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Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green



I LOVE John Green’s books. His teens are smart, connected to the world beyond high school and its associated cycles of drama, have deep emotions and, best of all, are completely believable. Plus he lives in Indianapolis. Enough said, right?

One of the down sides to listening to books in the car is not always being able to get a quote written down that I want to remember. This book was full of them!


The Story

Aza and Daisy are best friends who love to hang at the Nora Appleby’s. Both worry about paying for college, but Aza worries about certain germs even more. Worries to the point of needing appropriate psychiatric help. Several years ago she lost her Dad and met a boy named Davis Pickett at “SAD Camp”–the name they gave the Brown County camp both attended that specialized in helping kids who were grieving.

“Your now is not your forever.”

Fast forward to now late teen age years when Aza and Daisy re-encounter Davis whose billionaire father has disappeared. “To be alive is to be missing.”  The changes this event and the re-birth of Aza’s relationship with Davis bring to both BFFs makes for a compelling story. From writing fan fiction, creating underground art, dealing with out-of-control anxiety and lingering loss, to falling in love and learning about the truth and consequences of money, this book packs a punch. “Wealth is careless.”

Love is not a tragedy or a failure, but a gift..

….nothing in this world is deserved except for love…

….love is both how you become a persona and why..

….no one ever says ‘good bye’ unless they want to see you again.

I am happy to know that a movie of this book is in the works.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

My Rating

4 Solid Turtles

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books We Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn’t Get To


Usually, when I get to year’s end without reading something it comes down to two things:

  1. Time to do print reading (actual books or e-books)
  2. The title isn’t available thru my vast library system on some version of audio

With that said, here then are the ten books I was looking forward to but never managed to read or listen to in 2017.



What books do you regret not getting to in 2017? You can see what others have listed by checking out all of this week’s Top Ten Tuesday lists at the Broke and the Bookish.



Review: Gilded Suffragists by Joanna Neuman


How perfect that today, when yet another famous women, this time Oprah Winfrey, is being mooted as a presidential possibility, today I am reviewing a book about the birth of suffrage for American women.

Back in the Gilded Age and the Edwardian Era, women became aware of a failing on the part of most democracies: They denied woman the right to vote. The Votes for Women movements that sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic had two sorts of champions: Ordinary Women and the Grande Dames of Society. In the United States, the suffragist movement, achieved instant press coverage thanks to women with married or maiden names like Vanderbilt, Harriman and Whitney. The press was well used to covering their storied parties and balls, but this was something new. The women had found a purpose in life that wasn’t about conspicuous consumption.

When women get bored, watch out! Things change.

This is also the era in which society women founded New York’s first “gentleman’s club” exclusively for women–the fabled Colony Club. It is also when society women like President Theodore Roosevelt’s serious-minded niece, Eleanor, (soon to become Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt) founded and populated the Junior League. Denied careers, often forced to make a career out of an arrange marriage, these women knew how to work a room, organize a committee, influence and flatter men and make change happen–whether it was slum clearance, immigrant assimilation, public health, the formation of public libraries or any number of other causes these ladies were the backbone of such campaigns. Suffrage was their shining moment.

Not that things went smoothly or that the women all got along! Nope. Just like your average PTA or college sorority, there were factions, fissures and almost fist-fights along the way. But the women got it done. Period.

Joanna Neuman’s well-researched, brilliantly told tale of the true story of women’s suffrage coming to America is a great, short read at only 160 pages of actual text. You will come away seeing the legacy of Founding Mother Abigail Adams’ spirit continuing to imbue American women with a sense of what is right and of how to achieve it. You will come away thinking differently of the supposedly vapid-party-hearty types with big money, too.

Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought For Women’s Right to Vote by Joanna Neuman


4.5 Stars







Shoebox Shopping: Getting started on 2018



With a family member in the hospital and both of my kids now adults, we voted to “sort of” skip Christmas. We’re having the usual meals for Christmas and a few small gifts only. That’s plenty. So the little I had already put-back for Christmas more than covered it, leaving some left over. So, adding that little stash, to unspent “spending” money for my trip to the OCC Processing Center in Boone and then having a surprise of forgotten Swag Bucks that were credited too late for 2017, I’ve been shoebox shopping!


Here are a few photos:


My goal of 400 pencil pouches is under way! I’ll be making some, and it seems my Mom will be too–yeah! But others will be bought along the way. (If you want to contribute all of these will go to the church I traveled with or to the Processing Center for “filler” and all will have pens, pencils, etc).  I found a forgot Clearance nook and got the bright orange and green ones for 50 cents each. Not a bad price. The other three are brand new thrift-store finds that I got free! (More later)



To help fill all of those pencil bags I hit the jackpot at Office Depot–a deal I’d read about on a shoebox blog–and got 51 bags of blue pens and 3 red for $0.14 each. They gave me the rulers for a penny each since they did not ring up right. The large box of 72 colored pencils were $3 each and will go in big kid boxes. The double-ended markers were $1 and will also be for big kid boxes. Other clearance items were cute stickers–$1 for 3 packs, girls sandals, buy one at $2.50, get on 1/2 off and Michaels marked their plaid metal water bottles down 60%. For that price I can live with not being able to pack anything in them. They are well made and will last.

I also ordered 20 of these for $0.79 each from For Teachers Only .com. The shipping was fast, the order was filed correctly and they are more than adequate–especially for the price. I might end up ordering more. I also got boxes of misprinted pencils and mismatched pens–all a great value.



I have a local Thrift Shop I love, but it is closing. They have almost given me big bags of stuffed animals ($2 a bag). I “re-inspect” them in daylight to be sure they are “new.” Any that aren’t get re-donated. I’ve picked up brand new water bottles there and for a dime or a quarter have gotten new/like new clothing to re-use the fabric for pencil bags, girls’ skirts and other needs.



I’m not a fan of cheap flip-flops having walked 3 miles in the rain in them in Malawi once and been forced to have very cold feet, blisters between my toes and cuts on my feet that took a while to heal! I get it that there are places where they are a good thing–like orphanages with communal shower rooms. This type I have fewer problems with so when I stumbled upon Clearance at the local Family dollar I grabbed all only to smile more when all seven pairs rang up for less than $10! Several will go to the church I traveled with to be help less-filled boxes from their packing party. A few days later I picked up some girls sandals there, too, for the same sort of price.


Sorry the Photo Was Awful


My clothing stash is about done–I had several t-shirts left from 2017. My goal is that each box have a simple outfit–dress or shirt and skirt for girls and shorts and shirt for boys. As always, I ask myself, “Would I want my kid to wear this?” If the answer is no, I don’t buy it or pack it. Gabe’s (Gabriel Brothers) is a favorite clothing place. Spend a certain amount (I don’t always) and get a coupon for next month. I also get easy-to-pack thin fleece blankets there for $2 as well as inexpensive jewelry for big girls and some filler items. My other clothes haunts are Marshalls/TJ Maxx and Walmart. I don’t like this season’s Target collections for kids much so won’t bother there this time. Kohl’s is another good Clearance source. I don’t do Kohl’s Cash but if you do–don’t let those expire! Use them for nice kids stuff from Clearance.


Art supplies and toys are improving in this year’s box–the WOW thing I wrote about last week. I found these HUGE boxes of 96 crayons at Target for $3.48 each–one for a boy, one for a girl. The other items are from Target’s dollar bins. Finally! Some cool boy pencils! Some of my toys, ordered with SwagBucks that credited to my account too late for 2017, have started arriving (more later). I’ve also received the 3 clearance soccer balls I ordered. I like to send different ones. I did the bulk thing one year and thought “What if these went to the same village? They’d fight over whose is whose!” [Yes, it is very possible they’d go to the same village. Here’s how: My boxes arrive at the collection point church, are immediately boxed in cartons. Those cartons are opened at the processing center and they are inspected and put into a new carton and shipped. They really could all go to the same place!]



Oh, and I ordered my actual shoeboxes! I got 40 plastic shoeboxes in a good Walmart deal for $32 (that also earned me Swagbucks for shoebox shopping later), but doubt I can send that many this year, so I have a head start on 2019.

What’s left?

These will be paid for mostly with my small summer check for indexing. It’s a token amount but it does a lot in shoebox terms.

A lot, actually! But happily, there’s almost a year in which to accomplish or find it all!

Dollar Tree:

Soccer Ball Pumps (extra needles from Wal-mart)

Girls Sewing Kits (love these–in a nice vinyl bag)

Pencil Bags

Pretty Pencils for girls

Coloring Books

Bible Story Books

Board Books

Fun little filler items-hair bands, little toys, notepads, whatever

Toothbrushes, hair brushes, combs

Flexible cover composition books



Water bottles or nice cups with lids (I tend to find these at Marshalls/TJ Maxx clearance)

A few nice big girls’ purses

Pencil bags

Cotton sanitary napkins (Etsy–if I don’t make some)

Scientific calculators–for big kid boxes

Geometry sets–for big kid boxes

Soap/Soap Containers (Kroger with my $2 pharmacy coupon each month)



Back-to-school sales on school supplies

Clearance on t-shirts, shorts, summer dresses

Bandanas for girl boxes

Other filler items


To Make:

Girls skirts as necessary

Pencil bags

Sanitary napkins

Drawstring bags for little stuff

Review: Twelve Desperate Miles: The Epic WWII Voyage of the USS Contessa


The Story:

Merchant ship the USS Contessa,  a “banana boat” owned by a fruit company, traveled with a hold full of refrigerated bananas while the upper decks held passengers willing to save a little money on a cruise by traveling with the smelly fruit! (I can’t stand bananas–especially the smell!!!) Then World War II happens and the ship is needed for other uses.

What I Liked:

I enjoyed the stories of the people–Captain John, George Patton, Lord Louis [the reader said ‘Lewis’] Mountbatten, Walter Cronkite and a host of others. This part of the book was very lively and engaging as was other parts of the back story, such as the story of the movie Casablanca or the beginnings of the OSS/CIA.

What I Didn’t Like:

The author seemed to be stuck in the convoy systems zig-zagging. I never felt the story come together. It was more like a string of anecdotes than a history of the ship’s service.



3 Stars

Lessons From OCC’s Boone Processing Center, Part IV: FILLER

Filler: What it is and isn’t

Your church holds a packing party. You have decided to break your last year’s record of 319 boxes. But people haven’t brought as much stuff as last year. You’ve even put in Great Aunt Edna’s yearly output of Granny Square slippers that no one anywhere on  the planet wants. A few funeral parlor fans and the church stapler have been packed. The pastor has maxed out his VISA card buying more stuff at the local Dollar Tree and the Youth Pastor is Ziplock-ing old French Fries from his van floor. You are stuck at 299 boxes. So you decide to put what you can in the other boxes needed to reach 320 and call it a night. The Processing Center, someone reminds everyone, will put in more. After all, someone else says, they have all kinds of stuff for those shoe boxes you can fill online for $25. Right?


Operation Christmas Child buys nothing except the materials for the Greatest Journey program. Shoe boxes are solely filled by volunteers like you and me.  What you see in those green bins in the video above, and what the staff are loading into the white plastic bins for the processing stations, is called “Filler.” But no, it does not include the soccer balls, flip-flops and stuffed animals you can put in a $25 online packed shoe box. In fact, on my first day, we had stuff for filler that should have gone to the landfill–and I’m environmentally aware. I live near a landfill. We really don’t want more of those. Some days, we were told by staff, there was NOTHING to put in that box  containing, say, only a tennis ball and a Bud’s Car Wash pen. NOTHING. Got it? No nice water bottles. No new socks. Not even a toothbrush.

Filler–the Bad

  1. Graduation Cake decorations
  2. Unsold Halloween costumes (all the same)
  3. Mouse pads
  4. Flimsy cardboard Spaceman masks with just an elastic thread to hold them on.
  5. Spanish language “You can be a nurse” pamphlets (I did include English ones since Ghana–the country we were packing for that day, was a British colony and English is taught).
  6. A pillowcase dress made out of a pillow case so old it was totally transparent.
  7. A pillowcase dress made out of plain old muslin with straps made from 1970’s-era hem lace bought in the sewing notions department in a color not seen since the Carter administration. It was so ugly I cannot imagine someone wanting it. And, I’ve been to a village rated one of the poorest on Earth by the U.N.
  8. A zillion of the same fast food toy. (It might have been the canon in the 2006 Pirates of the Caribbean toy set–I didn’t open the bag to see.) Obviously this was not a popular one.

A note on some of these: Yes, they might like the little Graduation hat and diploma when they finish The Greatest Journey–they have a little ceremony. Yes, maybe Grandma could sit on the mouse pad. Yes, they could remake the dresses. But, come on! This is JUNK. And, in the case of the commercially produced items, they got tax credit for a gift in kind. The recipients KNOW these boxes are packed by some of the richest nations on Earth–the USA, the UK, Germany,  New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Australia, etc and . But guess what? They also have crap-o-meters. They can smell the garbage. I’ve seen the crap sent to Mozambican refugees back in the day. It was crap like this.


Filler the Good, or at least the acceptable

Other days the pickings were better–somewhat better at least. Mostly the good items came from donations by shoebox packers though, with a few exceptions.

  1. Padded drawstring bags in black or gray that were likely made for electronic devices. These were good quality and held pencils or, in one case, a bag of indiscreetly placed sanitary napkins. [Note to packers: No girl in any culture wants THOSE to be seen at a party, ok? Bury them under stuff.] Useful for Legos, marbles and other small toy collections or hair accessories.
  2. Small white stuffed dogs–very cute and high quality
  3. Shoebox-sized, but very nice Disney stuffed Nemos
  4. Shoebox-sized, but very nice, stuff San Francisco 49ers Footballs. Make great pillows.
  5. Other pillowcase-style dresses nicely made in bright, modern fabrics.
  6. Wooden cars–the best cars of all for an African village child.
  7. Plastic sandals in boys sizes.
  8.  Finally some soap, wash cloths and toothbrushes.
  9. Two fabulous Pencil Granny packages of school supplies in big denim zipper bags, suitable for Secondary School students or to supply an entire family.
  10. A Lego set.
  11. Small sets of pens, pencils and paper.
  12. A few Hot Wheels
  13. Nice, teenage-appealing paperback Bibles in English.


If it isn’t donated, processors can’t add it. My team took a couple of small bags of leftovers for filler, but what Processing Centers need are semi-truck loads of GOOD STUFF. Though I wouldn’t pack it in a personal box, adding a left over soccer jersey is still adding a shirt. But it’s not a help if it’s an adult XXL. I recently read an article where a journalist bad-mouthed the program for people packing this sort of  stuff. Sure, some people truly DID pack lousy stuff, but I was really surprised that Operation Christmas Child not only accepted this garbage but URGED it’s inclusion. So OCC is generating its own bad press with this! This is a WONDERFUL program. Help keep it that way by donating the type stuff it’s recipients NEED.

I get it–OCC must graciously accept (and re-gift) items to keep getting more filler items. But when you are the kid whose box contains half a spiral notebook (yes, people sent such things–cut in half with a buzz saw), a few left over restaurant crayons, and a man-size pair of boxers how will you feel when you see your best bud pulling out a brand new soccer ball, a cool t-shirt, sunglasses, a bag of marbles, a year’s worth of pencils, a big box crayons, a four-pack of toothbrushes and a Spiderman washcloth with soap? You’d feel unloved. You’d almost trade with the kid who got the Siberia-ready huge scarf and 6 bars of Zest! It matters that each box be filled with HOPE, LOVE, FUN and usefulness.

Maybe what they need are teams of experienced volunteers to sort shipments of filler?  Then items for adults can be put aside for Hurricane relief or refugee camps or  recycling or something like that?

So please: When you send your boxes, also send filler. Urge companies in your area to donate promotional water bottles, caps, pens/pencils/pads of paper, toys, lanyards, key rings, small size t-shirts or fleece or sweatshirts, golf towels, soap, highlighters, etc or simply pay for some GREAT STUFF. Know a dentist who is retiring? Urge him to send his stash of toothbrushes and floss to a Processing Center. If you craft–craft more for the filler bins–please! If you sew, sew some dresses and simple shorts, some pencil bags or change purses (if sewing clothing, please LABEL it with “Boy 5-9” so volunteers can put it in the appropriate box without having to stop, take off rubber bands and guess the size).

Have filler you want to donate? Want to give shoeboxes a ride to the processing centers? Here is the Gifts in Kind page. URGENT need is for School Supplies and QUALITY toys.

Packing Parties Please Read

Yes, the need is great. But only send what you can APPROPRIATELY fill. I know people are generally better about bringing simple items in than donating cash, but if you can do a special offering so you can fill your boxes much better. (I live in a very poor community–I know this isn’t always possible and I know that what is brought is a huge sacrifice to those families in such areas. But some people reading this don’t live in such areas and can do a special offering).  At the Processing Center we had several cartons come thru from one church that got really boring to process–that’s good, by the way! They KNEW what to pack. The blog  Simply Shoeboxes has great information on ordering toothbrushes and other things wholesale.

In my opinion (and it seems to be shared by most) EVERY box should have:

  1. Toothbrush(es)–I get great 4 for a dollar packs at Walmart–nicer than Dollar store ones.
  2. School supplies (you can skip the glue sticks–few countries receiving boxes have the luxury of art projects)
  3. Clothing item beyond socks (which aren’t used when you don’t have shoes)
  4. WOW item–toy, soccer ball, doll, real shoes (not flip-flops).

If a box doesn’t at least have these–save it for next year.

NOTE: I put Water Bottles or cups in as many boxes as possible, but sometimes I have better stuff so I skip it. Shoes or a really awesome WOW toy or extra little stuff that makes it a very nice themed box may rule out the water bottle or cup. But remember, many, many, many recipients must travel to get to clean water. Keeping it clean is important. Sharing cups or spoons with relatives who may have contagious illnesses is not a great idea, either.

And please STOP telling folks to bring DEODORANT,  Kleenex and Wet Wipes (also Tampons). Please–just stop. Donate those to domestic charities and domestic disaster relief.


Lessons from OCC’s Boone Processing Center, Part III: “Finding” Money for Shoe Box Packing and Weird Stuff I Found in Boxes


I was pleased to spend each shift last week inspecting boxes to make sure no forbidden items were included. That was very instructive. I’ve already discussed how I’d undervalued the WOW item and I’ve mentioned that presentation of the gift really does make a difference. Today I’m going to talk first about ways to find money in your budget for shoe box packing. Then I’ll look at the the weird, crazy, useless stuff I found in boxes. Then we’ll look at Fillers.



New to OCC Shoe Box packing?

First, if you are new to Shoe Box packing, read this post and follow the links in it to the Operation Christmas Child website.


Finding Money for Shoe Box Packing

First of all, remember: One well-packed shoe box is a HUGE help. You need not break records for numbers of boxes packed. One box helps. Quality matters.

Three Ways I’m “Finding” Money This Year:

  1. My Swag Bucks Account. I’m not a huge Swag Bucks Points earner. The videos usually result in viruses and I’m not glued to social media to catch all the codes. That really doesn’t matter. I earn swag bucks by doing my Walmart and Old Navy shopping thru them. If I need to order anything else online I check the site first to see if the store participates. I also do the simple daily poll (1 question). I used to do the search but it seems to take ages to earn with that now. There are all kinds of bloggers who can teach you ways to maximize this (or any other system like this). Just Google it. I’m dedicating this to getting some cool toys for WOW items using Amazon Gift cards. Plus Amazon has great “Add on” items in toys as well–if you spend X amount you can add great toy X for $X. That sort of thing. If you are a Prime member (I’m not) there are also super toy deals just for members.
  2. My monthly Kroger Pharmacy $2 coupon. I get one of these on the paperwork that accompanies a monthly prescription. I usually just toss it in with the grocery coupons, but this year I’m using it either for on-sale school supplies or a discount on a better toy, stuffed animal, soap or soap containers (see this post for the type food container I now buy for soap in some boxes).
  3. Canceled Netflix. I’ll buy myself one month to binge a show I like, but that basically pays the suggested $9 donation for 11 boxes.

Other Ways To Find or Save Money for Shoe boxes

  1. The blogs Simply Shoeboxes and Shoebox Shoppers have other tips–CVS points and Walgreens deals and all that sort of thing. Susan at Girls in White Dresses told me that Menards often has tools for older boy boxes (see yesterday’s post) for free or almost free with rebates. Remember to save pads of paper, pens, good sturdy bags, water bottles, free make-up bags and things you receive at conferences or events–they can at least be filer items when needed. Also save extra kids party favors (always, always as “extra” in a box, clothing your kid didn’t want (that is appropriate) and similar.
  2. Hold a garage sale or sell on Ebay or Facebook or Craig’s List and apply your earnings to your shoe box fund.
  3. Ask friends,  co-workers, book club, etc to donate similar items or give you shoe boxes.
  4. Give up your Starbucks or after work beer with the guys or lunch out one day a week and put the money in a jar for shoe boxes.
  5. Make a meatless pancake dinner once a week instead of having fast food and put the money in a jar.
  6. Ask failed home sales people to donate APPROPRIATE Discovery Toys, Thirty-One bags or other appropriate products.
  7. Cancel the gym membership you never use or the over-price cable tv that you don’t need.
  8. Call Flo and see if you can reduce your car insurance.
  9. If money isn’t super tight look at the “You Saved X Much” on your grocery receipt and put that much cash away–you could easily buy in bulk with that!
  10. Transfer a prescription and use the amount saved on shoe box stuff.
  11. Apply all rebates earned to the shoe box fund.
  12. Dump your change in a jar for shoe box stuff–include any found in the washer!
  13. Say no to ridiculous birthday parties, bake a cake mix cake, and have kids bring pencils, sharpeners, crayons and notebooks instead of gifts.
  14. “Charge” admission to New Year’s or Super Bowl or 4th of July or whatever parties to be paid in shoe boxes, kids’s shirts, soap or whatever for shoe boxes.
  15. Sell or use gift cards you don’t want to buy shoe box stuff. Wal-mart buys cards.
  16. Say NO to one kid activity and put the cost in the shoe box fund. Remember to add the cost gas, uniform/shoes, supplies etc savings to the jar as well, if possible.
  17. Earn money doing online surveys and save the money (the blog Money Saving Mom has a list of safe, reputable companies who do this).
  18. Enter blog giveaways and do store surveys from your receipt to win gift cards to sell or use for shoe box supplies. Save any appropriate door prizes you win or, if cash or cards, use/sell for your shoe box fun.
  19. Have deposit on bottles in your state? Paid Recycling? Add that.
  20. Win at the Casino or lottery? Win at Bridge, Euchre or  Mahjongg club? Pay a sin tax into your shoe box fund. Even a $2 pay out on a scratch off will increase the fund!




The Worst Items I Found In Shoe Boxes

  1. Candy-sized balls of homemade soap wrapped like candy. [Thrown away until we each discovered there was a label–it was that small.]
  2. A partial package of kid-sized sack race sacks.
  3. An item that was either a tube top or a very tight infinity scarf.
  4. A used party banner.
  5. A newborn sized Onesie (age 2 is the earliest). I put it in for a new baby.
  6. A lady’s size XL active wear skort. [I’m hoping this was an accident–like maybe she exercised in the shoe box room and hubby was helping wrap up the final boxes and stuffed it in….]
  7. Whoopee Cushion
  8. A dirty fly swatter
  9. Ziplock bag full of gift bag confetti
  10. Poo Emoji item [Some cultures have strict rules about “poo” and would not be amused at all]
  11. Three printed paper napkins of dubious vintage
  12. A tube-top style ladies top with one shoulder strap
  13. Box consuming, chunky hand knit winter scarves****
  14. Huge packs of bar soap**** (2 kids got boxes with barely more than a 6 pack of soap!)
  15. Swim goggles****
  16. Very used shoes (more in another post)
  17. Multiple packages of Band Aids****
  18. A box of just Happy Meal Toys****
  19. Wet Wipes
  20. Deodorant
  21. Kleenex
  22. Bath poof-scrubbies (which DO make fun toys, but have you tried to use one with BAR SOAP??) No one would associate them with bathing. Maybe with scrubbing pans.

The scarves might be nice in Siberia or in an European refugee camp, but please wrap them tightly in Saran Wrap or stuff them into a Ziplock bag and suck the air out thru a straw. No one really wants just a scarf. A few that I saw were HUGE. Swim goggles? Really? They may not have enough water locally to bathe daily. No one is in danger of chlorine irritating their eyes. First World Item. Leave it at home. I don’t care if they were two pairs for a 25 cents. Happy Meal toys–sigh. ONE is plenty. More than one in a box ONLY if they are a set. Remove the packaging.  I’ll have more to say on these soon.

Please–hygiene items ARE very important. But send extra toothbrushes, not six bars of Zest! One, at most two, bars of soap is enough. A couple of Band-aides are fine, but give whole boxes of Band-Aides to medical missions. Most kids won’t know what they are.


These are the Holy Trinity of  First World Items and their use cannot be sustained. Plus all create trash which has nowhere to go. I cannot believe they are even suggested. Deodorant contains dangerous chemicals if a toddler eats it. Does your 3 year old wear it? I found some in a 2-4 year old box and several in age 5-9 year olds’ boxes. 14 year-olds in Burkina Faso or Suriname don’t use it. All three of these products are best  donated to local food pantries, homeless shelters and/or domestic disaster relief.

Whenever possible REMOVE ALL PACKAGING

Do you want a child’s joy destroyed by maiming Barbie trying to yank her out of our absurd packaging? There is no garbage truck coming around to take this junk away. It also costs a lot of extra money to ship it. Remove it unless it provides storage for the product–a crayon box is a good example. Remember, you are not mailing these personally, so you are not subject to the whims of an individual customs examiner wanting to extort import duties! Packaging just adds expense to the shipping. If you are worried of it breaking (it won’t if it isn’t crap) then wrap it in a clothing item or washcloth or pack it in a storage container that can be reused. A well-packed box is too full for things to break!


Photo logo OCC 250x250(1)


Lessons from OCC’s Boone Processing Center, Part II: Good Ideas


Ha! I’m an “Inappropriate Item.” [Which means things that cannot go in a shoe box.]

Today I’m sharing about a few things I found to love–some in actual shoeboxes, one in a Facebook post I found after a shift working at the Processing Center. I hope to use these ideas in a few boxes this year.




Geometry Sets



Just before leaving I read that some countries require these for upper-level students. Given how expensive imported items can be, I thought I’d try to include a set in each 10-14 year old’s box this year. I saw several of these come thru my line and loved them. With a nice protective case they just might survive to be handed down from sibling to sibling and see an entire family thru those years of school. Many stores sell packages with these tools, but no case. Those kits at back to school could be slipped into a pencil bag just as nicely. Some countries also want an appropriate calculator. I will be investigating this and buying some appropriate ones at back to school sales. Meanwhile, you can buy the tool kit at Amazon or similar ones at back-to-school at Office Depot [kit link] and similar stores. Walmart has a 10-pack of these for a very reasonable price–under $30.


Tool Kit for Boys




The box on the left came thru my line. I loved that it include a heavy TARP. This could truly save a family in the rainy season in many countries. Corrugated roofing is expensive, but a heavy tarp held in place with bricks of rocks will keep the house dry. This box also include a box of different sized washers, screws, nails, etc–not a “picture hanging kit,” but really useful sized ones.  Even though the presentation of the gift was pretty sad looking, the box held a wealth of things. Crayons, colored pencils, routine school supplies and hygiene items were also in there. Another box held the tool box shown above from Dollar Tree and a nice selection of their inexpensive tools, bungie cords, school supplies, rope and other items. Yes, it fit in a shoebox! Another great item to include is a tool belt or nail apron like the white one from Walmart. Walmart also has a low cost tool bag. Here is a video on making a sturdy denim tool belt from old jeans.



My Personal Mission This Year





The thing that upset me most was the number of boxes that just had pens and pencils rolling around in them. I always include a pencil bag in all my boxes. Yes, even for the 2-4 age group.  That way when they start school they have one–or a sibling may have it. Happily, we had as filler some bulky, padded drawstring bags that were probably meant for phones or tablets that I used in some boxes to corral the mess. Presentation matters in giving a gift, but more importantly, these kids usually have to take their school supplies back and forth to school each day. The do not often have a secure building, let alone a private desk, in which to leave them.

So….this year my goal is 400 pencil cases beyond those for my boxes. I want to supply every box that doesn’t have one at the packing party held by my travel buddies church this year! I will be making some, begging for some and buying some.  I’m really hoping some of you reading this will make or buy some for your boxes, your packing party or to send to an OCC Processing Center for filler. Here are a number of samples that you can buy or make. They can be very simple drawstring bags or far more elaborate creations. Even a ziplock bag will help, but something nice looking helps. The instructions for those to make are all on my Pinterst OCC Shoe Box Board.


I hope these ideas inspire you to try adding a few new things this year!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 of my Favorite Books in 2017–Fiction


Every year I choose a “Must Read Book” to recommend to everyone for the coming year. It’s my favorite book from the current year. I’m not revealing that ONE book here, but here are ten of my favorites. Today’s list has 10 novels.



Do you enjoy book lists or book memes? Why not join the fun with Top Ten Tuesday each week?  Here’s a link to the rules. You can read all of this week’s great lists here. Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting it each week.


What I learned volunteering at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center in Boone, North Carolina Part I


Last week I traveled with a friend and her former church’s OCC Shoe Box team to volunteer at the Boone, North Carolina shoe box Processing Center. We were an awesome team!  I loved the servant’s hearts each person had and that everyone made me–a total stranger to all but one person–completely welcome. We stayed in a rented vacation home that easily accommodated all of us. Each day we went off to the Processing Center and manned an inspection and boxing line. It was a blast! I was thrilled that they let me inspect boxes every day–it was so cool! I got to experience each box I touched as though I was the receiving child. That was VERY instructive!

Lesson Learned #1: The WOW item matters!

OCC asks that each box have a “Wow” item that will immediately appeal to the child. It is most often a toy, doll or soccer ball, but could also be a lovely purse for an older girl or a tool box for an older boy or a nice pair of shoes for any age. What matters is that it is easily the very 1st thing they see!


Unfortunately, my phone DIED the day we arrived, so I have only photos taken by others on the team. Above is a box I packed that I’ll use to illustrate the WOW! factor. This 5 to 9 year old boy will open his box and instantly see this nice soccer ball with its pump. WOW! Get it? Don’t skip this. Put less in the box if you have to, but do NOT skip the WOW! I have been seriously underestimating its importance!

Lesson # 2: Quality Over Quantity


The need is really great for boxes and they bring not only stuff, but HOPE. Most of the children receiving these boxes live on the edge of homelessness and and even starvation, so HOPE is very, very needed. Later this week I’ll be talking more about some commonly packed items, but for now I will say choose WISELY.  Better quality makes a nicer gift. Many of the boxes I processed had the foul smell of stone-cold, workhouse charity. Others, though meager, clearly showed the true sacrificial giving of the “widow’s mite.” [See Luke 21:1-4]. We want that hope to come wrapped in love. The box should show that it truly is a gift–God’s provision and the love of a member of Christ’s own family. Many churches have a very incorrect vision of what the Processing Center’s “filler items” are.  Don’t send nearly empty boxes. Just don’t. I’ll discuss this more later in the week.


Lesson #3: A Note and a Photo

I do pray for every child who receives my boxes and I pray in other ways for the program and the children, but I do not include a photo or a note. This year I will include a short, generic note. Since I concluded my Peace Corps service in Malawi over 25 years ago and still get an occasional letter at a friend’s house (where I lived briefly after my service) I no longer give my address out in the so-called 3rd world. I can’t solve the problems. I can give to charities that can, however, so that is my response to the letters. I don’t want more letters.

But over and over I have heard and read how much the recipients enjoyed reading the letters and even put up the photos on their wall. Many even consider this the most treasured item in their box. So, you might want to consider a first names only letter and photo.


Lesson #4: The Box


I found out the great thing about these little red and green gems–23 of them go in one carton–allowing a uniform number in each carton. ANY shoe box is acceptable, but PLEASE–shoe box means just that: SHOE box–not BOOT box. They do take those boot boxes and ship them, but yikes! what a cost! And at the other end there may be a carton that does not deliver enough boxes.


The pre-printed red and green cardboard boxes are a big cost savings over buying plastic ones — 100 for $22. Operation Christmas Child also sells plastic red and green logo-ed  boxes that result in a uniform number per carton as well.  A dozen of these cost $18. The plastic boxes I like to send result in a similar amount of boxes per carton and have just a bit more space. Do NOT buy the cheap plastic boxes at Dollar Tree!!! Later this week, I will focus on the many GREAT items at Dollar Tree, but sadly, their plastic shoe boxes are awful. There was another type plastic box that has latches on each end that stick out–skip those, too.  You can’t pack very many in a carton.


Lesson # 5: They Pray!

We really did stop work at various times to have devotions, here a shoe box recipient’s story and PRAY! We prayed for the child receiving the box and that he or she receive exactly the right box. Around the Center there were boxes to put in prayer requests–the permanent staff of Operation Christmas Child prays over these.


Lesson #6: It is Super Fun to Volunteer at a Processing Center



It can be a challenge to get a reservation to volunteer, but don’t give up! Call back later on and see who has cancelled or cancelled a few spots. Later this week I will show you more of what we did.


Have you volunteered at an OCC Processing Center? If so, leave me a comment with your lessons learned.