How on Earth Did THAT Happen?

My kids can confirm this– I never win. I just don’t. It’s not something I’m bitter about, and I don’t feel sorry for myself. Someone has to lose, right? It might as well be me. It doesn’t generally matter what it is– Uno, Sorry, Monopoly, raffles, drawings, and any other competition. Oh, I’ll participate. But I know I’m not gonna walk away with a prize.

Until recently. I’m walking through uncharted territory these days. This past winter I beat out more than 700 other overweight folks for the chance to win a three-month YMCA membership and compete in a weight loss competition. I’m not even that overweight. But that competition opened doors to possibly help me get back to doing my other passion: radio. And I didn’t have to pay for our Y membership for three months, with was a huge blessing. There’s all this other good stuff, too– I finally scored a job interview, and landed the job on the spot. It’s only a part-time sales-type gig, but it’s something, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Lord uses this to help me grow. I was just accepted into USC Upstate to complete my Communications degree, AND they awarded me what they call an out-of-state scholarship, which means that even though I don’t meet the requirements for in-state tuition, they’re only going to charge me in-state tuition. Then there are these little legal victories as my husband fights for custody of our children, and tries to force me to put them in public school. Those seemingly little victories can seem so big when you’re not used to winning. 

And today came another big blessing. Another big win. And this is one that you get to share with me. Dusted Cover has been named the Upstate’s Worst Website. What does this mean? It means that a single, homeschooling mom might be able to earn a little extra income selling used books on-line with a top-notch website. And it means that you’ll have access to gently-read books and homeschool curriculum at a great price. So thank you, for supporting my little blog, for reading my musings about books, and I hope you’ll stick around for the long-haul as this little dream of mine moves closer toward fruition.

Cheering for YOU!

Jenna

 

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No Really– This is a Good Thing!

I received an e-mail today that I was NOT expecting– Dusted Cover is a finalist for the Upstate’s Worst Website contest! No, really– this is a good thing!

You see, I have this website at http://www.dustedcover.com. However, I am no web master. You might consider me a web poser. I thought I’d be able to get this website up and running, selling used books on-line. Oh, I know there are the amazon.coms and half.coms out there. But this would be a niche– used Christian fiction and non-fiction, as well as the classics and homeschool curriculum. But the darned page won’t work, and frankly, I’m frustrated with it the whole mess.

Then I heard about this contest from a web design company called Engenius, where they’re looking for the worst website in the Upstate of South Carolina so they can do an extreme, Engenius website makeover. The contest was featured on the local news, and I tossed my website into the ring, never actually expecting it to go any farther than that.

And then came today’s e-mail from Chris Manley, one of the co-founders of Engenius. DUSTED COVER IS A FINALIST!! How did THAT happen?? My first reaction was, well, there must be a bunch of “finalists”? Mmmm, no. Only three. Aaak!

So, here’s what I need you to do for me– click on the link and vote for Dusted Cover! You can vote every day, one vote per e-mail address (don’t worry, I haven’t received any spam or even confirmation e-mails from voting). Voting ends May 31, 2012, so vote every day if you can! And then we look forward to more great things from Dusted Cover and DustedCover.com! 

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A New Perspective

I had a dream. It plays into my perfection tendencies– this idea that in order to sit and read a book, I needed this ideal setting, sitting solitary in a sun-filled room, nursing a warm cup of coffee. As a homeschooling mom with three rambunctious boys, this was an unrealistic fantasy.
Now that my tweedles are all bonafide readers, reality has become even more amazing than that silly fantasy. We start our mornings with 20-30 minutes sitting in a sun-soaked room reading quietly, but together. I do sip a cup of coffee while I read, but I also get to listen to little fingers turning pages, or my youngest declaring, “I’m on chapter 5!”
Life is so much like a good book. You read the back cover and you have an idea of what it holds in store for you, but with every turn if the pages comes a new character you didn’t expect, a new twist you didn’t anticipate, or a character who behaves in a way that could never have imagined. You giggle, you cry, you may even get mad, but you keep going. Usually, by the time you get to that last page, you are satisfied that everything worked out the way it did. You are content with the author’s decisions because you realize that everything had to happen for a reason.
You can’t change the past, but you can realign your expectations, and that is exactly what I’ve had the pleasure of doing. This new chapter is different than what I wanted or expected, but I make the most of it. And in that new chapter are amazing little blessings– like sitting with my little loves reading together.

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The Sign of the Changing Times

When it actually happens, you’ll know it because angels will descend from the heavens and belt out the Hallelujah Chorus with great enthusiasm. Alas, I have not yet managed to get my 5, 7 and 9 year old boys to pick up after themselves. No matter how many times I remind, threaten, bribe and just about break down in tears, these little people can’t seem to remember to put their dirty clothes in the hamper, bring their cereal bowl into the kitchen when they’re done eating, or consistently flush the toilet. And I won’t even begin going into the frustration of getting them to clean their room.

Matt is a boy as well, but a boy from a very different time. He’s not quite 13 when Elizabeth George Speare begins telling his story in The Sign of the Beaver, but he must take on the responsibilities of a man twice his age when he travels with his father into homesteading territory in Maine to stake out some land and build a home. Once the small house is completed and the corn is planted, Matt’s father heads back to Massachusetts to collect Matt’s mother and sister. The trip is expected to take no more than seven weeks. SEVEN WEEKS! A 13 year old boy left alone in the woods for to fend for himself for 7 weeks! I can’t even leave my 10 year old for ten minutes to run to the store to get milk without worrying that he’ll burn the house down around himself!

Matt, however, lived in a very different time than do my boys. A 13 year old boy was expected to perform nearly the same duties as a grown man. He helped his father build their one-room homestead cabin, assisted in the planting of crops, and participated in the process of collecting food stores and wood. He not only had to wash his own dishes, he first had to make his dishes. I recently gave my oldest son the experience of not getting to use any dishes or utensils for an entire day when he pitched a fit about having to empty the dishwasher. I should have had him whittle his own plate and bowl.

Once alone, Matt did do some of the things I would expect my boys to do were they in his situation– like leaving the door of the cabin open when he went off to fish. The bear who intruded and got into some of his precious food stores certainly did appreciate it, though. And I pray that if any of my boys (it would mostly likely be my middle child) decided to climb up a tree to acquire some honey from a bee hive, someone might be watching out for him, as was the case with young Matt.

Matt’s silent guardian had been watching him from a distance for some time, and fortunately was keeping an eye on him at that fateful moment when Matt upset a bee hive and suffered an attack from an angry swarm. Had the Indian chief not been nearby, Matt would likely have died. The relationship fostered between the young homesteader and the grandson of the Indian chief make up the bulk of the story. It is a beautiful story– a great story for boys. It’s hard to find a really good boy story– one that is rich in life lessons and weak on flatulence.

The Sign of the Beaver is my new favorite book for boys, and I highly recommend it for any boy of any age, especially those that might think themselves too young for real responsibility. Okay, so my boys are no closer to voluntarily bringing their dishes in from the dinner table, or hanging up their flippin’ coats when they’re done with them. But I have hope that with some dilligent love and correction, I might someday at least have the peace of mind to leave them home alone when I run to the store to replenish the milk stores. Maybe.

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So Much for THAT Idea.

As I sit here, in the upper room of my parents’ house, listening to New Year’s revelers discharge what I hope are fireworks, I can’t help but recall last year’s reading intentions. Determined as I was to read two books a month, it just didn’t happen. Frankly, 2011 flew by far too quickly. I’m convinced that someone, somewhere prematurely ripped out a page or two of the calendar, because it just went too fast. And since we’re being frank, I can tell you that this year positively bit.

Without going into the sordid details, it’s likely enough to have pointed out that my three children and I are living with my parents. Why read about the broken hearts of Emma and Cleopatra when I have my own shattered life to mend once a divorce I don’t want is finalized? Two books a month was a daunting goal for a homeschooling mom of three boys. I did manage to read some great books, even if was primarily to my boys as part of their school work.

By far, my greatest literary achievements for 2011 revolved around my little men. Actually, it’s more their literary achievements I’m so proud of. My youngest started Kindergarten this year and is easily reading at a first or second grade level. My middle son, my most reluctant reader, is slowly overcoming his fear of reading. It’s a sad thing when a child is made to feel he is incapable of learning to read, but he’s making progress at a pace that is comfortable for him. My proudest accomplishment lies with my 4th grader. During the past several months he has become a reader. A real reader. He has found that he enjoys mysteries, and every week checks out Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and The 39 Clues books from the library to read, voluntarily, for recreation. He flies through them, and it makes my heart smile to hear him giggle over a passage he’s reading, and to see his eyes sparkle as he relates an interesting plot line to me. Boy of my heart!

Another intention I had for 2011 was to sell used books on-line, and I did manage to accomplish this. Not to the degree I had hoped. My webmaster skills are severely lacking, but I’ve managed to sell a few items on half.com.

I bit off more than I could chew. I could have done it. I could have read two books a month during 2011, if I hadn’t been overwhelmed with grief from watching my 13 year marriage disintegrate while trying to keep it together so I could effectively educate, enlighten, exercise and entertain my children. The good news is that I still have a GREAT list of books I intend to read, and books never get too old to pick up and read or re-read. It may take more than a year, but I’ll get through them. Just like I’ll get through everything else– one page at a time.

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Down with the Diva

Every little girl wants to be a princess. Just browse the little girl sections of your local department store and you’ll find apparel of all types adorned with tiaras and bling, usually with the word “Princess” emblazoned on them. But let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen– bling does not make a girl a princess.

Look at the princesses of our day– the Paris Hiltons, the Kardashians et al, and our newest obsession– The Duchess of Cambridge– who isn’t really a princess, but don’t tell that to the gazillions of folks who tuned in to watch her wed the world’s most eligible prince a few months ago. I like to think of myself as a princess– I am, after all, a daughter of the King of Kings. And yet, there are many, many times during the day that I fail to behave as a princess should.

Would that more little girls behaved like Sarah Crewe, the title character in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale of The Little Princess. Admittedly, my Star Wars-obsessed boys were none too thrilled when I pulled out this pink-covered book to begin reading to them. “That’s a girl book! We’re not girls!” my youngest protested.

“It’s cool,” I assured them. “There’s a monkey in it.”

Why I have not read these books myself before now is beyond me. I’ll confess that I  have all too often relied on the movie versions of some of these classics, knowing full well that the movie is never as good as the book. I hope I’m not alone in this. When we finished reading The Little Princess, we borrowed the Shirley Temple movie from the library. Even the boys were disappointed at how different the book was from the movie, though my oldest insists that the movie version of Lavinia is exactly what he had envisioned in his own creative little brain.

You’ll have to read the story for yourself to get the full scope of the differences. But let me point out to you the difference between today’s divas and the princess-like character traits depicted in Sarah Crewe’s character. It can be summed up in two words: self-control.

Little Sarah, spoiled by her doting, widowed father, was unaffected by the riches she was privy to. When praised for her even temper, she mused that any girl so well provided for should be well-behaved. She hoped that she might be as polite, thoughtful and generous if she were penniless. THAT, she reflected, would prove whether her character came from her money, or from her heart. Oh, the foreshadowing.

The inevitable happens when, in the midst of her birthday party no less, word arrives that Sarah’s father has died, leaving her an orphan and a pauper. In the midst of her sorrow, she refuses to cry. Refuses to let the changed circumstances affect her. The little princess, though she is poor, resolves to try, very hard, to continue to behave like a princess, even in her too-small clothes and inadequate shoes. Despite her circumstances, the abuse she suffers, and starvation she endures, Sarah lives up to her nickname. She bites her tongue when she is unfairly scolded, doesn’t complain when she is forced to skip meal after meal, and graciously does as she’s told even when treated with disdain by the same girls who used to be considered her equal. It isn’t easy. She struggles with her flesh, with her desire to lash out verbally and physically. She is human, after all. In the book we get to peek inside her heart and mind to find out just how hard it is to continue behaving like a princess. But it’s her determination to retain her dignity that sustains her.

Even when she is half-starved and happens to find a coin in a gutter– enough money to buy four warm rolls to fill her achingly empty stomach– she wears an invisible tiara. As she walks into the baker’s shop, she notices a street waif whom Sarah supposes is even hungrier than herself. The baker generously gives the malnourished Sarah six roles for the price of four, and is astonished when she watches the princess give five rolls to the starving child crouched beside the bakery, knowing full-well that Sarah could have easily eaten all six. The noble act inspires the baker woman to do something magnanimous as well, ultimately providing a stable home for the homeless orphan.

THAT is what a princess should do. You would be hard-pressed to find a modern day “princess” who isn’t more diva than dignified. Kids today think a hardship is not having the same cool gadgets as “everyone else,” or perhaps going without cable. I love giving my boys the opportunity to suppose what life would have been like for Sarah– and what it’s like for so many children today who perhaps are orphaned or living in foster care with no one to genuinely love them unconditionally. We are so blessed.

Despite the pink cover and talk of dolls, my boys really enjoyed The Little Princess– especially the few scenes with the monkey. My oldest even asked if there was a sequel we could read next. I’m glad they were able to put aside their prejudices and enjoy a story that has so timeless an application. Because I want them, too, to be Little Princes– children of the King, practicing self-control, and putting the needs of others ahead of their own. We need more princes and princesses like that.

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Before “The Donald,” There Was Arduino

Donald Trump coined the phrase, “You’re fired!” on his reality TV show, The Apprentice. But before the Donald reveled in the firing of well-meaning folks, a young painter’s apprentice exemplified the beauty of integrity and forgiveness.

Set in Sixteenth Century Florence, Italy, Pilar Molina Llorente’s The Apprentice is yet another one of those books that I looked at with the leery eye of a homeschooling mom with three active little boys much more interested in playing Star Wars than in reciting their math facts. The language of The Apprentice is formal and sometimes archaic, the time period is foreign and difficult to relate to, and the subject (painting) is less than exciting to those who wish for The Force to be with them. And yet again, the beauty of this well-told story of truth, forgiveness and heroism caught me off-guard.

You have to first understand that my boys are, well, boys. They are the rough-n-tumble, LEGO lovin’, Nerf-gun-yielding, sons of a military man. It has been a challenge to channel their energy and testosterone toward peaceful reactions to adversity. They are much more interested in striking back than turning the other cheek.

And so I relished this story of Arduino, a teenaged boy accepted as an apprentice to aging master painter, Maestro Cosimo di Forli. Not long after arriving at the Maestro’s studio, he discovers a strange secret that most of the other apprentices are unaware of– another apprentice is being held prisoner in the studio’s attic. Donato had proven too talented an apprentice for the aging Maestro, who imprisoned the orphan rather than risk turning the boy out. Torn between the desire to see his new friend freed, and the fear of being sent back to his father’s tailor shop, Arduino cautiously maintains a secret friendship with Donato, bringing him extra food, as well as painting and drawing supplies. In return, Donato taught Arduino everything he knew of the art about which they were both so passionate– everything a new apprentice couldn’t learn through the mundane tasks he was assigned in the studio.

When a local Duke commissions an important, well-paid painting project, the sickly Maestro fights to keep his hands steady enough to create the sketches necessary to secure the commission. Arduino offers a daring solution: Donato. For nearly two years, Donato had been held prisoner in the Maestro’s attic. The dying man rightfully feared for his life should Donato be released, and was uncertain that his former apprentice, so grossly misused, would ever agree to help out the aging man. But Donato had long since forgiven the old man for his cruelness, and after a meal and bath, sets to work clarifying the master artist’s attempted sketches.

The story is not labeled as a Christian one, but one could easily insert some beautiful Biblical principals in the story. The Bible tells us that we are to forgive those who abuse and mistreat us, to not hold grudges. Vengeance is the Lord’s, and all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to forgive such blatant mistreatment, but Donato does, and is rewarded for his loyalty when, through a bizarre serious of events, he is given command of Maestro Cosimo’s studio, and makes Arduino his lead apprentice.

I tell my boys to never judge a book by it’s cover, and yet have been so guilty of mistaking these ancient classics as being too boring and too irrelevant for my modern-day elementary-aged boys. But it’s opening their eyes to history in a way that no history book could ever enlighten them. Sure, they’re learning about ancient Cathay and Mesopotamia, the battles of Alexander the Great and the riches of Kublai Khan. But through these simple and beautiful stories of young boys and girls, not so unlike themselves, they’re seeing historical societies through the lives and eyes of young people they can relate to. They can compare the differences of a 16th century boy expected to do nothing more than follow in his father’s footsteps, to the limitless possibilities of their own futures.

I hope, too, that the concept of forgiveness is not lost on their little souls. It’s something of a lost concept in this tort-focused day and age. I think even The Donald could learn a thing or two about the success that can result from the compassion and empathy of a young apprentice.

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