The title of this amazing book, full of incredible stories about women overcoming obstacles, is taken from an old Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.”  The authors, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and I first saw their work featured on the Oprah show.  Their primary premise is that, “Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population … Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.”

Rather than tire the reader with boring statistics,  the authors wisely chose to illustrate their point by letting us “get to know” individual women.  Warning — the majority of these reports are very sad, even horrific at times, dealing with subjects such as sexual slavery, inequities in gender education, and maternal mortality.  However, each chapter is also followed by a success story, proving time and time again that one person can make a difference.

April 18-24 is National Volunteer Week; I can’t think of a better book to read for it than this.  Besides a plentitude of inspiration, the final chapter gives suggestions on “What You Can Do” with “Four Steps You Can Take in the next Ten Minutes.”  Step One?  Go to GlobalGiving or Kiva and open an account.

One month after her wedding,  Cami Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Two years later, she was depressed, angry and addicted to prescription pain medication.  Though at first reluctant, she decides to follow a recommendation from her friend, Mbali Creazzo, a healer from South Africa.  The advice: give away something every day, for 29 days.

In shifting her focus from herself (and her difficulties) to others, Walker also becomes more open to receiving gifts.  By Day 29, she  is not only healthier and happier, but she has created a worldwide giving movement, 29 Gifts. In some ways, with it’s message of being positive, the book is reminiscent of The Secret by Rhonda Bryne.   However, because it recounts her journey of dealing with a serious illness, it seems more personal, a factor that is enhanced by the inclusion of the stories of others who relate their own experience of giving for 29 days.

It’s realistic enough to make me want to try it.  What kind of world might this be if we all did?

5 love languagesThis book by Gary Chapman was recommended to me by my niece, who found it a helpful reference for her young family.  It’s a quick read, plus Chapman has multiple versions out on the same topic.  Similar to Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series, he has editions especially designed for men, singles, teens, children, etc. — you get the picture.   The one I actually read was God Speaks Your Love Language.

The premise is simple enough.  According to Chapman, who has more than 30 years of counseling experience, “each person has a primary love language.”   We tend to be drawn to people who speak our primary language because we feel they are meeting our basic need to be loved.  Conversely, if a person does not speak our primary language, we may question whether they really do love us or not.

The five love languages are:

1) Words of Affirmation.  Most people love to hear the words, “Good job!” Some individuals, however, crave that affirmation and are also easily hurt by critical comments.

2) Quality Time.  This is about spending time one-on-one, giving undivided attention.

3) Gifts.  These tend to be tangible expressions, such as birthday presents or even money.

4) Acts of Service.  The list is endless– mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cooking a meal.

5) Physical Touch.  Hugging , high fives and back rubs would all fit here.

Okay, so now that you know the basics — What’s your primary love language?

No, we’re not trying to push the start of the Christmas season even earlier than it already is (Halloween is plenty early) We’re just reminding all crafters out there that if you’re going to make any presents this year, the best time to start making them is now. Handmade gifts are probably the nicest, most thoughtful gifts you can give, but they take time. Here are some great resources for ideas and inspiration.

Closely knitHandmade home

Closely Knit: Handmade Gifts for the Ones You Love by Hannah Fettig

Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Soule

Crafty chicaMartha Stewart craftsCrafty Chica’s Guide to Artful Sewing by Kathy Cano-Murillo

Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts by Martha Stewart

pillowcasebag bazaar

Bag Bazaar: 25 Stylish Bags to Make in an Afternoon by Megan Avery

Craft Challenge: Dozens of Ways to Repurpose a Pillowcase by Suzanne Tourtillot