Me Too

I've known Ashleigh for a long time. She was one of my first "blog friends" back when I got started in this thing called blogging, and we've been able to meet in person twice. She was my editor when I contributed regularly for her website, Ungrind and now she's just published her second book, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard.

To go along with this new release (and it's so good--I'm still in the middle of reading it) Ashleigh is giving away a copy of her Ebook, Me Too: More Stories of Faith, Community, and Braving Sorrow Together to those who subscribe to her mailing list for weekly encouragement.

I was privileged to contribute my own story to this free download. In this companion publication to Ashleigh's new book, you'll discover the power of hope and community in the lives of those of us who've experienced divorce, infertility, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, and cancer, among other struggles and difficulties. 

If you or someone who know is experiencing sorrow in their life, I highly recommend Ashleigh's book and this companion Ebook.

As C. S. Lewis wrote, when "grief is great. Let us be good to one another."

Get your copy of Me Too here.

Toddler Activity Boxes

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In preparation for this school year I knew I needed a constructive plan to keep Ava, my toddler, creatively engaged. Since we homeschool, it would be important to the flow of our learning that she have her own "work" of play to do. But whether you homeschool or not, keeping a toddler busy can be a challenge while to try to accomplish other tasks.

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In anticipation for the fall I created four "activity boxes" just for Ava. Call them what you want: sensory boxes, busy bins, they all are meant to engage her imagination and give her something tactile to do. I created one for each morning we are home. 

And look at that goofy face! She loves her boxes!

If you are interested in creating your own boxes, I will link to what resources I can here to help you get started. I created loose "themes" to get me organized.

Animal Box 1 (top left photo)
Felt map with animals from Target's Dollar Bin
Melissa and Doug Habitats Reusable Sticker Pad
Melissa and Doug Water Wow
Number cards with sticky foam to form the letters from Target's Dollar Bin

Craft Box 2 (top right photo)
Dot Markers (not shown--but Ava LOVES them)
Mr. Potato Head (similar)
Construction paper and scissors from the Dollar Store
Wikki Stix Adventures Across America book and Alphabet Cards

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Sand Box 3 (Bottom left photo)
Sensory Sand with real shells from the beach and sand toys I dug out of the shed and washed up and added to the box.

Play-Doh Box 4 (Bottom right photo)
We've had this box for years, but I recently freshened it up by buying a bag of Mad Matter. All the kids love this and want me to buy their own bag in the color of their choice. It is very cool stuff! Similar to sensory sand--but less sandy and just more fun, in my opinion! So obviously Mad Matter is a great choice for older kids too. My older kids like to steal it out of her bin to play with it when I read to them.

You could also use these bins for "quiet play" when naptimes cease or only pull them down on rainy days. Check out my Sensory Play Pinterest boards for more inspiration. If you end up making your own boxes, or already have, I'd love to know what you filled them with!

Gracelaced: A Review

Gracelaced Ruth Chou Simons

I was excited to receive an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simons' book, Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. I eagerly sat down to read the first chapter, "Dwell" and it hit me right where I needed encouragement.

The scripture was from Psalm 91:1-2: 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

In that chapter Ruth asks, "What are the false shelters in your life?"

I immediately knew the one I was struggling with the most.

Over this past summer two of our children were diagnosed with learning disabilities. My emotions have been a mix of grief, relief, disappointment, as well as seeing a new path forward.

But what was also revealed to my heart was that I have a false shelter of education. 

Don't get me wrong, education is important. And I already knew I struggled with this in my own life. I'm aware I have a driving desire for productivity and accomplishment. This propelled me to be on the Dean's List every semester in college, to graduate magna cum laude, to enjoy a job in an academic institution, and to continue my creative pursuits after having children. Nothing is wrong with any of that! But my default is to feel "less than" when I'm not being productive.

I didn't think I'd put this on my kids. But I had. Even if only in my own mind. And this summer definitely revealed that I'd made a false shelter out of academic accomplishment. And it's been a good journey to let that go.

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I interviewed Ruth back in 2015 for my Women Who Create series. You can read that interview here. I have long been a fan of her writing and beautiful art work. So I was super excited to get ahold of an advanced copy to review. 

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the book. I knew it would be beautiful, but what would the content hold? I more than pleased to discover it is an exquisite book with 32 short devotional readings arranged by season.

Ruth encourages readers to become deeply rooted in God's faithful promises by:

resting in who He is
rehearsing the truth He says about you
responding in faith to those truths
remembering His provision to sustain you, time and time again

It's definitely a book I'm going to come back to again and again. Because I know my journey in getting rid of false shelters isn't over yet.

Gracedlaced Ruth Chou Simons

BOOK DETAILS

Ruth's book releases September 1, 2017 (this Friday!).

If you are interested, pre-order today and you can register to receive some wonderful pre-order goodies right here.

You can get your copy by going to gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook
Amazon book link http://amzn.to/2mWkp8N
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2u25odf
ChristianBook.com: http://bit.ly/2v5kH1F
Target: http://bit.ly/2u6wMpW

Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. As creator of the popular GraceLaced online shoppe, blog and Instagram community, she shares scriptural truths daily through her hand painted artwork and words. Ruth and her husband, Troy, live in New Mexico and are grateful parents to six sons- their greatest adventure.

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What I'm Into Right Now (July 2017)

Bruschetta Chicken

Summer is slipping away but I've been listening, reading, and watching such great content I'm really excited to share with you last month's What I'm Into post! A favorite podcast is back, I've read my favorite novel of the year, and found a new-to-me show on Netflix.

Listening:
Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell is back for season two! This is one of my favorite podcasts, winning for thought-provoking content, stellar production, and length (hour long weekly podcasts are just too much, people!). 

So far my favorite episodes have been The Road to Damascus (explores the tensions between the press and the CIA), Miss Buchanan's Period Of Adjustment (a civil rights victory has an unintended fallout and legacy), and The Foot Soldier of Birmingham (how a famous photo is more complicated than it looks).

Reading:
Technically I listened to The Summer Before the War, but I'm sticking it into the reading category (but let me just say the reader was excellent on audiobook!). I've already gushed about this book on Facebook, but seriously, this was my favorite novel of the year thus far.

I've not been so captivated by an array of characters in a long time and was hooked from the first chapter. If you like witty banter and loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this book might be for you. Check out my full review over on Goodreads.

Watching:
We were looking for a new show that contains our favorite elements (mystery, stunning views of the UK, and fabulous storytelling) and we stumbled upon Shetland. Josh and I immediately fell in love. Set on the Shetland Island the actors have fabulous Scottish accents and there's stunning scenery. Series 3 was especially good and I'm excited they are planning to make a Series 4!

I just love DI Perez. Unlike most detectives who have such disastrous personal lives, Perez has a loving relationship with his daughter and is a stable person. He does have his share of heartbreak, but he is overall a kind man who is a great boss to his team.

Eating:
We've been eating some summertime favorites. Grilled Bruschetta Chicken (pictured above) and and cold Asian Chicken and Noodle Salad are two meals I always look forward to. 

What are you into right now?

Finding Our Place | Grace Table

Have you heard of Grace Table? It's a beautiful website that focuses on food, faith and community. I'm privileged to be sharing there this week and I hope you will check it out.

Image Credit: Grace Table

Image Credit: Grace Table

It was just a few weeks before Thanksgiving and we didn’t have a table.

Well, technically we did have table. An old one we had bought through Craig’s List that fit the small space in our old house perfectly. It was distressed cream and snuggly seated six.

But we’d moved into a blessing: a spacious house that boasted a huge dining room. We were hosting our first Thanksgiving and were expecting eight guests to add to our family of five. We didn’t have enough room around the table for everyone to have a seat.

We wanted our first official holiday hosting experience in our new home to be welcoming. I don’t think we were motivated to impress, but instead to nourish. We wanted everyone to have space, to find their place.

Continue reading over at Grace Table.

Seen and Heard

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

There was the sound of rushing feet in the hallway. A few minutes later, a messenger burst into the room.

“A message, Sir, from the Assyrians,” he panted slightly and handed the sealed letter to Hezekiah, King of Israel.

Hezekiah waited for the messenger to withdraw before opening the letter and reading it.

The words shook Hezekiah to the core. He quickly left for the temple of the Lord, letter in hand.

Once inside, Hezekiah spread out the letter before him, smoothing the wrinkled creases with shaking hands. The dreaded Assyrians were on their way. There was no earthly help that could save Israel now. The letter from the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, was meant to intimidate him, and that it did. But it did something else too.

It drove Hezekiah in desperation to the house of the Lord.

And just as he literally presented the physical letter of his enemy before the Lord, Hezekiah also presented his worries before the God of Israel. Hezekiah acknowledged the bleak reality before him, but reminds the Lord of his own character:

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God,” pleads Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:20).

And the Lord responds to Hezekiah with a plan to strike down Sennacherib and defend Israel, “Because you have prayed to me” (verse 21).

Because you have prayed to me.

How many times do I not pray because I don’t think it will make a difference? I’m sure my prayers won’t move God to action. Instead of presenting my worries and concerns to God like Hezekiah did, I let them fester in my heart. But God, in his dealings with Hezekiah—not once but twice—seems to change his plans after Hezekiah prays to the Lord.

“I have heard your prayers,” God says in the very next chapter when Hezekiah pleads for his life in the face of illness. “I have seen your tears.”

God constantly reveals himself as a God who sees us. Hagar called him, El roi, Hebrew for God of seeing (Genesis 16:13). Or as David put it, a God who bottles our tears (Ps. 56:8). He sees us right where we are, is with us in our hardships, and hears our concerns.

So instead of being standoffish or thinking my prayers don't matter or won't change anything, today, I'm reminded to go to him. And by that I don’t mean to imply that my faithfulness in prayer will equal me getting answers the way I want. It won’t necessarily. Nor will my faithlessness suspend his faithfulness to me. It won’t.

But he does want to hear from me. To be in relationship with me. To like Hezekiah spread my worries before him, because he hears. He sees.

 

Lazy Day Duff

Danielle Ayers Jones Lazy Day Duff

Summer wouldn't be summer without making my grandmother's Lazy Day Duff.

I used to always make it with wine berries picked from the local fields but now they are not as accessible for me. It's also perfect to make with blueberries or blackberries. And it must be eaten with vanilla ice cream, although I guess whipped cream would also do.

The great thing about it is it’s SO easy and uses ingredients you should be able to easily find in your pantry.

Enjoy!

Lazy Day Duff

1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/8 salt
2/3 cup milk
2 cups sweetened fruit or berries

Melt butter in a 8 in. baking pan. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add milk, stirring until just blended. Spoon over butter. Do not stir. Pour berries or fruit over batter. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Yes, it’s really that simple.

A Summer Evening in My Garden

The poetry of the earth is never dead.
— John Keats

I confess I don't like gardening as much as I like the result: beauty and flowers all around me. My mom likes the act of gardening, I believe, more than I do. I have, however, inherited her love of flowers and nature. 

I have an artistic love for beauty and this drives my desire to garden. The Secret Garden influenced a love for a sacred, silent spot that leaves me undisturbed by others and L. M. Montgomery's descriptions of nature in Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon led me to look up and love old-fashioned flowers like Love-in-a-Mist and Bachelor Buttons.

After reading my friend Christie's garden tour post earlier this year I realized I'd not captured my garden at this house with my camera. With my iphone, yes, but not with my actual camera. And so I made a note to myself to do just that.

And so this is what I share with you today. A mid-summer evening in my garden. I hope you enjoy the tour.

What I'm Into Right Now (June 2017)

Summer is in full swing around here! The days have been pleasantly warm with not too much heat and humidity so often experienced here on the East Coast. We've been enjoying swimming lessons, playdates, and outdoor movies. Staying up late and lazy mornings are our summer vibe.

What i'm into right now by Danielle Ayers jones

Listening:
I listened to Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go since my last post. Wow, what a ride--and the end! Totally implausible, but hey, the book was completely suspenseful and entertaining if you like a suspenseful crime thriller.

Otherwise, I'm just keeping up with my podcasts and totally excited for Constitutional to start up. I absolutely loved Presidential. In such a stressful election year it gave me such perspective and hope for the future. Also, it reminded me how far we've come as a nation and that there's certainly been more historically contentious campaigns than we just experienced, like this one. Basically, the podcast is a mini history of America through the lens of the American presidency. Super fascinating to this history buff! So I can't wait until Constitutional begins.

Reading:
I'm reading too many books right now! I finished up The Brontë Plot because I was looking for something fun and breezy, but it was a bit of a let down. I've moved onto the historical fiction tale of the Hidenburg in Flight of Dreams and the biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. I'm also reading Eighty Days, which is the story of Nellie Bly's race around the world but I'm seriously annoyed by the small font in this book, what was the designer/publisher thinking? Hopefully I can get used to it because I love Nellie Bly!

Watching:
A new season of Grantchester is back on Masterpiece, so you know where I am on Sunday nights! Anyone ever try the books this series is based on?

Eating:
We went to a friend's for dinner and she made these. My kids couldn't get enough of them. And these are kids who usually won't eat potatoes at all! I made this for dessert. Ohmygoodness, creamy summer minty chocolate! And my new summer pasta salad is definitely this tortellini yumminess.

What are you into right now?

A Playlist for Creating

danielle ayers jones, freelance writer, creativity, creative mama, workspace

When it's time for me to write, edit photos, or design a logo, I find music propels me forward in the creation process.

But not just any music. For me, this isn't the time for U2, Coldplay, or actually anything with lyrics.

I tend towards soothing instrumental music that doesn't compete with my thought process. I find that no music can be distracting; I notice every little noise. But I need the right kind of music for my particular creative project.

Anyone with me?

Do you gravitate towards certain artists or styles when you have something creative to accomplish? Do you like high energy or low? Care to share a few of your favorites?

I find I almost exclusively turn towards soundtracks. Today I'm sharing the tracks I pull up when I have an article to write or photos to crank out:

El Tiempo Entre Costuras (The Time In Between)
Okay, I know I've already raved about this miniseries. But now I've bought the music and it's newest edition to my creative playlist. A few favorite tracks are Tema de Sira, Al Borde del Abismo, En Marruecos, to name a few.

Mansfield Park Soundtrack
Whatever you thought of this somewhat controversial adaptation of Mansfield Park, the soundtrack is stellar. Some great and interesting pieces here. Some favorite ones are Through the Rain, Glass, I Don't Know You.

North and South Title Theme
I love this theme so much, I wish the soaring melody lasted just a bit longer.

Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack
While I may be a firm believer the six-hour BBC version of the movie is the best, I still enjoy certain qualities of this version, the music being one of them. Liz on Top of the World is just gorgeous and Your Hands Are Cold is another favorite.

The Piano
This music is hauntingly tragic and I love it, but particularly find it suited for a grey drizzly or rainy day. I don't know why, but that's when I usually like to play it. To the Edge of the Earth, Big My Secret, and A Wild Distant Shore are my favorites. The themes play off each other throughout the whole album and I find it great to work to.

How about you?