Mothers, Daughters, Subversive Tea Towels and Being “Seen”

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Last fall, I had made plans to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak in Dubuque, IA. This just happened to coincide with a trip my mom was making to see us in Iowa. At the risk of wondering what she might think, I invited her along. I guess I worried how mom might fare with Nadia – her expansive, sometimes unorthodox, theology, her radical, post-modern imagining of the church, and, you know, her embrace of the F-bomb. But then I thought of other things I’ve asked mom to take me to, and I relaxed.

As a kid I was excited about The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated Tim Burton musical about a bunch of ghouls and ghosts who are always prepared for Halloween but then one day become fascinated with Christmas. Mom didn’t get it, but she took me to see it anyway. When I turned seventeen, my sister got me tickets to Tori Amos for my birthday, but then she couldn’t go. Once again, not her thing, but mom took me. And now, here I was embarking on a mini road trip with my mom and a carload of UCC clergywomen, to hear my favorite writer and theologian talk about her journey from recovering addict and stand-up comedian to being called by God to become an ELCA Pastor.

Despite my unnecessary anxieties, mom enjoyed herself; the company, the presentation, the theology. And when it was over, she bought two books and got them signed.

A few weeks passed, and my mom was busy creating things in her sewing room; truly, her sanctuary and prayer chamber. “I’d like to embroider you some towels that say ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ or something like that.” It was a kind gesture, but I admitted to mom that that sentiment wasn’t really my thing. “What if they said things like: ‘But First, Coffee’ or ‘I Mom So Hard’? Or ‘Speak Truth to Stupid’?” — a saying we both heard for the first time at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s lecture.

I could almost hear her bewilderment over the phone, but being a mom who loves her unusual daughter, to my sheer delight she fulfilled my request. She sent me four of the plushest towels I’ll ever dry dishes with, embroidered beautifully with those phrases. And yes. Even Nadia Bolz-Weber’s: “Speak Truth to Stupid.”

A few more weeks passed and I learned that Nadia Bolz-Weber would be here, in our own Quad Cities, speaking as a part of Augustana College’s “Symposium Day.” Knowing I already had all her books signed, I knew just what to do. After Nadia’s riveting presentation on our need for a sexual reformation in the church, I hightailed it to the book-signing line, with no book in hand. Instead, I had my “Speak Truth to Stupid” tea towel, trimmed with leopard print and lace, tucked away in a Ziplock bag under my arm.

My body buzzed with adrenaline and espresso as I approached Nadia’s place at the book-signing table where she was sitting with an intense look on her face. I almost got skipped in line because I didn’t have a book, but I pushed myself forward and thrust my parcel at her. I told her the story of how my mom wanted to embroider me towels that said ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ but that that wasn’t really my jam. I asked her to inscribe something else on the towels, and that’s when Nadia looked down to see her own words, craftily adorning my kitchen linens.

I stood back and watched as the intense writer and pastor flung her head back and let out the most joyful laugh. (My friend Stephanie captured the above picture.) As I walked away from the table, Nadia waved to me and said, “See ya, Kendra.”

You know, it is a deeply holy experience when you feel like you’ve actually been “seen.” That’s what that day was for me. Not just that a theologian-writer-pastor “saw” me or even that my friends understood this wacky desire to have a towel signed. But truly, it was the trifecta of those two encounters and my mom taking the time to accompany me to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, one hundred miles from home, and then investing time and energy into making me some deeply meaningful tea towels, one that is now even autographed.

Yes, it is a joy to be known and to be seen. Thanks, mom.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Books: Graphic Novels and Mysteries

Hello again, Mama Bears!

I spend most of my time reading literary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes it’s great to take a break from that and sink your teeth into some good genre reads. Summer feels like the perfect time for a departure from the standard reads. Though I certainly don’t limit myself to these books just in the summer, I have a couple of my favorite mystery series to share with you. And I’m even more excited to share some graphic novel suggestions with you! They are a relatively new discovery for me and I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this genre. I am hoping this post will inspire you to try something that maybe you haven’t tried before. Happy reading!

Graphic Novels

March by John Lewis: This three-book series allows readers to see the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman: The life of Polish Jews during WWII, both before and after their internment. (Two-book series)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: If you don’t know anything about the revolution in Iran in the 80s and early 90s, this is a lesson to be learned.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: A memoir where Bechdel wrestles with her father’s death and secret sexuality while also coming to grips with her own sexuality.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris: This is a dark and gritty tale about a girl who imagines herself like a monster found in horror movies. She tasks herself with figuring out what really happened in the suspicious death of her neighbor, a WWII survivor. Themes include sexuality, suicide, cancer, death and poverty among other things. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. P.S. Ferris began work on this graphic novel as she recovered from paralysis caused by West Nile.

Mysteries

The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith: Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. The series starts with The Cuckoo’s Calling. I may be biased because I love J.K., but I thoroughly enjoy the character of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin.

The Flavia de Luce Series by Alan Bradley: The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is a teen girl full of spunk and a passion for chemistry who has a knack for solving mysteries. She is an absolute delight.

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

Mama Bear Books: 8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

Throughout my life, I would have always described myself as a feminist, but I didn’t read feminist works or take a women’s lit class in college. I didn’t think of it much beyond, “Yes, I believe women deserve equal opportunities to men. Being a woman does not make me lesser.”

It wasn’t until these last few years that I’ve really started to consider it more. It must have something to do with how freeing our 30s are. Then, Emma Watson (can I get a shout out for Hermione?!?) created a book club on Goodreads at the beginning of 2016 with the intention of reading and sharing feminist works. And so, my real feminist education began.

I need this education in women’s voices, not just for myself, but for my daughters AND my sons, and for my future students. With each book I read, I find myself considering new things, feeling emboldened and sometimes outraged, and also incredibly proud to be able to call myself a woman alongside these women. And I wear the label feminist with a boldness I never have before. My advice is to read We Should All Be Feminists first, and then keep going! There is so much more out there; these are just the books that resonated with me the most in my first year of feminist reading. Happy reading!

8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Pick up copies of this beautiful essay and pass it out like a feminist super hero.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Perspectives on feminism, race and pop culture. Very thought provoking.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed: A collection of letters and advice issued in the Dear Sugar column. No holds barred and delightful.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Do you want to know what life is like for women outside of the U.S.? Read this book.

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein: If you have CHILDREN between the ages of 0 and 22ish, read this book!!

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon: Love the approach this book took to her life story. She is a serious badass and my hero!

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou: A beautiful memoir about how her mother’s absence and presence so greatly affected her.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun & Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes: She beautifully gives us all permission to be ourselves!

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Mama Bear Self Care: Make the Dream a Reality

The Dream: after the kids fall asleep, Mama Bear settles in to relax and enjoy what remains of her evening. She shuts off her computer and phone, pours herself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, takes a warm bath, and finally climbs into bed with a good book. Eventually she too drifts off to la la land, waking ready to face the day after a refreshing eight hours of slumber.

The Reality: after the kids are FINALLY in bed, Mama Bear’s work begins. She cleans up the kitchen and loads the dishwasher. She gathers dirty clothes and starts a load of laundry. She puts away toys and books and shoes. She makes lunches, packs backpacks, and sets alarm clocks. She checks and answers emails, writes a to-do list for the following day, and pops over to YouTube to see if April the giraffe has given birth yet.

Admittedly, these two scenarios fall at the far ends of the bedtime routine spectrum. But if your days and nights look anything like mine, you find yourself closer to “the reality” rather than “the dream”.

Back in February I reached my breaking point. Despite feeling exhausted, at the end of the night I couldn’t relax and fall asleep. My brain kept churning, and as a result, my hands continued to pick up my phone to jot down a note or send another message. Around the same time, I realized I hadn’t finished reading a single book since last October. I considered the possibility that these two situations were connected (that when I stopped reading as part of my bedtime routine, my schedule went haywire), and decided to attempt to make my nights more positive and restorative…with a reading challenge.

I committed myself to reading 10 pages of a book – no magazines, no online articles – every night for the entire month of March.

At first I would climb into bed at or after 11pm and begrudging read my pages before going back to my phone to wrap up the night. But as time went on and I began to lose myself in my book, 10 pages became 20 pages became 40 pages. I found myself managing my days more efficiently with the goal of lessening my evening workload and increasing the amount of time available for reading. I stopped picking up my phone for one last message. I started falling asleep more quickly once I had finished reading and sleeping more soundly throughout the night. I woke better rested and without the neck ache I had been dealing with for months. One small change to my bedtime routine dramatically impacted both how I slept and my life as a whole.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep affects our mood, energy level, and overall health and well-being. And while we know and understand sleep guidelines and recommendations, getting enough sleep – especially as Mama Bears – can be tough. We can’t do much about babies who need to eat, toddlers who have bad dreams, or preschoolers who wet the bed in the middle of the night. So instead, let’s focus on what we can control. We can exercise daily and limit caffeine in the afternoons and evenings. We can stick to a regular schedule, sleep in a comfortable bedroom (low light, low sound, cool temperature), and sleep on a comfortable mattress. We can turn off all of our electronic devices an hour before we would like to fall asleep and open a book instead. Just as we create calming, restorative bedtime routines for our kiddos, we can create calming, restorative bedtime routines for ourselves.

“Make sleep a priority…don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done – stop doing everything else so you get the sleep you need.” The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation makes sense, but if completely overhauling your evening and bedtime routines feels too daunting, just make one small change. Take one stressful task off your evening to-do list, or add one relaxing activity to your bedtime routine…even if it’s just reading 10 pages of a good book every night. The benefits will eventually reveal themselves, and Mama Bears deserve every single one of them.

Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Books for February

Hi, Readers!

I’m so happy to be back on the Mama Bear Blog, this time with book suggestions centering on race, race relations, and race in America. February is Black History Month, so we thought it would be appropriate to share with you some of the books I have recently read surrounding the topic. The current political climate and the Black Lives Matter movement have opened my eyes to issues of race in a way they they hadn’t been previously. Why? Because they didn’t have to be, thanks to my white privilege and the fact that I live in a mostly white town. However, I don’t want to be willfully ignorant to the issue any more.

Last year, I made a conscious effort to read both fiction and nonfiction focused on race. This post include a list and short description of some of my favorite. By no means is this a comprehensive list and in no way do I want to paint myself as an expert. I am just a white lady trying to get woke and this is where I’ve started. If you’re in the same situation, maybe one of these books will spark your interest and lead you to an understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement or what people mean when they talk about white privilege.

Happy reading!

NONFICTION

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson: Funny and insightful, full of pop culture references, also a strong feminist viewpoint.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah: About his upbringing in South Africa and fully relevant to our current political situation.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson: An absolute must read about our justice system. I said MUST read.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates: If you’re ready to get a hard lesson in what it’s like to be black in America, read this.

How to Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston: He uses a humorous voice to describe what it’s like to always be the “representative of blackness.”

FICTION

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett: The secret that all the characters in this book revolve around is an abortion, so it may not be for everyone, but I was mesmerized by this book.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Mesmerizing observations on race in America from the viewpoint of non-American Blacks.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead: This book takes a good, hard look at our history as it re-imagines the underground railroad as an actual railroad.

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: Not perfect, but a great place for white tweens to start thinking about the subject matter.


Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

What to Read in 2017

Hello, Mama Bears!

My name is Lindsey Sinnwell and you don’t know me, but Tesi does. We went to high school together and I would describe us as friendly, but not friends back then. I don’t think we thought we had much in common. But now, through one of the best aspects of Facebook, we’ve discovered we have more in common than we imagined. One of the things we’ve bonded over is books. (Also, having lots of kids, Harry Potter, movies, politics and podcasts!)

I am an avid reader and I am overjoyed when I find other readers in life. I have been writing a small, mostly unread blog since 2009 chronicling every book I’ve read. The reviews are nothing spectacular, mostly just my gut reactions to the books. (I liked it. I didn’t like it. This was good. It was missing this for me.) I keep the blog mostly for myself, so when Tesi and Leslie asked me to write a book recommendation post for the Mama Bear blog, I thought, “I don’t know if I can do that.” But, then I thought about all the dares I have listened to throughout the year on Mama Bear Dares and I told myself, “Do it!” It scares me, but here I am doing it.

I read 135 books in 2016—some old, some new. (I did say avid when I described myself as a reader. Should I have maybe used the word obsessive?) I have more free time than the average Mama Bear and I can ignore a sink full of dishes and a pile of laundry for a good book any day!

I am headed back to school this month and I am already mourning the reading time I will be giving up. But, you know what? It’s all in the name of turning my reading passion into a professional passion! Over the next several months, I will be recommending books to Mama Bear readers by category. My first recommendations will be based on my 2016 reading alone, but future months may include recommendations from my 2017 reading as well. I hope you find my recommendations helpful. Let’s ease into 2017 with some general fiction, juvenile fiction, and young adult fiction. Next month, we’ll tackle recommendations for books about race.

Happy Reading!

General Fiction

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: Friendship, faith struggles, and lots of political commentary. I had no idea how relevant Ronald Reagan’s presidency would feel today.

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan: A survivalist, her trans daughter and their new neighbor preparing for a coming ice age could be very dark, but was beautiful, heart-wrenching and funny with a healthy dose of swearing.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: A story of a new love at a point in life when both characters thought they were well past the possibility.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: The translation of a book called The History of Love brings three story lines together beautifully in the end.

Be Frank with Me by Julie Claiborne Johnson: Frank is a sweet and shining star in this book. He is clearly on the autism spectrum and this book definitely puts a happy face on the issue, which is probably a shortcoming, but I loved him so much that I couldn’t help but love this book anyway.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Old people finding love through a shared love of literature. Sign me up!

Young Adult

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: A beautiful story of a boy struggling with his mother’s illness and his pending grief.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: A sweet and innocent college romance for the inexperienced and scared in all of us.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden: Written in 1982, but still relevant today for any teen struggling with their sexuality.

Juvenile Fiction

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Set during WWII, a harmonica travels from a German boy to an orphan boy in Pennsylvania to a Mexican-American girl in California during the Japanese internment. Beautiful.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier: Sophie is living during a “war on culture” and she must rely on a cast of magical characters to rescue four books in order to save all the rest of the world’s stories. This is the second in a series, but can probably stand on it’s own and even better than the first book.


Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.