Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Jars

Although the comments have said it was a quick read, it still took me longer to read than I care to admit! I have been so busy trying to get Christmas ready and doing the day to day mom stuff that by the time I had a spare moment to read it was late and I would read about 10 pages and fall asleep! But I so enjoyed it! I finished it on Christmas Adam (you know Adam came before Eve so it is the day before :)) And I, like Sarah, cried! I love a good read that I am not expecting the end and it makes me tear up. I loved that for Hope it came full circle, starting with an abandonded baby that was found and taken in, loved and then found herself alone again on Christmas Eve only to have her Mom find her and the cycle repeats. (Oh and here is a plug for family traditions that don't die, then people KNOW where to find you!) I felt inspired after reading this and wanted to start my own Christmas Jar, but plastic money doesn't work to put into a jar....and we are also living the poor student life and so this year opted to give a toy to Toys4Tots. I know that it wasn't much, but my 2 year old picked out a toy that she would want and then we took it to a drop off spot, I tried to explain to her what it meant, but I am sure she didn't really understnad, but after reading this book I felt that children take in more than we give them credit for. They know when someone is in need, even if they cannot see it, they sense it. So thanks for chosing this book, it truly helped me to get into the Christmas spirit. And I thought it was amazing that the author commented on the blog--woohoo!!! :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Thought I'd take a minute and share a thought or two about Christmas Jars. I've read it a couple of times; it's such a quick read and always enjoyable and inspiring, like Sarah noted.

I love the progression of the story. How it starts with an abandoned baby and ends with a reunion, with Hope (both as the girl and otherwise) centering the story. I love how the Maxwell family started the tradition of the jar as a way to save money for Christmas gifts for their own family and how the jar evolved into a way to help others in need, be it financial, emotional, or however. And I love how it comes full circle. The Maxwell's didn't give their jars away with any desire for recognition or something in return, and they never imagined that it would be a tradition adopted by those they helped. But they did receive something in return, long before the jars found their way back. The true spirit of Christmas, a joy of giving, a focus on something other than themselves.

I think my favorite part of the book is that the jars helped people think about Christmas every single day throughout the year. So often the entire reason for Christmas is lost with the commercialization, the rush, the spending frenzy. It's easy to forget the reason. A perfect baby, born in unfavorable circumstances and laid in a manger, who brought Hope, Light, and Life with his birth.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Jars

I finished the book Christmas Jars. Seriously, I think it only took me a few hours. Cory went outside to shovel us out of the mounds of snow, and I had finished a little more than half the book by the time he was done shoveling. Of course, he loves to shovel and spends more time that the average person ... but still ... it's definitely a quick read.

Anyways, I digress. What an awesome book to read right before Christmas! It was so uplifting! Of course, I cried through the last 1/3 of the book, but it was so good. And so inspiring.

I was thinking maybe Cory & I could adopt the tradition of doing our own Christmas jar. Then, practical me, I realized we never have cash - so I would never have any change. In a world of plastic, I never carry cash. So doing a 'Christmas Jar' isn't really feasible for us.

Then I got to thinking ... we could do something else, similar to a Christmas jar. I remember years ago, my dad had just been laid off his job (right before Christmas, too). Things were tough - we went to the Bishop's storehouse to get some food and Christmas presents weren't happening that year. Anyways, long story made short - some boxes filled with food and presents appeared on our doorstep one night. There was a couple of presents for all us kids (I got the most beautiful little necklace) and lots of food. It was the most wonderful thing! I was young at the time, but that feeling has stuck with me ever since that night. I remember standing there, looking at all the food and wearing my necklace, and I was so grateful.

And so, my point is, that while Cory & I aren't going to be able to do a 'Christmas jar' like was done in the book, it reminded me that we can bless others' lives in different ways. There's always a million different ways to 'give back' this holiday season - from Sub-for-Santas, to the Salvation Army kettle, to leaving a box of food on your neighbor's doorstep. While Cory & I are definitely living the 'poor college kids' lifestyle, we have much to be thankful for. This book reminded me of that, and I'm definitely recommending it to everyone I know.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kid-Safe Books...

Hi, I'm Sarah's friend Brett, from NJ. This is my first time posting on here, and usually I'll stay more on topic, but I found something that I thought everyone here would be interested in, and while it's about media in general, it's definitely applicable to books. Sorry for the length, when I start typing, sometimes I can't stop. (P.S. I hope Sarah doesn't block me from posting any more as a result of this). ;-)


Movie ratings drive me bonkers... as my wife Erin and I discuss movies and what is/will be appropriate for our children, we've got a hard and fast limit; no rated-R movies in our home, period. After that, things get a little hazy. The ratings system is just too vague.

How great of a movie is The Incredibles!?! It's PG because it's got some violence, but I personally wouldn't be concerned about a five or six year old watching it; on the other hand, have you ever seen Antz? Antz is also rated PG, but there are dozens of swear words in the movie. I certainly wouldn't want the same child who's just old enough to watch The Incredibles to also be watching Antz.

As for PG-13 movies, there are some that I would be fine with having an 11 or 12 year old watch with me, and then there are others that in my opinion deserved an R-rating and shouldn't be watched at all (while the kids are under my roof at least).

Having lived with this frustration for quite a while, and having discussed with Erin what we could possibly do, I think I may finally have an answer. I found a website today that is much more clear than the (lame) MPAA rating system, and certainly more specific. Please keep in mind that everything from here on is based solely on my brief review of the site as of finding it earlier today... by no means have I looked at every aspect of the site.

Common Sense Media

Pros for the site:

- The site has a solid list of movies with very specific age ratings (year by year). The Incredibles - deemed appropriate for kids 5+; Antz - deemed appropriate for kids 8+. And on top of the movie ratings, there are also ratings for TV Shows, books, websites, games, and music.

A search on J. K. Rowling books shows the following:

Books 1-3: Ages 9+
Books 4-5: Ages 10+
Book 6: Ages 11+
Book 7: Ages 12+
Tales of Beedle the Bard: Ages 10+
Fantastic Beasts/Quidditch Through the Ages: Ages 9+

I don't know if I'd put exactly those ages on each book (I haven't put quite that much thought into it), but that's pretty dang close and follows appropriately the increased intensity as the series progresses.

What about Twilight? Books 1-2 are a clear Age 13+, books 3-4 are an iffy Age 13+.

- The site also links in what it considers to be relevant news articles and includes advice for parents when dealing with kids and media. Each review also includes potential discussion points for parents and their kids based on messages the media seems to be sending.

- One of the other things I like about the site is that it's ultimately answerable to the public. The site has an investment in constant improvement, if they begin to let users down, users will go somewhere else. I believe that the monopolistic MPAA ratings system has outlived it's usefulness and it will be something like this site that will replace it.

- Each review has some detail, outlining language or violence or sexuality. I used to use for this, but the 'outlines' were just too descriptive. The outlines on this site are straightforward, but don't include enough detail to be offensive if you're looking at a questionable movie. In other words, I wouldn't have wanted my kids browsing, but I don't think I'd have a problem with them browsing this site.

- Finally, I think this site could potentially create excellent avenues of discussion between you and your child. If the child is coming to see you about each book they're reading and each movie they're seeing, you're much more in the loop, making it more likely that your kids won't accidentally see inappropriate material and more likely that if they do they'll be able to come talk to you about it. It may be tedious at times for them and for you, but to me it's a small price to pay to make sure I'm a solid component in my child's media consumption.

Cons for the site:

- The selection of reviews is relatively small. They've got all 4 Twilight books, but not Meyer's The Host (which by the way was also excellent). I'm sure you'll have more luck with more popular media while more obscure selections will probably prove less likely to be included (though hopefully that will become less and less of a problem as the site grows, and I noticed that you can request a specific review).

The media count based on my quick look today is as follows:

Movies: 3067
TV Shows: 1923
Books: 1486
Websites: 502
Games: 981
Music: 1035

- Also, obviously each child develops at different speeds and each child can appropriately cope with different subjects at different ages. That being said, the age ratings for the media on the site will have to be adjusted based on the child in question. It would be really awesome if the site gave an option to auto-adjust ratings; say I wanted to be more strict with my kids, I could theoretically enter my desired adjustment, 'add 2 years to each rating', and thus see the new age appropriateness for that specific child... just an idea, not something I've seen on the site (though I emailed them, making the suggestion).

- Finally, I can't seem to find the criteria used to select ratings (seems like it's only available for registered educators, a complaint I included in my email); this is one of my big complaints for the MPAA; the MPAA has vague explanations available, but to me it's not nearly enough. Hopefully user demand will push the site to publish its criteria for assigning age ratings. It may be that the only thing holding them back is legal issues; maybe they don't want someone else stealing their ratings formula and then starting up a competing site? Maybe they can copyright their method? Not sure.

Overall, I'm glad that I've found the site. I've added it to my personal links, and I hope that they continue to grow and improve so that I can start to rely on the ratings as Aeriana (my daughter - almost 1 year old) gets older. One final comment that probably goes without saying is that no ratings system will ever be able to replace an attentive parent. I would hope that no one would ever use this site as an end-all source of what's appropriate for their child. Nothing beats one-on-one discussions and attention for good parenting, but I'm all for getting a little help.