, or in one case, Into Thin Air, a breakdown of leadership and teamwork and the fatal results.

I’m fascinated by team dynamics and love to learn the principles that make teams work.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that at no extra cost to you, a percentage of your purchase goes to support this site.)

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

The Culture Code is similar to Good to Great because it analyzes high performing teams to see what the similar elements are. 

It doesn’t take a statistical approach like Good to Great, but from the viewpoint of an investigative journalist instead. 

Daniel Coyle studied great teams with extraordinary results like Pixar, Google and the San Antonio Spurs. He found that huge budgets and big organizations aren’t the key to success.

Instead, Coyle identifies safety and vulnerability as the critical elements for high performing teams. It’s also important to have freedom to try new things without asking for permission and for every member of the team to have equal say, not just team leaders.

Fearless by Eric Blehm

Navy SEALS are often lauded for superior teamwork. What makes them so effective?

Fearless tells the story of one SEAL from the elite Team Six, Adam Brown.

His journey to becoming a highly decorated SEAL is certainly not conventional. This traces the story from before he began rigorous training to become a SEAL, through the time when he was involved in perilous missions up until his ultimate sacrifice.

Of special note on the subject of teamwork is the way Navy SEALs operate, a process that Daniel Coyle highlights in his book and plays out in Adam Brown’s team.

Turn the Ship Around! by David Marquet

David Marquet tells the engaging story of his own command on a naval submarine. He explains why he chose the leadership style he did and what effect it had– on the intangibles as well as the metrics. He built on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to define his leadership style. Using your team’s strengths as well as their free will and initiative was key.

Retention of personnel was a metric that turned around drastically. Morale is harder to measure, but it, too, was greatly impacted.

Empowerment not only made a huge difference in the way the men saw themselves, but impacted the safety and effectiveness of the whole ship.

“Most empowerment programs fail because they are just that, “programs” or “initiatives” rather than the central principle–the genetic code”, according to Marquet. “We say ‘empowerment’ but do it in a way that is disempowering.”

Top down leadership is so prevalent, so easy to execute initially and so deadly to effective teamwork and outcomes.

“What happens in a top-down culture when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes over the cliff.”

“I intend to” became the watchword on the ship, in place of top down dictatorial commands given out by an all-powerful leader. Leadership style matters.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

In the 1936 Berlin Olympics a U.S. college rowing team competed for the gold. Joe Rantz, an almost accidental member of the team, is an unlikely hero, but you can’t help but root for him.

Tracing the background of some others on the champion rowing team puts you in the boat with the rowers and has you cheering with the crowds on the shore.

I love the real life lessons of leadership and teamwork, and wonder how to transfer these lessons to other teams.

The up close and behind the scenes glimpses of history are instructive and sobering.  So much to glean from this book.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Endurance is a good study in leadership and teamwork. It’s an amazing triumph over the elements, even though the primary mission wasn’t accomplished. The incredible feat was bringing back everyone home alive.

The decisions that had to be made; the feats of survival; the human interaction; the challenges that they faced. These are the elements of the story that draw you in and keep you turning pages.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

In 1996, eight mountain climbers lost their lives while attempting to summit Everest.  Jon Krakauer is a journalist and climber who survived and wrote about it.

To me, one of the most interesting dynamics is the role of leadership and teamwork in summiting as well as personal, individual responsibility.

One of the critical factors in the deaths of those on the mountain in 1996 was the enforcement of the turn around time.

Hall, the team leader, had been so strict about that for other teams, but with this one, he wasn’t.  He didn’t communicate clearly whether the turn around time was one o clock or two clock.  On the actual summit day, people were summiting at 4 and 5 o clock.

No one seemed to know that there was a storm blowing in.

There’s a lot of competing forces at play:  people who spent a lot of money to summit, the commercialization of summiting, magazines that would pay a lot for the story, advertisers looking for heroes.

There’s also different teams that were summiting and the different philosophies of the team leaders.

Should a leader be making decisions that are unquestioned?  Does that actually put his team at greater risk because they don’t follow their own wisdom?  Actually, the genius of Hall’s leadership was to make the decisions ahead of time, not in the heat of the moment.  And the actual breakdown came in not following through with those wise decisions.

The safety net wasn’t there when it needed to be.

The bottom line is, it’s impossible to erase all risk.  That’s one factor that makes the challenge of climbing Everest so attractive:  there is an element of risk involved.  Defying death is part of the victory.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Have you ever wondered why some teams can accomplish incredible feats and others can’t accomplish anything?  What if there were a way to diagnose the problems and solve them?  Now there is.

Five Dysfunctions is a leadership fable.  It is a page-turning quick read fiction, for the very reason a good movie is:  it’s full of conflict.

“The characters in this book ring true, are completely recognizable, and fully-realized. The book itself is well-written, and, I believe, ranks with the best of the genre.” –Jack Covert, co-author with Todd Sattersten of 100 Best Business Books of All Time

Five Dysfunctions identifies the major obstacles that keep a group from functioning as a team.  There are repeatable patterns that keep a team from reaching it’s goals.  By identifying these patterns and working to change them, the team can move forward and accomplish it’s goals.

What are the Five Dysfunctions?

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results.

Lencioni is spot on in his analysis and his resolution.  This book is life-changing.

What great books have you read about teamwork? Let me know in comments.

P.S. Did you miss these book lists?

David Platt’s Something Needs to Change tops the list of 5 Books About Humanity’s Greatest Rescue.

And some of my all-time favorite books are part of 8 Stand Out Novels To Rekindle Your Love for Reading.

5 Books About Humanity’s Greatest Rescue

It’s easy to get callused by the needs of the world. We are overwhelmed by need and we become immune.

That’s why a deep dive into a book beats an internet post or news article.

These five books highlight the need, in full color, but they also shine a light on the answer to humanity’s greatest need.

They explore the divine economy, which doesn’t work like ours. It often doesn’t feel fair. It often feels upside down.

These books will rock your world and grip your heart and challenge your assumptions. Let them.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, a percentage of your purchase will support this site.

Something Needs to Change

by David Platt

After listening to Annie F Down’s interview with David Platt on her podcast about his book I knew I needed to read it.

Platt traced his one week trek through the Himalayas and the impact it had on him to see such a dark place first hand.

He recorded in his journal the people he met, the scripture he read on the trip and his thoughts and emotions in response.

He witnessed human trafficking, extreme persecution of believers, children in isolated mountain villages without the most basic education and scores of people who had no knowledge of Jesus.

Platt was overwhelmed by a first hand experience with a dark corner of the world in desperate need, spiritually as well as physically. He eloquently invites believers into his pain as the first step to impacting the world.

The Insanity of God

by Nik Ripken with Gregg Lewis

Nik and Ruth Ripken (not their real names) left Kentucky and moved with their family to Somlia to serve God.  They encountered a shocking world of spiritual warfare and the persecution of Christians.  

Nik Ripken pulls back the curtain to this world. 

Believers who are imprisoned and tortured and martyred for their faith.  Those who sing to Jesus and can’t resist sharing him with others, no matter the price. 

Human life is not valued.  Women and children are not valued.  Freedoms and dignity are not valued.  All stemming from a world view so foreign it is difficult even to conceive. 

They have since interviewed 600 believers in 60 countries to give voice to their stories. 

These are their stories and Nik Ripken and Gregg Lewis share them so well. 

The Heavenly Man

by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway

Brother Yun’s story highlights the incredible religious persecution of Christians in China.

The verses of scripture they cling to are not the same ones that are familiar to us because they live a different reality.

It’s good to have that world opened up to us and to spend some time thinking about it.

Christians throughout history have been imprisoned and tortured and persecuted and martyred for their faith. The fact that it’s still happening today often doesn’t impact us.

Bruchko

by Bruce Olson

Nineteen year old Bruce Olson left the United States to bring the gospel to a stone age tribe of Indians in Columbia.

He learned their language and fully integrated into their culture. The contrast between their way of life and his upbringing in Minnesota is stark.

He paints such a vivid picture you can almost feel the creepy crawlies. At great personal sacrifice, he accomplished his mission.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

by Nabeel Qureshi

This is the raw, treacherous journey that Nabeel Qureshi took to find faith in Jesus including the sacrifices he made, the intellectual, emotional and relational barriers that kept him from finding faith in Jesus and the story of overcoming those barriers.

Why do we need to know Nabeel’s story?

There are millions of devout Muslims on the planet. If we understand his story, we come closer to understanding them.

To understand the Muslim mindset opens the door to greater compassion, to a better chance of building bridges to individuals who are seeking.

Statistics are one thing.

One person’s story is something else altogether. What difference can one person’s story make?

We are faced with the same choices as Nabeel Qureshi.  Are we going to accept what we were taught growing up? Or are we going to search for something else?

These are the questions that individuals from every devout family faces. These are the issues that we wrestle with. These are the answers that we must find. This is the peace that we must come to.

Irregardless of the belief system we choose, the struggle is universal. It’s the dragon we all must fight.

Which books would you recommend for this list?

P.S. Did you miss these posts?

One Book a Month for Baby’s First Year

My Favorite Books About the Writer’s Life

Are you knee deep or neck deep in culture (and why does it matter?)

When we first moved to Mexico, our toddler son was social and verbal— in English.  One Sunday morning when he was close to two we visited a church in our city.  

Will was put in a Sunday School class of kids his age.  I hung around to make sure he was okay.  

I saw my blond-haired, blue eyed Anglo son surrounded by dark skinned, dark haired, dark eyed kids.  As I watched, the whole group drifted away from Will, till he was sitting and playing alone.

This was a social kid.  This was a verbal kid.  But he was out of the circle. 

I would have been heart-broken for him, but he was completely unfazed and oblivious to the drifting away, which was in no way malicious.   

The cold hard fact was that he didn’t fit in. He didn’t know Spanish yet.  He didn’t know the games yet.  He didn’t know the social rules and norms.   

As the years passed and he learned Spanish, he earned a place in the middle of the crowd, regardless of his appearance.  

Most global nomads can relate to the experience of not fitting in to a group. 

Living as a foreigner in another country, it’s almost expected that you won’t fit in. But when it happens in your passport country, sometimes you can be blindsided.   

When we live in foreigners in another culture, on many levels, we live on the fringes of that culture. 

When we were in Mexico, we operated somewhat outside of the Mexican economic system, because we received foreign funds. 

We operated outside of the educational system, because our kids went to a school for ex-pats. 

We operated outside of the political system, because we couldn’t vote or get involved in politics. 

As evangelicals, we operated outside of the prevailing religious system in country full of not just Catholics, but Guadalupanos. The adoration of the Virgin of Guadalupe permeated the culture. 

Even though we lived largely outside those systems, they still influenced our lives.  

We celebrated Mexican Independence Day with friends and neighbors.  

Fluctuations of the exchange rate affected our buying power. 

We kept our kids home from the Mexican pre-school on the Day of the Dead. 

Political demonstrations that blocked streets kept us from going where we wanted to go.  

In our home, we created our own culture that reflected not only what we were surrounded with, but the values, attitudes and beliefs we brought with us. 

At church, we also influenced the creation of culture in our role as leaders. 

In returning to our passport country we have integrated back into culture in some aspects.

In other ways we haven’t. 

We can vote. 

Our income is solely in dollars that are generated locally. 

But, we send our kids to Christian schools. 

We speak Spanish at church.  

As evangelicals, we watch the predominate culture become more secularlized. 

In our home, we create our own culture that reflects not only what we are surrounded with, but the values, attitudes and beliefs that we internalized while living in Mexico. 

At church, we influence the creation of culture in our role as leaders.  

A hermit chooses to essentially live outside of culture. 

A family on a self-contained farm can also be that way, or they can choose to engage the culture.  

Subcultures also exist.  A church can form a community that is counter cultural.  

The Amish live in a subculture that is on the fringe of mainstream culture.

Foreigners living in another country find a natural affinity to other foreigners and can form a community of ex-pats that create a subculture. 

A military base that includes houses, offices, schools and shops would be an example.  Or a missionary compound.  

Or a group of foreigners who establish a school for their children based on their home country’s norms.  

Our God-given drive for belonging, community and connection is affected by the culture that we live in and the subcultures that we choose to associate with. 

Why does is matter if we’re fully immersed in culture or just dipping our toes in? 

For a couple of reasons. 

First of all, for self-awareness.  A fish swimming in water doesn’t understand water.  Without stopping to pay attention to the culture we operate in, we are unaware of the influence in has on us. 

Secondly, awareness is the first step to influencing our culture.  What is within your circle of influence?  Your family, your church, the committees and boards you serve on?  

What about your neighborhood?  Your community?  Your alma mater?  Your workplace? Your social media networks?

When you stop to think about it, there are many spheres you can influence.  

Maybe it’s time to be more intentional about impacting the culture surrounding us. 

Maybe the solution to the problem is to realize that you can choose culture, you can choose subcultures and you can influence culture.  

I disagree with anthropologists who want to preserve culture at all costs. 

The fact is, not all culture is amoral.  Some of it is downright evil.  

Female genital mutilation is cultural.  So is widow burning and temple sex slaves.  To make a blanket statement that all culture should be preserved is outrageous.

I think it’s a good thing to destroy that part of culture.  I think we can create something better in it’s place.

Some cultural traditions can be redeemed.  Halloween, for example.  

Other aspects of culture are good and helpful.  They should be preserved. 

I love the new trend of gender reveal for expecting parents.  I think it’s great for pro-life thinking to start thinking of babies as boys or girls.  It’s also great for a society to embrace what is female and what is male. That’s gotten pretty messed up lately. 

Culture is fluid. It can also be amazingly permanent. 


Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an influencer of culture. Maybe it’s time to start.

My Favorite Books about the Writer’s Life

I love a good memoir. It’s fascinating to get inside someone else’s head, to feel their emotions and appreciate their life vicariously.

Even better when they are a writer with a gift for words. After puzzling about why I’m drawn to memoir’s about the writer’s life, I uncovered four reasons.

1. Every artist is blazing a new trail.  

Everyone has a different journey. 

No one reaches the goals in the same way. 

It’s okay to be a wannabe, because everyone starts out there.

2. Writers often articulate their journeys well.

It makes sense. They’re writers, after all. Sometimes they pour all the expertise they use in creating fiction or crafting a story arc into the narrative of their life.

3. Today’s journey to becoming a published author looks different than in the past.

The books I’ve chosen tell stories of when traditional publishing was king and hundreds of rejections were par for the course.

The internet is full of successful writers telling you how to do it today, given the changing landscape.

But, the principles remain.  And human nature hasn’t changed.   

The perseverance still has to be there.  The self-doubt is always a dragon to slay.  The spaghetti flinging experimentation still has to happen. 

There’s plenty of evidence that even those at the pinnacle can be assailed by self-doubt. 

Perseverance is critical.  What about lucky breaks?  Sometimes they do play a part.  But, they never determine a successful career without consistent hard work behind it all. 

4. A writer’s memoir is not about a step by step process.  

It’s more about inspiration and encouragement and a behind the scenes look at the journey.  

Even if you’re not a writer or an aspiring writer, if you enjoy a good memoir, you will enjoy a peek behind the curtain of the writer’s life.  

Here’s my favorites.

On Writing by Stephen King

I don’t read Stephen King books or watch movies based on his books.

But, it is a well-respected fact that he is a master story teller.  Why not learn from him?

On Writing is one of the best books out there about writing and the writer’s life.

.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott has a gift with words and a wry, self-deprecating humor. 

I love her memiors.  I tried reading her novels and didn’t enjoy them. 

Even though I don’t agree with her theology or her politics, I certainly appreciate her writing. 

Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

My husband went through a phase when he was reading a lot of Terry Brooks books.  I read one or two.  Fantasy isn’t really my genre. 

But, once again, I can appreciate a good storyteller and love hearing behind the scenes of the reading life.  His journey emphasizes the importance of a good editor and publisher, often unsung heroes in the writing game. 

Deer on the Bicycle by Patrick McManus

Great humor writing is in a class by itself, and Patrick McManus does it so well. 

He mostly writes quasi-autobiographical stories about outdoor adventures.  But, his ability to lead up to a laugh is unparalleled. 

Although I agree that a gift like that can’t be taught, it can be appreciated and learning what it’s like to have it and use it is pretty fun, too. 

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine Le’Engle

I think it’s always encouraging when an author’s journey isn’t a straight line between two points.  That’s certainly true for Madleine L’Engle.  She was distracted by marriage and family life.  She went through periods of discouragement and low productivity.  

She created on a typewriter in the kitchen with the chaos swirling around her. 

Some how in the midst of the chaos, she managed to produce a Newbery Award winning children’s novel.  

I feel Madeleine is someone who learned to juggle her professional ambitions along with her family needs. 

Before We Get Started by Bret Lott

Bret Lott’s story is one of hard work and perseverance and a wife who believed in him.  He exemplifies the classic path of investing and investing and investing while waiting for the payoff.  

Writers have to pay their dues, sometimes way longer than seems necessary.  

Sometimes the payoff comes.  But there are no guarantees and no one cracking the whip.  Putting in the time and staying the course can be long and lonely.  

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This book wasn’t written about the writing life.  It’s told as a love story. 

But, it is about the writer’s life.  It’s a very intimate behind the scenes look at the writing life— not only C.S. Lewis’ writing life, but Joy Davidman’s as well. 

It’s a well-kept secret that she collaborated on some of Lewis’ works and that Joy Davidman herself was a writer, poet and editor. 

Do you have a favorite writer’s memoir? I’d love to hear about it.

Four Things I Learned in 10 Years as a Bookseller

Four Things I Learned in 10 Years as a Bookseller

A woman walks into our bookstore. She’s looking for a book on grief for a friend who just lost her husband. I direct her to our small collection of books on grief and help her find something.

During my decade a bookseller, I never came across a manual on how to grieve the loss of a business, specifically a bookstore

How does one do that? 

I need to figure it out, because we closed our store.  

At the heart of the issue, I am at peace.  I believe in God’s sovereignty.  I believe in a free market economy, where consumers vote with their dollars and innovators win. 

I love that there are new, cheaper ways to buy books and access information and learn and be entertained. 

The natural result is that brick and mortar retail stores are affected. 

As I figure out how to let go, I realize I’ve learned a lot in ten years.  

About retail.  About business.  About myself.  About readers.  About consumers. 

But mostly what it takes to get a book from the author to the reader. 

We closed our bookstore in Warsaw, IN on July 31, 2019.

1.  Connecting good readers with good books is hard work. 

Somebody’s got to do the work:  the author, the reader, the marketer or the bookseller.  

Sometimes an author’s network does the heavy lifting.  Sometimes the reader’s network does the work. Often it’s a combination of all of the above.

But someone has to do it. 

It’s a communication issue, as well as a trust issue. 

Authors who make the effort to do 90% of the work to find their audience are likely to find success.  Authors who depend on marketers to do the work or wait for readers to find them are likely to fail. 

Booksellers can help bridge the gap.  Bloggers, podcasters and other media outlets can also meet this need, helping connect good readers with good books. 

A best sellers list can’t flesh out the picture of author or book the way a blogger or podcaster can.  

And bloggers, podcasters and media outlets can be impartial in a way marketers can’t. 

2. There are millions of books that don’t go far.  

They live and die close to home and become garage sale fodder without making much of a splash.  Some of them are good books.

Of course, we love best sellers and don’t like to think much about the books that come and go without really finding their audience.

For books that sell incredibly well, there is an element of mystery.  

There’s a tipping point when a book buzz takes on a life of its own.  Without any control or direction or plan, the flame spreads and people hear about a book and read the book and talk about it.

3. The easiest way to sell your book is to get famous first.

Sometimes the spark that starts that fire smolders for a decade or two.  Sometimes it’s nurtured and tended within the author’s sphere or just within the author before it spreads. 

Before Michelle Obama wrote a book, she was a household name.  Many people were curious about what it’s like to be the First Lady and the path leading to that position. Her book sold well.

If you want to get famous, writing books is a slow way to get there.  It has nothing to do with an ego trip.  It’s just a matter of people knowing your name and what you’re all about. 

Books from unknown authors do sell if they solve a persistent and pressing problem.  That would apply mostly to non-fiction books. 

In the fiction world, the author really has to be known.  Or, at least, get good reviews.  Or be recommended and endorsed by reliable people.

4.  There are some books that people prefer to own and some they prefer to borrow.

Some books are for entertainment and diversion.  Others are for information and enlightenment. 

The reason you read might determine whether you buy or borrow. 

Many an avid fiction reader doesn’t have the budget to buy everything they want to read.  Lots of non-fiction books can be borrowed, too.  In general, people prefer to buy devotionals, Bibles, blank journals, workbooks and books they want on hand for reference.  

Some books are so great, readers want to mark them up and write in them or have on hand to loan out.  That’s one more category–books that are so great that people want to buy them and  give them away. 

As I transition into a new chapter, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of the book machine.

As Anne Bogel says, “Book people are the best people.”

I’ll miss them.

One Book a Month for Baby’s First Year

It’s true.

There’s a switch that flips when you become a Grandma.

Baby toys, clothes and books jump into my shopping cart now that I had no problem resisting before.

In a lot of ways, grand parenting feels familiar, too. Like starting over again at the beginning of parenting. But, this time around there’s the advantage of experience, perspective and being well-rested.

How to Grandma long distance

My first grand baby, Caroline, is about to turn one.

She lives nearby and we get a lot of time with her.

My grandson far away is still sleeping and kicking inside his mama.

I’ve been brainstorming ways to “Grandma” long distance.

Since I spent the last ten years of my life as a bookseller, sending books seems like the logical solution.

I’m intrigued and inspired by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Project.  It started out in her home county, but it’s grown across her home state, and across the country. Every month every child ages 0-5 receives a book in the mail addressed to them.

I can do that.

“Books are delicious”

Besides pulling from my years at the bookstore, I got some good picks from Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival.

She says when we’re reading to babies, we’re helping them associate books with delight and affection.

“Books are delicious” Anyone who interacts with books and babies knows that’s true.

But not all baby books work for baby’s first year. So, I whittled down my list, looking for books that would be visually, orally and tactically appealing to the youngest audience, just waking up to the world.

I also kept in mind that baby books have to please two audiences, the adult and the baby. These top picks win with both.

(Note: All links are affiliate links which means at no extra cost to you, a percentage of your purchase goes to support this site.)

Who’s Knees Are These?

By Jabari Asim

Even before babies interact much with the world, a rhyme can captivate.

This one is fun to read.

.

Llama Llama Red Pajama

by Anna Dewdney

Another rhyming board book that pleasing both to the eye and the ear.

.

.

.

Taggies Thank You Prayer


A cloth book that is as much fun to play with as it is to read.

Soft, fuzzy cover.

.

Look Look

by Peter Linenthal


A black and white and red board book for babies who are just beginning to focus their visual attention.

.

.

Peek a Who?

by Nina Laden


Simple, fast paced book for babies who are beginning to interact and notice things. Nice surprise at the end.

.

.

Indestructibles Baby Peekaboo

by Kate Merritt


All the indestructibles books are made from incredible rip proof material that babies can’t damage.

.

.

Touch and Feel Baby Animals


Good tactile stimulation. And who can resist baby animals?

.

.

Good Night Moon

by Margaret Wise Brown


The classic board book that has entertained generations.

.

.

Dear Zoo

By Rod Campbell

Another classic, this one with flaps to lift up, that will delight and entertain.

.

.

Who says Quack?


Babies love animals and learning the sounds they make.

.

.

Yummy Yucky

by Leslie Patricelli

Everything goes into baby’s mouth, even things that shouldn’t be there. A humorous look at what’s good and what’s not.

.

The Pudgy Book of Mother Goose

Illustrated by Richard Walz


Small, easy to hold board book that contains classic Mother Goose rhymes.

.

.

  1. Who’s Knees Are These?
  2. Llama Llama Red Pajama
  3. Taggies Thank You Prayer
  4. Look Look
  5. Peek a Who?
  6. Indestructibles Baby Peekaboo
  7. Touch and Feel Baby Animals
  8. Good Night Moon
  9. Dear Zoo
  10. Who says Quack?
  11. Yummy Yucky
  12. Chunky Mother Goose

That’s my list for baby’s first year!

What are your top picks for the youngest readers?

More Awesome Middle Grade Novels Adults Will Love

Why should adults read Middle Grade Novels? There’s some great MG novels out there! The best ones are well-written and have an important message.

MG Novels can be just the ticket when you’re too stressed to follow a complex adult novel.

They often have a straight forward story line that is easy to follow. Often they have a limited cast of characters. They are less likely to shift back and forth in time and place.

They often offer an easy escape that requires little mental energy.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, a portion of your purchase will support this site. )

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I believe that great fiction rings true.  Even one with a preposterous premise.

The Age of Miracles tells the story of a family dealing with the slowing of the earth’s rotation.  Every day is longer, every night is longer.  All the implications, all the choices, all the consequences.

The premise is preposterous, but the story still rings true.  Why?  Because it shows the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of cataclysm.  It shows the importance of deep relationship in the face of crisis.  It shows the inevitability of coming of age, whether or not the earth turns.

I liked the main characters.  That helped a lot.

I liked the traditional values portrayed in the story.  Which goes to show, you CAN have a great story without a moral slide.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

I loved this book written for middle grades and I read it twice.

It gets five stars for being wholesome and a thumbs up for real heroes.  When I read middle grade, I find myself identifying with the teachers and principals.  Ha.

I loved the two families portrayed here and the real struggle with how twelve year olds deal with the heavy issues of life.

I liked her style.  I liked her characters.  I loved seeing the main character win the battles in his world.

Carry On, Mr Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Good story.  In the tradition of Johnny Tremain, except based on an historical person.

Nat Bowditch was very smart, but he wasn’t able to go to Harvard because of his family’s difficult financial position, it was necessary for him to work to earn his keep. So he was indentured at age 12 to work as a bookkeeper.

The story inspires kids to persevere in the face of difficult circumstances.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

What a great book!  Highly recommended for all ages.

I love the way it tackles head on mega topics: embarrassment, shame, discouragement, rising above difficult circumstances, the elements of a true friendship. 

August Pullman is a likable fellow.  If he were a jerk, this story wouldn’t have worked.

It strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a person.  Where do you fit into society.  How does society react to you?

It’s not just an overcomer story.  It’s a family systems story.  Our family of origin matters so much when it comes to what we believe about ourselves.

I love the middle school principal in this story.  I love the way he has such a deep understanding of kids.  I love how he can see past the surface level to what is happening beneath the surface.  This is so good for teachers, administrators, youth pastors, everyone who deals with kids.  And for kids, themselves.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I’m tempted to go back and re-read this book now that I know the ending.

The plot was slow moving until all the pieces starting falling into place and it made sense.

From goodreads–

“Winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal. Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late. “

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

It’s interesting to stop and think about what it’s like to be blind from birth. How impossible it is to picture anything. What it means for your social interactions.

Add the fact that you’re sixteen years old and transferring from a blind school to a public school. How do you relate to others?

This is an engaging, feel good story. Satisfying.

Five stars for being wholesome and well-written. Technically, this is a Young Adult novel, not middle grade. Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival has a great explanation of the difference between middle grade books and young adult books, and why YA is a genre, not a reading level.

Did you miss Awesome Middle Grade Novels Adults Will Love?

Which Middle Grade Novels do you love?

The Counterintuitive Path to Gratitude

Do you remember The Pit of Despair in the movie The Princess Bride?  It brings a chuckle because it’s meant to be funny. 

The real pit of despair isn’t so fun. 

It’s slimy down there, cut off from light and oxygen.  And it’s such an easy place to slide into.  

Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of social media scrolling.  

You see what others have.  Where they are in life—their pinnacles and highlights.  

You compare it to where you are.  What you have.  What you want.  

Suddenly you’re in a downward spiral of negative thinking headed straight for the pit.  You just want to wallow.  To go back to bed and pull the covers over your head.  It sucks away your motivation and joy. 

You’re not sure how to claw your way back to the light.  

But you do know it has something to do with gratitude.

 

For me, I’ve noticed this progression:

Commitment first.  Then action.  Then feelings.

Commit to making gratitude part of your life.  Follow through on the plan.  Feel grateful.

Deliberately schedule gratitude into your daily and weekly rhythms.

Every Sunday, my pastor asks us what we can thank God for.

Every week I join a group of praying mamas who circle up and close out the world to talk to God.  Part of that time is devoted to giving thanks, expressing gratitude.

Daily gratitude tends to be alone rather than with others.  It helps to have a routine.

Take action:  follow through on the plan

Stop every day to thank God for three things. A deliberate pause in the day to give thanks makes a world of difference.

Meet with a group who gives thanks to God every week.

How much gratitude do you need?

And do you have to come up with new things every day or can you repeat yourself?

Should you give thanks morning and evening?  Or just in the morning?  Or just in the evening?

Maybe it depends on the person.  Maybe evenings are better for some and mornings are better for some.

Experiment and see.

Choosing to make gratitude a part of your daily and weekly routines will make a difference in your perspective.

Your emotional energy won’t be drained by negativity.

Experience the feelings of gratitude

A funny thing happens. You begin to FEEL grateful.

Your paradigm shifts.

You think about the white page, not the black dot.

The problems and difficulties shrink. The negative resumes it’s rightful place, not overshadowing all the good.

Try it. See if it works for you.

See if your mood shifts, if you start walking on a higher plane.

Perspective.

That’s what gratitude gives you.

The truth of the matter is, almost everything is a mixed bag.

Parenting is.

Marriage is.

Friendships are.

The spiritual journey is.

Once in a while all the stars align, all the pieces fall into place. There’s no wrinkles or snags.

But that is a rare occurance.

Everything else is a mixed bag.

When relationships are good, there’s physical pain.  Or financial stress.  Or technical difficulties. Or a snafu in the plan.  Or confusion and miscommunication.

So many things can happen to spoil a spotless page.

Tools that can help

I’ve learned that buying something doesn’t change your life. You usually have to change first and then whatever you’re buying helps you.

You can’t buy products that produce what you want in your life.

Products are just tools.  Tools to help you do what you’ve already decided to do.  You can’t buy something that will change your heart.  You have to make the commitment first.  Then take action.  Then the feelings and rewards will follow.

I think it’s human nature to want to take the short cut.

To buy our way to our goal instead of paying the price.

There’s nothing wrong with tools.  They do what tools do.  They help you get the job done better.  But they’re only going to be as good as the person running the tool.  It’s going to be the drive and passion and heart of the person using the tool that’s going to make the difference.

Buy now from Amazon

My Gratitude Journal is a tool that I’ve created.  It’s not a magic bullet that will change your life.  But, if you’ve already committed to intentionally cultivate gratitude, it’s a tool that can help.

Fascinating Novels Inspired by the Lives of Real People

I love a brilliantly  written novel inspired by true events. It’s been so fun to stumble across quite a few in this category over the last couple of years.  Some of these books have made it onto other lists and some are new to me, but all are five star reads for me.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. At no extra cost to you a percentage of your purchase will go to support this site.) 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Just when we thought all the stories of the Holocaust had been told, another emerges.

In the midst of the horror comes a story of survival and hope. The Hiding Place is always my go-to recommendation for World War II and Holocaust stories.  This one adds another dimension.

Light shines brightest in the dark.

Buy now from Amazon

 I Was Anatasia by Ariel Lawhorn

The world is enthralled by the story of Anastasia Romanov.  So much of it shrouded in mystery. What is fact, what is fiction, what is myth and what is legend?  We are drawn to the mystery, to the possibilities, to the tragedy and to the pathos of this story.

Ariel Lawhorn created a masterpiece, weaving all the strands of the story into one, cohesive, intriguing narrative.

Captivating till the end.

Buy now from Amazon

 Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

C.S. Lewis has always been one of my favorite authors and The Chronicles of Narnia the pinnacle in children’s literature, in my opinion. Even though I knew the basic facts of the love story between Lewis and Joy Davidman, Becoming Mrs.  Lewis fleshed out the story in a probable narrative of their relationship.

I came to see her as an unsung hero in Lewis’ life.

There’s nothing like an inside peek at the life of one of the world’s greatest writers.

Buy now from Amazon

 We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter

“Inspired by the incredible true story of one Jewish family separated at the start of World War II, determined to survive—and to reunite—We Were the Lucky Ones is a tribute to the triumph of hope and love against all odds.” —Amazon

The Kurcs were from Radom, Poland, but in the course of the war, three generations are spread throughout Europe and beyond, fleeing the Nazi regime.

I am in awe of this story. It is a light in a dark time and highlights the triumph of love, family and the will to survive.

Buy now from Amazon

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

Thousands of women worked on breaking codes during WWII. The government began by recruiting and training at women’s colleges, sending secret letters to students in the fall of their senior year.

Then they started recruiting teachers.

The work took special skills, and they didn’t always know what they were.

Intercepting and understanding enemy communication proved to be the critical strategy for the allies to win the war.

Thousands of American women working secretly to break enemy codes turned the tide.

This is the untold story of those women.

Buy now from Amazon

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

 “Rosetta doesn’t want her new husband, Jeremiah, to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.

Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is a courageous adventure, a woman’s search for meaning and individuality, and a poignant story of enduring love.”– from Amazon

I liked learning about a piece of little known history during the Civil War. It’s hard to even imagine life in those circumstances.

Well written fictionalized account highlighting the stories of real women who fought in the Civil War disguised as men.

Buy now from Amazon

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

 Based of the life of the first female lawyer in Bombay.

Not only does this fictional account weave a riveting tale, it highlights the culture and customs of 1920’s India.

Limited educational opportunities, arranged marriages, gender segregation and inequalities.  These were real obstacles.

Navigating that world and winning is a real feat.

Buy now from Amazon

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Fascinating novelized account of the country’s first female sheriff.

Three sisters living alone in the country manage to get on the wrong side of some shady characters.  Tell how they defend themselves, throw in some family secrets and end up with the a female sheriff.  Well played.

Stewart writes in an engaging style that kept me flipping pages.

I was glad to see the author follows the sisters’ story in another book.

 Buy now from Amazon

What are you reading this month?