Travel the World in Books Challenge: Albania

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I’ve got another book to cross off my Travel the World in Books Challenge! This time it’s Albania.

Albania is a country in Europe with a population of roughly 3,029,278. Their government is currently a parliamentary democracy, although in the past, it was communist, as you’ll hear more about with the book I read. The capital is Tirana, though the main person in the book, Fr. Zef Pllumi, lived at the Franciscan College in Shkodër, which you can see at the top of Albania in the map.

Map of Albania

Pictures and facts from the CIA World Factbook:

The book that I picked to read for Albania is (disclaimer: affiliate link) Live to Tell: A True Story of Religious Persecution in Communist Albania by Fr. Zef Pllumi.

This book is an autobiographical book written by a Franciscan friar who was imprisoned and tortured for being Catholic under the reign of communism in Albania. He endured so much, even while reading it you truly come to understand that it was a miracle and that he found the will to live and to keep going, because it was truly harsh stuff that he endured. Cramped conditions, beatings/torture, near starvation, forced labor, and more.

Before this, I had very little idea about communism in Albania – or in fact, anything about Albania as all. This happened in the mid to late 1940s, so a lot of the history we learned during school revolves around World War II, for understandable reasons. Still, I strive to learn history from all over and so this book was a good piece to that. However, at the same time, it is a personal story, so you don’t really see completely the politics going on on the broader level. But it is a very interesting glimpse into a very dark period.

Fr. Pllumi’s hope and faith was inspiring, to say the least. He remained convinced even when a few others around him gave in to save their own lives. It also showed some encouraging inter-faith relationships in the prison, the way that only people who have a common oppressor can come to see. It also definitely wrenched at your hearts as some of Fr. Pllumi’s friends die and as you see them endure horrible things. And you can’t read a book like this without thinking about your own life and situation and how blessed you are.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history and/or true stories of religious persecution. It is a bit of a slog to get through – it’s originally translated into English from Albanian and I think sometimes a bit gets lost in translation, but it’s still a worthwhile read.

Have you ever read any good books about Albania? How much do you know about Albania? 

The Gift Giver Review

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. But as always, despite being a sponsored post, my thoughts are true and 100 percent mine. 

I know it’s only October, but Christmas will be here before you know it. And advent even sooner than that.

We have a pretty awesome Advent calendar here in the Brander household. My mother-in-law made it for us.

Custom made advent calendar

And along with this Advent calendar, for every day, we read a Christmas book. Dominic unwraps it before bed and we add the number to the calendar. This is a tradition that everyone in our house enjoys. And so I’m excited to bring you this new Christmas book, The Gift Giver

The Gift Giver Book

The Gift Giver was written by Jacob Haslem and Nick Allen, with gorgeous illustrations by Elissa Weaver. From Amazon, “On Christmas Eve a boy stirs from sleep to find an old man, in the living room, dressed in red with a bag full of gifts. Excitement soon gives way to disappointment as he finds he has received fewer gifts than expected. The old man sees the young boy’s protest and tells the story of his origins and his motives. As the boy becomes privy to this mystery, a question comes to his mind: is it by magic that the old man accomplishes his task, or is it something else… The lesson he learns will change the way he views Christmas forever! If you are a fan of The Polar Express, and T’was the Night Before Christmas, you will love The Gift Giver.”

After this book arrived, I sat down and read it with Dominic. Full disclosure, we don’t actually do Santa in our house. But many people around us do and we don’t pretend he doesn’t exist. But what this book does is explain the Santa tradition (as well as a few other traditions) and connect it back to the real reason for the season: Jesus. I found this book a great way to explain about Santa in a way that will give me words to explain to Dominic why other people do Santa while still being respectful. I would definitely recommend this to other Christian families who are looking to explain that or even those who do Santa themselves, to connect this tradition back to our Savior. I would give this book 4 1/2 stars. It is an excellent book, but when I asked Dominic for his feedback when we finished reading, he told me it was long. I have to agree with him that it is a bit long, but none of the space is wasted, plus the illustrations are beautiful. Despite saying it was long, he still sat for the whole story and for a child who is older than three, I bet it wouldn’t seem as long. I’m looking forward to adding this book to our Christmas tradition!

You can find The Gift Giver on Amazon and GoodreadsDoes The Gift Giver sound like a book that you and your family would enjoy? 

Skunk Tales Winners!

Congrats to our two winners: Kim P. and Deborah F.! I’ll be e-mailing you both shortly :) You have 48 hours to respond. Better luck next time to everyone else who entered!

The Ultimate Resource Guide to Helping Kids Learn Their Names

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I present today’s post: the ultimate resource guide to helping kids learn their names. There is sure to be something here for everyone! From quick and simple name learning activities to complex ones to messy ones and more!

The Ultimate Resource Guide to Helping Kids Learn Their Names

Those are all free resources above, but down here we have some resources that cost money.

You can also use custom name books! We have a few and the boys love them. Below are the places we have books from. Disclaimer: This section contains an affiliate link. 

  • I won a Lost My Name book for Dominic in a giveaway several months back and he just loves it! The quality and writing are excellent. If you purchase from my link, you will receiver 15% off and if three people purchase we’ll get a free A-Z book with the entire alphabet.
  • Dominic loves the personalized name items we’ve received from Frecklebox (I won a gift card). Shipping is fast and the quality is great. We especially love their puzzles.

So there you have it! All the resources that you could ever want or need for helping your kid(s) learn their names!

Do you have any helpful hints for helping kids learn their names? Did you write a post with some ideas for helping kids learn their names? Leave your thoughts or links below and I’d be glad to include them! 

The Importance of Self-Care

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I'm Learning to Put On My Life Jacket - The Simple Reason I Feel Self Care is Important

Let me paint you a picture.

It’s my sophomore year of college. I am working several jobs, taking a full course load, and involved in several (some of them time-consuming) extracurricular activities. I felt like I had everything going for me . . .

Until I was alone. When I was alone I would just break down. I was so stressed out. I thought I could do it all, but doing it all was killing me.

With the help of some of the wonderful people in my life, I was able to step back. I shifted some of my responsibilities and quit a few of the jobs.

And then I got pregnant. And I don’t know what it was about being a mom and I don’t know if this was made worse by being a stay at home mom, but suddenly I felt the pressure rising again. Suddenly when that awesome little person got here, it became a lot easier not to take care of myself. This was definitely made worse by the parenting style I was then trying to follow.

It took me a while (and a lot of help from Nick and some good friends) to realize that hey, I am a person too. I can take breaks. I can eat food. I can do something that’s purely just for me. These things are okay. No, beyond that, I have the radical notion that these things are necessary.

Do I always do a good job at this? No, I struggle terribly with this. I still feel guilty sometimes if I feel like there’s something else I should be doing.

But you know what? I am a person too.

I am a person too.

I do not know why this notion feels so radical to me. It feels obvious – like duh, I am a person.

But sometimes, I do not treat myself very much like I am a person. I think mean things about myself. I push myself harder than I would ever push anyone else. I expect perfection out of myself even though I don’t expect it from anyone else. I frequently tell myself I am a failure. I would not tell anyone else they are a failure, but for some reason I feel it’s okay to tell myself that about me. I expect that I should keep going all the time without stopping, like I’m the mom version of the energizer bunny. In short, I am not kind to me. I fail to exercise self-care.

Guess what this leads to? More burn out.

But now, with kids, more burnout leads to more crabbiness. To more yelling, even when I don’t want to. To less patience. To less fun. To more stress.

I can not think of a less cliché way to say this, but I had to learn to put on my own life jacket before I put on the life jacket of my family members. Because I can’t do them any good if I’m drowning.

So what does treating myself like a person look like practically?

It means extending grace to myself. To not speaking and thinking so critically of myself. To take time to nourish my body with food and drink. To take time to do something for myself (this blog being one of them). To remind myself daily that I can do this.

Am I perfect at this?

No, no I am far from perfect at this. It is still a struggle. I felt for so long that I could just push away my needs and make them not exist. But instead of making them not exist, I just melted down. Melting down is not good for me. Melting down is not good for my family.

But I’m trying. I’m really, really trying. I believe taking care of myself is important and I’m trying to live like it is. It’s an imperfect journey, but it always will be this side of heaven.

How do you practice self-care? Is this an area you struggle with? 

P.S. If you’re reading this post, you should enter my Skunk Tales giveaway! Super easy to enter and it’s a great family devotional :) 

Skunk Tales Giveaway!

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Disclaimer: Lynn Marie Hurtado provided me with two copies of her book to give away! 

Woohoo! How exciting is this! Lynn Marie has graciously provided me with two more copies of her devotional, Skunk Tales, to give away! In case you don’t remember, I reviewed Skunk Tales a while back – you can read all about it here – and I’m super excited that I am able to give two of you the opportunity to own this excellent devotional as well!

Entering is easy! Do either or both options :) Good luck!

Skunk Tales Giveaway!

Linked up to I Choose Joy, Mila’s Little Things, and This is How We Roll

Moving Forward Even When You’re Scared

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Yesterday, Nick lost his job.

Part of me still can’t process this. Part of me thinks that tomorrow he’s going to wake up and go to work again. Part of me thinks that it can’t possibly be true. Part of me thinks this is only a bad dream.

But it’s not. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

Terrified even sometimes.

Because I don’t do well with the unknown. And because, as you know, as a stay at home mom, Nick was our only source of real income. I bring in a bit here and there, but nothing anywhere close to paying even one of our bills.

So to say it’s scary? Yeah, that about sums up my feelings.

I spent a lot of yesterday feeling sorry for myself and crying. And worrying about the kids. Sometimes big questions (How long will this last? Will he be able to find a new job? What about the mortgage/electricity/etc?). Sometimes little questions (Will I still be able to make a special birthday for Allen?) Always questions that have no answer.

Today I woke up with a new resolve.

Am I still scared? Yes. Yes, I am still so scared. This is a scary position that we’ve never been in before.

But I prayed a lot and Nick and I have talked a lot and I have a lot of friends who have been so encouraging about this situation.

And sometimes when you wake up, you just put one foot in front of the other and then another and then another and you keep going even when you feel like, “What’s the point?” Because these two little guys depend on me and they need me to keep being their mom even when I’m scared. Even when I don’t know how to answer Dominic’s questions about whether or not daddy is going to work today. Even when I don’t know what will happen the next day.

Because they still need to be fed. And the dishes still need to be washed. And the laundry still needs to be folded. Because these kids still need me. And I’m still scared, but putting my life on hold accomplishes nothing.

Today I have this resolve. Tomorrow? Who knows. Tomorrow I may not be so positive.

But one day at a time . . .

One foot at a time . . .

One moment at a time . . .

I think I have to find a way to keep moving forward.

I think I have to find a way to cling to my God and to trust that He knows the unknowable.

I think I have to.

I think I have to.

I think I have to.

Even when I don’t always know if I can.

I think I have to.

I think I have to.

I think I have to.

Writing this post for me has been a way to keep moving forward. I wanted at first to say nothing – to pretend like nothing had changed – because even admitting this out loud is scary. But we didn’t ask for this – nobody asks for this – and so in writing this post, I choose to acknowledge it happened, I choose to acknowledge my fear, I choose to acknowledge that I have a choice where I can choose to move forward or choose to let the fear consume me. I hope that I can choose to move forward every day, but I know that it will not be easy to do so every day. 

Also a picture of my boys – for cuteness and because they make me smile.

My two boys - I love these little guys so much.

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